TWENTY-SEVEN

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Virginia was in her bathroom, arms up in the air, twisting a hot roller toward her head when she froze with it midway to its destination. "What are you doing?" she asked her reflection. "Really? In this heat?" Pulling the stupid thing out, she bent over and gave her hair a shake, letting it be whatever it wanted to be.

She threw on black shorts and a red camisole since they were promising another record breaker. The building they were working in did not have much in the way of air conditioning. That was the next thing on her to-do list.

It was a long to-do list.

She was at the gym by eight o'clock. Dominique was already there, turning on the lights and covering up some of the larger pieces of equipment with drop sheets. He waved from across the room.

She got down to business, retrieving all the pans, rollers, and brushes from the storage closet near the front door. The paint had been delivered earlier in the week, the five-gallon drums piled up high in a pyramid next to the closet. She only hoped there would be enough as her eyes panned across the two-story walls. Scaffolding had already been set up. Lucky for her, people from the neighborhood had offered to come in and help. She was going to need it.

Graffiti covered every inch of wall surface, some of it beautiful, some of it vulgar, but most of it just wildly colorful, artistic signatures of people wanting to leave their mark. It seemed a shame to cover it all up with Antique White Semi-Gloss #31000. She had written down all the names she could decipher, crammed together as they were like commuters on a crush-loaded Metro bus during rush hour. A local artist had volunteered to reinstate them on the walls in simple black script as a border around the room, once the base painting was done.

Turning a full circle, she took a long look at the place, trying to ignore the nervousness she'd been dealing with since starting this project. The boxing ring was finished and stood in the middle of the large open space like a centerpiece among all the other equipment set up. They had designed it that way to showcase the ring and provide entertainment or motivation to those patrons who came in solely for a workout.

Kids were curious and had started inquiring about the after-school programs. Dominique was well-known in the area as the "local boy done good," an idol to the younger kids, a mentor to the older ones, and a godsend to some parents of troubled teens he was currently working with. No matter what the age, though, there was no difference in their looks of awe as they watched him train in the ring.

The gym was due to open in a week. If it's ready, she thought with a sigh, placing the last pan at its station.

As the clock approached nine, she found herself glancing out the large front windows, reprimanding herself each time she took a look.

The sound of a motorcycle gearing down drew her eyes to the street once more. The white helmet of the rider had a black reflective visor, but she didn't need it off to know who it was. Dressed in faded jeans and a plain white T-shirt, the unassuming attire wasn't what gave him away. It was the thick biceps she recognized. Yeah, that was definitely him. Realizing her mouth was hanging open, she snapped it shut and glanced over at the clock.

Nine o'clock. On the dot. Well, you're punctual, Spinelli. I have to give you that.

Maneuvering between two parked cars, he brought the machine up onto the sidewalk and hooked his heel on the side stand, pushing it down and leaning the bike into it. Knowing very little about motorcycles, all she noticed was its color, size, and sleek design: It was black, large, and looked expensive.

"Of course it is," she muttered.

With one graceful swing of his leg, he was up. After the helmet was pulled off and tucked under his arm, he took a moment to run a hand through his hair before crouching down and playing with something near the stand. The white T-shirt did nothing to hide the muscled back as it strained across its expanse. And those faded jeans hugging that behind were . . . well, he definitely had more than just punctuality going for him.

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