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Take a Chance on Me

By:Susan May Warren

he skating rink he’d cleared on the lake every January.

“Great job, Son,” his father said, catching his arm.

“This was a bad idea,” Darek groused, slowing his exit.

“Five hundred dollars doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. You were the most expensive bachelor here. That will make the news.”

“Yippee,” Darek said. But his father was right—he’d created a bit of buzz, and hopefully it would someday turn into goodwill for their lakeside vacation spot, Evergreen Lodge Outfitter and Cabin Rentals, which most people shortened to Evergreen Resort.

“Do you know the woman who bid on you?”

Darek scanned the room to locate her. He couldn’t see her well from the stage with the lights in his face, but he thought he’d glimpsed a redhead wearing a white jean jacket, her hair in a messy ponytail. She wasn’t tall, maybe five foot four, and a little on the curvy side.

Now he found her, sitting next to Noelle Hueston and staring at him like she’d purchased . . . well, the devil.

Darek turned away, his lips a grim line. “No, I don’t know her.”

His father wisely said nothing, took a sip of his Sprite. Then, “She looks pretty.”

“Next time you want to sell your flesh and blood, pick a different son.”

He caught his father’s smirk as he turned to leave, and it only darkened his mood.

No one from Deep Haven, not a soul, had bid on him. What was so different about him from, say, the two previous bachelors?

Okay, maybe that wasn’t a fair question. Neither of them walked around with the stigma of being the youngest widower in town, pity and probably the tsk of tongues following in their wake.

He glanced over to the chair where Jensen Atwood had sat, smug, rich, wearing a fancy leather jacket, his hair cut short and slicked back, contempt in his eyes. Yes, he’d seen the man sitting near the back, next to the jukebox, like no one would notice. He had a lot of nerve showing up here, and Darek had just about launched off the stage toward him. That might be a show the locals would bid on—a go-round between Jensen and Darek. Finally.

Instead he’d dark-eyed the guy into fleeing. It fed the heat inside him, gave Darek the strength to stand there like an idiot while the town shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Until, of course, Moneybags piped up.

Five hundred dollars.

Wow, did she waste her money on him.

And what kind of woman paid five hundred dollars for a man she didn’t know? Hopefully she didn’t want a real date. He wasn’t a real-date kind of guy.

In fact, he was a never-date kind of guy.

Darek shook his head and headed out the door.

He paused on the sidewalk for a moment, drawing in the clean air, shaking off the reek of old cigarettes, whiskey, and town gossip that coated him like grime. The moon had risen, hovering above the town, milky light washing over the trading post, the Blue Moose Café, pooling in the harbor, icing the waves of the lake.

He could feel his heartbeat thundering in his chest and hated how easily his guilt took hold of him, turned him surly. At the least, he should swallow his pride—what was left of it—and meet the woman who had forked out good money for him. For charity.

Instead he moved away from the door and dug out his cell phone, about to call home.

“Hey, where are you going?”

He turned, pressing End. His “owner” had followed him out of the VFW. A fireball with green eyes and freckles, wearing the jean jacket he remembered over a T-shirt and a green scarf. She stood about to his shoulder but had no problem slamming her hands to her hips and toeing up to him.

“I thought we had a date.”

“Is that what you want? A date?” He didn’t mean for it to emerge so sharp, even angry, and didn’t blame her for the way she opened her mouth as if she’d been slapped.

“No, I, uh—”

“Then why did you buy me? And why on earth would you pay five hundred dollars? Sheesh, lady, you must be desperate or something.”

Wow. He must have lost control of everything decent inside him. But he didn’t like the feeling of being humiliated.

Or owned.

In fact, the entire thing made him feel trapped and small, and he’d had enough of that, thank you.

Her mouth closed. Pinched. “I’m not desperate. If you want to know the truth, I felt sorry for you.”

He probably deserved that, despite the way it sideswiped him. He didn’t let on, however, preferring to stare at her, something icy he’d learned from his years in the rink. “Okay, then, let’s just get this over with. What do you want?”

“I—”

“You should know that I’m not like the other guys in there. If you’re looking for some kind of fling, I’m not your man. I can probably hook you up with one of my buddies—”

“Wow. Stay away from me.” She whirled around, heading down the sidewalk, and he knew he was a first-class jerk.

“Wait!”

She held up a hand. “Forget it! You’re right; this was a bad idea.”

He ran after her—boy, she had a fast walk for such a short woman. “Listen, I’m sorry. Really. It’s just that you don’t want a date with me. If you ask, I’ll bet you can get your money back.”

“I don’t want it back.”

She didn’t stop and he was walking fast to keep up.

“Then what do you want? Why did you buy me?”

She stopped, breathing hard. Pressed her fingers to her eyes. Oh no, she wasn’t crying, was she?

He swallowed, his throat on fire, hearing his words and wishing he wasn’t the kind of guy who ran full speed into hurting others.

You are so selfish. Felicity, in his head. Always in his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly, shoving his hands into his pockets. The wind took his words, flung them toward the lake. “It’s just that I’m the last person you want to be seen in town with.”

She sighed, turning her face away from him. “Well, I don’t have anyone else.” Her voice emerged small and wheedled in past the anger, the annoyance.

It settled inside, in a place he reserved for Tiger, and he tempered his tone. “Are you here for the weekend?”

“No. I live her

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