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“Gwendolyn, how many times do I have to tell you, do not procrastinate.”

“Your Dad’s right, honey, whenever you procrastinate you get all stressy and in a bad mood,” Meredith put in.

“Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today,” Dad went on as if Meredith didn’t speak.

“Then you eat food you shouldn’t eat and go out and buy clothes you shouldn’t buy and get even more grumpy,” Meredith continued like Dad didn’t speak.

“Peace of mind, that’s what good time management skills bring you, peace of mind,” Dad carried on.

“And you wouldn’t have to take on so many clients if you didn’t have to pay off your credit cards,” Meredith kept going.

“I’m always telling you, you need to learn focus,” Dad persisted.

“And I’m always telling you, accessorize. Accessories are the key. You just need to spend your hard earned money on a few, fabulous core pieces in your wardrobe and you can make an entirely new outfit by just switching out a scarf!” Meredith declared then finished. “And scarves cost way less than owning ten little black dresses.”

“I own thirteen little black dresses,” I amended because, seriously, it was important to keep track.

“See!” Meredith cried.

It occurred to me then that Hawk was watching me, a thirty-three year old woman who had been taking care of herself for over a decade, get lectured like I was a teenager about the same time a buzzer went off in the kitchen.

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“Bread’s done!” Meredith exclaimed.

“Soup’s up,” Dad added on a smile aimed in Hawk’s direction. “You can thank me later, son, for the joy you are about to experience.”

“Everyone to the table,” Meredith ordered, hurrying toward the kitchen.

“I need to talk to Hawk,” I announced.

“Later, honey, Mer’s garlic bread waits for no man… or woman,” Dad grinned at me and moved toward the table.

My head turned toward Hawk to see him moving my way. Robbed of my opportunity to lay into him and maybe explain we were over in sign language or go into a trance and speak in tongues or possibly tap out my message in Morse Code, hoping one or the other would penetrate his macho man anti-communication fortress, I decided to communicate my extreme unhappiness by glaring.

Hawk ignored my glare and I knew he was doing this when he got close, hooked me around the neck, yanked me to his side and propelled me to the table, head bent to my ear where he murmured, “See you’re stressy and in a bad mood.”

He lifted his head and I twisted my neck to look up at him and see he was grinning.

“Just curious, but do you know how much contract killers cost and, incidentally, would you have a recommendation?”

We had made it to the table when I uttered my comment and Hawk stopped us, turned me full frontal into his arms, threw his head back and burst out laughing.

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I stared, completely forgetting my snit.

He had a great laugh, it was deep and resonant and I could tell it came straight from the gut.

Then, still laughing, he bent his head and kissed me. No tongue but it was a kiss, a definite kiss, hard and longish and right in front of my Dad while standing at my family’s dinner table.

When his mouth broke from mine and he lifted his head, I blinked then snapped, “You can’t kiss me in my parents’ house in front of my Dad!”

“Just did, Sweet Pea,” Hawk returned.

“Well don’t do it again.” I was still snapping.

“Then don’t be so hilarious,” Hawk shot back. “You make me laugh, babe, I’m warnin’ you now, when I’m done, I’m gonna kiss you.”

“I didn’t mean to be hilarious,” I explained snottily.

“Well, you were.”

“How can I control it if I don’t know when you’re going to find something funny?”

“Guess you better brace, babe, ‘cause, the way you are, it could happen at any time.”

I opened my mouth to retort when I realized we had an audience. My head turned and I saw Dad smiling what I knew by sheer instinct (because I certainly hadn’t seen it before) was a father’s, knowing, contented smile, warm with the knowledge his daughter had hooked Mr. Very, Very Right. I also saw Meredith standing next to Dad wearing hot pads on her hands, carrying a tray of lasagna, sporting her own smile that stated plainly she’d married Mr. Very, Very Right and she was pleased as punch her beloved stepdaughter had followed in her footsteps.

Totally… flipping… screwed.

I broke away from Hawk and declared, “I think I’ll take that cosmo now.”

Dad chuckled, moved toward the fridge and stated, “Don’t think so honey, you have to work later.” He kept moving but looked over his shoulder at Hawk. “Another beer?”

Another? Beer?

How long had he been there and since when did muscular, body-like-a-temple hot guys drink beer?

“Yeah,” Hawk replied and I looked up at him.

“You drink beer?”

He looked down at me. “Yeah,” he repeated.

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“Won’t that give you a gut?” I asked.

“Life’s short, babe, you gotta live it every once in awhile and you don’t drink water with homemade lasagna and garlic bread.”

Well, his mother was half-Italian; he would know.

I decided to ignore Hawk so I turned to the kitchen. “I’ll help get the food.”

“Thanks, sweetie,” Meredith mumbled, placing the lasagna on a curly, wrought iron hot plate in the middle of the table.

Dad got me a diet grape, himself and Hawk a fresh beer, replenished Meredith’s red wine and Meredith and I loaded up the table with fresh, hot garlic bread, a huge salad and every bottle of salad dressing known to man. Then everyone passed the food around and loaded up their plates while commenting on how good the food looked and smelled (or at least Dad and I did this, Hawk just loaded up his plate).

I was mentally preparing for the Ginger discussion by shoveling lasagna in my mouth when Meredith asked, “So, how did you two meet?”

I choked on hot lasagna and my eyes flew across the table to Hawk.

Hawk’s dimples popped out.

I frantically chewed in hopes I could speak before Hawk said something that might make my head explode or worse, my parents’ and as I did this Hawk’s brows went up in a clear challenge.

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