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Dear Vixen,

Please help me!

My hunky and reclusive next door neighbor is a true hero. When my ex busted down my door and attacked me, my neighbor Booker saved me, at extreme cost to himself. He knocked the guy out and watched over me until the police could haul my assailant away. Then he let me patch him up, but the caring led to more. We spent one beautiful night together, but he hasn’t spoken to me very much since. Actually, he’s gone to extreme lengths to avoid me, telling me what we had wasn’t going anywhere.

Now, though, things are happening that make me think my ex is stalking me, and Booker is here to watch out for me. I’m afraid it won’t last long, because there’s a part of him that just won’t let me in. I’ve tried to connect with him but he’s a wounded veteran, a U.S. Army Ranger, and I believe he thinks everything I do is because I pity him or something. I just want to get to know him. I have no regrets from loving him and I hope he doesn’t either. I can tell he’s an incredible, honorable man, something we women dream of finding, but rarely do.

I’m afraid I’ve fallen for an unreachable dream.

I’m hoping that you will read this on your podcast on Friday. I’ve caught my neighbor listening to your show a couple of times, and I think it may be the only way I can get my message across to him.

Booker, if you’re listening, come knock on my door. Dinner is ready. Dessert is optional.


Desperate in Columbus


Dear Desperate,

First let me say, our nation’s veterans have had a rough road, and they don’t get the thanks and appreciation that they deserve.

Sweetie, congrats for rising above an unhealthy relationship with a hopeful heart. That took courage and determination. Something you and your neighbor have in common.

If your neighbor is fighting his attraction to you, I have to wonder what has caused him to be distrustful and to close his heart. I think finding that reason may be the key to happiness.

Take your time and be persistent. All good things come to those who are patient and he sounds like a gem worth waiting for!

Booker, if you’re listening, take the chance and follow your heart.

And go eat dessert!

Good luck, hon!

The ♥️ Vixen

Chapter One

“Yes!” I hissed, watching the water swirl in the toilet, inches deeper than it should be. 

It wasn’t the normal response to an almost overflowing toilet, but I now had a legitimate reason to call for help from the building manager, the elusive, hotter than hot, no-first-name Booker. Virginia didn’t know what his first name was either, which was odd. Normally she knew everything about the residents of the building, because she’d lived here at the Willows the longest. Going on twenty years, supposedly. Virginia had created enough work for him that she should have known his full name by now, at the very least. 

This day had just been…special. And not in the exceptional surprise-birthday-gift kind of special. No, special as in, I couldn’t find one of my regular tennis shoes, a hair-tie had snapped my fingers when it broke going over my huge ponytail and my sister Francesca had shown up unexpectedly, Christopher in tow, and expected me to watch him. Since I worked from home, no one considered what I did a real job. ‘Oh, you’re just on the computer all day…’

So, for all that strife, I deserved to see tall, brooding Mr. Booker today, with his sleek stubble beard and mustache, and his penetrating green eyes. If he gave me more than a glance in the hallway, I think I would just drop my panties for him. The man was striking and unique. And I really hoped he was just as smart as he was pretty. Virginia seemed to think so. She kept extolling the man’s virtues like he was about to go up for auction.

I didn’t have time for fresh action. Normally, Chris, my nephew, was a doll-baby, but I was under contract and my deadline was looming, so I had worked while he’d played. I should have known the little bugger had been up to something, but he’d been so good all day. And he was so stinking cute. I probably wouldn’t have yelled at him even if I’d spotted him flushing whatever he’d flushed. 

“That’s what I get for trusting a four-year-old,” I muttered with a sigh.

Returning to the living room, I continued picking up the mess left in his wake, one ear cocked to the phone. Booker would be calling me back soon, hopefully. Maybe. Actually, did he ever return a call? Usually he just turned up in all his silent hotness, looking rugged and forbidding in his Levi’s, boots and T-shirt. And the job today… how mortifying. At least it wasn’t a tampon clogging the toilet. I’d learned that lesson a long time ago when Papa had talked to my sister and I after an expensive plumber call.

What was that thing called? A snake? I really hoped he had one of those things, because a plunger hadn’t even budged the water level in the toilet. I had no idea what Chris had flushed, but it was lodged tight.

Thank goodness I even had a damn plunger. I’d only been here a few months and it seemed like I was continuously finding things I needed. It was hard being on my own. Evie had been the one to organize and stock and keep us on track. We’d grown up together in the burbs of Hilliard, Ohio and she’d been my best friend for as long as I could remember. Deliberate, calm, organized, Evie was an incredible person. She’d made her Barbies perch on the dresser in organized rows, their hair braided exactly the same. Her budgets had been just as tidy.

So, when we each got a job in the middle of the city, it seemed like a no-brainer to get an apartment together and split the costs. We’d had so much fun, going out on the weekends and enjoying the festivals Columbus put on every year. Then her company expanded and she’d moved up, until they’d offered her a job she couldn’t refuse. In the middle of a literal jungle. I hadn’t talked to her for weeks. 

I hated the ache in my chest. It eased a little when we managed a text or a call, but she was so far away. Guyana was literally thousands of miles away, and a complete opposite time zone. The only thing that made the ache better was knowing that Evie was doing what she loved— teaching. 

I’d been at the point in my career that my after-hours work was bringing in more money that my regular job, so I’d quit my job, packed up my stuff and found an apartment that spoke to me, on the Northside. The Willows was an older brick building, but it had character, and the current owners had renovated it, so everything was up to date. The change helped deal with Evie leaving.

Moving around the apartment, I picked up toys and returned things to their spots. It was almost in order when someone knocked on my door. Finally.

Crossing the room, my heart beating a little hard, I straightened my plain aqua-colored tee over my hips and tightened my abdomen. Not that it did anything. My curves were permanently curved and nothing was going to change it. Readying a smile, I swung the door open, looking for the tall, quiet, bearded form of the building manager.

Instead, it was the furry-faced, flat-footed, cheating mother pucker that used to be my ex-boyfriend. Anger surged in me. “What the hell are you doing here, Sean?”

I braced my bare foot- the one I hadn’t yet found the shoe for- behind the door edge. The man was not coming into my space, damn it.

“Hey, baby,” he moved forward expectantly and I leaned back out of lip reach. The guy was like a damn octopus and I wasn’t putting up with it anymore. The bat that normally rested just beneath the door table to the left was on top of the entertainment center. I hadn’t wanted Chris to get into trouble with it. “What do you want, you cheating asshole?”

A glimmer of anger darkened his crap-brown eyes. “I told you, baby, it didn’t mean anything. She was just a waitress that was supposed to show me a good time. It was Vegas, baby, and you weren’t supposed to know anything about it.”

I gaped, my mouth moving as I sought words. “So, because it was in Vegas you didn’t think it would matter to me?”

The absolute and utter gall of this man. Why had I put up with him for so long?

Sean rolled his eyes like he was running out of patience, but I didn’t care. He was the one in the wrong, not me. “Get off my property, Sean. We’re done, I’ve told you that too many times. We were done before the Vegas thing. Don’t make me call the police.”

His face darkened with fury and I realized that may not have been the best thing to say. Sean Holoman had had more than his fair share of run-ins with the cops, and he bashed them all the time. It was disturbing, some of the things he’d said, and that should have warned me a long time ago that he wasn’t a stable individual. I glanced behind me, looking for a way to wedge the door shut, but there was nothing. I hadn’t been prepared for this.

“Open the door, Cat, so we can talk about this,” he wheedled. “You know you missed me.”

“Leave, Sean. We’re done. I told you that weeks ago.”

“I let you have your little snit, but it’s time to be done with it.” He began to push against the door and I panicked. Where the hell was my phone? I need to call the cops.

“Open the door, Cat,” he growled, pushing harder.

My feet began to slide on the carpet, and my pulse raced. “No!” I cried, leaning harder, straining.

One of his hands had wrapped around the edge of the door. Keys flew as I grabbed the bowl beside the door and tried to smash his hand. I landed two good hits to his fingers before he snatched them back, the door slamming shut. Panting, I twisted the dead-bolt home, tears filling my eyes when I realized what had just happened. I really needed to call the cops.

“Cat! Open the fucking door!”

I scanned my living room, looking for my phone. Where was it? Kitchen? I darted through the living room and scanned the kitchen. I’d just picked up my phone and flipped open the cover when Sean kicked the door open.

Terrified, my fingers fumbled as I keyed in my code and ran for the bedroom. I had just a glimpse of Sean’s furious face as he focused on me, before I turned to look where I was going. Where could I go where he couldn’t kick the door open? The front door was supposed to be the strongest, and it had been dead-bolted!

I ran as fast as I could down the hall and toward my bedroom. It had two doors, though, and I knew before I got there he would catch me. Trying to think ahead, I slid to a stop and backtracked, heading for the front door. But Sean was faster than I was. I heard his booted feet slamming down behind me and I screamed, praying someone would hear me. It was the middle of the day, though, and everyone normal was at work. Virginia would never hear me. Her apartment was three floors down.

I switched gears again and lunged toward the entertainment center, and my trusty bat. It was a Louisville slugger Papa had given me and I knew it would make a dent in his damn head if I could grab it.

My T-shirt tightened across my chest and I twisted out of his grip, snatching the bat from the top of the entertainment center. Without even looking I swung it one-handed, feeling it clip something, then I lunged for the door again, but my bare foot was caught and I went down. “No! Let me go!”

I fell against the couch, bounced off and landed against the coffee table. Before I could even scream, he was on top of me, blood dripping down his chin where I must have clipped him. There was a snarl of pain on his face, and I’d never seen him look that vicious before. I couldn’t ever remember seeing him in any kind of pain. His hands gripped my wrists.

“You fucking bitch. I ought to just strangle you now. I can’t believe you hit me with a bat.”

“You broke through my door, asshole. What did you expect?”

He gave me a smirk, leaning out enough that his chin dripped over my shoulder and not on my face. “I expect you to behave like a woman should and spread your legs.”

Before I could think, he shoved one of his knees between mine, wedging them apart. Terror made me gasp in fear, and it was infuriating being unable to stop him, but he was strong. His family owned a construction business and he’d grown up working construction sites. I struggled harder than I ever had before. Impotent tears flooded my eyes, making it even harder to see, but I didn’t know how to get out of this. “Let me go!” I screamed.

Sean shifted both of my wrists into one hand and slapped me across the face. Pain consumed me and I was in shock. No one had ever struck me, not ever. Not even my parents. 

If he was willing to hit me, he was willing to do more. I struggled until I couldn’t breathe, my left cheek throbbing where he’d struck me. “Get…off…asshole!”

Then, suddenly, his suffocating weight was gone and he was flying backward through the air. I gasped in air. Booker leaned over me, his beautiful face hard with anger. “Are you okay?”

I nodded, my chest pounding, and took the hand he offered. Movement over his shoulder caught my attention. “Watch out!”

Booker turned, smoothly taking the tackle and spinning Sean away. It had looked so easy. Then Sean charged him again and Booker shifted, getting behind him. He put Sean in a headlock and since Booker was so big, at least 6’3”, he already had leverage on Sean. The smaller man was dancing on his toes, struggling, his face purple with fury as he beat at Booker’s huge, implacable hands. 

Booker looked directly at me, unconcerned with the man struggling in his grip. Muscles bulged in his chest and arms, but he seemed comfortable and in control. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

I nodded, pushing my curly hair out of my face. It had come down at some point, and there was a tenderness on my scalp. Had he grabbed my ponytail? He must have.

I looked at my apartment. It was a wreck, and I didn’t see my phone anywhere. The police needed to be called. Sean would go to jail for this and I didn’t care what the fuck his issues with the police were.

The men began to struggle again. Sean slammed his fist down, I think hoping to get Booker in the balls, but he shifted and the hit landed on Booker’s thigh. I could see Booker’s arm tighten around Sean’s neck. Then, suddenly, Sean was swinging his other hand down and I saw the glint of metal.

“Knife,” I cried, but Booker had already seen it. He struggled to grab the arm that had the knife, but Sean was wily. He wrenched out of Booker’s hold and spun, the knife swinging in an arc. It was terrifying, because my living room was not that big. As if hearing my thoughts, the knife slid through the back of my stuffed chair, the sound of fabric ripping loud over the exhalations of the men.

The thought of Booker being hurt terrified me.

Booker stopped moving and just stared at Sean, as if the guy was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever seen. “You need to drop the knife.”

“Fuck you,” Sean said, lunging.

Booker stepped casually to the side and Sean completely missed him, but he swung his arm backwards in a reckless swipe, and it hit. I gasped as Sean sliced through Booker’s T-shirt and I prayed it didn’t hit skin. Seconds later, I knew it had. Blood appeared on his abdomen, chilling me. Oh, shit.

Then something weird happened. Sean kicked out at Booker’s legs, and something clunked. Sean jerked back, his foot obviously hurting. “You son of a bitch. What is that?”

I scrambled for the phone again and spied it in the crack of the couch cushions. Flipping the case open, I frantically tapped in my access code, but of course it was wrong. I couldn’t control my shaking fingers. I glanced at the men.

Booker, still looking calm, was simply walking toward Sean, even though the other man still held the knife. Sean lunged again and this time, Booker swatted his hand away like a child, then wrenched the man’s arm behind his back. The knife fell to the floor, but Sean twisted in Booker’s grip, one fist hitting Booker in the left temple. Booker staggered, blinking, and Sean followed it up with another punch to his face. I’d never seen Sean fight, but this was dirty. 

Where was the damn bat? Miraculously, it was just a few inches away, so I grabbed it up and lurched toward them. Before Sean could even look up, I swung the bat, hitting him hard in the back, which was to me. He cried out and when he turned, I sent the bat swinging into his gut. Gasping, he staggered, and it gave Booker enough time to plant a huge fist into Sean’s jaw. He stiffened, blinked and fell over like a tree.

For a minute we both stared at the body sprawled on my living room floor. Was he really out?

I was surprised when broad hands gently took the bat from me. I hadn’t even seen Booker move. “I think we’re done with this,” he said, voice rougher than normal.

I glanced up at him, standing over me. The guy was like a foot taller than I was, and probably a hundred pounds heavier. Blood covered the front of his shirt and there was a trickle flowing from the corner of his eye. 

I needed to move. But I didn’t know what to do. “Should we tie him up or something? He needs to go to jail.”

Booker was staring at my mouth, and he shook his head. “No, we shouldn’t tie him. Find your phone and call the cops. I’ll watch him.”

I retrieved my dropped phone and finally managed to get the right digits in. The calm voice of the 911 dispatcher almost made me cry, and she promised they would dispatch police immediately.

“And a squad,” I told her. “My building manager has been hurt.”

“Will do, ma’am.”

Dropping the phone to the table, I hurried into the bathroom and retrieved a couple of clean towels from the cupboard. When I returned, Booker was leaning against the back of the chair that had been cut, looking pale. He also seemed to be leaning to the left, his right leg cocked oddly.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Lift your shirt, please.”

He turned his head to look at me and blinked, but his expression seemed a little dazed. For a moment, I stared, because his eyes were the truest green I’d ever seen on a person, and they were absolutely beautiful. He didn’t seem to be tracking, though. I reached out and touched his forearm, resting on the chair, and he blinked, his expression clearing a little. 

“Are you okay?”

He nodded his head, but I wasn’t really sure about him. Something seemed off. I motioned to his shirt. “Can I look?”

There was no response as I reached for the hem of his T-shirt, sodden with blood. I lifted it up and held onto my control with a death grip, because it looked bad. I wasn’t a person that enjoyed dealing with blood, but I could do it. Rolling one of the towels in my hands, I pressed it to the open gash. It seemed to have just barely skimmed along his muscles, but it hadn’t gone deeper. Thank goodness!

There was blood coming from somewhere else, though, too. I looked my hero over from head to toe, and found another gash on his hand. This one was much deeper. He must have gotten it when he took the knife from him. It had been so fast I hadn’t even seen the knife connect. I rolled another towel and wrapped his hand around it. “Hold this, tight.”

Then I made sure the towel across his belly was tight. I tried to get him to sit down, but he wouldn’t do it. So, I held that towel the entire time we stood there, waiting for the cops and the ambulance to arrive. I tried to talk to Booker, but he seemed intent on staring at Sean, making sure he didn’t move. And when the police arrived, tromping down the hallway, I called out to let them know we were okay and that the assailant was on the floor.

A male officer, looking experienced and maybe a little bored, asked me to explain what had gone on. I replayed everything as clearly and concisely as I could. I had never dealt with cops, though, and I fumbled a few times, nervousness twisting my syllables. I didn’t want them to think that I had invited Sean over, so I told them that, several times, and that I thought I was going to be beaten and raped. 

The tears came, then, surprising me, because I considered myself kind of a badass. Today had shown me how far off the mark I was. Booker, finally appearing more aware, wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “You did good, Catalina.”

I sagged into him just for a tiny moment, feeling his strong arms wrap around me. The towel stayed firm, though. I wouldn’t let him bleed to death.

The other two policemen had been prodding Sean, trying to get him to wake up. Finally, he started coming around, and he was not happy. When he looked up and saw the cops standing over him, he went still like a frantic horse, then went ballistic. Within seconds he was up off the floor and trying to run out the door. For the second time that day, I saw him taken to the ground. The cops had cuffs, though, and they slapped them on him quicker than shit. 

Sean started yelling as soon as they started fighting, and he didn’t stop the entire time they fought to cuff him. Then he caught sight of Booker and I, standing together. 

“You’re going to pay for this, bitch. I swear to you.”

The cops wrestled him out the door and down the hallway, but he screamed the entire time. It was terrifying and chilling, and so out of the normal for me. I led a fairly mundane life, dreaming up ideas for other people. This kind of stuff didn’t happen to me.

The ambulance people arrived then, carrying bulging emergency bags and pushing a gurney. They came straight for Booker, encouraging him to sit on the gurney. One of them gently pulled my hand away from Booker’s abdomen, checking the damage. 

“I think this will be fine, ma’am. Looks like you got the bleeding mostly stopped.”

I sagged with relief. I’d actually done something right today. I looked at Booker, watching as they checked his vitals.

“I think you might have a concussion,” one of the medics told Booker, using a penlight to shine in his eyes. Then he moved to his hand, gently unrolling his fingers. Pulling the towel away, he quickly replaced it with gauze when it started bleeding again. “You’ll need stitches in this, as well. Anything else we need to know about?”

Booker frowned. “I have a history of TBI.”

The mood changed, subtly, at his words. The paramedics grew more focused.

“Wait, what’s TBI?” I asked.

“Traumatic brain injury,” one of the men said without looking at her. “You know you have to go in, then.”

Booker grimaced. “I know.”

“If it makes you feel any better, you’ll probably need a few stitches anyway,” one of them said with a smile.

Booker’s lips quirked beneath his dark mustache, but no more. 

“I’m so sorry,” I told him, really and truly meaning it. I wanted to cry at the damage that had been done to him. The man was so handsome, it was a crime that he’d been damaged this way.

“Not your fault,” he said, voice more gruff than normal. “Might have to fix your toilet later.”

I laughed, though it came out kind of teary. “I can wait. I’ll come to the hospital in a little bit. Can I bring you anything?”

Booker grimaced, but it might have been because they were bandaging his hand. “No, I’ll be fine.”

I watched as they wheeled him out of my tiny apartment. This day had gone in the crapper, in more ways than one.

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Ready for More Love Vixen Books?

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Silver Lining Love by Melanie Shawn

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My Bet’s On Love by Lizabeth Scott

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