neighbors with benefits
a sizzling collection of six summer reads
About the book:
Short, romantic, sometimes over-the-top, frequently steamy, and always with some laughs, these six standalone romantic novellas now appear exclusively in the Neighbors with Benefits collection.
They say you should never date a neighbor, but sometimes the road to HEA starts just down the block with. . .
a hot cop;
a blackout buddy;
cold pizza the morning after;
falling for a younger man;
and a little light bondage in the laundry room.
These stories blend humor and heat and originally appeared in out-of-print collection Sizzle.
Release Date: June 26, 2019
Please Note: Neighbors with Benefits will soon be enrolled into Kindle Unlimited and will be available at Amazon only for 90 days.
EXCERPT from yield:
It started raining two miles into her three-mile run, so by the time she trudged up through the back woods to the back of the property, Alissa was a sad, drenched thing.
At least it dropped the temps, this crazy storm, but she’d been breaking in new trainers this morning. Now they’d never be the same. Should’ve paid more attention to the forecast.
Usually, the storms rolled in about three in the afternoon—about the time you lost your damn mind because the air was so thick and sticky your brain couldn’t function. Rain this early was a change. Would it storm all day? She certainly hoped it wouldn’t be like this all week. She had one week between the end of summer term and orientation; she’d hoped to spend most of that week reading by the pool. That glorious fairy fantasy of a pool, with a grotto, waterfall, and twinkle lights strung up over the biggest damn hot tub she’d ever seen. The backyard was the greatest perk of her new housing situation, by far.
As far as college town lodging went, this was a prime spot. Not too close to campus that she was running into her students every three steps, but not so far she couldn’t bike or walk in if the weather was nice. She couldn’t believe she’d lucked out when Michaela left the lab to be a trailing spouse and she’d been able to take over the lease—and get a small housekeeper’s stipend. All Alissa had to do was the laundry, once a week. And she didn’t even have to gather it up. He put it in a series of very precise piles, or so she’d been told. For all she knew, the fairies did it.
She hadn’t seen him much this summer. He’d been out more than in—research trips, he’d said—and they communicated, largely, by one-line texts.
And soulful stares.
Well, the stares were one hundred percent on her part. The first week she’d taken over the lease, she’d spent a good thirty minutes perched in the window seat of her garage apartment watching him take care of the yard and pool.
Mmmph. He didn’t look like any English professor she’d ever had—not that she’d had more than the bare minimum required of a bio-chem major. But she hadn’t even heard whispers about him from her horndog undergrads, and they rated every prof on campus. She’d never heard his name in conjunction with the list of Fuckables.
And he was fuckable. God, so fuckable.
Maybe nobody talked about Professor Max Thorne because they wanted to keep him a secret. Keep him all to themselves. Alissa understood that impulse entirely. She wouldn’t want to share him, either.
He was fit but not ripped—a delicious distinction that made him human but no less drool-worthy. Just a lean, rangy body that was either the product of excellent genetics or some un-obsessive attention to health. Or both. Probably both. She’d seen him swimming laps. Serious laps, not that lazy way she approached swimming. He’d cut through the water in long, even strokes. If Alissa had subscribed to magical thinking at all, she’d have hoped for the pool to double in length so she could keep watching his shoulders and arms break the surface.
And he had a tattoo. A big, swirling something she’d been too shy to look at up close when she’d seen him last—a few weeks ago when she’d been coming in from a night run and he’d been drying off from a late swim.
“You shouldn’t be out this late.”
She’d bristled against his statement. Then he’d softened—a bit—and added, “This time of year, we have a lot of bobcats in the woods. Bears, too. And if you’re along the street, there are an awful lot of drunks on the road up from the lake.”
He’d been rubbing a stark white towel over and over his shoulder, but she’d mainly just caught the light flashing off the fabric from her peripheral vision. She’d no more been able to look directly at him than she would the sun. So she’d studied the patterns of water droplets at her feet, cheeks heating while he scolded her.
“Plus, if something were to happen, your cell wouldn’t work out there. I’d… worry about you.”
That had sparked off conflicting feelings—two powerful emotions lodged thick in her chest. Something a little like longing warring with anger.
“And should I worry about you swimming alone? Without me here to know if some freak accident were to occur?” Anger won. She couldn’t afford the longing. “And what about your research trip next week? Should I text you every thirty minutes for health and wellness checks?”
“Touché. I forget—”
“Just so. You aren’t mine to be concerned with.” Something in his words, the way he’d said them, made her look up. He’d slung the towel across his tattooed shoulder, obscuring it completely from her view, but it didn’t matter. It was his eyes that compelled her. They were hard, but soft all at once. “Your pardon.”
She’d mumbled something in response, unable to hold his gaze, and fled to her apartment. But her mind kept returning to what he’d said. Not mine. Not mine to be concerned with.
No. She belonged to no one. Though that night as she’d tossed and turned, the swirling ink on his shoulders had come to life and had wrapped about her naked body, the dark stripes caressing and binding her to the stone of the fairy grotto, and she’d thought belonging to someone didn’t sound so bad after all.
Shaking herself out of the shadows, she laughed aloud. It was a good thing Professor Thorne wasn’t here to see her this morning. No telling how he’d flip out. Not only was she covered in mud—it looked like she’d just finished the mud run or some fraught afternoon in Ranger school training—she had a stinging abrasion over her left shin she needed to tend to. Damn slippery mud. Fucking stupid branches.
A crack of lightning sounded just over her shoulder, or at least it sounded that close, and it took a good three tries to key in the code to the back gate. She skirted the entrance to her apartment and went straight to the laundry room at the back of the big house. No sense in dragging muddy, wet clothes through her place just to drape them over the shower rod. Might as well get them in the wash now.
She leapt over a pretty flowerbed to get to the walkway but missed the sidewalk and went for a little slip and slide. What was a little more mud in the scheme of things? Poor flowers. She hoped they’d make it. And as for her shoes? Well, there was a garden hose just outside the back door. Alissa would hose them off then shuck her clothes.
The thought that she should’ve toed off her shoes before hosing them down ran through her head a little too late. Oh well, her legs were also a mess. And since she’d rather die than track mud and grass into that pristine room at the back of his home, it was probably best she wash off her legs.
The water from the hose ran to the chilly side, and Alissa reveled in it. The rain hadn’t come with a cold front—when she closed her eyes she could easily believe she were deep in some hot, sticky Amazonian jungle. If she weren’t a mud monster (and she weren’t terrified of electrocution by lightning) she would shower off by the pool. Hell, it was tempting to hose off from head to toe right here with the garden hose. Not like she wasn’t soaking wet anyway.
But the sooner she got this load of laundry in, the sooner she could dash back to her apartment for a real shower.
At the threshold of the laundry room, she started stripping out of her clothes. The navy shorts were easy, they and her panties went down quick, only the tiniest bit of tangling around her ankles, but the white tank she was wearing over her neon pink jog bra took some crazy choreography to remove. She might very well have to cut herself out of the sports bra—they were a menace on the best of days.
She was wringing out the shorts and top but they kept slipping out of her grasp. After the third time, she was ready to leave them on the back porch instead of bending to retrieve them one more time. Maybe some intrepid squirrel could make use of them.
“You are in a lot of trouble, Ms. Stroud.”
Her “excuse me?” was reflexive but soon transformed into a yelp because she whirled around and he was there. “What are—you’re not supposed to be here.”
“That’s right. I could be anyone. Anyone.” His words were lethal, painting a picture of all the what ifs mothers warned daughters about. “You demonstrate a remarkably reckless disregard for your personal safety.”
She was in a precarious position, half naked in a virtual stranger’s home. Stripped down basically to jog bra, holding her shorts in front of her—an ineffectual barrier.
And it seemed he agreed. “You might as well drop the shorts; I’ve seen it all.”
“Right.” Drawing herself up, she cloaked herself in righteous indignation—because that was all she had at the moment. “But you haven’t seen mine.”
His raised eyebrow raised goose bumps all over her skin—her reaction had absolutely nothing to do with the air conditioning battering her as she stood in the doorway. He was so… so… he was Rhett Butler knowing what Scarlet looked like without her “shimmy.” But a lot less cheerful about it.
The term glower came to mind.
“Not so. Yours is exemplary.”
“And you know this how?” She thought back to sitting in the window, shamelessly staring at his lithe body moving in the summer sun. The twist of abs as he edged the lawn. The torque and flex of lats as he cut through the surface of the pool, over and over. Lap after lap.
But she hadn’t spent time at the pool, and certainly not in the nude, not that he’d been nude while swimming and doing lawn maintenance. So how had he seen—
Wait. Did he have some kind of camera system set up? Michaela had said he was the best landlord she’d ever had, but that could just mean reasonable rent and working appliances. That didn’t mean he wasn’t a secret creeper.
“How do you know this?” she demanded again, feeling only intellectually afraid of his answer. Her body told another story, thrilled at the scenario where he watched her from the shadows or had some high-tech system rigged up to peek in on her.
He was answering her, but by the time the roar in her ears subsided, she only heard, “bending over to pick up your shorts?”
And that was enough. Her bare ass, pressing up against the doorframe at her back, confirmed everything. “Oh.”
“Oh, yes. You have a very pretty pussy, I will admit that. But you won’t distract me from the matter at hand.”
Well it sure as hell distracted her. Pretty? What did he mean by that? A billion different synapses were firing responses in her body, but all she could think about was they way he’d said “pretty pussy.”
“Ms. Stroud, we really should discuss—”
“The matter at hand.” Finally, her brain focused. Which was a little unfortunate, because it reminded her of her predicament. Bare ass against the wall. “The matter at hand being you’re back before I expected you and scared the ever-living shit out of me?”
“Language.” He had the nerve to shake his head at her. In disappointment. Because she’d said “shit”? “Oh, Ms. Stroud, you didn’t read the contract, did you?”
That brought her up short. “What contract?”
He was silent for a moment before he answered. She had the distinct impression he was sizing her up somehow. Or inspecting her? “Your friend Michaela signed a contract that spelled out the terms of our arrangement—”
“Right, and she told me about the laundry and stuff.”
“And stuff.” All that was missing was air quotes.
She scrolled back through her conversation with Michaela. She’d asked, point-blank, if the housekeeper stipend meant doing more than laundry. Because she didn’t mind doing dishes or whatever, but she just needed to have things scheduled. Alissa might have a shiny new Ph.D. with her name on it, but she had more classes and lab time assigned than hours in the day, it seemed.
“Was—is there something else you require?”
“As a matter of fact, there is. Go stand by the washing machine. Place your hands flat on top. And don’t say another word unless it’s ‘I’m sorry, Max, for putting myself in an unsafe situation.’”
“Unsafe situation? You mean this one?” She looked pointedly at him and then down to her body. “The one where I’m standing naked in front of the landlord who’s clearly lost his mind?”
“I believe you’ll find I’m very much in control of all my faculties. And I said not another word.”
She shifted from foot to foot, wondering how she was going to get back to her apartment with her dignity intact. Impossible at this point. But he was still standing on the other side of the laundry room, not showing any sign of turning to leave. “Sorry. Are we done here?”
“If we are—done, that is—you violate the terms of your contract and will find your lease terminated. Immediately.”
Immediate panic flared at his flat pronouncement. She had nowhere to go—nowhere. She’d spent her summer stipend on car repairs; there was no way she could cobble together enough for first and last month’s rent somewhere else. Even if there were a hypothetical somewhere else, because school started in a few weeks and there was no way she’d get anything remotely close to campus now. And certainly not something that included a small weekly stipend for light housekeeping duties—and a pool that defied description.
“You can’t do that.” The bluff sounded ridiculous to her ears. Of course he could terminate her lease. Stuff like that happened all the time.
“I can. And I will. The law is on my side.”
The law? Court. She couldn’t afford to go to court over this!
Maybe she could go to the law school, find someone willing do to pro bono work?
While her head was spinning, he just stood there with his hands in his pockets. He looked more like a louche undergrad than a distinguished professor in his khaki shorts and navy T-shirt. Maybe she could bargain with him. Maybe—
Maybe nothing. She had nothing. If she went to the chair of his department with a complaint, that would be career suicide. Nobody would take a lowly postdoc’s word over his.
“So,” he continued, “are you walking away or will you stand still for your discipline?”
Her panic transformed into a blistering desire. His voice, that term, conjured up all kinds of dark images. Was he…
The full-body shiver had nothing to do with the air conditioner but the unflinching stare of his, razing her defenses.
“It’s your choice, Alissa.”
It was. It was her choice; though, with the alternative, it wasn’t much of a choice. Okay, she’d let him get his kinky jollies, humiliating her for a few minutes. She could handle that much. She was already half naked and he’d seen… her.
But later this afternoon, she’d demand to see this contract her friend had signed. Her sublease had only said she’d fulfill the obligations Michaela had as tenant.
How foolish she’d been to not demand to see the original. She should’ve known it was too good to be true, this arrangement.
“Your decision, Alissa,” he prompted her again, and the way he said her name forced all thoughts of humiliation out of her head and replaced them with deep, dark pleasure.
At some point in the future, she would have to examine the raw thrill that went though her at the thought of being humiliated.
“Fine. But if this gets too weird, I’m going to red-light the fuck out.”
He didn’t so much as flinch. “I wouldn’t dream of anything else. Your word?”
“My… word?” Hadn’t she just promised she would do this?
“The moment your hands hit that washing machine, only your word will stop me.”
Oh. He was talking about safe words. And if he was talking about safe words, she bet he was planning on doing more than just… looking once she put her hands on the washer. What was he—?
Her word, right. She could think of words. Lots of them. She spoke words every day. Even in a few languages. Words. She had words in her brain. Think of one. Say one.
“Um, red light?”
“So unimaginative.” Max gave a wry sort of smile and she felt almost guilty that she’d disappointed him. Again.
Guilty? Fuck that.
She drew herself up to her full height. “I’m a biochemist. What do you expect?”
“I expect a great deal from you, my dear. As I believe you will come to discover.”
She dropped the shorts she’d been covering herself with. He didn’t so much as blink.
Heart racing, she tried to walk as normally as possible to the washing machine, thanking all that was holy he was still on the other side of the room so her bare ass wasn’t on jiggly display—and that she still had her jog bra on.
When she got to the washer, she rested her hands on top of it. There was no cataclysmic explosion. No shock wave. Just skin on metal. Benign. Routine.
But there was nothing routine about standing half naked in front of a washing machine with a fully dressed man watching her from the other side of the room.
“Fluorescence. That’s my red light.”
“Noted. Now nothing more until I give you permission to speak. Understand?” His voice was somewhere behind her, still over to the side. He hadn’t moved at all.
“Ye-ahh…” Alissa caught herself just in time and nodded.
“Good. Then we begin.”
For a hundred tense seconds—she’d counted them—there was nothing. No sound. No movement except for rise and fall of her chest as she stood there, hands resting at waist height on top of the washer, and the rhythmic fall of the rain outside.
Why wasn’t he moving? Why wasn’t he doing anything to her?
A thought flashed through her mind: Do you want him to do something to you?
Maybe he was just testing her. Seeing if she’d yield to his ridiculous command? “Put your hands on the washer,” was all he’d said. What on earth was sexy about a woman standing partially nude in front of a washing machine? She wasn’t even leaning over on it; there were no vibrations from the spin cycle to transmit to the soft flesh of her arms or other parts.
This was lame. (And nowhere near as sexy as her recent fantasy of him watching her in secret, maybe a hidden camera in the shower, something mounted behind the mirror.) She was just standing there!
And then he was there, behind her. A breath on her shoulder.
That breath turned into a touch. Barely a touch. Just the lightest skimming of finger on skin, and she forced herself to keep her head upright and her own breathing even.
She wanted to back up into his warmth, beg him to surround her with it.
Just get it over with.
The words were on the tip of her tongue, but she clamped her jaw shut. He was running his hands over her shoulders now, down her arms to where her hands met the metal lid of the machine. And then he was moving back up her arms, back up to her shoulders that positively ached with tension and then down along her spine. At her waist, he slipped a hand to her abdomen and just held it there.
Alissa sucked in a breath as he anchored her to the spinning earth by that one hand low on her belly. Breasts, hips, thighs—everywhere she wanted him to touch, he wasn’t. And this, this didn’t feel like humiliation. It felt a lot like—
At some point, while her thoughts had been roaming the stratosphere, he’d found the scrape on her leg.
Alissa didn’t know what to say—didn’t know if she was allowed to say anything.
He spun her around then crouched down to get a better look. He was gently pressing the perimeter of the scrape. It hurt, but it was just a scrape.
“Does it hurt?”
“We must take care of this. You’re covered in mud. It could turn into a big deal.”
When she braved a look down, she saw his head was level with her pussy.
She wanted to cross her legs, protect herself. She should cross her arms, too, because they wanted to reach out and tug him closer. But Max was completely uninterested in her more interesting parts.
“You must take care of yourself.” She felt his breath against the trimmed curls at the juncture of her thighs and winced when he ran a finger down the scrape on her leg, flaking off pieces of mud.
She wanted to tell him it wasn’t a big deal. That she’d put some antibiotic cream on it after she showered. But she wasn’t supposed to say anything. And even if it had been allowed, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to.
He hoisted her up onto the lid of the washing machine. One minute she was standing there, the next, he was looking her in the eye and her bare ass was resting on cold metal.
“Don’t think your punishment is over. In fact, you’ve added to it.”
She had to shake her head no.
Alissa thought she heard him say “good girl” before he turned to the sink, rustled around in the cabinet above it, and came back to stand in front of her.
She felt like crying. Like holding her head in her hands and bawling.
The first tear fell when he placed a warm washcloth on her leg. After he’d gently cleaned most of the mud away, he opened a sterile packet and lightly swabbed at her scrape. His motions were soft, gentle. So damned efficient. And before she had a chance to enjoy the feel of his hands on her, caring for her, he was finished. Walking back to dump the wrappers in the trash before washing his hands.
The second fell when he pulled the front of her jog bra up, baring her breasts without ceremony. There was no praise. No dilation of pupils to show he was the least bit interested in what he’d bared. Just more swift economy.
“Head down and be still.”
She complied instantly as he tugged and stretched the bra over her head. When she moved to raise her arms, to help him remove it, he issued a sharp “I said be still.”
At the bite of his words, another tear fell. Then another, until she felt the wetness landing on her thighs as he maneuvered the elastic and Lycra to his satisfaction. The bite of her muscles as he bound her into position took her completely off guard. “What are you—?”
He’d stepped back and was looking at her. Gone was the blank expression. And in its place was one of pure appreciation. He’d even ignored it when she’d spoken without prompting.