"You know that isn't a good idea." A deep voice startled her from the far side of the house near the back yard.
Jerking back, Hannah lost her balance and fell back onto the muddy ground. One slipper flew off and ricocheted against the side of the house.
Busted! She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed. "It isn't what you think."
The mystery man chuckled, a lovely warm sound that reached down to her now soaking wet toes. Unable to help herself, she opened her eyes to search out the face that went with the unfamiliar voice.
He was young, college young, at least five years her junior. A shame, because he was handsome, almost pretty, with dark brown hair that fell carelessly over his eyes. Yeah, he was the type of man who'd only get better looking with age. Who was he?
"I can explain." The mud she'd landed in finally made it through her robe to her backside. She grimaced.
"You can? Cause it looks like you were trying to get yourself electrocuted in an attempt to mess with my brother's decorations." He tipped his head in the direction of the house, yet his tone was friendly. In the next instant, he reached out a hand.
She sighed. "Are you going to call the cops?"
"No. As long as you promise not to cut that wire. Well, not until you unplug everything first." With a smile and remarkably little effort, he pulled her to her feet.
Hannah gaped at him until he pulled his hand away, the hand she'd held on to for a moment too long. Embarrassed, she hunted down her ruined slipper and slid it back on. She kept her eyes straight ahead, which happened to be smack dab in the center of the faded red hoodie he wore.
"Um, well..." She glanced up to find him grinning down at her.
The back door of the Bodner's house crashed open. "What's going on? Is that you, Joel?"
Joel grabbed her shoulders and hurried toward her house. He opened the side door and shoved her through it. Before she could turn around, he'd yanked the door shut.
She leaned against it in an attempt to listen to their conversation, but could only distinguish a few muffled words through the heavy wood. A few minutes later, the voices faded away. A thousand questions buzzed around in her head, but judging by the silence, they wouldn't be answered tonight. She pushed off the door, ready to head back to bed, when someone rapped lightly on it.
She swiveled back and pushed the thin white curtain aside. Sure enough, Joel grinned back at her. The door swung open with a creak. She flinched at the sound, her nerves stretched to the limit.
"Uh, hey." Her mind blank, she fumbled for something to say. Only, she’d never faced a situation like this before.
His grin grew until it seemed to take over his entire face. "I didn't get your name."
Shoot. He planned to snitch on her after all. Eyes glued to the floor, she mumbled, "Hannah."
"Hannah, huh? That's pretty."
Her head jerked up. What the heck was he talking about?
"Well, Hannah, I promise to help you with my brother if you promise to meet me here tomorrow night."
Somehow, she managed a small "okay" along with a tiny nod.
He blew out a long breath as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "Awesome."
"Um, if that's all..."She glanced up at him and then behind herself in a not so subtle hint. Mud from her hair dripped down her shirt, and she pushed the soggy locks over her shoulder.
When he didn't immediately answer, she slowly started to swing the door shut. His hand shot out to stop her. She angled her head up to get a better look at him. He stood at least six inches above her five-foot-five frame.
In a now or never kind of way, he swooped down and planted a quick kiss on her cheek. She gasped and drew back.
"Bye Hannah. See you tomorrow." No sooner had he spoken than he trotted off to the other house.
That night she tossed and turned. It wasn't due to the twinkling lights.