Read an Excerpt
A Take a Risk Novella
By Robin Bielman, Wendy Chen
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Robin Bielman
All rights reserved.
It wasn't that the woman standing in front of him wasn't intelligent and beautiful. The problem was she spoke exactly like all the others that had tried to get his attention. And Keats McCall would rather throw himself over the side of the historical iron windjammer than make small talk with the well-rehearsed socialite seeking a wealthy husband.
"Excuse me, would you," he said, phrasing it as a statement and cutting her off mid-sentence.
The woman blinked in astonishment. He hadn't wanted to be rude, but he'd finished mentally ticking off what needed to get done this coming week, and in good conscience he couldn't keep nodding without listening.
He smiled and stepped away to search for a few minutes of peace and quiet on the century old, California Historical Landmark, Star of Aesa. When he'd agreed to attend the annual heritage protection fundraiser on the seaworthy museum ship, he'd forgotten how much he dreaded his bachelorhood being up for negotiation.
"McCall." His friend and work associate Connor Gibson called out before he could make his escape. "There's someone I want to introduce you to."
"Give me a minute." McCall lifted his chin and backed away. It never got easier mingling with the rich and famous even though he fell into the same category.
Letting out a deep breath he took two more steps back and then turned to round the bow mast. The late afternoon sun cut a nasty glare and for a moment he couldn't see where he was going.
He could feel, though. And hear.
A warm body brushed up against his. Something clattered as it hit the hull. And an irate but sexy-as-hell voice said, "Goddammit. Watch where you're going."
His arms instinctively went around the woman to stop her from falling after colliding with his much larger frame. Soft yet solid, her body made contact with his in all the right places and triggered a visceral response that surprised him. She smelled amazing. Like — like no other woman he'd been this close to. Soap. She smelled like good, old-fashioned soap and woman.
Before he was ready, she pushed his chest away.
He finally blinked away the sun's rays and his gaze locked on captivating green eyes. The woman stared back, her breath hitched.
Then she dropped to pick up the silver tray and chicken satay appetizers that had scattered around them.
"I'm sorry," he said, bending to help.
"I've got this." She practically shouldered him out of the way. "You can get back to the party."
"I'm right where I want to be." His hand grazed hers when they reached for the same skewer, sending a hot current through him.
She yanked her arm back and glanced at him. Flecks of brown in her green irises created an earthy and seductive combination that he imagined rendered many men incoherent of thought.
For example, he couldn't for the life of him remember what his name was so he could introduce himself.
"Well I don't want your help." She gathered the rest of the mess onto her tray and stood.
He rose as well, taking in every inch of her. Black pumps, black skirt that hit above the knee, tight white button down shirt. She was a waitress. And drop dead beautiful. "Not the usual language or disposition for the catering crew," he said.
But it wasn't just her looks that sucker punched him. It was her attitude. She could give a flying fuck about him.
Her full lips pressed into a tight line. "You're right. I apologize for my obscenity, sir."
Sir? His father and grandfather were sir. Not him. "Thanks, but uh —"
"Have a nice time tonight." She turned to go, cutting him off mid-sentence.
"Hang on." He lightly gripped her upper arm. He wanted to tell her to drop the formality. Hell, he wanted to tug her with him somewhere secluded. He needed to know more about her.
"Sir," she said with distaste in her voice, her attention on his hold.
"Could you please drop the sir?'"
"Could you please drop my arm?"
He did. And she made a quick getaway without further word or acknowledgement.
Damn, but he couldn't remember the last time a woman had turned her back on him. Probably not since high school when he was a sophomore and tried to look down the senior homecoming queen's dress.
"Dude, I need you now." Connor came up beside him, his hand loosening the stiff collar of his dress shirt. His friend hated business attire, preferring the T-shirts and shorts he wore out in the field while preserving historical sites. "I'm being bombarded with questions only World Heritage Fund's President of Field Operations can answer."
McCall followed Connor to the stern and a small circle of environmentalists keen on helping raise awareness for WHF. With a cool San Diego breeze at his back, the smell of salt in the air, and the Pacific Ocean surrounding them, McCall could be in a lot worse places.
A few minutes later, a flash of reddish brown hair caught his attention and his pulse sped up. His waitress flitted by, her hands empty, her eyes narrowed in concentration. She stopped at the entrance to the quarters below deck and looked over her shoulder.
Directly at him. McCall kept talking as his body came alive with the intensity of her stare. She bit the corner of her bottom lip. He had to look away before he did something foolish like follow her.
"Work on the Aztec village starts next month then?" the man to his left asked.
"Yes. I'll be overseeing the start-up before returning to several spots along our current project, Route 66. Then it's off to Greece and the First Cemetery of Athens." McCall glanced back in her direction. She was gone. He looked around, but only came across the interested glances of the women he wanted to avoid.
Without further distraction, he finished his conversation, securing support from the restoration ecology firm he'd been hoping to partner with on the Aztec village. The iconic Indian village might be in the middle of the dessert, but once revitalized the surrounding land needed attention, too.
"Gentlemen," he said, excusing himself to look for the woman he couldn't get out of his head. Another waitress passed by with a tray of stuffed mushrooms. Her nametag read Stephanie. Huh. His mystery woman hadn't worn any identification.
Now more curious than ever, he walked the circumference of the ship. When he didn't find her, he took the steep wooden steps below deck. Guests mingled around the dining room table in the mess hall and sat on the upholstered couches. The hanging lanterns and ornate wall sconces cast a pleasant glow over the area. Preserved in its original state, the living quarters were admirable. McCall sighed in appreciation.
He acknowledged acquaintances with a nod and smile and hurried to the kitchen. It bustled with activity, but no sign of his waitress.
Where the hell had she disappeared to? She'd interested him and usually that took some doing. The fact that she'd drawn him in like a magnet with just a few choice words and eye contact made her even more captivating.
And he had to see her again.
* * *
Lucy Davenport squeezed her eyes shut and took a slow, deep breath. She'd locked the door to the captain's quarters, but still didn't want to take longer than necessary. The quicker she got off the ship, the better off she'd be.
Especially since she'd drawn unwanted attention.
Attention that did things to her body she hadn't felt in a very long time.
She reached back into the bottom left opening of the eight-keyhole china cabinet and got back to work. The serving table at her waist held fine porcelain china and the tools she'd brought to excavate what she'd come for.
After a month laboring over the ship's design and history, Lucy knew that the antique emerald ring was somewhere in these walls. A quick pass over the aged wood planks with her hand-held metal detector and the gem was right at her fingertips.
Freedom was, too.
This was the last job for her employer, billionaire collector Malcolm Holmes. After she handed over the ring, estimated to have a value of over nine hundred thousand dollars, she would owe him nothing. She could sever all ties and start making her own choices.
One more cut and ... bingo. She carefully pulled free the wooden square she'd chiseled out and put it down next to her hammer. At the turn of the century, the ship's heedful captain had hidden the ring from pirates who boarded the ship and killed him. The woman he'd planned to propose to had mourned his death until her own forty years later.
That kind of love and devotion took Lucy's breath away every time she thought about it. She'd loved and lost and it hurt. It hurt like hell.
Lucy shook her head to rid thoughts of Matt and her dad and reached into the hole. She lifted on tiptoes to reach further.
Behind her, someone jiggled the door handle. She didn't panic. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead and took quick inventory for a hiding spot in case the person had a key to enter.
A moment later the intrusion quieted.
Having learned from experience that she didn't get second chances, she quickly leaned her body against the serving piece and stretched her arm as far as she could back into the hole. It took some feeling around, but she finally found it — a two-carat round cut emerald with a cluster of small diamonds on each side of the gold band. It was the most exquisite ring she'd ever laid eyes on.
She put the cut wall piece back in place and gathered her tools into her small black pouch, looping its string to the thin utility belt around her thigh. She smoothed her skirt and pressed her shoulders back. Mission almost accomplished.
She strode down the empty hallway, completely focused on getting off the boat. She was so focused that when she turned a tight corner, the big, hard male body she bumped into took her by surprise.
For the second time.
"What are you doing down here?" she asked, hyperaware of his broad shoulders, incredible smell, and impossibly attractive smile.
"What are you doing down here?" he threw back, before glancing over her shoulder. "The kitchen's the other way."
Lucy had two ways to play this since she couldn't seem to avoid Mr. Blue Eyes. She could be the seasick waitress on her way back to the kitchen. Or she could be the flirty waitress who was hoping for a little adventure away from the job.
The guy had hero written all over his face so she went with the latter. It would be quicker to ditch him that way than risk him trying to help a supposed damsel in distress.
"I got bored and wanted to look around." She slid a finger down his arm. "I hear jewels are hidden somewhere on this ship."
He chuckled. It had been a long time since she'd made someone laugh and her heart perked up. But it wasn't her intention to amuse him. She wanted to entice him. So much for her womanly charms.
"The only jewels on this ship are on the guests." He leaned closer so that his very fine mouth hovered at her ear. "But you strike me as someone who could care less about wealth."
She didn't want his words to affect her, but they did. Growing up with thrift store clothes and just enough to keep her and her dad going, she'd learned her place in the world at an early age. If her father hadn't made her feel important and cared for, and loved her with all his heart, she would have believed the unkind words from the popular girls.
"You're right," she whispered back.
"I always am." He kept his close proximity, caging her against the wall.
His nearness started an amatory ache deep in her belly. She hadn't been this affected by a man since Matt. "Really?" she managed to say with disbelief in her tone and not like he'd just tilted her world.
"Need more convincing?" He lifted his arm and put his hand on the wall just above her head. His lips hovered far too close to her neck.
"As a matter of fact, I do." She moved around him, careful to avoid any further contact. "Let's talk about it on deck." Where she could breathe easier and be closer to her escape.
"After you," he gestured for her to lead.
She felt his eyes on every inch of her backside and she had to fight the urge to flee. Butterflies filled her stomach. No one had paid her any attention for the past two years. That was how she liked it.
Above the stuffy lower quarters, the setting sun painted red and orange streaks across the cloudless sky. She always noticed the sky. Matt had spent an entire month's paycheck to skywrite his marriage proposal after their senior year of college.
Lucy made her way to the port side of the ship. She leaned against the railing and crossed her arms over her chest as the guy took the spot beside her. "So, Mr. Always Right, what am I thinking right now?"
His arm grazed hers and she took a step away. He cut her a sideways glance that screamed confidence. "That you'd like to get the hell off this ship."
She almost swallowed her tongue. "What makes you say that?" Did he know who she was? It wouldn't be the first time she'd had competition. She was part of a small group of archeologists who recovered important artifacts. And while she did her best to remain anonymous, her last find for Malcolm, a copper scroll dating back centuries, had garnered closer attention than usual from those in the know.
"The fact that you've abandoned your job, for one. And two, you're tense."
"I am not." She didn't show weakness to anyone. Even under pressure. There was no way he could see that she was anxious to be done with this job. His scrutiny really got on her nerves.
"I make you nervous."
"Ha! Don't flatter yourself."
"If not me, then what?" He turned and looked at her with playful, interested turquoise eyes. She lost herself in them, just as she had when they'd first collided.
Time to go. "Fine. I'll tell you. But first I better see if I'm needed. The other waitress likes to flirt with the waiters rather than work."
"Wait." He caught her hand just after she'd inched by him. "What's your name?"
She tried to pull her arm back at the exact same time he looked at her hand. She wore the emerald on her left middle figure, turned so no one could see the stone, and he'd felt it on the inside of her palm.
He lifted her wrist. "What's this?" He twisted the ring around.
Lucy tried to wiggle free, but it was no use. His eyes widened when he saw the one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry.
Her heart rate kicked into double time. "It's my grandmother's." She yanked free of his hold and stood confidently. If she made a quick getaway now, he'd definitely suspect something and follow her.
He eyed her cautiously. "You weren't wearing it before. When I helped you pick up the appetizers I knocked over."
He'd checked out her hand for a ring? "Sure I was."
"Did you steal it?" His voice was void of all tenderness now and she gulped.
Not because she was afraid she'd be caught, but because he'd drawn that conclusion so quickly and easily. And while he was at it, she could see the attraction he'd felt for her vanish.
"I don't steal things." She took them within the confines of the law — she just needed to bypass the red tape and rules so that she could complete Malcolm's jobs as quickly as possible. Occasionally, a site protected under cultural heritage laws housed an artifact Malcolm wanted. Technically, no one was supposed to excavate for artifacts in those instances, but she always worked with care and tried to leave minimal disruption to every site.
She ignored the tight bundle of nerves at the base of her spine. One more time, then I'm through.
"McCall. Jesus, where have you been?" A good-looking guy with wavy hair and sunglasses hanging off his shirt collar approached them.
McCall took his attention off her for a split second and that was all the distraction she needed. She wove her way through the guests to make her way to the starboard side of the ship.
Once there, she got into one of the motorboats used to transport guests to and from the party and fired up the engine.
She looked up. McCall had his hands braced on the railing, ready to jump overboard to catch her. With a tight grip on the steering wheel, Lucy gunned it. And she couldn't help it — she waved goodbye, twisting her hand at the wrist like they do on parade floats, so that he'd be sure to see the emerald ring on her finger.
Excerpted from Risky Surrender by Robin Bielman, Wendy Chen. Copyright © 2013 Robin Bielman. 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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