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Harlequin
May 15, 2014
ISBN 9780373132423

One Night to Risk it All

(Alex and Rachel’s Book)

(Alexios Christofides and Rachel Holt's book, AKA Younger Man)

The ultimate seduction!

Gorgeous Greek tycoon Alexios Christofides is notorious for getting exactly what he wants—and he's not above mixing revenge…and pleasure. He's determined to wrench the Holt empire away from his enemy, even if it means seducing the man's fiancée!

Rachel Holt has spent years playing the dutiful daughter, hostess, fiancée, and she has not once put a foot wrong. Until reaching for just one electrifying night with a handsome stranger gives her a taste of a freedom she's never known…

But this one night has great consequences for them both, especially when Rachel realizes Alex's true identity!

Excerpt

Rachel Holt’s Focus was pulled to the nightstand. To the ring glittering there in the bedside table light. She lifted her left hand and looked at the finger the ring had been on only a few hours ago.

Strange to see it bare after so much time wearing it.

But it hadn’t seemed right to wear it now.

She picked it up off the nightstand and held it up, watching it sparkle, then turned over and looked at the man sleeping next to her. His arm thrown up over his head, his eyes closed, dark curls falling into his face. He was like an angel. A wonderful fallen angel who’d shown her some deliciously sinful things.

But he wasn’t the man who’d given her the ring. He wasn’t the man she was supposed to marry next month. That was a problem.

He was so beautiful, though, it was hard to think of him as a problem. Alex, with the beautiful deep blue eyes and golden-brown skin. Alex, whom she’d met that afternoon—oh, good Lord, she’d known him less than twenty-four hours—on the docks.

She looked at the clock. She’d known him for eight hours. Eight hours had been all it took for her to shed years of staid, respectable behavior. To shed her engagement ring, and follow her… She couldn’t say heart. It was hormones, clearly.

What had she been thinking? It hadn’t been anything like the way she normally behaved. Not at all. She knew better than this. Knew better than to let emotion or passion overcome common sense and decorum.

There had been no decorum tonight.

From the first moment she’d seen him, she’d been completely captivated by the way he moved. The way his muscles shifted as he worked at cleaning the deck.

She closed her eyes and went straight back there. And it was easy to remember what had made her lose her mind…and her clothes.

It was the most beautiful weather they’d had since they’d arrived in Corfu. Not too hot, a breeze blowing in off the sea. Rachel and Alana had just finished lunch, and her friend was headed to the airport to fly back to New York, while Rachel was staying on to represent the Holt family at a charity event.

This vacation was her last hurrah before her wedding next month. A sowing of oats, in a respectable manner of course, as anyone would want to do before they tied themselves, body and soul, to another person for the rest of their lives.

“More shoes?” Alana asked, gesturing to the little boutique shop that was just across the pale, stone street.

“I’m going to say no,” Rachel said, looking out across the water, at the ships, the yachts, that were tethered to the docks.

“Are you sick?”

She laughed and walked over to the seawall, bracing herself on it. “Maybe.”

“It’s the wedding, isn’t it?” Alana asked.

“It shouldn’t be. I’ve known it was coming for ages. We’ve had an understanding for six years and been engaged for a good portion of those years. The date for the wedding has been set for almost eleven months. So.”

“You’re allowed to change your mind,” Alana said.

“No. I’m not. I… Can you imagine? The wedding is the social event of the year. Jax is finally going to get Holt. My father will finally have him as a son, which we all know is what both of them want.”

“What about what you want?”

It had been so long since she’d asked herself that question, she honestly didn’t know the answer. “I.care about Ajax.”

“Do you love him?”

Her eye caught movement out on one of the yachts— a man was on the deck cleaning. He was shirtless, a pair of loose, faded shorts clinging to lean hips. Aided by the sun, the light clinging to the ridges of muscle, the shadow settling in the hollows, she could clearly see the defined, cut lines of his body.

And he took her breath away.

In one moment she had all of the passion, all of the heat, all of the deep longing she’d been growing so certain she was missing—sucked out of her by that horrendous early heartbreak—sweep through her like a wave.

“No,” she said, her eyes never leaving the man on the yacht, “no, I don’t love him. Not—not like you mean. I’m not in love with him. I do love him, it’s just not…that kind.”

It wasn’t a revelation. But coming on the heels of that sudden rush of sensation, it was more disturbing than normal.

She’d sort of thought that maybe it was her fault. Not her and Ajax together, but just the way they were as people. Ajax wasn’t a passionate man, and he never demonstrated passion with her. Quite the contrary, he barely touched her. After all their years together he never went further than a kiss. A nice, deep kiss sometimes. Sometimes a kiss that lasted a long while on the couch in his penthouse. But no clothes were ever shed. The earth was never shattered. It was never hard to stop.

And because he was a very handsome man, she’d assumed that the problem—if it could be called a problem— was with both of them. That she was missing a piece of herself, passion choked out after years of tight control. After letting her passion carry her to the edge of a cliff all those years ago, only to be pulled back just in time, so very aware of the fate she’d been saved from.

Since then, she’d kept it on a tight leash. Which made them sort of an ideal couple, in her mind.

But that wasn’t true. She knew it now. In a blinding flash of clarity, she knew it.

She had passion. It was still there. And she wanted.

“What are you going to do?” Alana asked, sounding heavily concerned now.

Rachel’s face heated. “Um…about?”

“You don’t love him.”

Oh. Of course Alana wasn’t in her head—she didn’t know that Rachel’s world had just been rocked by a man more than one hundred yards away.

She waved a hand. “Yes, but that’s nothing new to me.”

“You’re staring at that man over there.”

Rachel blinked. “Am I?”

“Obviously.”

“Well he’s.”

“Mmm. Yes, he is. Go talk to him.”

“What?” Rachel whipped around to look at Alana. “Just…go talk to him?”

“Yeah. I don’t have to get on my plane for another few hours so if you need a bailout, I’m here. But I can hang back.”

“Go talk to him and what?”

Flirtation, living dangerously, living for the moment— that was all a part of a past so long gone it felt like it belonged to someone else entirely. The Rachel who had narrowly escaped humiliating herself and her family was gone. New Rachel had emerged from the wreckage. And New Rachel was a rule follower. A peacekeeper. She went with the flow and did what she could to keep everyone happy. To make sure she didn’t go too far over the line and miss the safety net her father provided for her.

But for some reason, standing there in the sunshine, thinking of the safety her father provided, of the stability she had with Ajax, she felt like she was drowning in the air. Felt like there was a noose tightening around her neck, the countdown to her execution looming….

Such drama, Rachel, it’s a wedding, not a hanging.

But even so, she felt like it was. Because the wedding presented her with utter, final certainty for her future. A future as Ajax’s wife. As New Rachel, the one who never created a ripple on the surface, for the rest of her life.

“You have got to go and talk to him,” Alana said. “You turned red when you first saw him. Like…really red. Like he lit your toes on fire.”

Rachel choked. “Dramatic much?”

“So okay, I’ve sat back and watched your engagement with Ajax, and I haven’t said much. But as you just said, you aren’t madly in love with him. And anyone with eyes sees that.”

“I know,” she said, her throat tightening. “Look, I know we’re old and boring now. And I know that in high school we did some stupid stuff….”

“To say the least,” Rachel said.

Alana continued. “But I think you’ve gone a little bit too far the other way.”

“The alternative wasn’t any good.”

“Maybe not. But I think maybe this future isn’t so good, either.”

“What else can I do, Alana?” Rachel asked. “My dad bailed me out so many times, and I pushed him to the point where he was ready to wash his hands of me. And now? We’re close. We have a relationship. I make him proud. And if Ajax is the price I have to pay for that then…I accept it.”

“Does he at least make you feel like your toes have been lit on fire?”

Rachel looked at the man on the yacht again. “No,” she said, the word choked out. “He doesn’t.”

“Then I think you owe it to yourself to spend some time with a man who does.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I really do.”

“So…I should just go talk to him? Want to bet he curses me out in Greek and then goes back to work?”

Alana laughed. “Yeah, that won’t happen, Rach.”

“How do you know? Maybe he doesn’t like blondes.”

“He’ll like you because you’re the kind of woman who drives men crazy.”

“Not so much anymore.” Flirting, toying and teasing had ended badly for her eleven years ago, and Ajax had certainly never acted as if she’d driven him crazy.

“Lies,” Alana said, waving her hand. “Live dangerously for a minute, babe. Before you stop living altogether.”

Rachel couldn’t take her eyes off him, not even to shoot her friend the evil eye, which is what she should really be doing. “Did you read that on a fortune cookie?”

“Ever had an orgasm with an actual man? ‘Cause I have.

So.”

At the mention of orgasms, Rachel’s cheeks burned. No, no she hadn’t. She’d given them a few times, yes, but never received. “Fine. I’ll go talk to him,” she said. “Talk to. Not orgasm with. Lower that suggestive eyebrow of yours.”

“Okay. And I’ll be close. So if you…you know, need anything, text.”

“Also I have mace,” Rachel said. “Ajax insisted.”

She winced as she mentioned her fiance’s name. But she wasn’t going to do anything, not really. She was just going to go talk to Shirtless Sailor Stud. She wasn’t going to do anything inappropriate.

It was all about having a moment. Just a moment. To be brave and reckless, and not so much like the Rachel she’d been this past decade. To know what it was like to chase a moment that wasn’t bound up in the expectations of other people.

Just a moment. To talk to a guy because she thought he was cute. Nothing more.

She took a breath and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Wish me…well, not luck exactly.”

Alana winked. “Get lucky.”

“No. I’m not cheating on Jax.”

“Okay,” Alana said.

“I’m not.” The very idea was laughable. There were people who were like that. Bold people who went around carpeing diems all over the place. But that wasn’t her. Not anymore. She wasn’t sure that had ever been her. Her rebellious years had been just that. Rebellion. Not just a desire for freedom, but a desire to push against the bonds that had always held her in place. Until she’d realized just how much that behavior affected other people. Just how much it could affect her. Not just her present, but her entire future.

But just saying hi wasn’t so bad. There was no harm in giving herself a moment to bask in the heat that this stranger gave off.

“Riiiight,” Alana said.

“Shush.” Rachel turned and walked toward the dock, her hands shaking, her body rebelling in every way against what she was about to do. Sweaty palms, heart beating so fast she was pretty sure she was going to faint, mouth watering with sickness. Yep, the signs to run and preserve herself were all there. But she ignored them.

She looked back at Alana one more time, who was standing at the wall still, watching. Then she turned back to her target.

She would just say hi. And maybe flirt. Just a little harmless flirting. She half remembered how that went. She’d been a master of the tease back in the day. Batting her eyes and touching a guy’s shoulder, all while never intending to do anything more than use his interest to boost her ego. It had been a game then. Fun.

Why not revisit it? This was her last hurrah before her marriage. A chance to hang and shop with Alana. A little time to decompress, loll by the beach, watch chick flicks in her hotel room, then enjoy a charity gala. All without her family or Ajax around.

This was just a part of that. A little time off from being Rachel Holt, beloved media figure. Rachel Holt, who was doing her best to represent her family, to do what was right.

She needed some time to just be Rachel. Not New Rachel. Not Old Rachel, either. Just Rachel.

She stopped in front of the yacht and took a deep breath that was choked off.

Then she looked up, and her gaze crashed into the most electric blue eyes she’d ever seen. Followed by a slow, wicked smile, a flash of bright white teeth on dark skin. He was even more beautiful up close. Utterly arresting. He pushed dark curls out of his eyes and the motion made his muscles flex. A show just for her. And her hormones stood and applauded. And cheered for an encore.

Stupid hormones.

“Are you lost?” he asked, his English heavily accented. The same accent as Ajax’s. Greek. And yet it didn’t sound the same. It wasn’t as refined. It had a rough edge that abraded against something deep inside her. Struck against the hard, dry places inside of her and set off a shower of sparks that sat smoldering, building.

And all that over three words. She was doomed if she did anything other than walk away.

But she didn’t. She stayed rooted to the spot.

“Um…I was…I was just there,” she gestured back to the wall where she’d been standing with Alana, who was now absent. “And I saw you.”

“You saw me?”

“Yes.”

“Was there a problem?”

“I.” she said, stumbling over her words. “Not a problem, no. I just noticed you.”

“Is that all?”

He put his foot up on the metal railing that surrounded the deck then jumped down onto the dock, the motion fluid, shocking and…darn hot.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s all.”

“Your name?”

“Rachel Holt.”

She waited. For recognition to flash through his eyes. For him to get excited at being in front of someone who had a certain level of media fame. Or for him to turn away. People did one of those two things. Rarely anything else.

But there was no recognition. Nothing.

“Well, Rachel,” he said, that voice a rush of liquid that pooled low in her body, “what is it you noticed about me?”

“That, um…you were hot,” she said. She’d never been so forward with a man in her life. Though, honestly, she wasn’t sure if she was being forward or being an idiot. She was good with people. The consummate hostess. Everyone, even the vicious press, liked her. A reputation that had been carefully cultivated—and fiercely guarded.

But she was a lot more experienced at offering people cold beverages than she was at offering them her body.

He arched one dark brow. “That I was hot?”

“Yeah. Haven’t you ever had a woman come on to you before?” Her face was burning and she couldn’t blame the afternoon sun. She wasn’t supposed to be hitting on him, and yet these were the words leaving her mouth.

Stupid mouth. Almost as stupid as her hormones.

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