At Long Last, High Risk is Almost Here!

Long time no see, my lovelies! I ‘m very sorry for the unscheduled hiatus. For those of you who don’t know (which is probably most… I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned it in my blog before), I recently went back to grad school. Long story short, this past semester I went from being a part-time student to adding a few more courses onto my workload to hopefully earn my degree faster. It was a tough call, given both the handful of other issues I’ve been dealing with in my personal life in the past year or so, and how difficult it’s been to find the right balance between going to school and building my career as an author. But I’m hoping that in the end it’ll all work out for the best. I want to thank you all for your patience, since I know this book and the next installment of The Loft have been a long time coming, and your continuing support during this difficult time in my life means a lot to me.

However, that does not mean that I’ve forgotten about my writing, far from it! While I was initially disappointed that I wasn’t able to meet my initial goal of having High Risk published in September, I am happy to announce that I now have an official release date: January 28th! 

I know it still seems like a long ways off, but keep reading for an exclusive full-chapter excerpt from the book at the end of this post. And for those of you subscribed to my newsletter, keep your eyes peeled for the chance to get your hands on an ARC copy in the near future. There’s still time to sign up for my newsletter if you haven’t already done so: just do the thing on the sidebar of this blog! ———->

And I’m sure a few of you may be wondering: when will the next installment of Tera and Eric’s story be out? Well, right now the plan is to push out both parts of the Risky Business Duet in a row, with book two, High Reward, slated for a late February release. Tangled Love, fingers crossed, will be out by March, though seeing as this coming spring will likely be almost as busy for me as this past fall was, this is just a tentative date. However, seeing as how I made some amazing progress on the first draft of that book a while back, I do expect it to be ready for reading in late March as of right now.

But in the meantime, I’ve got something to hopefully relieve the tension of the long wait over the holidays. Yeah, I see you over there, sneaking glances at your dirty, dirty sex books on your phone under the table at your family’s Christmas dinner. Don’t worry, Siena’s got you covered. 😉

Speaking of Christmas, this year I’m participating in BrazenBookshelf’s Advent Calendar! From December 1st to Christmas Eve, they’ll be sharing sweet deals and freebies from a ton of amazing Romance authors. So, if you need to unwind from the holiday stress with a good book, or need some gift ideas for a Romance-loving friend, this is one newsletter you can’t miss out on. Sign up today and treat yourself!

And while you’re at it, keep a lookout for some sweet deals: From Dec. 20th-24th, Whip Smart will be free on Amazon and Strictly Business will be just $0.99! Oh, and did I mention that the first two books of The Loft are now available in paperback? Yes, it’s been a long time coming, but you can now hold a physical copy of Strictly Business in your hands, as well as a re-edited and re-formatted paperback edition of Whip Smart. 

But enough of the boring announcements. If you made it this far into the post, you’re probably wondering where that excerpt I promised is. Well, enjoy… 😉

Thinking fast, I pulled my phone out of my tiny clutch. “Shit… my roommate just texted me with something urgent,” I muttered, giving Ethan and the other two an apologetic look. If any of them had noticed Preston, he apparently didn’t rate highly enough in any of their minds to be worth gossiping about. “I think I have to go home.”

After a hasty goodbye, I hurried out of the ballroom with my gaze firmly on my phone, making a show of typing away on the screen before holding it up to my ear as if making a call. Once I’d made it to the quieter landing overlooking the lobby I felt the tension start to drain away. But I kept walking, following the sign pointing down the hallway on the opposite end of the landing to where the restaurant and lounge were.

The lounge was more modern and had a more understated class than the few other parts of the hotel I’d seen. The color scheme was dark and muted, and the low, red-tinted lights gave the place an almost romantic aura. Soft jazz music filtered in through unseen speakers, mingling with the subtle murmur of conversation from the dozen or so patrons unwinding on the boxy leather armchairs and loveseats that occupied most of the space.

I was grateful for the more relaxed atmosphere after the imposing stuffiness of the Emerald Ballroom. But only after I looked over my shoulder and was satisfied that Preston hadn’t followed me did I allow myself to let my guard down. Sighing, I took a seat at the bar and ordered a Moscow Mule. I didn’t plan on lingering; all I wanted was fifteen quiet minutes to let the reality of my first award sink in, and to appreciate my limited time in one of the most exclusive places I’d probably ever be in.

“Congratulations,” a low male voice said behind me.

Puzzled, I turned away from the window I’d been gazing out of while sipping my drink to face the man who’d materialized on the bar stool next to mine. He was a good looking guy in his early thirties, with dark brown hair and sporting a well-tailored suit. His face was familiar, though I couldn’t place him for the life of me.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

The man smiled. “I said, ‘congratulations.’ You’re from Schafer Newman, right? That Sunset commercial deserved the gold.”

“Thank you.” A warm rush of giddiness flowed through me at his praise. But my eyes narrowed a second later as my brain worked to match his face with a name. “You’re… Neal Drake, aren’t you? Drake Donovan and Michaels, CEO?”

“I am indeed.” His smile suddenly seemed a little strained, a shadow passing over his eyes. Huh. Weird. Maybe I was just imagining things.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Drake. Kiera Anders, copywriter,” I said. I held up my copper mug for a toast. “And congratulations to you, too. For the record, I thought the ‘Insurance Fairy’ spot was hilarious.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up into something of a smirk as he clinked his glass against my cup. I sipped my cocktail, trying not to look too surprised as I watched him down his whole two fingers-worth of what I assumed was whiskey.

“You’re quite talented, Ms. Anders,” Mr. Drake said as he waved the bartender over with a curt flick of his fingers. “I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of talent. You’d make a nice addition to DDM… if you didn’t mind leaving Manhattan behind, of course.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle, not quite sure how our conversation had taken such a turn. “Well, I am flattered. And Pittsburgh’s a little closer to home, so I guess that would make my family happy. But sorry, I’m loyal.”

“Loyal, hmm?” His voice was almost a purr, and his gaze darkened as it slid over me. My cheeks began to warm. God, don’t tell me he’s just angling for a pick-up. I really wanted his compliments about my work to be sincere. I stiffened in my seat and swallowed hard as he leaned a little closer, but more from dismay than desire. Everyone in the ad business knew that Neal Drake had a playboy reputation, one that rivaled even Caleb Martin’s.

Caleb… the thought of him and his reputation sent a flash of hot, irrational anger through me, and I had to resist the urge to throw my drink at the man in front of me when he hadn’t even done anything wrong.

Suddenly, Mr. Drake went very still, and the shadow that I’d sworn had passed over him a moment ago was back. He blinked at me, before shaking his head and leaning away from me with a sigh.

His smile was almost sheepish as he spoke again. “Like I said, you’d make a great addition to the team. Something to think about.”

I was still trying to make sense of his strange behavior when a hand clapped him on the shoulder, starling us both. My eyes followed him as he turned, and was I floored to find that the new arrival was none other than Kellan Wakeham. Drake grinned when he saw him, his attention instantly snapping away from me as he stood to clap the other man on the back. My quiet, solitary drink had just gotten a lot more interesting. Unconsciously, I slipped into people-watching mode. The two men clearly knew each other, though there was a kind of weird formality to their bro-hug-adjacent greeting that had me wondering just how friendly they really were. In any case, if Wakeham really was looking for a new agency, then DDM could prove to be stiff competition.

“And who’s this?” Mr. Wakeham’s gaze landed on me.

Drake gave him a quizzical look, before turning to me again. “Hmm? Oh, we just met, actually.”

“Kiera Anders, copywriter at Schafer Newman,” I introduced myself brightly as I stood, holding my hand out to Mr. Wakeham. Our eyes locked as he shook my hand, and an inexplicable shiver ran through me. I couldn’t quite name what it was that I felt when those icy blue eyes peered into mine; I didn’t want to call it dread, but I couldn’t think of another word for it just then. He released my hand with a rather appraising smile and I blushed, feeling suddenly self-conscious and a bit hypocritical. They were just eyes, for Christ’s sake. Pale eyes a lot like my own, the kind of eyes that were made for withering stares and which hadn’t helped the”ice queen” reputation I had with a few people.

Mr. Wakeham chuckled softly. “Scoping out the competition, Neal? Or just trying to steal them away?” He looked at me again. “But I’m sure you’re far too much of a pro at the art of persuasion to be enticed by our friend here, aren’t you, Ms. Anders?”

I caught the briefest of scowls from Drake out of the corner of my eye before he tossed back some more liquor, but Mr. Wakeham’s gaze remained on me. His smile was easy-going, but I didn’t miss the way his eyes gave my body a very leisurely once-over. Heat seeped into my face yet again with my rising irritation. I had the vague sense that a number of women would kill to be in my place: under the lustful gaze of two of the country’s most eligible bachelors. But in my agitated state following my close encounter with Preston, I found Mr. Wakeham’s attention surprisingly classless for someone of his prestige.

My night had gone from exciting to exhausting. “You’re not wrong; I’m very hard to persuade,” I said lightly, trying to come up with a polite way to make my escape to an even more secluded spot to call for the Uber. I grabbed my clutch and started to turn away from the bar, when the sight of the man who’d appeared behind us halted me in my tracks.

“You have an eye for talent.” Caleb’s tone was as cold as his glare as he addressed his cousin, barely even nodding in my direction to indicate who he was referring to. My mouth went dry at the sight of him, then watered as my eyes ate him up. Mentally, I kicked myself for ogling him the way I’d just been ogled moments earlier, but I was still too stupefied by his unexpected nearness to force myself to stop. He was dressed in another finely-tailored suit—this time a three-piece in jet black with a tie to match—and a crisp white shirt that almost seemed to glow in the dimly-lit lounge. He’d shaved his stubble since Tuesday, leaving his jaw so smooth that I couldn’t help but want to run my tongue all the way along it up to his earlobe… and then bite.

He was so painfully gorgeous it was like staring at a solar eclipse—except for the hard, almost furious expression that marred his perfection. And it was seeing that hard expression on Caleb’s face that snapped me back into reality. What the hell was he doing here, intruding on my night? My mood was getting pissier by the second. I should have just made a beeline for the exit, but I stayed rooted in place, glaring at him, daring him to look me in the eye.

“Martin. Good to see you,” Mr. Wakeham greeted him with a hint of a sneer.

“Petra didn’t mention you’d be in town.” Caleb ground the words out, clearly impatient with the polite formalities.

Wakeham shrugged. “Well, you know Aunt Petra.” He gestured toward me and Mr. Drake. “I was just congratulating these two on their wins at the Three A’s. Have you met? This is Neal Drake of DDM, and Kiera Anders of Schafer Newman.”

Yet again, I found myself stiffly extending my hand out to Caleb, my smile equally stiff. “We’ve met,” I said, at the same time Drake greeted him with, “Nice to see you again.” I ignored Drake’s arched brow at my statement as Caleb grasped my hand in a brief shake. This time I was prepared for the contact, though it was no less electrifying.

“Congratulations. And yes, we’ve met before.” Caleb muttered quietly. For the first time since he’d appeared, his eyes were riveted on me, blazing into my own with an intensity that, for a moment, seemed to melt away the years of time that separated us. “In fact, I’m glad I caught you, Ms. Anders. There’s some business I’d like to discuss.”

“Really?” I asked, fighting to keep my expression neutral. “I apologize, Mr. Martin, but I don’t think now’s the best time, I should really grab my coat and get going. Besides, I think you’re better off discussing the business end of the proposal with Mrs. Pagano. I’m sure she’s still here.”

I started edging around him to leave, but he stopped me with the briefest touch of my wrist that left my pulse fluttering. “It’ll only take a second. I’ll walk you over.”

“Don’t let us hold you back; we have business of our own to discuss,” Wakeham said with a hand on Drake’s shoulder, beaming at us a little too brightly for my taste. “I hope to see you again, Ms. Anders.”

I nodded. “Likewise. And it was a pleasure to meet you, too, Mr. Drake.”

Drake smiled at me again and raised his glass before draining the last of it. “Same to you, Ms. Anders. Martin; join us for dinner tomorrow night? I’m only in town for the weekend, and it’s hard to pass up an opportunity like this.”

“I’ll check my schedule,” Caleb told him flatly. His fingertips curled around my arm and I inhaled sharply, but his hand fell away only a second later.

The four of us left the lounge together in awkward silence, until Mr. Drake and Mr. Wakeham veered off in the direction of one of the grand staircases. I kept my gaze straight ahead as I marched in the direction of the ballroom, but my hyper-awareness of the man keeping pace beside me was intoxicating all the same. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t about to leave without hearing what Caleb had to say. For as pissy as I was, he’d aroused my curiosity… and yes, my body, too. Being near him again after so long was like a drug, and I wanted to take another sweet, sweet hit off of it before leaving, no matter how bad it was for me.

He led me over to a semi-secluded sitting area near the elevator. I crossed my arms and pursed my lips, but didn’t have to wait long for him to speak.

“Promise me you’ll stay away from Kellan Wakeham,” he said bluntly, his voice low and surprisingly gruff.

A disbelieving laugh burst out of me. Was that all he had to say? “Well, it’s great to see you, too, Caleb. And thanks for the advice. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should—”

“Dammit, Kiera, I mean it.” Caleb’s coarse interruption startled me into silence. “Steer clear of him. He’s dangerous.”

I stared at him, gauging his seriousness, before chuckling humorlessly again. “Oh, is he? Let me guess, just like you are, right? Just another bad boy who’s bad news? Guess it’s nice to know that you do care after all, Mr. Martin.” I knew I was spoiling for a fight, even though I was already emotionally tapped out for the evening. But at that point, I would’ve done just about anything to provoke some kind of reaction out of him.

“Baffled” wasn’t exactly the reaction I was expecting. “Kiera, how could you think…?” He looked at the floor with a sigh, shoving one hand into his pants pocket and scratching the back of his neck with the other. There was a glimpse of the Caleb I knew, the tender and vulnerable side behind the mask of the cold businessman. I watched his throat work as he swallowed, feeling a lump forming in my own throat.

When he looked at me again his expression was wounded, and I felt it in my soul. “Jesus, Kiera, seeing you again after all this time, and seeing the way you just seemed so… unaffected…” He paused, then asked in a raw whisper, “Do you hate, me, Kiera?”

He thought I’d seemed unaffected by our meeting? He thought I hated him? Words failed me. A small, petty part of me was relieved to know I wasn’t the only one reeling from our unconventional reunion. But that small part was quickly drowned out by guilt. Maybe I really was turning into the ice queen that half my coworkers thought of me as. The idea that Caleb thought I might hate him made me sick. I’d been angry with him, yes, and hurt beyond belief that he’d pushed me away with both hands when we’d needed each other the most. I’d had six years for that bitterness inside me to fester. But I’d also grown up enough in that time that I could admit to myself that when he’d lashed out in his grief, I’d lashed right back. It wasn’t all on him.

“I could never hate you, Caleb,” I said softly. “And I never meant for you to think that I did. I’m so sorry. But when I saw you on Tuesday… to me, you were the one acting cold. And I know it was a business meeting, and maybe neither one of us knew how to react…” I trailed off. My hostility was fading rapidly, but there was still so much I wanted to say to him that I couldn’t put into words, things I still felt he needed to answer for. What kind of bad blood did he have with his cousin? How did he just so happen to end up in the lounge while I was there? Why was he even here tonight? I felt slightly queasy at the thought that he might have tracked me down, and queasier still when I realized I was almost flattered by the idea, too. No… Caleb wouldn’t do that, I rationalized; still, I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t the same Caleb I knew anymore.

But above all else, what did he expect from me, and where the hell did we go from here?

I didn’t even manage to ask a single question before someone called out his name. “Caleb? There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you.” The voice that called out to him was airy and feminine, with a hint of an affected Mid-Atlantic accent. I turned to see a woman in a graphite-gray satin gown striding toward us. She was one of those ageless beauties, and if I had to guess her age, she couldn’t have been any older than her early fifties. Her hair was a glossy auburn not unlike Caleb’s, though her eyes were a much lighter blue than his, closer to Kellan’s. It only took me a couple seconds to figure out that she had to be Petra Wakeham-Foster herself, the CEO of BlueSky.

“The performance is about to start; they finally figured out what was wrong with the sound system,” she said to Caleb with an exaggerated eye-roll once she was right in front of us. Somehow, her lack of height surprised me; her nephew towered over her, and she had to be at least two inches shorter than my five-foot-five. She’d seemed so imposing from a distance, and even up close she was formidable despite her petite frame. Maybe it had something to do with her intense gaze that was apparently a family trait, or the air of unapologetic confidence she exuded; it reminded me of Stella, and I knew instinctively that Caleb’s Aunt Petra was not a woman to fuck with.

“I was just on my way back. I just happened to run into Kiera and we started talking,” Caleb told her, his voice now blandly neutral. Though a note of hesitation crept in when he glanced back at me. “Kiera, I’m sure you already know this is Petra Wakeham-Foster, my boss and… aunt. Petra, this is Kiera, my—”

“We grew up together,” I supplied with a tight grin. Partially because I didn’t want to hear him say the words “ex-girlfriend” out loud, and partially because I didn’t want to deal with whatever the messy ramifications would be of his aunt knowing that fact.

Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly, and I knew she was sizing me up even as she smiled. “Ah, is that right? Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Kiera. I must say, it’s a nice surprise to finally meet someone who can shed some light on what our Caleb was like before we all had the honor of getting to know him.” She giggled a bit as she extended a hand to me.

I shook her offered hand, inwardly bristling at her casual mention of “our” Caleb. “It’s lovely to meet you as well, Mrs… I’m sorry, should I call you Mrs. Foster?”

“No need to be so stiff and formal like our Caleb always is. Just call me ‘Ms. Wakeham’,” she said, as if that were any less formal. “You should join us for the performance! It’s a backer’s audition—a fundraiser, really—for a new Broadway show. You do like musicals, don’t you, dear?”

“Oh… thank you, but I couldn’t possibly impose,” I told her, feeling suddenly embarrassed, though somewhat relieved. Of course, Caleb hadn’t stalked me to the awards, he was here for something completely different; although the fact that we’d happened to run into each other still seemed like far too much of a coincidence.

Caleb cleared his throat. “You go on ahead, I’ll be right there.” He waited until the muted sound of her high heels on the carpet had faded away before turning to me again.

“I thought you didn’t like musicals,” I said, raising an eyebrow. In spite of myself, I felt the corner of my lips pull up in a half-smile.

His answering smile warmed the very core of my being. God, I really had missed that smile. “I don’t know, I’ve warmed up to them ever since I saw Young Frankenstein. Only the ones that make me laugh, though,” he explained. Sighing, he took a step closer, and a dizzying rush of delight surged through me at his closeness. “Look, Kiera… I don’t want to just let you leave now that we’ve started talking. Would you join me?”

I bit my lip. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”

“Not even just for a few minutes? I’ll take you out for dinner afterward.” His voice was the softest it had been since we’d been reunited—cajoling, even almost sweet. It had me letting my guard down, to the point where I nearly melted at his touch as he brushed a stray lock of hair behind my ear. My breath caught audibly and he pulled his hand back, but there was a delectable tension that simmered between us now. His eyes smoldered, but they’d lost the hard edge from earlier in the lounge, the blue softening from stony sapphire to the dark denim of a favorite pair of jeans.

“It’s after ten, and I already ate hours ago,” I sighed. “But… I am curious about this backer’s audition. And, if you don’t fall asleep or complain too much during the first few songs, then maybe… you can take me out for ice cream.”

He smirked at me, and my heart did a somersault. “Ice cream it is.”

My pulse kicked up a notch as he led me back toward the ballrooms with a hand resting casually in the middle of my back. It had been a smart idea to pointedly ignore him as we’d left the lounge before, because now I couldn’t stop glancing sideways at him every two seconds, as if to make sure it really was Caleb there with me. And with my focus now squarely on him, the hitch in his step that I’d first noticed on Tuesday was now at the forefront of my attention. Unconsciously, my left hand flew to my right one, to rub at my ring finger as I fought to keep the sudden onslaught of horrific memories at bay. It wasn’t a particularly pronounced limp, possibly not even something a lot of people noticed about him at first glance. And if the tabloids were anything to go by, it sure didn’t detract from his incredible sex appeal. Hell, I imagined it probably added to it for a lot of women who saw his scarred body as part of his “damaged bad boy” allure.

I scowled to myself at the unwelcome thought. How petty was it that I had it in me to be jealous over that, when I knew better than anyone the agony those scars had caused him? I took a deep breath as we turned the corner into another ballroom adjacent to the one I’d left earlier. Don’t even go down that road Kiera, not tonight, I told myself firmly. You think he wants your damn pity?

The Amethyst Ballroom turned out to be a lot like the Emerald Ballroom, though slightly smaller and decorated in shades of purple rather than green. It was set up like a makeshift cabaret theater; a low stage that extended into a catwalk, surrounded by dozens of small round tables. The performance had already started as Caleb led me over to an unoccupied table near the back. A dozen actors—including a few Broadway stars I recognized—performed highlights from the upcoming show, with the producers and director providing commentary between songs and the composer himself accompanying the singers on the grand piano in the corner. I quickly grasped that it was a very-loosely-based-on-a-true-story musical about a group of childhood friends who formed rival rock bands in the 80’s.

But I could hardly focus on the entertainment on the stage, not with Caleb there. We sat side-by-side, our bodies nearly flush against each other with the way our chairs were conveniently positioned so as to best see the stage. I was acutely aware of every subtle shift of his body, every innocent—or perhaps not so innocent—brush of his leg against mine. The dim lighting somehow made the sensual heat of his body all the more tangible. We didn’t speak, not even a whisper, but just being so close to him had me squirming in my seat with barely-suppressed desire. I kept my eyes riveted on the performers, determined not to give myself away, but I could feel him looking at me.

He’d thrown his arm across the back of my chair, and when I shifted my shoulders in an attempt to quell my salacious longing, his fingertips brushed my neck. I gasped at the spark of electricity from that simple touch and leaned into it instinctively, letting him gently rub the tension out of the space between my neck and shoulder. God, he had magic fingers. Caleb did always know exactly where to touch me, knew how to turn me into a puddle with just a good old-fashioned shoulder rub. Warmth flowed through my body from the spot where he touched me, down through my arms and legs and sending a hot wave of need straight to my sex.

A moan fell from my lips and I snapped my mouth shut, mortified that I’d let my guard down so much. But when I turned to him and our eyes met at last, all thoughts of humiliation quickly fled my mind. Even in the semi-darkness, I could see that the look Caleb was giving me was purely carnal. I licked my lips. I wouldn’t have to lean in far to kiss him…

Applause broke out at the end of another song, breaking the spell between us. Caleb cleared his throat and backed away slightly, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket as he did so. I watched him silently, feeling off-balance.

He stood abruptly. “I have to take care of something. I’ll be back.” He bent over to whisper to me, letting his hot breath caress my ear.

“Oh… okay.”I cringed at how breathy my voice sounded as I started to come back to my senses. But I could still only stare longingly at his back as he quickly maneuvered around the tables and out of the room. I sighed and sagged into my chair when he was gone, shaking my head to myself. What the hell had that been just then? Just when I thought I was starting to get a handle on my wild reactions to him now that he was back in my life, my libido had to throw me another curve-ball. Yeah, it wasn’t like I could just turn my attraction to him and long-suppressed feelings for him off like a light switch, but I had to get myself under some kind of control. Nothing good could come of me pathetically lusting after Caleb when nothing could be done about it.

And even if we could do something about it… well, he’d just proved to me that nothing good would come of it anyway, hadn’t he? He was Mr. Martin the Business Mogul now, and whatever business he’d had to “take care of” would always be more important than little Kiera Anders. My earlier indignation made a comeback as I sat there stewing over that at my lonely table. I knew I wasn’t being entirely fair; after all, it wasn’t like I’d really had any expectations for tonight. Even my comment about going out for ice cream had been a joke I hadn’t expected him to take seriously. But it stung all the same. That he’d wanted me couldn’t have been more obvious, yet the fact remained that he didn’t have any ties to me anymore. I was just another woman in a long line of them, another shiny distraction that would only hold his attention for a short span of time. And yet… even if anything could happen between us, would I really want more than that? Romance was pretty low on my list of priorities as it was, and that was without factoring in the mountain of baggage that stood between me and Caleb.

Heartsick and confused and sexually frustrated, I didn’t know what else to do for the moment but sit there and wait. Ten minutes ticked by and Caleb didn’t return. I looked around at the upper-crust crowd that surrounded me, feeling more out-of-place than ever. I didn’t belong there, and the sole reason I was there in the first place clearly wasn’t interested in making sticking around worth my time.

There was no need to worry about being discreet as I got up; our table was near the back of the ballroom, and everyone else was apparently too absorbed in the performance or their private, whispered conversations to pay attention to me. I pulled in a deep breath after I’d made it back into the hallway. After the emotional roller coaster of the past few hours, I was beyond ready to call it a night. Wearily, I made my way to the nearby restroom.

I was confirming my request for the Uber as I pushed through the door again a few minutes later when Caleb’s voice halted me in my tracks. “I was looking all over for you. I didn’t know where the hell you went.”

Sounds just like his Aunt Petra, I grumbled internally. His look was one of concern, which only annoyed me further, and I was already exhausted with being annoyed with him for one night.

“Look, Caleb, I’m sorry,” I sighed. “It’s been quite a night, but I really think I should be getting home, and you obviously have more important things on your mind. Thank you, though. Maybe we can catch up some other time.” Those last few words were surprisingly hard to get out, and I wasn’t sure how much I meant them.

“Come on, Kiera, wait…” he said, but I was already turning to head back toward the stairs.

“Goodnight, Caleb.”

I didn’t even make it two steps before I saw Preston strutting out of the Emerald Ballroom. Shit. Dealing with him was the absolute last thing I wanted at any time, but even less so just then. I figured I had a hot second before he turned his head in my direction and came marching toward me. I whipped around, debating where to go, when my eyes landed on Caleb again. Heart pounding, I hurried straight to him and grasped his shoulders.

“Kiss me,” I whispered frantically.

His eyes widened, then narrowed. “Why?” I couldn’t tell if it was more of a question or a warning. My heart jumped into my throat as he put his hands around my wrists, but he made no move to pull me away from him.

“I’ll explain later! Please, just—”

My words were cut off as his mouth crashed down on mine. I’d been the one who’d begged for this, and even still it was all I could do not to go totally limp as the hunger of his kiss took my breath away. But within seconds I was returning it with equal ravenousness. There had been a fire kindling inside of me all night, and this was just the spark I’d needed for it to become a full-blown inferno. My tiny purse fell to the floor, freeing both my hands to fiercely grip his hair. His tongue teased my lips and they parted for him willingly—a silent plea for him to possess me and devour me the way he’d once had.

I was only dimly aware of being pulled into a small alcove. Then my back was against the wall, Caleb’s body hot and hard as it pressed against mine. His hands were everywhere; caressing my face, sliding down my neck and over my breast, gripping my thigh as he brought my leg up to wrap around his waist. Sweet fucking heaven, how I’d missed the all-consuming way he kissed. How had I survived without it for all these years?

“Fuck,” Caleb gasped as he wrenched his mouth away from mine, panting just as hard as I was. “Jesus…”

Gingerly, I lowered my leg, but my shift in position only brought the hardness of his cock between my spread legs to my attention. My hips seemed to have a mind of their own as they rocked against him, and I barely bit back a whimper at his answering groan.

“Jesus,” he breathed again. “I want you.” His lips pressed feverishly against mine again in an instant, though I had no idea which one of us moved first.

“Then fucking have me,” I moaned between kisses.

He pulled back, just far enough to look me squarely in the eye. “Kiera…” he said, with a hint of warning in his voice again.

Emboldened by my desperate need, I pulled his head down by his hair to run my tongue along his jaw like I’d wanted to do since I’d first seen him that night. “Don’t give me a chance to think, Caleb,” I whispered before nipping at his earlobe.

A low growl rumbled in his chest—my only warning before Caleb grasped me by the arm and steered me away from the alcove. I barely remembered to pick up my dropped clutch as we hurried down the hallway. Then, blood racing, I followed him to the elevator.

High Risk will be available on Amazon December 28th. Happy reading…

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