Alex stood still, trying to make out what she was saying, and then he made out a few of her words. “That was fast! I seriously didn’t expect to hear anything until at least next week! I can’t believe I missed it.” She was quiet for a little bit then went on. “No, no, I do check it. It’s just that, well, yesterday was kind of crazy. I had a lot going on.”

Her voice went low, and he wasn’t able to hear the rest. Curiously, he started toward the bedroom. When he reached the doorway, he stopped there, and she glanced back at him with a big smile. “I passed the state exam!”

It took a moment, but when he realized what that meant, he was smiling just as big as she was. She finished with whoever it was she was talking to then began scrolling through her phone as she shook her sexy little hips. Alex was immediately distracted and smiled for a different reason now.

“Here it is,” she said, reading something on her phone as she chewed on her thumbnail nervously—or excitedly. It was sort of both.

Alex was close enough now that she did a little dance then squealed again before jumping into his arms. Like last night when she’d jumped in his arms to keep him from killing Isabel’s brother, he easily caught her. Only this time there was a big difference. He laughed with her and squeezed her. “I did it!” she said. “I’m a licensed agent. I can actually make money off my sales now.”

She kissed him, and he kissed her back sweetly. “I’m proud of you, baby. I never doubted you could do it.”

Images of the times he’d woken to an empty bed in the last year when she’d been over only to find her looking so adorable in one of his T-shirts and a sloppy ponytails, studying with such dedication, flitted through his mind. She sure as hell deserved to be as happy as she was now.

Meanwhile, his ass didn’t even attempt to concentrate on his schoolwork when she was around. It was impossible. There were times Valerie suggested they study together.

They never panned out.

He’d begin with the best intentions. They’d sit at his dining room table and be real serious about it. He’d get his notebooks and laptop out and start to go through his notes and index cards, but it never failed. Before long, he was playing with her fingers, kissing her hand, running his hands up her thighs, and staring at her lips. He loved the way she’d pucker them up when she was doing some serious concentrating.

Inevitably, she’d catch him not studying. Then she’d tease him about something, usually something that had them ending up laughing on the sofa or the floor even. Eventually, they’d be doing something much more entertaining. It wasn’t always sex either, though he wasn’t going to lie. That was at the top of his list of the entertaining things he could do with Valerie. But even curling up on the sofa to watch one of their favorite reality shows or putting a meal together while they talked and laughed basically took forever to finish because there were so many passionate interruptions.

One thing he was real happy about now that she had her license was that she’d finally get full credit and compensation for her sales at the office she’d been working at for months. It was more like interning. They paid her a measly amount, considering all the work she did. She assured him it was enough to pay her half of the rent and bills and only temporary before she started making the big bucks. From what she told him, she was better at sales as an intern than some of the seasoned agents in that office. He knew it was likely her charm that probably closed a lot of deals—deals the other agents got compensated for because technically she wasn’t licensed, so she couldn’t. It was a pisser, and though Valerie didn’t seem to mind—she enjoyed the rush of closing a sale—it was still galling.

Grudgingly, he let her down when she said she had to call her dad. “Yesterday was so crazy I didn’t even check my email the whole day. I missed the notification they sent me.”

“So who called to tell you?” he asked, confused.

“The office manager where I work. I listed my corporate email when I tested, and they have access to it over there, so he saw the email and called me.”

Alex had to think about that for a moment. “He has access to your private email at the office?”

“It’s not really private,” she began to say then lifted her finger to tell him to wait. “Daddy, guess what? I passed the state exam!”

Valerie’s animated hand gestures and pacing distracted him from thoughts of her manager snooping through her email. He’d get back to that later. For now, he enjoyed the view of Valerie pacing excitedly, in her sexy little sundress and huge wedges, as she filled her dad in on everything.

“I need to get business cards and banners. Oh”—she stopped midstride—“I have to book a photo shoot. I don’t like any of the head shots I have now.”

The crowd on the television in the front room was going wild again, and Alex stepped out to investigate. He’d only been out there for a few minutes when Valerie walked out of his bedroom. “I’m ready,” she announced but didn’t look up from her phone where she was texting or typing something.

“You look beautiful,” he said, getting up from the sofa.

Now she looked up. “Thank you.” She smiled.

“You telling everyone?” He motioned to her phone.

“I did text Isabel already,” she said, “but I figured I’ll see everyone else tonight.” She looked back down at her phone. “I was just texting my manager at the office to thank him for looking out. I was so excited when he gave me the news just now I didn’t even thank him.”