It’s New Year’s Eve, and Zoey Ryan is in a holiday funk. Her career has taken a downturn, she doesn’t have much of a love life, and she’s being kept awake all night by a neighbor who’s both enthusiastic and incredibly loud in bed.
Sleep-deprived Zoey isn’t optimistic that her situation will improve anytime soon, despite her best friend’s well-intentioned meddling. Then she meets Finn McCall, a handsome stranger who’s at a crossroads, too.
When an errand takes an unexpected turn—leaving Zoey and Finn with no one to talk to but each other—Zoey wonders if Finn might be able to help her bring in the new year with a bang.
During rush hour at the cafe on the corner of my block in TriBeCa, my friend Caroline watches as I gingerly sip from a cup of dark roast that is approximately the size of my head.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Zoey,” she says as she stirs about a pint of cream into her coffee. “I love you, but you look terrible.”
“Is there a right way to take that?” I ask, trying not to be offended. I was feeling pretty good about myself when I left my apartment this morning. I’m having a great hair day, and the jeans I shoved in the back of my closet when I could only yank them halfway up my thighs finally fit again.
Those good feelings aren’t completely gone, but they’re on the verge of disappearing.
“You look lovely in general, it’s just…”
I raise my brow as I blow through the tiny hole in the lid of my cup. “It’s just what?”
“You look tired, like you haven’t slept in days. And I know you must be exhausted, because you’re drinking that.” Caroline gives me a sympathetic smile as she nods at my ginormous cup of coffee.
She’s right; I usually avoid caffeine like the plague. It makes my heart race, which in turn makes my anxiety kick in, and I’d rather not have a panic attack if I can help it. I’m dead on my feet this morning, though, so I need something to get me through the day.
“I think my neighbor has a new boyfriend,” I explain. “One that’s supremely talented in bed, if the incessant moaning and wall banging is any indication.”
I pull the five sugar packets that I grabbed from the condiment bar out of my pocket, rip open the paper, and dump the contents into my cup.
Caroline’s eyes widen. “So, you’re going for the caffeine and sugar rush, huh?”
“I’m actually being conservative with the sugar. And if I could mainline about ten espressos, I would.”
“Oh wow,” Caroline says, like she finally understands the severity of my situation. “We’re talking super enthusiastic sex, then.”
“They were at it for almost six hours straight last night. And the night before. The guy seems to have no refractory period whatsoever.”
“Right? I’m almost jealous. At least I would be if I could get any sleep.” I’m not above admitting that the enthusiastic sex happening next door is ever so slightly more annoying because I can’t retaliate. There hasn’t been any headboard thumping on my side of the wall in an embarrassingly long time.
Unlucky in love, unluckier in neighbors.
“You need to get out of that building. Paper thin walls in exchange for sky high rent? No way.”
“Is there a place in this city that doesn’t have sky high rent? If you know of one, please let me know.”
Caroline hums. “I’m going to make it my personal mission to find you a place,” she replies, like the good friend she is. “I’ll ask Marcus to keep an eye out.”
I don’t know Caroline’s boyfriend all that well, but if he manages to find me an affordable place where I can get a good night’s sleep, I’ll be his best friend.
“Thanks. I’m hoping I can pick up a couple of new accounts in the next month or so to help make my dream of something more soundproof a reality.”
I’m not quite a starving artist, but being a young photographer in a place like New York isn’t easy. There’s a lot of competition, and I need something that sets me apart from the crowd to keep this city from eating me alive. Since graduating from college, I’ve survived on a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, but getting by just isn’t enough for me anymore.
I want to get ahead.
But it’s hard not to get discouraged when I’m barely making ends meet, and the offers aren’t coming in like they were in the fall. This time of year—the week between Christmas and New Year’s—is pretty much dead.
“It’ll pick up in a couple of weeks,” Caroline says encouragingly. “It always does.”
I’ve only been at this for two years, so I can’t say it always does anything. She’s right though, given my limited sample size. “Yeah.”
Caroline takes a sip of her drink, and perks up in the way that she does whenever she’s taking a planned conversational detour that she wants to seem spontaneous.
“Have you given any thought to coming to the party tonight?”
I have thought about it, and told her my thoughts four times already. Maybe this time’s the charm.
“Third-wheeling you and Marcus on New Year’s Eve? No thanks.”
“It’s not third-wheeling if there are other single people present,” Caroline replies, playfully rolling her eyes, like we haven’t had this conversation before.
“But I don’t know any of the other single people who are going to be present.”
“You’ll meet a guy. You’ll mingle. And maybe you’ll start off the new year with a bang. Literally.”
“It’s a nice thought,” I reply with a laugh. “But that’s a best case scenario, and if the way my life is going lately is any indication, I’m a worst case scenario kind of gal.”
“Well, with that attitude…” Caroline teases.
“I’ll think about it?”
Caroline narrows her eyes at me, because she knows me well enough to realize that I’m trying to blow her off in the nicest way possible. Like I have every other time we’ve talked about this party and she’s refused to take no for an answer.
“Okay. But I’m going to text you a few times to nag you about it between now and then, so don’t think this is over yet.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” I reply, standing and slinging my bag over my shoulder.
“Where are you going?”
“Midtown. I have some prints to drop off, and I need to pick up a check before the dawn of a new tax year is upon us.”
I lean down and kiss Caroline’s cheek. “Thanks for the coffee.”
She grins. “Anytime. If you need a place to crash, you can always come by my place. Especially tonight, after I see you at the party.”
Oh, she’s a slick one. “Nice try.”
“I’m not giving up on you!”
“You wouldn’t be you if you did,” I tell her, then steal a piece of her untouched croissant before I walk away.
“Thompson Street, between Broome and Spring!” she yells out after me. “Nine thirty. I’ll see you there!”
I turn and flash her a smile, knowing there’s no point in arguing with her again.
On my way out, I hang a left into the restroom and give myself a once-over in the small mirror above the sink. My hair still looks good; the blonde streaks from the summer have faded, blending nicely with my natural brown. The subtle highlights keep me from looking completely washed out.
I do look tired, though. Yikes. My usually bright blue eyes are dreary and grey, and the purplish hollows beneath them are accentuated by the bad fluorescent lighting. There isn’t enough concealer in the world to hide these things, but I’m not gonna worry about it. I’m just going to pick up a check, and Betty—the elderly accounts payable clerk I usually deal with—doesn’t care what I look like as long I print my name legibly in her log book.
It’s not like I’m going to meet the man of my dreams today or anything.
* * * * *
On the way to pick up my check, I make a quick stop at my favorite gourmet store and walk out with two bags full of New Year’s treats. It’s nothing extravagant, just enough to make a fabulous spread for a party of one on a budget.
I also stop at Starbucks for another coffee, which kicks in when I reach my destination, making me a little jittery. My hand shakes as I try grabbing a pen out of the cup on Betty’s desk.
“Sign here, here, and here,” she says in her grizzled old smoker’s voice, not even looking up as she points to the lines in the log she pushes in front of me. You’d think I’m signing a will or something, not verifying that I’ve picked up a paltry check that will barely cover half of my rent.
I make a few squiggly lines at the edge of the page to get the ink going, then sign something that looks kind of like my name there, there and there. When I drop the pen back into the cup, Betty hands me an envelope, never looking up from the small television that’s perched on the table beside her.
“Happy New Year,” I tell her, which earns me a grumbled hum in response. “It was a pleasure as always, Betty.”
I tuck the check into my pocket, grab my coffee, and head out of the office.
The elevator lobby is completely empty; the building is dead today. I press the call button a few times before it lights up and hear the gears grinding behind the doors as the elevator makes its climb. This place is ancient, and riding on the elevator always makes me nervous, but it’s a twenty-two story walk downstairs, and I could barely handle it on a good day, much less one where I’m having difficulty putting one foot in front of the other for lack of sleep.
The elevator finally arrives, and I step in, pressing the button for the lobby.
“Hold the door!”
I lift my arm to keep the doors from closing, and in walks a blur of a man in a black leather jacket, holding a cell phone to his ear. “It went well, but I’m gonna have to call you back. I just got in the elevator, and my battery’s about to die.”
His voice is nice; there’s something about it that makes the caffeinated stutter of my heart calm.
When my phone vibrates in my pocket, I maneuver my bags and pull it out. I barely get a look at the screen before it slips from my hand, skittering right out of the elevator. I lunge for it —and so does the guy in here with me—but it’s too late. The doors nearly close on us.
“Great,” I groan, hoping it’s not broken, and that I can make my way back upstairs before someone takes it. “Thanks for trying, though.”
I get my first glimpse of my elevator co-rider, and holy chiseled profile, Batman. He gives me a bashful smile, and it’s so gorgeous it makes my breath catch.
No-concealer-wearing, bags-under-my-eyes having me. That’s who that smile’s for.
“Sorry I couldn’t-” He’s cut off as the elevator jolts to a stop.
The sudden movement makes me stumble right into him, but he grabs hold of me, stopping what was sure to be a pretty nasty fall. His grip is firm around my biceps, and my head is pressed against his chest. God, he smells good. Leather, and soap, and…
“What’s happening?” I ask, just as the lights flicker off.
“Well,” he replies. “Looks like we’re stuck.”