TWENTY-TWO

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The scar above Virginia's right eye was still ugly but not nearly as angry looking as it had been. At least it ran close to the top of her eyebrow and would eventually pale to the point where it would be hard to see. Her cast had been removed, but her left arm remained in a sling, minimizing movement to help fully mend the broken collarbone.

She was in the kitchen getting a head start on dinner when the doorbell rang.

"Coming," she yelled, grateful for the break.

Upon opening the front door, a giant teddy bear greeted her, blocking the identity of the person holding it. "Hello, Teddy." She glanced over at the driveway, spotting the red Ferrari that looked ridiculously out of place in her average middle-class neighborhood. Her eyes shot back to the bear. Her stomach took the long way around, taking its time to calm.

Spinelli lowered the bear and smiled over its head.

Her stomach provided no help in playing it cool, producing another one of those thrill-induced rushes.

"I wanted to stop by and see how you two are doing. The bear is from Louis." His brow wrinkled. "I think he likes stuffed animals way too much."

Virginia backed up a few steps to give him room. "Come in. Janine went to a friend's house after school but she should be home soon."

He struggled to get the bear through the doorway, making both of them laugh. Shifting sideways, he squeezed past her, then walked into the living room and plunked it down on the couch.

She stared down at the furry creature taking up more than its fair share of the surface and had to laugh. "You better tell Louis my house is not very big," she said, turning to smile at him.

But he was preoccupied, the humor lost on him as he glared down at her sling.

"It comes off in another week," she offered, wanting to ease the tension on his face, managing to draw his eyes back up to hers. "No permanent damage, except maybe a little stiffness when it rains." She tried to sound carefree, but thinking about that day made the fear creep back into her voice.

He must have heard it too, changing the subject by sweeping his eyes around her twenty-by-thirty living/dining room combo. "Nice place."

Picturing his house, she imagined hers was the size of his bathroom. "Well, I'd give you the tour, but you pretty much just took it. All but the kitchen—it's in the back." Virginia waved her hand for him to follow as she headed in that direction. "I'm trying to cook some lasagna and doing a pretty poor job." She pointed at her sling to place the blame on it.

"Stay for dinner?" she offered. "If you dare." She threw a challenging smile over her shoulder, noticing his eyes widen in response. She turned away, afraid the thrill of discovering his admiring stare was splattered all over her face.

"I came just in time." There was a hint of mirth to his tone. "I happen to be an expert with Italian food."

She blushed. Spinelli knew exactly how he affected her.

A pile of dirty dishes sat on the counter, waiting to be dunked in the sink full of water. Before she realized what he was up to, he had rolled up his sleeves, grabbed plates, and placed them under the suds.

"You don't need to do my dishes."

"Why not?" He shrugged with his arms up to their elbows in soap. "It must be a bitch to do them with one hand."

"It is a little time consuming. I've been meaning to have someone come in and take a look at the dishwasher."

Virginia eyed his back, those wide shoulders that tapered down to tight hips, trying to get over the fact that Mark Spinelli was in her kitchen . . . doing her dishes of all things. Not knowing what else to say, she forced herself to look away and focus on the lasagna. They worked in silence until she drummed up the nerve to broach the subject that had been on her mind over the last few months.

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