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Perfection by R. L. Mathewson

 

"You stupid bitch, you ruined my life!"

"Mrs. Sands, wait!" Zoe cried, holding her hands in front of her face as she desperately tried to back up in her small cubicle only to bang into the cheap off-white colored plastic wall, leaving her with nowhere to go and a seriously pissed off woman holding the extra large iced coffee Zoe bought ten minutes earlier, coming her way. "Please don't-"

Her words were cut off by a stunned gasp as twenty-four freezing ounces of her much needed caffeine fix hit her in the face, neck, and chest, instantly drenching her.

"You'll pay for what you did!" Mrs. Sands screamed, pulling her hand back to slap Zoe. Thankfully someone, probably Mr. Sands, already called security and the two large burly guys that she passed every morning in the downstairs lobby grabbed Mrs. Sands and yanked her back before she could make good on the murderous glare she was sending Zoe's way.

"Bitch!" Mrs. Sands screamed, kicked, and screeched as she was carried off the tenth floor.

With a shaky hand, Zoe reached out and grabbed her wobbly office chair and carefully sat down, making sure to keep most of her weight off the front left side wheel. When the chair didn't collapse and deposit her ass on the floor, again, she counted herself lucky.

"I told you to keep your mouth shut," John, the office asshole, said in a bored tone as he walked past Zoe's cubicle.

Yeah, he really had and she was kicking herself for not listening to him when she had the chance. With a groan she dropped her face into her hands and wondered if anyone would notice if she left work a little early today. Of course they would, she thought miserably. The penny pinching management watched their employees like hawks, never missing a thing and ready to swoop in and attack at the slightest blunder.

She'd lost count of how many times she'd been written up for "excessive office supply waste" for not reusing paper clips, leaving her computer running for two minutes while she used the bathroom, throwing away paper that could be used again no matter what was printed on it, and her absolute favorite, using more than one staple on a packet. If she tried to leave even one minute early they'd know and for the next week they'd double her workload to get back the time they believed she owed them.

After three long years she was too tired to argue or care. At this point she was resigned to come in at eight-thirty on the dot and put in eight and half hours and work through her unpaid lunch break as was required and then go home to the new hell that she was beginning to hate.

Two months ago when her landlord unceremoniously evicted her so that his eighteen year old daughter and her thirty-two year old boyfriend could have her apartment, she'd been desperate to find a decent apartment that she could afford on her meager salary.

When she found a beautiful two level townhouse located in a decent neighborhood for two hundred dollars less than her old apartment she'd been ecstatic and snatched it up quickly, hoping that it was a sign that maybe things were going to start looking up for her. Of course she really should have known better since nothing in life ever seemed to go her way.



The first clue should have been when she found out the other tenant in the two family townhouse was the landlord's nephew. Over the years she'd dealt with that situation enough that she really should have known better. In her experience landlord's relatives were ruder, louder, and had a huge sense of entitlement, making the rest of the tenants' lives a living hell. She learned early on not to complain to the landlord when his or her kid had all night parties, had shouting matches until three in the morning, or when their grandkids detonated water balloons in her mailbox. The result just wasn't worth it.

So when her new neighbor, Trevor Bradford, parked his pickup truck halfway into her parking spot, leaving her with no choice but to park on the street and risk a parking ticket, she shut her mouth and sucked it up, knowing complaining would do little good. Whenever he did something to piss her off like steal her paper, blast his television, or track mud into their small hallway and all over her cute welcome mat with puppies, she bit her lip and kept her mouth shut, reminding herself that even with the jerk next door the townhouse was still the best place she'd ever lived in.

"What are you still doing here?" a harsh voice demanded.

Zoe looked up, half-afraid that she'd find Mrs. Sands standing there ready for round two. Instead she found the woman's husband, Mr. Sands standing in her cubicle opening, glaring at her with open disgust. That was a little unexpected considering she was the one who realized that five million dollars had been embezzled over the past six years and found the proof that linked Mrs. Sands to the theft. Then again she could certainly understand why he was in such a pissy mood since his wife had just screwed him over.

"I asked why you're still here, Miss. O'Shea. Your employment was terminated an hour ago. I expected you to leave immediately," he said coldly.

"W-what?" Zoe asked, jumping to her feet quickly, too quickly. Her chair fell back with a loud groan and two of the wheels popped off and rolled off somewhere beneath her desk. "Why am I fired?"

It didn't make any sense. Most bosses would appreciate finding out that someone had stolen from them, right? She didn't expect them to be happy, but grateful wouldn't exactly hurt, especially right now.

With a drawn out sigh, Mr. Sands gestured for one of the security guards who'd dragged Mrs. Sands away to step forward. Zoe automatically took a nervous step back.

"Please remove her before she destroys any more company property," Mr. Sands ordered, stepping away.

Destroying company property? With a frown she looked down at the chair that had given her nothing but problems over the past three years and by this point consisted mostly of duct tape. Before she could tell him that the chair was given to her already broken the large security guard had her by the arm and her worn black purse in the other hand and was dragging her towards the elevator.

"Hey!" she said, desperately trying to dig her feet into the cheap paper-thin carpet. "Why am I being fired?" she asked, reaching out to grab the wall of one of the cubicles only to have the security guard yank her away. She grabbed another wall. Damn cheap plastic walls, she thought as her hand slipped off the cubicle wall. "I don't understand why you're firing me. I'm not the one that stole!" she cried as she was dragged into the elevator. She reached out and slapped her hands against the edge of the elevator door to stop the doors from closing so she could get her answer.

Mr. Sands shrugged. "Because you should have found it sooner," he said, leaving her absolutely stunned.

Her hands dropped away, allowing the elevator doors to close and her world to crumble.

What the hell was she going to do now?

"I would have kept my mouth shut," the security guard mumbled.

Zoe sighed unhappily. "I really am an idiot."

"Yup."

************

 

"Please, please, don't be in my spot," Zoe chanted softly as she slowly turned the corner, wishing she knew how to change or at least temporarily fix her windshield wipers as she did her best to squint through the heavy downpour.

A moment later she slowly stopped in front of her house....at least she thought it was her house. With a small groan, she pressed the button to roll down the driver's side window and tried not to cringe when the window emitted its usual grinding noise. Once it was down, Zoe leaned out the window and tried to make out the color of the townhouse, pale blue, not hers, but at least she now knew that she only had two more houses to go.

Just as she was pulling back, a car sped past her, crashing through a large puddle and further soaking Zoe. This day could not get any worse, she thought, wiping mud out of her eyes and jumping when somebody behind her blasted the horn. With a resigned sigh she started driving once again, but apparently not fast enough for the people behind her, who accompanied her twenty yard drive with continuous horn blasting.

After the day she had she wasn't too surprised to find Trevor's pickup truck parked in the middle of their short double wide driveway. With a groan she did her best to park across the street, trying to ignore the cars that sped past her, telling her off, and adding a special blast of the horn just in case she didn't quite get the message the first time.

When she tried to close the window she received another little surprise when the window slid up noiselessly. Well, that's a relief, she thought, grabbing her purse and climbing out of the car. She was really afraid she'd have to pay three hundred dollars to have her windows fixed, again. She closed the door and turned to walk across the street when an odd swooshing sound caught her attention.

Praying that is was just her imagination, Zoe turned around and frowned. Why did her window look weird? She pushed her wet hair out of her face and leaned forward to get a better look. It didn't take long before she realized that her window had come off its tracks.

She wiped her wet hands on her soaked skirt and gripped the edge of the window and tried to pull it up only to have the window slip through her hands and slide further down.

"Oh no you don't," she muttered, dropping her purse and grabbing the window and doing her best to yank it back up. The last thing she needed was for the window to slide down into the door where it would have to stay until she could scrounge up the money to have it fixed. With no job and no prospects that wasn't happening any time soon and since there was a very good chance that she'd be living out of her car soon she wanted to keep it dry and mold free.

It took several minutes, but she managed to pull the window up several inches. One last pull should do it, she decided, gripping the window tightly and pulling as hard as she could. When the window slid up easily she couldn't help but chuckle. Finally things were-

Her hands slipped and before she could grab the window it slid down quickly into the door and if the noise that followed was any indication, cracked. She stared numbly at the empty window for a long moment before she picked up her purse, not at all surprised when the strap broke off, or when the heel on her left shoe snapped off a minute later.

Clutching her ruined purse to her chest, she wobbled towards the front door, only getting stuck in the mud twice and losing one shoe, the right one, before she found herself on the front stoop, searching her purse for her keys. By the time she found them she was shivering violently from the cold and close to crying for the first time in five years.

She opened the door, spotted her now mud caked puppy welcoming mat and let herself into her apartment, praying that her next door neighbor took it easy on her tonight since she really wasn't sure that she could handle much more.

Doing her best not to ruin her landlord's carpeting, she made her way over to the phone, deciding that she needed the ultimate pickup after the day she had. She knew she shouldn't, especially since she would have to live off what little savings she had, but she just couldn't help herself. She called up Black Jack's Pizzeria and ordered the special, a two liter bottle of Coke, a large order of chicken fingers with extra honey mustard sauce, and an extra large, extra thick Chicago style pizza called, The Monster.

For once the customary one hour wait for delivery didn't bother her. She pulled off her mud soaked shoe and stockings and made her way upstairs to her bedroom and grabbed a change of clothes as she headed for the bathroom, praying that her surprisingly quiet neighbor remained that way.

She quickly pulled off her soaked, coffee stained, and mud splattered skirt suit and looked it over. As long as she pretreated it and got it into the wash tonight it should be fine, at least she hoped it would. She didn't exactly have the funds needed to go out and buy a new suit for job interviews. This one, with the aid of many interchangeable blouses, had lasted for three years and she'd been counting on it to last another two.

After a five minute search she found her bottle of generic stain pretreatment behind the box of condoms she bought, what was it now? Three years ago? Or was it five? The realization that she hadn't had sex in over five years was rather depressing, she thought, tossing the condoms back under the bathroom sink so she wouldn't have to look at the depressing reminder that her love life, social life, and professional life just plain sucked.

She liberally sprayed her suit, only wondering if the pretreatment chemical would harm her suit after she sprayed it. Knowing her luck, the chemical would probably chew through the imitation silk shirt and stain the suit jacket with large weird shaped polka dots.

With a resigned sigh, she left the suit on the sink counter and climbed into her bathtub and turned on the shower. For the first time all day she felt herself relax. She stood beneath the hot spray for several minutes just enjoying the hot water before she applied shampoo to her hair.

A loud squeal escaped her as the water pressure suddenly dropped and the water went from comfortably hot to excruciatingly hot in seconds. Startled, she jumped back, slipped, landed on her butt, and cringed as shampoo seeped into her eyes.

"Ow, ow, owie!" she mumbled frantically as her eyes began to burn and her butt throbbed. She wasn't entirely sure which one bothered her more at the moment, but she knew which one she could fix.

Taking a deep breath, she shoved her head under the hot water, silently cursing the low water pressure that was actually pushing more soap into her closed eyes. At least the water began to cool, she thought on a sigh before she squealed again seconds later when the water went ice cold and she was forced to stand up, hoping that would help the still low water pressure rinse her hair out faster.

It didn't.

Gasping, she ran her fingers through her long thick hair and tried to hurry the process. Minutes later she was jumping out of the shower and cursing the bastard next door for not only flushing the toilet, but for taking a shower at the same time as her. The least the jerk could have done when he realized that she was also taking a shower was wait for her to finish.

Still grumbling five minutes later and thankfully dressed in warm clothes, Zoe grabbed her basket of dirty laundry, a roll of quarters and her damn near empty bottle of laundry detergent and headed downstairs. Unfortunately she didn't have a private entrance to the basement so she was forced to balance her basket of laundry while she did her best not to step in one of the dozen or so mud splotches that decorated the hallway floor.

She walked to the door at the end of the small hallway and flicked on the light switch for the stairs all while hoping that the jerk hadn't tracked mud down the stairs, because she really didn't need to fall on her ass again tonight. Zoe sighed in relief when she spotted the clean pine stairs and headed down them to the small laundry room.

It wasn't until she placed her basket on the washing machine that she realized that she'd forgotten her suit. She half-debated leaving it for another day, but she didn't want to take the chance of landing an interview tomorrow and having nothing to wear but jeans.

With a tired sigh, she left her basket and headed upstairs. At least she had Black Jack's pizza to comfort her later, she reminded herself.

 


Chapter 2

 

How in the hell had he run out of food? Trevor wondered as he looked in the freezer again, hoping there was something hiding behind the ice cube trays to eat.

There wasn't.

Well, there was a box of baking soda that his Aunt Megan had shoved in there a few months ago when he bought the place, but he wasn't willing to risk having his stomach pumped, again. With a frustrated groan he closed the freezer door and looked out the kitchen window.

He really didn't feel like going out in this shit, but he was starving and he didn't have any choice. Of course he could order food, except for the fact that he was still on the banned list for most of the delivery places.

Bastards.

As tired as he was he knew he had to move his ass if he was going to make it to the grocery store before it closed. He headed upstairs, stripping off his sweat soaked tee shirt, work boots, and jeans as he went, noting that it looked like every piece of clothing he owned was scattered around his apartment.

Time to do the laundry, he mused as he walked into the bathroom. After he relieved himself and flushed the toilet he could have sworn he heard a squeal. Shrugging it off, he turned the shower on and cursed up a storm at the low water pressure. He'd have to fix that, but right now he was just glad that the water was nice and hot, helping to relieve the ache in his sore muscles.

Another loud squeak had his eyebrows arching. It wasn't like his normally quiet tenant to blast the television, but as long it didn't interrupt his sleep he'd let it go. After a quick shower he pulled on a semi clean pair of jeans and grabbed his mesh laundry bag and started collecting clothes off doors, counters, the back of the toilet and headed downstairs.

"What the fuck?" he mumbled when he saw the mud all over his newly tiled hallway floor. Had he done that? His eyes darted to the ugly ass welcome mat his tenant had placed near the front door and felt his lips pull up into a shit eating grin. A few more weeks and he'd have the damn thing completely covered.

He made his way towards the basement door, wondering why the hell she'd bought the damn thing. The inbred looking dogs with buggy eyes gave him the fucking creeps. A few weeks ago he threw the damn thing in the trash and replaced it with a Yankees floor mat only to have his aunt toss his floor mat away and return that hideous fucking thing. It didn't matter that he owned the house. His aunt thought the mat was "cute" and it was staying or she would never cook for him again.

He was really starting to get sick of women trying to control him through food. Not that he was going to bitch and risk losing out on his aunt's chicken pot pie, he wasn't a fucking moron after all, but it would be nice if women would stop using his weakness against him. The Bradford appetite was a disability, damn it and should be treated as such.

It seemed that every girlfriend he'd ever had from Jenny in the fifth grade to whatever the hell her name was last year all tried to control him with food once they discovered that it was his weakness. Although, he could forgive Jenny for bribing him with candy bars to beat the shit out of her brothers, they were assholes after all, but the rest of them truly pissed him off.

Not that he could fault them for wanting to marry him, he couldn't. He was a Bradford after all, but he didn't appreciate their fucking games. How many times had a woman hinted at marriage while she held a casserole under his nose or woke him up with breakfast in bed, musing how nice it would be to do that for him every day? Then when he didn't drop down on one knee and propose they'd withhold all those tasty treats they'd promised him. When a woman started the marriage bullshit he sat them down and explained that they didn't quite live up to his standards, which for some reason always earned him a slap and a denial for more delicious tasty treats.

When he got married, and he would one day, it would be to his perfect woman, the woman who met each and every one of his requirements. So far no woman had come close.

His perfect woman would be the best cook. She'd be able to whip him up a cake at a moment's notice and would never deny him any of her delicious treats no matter how badly he pissed her off, and he probably would, every day. She'd also be tall, hot, and have a body that left him panting for more.

She'd also have to be financially well off. Not that he minded supporting his wife, he wouldn't. He just didn't want a woman too dependent or needy. He wasn't interested in being anyone's sugar daddy. He wanted a wife that could function completely without him and wouldn't give a damn when he made last minute plans to go to New Hampshire for some fishing or decided to stay out late with the guys. She'd have to come from a big family so she wouldn't rely on him too much and so she'd have someone to bitch to at the end of the day and leave him the hell alone.

His stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him that he needed to move his ass. He made his way to the laundry room and dropped his bag by the machine and ran his fingers through his damp hair to push it out of his eyes. That reminded him that he needed a haircut. If he didn't get held over tomorrow night, which wasn't looking very likely since they were trying to bust their asses to complete the Madison project, he'd swing by Henry's and get his customary cut.

After dropping his quarters in the machine he removed the basket left on top of the washer, not really giving it much thought, and went to pick up his bag of clothes only to realize that he was out of laundry soap and would have to pick some up tonight. He really didn't feel like staying up half the night doing laundry since he had to be up by six in the morning and have his ass at work by seven.

With a shrug he grabbed the laundry soap out of the basket, figuring that she'd never miss it and quickly poured the soap into the washing machine.

"Oops," he sighed when he realized that was the last of it. With a careless shrug he tossed the now empty container back on the basket, making a mental note to pick up another bottle for her at the grocery store.

He quickly dumped his clothes into the washing machine, not bothering to let it suds up since he was so damn hungry and made his way back upstairs just as his neighbor was stepping out of her apartment with a handful of clothes.

"How's it going?" he said, heading for his door and not really in the mood to speak with her. Not that he was a snob, he wasn't. He just didn't like to deal with tenants. That's why he had his aunt deal with all their bullshit. He owned four apartment houses and only made an appearance when something needed to be fixed or he found out one of them was giving his aunt shit.

When he bought this place he'd planned on leaving the second unit empty until he found some time to remodel it, but after his aunt suggested that one of his pain in the ass cousins should move in, he'd decided damn quickly to rent it out. He'd given his aunt a list of strict rules and this woman was the only one who'd been willing to agree to them.

From what he heard a lot of the people that looked at the place bitched and whined over his list, but he didn't give a fuck. This was his house and he wasn't about to put up with any bullshit. If they wanted to have their friends over at all hours of the night, have parties, or blast their music then they could keep fucking walking, because he wasn't having it. After working a twelve hour day all he wanted to do was come home to a nice quiet house and relax.

Thankfully this woman followed his rules so he never had to bother her or kick her ass out. He had to admit that the extra income was nice. Granted it only covered half his grocery bill, but hey, every little penny counted.

"Hi," she mumbled quickly as she walked past him. He paused to look over his shoulder and frowned. She was short, chubby, pale, and plain, but she was without a doubt the best tenant he'd ever had. Maybe he should make that the requirement for all his tenants, he thought with a chuckle.

He was just about to open his apartment door when a knock at the front door caught his attention. Grumbling, he walked over to the door, hoping his tenant wouldn't be making a habit of having people over after eight, and opened the door. He nearly swallowed his tongue when he spotted the familiar pizza logo on the guy's shirt.

"Is this 23 Bedford Street?" the kid asked.

Trevor nodded dumbly as his eyes took in the oversized pizza box Black Jack's was famous for and the small cardboard box on top of it. He sniffed, allowing his Bradford senses to do its thing and in seconds knew that he had a "Monster" and a large chicken tenders inches from his grasp.

His fingers twitched with the need to yank the food out of the guy's hands and make a run for it.

"That'll be $26.50. I'm sorry it took so.....wait a minute," the guy said, frowning. "You're not a Bradford, are you?" he asked, quickly taking in Trevor's dark hair, good looks, and large muscular build.

"No, no of course I'm not," Trevor said quickly, fully prepared to tackle the bastard if tried to leave with his food. Granted, that may have been one of the reasons why he was placed on the banned list at Black Jacks, but they really should have known better than to show up at his door at eleven at night with someone else's order. Besides he'd only scared the hell out of the guy, there was no real harm done, at least that's what the Judge decided.

He wasn't exactly sure what the rest of the men in his family did to earn a place on the banned list, but he could guess.

The man took a small step back and Trevor prepared to lunge. He gestured with his chin towards the mailbox. "It says Bradford on the mailbox."

"That's my neighbor," he said, forcing himself to remain calm as he pulled his wallet out of his pants pocket. He pulled out two twenties and handed them to the guy who was still looking unsure about the whole thing. "Keep the change."

That seemed to make up the man's mind. He handed Trevor the food and a two litter bottle of Coke and smiled. "Thank you, sir. You have a nice night."

"I will now," Trevor mumbled as his mouth watered. He closed the door and turned around only to find his little tenant standing in front of him, glaring at the food in his hands.

"Is that my order?" she demanded as she pushed a strand of her wet mahogany hair behind her ear, narrowing her baby blue eyes on his face.

"Um, no?" he cleared his throat, realizing that sounded more like a question. "This is my order."

"Oh." She frowned. "Sorry," she mumbled, heading back to her apartment. He wasn't too surprised that she didn't bitch about him stealing the washer from her. She never bitched, making her his favorite kind of tenant.

He walked into his apartment and shut the door, eager to dig into his food. He set the food down on the coffee table and turned on the game, which was thankfully still in the second inning, and headed to the kitchen for a glass and a handful of napkins.

Just as he was about to sit down and help himself to the first slice someone knocked on his door. Having a pretty good idea who it was, he ignored it and sat down. The knocking continued for another minute before it thankfully stopped. He picked up a thick slice of that beautiful pizza and almost wept. It had been too damn long since he'd had a slice of the most perfect pizza ever made.

He was just about to take a bite when the slice of pizza was ripped out of his hands. It took him a minute to realize what the hell had just happened and by the time he did his eyes were narrowing dangerously on his frumpy little neighbor as she tossed the slice of pizza back in the box and closed it. Then she placed the box of chicken tenders on top and picked them both up and headed for the door only to pause and return for the bottle of soda.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"Getting my order. I called. Not only did you not order this, but apparently you're on some sort of banned list," she said, heading for the door.

Trevor was up and over the couch in seconds, blocking her way. "That's my food!" he snapped.

"No, it's not!"

"Yes, it is!"

"I ordered it!"

"So what? I paid for it. Put it back and get the hell out of my apartment!"

Her eyes narrowed on him as she squared her shoulders. "Look, I've put up with a lot of crap from you over the past two months, but stealing my Black Jack's pizza after I had the worst day of my life is the last straw. So I really don't give a damn if you go crying to your aunt and whine about this and get me evicted. I'm taking my pizza home and I'm going to enjoy it."

A lot of what she said and how she said it pissed him off, but he forced himself to focus as he reached out and snatched the pizza from her hands, earning a surprised gasp and a rather cute little growl as he moved away from her. She of course stalked after him, he would too. It was Black Jack's pizza after all.

"What the hell have I put you through? I've been a fucking perfect neighbor," he pointed out, sidestepping her as she tried to snatch away his chicken tenders.

She snorted at that. "Puhlease."

"I have!"

"Really?" she demanded, crossing her arms over her faded blue tee shirt and rather large chest.

"Yes, really!" he snapped back, forcing his eyes away from her chest. Shit. If he was checking out a woman like her it really had been too long since the last time he got laid.

For some reason she took that as her cue to share. "You park in my spot so that I'm forced to park on the street. I've gotten four parking tickets thanks to you," she said, making him frown. "You steal my paper every morning. You run the water when I'm taking a shower, leaving me to freeze my ass off and with no water pressure! You blast your television all night. You're loud and so are your friends. Every time I go to use the washing machine you steal it or worse, you take my clothes out of the drier before they're dry and throw them on top of my dirty clothes."

When he opened his mouth to argue she continued, cutting him off. "And every night you watch porn!" she said accusingly, and he swore he felt his cheeks burn. Fuck. This was embarrassing. Well, at least she didn't say-

"And you're loud. Really loud," she stressed, further pissing him off.

"Look, no one stopped you from telling me all this shit before. You wouldn't have gotten any of those tickets if you had just opened your fucking mouth and asked me to move my truck. Same deal goes for the water. How the hell was I supposed to know you were having a problem with your water if you didn't tell me?" he demanded, not mentioning any of the other things since they just made him look bad.

"Why in the hell would I tell you about the water?" she demanded, trying to steal his pizza.

"Because I'm the landlord!" he snapped, yanking the pizza away from her sneaky little hands.

"No, you're not," she snorted, trying to steal his pizza again.

"Call up my aunt if you think I'm lying. I own this house," he said, stepping away, but not fast enough. The damn woman stole his chicken fingers.

She considered him for a long moment while he tried to figure out how to steal back his precious chicken tenders. "Why would you have your aunt pretend she's the landlord?"

"Because I hate dealing with tenants," he said, switching the pizza to one hand and swiping out with the other to grab the small box away from her. She simply moved it back and out of his reach.

"Well," she said, sighing, "then I guess you're the one I should inform that I'm probably going to have to move out in a month."

"Fine," he bit out, glaring at the box in her hands. If she tried to leave with his chicken tenders so help him he would-

"Okay, so give me back my pizza," she said, holding her hands out expectantly.

"No. You give me back my chicken tenders."

"No."

Something in him snapped. He wasn't sure if it was from hunger, the embarrassment from knowing that she could hear him at night, or just the bullshit in general, but he said something he regretted before the last syllable left his mouth.

"It's not like you need it."

 


Chapter 3

 

Zoe felt her face burn and her eyes water as his words hit home.

"Oh shit....," he muttered, looking horrified.

Biting back a sob, she carefully placed the box of chicken fingers on top of the pizza box in his hands. "Bon appetite," she mumbled, heading for the door.

"Zoe, wait!" she heard him say, but she didn't stop. She ran into her apartment, shut the door, and ran upstairs, wishing for the second time that day that she had just kept her mouth shut.

She crawled onto her bed as she angrily wiped away the tears. After all the crap she'd gone through in the last couple of years she couldn't believe that a gorgeous guy calling her fat finally made her cry.

"What an asshole," she mumbled around a sob as she buried her face in her pillow.

It wasn't like she didn't know that she was fat, but having it pointed out by someone who looked like him was beyond humiliating. Granted, she knew he was saying it because he was pissed, and she did kind of, sort of go out of her way to embarrass him with that "you're loud" bit, but that didn't stop it from hurting.

She'd lost count of how many times over the years she tried to lose weight. Sometimes the diets would work and she'd lose a few pounds only to gain all the weight back plus some when something in her life didn't go as she wished or work depressed her more than usual.

Well, at least she didn't have to worry about binge eating after receiving another write up for using too many paper towels in the ladies bathroom, she thought dryly. Of course being unemployed was really depressing, but at least she wouldn't have to worry about binge eating while she looked for a job since she couldn't afford it.

What in the hell was she supposed to do now? She was unemployed and probably couldn't count on a good recommendation from The N.W. Corporation, the firm she'd been booted out of a few hours ago. Why hadn't she kept her mouth shut? She'd heard some truly frightening stories about how her old bosses treated their ex-employees. Had those horror stories stopped her from opening her big fat mouth?

Nope.

Stupidly she thought that they'd appreciate finding out where their money was going. She never expected them to show their appreciation by giving her a raise or a promotion or anything. She wasn't delusional after all, but she had hoped that they would relax their rules a little bit so that going to work wasn't so damn stressful, but really she should have known better.

Telling her immediate supervisor, who in turn let everyone know that one of the partner's wives was stealing from the company was a dumb move. She should have gone with her original plan and anonymously sent the file, but she hadn't thought the information would have been taken seriously unless there was an actual person behind the complaint. She should have known that Mr. Sands would take it out on her.

Now she was facing a future of living out of a car, again. Granted her car at this very moment was rapidly filling up with water or being vandalized and might not be livable come morning.

"Zoe," she heard Trevor say through the wall.

"Go. Away," she said into the pillow, unsure if he could hear her and really not caring. She had enough problems without adding his bullshit into the mix.

"I'm really sorry," he said louder.

She didn't bother answering as she lay there, hoping he would just give up and leave. Of course he didn't.

"I'm really sorry," he said, again.

Frustrated that he wasn't going away and angry with herself for crying, she rolled over onto her side and demanded, "For what? For being a jerk or for calling me fat?"

"Hey! I didn't call you fat!"

"What the hell would you call it?" she snapped back.

After a short pause he muttered something before saying. "You're right. I'm an asshole."

"At least we're in agreement about one thing," she said.

"Look, I'm trying to apologize here. Could you cut me some slack?"

She thought that over for a minute. "Are you going to give me back my pizza?"

His answer was a snort.

"Fine. Whatever. Keep the pizza," she said, half expecting him to offer to share it at least.

"Thanks," he said brightly, and she could have sworn it sounded like he was eating, but she couldn't really tell through the wall.

She grabbed Mr. Cuddles, the teddy bear she'd had since she was two, and absently ran her fingers over his worn little ears and button nose.

"So?"

"So what?" she called back, throwing a confused look at her bare lavender wall.

"So what the hell happened to you today to set off that little breakdown?" he asked as she heard a familiar hissing sound. Yup, he was eating her food and drinking her Coke, she thought with a resigned sigh.

"You don't think the shit you pulled was enough to set me off?" she asked, rolling onto her back and placing Mr. Cuddles on her stomach.

"No. Not really," he said easily.

"I just had a bad day at work," she said, wondering why she was talking to him.

"Is that why you said you had to move out?" he asked with what sounded like a mouthful of food.

She snorted. "You don't think the crap you pull is reason enough?"

"Nope," he said with absolutely no hesitation.

Zoe rolled over onto her side, hugging Mr. Cuddles tightly in her arms the way she used to when she was a little girl spending her first night in a new foster home. Even after all these years it still brought her comfort.

"So?" he asked, still eating her damn pizza. It should piss her off, but after everything she'd gone through today she discovered that she really didn't care and didn't have much of an appetite anymore.

"I was fired if you must know so I won't be able to pay you rent past next month," she said, sighing heavily.

"What did you do?" he asked shamelessly, reminding her of the women who gossiped at the beauty salon.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Fucked up big time, huh?"

She titled her head back to glare at the wall, wishing she could glare at him instead. "I didn't screw up!"

"Fucked up. I said fucked up," he sighed heavily as if reminding her somehow pained him.

"Same damn thing," she said, still glaring.

"No, it's not."

"Yes, it is."

"Nope," he said, making the word pop.

She growled. "You know you're annoying, right?"

"Yes," he said unconcerned.

"You were dropped on your head as a child, weren't you?"

"Once or twice," he mused. "Now, you were telling me how you fucked up and got fired," he prompted.

"No, I wasn't," she said, frowning.

"Are you sure? Because I distinctly remember you saying, 'Let me tell you how I fucked up, Trevor' and then stopping only to tell me that I'm the best landlord that you've ever had."

"Oh yeah, you rock," she said dryly, her lips twitching despite herself.

"I know," he said on a long drawn out sigh. She couldn't help but roll her eyes. The man truly was arrogant. Not that she could blame him with his chiseled bad boy good looks, killer green eyes and a body that didn't exactly hurt the eyes.

"So?"

"So what? I'm sleeping. Go away," she grumbled, not exactly in the mood to recap one of the stupidest things she'd ever done.

"No, you're not."

"How do you know?"

"Believe me I know when you're sleeping. You snore."

"I do not!" she practically screeched. She didn't. She would know.

He laughed.

The bastard.

"Go away."

"Can't," he simply said. "I still have half a pizza left."

She groaned. "Look, if I tell you, will you shut up and leave me to wallow in self-pity?"

"Sure," he readily agreed.

Zoe worried her lip as she ran her fingers over Mr. Cuddle's head. After a few minutes she said, "A few months ago I came across some inconsistencies in one of our audit programs. So for the past few months I've been following a money trail and yesterday I discovered that it lead straight to one of the owner's wives."

When he didn't say anything she continued. "I told my supervisor, who told everyone else so the owner actually heard the rumor before I was able to file my report this morning. He was angry to say the least, but I didn't think he was mad enough to fire me."

"Clearly you were wrong," Trevor mused.

"Clearly," she repeated dryly, again wondering why the hell she was talking to him? Oh, that's right, because she had absolutely no one else in the world to talk to and she was probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

"So, what are you going to do now?" he asked.

"I thought you were going to leave me alone if I told you."

"I lied."

She sighed. "I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do now."

When he didn't say anything for a long time she figured that he'd finally left. Even though it was nice to talk to someone, she couldn't help but feel relieved. She didn't want to sit around talking or thinking about how she was going to fix her screwed up life. There was plenty of time to do that tomorrow. Right now she wanted to pull on her favorite Red Sox tee shirt and go to bed and forget this mess, at least for a little while.

"Look, there's this job in the office at my uncle's construction company," he suddenly announced, breaking the silence. "I can't guarantee you'd get it, but they're pretty desperate for some help. The pay is pretty good and so are the benefits. If you're interested, you could swing by in the morning and I could put a good word in for you."

She couldn't help but feel a little touched. "Why would you do that? You don't even know me."

"Well," he said, yawning loudly, "you could use the work, my uncle needs the help, and you don't piss me off as much as my other tenants do."

"Oh," she said, feeling slightly less touched.

"And as a thank you for hooking you up with a job you'll of course return the favor by ordering pizza from Black Jack's at least once a week for me," he said, sounding quite pleased with himself.

She couldn't help but roll her eyes at that little announcement even as her curiosity got the better of her. "How exactly do you get banned from a pizza delivery place?"

"Hey, don't judge me! Those bastards had it out for me!"

 


Chapter 4

 

 


"Aw fuck," Trevor muttered when he opened the fridge to grab his packed lunch only to remember that he didn't have one. He'd forgotten to go to the store last night. "Damn it."

Looked like he was hitting the coffee truck today, he thought unhappily. They never stocked it with enough food. He grabbed his tool belt and hardhat and headed for the door, already in a pissy mood at the prospect of starving. His only hope was that his cousins and uncles bagged their lunch so that he would have a chance at getting a decent lunch today. He hated competing with those bastards for food, especially his uncle who wasn't above kicking everyone's ass for a damn cupcake.

It was really kind of pathetic, he thought even as his stomach rumbled, liking the idea of a dozen or so cupcakes for breakfast. Perhaps he'd stop by Mary Lou's on the way to work and pick some up.

He stepped out of his apartment, trying to be quiet and not wake up his little tenant. It was kind of funny how after last night he was more conscious of all the noise he made. Before last night he honestly hadn't given it much thought. He quietly closed the front door behind him and scooped up her newspaper so he could look at the picture highlights from last night's game and carried it to his truck, deciding he'd be more considerate in small steps.

Halfway to his truck he paused and frowned as he watched some asshole reaching into Zoe's car.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded, resuming his pace and hurrying towards the jackass. The man noticeably started as he stood up. He took one look at Trevor and dropped the armful of CD's he was holding and took off at a dead run.

"Don't let me catch you around here again, asshole!" Trevor called after him, wishing he had the time to go after the piece of shit and knock some sense into him.

He walked back to his truck and threw his shit in and slammed the door shut, wincing when he realized how loud it was and hoping he hadn't woke her up since he had a pretty good idea that she'd stayed up most of the night pacing.

There was a lot more shit in her life besides losing her job and he had no interest in finding out about any of it. It was bad enough that he actually asked about her work drama, and that had only been because he'd felt bad about what he said. He didn't want or need to find out about any of the other shit.

He walked over to her car and cringed as he picked up her CD's. What kind of sick bastard listened to Phil Collins? God, this woman needed more help than he thought, he mused as he collected her CD cases and tossed them in her car. A dark frown crossed his features as he took in the soaked driver's seat and open window.

What in the hell was she thinking leaving the window down last night? he wondered as he looked at his watch. He really didn't have time for this, but he couldn't just leave her car here, knowing that bastard would come back.

With a resigned groan he walked back to the house and let himself inside and knocked on her door. He was just about to run up to his bedroom to see if he could wake her up through the wall when her door opened.

"Zoe, I--Oh God!" he said, clutching his chest and stumbling back.

"What?" she asked, looking anxiously around herself as she held a large brown muffin against her chest.

With a shaky hand he pointed at the offending item that she dared bring into his house. "What the hell is that?"

She looked down and frowned. "My muffin?"

"How could you?" he demanded hoarsely as he shook his head in disgust.

"What the hell are you freaking out about?" she demanded, looking around again.

"That shirt!" he said, pointing wildly towards the Red Sox shirt that she dared to wear in his presence. "What the hell were you thinking?"

She sent him a look that clearly stated that she thought he was crazy. He inwardly snorted at that. He wasn't the one sporting a fucking Red Sox shirt.

"I was thinking that it was cute and comfortable," she said, shrugging as if it were no big deal.

Oh, god, he was going to be sick. He stumbled forward and snatched the muffin out of her hand.

"Hey!"

"I need sustenance to deal with this, woman!" he snapped before taking a huge bite of her muffin. It took a split second before the taste hit and when it did he ran past her and headed for the small wicker basket trash can she had by her couch and spit the entire bite out, but that wasn't enough. The horrible taste was still in his mouth.

"It wasn't that bad, was it?" she asked, worrying her bottom lip.

He threw her a disbelieving look as he rushed past her into the kitchen. He threw open her refrigerator and nearly wept with relief when he spotted the nearly full gallon of orange juice. He grabbed the jug, tore the cap off and tossed it into the sink behind him as he started chugging the orange juice, hoping that it would take that god awful taste out of his mouth.

"Okay, now you're just exaggerating," she said, sounding exasperated, but the nervous look on her face told another tale.

He narrowed a glare on her as he finished off half her orange juice. Gasping, he pulled the gallon away from his mouth and cringed when he tasted a hint of that scary muffin. When she opened her mouth to say something, he held up a hand to stop her and chugged the rest of the orange juice.

"What the hell did you just try poisoning me with?" he demanded, still panting.

"Hey," she snapped, placing her hands on her generous hips. "No one told you to steal my muffin!"

"I needed nourishment after the scare that you gave me! How could you wear a Red Sox shirt in front of me?" he demanded, jumping back when he spotted the large plate of dark brown muffins on the counter. "And what the hell kind of muffins are those?"

"Apple," she mumbled, worrying her lip again.

"Apple?" he repeated in disbelief. His eyes shot back to the things that had no business being called muffins and shook his head in disbelief. He'd never seen a brown, almost black apple muffin before and he was a man who knew his muffins.

She threw up her hands and let them drop by her sides. "I'm not a good cook. Okay? Are you happy now?"

He looked between the plate of muffins he swore just moved and her tee shirt that needed to be incinerated and shook his head. "I'm truly at a loss for words here," he muttered.

Zoe blew a strand of hair out of her face as she continued to glare at him. "Is there a reason you came knocking on my door at six-thirty in the morning besides to remind me that I can't cook?"

Trevor blinked. "That's not enough?"

She growled and he couldn't help but smile.

"Actually, I came back to tell you to move your car and to find out why the hell you left your window down last night," he said, moving to fold his arms over his chest when something caught his eye.

His stomach growled viciously as he reached over and snatched an iced honey bun off her counter and ripped it open.

"Please help yourself," she said dryly.

"Thanks," he said, taking a huge bite of the delicious treat. As he ate the snack he did his best to appear innocent as his free hand slowly made its way back to the pile of individually wrapped baked treats that she foolishly left lying on the counter for anyone to steal.

With an eye roll, she stepped past him and pushed the treats his way. "Just take them."

"Thanks," he said, grabbing them and not giving her a chance to change her mind.

As he ripped open a cherry pie and dug in he watched as she grabbed a plastic shopping bag and held it out to him. "Put them in here," she said.

His eyes narrowed on her and the bag. "Why?" he asked cautiously, afraid she was trying to steal his treats.

Just what kind of sick game was she playing?

"Forget it," she said on an exasperated sigh, heading back to her cabinets. As he snacked away he watched her go through each cabinet and pull out yummy treats that caused his poor neglected stomach to rumble.

A few minutes later when all his treats were long gone and he was downing her last Coke, she handed him three shopping bags full of junk food.

"What's this?" he asked, taking them.

"I've decided to go on a diet," she said, pulling her hair back into a ponytail.

He visibly winced, remembering what he said last night and feeling like an asshole all over again. "If this is about what I said last night I'm really so-"

"It has nothing to do with you," she said, cutting him off. "I've just decided to make some changes in my life."

Guilt was a real bitch, he decided.

"Are you going to my uncle's for an interview?" he asked, hoping she would so that he could get rid of some of this damn guilt he had over insulting her. He still didn't know what the hell he was thinking. He'd never been that rude to a woman before and he'd dealt with some real bitches over the years. If his aunt ever found out what he said.....

Oh shit, he really hoped she didn't tell his aunt.

Zoe shrugged. "It's worth a shot."

"You don't sound too sure," he noted, leaning a hip against the counter.

"I'm not expecting a good reference from my old boss," she sighed. "I don't think I'm going to find a job anytime soon so you might want to start looking for a new tenant."

That wouldn't work for him, he realized as he looked around the surprisingly clean kitchen. Not only would he still feel like an asshole for what he said, but then he'd be stuck with either his cousin living here or some tenant that annoyed the shit out of him. He wasn't about to lose his perfect tenant, not if he could help it.

"How about this?" he said as Zoe picked up the plate of muffins and thankfully tossed them into the trash, "if my uncle doesn't hire you, which I'm sure he will," he'd make sure of it, "then you can work for me."

"Doing what exactly?" Zoe asked, washing the plate and putting it in the dish strainer.

"Cleaning, laundry, running errands, taking care of the lawn, shit like that," he said, feeling quite proud of himself for coming up with the idea.

She narrowed her eyes on him. "Would I have to cook?"

God no....

"Um, no that's okay," he said quickly.

"How much an hour?" she asked hesitantly.

"Eight bucks an hour?" he suggested, liking the idea more and more. It would certainly free up his load and let him enjoy what little free time he had. This could definitely work for him. Too bad she couldn't cook. "Actually, even if my uncle does give you the job you can still have this one to earn extra money."

He could tell the prospect of having extra money appealed to her, but she was trying not to let him know.

"Ten dollars an hour," she finally said.

"That's highway robbery!"

"No, that's the price for going near your dirty drawers."

"Fine," he said on a long drawn out sigh, pushing away from the counter. She did have a point after all. "You can start after your interview."

"Okay," she said, nodding. "What do you need done?"

"I need you to go grocery shopping, do a load or two of laundry and a little light cleaning," he said, trying not to frighten her with the truth. She'd learn soon enough what hell awaited her and by the time she'd discovered the truth she'd already be set on earning some extra money. Plus she was desperate for work, so she really shouldn't be complaining about his pigsty. Instead she should thank him.

"That doesn't sound too bad," she murmured, pulling out a pen and a pad of paper. "Write down what you need and I'm going to need money for the grocery shopping," she said, sounding embarrassed.

"Don't worry about it," he said, taking the pen from her and writing his list down quickly. "You never told me why you left your window down last night," he reminded her.

"The window came off its track again and I think it broke inside of the door," she said, trying to peek over his shoulder at his list. "I'm going to have to bring it by the garage today."

He should just let her do that, but he knew how much those places charged for that shit. "No," he said, shaking his head and handing over his list so he could pull his wallet out. "I'll fix it over the weekend. Until then place a few towels and a trash bag over the car seat when you're using the car otherwise let it dry out. You can use my rug cleaner to suck the water out of it this afternoon," he said, handing her his grocery money. He really needed to move his ass now or he'd be late.

"Thanks," Zoe mumbled absently as she frowned down at his grocery list. "You didn't write anything."

"Yes, I did," he said, pointing to the one word he wrote.

"Everything," she read out loud, lips twitching. "So helpful."

"That's just the kind of guy I am," he pointed out, knowing in time she'd come to realize how lucky she was to have a landlord like him.

 


Chapter 5

 

 


Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Zoe thought as she stepped out of her car and looked around the large construction site. She didn't know anything about construction. Absolutely nothing. On top of that she was pretty sure the bad reference she was no doubt going to get would guarantee that she didn't get this job or any job for that matter.

Perhaps she should just get in the car and be content to work part time for Trevor while she tried to figure out how to get a job without having to give a reference.

"Move your ass!" a rather large man standing in line for the coffee truck barked, startling the hell out of her.

Yeah, definitely not the place for her, she thought as she opened her door to get back in her squishy car. Maybe if she did a really good job he'd-

"Are you Zoe O'Shea?" a large man with short silver tipped jet black hair asked as he paused by her car. She quickly took in his good looks, large build, the laugh lines around his eyes, button down shirt, khakis and clipboard and had a pretty good idea who this man was.

"Mr. Bradford?" she asked, stepping away from her car, hoping he hadn't seen her little escape attempt.

He held his hand out to her. "Jared," he said, gesturing towards the double wide office trailer with a nod as she shook his hand. "Why don't we go inside and talk?"

"That sounds great, thank you," she said, feeling foolish going on a job interview in jeans and a summer blouse, but she had nothing else to wear and Trevor promised that it would be fine. She wasn't entirely comfortable counting on one person for so much help, but she also knew that she really didn't have much of a choice in the matter.

He held the door open for her and with a nervous smile she stepped inside. The first thing she noticed was the large refrigerator, cabinets, and kitchen sink. That was a little surprising. Didn't these trailers usually have small kitchenettes? she wondered as she glanced over at the small comfortable sitting area and a large "L" shaped desk to her left.

"I really appreciate you coming in for an interview. We're kind of desperate to get a fulltime secretary and office manager," he said, reaching over the desk and grabbing another clipboard. He attached a few sheets of paper to the clipboard before handing it to her.

"If you could go ahead and fill out the reference section I can check those out while you finish the rest of the application," he suggested with a warm smile.

"O-okay," she said nervously as dread filled her. This was going to end very badly. She thought about giving him a head's up about her situation, but then decided against it since it would probably look like she was badmouthing her last employer.

With dread she sat down and quickly filled out the top sheet and handed it to him. With a smile he disappeared through the doorway to the right of the desk and closed the door, leaving her alone to either finish her paperwork or make a run for it.

Ah, what the hell, she decided a minute later. What did she have to lose? Besides a little more of her pride and dignity that is. It didn't take her too long to finish filling out the rest of the paperwork and when she was done she sat there trying not to fidget.

Thankfully Mr. Bradford didn't make her wait too long.

"Why don't you step into my office," he said, still smiling. That had to be a good sign, she thought, walking into his office and almost tripping over her feet when she got her first good look.

What the hell.......

Half of his office was set up as an office with a large desk, filing cabinets, computer, a couple of chairs and framed documents and large pictures of past projects neatly lining the walls. The other half of the office was a little odd to say the least.

In the corner was a baby crib, a changing table, a bookshelf filled with books and toys, pictures of Mickey Mouse lined the walls and teddy bears lined the floor. The area had obviously been set up for a well loved child, she thought with a sad smile.

"That's for my little buddy," Mr. Bradford said with a warm smile.

"What's his name?" she asked, taking the seat he gestured to.

"Cole, he's just a few months shy of one," he said proudly as he took his seat behind the large desk. "May I?" he asked, holding his hand out for her application.

She handed it over, fighting back the urge to ask what her old job said about her. As she sat there trying not to squirm he looked over her application, absently nodding every few seconds.

Was he looking for a polite way to tell her that he wasn't interested? She didn't remember being this nervous at her last job interview, granted that was over three years ago. She really wasn't sure that her poor stomach was going to be able to handle the stress of going on any more job interviews.

"When can you start?" he asked, startling her.

Once again even though she knew she should keep her mouth shut she didn't listen. "Um, did you check my references?"

"Mmmhmm, everything checked out."

"Everything?" she asked, wishing she could just shut the hell up. Seriously, what was wrong with her?

"Yup, you worked for some real assholes," he said, smi


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 276


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