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He’s obsessed with his art and with a woman who doesn’t want to love him.

Maybe he should be grateful. Without the constant frustration, Joseph McEldowney figures he might never have answered any artistic urge to express his emotions. Now carving life from wood is all that soothes him. Too bad he can’t carve out a place in this world where nothing matters except the heaven-sent pull he and Jillian Lansing have towards each other. She says he doesn’t fit her long-term plans. If that’s true, why should he torture himself with the short-term pleasure she’s offering? But how can he turn her away when he can’t get her off his mind?

Jillian Lansing has been ambitious all her life. Despite helping care for her deceased brother’s children, she kept her own big dreams for a family of her own. Sure, they’ve been put on hold for the last few years, but her life is way more stable now. Her auntie duties are relaxing into something almost normal. Reesa and Shane are doing great with the kids, and now expecting one of their own. Her lifelong best friend’s pregnancy is another wake-up call for her. Despite both of them grieving the loss of their siblings, Reesa managed to find her perfect partner. So where is hers? She’s certainly dated enough trying to find him.

Brooke hastily shoved her feet into her heels when the doorbell rang. She hustled to the living room, halting when she got a whiff of cologne. It smelled like…Drake?

Shocked at her reaction, she sniffed again. Yes. Definitely Drake.

Feeling guilty that the man at the door wasn’t the one she was now wishing for, she shook her head in denial as the doorbell sounded again. With one hand on her stomach to quiet her nerves, she opened the door with the other. She was speechless when she saw the man standing there.

“Drake?”

Unable to speak, all he could was stare at her. Brooke was dressed in a short black dress with bare legs and tall heels. Instead of speaking, he held out the triple bunch of roses.

Brooke was breathing nervously, trying to figure out what to do about the fact that Drake was there when he shouldn’t have been. She took the flowers just to get them out of the way. “Thank you. I would invite you in but I’m…expecting someone.”

Drake rubbed a hand across his face. “He was here already…but he left.”

“Why? What did you say to him?” Brook demanded.

Drake ignored the question and stepped across the threshold without an invitation. “You probably want to put those flowers in water. Roses don’t last long otherwise. I’ll wait.”

“Wait for what?” Brooke demanded, closing the door harder than she intended.

When she turned around, Drake had stepped close. She backed up, but the door stopped her retreat from him.

“I’m waiting because we need to talk,” Drake said softly. “Even if talking is not really what I want to do right now.”

“We don’t need to talk. We have nothing to discuss,” Brooke denied, using the bouquet as a floral shield.

Drake considered his options and discarded all but one. He couldn’t out debate Brooke. Her mind was too sharp. All he could do was give her more to think about.

“Maybe we can find something to talk about…after we do this…,” he declared. Drake grabbed and tossed the expensive bouquet across the room and into a chair.

“Hey…” Brooke complained, as the flowers left her grasp.

Not willing to give her any real chance to talk him out of acting as irrationally as he’d decided to act, Drake stepped into Brooke’s body, his mouth hot and demanding as their well-matched forms lined up perfectly. Hard slid against soft, just as it had the first time he’d kissed her in her mother’s kitchen.

In contrast to his demanding mouth on hers, Drake slipped his hands around Brooke’s waist slowly, letting her feel the gentle forward slide of his fingers before they slid low and pulled her hips tight against his. His body revealed the truth of his intentions to both of them as he surged and pressed her into the door while she groaned and arched against him.

He broke off the kiss, dragging his mouth from hers. “I ran off your date,” he whispered.

“Why? I don’t understand.”

Drake snorted. “Of you course you understand. You’re just afraid of admitting it. Brooke, I can’t bear the thought of you with other men. If you have any other relationships—sexual or otherwise—damn it, end them.”

Brooke shivered at his command. “Why should I?” The zipper on the back of her dress slid down swiftly as his mouth covered hers again.

CHAPTER 1

“You’re thirty-five this year, right?” the doctor asked.

Jillian nodded as she bit her lip. Why was it that bad news always seemed to start with someone pointing out your age. Getting older sucked. “The fibroids are still there, aren’t they?”

“Yes. They’re still there, but they haven’t grown much. And the good news is that there are a lot of new drugs on the market. Sometimes they can help keep fibroids small but no medicine gets rid of them. That’s still the case.”

“Are we talking surgery to eventually remove them?” Jillian asked. She bit her lip when her doctor shifted in his chair.

“The problem with surgery is the location of the fibroids which might necessitate the removal of at least one ovary. The problem with the drugs is that they can affect fertility. In time, I think surgery to remove the fibroids will be our only option at some point. I would say if you’re planning to have a family, you will need to do it this year, or at least by next year.”

Jillian sighed at the news. After a few years of fighting her birth control, the reality of what her doctor was saying didn’t surprise her, but it did depress her. “There’s no serious man in my life right now, so I don’t see myself having babies in the next year or even two.”

“That doesn’t have to stop you. If you’re interested in alternatives, I highly recommend the Bluegrass Fertility Center here in Lexington. You can choose the perfect donor and they’ll ship the sperm to my office for the procedure. If you don’t find the diversity of donors you need there, there’s another good service in Louisville. Shop until you find a donor match that suits you.”

Shaking her head, Jillian lowered her gaze to stare at her bare feet. “I don’t want children that badly. I’ve been helping raise my nieces and nephews since my brother and his wife died. They live with their other aunt. Honestly, my biological clock stops ticking after a day spent with them. They’re a handful.”

The doctor laughed and nodded. “I hear you. I have three of my own and children are a lot of work. You can let me know if you change your mind and I’ll write a recommendation for you then. Let’s see you back here in six months so we check everything again. If you start feeling a lot of pain, come in immediately. I want us to keep close tabs on those fibroids.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jillian said, smiling so he’d believe her. It actually sounded awful, but she was not having a meltdown in front of her OB-GYN.

When the exam room door closed behind him and the nurse that had been with him, Jillian slid off the table and pulled the paper gown from her body. She looked down at herself and frowned. All her life she’d been proud of her body and how she looked. She’d been proud of her curves and her smooth chocolate skin. Now she felt betrayed by it. On the outside, everything was the same as always, but on the inside? Nothing was what it seemed.

That went double for the state of her hurting heart.

* * *

“The new minister is single. I don’t think he’s cooked a single meal for himself since he got here. We’re having him over next week, so don’t be making other plans for next Thursday night. And no working late either, Jillian.”

“I already met the man,” Jillian said to her mother, giving her a narrowed-eyed look. “He’s got gray hair and has to be at least fifty. Why are you trying to hook me up with him?”

“If you weren’t so particular, there might be some younger ones left to pick from. You can’t be waiting until you’re in your forties to have children. Lots of women start the change after forty-five.”

“That’s a whole decade away…” Jillian protested, shaking her head. “No fifty-year-old man is going to want to give me babies. I don’t like older men anyway. Even if I had a child with someone like that, I’d end up taking care of the child and him as he got older. Is that really the life you want for me? Who’s going to take care of you and Daddy?”

“More family might not seem so bad to you if you weren’t always looking after…”

“Stop right there.” Jillian’s head snapped up as she threw out her hand. “I am doing what my brother would have wanted and what I think is right. I’m not arguing about it again.”

“You’re only helping out so much because that woman can’t handle raising a family on her own. She should never have agreed to do it if it was that much of struggle for her.”

“That woman’s name is Reesa which you managed to call her all the years we were friends and growing up together. I’m sorry my best friend in the world is not the proper color you think she should be, but I’m leaving if you start putting her down. Reesa gave up everything for those children. She gave up a man, her work, her car—everything—and she did it to keep those children together as a family. You ought to be singing her praises for being such a saint. With all the traveling I did with my job, I could never have done it.”

“Now you know we don’t agree on her raising all the children. Your father and I both think her financial struggles are just the natural result of her stubbornness. She could have let us raise Zachary and Chelsea. She didn’t have to be a martyr and do it all.”

“Reesa was never going to let anyone further divide her home which had already been divided by more death and loss than most families have to endure in three or four generations,” Jillian added. “I side with Reesa on all the actions she took to get custody of the children. I always will. I’m sorry—but that’s God’s truth, Mama.”

“You always talk like your father and I are bad people who would have kept Zack and Chelsea from seeing Brian and Sarah. That’s an awful thing to think about your parents.”

“You never offered to take all four of them. You only wanted two. That wasn’t fair to them.”

“It’s called being realistic. We couldn’t afford all four of them. The younger two still need a lot of attention and care. We travel far too much for all those counseling sessions and special classes she has them taking. The older two would have taken care of themselves.”

Jillian frowned as she rolled her eyes. “Reesa and Shane haven’t asked you and Daddy for anything. They let the children come visit you two guilt free. You should be grateful they don’t hold a grudge over you dragging them through court. What you did already made the kids mad at you. How do you think they feel knowing you and Daddy only wanted two of them?”

“Why are you so defensive about this, Jillian? They’re not your children. They’re not your responsibility. It was proper for the courts to decide and they did. Now we’re all living with that decision whether it’s for the greater good or not.”

Jillian glanced away from her mother as she thought about how to answer without being meaner than she was already being. “No, they’re not my children, but I’m sharing the responsibility for them as best I can. Reesa is like a sister to me and those children are my family. Plus, they may be the only the mothering I ever do in my life.”

“Well, if you weren’t always pushing away good men…”

“Like the one you set me up with last month who wanted me to do his laundry and take care of his house while he was out of town?”

“It wasn’t like he was asking for the world, Jillian. His mother was too sick to do it.”

“Mama, we had two dates. We were still practically strangers. You don’t ask a woman after two dates to mind your house and wash your damn clothes.”

“You look for any excuse. No man’s perfect, Jillian.”

Jillian sighed and stood. She picked her up coffee cup and headed to the kitchen. “A woman has a right to be loved. If I can’t have that, then I’d rather live alone.”

“Love isn’t all that wonderful, girl. Love can lead a good woman down paths she shouldn’t be walking. Look around at all the people you know getting divorced and tell me that’s not true.”

Jillian watched her mother squirm. With role models like her ambivalent parents, it was a miracle her brother had fallen in love and married before he was twenty. Oh, how often she’d wished that she’d been as lucky. If she had, she would have had someone in her life all this time.

“That’s a pretty jaded view of love, Mama. Are you saying you don’t love Daddy?”

“Of course, I love your father. He’s a good man and a good provider. He’s given me a life I wouldn’t have had without him. He gave you and your brother a good life.”

“A life where he was gone all the time. He wasn’t there for Jackson and he wasn’t there for me. You were the only one who came to anything we did in school. We grew up without Daddy making any contribution to what we did. He can’t make up the difference by being in Zack’s life.”

“How can you be so ungrateful? Your father gave you a life where you never wanted for anything.”

Except for parental love and approval, Jillian thought but didn’t say it aloud. Her mother hadn’t married for love and didn’t seem to regret that she hadn’t. The woman who gave her life would never understand that the only real need Jillian had in the whole world was to be wanted and adored.

“I appreciate all you and Daddy did to raise me. I’m not ungrateful one bit, but the older I get the more I know that I can’t live the life you think I should. I hope one day you can understand that I need different things. Having a husband is not even a goal for me. Finding love is.”

“All you’re going to find is a broken heart at the end of your hopes, Jillian. You’re thirty-five. It’s time to be practical. You don’t want to grow old alone. No one has to be a maiden aunt these days.”

Jillian gathered up her coffee and snack plate and headed to the kitchen. “I don’t intend to be one, but if that’s how life works out for me, so be it. I’m not going to settle.”

CHAPTER 2

Joseph stopped sanding when he heard the doorbell ring. He thought about ignoring it for a moment but changed his mind. His obsession with what he was doing wasn’t healthy—he knew that from confessing his frustration to his smart-ass psychologist friend—so any kind of interruption had to be the universe intervening. Right?

Rolling his eyes, Joe groaned. Now he was even starting to sound like Shane. His best friend from childhood had gotten a job at a research university and Joe had been a Larson lab rat ever since. If he didn’t love Shane like a brother, he’d go over to his house and kick his giant Larson ass for planting so much worry in his brain.

So what if he’d cleaned out the spare bedroom in his apartment and converted it into a workspace for a hobby? Using a whole room for it didn’t mean he was going crazy. Not long ago, his projects had been spread out across the dining room, but he’d outgrown the space. And okay–he’d wanted to hide it from himself to slow his compulsive need to finish it which often meant working until two in the morning.

Blowing out a breath, Joe set the sandpaper next to the base of the mahogany statue he was polishing and closed the bedroom door behind him as he left the room. His need to hide what he was doing was instinctual… and strong.

He didn’t buy all the woo-woo his Larson buddy did, but his Irish ancestors had definitely passed down an urge to trust his gut.

“Stop knocking already. I’m coming,” he yelled.

Expecting the now escalating pounding to be someone’s lost pizza delivery, Joe opened the door and glared. But it wasn’t a pizza delivery gone astray. It was the last person he’d expected to ever see standing outside his home. Joe stared and blinked his blue eyes—totally at a loss for anything clever.

“Are you going stare at me all night or invite me in?” she demanded.

Words returned when he heard her snarky demand. “I think my brain is still working out whether or not you’re a mirage. Why are you here, Jillian? I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me. Wasn’t that what you said last time we spoke?”

Joe watched as she bit her lip and dropped her chocolate gaze. His followed the downward motion and they both ended up staring at her pointy red shoes with heels that made her his height. His eyes wouldn’t stay down though and instead traveled up her shapely legs and over her knees to where her snug red dress hugged the curves of her ample hips. He wanted under that stretchy red fabric almost more than he wanted to breathe, but it was never going to happen. It wasn’t what Jillian wanted. And he’d already pushed their attraction farther than she’d ever wanted to take it.

He ran a hand through his hair. He should say something ugly and run Jillian off once and for all. That was the model his old man had set for him. Insults had flown between his parents and his father had gotten meaner and meaner with the passage of time. If his father had ever smacked his mother around, Joe hadn’t seen it happen, but it had been a constant concern for him, even as a child. He’d worried about it until the day he’d come home from school and seen Will Larson talking nose-to-nose with his father. Two days afterward his father had packed up and left.

“You haven’t answered any of my questions,” Joe said, stalling while he decided what to do about her. The last time he’d talked to Jillian was four months ago, and before that, it had been at Shane and Reesa’s wedding. Dwelling on that Larson fiasco led to a madness that neither drink nor other women had been able to rid him of.

“I know,” Jillian said, shifting on her heels. “I’m don’t have any answers. I just…” Her eyes closed on a resigned sigh. “I went to dinner tonight—on a date—and I…” Her gaze opened and sought his. “I was thinking of you instead of him. It seemed rude to keep doing that.”

Joe chuckled. “You’re right. That was rude. But it’s still no answer.”

“Making me stand out here in your hallway and confess my sins isn’t an answer either. The only thing I can say is that I’m obsessed with you and I want to get over it. That’s why I’m here.”

Joe crossed his arms and leaned against the door jam. “You’re mistaking me for Shane. I’m not a therapist… nor am I a monk. If you come through my door, I can’t promise you anything is going to go the way you’re probably spinning it in your head.”

Jillian nodded. “I’m not looking for promises about anything. In fact, I’m not looking for anything but some peace of mind.”

“See? That’s where you and I disagree, Jillian. I think you’re looking for something more than you’re willing to admit to yourself… or to me. And I think I know exactly what you’re looking for but a man has to have a little bit of pride.”

Jillian snorted. “If you wanted to keep your secrets to yourself, Joseph, you should have worn tighter pants.”

Joe grunted and shrugged. “If you’d wanted something uncomplicated, you should have gone home with your dinner date.” He pointed at her and then at his own chest. “We—you and I—are complicated. We always have been.”

Jillian grunted back. “We are not complicated. We’re just obsessed.”

“Well, I can agree with that, but I’m still not sure I want to let you in. That dress you’re wearing is like a weapon. I’m thoroughly threatened by my reaction to it.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not sure I want to let you in either, but I’m here to see if you’re still interested.” Jillian sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry for the bad pun—it was all I could think of.”

Irritated that Joseph hadn’t thrown the door wide the moment she’d shown up, Jillian crossed her arms to mirror his resistant stance. She was an ample woman all over and the action made the front of her dress slide down her cleavage. It made Joe’s gaze slide down as well and her girls warmed with remembering his eager mouth on them. Damn it.

Once again she asked herself “Why him?” and once again there was no reasonable answer to that query. Joseph McEldowney was not the one for her. Joe was just… Joe. He was shaggy Shane Larson’s childhood friend and definitely did not fit her plans. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—let her mother and father down this hard, despite her disappointment in their viewpoints. Her parents were finally getting used to Reesa and Shane having custody of her nieces and nephews—at least a little. The family boat had already been rocked as hard as it could without overturning.

To say her parents didn’t understand that her bigger, more inclusive worldview was an understatement. All the luxury they lived in and all the comfort they had earned hadn’t sweetened the bitterness of what they still saw as their dead son’s defection in his choice of a wife. Color preference was only one aspect of their judgment. They hadn’t approved of Reesa’s sister or Reesa. Reesa’s family had been naturally wealthy and eccentric enough to adopt Reesa. Her bootstrap to wealthy parents thought they’d earned their right to their snooty attitude as well as their money.

It was all just craziness because her brother had created exactly the kind of loving family he’d wanted. Jackson had worked hard on being a great father and husband. Instead of an NBA career, he’d taken a coaching job to avoid being away from his wife and children. Her parents’ dream of having a famous NBA player son hadn’t died quietly. They’d blamed her sister-in-law—Reesa’s sweet sister—and her lack of career for her brother’s choices.

Despite her own financial success, which was starting to be as good as her father’s, Jillian hadn’t made them proud of her yet either. She’d dated plenty of men but had never come close to finding one she cared enough about to spend her life with. Color aside… coming here to sleep with a man who’d forsaken his engineering degree to work as a handyman carpenter would surely be one more mark in the disappointment column.

Jillian sighed. Her situation with Joseph McEldowney was no win-win scenario. She couldn’t take this obsession seriously—beyond needing to indulge it in order to move past it. Being celibate had never suited her, but she’d been unable to feel desire for anyone else since she’d kissed the man still staring at her.

She needed to get Joseph out of her system and move on—and the sooner the better.

“Are you letting me in or not?” Jillian asked.

“Yeah. I guess I am,” Joe said with resignation. “I’ll order a pizza. I haven’t eaten and you must be starved.”

“Why would you say that? I just told you I was at dinner before I came here,” Jillian protested.

Joe snorted. “And you probably pretended to eat. I know how women are on dates, especially if this was a new guy.”

“We go to the same nightclubs. I know all about how you date,” Jillian grumbled.

Joe swung back and stepped into her. He kissed her hard, his mouth mercilessly taking all the liberties it wanted. His muscles tightened when Jillian moaned and his heart beat hard when her arms wove themselves around his waist. He dragged his mouth away and put his forehead on hers. “I haven’t been with anyone since Shane’s freaking wedding and it’s all your fault. No one smells like you or tastes like you or kisses like you…”

“Stop… just stop saying that shit…” Jillian ordered, her palm shoving against a strong shoulder that she knew had gotten that way from hours and hours of hard manual labor. She doubted Joe had ever seen the inside of a gym.

“Are you afraid of the truth?” Joe demanded.

“Yes,” Jillian confessed, returning his blue-eyed glare. “And of you.”

Joe nodded and let her go. “Well, I’m afraid of you too. Guess that makes us even. You can stay for pizza… or the whole evening. Your call.”

“You sound like you don’t care one way or the other,” Jillian said, crossing her arms again—this time to hug herself. His words were honest. They shouldn’t hurt. So why did they?

“You coming here means everything to me, but I’m smart enough to know we’re not on the same page,” Joe said softly. “That makes letting you stay one of the biggest, dumbest mistakes I could ever make.”

“But you’re still going to make it?”

Joe smiled as he nodded. “Yeah. I’m still going to make it.”

He tugged her inside and closed the door on the rest of the world.

CHAPTER 3

“Woman, you look ready to pop at seven months. That’s what you get from bedding that big old shaggy Viking you married,” Jillian teased as she sat down on the couch next to the basket of laundry waiting to be folded.

The baby was estimated to be nine pounds already and Reesa still had two months to go. A C-section was in her friend’s future and Jillian knew Reesa was trying hard to make peace with it. Whether boy or girl—something Reesa and Shane had decided not to learn in advance—their child was already proving that he or she intended to take after its giant father.

“I don’t want to talk about the state of my body at the moment. Let’s talk about something more fun. How was your date?” Reesa asked as she lowered herself into a chair.

Jillian didn’t look up at her very pregnant friend as she folded towels. “My date was boring, just like they all are lately. You can tell what a guy thinks of you from the restaurant he picks. Last night my date took me to a sushi place even though I told him I didn’t like sushi. He apparently loves the stuff.”

“Did you starve while he ate?” Reesa asked.

Jillian shook her head. “No. I had some miso soup and a small salad. Then I went…” she paused and sighed. “After the date ended, I had three slices of pizza to drown my misery.”

Reesa chuckled. “Another bad date bites the dust. You can’t hang with a man who won’t feed you. What is with cheap-ass guys these days?”

Wanting to avoid all thoughts of pizza and the generous man who’d eaten the rest of what she hadn’t, Jillian pointed at the three baskets of clothes. “What’s next to fold?”

“Just the one that says Princess Sarah on it. Brian and Chelsea take care of their own these days. I wash and dry. Everyone folds their own.”

“About damn time,” Jillian said firmly. “You’re not their laundry maid.”

Reesa laughed at Jillian’s tone. “Are you kidding? I’m living large these days. I’m suddenly getting help in the kitchen too.”

“How? Chelsea hates anything in that room. Is Brian learning to cook?”

Reesa laughed. “No, but he loads the dishwasher without complaint. That’s all the progress I can hope for from a thirteen-year-old boy.”

“So who’s helping with cooking?”

“This is Chelsea’s senior year. She’s trying to convince us that she’s mature enough to live with a girlfriend when she goes to college. She doesn’t want to live in a dorm.”

Jillian chuckled. “Smart girl. Has she gotten over her crush on Brandon Barrymore yet?”

Reesa shook her head. “I don’t think so, but they’re very low key with each other—very discreet. Sometimes I think they’re more friends than actually dating. I do catch them holding hands once in a while, but she makes him keep his distance around family.”

“Good for her. I talked to her about setting boundaries. A woman has got to have some respect for herself.”

Reesa sighed and shook her head. “I’ve worried plenty about feeding them, but I’ve got to say that I’ve never once worried about their moral decisions. And I’ve definitely not worried about Chelsea since Brandon rescued her from that frat guy.”

“Lots of women end up learning that lesson the hard way. Trying to convert the bad boys is a bad-bad habit.”

“I want to agree, but you know I thought Shane was a bad boy. I can’t criticize anyone when I had that habit myself.”

Jillian laughed at Reesa’s honesty. “Yeah, but Shane only looks tough. Inside, he’s about as good-hearted as men get. Sometimes Shane reminds me of Jackson. My brother acted tough around everyone except your sister. It didn’t take long after he met April for him to drop that male bravado shit.”

“They were so great together. The kids they made are great too,” Reesa said, smiling softly. “Losing their parents affected Chelsea and Zack the most. They seemed nearly grown-up when I moved in with them full-time. Now Brian? That boy is wicked and sneaky, not to mention an absolute delight when he turns on the charm. He’s going to be a problem as he gets older—you can bet on it.”

Jillian grinned in agreement. “Oh, I’m sure you and your shaggy Viking with his psychology degree can handle one smart-ass teenage boy with raging hormones.”

Reesa laughed. “I don’t know, Jillian. Brian’s so much like Jackson that it makes my heart hurt. And I remember my sister falling hard for him the first time he spoke to her.” She sighed over the future. “I hope Brian waits a good long time before falling in love.”

“No wonder you’re so worried about adding a brand new child to your crazy household. Raising kids is nearly overwhelming.”

“You know it,” Reesa said honestly, sighing again at her worry. “It’s going to be fine though—or mostly fine. Shane is great with children, but I’m… well, I’m still adjusting to the ones I inherited. And Princess Sarah is still very needy. Now I’m going to be asking her to share my attention with a baby. So yeah… I’m a bit worried.”

Jillian huffed. “Well, let those worries go, girlfriend. I’ve got your back. Now that they hired me for the director’s job, I’m going to be handling marketing and social media instead of jetting all over the world to check product quality. It’ll still be long work hours for me, but I’ll be able to be here more.”

“Jillian, I love you for wanting to help us, but you need to find your own life. Your financial help made my life with the children possible. Now Shane makes enough money to care for all of us. I can even hire household help if I need it—and baby help too. Carrie’s delivering the art gallery’s records to the house so I’m not even going to miss my own work. All is well with me and the kids. Seriously—it’s time for you to focus on yourself.”

“What about their college tuition?” Jillian asked.

“Zack’s got a full-ride basketball scholarship and his grades are good. Chelsea’s working on weekends and saving her money. Plus, Shane has signed up for a program to get half Chelsea’s tuition paid if she goes to UK. If she gets scholarships too, then Chelsea can use her savings to live with her friend like she wants. Chelsea’s going to be fine.”

“Okay. How about the other two? Brian’s only got a few years until he’ll be needing help with college.”

Reesa shook her head. “Unless something miraculous happens to change his mind, Brian is going to art school. Jessica and Michael are working with him every week. Who knows how far they’ll take his art? I don’t know how we’ll pay for his formal training yet, but we’ll find a way. Then we’ll have a good long while before Princess Sara gets old enough for college.”

“No worries about the little princess. I’ll be paying for fashion school for her,” Jillian joked as usual. “That girl has a sharp eye.”

“And a smart mouth…” Reesa added, grinning when she made Jillian laugh. “We are the best aunts in the world, aren’t we?”

“We definitely are. I regret nothing about what we’ve done. I hope you don’t either,” Jillian said.

“You know I don’t. This is my family—our family. Just think, by the time Sarah goes to college, any babies we have could be right behind her.”

“Those baby hormones are making you delirious. My baby?” Jillian exclaimed, chuckling over the idea. “I’m certainly not going to be getting a child from anything I’ve been doing lately.”

“Why? All your dates can’t be as bad as the sushi guy.”

“That’s what you think,” Jillian said firmly. She pushed the basket away. “The only sex I’m having at the moment is…” She froze and stared at Reesa who arched an eyebrow. Wow—the truth had almost slipped out on its own.

“The only sex you’re having is with yourself?” Reesa finished with a laugh.

“No. I’m not that desperate yet,” Jillian said, unable to lie completely. “I have a guy that I…”

“You have a booty call guy?” Reesa filled in with a giggle.

“Something like that.”

“Is he good?” Reesa asked.

“I don’t know,” Jillian said with a frown. “We haven’t got that far.”

“Maybe you need to talk to him about the definition of a booty call.”

“Shut up,” Jillian ordered, snorting as Reesa dissolved into giggles. “We’re doing other things.”

“Other things?” Reesa repeated as she laughed harder.

“Yes, smart-ass… other things.”

“Good other things?” Reesa asked with a grin. “Geez… this sounds like high school. I hated high school.”

Jillian sighed. She had never, ever, ever been able to lie to the petite woman grilling her. Not since they were six. But she was not about to confess what she had yet to understand.

“Let’s just say the man is the best at everything we’ve done so far… and yes, it feels a bit like having a high school boyfriend. The man is creative about providing me relief. But no, it’s not all I want from him. However, it’s better than going without or resorting to toys.”

“So why don’t you date the creative sex guy?”

Jillian looked away. “I can’t. He’s not my type.”

“No suit? Or no chocolate?”

Snorting, Jillian didn’t raise her head. “You think you know everything about me, don’t you?”

“I know you avoid dating men who don’t have skin as dark as yours. I keep hoping you realize that’s about your parents and not about you. Plus, you haven’t brought a single guy to meet me. I’ve been worried about you for years.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I’ve moved beyond all the one-night stands and flings? Dating the creative sex guy would be an act of futility. He has nothing going for him that’s on my long-term list. When I meet the right man, the creative sex guy will be history.”

“Except he’s obviously talented at other things that maybe aren’t on your long-term list. If he makes you laugh, you’re in big trouble, Jillian. That’s how they get you. The sex is just how they seal the deal.”

Jillian rolled her eyes. “He bought me pizza and we made out on his couch like horny teenagers. I went home several hours later with my underwear shoved into my purse. It was not a proud moment for me. I haven’t done anything like that since college.”

Reesa laughed. “If he’s that talented, when are you going back to get the real thing from him?”

Jillian picked up a pillow and threw it at her friend. “As soon as I can. Are you satisfied?”

“Why yes, I am. Shane takes great care of my needs, but I thought we were talking about you.”

“Oh—haha. The shaggy Viking is good in bed. I knew that the day I picked him out for you. He walked you out with his fingers on your back. The man was a toucher and those are the best kind in bed.”

“I’m sure you’ll find an equally perfect man eventually. You have latent talent.”

“My pickup mojo doesn’t work as well for me,” Jillian said with a sigh. “I can’t seem to find any guy that has it all.”

“Maybe because none of them do,” Reesa said, pushing her whale form out of the chair. “Put being good in bed and loving you outside of it at the top of that list of yours. All the other stuff can be worked out. Jobs and titles and the rest come and go with fate.”

“OMG, I thought I’d never live long enough to hear you talk this way. The realist has become an optimist,” Jillian teased.

“Love can change your life in ways you can’t even imagine until it happens,” Reesa said. “Want some cherry pie? I think I might even have some ice cream to go on it. Shane’s been doing the shopping. I’m getting spoiled.”

“Sounds like you have your husband trained. What’s your secret?”

“Sex is a very powerful thing, Jillian.”

“I hear you, girlfriend. I hear you,” Jillian said, laughing as she followed her tiny, pregnant friend into the kitchen.

CHAPTER 4

Joe laughed when Will walked into the house covered in white dust. The only clean spot on the man was around his nose and mouth where he’d worn a protective mask.

“Good thing Jessica isn’t here to see you dumping all that mess on her kitchen floor.”

“Grinding down the stone is the messiest part of my process. That’s why we had you install the extra sliding door in the dining area. The mess is way easier to clean up from the tile. And by the way,” Will said as he pointed to what Joe was working on. “I am loving not having that wall there. I can see the whole kitchen now. Taking it down was a great suggestion.”

Joe nodded. “Yeah, I knew it would look better. Today was the hardest part of your reno. Opening the kitchen to the living room will be a lot easier.”

“Can’t wait to see that too. Excuse me a minute.”

Joe watched Will carefully roll the snug dust-covered t-shirt up his chest and over his head. Despite being in his fifties, Will had arm and chest muscles as well defined as his sons. All the Larson males were built like that. Joe envied them their genes. He grinned at Will.

“I hope I look as fit as you do when I get to be your age. My father’s put on thirty pounds, gotten soft around the middle, and looks two decades older than he should. Since I look so much like him, his appearance worries me.”

Will used the clean inside of his shirt to wipe the dust from his face. “Your muscles will definitely stay toned if you keep doing what you’re doing for a living. Keeping fit is always hard work—in a gym or out of it. I have to lift a few weights now and again to keep in good enough shape to do what I do. My art has always provided all the motivation I need.”

Joe lifted his nail gun over his head and shot a couple of nails into the new header. “Guess I’m lucky that I like hard work. What I do for a living keeps the bills paid, lets me work on my clock, and it’s satisfying. Since I paid for my own college degree, I have no guilt at all about not signing on with some engineering firm when I graduated. My internship was enough to show me how restrictive and demanding that kind of career would have been.”

Will snorted. “You hung around the boys and me far too much to grow up and do something typical for a living.”

“That’s probably true. Plus, Shane’s the least normal of you all. He corrupted me when we were eight. He drew all the kids in our class as superheroes. That’s still the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen anyone do. Shane astounds me with what he’s accomplished, especially since we’re not even thirty yet.”

Will chuckled at Joe’s fondness for his youngest. They were as tight as brothers–always had been. “Shane is an anomaly. Even I don’t understand how he’s managed to get so much done. Most of us walk a more curvy path to our destinies, and speaking of destinies, did you bring your latest project with you? I’m excited to take a look at it.”

Joe lowered the nail gun as he reluctantly nodded. “I did bring it, but I’m having second thoughts now. I appreciate all the pointers you’ve passed along, but it just hit me that what I’ve done is going to seem like a kid’s popsicle art to you.”

Will grinned as he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter if it does, Joseph. You have to start somewhere. Let me wash up and put on a clean shirt. We’ll have coffee and take a break—if that’s okay.”

“I have someplace else to be this afternoon anyway, but I promise I’ll get back to this tomorrow.” Joe sighed in resignation. “You’ll just call me a coward now if I don’t let you see it, won’t you?”

“I will chant it over and over until you cave,” Will said firmly.

Sighing louder, Joe bent and set the nail gun on the floor. “Fine. Let me get it from the truck.”

***

He’d turned down Will’s offer of coffee and settled for the bottle of water he’d stashed in his lunch cooler. His stomach was unsettled, and he couldn’t sit still while Will inspected what he’d done. If this gut-wrenching worry over being judged was what being an artist was like, he likely wasn’t cut out to be one. Watching Will’s silent inspection was making him ill.

Will’s cool assessing glare gave nothing away—one of the many reasons William Larson had been such an effective school principal.

He should have just let Will pay him to remove that wall separating the dining room from the kitchen instead of bargaining his labor in exchange for lessons and tips. Carving was a hobby for him—not a profession.

“How long did this take you?”

Joe lifted both shoulders. “About a week to get the basic shape. It took another week to get the details right. I painted and gel stained it so you could get a feel for what I’m envisioning the finished product to look like. I think if I put a couple more days into polishing it I can further improve the texture of its skin.”

Will nodded and set the wooden rhino on the table. “The detail on the eyes is amazing. Is this the first piece you’ve finished?”

Joe grunted. “No. I’ve finished five others, but they’re definitely kindergarten level. This one turned out better than I expected. If you set it on a shelf across the room, the eyes will seem to follow you.”

“How did you get that to work?”

Adjusting his body in the chair, Joe lifted both shoulders again. “I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s the way I do the eyes. They look round, but if you look super close, you’ll see they’re actually a hexagon. I thought that would give them more depth.”

“It probably gives them a 3-D effect,” William said.

Joe nodded. “Yeah. That was my hope.”

Will picked up his coffee. “Well, your hope has been realized. It worked out just like you planned.”

“Really?” Joe asked, clearing his throat when he all but squeaked his surprise.

Nodding, Will sipped his perfect brew. “The feet need more attention. You rushed those. Sometimes you have to step away from a piece and then go back to it. That allows you to see it with fresh eyes. Working obsessively you can often miss what it needs to get to the next level. Your rhino is unique and very striking from the shoulders up. The feet are your next level.”

Joe swallowed hard before answering. “The pictures I found in my research didn’t zoom in close enough for me to see the details of the feet. All people seem to want to see of a rhino is his face and horn.”

One side of Will’s mouth lifted in a smirk. “Visit the Cincinnati zoo, Joseph. Take your own pictures. Use the zoom on your phone camera to get the detail.”

Joe grinned at the simplicity of the advice. “Yeah. That would probably work.”

“Do it soon,” Will ordered as he grinned back. “Can I keep the rhino for a little while? There’s someone I want to show it to. Wood’s not my natural medium and I don’t want to steer you wrong. I’ll take good care of it. You can have it back in a few days.”

“Keep it. I’ll make another one. Just please don’t tell anyone it’s mine,” Joe said.

Will chuckled as his head swung side-to-side. “No. I don’t want it like this. The feet aren’t finished. I’m going to give it back and you’re going to fix his feet. You’ll thank me later.”

Joe grunted and gave him a sheepish look. “Okay. Sure. But you mostly like it?”

Will nodded. “Not just mostly… I really like it. Do you like it?”

Joe picked up the rhino and turned it around to inspect it again. “Carving this was nearly as much fun as knocking down your wall was. I guess my answer is yes. I like it.”

“Congratulations,” Will said, rising to take his coffee cup to the sink. “You’re now an artist. Liking your own work is the hardest part.”

Joe wasn’t sure he agreed with that assessment, but he liked the idea of being called an artist, especially by someone as talented as Will Larson was.

***

Still dwelling on all Will said about his carving, Joe left at two-thirty and headed downtown. It took him forever to find a parking place for the truck, but he finally did. At nearly three-thirty, he pushed through the door of the building and entered an oasis of calm, despite the bickering people in the middle of the floor.

Across the room, the pedestals he’d made for Carrie last month were lined up against the wall, except for the two that she’d moved out to the main floor. She had asked for varying heights and for the stands to be painted black. Her directions had been precise and easy enough to follow.

He’d turned the pedestals from huge blocks of wood using his storage locker setup. One day he’d like to have a garage or an actual workshop. First, though, he’d have to buy a house. His savings weren’t quite enough for a down payment yet, but perhaps in another year.

Carrie was really busy. It looked like she was setting up some sort of mixed media art show. She, Drake, and what appeared to be several college students, were busy hanging framed art and arranging something in cases. Joe couldn’t see what it was. He wondered what was going on the pedestals. It had to be something significant—some larger piece that would draw more than just an admiring eye or two.

He shoved his hands in his pockets as he moved forward to talk to her. “Now I see why you need a rolling wall. You want to use it for these larger framed pieces.”

“Exactly,” Carrie said, stepping away to smile. “Hi, Joe. What brings you here so soon? I thought you were going to wait for me to send some measurements.”

Joe lifted one shoulder. “I was. Then I got the urge to visit.”

“That’s great,” Carrie said, putting her hand on his arm. “Get the urge this weekend too. The gallery is hosting our first art show for the place where I used to work. It’s a mixed media showcase. We have a little of everything.”

Joe nodded politely. “Sure. It looks like you’re busy—probably too busy to talk to me.”

“I’m busy, but as you can see, I have a lot of help. A break won’t kill me. Besides, Drake is nearly as good as I am when it comes to setting up the framed art. What’s a movable wall going to cost me?”

Joe shrugged as they walked away from the group. “It depends on how big you want it and what it’s going to take to make it. When I figure it out, I’ll email you an estimate.”

“Be gentle with me,” Carrie said with a laugh.

“I always am with beautiful women,” Joe replied.

Carrie giggled at his mild flirting. “Your gift of flattery must come from your Irish ancestors.”

Joe grinned. “You’d think that was the case, but the truth is that I learned everything I know from Shane Larson. He was always the master of knowing exactly what to say to women.” He looked around the space. “How often do you change your offerings in here?”

“Frequently. I only take in art pieces that I honestly believe I can sell. When I move a certain number of them, I go looking for more,” Carrie motioned for Joe to follow her. “Come look at a piece that’s not for sale. It’s the only one of its kind in the gallery.”

Joe trailed after her until Carrie stopped in front of a carving that she was keeping inside a glass case. He inspected it instinctively—his mind already critiquing how the artist hadn’t done all that he could have to it. Was this what Will meant? That you could see what needed to be done if you had the right perspective?

Joe lifted his chin at the piece. “What kind of art is this considered?”

“African art,” Carrie said. “I’ve seen better craftsmanship, but this was the only reasonably priced piece I could find when I went looking for some to buy. When African art got popular, representation of tribal life started being mass produced in factories. Real African art always ends up in the bigger galleries. I bought this piece out of desperation to add some cultural diversity to the gallery’s catalog. I’m sure it would sell to someone, but I’m not putting a price on it until I get a lead on a wider collection of pieces.”

“It’s a good piece, just looks like whoever made it rushed doing the man’s body. The face is great.”

Carrie lifted an eyebrow and turned to stare. “That’s exactly what happened. You have a good eye for detail.”

Joe lifted a shoulder. “I work with wood all the time. You have to be patient with it to get it to become what you want it to be. I used to make furniture as a side gig. I have a great appreciation for what it takes to turn wood into something beautiful.”

“Do you enjoy this kind of art?” Carrie asked, her gaze turning toward the case again.

Joe nodded. “I suppose I favor sculpture and like it better than most others. I’m not into abstract art although I do like some of Michael’s newer pieces. On the whole, I prefer seeing reality reflected. This artist does give me a sense of what the shepherd’s everyday life is like. The details of his face show the pride he has. The details on each animal show the artist’s true skill. He just rushed carved the body.”

Carrie grinned at Joe’s very accurate assessment. “I’d love to do a whole show of African art. My chances aren’t great of finding someone willing to show their work in my small gallery.”

“I’d love to see you do that too,” Joe said, thinking such a showing would give him fresh inspiration and research from something other than the internet. “Any idea where I can find the nearest collection of real African art.”

“I think the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has the best collection,” Carrie answered instantly.

Joe grunted. “Shane and I went to school up that way. I might just have to make that drive.”

“If Ivy was a bit older, I’d offer to go with you. I’m still nursing at night.”

“She’s a cutie, Carrie. How’s Michael adjusting to fatherhood?”

“No baby has ever been loved more. Stick around a bit. He may bring her by. They were out doing errands today. The man takes her everywhere with him.”

“I would love to stay but I need to get home. My work is only half done. I got the wall down at Will and Jessica’s. The kitchen and dining room are now completely open. Next up is an archway that will open the kitchen to the living room. I’m trying to finish up there.”

“Sounds wonderful—I’d love to have a real dining room.”

Joe smiled. “You’ll have to talk your husband into letting me add on an extension in the back. We could make that happen if he’d given up a wee bit of his courtyard.”

“Really?” Carrie asked.

Joe shrugged. “Don’t turn those pleading eyes in my direction. I’ll not be the one telling that to your husband. That’s your job. I’m just the carpenter.”

Carrie laughed. “Now I want to go home and take a look. How much of the courtyard?”

“Let’s discuss it later. Want that moveable wall for here first?”

“I do,” Carrie admitted. “I’ll send you the measurements when I figure it out.”

“Mind if I take a few of my own before I leave? I might be able to make a suggestion or two about size.”

“Sure. Take your time, Joe. Hang out all you want. There are sodas in the break room refrigerator.”

“Thanks,” Joe said, admiring the energetic woman who quickly walked away.

Both Shane and Michael had married amazing women. He hoped one day to be that lucky as well.

CHAPTER 5

Will knocked on the office door and peered inside. “Hello there, Professor James. Got a few minutes to talk to an old friend?”

The art professor lifted his head from his computer and smiled. “William Larson. I haven’t seen you since you came to visit my class. When was that? Three years ago I believe. How’s the beautiful Ellen doing?”

Will chuckled as he walked inside the office. “Ellen’s married to someone else now and so am I. But it’s all good—we’re all good. The four of us get together for dinner. God, was that TMI? I’m starting to sound like my sons. What I’m trying to say is that things have worked out as they were meant to in my life and Ellen’s.”

“Good to hear it—all of it,” Shemar answered, waving his hand.

Will smiled. “Larson men are resilient.”

Shemar belly laughed. “I would have to agree, especially now that I have confirmed where Michael got his wicked side. I always suspected it was from you. My father would have killed me for doing even half of what Michael got by with while he was here. I might not have witnessed it, but his exploits are still legendary. He comes by now and again to visit the starving art students. He seems to enjoy the role of arrogant, local celebrity.”

“I’m not blind to my son’s flaws, but I had to stop apologizing for him years ago. It was too much work,” Will said with a resigned sigh as Shemar laughed. “Michael’s married and a father now. He’s become domesticated since you probably last saw him.”

Shemar snickered. “I joke with you, William. Your son has done a lot for a man his age. I should know because I’m not much older. And I greatly admire all Michael has accomplished with his art. In his career, I’m sure his notoriety serves him far better than my intelligence serves me in mine.”

“That sounds bad, Shemar. UK not treating you well?” Will asked with genuine concern.

“No, no. I love it here,” Shemar said with a head shake. “But teaching art is not the same as making it. I miss being in my own workshop. Grading is not the same as creating. There is no time for brooding until your fingers grow restless to paint. It is the downside of academia.”

“You sound like my wife. Jessica was a high school art teacher when we met. Now she makes art and works at the gallery Michael and his wife own. Jessica says she’s living her dream life. I tell myself it’s because of me, but she’d just laugh if I said it aloud in front of her.”

“Are you talking about the Jessica who works at the gallery? Jessica Daniels? That’s who you married?

Will’s lips firmed. “Why do you ask? Did you date her?”

Did I date her? Come on—you flatter me,” Shemar said with a full grin. “We’re referring to the tall, gorgeous red-head who speaks her mind, right?”

Will nodded. “Yes. That’s Jessica, alright. Her daughter married Drake Barrymore.”

“I am aware. I was in Africa visiting my cousin and couldn’t make the wedding. Their relationship sure happened fast.”

“Things accelerated once Brooke got to talking to my boys.”

“Drake is a fine man,” Shemar said.

Will nodded in agreement. “Yes, he is. Jessica and I are both happy to see our children in such great relationships.”

“And the Barrymores are expecting a baby girl now, right? I know this only because I’m supposed to fill in while Drake’s taking paternity leave.”

“Filling in for the Chair of the UK Art Department? Not bad for a man your age, Dr. James.”

Shemar rolled his eyes. “Yes. You’d think that, wouldn’t you? But when my family heard my boss was having a baby, I’ve heard nothing but complaining about my unwed status. I’m turning thirty-six this year and haven’t produced the pre-requisite grandchildren my parents expected me to by now. They do not care about my academic accomplishments. Where are the babies who are related to us? That is my parent’s only question.”

Will rubbed his nose as he fought not to laugh. “Well, Drake’s over 50. You could always find yourself a younger wife and let nature take its course like he did.”

Shemar huffed. “I’m around children all day. When I date, I want someone close to my own age. Worse, I prefer my women to be interesting as well as beautiful. Such females are rare here in Lexington.” He leaned back in his chair. “What brings you here today, Will? I assume it was not to discuss my miserable love life. I see an artistic gleam in your eyes.”

Grinning at the astute guess, Will reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the wooden rhino. He handed it to Shemar over the desk.

“Nice piece,” Shemar said. “The artist didn’t finish the feet.”

Will laughed. “He’s going to when I get the rhino back to him. I’m insisting.”

“Looks a bit Ethiopian in design. The eyes are amazing. I’m guessing the artist is not one of our students or I’d already know his carving technique. Where does he study?”

Laughing, Will shrugged. “I suppose you could say he studies at the school of hard knocks.”

“Your joking metaphor does not surprise me. Every artist has had an address there,” Shemar stated.

Will nodded in agreement and then smiled. “Would you believe my carpenter made that piece? Before this, all Joe’s made is furniture. He said he got restless one day and started carving. Joe and Shane are best friends, so I’ve known the boy since he was six. Joe’s extremely tight-lipped about his personal life but I think there’s a woman involved in that restlessness.”

“This piece is exceptional for a first timer. He’s obviously a natural,” Shemar admitted as he studied the rhino more closely. “And his attention to detail is amazing. I think I’m jealous of his skill. I do not have this kind of eye. If I did, I would not be teaching. My work would be in all the museums.”

“Thanks for looking at it. I needed a second opinion—a more educated opinion. Joe’s new to this and wood’s not my medium.”

“Hard to believe he’s working as a carpenter when he could be doing so much more. Perhaps such talent flows in the Kentucky water. I should drink more.”

“For him, it’s just a hobby. I’ve been trading critique sessions and carving lessons for house renovations,” Will confessed.

Shemar belly laughed at the story as he handed the rhino back. “Perhaps I should get a cut of that action for giving him my educated appraisal. I need some new bookshelves for my house. Tell him to come see me.”

Will lowered his chin and thought hard for a moment. He lifted his face and smiled. “How about a lead on a hot date with a great woman instead? I think I know someone you’d like.”

Shemar shook a finger. “Now you’re reminding me of Michael again.”

Will lifted a shoulder. “I’ve had worse comparisons. You interested or not?”

Shemar lifted a hand and sighed loudly. “I suppose I am since I’m still listening.”

“There’s a multi-media show at the gallery Saturday night. Jillian Lansing’s going to be there. She’s a friend of Shane and his wife’s… and she’s single. Jillian’s a good looking woman with a heart as big as all of Lexington. She’s about your age too.”

“You are as bad as my parents. Why are you trying to hook me up with a female?” Shemar demanded, narrowing his eyes.

“Not sure,” Will admitted with a grin. “It just seems the thing to do today. Jillian’s like one of mine now. It would make me happy to see her happy.”

Shemar shook his head. “I don’t know, Will. A beautiful, good-hearted woman in her mid-thirties who hasn’t married? Something must be wrong with her.”

“You were here when Jackson Lansing died in that plane crash out at the airport, weren’t you?”

Shemar nodded, remembering the tragedy. “Yes. I remember that happening—basketball player and his wife. He had just taken a coaching job here at UK.”

“Right,” Will said. “Jillian is his sister. Shane’s wife is the wife’s sister. Jillian and Reesa have been raising Jackson Lansing’s kids since it happened. Four kids is a lot to deal with. Doesn’t leave much time for dating.”

Shemar let loose a low whistle. “That’s tough on them… and admirable. Family is more important than ever in our jaded world.”

“I know. Shane had a difficult time talking Reesa into marrying him. She was named the children’s guardian in the will and Jillian provided for them financially. Reesa sold her car and Jillian sold her house to make the situation work.”

“The woman sold her house to care for children not her own? She is a goddess for that alone,” Shemar said with a laugh.

“Jillian deserves to have a good man in her life. You’re a good man, Shemar. Can you beat that logic?”

“Mr. Larson, you’re in the wrong line of work. You should open a dating service.”

Will chuckled as he stood. “No, this was just a one-off spontaneous decision. I came looking for a favor today. Maybe I’m just paying it back. Thanks for looking at the rhino.”

“Any time—I mean that,” Shemar said sincerely, as he stood and reached out a hand, grinning when Will shook it again. “I’ll come to have a look at her. If things work out, I’ll invite you to my wedding.”

“Good. Dress nice. Jillian’s always decked out. Fashion is serious business for that female.”

“Thank you for the tip. I will search my closet for appropriate clothes,” Shemar said dryly with an eye roll. “I’m beginning to think my parents really did send you to torture me.”

“They didn’t. See you Saturday, Shemar,” Will said and walked out laughing.

“Send me a picture when the feet are fixed. I’d like to see what the artist does with them.”

“You bet,” Will promised and nodded as he headed out the door.

Connected Books: ART OF LOVE SERIES


 Carved In Stone

Book 1

Created In Fire

Book 2

Captured In Ink

Book 3

Commissioned In White

Book 4

Covered In Paint

Book 5

Cruising Speed

Based on AOL Series