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His dad shrugged.

“What about Janice?” Joe asked. “The nice lady who lives down the street who makes you brownies. She offered to take you to the movies.”

“She’s old.”

“She’s forty-five,” Joe said dryly. “Seven years younger than you, by the way.”

His dad looked up in surprise. And guilt.

Well, shit. “Dad, what did you do?”

Silence.

“Tell me you weren’t . . . yourself with her,” Joe said.

“That’s all I know how to be.”

“What did you say exactly?”

His dad shifted in his chair, his only concession to feeling bad about whatever he’d done. “She wanted me to join some Bunko club. And learn to line dance with her.”

“And?”

His dad stared at him like he’d grown a second head. “Bunko is a stupid chick game and hello, I’m in a chair. I can’t dance.”

“Men play Bunko,” Joe said and hoped that was true. He actually wasn’t sure what Bunko was. “And you’re in a chair that has wheels. Good ones.” He’d seen to it himself. “But I’m begging you—put on pants first. And then, if a woman likes you enough to want to share her life with you, don’t be stupid about it. You share her life.”

“How about I’ll take that advice when you do the same?”

“No problem,” Joe said. “But no one’s asked me to play Bunko or line dance.”

“You know what I mean. You’re just as much a loner as I am.”

“Yeah, well.” Joe blew out a breath. “Maybe it’s time a couple of old dogs learn some new tricks.”

“Like I said, you first.”

Joe’s mind went immediately to Kylie, and he had to admit, he hoped she didn’t play Bunko or line dance.

They ate in contemplative silence, and afterward Joe quickly cleaned up and got his dad through his nighttime routine. Shower, pills, bed.

“What’s the bum rush for?” his dad asked, pulling up his blankets.

“No rush,” Joe said, putting a glass of water on the nightstand.

“Can’t bullshit a bullshitter, son. The other night we watched a whole season of Pretty Little Liars. Tonight, though, your ass is on fire to get out of here, which I suppose means I don’t have to feel bad that I watched the first episode of the next season with Molly.”

“Wow,” Joe said. “Your TV etiquette sucks. And I’m leaving because I have work.” It was true. Sort of. He was meeting Kylie at seven at her place to check out another apprentice. Eric Hansen, who by lucky coincidence was having a showing at a nearby gallery tonight. It’d be a perfect way to get in close. He’d called Kylie earlier to let her know, and predictably, she’d insisted on going.

And that was the thing about Kylie. She wasn’t looking for a hero. Guys like Joe were used to women looking for them to solve all their problems, but Kylie wasn’t like that. She was out there doing the work, trying to solve it herself. And hell if that didn’t draw him in.

As did their explosive chemistry.

It made no sense. She was a huge contrast to the rest of his life. She created beauty with her hands and assumed the best about people. He’d been torn between annoyance over that and something that was just about the opposite of annoyance . . .

“It’s a girl, right?” his dad said. “Christ, tell me it’s a girl. Ted’s son left his wife for some guy that wears eyeliner and nail polish. Don’t know what the fuck this world is coming to.”

Ed had been in his dad’s unit. He was in a long-term care facility and had been since they’d both gotten back to stateside, but they kept in touch via texts. “There’s nothing wrong with Kelly coming out as gay,” Joe said.

“Well, Ed, asked for it, giving his boy a sissy name like Kelly.”

Joe checked the lock on the window just for something to do rather than react to his dad’s words. The doctor had told Joe on numerous occasions that his dad was angry at everyone equally, which meant he was an equal opportunity bigot. Not that this made it any easier to take. “Things are different now, Dad. Gender and orientation are fluid.”

“So you wouldn’t care if I started wearing makeup? Or got a boyfriend?”

“Not in the least,” Joe said. “Mostly because I’m assuming you’d have to get way nicer to catch a man in the first place.”

His dad surprised him by laughing. He was still laughing when he turned over in bed and gave Joe his back.

Joe left and drove through the city to Kylie’s building. He knocked on her door and felt her looking at him through the peephole. He expected her to still be pissed at how he’d left her after Gib had showed up, so he was surprised when she spoke first.

“You over yourself?” she asked through the door.

He lifted a shoulder. “Pretty much.”

“Good.” She opened the door and that was that. No passive-aggressive retorts, no pouting, no nothing.

He’d never met a woman like her.

Ever.

He took in her appearance and went brows up. She was wearing a blond wig tonight, huge dark sunglasses, and a trench coat.

“Tell me you’re butt-ass naked beneath that trench coat,” he said. “It’d really turn my day around.”

She crossed her arms. “I’m in costume!”

“I can see that,” he said. “Slutty nurse? Oh please God, be the slutty nurse.”

“Are you serious right now? I’m dressed in disguise so I can go to Eric Hansen’s show and not be recognized.”

Joe couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. And he couldn’t stop either.

She narrowed her eyes at him and he tried to get it together. “Ah, shit,” he said, swiping his eyes. “I needed this after the fubar day I’ve had.”

“I’m not trying to amuse you,” she said in her pissy voice. “I’m going into the gallery as a secret shopper.”

“Kylie,” he said, doing his best not to laugh again. He wasn’t sure she wouldn’t slug him. “I’m going in as a normal person.”

“But you’re not normal.”

“Okay, smartass,” he said. “I just want to look around and if I can talk to Eric.”

“Fine. Then what’s my part?”

“Part?” he asked.

“My motivation. Actors need motivation.”

He looked her over from head to toe and had to shake his head to clear the heat. “Your motivation is going to be keeping me from getting into that coat to see what you’re wearing beneath.”

Her mouth went a little slack, as if maybe she was imaging the ways he might coax her out of that coat. Yeah, he thought. Go there, Kylie. Think about it. Picture it. It just might put them in the same boat.

But as fast as it’d come, her dazed expression cleared. She tightened the coat around her. “Is your mind always in the gutter?”

“Always,” he said, and steered her to his truck. “You might want to remember that.”

Thirty minutes later, they had a new problem. They were stymied by the fact that the showing was a ticketed event, sold out, and no amount of cajoling at the front entrance could get them inside. Joe was prepared to sneak them in through the back, but one look at the fancy-ass party being thrown inside told him they weren’t dressed to sneak in. Plus he hated champagne and fancy froufrou food.

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