THIRTY-TW0

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A few more awards were handed out before the podium was cleared away. The black curtains peeled apart and a group of young people, all students of the center, took the stage and performed a short skit. When they were through, a band came out and started to play.

The two of them stayed for another hour, talking and dancing, forgetting the outside world as they relaxed and enjoyed themselves. As the last song of the evening was announced, Mark once again pulled her onto the dance floor, holding her close as they swayed to the slow rhythm being played by the band. The night was ending way too soon in his opinion. He tried to memorize the moment, etch into his brain the way she looked and how she felt in his arms, something he could refer to later with fondness, like a picture in a photo album.

"You made my evening by coming here with me tonight," he whispered in her ear. She tilted back in his arms to look at him, likely trying to read his sincerity. He couldn't say he blamed her—he was a difficult man to trust.

"Thank you for inviting me. I don't often get to dress up anymore, and it was interesting learning a few more things about you."

It would be so easy to tell you everything. "Like what?"

"Like the fact that, even though you think you are this big tough guy, you have a huge sensitive side, and a great respect for your employer. And you look amazing in a tuxedo." She tweaked his bowtie. "But I already knew that one." A grin took over her face.

God, she was beautiful . . . and dangerous. Not dangerous in a threatening way, although given her career choice, he knew she could be. No, the danger lay in the hold she had over him, how often he thought of her. She was becoming important. Too important.

Jesus, he thought to himself as he drank in the view, I'm in trouble.

It wasn't long before they were pulling into her driveway, stopping behind her parents' car. Mark made no comment as he got out of the limo and turned to reach for her hand. He placed his arm across her shoulders as they walked up to the door, enjoying the feel of her pressing into his side.

Dave Sullivan was sitting in the living room, watching television.

"Hi, Dad," she said as they walked in together.

Her father looked up from the show he was engrossed in. "Oh, hi, honey." Noticing Mark behind her, Dave stood up. "Mr. Spinelli, nice to see you again."

"Nice to see you too, sir." Mark shook his extended hand.

"Dave."

"Okay, Dave, but you have to call me Mark."

"Deal." Dave nodded and smiled before turning back to his daughter. "Your mom is asleep in the guest room. We didn't want to be driving too late. I hope that's okay?"

"That's great, Dad. Thanks for covering with Janine."

"No problem, honey. I'm glad you got to go out for an evening. You look lovely by the way." He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll give you guys some privacy." He walked off toward the bedrooms.

Virginia motioned for Mark to follow as she headed into the kitchen. After turning on the lights, she glanced over her shoulder. "Welcome to my version of privacy," she said in a hushed voice. "Can I get you something? Coffee?"

He shook his head as he stepped in close to her. "They seem like wonderful people. It's probably just as well they're here."

Virginia tilted her head. It was a cute little lean she did whenever she was curious.

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