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“They’re reporters.” He inclined his head toward the glass wall between his office and the newsroom. “As such, they’re aware that I kiss women.”

“I think I’m in love with you.”

She felt his hand jerk, then go limp. She saw the amusement and purpose on his face slide into blank shock. And twin demons of hurt and temper stabbed at her heart.

“There. Now I’ve made it your problem too.” She pushed back from him—a simple matter, as he was no longer touching her.

“Malory—”

“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t need to hear you tell me it’s too soon, too fast, you’re not looking for this level of a relationship. I’m not stupid. I know all the brush-off lines. And I wouldn’t be in this position right now if you’d taken no for an answer in the first place.”

“Wait a minute now.” Panic washed over his face, into his voice. “Let’s take a second here.”

“Take a second.” Mortification was quickly outweighing the hurt and the anger. “Take a week. Take the rest of your life. Just take it someplace where I’m not.”

She stormed out of his office. Since bloodcurdling terror still had a grip on him, he didn’t consider going after her.

In love with him? She wasn’t supposed to fall in love with him. She was supposed to let him seduce her into bed, be sensible enough to keep things simple. She was supposed to be careful and practical and smart enough to keep him from falling in love with her.

He’d worked it all out, and now she was messing up the plan. He’d made himself very specific promises when his engagement had fallen apart. The first of which was to be sure he didn’t put himself in that position again—a position where he was vulnerable to someone else’s whims and wishes. To the point that his own ended up shattered around him.

His life was nothing like he’d thought it would be. Women—his mother, Lily—had shifted the lines on him. But damn it, he liked his life now.

“Women.” Disgusted, he dropped into the chair behind his desk. “There’s no figuring them.”


“MEN. They want everything their way.”

Dana lifted her glass of wine in Malory’s direction. “Sing it, sister.”

Hours after she’d stalked out of Flynn’s office, Malory was soothing her wounded pride with a nice Pinot Grigio, female companionship, and salon treatments in the comfort of her own home.

There were a number of things to discuss, but she couldn’t think about paintings and keys and destiny until she’d vented her spleen.

“I don’t care if he is your brother. He’s still a man.”

“He is.” Dana looked mournfully into her wine. “I’m sorry to say, but he is. Have some more potato chips.”

“I will.” With her hair pulled back from a face coated with a green-clay refining mask, Malory sipped and munched. She studied the folds of tinfoil Zoe was layering in Dana’s hair. “Maybe I should have highlights too.”

“You don’t need them,” Zoe told her and painted another section of Dana’s hair. “You need shaping.”

“Shaping involves scissors.”

“You won’t even know I’ve cut it, except it’ll look and feel better.”

“Let me drink a little more first. And see how it looks after you’ve whacked at Dana’s.”

“Don’t say ‘whack’ in a sentence about my hair,” Dana cautioned. “Are you going to tell us what you and Flynn fought about?”

Malory sniffed. “He just wants sex. Typical.”

“Pig.” Dana reached into the chip bowl. “I really miss sex.”

“Me too.” Zoe set another square of foil. “Not just the sex part, but the leading up to it and the coming down from it parts. The excitement and the nerves and the anticipation beforehand. Then all that skin and movement and discovery during, and the full and floating feeling after. I miss that a lot.”

“I need another drink.” Malory reached for the bottle. “I haven’t had sex in four months.”

“Got that beat.” Dana raised her hand. “Seven and a half and counting.”

“Sluts,” Zoe said with a laugh. “Try a year and a half.”

“Oh, ouch.” Dana took the bottle, topped off her glass and Zoe’s. “No, thanks all the same, but I don’t think I want to try a year and a half of celibacy.”

“It’s not so bad if you keep busy. You’re set for a while.” Zoe patted Dana on the shoulder. “Just relax while I take off Malory’s mask.”

“Whatever you do to me, make sure I’m gorgeous. I want Flynn to suffer the next time he sees me.”

“Guaranteed.”

“It’s really sweet of you to do all this.”

“I like it. It’s good practice.”

“Don’t say ‘practice’ when I’ve got a headful of tinfoil,” Dana complained around a mouthful of chips.

“It’s going to be great,” Zoe assured her. “I want to have a full-service salon, and I need to be sure I can handle all the treatments I want to offer. I looked at this wonderful building today.”

Her face went wistful as she cleaned and blotted Malory’s skin. “It’s way too big for what I need, but it was just great. Two stories with a big attic space. A frame house right on the border of business and residential on Oak Leaf Drive. It’s got a wonderful covered porch, even a garden in the back where you could set tables and benches. High ceilings, solid hardwood floors that need work. The rooms all sort of tumble into each other on the first floor. A really nice flow of space that keeps it all intimate.”

“I didn’t know you were looking at houses,” Malory said.

“I’m just looking. This is the first place I’ve seen that caught at me. You know?”

“Yeah, I know. If it’s too big, and you really love it, maybe you could get somebody to take part of it for another business.”

With the mask removed, Zoe began to stroke on a moisturizer. “I thought of that. Actually, I have this wild idea. Don’t tell me I’m crazy until I finish. Each of us said what we really wanted was to have our own place.”

“Oh, but—”

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