With: Sarah Ballance
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Finding Mr. Right Next Door’s starring couple, Lexi and Matt, are platonic. As in, the most hardcore-platonic two people on the planet—not because they have never thought about it, but because the stakes are huge. They share everything—friends, a job, their dog, their families—but when it comes to romance, their paths do not cross. Lexi wants commitment and two-point-four kids, while Matt is kind of a first date guy. On paper, going any further would be a disaster. Crossing that line, failing, would ruin everything. It’s a risk they can’t take.
It’s also one they can’t resist.
Lexi also couldn’t resist rearranging Matt’s kitchen, which led to this moment.
Resigned, Matt stretched just past Lexi and grabbed a stool, setting it solidly in front of the cabinet she hadn’t had a prayer of reaching.
“Thanks,” she told him brightly.
“You can use that to put everything back,” he said, but she’d already taken the two vertical steps, hoisting the ceramic dish to the top shelf where it absolutely did not belong. Only then did he realize his mistake. She wore the tiniest pair of shorts, and he wasn’t sure why that fact had initially escaped him. Add to that, with her on the stool and her arms extended over her head, her shirt edged upward, baring her midriff inches from his face. He felt the heat from her skin, smelled the soap from her shower. Visually traced one curve after another, twisting and turning into a bigger mess than she could ever make of his kitchen.
He swallowed hard, managing to turn away to plunk one of those little plastic cups into the hole in her coffee machine and close the lid. At least that was how he thought the thing worked. Caitlin had one in her bookstore so he was remotely familiar, but the fire station thus far kicked it old school, which was the way Matt liked it. He didn’t think much could beat a hot pot of coffee waiting.
At least not until that moment.
He hadn’t gained enough distance from Lexi, and when she turned to step off the stool, he was looking directly up at her, like he’d hoisted her skyward for some dramatic moment from one of her movies, where all she had to do was slide down the length of his arms to land in the kind of embrace that made the credits roll. His breath caught, and he’d have sworn time stood still. The only sound was the gurgle from the coffee he’d brewed, and he was hit with one single thought.
He wanted nothing more than to knock every dish he owned out of the way, bend her over the counter, and sink so deep into her that he’d forget his own name until he heard it on her lips.
Fuck. The word, an admonishment, one hell of a mistake he couldn’t afford, rolled around, the mother of all bad ideas, throwing sparks and ash, tinder to flame and destruction. And wasn’t that it in a nutshell? How else could it possibly end?
She was his best friend. Everything in the world that mattered to him hinged around her somehow. Every bit of family he had left in this world. His job. His house. His dog.
He ached to reach for her, but he knew he’d never be able to let go of everything holding him back.
She’d remained uncharacteristically quiet, and the moment hung around them like a warm blanket on a cold night. Then she wavered, and instinctively he reached for her, his fingers just grazing the bare skin of her abdomen. She jumped at the contact, and he wondered if the same jolt that had set fire to his blood was to blame. He met her gaze. Flattened his palm against the curve of her waist. She sucked in a quiet breath and still hadn’t let it out when his second hand joined the first. Firmly, gently, he lifted her from the stool, moving her to solid ground. In his mind, he was supposed to have said something then about putting back his dishes and his coffee maker, but restoring that little bit of order wouldn’t have done anything. Not now.
Her shirt had fallen when she’d lowered her arms, leaving his hands between the fabric and her skin. Her pulse beat through him, setting his own erratic heart rate. In his lust clouded thoughts, it wouldn’t take anything to kiss her. And his lips were millimeters from doing just that when he realized it wouldn’t take anything.
It would take everything.
He dropped his hands and turned away, the rush of cold air in her absence nearly taking his breath. He didn’t say anything—just headed for the shower, grabbing his coffee as he went.
He’d lost his damn mind.
For Lexi Dean, burning down her kitchen was disaster enough. Agreeing to move in next door with her totally off-limits best friend, Matt Freeman, until her house is livable again?
They’ve always been close, but this is ridiculous. If she’s not bumping into him at the refrigerator, he’s at the front door giving her date the third degree. And slipping between his borrowed sheets? That’s about as distracting as listening to his shower run, because suddenly all she can think about is rivulets of water cascading down his spectacular body—the one he seems to be going out of his way to make sure she notices.
Not that it matters. He can flaunt his firefighter abs around her all he wants. They already share everything—their jobs, their friends, their backyard, even their dog—and that means only one thing: Lexi is not going to risk losing any of it by dipping a single toe in the temptation that is Matt Freeman.
Lexi may not know how to handle a fire extinguisher, but this is one fire that just might burn them both if they’re not careful...
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