FIFTY-TWO

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When Mark had the clasp safely latched, he turned her around to face him. Looking down at the charm, he found himself hoping she would never take it off. It was a ridiculous notion, to think it in some way marked her as his, yet seeing his woman wearing a symbol of his affection made him feel ten feet tall.

He reached for the two hearts and held them between his finger and thumb, wanting to give her so much more than he could currently offer. "You should have seen me demolish my dinner so that I could catch the earlier flight tonight. They all thought I hadn't eaten in a week."

She blinked up at him, still caught up on the I-love-you confession. It didn't bother him that she didn't give it back. She had a lot more to deal with than he did: an unfaithful husband, a partner torn away from her too soon, and a daughter to consider. Not to mention the fact that her current beau was bad news.

He was not in a rush. Time had a way of putting things in perspective.

He had gone to see his jewelry designer friend the minute he landed in New York. Pierre was the same guy who had loaned him the diamonds from his Rodeo Drive store for the Governor's Arts Awards. Mark had no idea what he was looking for; it was Pierre who had suggested the simple design.

It was perfect.

Not that she needed to know the necklace was one of a kind—best to let her think it was found in some department store, laid out in a big, boxy display case for the masses to eyeball while throwing hints at their partners.

"You have my heart all tied up just like this," he murmured.

She gave him a glorious smile. "You know, for a man who claims he can't find the right words, you sure know how to charm the pants off a woman."

He leaned in to whisper, "You're not wearing any pants."

She looked down, as though she had forgotten what she was wearing. A soft laugh reached his ears and he closed his eyes, enjoying the sound, letting it sink in to the depth of his soul—she was like a drug, seeping in and easing away the gloom.

"Hey."

Her sweet voice pulled him out of his reverie. He opened his eyes to find hers full of heated passion.

"You're right," she breathed. "So . . . what are you waiting for?"

The charm was dropped, falling back to its enviable position, the small valley of soft skin where cleavage begins. Not to worry. His mouth would be there soon. Lifting his hand to her chin, he tilted her head up—and kissed the woman he loved.

) l (

The sun was peeking through a crack in the drapes when Virginia decided to get up and make breakfast. Little by little, she lifted the heavy arm slung over her waist and inched her way to the edge of the bed, trying not to rouse him. As she reached for her robe, movement had her looking over her shoulder. He was propped up on one elbow, watching her. And what a sight he was, with the tousled hair, the morning stubble, the bare chest, and the top of the sheet gathered tantalizingly low on his hips. It was all she could do not to slide back into position beside him.

"I'm going to make breakfast. You can take the shower first," she offered.

He smiled. "You sure you don't want me to cook?"

She twisted around and smacked that impressive chest.

Grabbing her hand, he brought it to his lips and kissed its palm. "I'm starving," he said huskily.

She knew he wasn't talking about food. Pulling her hand back, she got off the bed. "Better make it a cold shower, then."

A deep, drawn out "hmm" was the only warning she got before he reached out to grab her. She ducked away and laughed with contentment as those sexy eyes stalked her exit.

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