we’re just taking a lunch break to give it time to dry so we can apply the second coat.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say. “We have to paint this entire room again? ”

She clenches her jaw, but resettles herself with one breath. “Yes. You’l see why when we come back after lunch.” Her voice is al patience and fortitude.

I possess neither of those traits. “Fine. Whatever. I’ve got to be here for a month. Doesn’t matter if I paint the same damned wal fifty times.”

Her lips set in a line, she huffs a breath and glances at me and away. “Could you put your shirt back on, please?” I have to grin. “Why? Does it bother you that I’m shirtless?”

She rol s her eyes in a big exaggerated gesture, and I struggle not to laugh. “I don’t care if you want to strip naked.

But we have retired people helping out today… and some of them are of the ‘no-hats-indoors’ variety, so I doubt they’d be thril ed to see you at lunch sans shirt. But suit yourself.”

I grab the shirt off the floor and pul it on, fol owing her out of the room. “Strip naked, huh? I don’t know about that, Dori. We just met.” She doesn’t reply, but her ears go pink.



I can’t believe I just invited Reid Alexander to be naked in my presence. As if I didn’t know he wouldn’t take that sort of remark silently.


I was expecting to find him difficult to motivate and just as difficult to teach, but he listened (though he seemed bored out of his mind), and for the most part he fol owed my instructions. I had to let him try it his way first, because apparently he’s a learn-the-hard-way type. (Shocking.) He didn’t trust me about not getting too much paint on the rol er. Or rol ing in arches instead of straight lines on the first pass. Or not rol ing too near the ceiling.

In front of the first wal he painted, there are splotches of paint al over the floor. I had to point out several drippy globs he needed to back up and fix before they dried that way. And of course, he hit the white ceiling in two places and the baseboard in two more, trying to rol al the way to the crease. By the second wal , he’d improved, more so the third, and the last was nearly perfect. I was starting to relax until he took off his shirt.

I’ve managed to remain unaffected by male torsos for eighteen years, but good gol y, I’ve never been confronted with a torso like his. He’s like an ad for cologne or beachwear or gym equipment—al perfect skin stretched over flawlessly-toned muscle. Luckily, his arrogance is such a turnoff that I didn’t have any problem asking him to put his shirt back on.

Like the walk through the house this morning, conversations break off when Reid and I emerge into what wil be the back yard, once we lay sod. Twenty or so people sit on upturned buckets and folding lawn chairs scattered about the concrete patio, paper plates of tamales and tacos on their laps. Some workers wil be here every day—

notably the crew leaders like Roberta. Others vary day to day—col ege students, church groups, garden clubs or employees from area companies that support community service projects by giving them time off to volunteer.

I walk to the water spigot to wash my hands and Reid does the same, and then splashes water over his face and runs his wet hands through his hair as though everyone out here wasn’t watching him do it. Fol owing me to the card table where the food is laid out, he acts as though there’s nothing odd about a Hol ywood celebrity being handed a paper plate and pointed to the plastic utensils and the cooler holding bottled water.

I sit on a step, balancing my plate on my knees, and he sits next to me. Everyone is stil staring, though whispered conversations are resuming.

“So why are you here?” he asks. “I’m guessing you haven’t been arrested for drunken driving or gotten caught with a joint in your gym locker.”

“ Um , no,” I say, once I’ve finished chewing. “I’m a regular.”

He peers at me, and I can’t decide if he’s puzzled or amused. “So you do this al the time. Hmm.”


While he’s studying the other volunteers, appraising each one without any alteration in expression, I’m gazing at his profile, waiting for him to continue. He has the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen on a guy, and his now-damp hair, darker blond when wet, curls at the ends over his ear and at the nape, grazing the neck of his paint-smeared t-shirt.

“Nothing.” He shrugs. “I just wonder what else you have time to do, if you’re doing this al the time,” he adds, biting off half a taco. People like him never understand people like me. It’s like we come from different species.

“Wel , since I don’t make a habit of getting drunk, smoking pot, clubbing and sleeping with everything that moves, I have plenty of time for other activities.” Ohmygosh. I did not just say that.

He laughs softly, turning to face me as I scowl. His blue eyes are striking, framed by thick, dark lashes. “Let me guess—Monday is book club, Tuesday is family game night… Wednesday is Bible study, and Thursday you meet up with the sewing circle to make quilts for the elderly… Am I close?”

Without answering, I get up to go back inside. This isn’t the first time I’ve been ridiculed for what I am, but for some reason—maybe because it feels so incompatible with where we are—it’s more disheartening.

“Wait,” he says, and for some stupid reason I stop, expecting him to apologize. “When do you have time for the soup kitchen?”

He’s chuckling when I go inside without looking back.

Chapter 5


Wow, that was a dickhead thing to say. For someone so minimal y impressed by celebrity proximity, she’s been cool enough. Right up to that laundry list of corrupt activities in which, truth be told, I do engage. Stil , Jesus. Superior much?

I stand to go inside when conversations taper off and people go back to whatever they were doing before break.

Those stil outside are stealing glances at me as I throw the plate and utensils away, finish the bottle of water and toss it into the recycling container.

“Mr. Alexander,” someone says—that Roberta woman.

“How’s it going so far?”


“Oh, good.” She smiles, oblivious to my sarcastic tone.

“Dorcas is one of our best volunteers. We’re real y proud of her; maybe she’l even teach you some new tricks!”

“Uh-huh,” I answer, smiling at her while my brain processes— Dorcas? Who the hel names a kid Dorcas?

And by the way, lady, the day a little prude named Dorcas teaches me a new trick is the day I’l be finding a nice tal teaches me a new trick is the day I’l be finding a nice tal building to leap off of.

I go back to the room we were painting to find her with earbuds in her ears, an ancient model iPod clipped to her shorts, the wire threaded under her shirt. She’s gathered the equipment she used to paint the ceiling this morning.

Pausing the music without removing the earbuds, she says,

“You know what to do in here; I’m going next door to start on the ceiling, unless you need me here to supervise you.” I bite back half a dozen forward answers. “I think I can handle it.”

She nods shortly.

As she gets to the door, I add, “Oh and Dorcas, I’l need you to sign my sheet for the court before I go.” Her shoulders stiffen, but she continues out of the room, her ears lit like a flare. I clamp my lips together to keep from laughing. Getting on her nerves is just too easy.

By 3:00, I’ve finished the room. Dori shows up at 3:01

with a pen in her hand. As she glances around, checking my work, I pul the form from my back pocket and hand it to her. Except for a couple of blue swipes on the ceiling above the first wal (turns out she was right about not getting too close with the rol er), it looks pretty good. Without commenting, she signs the form— Dorcas Cantrell—and hands it back.

I thank her, thinking she’d love nothing more than to turn around and leave without replying, but she doesn’t risk it after my earlier chiding. “I’l see you tomorrow,” she says.

Her lyrical voice gives me a smal jolt, but she’s already leaving the room.

My driver is waiting at the curb. He starts at the sight of me, sweaty and speckled in blue paint. I’m sure he’s imagining what my clothes wil do to those leather seats, but he says nothing beyond, “Good afternoon, Mr.

Alexander,” as he opens the back door and waits for me to get in.

One day down, nineteen to go.


Dad picks me up a couple of hours after Reid leaves.

Pul ing into traffic, he drums lightly on the steering wheel.

The trek home requires some freeway time, and he’s got the classical station on to de-stress. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins fil s the car. I lean my head back and close my eyes, grateful I don’t have to drive. I hate driving on LA freeways. Mom says it brings out the devil in me. The way people drive on 110, I don’t think I’m alone.

“So, how’d today go?” Dad is so obvious when fishing for information. Just the fact that he waited a few minutes into the drive to ask tel s me he’s working to sound offhand.

What do I say? That Reid is as spoiled and arrogant as I thought, stubborn but teachable, and more beautiful than any guy has a right to be?

“Fine.” I can’t keep the exasperation out of my voice.

“My dear, I’ve seen you wrangle two dozen munchkins into a chorus of little angels.” He pats my knee. “I doubt this wil be more difficult than that.”

“The little angels were scared of me, Dad.” He laughs. “The kids always love you, Dori.”

“Love and fear, Dad—that’s the key to motivation. Love and fear.”

110 is a parking lot during rush hour. We’re barely moving; I could walk faster. Literal y. I crack an eye open.

The windshield view is the back of a semi, and we’re blocked on either side by other, also stationary cars.

“Are you planning on applying that tactic to Mr.


I bristle at my dad cal ing him that. And someone like me wil never inspire either love or fear in someone like Reid. “I can’t imagine how I’d be able to get him to do anything he decides he isn’t going to do.”

He frowns. “Did he refuse to work today?”

Thinking about the shocked look on Reid’s face when I told him the room needed a second coat of paint, I stifle a laugh. “No, he painted one room—with my assistance.” I set up the bathroom to do the tiling tomorrow. Reid seemed capable of painting without guidance by the end of the day, so maybe he won’t need constant monitoring.

“I guess that’s something—if he actual y worked, instead of pul ing a prima donna act.”

Eyes closed, I rol my head back and forth to stretch the kinks out of my neck after spending the day painting ceilings. “I had to sign some sort of court document at the end of the day, verifying he was there and doing actual labor. I guess he’d be in trouble if he didn’t perform the community service.”

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