Read an Excerpt
a Take a Chance novella
By Diane Alberts, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Diane Alberts
All rights reserved.
Mike Worth leaned back against the bar and surveyed the Friday night crowd packed in the small, dimly lit room. He held a cold Lager in one hand, had his best buddies surrounding him — whose recreational basketball team had won yet another game earlier in the evening — and a full night of open possibilities in the great city of Vegas ahead of him. What more could a guy ask for?
Well, maybe a hot woman with no attachment issues or dreams of a white wedding dress ... but he could also be fine just the way he was.
Not that he had anything against marriage, per se. The institution was interesting, and he liked to study the general notion of fidelity from afar. But for him? Nah. He got bored when he ate the same meal two nights in a row — how the hell was he supposed to be satisfied with waking up next to the same person every day for the rest of his life?
Madness. Pure madness.
Of course, the fact that his best friend, Garrett, was about to marry Mike's little sister, Kiersten, wasn't madness. It made perfect sense. His sister deserved every happiness in the world, and if she wanted to wake up to his dumbass of a best friend staring at her every day, then so be it.
To each his own. Or her own.
Garrett better damn well take excellent care of her or else he'd forget the whole "friend" thing and come down on him harder than an anvil on Wile E. Coyote. And Garrett damn well knew it, too.
The devil himself slid into the barstool next to him and slapped him on the back a little bit harder than necessary. "So, you ready to be my best man? Or are you going to stay true to character and try to help me escape the wedding, instead of stay in it?"
"If you were marrying anyone but my sister, I'd do my bro-duty and toss you out of the rectory window, screaming at you to run for it before you make the biggest mistake of your life." Mike lifted the beer to his lips and took a long draught. "But, since you had to be a dumbass and pick my sister out of all the women in the world to fall in love with, you're getting married whether you have frozen feet or not."
Garrett held up his feet. "My toes are fine."
"Good. Or I'd burn them the fuck off, then carry your crippled self down the aisle to say 'I do.'" Mike shuddered. "Shit. Even saying that hypothetically makes me want to gag."
Garrett cracked up. "You just wait. One of these days you'll meet a girl who makes you forget everything you wanted out of life and show you how much you were missing."
Mike groaned and scooted away from Garrett. "You sound like such a girl right now. Just so you know."
"That might be true, but I'm in love." Garrett shrugged and ignored the woman across the bar eyeing them both as if she couldn't decide which one to hit on.
Though Mike would normally help her make the right decision — AKA him — he ignored her, too. Tonight wasn't about picking up women. It was about Garrett's bachelor party.
"Please. You're ruining the perfectly good buzz I've got going on here."
His friend raised a dark brow. "Funny. I didn't hear you argue about my prediction."
"Did I argue with the Mayans who said the world would end in 2012?"
"How could you? They're dead."
"Exactly." He grinned. "And I would be too before I ever made the mistake of getting tied down. Death before marriage, I say." He held his beer high and used a thick Scottish brogue to say, "They'll never take my freedom!"
"Oh God." Their buddy Stephen approached and rolled his hazel eyes. "Please tell me you guys aren't arguing about which parts of Braveheart weren't true to history again. Last time you guys got started, I fell asleep in a strip club. During a fucking lap dance."
Alistair, their team's point guard, chuckled and scooted closer. His green eyes shined with laughter. "That was pretty damn funny. It was even funnier when the stripper slapped you and stormed off."
"Hilarious," Stephen drawled.
Mike held his hands up. "We're not talking about history tonight. We were actually discussing marriage ... and why I'll never do it."
Alistair pinched his lips together. "Never is a hell of a long time."
"Not long enough when you're talking marriage." Mike took another drink. "I'll stay in the green zone, thank you."
"Green zone?" Garrett asked, his brow wrinkled.
Alistair grinned and moved closer. "Is this that 'stoplight theory' you were babbling about the other night?"
"Yep. Ready to hear about it?"
"Hell yeah," Alistair said. "This should be good."
Stephen held his hand up. "Wait. If it's going to be as long as I think, then come sit in the booth Riley's saving over there. Some hot chick just left it empty and we snagged it before someone else could."
Booths in this bar were hard to come by, so none of them wasted time getting off their asses. As they walked, Mike turned to Alistair and pointed a finger in his face. "And don't mock me for caring about accuracy in historical movies. My fucking job as a history teacher is to know history, so obviously I'm going to slam something that's not one hundred percent accurate. It's a well-known fact that when the English —"
Alistair threw his hands up. "I know, I know. I heard you the first million times. So calm the fuck down."
Mike slid into the booth. "It's your fault for being the only one of us who isn't a teacher. Why a cop would want to hang out with a bunch of middle school teachers is beyond me."
"I'm beginning to wonder the same thing myself," Alistair said, sliding into the booth opposite Mike. His red hair and green eyes screamed of his Irish heritage — as did the smattering of freckles across his nose and cheeks. "I wanted a break from the hard-asses I spend all day with but I didn't mean to go quite so far to the extreme as I did with you fucks."
"Yeah, whatever. Everyone knows math is the best," Garrett, a math teacher himself, said as he approached the booth. "If you didn't want to hear about variables and Pythagorean Theorem —"
Mike cut in with, "No one wants to hear about that shit, Garrett."
"Oh, and history is so much more enthralling?" Garrett asked, sliding next to Mike and slamming his elbow into Mike's ribs in the process. "Hearing about how dead guys died and the mistakes they made before those deaths?"
"Hell yeah it is. For one, you could —"
"Oh, both of you shut up. Science is the best," Stephen said, not even cracking a smile. "I'm the only one here who knows how to make a noxious gas so odorless that it could kill everyone in this room, and they wouldn't even know what hit them."
Alistair groaned and held his head. "Fucking nerds. Seriously guys. Stop. Just stop."
"Fine." Stephen said, motioning to Mike. "So tell us about your 'stoplight theory.'"
Garrett laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. "Oh, I can't wait to hear this one."
Mike thought about it. If Garrett had followed his rule, Kiersten would be alone. "Get lost. You're the only man this doesn't apply to."
Garrett rolled his eyes. "So glad to hear I get a pass."
"You're welcome. Now go get us some more drinks. This speech isn't for you."
"Seriously." Mike stared him down, and Garrett finally sighed and got up. Mike pulled some money out of his pocket and handed it to Garrett. "But here. Tonight's on me."
"Fuck you, Mike." But he took the money.
Once Garrett headed off for the bar, Mike leaned in and lowered his voice. "The rest of you need to listen up. Especially you, Al. You got way too close to the red light last week." He set his bottle down and bent closer. "You all know I love women. Every size, shape, and color. They're all perfect, in my eyes."
Alistair smirked. "Yeah, I think it's safe to say we all know that."
"But as with anything in this world, if you have too much of a good thing, you get used to it. Start to wonder why in the hell you bought a whole case of hazelnut coffee, instead of just a few packs. And then you're stuck drinking a piss poor choice for coffee — one you liked a week ago but now you never want to fucking see again."
Mike chugged the rest of his beer and scanned his buddy's faces as he did so. They looked at him with varying degrees of interest — but they were all hanging on the edge of their seats to hear the rest. He'd missed his calling. He could have been the next fucking Oprah.
But he'd have been an Oprah for single dudes.
"So I've come up with the perfect solution to this problem that afflicts men everywhere."
"You make it sound like a medical condition," Alistair said.
"It is, in some ways. Marriage should be a healable condition." Mike grinned. "But anyway, my solution to avoiding this issue altogether? You can compare your time with a woman to a stoplight."
Alistair laughed. "A stoplight? Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding?"
Riley shook his head. "No. Unfortunately, you don't."
"Well, it's as simple as this." Mike leaned in again and all three of his companions did the same. "Green means go. It's the first or second date and she's looking at you with those bright eyes and big pouty lips. Picturing you as her soul mate or some shit like that. I have no idea what goes on in girls' heads."
"Obviously," Alistair said dryly.
Mike ignored him. "This is the time to enjoy what's freely offered with no worries of tomorrow. Talk, laugh, and have some fucking fun. But when you see her again — and if you sleep with her again — then you're in the yellow zone." He held up a finger. "And you better think very carefully before stepping into the yellow zone, my friends. If you go back for second helpings, that's fine. Encouraged, even, if you know what you're getting yourself into. But the second you're finished, she's going to be wanting to see you again. And she's going to want confirmation that you want to see her again."
"So what do you do then?" Riley asked, his cheeks flushed.
"I give my very detailed, very sweet — yet stern — speech about how I'm not looking for a relationship right now. I tell her I can't see myself ever settling down enough to think of the big 'M' word. If she cries, then that's the end of the yellow zone." He swiped a hand through the air. "You're in the red, and you get the fuck out of there with your ass hanging outta your pants if need be."
"And if she's okay with you not wanting more?"
Mike shrugged. "I haven't met many women like this. Maybe one or two. Most of the time they cry and I book it out of there."
Stephen shook his head. "You're in the red zone way too much, aren't you?"
"I don't know anything about red zones," a feminine voice said, "but he's definitely in my seat."
Mike looked up and caught his breath at the vision in front of him. Her fiery red hair almost reached her waist, she had the brightest blue eyes he'd ever seen, and he could see the hint of dimples on either side of her mouth. Dimples that would surely pop if she smiled.
But instead of smiling, she glowered down at him as if he'd killed her favorite cat and cooked it into a soup. "Excuse me?" Mike splayed his arm across the top of the booth. "No one stole anything. This booth was empty and we sat in it. It's kind of the way seats in public places work. When you leave, it's up for grabs."
She slid into the seat next to him without invitation. In Garrett's seat. "I beg to differ. I got up to use the ladies room and then you were here. I even left my drink here to keep my seat, and put a note on top not to clear the table — that I'd be back."
Mike picked up an empty glass. "You mean this finished drink?"
"That's mine." She took it from him. "You can clearly see it's the same shade of lipstick I'm wearing now."
He looked at her lips. Her very red, very kissable lips. "Indeed. But where's this note?"
She looked on the table, then underneath. "It was here. I swear it."
"Well ... it's not now, so we didn't know." He watched her, unable to help himself. She had a certain vivacity to her that enthralled him. She practically hummed with energy and excitement. If this were any other night, he'd buy her a drink and get to know those lips a little better. "Sorry for the misunderstanding but we didn't see a note."
"Uh, thanks. I think." She fidgeted under his stare, and when she tugged the neckline of her shirt down nervously, he caught sight of a glittery bra.
Son of a bitch. One of the boys must've hired a stripper for Garrett — even though he'd specifically requested not to have one. If Garrett were marrying anyone else besides his baby sister, he would have laughed and paid for the performance. Hell, he would have even approved.
But not this time.
"Which one of you dickwads did this?" he asked to no one in particular. Mike scowled and pulled out his wallet. "I appreciate the fact that you came here to dance for our boy but you're not needed. I'll pay you for the dance anyway, but then you can go home."
She stiffened, and turned to face him with wide eyes. The fury in her eyes would have smote him on the spot, if she had the capability to shoot fire from them. He'd be nothing but singed ashes on the burgundy plastic seat.
"Buddy, you couldn't afford me even if you tried," she said. "And FYI? I'm not a stripper. Not all dancers are strippers, but I wouldn't expect someone like you to know that."
And with that, she shoved out of the booth and crossed the bar with her head held high and her jean-shorts-clad ass swinging with each step. Who the fuck wore shorts in March, anyway? Women with the longest, leanest, sexiest legs he'd ever seen. Women like her.
Her brown cowboy boots stomped their way across the room, and he had a feeling she used those boots to stomp all over men, too. She tossed one last spiteful look back at him and then sank into an empty barstool.
Couldn't look away.CHAPTER 2
Morgan Collins ignored the weight of that man's stare with the stubborn determination that had been rightfully handed down to her from a long line of stubborn Irish women.
Of all the arrogant, insufferable, no good know-it-alls in the world, that man sitting in her seat was definitely the worst. And then some. First, he stole her booth and didn't even care. Then he topped that off with accusing her of being a stripper and trying to send her off sans the dance he'd thought she was trying to deliver.
She didn't know which was more insulting — the fact that he'd automatically assumed she was a stripper, or the fact that he hadn't wanted her to dance for him at all. Like, what the hell was his problem, anyway? How had he even known she was a dancer? Maybe he had recognized her from the stage. That could have led to his snide assumption about her being a stripper. Some men didn't know the difference between a Vegas showgirl who danced because she loved the art and a stripper who took her clothes off for money.
She wasn't one of those girls.
She danced because she was a dancer. She didn't know a life without dancing and hoped she never would. Dancing was her life. The thing that made her happiest and most fulfilled. A burst of masculine laughter crossed the loud bar and she looked over her shoulder. It was him, all right. How bad was it that she recognized his laugh already? He'd been over there, in her seat, for two hours now. Laughing with his buddies, tipping back the drinks.
While she'd been stood up by her blind date.
She was supposed to meet some guy her friend had hooked her up with but the jerk hadn't even bothered to show. Between that dating disaster, the audition she'd gone on earlier that she was sure she'd blown, and the asshat in her booth, her self-esteem had taken a blow today. A big one.
As she watched him in what she hoped was an un-obvious manner, his group of men stood up and exited the bar. Leaving only one behind — the same one who'd insulted her. He slid back into the booth, spread his legs across the seat, and stared back at her.
Wait. Back at her? Oh, crap, she was still staring, wasn't she?
He cocked a brow at her but she refused to look away. She'd been caught. Might as well make herself look cocky and bold instead of skittering away like a frightened lamb. When she didn't back down, he grinned and pointed at the seat opposite him — the other half of the booth that was quite empty now. He wanted her to sit with him.
Excerpted from Take 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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