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Authors: Jill Shalvis

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Chance Encounter

BOOK: Chance Encounter
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It was hot. Messy.
Glorious.

“Damn it,” Chance growled, backing away from her as if she had the plague.
“Damn it.”

“What…” Ally had to clear her throat to speak. “What was that about?”

“Nothing. It was just a kiss.”

That had been
just a kiss?

Well, she was certainly glad he’d cleared that up for her, because she’d been quite positive it had been more, far more, as in something from the heart, from the soul.

“I meant to stay away from you,” Chance said.

“Well, you’re not doing a very good job.”

“I’m going to try harder.”

“Good. Because…” Ally’s throat tightened. She wanted him, plain and simple. And he wanted her, too, she knew that. But he didn’t
want
to want her, and that hurt. Suddenly she missed her own quiet world. “I want my old life back,” she whispered.

He nodded curtly. “Then go get it.”

So simple. So why did it seem so hard?

Dear Reader,

There’s nothing more sexy than a hero who knows his own mind and isn’t afraid to speak it. T. J. Chance is definitely one of those men: confident, gorgeous, not to mention ready, able and willing.

Ally Wheeler admires these qualities, and though she’s naturally not superconfident herself, nor ready, able and willing, she’s hoping to learn. From Chance.

Only, Chance doesn’t want to teach Ally to walk on the wild side. He doesn’t want to do anything with her, especially fall in love, which is exactly what happens. Hope you enjoy this last installment of the MEN OF CHANCE miniseries!

Jill Shalvis

P.S. You can write to me c/o Harlequin, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 3K9, Canada.

Books by Jill Shalvis

HARLEQUIN TEMPTATION

742—WHO’S THE BOSS?

771—THE BACHELOR’S BED

804—OUT OF THE BLUE

C
HANCE
E
NCOUNTER
Jill Shalvis

To my own man of Chance, David.

1

“Y
OU’RE FIRED
.”

“What?”
Ally meant to sound fierce but she might as well have been a squeaky mouse. “You…can’t do that.”

“Oh, yes, I can.” Professor Langley Weatherby III, every bit the antiquated snob his name suggested, peered over his small wire-rimmed spectacles. “You’re no longer a librarian at this university, Ms. Wheeler. Consider yourself officially unemployed.”

“But—” Ally
loved
her work, loved everything about it, the feel of the glorious old books in her hands, the scent of aging paper, the pleasure of helping students soak up all that knowledge.

And the silence, most of all she loved the silence.

“We’ll give you two weeks’ severance pay,” the professor said. “More than generous, given the scandal.”

Ah, yes, the scandal. Not that anyone had let her forget it for one moment. It hadn’t been her fault, and feeling her throat burn, she swiped at the moisture in her eyes, as if flicking away a pesky piece of lint instead of her hopes and dreams.

The professor let out a heavy sigh and thrust a handkerchief beneath her nose. “You do see our posi
tion,” he said gruffly, but with slightly less antagonism. “We can’t let you stay now.”

It was hard to believe that little Miss Goody-Two-shoes had gotten herself into so much trouble. First with the professor, then the head of the school himself, and finally, when no one had believed Ally’s story, with the authorities. She’d even had an eventful ride to the San Francisco police station for questioning, an experience that would surely headline her nightmares for the rest of her life.

Ironic, since in all of her nearly twenty-six years she’d never so much as been sent to the principal’s office. “But Thomas was the one who stole the classics,” she said for at least the hundredth time.

“They were
priceless
first edition literary classics that had been at our university for decades, Ms. Wheeler. Your boyfriend used your special clearance to steal them.”

But what would she do without her job? Her heart and soul were embedded in these brick walls, because here she wasn’t mousy Ally. Here she was important. She belonged.

“This decision is final.”

She wouldn’t beg. With her stomach somewhere near the vicinity of her feet, she stood, lifted her chin to the level of the professor’s aristocratic nose, and walked out of her beloved library for the last time. She passed the biology building, the Social Studies Hall and the Student Union before moving toward the park, her second favorite place on earth. Here was where she left her car every morning, so at the end of
a day filled with books, she could unwind by feeding the squirrels.

Fired. Fired.
Fired.
The word rang in her head.

Well, if being let go was the worst thing to ever happen to her, then so be it. So she’d been forced to leave the best job she’d ever had. She’d survive. Probably.

But where was her car? Craning her neck, she looked to the right, then to the left—
Oh, no.

Had she really thought her day couldn’t get worse?

Her fifteen-year-old tomato-red Escort coupe, temperamental and spunky at the best of times—of which this wasn’t—was gone all right. It had rolled down the steep hill.

And smashed into a plush, very new-looking BMW sports car.

 

H
ER ANSWERING MACHINE
had just clicked on when Ally wearily made her way into her apartment.

“Ally?” came a cranky, smoke-ladened voice. “I know you’re there, pick up the phone this instant!”

“I don’t think so,” she said, grateful to have avoided Mrs. Snipps, landlady from hell.

“Listen missy, I sold the building.”

Ally dropped her purse and stared at the machine.

“I’m retiring to the Bahamas.”

Ally sank to her couch.

“And you have until next month to get out,” the cragly voice continued. “
Six weeks.
Don’t cause me any trouble, girl.”

At the sound of the dial tone, Ally let out a choked laugh. “Trouble?” she muttered. “It’s only my middle
name.” She was jobless, and now soon to be homeless as well. Not to mention the major dent her car had put into that brand-spanking-new BMW. She had insurance, but she also had a very high deductible that might as well be a million dollars for all her ability to pay it.

Another mirthless laugh escaped. Her life was not only over, it was pitiful.

The phone rang again.

What now?
Dammit, she was tired. Tired of jumping at the sound of the telephone, tired of being insecure and mousy all the time. Suddenly mad, she straightened on the couch.

No more doormat,
she decided as she yanked up the receiver. “Hello!” And because being forceful felt so good, she added,
“Who is this and what do you want?”

“It’s Thomas.”

At the sound of the confident masculine voice, her nearly nonexistent temper exploded. How dare he call after destroying her life. “You! You— You big jerk!” Oh great. Was “you big jerk” the biggest insult she could come up with?

“Listen, Ally,” he said quickly. A strange clinking sound came over the phone. “I need you to get me a lawyer. Like yesterday.”

What had she seen in this guy?

But she already knew the answer to that, painful as it was to admit. He was a gorgeous, smooth, elegant man who’d noticed her. Unlike everyone else in her life, he hadn’t needed her money—little as there was—he hadn’t required her mothering skills, hadn’t
wanted anything from her except…her. More than that, he’d given her attention.

How pathetic was that? He’d made plain Ally Wheeler—of average height, average weight, average hair and eyes—feel beautiful.

It’d taken awhile for the stars to clear from her eyes. Only then had she been able to see Thomas for the user and con man that he was, though not in time to save her job, or the library’s classics.

“No, I won’t get you a lawyer,” she said, winding up to let loose some of her pent-up feelings. “And another thing—”

“Officer Daniel here,” a strange voice said in her ear. “Time’s up.”

Ally stared at the phone and for the first time in days let out a genuine laugh. Thomas had called from jail, in handcuffs if the clanking noise meant anything. Wasn’t life just one big excitement after another?

 

N
O JOB CAME THROUGH
. Thanks to the ruthless rumors about Ally’s involvement with the priceless missing volumes, no library in the entire state would touch her. And nothing could soften the cold, hard facts. She had little to no savings, three sisters in college counting on her financial help, elderly parents on a fixed income, and she was staring poverty in the face.

She needed a job, any job. Without one, who would rent her a place to live? Her sisters were all settled in dorms. Her parents, who’d had their kids late in life, lived in a senior center. She had no one to turn to.

It was then that the letter came. Lucy was Ally’s mother’s second cousin by marriage, and though they didn’t get to see each other often, they corresponded regularly. Lucy’s weekly letters from Wyoming, where she ran a mountain resort, were always the exciting highlight of Ally’s day. Just a month ago, there’d been a terrible fire, and Lucy had been crushed at the loss of over one hundred acres of lush landscape. They’d written each other frequently since then, with Ally doing her best to cheer up Lucy.

Unlike the others though, this letter turned Ally’s life completely around. Or upside down, depending on how one looked at it.

Dearest Ally,

You won’t believe this, but I’ve broken my hip and ankle, and landed myself in the hospital for a while. Blast those newfangled mountain bikes!

Ally blinked. The sixty-something Lucy on a mountain bike?

We’re desperately racing to clean up from the fire before our summer season can start. We need that acreage cleared for our mountain bikers and hikers, or I’ll lose business.

So I need a favor, Ally, a big one. Come stay at the resort while I’m in the hospital recovering from this stupid mishap. I have a great staff, but there’s nothing like family to watch out for your interests. You’ve got good business experience,
and a degree. You’ll make a great general manager.

General manager?
Ally shuddered, her head filled with visions of huge snowdrifts. Endless dark, haunting forests.

Big bugs.

I’ve arranged for you to be on the payroll, so take a leave of absence from that boring, stagnant, indoor job and you’ll never regret it. Give me a month of your time, that’s all. Do it for me. Do it because I’m desperate and need you.

Do it for yourself.

Love, Lucy

From the envelope fell a plane ticket dated two days from now. Ally sat there staring down at it, her eyes glued to the date.

She couldn’t have just been offered a miracle, could she? She couldn’t really be sitting here holding a one way ticket out of the disaster her life had become. To say she was afraid was the understatement of the century. She had less than a hundred dollars left in her checking account, no car and no job.

But…Wyoming?

The normally quiet and unassuming Ally would never consider such a thing, but that woman was gone, replaced by a woman determined to stop helping everyone else and help herself for a change. And maybe even enjoy herself while she was at it.

She supposed she could say Lucy needed her, that her family did as well. That by going she’d be fulfilling just another family obligation. But those thoughts irritated her. Her
entire
life had been dictated by the needs of others. No more.

So she’d hit rock bottom. It meant she had nowhere to go but up, right? And she wanted
more
than just survival, she wanted to succeed at something. Anything. For once she wanted to be great at her life. She was going to go Wyoming.
Look out big bugs,
she thought.
Here I come.

2

T
WO DAYS LATER
,
Ally stepped off the plane and stared at the wide, open sky and outlying sharp, majestic mountains, completely awestruck. It all seemed so…big.

As she walked across the tarmac, the wind hit her, a stinging, sharp draft that nearly knocked her sideways. “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy,” she whispered, glancing at the threatening, thunderous clouds gathering on the horizon.

No problem. This was going to be fun. She had to repeat that to herself when a pesky little voice inside her head kept saying,
I want my quiet, cozy life back.

Her old life was gone for now. This is what she had. With a lifted chin and a swagger that was mostly bravado, she continued away from the plane toward the small terminal. She’d just retrieve her luggage, find a cab and go meet Lucy at the hospital, where they could spend a little time catching up. Then she’d head over to the resort and meet the staff Lucy had described as a young, capable, tight unit.

She was ready! She was going to dig in and help with the fire clean-up. She was going to try everything and anything, and succeed no matter what. No more
taking care of everyone. No more putting everyone else first.

It was Ally Wheeler’s turn.

She staggered a bit, pummeled by the increasing wind. The other passengers, who’d seemed so cityish on the plane, suddenly all had sweaters or jackets out. Several of the men had placed cowboy hats on their heads, and she noted for the first time, they all wore boots.

She felt like a fish out of water, especially when her cell phone rang.

“Ally!”

Pesky younger sister number one. “You’re already gone,” wailed Dani. “I didn’t get to talk to you before you left. What if I need you?”

Only calmness worked on Dani, and Ally strove for some now as she was pelted by the wind, jostled by people walking past her, and all around overwhelmed by her new surroundings. “I told you I was going.” It was the most soothing voice she could muster. “And if you need me, Dani, you can do as you’re doing right now and call.”

“But what if I need money?”

For the first time, Ally couldn’t find any patience for her baby sister. “You might try putting in a few hours of work.” She was nearly at the terminal now and her mind was far from home. Her heart was racing as she walked toward this new adventure of hers. “I’ve got to go, okay? I’ll call you later.”

“But—”

Ally disconnected, and forced herself to let go of the
guilt. She was no longer saving the world, she was living for herself for a change. It was exciting. Scary. Her hair whipped at her face. Her blouse, perfectly suitable for May in San Francisco, plastered itself to her body, providing no barrier against the chill, but she kept moving.

And then found her gaze locked with a stranger’s.

His wide shoulders were propping up the wall of the terminal, one long leg bent, foot braced on the brick behind him. He wore reflective sunglasses and a crooked,
follow-this
smile.

He tugged off the glasses and suddenly his pose didn’t seem lazy but…coiled. He was looking right at her,
through
her, with dark, dark, piercing eyes.

Feeling silly, and too skittish for someone who was supposed to be tough instead of wussy, Ally forced herself to remain calm. She knew she was cold, knew too, that it was painfully obvious through the blouse she wore, the one that at this very moment was plastered to her like a second skin, outlining her every curve for his inspection.

And inspect he did, slowly, thoroughly, leaving her blushing from toes to roots. Out of necessity she continued to move toward him, her one and only goal at this point to get warm. Closer now, she could see his eyes were blue; the clear, startling dark blue of the ocean deep. His hair was sun-kissed blond, on the wrong side of long, hitting past his collar at the back of his neck. No razor had touched his skin in at least two days, and the stubble only emphasized his firm, tough
mouth. His faded jeans, leather bomber jacket and attitude assured her he was the poster boy for
bad.

“Excuse me,” he said, facing her fully. He was tall, and built like a man who used his body often. A gold hoop shone at his ear. His face was rugged, tanned and comfortably lived in, holding the sweet, saintly expression of an angel—with the devastating, irresistible smile of the devil. But it was his low, husky voice that grabbed her, a voice that was so innately…
sexy
she felt all her X chromosomes jerk to attention.

“Ms. Wheeler, right?” He lifted one dark blond brow and shifted that tall, leanly muscled frame, drawing her attention to the way his Levi’s caressed his lower body, but she couldn’t concentrate on that at the moment.

Because he knew her name.

That couldn’t be good, or safe. She wanted to be cool but the little mouse resurfaced. And he looked like he ate little mice for breakfast. “Who are you?”

He gave her a pleasant enough smile while he studied her. Pleasant being relative of course, in a face that could tempt the gods. “I’m T. J. Chance. Lucy sent me for you.”

“She didn’t have to do that, I can catch a cab to the hospital.”

He chuckled, a deep rumbling sound that did funny things to her belly, even though that laughter was clearly directed at her.

“They don’t have cabs in Wyoming?” she asked, a little defensively.

“Sure.” He lifted a broad shoulder. “But even if you managed to get one, it’d cost you about a hundred bucks to go that far.”

A hundred dollars. More than she had. Her shoulders slumped. “A bus then?”

“No such luck. But don’t worry. I’m not as bad as they say.” A wicked gleam came into his eyes. “Not quite.”

Who was he kidding? He looked bad to the bone, a fact that was both oddly thrilling and disturbing at the same time.

She
wanted to be bad to the bone, just once. “Look, Mr. Chance—”

“Just Chance.”

“Chance,” she corrected cautiously. “It’s nothing personal, really, it’s just—” That she’d sworn off men,
especially
men like him, men who could make her every nerve sizzle by just standing there. “I don’t take rides from strangers.”

“Ah. Spoken like a true city girl.”

“Well, I
am
a city girl.”

“I’d never have noticed,” he said wryly, taking in her wispy sandals, her lightweight khakis, her even more lightweight blouse. “And we’re not strangers. Lucy is more like my family than…” Something flickered in his deep, unreadable gaze. “Well, my family.” He stepped close, so close he blocked out the bright sunshine with his big, rugged body.

Ally barely came up to his chin and she backed away, because learning to be tough didn’t mean she had to be stupid.

“Hey, relax.” He lifted his hands in innocence, but somehow she doubted he’d ever been innocent. “You’re turning blue is all.”

“That’s because I’m freezing.”

“Should have brought a jacket.” He looked very nice and toasty in his. He slipped his hands in the pockets. The leather crinkled enticingly, looking luxuriously warm, and in envy, her entire body leaned toward it.

Chance’s eyes narrowed.

“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t ask you to share.” But then she shivered again, and with a disgusted look, he yanked the leather off, leaving him in a soft-looking, black T-shirt.

“Here, dammit.” His arms were as tanned and rugged as his face, and roped with strength. When he held out the jacket, she caught a glimpse of a small tattoo where his sleeve was stretched taut over his biceps.

Bad to the bone, she thought again. “I couldn’t.”

“Now you’re being stubborn.” He set the jacket on her shoulders, enveloping her in his lingering body heat and outdoorsy, very male scent. For a second, his hands skimmed over her shoulders, then he slipped them into the pockets of his jeans, legs spread wide on the ground, sure and confident in a way Ally reluctantly had to admire. He was everything
she
wanted to be, here in Wildland, U.S.A.

“A thin blouse isn’t the smartest thing to be wearing in the mountains,” he noted. “It could still snow. You’ll need to be more prepared.”

She wondered how prepared
he’d
be in
her
world. But the truth was, T. J. Chance looked pretty darn capable. Without a doubt, he’d fit in anywhere, he’d make sure of it.

And suddenly her newfound and not quite secure baby-new strength deserted her. For a terrible moment, it all seemed so completely overwhelming. The loss of her job, her apartment, her quiet, happy life…and now this too rugged, too masculine, too everything man was looking at her as if she was an idiot.

Well she
was
an idiot. She’d lost her job, her apartment. She’d lost her dignity and all self-confidence.

“Ah hell,” he said, going very still as he looked at her. “You’re not over there crying, are you?”

Ally got busy trying to suck it all up, trying to be the tough girl she wanted to be, but he looked so fierce with all that bad attitude blazing from his eyes, that the harder she tried, the more her eyes stung from the effort.

“Perfect.” He sounded so annoyed, that a laugh shot out of her, which had a tear escaping down her frozen cheek.

He pointed at her. “Stop it.”

Of course she couldn’t, and he slapped at his pockets, muttering beneath his breath as he thrust a napkin under her nose, reminding her of the incident with the professor.

His handkerchief had been soft cotton, laundered and pressed.

This napkin was rough and rumpled paper.

“Take it,” he demanded roughly. “Take it and
knock off the waterworks. They don’t work on me.” Before she could take the proffered napkin, he grabbed her arm and led her through the terminal, stopping inside to once again shove the napkin at her. “Your nose is running.”

Perfect. She swiped at it and gave Mr. Rough and Tumble a sideways look. He seemed unraveled, and she found it…amusing. He was insensitive. In a hurry. He was edgy and quite likely to be horrible to work with. And tears scared him. It made her want to smile for some silly reason. She sniffed loudly, relieved to be on the edge of good humor again instead of the mortifying tears.

“I’ll go get the Jeep,” he told her. “You stay here and just…stay here.” He backed away as if she had the plague.

Odd how much better that made her feel, scaring the scariest of them all.

“I’ll be gone only a minute.” He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Don’t worry.” She blew her nose again. “I’ve filled my stupid quota for the next few moments at least.”

He looked at her as if he thought maybe she’d lost her mind. And she most definitely had, because suddenly, she couldn’t wait to get started with the rest of her life. She zipped up his big, soft jacket and snuggled deep into the warmth. It smelled like citrus soap and one-hundred-percent man, and because it was so delicious, she inhaled deeply.

Then, because she felt good and ready, she also took his ride.

 

C
ITY
G
IRL GOT
herself together quickly, a fact that made Chance most grateful. God, he really hated the feeling that came over him when a woman cried. Frustrated. Stupid.
Guilty,
though it couldn’t have possibly been his fault, not this time.

No way.

But there was no denying that Ally Wheeler reminded him of Tina. Though she’d been dead ten years now, just looking at Ally’s slender frame, at her obvious naiveté, was a sharp, very unwelcome reminder of his past.

What had Lucy been thinking, bringing this woman here? It
had
to be some sort of misguided family loyalty. He wondered if either of his own two older brothers would feel that same family loyalty if he needed something.

Yeah, he had to admit, they would. No matter that the three of them rarely saw eye to eye on anything, that they didn’t understand each other, they’d come through.

“Th-think we can have the heat on?”

He glanced at his temporary boss. She was huddled on the seat of his Jeep, her arms wrapped tight around her middle, her lips still a most interesting shade of blue, even as her chin was jutted up in the air. Hey maybe she’d get so cold she’d want to go home. He cheered up at the thought. “It’s warm enough in here,” he told her.

She leaned forward and turned on the heater herself, sighing with pleasure when the hot air hit her legs.

He shook his head and concentrated on the road. “You’ll hate winter.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t be here that long.” Her teeth were chattering. “N—not that it’s your concern.”

Only a woman could go from vulnerable to annoying so quickly. “
Everything
you do while you’re here is my concern.” Which rankled. The last thing he wanted was to be responsible for a lightweight who got cold in sixty-degree weather.

She looked at him with wide eyes the amazing color of a stormy gray sky, and it made him narrow his own, realizing he’d only given her a cursory glance before. Her hair, a wild honey-colored mess from the wind, lay in tangles around her face. Her curvy body was an asset, in spite of her habit of hunching her shoulders, as if she was trying to disappear.

She wasn’t his type. Nope, he liked a woman fast, earthy and as wild as the Wyoming landscape around him. Oh, and let’s not forget overtly sexual. Yeah, someone who enjoyed her body and knew how to use it. Antsy Ally was none of that.

“Why is that?” she asked.

Chance had lost track of the conversation. He leisurely ran his gaze back up to her eyes. “Why what?”

Irritation flickered, and she crossed her arms tightly over her breasts, which only amused him, because now they plumped up nicely, giving him an even better view.

“Why am I your concern?” she repeated.

What was it Lucy had demanded of him?
Take good care of my Ally. Her safety and welfare are on your shoul
ders.
Dammit. He promptly forgot about Ally’s breasts and remembered his irritation. “Everything and everyone at Sierra Peak is my concern,” he said curtly.

Her eyes went even wider. “You work at the resort?”

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