Foolhardy. Silly. Unwise. Asinine. Imprudent. As Margo Lange gazed up at the tri-level Victorian, nerves knotted her stomach and made her palms sweat.
She was starting to think that moving to San Francisco had been a stupid decision. Even though living in the Bay Area had been a lifelong dream, maybe she should have stayed in Ithaca.
She was familiar with the college town in upstate New York, having attended Cornell University for veterinary school. The cost of living was much cheaper there, and cheap was good. She had hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans piled on her shoulders and no safety net. The cross-country move had drained her checking account, and her family and friends were equally cash-strapped.
Although Margo had researched San Francisco before making the decision to relocate, she’d underestimated the cost of housing. She had spent the past six days touring apartments, and it hadn’t taken her long to realize that the only places she could afford were dumps.
She wasn’t spoiled. She wasn’t used to luxury. She could handle dinky, dingy, and dirty.
But she couldn’t handle dangerous.
The apartments in her budget had been located in parts of the city that made her heart pound with fear. And after what had happened in Ithaca, she craved safety more than she craved Reese’s peanut butter cups when she was on her period.
With the moving truck scheduled to arrive any day now, she was desperate to find a place. And this tidy-looking Victorian could be the answer to her fervent prayers.
Roby tugged at his leash, just enough movement to grab Margo’s attention. She glanced down at the four-year-old dog she had rescued from a kill shelter in Ithaca.
“Do you like it?” Margo asked.
Roby looked around, as if he were giving careful consideration to her question. His cropped ears pointed toward the overcast sky, and she rubbed the top of one between her thumb and forefinger.
The house was situated on a quiet street in Pacific Heights, one of the most exclusive and safest neighborhoods in the city. On this Saturday afternoon in early March, a lot of people were out and about. She’d seen several women power walking with baby-filled strollers, a few runners in brightly-colored athletic gear, and a couple of families riding bikes.
Her potential home wasn’t one of San Francisco’s famous “painted ladies”—houses that incorporated three or more colors to emphasize the architectural details. This particular Victorian was painted a color somewhere between lavender and violet with bright white trim around the windows and eaves.
From the outside, it seemed like the perfect fit for her and Roby. It even had a backyard. But the trade-off for an affordable apartment in a safe neighborhood with room for a big dog was a roommate.
Roby nudged her thigh with his snout, a not-so-subtle encouragement for her to move. She loosened his leash, and he leapt to his feet. As they made their way up the shallow steps, she took note of the huge glazed planters flanking the front door. Pansies overflowed the pots in a spill of yellow, white, and purple.
Spotting the directory next to the door, she pushed the black button for apartment 1B. She waited for a voice to come through the speaker, but instead heard the unmistakable buzz and click that indicated the door had been unlocked.
She stepped inside. The wide-plank oak floors gleamed under the sunlight that filtered from the stained glass transom. The smell of lemon lingered on the air, tart and fresh. She hoped the apartment was as nice as the entryway.
Following a well-lit corridor beside the wide staircase, she found the right apartment. She took a moment to wipe her perspiring hands on her jeans and tuck the escaped strands of strawberry-blond hair back into her ponytail.
After taking a deep, steadying breath, she knocked. The door was a solid wood under her knuckles, and her knock barely made a sound. She knocked harder, and the door swung open abruptly, her fist still in the air.
A broad chest covered in a maroon thermal T-shirt filled her vision, and she looked up, way up. Words stuck in her throat.
This was the man her Uncle Dave had served with in Iraq?
The man arched a dark eyebrow. “So you’re Reno’s niece, Margo?”
Remembering that her uncle’s Army buddies referred to him as Reno instead of Dave, she nodded mutely. She still hadn’t found her voice. She, who was never shy, never speechless.
This was Major May?
“Ezekiel May,” he said, extending his right hand.
She automatically did the same, forgetting for a moment that she held Roby’s leash. She awkwardly transferred it to her other hand, and his hand engulfed hers, huge and strong and warm.
“Most people call me Zeke,” he added, his voice deep and kind of growly.
She didn’t reply. She just stared. She couldn’t help it.
He wasn’t what she had expected. Not even close.
When Margo had realized that she would need someone to help share the housing burden, she’d asked her family and friends if they knew anyone in the Bay Area looking for a roommate. To her surprise, Uncle Dave had responded almost immediately, passing along the phone number of one of the former soldiers he knew.
According to Uncle Dave, Major May had recently moved to San Francisco. He had assured her that his buddy was a “decent, honorable man” who would be a trustworthy and trouble-free roommate.
Uncle Dave was in his late fifties, and she had expected Major May to be around the same age. But he wasn’t. He was at least twenty years younger. And he was, quite possibly, the most handsome man she’d ever met.
Thick, short hair the color of milk chocolate. Eyes just a shade lighter, with tiny lines radiating from them, either from laughing or squinting into the sun. A straight, bold nose. A strong jaw and full lips surrounded by a sexy dark scruff sprinkled with gray.
He wasn’t just handsome. He was gorgeous.