“Dad! Did you see the pool? And the big garage I can put my bike in? And did you see it has the biggest park ever? Did you see, Dad?”
“Yeah, buddy, I saw.”
My heart swells a size bigger as my eight-year-old son, Levi, and I carry some boxes from my truck to our new apartment. There was a time when I never would’ve imagined being able to afford a place like this. A place with an actual gate and a clicker. A place where the pool is blue and has a clubhouse with a gym in it. Where the park doesn’t look like it’s in the middle of a crack-town. To be able to give my son a home we can actually be proud of means everything.
The last two years I have busted my ass to turn my bar around. King’s Bar used to be a dump. A bar my younger brother, Sean, wouldn’t even let his wife hang out in. When Lilly would show up to visit, he would jump down her throat, afraid she would get hit on by the trashy lowlifes that frequented my bar. One fifteen-thousand-dollar bank loan later—and with the help of Lilly—King’s Bar was completely renovated and transformed into a restaurant-slash-bar even I couldn’t recognize but could finally be proud of.
With the makeover Lilly gave the place, including an entirely new menu, a real kitchen, and a cook who knows what he’s doing, it was as if I purchased an entirely new bar. Then, add the advertising she helped me set up to cater to a higher class, and it all came together. I spent the next two years working hard to make sure it didn’t tank, and I’m proud to say, not only am I in the black, but my loan is paid off. The bar is bringing in enough revenue that I can afford to rent a decent sized two-bedroom apartment for Levi and me while still having money left over to put away every month into a savings account.
With Levi getting older, I want to be home more. After discussing my idea with the accountant Lilly hooked me up with, she confirmed my numbers are trending, and I’m good to hire a fulltime night manager. This means I’ll be able to work during the day while Levi is in school and be home with him in the evenings. As a single parent, there’s nothing better than being able to provide for your child and still be able to be there with him.
“Dad! This is the place!” Levi points to the numbers on the door. “Four-Two-Two-Four.”
“Yep! Here you go. You do the honors, buddy.” I hand him the key, and after putting down his box of toys, Levi inserts it into the lock. The door swings open at the same time the one next door opens, followed by a large dog barreling out. The dog runs right up to Levi, and before I can stop him, his paws come up to his chest, knocking him down onto the ground.
I drop the box in my hand, ready to pull the dog off my kid when I hear Levi’s infectious laughter. When I get around the large dog—which appears to be a yellow lab—I can see his tongue lapping up my son’s face.
When I look back toward the apartment next door to see how the hell the dog got out of its home, a frazzled brown-haired woman comes stumbling out the door. “Oh my god! I am so sorry!” She has a leash in one hand, and she’s trying to run while pulling on a boot with the other hand. She stops in front of us, huffing out her annoyance, her other boot finally on. “Maverick! Bad boy.” Her hands go to her hips, her brows furrowed in anger. The dog ignores her, continuing to lick Levi while he giggles, petting the dog. “Maverick!” she yells again, stomping her foot. The dog still ignoring her.
I stifle a laugh at how adorable this woman is mad. She can’t be more than five-foot-two—I’m definitely a good foot taller than her. She’s wearing tiny cut-off jean shorts that show off her naturally bronzed skin. Thick thighs and an ass that a guy could grab onto. Her tank top reads “If you hate tacos, I’m nacho type” and has a good amount of cleavage spilling over. She has a tiny yet thick body. Definitely Hispanic. Her caramel colored hair is up in a messy bun, and her eyes…fuck, her eyes are a bright green. Like a forest you could get lost in for days. What the hell am I saying?
When I stop staring into her eyes, I notice she’s standing there watching me check her out. Her one brow is raised, and she has a mischievous smirk splayed across her lips. Putting my fist up to my mouth, I choke out an awkward cough. Her smirk turns into a full-blown grin, and I feel like I’ve been knocked down on my ass.
“Yo, Griffin! Why don’t we bring up—” Sean comes walking over, his words coming to a halt as he assesses the situation.
“Look at the doggy, Uncle Sean!” Levi shouts, still petting the furry animal who is now on his back with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, accepting the belly rub.
“I see it, Levi.” Sean glances from Levi, to the dog, to the woman and then to me. When his eyes meet mine, he gives me a knowing look.
“I’m Sean King.” He puts his hand out to greet the woman.
“Oh my god! Are you Sean King, the UFC fighter?” She puts her hand in his. “I’m Ava Milano,” she says with the sexiest damn accent I’ve ever heard. It sounds like that actress—Sofia something, who’s on that show Lilly always insists on watching—only hotter. “I love the UFC! It’s so nice to meet you.”
“And I’m Griffin King.” I move my brother’s hand out of the way, replacing his hand with mine. He chuckles under his breath, and I shoot him a quick shut the fuck up glare.
Ava smiles and lets go of my hand, walking over to Levi and her dog. I watch as her ass sways in those shorts, my dick twitching for the first time in several months. Sean’s gaze follows mine then he chuckles, shaking his head. I punch him in the arm which only makes him laugh that much harder.
Ava clips the leash onto her dog’s collar. “This is Maverick, who is still not quite used to living in an apartment complex with a lot of other people.” She smiles at Levi. “He’s a big puppy, but he’s harmless…unless you count licking someone to death!” Levi giggles like he does when Lilly is sweet with him. My kid is a King after all. It’s second nature for us to flirt with a cute woman.
“Maverick…named after Top Gun?” Sean asks, and Ava’s smile turns into a grimace, her eyes rolling.
“Yes, unfortunately my boyfriend insisted on naming him. Now I’m stuck calling him that for the rest of his life. I tried to rename him once we broke up, but he wasn’t having it.” Her nose scrunches up in annoyance. “That’s okay, though. His cuteness and loyalty make up for his ugly name.”
“My name is Levi King and I live here.” Levi points to our door.
“Nice to meet you, Levi. Maverick and I live right next door.”
Levi stands up and mimics his uncle and me by putting his hand out to shake Ava’s. She grins, taking his hand.
“Can I maybe play with Maverick one day?” he asks.
“Sure! I bet he would love that. Just make sure you ask your dad first.”
Ava glances from me to Sean. “It was nice meeting you both. I need to take Maverick for his walk, so he can go to the bathroom. I’m already late.” She gives us one last smile before turning her back on us as she heads down the hall toward the sidewalk. The three of us stand there watching her walk away until she’s gone.
“Well, she seems nice,” Sean notes.
“Yeah! And her dog is nice too,” Levi points out.
“There are a lot of words I could use to describe that woman but nice…nice just doesn’t do her justice,” I add.
Sean cackles and I throw another punch to his arm.
“What’s so funny?” Lilly asks as she walks up. “And why are we hanging out, outside the front door?”
“There was a cute dog named Maverick and he ran away and tried to lick me to death.”
“Good thing you didn’t die! Where is he?” Lilly looks around for the dog.
“He left with Ava,” Levi says, a smile brightening his face. “She’s really pretty! Just like you! And she lives right there.” He points next door.
“Oh really?” She tilts her head to the side. “How pretty is she, Sean?”
“She’s got nothing on you,” Sean insists, pulling her into his arms and giving her a kiss.
“Yeah, Prim,” I say, using my nickname for her. “You know you’re our number—” But before I can finish my statement, Ava comes walking back down the hallway, her dog getting excited to see that Levi is still standing here.
Lilly follows my gaze, her eyes landing on Ava then throws her head back in laughter. “Good try, boys.” Sean tightens his hold on her, whispering something into her ear that has her laughing some more.
Ava stops in front of us, a look of confusion marring her face. “Are you planning to move in, or are you going to hang out here all day?” Then she smiles at Lilly. “I’m Ava Milano. Looks like we’re neighbors.”
Lilly gives her a sweet smile back. “I’m Lilly King. My husband and I are helping these two move in.” She nods toward Levi and me. “They’re your neighbors, but I’m sure we’ll see you around.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you. And Levi,” she says, “come by any time.” She shoots him a wink that has my son speechless and grinning like a damn fool. I feel ya, son. I feel ya.