The topic at the table turned to new and innovative software that was being developed. When the talk became even more technical with a discussion about coding, Allison realized not only was she having a wonderful time, but she was where she belonged.

Liam found her surrounded by the four men. They were all smiling like simpletons and hanging on her every word. He grabbed a couple of sandwiches from the refrigerator, pulled out a chair from another table, and pushed it next to hers, then sat. He knew he was being territorial, but that didn’t stop him. He draped his arm around her shoulders and gave her admirers the "get the hell out of here" look. They got the message and one by one left the table.

"I think you scared them," she said, frowning over the possibility.

"Thanks. It’s nice you noticed."

"I wasn’t complimenting you," she replied.

"Sure sounded like it." He tore into the sandwiches, drank a bottle of water, and was ready to go.

On the way back to her apartment, he asked her what she would like on her pizza.

"You’re still hungry?" she asked, and before he could answer, she said, "Do you know how many . . ." She suddenly stopped.

"Do I know what?"

She felt silly telling him. "Calories. Pizza has a lot of calories. I’m used to eating salads and snacking on carrot sticks. I’m slowly turning into a rabbit." Embarrassed now, she shyly admitted, "Old habits die hard."

He called a pizza place he knew and liked, put in his order, and swung by on their way. There was a liquor store next door. "You’ve got beer, right?"

"Yes."

"The real stuff, not the light stuff."

"Light beer is the same as the real stuff." 

He scoffed at the notion, and after they picked up what Allison believed was a ten-pound pizza, they went into the liquor store to purchase beer and Diet Coke.

They’d just gotten home when Giovanni called. "Is this a good time?"

Allison was glad to hear his voice. "It is," she said. "How are you?"

He filled her in on his hectic life and finally got around to the reason he had called. "I know you’re retired, sweetie, but Maureen, one of my models who is your height and weight, broke her ankle and won’t be able to work for quite a while. It’s a huge event at the Hamilton. I have four models ready, but I need you, too. Just three designers are invited. It’s quite an honor." He thought to add, "And it’s all for an important charity."

"Of course I’ll do it. When is it?"

"I’ll e-mail you the particulars, and, Allison, bless you for helping me."

Liam was standing close enough to hear the entire conversation. He opened a bottle of beer, leaned against the kitchen counter, and said, "That’s quite a schedule you’re filling. You’ve got the Brett thing coming up soon. Now you’ve added a runway show."

"At the Hamilton," she volunteered.

He nodded. "And in between those two engagements you’re going to be working your pretty little backside off for Phillips. Anything else you have planned?"

Inside her head, a voice said, "Tonight I’ve penciled in a shower and sex. Tomorrow, I’ll want to hit something, so I’ll plead with you to take me to the batting cages. Then, when I arrive back home, sex again." Every part of her wanted those words to come out, but she couldn’t let them. In the back of her mind, there was the aching hope that he would want to go to bed with her. She thought he’d liked being intimate with her, yet now she had to reevaluate. He sure wasn’t in any hurry to touch her, which in her mind meant he hadn’t been very impressed. And that, she decided, was mortifying.

It wasn’t her fault, was it? He had far more experience than she did. He’d probably slept with at least twenty women, maybe more, who knew what they were doing. She’d only slept with one other man, and it had been a disaster. She couldn’t think about the god-awful experience without shuddering.

She didn’t respond to Liam’s question. She went into her bathroom, showered, and put on a short white sleeveless cotton nightgown that just reached her knees. Although it was a bit low-cut, she couldn’t see through the material, and she thought it was modest enough. There was no way she was going to make herself vulnerable again. She hated feeling so awkward around him. She wanted to hide, so she opened her laptop and did exactly that.

Liam was on the phone for over an hour putting out one fire after another. By the time he finished work, he just wanted to crash. He opened the bedroom door and stood there, smiling at Allison. She was sitting propped up with pillows against the headboard. Her long, gorgeous legs were stretched out, and her computer sat open on her lap. Her head was dropped down, but he could see her eyes were closed. She looked as sweet and innocent as an angel.