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She starts to pace in front on my desk. Like a professor in a lecture hall.

“See, Drew, there are three kinds of males in this world: boys, guys, and men. Boys—like Billy—never grow up, never get serious. They only care about themselves, their music, their cars. Guys—like you—are all about numbers and variety. Like an assembly line, it’s just one one-night stand after another. Then there are men—like Matthew. They’re not perfect, but they appreciate women for more than their flexibility and mouth suction.”

She’s not wrong. You should listen to her.

The only part she doesn’t get, though, is that sometimes a guy can’t become a man until he’s met the right woman.

“You can’t make that call. You barely know me.”

“Oh, I know you. Believe me. I was conceived by a guy just like you.”

Crap. Daddy issues. They’re the worst.

“Kate and I look out for each other,” she goes on. “We always have. And I’m not going to let her be another notch on your STD-coated bedpost.”

You ever bang your head against a wall?

No?

Watch closely. This is what it looks like.

“She’s not. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! What f**king language would you like to hear it in?”

“I don’t know. Do you speak anything besides Asshole?”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. I feel an aneurism coming on.

“Okay, look—you don’t trust me? Fine. Talk to Matthew. You trust him, right? He wouldn’t want me screwing around with his girlfriend’s best friend if I wasn’t playing for keeps.”

She waves her hand in the air. “That doesn’t prove anything. Penises stick together.”

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

I scrub my hand down my face. Then I take a deep, calming breath. Time to lay it on the line. Put my cards on the table. Throw the Hail Mary pass.

I walk to the window, gathering my thoughts as I watch the traffic far below. I’m still looking at it as I tell her, “You know what I saw yesterday when I was coming to work? I saw a pregnant woman, getting a cab…”

I used to think pregnant women were kind of grotesque. Deformed. You should have seen Alexandra. When she was knocked up with Mackenzie, she looked like she’d eaten Humpty Dumpty for breakfast. And the way she was chowing down at the time, she totally could have.

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“…and all I could think about was how adorable Kate would look pregnant. And about how I wanted to do things for her. Like…if she gets sick, I want to be the guy making her tea and bringing her tissues. I want to know how she got that small scar on her chin and if she’s afraid of spiders…and what she dreams about at night. Everything. It’s f**king insane—don’t think I don’t know that. It’s never happened to me before. And I don’t want it to ever happen again—with anybody else. Just Kate.”

I turn my head from the window and look her in the eyes.

If you’re ever in the woods and come face to face with a pissed-off momma bear, it’s always better to look her in the eyes. Run away? She’ll feed you to the cubs. One arm at a time. But if you stand your ground, you just might make it out alive.

“You want to hear that Kate has me whipped? ’Cause she does. She’s got me on my knees and under her thumb, and I don’t want to get out.”

We’re both quiet after that. Delores just stares at me. For a while. Searching my face for…something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know the moment she finds it. Because something shifts in her eyes. They become softer. Just a little. And her shoulders relax. And then she nods.

“Okay, then.”

Some battles don’t have a winner. Sometimes the best a good general can hope for is a ceasefire.

“Kate makes her own choices,” she says. “And if those choices turn out to be rotten, then I’ll help her clean up the mess. Because that’s what best friends do—help bury the body.”

She stands up. Walks a few steps to the door. Then she stops, and spins around with her finger pointing in my direction.

“You just remember one thing, buddy. I don’t care if it’s ten days down the road or ten years, I’ll be watching you. And if I ever find out that you’ve f**ked her over? I’ll make you sorry. And I work in a lab, Drew. With chemicals. Odorless, tasteless chemicals that can permanently shrink your nuts so small, you’ll have to start calling yourself Drewsilla. Are we clear?”

Matthew is out of his f**king mind. Delores Warren is scary. Definite psycho-bitch potential. She and Alexandra should totally hang out.

And she’s put way too much thought into that little plan for my liking.

I swallow hard. “Crystal.”

She nods again. “Glad we understand each other.”

And with that, she breezes out of my office. And I collapse back into my chair and stare at the ceiling.

Christ.

This relationship shit is exhausting. I feel like I just ran a marathon. With hurdles.

But you know what? I’m pretty sure the finish line’s in sight.

Chapter 24

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AFTER DELORES LEAVES, I pick up my briefcase and head out the door. To my meeting with the skywriter. I still have to figure out how to get Kate on the roof. Speaking of Kate…

Want to swing by her office on the way out? See how her and the good Sister are getting along?

Her door’s open. I brace my hands on the frame and lean in. Can you see her through the balloons? Sitting at her desk, with her hands folded on top—a smile stuck on her face as she nods obediently to whatever Sister Beatrice is saying.

“Ladies. How are we doing this afternoon?”

Kate turns to me. And her voice is strained. “Drew. There you are. I was just thinking about you”—from the way she’s gripping her hands together, it looks like she was thinking about strangling me—“while Sister Beatrice here was telling me the fascinating tale of glass houses. And how those of us who live in them shouldn’t throw stones.”

She’s still smiling. But her eyes say something else entirely.

It’s a little creepy.

You know in Texas Chainsaw Massacre when the old man smiles just before he slits the girl’s throat? Yeah—it’s kind of like that.

Sister Beatrice looks at the ceiling. “We are all imperfect in the eyes of the Lord. Katherine, may I use yer facilities, dear? Nature is calling.”

“Of course, Sister.” They stand, and Kate opens the door to her adjoining washroom.

And as soon as that door closes, Smiley Kate goes bye-bye. Mad Kate takes her place. She marches toward me.

And the balloons run for their lives.

“I’m going to ask you this one time, and if you lie to me, I swear I’ll let Delores poison you.”

“Okay.”

“Is she a real nun? Or some actress you hired?”

I laugh. I didn’t even think of that. “No, she’s real.”

Kate is not pleased. “God, Drew! A nun? A f**king nun? This is low. Even for you.”

“I think she’s technically a Mother Superior now.”

I lean in closer to Kate because…well, just because I can…and the smell of her lotion hits me. Hard. I resist the urge to put my nose against her skin and sniff like a coc**ne addict.

“Is there any level you won’t sink to to get your way?”

Nope. Sorry. Not a one. I don’t mind getting down and dirty.

Actually, I prefer it that way.

“Desperate times…I had to call out the big guns.”

“You want to see guns? As soon as the Flying Nun leaves my office, I’ll show you guns! I can’t believe—”

God, she’s beautiful. I mean, look at her. She’s like a volcano going off—fierce and fiery and breathtaking. If she doesn’t find a way to ugly herself down, I’m going to be spending an awful lot of time pissing her off.

Which might not be such a bad thing in the end. Angry sex is awesome.

I cut off Kate’s rant. “As titillating as this conversation has been—and believe me, it’s been very—I have a meeting to get to.”

Before I go, I motion toward her bare neck. “Hey, why aren’t you wearing your necklace?”

She folds her arms and smiles proudly. “I donated it to Sister Beatrice. For the less fortunate.”

Played that one well, didn’t she?

I can play too.

“That’s very generous. Of course, I’ll have to replace it for you. With something…bigger. You should expect another delivery tomorrow.”

Her smile turns upside down. And she smacks a rogue balloon out of the way.

Then she slams the door in my face.

I wait two seconds before calling through it, “Okay. I’ll see you later, Kate. Good talk.”

From inside, I hear Sister Beatrice’s voice: “Did Andrew leave already? Such a sweet boy he is. And devoted too, when he sets his heart to a task. Let me tell you about the time he weeded the convent’s garden. It’s a long story, but we ’ave all afternoon. There was a scuffle in the lunch room, you see…”

Traffic was a bitch and a half. Both ways. But I worked out the particulars with the skywriter. He was suiting up when I left. I now have just enough time to get to Kate’s office and get her to the roof. If she won’t come willingly, I’m just going to pick her up and carry her. Although I’d feel a lot better about the idea if I had a cup on.

Kate is definitely a kicker.

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I sprint through the lobby and push the button for the elevator. But what I see when the doors open stops me cold.

It’s The Bitch, with Mackenzie at her side. And in my niece’s perfect little hands are strings. A dozen of them. Strings that are tied to balloons. Kate’s balloons.

“Fuck me.”

“Well, that’s a nice way to greet your doting sister and her daughter.”

Had I said that out loud? Doesn’t matter.

Fuck f**k fuckity fuck.

This is bad—very bad. Like an F-five tornado kind of bad, except my sister is capable of leaving more damage behind.

“Hi, Uncle Drew!”

I smile. “Hi, sweetheart.” Then I scowl. “What the hell did you do, Alexandra?”

Her eyes widen innocently. Like she’s surprised. “Me? I came to meet my husband for lunch. Is that a crime?”

When I was in junior high, a kid named Chris Whittle sucker punched me when I was coming out of trigonometry. I had hooked up with his girlfriend. She had talented hands.

Anyway, the next day, Alexandra paid Chris a little visit—and made him piss his pants.

Literally.

See, according to The Bitch Code, she can f**k with me all she wants to, but no one else is allowed. Now do you see why I’m concerned?

“You went to see Kate, didn’t you?”

Mackenzie answers for her, “We did, Uncle Drew! She’s great. Kate gave me dees balloons and a calculator! See?” She holds it over her head like it’s the Stanley Cup, and I can’t help but smile.

“That’s terrific, Mackenzie.”

Then I glare at Alexandra again.

She’s not concerned. “You said you wanted Mackenzie to meet Kate.”

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