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Take a Chance on Me

By:Susan May Warren

I’m sure Owen’s appearance on the program is a bid for some free publicity. Owen is the youngest son of the clan, one of six children. I’m sure you’ll meet them—all but two still live in Deep Haven.”

A redhead won the bachelor on stage and ran up to claim her purchase. Ivy escaped to the ladies’ room.

What if she did bid on Owen? Truly, the last thing she needed in her life was a real bachelor. Someone she might fall for, someone who could so easily break her heart.

Maybe she could ask said bachelor to show her around Deep Haven. Teach her about hockey. Certainly it might give her a little social clout to be seen with the town celebrity.

She could faintly hear the announcer stirring up the fervor for the next contestant, then a trickle of applause for the main attraction as he took the stage. She walked out, standing by the bar to survey this hometown hero.

They grew them big up here in the north woods. Indeed, he looked like a hockey champion, with those wide shoulders, muscular arms stretching the sleeves of his deep-green shirt that read Evergreen Resort—memories that live forever. He stood at ease like one might do in the military, wearing jeans that hugged his legs all the way down to the work boots on his feet. The man looked like an impenetrable fortress, not a hint of marketing in his face. So much for winning the audience.

In fact, to use the only hockey term she knew, he looked like he’d just been checked hard into the boards and come up with some sort of permanent scowl, none too happy to be standing in the middle of the stage of the local VFW as the main attraction.

“C’mon, everyone, who will start the bidding for our Deep Haven bachelor tonight?”

Ivy looked around the room. It had hushed to a pin-drop silence, something not quite right simmering in the air. She glanced over to where Jensen Atwood had been sitting and found his seat vacant.

On stage, the man swallowed. Shifted. Pursed his lips. Oh, poor Owen. Her heart knocked her hard in the chest. She knew exactly what it felt like not to be wanted.

“One hundred dollars? Who has it tonight for our local hero?”

She scanned the room, saw patrons looking away as if embarrassed. Even Eli and Noelle had taken a sudden interest in their dinner.

Owen sighed and shook his head.

And right then, the pain of the moment squeezed the words from Ivy’s chest. “Five hundred dollars!”

Every eye turned toward her, and for a moment, she had the crazy but horribly predictable urge to flee. But the words were out, so she took a step forward, toward the stage. “I bid five hundred dollars,” she said again, fighting the wobble in her voice.

Ivy shot a look at Noelle, expecting approval. But Noelle wore an expression of what she could only pinpoint as panic. Wasn’t she the one who’d suggested Ivy buy the man?

And then from the stage, she heard, “Well, that’s good enough for me! Sold, to the pretty lady in the white jacket. Miss, come up to the stage and claim your prize.”

Still, no one said a word—not a cheer, not a gasp, nothing. Ivy swallowed and met the eyes of the man on stage. “I’ll meet him by the bar,” she said, her voice small.

Owen looked as relieved as she was that they didn’t have to create some public spectacle. He moved off the stage and the auctioneer mercifully introduced the band. The men in back resumed their pool playing.

Ivy couldn’t help it. She edged over to Noelle. “What’s the matter? I know he looks a little rough around the edges, but—”

“That’s not Owen,” Noelle said, wiping her fingers with a napkin. She shot a glance past Ivy, possibly at the stranger she’d just purchased.

“What?”

“Owen couldn’t make it. That’s Darek Christiansen. His big brother.”

Ivy turned now, found her man weaving his way through the crowd. He didn’t stop to glad-hand anyone or even slap friends on the back.

In fact, it seemed she’d purchased the pariah of Deep Haven.

Noelle confirmed it. “Brace yourself, honey. You’ve just purchased the most ineligible eligible bachelor in town.”

Everything inside Darek told him to keep going, right on out of the VFW until he hit his Jeep, and then punch the gas toward the hills.

And hide.

He would murder Owen next time he saw him, which wouldn’t be anytime soon, given the kid’s celebrity demands. Sorry, Bro. I can’t make it up today—I have a photo shoot. Owen couldn’t have thought ahead to that, maybe rearranged his oh-so-packed schedule? But Owen didn’t think beyond practice, improving his shot, and updating his Facebook status. Last time Darek checked, his twenty-year-old kid brother had 32,876 fans.

Darek had maybe thirty-eight friends on his own page. Not that he was counting, but it seemed like some sort of commentary on his life.

The minute Darek had hung up with Owen, he should have made himself scarce—loaded Tiger into the Jeep, attached the boat, and headed for some pristine lake. Except losing his head and forgetting his responsibilities was how he got here in the first place.

Instead he’d experienced a streak of clearly misplaced hope that the stigma, the gossip, might have finally died and he might once again be an eligible bachelor. Someone who just wanted to start over, for himself and his son.

The near silence in the room when they’d called his name, when he’d stepped up to take Owen’s place, confirmed that no, nothing had been forgotten.

Darek stalked past the bar, where, of course, his high school buddies gave him tight smiles.

He hadn’t seen any of the former Deep Haven Huskies getting up to sell their . . . well, it wasn’t exactly his body, and she certainly didn’t expect a real date, right? So he wasn’t sure what he was selling up there.

Darek glanced at his father, John, sitting at the end, nursing a Sprite. A linebacker-size man—bigger than any of his boys—he’d played fullback for the Minnesota Gophers back in the day. That he’d ended up with hockey players could only be blamed on t

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