By K.T. Chambers

Mark and Stacy were best friends growing up, but after an explosive fight in high school, they haven’t seen each other in nearly ten years. Until he runs into her as she’s about to meet his new boss for dinner. After so long, how can he tell her how he really feels? That he would be so much better for her than John Evans ever could?

Chapter 1

Back To Top

 Mark dropped to the couch and groaned dramatically. “I’m never gonna live through this.” he muttered.

Stacy stopped in front of him, with her hands on her hips. “You’re the one who lost the bet, buddy.” She said with a smirk. “And now, as the loser, you must sit and watch, while fully conscious and lucid, a…” she paused for dramatic effect. “Musical.” She finished with flourish.

Mark dropped his head into his hands and started to make sobbing noises.

“And I, as the winner, reserve the right to taze you if you begin to lose consciousness or fall into a catatonic state.”

Mark lifted his head. His eyes were perfectly dry. “Stace, you don’t even own a tazer.”

“Do not bother me with facts!” Stacy cried, jamming him in the chest with the remote. “I am savoring my victory!”

Mark laughed, but settled back. “So what crappy musical will I be getting electrocuted through tonight?” He asked, with a raised eyebrow.

Stacy chortled and pressed play.

The DVD menu appeared, and Mark looked confused. “The Unsinkable Molly Brown?” Hadn’t he seen this before? He was sure he didn’t like it. It was annoying.

“Yes, the Unsinkable Molly Brown. And you better pay attention; I’ll be quizzing you later.” Stacy grinned. Mark rolled his eyes, still frowning slightly in confusion.

He tried to concentrate on the movie, but he was having trouble understanding it. There was something wrong with the sound. By the time Molly had left her father to find her fortune, he couldn’t hear what was going on at all. Was that part of the movie? It sounded like some guy laughing.

Mark turned to Stacy to ask if she heard it, too, but she was focused on the screen. Apparently, she could hear it just fine.

Mark frowned. No, it isn’t the movie. It was that jackass Derrick. He could hear him boasting.

“Yeah, that chick Tanya was a freak!” He pitched his voice to emphasize the last word. He was laughing.

“You’re doing Tanya now, too?” One of his buddies was laughing with him. “What about that chick, Stacy? I thought you were going straight-and-narrow when you started dating her?”

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

Mark couldn’t hear him anymore. He had to get to Stacy, he had to tell her what he had heard.

But even though she was right next to him a second ago, he couldn’t reach her. She was running away from him, down a long hall. She was saying something, but he couldn’t hear her over his own breathing.

Suddenly, she spun, and he was right in front of her. And she was furious.

“I’ll never speak to you again!” She cried.

Chapter 2

Back To Top

Mark jolted awake to the sound of the alarm clock, and groaned, smacking the snooze button and glanced around his small apartment with bleary eyes. He swung his legs off the bed and sat up. He was still in his work jeans; his dusty shirt was in a pile near the foot of the bed.

How many times had he had that dream this week? It seemed like every time he closed his eyes he would see the livid face of his once-best-friend. It had been nearly ten years since they had that horrible fight, and yet every time he had that dream it felt as though it had only just happened.

He stood and stretched, wanting to shake off his nightmare as easily as he shook off sleep. He knew the only reason he’d been having it so often recently is because he was so anxious about his new, impending career path.

He was twenty-six now, and he’d been working as a contractor for about seven years. He liked it, he liked working with his hands. He liked being busy, he liked the physical exertion, he liked that he was building something that was useful to someone.

But there’s only so much construction work a person can do before it got repetitive and boring. So he had gone to college full time as well, leaving him with very little free time. His friend Andy thought he was a manic-workaholic, but he just hated feeling idle.

Now, after years of hard work, he had a degree in Architecture. He’d be able to do more than just build things; he’d be able to design them, too.

Well, as soon as he was able to get a job in an architectural firm.

Mark sighed heavily. Today was the third in a series of interviews he’d lined up for this week. He had to get ready to go; he had to make a good first impress-

The alarm clock started up again, startling him from his thoughts. He growled and snatched it up, hitting the ‘off’ button this time instead of snooze. He was awake now, and he had work to do. He didn’t need to be dwelling on the past just because of some stupid dream.

Chapter 3

Back To Top

 Mark hated interviews. Every interview he’d ever had, jobs, schools, new girlfriend’s fathers…he hated interviews. Best part of being a contractor in construction work? No interviews.

He took a deep breath when he reached the foot of the last flight of stairs. Everything was ok. The interview was over. The scary lady with the super-tight bun and creepy-sharp looking nails was all the way on the third floor, and he was all the way down here. She didn’t try and eat his heart, and he didn’t pass out in a panic attack. Everything was fine.

He dropped his portfolio at his feet and leaned heavily against the receptionist’s desk, letting himself calm down.

“God, don’t be such a puss.” Mark glanced over. The receptionist was staring at her computer screen, but it was clear that she was the one who had spoken. She didn’t really look intimidating, or at least, her nails were way too short to do any tearing at his internal organs. Over one of her ears was a headset, the kind with only one earphone with a microphone attached to it, connected to the phone by a long cord. Her clothes were standard, business-casual, and she had the bare minimum of makeup on. If he had to guess, she seemed more the type to talk you to death than to devour your heart to add to her power.

She glanced up at him when he didn’t answer, and he cleared his throat. “I just don’t like interviews.” He said with a frown.

The girl twitched one eyebrow, her eyes back on the screen. “Right. Probably for the same reason you don’t like having sex with women, right?”

Mark turned to face her, narrowing his eyes, contemplating exactly how long it might take to strangle her with her headset.

“The cord is too thin.” She said, as though she could hear his thoughts. She glanced up at him. “Your hands would work better.”

Mark raised an eyebrow. “Is that an invitation?”

The girl rolled her eyes, turning back to her screen. “As if you have the balls. Half an hour with Erin’s penis-envying ass and you look like you’re about to pass out.” she said, referring to the woman Mark had interviewed with. She looked back up at him with a smirk. “Besides, I have a boyfriend. He’d be upset if I let someone else choke me.”

Mark laughed, and held out his hand. “Mark.” he said.

“Leah.” she said, gripping his hand and smiling. “So, are you our new hire?”

Mark nodded. “If I didn’t screw my interview.”

Lean grinned. “If she let you leave the room with all of your vital organs, you did fine.”

Mark shook his head. “I knew she wanted to eat my heart.” He muttered.

Leah nodded solemnly. “That’s why she keeps her nails so sharp.” She said.

Mark opened his mouth to respond, but laughter from behind him drew his attention. He turned to see a couple walking briskly down the last flight of stairs. He had seen the man before, briefly, during his interview. John Evans was the CEO of Smith & Evan’s Inc. With his neatly cut blonde hair and clean shaven face, he looked too young to be a CEO. And he was. John had inherited his position from his father, recently passed. He was only about twenty-nine, and in Mark’s private opinion, the man had no clue what he was doing.

But it was the woman on his arm that really caught Mark’s attention. She was about 5’4, with long hair the color of chocolate syrup that shimmered when it caught the light. She wore it in loose waves that hung below her shoulders and bounced with every step. Her green eyes were wide and honest and framed by dark lashes. Her mouth was full and smiling. Mark stared.

“Mark?” Leah tried to get his attention, poking him in the arm with a pencil.

The girl turned her head when Leah said his name, and when her eyes met his, they widened in shock to mirror his own. Her steps faltered, but John tugged her forward until they were both out of the building. Only when she was out of sight was Mark able to look away from the door and back at Leah.

She watched him with one eyebrow raised. “You ok?” She asked. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Mark shook himself and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not a ghost, exactly. But I’m fine.”

Chapter 4

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 “You’re not psychic, Mark. You’re just finally losing your mind.”

Mark rolled his eyes. “Well, that’s super insightful, Andy, thanks for that. I can see why you’re my best friend, what with how supportive you are.” He leaned back against the grill of his truck. He was out of his interview clothes – thank god – and now he was wearing his work jeans and a clean t-shirt. He cradled his cell phone between his ear and shoulder and stared absently ahead of him.

“I’m your best friend because, unlike some people, I tell it to you straight.” In the background of the phone receiver Mark could hear the hammering and shouting that always accompanied a construction zone. Andy had just gotten to work – where Mark should be right now.

He rolled his eyes. “As opposed to telling it to me gay?”

Andy laughed. “Buddy, you couldn’t handle me telling it to you gay.”

Mark laughed, and turned to climb back into his truck. “Listen, Andy, I’m not crazy. I know it was Stacy. She even looked up when she heard the receptionist say my name.”

“Well, if she looked up when she heard ‘Mark’, that could just mean her name is ‘Mark’.” Andy reasoned.

“Jesus, Andy, would you please be serious?”

Alright, alright!” He said with a small laugh. “Listen, even if it was Stacy, and you weren’t hallucinating the entire thing, it’s just coincidence. It’s not like you don’t dream about that chick all the damn time.”

Mark sat upright, his hand falling off of the ignition, his eyebrows furrowing. “Ok, wait. How would you know how often I dream about her?”

Andy sighed. “Mark, buddy, you only had to tell me, like, twice before I could recognize that dopey fucking look you have on your face every time you dream about that chick.”

Mark grimaced. “Ok, you’re a jackass. And would you please stop calling her a ‘chick’? Her name is Stacy.”

“I will not stop calling her ‘chick’ until I believe she’s worthy of a better classification.” He said. Mark rolled his eyes. “Hey, where are you, anyway? Jack is lurking, you better not be too late today.”

Mark stiffened. “I had to change out of my interview clothes. I’ll be right there.”

Andy was laughing before Mark had finished speaking. “You know, Mark, you are a lousy fucking liar. Just get your ass to work before I have to knock Jack unconscious to cover for you.”

Mark shook his head and laughed, reaching again for the ignition. “I knew I was friends with you for a reason.” He muttered, before hanging up.

Chapter 5

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 “So?” Leah asked, perking up as Mark slogged toward her desk. “How did you like your first day at Smith & Evan’s?” He shot her a weak glare, and she giggled.

He dropped his portfolio on the ground and leaned his elbows on the desk. “Well, it was…” He paused, tilting his head to the side thoughtfully.

“A colossal pain in the ass?” Leah supplied helpfully.

Mark laughed. “I was gonna say ‘Informative’, but I guess that works, too.”

“Better not let the boss hear you say that.” John Evans appeared out of nowhere at Mark’s elbow, throwing an arm around his shoulder and shooting Leah a charming grin. “He might think you don’t like working here.”

Leah raised an eyebrow and opened her mouth to speak, but Mark cut her off. Honestly, with her mouth, he was shocked Leah hadn’t been fired already.

“We’re just kidding around.” He said to John, grinning. “Work is always an easy target, right?”

Leah raised an eyebrow, but joined in their laughter with a few fake, forced ones of her own, before saying, “Yeah, so are douche bags.” with a gleeful smile.

Mark glared at her, but thankfully, John wasn’t listening. He had turned to face the front doors.

“Darling!” he cried. Leah rolled her eyes. “What are you doing here? I told you I’d meet you at the restaurant!”

Mark turned to look just as she answered. “Oh, I know, but you were on my way. I thought I’d stop and say hi.” She was dressed professionally today, in a grey jacket and skirt set over a white blouse. Her hair was braided loosely, and Mark was surprised to see she was wearing glasses.

Any concerns about his sanity vanished when Mark saw her. He was absolutely certain that this was Stacy. And for some reason, as happy as he was to see her, he felt as though he’d been punched in the stomach.

A sharp pain in his shoulder made him jump. He turned to Leah to see her about to poke him again with a sharpened pencil. He grabbed it out of her hand. “What the hell, Leah?”

“What is it with you and this girl?” Lean whispered, her eyebrows drawn together in confusion.

It was Stacy who answered, coming to stand next to him. “We used to go to high school together.” She said, turning to smile at him. “Hey, Mark.”

Mark just stared. He had absolutely no idea what to say. Stacy’s smile faltered, and she fidgeted.

Finally, she looked away. “So, I guess just smiling and pretending nothing ever happened isn’t an option?” She asked quietly.

John stepped closer, apparently tired of being left out. “Darling?” He asked, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Do you know our new intern?” He said, apparently forgetting his firm didn’t even have interning positions. His smile, when he glanced over at Mark, was smug. Leah looked like she was about to slap him, but Mark was unfazed. He was still in shock.

Stacy’s reaction didn’t seem to be what John was going for, either. “So, you do work here!” She said, her eyes lighting up. She offered him another, tentative smile. “I thought I saw you last week, but I haven’t since. I was afraid I was hallucinating. I didn’t even know you were interested in being an architect.”

Leah had to poke him again before he answered. “Yeah, uh…This was actually my first day.” He said, his voice rough.

Stacy nodded. “Well, congratulations.” She said with a small laugh. “Right?” she asked when Mark didn’t answer.

Leah poked him. “Oh, uh, yeah.” He answered finally. Whatever else he was going to add – and honestly he had no idea what to say – was interrupted by John.

“Darling?” He cut in again, his voice strained. He looked perturbed, probably because he was still being ignored. “Our reservations are for six, we should probably get going.”

Stacy started to protest, but Mark’s eyes widened, and he shook himself out of his trance. “Six?” He asked, looking at John. “Wait, what time is it?” He asked, frowning.

John made a show of checking his watch – a gold number that probably could have paid for a year of Mark’s tuition. “About five-thirty. Why?”

Mark grabbed his portfolio before John even finished speaking. “I have to go.” He explained, brushing past them. He turned to wave at Leah. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He called.

Stacy grabbed his arm before he could rush past her and out the door. “Wait, Mark, I kind of…well, I was hoping we could talk.” Her eyes were pleading.

Mark struggled with the chaotic mess his thoughts became when she touched him, before shrugging helplessly. “I’ll be here tomorrow.” He said, and backed out the doors.

Chapter 6

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 Mark slammed his truck door and sat staring at his steering wheel for a few seconds, breathing hard. He was thankful there was no one else in the parking lot yet to see him freaking out. He felt like an idiot. He knew Andy would call him a pansy. Or worse. He was just not prepared to see her again, much less talk to her.

A part of his mind, the part that was always hopeful and pathetic, reminded him that she wanted to talk. Maybe she wants to apologize, it told him. Maybe she wants to be friends again?

Mark shoved the idea out of his head. It was thoughts like that that always ended in crushing disappointments. He’d as soon lay down in front of a cement truck before putting himself through that again.

Mark glanced up at his rearview mirror. Stacy and John were leaving the building, and Leah had followed them out and was locking up. Stacy’s eyes darted around the parking lot, as though she was looking for him.

Mark swallowed thickly, still conflicted. Putting it out of his mind, he started the truck and backed out of his space.

He refused to look back as he pulled out of the parking lot. He didn’t see Stacy watch him leave, her eyes sad.

Chapter 7

Back To Top

 Mark looked up from the drafting table, startled by the sharp knock on the door.

Leah was leaning against the doorframe, watching him with her arms crossed. “Working late?” she asked.

Mark shook his head, turning back to the table. “No, actually, I need to get going. I just had some stuff I wanted to finish up.” He glanced back at Leah out of the corner of his eye. “Why, am I the last one here?”

Leah rolled her eyes. “You mean, did the boss’s girlfriend come and go already?” She asked. Mark shoulders slumped. “God, you are such a puss.” she muttered.

“Yes, she’s gone. I told her you already left. And yes, you are the last one here, and yes, I can’t leave until you do.”

Mark shot her an apologetic look before he began to collect his things. “I’m so sorry, Leah. This was a one time thing, I promise.”

Leah sighed, and stepped into the room, grabbing a chair from one of the other drafting tables and straddling it. Which Mark found interesting, since she was wearing a skirt. “Question is, why was it a thing at all?” She asked, resting her chin on the back of the chair. “Why did you feel the need to avoid this woman, even if it’s just the one time?”

Mark sighed, stuffing his things into his portfolio. “It’s kind of a long story.” He muttered.

“I’ve got time.”

He glared up at her. “Well, I don’t.”

Leah shrugged. “You kept me, now I’m keeping you. You have someplace to be then just give me the cliff notes version, but I’ve asked you about this woman twice now, and you’ve blown me off both times.”

Mark grimaced. “God, alright.” He conceded. “Stacy and I were best friends in high school.”

“And middle school?” Leah questioned, smirking.

Mark gave her a dirty look. “And elementary school.” He said hesitantly, in way of agreement. “We were friends since third grade.”

Leah grinned. “Were you in love with her?” She asked, cutting him off again.

Mark tensed, sitting suddenly very straight, as though someone jabbed him in the back with a live wire. “How about I tell the story? How about that?” he asked, his voiced raised in pitch.

Leah fought a smile, and gestured for him to continue.

Mark relaxed slightly. “I was a senior in high school, and she was a junior-“

Leah held up a hand to stop him. “Wait, if you were two years older than her, how did you get to be friends in elementary school?”

He threw his hands up in exasperation. “We had the same lunch hour.” He said. “And she always insisted on sitting with the older kids. Turned out that we only lived a few blocks from each other, so we started playing after school.”

Leah set her chin back down on her chair. “Oh, ok. That makes sense.”

Mark nodded, his eyebrows raised. “Yeah, huh? So can I get back to my story?”

Her eyes were wide and innocent. “Of course.” She said. Mark’s jaw clenched.

“So, she was a junior and I was a senior, and she was really popular. She still hung out with the older kids, and she was dating this other senior. Derrick Henderson. The guy was a total prick, he was cheating on her with, like, three other women. He considered himself a player.” Mark rolled his eyes. “The only reason he bothered keeping up pretenses with Stacy was because he knew how much her father’s connections would help his career, later on.” Mark sighed, all his anger dissipating. He noticed Leah make a face; she was expecting him to start whining.

Mark shook his head. “I tried to tell her.” He said, looking back at Leah. “She was my friend, I didn’t want her to get hurt.”

“She didn’t take it well?” Leah guessed.

Mark smiled bitterly. “No, she didn’t.” He said, with a small, humorless laugh. “She said I was a liar, and she said I was just jealous, and she said that if I didn’t apologize, she would never speak to me again.”

“And you didn’t apologize.” Leah said, no question in her voice.

Mark shook his head. “And she never spoke to me again.”

Leah sat for a moment, staring off into space. Then she focused on Mark, her eyebrows drawn together. “But she wants to talk to you now, doesn’t she?” she asked.

Mark stood, grabbing his portfolio, the bitter smile back on his face. “Yes. She does.” He agreed, and then shook his head. “I just have to decide if I want to talk to her.”

Chapter 8

Back To Top

Stacy stared at her menu without seeing it. Mark was avoiding her. He had to be. She wasn’t sure if she should me infuriated, or depressed. On the one hand, all she wanted to do was apologize. Try and be friends again. And it had been ten years, how stupid is it that he would avoid her after this long? He shouldn’t be holding a grudge for her throwing a tantrum when she was sixteen, ferchrissake.

But on the other hand, she knew she deserved it. Mark was the best friend she had ever had, and she had slapped him away when all he was trying to do was protect her. He deserved better than that.

But she wanted to apologize!

“Darling?” She looked up from her menu to see John looking at her, concerned. She opened her mouth to reassure him – really she was fine, just worried about Mark – but he was continuing before she could speak. “Have you decided on what you want yet?”

Stacy’s eyes widened, and she looked back down at her menu. She felt so bad all of a sudden. Here John was, waiting for her to make a selection, and she’s just agonizing over some old high school friend! “Oh, um,” she said, stuttering. “I’m not sure. Why don’t you pick for me?” She looked back up at him, smiling. “You always choose so well.”

John smiled at her indulgently, and took her menu to hand to the waiter. “I’ll have the Galette au saumon fume , and I think the lady will enjoy a Salade de Chèvre Chaud.” He said, handing the waiter the menus. “Thank you.” The waiter nodded and walked off.

John turned back to Stacy and took her hand over the table. “Darling, you seem a little preoccupied. I hope your…” He paused, smiling. “I hope your job isn’t becoming too stressful.”

Stacy shook her head. “Oh, that’s not it. I mean, Miss Garfield is being a little difficult.” She leaned forward, her eyes narrowing. “You know, she somehow got it in her head that she wants the guest bathroom to be done in some ridiculous ‘shabby chic’ style. I have no idea who came up with it, but the things she’s showing me look utterly ridiculous.” She sighed, looking down before she could see John’s eyes begin to glaze over. “I’m going to try and steer her in another direction, one that works better with how I’ve done the rest of the house, but you know how she’s gets…”

John blinked, and patted her hand, smiling. “I think it’s just…just adorable that you’re trying so hard to make it on your own.” He said. “Particularly after everything you’ve been through. I think you’ve earned a break.”

Stacy grinned. “Oh, well.” She said, shrugging. “It makes me happy. And I don’t want to depend on my parents for everything, after all.”

John shook his head. “You wouldn’t have to depend on them.” he said, his eyebrows raised in earnest. “You…well, you could always depend on me.” his pleading look gave way to a charming smile.

Stacy could only stare at him for a few seconds, confused. “I, uh, um..” she began to stutter, but John held up his other hand to stop her.

“Darling, I know that after everything that happened with Derrick that you…” he shook his head and lifted his shoulders slightly. “Well, you just don’t feel comfortable being in a…a committed relationship.” He looked back at her. “At least not yet.” He said with another charming smile.

“Oh, John,” Stacy said, her expression pained. But John lifted his hand again.

“It’s alright.” He said with a small laugh. “I understand.” Then he leaned forward, taking her hand in both of his. “I just want you to know that my door is always open for you.” He took one of his hands away from hers so she could see the key he had hidden in his palm. He pressed it into her hand. “Just think about it, alright?” He asked.

Stacy didn’t know what to say, so she just nodded. When her cell phone suddenly buzzed against her hip, she jumped, tearing her gaze from his. She grabbed her phone out of her pocket, and immediately opened the text message it was alerting her to.

From: Leah

Alright, I’ll tell you where he is. But if this ends badly, I will end YOU.

Chapter 9

Back To Top

Construction sites are not the place for civilians. And they sure as hell aren’t the place for four-inch heels. Stacy crossed her fingers and hoped for the best and she started to pick her way through the building, toward the kitchen. One of the more helpful guys working outside at told her where to find Mark.

Catcalls followed her through the building, but no one tried to stop her before she reached the doorway to the kitchen. There were two men there, and both of them were tiling the counters on either side of the room. The one on the right was shorter, with lighter hair and the beginnings of a beard, as if he’d forgotten to shave for a few days. His clothes were dirtier, too, as though he had been working on something outside before coming in to help with the counters.

The man on the left had black, messy hair, just long enough that it was hanging over his eyes as he worked. His white tee-shirt was stretched tight over his arms and shoulders, his jeans were looser and dirty, with a hammer hooked onto a loop at his waist. He was working fast, but carefully, setting the tiles perfectly across the counter and back wall, despite the complex design.

Stacy blinked rapidly. Was that Mark? She was certain he hadn’t looked anything like that when she’d seen him yesterday. Could a suit really make that much of a difference?

“I can’t keep covering for you like this, Mark.” The shorter one mumbled.

“I swear, it’s not going to happen again.” Mark said, his hands not pausing for a second. “Leah kept me after work.”

“This workaholic thing can’t be healthy, anyway. You’re gonna have to slow down sometime.” The shorter one continued as if he hadn’t heard him. He turned to grab more of the tiles stacked at his feet, and caught sight of Stacy.

“I like to keep busy.” Mark said, lifting a shoulder right as the short one whistled long and low at her. He turned to see what he was whistling at, and his eyes widened when he saw her.

“Stacy?” he said, his voice breaking. Stacy didn’t miss the sharp look the other guy gave him when he said her name.

“I’m not going to let you avoid me.” Stacy she said, launching into her argument before Mark could stop her, or before she could chicken out. “I need to apologize to you. You were right about Derrick, and I was an idiot not to believe you.” She ignored his surprised look and barreled on. “I was an idiot for a long time, actually, an idiot long enough for him to marry me and use my dad to build himself a huge career. He was cheating on me the whole time, though I was too blind to realize it until he got so comfortable in his career that he didn’t care about keeping it from me anymore. I was clueless until about two years ago when I walked in on him with one of his mistresses.” Stacy swallowed thickly. “He admitted everything, then. He even started to list the women he’d been with, before I slapped him and left.”

“Oh, Stace.” She heard him mutter. She looked up at him, only now realizing that she had been looking at her feet. His expression was pained.

Stacy lifted one shoulder. “I’m just glad that, on the rare occasion that we ever slept together, he always wore a condom.” She rolled her eyes. “I guess it was out of habit.”

“Stacy, I’m so sorry.” Mark said, moving closer. “I wish…I mean-“

Stacy jerked her head forward. “I know, Mark. You did warn me.

Mark shook his head. “Stacy, I was never looking for an ‘I told you so’. All I ever wanted was to protect you.”

She stepped forward, and Mark looked sharply down at her feet when he heard her heels click against the bare concrete. She started talking again before he could berate her for her choice in footwear. “You were the best friend I’ve ever had.” She saw the other guy twitch when she said the word ‘friend’, and wondered why. “I just wish we could be friends like that again.”

Mark hesitated, and nodded. “I’d like to be friends again, too, Stace.” He murmured.

Stacy’s face broke out in a dazzling grin, and she clapped, rolling forward onto the balls of her feet. “Oh, I’m so glad.” She said happily.

Mark looked tense as she celebrated, his eyes back on her feet. “Stacy, really, you shouldn’t be wearing those here. It’s dangerous enough with actual boots.” he tried to say. She completely ignored him.

“So, you can come over this weekend and watch a movie with me, like we used to!” She said excitedly.

Mark frowned. “Stacy,” He began reluctantly. “I’d love to, but my schedule is kind of packed right now.”

Stacy frowned, not believing him. “Really? Or are you just blowing me off?”

“No, Stacy,” Mark said, holding up his hands. “I’m just really busy, ok? I promise.”

She eyed his friend. “Yeah, I had heard you like to keep yourself that way.” She muttered. Mark shot the other guy a glare.

By the time he looked back at her, though, Stacy was smirking. “Tell you what.” She said, stepping forward carefully to grab his trowel. “I’ll bet you…” Mark fought a grin. “…a movie, that I can finish this counter for you, well enough that your boss won’t know the difference.”

Mark had a hand over his mouth, fighting hard against the smile. But he shook his head. “Stacy, this is more complicated than it looks, and I still have to grout everything once it’s set-“

Stacy held up a hand, stopping him. “Well, then, you’d win the bet, wouldn’t you?”

He stared at her for another minute, before he rolled his eyes. “Alright, fine. Have at it.” He said.

Chapter 10

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 The Unsinkable Molly Brown had to be the worst movie in existence.

“I don’t understand how you could possibly like this.” He muttered.

Stacy giggled. “Oh, come on! It’s a musical! He’s supposed to sing.”

“Is he supposed to be gay?” Mark asked, and winced when Johnny Brown, who was singing on the screen, suddenly turned and propped his foot up on a rock. Those pants were way too tight.

But thankfully, the song ended shortly after that. The next scene started with Molly bathing in a lake. And Johnny, like any well-bred, mountain dwelling miner, was watching her.

Mark turned to comment to Stacy about this, but when he looked at her, she looked different. Older.

He turned back to the TV, confused, and saw that Molly Brown looked different, too. Also older, and in an ocean instead of a lake.

“What are we watching again?” He asked her.

“Titanic.” Stacy answered in a choked sort of way. She was trying not to laugh.

Mark groaned, and Stacy slapped him playfully. “Be glad I’m not making you watch a musical, buddy. I did win the bet, after all.”

“That reminds me,” he said, turning back to her. “Since when can you tile?”

“I’m an interior decorator, remember?” Stacy was grinning. “I told you I would be.”

Mark snorted. “Yeah, when you were twelve.”

Stacy smacked him. “I was sixteen, you jerk.”

Mark knew he should laugh, but a wave of anxiety washed over him as the scene of the dream – because now he knew it was a dream – bled from Stacy’s house to a school hallway. He felt himself tense, bracing himself against Stacy running from him for the umpteenth time.

But when he looked around, Stacy wasn’t there. Derrick was lounging against a locker not far from him. He looked exactly the same as he did when Mark had known him in high school, but for some reason he was sure he was older.

Derrick just stared at him, smirking and pompous. When Mark looked away and down the hall, he could see why Derrick was so smug.

Dozens, maybe hundreds of women, barely clothed, were crowding the hall on his other side, fighting to get closer to Derrick and fawning over him as though he were an idol or a god. It was nauseating.

“Don’t hate the player, baby…” He heard Derrick chuckle, and turned back to glare, his hands curling into fists. But Derrick wasn’t looking at him, as he had thought, but as something right next to him.

Mark turned at the same time as Stacy. She looked up at him with a tear-stained face, her eyes and nose red. “You were right.” She sniffed. “I should have listened to you.” And then she collapsed into his arms and shook with a fresh fit of sobs.

Chapter 11

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 Mark jolted upright in bed, and was reaching for his alarm clock before he realized it wasn’t beeping. He glanced at the digital readout with bleary eyes, and groaned. It was three in the morning.

For ten years he had dealt with nightmares where his best friend ran away from him, or fought with him, or screamed at him. Every time he would wake up and offer anything if they would just stop. He’d never imagined he could dream of something even worse.

He would gladly trade ten more years of his old nightmare, to never have to see that look on Stacy’s face again.

Chapter 12

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Observation time? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Andy barked indignantly.

Mark laughed. “It means my new boss is pissed because I’m spending more time with his girlfriend than he is.” They were in his truck on their way back to Andy’s place.

“So, instead of challenging you to a duel-“

“Or a bare-knuckled fight to the death…” Mark broke in with a grin.

“Or at least a battle of the wits…” Andy continued.

“Probably because he’d be at a major disadvantage for that one.”

“He’s being passive a-fucking-gressive and trying to ruin your career.” Andy finished.

“Under the extremely transparent guise of helping my career.” Mark said in agreement. “I have to unlearn all those nasty construction worker habits if I want to be a good architect.”

“I say you take a pen knife and carve ‘I quit’ right on his ass. Make a statement, you know?”

“Ha! Are you kidding?” Mark laughed. “If he couldn’t sit on his ass he might try to actually do something.”

Andy gasped mockingly. “Oh, god, no.”

“It can only end in disaster.” Mark said seriously, as he pulled up to Andy’s house.

“The humanity!” Andy shrilled. He hopped out and turned back to Mark, still laughing. “Hey, you wanna come in? The game’s on.”

Mark shook his head, handing over Andy’s tool belt. “I’d love to, but I have something I’m working on. Maybe next week.”

Andy frowned, an eyebrow raised. “Two jobs and a girlfriend aren’t enough for you?”

Mark laughed. “I’ll see you later, man.”

Chapter 13

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Never in her life had time seemed to fly the way it did for Stacy in the past six months. She had a wonderful, doting boyfriend, and the best friend she’d ever had back in her life. Although they didn’t seem to like each other very much. John seemed to sneer every time she mentioned Mark’s name, and Mark would change the subject whenever John was brought up.

And she also had her career, which was doing better than ever. Mark even helped her out with some of the contracting work she needed, for a nice discount. Of course John still thought it was silly, but it made her happy.

Actually, she was noticing herself getting more and more annoyed around John, which was utterly unreasonable. He was always very thoughtful. She was sure the only reason he thought her work was silly was because he’d rather her be taken care of. And he was probably just jealous of the time she spent with Mark, when she used to spend all of her free time with him.

It probably didn’t help that she still hadn’t taken him up on his offer to move in. But Mark spent a lot of time with her at her house, and she was afraid that if she moved in with John – who Mark clearly didn’t like – it would put a strain on their renewed relationship. Everything was so easy with him right now, she didn’t want to jeopardize that.

So, to make up for her continued indecision, she spent as many nights as she could at John’s.

Honestly, she hoped the extra sex would keep him pacified until she was sure about what she wanted to do.

She was in his bed, stripped down to her underwear (he got frustrated if he had to spend more than a few minutes undressing her,) when she heard him coming up the stairs. He was still on his phone, talking to one of his employees about the projects being worked on (or lack thereof), as he had been for the last hour.

Maybe she should get her dad to send some business John’s way? Stacy tilted her head thoughtfully. That might get her off the hook for sex for a couple of days. She glanced down at the romance novel in her lap. She’d been trying to get herself revved, to no avail. She just wasn’t in the mood tonight.

It was probably just because she was tired.

Stacy sighed, and tucked her book underneath her pillow right before John walked into the room. He smiled at her a nodded absently, as he headed for his adjoining bathroom. She frowned slightly when he was out of her line of sight. She hoped he didn’t try foreplay again tonight, like he had the past couple of days. She actually was pretty tired.

“Darling, could you get the light for me?” John called from the bathroom. Stacy reached over and switch off the lamp without answering.

She heard the bathroom door open and close and felt herself stiffen. Her frown deepened. She felt almost something like a sense of foreboding, as the mattress shifted under John’s weight. But that couldn’t be right. She loved John, and it isn’t normal for someone to dread having sex with someone they loved.

At least, she hoped not.

She felt his hand slide around her ankle, and start moving up to her hip, and groaned. He was trying the foreplay again…damn it.

“You like that, don’t you?” John murmured into her ear. He sounded as though he was grinning.

Stacy was glad for the dark, so he wouldn’t see her roll her eyes. “Yes, baby, just like that.” She whispered back.

God, she wished she’d just skipped coming over tonight. There were so many things she’d rather be doing. She could be working on designs, or watching a movie. She could have gone over to Mark’s, and…



Suddenly, and without any conscious decision of her own, she was imagining in vivid detail that it was Mark’s hands on her now, instead of John’s.

Mark’s hands were strong, callused…rough. But he would be so gentle with her.

Maybe not all gentle. Maybe sometimes he’d forget his own strength and-

“Oh god…” Stacy heard herself whimper quietly. His hands had reached her panties and were tugging them down, off of her legs.

Her fingers curled into the sheets as he started kissing his way across her shoulders. His hands were back on her hips a moment later and he was above her, pressing her into the mattress.

So much for foreplay, a small, insignificant voice muttered in her head. Coming from the small, insignificant part of her brain that was aware of what was actually going on.

She let go of the sheet and grabbed his shoulders, wrapping her legs around his waist. She didn’t need any more foreplay. She needed him inside her, now.

They both groaned heavily when he entered her. “God, you’re so wet.” She heard him grunt. “I’ve never felt you this wet.”

She ignored him. That wasn’t the voice she wanted to hear. She tightened her legs and drove herself upward, taking him deeper inside her. He grunted in response, and finally began to move.

Every thrust deeper left her gasping, every time he withdrew she whimpered. She couldn’t bear for him to stop, but she couldn’t handle much more. Every shift of those strong, broad shoulders, every grunt, every thrust left her wanting more. But any more, and she would surely explode.

And then she was there. Her body tensed, her nails digging into his back. White hot bliss tore through her in waves, leaving her shaking from the force of her climax. She drew in a deep breath to cry out-

“Stacy!” John grunted weakly, after one final thrust.

His voice brought her crashing back down to reality, just in time to choke down her scream. John would never forgive her if she cried out another man’s name in bed. John collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily. Stacy pulled her arms and legs from him slowly, relaxing into her pillow, trying to catch her breath.

After a few minutes, John, with what seemed like considerable effort on his part, lifted himself off her and flopped over to his side of the bed. Seconds later, he was snoring.

Stacy stared up at the ceiling, her body still quivering in the aftermath of what had to be the most intense orgasm of her life. And orgasm she had reached by fantasizing about her best friend.

What was wrong with her?

Chapter 14

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 “So?” Leah drawled, as Mark made his way toward her desk. He always stopped to talk to her after work. “What have we observed today?” She asked, mockingly.

Mark shot her a glare. “You’re a heartless cow.” He said, mimicking her tone.

“Moo.” She answered, with a grin. “And if you recall, it’s this heartless cow who’s been telling you from day one of this bullshit to quit.”

“I recall.” Mark sighed. “I should have listened to you.”

“Of course you should have.”

“Why didn’t I listen to you?” Mark groaned dramatically.

“Because you’re a puss. Duh.”

Mark snorted at rolled his eyes. “I never expected him to drag it out this long.” Mark corrected. “And it’s not like he docked my pay.”

Leah nodded seriously. “Yes, you know, most people would be happy about getting paid the same amount to do less.”

“Not me.” Mark said.

“Of course not.” Leah said, sarcastically. “You’re not happy unless you have so much to do you have to skip lunch and schedule your pee breaks.”

Mark frowned. “One time.” he said, and continued to mutter.

“So, are you ready to take my good advice yet?” Leah said, interrupting is barely-audible rant.

Mark shrugged. “I’ll put out my resume, try and get a job somewhere else first.” He paused and smirked at her. “Though I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle working somewhere that doesn’t have you to insult me as I come in to work every day.”

Leah raised an eyebrow. “Well, if that’s all that’s holding you back, you shouldn’t waste any more time. I’ve already posted my resume.”

“What, really?” Mark asked, his eyebrows shooting up. “Why? You know, other than the crappy pay, asshole for a boss, and douche coworkers?”

Leah laughed. “What, are you kidding me? This place is going downhill fast, ever since dickhead jr. took over. I’m not sticking around just to watch it sink, thankyouverymuch. I saw what happened to Leonardo DiCaprio. Screw that bitch, I want a lifeboat.”

Mark laughed, but shook his head. “That may have been a bit premature, then. Apparently Stacy got her dad to send some business this way. That’s what that huge meeting was about earlier.”

Leah paused for a moment and considered, then shrugged. “Then it’s because of the crap pay, asshole boss and douche coworkers.” She said, smirking.

“Myself excluded of course?”

Leah shrugged again, fighting laughter. “Whatever you have to tell yourself.”

Chapter 15

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 Mark straightened, startled, before he realized that the buzzing sound he was hearing was his phone ringing. He’d forgotten he had put it on vibrate.

He stood from where he was putting away his video game system, and grabbed it off of the small table sitting by his couch. He frowned when he saw the caller ID. It was Stacy, except she had only just left. She couldn’t have been gone more than five minutes.

“Hello?” He said, picking up.

“You are never going to freaking believe this.” Stacy said, sounding annoyed. It always amused him to hear her say things like ‘freaking’ and ‘shoot’, when his best friend Andy couldn’t get through a full sentence without insulting someone’s mother.


“My car won’t start!” Stacy cried.

Mark grinned, grabbing his keys and heading for the door. “That’s not so hard to believe, Stace. I thought you were gonna say something crazy. Like, you looked through the window, and a dozen squirrels were having a disco in your backseat, or you opened your trunk and a dragon popped out.”

“Haha.” Stacy said drily. “Very funny. Do you think you could take a look? It’s making a weird noise.”

Mark laughed again. “Stacy, I’m an architect, not a mechanic.”

“Well, yeah, but you’re like a guy. A big burly manly guy! Guys know this stuff!”


“You know what I mean.”

“Stacy, I’m all ‘burly’ because I build houses. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen the inner workings of an internal combustion engine, but it’s a bit more complicated than installing a cabinet!”

Stacy tsked. “Well, shoot.” Mark fought another grin. “What am I going to do then?”

“Relax, Stace, I’ll give you a ride home tonight, and I’ll call a friend of mine tomorrow. He is a mechanic, and he owes me a favor. I’ll have him come take a look.”

Stacy sighed. “Thank you.”

Chapter 16

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 Mark glanced over at Stacy and frowned. “Is my driving bothering you?”

Stacy blinked and shook herself. “What? No.” She turned to stare out of the window.

“Well, then why were you staring at the steering wheel a second ago?”

“I wasn’t staring at the steering wheel.”

“You’re a lousy liar, Stace.” Mark smiled.

Stacy turned back to glare at him. “Then you’ll be able to tell I’m not lying.” She said stubbornly.

Mark glanced over at her again, and raised an eyebrow. “So what were you staring at, then?”

Stacy looked away, but Mark noticed her blushing, anyway. “Nothing.”

Mark laughed. “Like I said, lousy liar.” Stacy didn’t answer. “Come on, Stace, you can tell me.”

Stacy shook her head, still staring out the window. “I was staring off into space, that the steering wheel just happened to be in.” She said defiantly.

“Which is why you’re blushing right now?” Mark started to slow down, they were almost at her house.

“I’m not blushing!” Stacy turned back to him, her voice getting squeaky.

Mark parked the truck, and shook his head. “It hurts my feelings when you lie to me, Stacy.” He said, his voice falsely hurt. “If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to, but I thought that we were close enough…” He trailed off. As he was talking, Mark had looked back at Stacy, trying to twist his expression into something like someone hurt or betrayed. But when he saw her face, her eyes were wide and horrified. He was confused, but was about to apologize, explain that he had only been picking on her, when he realized that she wasn’t looking at him.

“Mark,” her voice was very quiet, and slightly choked. “My front door is open…”

Mark’s head swiveled around to stare in the same direction she was.

The front door was open as far as it could go, the doorway was completely black. On the sidewalk leading up to it, he could see something that looked like a long black cord, and what looked like shattered glass. The house itself was dark and he couldn’t see any movement. Except for the door, the cord and the glass on the walkway, he couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Mark pulled out his phone and dialed 911 immediately. He turned to Stacy as he did so and said, “Stay in the car.” in as calm a tone as he could manage. She nodded wordlessly.

As the operator picked up, he reached behind his seat and grabbed his sledgehammer, just in case.

Chapter 17

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 The inside of Stacy’s house was utterly devastated. As far as she could tell, the only things that were taken were her computer, her laptop, and her dvd player. Her tv was still mounted to the wall.

But it was hard for her to be sure, because everything was such a chaotic mess. Her coffee table was upended, her couch was actually shredded, and all of her decorations were knocked to the ground.

Every other room was just as bad. Her kitchen, her bathroom, her bedroom. Everything was torn up and tossed around. But as far as she could tell, nothing else was taken.

After the police left, Mark found her in her bedroom, staring at the clothes strewn across her floor.

“You ok, Stace?”

She looked up at him, unsure of what she would say. When she met his eyes, his face tensed, and he frowned. He walked over to sit beside her, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Everything’s going to be alright.” He said quietly.

And without meaning to, she started to cry. She hadn’t cried once since she’d seen her open front door, but now she buried her head in his shoulder, and started to sob.

“I don’t understand.” She choked out. “They hardly even took anything.”

Mark seemed to get even more tense beside her. “They may have gotten interrupted.” He said, his voice calm. “Or they might have thought there was something more valuable.”

“I don’t understand.” Stacy hiccupped, as she started to calm down. She felt very safe, with Marks arm around her like this. But she wished he would hold her closer.

Mark shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Listen, I don’t think you should be alone here tonight. Did you want me to take you to your parents’?”

Stacy cringed. “Please don’t.” She groaned. “The last thing I want is to go crawling back to daddy again, and he would adore a chance to scold me about living on my own.” she lowered her voice to mimic her father. “‘Really, Stacy, I don’t see why you wanted to live in that run down old house in the first place. We have plenty of room, and it’s not like you can’t run your little business from here.'” She switched to her mother’s voice. “‘I told you that neighborhood wasn’t safe, didn’t I tell you?'”

Mark laughed. “Well, what about your sister? Or I could take you to John’s.” he started to frown as he finished his sentence.

Stacy shook her head violently. “Alice would just tell my parents first thing, and John’s probably in bed. I just…” She looked up at him her eyebrows furrowed. “Can I just stay over at your place tonight? My car is already there, after all.”

Mark looked back down at her. “Well, that’s certainly reasonable…” he trailed off, looking like he was lost in thought.

Stacy tilted her head. “But?”

Mark shook himself and grinned. “Nothing. It’s ok.” He glanced at her clothes and smirked. “You might wanna pack a bag, though.”

Stacy glanced around at the wreck of her room, and sighed.

Chapter 18

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 Mark emerged from his bathroom, wearing a pajama set he’d forgotten he’d even owned. Usually he stripped to his boxers (or, if he was really tired, just his jeans) and crashed. But that didn’t feel appropriate with Stacy here.

He groaned when he saw her curled up on the couch. “Stacy, don’t be stupid.” He growled.

“I’m not taking your bed.” she said, her voice muffled by the pillow.

Mark rolled his eyes. “You’re not sleeping on the couch, Stacy.” He said.

“It would appear as though I am, Mark.” she said in a sing-song voice, still muffled.

Mark smirked, reached out, and picked her up. “It would appear as though you’re not, Stacy.” He responded, chuckling.

Stacy gasped when he picked her up, and now she glared at him. “You’re stupid.” she mumbled.

Mark laughed, and set her down on the bed. “Go to sleep Stacy.” He said.

She stuck out her tongue, and he laughed again.

Chapter 19

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 That night Stacy didn’t dream of Mark ravaging her naked body, the way she had for the past several days. That night he was just holding her. It was dark, and she was scared, but he was holding her and keeping her safe. She didn’t feel weak or silly for being scared, or for wanting to be held. She just felt safe.

Chapter 20

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When Stacy woke the next morning, it was gradual. She stretched and breathed in deeply, smiling. Her bed smelled so good, she-

She sat bolt upright. Her bed smelled like Mark. Why did her bed smell like Mark?

Stacy looked around her rapidly, and last night came crashing back. She groaned and fell back. Her bed didn’t smell like Mark, Mark’s bed did.

She waited a few more minutes, her head buried in Mark’s pillow, before crawling out of his bed. Her stomach was starting to growl.

She stumbled the few feet to Mark’s kitchen, and noticed a large white box on the counter, and a note sitting beside it.


Had to go to work, help yourself to anything in the kitchen. Called Josh, my mechanic friend, before I left, he said he’d be down this afternoon to take a look at your car. If he can’t fix it or hasn’t by about 5, I’ll be back and I can take you wherever you need to go.

I don’t have many movies, or cable or anything, but you can get on my computer if you get bored. The password is ‘icosahedron’


ps: realized I don’t really have anything in the kitchen, so I picked up some doughnuts. You still like the chocolate sprinkle things, right?

pps: eat the damn doughnuts, don’t give me any of that ‘diet’ crap.

Stacy laughed. Inside the box were a dozen doughnuts, half of them chocolate with sprinkles, and the other half plain. She grabbed one of each and scarfed them, while looking around for his computer. She wasn’t bored yet, but she wanted to look up what the hell a ‘icosahedron’ was.

Chapter 21

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 By the time Mark stopped next to Leah’s desk, the building was mostly deserted. John had let everyone go early, presumably to celebrate. He was extremely optimistic about the executives they had met with today, though Mark honestly had no idea why.

Lea was typing rapidly on her computer. “How did it go?” She asked absently.

Mark scoffed. “According to John, it went perfectly.” He said, rolling his eyes. “Am I holding you up?” He asked, craning his neck to try and see what she was typing.

Lea shook her head. “John left a bit ago, but there are still a few suits upstairs with the execs. I take it from your tone that you don’t think it went great?”

“Eh.” Mark shrugged. “It was just stupid. I heard what they wanted, and then I saw what he was showing them, and it wasn’t even close.”

“Spiced it up?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “Like you wouldn’t believe. Everything they specifically asked for was there, of course, but it was just post-modernized until it was unrecognizable. All of the floors were glass and chrome, and there were these ridiculous elevators-ugh.” Mark shook his head. “It was all ridiculous.”

“Well, I’m glad someone else thinks so.” He heard a woman mutter from behind him. He spun, and saw the two executives standing behind him, Kathy Reynolds and Greg Barrett. Three of the senior architects that had been with them were already walking out the door.

Greg laughed. “I was surprised they didn’t suggest gilding the walls in solid gold.”

“I thought the entire thing was a gaudy mess.” Kathy said, her expression wry. “But it’s not like I’m going to have to work there. Maybe glass paneling and whatnot is what young people are going for.” She shrugged. “Either way, I don’t like the fact that our budget tripled when Smith got his grubby thumb in the pie.”

Greg nodded toward Mark. “I don’t suppose you could convince these blowhards to dial it back a bit?” Kathy’s eyebrows shot up, and she eyed him speculatively.

Mark fought a smile, as Leah roared with laughter behind him. “I doubt it, I’m actually on the lookout for a new job. John doesn’t like me much.”

Kathy sighed. “Well, shit.”

“Well…” Mark paused, uncertain, then shrugged and reached into his bag. “I heard what it was you were looking for, and I put these together,” He pulled out a couple of schematics and spread them on the desk.

They both stepped forward, looking over the drawings. The first was of the outside, the second had several views of the inside.

“Well, would you look at that?” Kathy said, leaning over the desk to peer at his drawings.

Greg chuckled. “Well, if it isn’t what we actually asked for?” He muttered.

“Yeah, but look at what he did with the staircase, here…” Kathy said, pointing.

Mark could feel himself flushing. “Uh, yeah, I just-“

“No, no, no,” She cut him off. “I like it, it’s very practical.”

“I don’t suppose you could handle the project yourself?” Greg asked, turning to face him.

“Oh, um,” Mark stuttered.

Kathy straightened, smiling. “I like this proposal better, what little there is of it. I’ve never been a big fan of chrome. When can you get started?”

Mark jumped, startled. “This isn’t really a one-man job.” He said, his voice a little pitched. “I can put together a complete proposal for you, but you need an actual team to make it happen in the time frame you were asking for.”

Greg frowned, but Kathy persisted. “So put together a team.” She said simply. “Or find one that’ll work with you, I don’t care.”

“Uh, what? Me?” Mark asked, eyes widening.

“Do you think you can do it?”

Mark blinked. “Yeah.” He squeaked, and cleared his throat. “Yeah, I can do that.” He finished in a normal tone.

The woman grinned. “Good, let’s see how much of your proposal you can have done for us by tomorrow morning. We’ll meet over breakfast.” She patted him on the shoulder and started toward the door.

The man nodded toward him, grinning. “If we like what we see, we’ll see about giving you control of the other three buildings we need.” He said, and followed the woman out the door.

Chapter 22

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 Stacy stepped into John’s house, struggling with the key he had given her. She had never used it before, so she was having trouble getting it in and out of the lock.

The key finally came loose, and she stepped the rest of the way into the house, closing the door behind her. She dropped her purse by the door and turned, meaning to head toward the kitchen for a drink, but froze when she heard movement. For a second she was confused; it was too early for John to be home yet, and his maid only came on Tuesdays. Maybe it was the far-too-recent experience of being robbed herself, but she was suddenly shaking with adrenalin.

A second later she heard a loud thump, and a very girlish voice say, “Damn,” and she fell right back into confusion.

Stacy started to make her way toward the kitchen, where the noises were coming from. When she turned the corner, the sight that greeted her didn’t help her confusion any. But somewhere deep in her stomach clenched, and she started to feel a faint hint of dread. Her hand started to clench around the key she realized she was still carrying.

The girl standing in the kitchen was dressed in a lacy black bra, a garter belt hooked to two thigh-high stockings, and nothing else. She was leaning over into the fridge, trading out a can of beer that she had dropped for a new one. When the girl turned and saw her, she jumped, and dropped the new can.

Stacy lunged forward and caught it before it hit the floor. She stood quickly, trying not to look at the girl’s extremely bare pubic area. Stacy could never do the full Brazilian, it made her feel like a twelve-year-old.

The girl giggled as Stacy handed her the can. “Thanks, sweetie! I’m such a klutz today.” She tucked that can into her arms, along with two others she was already holding. “Are you here for Mr. Evans, too? You’d think two would be enough for him!” She turned and started to head up the stairs.

“Two?” Stacy asked, following her.

“Yeah, Jasmine’s still up there with him, I just came down to get drinks.” The girl reached the landing and spun. “Oh, did you want one? He’s got all kinds of drinks.” She said, grinning.

Stacy stared at the girl. The dread was intensifying, but she suddenly felt very affectionate toward her. “Are you a prostitute?” She asked quietly.

The girl’s cheerful expression immediately dropped into one of horror. “Oh, god.” She squeaked. “Are you his wife?”

Stacy quickly stepped up to the landing to bring herself even with the girl. “I’m not looking for trouble,” The girl squeaked, panicking. “Evans, he pays cash up front, an’ he’s so easy,”

Stacy put a hand on the girl shoulder. “Calm down. I’m not his wife.” The girl quieted down, but didn’t look any calmer.

She brushed past the girl and walked over to the door leading to John’s room. She could hear thumping, and ridiculously exaggerated moans coming from who she assumed to be Jasmine.

The dread still lingered, but suddenly Stacy had to choke down a laugh. Is that what he expected her to sound like during sex?

She pushed the door open. For a second, before the door was fully open, the image of Derrick and his mistress flashed through her mind. She had had no warning when she walked in on them, and the shock had left her reeling.

But despite the fair warning this time, the sight of John and Jasmine was so much worse. Partly because Derrick and his mistress were under the covers when she had found them; partly because John had paid these two girls to sleep with him, which seemed like something a lot worse than having a mistress. Maybe because paying a prostitute seemed so much like premeditated adultery.

But mostly because this was the second time she’d been through this. Fool me twice…Stacy thought to herself, feeling a surge of nausea.

Jasmine was bent over the foot of the bed, and John was taking her from behind. She was still moaning ridiculously, and John’s face was twisted up in his ‘imminent orgasm’ face. The idiot was wearing a cowboy hat.

“I hate to interrupt.” Stacy called out. John jumped, and his head snapped to the side to stare at her. Stacy crossed her arms, her fist still clenched around the house key. “But if I wait for you to finish, you’ll fall asleep before I can say anything.”

Behind her she heard a muffled snort. She saw Jasmine bury her face in the mattress.

“Stacy-what-what-what are you-” John stuttered.

Stacy raised her eyebrows. “What am I doing here?” She finished for him. She held out her key. “Forgot about this?” She asked. “I believe you said your door was always open for me. I didn’t realize that would interfere with others coming by appointment.”

“Stacy I can explain,” John choked out. He was looking at her in horror, but he had yet to pull away from Jasmine.

“I’m sure you can.” Stacy said, her voice low. “Fortunately for me, I don’t care.” She held out her hand, and dropped his key on the floor. “You can keep that.” she said with a sneer, and turned to leave, brushing past the other girl quickly. She refused to break down while she was still in his house.

Chapter 23

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 Mark stretched, shaking out his hand. He’d been drawing for an hour and a half straight, ever since he got home. He had promised the two executives a full presentation by the next morning. He sighed, glancing around his empty apartment. Stacy was gone when he got back; apparently the problem with her car had been a very simple fix.

Who knew cars had fuses? she had said in the note she left him. Well, probably anyone with any knowledge of cars at all. Anyway, Josh had it running in just a few minutes, so thanks! I’m gonna go ahead and go to John’s. He gave me a key to his place a few months back, so I’m sure he’d be happy to have me. I don’t want to steal your bed again tonight.

Mark frowned. He’d kind of wanted to tell Stacy his good news, that he might be getting this major job. But at the same time, hadn’t Stacy been trying to get it for John? She might not be too happy with him stealing it out from under her boyfriend.

Mark was torn from his thoughts by a frantic knocking on his door. “Mark?” He heard Stacy call, before he’d even stood up. He bolted toward the door when he heard her; he did not like the tone in her voice.

He opened his door, and groaned. Her eyes were red and her face was blotchy. She’d been crying.

“Stacy, what happened?” he asked desperately, as she threw herself into his arms. His jaw clenched as she started to sob. As bad as his nightmares were, this was a thousand times worse.

He led her toward the couch, keeping her cradled in his arms as he lowered them both to sit. “Stacy, what’s wrong?”

It was a few seconds before she said anything. “What’s wrong with me?” she whispered, her sobs quieting.

Mark’s eyes flashed. “Nothing is wrong with you! You’re perfect!” He winced inwardly as the words left his mouth. “Why on earth would you think anything was wrong with you?” he added quickly, hoping she hadn’t noticed him call her perfect. That wasn’t exactly the most appropriate thing to say to your best friend when she was sobbing into your chest.

“John was cheating on me.” Stacy choked, stifling another sob.

Mark tensed. “John is a prick, and I’ll happily break his neck for you.” He growled.

Stacy giggled, and then sniffed, burying her face deeper between his neck and shoulder. Mark shivered, and then mentally slapped himself. Now was not the time.

“That’s two in a row now, Mark. I have to be doing something wrong.” She mumbled into his collar.

Mark frowned. “The only thing you’re doing wrong is picking horrible fucking boyfriends.” He said. “I hate to have to tell you this, Stace, but you have really crappy taste in men.”

Stacy pulled away slowly, to look up at him. Mark mentally slapped himself again at the longing he felt when she wasn’t pressed against his neck anymore.

“Did you know?” Stacy asked him. Marks stomach clenched.

“Not the way I knew about Derrick.” He whispered. Stacy’s expression started to collapse, and Mark pulled her back into his arms without even thinking. “I didn’t think he was right for you, but I was afraid to tell you.” He said

Mark felt her nod into his shoulder. “I know.” she said, her voice muffled. “I wish you had.”

Mark sighed. “Yeah. Me, too.”

Mark wasn’t sure how long he held her like that, but she started to calm down before long. He kept his arms around her, stroking her back as her breathing evened out. A second later she pulled away again. She didn’t look sad this time – which was a huge relief – just curious.

“Would you be a good choice?” She asked, her voice very soft.

Mark’s eyebrows drew together. “Good choice of what?”

“Boyfriend.” Stacy said simply.

Mark’s heart jumped to his throat. “Well, I’d certainly be better than John.” he said, trying to sound sarcastic, or at least nonchalant. “A thousand times better than Derrick…”

Mark had no idea what exactly was going through her mind, but at that moment Stacy pulled herself up to kiss him, gently.

The feeling of her lips on his shot through him like a drug, but despite his nearly reflexive initial impulse to grab her and kiss back as passionately as he could, he flinched away. He stared at her for a second, and she stared back, her eyes wide and almost fearful.

“Stacy, you just found your boyfriend cheating on you, maybe this isn’t the best-“

And instantly, the fearful look evaporated. Stacy rolled her eyes and groaned, before grabbing his face and pulling herself closer. She was nearly in his lap. “For the love of god, Mark,” she growled. “Will you stop being so damned noble for two seconds, and kiss me?” And without waiting for him to answer, she pressed her lips against his yet again, not being nearly so gentle this time.

Any argument Mark had went out the window, along with any other thought in his head. He kissed her back mindlessly, pressing one hand firmly into the small of her back as his other hand cradled her neck. When her tongue snaked out a second later to slide across his lips, he groaned. His mouth opened instantly, deepening their kiss.

She was straddling him a second after that, and her hands were sliding from his ribcage to his shoulders. From there she moved them back down and around, to press against his back. It was as if she couldn’t decide where she wanted to put her hands, as if she wanted them everywhere.

Every time she moved her hands, every time she shifted against him, it felt like fire rippling underneath his skin. He groaned softly, moving his hands against her in response. One reached up to grip one of her shoulders, his arm crossing her back and pressing her harder against him. The other trailed down to grip her hip.

Stacy whimpered and writhed against him, reaching one arm up to wrap around his head, tangling her fingers in his hair. The other she wedged between them to unbutton his shirt; he was still wearing the white button down shirt and slacks he wore to work.

Stacy struggled with the buttons for a minute, but he was pressing her too tightly against him. Finally, fed up, she pushed away from him and gripped either side of his shirt, tearing it open. Mark didn’t have time to be shocked. As soon as the shirt was out of the way, Stacy dipped her head down and start to kiss her way across his chest. He was gasping by the time she reached his nipple, and he choked when she licked and then bit down on it gently.

He grabbed her shoulders and tugged her back up to his lips, kissing her passionately. She hooked one arm around his neck, and moved her free hand down to drag across his stomach, making him shudder.

Stacy brought the arm around his neck up to thread her fingers through his hair again, tilting her head to kiss him deeper. The next moment she ground her hips sharply against his.

Mark groaned loudly and bucked without thinking, Stacy cried out in response.

Mark pulled her away gently, and Stacy whimpered. They were both breathing hard. “Stacy,” he said breathlessly, trying to get her attention. He looked at her, and shivered. Her dark hair was tousled, her eyes were lidded and her face was flushed. He closed his eyes. If he looked at her a second longer, he wouldn’t be able to control himself.

“Mark?” she purred breathlessly, and his resolve started to fracture.

He took a deep breath and opened his eyes to meet hers. “What do you want me to do?” He asked her, his voice husky.

Stacy stared back at him for a minute, and brought her hands back to cradle his head again, gently. “Make love to me, Mark.” She answered, her voice even, if breathless.

Mark didn’t wait for anything else. He pulled her back, kissing her deeply as he shrugged out of his shirt. As soon as it slid off, he reached up to wrap his arms around her, and stood.

When he was upright, her legs swung around to wrap tightly around his waist. She had both arms around his neck, and she kissed him desperately as he moved toward his bed.

He kissed her back just as desperately until his knees hit the side of his bed. He lowered them both down as carefully as he could, and groaned as his weight pressed him firmly against her. He relished the sensation of having her beneath him, shoving away the stupid, noble part of his brain that kept telling him this was wrong.

“Off,” he heard her whimper, before she arched sharply. His hands moved up her back, dragging her shirt with them, and she helped him pull it over her head before she tossed it across the room. He felt her legs twitch against his back, and realized that she was kicking off her shoes.

He dipped his head down to kiss her collarbone, as his hands settled against the clasp of her bra. He felt her nails dig into his shoulders when he got the clasp undone, and she didn’t wait around for him to take it the rest of the way off. She shrugged out of it rapidly, and tossed it off in the same direction as her shirt. When it was gone, she pulled herself up and kissed him frantically.

Mark groaned deeply at the feeling of her breasts pressed against his chest. She was so soft and warm, it was delicious. He pulled back just enough to bring his hand up to cup her breast, his fingers curling around to pinch her nipple. She let out a squeal, muffled by his kiss, and bit down on his lower lip. Mark chuckled and pulled away to kiss his way to her free breast, sucking her bare skin gently. Stacy groaned and bucked underneath him.

“Off,” she whispered again, her voice husky. “Off, off, off,” she repeated in increasing urgency, tugging hard at the waist of his pants.

Mark pulled himself back up and kissed her passionately, before rearing up on his knees to fumble with the button to his slacks. He made the mistake of glancing up at her, and gasped, almost choking. She was bare from the waist up, flushed and breathless. She was watching him intently as he rushed to remove his pants and underwear. It wasn’t until they were all the way off that she seemed to remember that she was still wearing jeans.

She grunted and lifted her hips, reaching down to rip them off. The button wasn’t even fully undone before she tried to shove them down her legs. Mark grabbed her hands to stop her. “Let me.” He said, his voice deep with passion.

He could see her shudder in response, and her hands dropped as her head fell back and she moaned deeply.

He reached over and slowly tugged the button loose, sliding the zipper down in the same movement. He pressed his hands against the skin above the waist of her jeans and slowly started to slide them down, dragging the fabric down ahead of him as he caressed her skin. She writhed beneath him.

Her pants fell to the floor at the foot of his bed, and her panties followed soon after, already drenched with her arousal.

Mark moved to kneel between her legs, dropped to his forearms and kissed her gently. Stacy brought her legs up to wrap around his waist again, and he felt the tip of his member brush against her slick folds. He shuddered and deepened their kiss, then thrust his hips forward, entering her effortlessly.

Immediately, Stacy cried out, and he felt her clench around him. His fingers twisted into the sheets as he tried to keep control over himself. Being inside of her was pure bliss, warm and soft and wet and perfect. But when she came around him, it was infinitely better.

“Don’t stop,” She whimpered, looping her arms around his shoulders. “Please, Mark…please don’t stop…”

A shiver went up his spine at the sound of her voice, and he pulled out slowly before thrusting sharply forward.

“Aah!” She cried. “Oh god, yes!”

He started a rhythm, and Stacy kept pace with him. Every cry of faster, or harder, he met with renewed vigor. Stacy thrashed beneath him, moaning and screaming his name. It was all he could do to keep from exploding.

“More,” she demanded. “Oh god, Mark, more!” she cried, digging her nails into his back.

Mark complied, thrusting faster still, groaning helplessly.

“Oh, yes…yes…oh, Mark, yes…” She moaned directly into his ear. “Oh god, Mark, I love you.” She whimpered.

Mark froze, but it didn’t matter. He felt her arch severely as she screamed out his name in ecstasy. He felt her tighten around him yet again and groaned, finally finding his release.

Chapter 24

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Mark was standing in a wooded area, watching an effeminate blonde man working on a house as he sang a frantic show tune.

Mark was dreaming.

“People don’t do things like that anymore.” He heard Stacy mutter beside him. He turned and was slightly surprised to see her as an adult. Usually when he had these types of dreams, she was fifteen.

“Do things like what?” He asked, conversationally. He knew what she would say.

Stacy shot him a look. “He’s building her a house. Can you think of anyone nowadays who would build someone a house just because they love them?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “He’s not building her a house, he’s expanding his own. And without indoor plumbing or electricity, it wasn’t as hard to build a house back then.”

“He planed the wood himself!” She cried indignantly.

“Besides,” he continued, ignoring her. “He’s not doing it because he loves her, he’s doing it to bribe her into marrying him.”

Stacy scoffed. “Because he loves her.” She insisted.

Mark laughed. “So, what? Whoever you marry has to build you a house first?”

Stacy rolled her eyes. “No. I’m not stupid.” Mark snorted, and she punched him in the shoulder. “No one builds people houses anymore. Not all on their own. They hire contractors and stuff, and the romance gets kind of lost in the process.” She sighed, watching Johnny Brown hammer a nail into a rafter on the roof that had absolutely no need for it. “Some kind of gesture might be nice, though.” She said. “Something to prove he loved me enough to go to that kind of trouble…”

Mark smirked. “Given your track record with men, I’d start demanding a house.”

Stacy smacked him.

Chapter 25

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 Mark woke slowly, feeling rested and content. He glanced over at his alarm clock: 5:49 am. It wouldn’t even go off for another ten minutes.

He glanced down, smiling at Stacy. She was on her stomach, her head on his shoulder, one arm draped across his chest, and a leg hooked around his. She was still naked, but tangled up in his sheet. It was riding high on the leg tucked around his, and he had to pinch himself to keep from running his hand from her knee to her hip, as he was so inclined to do.

He frowned when he realized he was wearing pajama pants. Where did those come from?

It came to him a second later. He’d gotten up when Stacy had fallen asleep, to finish his presentation for today. He glanced over at his drafting table, where his completed drawings were neatly rolled up.

He reached over carefully and turned his alarm off, not wanting it to wake Stacy. Then he started to slowly ease himself out from underneath her.

He hadn’t moved more than an inch before her grip on him tightened. She mumbled something, and rubbed her face against his shoulder. Mark was torn between wanting to coo at how cute she was, and wanting to flip her over and take her like a wild animal.

“Stacy, I have to go get ready,” he whispered, sliding her arm up to wrap around the pillow. He didn’t even know if she heard him.

She continued to mumble in her sleep as he pulled himself free, and when he stood and turned to look at her, she was curling herself around his pillow.

When Mark walked out of the bathroom after his shower a little while later, she was awake. She was still curled around his pillow, but her eyes were wide and alert.

“Where’d you go?” She asked him quietly. Her voice was deep and raspy from the screaming she done the night before, and it made him shiver pleasantly.

Mark smiled at her. “I had to go get ready.” He said, sliding into a fresh button-down shirt.

Stacy lifted her head and propped it her hand. “Get ready for what?”

Mark smirked at her as he buttoned his shirt. “I need to go convince those two business people your dad sent to ‘Smith and Evans’ that I’m a better architect than John is.”

Stacy snorted. “That won’t be hard.” She growled.

Mark laughed. “Then it shouldn’t take long.” he said reasonably. He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned over to kiss her gently. She kissed back, pressing her hands against his chest before sliding them up to wrap around his neck.

“Can’t you reschedule?” she asked when she finally pulled away, a note of pleading to her voice.

Mark shook his head, a little reluctantly. “I’ll be back before you know it.” He whispered. “Go back to sleep, there’s no reason for you to be up this early.”

Stacy pouted, but curled back up against his pillow. “I sleep better when you’re here.” she murmured.

“If I were to stay, you wouldn’t be getting any sleep, anyway.” Mark said, standing up.

Stacy raised an eyebrow. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Chapter 26

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 Mark breezed into the Smith and Evans building at a quarter past nine, to see John looming over Leah’s desk, glowering at her. Mark raised an eyebrow, but continued forward.

When he was within a few steps, John looked up and glared when he caught sight of him. “Well, it’s about damn time, you idiot, you’re la-“

Mark didn’t give him a chance to finish. When he was close enough, he pulled his fist back and snapped it forward, connecting with John’s jaw with as much strength as he could put behind it.

John reeled back a few steps, stumbling against Leah’s desk. “Wha-wha-wha-” he stuttered, cradling his face in his hand.

Mark stepped closer, his face menacing. “That was for cheating on Stacy.” He said, pointing at him.

John seemed to get his bearings. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he shrieked. “This is assault!” He glanced over at Leah, who shrugged.

“I didn’t see anything.” She said, raising an eyebrow. “Your ego must have been blocking my view.”

Mark started to advance again, his fist clenched, and John squeaked and jumped back. “Look, I don’t know what the woman is getting so worked up about. They were prostitutes. Everyone knows they don’t count.”

Leah made a strangled noise, and Mark glanced over at her. She was gaping at John. “Did you just fucking say that?” she said.

Mark turned back to John, who was sneering at Leah. “Well, you better hope those prostitutes can give you a bulk discount, because you won’t be getting any from Stacy again.”

John rolled his eyes, still sneering. “Fine. Like I give a shit. She wasn’t any good in bed to begin with, and her dad already got me the business I need.”

Mark nodded. “That huge deal you were negotiating yesterday, right? A massive conglomerate that needs multiple complexes? Stands to make you millions, I heard.” he raised an eyebrow. “I bet you’re wondering why they haven’t shown up here yet.” John didn’t respond, but eyed him distastefully. Mark leaned forward, smirking. “It’s probably because I met with them this morning, and they decided to go with my plans over yours.”

Watching John Evan’s face melt from a pompous sneer to utter horror had to be one of the most entertaining moments in Mark’s life. He spun on his heel and started walking out of the building.

“Oh, and in case the right hook was too subtle,” he called over his shoulder, “I quit.”

Chapter 27

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 “You know, Mark, I’ve never had sex in a car. Or with a blindfold. I’m feeling an urge to try both right now.”

“Stacy, you have a one track mind.” Mark growled, sounding amused.

Stacy slumped down in her seat, pouting. “I’ve had this blindfold on for, like, fifteen minutes, and there has been absolutely no mention of kinky sex. I take issue with this.”

Mark laughed. “Would you just be patient? I told you I had a surprise for you.”

Stacy rolled her eyes, though the effect was lost with the blindfold. “I know. I was hoping the surprise has something to do with your penis. Except it’s been fifteen minutes, and there has been no penis.”

Mark laughed out loud, letting his truck slow to a stop. “We’re here.” He chuckled.

Mark helped her out of the truck and led her a few steps forward, turning her to face him. “Ok,” he said quietly, and Stacy knew that everything suddenly got serious. “You can take it off now.”

Stacy reached up and untied the blindfold, blinking rapidly in the sudden bright sunlight. She was standing in a clearing, surrounded by enormous trees. Directly in front of her was a small, two story house. It had a dark, wooden porch the wrapped around from the front of the house to the side. The house itself was done all in uneven stones, except for the windows and doors, which were made with the same color wood as the porch.

Stacy’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, and she looked up at Mark, who was watching her.

“A long time ago,” he started, before she could even ask. “You told me that you wished there was someone who would build someone else a house just to prove they loved them enough to do it.” He nodded his head slightly toward the house. “I built this.” He said, his voice getting quieter. His face started to flush, but his voice was even when he finished, “It’s for you.”

Stacy’s jaw dropped, and she looked from him to the house and back in rapid succession.

She saw him swallow thickly. “I…I didn’t plane the wood myself, or anything, but Johnny Brown never had to worry about indoor plumbing, so I figure we’re even-“

“You built me a house?” Stacy squeaked, cutting him off.

Mark’s face was bright red by now, but he nodded. “I mean, I’d started it before I saw you again earlier this year.” He said, and shook his head. “But even then, I knew it was for you that I was-“

Stacy cut him off again, throwing herself into his arms and crushing her lips against his. “I can’t believe you built me a house.” she said breathlessly, before crushing her lips against his yet again.

“I wanted you to always be sure about how I felt.” Mark said, when she gave him a moment to breathe.

Stacy laughed, though to be honest, she was fighting tears. It hadn’t even crossed her mind that Mark would ever have to prove anything to her. She already knew, she’d always known. If she hadn’t been so sure that he loved her and would always be there for her, she wouldn’t have leapt in the sack with him the day before.

Well, not as easily, anyway.


Who was she kidding, she’d have leapt in the sack with him as long as he let her. The man could have been married with children and she’d have attacked him like a rabid squirrel.

Mark’s hand curled around her cheek and tilted her face up. She watched his face crease with concern when he saw her eyes brimming with tears. “Is it too much?” he asked, looking sheepish. “I figured you’d want somewhere else to live, anyway, with the robbery and everything-“

Stacy laughed, grabbing his face and kissing him. “I love it, Mark.” She said. “And I love you for building it. It’s incredible.”

She kissed him one more time, and when she pulled away she was grinning. “Are you going to break into song?” she asked, playfully.

Mark frowned. “No.”

“Oh, come on.”

“No, Stacy.”

“Just hum a few bars while we christen the bedroom.”



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