The perfect neighbor, p.5
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       The Perfect Neighbor, p.5

         Part #9 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Yeah.” But he wasn’t looking at the window now, and didn’t have a clue.

  “Great. Good. Make it count, okay. Romantic. Just slide your arms around me, then lean down and—”

  “I know how to kiss a woman, Cybil.”

  “Of course you do. No offense meant whatsoever. But this should be choreographed so that—”

  He decided the only way to shut her up was to get on with it, and to get on with it his way. He didn’t slide his arms around her—he yanked her against him, and nearly off her feet. He had one glimpse of those big green eyes widening in shock, before his mouth crushed down on hers and sent the next babbling words sliding down her throat.

  He was right. That was her last dizzy thought. He was absolutely right. He did know how to kiss a woman.

  She had to grab on to his shoulders. Had to rise up to her toes.

  She had to moan.

  Her head was spinning in fast, giddy circles. Her heart had flipped straight into her throat to block any chance of air. It made her feel helpless, lost, shaky as his mouth pumped heat like a furnace into her body.

  And his mouth was so hard, so hard, and stunningly hungry. What else could she do but let him feed?

  It was like the dream, he thought. Only better. Much, much better. Her taste hadn’t been so unique in his imagination. Her body hadn’t trembled with quick, hard little shock waves. Her hands hadn’t clawed their way up into his hair to fist while she moaned pure pleasure into his mouth.

  He yanked her back, but only to see if her eyes had gone dark, if heat had climbed into her cheeks the way he felt it climb through his system. She only stared at him, her breath coming short and fast through parted lips, her hands still clutched in his hair.

  “Next one’s on me,” he murmured, and took her under again.

  A horn blasted. Someone cursed. There was a rush of displaced air from a passing car. Someone shoved an apartment window open and let out a stream of blistering rock music and the acrid smell of burned dinner.

  She might have been on a deserted island with crystal-blue waves crashing at her feet.

  When he drew her away the second time, he did so slowly, with his hands skimming down from her shoulders to her elbows, then back in a gesture that stopped only a hint short of a caress. It gave her enough time to feel her head revolve once, like a slow-motion merry-go-round, before it settled weakly on her shoulders.

  He wanted to lap her up on the spot, every inch of that flushed, lovely skin. To devour her innate—and, to him, misplaced—cheerfulness that shone out of her like sunlight. He wanted all that impossible, unflagging energy under him, over him, open to him.

  And he had no doubt that once he had, he’d leave them both bitter.

  Now the hands that lingered on her shoulders eased her back off her toes. Steadied her. Released her. “I think that ought to do it.”

  “Do it?” she echoed, staring up at him.

  “Satisfy Mrs. Wolinsky.”

  “Mrs. Wolinsky?” Absolutely blank, she shook her head. “Oh. Oh, yeah.” She blew out a long breath and decided her system might settle sometime before the end of the next decade. “If it doesn’t, it’s hopeless. You’re awfully good at it, McQuinn.”

  A reluctant smile flitted around his mouth. The woman was damn near irresistible, he thought, and, taking her arm, turned her toward the front of the building. “You’re not half bad at it yourself, kid.”

  Chapter 4

  Cybil sang as she worked, belting out a duet with Aretha Franklin. Behind her, the open window welcomed the cool April breeze and the amazing noise that was the downtown streets in brilliant sunshine.

  The stream of light was no sunnier than her mood.

  Turning to the mirror on the wall beside her, she tried to work her face into a state of shock to help her with a character expression. But all she could do was grin.

  She’d been kissed before. She’d been held by and against a man before. As far as she was concerned, comparing all her other experiences to that stunning sidewalk embrace with the man across the hall was like pitting a firecracker against a nuclear attack.

  One hissed, popped and was momentarily entertaining. The other detonated and changed the landscape for centuries.

  It had left her marvelously dizzy for hours.

  She loved the sensation, adored every moment of that giddy, slack-muscled, purely feminine rush. Could there be anything more wonderful than feeling weak and strong, foolish and wise, confused and aware all at the same time?

  And all she had to do was close her eyes, let her mind wander back, to feel it all over again.

  She wondered what he was thinking, what he was feeling. No one could be unaffected by an experience of that … magnitude. And after all, he’d been right there with her at ground zero. A man couldn’t kiss a woman like that and not suffer some potent residual effects.

  Suffering, Cybil decided, as her body tingled, was highly underrated.

  She chuckled; she sighed; then, bending over her work, sang with Aretha about the joys of feeling like a natural woman.

  “God, Cyb, it’s freezing in here!”

  Cybil looked up, beamed. “Hi, Jody. Hi, sweet Charlie.”

  The baby gave her a sleepy-eyed smile as Jody strode to the window with him cocked on her hip. “You’re sitting in front of an open window. It can’t be more than sixty degrees out there.” With a little grunt, Jody shoved the window closed.

  “I was feeling kind of warm.” Cybil set her pencil aside to stroke Charlie’s pudgy cheek. “It’s miraculous, isn’t it, that men start out this way? As pretty little babies? Then they … wow, boy do they grow up into something else.”

  “Yeah.” Puzzled, Jody frowned, examined her friend’s somewhat glassy eyes. “You look funny. Are you okay?” Jody laid a maternal hand on Cybil’s forehead. “No fever. Stick out your tongue.”

  Cybil obeyed, crossing her eyes as she did and making Charlie bubble with laughter. “I’m not sick. I’m fabulous. I feel like a million after taxes.”

  “Hmm.” Unconvinced, Jody pursed her lips. “I’m going to put Charlie down for his morning nap. He’s zonked. Then I’ll get us some coffee and you can tell me what’s going on.”

  “Sure. Um-hmm.” Dreaming again, Cybil picked up a red pen and began to doodle pretty little hearts on scrap paper.

  Since that was fun, she drew larger ones, sketching McQuinn’s face inside one.

  He had a great one, she mused. Hard mouth, cool eyes, very strong features set off by that thick, dark hair. But that mouth softened a bit when he smiled. And his eyes weren’t cool when he laughed.

  She loved making him laugh. He always sounded just a little out of practice. She could help him with that, she mused, drawing his face again with the warmth of laughter added. After all, one of her nice little talents was making people laugh.

  And after she’d helped him find some steady work, he wouldn’t have so much to worry about.

  She’d get him some work, make certain that he ate regular meals—she was always cooking too much for one person anyway—and she was sure she could find someone who had a secondhand sofa they were willing to part with on the cheap.

  She knew enough people to start the ball rolling here and there for him. He’d feel better, wouldn’t he, once he was more settled in, more secure? It wouldn’t be like meddling. That was her grandfather’s territory. She would just be helping out a neighbor.

  A gorgeous, sexy neighbor who could kiss a woman straight into the paradise of delirium.

  Of course that wouldn’t be why she was doing it. Cybil shook herself, turned the scraps of paper over a little guiltily. She’d helped Mr. Peebles find a good podiatrist, hadn’t she? And nobody would consider him a cool-eyed Adonis with great hands, would they?

  Of course not.

  She was just being a good neighbor. And if there were any other … benefits, well, so what?

  Satisfied with her plans, she folded her legs under her and got back to work.
  * * *

  Jody settled the baby, thinking as she always did when she tucked him in that he was the most beautiful child ever to grace the planet. When his heavy eyes shut, his blanket was smoothed and his favorite teddy bear left on guard, she trotted downstairs to turn down the music.

  As at home in Cybil’s kitchen as her own, she poured morning coffee into two thick yellow mugs, sniffed out a couple of cranberry muffins, then loaded up a tray.

  The midmorning ritual was one of her favorite parts of the day.

  In the past few years, Cybil had become as close as a sister to her. Closer, Jody thought, wrinkling her nose. Her own sisters were always bragging about their husbands, their kids, their houses—when anyone could see her Chuck and her Charlie were miles superior. But Cybil listened. Cybil had held her hand through the difficult decision to quit her job and stay home with the baby full-time. It had been Cybil who’d stood by during those early days when she and Chuck had been panicked over every burp and sniffle Charlie had made.

  There was no better friend in the world. Which was why Jody was determined to see Cybil blissfully happy.

  She carried the tray up, set it on the table, then handed Cybil her mug.

  “Thanks, Jody.”

  “Great strip this morning. I can’t believe Emily decking herself out in a trench coat and fedora and tailing Mr. Mysterious all over Soho. Where does she get this stuff?”

  “She’s a creature of impulse and drama.” Cybil broke off a piece of a muffin. It was usual for them to discuss Emily and the other characters as separate people. “And she’s nosy. She just has to know.”

  “What about you? Did you find out anything yet about our Mr. Mysterious?”

  “Yeah.” Cybil said it on a sigh. “His name’s McQuinn.”

  “I heard that.” Instantly alert, Jody jabbed out a finger. “You sighed.”

  “No, I was just breathing.”

  “Uh-uh, you sighed. What gives?”

  “Well, actually …” She was dying to talk about it. “We sort of went out last night.”

  “Went out? Like a date?” Quickly, Jody pulled over a chair, sat, leaned close. “Where, how, when? Details, Cyb.”

  “Okay. So.” Cybil swiveled so they were face to face. “You know how Mrs. Wolinsky’s always trying to fix me up with her nephew?”

  “Not again?” Jody rolled her dark eyes. “Why can’t she see you two are totally wrong for each other?”

  Vast affection prevented Cybil from mentioning that it might be the same selective blindness that prevented Jody from seeing the flaws in the Cybil-Frank match.

  “She just loves him. But anyway, she’d cooked up another date for me for last night, and I just couldn’t face it. You have to swear you won’t tell her—or anyone.”

  “Except Chuck.”

  “Husbands are excluded from the vow of silence in this case. I told her I already had a date—with McQuinn.”

  “You had a date with 3B?”

  “No, I just told her I did because I was flustered. You know how I start babbling when I lie.”

  “You should practice.” Nodding, Jody bit into a muffin. “You’d get better at it.”

  “Maybe. So after I tell her, I realize she’s going to be looking for us to leave together, and I have to cut some kind of deal with McQuinn to go along with it. I gave him a hundred and bought him dinner.”

  “You paid him.” Jody’s eyes widened, then narrowed in speculation. “That’s brilliant. The whole time I was dating—especially during that drought period I told you about my sophomore year in college?—I never thought about just offering a guy some money to have dinner with me. How’d you settle on the hundred? Do you think that’s, like, the going rate?”

  “It seemed right. He’s not working regularly, you know. And I figured he could use the money and a hot meal. We had a good time,” she added with a new smile. “Really good. Just spaghetti and conversation. Well, mostly one-sided conversation, as McQuinn doesn’t say a lot.”

  “McQuinn.” Jody let the name roll over her tongue. “Still sounds mysterious. You don’t know his first name.”

  “It never came up. Anyway, it gets better. We’re walking back. I think I loosened him up, Jody. He really seemed relaxed, almost friendly. Then I see Johnny Wolinsky’s car, and I panicked. I’m figuring she’s not going to stop trying to shove him at me unless she thinks I’ve got a guy. So I cut another deal with McQuinn and offered him fifty bucks to kiss me.”

  Jody pursed her lips, then sipped coffee. “I think you should’ve said that was included in the hundred.”

  “No, we’d already defined terms, and there wasn’t time to renegotiate. She was looking out the window. So he did, right there on the sidewalk.”

  “Wow.” Jody grabbed the rest of her muffin. “What move did he use?”

  “He just sort of yanked me against him.”

  “Oh, man. The yank. I really like the yank.”

  “Then I was plastered there, up on my toes because he’s tall.”

  “Yeah.” Jody chewed, licked crumbs off her lips. “He’s tall. And built.”

  “Really built, Jody. I mean the man is like a rock.”

  “Oh, God.” On the moan, Jody rubbed her stomach. “Wow. Okay, so you’re plastered up there, on your toes. What next?”

  “Then he just … swooped.”

  “Oh-oh, the yank and swoop.” Crumbs scattered as Jody waved her hands. “It’s a classic. Hardly any guy can really pull it off, though. Chuck did on date six. That’s how we ended up back at my apartment, eating Chinese in bed.”

  “McQuinn pulled it off. He really, really pulled it off. Then, while my head was exploding, he yanked me back, just looked at me.”

  “Man. Man.”

  “Then he just … did it all again.”

  “A double.” Near tears with vicarious excitement, Jody gripped Cybil’s hand. “You got a double. There are women who go all their lives without a double. Dreaming of, yes, but never achieving the double yank and swoop.”

  “It was my first,” Cybil confessed. “It … was … great!”

  “Okay, okay, just the kiss part, okay? Just the lips and tongues and teeth thing. How was that?”

  “It was very hot.”

  “Oh … I’m going to have to open the window. I’m starting to sweat.”

  She jumped up, shoved up the window and took a deep gulp of air. “So, it was hot. Very hot. Keep going.”

  “It was like being, well, devoured. When your system just goes …” At a loss, she lifted her hands, wiggled them wildly. “And your head’s circling around about a foot above your shoulders, and … I don’t know how to describe it.”

  “You’ve got to.” Desperate, Jody squeezed Cybil’s shoulders. “I’m on the edge here. Try this—on the one-to-ten scale, where did it hit?”

  Cybil closed her eyes. “There is no scale.”

  “There’s always a scale—you can say off the scale, but there’s always a scale.”

  “No, Jody, there is no scale.”

  Eyeing Cybil, Jody stepped back. “The no-scale is an urban myth.”

  “It exists,” Cybil said soberly. “The no-scale exists, my friend, and has now been documented.”

  “Sweet Lord. I have to sit down.” She did so, her eyes never leaving Cybil’s face. “You experienced a no-scale. I believe you, Cyb. Thousands wouldn’t. Millions would scoff, but I believe you.”

  “I knew I could count on you.”

  “You know what this means, don’t you? He’s ruined you for anything less. Even a ten won’t satisfy you now. You’ll always be looking for the next no-scale.”

  “I’ve thought of that.” Considering, Cybil picked up her pencil to tap. “I believe it’s possible to live a full and happy life, hitting with some regularity between seven and ten, even after this experience. Man goes to the moon, Jody. Travels through space and time, finds himself on another world, but only briefly. He must come back to earth and live.”

>   “That’s so wise,” Jody murmured, and had to dig a tissue out of her pocket. “So brave.”

  “Thank you. But in the meantime,” Cybil added with a grin, “there’s no harm in knocking on the door across the hall from time to time.”

  * * *

  Because she didn’t want to appear overanxious, Cybil put in a full morning’s work. She didn’t break until after two, when she thought her neighbor might enjoy sharing a cup of coffee, maybe a nice walk in the April sunshine.

  He really had to get out of that apartment more, she decided. Take advantage of all the city had to offer. She imagined him brooding behind his locked door, worried about his lack of employment, the bills.

  She was certain she could help him with that. There was no reason she couldn’t put a buzz in a few ears and get him a few gigs to tide him over.

  She heard the sax begin to weep as she stood in her bedroom fussing with her makeup. It made her tingle again, the low, sexy throb of it.

  He deserved a break, something to take that cynical gleam out of his eyes. Something that would prove to him life was full of surprises. She wanted to help him. There was a quality about him—an underlying unhappiness she was driven to smooth away.

  After all, she’d made him laugh. She’d helped him relax. If she could do it once, she could do it again. She badly wanted to see him laugh again, to hear that sardonic edge to his voice when he made some pithy comment, to see that grin flash when she said or did something that got through his cynical shield.

  And if they lit a few sexual sparks between them while she was at it, what was wrong with that?

  She was on her way downstairs, and singing again, when the buzzer from the entrance door sounded on her intercom.


  “I’m looking for McQuinn. 3A?”

  “No, he’s 3B.”

  “Well, damn it. Why doesn’t he answer?”

  “Oh, he probably doesn’t hear you. He’s practicing.”

  “Buzz me in, will you, sweetie? I’m his agent and I’m running way behind.”

  “His agent.” Cybil perked up. If he had an agent, Cybil wanted to meet her. She’d already thought of half a dozen names to pass on for possible jobs. “Sure. Come on up.”

  She released the door, then opened her own and waited.

  The woman who stepped out of the little-used elevator looked very professional, very successful, Cybil noted with some surprise, in her snazzy power suit of drop-dead red. She was thin and wiry, with a sharp-featured face, dark-blue eyes that were snapping with annoyance and an incredibly fabulous mane of streaked blond hair.

  She moved with the precision of a bullet and carried a leather briefcase that Cybil estimated cost the equivalent of a month’s rent on a good uptown apartment.

  So, she mused, why was her client scrambling for work if his agent could afford designer duds and pricey accessories?


  “Yes, I’m Cybil.”

  “Amanda Dresher. Thanks, Cybil. Our boy here isn’t answering his phone, and apparently forgot we had a one o’clock at the Four Seasons.”

  “The Four Seasons?” Baffled, Cybil stared. “On Park?”

  “Is there another?” With a laugh, Mandy pressed the buzzer on 3B and—knowing
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