Read an Excerpt
A Take a Chance Novella
By Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Thomas Jones parked in the last spot within spitting distance of the Ruby Tuesday's, leaned back in the driver's seat of his rental truck, and closed his eyes. It didn't help his headache. His secretary was always chirping something about finding his happy place when the irritation started to build up around his eyes in tight, pinching lines and his jaw felt like a lump of iron. So what would make him happy right now? White sand, blue ocean, hot sun, cool shot of Jameson.
Except he wasn't really there, and he wasn't really happy. Not even close to happy. Miserable was more his neighborhood right now, right between Bitter Avenue and this dry, dusty Vegas parking lot outside a restaurant where, in five minutes, he'd have the most important meeting of his life.
He hated Vegas. He hated coming back to Vegas for the sixth time in as many months. He'd volunteered for the company business trips when his sister lived in this godforsaken city. But now Erica was married to his best friend and living in base housing out in California, while Thomas was still stuck traveling to a town full of cheap booze, loose women, and the stench of disappointment.
His entire career rested on this meeting, Brianna Faulk, and a contract with the Golden Hand Casino. If he didn't convince Ms. Faulk to trust his company with her casino's marketing budget and brand image, he could kiss his elegant corner office and corporate expense account good-bye.
He needed to set up shop in Vegas and win Brianna Faulk or his career would reverse from rising star to burnout in a matter of seconds. He'd never met the woman, but so far she'd proven a little too elusive. A little too unwilling to commit, when she was the foothold his company needed to branch into the Vegas market. That was where Thomas came in.
He stepped out of the truck, straightened his suit, and headed down the crowded sidewalk toward the restaurant. A blond woman fell into step beside him, mumbling under her breath and swiping at her phone screen as if she had some personal grudge against it. Something about the way she walked and mumbled at the same time caught his attention — as did the fact that if she wasn't careful, she'd walk right into the newspaper box in front of her.
He opened his mouth to tell her to watch out, but then shook his head. It wasn't his business if she didn't know how to walk properly. Surely she would look up and see the box before she fell into the street and got run over ... right? Yet as they walked, she didn't look up even once. Finally, when they were within a foot of the box, he cursed inwardly and reached for her arm to stop her from crashing. Unfortunately for him, she swerved right when he reached left for her, and they both stumbled backward.
He caught her in his arms, her ample breasts squashed against his chest. She clung to his arms, looking up at him in surprise with pink-tinged cheeks. Her red, lush mouth rounded out in a perfect o, and she looked up at him with a mixture of embarrassment and frustration. When their eyes met, they both froze, their breath held. She was even more stunning up close and personal.
The dark, severe suit she wore said razor-edged businesswoman, but there was a softness and sensuality to her the suit couldn't hide. She was a 1950s pin-up girl, from the bedroom eyes to the supple, luxuriant swell of her hips. He wondered how often she'd fluttered those long lashes to get her way or flashed a hint of ample cleavage to keep a man off-guard.
He couldn't help but be thankful he would never see her again. She had danger stamped across her forehead.
She wriggled in his arms, her cheeks turning even redder, and her iPhone crashed to the sidewalk. The crack of plastic hitting sidewalk broke the spell that seemed to have them both immobilized. He let go of her, and she cursed under her breath. Bending to grab her phone, she looked up at him from the ground, her brow furrowed. "You should really watch where you're going. You could have knocked me over."
He raised a brow, rocking back on his heels. The woman had sass. She ran him down, then yelled at him for it? "I was watching where I walked, but you weren't. I was trying to catch you."
"What?" She stood up and looked at him as if he were the one with his head in the clouds. "I wasn't going to fall. I knew where I was the whole time."
"Obviously," he said, a smile tugging at his lips. Her frustration with him amused him for some reason. "All right. Lesson learned. Next time I see a woman about to fall and bounce into a busy road, I'll let her go."
She flushed. "No. Of course not. It was nice of you to try to catch me." She darted a quick look up at him, then ducked her head. "Uh, thanks."
He grinned. She seemed like she didn't really want to say it but thought she should anyway. "Don't mention it."
She gestured toward the restaurant. "Well, I have to go."
"Okay." His grin widened. "Watch out for obstacles in your way."
She rolled her eyes. Actually rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Thanks. I'll watch for the killer newsstands from now on."
She hurried off, and Thomas stood there watching her leave. Her hips swayed with as much attitude and sass as she showed him, and he couldn't tear his eyes away from her. He didn't look away or move until she rounded the corner and he couldn't see her anymore.
Then and only then did he shake off the odd encounter and walk the rest of the distance to the restaurant. With a sigh, he ducked into the restaurant's shaded coolness. A hostess approached with a stack of menus and an overly perky smile. "Two, sir?"
He scanned the dining room behind the hostess, trying to guess which woman could be Brianna. There were too many women sitting alone for him to make a guess. "I have a reservation for a four o'clock meeting with — "
"Oh, with Brianna Faulk? She's already here."
Why did women always finish men's sentences? Did they think men couldn't complete a thought without their help? He pasted a smile on. Some days he smiled so much his face hurt. And not once did he ever mean it. He'd never really intended to be good at marketing, but when his ex-wife had started sleeping around on him ...
It was something to do, at least. Something to throw himself into so he wouldn't track down one of Nicole's many lovers and put him in the hospital. "Yes, that would be her."
"Follow me." Still smiling with a little too much come and get me, big boy for Thomas's tastes, the hostess led him through the central dining area to more private seating in the rear. She nodded to a corner booth. "Your party's waiting for you there. A waitress will be with you shortly."
"Thank you," he murmured and brushed past her. "Ms. Faulk?"
Ms. Faulk had her back turned, and all he could make out was her shoulder-length blond hair and the crisply tailored seams of a business suit. An awfully familiar suit. His scalp tingled, and he faltered a little bit. It couldn't be ...
Ms. Faulk stood and turned to face him. Yep, it was her. When she set eyes on him, her smile faded away. "You?"
Thomas shifted on his feet. "Me."
She recovered quickly and smiled. Cool and reserved. Nothing like the little spitfire who yelled at him for daring to catch her. Truth be told, he liked the spitfire version of her better than the business-savvy one. "Well allow me to introduce myself properly. I'm Brianna Faulk, Executive Business Manager of the Golden Hand Casino."
He offered his hand with a polite, practiced smile. She wanted to keep it professional, then? For some reason he didn't want to. Even though he should. "I'm Thomas Jones, from MotoTek. Marketing executive by day. Rescuer of women by night."
He felt foolish even saying that. Thomas Jones in Vegas? He sounded like a stupid impersonator or something. He half expected her to make some snarky comment asking him if he was going to sing for her or not. But she kept her calm, professional façade going.
"Ah. Yes. Of course." She shook his hand, her skin soft, her grip firm. Her face turned a little bit red, and she bit her lower lip. He couldn't help but wonder if she was trying to bite back a smart-ass reply. "Even when they didn't need rescuing?"
Ah. Yes. She was.
"Even then." He waited cordially for her to resume her seat before he slid onto the padded vinyl cushioning opposite her. His briefcase thudded to the floor. He smoothed his tie. "It's a pleasure to meet you formally."
"The pleasure's mine." The way her lips rolled over pleasure drew his attention to her mouth, a sweetly red temptation painted in burgundy shades. His gaze fell to the table and he tried to banish from his mind the way she'd felt in his arms. It didn't work.
He caught her watching him, her hazel eyes unreadable, intense. He met her gaze unwaveringly. With a cool arch of her brow and an amused smile, she shook her head subtly and picked up her menu. After a moment, he followed suit.
He cleared his throat. He needed to shake this undeniable attraction to her and get his head back into work. "Shall we order before we get down to business?"
"That would be fine with me," she said. But she didn't look down at her menu. She kept her eyes on him. She laughed, but it sounded forced. "I have to admit it. This is all very awkward."
He closed his menu and arched a brow at her. Was she as unsettled by him as he was by her? "Why is that?"
"I yelled at you on the street," she said, her cheeks pink. "It's not how I normally start my business meetings."
"Ah." He gestured between them. "Well, maybe that will give us an advantage?"
She gaped at him. "How so?"
"The ice is already broken. Now you can yell at me all you want and I won't be surprised in the slightest."
She opened her mouth and then closed it. "Do you often get yelled at in business meetings, Mr. Jones?"
"All the time. I'm insufferable, but you'll come to see that by the end of lunch." He smiled at her, but it wasn't because he wanted to this time. This time, it was the marketing exec inside of him creeping out.
She cleared her throat and averted her eyes. He'd made her uncomfortable. "Have you ever been to Vegas before, Mr. Jones?"
"Please. I think we're already on a first-name basis, don't you?" He tugged at his tie. Why was the thing so damn tight? "Call me Thomas."
She inclined her head. "Then you must call me Brianna."
"Hello." The waitress pulled out her pad. "Can I get you something to drink?"
Thomas motioned toward Brianna. "Ladies first."
"Uh." Brianna's cheeks flushed. "I'll have a diet, please."
"Scotch, no rocks," Thomas murmured. His gaze lingered on the flutter of her pulse against that soft hollow where the chain rested. "Are you ready to order, too?"
Brianna nodded and handed the menu to the waitress. "House salad with fat free Italian dressing, please."
Thomas raised a brow. Why did women insist on eating puny salads all the time? "I'll have a bacon cheeseburger with fries. Medium well."
The waitress walked away, leaving the two of them alone. Thomas leaned back in the booth and laced his fingers over his stomach. When Brianna's gaze wandered downward, lingering over his abs, he fought back a grin. At least he wasn't the only distracted party at this meeting.
Brianna tucked her hair behind her ear, and he checked her ring finger for a wedding band. It was bare but there was the slightest bit of a tan line where one might have once been. Interesting.
She tapped her fingers on the table. "You never answered my question."
He racked his brain for what their last topic of conversation had been, but he came up blank. "Repeat it, please?"
"Have you been in Vegas before?"
"Oh. Yes, a lot." When she continued to look at him expectantly, he continued on. "I have been here numerous times for MotoTek, which is one of the reasons we are setting up a satellite office here. Also, my sister used to live here."
He had no idea why he added that last bit. What did she care if his sister used to live in Vegas? Idiot.
She smiled at him. "So then you don't need any pointers on where you should go for a good time tonight?"
He nearly choked, his mind conjuring up images of her showing him a good time. Somehow, he didn't think that rolling around in his bed naked was what she was suggesting. Once he gathered his senses, he caught her gaze. "Were you offering to accompany me?"
"N-No," she stammered. "I was going to suggest a few hotspots."
"Pity. I would've loved to have you by my side tonight. I could've kept an eye on you to make sure you were watching where you were going."
She bared her teeth in a feral grin. "I assure you I don't need male supervision to walk."
"Nonetheless, I'd like to be at your side tonight." He leaned in, smiling at her. Her eyes went wide and she drew in a deep breath. He knew how to read people. It was his job to read people. And right now? He saw a woman who was interested in him. "What do you say, Brianna?"
She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him. "Are you hitting on me, Mr. Jones?"
"Thomas," he corrected. "And what if I am?"
"Then I'd have to tell you to stop," she said, her eyes flashing. "We're here for business, not pleasure."
He wagged a finger. "Ah, but you said it yourself. We met before this, so it's different."
"You're right. You are insufferable." She gave him a dirty look, but it was all for show. He could tell she was enjoying every second of their sparring as much as he was. "Can I look over your proposal while we wait for lunch?"
"Of course," he said, his voice rich and deep.
She shifted in her seat, uncrossing her legs and then re-crossing them. "Thank you."
He sat up straight and took out his proposal, handing her a copy and keeping one for himself to take notes on. She pulled a pair of reading glasses out of her purse and studied the document for a few minutes. He sat back in silence and allowed her the time she needed to read over the form. Truth be told, he took advantage of the opportunity to watch her.
And he liked what he saw. Perhaps too much. When was the last time he was so inescapably attracted to a woman? It had to have been before Nicole. Before he decided matters of the heart were better off being left out of his life.
He had married Nicole at a young age. When he'd been stupid enough to believe that happily ever after could exist outside of fairy tales. She had taken his heart and stomped it into the mud. Man after man had traipsed into her bedroom and he'd been powerless to stop it. Too weak to walk away ... too eager to give her another chance.
It hadn't been until she accused his best friend of accosting her that he'd snapped. Unfortunately, his transformation had come too late. He'd already lost the only person who had stuck by his side. Thomas would never forget the look in Jeremy's eyes when he accused him of something so vile he couldn't even comprehend it. And even worse? He'd broken his sister's heart in the process. She had loved Jeremy — up until Thomas sent him running with his accusations.
"How long have you worked for MotoTek, Thomas?" Brianna looked up at him, her eyes focused and clear. Her voice ripped him from the past and he focused on her with no small amount of gratitude. Once he started reminiscing on his fucked-up past, it could be hard to shove the memories to the back of his mind under lock and key where they belonged.
But today he had a job to do. He leaned forward and folded his arms on the table, holding eye contact. That was one reason why people never told him no: eye contact. It made them uncomfortable, left them on the spot. They didn't think straight, and then he had them. Backed into a corner like prey. It was why he was so good at what he did. Underneath the slick smile and the polished shoes, it was the hunt that lured him.
And Brianna Faulk was offering more than one kind of chase, whether she knew it or not.
She nodded and nibbled on the tip of her pen. His eyes ate in every detail of her pretty little mouth — from the red lips to the little peeks of white teeth he got. If he looked hard enough, he might see the tip of her tongue ...
"And your position is ...?"
Wherever you want me. He cleared his throat and pulled his mind from the gutter. What the hell was wrong with him today? "Head Marketing Executive."
She crossed her legs and pursed her lips. "Tell me what you envision for my company, Thomas."
"Of course." He smiled and opened his copy of the proposal. "I know the Vegas market fairly well. I travel here regularly for MotoTek, and as I mentioned, my sister used to live here, as well. I know your customer base. I am your customer base. And I know you aren't targeting me properly."
"Really?" she said dryly. "What should I be targeting, then?"
She blinked. "What?"
"Exhaustion, Brianna. Every time I come in on that red-eye flight, I'm exhausted, and all I want is the closest place to put my feet up and have a drink. Every time I'm waiting to catch a flight, I'm bored out of my mind and looking for somewhere to kill time. You have a casino and hotel with a valid liquor license less than a block from the airport's east parking lot.
Excerpted from Love Me by Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2013 Diane Alberts. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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