The King Next Door

By: Maureen Child

One

“What do you call a female Peeping Tom?”

Griffin King didn’t really expect an answer to the question since, for the moment, he was alone.

Still, it was an interesting puzzle.

Sprawled out comfortably in his cousin Rafe’s hot tub, Griffin took a sip of his beer. Sliding his gaze to the short fence and the neighbor beyond, he watched as Nicole Baxter trudged in and out of her garage carrying what looked like tons of potting soil.

Seriously, he’d never seen a woman more focused on work. Most of the women he knew didn’t do anything more strenuous than stretch out on a massage table. But Nicole...she was different.

He’d first met her more than a year ago, when his cousin Rafe married Nicole’s next-door neighbor Katie Charles the Cookie Queen. Griffin smiled to himself. Katie was still running her cookie business and, bless her, had left a few dozen cookies for Griffin to eat while he was staying at their house.

But back to Nicole, he told himself with another sip of his beer. Despite the number of times he had been at Rafe’s place, he had hardly spoken to Nicole. All he really knew about her was that she was divorced, a single mom and absolutely seemed to never stop working. Hell, she could give some of the Kings lessons in drive and determination. Made him tired just watching her.

Yet he couldn’t seem to look away.

Maybe it was the whole forbidden fruit thing—the woman he couldn’t have was the one who fascinated him? Possible, he told himself. Although it could just be that everything about her appealed to him.

Shaking his head, Griffin took off his sunglasses and set them on the edge of the redwood tub. The afternoon sun was bright, but he was shaded by a giant elm tree that grew between Nicole’s house and the one he was currently living in.

Rafe and Katie were off on a three-week trip to Europe and Griffin had volunteered to house-sit. It hadn’t been a completely altruistic offer. Since Griffin’s beachside condo was for sale, the constant stream of lookie-loos prowling through his place on a daily basis was making him nuts. So staying here kept him sane and Rafe and Katie’s place occupied.

A win-win anyway you looked at it.

Unless you counted Nicole.

His gaze followed her as she strode across the yard. Her shoulder-length blond hair was tucked behind her ears. She wore a pink tank top and cutoff jean shorts with a few dangling blue threads lying against her tanned, really exceptional thighs. Her skin was a sun-kissed pale gold and her curves were enough to make Griffin enjoy the view—a lot.

Knowing she was watching him back was a nice plus that would ordinarily have had him inviting her over to join him in the hot tub. Ordinarily. But in Nicole’s case, there were a couple of perfectly good reasons why he wasn’t going to be getting any closer to her than he was right now.

“Mommy!”

“Speak of a reason,” Griffin murmured. He took a long drink of the icy beer.

Nicole’s nearly three-year-old son, Connor, was a cute kid, with big blue eyes and blond hair just like his mother. And Griffin didn’t have anything against kids. Hell, he had more nephews, nieces and infant cousins than he knew what to do with. The King family was really taking the old Go forth and multiply thing to new levels.

What Griffin did have a problem with was getting involved with single moms. Frowning to himself, he tightened his grip on the cold can in his hand. He admired the hell out of a woman who could run her life, hold down a job and be both mother and father to a child. But he didn’t do permanent, and when you inserted yourself into a child’s world, there were bound to be complications.

He’d learned that years ago.

So Griffin’s one main rule was no women with kids.

“Though for the first time,” he said to himself, “breaking a rule looks really tempting.”

“What is it, Connor?” Nicole’s voice floated in the warm, late-June air. As busy as she always was, Griffin had never heard an edge of tired impatience in her voice.

“Wanna dig,” the little boy shouted and waved a lime-green plastic trowel in the air like a Viking with a sword.

Griffin grinned, thinking about just how many holes he and his brothers had dug in their mother’s flowerbeds. And how many hours of penance they’d all paid for every dead rose and daisy.

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