Someone knocked so hard on my front door the hinges groaned in protest.
I pushed up from my sofa and wiped beer from my lips with the back of my hand. “Just a second!”
They knocked harder this time, pounding three times in rapid succession.
I set my beer down on my coffee table, cast a longing look at the UFC fight on the TV and the two men squaring up in the cage, and moved to the door before I got another noise complaint from my neighbors. Once I wrenched the door open, I rolled my eyes.
Two cops in uniform stood there. One twirled a baton end over end, grinning at me. The other, the one with the buzzed head, green eyes, and tanned skin, shouldered my door open the rest of the way and looked inside.
I muttered a string of curses under my breath. “You two have to stop showing up like this. My neighbors are going to think I’m a drug dealer.”
I poked my head out the door and looked left and right down the row of houses on my middle-class Newport Beach street. Three homes down, a neighbor had stopped mowing his lawn and was shielding his eyes against the setting autumn sun as he watched me talk to the cops on my front step. I lifted a hand and waved at him. “He’s my brother! All is well here.”
I let them in and closed the door behind us. Jesse immediately helped himself to a piece of pizza from the open box on my kitchen counter. He leaned against the island and practically poured half the slice into his mouth. “Ye shoo igner yer ney-hers.”
Gus, my brother’s partner and my old friend from high school, arched an eyebrow. “What?”
Jesse swallowed hard. “You should ignore your neighbors.”
I rolled my eyes. “I haven’t had a complaint in months and I’d like to keep it that way.”
Gus leaned over the pizza and grabbed a slice. “Complaint? About what?” He smirked as he picked the black olives off and dropped them back in the box. “Bringing home girls who like to scream too much, champ?”
“Please stop thinking about me in bed.” I went back into my living room and dropped onto my sofa, then reached for the remote on the coffee table as well as my beer and cranked the volume on the TV.
My brother and his partner helped themselves to beers from my fridge and joined me. Gus settled into the opposite corner of the sofa. Jesse took the armchair to my right and kicked his boots up on my coffee table.
I scowled at him. “Do you mind?”
He blinked at me as he tipped his head back and drank a quarter of his beer in three mouthfuls. He grunted.
Leaning over, I swatted his feet down. “Have some respect. I don’t know what kind of shit you two walk through on a daily basis. Crime scenes. Piss and condom-filled alleys.” I shuddered. “I don’t know how you two do it.”
Gus laughed. “Ladies like the uniform.”
Jesse took another mouthful of beer and swished it around. “Those days are few and far between, Danny. You’re forgetting we work in Newport.” He smirked. “Fucking Newport. We’re mostly walking across marble or granite floors responding to domestic disputes because some asshole’s wife is trashing his shit because she found out he cheated on her for the hundredth time.”
Gus nodded. “I got a housewife’s number just last week on a call exactly like that. Tits out to here.” He held his hands in front of his chest, mimicking two giant breasts. “Should’ve called her.”
“She’d have eaten you for breakfast,” Jesse said.
“And I’d have happily let her.” Gus sighed.
I turned the volume down on the TV. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be able to watch it with these two crashing my party, and at this point it was just becoming annoying background noise. “Why are you two here? Don’t you have your own fridge with beer in it?”
“And here I thought you’d be happy to see your baby brother,” Jesse said.
“I see you three days a week, minimum. And I’ve asked you to call first, instead of just showing up whenever.”
Gus leaned forward in the armchair to rest his elbows on his knees. His uniform pants lifted, showing off dark socks and bare, hairy ankles. The guy needed a bigger size. His massive football player physique couldn’t be contained in the uniform. “We need to see your laptop.”
I looked back and forth between them. “Why?”
“Just go get it.” Gus leaned back in my chair. “Or we’ll give your neighbors something to whisper about.”
I sighed. Since when had my little brother and my best friend managed to turn the tables and start running circles around me? When Jesse first told me he was applying to the police academy, I hadn’t liked it one bit, but not because I thought they’d use their badge to manipulate me with the threat of ruining my domestic bliss—not that it was all that blissful. I had nosy neighbors. Then again, pretty much everyone in Newport Beach did. It sort of came with the territory.
Gus and my brother turned up the volume on the TV while I went into my home office to grab my laptop and turn it on.
I hadn’t wanted my baby brother to join the police department because I didn’t want him entering dangerous situations on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not he had a gun on his hip. I’d spent my whole life looking out for him, and even though he was a grown-ass man with more muscle mass than me, I still saw my eight-year-old kid brother when I looked at him.
Thankfully Newport was relatively safe.
I returned to the living room with my laptop and handed it over. Jesse moved to the sofa, practically sitting on me as he and Gus opened my Safari browser and started typing like apes, using one finger on each hand. I slid out from under Gus’s thigh to sit on the armrest of my sofa, watching them with amusement.
“You really need to take a typing class, Jesse.”
“Shut up,” my brother muttered, struggling to find the W on the keyboard.
“Don’t you have to use computers for reporting and shit?” I cocked my head to the side. “How are you still as slow as you were when you were ten?”
Gus snickered. “Been telling him the same thing for years.”
“Fine. Here.” Jesse shoved the laptop into Gus’s hands, who took over and pulled up what looked like a job posting for an experienced consultant before handing the computer to me.
I balanced my laptop on one hand and scrolled through the listing, my frown deepening. “Why are you showing me a job posting? I don’t need help finding work. I’m slammed enough as it is. Do you know how many Newport businessmen have single-handedly bankrupted their companies and are continuing to go into debt without their employees having any idea they’ll all be laid off by Christmas?”
“That’s fucked up,” Gus said. He pointed to the title of the company. “See that there?”
“Nile,” I said. “What the fuck is Nile?”
“An e-commerce site,” Jesse said, inching to the edge of the sofa. “It sounds like it’s a mash-up of Amazon and Etsy.”
Jesse stared blankly at me. “You need to get your head out of your ass and stop working so much, bro. Etsy. It’s like a small business hub making a bajillion dollars of revenue a year for the website and the small businesses who use the platform selling handmade products.”
“Are you a company rep or something?” I asked, shaking my head. “And why does any of this matter?”
Jesse waved his hand dismissively. “It doesn’t. I was just trying to educate you. Anyway, what we wanted to show you was who owned Nile, and who is hiring for the job.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “I still don’t see why I should care.”
I snorted. “You google it, ass. I want to watch the fight.”
“Just do it,” Jesse urged.
“Fine.” I typed in Nile, which brought up a sleek website with the word sustainability front and center. I scrolled down until the image of the founder and CEO popped up.
My interest came back in a surge, and my lips peeled away from my teeth in a grin.
Gus nudged my hip with his elbow. “See? Worth it, right?”
“She’s back in Newport,” Jesse said.
“No shit,” I breathed. My eyes traced the familiar features of the only girl I’d ever loved, my high school sweetheart, Sandy Davenworth. Her eyes were the same bright, golden hazel I remembered. Her smile was perfect—sparkly white, straight, and framed in rosy lips I had kissed a thousand times over and dreamed of kissing again just as many. She had makeup on for the picture, so I couldn’t see the smattering of freckles across her upturned nose, but I knew they were there.
“Say something,” Jesse said.
I grinned, slapping the laptop closed. “I think it might be time to update my resume.”