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Her friends took her to dinner to celebrate her graduation. Then Dan drove her home. As soon as she locked the door behind her, she started thinking about Liam again. He really had forgotten about her, hadn’t he? He couldn’t even be bothered to send her a text or an e-mail. No, she definitely hadn’t seen him at graduation. He was in some far-off country, and the man she saw was simply a figment of her imagination. She went to sleep that night calling upon every happy image she could think of, anything to block images of him.

The following week was grueling, and she was glad of it because she didn’t have time for thoughts of Liam. She didn’t get home before nine or ten every night. Friday finally came, and fortunately there weren’t any after-work emergencies. She arrived home at a decent time, packed her overnight bag, and drove to Jordan and Noah’s house. Her friends were taking her to Nathan’s Bay for the weekend to celebrate her graduation. She’d been there several times with Jordan. She loved her large family and the tiny island. It was magical. And isolated. A bridge arching over a narrow channel was the only way in and out, and the sprawling two-story house was the only one on the island. Judge Buchanan owned the island and constantly fought off eager developers who wanted a slice of paradise. Allison was happy he kept refusing. 

She was looking forward to seeing the Buchanans again. They were so kind to her, and time with them was always relaxed and fun. As she drove to Jordan’s house, she toyed with the idea of telling her about Liam but decided against it because she planned to erase him from her memory. As if that were possible. Damn it all, she wanted to move on. She hadn’t wanted to get involved with any man, because he would interfere with her plans for the future. What had happened to her?

She was in quite a state by the time she parked the car and ran up the steps to the town house.

Jordan opened the door. Allison’s greeting wasn’t what her friend had expected.

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"Men suck."

Too late, Allison saw Noah step out from behind the door. She hoped he hadn’t heard what she’d said . . . but of course he’d heard. He was trying not to laugh.

"I’m a man," he reminded her.

How could she forget? Like with Liam, testosterone oozed from every pore in Noah’s body.

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"You’re the exception."

"What about them?" he asked with a tilt of his head. "Are they the exception, too?"

Allison froze. "Them?"

Jordan had to pull her out of the way so that Noah could get the door closed. Before she could ask who else was there, Jordan said, "You’re in an odd mood tonight. Is Agent Phillips making you nuts?"

That was as good an excuse as any for her lame behavior, she supposed. "He’s certainly not making my life easier," she replied.

She walked into the living room, stopped to rave about the new furniture, then turned to go into the dining room, and there, leaning against the new table, was the bane of her existence, Liam "What-a-Hunk" Scott. He wasn’t alone. Alec stood on the other side of the table with a green trash bag in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other.

It was almost impossible to stifle her reaction. Liam looked as though he’d been in a fight. There were a couple of bruises on his jaw and cheek and a cut above his right eyebrow. Were they from a rugby game? Or a fistfight? Maybe one of his assignments had turned violent. She told herself she didn’t care enough to find out.

Did he have to look so good? He wore old worn-out jeans that hung low on his hips and a T-shirt that was molded to his chest and upper arms, outlining his muscles. The T-shirt had seen better days. There was a faint logo of a sports team on it, she thought, but she couldn’t make out what it was. Although Liam’s stance was relaxed, his gaze was intense and it locked on her.

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She broke the silence. "Hi," she said, and before he could respond, she smiled at Alec and greeted him. She noticed his eyes kept bouncing back and forth between Liam and her. Great. Now he was suspicious and was going to ask questions.

"Why are you holding a trash bag?" she asked, trying her best to ignore Liam.

Jordan answered, "It’s your graduation present. I know how you love puzzles, so I got you a dozen. One has ten thousand pieces, and there’s even a 3-D one in there. Actually there are only eleven in the bag. I was telling the guys how amazing you are, and I don’t think they believed me." She pointed to the table, which was covered in tiny jigsaw pieces. "All the pieces are faceup, so it shouldn’t take much time to put it together. It’s a thousand pieces, I think."

"I’m not going to show off for you," Allison whispered.

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