A university research scientist, Kit Averin is practical to a fault. Even after she and her friends Zoe and Greer win the lottery, Kit doesn’t want the windfall to change her life in any way except one: she’s finally buying her first real home. Now, between work and her new fixer-upper house, she has more than enough to keep her busy. But then an unsettlingly handsome and determined corporate recruiter shows up in her lab—and manages to work his way into her heart.
Ben Tucker is surprised to find that the scientist he wants for Beaumont Materials is a beautiful, sharp-witted young woman. Talking her into a big-money position with his firm is harder than he expects, but he’s willing to put in the time, especially when sticking around for the summer gives him a chance to reconnect with his dad. What begins as a chilly rebuff soon heats up into an attraction neither Kit nor Ben can deny. Suddenly finding themselves lucky in love might just be priceless . . .
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A Chance of a Lifetime Romance
By Kate Clayborn
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Kate Clayborn
All rights reserved.
So the thing is, I haven't quite worked out how to live like a millionaire.
Not that I have much acquaintance with millionaires, really, except for Greer and Zoe, but they're new to the game too. In my mind, millionaires probably do not keep wearing a pair of black pants long after they don't really look black anymore. They probably buy new glasses instead of buying tiny screw kits to fix old ones. They probably do not drive a fourteen-year-old hatchback with no radio, nor do they live in one-bedroom apartments above bars, even really nice bars.
Millionaires also probably do not spend four hours of a workday wiping what was about fifty years of accumulated dirt off lab equipment, because millionaires probably have people they pay for that sort of thing.
I tip a bit more ethanol onto my rag to polish one last spot on the steel creep frame we've recently inherited — it's old, but it'll still do the job for some of our most aggressive stress testing. At this point, it's started to gleam under my attentions, and I get a little thrill of pride at seeing things coming together. This morning when I'd come in, I'd hoped to steal some time on the microscope, especially since in these early weeks of summer, most of the graduate students who use the scopes, untethered from their teaching assignments, are working irregular hours, sometimes coming out of the building rumpled and bleary-eyed at seven a.m. when I'm usually arriving. But when Dr. Singh had asked if I could spare some time getting the lab in shape for the campus photographer, I hadn't hesitated. This lab is where I'd done most of the work for my master's thesis, and it's where I still, almost four years later, train some of the newcomers.
Millionaires like me, I guess, get a little thrill from this kind of thing, and if I wish that some of the graduate students around here shared in my sense of protectiveness about this lab — well, that's okay.
Once I feel the rag slide easily over the steel, I take a step back and turn in a slow circle, admiring my work. I may need to hit the windows one more time — a few are looking a little streaky still. Dr. Singh's lab is the most modest in the materials science department, but damn if I didn't get it the cleanest. It probably won't even make the cut for the photographer, but it's the principle of the thing.
I snort a little, just thinking this. Principles, I suspect, are also part of the reason I have so far been a shitty millionaire. Aside from the fact that I'd lived in a state of near-panic right after the win, begging Zoe and Greer to be the ones to do the Virginia state lottery's mandated press appearance so my name could be left out of it as much as possible, I'd also second-guessed almost every purchase I even thought about making, and consequently made hardly any at all. Three months ago, Greer, newly thrilled by every single college course she was enrolled in, told me I was acting like Silas Marner. Which I found very offensive, once I googled Silas Marner.
But no more miserly Kit, not after today. Today, I'm taking the afternoon off and finally, officially — six months after winning the jackpot — making my biggest dream come true. Thinking about it puts a wide smile on my face, which I can see reflected in those shiny windows I cleaned all morning.
"Excuse me," comes a deep voice from behind me, and it's so unexpected that I jump a little, hitting my elbow on the creep frame I've just finished cleaning.
"Ow," I mutter, turning to meet — oh, only the most attractive person I have ever actually seen in real life, unless something is happening to my vision. I raise a hand immediately to my face, noting the lab goggles I am wearing — right, this is ideal — over my actual glasses. I pull them off, the rubbery strap getting a little stuck in my hair, and wince when a few strands come out. Once I've got my glasses straightened, I have another look.
And, yeah. Still the most attractive person I've ever seen, tall and broad-shouldered with sandy-blond hair and a square, set jaw, eyes so blue I can see them even from several feet away, where he's standing in the doorway. I don't usually go for guys in suits, probably because most of the men in my line of work are more the rumpled-khakis or jeans type, but damn. This guy wears a suit like it's his job. Which, it probably is his job, since it's noon on a Friday.
"I'm looking for E.R. Averin." Excellent voice too — deep and smooth, and I had not really realized until this moment that I am so hard up if I am noticing this man's voice so forcefully. Maybe there was something to Zoe's constant haranguing about my nonexistent dating life.
"Well, you found her," I say, glad to hear that my own voice, at least, sounds normal.
"I —" He paused, looked back over his shoulder. "I have?"
"You have." He blinks, unbuttons and then rebuttons his jacket. It is awkward to a high degree, and let me tell you what, you don't spend your life around a bunch of experimental scientists without getting a real skewed sense of what's awkward. This guy seems completely thrown.
"You're E.R. Averin?" he says, a little edge of doubt in his voice, and it's at this point that I get almost relieved to know what I'm dealing with. Not for nothing am I the only female — not to mention the youngest — lab technician to ever work in this department, and in fact the only woman working in a lab tech role in the College of Engineering. I've dealt with a lot of dudes who have doubted me.
"I think I've made that clear, Mr. ...?"
He has the decency to look genuinely chastened. "My apologies, Professor Averin. I'm Ben Tucker."
He steps forward, holding out his — well, very nice, very large — hand, but I hold up the bottle of ethanol and my rag, shrugging in half-hearted apology. "Hello, Mr. Tucker. I'm not a professor."
"Right, yes. I apologize."
"That's okay," I say, and I almost feel sorry for him. There's something about him, some weary feature behind his handsomeness, that gives me the sense I'm getting him on a bad day.
"Please, call me Ben."
"Okay, Ben. Call me Ms. Averin."
He smiles at that, and I suspect on anyone else it would seem condescending, that smile. But his seems genuine — wide and a little crooked on the left side, chasing a dimple that appears in his cheek. "Right," he says again.
There's a beat of silence, while I take in that smile of his, that dimple. I probably smile back a little, despite my best efforts to look stoic and completely unaffected by him.
"How can I help you, Ben?"
"I'm here representing Beaumont Materials."
I know Beaumont Materials — anyone who works in my field, who does any kind of work at all in materials science, knows about a company that manufactures everything from pipelines to jet engines to those little plastic thingamajigs you can use to hang pictures without nails. But some additional thread of familiarity tugs at my brain. I generally have a good memory, but probably this guy's jerk-hotness has scrambled it. I decide not to try and sort it, and head instead over to the steel storage cabinet where we keep supplies, putting some distance between me and my new visitor. "Go on," I say, appreciating the opportunity to look busy. "I just need to start packing up here."
"We've reached out to you recently, Ms. Averin, regarding the article you and your coauthors published in Metallurgy International."
Oh. Oh, fuck, I do remember now what that tug of memory is, and my palms go a little more sweaty beneath my latex gloves. "Ah. Yes. I saw a couple of emails. I don't remember seeing your name, though."
"I wasn't part of the original contact team," he says, stepping farther into the room. "But I read your paper, and I decided I had to meet you, and talk to you about the opportunities Beaumont could offer you for your research."
"I don't want any opportunities from Beaumont," I say, more quickly, more defensively than I intend. I'm immediately grateful for the fact that I'm here alone today — just as I don't want anyone here knowing about the lottery, I don't want them catching wind of Beaumont trying to contact me. When those emails had come in, I'd deleted them almost right away, same as I did with any message from potential employers. I'm happy here, and I don't even want there to be a suggestion to anyone around that I'm otherwise.
He smiles again, and — ugh. I need to get this guy out of here; he is terrible for my self-preservation. "I think we got that message from your silence," he says, "but I'm afraid we couldn't let this go without having the chance to tell you what exactly it is we are willing to do for you." He looks around the lab as he says this, and I suppress a wince — all right, so it may be super clean in here, but it is far from state-of-the art, and to a guy coming from Beaumont Materials, it probably looks budget as all get-out. Even after ten years of being here, Dr. Singh was still the most recent faculty hire, and he'd inherited this, the oldest lab, on a side of the building where the HVAC was unreliable and the floors had never been replaced.
"I've got everything I need here," I say, but at that exact moment yet another handle from the already-dilapidated steel cabinet falls off, clattering on the peeling, faded linoleum. "I mean except for functional handles."
Hell. That dimple. "We could take care of that."
"I'm sure you could," I say, hooking a finger through the hole left by the wayward handle and pulling open the cabinet.
"As I'm sure you know, state-of-the-art equipment is the least of what we'd be willing to do to have you on board. Beaumont is working on alloy technologies that relate directly to your research, and we think we could make a real difference working together."
I let out an unladylike snort at this, this cookie-cutter pitch he's giving me. And anyways, I know what alloy technology Beaumont's been pouring most of its money into in the last five years — big oil and big guns — and I want no part of either. My work's always been about figuring out weaknesses in old materials, studying bridge or pipeline failures, figuring out how to make what's already here work better. "I'm not looking to make that kind of difference," I say, setting the jug of ethanol back in its place.
"Many of the scientists we work with have that reaction initially, I can assure you. But Beaumont's packages are very attractive — we're talking a great deal of funding sources for your work. Let me take you to lunch and tell you —"
I cut him off here, bored with everything he has to say, and that's in spite of the fact that I'm pretty sure I could look at him for a good, long time. "Tell me about the nondisclosure agreement you're going to make me sign, so I can't publish research that might hurt your bottom line? Tell me about the devil's bargain this will turn out to be, when Beaumont uses my research to make some product that is horrible for the environment, or that you put on some weapon that you sell to the government at huge cost? Tell me about all the fine print that says you can terminate my contract if I'm not producing patentable material in the next two years? Listen, no offense to you, Ben, but there's a reason I've avoided private funding in the work I do. There's a reason I work here."
"Two of your colleagues here are backed with corporate funding." Don't I know it. Dr. Harroway and Dr. Wagner both have massive corporate support, and there's no kind of fifty-plus years of dirt on any of their equipment. If my lottery money would have made any kind of dent in what we'd need to match corporate funding, I would've donated it all. "And the College of Engineering is exploring avenues for long-term partnerships with industry."
I can feel my eyes narrow at him. This kind of guy was the reason academic research was becoming — was already — a patsy for big money. "Let me ask you something about that Metallurgy International article," I say, rising to my full — not very full, frankly — height. "What did you think of the technique I used to prepare samples for heat treatment in step three of my experiments?"
It's fleeting, but I catch it, I think: a flash of something near surprise in his eyes, but he so quickly arranges his features into a sly, I'm-not-ashamed-that-you-caught-me devilishness that I suspect Ben Tucker never really lets himself get taken off guard. To this, I shrug my shoulders casually. "I don't really blame you, actually. I didn't write it with a corporate audience — with someone like you — in mind. But this is why I'm not interested in working for your company. I enjoy working with people who really know what it is that I do, and more importantly, with people who know what I really want to do with it."
He lowers his eyes for a moment, looking down to where the cabinet handle rests on the floor. Damn, he has long eyelashes, a dark contrast to his light hair, which is actually unacceptable for me to be noticing at this time.
He looks back up and smiles at me. "I like you," he says, and I stiffen in surprise and a fair bit of anger.
Because this is also unacceptable. What does he think, that I'll roll right over and show him my belly, in gratitude for a little male attention? I've known guys like this. I'd taken notes all through general chemistry for a guy like this in my first year of college, stupidly not realizing that for him, the notes were all that I was good for.
"Oh, is this the part where you skate right over the fact that you didn't actually read my paper, and instead tell me I've got 'spunk,' that I'm exactly what Beaumont needs?"
"No. That's me telling you. Independent of Beaumont." He says this firmly, with more conviction than he's said anything else so far.
"Well. I know your type, and flattery isn't going to work, either."
I feel it, right here, that I'm losing a little control over the conversation, but I'm stuck with it, so I barrel on. "Oh, sure. You come in here, with your" — I pause here, to gesture vaguely in the direction of his body — "your suit. And your face, and ..." I swallow the rest of it. I want him out of here. I'm afraid someone will come in, Dr. Singh, or any one of the faculty or graduate students who would probably wet their pants at meeting a Beaumont executive who seems to be handing out jobs. "Listen, it's very kind of you to come all this way. But I did read those emails, so I know something about what you're offering. I'm just really, really not interested. And I do, actually, have an appointment."
He takes a deep breath and nods. His skin is golden-brown, a light tan, but I think I see flags of color on his cheeks. This is his fault, coming in here sleek but unprepared, but suddenly I feel a little guilty for being so dismissive. Before I can say anything, though, he speaks again. "I understand. I'm ..." he trails off, long enough to run a hand through his hair, before continuing, "... sorry to have wasted your time."
He steps forward a little, holding out his hand. I catch a little scent of something — pine, maybe. Whatever it is, it's not what I'm expecting. With the suit he's wearing, I'd expected some upmarket version of that heinous body spray I sometimes get a whiff of when one of the undergrads is trying to compensate for not-very-clean-laundry. Ben, though, he smells — clean. Natural.
I take his hand and shake it, forgetting the glove I still have on. He looks down and chuckles a little at the contact, and I try not to be ashamed of the little shiver that chases down my spine at the sound of that.
"It was very nice to meet you, Ms. Averin," he says, and then he turns and leaves the room, as quietly as he'd come in.
For a minute, I stare after him, a little confused, thrown off. I've been recruited before, especially back when I was finishing up my thesis, but never quite that way, never by someone that looked like him. One thing about it was the same, though — that quick-shot feeling of fear that would go through me at the very idea of having to pick up and leave here, start all over again. I can't do that anymore. I've had my fill of it.
I strip off my gloves and shrug out of my lab coat, cast my eyes up at the clock. There's no time for me to be distracted by Ben Tucker or by my disproportionate reaction to his offer. If there's any day when I don't need to feel threatened by an upheaval, it's today.
Today, I've got millionaire dreams to make come true.
* * *
"It's like a four," Zoe says, peering out the back window to the small, overgrown yard, "on a scale of shithole to ten."
Excerpted from Beginner's Luck by Kate Clayborn. Copyright © 2017 Kate Clayborn. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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