So, I have a ton of short stories including this one about April 15th. *blinks* What? Don’t all authors have a tax season romance? Here you go! Enjoy!
Downstairs from Hell
“No…no…no…no,” Shanna said as she sat up in bed, covering her ears. It was impossible. How could one man make so much noise? And why? Why was he banging around things at 2 a.m.? It was like he was trying to make her crazy.
She waited, hoping for it to stop—hoping that the clanging of pipes would end. It didn’t. It never did. He’d only lived in the split level above her for two weeks, but it had gone on every night for that two weeks.
Enough was enough. Actually, enough was more than enough. No one should have to put up with this. No one.
Shrugging on her fuzzy blue robe, she marched out the door. This really wasn’t the way she wanted to meet her new neighbor. She’d had fantasies about much more lively and exciting meetings ever since he’d moved in. She, Shanna—boring, staid, exhausted tax accountant had been having fantasies about her upstairs neighbor for two weeks.
If it hadn’t been the worst two weeks of the year for it, she would have baked him a “welcome to the townhouse split-level” loaf of bread or something, but it was now April 16th and she needed sleep in a bad, bad, bad way. Like she was going to go crazy and give tax accounting the reputation that the postal institution had for so long. They’d say stuff like, “She went off her meds and, wow, did she go all accounting and ripped the heads off all those dolls.”
Shanna hit a hand against her forehead. She really needed sleep.
There were fifteen steps between her and her neighbor. Fifteen. She felt each one. This was so not how she’d wanted to meet him. Ever since she’d seen him moving in fourteen days, ten hours, and approximately eight minutes ago, she’d been lusting after him—wanting him like she and her co-workers craved a single W-2 form, no dependents, no deductions, and definitely not a box of fading receipts. And no attempts at ridiculous write-offs. I don’t care if you have the Secretary of the Treasury with you, you can’t write-off strippers!
And that last woman had tried to claim her cats as dependents. Cats!
Her fingers curled into a fist, and she pounded on the door. No, he couldn’t interrupt her dreams about him because, let’s face it, dreams were pretty much all she was going to have of him. Then, in two days, she’d be back at work, supposedly rejuvenated and ready to start dealing with all the freaks who’d forgotten how important April 15th was.
She wanted to spend the next two days, in bed, dreaming of him. Not pounding for the third time on his door. She couldn’t pound more than three times on his door. That would be too much. That would be over the line.
She needed to be working on her stern face. She would not cave. She would not look into his dark chocolaty eyes and let him rattle things in his apartment for no good reason at all hours.
Of course, if he had a good reason….
No! Even if his dark hair matched his eyes and was even tousled perfectly when he was carrying heavy items up the stairs to his apartment, she would be firm. Firm like his biceps.
Oh good heavens! This had never been a problem before. She’d never lusted after anyone this much. It was creepy. She was creeping herself out. She was going to turn into that lady trying to claim cats as dependents.
Shanna pounded again. Okay, one more time. Four was fine. Neighbors might pound on their neighbor’s door four times. Maybe he couldn’t hear her above the clanging.
Finally, she heard steps inside, and the door opened to reveal her neighbor in only a pair of black sweatpants, yawning into his hand. Wow, he looked good.
“Good morning, neighbor,” he said, squinting.
He looked as if he’d just gotten out of bed, and he’d only been sleeping. No. She’d heard him. She’d heard him banging on stuff.
“I’m sorry, Mr….” What was his name? Something starting with a P. Peters? Peterson? Parson?
“Daniel,” he said, mid-yawn.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Daniels, but…”
He chuckled and held up a hand while leaning against the door. “No, Shanna, my first name is Daniel.”
He knew her name. He’d found out her name. How did he know her name?
He yawned again so fiercely that it ended in a shudder, and his muscles all rippled nicely. He had the tonest abs she’d ever seen. She would have guessed that from how he’d been carrying that TV like he carried cars around for a living, but, still….
“Daniel, I’m sorry to bother you, but the noise is keeping me awake, and I need sleep.” He had no idea. She needed sleep more than she needed to be here staring at his abs—it was that bad.
He nodded while blinking tiredly. “People need sleep. I’m a big supporter of sleep.”
“So whatever you’re doing…can you please stop?” For the love of all that was good and numerical in the world, he had to stop! Clearly he was tired too—couldn’t he bang pipes at a reasonable hour if he simply had to?
Maybe that was how he toned his abs…in which case, she’d support that. Bang the crap out of those pipes! On behalf of all womankind—bang the pipes! Just not in the middle of the freaking night!
He looked behind him and then back at her and blinked in slow, long succession. “Stop what?”
“The noise.” She gestured back at his apartment. “The noise!”
He had to realize whatever he was doing was quite loud, didn’t he? It was far too loud for anyone to make a noise like that and not realize. No, he knew. She knew that he knew and he had to know…really.
Wow. She really needed sleep.
“The banging,” she said. Please let him not be dim. He looked so clueless. If he was making that noise and not realizing it, then all the abs in the world wouldn’t make him worthy of the stalker-level fantasies she’d been dreaming. If he was just a beautiful package, she’d be forced to go ahead and fill out tax forms for her future listing cats as dependents. Because that’s where she’d end up. “And I don’t want to have cats as dependents.”
She needed sleep—she’d just said that out loud.
Blinking those beautiful brown eyes, he opened the door wider. “Uhh… why don’t you come in? I’m sorry, I should have invited you in.”
Looking down at her bare feet, Shanna said, “Uhh…I can just go back to my place and we can meet under normal circumstances. I just can’t sleep with the noise, and I’ve had a very long week.” And she couldn’t take the added stress of him being a moron. In her dreams, he wasn’t. In her dreams, he was smart with a wicked sense of humor and, best of all, he adored her—like he worshipped the ground she walked on. All she needed was him to be smart enough that the rest of it was possible—for another forty-eight hours—that was all. That was it. Then, he could ruin it, and she’d keep her faith that good things came to those who never cheated on taxes or helped others cheat on taxes.
“You’re a tax accountant, right?” he said, stepping back and walking to the couch.
Huh. Clearly he wanted her to come in and sit. He sprawled across his couch which was surrounded by opened boxes. It appeared he was unpacking all the boxes all at once rather than one at a time. That wasn’t the most efficient way to do it and clear the area. If he did it one at a time he’d decrease the number of boxes in the house at a much faster rate.
She stepped inside and, since there was a breeze on the back of her legs, she closed the door. Weirdly enough, she’d had a fantasy that had played out almost exactly like this in one of her dreams—only there’d been tangerines. She’d never had a dream with tangerines in it, fantasy or otherwise. It was very strange. Her gaze traveled the room and landed on a giant bowl of tangerines.
Her mouth dropped open. “Wait, you like tangerines?”
He glanced over his shoulder while covering another yawn with his fist.
“Never mind.” Good heavens, she couldn’t even think of citrus now without blushing. “For accountants, this is just like our Christmas. I’m so sleep deprived I packed a load of laundry into my fridge. Six pairs of socks went into my meat drawer.” It didn’t help that her fantasies about him didn’t seem to be as restful as normal sleep, but she wasn’t about to tell him that—especially when her gaze kept straying to the tangerines and making her blush.
She wandered toward the couch, gesturing purposelessly, and almost knocked over a lamp that looked carved out of wood or bark or wood.
She needed sleep.
Wow, he had a lot of stuff that looked South American—like Incan or something. Weird and yet… funky. It was nice in a savage sort of way. All the furniture had figures carved into it, and the masks that had been placed on the walls were all making faces at her. If she was going to have a wild debauched time with her neighbor, this would be the place.
Not that she was…going to have a debauched anything.
Good heavens, what was wrong with her?
“Anyway, I just need sleep, and you’ve been banging things every night for two weeks, and I’m just exhausted, but I can’t seem to sleep through it.”
Daniel watched her with heavy-lidded eyes. No man had a right to that level of hypnotically deep brown eyes. It was…too much. And thick eyelashes too? Not fair. So not fair.
He blinked those eyes again a few times, and they scrunched up in confusion. “Are you sure this noise is coming from my place?”
Shanna threw her hands up in the air. She hadn’t expected him to deny it. “Where else could it be coming from?”
“Maybe your place? I can’t hear it, and I was asleep just now. I wasn’t doing anything aside from sleeping.”
Shanna groaned and stalked over to his couch and dropped next to where his feet were—his bare feet. Even his feet weren’t bad looking for, you know, feet. She propped her elbow on the arm of the couch and dropped her chin into her hand. This was no good. She thought she’d finally gotten to the heart of the matter. Instead, here she was, making a total fool of herself, next to the man of her dream’s feet.
They didn’t even smell.
In fact, the whole place smelled like…sandalwood. It smelled sort of primitive. It matched the whole wild kingdom theme he had going on.
“It has to be you,” she murmured. Closing her eyes for a deep inhale proved to be a bad idea…she could feel the exhaustion tugging her down. She shouldn’t have even sat down. She blinked her eyes wide open. Stay awake, Shanna. Stay awake. If ever you were going to drool in your sleep, it would be here.
Sitting up, he slid over closer to her. He was radiating heat like he was running a fever. She felt fevered. “What does it sound like?” he asked. His voice was like warm caramel running across her. She should leave before she said or did something she’d regret.
“It sounds like pipes banging. It sounds like you have a hammer, and you’re banging it against your pipes,” she said. “I wonder if this is like some major plumbing crisis, and I’ve been trying to ignore it for weeks now.”
“Pipes? Like water pipes?” Daniel asked.
She nodded. Her landlord would kill her if she’d had a pipe burst but she’d been too busy mooning over her neighbor to notify someone. Her apartment was probably filling up with water right now—like a swimming pool. She sighed heavily—which triggered a yawn. She was too tired to care about her swimming pool apartment. This was why you got renter’s insurance.
“They only bang in the middle of the night?” he asked.
She nodded again. That was rather odd. Maybe he was washing his dishes in the middle of the night or something. There had to be some explanation. There had to be. She lived in a world where things made sense. Where eventually numbers matched when you added them up correctly.
“I’m sorry. It is my fault.” Daniel leaned back against his couch with a sigh.
“I knew it!” she shouted and then slumped back against his couch too. He had an awfully soft couch. It reminded her of landing in a pile of leaves. It was just so squishy and the woven pattern looked a lot like fall leaves.
“You did?” Daniel was looking at her quizzically with those brown, brown eyes.
“No, I mean, I figured it had something to do with you, but I couldn’t figure out why you’d bang pipes for fun so I suspected you didn’t know how loud you were being,” she said, closing her eyes. She was so tired she could sleep on his couch.
“Hmm, well, I didn’t know it was so loud, and I’m not entirely sure how to stop it.”
“Stop banging pipes.” Shanna pulled her feet up, scooting them underneath Daniel’s legs, and snuggled deeper into the couch. She was so tired and probably being very forward and weird but she was just so tired.
“Well, but I’m not. You see, you probably won’t believe this, and you look too tired to remember it, but I’m an earth demon. I’m retired now, of course.”
“Earth demon,” she murmured. She rubbed her eyes and slid farther into the corner of the couch. The cushions on the couch were even really nice and comfy. She felt a blanket drop on top of her. That was nice. Daniel was nice for a demon.
“Mmm hmm, my brother is a water demon, and he’s a bit of a moron. He hasn’t quite grown up, you see? So, he is playing this prank on me. It’s immature, and he is mostly doing it because he knows that I like you.”
Shanna snorted a laugh and pulled the blanket tighter around her. Funny, right, this was totally a weird dream. She’d thought she’d been awake but this sounded an awful lot like some of the things that her dream Daniel would say.
As if to reinforce this, her dream Daniel said, “Yeah, demons always go for women involved in money. It’s our weak spot. Plus, you’re a tax accountant…nearly irresistible. You’re like our Christmas. You’ve just been so busy I’ve been visiting you in your dreams while I waited for tax season to be over. Now that it’s over, I was planning on cornering you. Demons are persistent, and once we find who we want—no way in hell we’re letting them go. Ever. Even if we have to retire and be good. Well, moderately good. Well…goodish.”
“This is the weirdest dream ever,” Shanna mumbled. “You’ve never said you were a demon before in my dreams.”
“I’m retired from being a demon. I promise,” he said, and she could swear she felt him kiss her shoulder. Mmm, that was so, so nice. He pulled the blanket away from her arm and kissed a trail across her fingers, biting each one softly before continuing up her arm.
Good heavens, that felt so, so, so good.
“You feel even better in person. I can’t wait to do all the things we’ve done in your dreams, sweet Shanna,” he whispered in her ear before kissing just below it. Mmm. “In fact, I bought tangerines just today.”
Mmm. Tangerines. She was so tired. Maybe if she just slept for a few minutes….
The sunlight was burning her eyes, and she awoke abruptly, sitting up and looking around. Holy crap! She wasn’t in her own place. Shanna blinked and sniffed the air. Bacon. Someone was cooking bacon and eggs…and humming.
Item number one: She was not in her own place, but it was a similar floor plan. Very similar. With lots of boxes. Whoa. She was in her upstairs neighbor’s place. Her hot upstairs neighbor’s place.
Item number two: She’d come up here to tell him not to bang on his pipes anymore.
Item number three: It all got very weird and fantastic after that so she must have immediately fallen asleep on his couch, and he was too much of a gentleman to shake her awake and send her home.
Item number four: She was still wearing all her clothing under her fuzzy robe and that was a good thing. She’d not been ravished or attempted to ravish him in her sleep. That was good. After the whole socks in the meat drawer thing, she was a little worried she was sleep-walking…and with last night’s dreams, well, it could’ve been awwwwwkward.
Maybe she could still get out of here—quietly—and they’d never, ever have to talk about this.
“You’re awake,” he said from the doorway. Crap. He held up a plate. “I made you breakfast. It’s an ‘I’m sorry I’ve been keeping you awake every night, and I’ll try not to from now on’ breakfast.”
“You won’t?” she asked, taking the plate from him. It smelled heavenly but his words had left a sad, pathetic feeling inside her…now that was odd. Not like cats as dependents odd, but still odd.
He chuckled. “Not by banging pipes.”
“No, I’m hoping to be banging something else entirely.”
She’d just scooped some eggs into her mouth and choked on them. Eggs should not be aspirated. It burnt. Her eyes were watering, but she saw him hold a glass of water in front of her face, and she took it gratefully. After several swallows, she managed to gasp, “Pardon?”
“I’ve got some pans in my kitchen that should make quite a racket.”
Good heavens, she’d almost thought he meant….
She cleared her throat. “Or you could let me get some sleep.”
“Now, where is the fun in that, sweet Shanna?”
He knew her name…and he’d just called her sweet.
“How about, after we finish breakfast, we go catch a movie?”
“Is this more of an apology?” she asked. It was the only way it made sense. He was just soooo him…and she was her. Statistically, it didn’t make sense. There was a reason the suicide rate was so high among accountants. They’d all eventually have cats for dependents…and once they died, all alone, their dependents would eat them.
“No, it’s more of a segue into my hopes of making you breakfast every morning from here on out,” he said. “I have this thing for accountants and most specifically for you, Shanna. Very much for you.”
She blinked. This was so weird. It was almost as if her dreams…weren’t just dreams.
He leaned over and kissed her softly, but with just a bit of a bite at the end. Just like her dreams. They were dreams, weren’t they?
“Good heavens,” she whispered.
“Not quite, but I’m retired, so we can certainly aim for that.”
Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Sparrow
If you liked Downstairs from Hell, you’ll love Frosted and Stealing Time.
If you didn’t like it, well, it’s probable you’re not reading this. : )