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  James knew better than to try to get information from Mark when Mark didn’t want to give it, but it didn’t stop a sly smile from touching his lips. “I take it you’re not going to be indisposed too.”

  Mark just looked at James, who sighed and left.

  Mark turned back to Rainey, still seated at the bar, still talking to herself.

  Nope, not to herself.

  There was a guy seated beside her now, smiling a little too hard. “Hey, gorgeous,” he said, leaning in so that his shoulder touched Rainey’s bare one, making Mark grind his teeth. “How about I buy you another drink?” the slimeball asked.

  “No, thank you,” Rainey said. “I’m with someone.”

  “I don’t see him.”

  “Right here.” Mark stepped in between them, sliding an arm along Rainey’s shoulders. “Let’s go.”

  She stared up at him. “Not with you, you… you date wrecker.”

  The situation didn’t get any better when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and came face to face with Slimeball, who said, “I think the lady is making herself pretty clear.”

  “This doesn’t involve you,” Mark told him.

  “She was just about to agree to come home with me.”

  “No she wasn’t,” Rainey said, shaking her head. At the movement, she put her fingers on her temples, as if she’d made herself dizzy. “Whoa.”

  Slimeball opened his mouth, but Mark gave a single shake of his head.

  The guy was a couple of inches shorter than Mark and at least twenty pounds heavier. He was bulky muscle, the kind that would be slow in a fight, but Mark was pretty sure it wouldn’t come to that. He waited, loose-limbed and ready…and sure enough, after a moment, the guy backed away.

  “I’m taking you home, Rainey,” Mark said. “Now.”

  “I’ve never been spoils of war before.”

  Shaking his head, Mark slipped an arm around her waist and guided her outside. The night was a cool one, and as they stepped into it, Rainey shivered in spite of her shawl. Shrugging out of his jacket, Mark wrapped it around her shoulders. “Pretty dress,” he said.


  “Don’t tell you how beautiful you look?”

  “I’m trying to stay mad at you.” She wobbled, and he pulled her in tighter, breathing in her soft scent, which was some intoxicating combination of coconut and Rainey herself.

  But she backed away. “Don’t use those hands on me,” she said, pointing at him. “Because they’re magic hands.” She pressed her own palms to her chest as if it ached. “They make me melt, and I refuse to melt over you, Mark Diego.”


  “Because…” She pointed at him again. “Because you are very very very verrrrrrryyyyyy bad for me.”

  He didn’t have much to say to that. It happened to be a true statement. Even if he wanted to give her what she was looking for, how could he? The hockey season took up most of his year, during which time he traveled nonstop and was entrenched in the day-to-day running of an NHL team. If he wasn’t at a game, he was thinking about the next one, or the last one, or he was dealing with his players, or planning game strategies, or meeting with the owners or the other coaches… It was endless. Endless and—

  And it was bullshit.

  The truth was he could make the time. If he wanted.

  If a woman wanted…

  Granted, a woman would have to want him pretty damn bad to put up with the admittedly crazy schedule, but others managed it. People all around him managed it.

  And Jesus, was he really thinking this? Maybe he’d had the wine instead of Rainey. But ever since he’d left Santa Rey all those years ago, he’d felt like he was missing a part of himself.

  Someone had once asked him if the NHL had disillusioned him at all, and he’d said no. He’d meant it. He hadn’t been disillusioned by fame and fortune in the slightest. But he did have to admit, having a place to step back from that world, a place where he was just a regular guy, was nice. Real nice.

  And wouldn’t his dad love hearing that.

  “You should have left me alone tonight,” Rainey said, standing there in the parking lot.

  Looking down in her flushed face, he slowly nodded. “I should have.”

  From the depths of her purse, her cell phone vibrated. It took her a minute to find it and then she squinted at the readout. “Crap. It’s my mom. Shh, don’t tell her I’m drunk.”

  He laughed softly as she stood there in the parking lot and opened the phone.

  “Hey, Mom, sorry I missed your call earlier, I was on a date date. Or a not-so-date-date.” She sighed. “Never mind.” She paused. “No, I have no idea what I was thinking going out with a guy who has tickets to the ballet. You’re right. And no, I’m not alone. I’m with Mark Diego— No, he’s not still cute. He’s…” Rainey looked Mark over from head to toe and back again, and her eyes darkened. “Never mind that either! What? No, I’m not going to bring him to dinner this week! Why? Because…because he’s busy. Very busy.”

  Mark leaned in close. “Hi, Mrs. Saunders.”

  Rainey covered the phone with her hand and glared up at him. “What are you doing?”

  He had no idea. “Does she still make that amazing lasagna—”

  “Yes, not that you’re going to taste it. Now shh! No, not you, Mom.” She put her hand over Mark’s face, pushing him away. “Uh oh, Mom, bad connection.” She faked the sound of static. “Love you. Bye!”

  Mark remembered Rainey’s parents fondly. Her father was a trucker and traveled a lot. Her mother taught English at the high school. She was sweet and fun, and there was no doubt where Rainey had gotten her spirit from. “Your mom likes me.”

  “Yeah, but she likes everyone.” She walked through the parking lot, then stopped short so unexpectedly he nearly plowed into the back of her. “I can’t remember where I parked.” Her phone rang again. “Oh for god’s sake, Mom,” she muttered, then frowned at the readout. “Okay, not my mom. Hello?” Her body suddenly tensed, and she peered into the dark night. “Who is this?”

  Mark shifted in closer, a hand at the small of her back as he eyed the lot around them.

  “No,” she said. “I didn’t say that. And I certainly didn’t threaten you then, but I am now. Keep your hands off Sharee, Martin, and don’t ever call me again.” She shoved the phone back into her purse.

  “Who was that?”

  “Sharee’s father. Says I’m interfering where my interfering ass doesn’t belong. I’m to shut up and be quiet—which I believe is a double negative.” She looked around them and shivered. “And I still can’t remember where I parked, dammit.”

  “Over here.” He led her to his truck and got her into the passenger seat, leaning down to buckle her seat belt before locking her in. “Did he threaten you?” he asked when he was behind the wheel.

  “No, I threatened him. And I’m really not supposed to do that.”

  “Your secret’s safe with me,” Mark said. “Tell me exactly what he said to you.”

  She sighed and sank into his leather seats, looking so fucking adorable, he felt his throat tighten. “It should piss me off when you get all possessive and protective,” she said. “But it’s oddly and disturbingly cute.”

  He stared at her. “Cute?”

  “Yeah.” She was quiet as he pulled out of the lot, and he wondered if she’d fallen asleep.

  “Did you know I hadn’t had sex in a year?” she asked, then sighed. “I really missed the orgasms.”

  Since he was dizzy with the subject change it took him a moment to formulate a response. “Orgasms are good.”

  “Better than lasagna.”

  “Damn A straight.” He had them halfway home before she spoke again.



  She turned her head to look at him, her face hidden by the night. “My car isn’t a truck.”


  “And my car doesn’