The Mercenary Next Door (Rogues and Rescuers #2) - Lucy Leroux Page 0,1

plants, his one indulgence. He paid Laila, his neighbor, to water them when he was away, probably too much, but it was worth it to be able to walk into a green living area.

His mailbox was empty, also courtesy of his neighbor. Laila may have been quiet and sometimes squeaked when she talked, but she was reliable.

He went up to his fourth-floor apartment via the stairs, bypassing the narrow two-person elevator in the lobby. Mason didn’t have any friends in the building, but he liked it that way. Home was a sanctuary where if he didn’t feel like talking to anyone, he didn’t have to. Laila was the sole exception, but she was so shy and unobtrusive it hardly counted.

Mason had met the master’s student a year ago, shortly after she moved into the building. The structure only had three units per floor—two double bedrooms, one of which was his. Then there was the tiny and lightless one-room studio crammed into the corner. That one was Laila’s.

He scanned the door, checking for a light underneath, but the studio was dark. Most likely, she was at work or a night class.

She could be on a date. But that was less likely since Laila appeared too shy. He’d never seen her with anyone. Well, almost…

There had been one guy, a fellow student, who had helped her move in. He’d come back a day or two after, wasted. Mason had caught enough of his drunken ramble to understand the little shit believed moving a few boxes entitled him to some action. He’d banged on the door, getting belligerent when she wouldn’t open it.

As a rule, Mason didn’t get involved in other people’s business. He hadn’t even really known Laila at the time, but he’d quickly sized her up at their first meeting. The shy, almost skittish girl had been way out of her depth when it came to the drunk asshole trying to break down her door. So, Mason took care of the problem for her—his way. The punk wisely decided to stay away for the sake of his health.

The next morning, Laila had come over with a buttermilk pie to thank him. He’d tried to send her away without taking it, but that damn pie had weakened his defenses. He still had no idea how she’d guessed it had been his favorite dessert growing up.

He and Laila weren’t exactly friends now, but when he went out of town, he let her water his plants, trusting her with a copy of his key. But he was careful to pay her. Mason didn’t like owing anybody anything.

Not that Laila ever imposed on him. She was too shy for that. That, and she appreciated the cash. Laila was putting herself through school by working at a grocery store near the university she attended. She cooked for the bakery there.

Mason liked the mental image of that, more than he wanted to admit. It was too domestic for his taste, but made for a pretty picture, nonetheless.

Kind of like the rest of her. Not that he’d ever go there. Laila was off-limits. His life was too hard for someone that soft.

Chapter Two

Laila ran to her door when she heard the distinctive heavy tread in the hall, somehow managing to bang her leg on the coffee table in the process.

Damn it, she thought as she limped to the keyhole, knee screaming. The door across the hall closed before she could figure out if it were Mason or their other neighbor.

Of course it wasn’t him. She just imagined it had been because he’d been gone for weeks, and she was hungry for a glimpse of him. Six-foot-two, blond, with more muscles than she could count, Mason Lang was the most beautiful man she had ever seen.

Except beautiful was the wrong word for that kind of raw masculinity. Her neighbor looked as if he’d been hewn from granite by a master sculptor. A person could cut themselves on his cheekbones. The first time she’d seen him getting his mail, Laila went weak in the knees.

And to think I used to believe that was just an expression.

When she found out the man lived right across the hall, she had to have herself a lie down. Mason was way out of her league.

So what?

A little harmless fantasizing never hurt anyone. It wasn’t as if she’d stripped naked and waited for Mason in his bed when he came home. She wasn’t that pathetic…although some might disagree if they knew she baked for him,