She flopped on her back and stared at the ceiling, allowing a few moments of self-pity. When she was over herself, she sat up and stared at the email for another moment. Then she hit REPLY, responding with what she thought was calm grace, explaining that she realized she had to earn her way back into good graces after her year-long slow spell, but that she felt she’d come through twice in a row now and wanted a better product to write about.

Like, say, something, anything, that wasn’t mortifying to put on her résumé.

It was hours later before she got a reply.

This is what we have. Take it or leave it.

She took it.

The day was a hot one. Sam went for a predawn run with Ben and then found himself trapped in his warehouse office hunched over the books for hours, sweat running down his back.

Or maybe he was hot because he’d headed to the hut earlier to check on Becca and had found her running his world with an ease and charm he’d never managed, wearing a snug white tee and bubblegum-pink shorts, looking heart-stoppingly amazing.

At the memory, he reached into his fridge to grab a badly needed soda and discovered it empty. Tanner, of course. The guy would walk all the way over here to steal Sam’s last soda rather than hit the store.

Sam rose to go himself, when someone knocked on the open doorjamb.

His dad.

And behind him, Becca.

“Hey, son.” Mark said this tentatively, and he had good reason. He rarely made an in-person visit, preferring the telephone to suck Sam dry.

“Dad,” Sam said. “What’re you doing here?”

Mark set a lopsided-looking snowman on Sam’s desk.

“Found this in your mom’s storage,” Mark said. “You made it for me, remember?”

Sam remembered. He’d been seven and looking forward to a promised fishing trip. Sam had made the clay snowman with the lady who babysat him while waiting for his dad.

And waiting.

Mark had never shown.

“I know you don’t like company in here,” Mark said, “but your cutie-pie admin here told me where to find you. She said it’d be okay.”

Sam gave his “cutie-pie” admin a long look.

Becca met his gaze, her eyes filled with sympathy.

Which, for the record, Sam hated.

“He wanted to see you,” she said apologetically. “I know you don’t like unannounced company in the Man Cave, but it’s your dad, right? So I locked the hut and put up a sign saying I’d be right back.”

Mark beamed at her. “You’re great. Isn’t she great, son?”

Sam thought about bashing his head against his desk. “Yeah. Great. What’s up, Dad?”

Mark shrugged. “Nothing. Just came to see you.”

“You never come to see me,” Sam said.

Instead of responding, Mark turned his head and looked out into the open area of the warehouse, eyeing the boat Sam was building. “Impressive.”

“I already put money into your account,” Sam said, crossing his arms.

“Yeah.” Mark didn’t meet Sam’s eyes, but kept them on the boat. “Thanks.”

“Christ,” Sam said. “It wasn’t enough.”

“No, it was enough,” Mark said. “It was great. It’s just that. . .” He trailed off.

“What?” Sam said. “It’s just that what?”

“She kicked me out. Changed the locks and everything.”

Sam stared at him. “Let me guess. She also wiped out your account.”

Mark lifted a shoulder.

“Are you f**king kidding me?” Sam asked.

No longer smiling, Becca stirred. “Sam—”

“Again?” Sam asked Mark. “Seriously?”

Mark sighed with clear misery.

Sam wasn’t moved. At all. They’d done this dance too many times. Hell, all Sam’s life. His dad never learned. Nor, apparently, did Sam. “Why can’t you do what you did last time and grovel?” he asked. “Or whatever it is you do that reels them in.”

“Sam, he’s got nowhere to go,” Becca said softly. “And—”

“Already told her your sob story, I take it,” Sam said over her head to his dad.

Mark looked guilty as hell and Sam shook his head, working on not grinding his back teeth into powder.

“I thought maybe I could stay here,” Mark said. “I’ll stay out of your way.”

Sam’s gut tightened. Having his dad here would kill him. Or drive him to kill his dad.

One or the other.

“Mark,” Becca said softly. “Can you give us a minute?”

“Sure, darlin’,” Mark said, and with one last look at Sam he stepped out of the office.

“He said he’s had some problems,” Becca said quietly.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Lots of them. He gambles, he drinks, he lies. Pick one. You shouldn’t have brought him here, Becca.”

“Not her fault,” Mark said firmly, back in the doorway. “She tried to tell me that no one comes in here without permission, so don’t you blame her.”

“And yet you came anyway,” Sam said. “You took advantage of her sweetness and pushed your way through with one of your bullshit emergencies.”

“It is an emergency,” Mark said.

“Sam,” Becca said with soft reproach. “He’s—”

“No, darlin’,” Mark said. “Don’t defend me. It’s okay. I deserve his mistrust, believe me.” He met Sam’s gaze. “I’m sick.”