Chapter 1

 

         “I am sick of this!” Bianca said to the walls of her small New York apartment. Lavender candles on the table gave off a warm, mellow glow. Muffin, the Pomeranian puppy who was more a tiny orange ball of fluff than a dog, dozed on the burgundy velvet couch despite Bianca’s pacing.

         “First the rent goes through the roof, then my job disappears. What next?”

         She stamped her Christian Louboutin Pigalle and then checked herself, wincing and looking down at the trademark red soles to verify the stiletto was intact. “Don’t worry,” she said to the patent leather shoes. “Selling you is a last resort.”

         Below her came an aggressive thump-thump-thump.

         “For real?”

         Her grumpy downstairs neighbor was hitting her floor with a broom handle again. The man, Bianca thought, is a menace.

         He had complained multiple times in the past about the noise coming from her apartment. He’d badmouthed her to the super, the owner of the deli downstairs, and even to her face when he caught her alone in the elevator.

         First it was the laughter from her parties. Then it was the puppy barking, and now he claimed that her “elephantine tread” jarred the pencils on his desk. He put all these things in a well-written letter that he mailed to numerous people, saying that she made it impossible for him to work.

         “Don’t worry, kiddo,” the owner of the deli said to her one afternoon as he handed her a Reuben. “Elijah’s just looking for someone to blame for his novels not selling.”

         Bianca did her best to ignore the elephant comment and even stopped throwing parties. Sure, it was mostly out of concern for her dwindling bank account and the fact that everyone she knew was associated with work, but it also seemed a good PR move.

         Her sacrifice had evidently gone unappreciated.

         Bianca flopped into a chair, slipped off her shoes and replaced them with block-heeled suede booties she kept by the door. She stood, strode back to the middle of the floor, and stomped.

         “You don’t have to take your frustration at being a crummy writer out on me,” Bianca said loudly to the floor.

         There was silence below.

         “That’s right,” Bianca said with satisfaction.

         She took a few deep breaths, inhaling the lavender aroma. The fragrance, the breathing, and the ambiance were supposed to help when she got overwhelmed, but it didn’t seem to be working. Her mind continued to race, and she began to pace again.

         Should I sell my vintage Prada handbag? she thought. The idea made her eyes sting. She’d recently seen a famous Instagrammer feature the exact kind she had swathed in tissue in her closet. She could probably get four months of hot pastrami sandwiches from the deli downstairs for the price it would get. But that wouldn’t help her if she couldn’t pay her rent.

         A knock at the door jarred her out of her calculations.

         “Oh, great,” Bianca muttered. Lately the only visitors she’d received brought bad news.

         She looked out the spy hole and saw Elijah Wright glaring back, his arms crossed.

         Good, Bianca thought. She ignored the anxiety that crept into her stomach. Now we can finish this.

         She undid the bolt, squared her shoulders, and threw open the door.

         She intended to start with a cutting remark but she’d forgotten that Elijah Wright was a good-looking man. His scowl only deepened his already dark, soulful eyes, and his brown hair fell boyishly around his forehead. He wore a thin, well-worn T-shirt that showed off a decent physique for someone who reportedly spent all day torturing himself at a desk and looking angrily up at her through the ceiling.

         Like Bianca, he also seemed momentarily taken aback. His arms dropped their defensive posture, and he opened his mouth. Nothing came out.

         Bianca cleared her throat. “Can I help you?”

         He suddenly came alive, and his scowl deepened. “The jumping around is making it impossible for me to concentrate. Again!”

          “Excuse me, but I am not jumping. And last I checked there is no law that says a person can’t walk over their own carpeted floor. I don’t know what’s up with your hearing, but it must be superhuman because I’m. Just. Walking.”

         Except maybe when I’m stomping, she thought.

         “Impossible. It echoes through my apartment,” Elijah said with growing confidence.

         “There’s no way,” Bianca countered.

         “Are you saying I’m a liar?”

         “Did you call me an elephant?”

         “What?”

         “I mean, I realize I’m not sample size, but I’m hardly a pachyderm.”

         “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

         “Your letter. ‘Elephantine tread’? Is that supposed to be literary?”

         A yip came from behind her, and Bianca glanced back. Muffin was standing on the couch, alert to the conflict and quivering slightly, glaring at the intruder.

         “Oh great,” Elijah said sarcastically. “Now the dog is starting again, too. Is there no peace in this building?”

         “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” Bianca said coldly. “But you live in New York City. It’s one of the loudest places on earth. My puppy has nothing on the cabs waiting at the light just outside your window.”

         “At least they have a purpose. You just thump and clack back-and-forth and back-and-forth. I swear your hardwood was installed with extra acoustical properties. Or maybe it’s your shoes.” He looked down at her feet. “Think you could get any closer to actual logs on your heels?”

         “You obviously wouldn’t know decent footwear if it hit you over the head with that log you mention,” Bianca said, pointing at his worn track shoes.

         Muffin was next to Bianca now, looking up at Elijah. He gave a tiny, low growl, but Elijah just rolled his eyes.

         “And,” Bianca added, “I have beautiful imitation Turkish rugs that absorb my footsteps. Look!”

         She stepped aside and swung the door open to reveal the cozy interior. She waved dramatically at the ruby-red rugs on the floor.

         With a yip, Muffin launched past the door frame. For a split second he stared up at Elijah, then gave him a barrage of barks before dashing down the hall. He disappeared around the corner in a furry orange flash.

         “Oh no!” Bianca gasped. “Muffin!”

         She stared at Elijah. “Please tell me the stairwell doors aren’t open.”

         Elijah looked after Muffin and then back at Bianca, his face falling. “Um…”