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Stacy Lanham grew up with a gambling father who dreamed big—and lost big. After he dies, leaving her with a trucking garage and little else, Stacy vows never to bet on anything that matters. So when Gavin Magadan walks into her shop dressed for a country club and presents a high-stakes business proposal, she’s skeptical of falling for another man with big dreams—no matter how hot he may be.
Gavin has plans for the land around Stacy’s garage, and adding her little plot is the last step. The floundering shop should be easy to acquire, but Gavin is taken aback when he meets bold, strong-willed, and striking Stacy. To get the keys to her garage, and, more important, claim her heart, he will have to convince Stacy that she will always win if she bets on love.
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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Read an Excerpt
“Two dollars says he gets a hit.”
Stacy Lanham propped her feet on a soft-drink crate and leaned back to watch the Atlanta Braves play the Dodgers.
“You’re on, girl.” Lonnie Short dragged up a stool and sat down, pulling a grease-stained cloth from his coveralls and wiping his bald head.
The pinch hitter stood in, shifting his feet as the pitcher went into his delivery. One pitch, and the ball careened through the diving infielders as if it had eyes.
As the batter pulled up on third, Stacy turned and held out her hand. “Pay up, Lonnie.”
Lonnie shook his head and unfolded a crumpled mass of bills, peeling out two and handing them to the grinning girl.
“If you’d been playing shortstop, the ball wouldn’t have gotten through and I’d still have my money, not to mention the ownership of this garage, which your father promised to sell me on his deathbed.”
“Now, Lonnie, you know that Daddy didn’t promise you any such thing, and the Braves don’t draft women.”
“Well, you’d be a lot more use to them than you are to me,” he grumbled as he came to his feet and moseyed out of the small office that adjoined the empty work bays.
Stacy stood. “Let’s go home. The dispatcher’ll call if there’s trouble. I want to watch the game in color.”
“You just don’t want to take a chance on me winning that two dollars back, Stacy.”
“Poo! You know I’ll win.” Stacy followed him, ready to continue the argument that had become an ongoing pastime in the last year. “Besides, grumpy, I’m almost as good a mechanic as you are, and I drive these trucks a whole lot better.”
“Fine,” Lonnie agreed, “then drive one of them out to Vegas and see if you can pick up some money to pay some of our bills. At least you’d have to put on a dress in a casino. Just look at you. Grease on your face and under your fingernails, your hair going every way but Sunday. A girl like you ought to be out having fun, finding a man and getting married.”
Lonnie the Matchmaker was at work again. “A minute ago you thought I ought to be playing shortstop for the Braves. Besides, I’m not a serious gambler.”
“I don’t understand why not. You always win, which is more than your daddy could say.”
“You know I have a ten-dollar limit, and I never gamble on anything that matters. If I did, I’d lose—just like Daddy did.”
“How would you know? You’ve never tried.”
“That’s right, and I’m not going to. I saw Lucky take a fortune and gamble it away. It killed my mother and turned us into grease monkeys.”
“At least in Vegas you might meet one of those millionaires, for all the good that would do. You don’t know diddley about vamping a man.”
“I know all I need to know,” she protested. “I just don’t want to. I like my life the way it is, safe and sane.”
“And dull. I’ll bet you if an interested man walked through the door, you wouldn’t have the wildest idea of how to catch his attention.”
“And you’d be wrong.”
“Anastasia Lanham, you’re chicken. I’ll make you a wager you can’t refuse. You vamp the next man who comes into the shop. If you fail, you’ll clean out the grease pit. If you win, I’ll clean it, and you can forget my week’s pay.”
Stacy grinned at her oldest and dearest friend. She knew he worried about her. Running a trucking garage wasn’t normally a woman’s job. It hadn’t been her father’s either, as he’d quickly discovered. Lucky Lanham had been a baseball player whose knees had gone bad. During his winning years, he’d bought up small moving companies and garages with the idea that after he retired he could be his own boss.
Nobody but she and Lonnie knew about her father’s later addiction to gambling, or how his coast-to-coast fleet of semis and garages had dwindled down to one. And nobody had believed that she’d take over running the garage when her father had died six years earlier. But it had been something he’d always expected she’d do. What he could never have expected was that she would become the natural gambler that he’d never been. Lucky had always lost. Stacy never did.
Stacy had been worried all day about where Lonnie’s pay would come from this week. Every mail brought more bills and fewer checks. She couldn’t really withhold his pay, but the bet might give her a few days’ grace period. Besides, she knew every eligible man in the county.
More in fun than anything else, Stacy began planning her strategy. She wasn’t above a little bet rigging, if it would stop Lonnie’s matchmaking. “Your check and the grease pit, if I succeed?”
“Ah, sweet justice. I’m about to be a wealthy—clean man.” Lonnie looked past her, a smile stretching across his cheerful face. “Prepare to wade in grease, Stacy, here comes the next interested man.”
What Lonnie didn’t say was that the interested man had called earlier. He was interested all right, but in buying the garage, not in its owner. And he was eligible. Lonnie had determined that from their conversation.
Stacy turned around. Her eyes fell on the man entering the shop. He was a meet-me-after-dark, lean, mean, good-looking stranger. There was only one problem. It wasn’t dark, and she didn’t think that he’d be open to a little flimflam. He was definitely a long shot.
Stacy sighed. She’d really gone out on a limb. But she wasn’t the daughter of Lucky Lanham for nothing. He’d never been a welsher and neither was she. A bet is a bet, she told herself confidently as she caught sight of Lonnie’s pleased expression and searched wildly for a way out.
There was none. Lonnie had obviously set this up. She’d been outfoxed. She had to vamp this man—or make Lonnie think she had.
She’d maneuvered herself into a corner. Perversely she considered her options. She read the tabloids, about the escapades of women like Madonna and Cher. Vamping a man ought not to be too difficult. But after Lonnie’s crack about the way she looked, she had to find a surefire way to get the man’s immediate attention.
Just as the stranger reached the rack, Stacy stepped forward, closed her eyes, and gave a tug to the zipper of her coveralls, announcing with firm resolve, “I’m twenty-six years old. I’m not a virgin, but I’m available. If you’re interested, state your terms, stranger.”
The man stopped short and took in the woman who was turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly before his eyes. Beneath the gray coveralls she was wearing a soft, peach-color man’s style old-fashioned ribbed undershirt and a matching pair of boxer shorts. Her soft brown hair, pulled up in a saucy ponytail only moments before, was unleashed and caught the late-afternoon sunlight, turning the color of fine brandy as it fell across her shoulders.
Peaches and cream, he thought crazily, feeling his lips relax and his tension release. Warm, spiced, cinnamony peaches and cream. She was like a pleasant balm that soaked up his tension. It took real effort not to curl his lips into a smile, and say, “Yum.”
“I’m looking for Stacy Lanham.” Gavin felt his pulse tap-dancing like raindrops on a tin roof.
“You’re looking at her,” Lonnie commented dryly, “at least a good part of her.”
Stacy tried not to hear the amusement in Lonnie’s voice. She only heard the pounding of her heart. The stranger was eyeing her quizzically. Had he said something? Was she expected to say something in return?
The stranger took a step closer.
She finally took a deep breath and blurted out, “So you want to deal?”
“Definitely. The name’s Magadan, and my terms are either an outright sale or a merger.” His mouth was spouting business phrases, but his eyes were sending messages that didn’t bear translation into words.
“The name’s Lanham. Let’s get serious.”
“Let’s. I think I’m going to like the way you negotiate. Beats the hell out of either a chew of tobacco or lawyers and a conference room any day of the week.”
On closer examination Stacy decided that she’d made a grave error. Clint Eastwood, move over. This was no ordinary man, no truck driver with a problem. Lonnie had really stacked the deck. The man was staring at her as if he were a bank robber and she were a role of greenbacks.
Beneath incredibly long brown lashes were the most intriguing pair of green eyes she’d ever seen. His dark hair was too long and too unruly to have been styled by a barber. With a speculative gleam he stared at her, appraising her leisurely. But it wasn’t just the way he looked at her that stunned her, it was the way he dressed. Not many men came into the garage sporting a George Hamilton tan and a white polo shirt and white cotton pants. Not in Hiram, Georgia, in mid-July.
She knew that if she looked outside, she’d see a sports car—a long, sleek, white sports car—with a tennis racket tossed into the back and a workout bag on the seat.