Read an Excerpt
Worth the Risk
A Risk It All Novella
By Robin Bielman, Adrien-Luc Sanders, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Robin Bielman
All rights reserved.
Somewhere between the first and third floors of the high-rise office building, Samantha Bennett leaned against the wall of the elevator and willed her rising temperature to cool it. She couldn't show up to her job interview looking like she'd run the six blocks from her hotel.
The strangers filling the elevator on their way to work weren't helping to ease her anxiety. And she really wanted to figure out who had decided to douse himself with cologne and tell him that less was more. Instead, she slid one sweaty palm down the skirt of her new black suit while the other squeezed the handle of the umbrella she'd bought this morning. Thank you, gloomy Idaho sky.
Five floors and a few deep breaths later, the nerves bunched across her shoulder blades had finally drifted away. But when the elevator doors opened and her gaze fell over the shoulder of the woman crowded in front of her, her legs shook. The man squeezing into the front swept a new kind of panic over her.
Quivers traipsed down her spine. She angled herself for a better look, but hopefully one where he wouldn't notice her.
God, he looked good. Better than she remembered. His caramel-colored hair was streaked with lighter shades, indicating he still spent a lot of his time outdoors. It hung a little longer now, more surfer-chic than Indiana Jones. Shoulders broader and a chest more developed hid behind a thin khaki T-shirt. Longing overcame panic. Her body tingled. Everywhere.
All the women in the elevator were eyeing him.
His nearness made everything she'd fought to forget come roaring back to the surface. Samantha worried her bottom lip. She wavered slightly, her hand twitching around the umbrella stem. The elevator doors shut, and —
The umbrella opened.
"Oh my God! I'm so sorry!"
The expanding nylon whacked several people in the back as bodies bumped. Gasps of annoyance filled the tiny space. Flustered, Samantha took a few seconds to close the damn thing.
Once the umbrella shut, she snuck a peek in his direction. He'd turned his head, but a swift duck while she'd gathered her dignity saved her from meeting his gaze.
"Sorry," she muttered again, feeling her cheeks heat and perspiration slide down her side.
His face was the same. The same one she'd dreamed about countless times over the past five years: the square jaw, slightly crooked nose, piercing aquamarine eyes that never wavered during a conversation. The tiny smile that had passed over his lips had her itching to see if he was still ticklish in that little spot on his hip.
Get a grip, Sam.
At this moment, if he asked her, she'd forget all about the job interview and once again follow him from Yosemite to the Badlands.
No, she wouldn't. She was indifferent to him now. And she needed to focus on the meeting, on landing the contract, or she might not be going anywhere but the unemployment line.
It should have been a done deal. The World Heritage Fund was the largest international nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historical sites. Global climate change contributed more and more to the organization's plight, and they were looking for a partnership with another environmental company to preserve Route 66. The famous highway, stretching over two thousand miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, had been replaced by an interstate highway system a long time ago, but a recent bill signed into law to preserve and restore historic features like gas stations, cafés, and trading posts along the route had put it back on the map.
Samantha's employer, Global Site Preservation, wanted the job. It meant national exposure. It meant an unprecedented alliance. It meant Samantha's freelance position with the company could turn into something more permanent. If she didn't come through with the account, she feared they'd start looking for someone more established.
That could not happen. She needed to keep this job more than she needed anything else. It would prove to her father that she could make it on her own. His scathing words when she decided to leave his law firm still flooded her with sadness. And doubt.
The elevator doors chimed and people exited. Her body tensed at the loss of barriers. At the next floor, the woman she'd been trying desperately to hide behind abandoned her, leaving her feeling exposed. Naked. Uncomfortable in her own skin. She prayed Dean wouldn't turn around.
He'd left World Heritage Fund a year ago to start his own preservation company — Monument & Heritage Recovery — and Samantha hadn't been able to resist keeping track of the California-based organization. Dean had gained a great deal of respect in a short time. So why was he in town? If she'd known he'd be here, she could have prepared herself. Or better yet, done everything possible to avoid him.
The risk he posed to her was too great, even after all this time.
Dizziness swooped in as she realized they'd be getting off the elevator at the same floor. She blinked back the disorientation to glance at her watch. Was there time to pass her floor and circle back after he departed?
He'd probably come to town for a simple visit. His father owned World Heritage Fund, after all, and while everyone in the field knew Dean's departure had strained the father-son relationship, she imagined he still came to Idaho now and then.
Dean. His name conjured up all sorts of images she needed to extinguish from her mind. Pronto.
"Thank you," a woman said, exiting the elevator while he held out an arm to hold the doors open.
"No problem," he replied, his familiar voice causing all sorts of flutters in her stomach. Dammit. The smooth texture of his tone still affected her in ways she was powerless to control.
You don't care about him, remember?
She focused on the metal doors closing. If she didn't, she'd slide down the elevator wall like hot fudge on ice cream. There were only two more floors to go, so she needed to buckle down. She could do this. She had to do this. Sure, his presence rattled her, but she was meeting with his father, not with him. Besides, five years had passed since they'd seen each other. Reason indicated they could offer each other friendly hellos and be done with it.
Unless Samantha took into account the broken heart he'd left her with. The broken heart she hadn't let anyone else come close to healing.
Suck it up, she thought. The job matters and nothing else. She'd dedicated the past few years to getting herself to this point, and she had no intention of blowing it now just because Dean Malloy stood three feet away from her.
Finally they arrived at the twenty-third floor. She waited, pretending it wasn't her stop, so that Dean would exit first. After he did, she followed, catching the closing elevator doors with her trusty — not! — umbrella.
Hanging back, she watched him greet the receptionist before moving deeper into the office and disappearing from view. The sight of his broad shoulders, nice-fitting khakis, and easy swagger sent her entire body into an unwelcome mess of memories. She wondered what it would be like to touch him again, to hold his hand, to kiss him.
"Good morning," she said to the receptionist, her voice more strained than she would've liked. She cleared her throat. "I have a nine o'clock appointment with William Malloy. I'm Sam Bennett."
The fifty-something woman with warm eyes moved a mouthpiece away from her lips. "Yes, Miss Bennett. Have a seat, please, and I'll let him know you're here." She gestured toward a sitting area with dark green couches.
Sam willed her body to relax as she grabbed a magazine off the table beside the couch. It wasn't easy in her suit, the skirt riding up a little higher than she'd realized it would. She pressed her knees together, sat taller, and tried to pull it down. No luck. With a defeated sigh, she opened the magazine to a photograph of a backpacker on a mountain.
The image immediately reminded her of Yosemite, and the first time she'd met Dean. She'd decided to take a month off before law school to journey around the western part of the country, wanting to see the great outdoors that her uppity father had deemed too incidental for their family vacations. On her second day there, she'd bumped into Dean at the top of Vernal Falls.
Fresh off graduation ceremonies at Harvard, Dean was the daring adventurer she'd always dreamed of meeting. Not to mention his adorable charm and irresistible smile made her eager to follow him wherever he might go. Left to her own devices, she would have stayed on the straight and narrow, covered the routes most taken, and missed seeing anything out of the ordinary. Dean had offered more.
Her stomach knotted at the memory. She'd been unable to resist him.
His voice shook her from her memories, and she scrambled to lift the magazine in front of her face.
"Do you think you could get Henry O'Neill on the phone? He's supposed to meet Dad and me for lunch today."
With trepidation, Samantha peeked from behind her magazine. Dean stood at the reception desk — all calm, cool, six-foot-two-inches of him. His approachable posture, his muscular biceps, his confidence, were an irresistible combination that made her want to jump up and shout, Look over here!
But she didn't. She couldn't. The way her heart pounded in her chest, the way her body warmed in all the wrong places, the way she still daydreamed about him ... it wasn't indifference she felt. And she'd promised herself to forget any feelings of attachment where he was concerned.
Damn him for being here.
She tried to drag her eyes away, but she failed. Honestly, looking at him was better than looking at a sunrise, or a rainbow, or a snow-capped mountain. He must have sensed her heated gaze, because he turned to look in her direction. With about the swiftness of a three-year-old, she whipped her face back behind the magazine, lowered her chin, and squeezed her eyes shut.
"Henry," Dean said a moment later, saving her, she hoped, from discovery. And major embarrassment.
Samantha didn't dare look at him again, and she prayed his conversation would be short, because her arms were beginning to get tired from holding up the magazine. It was a good thing her pre-adolescent dream of becoming Nancy Drew hadn't panned out. She sucked at covert operations. Even at twenty-seven.
Thankfully, Henry quickly agreed to the time and place for lunch. Sam opened her eyes to read about "35 Dream Jobs: Turn Your Passion into a Paycheck" and wondered if someone were trying to tell her something. Footsteps, she assumed Dean's, sounded, then quieted, relieving her once again. Sort of. Just knowing he was in the same office created nervous tension inside her. No way would her mind win over her body's reaction to Dean, so she'd have to do whatever it took to stay away from him.
This was supposed to be a done deal, she thought again, willing her mind back to the task at hand. Then her body stiffened. Was Dean the hotshot environmentalist World Heritage Fund was also accepting a proposal from?
She dropped the magazine into her lap.
"Sam," Dean said, sitting across from her with a smile that slayed her.CHAPTER 2
It was her. His girl of summer all those years ago.
The pair of powder blue eyes he couldn't look away from made his gut clench. Her startled expression amused him. Her floral fragrance immediately unlocked memories he'd tried not to think about, and a smile he couldn't contain spread across his face. Lingered.
He'd noticed her the second he'd stepped back into the lobby. No. That wasn't true. He'd noticed her on the elevator, but he hadn't thought it possible she was the girl he'd spent a few summer weeks with. Now he knew.
To his surprise — and delight — her close proximity quickened his pulse and stimulated blood flow to all sorts of body parts. A rush of feelings bombarded him — heat, joy, desire, fear. The simple act of seeing her again stirred far too many complex feelings, emotions he thought he'd left on mountaintops and hiking trails of national parks years ago.
"Dean," she said, so softly, so innocently sexy, that his groin tightened.
They stared at each other. Speechless.
She still looked like an angel with a devilish edge he knew could be coaxed out with the right words. Her luscious heart-shaped lips spoke to him without movement. Honey-colored hair neatly pulled back indicated a more manicured appearance, yet there was no mistaking her youthful spirit. Her hiding behind a magazine confirmed that.
"Wow. It's good to see you." He stood and leaned over to kiss her cheek. The contact sent a jolt of electricity through him.
"Oh my gosh. It's good to see you, too." The corners of her mouth pulled upward to reveal a killer smile that brightened her almond-shaped eyes.
He carried her sweet smell back with him as he sat, and images of the two of them assaulted his mind. Like a thirty-second film clip, memories bombarded his brain in rapid succession: he and Samantha holding hands, laughing, touching, kissing, undressing.
Pausing for a moment before speaking, he really looked at her. God, she was even more breathtaking now. He couldn't believe he was seeing her in the flesh.
He could tell by the way her eyes narrowed that she was sizing him up, too. The trance between them filled the air with wonder and ... curiosity? Was she as interested in him as he was in her? It honestly felt like no time had passed since he'd last seen her, and suddenly he wanted something lengthier than a brief hello and how are you.
What the hell was he thinking?
He'd come to town to get a job. A very lucrative job that would catapult his company to the top of its field and give him the distinction he craved. His father wasn't handing over the partnership for Route 66, but was making Dean work for it. And adding competition from Global Site Preservation, a renowned environmental company based in Chicago with a much longer track record and better-known reputation than Dean's.
Hooking up with Samantha would be a really bad idea. He didn't need or want any distractions. Besides, the last time he'd seen her, she'd broken his heart.
"How've you been?" he asked, snapping the charged tension between them.
"I'm really well, thank you." She cleared her throat. "And you?"
"Good. Really good." He relaxed into the couch, his gaze stuck on the flecks of green in her blue eyes. "I'm surprised to see you here."
She squirmed a little, her hands gripping the magazine. "I could say the same to you. I'd read you started your own company in California, contributing to the preservation of important sites and striving to guarantee future generations get the privilege of knowing their history."
"Wow. You sound pretty knowledgeable on the subject. Have you been influenced by all the hype over environmental issues and climate change, or are you just keeping tabs on me?"
Her cheeks reddened and he imagined he'd caught her off guard with his directness. He remembered seeing her blush on several occasions that had been much more intimate. Shit. If he weren't careful, he'd get a hard-on right here in front of her.
"Last I remember," he continued, "you were headed to law school and then a career with your father's firm, doing contract law, I think it was." He had deliberately changed the topic of conversation to her.
"Actually, I'm in environmental law and preservation now." She sat up taller, straightened her back. "After law school I did work for my father, but then decided to go to night school to get my MBA in Environmental Policy and Management, too. Some guy I'd met really made an impression on me, and I didn't want to be stuck doing estate contracts the rest of my life." Her flat tone left no doubt that she wanted to keep her distance from him.
"Sounds like a smart guy."
"I've met smarter since."
Excerpted from Worth the Risk by Robin Bielman, Adrien-Luc Sanders, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2012 Robin Bielman. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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