UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS
a novella in
MOTHER, PLEASE!
HARLEQUIN'S
Mother's Day Anthology
ISBN 0373836058
May 2004

Avery Rice is way too overprotective of her widowed mother.

So when Mom gets a new man in her life, she enlists her cute tenant, David Marks, to keep Avery off the trail.

And of course she's matchmaking. She's Mom!

Read an Excerpt

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BOOKLIST

The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

She glanced at her watch. Ack! She was out of time and probably too late as it was. David left for school at seven, and it was already three minutes after. She quickly finished her eye shadow, having decided to add it at the last minute after applying her mascara. It would serve her right for her vanity to ruin her seduction.

Seduction? Funny! She stopped, frowned, then shook off the ridiculous thought and returned the rest of her make-up to her bag. If anything, she was engaged in a harmless flirtation. A simple testing of the waters that had been swirling around her ankles now for months. Or that’s what she would have been doing had she been more on the ball here this morning.

As it was, when she finally pulled open her door it was to the sound of the triplex’s shared entrance closing downstairs. Well, crap. She was obviously more out of practice flirting than she’d realized. So much for the best-laid, last-minute plans, she thought with a sigh.

She hadn’t seen David--or her mother, for that matter--since leaving them Saturday morning to the leftover croissants. She’d wondered all weekend whether or not David had even once thought about their kiss. Not that she planned to ask him, she mused, turning her lock and closing the door behind her. That would be like the frosting on the cake of her obsession.

She’d only just headed toward the staircase when she heard the door at the foot of the stairs open. She paused on the edge of the landing, looking down as David walked inside and glanced up. Her stomach’s resident butterflies fluttered their wings wildly at the slow lazy smile spreading over his face.

One hand on the staircase railing, she took her first step down. “Forget something?”

He nodded, climbed two steps toward her. “I heard your door.”

The butterflies were joined by dozens of hummingbirds. It was a wonder that she could still breathe what with all the feathers and wings and the way her nose was itching. “You came back because you heard my door?”

Another step up, another nod. “I wanted to test my new staircase theory.”

She forced her feet to move, managing to descend two whole steps before the hummingbirds invited four-and-twenty blackbirds to the party. Her chest tightened. Her throat ached with her effort to speak. “What theory would that be?”

“It’s pretty simple, really.” One step, two steps, three steps, four. His eyes glittered and he stopped. He stood almost at eye level now. Only one lonely step remained untaken. “Now that there’s not so much baggage in the way, I thought we might want to test out how narrow this staircase really is.”

She pulled in a deep breath. “That baggage has weighed me down for a very long time, you know.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“I just wanted to be sure that you did. That you didn’t think I’d forgotten anything that happened.” A shiver coiled sharply at the base of her spine; her fingers trembled and she tightened her grip on the railing. “That I’d blown it off as if it were nothing.”

David’s expression softened as he studied her, his hands shoved into his navy Dockers front pockets. She watched him flex his hands, wondering if he wanted to reach for her because she so wished he would. “I never thought you blew off anything, Avery. You’re not that type.”

Curious that he thought he knew her, she mused, tilting her head to one side. “What type am I?”

He inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. His knee shook as if he wanted more than anything to move up that one last remaining step. But he stayed where he was. “Do you remember when we played that football game in Alpine? Our senior year?”

She smiled. “And it was like ten degrees?”

“More like twenty,” he said with a laugh. “But, yeah. It was cold. And afterward everyone was on the bus ready to go and yelling at me to hurry up?”

“But your zipper was stuck and you couldn’t get but halfway out of your costume.” She hadn’t thought of that night for years; funny how it had stuck so clearly with him.

“Pretty damn humiliating, I gotta say.” The corner of his mouth quirked enough for his dimples to appear. “But you got off the bus and came around behind me to--”

She interrupted him with a laugh. “I almost smacked you because you wouldn’t stand still. It was like trying to help a dog who wouldn’t stop chasing its tail.”

“You were so close,” he said, his face coloring slightly. “I wanted to see you. To see what you were doing. I wasn’t used to having cute girls feeling up my backside,” he added with a grin.

God, but he was so cute, so vulnerable in his admission. Her heart beat harder, faster against the walls of her chest. “It was your shirt tail. You wouldn’t have been able to get it loose on your own. You’d probably caught it when you zipped the tornado top to the bottom.”

Chuckling, he shook his head. “You never told me that.”

She shrugged. “I’m telling you now.”

“Dumping more of that baggage?” he asked, one brow lifting.

“David?”

“Avery?”

She relaxed her death grip on the railing, knowing she was going to have to touch him and touch him soon or totally go out of her mind. “I don’t think of all of our shared history as baggage. Only what I caused to happen to you.”

His face darkened. “It was my choice to go after Johnny.”

“You should’ve run for help,” she said because she’d wished so often that he had.

“You’re kidding me, right?” His voice echoed gruffly, painfully, as if the choice to intervene had been one he’d never consciously made but one that had been preordained. “You think I could’ve run off and left you there?”

“Johnny was almost twice your size,” she said, sensing the argument wasn’t going to get her anywhere. Not judging by the fierceness of David’s expression.

“Yeah, but I was crazy in love with you.”

The tone of his voice caressed her, a soft breeze stirring the exposed tips of her feelings, a gentle tug on her heartstrings playing their song. She’d known of his crush, had recognized the puppy-like affection behind his flirtatious bids for attention and ignored him, discouraged him.
But love? Crazy in love?

“Oh, David,” she said, closing the distance between them, taking that one last step, that final step, a literal movement that meant more than putting them face-to-face as she stood on the stair above.

And then she swallowed hard because his eyes flared with a heat she longed to feel on her body, a heat she knew would burn her from the inside out.