Authors: KC Ann Wright
Taking a Chance
Copyright © 2014 KC Ann Wright
Published by Blue Orchard Productions
Song Lyrics by Less than Fiction
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Thanks to my husband and best friend–Taking a chance led to my happily ever after. You make every day even better than the one before. You have always pushed me to follow my dreams. I love you!
Thank you Mom and Grandma for giving me even a touch of your creative talents.
Thanks to the girls for reading along the way and providing feedback.
My first published work is dedicated to your memory. You encouraged me to use my creativity and I thank you for the unconditional love and support. I miss your daily “fire up”.
addie hung up and tossed her cell on the bed, letting out a long sigh. She had made plans earlier in the week to go out with her closest girlfriends that night, but she was still reluctant. It was time to return to the real world, but the past month still weighed heavily on her heart. That, coupled with the exhaustion from a long week at work, meant she needed every ounce of motivation she could gather to get ready for the night. She glanced at her watch.
Two hours. Plenty of time.
Maddie wandered into her closet and scanned the rows of clothes. She had always loved when George picked out her outfits. When he chose, it gave her the hope that he might find her irresistible.
Dammit, Maddie! Stop thinking about him.
Turning her gaze to the shelves of shoes, she immediately felt more control. Maddie could count on shoes to lift her spirits. When she slipped on the perfect pair, it transformed her into a sexy, confident version of herself. She chose a pair of deep red, patent leather heeled sandals. She needed them to venture out.
Satisfied with one decision made, Maddie walked out of her closet and set the shoes by her bed. She decided to do her hair and make-up before choosing something to wear. She inhaled deeply when she walked into her master bathroom. The lingering fragrance, a combination of her lotion, perfume and makeup, never failed to lift her mood. She walked over and pressed the power button on the radio and the sound of Austin Hunter’s voice floated to her ears. Just the thought of the gorgeous singer made Maddie’s knees weak.
Maddie stripped off her baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants and tossed the clothes on the floor. She slipped on her robe and sat in front of the vanity mirror sighing at her reflection. Her green eyes, less vibrant than usual, stared back. As it was the end of summer, her skin had a hint of color but was still almost porcelain white. She had been blessed—or, as Maddie had thought when she was younger, cursed—with her mother’s Irish complexion, including a dusting of freckles on her nose and forehead. She had hated the spots when she was a kid but had grown to appreciate them.
Thank goodness she didn’t look as tired as she felt. Maddie had turned twenty-six a few months ago, but at that moment she felt at least ten years older. The past month—well, past year—had taken a lot out of her.
Nothing I can do about that now.
Maddie had finished her hair and make-up and was leaning against the doorframe of her closet. She scanned the possibilities, willing something to jump out at her. Finally, she pulled one of her casual black dresses from its hanger. The one she chose for that night had spaghetti straps and hung low in the back. Although the cut of the dress hung loose, the silky material fluidly followed the shape of her body with every movement. She buckled the second ankle strap on her shoes, took one last glance in the mirror and grabbed her clutch on the way out the door.
Even though she dreaded elevators, she chose it tonight rather than descending the stairs in heels. Stepping out of the elevator into the lobby, she clicked across the white tile floor with more confidence than she felt. Her doorman happened to be outside and he hailed a cab for her. As she slid in, she waved her thank you to Sid. Now that she was on her way, Maddie was excited to meet the girls at Rosebud, one of their go-to restaurants in Chicago. She had put it off for too long and needed quality girl time.
Not seeing any of her friends in the waiting area, she took the couple of steps down to the lower level to wait in the small bar area. A group was just finishing up, so Maddie ducked in and smiled her thank you as she grabbed the empty stools. She shot a text to the girls with her location and had a drink in hand five minutes later.
Maddie saw Molly the second she walked into the lower level. She wore a figure-fitting white sundress, which showed off her tanned olive skin. Paired with nude platform heels and a wide tan leather belt to cinch her waist, the dress suited Molly to a T. Red highlights streaked her dark-chocolate hair and blunt-cut bangs framed her oval face.
With a broad smile, Maddie greeted her. “Molly, I’m so jealous. It always looks like you just stepped out of the sun and into a fashion magazine. That dress looks gorgeous on you!”
Molly worked as a writer at a local fashion magazine and was always on trend with fashion, never hesitating to wear the latest styles. Even though Maddie had an eye for fashion, she did not always share Molly’s confidence in wearing it.
As they were catching up, Amanda and Rachel arrived. Amanda, the soon-to-be bride, was petite with curly midnight-black hair and deep brown eyes. Even with platform heels, the top of her head barely passed Maddie’s shoulders. Rachel had bottle-blonde platinum hair and blue eyes. Maddie’s hair was at the other side of the blonde spectrum with natural strawberry undertones.
They quickly fell into discussing Rachel’s new boyfriend and Amanda’s wedding. Amanda was getting married in less than two months in the Napa Valley area. Maddie, being the overly organized and never-able-to-say-no friend, was helping Amanda every step of the way in the planning process. Just a few minutes into their conversation, however, the host called Molly’s name and they started to make their way upstairs to the main dining room. Maddie stopped on the main level to send a response to an email for work.
“I’ll be right up. This will only take a second.”
“Maddie, you need to learn to put that thing away,” scolded Molly.
“I know. I know.” Maddie mentally scolded herself for taking the time to reply. She was a director at a company that provided consulting for businesses. Maddie’s clients were primarily smaller family-owned companies with whom she quickly developed a great rapport since she had grown up working in her dad’s manufacturing business. The quick responses to the smaller businesses went a long way with her client relationships. She typed a short reply and hit “send.” Dropping her BlackBerry into her clutch, she tucked it back under her arm. Without looking up, she stepped up to the first stair and bumped into someone coming down.
Feeling clumsy, she placed her hand on the person’s arm and brought her head up. “I’m so”—she paused as she saw his face—“sorry.”
Oh my God, it’s Austin Hunter!
She immediately dropped her hand. Apparently caught speechless for a few beats, it took him a few seconds to respond to her.
“Um, not a problem. Besides, I’m always looking for an excuse to run into a beautiful woman.” He smiled.
Maddie felt her face warm and ducked from his look.
“Right, I’m sure you need an excuse.” She laughed nervously as she raised her eyes back up to look at him.
“Of course I do, especially when they’re as gorgeous as you.”
That time Maddie held his gaze and felt the warm flush spread over her entire body. She placed her hand over her heart, willing the rapid pounding in her chest to slow. He was more gorgeous in person than she could have imagined, and his smile—
my God, it’s beautiful!
—formed a dimple in his left cheek. His dark hair, short on the sides but longer on top, had natural curl. Pushed up in the front and middle, with just the right amount of mess, made it look effortless and styled at the same time.
She tried to focus her gaze on his deep-brown eyes, but his lips looked so…
Maddie, you need to focus.
Oh, but she did not want to focus. All she wanted was to feel those lips on hers. She could not ever remember feeling like that from just a look.
“Well, thank you, Austin. Sorry again for trying to run you over.” Her own voice sounded strange to her.
“Ah,” his smile grew even wider, “you know my name. I’m flattered.”
Seriously, if you continue to smile at me like that, I’m going to throw myself into your arms!
“Let’s see. I’m female, listen to the radio and occasionally—or not so occasionally—see your face on magazines or during interviews. I’d have to try pretty hard to
know who you are.” She laughed again; that time sounding more like herself.
“Hmm, a beautiful woman with a sense of humor—I think I found my dream girl.”
Right, I’m your dream girl.
Maddie was flustered. Typically, she would be hidden in a corner of the room by then, hoping to have picked up the magical talents of a chameleon to blend in with her surroundings.
“Well…goodnight,” she said. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Hey, where are you going?”
Back to reality.
“My friends are waiting for me.”
Before she could move around him, he captured her hand and brushed it lightly with a kiss. Her pulse raced and her entire body felt a surge from Austin’s touch. Maddie had never understood what people meant by walking on cloud nine, but right now, she felt like she was floating.
“It was a pleasure to meet you.”
She stepped around him to float up the stairs, careful to make sure no one else was in her path. Even though she lacked the courage to turn around and see if he was still standing on the stairs, her body sensed his eyes on her.
• • •
addie sighed dreamily as she sat down at the table. “You guys are not going to believe what happened to me.”
“What’s up?” asked Molly.
“I ran into Austin Hunter.”
“Austin Hunter!” Rachel exclaimed. “I didn’t see him.”
“Maybe he was walking across the restaurant as you guys were sitting.” Maddie shrugged. “Anyhow, I started up the stairs and ran right into him. Let me tell you girls, he’s absolutely gorgeous in person and quite the smooth talker.”
“I’m sure he is,” Rachel purred.
“Don’t look now but speak of the devil, he’s coming back up the stairs.”
As if none of them had heard the first part of her sentence, the girls frantically turned to catch a glimpse of Austin.
“Guys, I said not to—” She stopped, knowing it was already too late. Austin smiled when the other girls turned in his direction. Maddie melted when she saw the same beautiful smile and her heart started pounding again when he winked.
“Looks like you made an impression!” exclaimed Molly.
“Whatever.” Maddie waved her hand. “I’m sure this is a game he plays every night. The difference is I’m not going to throw myself at him in desperation for a one-night fling. I mean we all know it could be fun, but I don’t need more drama in my life right now.”
“Maybe it’s exactly what you need,” Molly said. “Personally, I can’t imagine a better way to forget about everything else in the world than in Austin’s arms.”
“I hate to admit it, but Molly has a valid point.” Amanda laughed as she looked at Maddie and raised an eyebrow.
Maddie started to laugh but stopped abruptly. Maddie’s ex-fiancé and his twenty-one-year-old girlfriend were following the hostess across the restaurant. Stacey wore a scrap of red fabric as a dress, which barely covered all the necessary parts. George turned to Maddie and gave her the same cocky smile she had seen the day he walked out.