Chapter 20

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“YOU LOOK WONDERFUL, MARIA. And your hair is, as usual, well, uh—unique.” Mark stood at the door to Maria’s apartment. She wore a dark-brown dress that highlighted her olive skin. She had a messy bun off to one side of her head with two stick-like things crossing through it like swords.

She smiled and grabbed her coat before taking his arm. “I like to mess around with it, but never mind about my hair. It’s so good to see you again, and all in one piece.”

“Yeah. Sorry again for disappearing on you. It was a crazy time. I just couldn’t get away to call you.”

“It’s okay. You’re here now, and that’s all that matters.” She relaxed her grip on his arm and tried not to show how much she cared for him. With what he’d been through, it could be years before they could have a real relationship.

“I have something to show you.” Mark’s eyes sparkled.

Maria smiled, happy to see him excited about something.

They stepped out of the elevator and into the dark parking garage, and Mark hit the fob on his keychain, then led her toward the lights that flashed in the corner to a sleek sports car.

She looked at the silver car, then back at Mark. “It is so cute!”

He laughed. “Cute? No way. An Ascari KZ1 is not cute. You can say it’s cool, amazing, beautiful…but not cute.”

She laughed. “Whatever you say. Take me for a ride in this amazingly beautiful, cool car of yours.”

He opened the passenger door and helped her get in. As they drove, she tried to ask how he got the car, but Mark hushed her, telling her one day he would tell her the whole story. He winked at her. “But for now, just enjoy the ride.”

As Mark drove, Maria checked out the car’s interior, playing with every button and light she could find. She giggled when she pushed a button and the monitor for the DVD player flipped out.

“You’re having way too much fun with that.”

“Well, it’s not every day I get to ride in a fancy sports car.”

She eyed Mark, wondering if it would be proper to tell him how good he looked in the dark suit with silver pin-striping, red shirt, and a matching tie. He looked like he was ready for the red carpet on Oscar night.

Just as she was about to speak he pulled up to the front door of the restaurant, where they were met by the valet who took the keys with eager fingers and grinned.

 Maria smiled. That was one man who was glad he didn’t call in sick tonight.

Though she’d never been to Le Cirque, she’d read it was an elegant restaurant with an exceptional selection of French food plus a great view of the city. Mark took her arm and escorted her up the stairs and into the restaurant. The waiter showed them to their table, which overlooked downtown New York. The brightly lit skyline glimmered in the evening air.

After the waiter took their orders, Maria leaned toward Mark. “So, Mystery Man, tell me what you’ve been up to lately.”

He looked away for a moment, then back at her. “Well, to sum it up, I think I finally dealt with my past and with the death of my family. It’s something I can now put behind me, so I can move on with my life.”

Maria straightened. “Wow. With the state you were in the other night, I was wondering if you were going to take off and do something stupid. I’m glad you got away and thought things through.”

He looked down at the table. “You’re a great friend, Maria. More than a friend, really.” His face flushed and he rubbed at an invisible spot on the tablecloth. “I couldn’t have gotten through this last year without you.” He looked up. “So what do you think of the car?”

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