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Worth the Risk(7)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor

“I think my exact words were, something came up,” Stephen said pleasantly.

Not seeming overly concerned, the woman gave a small nod of understanding and an undaunted smile before she spun away with her female friend.

When he turned his focus back on her, all she could think was that this man was so far out of her league. If she even had a league. Which she didn’t. Thinking to end this charade swiftly, she opened her mouth to thank him and make a quick exit.

“Your table’s ready,” the hostess interrupted, and motioned toward the main dining room.


He angled his head down close to her ear. “I hope you don’t mind. We can still have a drink at the bar if you want.”

“No. It’s…fine.” And really hard to think with Stephen’s hand splayed at her lower back, guiding her with gentle pressure behind the hostess.

Stephen pulled out her chair at a table for four like a perfect gentleman, then, instead of taking the seat across from her, he sat directly to her left.

The waiter promptly introduced himself and reeled off the specials as Stephen gave the wine list a once-over. “Do you have a preference?”

No. She didn’t know wine. Didn’t eat or drink fancy food. Didn’t really drink at all. And had made a date for drinks with a fancy man. Brilliant, Hannah. Excellent decision making. “I’m good with water.”

He ordered an iced tea, then turned his undivided attention on her. “I thought we could have dinner. It’s quieter here, easier for us to talk.”

Talk. Right. Which would be good if she had any idea what to say. She smiled, nodded, still getting used to being this close to him.

“I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

“Neither was I.” She tried to smile under his scrutiny, twirled a piece of hair around her finger, caught herself, and let it go. “You had other plans tonight?”

“I did. And then I didn’t.” He picked up his water glass and leaned back. “And so did you, if I remember.” The corners of his mouth turned up the slightest bit, his deep brown eyes exuding every bit of confidence she didn’t feel.

“Yeah.” She bit her lip, wishing she hadn’t brought it up. “I had this thing with my brothers.”

“Ah.” He drew out the word like he’d just uncovered an important secret. Like it was everything he needed to know.

Luckily the waiter arrived before she could make another verbal stumble. He asked for their order and her hands flew to the menu. Seconds ticked by as she scanned too many choices.

“Should I come back?”

A woman laughed across the room, her shimmering silk catching the light as she leaned into the man next to her. Hannah felt the heat creeping into her cheeks. Bad idea. This had been such a bad idea. She didn’t belong here.

“What about the filet medallions?” Stephen suggested. “Or you can think about it. No rush.”

“Yes.” She snapped her menu closed. “That’s good. Great. I’ll have that.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, at least on her part. Stephen looked perfectly relaxed. He sipped his iced tea, the heavy watch around his thick wrist reflected the candlelight. He had big hands. So…male. Radiating confidence with his commanding presence, while she was pretty sure she was radiating the opposite. Maybe next time she should consider stepping out of her comfort zone, instead of giving herself a full-out shove.

He stared at her and she found herself wanting to do the same to him. To gaze at that perfect mix of gorgeous and hard edge. At eyes like smooth melted chocolate. His lips firm and masculine. She wondered—

“I hope the rest of your day was better.”

It took her a second to think. Oh, right. He’d seen her crying and she knew from her brothers that nothing made a man more uncomfortable than a girl crying. “Yes. It was. Sorry about that.”

“No problem. I have a sister and…” His eyes locked with hers. “I’m not scared away that easily.”

Her lungs seemed to freeze up at his look, his tone, and she glanced over the white-cloth-covered table, searching for something to say. “How was your day?”

“It was good.” Surprise touched his eyes and his lips curved past half smile straight into deadly zone. “So you ride horses?”

Her heart dropped with a burst of panic. He shouldn’t know where she lived. “What?”

“You had on riding pants earlier. Boots.”

“Oh. Yeah.” She took a calming breath, willed her pulse to slow before she started to sweat. “I’m a physical therapist, but with horses. It’s called hippotherapy.”