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  part. He didn’t do vulnerable.

  “Want my advice?” Rick asked.


  His brother clapped a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “Gonna give it to you anyway. Whatever it is, whatever stupid ass thing you’ve done, suck it up and apologize. Even if you weren’t wrong. Works every time, and as a bonus, you get make-up sex.”

  “That’s your advice?” Mark asked. “To grovel?”

  “You got anything better?”


  Rick laughed and walked off, heading for Lena, who greeted him with a sweet smile and a kiss.

  Rainey was still looking at Mark. Raising her chin slightly, she headed right for him, and his heart, abused all damn morning, kicked hard. For the first time in his entire life, he actually had to fight a flight response but he forced himself to hold his ground as more cars pulled in.

  Guys. Teenage guys. The ones James and Casey were working with. They piled out of their cars with greetings for Rainey and his girls, who were coming back outside, only slightly more covered than they’d been when they arrived.


  Sharee hadn’t changed out of her short shorts and she was sauntering up to Todd, who had his eyes locked on her body.

  “Mark,” Rainey repeated.

  “What the hell are they wearing?”


  “The girls. Look at them, do you call that a swimsuit?” he asked. “Because I call it floss.”

  She made a choked reply, and he turned to look at her. She was laughing at him. This morning she’d walked away from him and now she was laughing at him. “How is this funny?” he demanded.

  “You’re micromanaging. Listen, Coach, all you have to do this afternoon is stand around and look pretty.”

  “What?” he asked incredulously, but then he was distracted by Todd, who was running a finger over Sharee’s shoulder. What the hell?

  Rainey moved in front of Mark and waited until he tore his attention away from the teens. “It’s a car wash, Mark. A summer car wash for the teenagers’ sports program. We do this biweekly. They’re having fun, as they should.”

  He tried to look over her head but she merely went up on her tiptoes and held eye contact. “You going to tell me what happened this morning?”

  “We…” He refused to say they broke up. One, they hadn’t had that kind of a relationship, and two, even if they had, he sure as hell didn’t want to admit it was over. “Had a difference of opinion.”

  She blinked, then took a step back. “I meant about you getting locked out on my porch naked.”

  Shit. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Nice,” she said, nodding. “And I can see how you manage to fool people with that voice. It’s absolutely authoritative.” She pulled out her phone, brought up a picture, and showed it to him.

  It was him. Bare ass. On her porch.

  “It’s a little blurry,” she said, staring at it. “Because Stacy—my neighbor—was extremely nervous. She was also impressed. It was chilly this morning.”

  His jaw set. “She sent this to you?”

  “Yes. She was worried about the naked guy trying to break into my place.” Mercifully she put her phone away. “Now, about that ‘difference of opinion’.”

  Oh, hell. He braced himself. “You walked away from me.”

  “Yes, because I had to go to work.” She paused again, her eyes on his. “And…you thought I walked away from you.” She waited a beat. “You actually thought I’d—” Now she shook her head. “It was an argument, Mark. And I’m guessing by your reaction that you don’t have many of them. Of course not.” She smacked her own forehead. “Because in your world, you’re the dictator. Well, Mark, welcome to the real world. Where I get to be right some of the time, and that means you have to be wrong occasionally.”

  “Wrong,” he repeated slowly.

  “Yeah, wrong,” she said on a mirthless laugh. “Even the word sounds foreign coming off your tongue.” She was hands on hips, pissed off. “So is that what usually happens? You just write off anyone who disagrees with you?”

  Actually, very few people ever disagreed with him. He was paid the big bucks to be in charge, in control, and to make small decisions, and he was good at those things. He didn’t have much of a margin of error, and frankly, he’d surrounded himself with people who knew this and were either always in line with his way of thinking, or they kept their opinions to themselves.

  “Wow, you are so spoiled.” Her smile had vanished, and now she just looked disappointed in him. That was new too.

  New and entirely uncomfortable. “Rainey—”

  “Tell me this. You came here this morning thinking what, that we were totally over?” She stared at him, obviously catching the answer in his eyes. “I see,” she said slowly. “How convenient that must have been for you.”

  “It didn’t feel convenient,” he said. “It felt like a knife in my chest.”

  She absorbed that silently, without any hint of how she felt about it. Fair enough, he supposed, since he’d kept his feelings from her often enough.

  THEY MADE FIVE thousand dollars at the car wash, Mark made sure of it. He called in favors and made nonnegotiable requests of everyone he could think of, and the cars poured in.

  When it was over, Rick pulled him aside. “I take back every shitty thing I said about you.”

  Mark slid him a look.

  “Well, for today anyway.” Rick grinned, hauling him in for a guy hug. Mark shoved free and wrote the rec center a check, matching the funds as he’d promised to do. “How’s it going finding a new building?”

  “It’s not.” Rick’s smile faded. “But we still have until the end of the year. Hopefully something will work out or we’re out of a lot of jobs, not to mention what will happen if the kids end up with no programs to keep them busy.”

  Mark nodded.

  “How about you and Rainey?”

  “What about us?” Mark asked.

  “You forget what I said about groveling?”

  “I’m not groveling, Rick.”

  “Right, because that would be too big a step for you. You try the supply closet? That seems to work well for you two.”

  “Hey, we were talking in that closet.”

  “Uh-huh. Listen, I love you, man,” Rick said. “Love you like a brother…”

  Mark rolled his eyes.

  “But you can’t screw with Rainey like you do your other women.”

  “I don’t screw with women.”

  “No, you screw ’em and leave ’em. We all watch Entertainment Tonight, you know.”

  “It was a photo shoot!”

  “Rainey’s a sweetheart,” Rick said. “She’s strong and tough and fiercely protective, and she takes care of those she cares about, but sometimes she forgets to take care of herself.”

  “I know that.”

  “And did you also know that in her world, being with you, sleeping with you, is a relationship? She’s invested.”

  “We’ve discussed it,” Mark said tightly. “We’re taking it day-to-day.”

  Rick’s eyebrows went up, then he shook his head. “Day to day? Are you kidding me? You let a woman like Rainey hang on your whim?”

  Mark pulled out his phone but for once it wasn’t ringing. That was great.

  “You’re an even bigger idiot than I thought,” Rick said.


  “Hey, I’m trying to help here. Figured since I’m the only one of us in a successful relationship, I should spread the wealth of knowledge.”

  “You had nothing to do with your relationship. Lena set her sights on you, and you just happened to be smart enough to let her.”

  “Which begs the question,” Rick said. “Why aren’t you just as smart?”

  ON THE WAY to the airport, Mark made a drive-by past Rainey’s place. She wasn’t in, which just about killed him. He took the red-eye to New York and hit the ground running the next day. In his hotel