THIRTY-FOUR

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Virginia was stirring what was supposed to be spaghetti sauce with a wooden spoon while frowning at the recipe book beside her, trying to figure out why hers didn't look anything like the sauce in the picture. "What the heck," she muttered.

It was her day off, and she was doing what she always did on her days off—preparing food that could easily be frozen in batches to be pulled out in a pinch for all those other days when she wasn't off. It's all in the prep work, she thought.

Which made her think of painting.

Which made her think of Spinelli—something she was trying not to do.

Two weeks had passed since the night of the award's dance. There had been no response to her text message, and she had accepted the implication. More or less. Problem was, she couldn't think of a single moment when they hadn't thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.

His picture had shown up in the paper again one week later, having accompanied the daughter of a well-known Italian shipbuilder to a party at their new winery to celebrate the billionaire's recent investment in California real estate. The daughter was olive-skinned, exotic, and a sucker for the bad boy type, judging by the admiring eyes staring up at him in the photo.

"Well, that's it then," Virginia had conceded upon seeing it. Throwing the newspaper into the recycling bin, finally understanding the lack of contact, she had decided to push him out of her mind . . . or try to.

The sound of a motorcycle drew her eyes out the window to see the man in her thoughts pull to a stop and draw one leg up and over the bike. Are you kidding me? You don't talk to me for weeks and then show up at my house?

He started toward her kitchen door, giving his helmet a harsh tug, looking like he was in a hurry.

She ran fingers through her hair, wishing she had at least another hour of prep time, before heading to the door and opening it.

The helmet was off and tucked under his arm—a black one this time, matching the black leather bomber jacket that came down to his waist, trim to his body, accentuating his powerful build. He looked like he had just stepped out of a magazine.

Virginia reached back to tug at the ties of the sauce-speckled apron she had thrown on earlier. As she went to remove it, she realized the goddamn spoon was still in her hand. Managing to yank the dowdy garment over her head with her free hand, she tossed it onto the chair beside her. The baggy black T-shirt and old jeans she had put on that morning made her feel miles away from his level of model-like good looks.

He noticed none of it.

"Call off your dogs," he demanded, pushing past her to force his way into her kitchen and dump the helmet on the table.

"What?"

"Your idiotic buddies are pissing me off. Tell them to stop."

Her spine stiffened. "I have no idea what you're talking about." How dare he barge into her home and accuse her of something.

"Your co-workers are making my life miserable, pulling Louis over on a daily basis for one ridiculous traffic infringement or another. I often have people in the limo, and it stopped being funny after the first time." He glared at her as if she were the one doing it.

Virginia said nothing while trying to make sense of it all.

"The other day I was having a meeting in the back when we were pulled over and this . . . this . . . asshole broke my back light and then wrote up a ticket for it. Needless to say, my business partners were wondering what the hell was going on."

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