The Best Kind Of Mistake - Chapter One

 

Ember

 

Tall, muscular, and handsome as hell.

 

Check, check, and check.

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Dang it.

 

Why does the very person I hate the most right now have to be this hot? Good thing his behavior is the best anti-attraction method there is. I mean, who likes a person that keeps you awake at night because he’s having super loud sex marathons in the apartment right below you? Maybe some people do, but I’m not one of them. I have dignity and class, and… Okay, maybe I’m just grumpy and sleep-deprived.

 

“Ember, are you even listening? You have that glassy look on your face.” My sister doesn’t hide the annoyance in her voice, but it’s still not enough to pull my gaze away from the troublemaker, a.k.a. my neighbor across the street. He’s just come out of our apartment building with a hot blonde on his arm, slapping her butt as they part ways.

 

What a pig.

 

They walk out of sight for a moment, and I reluctantly turn around to face my sister, Evelyn, who is now clicking her fingernails on the metal table in the café we’re sitting in.

 

I have to admit there are definitely advantages to living across the street from a café. I can meet up with family members or friends here instead of them coming to my place, where they’d inspect every last corner. Plus, the coffee and pastries are delicious. And, as it turns out, it’s also a prime spot for stalking my neighbor.

 

Evelyn holds up a manicured finger. “Wait a second. Is that the guy you told me about?” She cranes her neck so far, I’m worried she might get seriously hurt. “Oh my goodness. I think I have to come here more often.” She fans her face with the menu while we both stare after him and his fantastic butt, as he strolls down the street to slip into a shiny, black sports car.

 

I gape at her. “You’re married, Eve.”

 

She shrugs and brings her eyes back to me once the car is out of sight. “Calm down there, tiger, I was only looking. I’m obviously not blind, am I?” She stirs her coffee, and after putting the spoon on the napkin, she picks it up, her dark red fingernails a stark contrast to the white coffee cup. “So, you didn’t answer my question. Was that him? Your hot neighbor?”

 

Since I don’t need my sister on my case, I try to act totally blasé. “Who said anything about him being hot? But yes, I’m pretty certain that was him from the few glimpses I’ve caught of him so far.” Then I look her straight in the eye. “You know, I could tell you for sure if he’d moan for us.”

 

Her eyes widen for a second before she chokes on her drink. She sets the cup down on the metal table and grabs the little, yellow napkin to wipe away a few drops of coffee that are running down her chin before they hit her blouse. “You’re so bad, Em.”

 

“What? I’m only telling the truth.” I play with the cherry danish on my plate, ripping off a generous piece before popping it into my mouth. Sweet heaven, it’s delicious. “I’m just saying, I feel like I’d recognize that in a lineup. It would need to be an audible lineup rather than a visible one.” I look past her to where his car disappeared a few minutes ago. “Do you think they’ve ever done something like that at the police station? Identification by moaning. Interesting thought, really.”

 

My sister gives me a contorted look, making it seem like she can’t decide if she’s amused or shocked. After shaking her head for a moment, she grins. “You’re impossible.” When she looks down at her watch a moment later, I know we’re done with the topic. “I have to leave soon to pick up the kids, so let’s focus on the important things for a minute. Your new job.”

 

She says it like my neighbor and his sex life aren’t important, even though it’s pretty much all I can think about these days. The moans are literally haunting me, day and night.

 

Fingers snap in front of me, and I drag my attention back to her. “Okay, okay. Sorry. Job. Money. Important. Got it. I’m listening.”

 

“I hope so. And please don’t screw this up. Joanna Ardennes has been a very good client of mine, providing me with the most beautiful pictures over the last few years, and I’d like to keep it that way. She already knows about your hair, so that won’t be a problem, at least.” Taking a long look at my hair—a pretty pink—she fixes her gaze straight at me. “So please, no more sudden and drastic changes in your appearance anytime soon, all right?”

 

I know she means it when she squints her eyes the slightest bit. Not that I blame her. Evelyn is a whiz when it comes to creating artsy stuff on the computer. She can whip up the coolest and most beautiful book designs faster than my parents’ fat cat can chase a laser beam. (What can I say? When I still lived at home, I got bored sometimes, and he is pretty fat.) Anyway, of course I wouldn’t want my sister to lose some of her business because of me. And, I’m really not as bad as she makes me sound.

 

“You know, it’s not my fault they didn’t like my hair at the office. It’s just a color. They acted like I was doing something offensive, like running around naked, or something extreme like that.” I shrug, trying to let the last bit of disappointment I’ve felt over being fired go since I didn’t like the job that much anyway. It did pay the bills, though, and I loved that fact a lot.

 

She presses her lips together in a tight line and tilts her head to the side. She looks so much like our mom when she does this, but I wouldn’t dream of mentioning that little fact. Yes, we both love our mother, but she’s a bit much most days. “Ember, do we have to talk about this again?”

 

Shrugging my shoulders, I look down for a moment, focusing on my black nail polish that’s been peeling off for a few days now.

 

Evelyn lets out a small sigh. “I totally get that you want to express yourself and do whatever you feel like. But when it comes to your job, it’s sadly not always that easy. We can be happy that Joanna is one of the most laid-back people I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing business with—which is the only reason why I’d even consider letting you loose on her. And since she needs someone right now, the job is yours, so no funny business.”

 

I smack her arm and bump into the table in the process, making everything on it rattle in protest. “Hey. I’m not that bad.”

 

“No, usually, you aren’t. Honestly, though, I think this job will be good for you. You’ve always loved photography, and she’s one of the best around. I forwarded you all the paperwork she emailed me.” Evelyn’s smiling now, as she pulls a piece of paper out of her purse.

 

Her finger taps on it for a moment before she pushes it across the table, holding it down for another second before she lets it go. “Here’s the address. Three p.m. today. Don’t be late.”

 

***

 

Speed-walking down the sidewalk toward the address my sister gave me, I silently curse.

 

I promised Evelyn I wouldn’t be late. Thankfully, it’s only a few minutes. Okay, make that fifteen. Trying to find a parking spot in downtown Santa Barbara is a bitch, and I’m fully aware that I should have left home earlier. But thanks to my overactive neighbor and his nighttime activities, I was so exhausted I fell asleep on the couch. Let’s hope my first impression won’t be as bad as I imagine it to be.

 

When I finally reach the studio, I take a moment to catch my breath. It probably won’t help my case if I waltz in there sounding like a steam engine. I take several deep breaths, looking up at the blue sky and the giant palm trees that are gently swaying in the barely there breeze, silently begging my body to calm down and my nerves to go away. Usually, I love it here. Looking at the gorgeous, Spanish-derivative architecture, with the red tile roofs and the white stucco walls, always has a calming effect on me.

 

Today—not so much. My heart is still hammering like a sledgehammer beneath my rib cage, trying to break free in earnest. Giving up on my calming efforts, I spin on my red heels and walk straight into suite number six that says Ardennes Photo Studio in big letters on the door.

 

Let’s do this.