FIFTY-FOUR

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Skipped chapter fifty-three? It was marked PRIVATE.

Two hours later Virginia and Mark emerged from his room. All the men had gathered in the living room, including Louis and Simon. A boisterous game of pool was being played between Adam and Ben while the others watched and shouted encouragements to their personal favorite.

Maybe this wasn't such a great idea, she thought, assuming they'd all been told about her birthday gift. What if they heard us? They hadn't exactly been quiet. She felt herself blanch at the thought.

An arm slid across her shoulders, Mark leaning in to whisper, "What's wrong? I wasn't too rough in there, was I?" His tone was wary and full of concern. He turned her toward him, gathering her into his arms so that her hands rested on his chest. "I thought I was following your lead."

"No, you were"—feeling heat on her cheeks, she knew color had returned to her face—"great." Great? Try mind-blowing. He'd given her exactly what she wanted.

She felt the relief ease his rigid posture.

"I love the way you still blush when we talk about sex," he murmured.

She swatted him on the chest. "Don't make fun of me."

"Never." His eyes filled with alarm, making him look like a little boy who'd tracked mud onto a freshly cleaned floor. "I would never make fun of you."

She rolled onto her tiptoes and gave him a reassuring kiss.

He smiled. It was the oh-so-sexy one. Little boy gone, hot man returned.

It was right at that moment when Virginia admitted to herself that she was deeply in love with Mark Spinelli.

Suddenly there were many things happening at once as she stood shell-shocked at her own revelation: Mark asked if she wanted a glass of wine, to which she nodded numbly; a loud brriinnnggg brought Lily into the hallway, heading to the door; another ball took a slow roll toward a corner pocket and . . . cheers rose up from around the pool table.

As Mark headed over to the bar, she stayed like that, wrapped up in her own thoughts, until she sensed a presence behind her. A quick headcount of those in view clued her in on who was not. Bruce. The blood rushed to her face once more even as she tried to convince herself to remain in control. Refusing to acknowledge him, she stared straight ahead, stiffening as the silence stretched on. What the hell is he doing?

Just as she was about to turn and confront him, he gave off a low chuckle and said, "I've reconsidered—black was definitely the way to go. But don't worry . . . it'll stay between the three of us. Consider it our own little ménage a trois."

Taken aback, she twisted around to look him in the eye, but he was already making his way over to the bar. A commotion in the hallway followed up by surprised greetings being flung from the rest of the group pulled her attention to the door.

And there she was. Undoubtedly, the woman staring back at her had to be Mark's sister. That was confirmed by the "Hi, Mother" coming from Simon when he crossed the living room and gave her a stiff hug.

Julia was just as she had been described. A slim, tall brunette, looking very chic with her hair done up in an elegant twist, wearing designer . . . well, everything . . . right down to what had to have been six inch stiletto pumps on her feet. Flawless skin carried the perfect amount of makeup in all the right places.

She was stunning.

The game of pool was forgotten as Adam and Ben both put down their cues to go over to her.

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