TWENTY-THREE

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As Virginia inched closer, she focused on Spinelli's lips, yet another perfect aspect of his flawless features. The sound of the front door opening was a distant, quiet squeak, but it had the same jolting effect as her early morning alarm. Awareness swamped her and she froze, thinking she'd lost her mind. A blast of heat hit her face when a sexy smirk broke out on his. The cocky bastard.

Janine's voice called out from the next room, "Wow, where did he come from?"

After a moment of awkwardness, the two of them walked to the archway separating the kitchen and dining room.

"Mark!" Janine ran to give him a hug.

"Louis sent that for you." He bent down to hug her back.

"Tell him I said thank you!" Janine skipped back to her gift and pulled it off the couch to stand nose-to-nose with the thing. "It's my size!"

"I can see that," Virginia said, elbowing the man beside her as he chuckled.

With bear in tow, Janine went to her room to put her things away while the two of them finished their glass of wine and worked on a salad. Their conversation focused around Janine and the school she was enrolled in.

Reappearing in shorts and a T-shirt, Janine couldn't hide her enthusiasm when she asked if he would like to play basketball. Virginia jerked her hand up, thinking an activity that didn't involve their guest might be a better—

"Okay," Spinelli answered before she could get a word in. "I'm not very good, though."

Yeah, sure, you don't look in the least bit athletic, Virginia thought as she smiled her thanks to him.

The players went out through the kitchen door to shoot hoops in the driveway while Virginia used the time to prepare everything for dinner. She pulled out placemats, utensils, napkins, bread, butter, milk, glasses, all of it placed on the table one-handed. She looked at the wine bottle and shrugged. "Why not, it's open," she murmured, adding it to the mixture along with two new glasses.

Twenty minutes later the buzzer went off. With the slow, awkward balancing skills developed over the last two months, she managed to lift the pan with one hand to the top of the stove.

She opened the back door and leaned against its frame. Spinelli was grinning at Janine, who was giving instructions between spurts of laughter as she circled around with a fast dribble. Virginia smiled, never expecting a man like him to enjoy the simple pleasure of spending time with a child.

"Five minutes!" she yelled.

Spinelli looked over, and for the briefest of moments it didn't matter who he was or who she was or what they did for a living. They were just a man and a woman, staring at each other over the head of a little girl with contended amusement, something normally shared by parents. Except she'd never experienced any of that with Tom. Only with . . . Jack.

Guilt rushed in like a jilted lover, and she stepped away from the doorway.

They came in as she was doling out portions onto plates. Their joking camaraderie continued all the way into the bathroom to wash hands and back, ending when they sat down at the table.

"She killed me," he blurted. "She's pretty good for such a little squirt."

"You just need to practice," Janine offered as she picked up her fork, her focus now on the food in front of her.

Virginia laughed at his pouty look of defeat.

"Wow, this is goooood!" Janine moaned.

Virginia tipped her wine glass to him. "It is, isn't it?"

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