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     “Can you open the door? This is stupid.”


     “No. I’m very busy.”


     “I smell bacon. Now open up and share, or I’ll call Naomi to break the door down.”


     She opened the door, and the smell of bacon was much stronger.


     Well, her hair looked better, anyway, out of that weird bun thing. She’d showered, and her hair was damp. She smelled good, clean and citrusy. But the skin under her eyes was faintly pink. 


     She’d been crying. 


     A surprisingly strong feeling flooded his chest. Emmaline didn’t seem like the type to cry. Ever.


     She wore pajama bottoms and a tank top, and there was a smear of brown on her cheek. In her hand was a giant bag of Skittles, and on the table behind her were several white bags, an enormous slab of cake, and a bottle of wine.
She folded her arms under her chest and glared at him. 


     “You ate meat without me? This is the thanks I get?” he asked. 


     “I could use some time alone, Jack.”


     “I think you’ve had plenty of time alone.”


     She huffed. “Come in, then. There’s half a cheeseburger left.”


     “Have you been crying?” he asked.




     “Liar. You have frosting on your teeth, by the way.” He picked up the half cheeseburger and took a bite. It was fantastic, by far the best thing he’d eaten since he got here.


     She flopped into the chair and grabbed a chunk of cake. “I’m eating my emotions. Show some respect.”


     “And what emotions are those, Officer Neal?”


     “Irritation, embarrassment, frustration, jealousy, envy, gluttony…how many do you need?”


     Jack finished the burger and broke off a chunk of the cake slab. Incredible. It didn’t seem fair that they’d been eating root vegetables and mist when there was food like this around. He poured some wine instead and looked at the label. A mid-coast zinfandel. Took a sip. Not bad with beef and chocolate, actually.


     “You’re not really jealous, are you?” he asked. “Not to criticize your taste in men, but he seems like an asshole, Em.”


     “He wasn’t always.” She took a rather savage bite of cake and gnashed away.


     “What were you going to say?” Jack asked. “When the DJ gave you the microphone?”


     “I don’t know,” she said, swallowing. “That he wasn’t always an asshole. That he was good and funny and kind until he cheated on me with that…that…that hideous beautiful mannequin with the abs of steel.”


     Jack nodded. “How much of that homemade vodka did you have?”


     “Oh, shut up, Jack. I’m not drunk. Unfortunately, I might add.”


     “You know, my wife cheated on me, too.”


     “Yeah, Jack, everyone knows that story.” She winced. “I mean, thanks for sharing. It’s just that your sisters talk a lot. Well, Prudence talks a lot. Faith and Honor have never said boo. But it was best town gossip there for a while. I mean, not best. Just the most interesting. Shit. I’ll stop now.”


     “I’d appreciate that. Deeply.”


     “Is there something appropriate I’m supposed to say? Like, ‘Sorry your marriage went down in flames?’ or something?”


     He smiled, unable to stop himself. “You tell me. Maybe they should make a line of cards for people like us. ‘Sorry your fiancé turned out to be a dick.’”


     She laughed, choking a little, then took a slug of wine and stretched out her legs so her feet rested on the bed next to him. “How long did it take you to get over what’s-her-name? Blanche Dubois?”


     “Let’s talk about you,” he suggested. 


     “Still a pulsating wound, then?”


     “No. It’s just that we’re at your ex’s wedding, and if there’s a raw, pulsating wound, it’s you.” His lovely date gave him the finger. “Come on, Em. How are you doing?”


     “I’m just great, Jack. I’m a stuttering, lying, not-pregnant lesbian.”


     He grinned. “I can’t tell you how many boxes that checks.”


     “Shut up.” But she smiled as she said it. And it was kind of refreshing that she didn’t want to talk. 



     Her foot was propped up on the bed next to him, and he put his hand on it. Cute foot. Very clean and nice. Smooth skin.


     Try not to think about that, Jack, the nobler part of his brain advised. We don’t sleep with heartbroken women.


     “Is your heart broken?” he heard himself ask.


     She made a face. “No. Not really. It was three years ago.”


     “I remember.”


     “You do?”


     “Yeah. You were moving in, and I helped you carry some boxes.”


     “No, I remember. I just didn’t think you did. I bet you were an Eagle Scout.”


     “As a matter of fact, I was. We’re trained to help damsels in distress.”


     “If you ever call me that again, I’ll kick you in the soft parts.” 


     She had no idea how appealing she was. 


     He poured her some more wine. She might have said she didn’t know anything about wine, but she knew how to taste it, holding it in her mouth a second before swallowing, then licking her lips afterward. Even the way she held the glass said so, close to her breast, the red a deep contrast to the white of her—


     Ah. She was speaking.

     “Old Kevin…he was a peach. He was so nice, Jack. You have no idea. But that guy is gone, and I’m the only one who seemed to notice or care, and for some reason, that makes me feel really, really sad.” 


     “Sure,” he murmured, making sure he was looking at her face.


     “All the things I loved about him…they seem dead now.”


     “So this was something of a funeral,” Jack said.


     Something flickered through her eyes. “Yes.”


     His hand slid up to her ankle and rested there. “I’m sorry, then.”


     She cleared her throat. “You know what sucks?” she asked. “I bought into the whole looks thing. I wore high heels and bought Spanx and I tried to look like them. The beautiful people. And the thing is, I like myself just fine. I’m tough, I’m strong, but get me next to someone like Naomi, and I use hairspray and stick mascara in my eye and hope that Kevin will say something nice to me. And, of course, he didn’t. So I sold my soul a little, and for nothing.”


     She looked at the painting on the wall and very subtly, ran a finger under her eye.


     Because she was crying. Not a lot, but yep, those were tears. 


     Which was intolerable. 


     She took another bite of cake and didn’t look at him.


     “You know,” he said gently, “we men don’t really pick you women because of your looks.”


     “What does that mean?” she snapped. “Are you saying that Naomi has a stupendous body and a better personality?”


     “Calm down, Simba. I’m saying that looks aren’t as important as you seem to think.”


     “Said the Greek god.”


     Jack smiled. “Besides, you’re very pretty.”


     “Don’t make me shoot you, Jack. Go back to ‘You have a great sense of humor.’”


     “I never said that. Let’s not get carried away.” She didn’t smile back. 


     Jack stood up and reached out for her hand. “Come on. Let me show you something.”


     He tugged her up and led her to the mirror. Turned on the light. 


     Emmaline flinched. “Damn. How did I get chocolate there?” She looked down at her shirt and rubbed a spot of chocolate over her heart.

     “Look,” he said. 


     “At the stain?”


     “No, Emmaline. Look at yourself.”


     “I’d rather not do this, Jack.”


     “Don’t be such a baby. Look. See what everyone else sees.”


     He stood behind her and pulled her hair back from her face. 


     “You probably do have a great sense of humor,” he murmured, breathing in the sweet smell of her shampoo, “and you’re very competent at handcuffing people, I’m sure. But you’re also beautiful.”


     She rolled her eyes. 


     “Except when you do that,” he added. “Stop being so grumpy and take a compliment.”


     “Where’s that Taser when I need it?”


     “Shush. Look at yourself.”


     His hands were on her shoulders now, and her skin was as smooth as silk. Women and their secret weapons, silky skin and the smell of oranges and honey. 


     Without quite meaning to, Jack slid his hands down her arms to her hands, and back up again to her neck. Her long, dark hair was sweet and damp between his fingers. 


     “Are you putting the moves on me, Jack Holland?” she asked, her voice brisk. She didn’t move, he noted.


     He could see the pulse beating in her throat. “Your eyes are—”




     “Stop interrupting. Your eyes are very pretty.”


     She shut them. “What color are they, Jack?”


     “Dark blue.”


     She scowled and opened them. 


     “Your nose is perfect and adorable.”


     “Yeah. Perfect noses. So hot.”


     “Shush.” Her ass was pressed right against his pelvis, and if he leaned in a little closer, he could— “Beautiful mouth. Made for kissing.”


     “Does that line work?”


     “I don’t know. I’ve never tried it.” He smiled at her in the mirror, and her cheeks flushed. “You have perfect skin.”


     “Talk to me in two weeks when I have my—”


     “You know, you suck at taking a compliment. Say thank you.”


     “Thank you, Jack, for slinging the bullshit. Is there any more cake?”


     She was beautiful, and the longer he looked, the more beautiful she became. 


     He folded his arms over her chest and pulled her a little closer. Her eyes widened, and her pink lips parted. 


     He turned his head to breathe in her smell and felt her shiver. She didn’t pull away. 


     That skin smelled so sweet. He dropped a kiss on her bare shoulder. Smooth as water. 


     Emmaline inhaled, her breath shaky.


     Another kiss, this one closer to her neck. 


     What are you doing? a small voice asked, but it was faint, drowned out by the hard, deep pulse that was thudding through his body. She tasted as good as she smelled. 


     “You should…I should…we probably shouldn’t…” she breathed, but then his hand was wandering, and a small sound came from Emmaline’s throat. 


     Jack took that as invitation to turn her to face him. “I think we should,” he said, and he kissed her, that sweet, full mouth, opening beneath his. He tasted chocolate, and that thudding pulse surged hard and fast.

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