“Emma – God, just put on some mascara and let's go! I'm starving!” Elsa grumbled, tossing her platinum blonde braid over her shoulder.
Emma yawned pointedly at her. Much as she loved her friend, Elsa could sure get cranky when she was hungry. Or tired. Or...well, the list was lengthy. Snarkiness aside, Elsa was a true and loyal friend, and the best paralegal Emma had ever had. Nothing could brighten Emma's workdays at Gold, Mills & Mills like hearing Elsa turn all that icy wrath on an opposing attorney's staffers.
“Okay, okay...” Emma sighed, sweeping on some blush. Gotta give myself a little color or I'll be mistaken for a corpse, she thought. “Be right there. Ugh. These late nights are killing me. How the hell are you so fresh and frosty this morning? We were both at the office until well after midnight!”
It was true. They'd been prepping for a hearing set for Monday morning, and both decided they'd be damned if they missed Girl's Day Out because they had to work on a Saturday. So, they'd stuck it out and spent their Friday night crafting witness questions and copying evidence exhibits.
“Frozen spoons. Under the eyes. Gets rid of the puffies. A little iciness can do wonders,” Elsa replied smugly. “And I think 'after midnight' might be putting it delicately. The last time I looked at a clock it was after 2:00 a.m.”
Emma rolled her eyes at her friend and smiled. “But we're gonna kick ass on Monday,” Emma singsonged. “Okay, Ice Queen, I'm ready when you are.” Emma turned to the brunette gazing intently out the sliding glass doors which led to the second-floor apartment's tiny balcony. “Ruby, are you ready to head out to lunch or do you want to keep staring at those movers for a while longer? You've been at it since that U-Haul pulled up out front.”
Ruby tore her gaze from the door, and twisted a wry smile at her roommate. “Hey, can you blame me? There are three delicious specimens of manhood out there, and you know I have a weakness for sweat and muscles.”
Emma snorted a laugh. Did she ever. Emma had met Ruby in law school. They both worked to pay their way (with the help of significant student loans) by waiting tables at a diner called Granny's, which was owned and run by Ruby's actual Granny, Mabel Lucas. As long as Emma had known her, Ruby operated under a work-hard-play-harder philosophy of life. Sure, Ruby put in her hours at the diner, studied and made the grades in law school, and killed in the courtroom, but when the drudgery was handled for the day she wanted to go out and howl at the moon. Said howling inevitably involved, well... tequila, and some handsome, burly and ultimately disposable male. She was quite the man-eater. Emma had overheard some other (mostly male) attorneys down at the courthouse refer to Ruby Lucas as the She-Wolf.
“Yes, I am aware of your penchant for Alpha Dogs, and apparently the feeling is mutual.” Emma pointed back to the door through which the three women could clearly see one of the movers (blond, tan and muscle-bound) giving Ruby an appreciative once-over. Ruby slid open the glass door, stepped out onto the balcony and blew a kiss at the guy. Lust-struck, the mover tripped over his own feet and dropped the cardboard box he was carrying. A box marked “fragile.” The box struck the concrete sidewalk with a thud and an unfortunate shattering sound. The crash brought Emma and Elsa out to the balcony as well, just in time to hear an exasperated “Bloody Hell, mate!” followed by a string of creative cursing emitting from the trailer of the U-Haul.
“Oh, shit...” Ruby raised her hand in front of mouth in a gesture of mock horror, but her smirk belied any actual shame. “Did I do that?” Emma, Elsa and Ruby all tried to stifle their laughter. Still, the women apparently drew the attention of the broken property's owner as indicated by an abrupt stop to the cursing.
A dark, nearly black head of disheveled hair peeked out from the back of the trailer, and two shockingly blue eyes panned upward to find the source of the laughter. Ruby smiled brightly and a tad lasciviously at the man's emerging form. “Well, looky what we have here...” Ruby murmured to Emma, with an unsubtle nudge, “Smile, honey.”
The dark hair and blue eyes, the ladies soon saw, came with an expressive pair of dark brows and a full mouth which taken together formed a classically handsome, if a bit scruffy, face. The man's tall and lean body gave an impression of being weather-worn, suggesting a life spent outdoors. He was dressed for manual labor. His thin t-shirt and oil stained jeans did little to hide the curvature of toned biceps and (as Ruby would have phrased it) an ass you could bounce a quarter off of. Everything about the man said “rough-and-tumble”, so Emma could barely hide her surprise when the man hopped down from the trailer, nimble as a cat, made a sweeping bow and declared in a decidedly British accent, “A thousand apologies! I would never have let my language get away from me had I known there were ladies present.”
His eyes swept over the three women on the balcony and locked on Emma. He cocked an eyebrow at her and winked mischievously. Emma immediately felt a flush begin to creep across her cheeks and chest – the curse of the fair-skinned. Guess I didn't need to worry about putting on blush after all, thought Emma. Behind her Elsa snorted derisively. “Delicate creatures that we are,” Elsa's voice dripped with sarcasm, “I believe we can handle a few naughty words. Don't mind us. Feel free to continue to swear like sailors.”
The man clearly sensed the dismissal in Elsa's tone. Pulling his gaze away from Emma, the man nodded and looked back over his shoulder. “Then I shall deem my apology as accepted and return to supervising these cretins, in hopes that at least some of my worldly goods will be intact by the time they reach my new residence.” With that, he turned, said something to the other two men and climbed back into the hold of the trailer.
With the show now over, Emma, Elsa and Ruby re-entered the apartment. “That was a bit cold, Elsa,” said Emma. “He seemed nice enough.”
“Fine. I'll bake him some cookies later or something. Now, back to business. Lunch? Shopping? It's Girls Day Out remember?”
“Lemme just grab my purse. Ruby! You're ogling again!” Emma hollered turning to her roommate who had resumed her place at the sliding glass door. Ruby shrugged unabashedly in response.
As the three women walked out the front door of apartment 502, they noticed the door ajar to apartment 504 - immediately next door to Emma and Ruby's place. From the hallway looking in, they could see moving boxes strewn around the front room, and furniture askew. Clearly this was the destination of the movers they'd just been watching. “Emma, isn't that the apartment you just moved out of?” asked Elsa.
“Yeah, it is. When I first moved into this building they only had that one-bedroom unit available. When the two-bedroom unit opened up next door, I sweet talked the building management into giving me dibs.”
“And then her life was forever enhanced by the addition of me as a roommate!” interjected Ruby.
“Yes, and the addition of your shoes all over the floor and not to mention all the interesting little creatures and plant life that grow in the half-drunk mugs of tea you leave all over the place.” Emma quirked an eyebrow at Ruby. “They're really pretty friendly. One of the mugs waved at me yesterday as it tried to skitter out the front door.”
Ruby made a petulant face, and playfully shoved Emma on the arm. “You love me anyway.”
Emma sighed, “Like a sister.” Emma gave Ruby one more eye roll for good measure, and the three began to move together down the hallway toward the stairwell. Before they had gone three steps, they heard the sound of male voices coming up the stairs.
“Just pivot the bloody thing, mates, it'll make it.”
“Tell me...ugh... again why WE...ugh... are carrying YOUR couch...ugh... and YOU ...ugh...are carrying nothing?”
“I'm supervising! And I'll take no guff from you, you git, since you just broke all my fu-”
“Well, howdy there neighbor,” Ruby drawled at the dark haired man.
He spun around in surprise, cutting off his tirade mid-curse. “Howdy, indeed!” he replied, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Am I to understand that I have the good fortune of moving into the flat next door to you lot?”
“You do, in fact. We're 502,” Ruby answered sweetly. Proffering her hand she added, “I'm Ruby Lucas. My lovely roommate here is Emma Swan, and our sharp-tongued friend is Elsa Arendelle. Don't worry, she'll thaw out once you get to know her.” Elsa narrowed her eyes at Ruby for this last comment.
The man's eyes drifted to Emma again. She felt keenly aware of the fact that she hadn't managed to utter a word yet, and her blush deepened involuntarily. “Pleased to make your acquaintances. I am Killian Jones,” the man said, his eyes never leaving Emma's face. “And these two roughnecks,” he added, “are Victor Frank and Graham Humbert,” He gestured to the blond man and the darker haired, bearded man respectively. “My best mates. Here to assist me in my move and to hopefully destroy as little as possible.” Victor and Graham, each carrying and end of a rather heavy-looking sofa, acknowledged the ladies (Victor with a nearly indecent smile at Ruby and Graham with a gruff head nod), but did not linger to chat before hauling their burden into apartment 504.
“Come to think of it,” Killian continued, blue eyes twinkling, “I believe that Vic, in his appreciation of Miss Lucas's charms, has managed to break all my drinking glasses. Which, of course, means that we shall have to consume our ale this evening straight from the bottle. Would you perchance have a bottle opener I can borrow? Finding mine in all these boxes could prove like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.”
“I can help you with that,” Emma said finally finding her voice. How on earth had her shy-switch gotten flipped? This wasn't like her. “Come on in, and I'll grab it for you from the kitchen.” Killian promptly followed her into apartment 502. Emma began rummaging around the kitchen drawers and cabinets in an attempt to locate the bottle opener. “Now if I can just find the stupid thing...” she mumbled half to herself.
“Love, if you need any assistance, I'd be more than happy to take a look in your drawers,” Killian teased, his expression cocky and flirtatious.
Emma stopped short and snorted out a laugh. “God, did you really just say that?” She tried to put an appropriate amount of mocking into her tone, but her smile as she turned and leaned back against the counter was too warm to make it convincing.
Killian's face fell at her laugh, but her lingering smile brought a bit of his smirk back. He leaned back against the other counter opposite her. “Apologies again, Swan. You seem to bring out the pirate in me.”
“Pirate? Really?” She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Well...” he began, scratching absentmindedly at his ear, “it's a bit of a joke amongst the lads out on the rig.”
“Ah... Rig as in oil rig. So when you referred to Vic and Graham as roughnecks...”
“I wasn't just referring to their manners. We all work together out in the Gulf on a drilling platform. You know, out on the high seas, searching for black gold, digging for buried treasure.” He cocked an eyebrow back at her. “Calling ourselves 'pirates' sounds much more intriguing than what we really are.”
“And what is that, exactly?”
Killian titled his head to the side, and there went that eyebrow again. “Besides devilishly handsome, you mean? Killian Jones, petroleum engineer, at your service.” Killian gave a small mock bow. “Vic and Graham are crew managers.”
“You're an engineer?” Emma raised her brows in interest.
“That I am, lass.”
Emma's mouth quirked downward at the corners in thought. “Well, Mr. Jones, you don't look like any engineer I've ever met, and you've certainly got a mouth on you.” Her eyelashes flicked down and then up as she looked him over head to toe with as much sass as she could muster. “I suppose you must be a pirate after all.” See I can play, too, Emma thought.
Killian took a step toward her with a wicked smile. Small as her kitchen was, that one step closed more than half the distance between them. He was close enough now that she could just begin to feel the heat radiating from his body. She felt her flush return, and she hastily turned around to face the counter, mumbling something about getting back to the search for bottle openers. She leaned over to open the drawer now in front of her, stepped back to examine the contents and froze.
In her rush to hide her pink face, she'd backed right up into Killian, her rear end pressed against his thighs. Oh, I did NOT just straight-up ass bump a complete stranger, Emma thought in horror. Straightening up out of the compromising position, and without turning around (her cheeks were flaming now) Emma raised a finger as if to call for a point of order. “That...um...” The finger wilted into a half-hearted fist. “Was not intentional...” She lowered her hand and smacked her lips awkwardly. “And also I found the bottle opener.” The words ran together almost into one syllable.
She turned to find Killian shaking with silent laughter, one hand across his eyes. Alright, now she was less embarrassed and more annoyed. “Amusing, am I?”
“No worries, love, it's just that I've never had a woman try to sit on my lap when I was standing up.” He fixed her with a roguish expression that only served to annoy her further.
Humming disdainfully, Emma put one hand on her hip and handed him the bottle opener with the other. “Here. Try to bring it back in one piece. I've seen how you and your roughnecks treat your own stuff. And for that matter, be careful if you intend to hang anything on your bedroom wall. I used to live in that unit, so I know the master bedroom in your apartment shares a wall with mine. The walls in this building are tissue thin – bang too hard on that wall and you'll be in my bedroom.”
Holy hell, did I just refer to banging against the wall and him being in my bedroom in the same sentence? The widening of Killian's eyes was subtle, but it was enough to confirm to Emma what she'd just said. When the inevitable blush hit her this time, she didn't turn away fast enough, and her reddened face was enough to earn her his cockiest grin. Nope. Not gonna deal with this right now, Emma thought, and walked huffily to her apartment's front door. Killian followed her into the hallway, trying to take his smirk down a notch and failing spectacularly.
“My thanks for the implement, Miss Swan,” Killian stated, nodding his head as if bowing.
“Really? Again with the bowing?” Emma rejoined feigning coy, “Trying to prove to us what a gentleman you really are?”
“I am always a gentleman, love.” Killian's tone was earnest, but the flick of his tongue to the corner of his mouth, purely wicked. “Except for when I'm not.” He drew out the last word, and emphasized the final “t” in a way that Emma was sure made her cheeks glow red as a traffic light. Dammit.
“At any rate, it appears that you ladies were on your way out, so, gentleman that I am, I shall not keep you any longer. I expect I will be seeing you all again very soon.” With that, Killian took his leave. As the door to his apartment closed behind him, the three women could again hear the sounds of deep male voices shouting. Emma was sure she heard something to the effect of, “...quit mooning over pretty girls in the hallway and help carry some shit or I'll drop another box – this time on your foot.”
When Emma and Ruby returned home that evening from their Girl's Day with Elsa, a strange message awaited them. Just a simple 3x5 note card, nothing special in and of itself. The strangeness derived from the fact that it was taped to their front door, just below the apartment number. And from the fact that it was a ransom note. For a kitchen gadget.
“Miss Swan,” the note read, “We have your bottle opener. It is in mortal peril. If you ever wish to see it again, you will come to apartment 504 at 8:15 p.m. tonight to negotiate its release. Bring your lovely friends. Your bottle opener's tiny metallic life is in your hands. Pizza and beer will be served.”
Emma was dumbfounded. She couldn't decide if this was ridiculously creative or just plain ridiculous. Hell of a way to invite your neighbors over for a housewarming, she thought. Nonetheless, she couldn't seem to keep a smile from creeping onto her face. Ruby snatched the note from Emma's hands and read it out loud, using her most dramatic voice (which for Ruby, was saying something).
Ruby slapped Emma's shoulder with the 3x5 card. “You HAVE to go.”
Emma balked, “I...dunno. Who does stuff like ransom a bottle opener?”
Ruby would not be deterred, “You HAVE to go, and I HAVE to go with you, and so does Elsa. I'm calling her right now. Now go get your ass in the shower, we have a party to get ready for!”
As Emma retreated to her bathroom, she could hear Ruby on the phone with Elsa. “This'll teach you to make wanton promises about baking cookies for people... Because you know Emma and I can't cook, and we need a housewarming present...Fine. I'll owe you, now quit acting like you'll melt if you stand too close to the oven.... yeah, yeah, you know you love me. See you at 8.”
Emma turned on the shower. As she waited for the water to warm, she let her thoughts drift to her new neighbor. When she woke up this morning she sure as hell didn't think she was going to be handling hostage negotiations by the end of the day. Still, maybe a little bit of an adventure with a handsome pirate would do her some good.