Broken Preview

1

When my next door neighbors told me they were moving, I had a hard time even faking a sad response. Sure, they weren’t bad… But they weren’t that great either. The guy was okay, but he didn’t say much and we didn’t really interact besides a wave here and there when we were both grilling. And the gal just blurted whatever came into her mind apparently—most of it really insulting and as if it was the funniest thing ever.

Normally it was just completely ignorant, and I wanted to ask if she had a low IQ or if she thought pissing people off was the best way to make friends.

And their kids were demons. Seriously, I called them Lucifer and Beelzebub. At first I’d thought Lucifer was special needs, having a cute little lisp, and gave him a break, supersweet to him, even patient when he kept yelling at my dog. Until I saw the little shit shoot crap at my pup when he didn’t think I was around, giggling that no one was there to save him.

I didn’t feel bad for a second when I made Lucifer cry from the verbal lashing I gave him. After that I saw the evil pretend angel he was. He didn’t play, he screamed, loving that I worked from home, and taunted me with it when his parent’s weren’t around to hear his words. He threw sticks on my side of the yard when they mowed, brought their dogs to pee and poo on my grass after my dog died saying I must miss having it around. I just blinked at the kid and told him to stop, that it was cruel when I was grieving.

“You can’t make me. Adults can’t beat kids. You shouldn’t have let your dog die.” And the little shit walked away. I know it was stupid. I know I was the adult. But I still went inside and cried my eyes out. I was grieving and an eleven-year-old just rubbed salt in the wound.

The other demon wasn’t so outright. He was the instigator, that kid we all hated in school. He never bullied or pulled crap. He was just that kid who whispered in everyone’s ear and got them to do the stupid mean shit. So yeah, after the first several months, I didn’t even call them Lucifer and Beelzebub behind their backs and flat out said the names in front of their parents.

They asked me to stop, and I explained I would as soon as their kids quit acting like the demons I had read about in the Bible when I’d attended Catholic school.

Oddly enough they hadn’t brought it up again, but I did find it funny that when they announced they were moving in the spring that they were expecting some tearful reaction from me. I didn’t think I could get worse neighbors. And if I did, calling the police on them was always an option. Plus, things could get better. I probably jinxed the outcome with that line of thought, but I was an author, the storyteller and eternal dreamer.

Some single hottie could move in next door or someone who would introduce me to a single hottie and all my dreams would come true. Yeah, that was likely to happen. And I would win the lottery when I never bought a ticket.

The house sold quickly which surprised me since I’d been inside. It wasn’t a bad house, just this crazy split level that had a few stairs to get to any different room and I didn’t think they had completed any of their half-finished “projects” they’d been working on. Then again, it might have made the house sell for next to nothing. There was real potential there, and it could have been some remodeler’s dream fixer-upper.

I winced at the idea. That meant loud construction. Hello earplugs! And people always said it was so great for me that I worked from home. I guess they forgot about things like that. Granted, I did like it, but in reality there were just as many drawbacks as working in an office.

Monday I was dragging bags of my trash to my cans in the driveway, and I knew my old neighbors were gone, but I didn’t know the new ones were moving in until I saw the truck.

“Hey, she’s here! Our neighbor’s outside,” a loud, deep voice called out. I flipped the lid to my can as my head snapped in the direction of the shout. I saw a mid-twenties guy staring at me, waving. I tossed my bags into the garbage and gave a little wave back, mentally groaning because I was of course about to meet whoever had moved in while wearing flip flops, yoga capris, and tank with shelf bra… And only that.

Great. Yeah, nothing says, Hi, nice to meet you. I’m a complete slob, like that.

Two guys jumped out from the back of the truck next to the first, and I had a moment of wondering if I was seeing triple… But not. Though they were far away and I hadn’t had any coffee yet, so yeah, that was the moment.

What I mean was they were all wearing cargo shorts and white sneakers, no shirts, perfectly toned, tanned, lean chests. And had really jet black hair. That was all I could see considering they were over a hundred feet away. It was simply something I didn’t expect to see first thing in the morning and made me blink a moment and wonder if I’d been mistaken.

They jogged over, and I swallowed loudly, wondering if this was my own little frat fantasy come to life, but as they got closer, I saw they were all probably twenty-seven or twenty-eight, so too old for college.

Brothers though maybe? No, not brothers, I realized as they stepped up to me.

“Hi, Cara, Cara Quinn, right?” the first greeted as I stepped out around the can. “Sorry to just rush over here but we wanted to say hi and ask a favor.”

“Yes, hi,” I chuckled, taking his hand. He shook firmly and then used his other one to gently grasp my forearm in an extra-friendly greeting. “And you are?”

“Right, I’m Aspen.” Aspen with deep hunter green eyes, long hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, pointed nose but not ugly, eyebrows that almost made me want to hold him down and manscape him like Chris Pine’s but still sexy.

“I’m Cypress,” the next one said as Aspen let go of my hand. I shook with him next, and he greeted me the same but this time, touching my upper arm as well. He had jet black hair, same build, and green eyes as well. But the reason I knew they couldn’t be related was obvious. Cypress had shamrock green eyes, longer hair as well, but just past his ears, a straight nose, thinner lips than Aspen, and high arching eyebrows. High cheek bones too.

“You’re moving in too?” I hedged, glancing between him and Aspen as I pulled back my hand.

“We all are,” the third one explained, smiling widely. Yeah, definitely not related. He had light, sea foam green eyes that sparkled like gems, longer hair with curls, a button nose, perfectly manicured eyebrows that were more on the thin side, and really plush lips.

He was gorgeous on the side of pretty actually. They were all hot, but I could stare at him all day and just blush. He and Aspen were about six-three, Cypress only an inch shorter. I’d never seen three men who really were exactly alike in height, build, hair color, and green eyes, but completely different otherwise.

So weird.

He spread his arms wide and stepped up, giving me a bear hug. “So excited to meet you, Cara! I’m Teak.” I flinched and tried to take a step back. “What’s wrong?”

“Sorry, um—not much of a hugger,” I chuckled awkwardly.

“Oh. Could you become one?” he muttered, hurt in his expression as he let me go.

“Teak, back off,” Cypress chastised gently.

“No, it’s fine,” I quickly cut in, slapping on a smile as my cheeks heated up. “I’m just not with strangers. We should get to know each other better first.” I wanted to melt into the grass when I realized how that sounded. “So what did you guys need?”

“We saw the number on your garbage cans and wanted to ask you how their service was,” Aspen answered, picking up on my discomfort and moving the conversation along. “We didn’t realize until today when we got here and didn’t find garbage cans that there wasn’t set city garbage pickup.”

I groaned and rolled my eyes. “That sucks. They should have warned you of that. Shit. Yeah, I love my service. They’re really great, best price I found around here before I moved last year. You guys can get in on mine this week. Pick up is first thing in the morning. Green container is recycling, just add whatever you need to and anything extra you have to cut up and stack—I get a few before they charge me.”

“That is so nice of you,” Teak praised, smiling at me as if I’d just offered to clean the whole house instead of let him use the extra room in my recycling can. I chuckled and pointed over my shoulder.

“Black is garbage. It’s five dollars a month for the second can,” I explained as I gestured to the other one. “They bill quarterly and each can includes three extra bags, anything over that, again they charge you for. But you get a one time “move in” Friday pick up where like anything goes, so don’t make the mistake I did and get everything all handled and then schedule that. I did it too early and then had all this extra crap I had to throw out a little at a time.”

“See, I told you we should wait and ask her once we met her.” Teak beamed at me.

“Yes, yes, you were right,” Cypress chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m going to apologize in advance for our friend. When they told us you were an author and your name, we looked you up. Teak’s been devouring your books and pretty much thinks you walk on water now.”

“Oh, yeah—umm, okay,” I muttered, taking a step back before I realized it.

Aspen was the one to catch on to the change in my mood. “Hey, we’re not stalkers. It’s okay, Cara. He just thinks it’s cool what you do. We moved here because we wanted some peace and privacy too. We won’t gossip like your last neighbors did. Teak might just ask you to sign a bunch of stuff and what you’re working on from time to time, that’s all.”

“Really?” I whispered, valuing my privacy above most everything else, and it would be great to have neighbors who didn’t run their mouths for once.

“Yeah, I was mad they were telling us who you were like it was a selling point and then picking on you for being a recluse,” Teak bitched, his eyes filling with anger.

I nodded, rubbing my arms and glancing away. “We didn’t get along all that well most times. I didn’t fit their mold.”

“We understand what that’s like,” Cypress said gently. “If there’s anything you need, any help, we’re more than willing. They said you were in this big house all by yourself, and while you were really sweet, you were always asking them for favors.”

“I didn’t always ask them for shit and what they asked me for—” I growled, catching myself and shaking my head. “Whatever. They’re gone now. I hope you guys understand that what they said isn’t necessarily how things were and don’t hold it against me. I don’t pretend to be normal, but I’m not a bad neighbor.”

“No, you’re not,” Teak agreed as he patted my shoulder and then caught himself. “You’re awesome already. Screw them and we’re starting from today.”

“Yeah, screw them,” I chuckled, loving his attitude. I could get used to being around someone as positive as him, soaking it up.

“Okay, so we’ll leave you to your day. You work from home and it’s a Monday,” Cypress said, clearing his throat when the conversation died. “Thanks for the insight and letting us add to your garbage. That’s really great of you.”

“And we need to run out and get garbage bags now,” Teak groaned, letting his head drop back on his shoulders. “I forgot them.”

“I’ve got you covered,” I snickered and jogged into the garage. I pulled the roll of massive, sixty gallon ones I kept on the shelf and turned back around, stumbling when they were right there. I hadn’t heard them follow me.

“Wow, you tricked out your garage.” Teak whistled, glancing around but being respectful and not coming in.

I shrugged and followed his gaze. “Yeah, it’s my author cave. I like to pace and think out here while I smoke. It helps me.” I handed him the roll of bags. “You can keep those. I used to use them when I mowed but I have a service now.”

“Yeah, we’re going to need to get a mower right away,” Cypress sighed, looking to their yard. “Nice of them to cut it before they moved. I swear it’s past our shins. That was not on the agenda right now, and if we wait much longer, it might eat us alive.”

“Well, I won’t offer to cut it for you,” I drawled as I pointed over my shoulder to my big lawn mower. “But I have one you can use until you get one. I feel bad that I bought a nice one last season and now it just sits there.”

“Can I ask why you don’t use it?” Cypress hedged, glancing from it to me.

“I lost my dog this winter,” I whispered, staring down at my feet. “One of the things I loved about this house was the yard, knowing he’d have all the room to run he could ever want. I spent tons of time rebuilding the grass, seeding the bare spots last summer, making it great, and then I lost him. This year the idea of even cutting the grass made me want to cry, so when I got the flyer for a lawn service and it was a great price, it was worth it to me time-wise and emotionally just to pay to have it done. Silly I know but—”

“No, not silly,” he murmured, reaching out and rubbing my arm. “You lost someone you love. You’re grieving.”

“Yeah,” I sniffled, wiping under my eyes. Then I chuckled and shook my head. “And now you think you just moved in next to a basket case. Run now, guys.”

We shared a laugh at that one, but I got the feeling they actually understood and weren’t judging me at all which was nice. The odd thing was the fact that I had opened up to them about losing my pup. I was normally more tight-lipped about my personal life and feelings than that. They left after that, thanking me for everything and saying they were going to come over after they unloaded and returned the truck to take me up on my offer to use the mower.

I felt lighter after they were gone, in some strange way. I couldn’t explain… Simply lighter. Weird. I also thought about the fact I hadn’t caught their last names. Odd, but then again, I wasn’t the best at names and probably would have forgotten them. Unique first names like theirs I would remember at least.

Sad, but true.

When I took out the last load of my trash, and my lawn crew had come and finished my yard, I set out the sprinkler, careful to make sure it wasn’t in their way to my cans or going to get their stuff wet. Of course I focused on writing and lost track of the time so when I went to move it a third time, it was way later than the half an hour I tried to keep it spaced to.

But it was in a different spot. I blinked around and rolled my eyes. I’d moved it and been so focused on my book again I’d forgotten I’d done it. It wouldn’t have been the first time. I relocated it to the next spot in my rotation and went back to work. When I stepped out on my back porch for smoke, I saw the guys were taking a break from unloading the truck and tossing around a football.

“Want to join us?” Cypress invited, smiling up at me.

“I’d love to, but too much to do,” I chuckled, holding up my notebook. “My to-do list seems to make babies and friends every time I look at it. Besides I’m way out of shape and you guys look like you play a little rough.” I nodded to where Teak just took Aspen down around the waist and they ended up rolling ten feet down our joint hill.

“We do like it a little rough,” Aspen agreed when they came to a halt, the innuendo thick in his tone.

“Then I think I’ll just watch,” I drawled, liking the teasing but letting him know I got the hint.

“Watching’s cool with us too,” Teak informed me, grinning like a loon as he jumped to his feet. I returned the gesture. Well, living next to them was going to be entertaining at least.

Hey, I could use some good kind of spice in my life. That was for sure.

Later the sprinkler was moved again, and I swore that time I hadn’t done it. I did burst out laughing at what I saw though—three grown men hopping through it.

“Sorry, hope you don’t mind,” Cypress panted as he jogged over to me.

“Not at all,” I gasped, leaning over and resting my hands on my knees. “That’s—you guys are—yeah, too funny.”

“We moved it a few times for you when we realized you time it for a half an hour in each spot. Figured it was the least we could do after you’ve been so kind to us.”

I rolled my eyes at him when I stood up straight.  “I thought I was going nuts. Yeah, that’s great, thanks.”

“We just moved it here so is this the last spot?” he hedged, glancing at Aspen and Teak who were waving for me to join them. I shook my head and focused on Cypress.

“No, the front of my house and the side, but I have to switch out the sprinkler head for that or I’ll just soak the woods. Just set it on the front lawn when you guys are done playing, and I’ll do the side.” I smiled at him, a real, grateful smile. “Thank you, Cypress. That’s really nice of you guys to have thought of doing that for me.”

“Hey, it’s what friendly neighbors do, right? You saved our bacons with the garbage thing, Cara. And the lawn mower. Can we take you up on that in the morning? We decided unloading the truck was enough for today.”

“Yeah, sure. I’m a morning riser, so when I’m up, I’ll open the garage so you know you can come on over. I’m pretty sure I emptied the gas and oil in the fall so just knock on the door and we’ll take a look.”

“You’re the best.” He shot me a smile that actually made me feel like the best—which was silly, but it did—before heading back with his friends.

I kinda already adored having them as my neighbors. Crazy, right? Then again, they seemed too good to be true so something had to be wrong with them. Watch, three younger, single guys would have a ton of loud parties that would make me hate them.

Yeah, I was a realist. So sue me?

That night I finally finished up work and made myself a drink, needing to unwind as I recapped the day and figured out what tomorrow would hold. I went out onto the deck with my drink, smokes, my notebook, and pen as the sun was falling behind the trees so there was enough light to see and write, but before the bug invasion from the woods. I plopped down on the resin box I kept out there for storage that had a bench seat on it and stared out into the woods, taking a sip and letting out a huge sigh.

It had been a good day, productive, non-stressful, with a few laughs and one I wouldn’t mind repeating. Hey, I was an easygoing person who really didn’t ask for much in life.

I heard a soft moan and glanced to my left, slightly choking on my drink at what I saw. Namely Teak on his knees in front of Aspen giving the man a blow job—and Aspen staring at me. Catching my drink at the last second before I dropped it over my porch, I cussed under my breath when I spilled some on my lap. I stood, my notebook falling to the deck with a slap, the noise echoing against the quiet. My cheeks flushed as I realized I was fumbling like an idiot as if I’d just walked into their bedroom and done something wrong.

I was on my deck after all. I took a slow, deep breath and gathered myself mentally before picking up my notebook. Then I couldn’t help my curiosity—I did write gay erotic romance under two of my pen names after all—and glanced over at their deck. Aspen now had his hands fisted in Teak’s hair and was thrusting hard into the man’s mouth, smiling widely as he focused on me, moaning loudly.

Fuck, he liked that I was there.

I didn’t know what to make of that. Part of me wanted to sit back down and watch… A big part of me, but it still felt wrong, like I was intruding. I mean, Teak had cracked the joke earlier that watching was okay with them, but had he really meant for things like this? Then again, they were doing it on their back porch where the only possible person who could have seen them was me. No one from the street would have and our houses were surrounded by woods on either side.

Either way, conflicted as I was, the prude in me won out, and I walked back into the house. That doesn’t mean what I’d seen wasn’t what was on my mind when I went to bed that night. Hell, I felt like a dirty bitch, pleasing myself at the whole scene and coming so hard I had to bite my lip to keep in my cries.

But seriously, could anyone blame me? They were hot and I’d walked into an even hotter situation. Wow. They might not be single or straight or just one of them like I’d been hoping but apparently I’d landed some really fun, really interesting neighbors.

I even dreamed about them that night—but not a dirty dream crazily enough. No, them simply touching me after they snuck into my room and lifted the covers. Weird, right? Who has a dream that their neighbors throw back the bedding and each touch her leg in different spots? Oh, and then they came back later or it was another dream—I wasn’t clear on that—and they touched the other leg.

What the hell had I eaten that day to be dreaming that?

Whatever it had been, I wanted to make sure to do it again, because ignoring the weird dreams, I’d slept like a baby. I woke before my alarm, feeling refreshed, stress-free, and ready for the day in a way I hadn’t in a long time.

Which oddly enough led me to believe it was going to be a bad day… At least I knew I hadn’t had a lobotomy in my sleep! I still had my normal snarky attitude.