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Worth the Risk: (A Contemporary Bad Boy Romance) by Weston Parker (49)

 

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The next day the sky was cloudy and gray, and Janna eyed it with apprehension. Not exactly hiking weather, but this was Oregon. You only had to wait a few minutes for the weather to change. Unfortunately, most of those changes led to rain, but a girl could hope. She turned from the window and back to her mirror. What did one wear on a first date that involved the outdoors? She hoped it was a pair of faded blue jeans, a worn sweater over an ancient t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Smoke Daddy's Chicago BBQ," and some sturdy hiking boots. Oh, and let's not forget the boring green rain jacket.

Even if hiking gear wasn't that exciting, the thought of spending the day with Brice Masterson was enough to almost let her walk on air. And how out of left field was the hiking suggestion? She'd figured he'd pull up in some over-the-top stretch limousine and take her to someplace swanky, like Apriles. It was nice that he wasn't going with the rich guy clichés. Maybe she was jumping to conclusions. Maybe she was wrong about him.

Already thinking of letting your guard down? her insidious inner voice whispered. One date does not a reformed man make. Janna nodded, realizing the truth of those words. She'd followed the gossip, what woman didn't love gossip? She'd seen pictures of Brice with a multitude of women, a different flavor on his arm every week. Right now Janna was the flavor de jour, but it wouldn't last long. Best to enjoy it while she could, but she wouldn't surrender her heart. Janna straightened her sweater with a severe tug. Right, my guard stays up.

She checked the time, seeing that it was ten minutes to ten. Janna fidgeted, biting her thumbnail before deciding she couldn't wait in her room anymore. She grabbed her faded jacket and left her small quarters, descending the stairs and heading out to the wide front porch. The clouds still blocked out the sun, but she could see it struggling to peek out from behind their heavy grayness. She was staring into the muddled sky when the sound of grinding gravel brought her attention back to the ground. A silver sports car pulled up, and her heart skipped a beat. Only one guy in town would be driving around in 007's ride.

Her suspicions were confirmed a second later when his blond head popped out of the car, followed by that toned and arousing body. Janna headed down the steps to meet him, and he pulled her into a warm hug. "Good morning." His tone was husky, his green eyes almost glowing in the muted morning light.

"Good morning yourself," she said, momentarily tightening her grasp, then pulling away. "Nice ride."

"Thanks," he said, his smile boyish as he led her toward the silver bullet.

"You said we were going hiking," she teased, "but are you sure we aren't going to be pursued by super villains bent on our destruction, Mr. Bond?"

His smile slipped for a nanosecond, but then returned, wider than ever. "So you recognized the car? I may have underestimated you."

"Your mistake, underestimating the goddess of wit and virtue." Janna slid into the smooth leather seat.

"So virtue is back, eh?" He laughed, starting the car and backing out onto the road.

"What a pity."

"That's right, Mr. Bond. My virtue is for God and Country alone."

She thought he growled good-naturedly at that, and the heat in his tone made her shiver. "So where are we headed?" she asked, abandoning the banter. The town faded quickly, giving way to the greenery of the Oregon forests.

"There's a spot I know of, a couple of miles off an old logging road in the park Caleb Hunt's developing."

"The land your family used to own?" He nodded. She knew he'd made a big donation of land to the state after the death of his parents, and Caleb Hunt was developing it into a state park. It was Brice's memorial to his mother and father, and Janna realized the level of affection he must feel for them. It was endearing, which meant it was dangerous. Better to change the topic.

"Oh I know, you've got some kind of hidden lair out there in the woods where you stash the pretty girls you sweep off their feet. And I'm to be your next victim. I swear to you, I will not go quietly!" She knew it was over the top, but she was uncomfortable, and her mouth always got away from her when that happened.

"Darn foiled again!" he said with his handsome half-smile. "Well, since you've ruined my devious plans, let's say we just enjoy the ride." He moved a hand over to the console and pressed some buttons. The sounds of the Talking Head's "Road to Nowhere" surrounded her suddenly, forcing her to smile. How appropriate.

She rested her head against the comfortable seat and took in the experience. She knew it was about an hour to the forest where Caleb and Dani lived, an hour spent in the smaller-by-the-minute car, trapped next to her ultimate fantasy of a man. And he'd made a playlist. Holy hell.

The Talking Heads gave way Golden Earring's "Radar Love," and Brice seemed to hug the curves and shoot the straight-aways in time with the music. A man who can really drive is so sexy. Janna couldn't help but lick her lips as she watched him shift gears. She almost melted when those molten green eyes sent her a glance that said he knew exactly what he was doing to her. It was infuriating. And exhilarating.

The miles passed and the music rolled. Janna couldn't help herself, she was singing along with Bruce on "Thunder Road." Before she'd realized how loud she was, Brice gave her a big smile. Her mouth hung open in embarrassment until he took up the song too. They ended in true epic rock fashion, then Janna collapsed against the seat in laughter. She laughed so hard tears started to appear in her eyes, and through the blur, she saw Brice give her a grin as if he was privy to some seductive secret.

Too soon it seemed they pulled onto a bumpy gravel road that led into the tall pines. Before long Brice was parking and shutting off the engine. The screeching chords of "Highway Star" cut off abruptly and the bubble burst. Time to face the world again. It wouldn't be too hard, Janna thought, with such gorgeous scenery as Brice Masterson.

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