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Worth the Risk(9)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor

The valet had already brought his car up, but not hers. Good. He wanted more time. When Hannah passed the guy her ticket, Stephen intercepted, reaching around for the keys. “I’ll take those.”

“Yes, sir.” The young valet pointed to her car a short distance away.

They walked in silence, and stopped beside it. It was odd ending a date this way, standing outside a car. It usually ended with him slipping out of a woman’s bed mildly rested and covered with guilt.

“I had a good time tonight,” she said, flicking her eyes up at him, then away. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Did I pass the test? Can I have your number now?”

No answer. Second time today she’d refused him and still, he ached to arch her back, taste that sweet mouth, nip his way across her cheek and down her throat. “How do you feel about parties?”

“Um…” Her eyes were everywhere but on him, teeth pressing into that bottom lip he was dying to suck into his own. “I’m not really into parties.”

“I think you’ll like this one.”

She held out her hand for her keys. “No, but thank you.”

“Hmm. The birthday girl will be very disappointed. If I don’t make an appearance she’ll get her feelings hurt. I’d hate to do that.” Something flashed in her eyes at the mention of another woman. So she wasn’t totally uninterested. Good.

“Why can’t you go by yourself?”

“I don’t want to go by myself. I want to go with you.”

“Well, if she really wants you to come to her party, she probably won’t be very happy about you bringing a friend.”

“No, she’d love me to bring a friend. Definitely the more-the-merrier type.”

“I don’t think so.” Hannah turned to her car, remembered he still had her keys and turned back with her hand out.

“You sure? Turning five is a pretty big deal.”

Her mouth dropped open. “Five?”

“Yes. My niece. Gracie.” He grinned, enjoying her shock. “It’s at my brother’s tomorrow. Five o’clock. Give me your address and I’ll pick you up.”

Her eyes met his and he waited. When the wind blew a long strand of hair across her face, they both reached for it. The second their fingers touched, she dropped her hand and eased back a tiny step, putting space between him that he didn’t like.

“Okay. Scratch that. You have a pen in there?” He pointed toward her purse. She handed him one and he took out his wallet and scribbled his brother’s address on the back of a receipt.

She studied the piece of paper and he thought again that if she didn’t show he had no way of finding her and this could be the last time he ever saw her. “I want you to come.”

Eyes locked with his, she took a long deep breath and let it out before answering. “Okay.”

“Okay you’ll come, or just okay?”

She sighed, playful and exasperated, then she smiled, and it hit him like a blow to the chest. “I’ll try.”

He got the distinct impression that trying would be more than just a matter of working out other engagements, and that odds were high she wouldn’t come. He kissed her cheek, letting his lips linger against her soft skin. He didn’t want to pull back, had a hot vision of pushing forward. But he straightened and opened her door, feeling another twinge of doubt when she slipped inside.

As she drove away, he thought about his invitation. He did want her to come, that hadn’t been a lie. But it wasn’t the only reason. His brother Matt had made it his personal mission to bring Stephen back into the family fold.

It was hard to rebuild bridges, even harder to cross them. But maybe with Hannah, shy and sweet, he could at least appear more together than he was. It never hurt to take a little diversion in the form of a beautiful woman.

“So what do you think?” Matt asked.

Stephen stood in his brother’s home office, plans for Matt’s new renovation project laid out in front of them. “It’s good.” But neither Stephen’s eyes nor his mind were on his brother’s plans just now.

Matt’s weren’t either. He could feel his big brother studying him as he leaned over the desk. Stephen knew what his brother saw. Eyes that weren’t as haunted, not as wild with anger. But there was also no real joy, just a tired void.

Little remained of the old Stephen since he’d lost his fiancée almost five years ago. He smiled at the camera for the society page, but he figured Matt saw the emptiness behind it as only a brother could.

Stephen angled his head and looked back over his shoulder. “You going to be staring at me all night?”