(the writing team of Anne Farrell and Linda McLaughlin)
Golden Heart Finalist, Short Contemporary category
Children's librarian Amanda Lloyd values privacy above all else. Three years ago her wedding ended in disaster when her groom was arrested at the altar and the story of the 'Embezzler's Bride' appeared in the supermarket tabloids. The experience has left her determined to avoid being caught in the public eye again. Until she meets a sexy single dad with a scandalous past.
Ex-racer Mitch Delaney is a public figure whose life has been plastered across the tabloids more than once. But he believes that anything worth doing is worth a risk. After the death of his ex-wife, he moved to Southern California to take care of his son Josh. He doesn't need the complication of a woman in his life, especially since Josh's grandparents have filed suit for custody. But Josh is on the hunt for a new mother and he has his heart set on Miss Amanda, and Mitch can't fault his son's taste.
Against her better judgement, Amanda finds herself falling for both of the Delaney men. When she agrees to accompany Mitch to a high-profile movie premiere, they draw the attention of the tabloids. Overnight Amand'a private affair becomes very public, threatening her job and Mitch's custody suit. She's waited twenty-eight years for the right man. But will happiness come at too high a price?
(Previously published as Private Affair, Kensington Precious Gem #121)
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Read an Excerpt from Worth The Risk
Warning--dangerous curves ahead.
The thought popped into Mitch Delaney's head as he watched a pair of slender black clad legs and a shapely derriere backing out of the doorway toward him. She didn't look like any librarian he'd ever met.
He'd come into the children's room of the Santa Elena Public Library looking for his son. He hadn't found Josh yet, but the seductive body emerging from the child-sized playhouse fascinated him. What he could see of her clothing seemed pretty conservative, but the position she was in more than made up for it.
She stood up a little too soon and cracked her head on the three-foot high doorway. "Damn," she muttered.
"I heard that," he whispered.
Leaning over her shoulder, his hand brushed her arm as he reached down to put a puzzle piece in place. "I think this one goes here."
Amanda suppressed a shiver at his touch and tried to inch away. It was definitely time to assert herself. She had to get this situation onto a professional level. She stood up and tried to put some distance between them, but it didn't help. His bold gaze surveyed her, and her breathing grew rapid.
She quickly looked away. She couldn't let him see how nervous he made her. In a carefully controlled voice she said, "I'm sure you're not here to work on jigsaw puzzles. Can I help you?"
"No, I'm just waiting for my son. Don't let me bother you."
Bother her? Just his presence was disturbing. And he had a son. She might have known he was married. Very few unattached men wandered into the children's room of the library. She was aware of a fleeting feeling of disappointment and mentally shook herself out of it.
"Looks to me like you're the one who needs help," he said as he surveyed the mess. "What happened here?"
"Nothing unusual," Amanda said ruefully. "You have no idea how much havoc a few three-year-olds can create."
He chuckled. "Well, it looks like reinforcements are on the way. Hey, Josh, why don't you come and help the pretty lady?"
"Sure, Dad." A sunny-faced youngster appeared from nowhere and smiled cheerfully at her. "Hi, Miss Amanda." He sat down at the table and began sorting through the puzzle pieces.
"Hi, Josh." Amanda smiled back at him. He looked familiar, but she couldn't place him. She guessed he was seven or eight, dark-haired, with gray eyes and the longest lashes she had ever seen. Like father, like son, she thought, sneaking a look at the sexy stranger.
"Miss Amanda?" His dark eyebrows arched mischievously. "You're not quite what I expected."
Josh looked up from the puzzle he was working on. "I told you all about her, Dad. Don't you remember?"
"Yes, but you left out a few important details, son." His voice, deep and sensual, sent a ripple of awareness through Amanda.
He held out a hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you." He peered at her nametag. "Ms. Lloyd."
She nodded as she felt her hand swallowed up in his warm, friendly grasp. A tingling sensation shot up her arm. For heaven's sakes, what was wrong with her? Her fiancé had been as good-looking, maybe better, but there was a sensual awareness in this man that she hadn't been conscious of in Tim.
She pulled her hand free at the sound of a childish voice and turned to see a little blond-haired girl looking up at her. "Do you need some help?" Amanda asked the youngster.
"I can't find the fairy tales."
"They're right over here," Amanda said, leading the way to a shelf by the window. She pulled a few books from the shelf. "How about Cinderella, Snow White, and The Frog Prince?"
The child took the books with a happy smile. "I'm gonna marry a prince someday."
It had never been known to fail, Amanda thought. The female of the species was a sucker for a happy ending. She hated to burst the child's illusions, but... "There really aren't--"
"Of course you will, sweetheart," a low masculine voice interrupted. "Whoever you marry will be your prince."
The little girl gave the handsome stranger a dazzling smile and ran out of the room.
"Shame on you," he scolded. "You were going to tell that child there aren't any princes, weren't you?"
"Isn't it better to be honest? Sometimes I wonder at the wisdom of filling children's heads with fairy tales, even though it's part of my job. That little girl will find out sooner or later that there aren't any real prince charmings."
He leaned against a table, his long legs crossed at the ankles. "Oh? What about Prince William?"
Amanda raised an eyebrow. "Friend of yours, is he?"
"I wouldn't go that far, but I have met his brother, Harry."
Sure you have. Amanda recognized a line when she heard one. "All right, there are a few actual princes left. But we're not talking about them." The man was aggravating, standing there practically daring her to defend herself. "The truth is that frogs outnumber princes by about a million to one."
The man grinned lazily. "Ah, a cynic."
Amanda returned his smile. "Remember what the Brothers Grimm said: 'Before you meet the handsome prince, you've got to kiss a lot of toads.'"
"If you think all men have warts, I beg to differ," he said softly, staring into her eyes.
"You never know which frog might turn into a prince..."
© 1998, 2011 by Linda McLaughlin and Anne Farrell