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Worth the Risk(3)

By:Claudia Connor

Damn, he loved this building. And he should, he’d had a lot to do with the design. More than that, it had come at a time when he’d needed it most. His tangible proof that he’d made it through the nightmare that had almost destroyed him.

But it hadn’t. The glass building stood, breakable but surviving. And so was he.

He crossed the cool lobby, his dress shoes clicking against the smooth black marble, and keyed into his private elevator. He gave a smile and a nod to the young blonde manning the main desk as the doors closed, taking him swiftly to the top of his own company, Trace Development.

He strode down the hallway to his home away from home. He’d been gone longer than he’d planned, working hard for a date with an alluring woman who’d shown a hint of sadness.

He didn’t slow down as his admin got up from behind her desk. “You have six calls. Tanner and Associates and Robert Sinclair are the most pressing. You have a conference call with Mr. Jiāng at two.” She quick-stepped to keep pace with him. She had no choice.

Stephen smiled at his straightforward administrative assistant. In a black skirt and standard white blouse ruffling out at the top, she looked as formidable as ever. Her crisp voice and gray bob only added to her air of efficiency. “Thank you, Dee.”

First order of business was to cancel his prior commitment for the evening, easy enough. He sat at his desk and pulled up the number. He’d had a fun couple of weeks, but things between him and Nicole had run their course and they both knew it. She’d been the one to cancel last time. Women used him for his money and prestige. He used them for…some would say sex. He thought of it more as sleep aid without the pills.

Nightmare suppressers.

When that was done he dug into the Shanghai file, barely looking up when his partner, Dave Pietro, strode in. His tie was a blast of orange against a navy pinstripe. And that was Dave, from his three-thousand-dollar shoes to his slicked-back hair and shrewd black eyes. Dave’s favorite saying was “shock and awe.” More often than not, it was just shock. But he was sharp, and he enjoyed playing the political side, something Stephen had no patience for.

“Congratulations.” Dave waved a magazine, one he’d already seen.

Stephen McKinney, Norfolk’s Most Eligible Bachelor.

“You didn’t tell me.”

“I forgot.” Since making his first million in college and being dubbed the Stock Whisperer by Forbes, it was always something. He’d been recognized in Top Ten Young Professionals more times than he could count. One article had even called him a young Donald Trump. That one he appreciated, as he had great respect for the man.

He’d strategized, negotiated, and outsmarted, gaining power and leverage with surprising speed. But it was the bigger, more recent, risks that had gotten him farther, faster. It wasn’t hard to risk everything when you had nothing to lose. Nothing to live for.

“So, how many women did you have to screw to get that Most Eligible status?”

“I don’t know,” Stephen answered dryly, thinking Dave actually sounded jealous. “I didn’t count.”

“Well, either I’m not screwing enough or not the right ones. Better up my game.”

Stephen looked up just in time to see Dave cover his tone with a smile as he passed him a file.

“New property. I want it.”

Always with the new deals, the quick and easy profit. Stephen wasn’t against quick money, but he held majority in Trace, and small projects offered little challenge, in addition to wasting time. While Dave went on about an empty stretch of land and the commercial opportunities, Stephen’s mind wandered to a real challenge.

Hannah. The name suited her somehow. Soft and earthy. Full lips and a mouth he could spend hours exploring. He was well aware he might never see her again.

It wasn’t at all like him to care.

Chapter 2

Hannah parked off to the side of the barn, waited for the swirl of dust to clear, and asked herself again, What the hell did I just do? She didn’t talk to strangers. Not in grocery stores. Not in parking lots. Not ever. Until today.

He’d caught her at a weak moment, and then…he’d just caught her. Completely unignorable with his crooked smile and hint of dimples to counter a dangerously hot man. And obviously not the type to take no for an answer. Any other day she would have brushed him off easily. Any other day, her usual awareness of her surroundings would have staved off any interaction in the first place.

She got out and made her way across the grass and gravel parking area. Inside the barn, the air pulsed with the feel of live animals; the scents of their bodies, their feed, and their home. Old wood and manure greeted her like an old friend. It was here in this place she mostly hid, going unnoticed and unseen. Being noticed made her antsy, edgy. She’d felt that way with Stephen, but she’d also felt something else. Something like an opportunity.