In Gamble in Gold by Natalie Anderson, seven years have passed since shy Lexie Peterson had her heart trampled by her teenage crush. And Luke Marchetti walks into his flat to find Lexie in a negligee, all he can think of is having a little flirt and fling. But Lexie's determination to keep him at a distance makes him realize she deserves more than he can offer. Is one kiss enough to entice the two to take a gamble on love?
About the Author
USA TODAY bestseller Natalie Anderson writes fun, frisky, feels-good contemporary romance for Entangled Publishing and Harlequin. With over twenty books published, shes also been a Romantic Times Award nominee&a finalist for the R*BY (Romantic Book of the Year).
She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband, four children and what feels like a million ducks.
Read an Excerpt
"I'll only be a minute, sweetheart," Lexie Peterson called back to the whimpering dog lying in the middle of the massive bed.
With a laugh, she headed down the hall to the gleaming fridge in the luxury kitchen. She'd never have picked Luke Marchetti to own such a pathetic excuse for a pooch. Sure the thing was cute, but it was so not Luke. And what kind of a name for a dog was Mango? And how on earth could Dani's stepdaughter be afraid of a dog smaller than the average cat and burdened with a snuffle instead of a bark?
Not that Lexie was going to argue with Dani. Lexie had landed in London three days ago with no money, no job, and nowhere to stay. Her best friend — and Luke's sister — had handed her Mango and the keys to Luke's apartment. Lexie had resisted until Dani assured her that Luke was out of town for the month and his serviced apartment was empty. Given that poor Mango had gone on a hunger strike at the kennel where Luke had dumped him, and that Dani's four-year-old stepdaughter was paralytically afraid of any kind of hound (even uber-midget hounds like Mango), Lexie was really doing them all a huge favor by taking care of the critter while Luke was away. That way she could find a job and a flat, and frankly, a life. Dani always had all the answers.
So here Lexie was, in the lion's den. The home of the one and only Luke Marchetti, her high school crush. Her first-ever crush. Now some superstar management consultant at one of those trendy global firms that only hired amazing graduates with extreme extracurricular success. Which pretty much described Luke to a tee. The guy didn't just go for gold, he was gold. Even now he was off being awesome, doing something most mere mortals couldn't ever manage — a marathon. But he wasn't just running a marathon. He was blistering his feet to help someone else.
Lexie tried hard not to be all that impressed. She was determined that seven years had taken care of her crush. Seven years in which she'd not seen him, other than in the family pics Dani occasionally posted on Facebook. And Lexie absolutely did not scan each with microscopic care in case he featured in the background somewhere. But Fantasy Luke still made the occasional appearance in her dreams. She'd tried to ban him, telling herself he wasn't worth the brain space. Or the angst. She'd had enough of that when she was a teen. Because Lexie knew that even the greatest people have some kind of weakness. And Luke Marchetti's weakness was women. Lots and lots of women. Bluntly put, he was a super mega slut who would never settle down. In reality, Mr. Perfect was Mr. Playboy.
And worse? To him she'd always been — and doubtless always would be — the shy New Zealand exchange student who'd stayed with his family for six months all those years ago. And while he'd been driven in his achievements even back then, he'd also driven right over the hearts of several pretty young things just during her time there. Too charming and successful for his — or anyone else's — good. The number of ex-flirts must be in the thousands by now. He had no clue the impact that summer in Boston had had on her. As far as Lexie was concerned, he never would.
As she poured some juice into a glass, she heard a faint noise. "I'm coming, Mr. Impatience!" she called to the dog. Honestly, the tiny thing had a huge attachment disorder, hating to be alone for even a second.
But then she heard another noise, far too big a thud for it to be Mango jumping off the bed. Fear crushed her lungs to quarter-size, making any kind of normal breathing impossible. She carefully put the glass on the counter. It was after 10:00 p.m. Not exactly time for visitors. She hadn't left the front door open, had she? Surely she couldn't have been that dumb? But she heard the thump again, and another. They were getting louder. Was someone in the flat?
Her heart thundering louder than a riled crowd at an All Blacks rugby game, Lexie went out into the hall.
Oh f —
Shock strangled her larynx, blocking the curse from escaping. Her eyes couldn't be seeing right, but she couldn't even blink to check. No way. He was supposed to be in Hertfordshire, not here. Definitely not here. Hell no.
Hell yes. Luke Marchetti stood in the hallway, frozen a few paces away, his head cocked to one side and his face pale — which was weird given he had a natural bronze complexion that she'd always envied. Was he unwell? Or was he just really shocked to see her?
"Lexie?!" He stared. His mouth was still ajar as his gaze slowly traveled down from her face to her —
Oh my effing G!
It was amazing the way her innards could shrivel yet her body remain standing. Because she was wearing ... wearing ...
Crap. Not that much, actually. A negligee. A smooth, silky thing she'd put on in a fit of madness, deciding that an apartment this posh needed exquisite lace to go with it. There were no Fantasy Luke elements attached to how sensual it had made her feel. None at all. Anyway, Real Luke was frowning far too much, turning any remnant Fantasy Luke images to dust.
Silently he shifted his focus, looking over her shoulder along the hall toward the open bedroom door. That would be right. He always looked beyond her. Even when she was wearing an almost sheer scrap of silk and lace that barely covered her butt.
Could Mother Earth gobble her in a single bite now? Please?
Lexie watched his eyes widen, witnessing the moment aggression kicked in. She glanced at his curled fingers, looked back up to the flat line of his mouth and the even harder look in his eyes. Lexie had never seen him so rigid before, or his face so inexpressive. Hot pride burned brighter, masking her mortification. What was he doing back here anyway? He wasn't supposed to be back for almost a month.
"Who are you here with, Lexie?"
She was so surprised she couldn't speak. But damn it, she was not going to regress to shy and incomprehensible Lexie just because she was in his presence again. She was older, bolder, and totally could control her crippling nerves. Totally.
"Who were you talking to?" he asked.
But she was still dumbstruck and staring. Luke was also older and — impossibly — bolder. In black jeans and a V-necked black tee, he looked like a pirate. He'd filled out so fabulously. His wide shoulders pulled the worn shirt. It skimmed his frame, emphasizing solid muscles and a serious lack of fat. His head had been all but shaved — hell, the stubble on his chin was almost longer than that on his head. But it didn't hide his razor-edged square jaw. She knew he'd gotten Olympics fit with all that training — literally — but it wasn't like he'd ever had any softness to him. The only difference was that now his muscles bunched even tighter. Frankly, he was rocking a lean, mean Navy SEAL look, but more than that, Lexie knew he had endurance and mental toughness to top it off.
Right now he looked more than tough — he looked lethal. A six-foot-two block of muscle standing halfway down the hall. In one-to-one mortal combat Luke would always be the winner. And in slaying any woman who crossed his path? Well, Lexie was already lost.
"Who were you talking to?" he asked again in the face of her silence.
Lexie drew a breath and told herself to shape the hell up. She wasn't seventeen anymore. "Your dog."
He looked even more shocked than he had a second ago. "Mannie?"
She could understand the desire to abbreviate the mutt's name.
"There's no one else here?"
A smile suddenly creased his face, full of tease. "So you wear that to bed even when you're sleeping alone?"
"Not alone," she said defiantly. She was so not going to blush in front of him as she had so many times in the past, just because he'd been present. Certainly not now that he'd decided to turn some of the legendary charm on her. "With Mango."
At that point her brief bit of moxie dissolved and she turned and zipped back into the kitchen, desperate to find something to cover herself with.
She heard a vague mutter behind her. It sounded suspiciously like "Lucky Mango."
In the kitchen she frantically hunted around. Idiot. She should have gone to the bedroom for clothes but the kitchen had been the nearest doorway. A dishcloth wasn't going to cover much. Then she spotted it — the apron hanging inside the pantry. Black, huge, and perfect. She wound the long ties around her, hoping the swathe of cloth covered her from all angles.
She turned around and caught him eyeing her butt. Perhaps not, then. This was going from worse to atrocious. Before, she would have bet he didn't even know she had a butt. He was definitely aware now. Here she was in nothing but a nightie and there was skin to be seen. She didn't trust him. Actually she didn't really trust any guy. More than once she'd been the "challenge." And once the challenge had been overcome, she'd been thrown over. Luke Marchetti had been the first to do that to her.
He'd broken her silly teen heart.
Now he was in position on the opposite side of the counter, as still as he'd been in the hall. But the frown was gone and a small smile played on his lips. She wasn't sure she liked the flavor of that smile.
"Why is Mango here?" he asked. "Why are you here?"
Lexie picked up the glass she'd left on the counter and sipped, hoping the cool juice would calm her inner furnace. "Dani sent me. I arrived in London a couple of days ago. Apparently just in time to rescue Mango from his hunger strike at the kennels."
Now the frown reappeared. "Why didn't she call me?"
"Because you were too busy to be bothered with Mango's antics. Dani told me you wouldn't mind my staying here and helping out with him."
He didn't answer that. "So you've been here a couple of days already?"
"Yes." Two nights in his bed already. And okay, Fantasy Luke might have returned from the past with a vengeance in her dreams these last couple of nights. But Fantasy Luke and Reality Luke were two very different men.
Reality Luke looked more than a little like he had feet of clay given the way he was struggling to keep his attention on her eyes and not stray farther south. Unbelievable, when he'd ignored her so easily in the past.
Irritated, she aimed to needle him. "What kind of person calls a dog Mango?"
"A C-list model overly influenced by A-list celebrities who name children after fruit," he answered blithely.
Oh lord, that would be right. An ex-girlfriend. No doubt the poor dog had been a handbag filler. And the ex had left him with Luke? Lexie tried so hard not to laugh.
"I call him Mannie." Luke said wryly. "Hardly butch though is he."
"He's a kitten. And you left him alone for all this time."
"Not alone. At a very nice kennel. And he only lasted a little over a week."
"He couldn't handle it there."
"It's the most expensive kennel there is. There was even a webcam so I could watch him."
"Which you didn't," she pointed out.
"I didn't have time. And they called Dani instead of me anyways." He pressed both hands down on the bench. The action made his forearms and biceps flex. "Had I known how great his distress was, of course I'd have come up with some solution."
"So how come you're home?" Lexie briefly looked away as she finally broached the question. "Dani said you were going to be away for a month." Her focus darted back to him. "Did you forget something?" She nervously babbled as he started to watch her far too intently. "Are you going back to Hertfordshire tonight?"
He shook his head. "Not tonight."
Not tonight? So where did that leave her then? Because as lovely as Luke's apartment was, there was only one bedroom. Only one bed. A huge one, yes, but only the one and there was just no going there. Not with him. Not ever.
Trouble was, this was London during the summer of the world's biggest sporting extravaganza. While there was some accommodation in town, you had to pay kabillions for it. Lexie didn't have kabillions.
She'd figure out something. Anything. "Oh. Okay. Well, now that you're back to see to Mango, I'll just get my stuff and —"
"You're not going anywhere tonight."
"I can't stay here now," she puffed, instantly breathless.
"Sure you can." Luke suddenly smiled, his entire face lighting up. "We have to share, that's all."
Lexie blinked at him goldfish-style. Her mind was goldfish-blank too. Because his eyes had some wicked glint dancing in their depths. Share? Share what exactly?
"You can stay here." He spelled it out slowly. "With me."
He didn't mean it in any kind of intimate way. Of course he didn't. But hell, there was a part of Luke that wanted to mean it exactly like that because the expression on her face was priceless. Lovely little Lexie Peterson. Talk about a blast from the past.
"You won't even know I'm here." He couldn't resist twisting the tease as he saw her eyes widen and darken. He drew breath, suddenly feeling inappropriately tense in the nether regions. "You stay." The thought of her in his bed? Killer. He cleared his throat. "I'll sleep on the sofa."
In the seven years since he'd seen her face-to-face, sweet Lexie had grown even more unbearably gorgeous. She'd always had that striking hair, those big green eyes, and the most glorious mouth he'd ever seen — lush and soft, her lips indecently full. He'd had so many dreams about her mouth and where he wanted it most. Now he saw her curves had filled while her cheekbones had sharpened — and she was dressed in the most sensational slip he'd ever seen. Glamorous, gorgeous gold. She looked like an old-school screen goddess. The epitome of fifties Hollywood style.
Her inability to articulate even a word dragged him back from his blatant lust-fest. Shy, oversensitive Lexie had needed gentleness and consideration seven years ago — no doubt she still did. Luke was suddenly glad of the counter between them, hiding how much he wanted her wide-awake in his bed. She'd turned her back to him anyway, going to the sink and rinsing her glass. Luke was riveted — oh yeah, her curves had filled out beautifully. She had the sweetest peach of a butt. He'd already noticed the breasts that deserved hours of attention. Hours and hours. And he was a sick, sick unit who didn't have the heart to tell her the apron didn't fully cover her rear.
He'd nearly had a coronary when he'd seen her. And when he'd thought she was here with some other guy? A freak storm of rage had ripped through him. But there was no guy. Just Mango. That's when he'd felt an insane amount of satisfaction.
Lexie Peterson was the forbidden fruit of his youth. And a guy always wants what he can't have. He definitely hadn't been allowed to have Lexie. Being unable to have a girl had been something of a novelty for him even back then. Hence the extreme resurgence of that attraction now, right? This instant, extreme reaction was merely a throwback to that. No real biggie, he could just relax and step away.
Then again, Luke deserved a little fun, didn't he? After the huge disappointment of today, didn't he deserve a sweet treat? Except there was no way he could perform right now. Any attempt would be lame — literally.
"So what have you been doing these last few years?" he asked. "Got a twenty-second recap?" He could manage some normal conversation and not leer at her. Sure he could.
"I've been traveling a bit. Worked in Australia for a while," she answered. "After that exchange trip to the US, I really wanted to travel more, but stayed nearer to Mum and Dad."
Luke had heard snippets from Dani, had seen occasional pics. Now he was distracted from her answer by her hair — the glorious strawberry-blond length caught the lights above and seemed to spark. He was pretty sure it was her natural color too. It had been the same when she'd been a shy teen and she certainly hadn't dyed it then. She hadn't done anything to draw attention to herself. Which wasn't to say she didn't get it — then or now.
"Have you heard a word I've said?"
Her voice cut sharp. He focused on her face — her narrowed green eyes unwaveringly on his.
Her bold look threw him — the shy kid who'd once been unable to say anything but "um" had suddenly upped her game.
Excerpted from "Gamble in Gold"
Copyright © 2012 Natalie Anderson.
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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