Hell was the moment I stepped into the grocery store a few days later and nearly knocked right into him.
“It’s you.” He held up a long, phallic-looking baguette and shook it. “Remind you of something?”
My face felt hot. “Very funny.”
“I haven’t seen much of you outside over the last couple of days. Did we scare you?”
This was not Shower Guy, but rather the one who’d caught me peeping. He had a strong British accent and was extremely tall, with dark hair.
“I’ve just been taking a break from the backyard.”
“Too hot outside for you, eh?”
“Look, I didn’t intend to see what I saw. I’ve been into…birdwatching this summer. Then one day you two moved in, and I—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” The other guy had appeared next to his housemate. “I’m sorry for anything he might have said to you just now. Rest assured, it’s all shite. He’s just playing around.” He, too, had a strong British accent. “I don’t believe we’ve properly met.”
“Although, you’ve improperly met…” his friend chided.
“Put a sock in it, Sigmund.”
Okay, so the asshole is Sig—or Sigmund. The previously naked one must be Leo, then. They were both tall and good-looking, but Leo, with his chiseled features, lustrous hair, and striking eyes was on another level—a total Adonis, and intimidatingly gorgeous.
Sigmund shrugged. “Surely she knows I’m just kidding.”
“But you don’t know when to stop. That’s always been your problem. Can’t you see how red her face is getting? You’re embarrassing her.”
Uh…how red is my face getting? This was mortifying. I couldn’t control that about myself. After all, I was a redhead with fair skin covered in freckles. Whenever I got embarrassed, I basically turned red from head to toe.
Leo’s tone softened. “I apologize for his rude behavior.” He held out his hand. “I’m Leo Covington.”
I took it, enjoying the warmth of his skin. “Felicity Dunleavy.”
The other guy offered his hand. “Sigmund Benedictus. But please call me Sig.”
Been a dick-tus.
He sure had.
“Good to meet you,” I said.
“And you, as well, Freckles.”
Freckles? He couldn’t have come up with a more original nickname? I was self-conscious about my freckles, and typically wanted to murder anyone who dubbed me Freckles.
“Do you mind not calling me that?”
“Do you prefer a different nickname?” Sig asked. “Peeping Tom, perhaps?”
Leo gritted his teeth. “Enough. Seriously.”
“All right. I’ll behave. Going in search of tapenade for this bread.” He winked. “Be back.”
Relief washed over me as he walked away.
“I’m…really sorry about him,” Leo said.
“Well, given how you came to know of me, the ridicule is warranted. I shouldn’t have been spying.”
“I don’t reckon you anticipated seeing me in my birthday suit. That was the first time I’d ever done that. I assumed no one was in the vicinity, of course. For the record, I don’t make a habit of showering for all the world to see. I never had an outdoor shower in England. So it’s a novelty.”
Leo was simply striking. His hair was light brown with golden undertones. He had beautiful bone structure and full lips that were difficult not to stare at. There wasn’t one thing I would change about his face. His eyes were a deep blue. They reminded me of a piece of sea glass I’d used to make a necklace once.
I cleared my throat. “What brings you to Narragansett?”
“I’m taking six months off from life. It seemed like a good location to get lost. We picked this place randomly on a map, actually. Sigmund and I have spent our time in a few different locales. First was California, then New York, and now Rhode Island.”
“Are you two…together?”
His brow lifted. “What do you mean by together? We’re rooming together. But if you mean romantically together, then no. Exactly what did you assume?”
“I thought you might be gay.”
“If I were gay, I’d have far better taste in men than that wanker cousin of mine. What in God’s name made you think we were gay?”
“I don’t know. Two handsome men…living together in a big house…”
“So, if I’m a guy living with another man, I’m automatically shagging him?”
“You’re right. That was a hasty assumption.”
“Thank you for the compliment, by the way.”
I just called him handsome, didn’t I? Feeling suddenly hot, I looked toward the produce section. “Well, I’d better be going…”
“Before you do, I want to apologize for the flowers he sent your way the other night. I urged him not to. Not everyone appreciates that sense of humor.”
I shrugged. “It was fine. And they were pretty. I was embarrassed, at first, but then I ended up laughing about the whole thing. Mrs. Angelini certainly got a kick out of it.”
His brow lifted. “Mrs. Angelini?”
How do I explain who she is without unloading my history on this stranger? I kept it simple. “She’s my roommate.”
“Ah. Roommate. So she must be your lesbian lover, then.” He raised an eyebrow, and I had to smile. “Anyway, why do you call her Mrs. Angelini? She doesn’t have a first name?”
“Well, she’s seventy. It’s more of a respect thing. It’s what I started calling her some years back, and it stuck. She’s always asked me to call her by her first name, but I got used to calling her Mrs. Angelini.”
“I see.” His eyes seared into mine for a moment. “Your roommate is seventy. And how old are you, might I ask?”
“Twenty-four. What about you?”
“Twenty-eight,” he answered. His eyes lingered on mine for a bit. “Listen, we’re going to be renting the house across from you for the entire summer. We know virtually nothing about Narragansett. I’d love to pick your brain about places to go and things to do here. Maybe you wouldn’t mind coming over for tea sometime this week?”
“Tea? You really are British, aren’t you?”
“Guilty as charged.” His white teeth gleamed.
Looking down at my feet, I said, “I don’t know.”
“I promise not to take off my clothes…” He added a crooked smile.
I let out a much-needed laugh. “Well, since you put it that way.”
“Tomorrow at two, then? Or whatever time works for you.”
A part of me wanted to refuse, but why? It wasn’t like I had anything more exciting going on. I didn’t quite understand whether he genuinely wanted my expertise on Narragansett, or if there was something more to the invitation, now that I knew he wasn’t gay.
“Sure. Two tomorrow works.”
“Brilliant. You know how to get to the house without having to swim across, I take it?”
“Yes.” I smiled.
“Very well, then. And I promise, Sigmund will be on his best behavior.”
“I can handle it if he’s not.”
This seemingly rich traveler had no idea just how much I could handle. I might turn red when I was embarrassed, but I’d grown a pretty-thick skin over the years.
That’s the way it is when you always had to fend for yourself.
Copyright © 2021 Penelope Ward