One

By: Jewel E Ann

CHAPTER ONE




10,000 Lakes and One King Kong


Three months after landing in Minneapolis, a gorilla moved into the apartment across from mine. Okay, maybe not a gorilla, but close. The view from my peephole might not have been entirely accurate. Nevertheless, my eyeball remained glued to it with no signs of blinking; I had a peephole addiction—along with Netflix, marshmallows, and cinnamon.

“It’s not gonna fit,” I narrated the situation to myself.

Two scrawny, pale-skinned boys danced with an oversized, black leather chair, working to maneuver it through the doorway. King Kong stood just opposite my door with his tree-trunk arms crossed over his chest. The guy could carry the chair on his pinky finger with Beavis and Butt-Head sitting atop, yet he gave them nothing more than a slight head shake.

My mumblings continued. “Turn it the other way.”

“Don’t scratch the legs,” he said, eliciting a whole new round of sweat from the movers.

Left. Right. Up. Down.

“Gah!” Enough was enough. I threw open my door. “Flip it the other way. That’s the only way it will fit.”

After a few seconds of frozen silence and three who-the-hell-are-you looks, the moving guys angled it back out, flipped it, and had it inside the apartment in less than ten seconds.

I turned. It wasn’t a gorilla.

Stupid peephole.

He was a mountain of muscles wrapped in dark skin perfection. Black? African-American? I failed to keep up on social acceptable language. I felt like Ann Darrow next to him.

“Men are supposed to have better spatial abilities than women, but I have yet to witness it firsthand.” I shrugged and smiled.

His eyes shifted down to mine, arms still crossed over the continent of his chest. He quirked an eyebrow.

“I’m a man.”

No words had ever been truer. The man before me stood close to 6’5” and maybe 275 pounds, with calves the circumference of my waist. A solid rock with a few scattered tattoos on biceps partially covered by his gray T-shirt. And that voice … it vibrated my body in all the places that weren’t already awakened by the slight scent of spice, which had to be something lingering on his skin. Whatever it was, my nose approved.

“That was my first guess.” My tight-lipped smile accompanied a resolute nod.

His eyes shifted to my chest.

Please don’t squint.

With a subtle arch of my back, I attempted to look confident, because nothing said confidence like a good push-up bra. My boobs weren’t the ripest mangoes on the tree, but they were a step above fleshy acorns. It seemed unlikely that Kong was the kind of guy to be impressed by barely average-sized ta-tas, but a girl could hope.

A subtle smirk pulled at his lips. I knew they hid a beautiful set of white teeth … I just knew. However, he didn’t indulge me with as much as a glimpse. Too bad.

His gaze moved to my legs—my real one and my prosthetic one on full display beneath my green running shorts.

“You lost your leg.”

“Genius. You’re two for two today.” I winked.

He stared and stared, cocking his head from one side to the other like it was a puzzle to solve. I wasn’t a puzzle, just a below-the-knee amputee with a kick-ass robotic leg.

“Hmm …” He pushed a quick breath out of his nose while shaking his head. “Bummer.”

I narrowed my eyes, tracking his path past me to his door as the two moving guys squeezed by him. “Bummer?”

“Yup.” He turned, taking in my leg once more. “Never seen any leg quite like that.”

“It’s a prototype. By the way, I’m Lake Jones.”

“Okay,” he called, his back already to me. Two seconds later his door shut.

Biting my lips together, I tapped them with my finger then huffed out a laugh. “That went well.”

After returning to the sanctity of my apartment, nestled in a quaint neighborhood just outside of downtown Minneapolis, I typed out a message to my BFF, Lindsay.

Lake: Hot guy alert.

I pitched my phone on my alabaster and Spanish yellow striped ottoman and walked to the window. Opening my peacock blue curtains—because it was the best shade of blue ever—I frowned at the dismal clouds shadowing the city, confirming the April afternoon rain shower prediction. My phone chimed. I smiled while retrieving it. There was a lot to be said for independence, spreading one’s wings, and moving to a new place with no family and friends.

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