The higher she climbs, the harder he falls...
Carter Malone is usually the first one to make tracks before a woman starts getting any ideas. Permanent relationships don't fit into his personal blueprint. Now, for the first time in his life, he's burning up the sheets with a woman who makes him think about something more permanent...like spending the night. But she's holding something back, something he can't quite pin down.
As a woman in a man's world, Ryan Cooper is used to wearing a target on her back--and hiding her vulnerabilities. She hasn't let anything, not even the ever-present threat of an epileptic seizure, stop her from working her butt off to get the foreman's job with her stepfather's construction company. Then she discovers the guy she's been dating--okay, having the hottest sex of her life with--is the architect who designed the building she'll be overseeing. The last thing she needs is anyone thinking she slept with Carter to get the job.
Or worse, feeling sorry for her.
Before the dust clears, things get a lot more complicated. The previous foreman's injury was no accident, and whoever caused it is taking aim--at the target on Ryan's back.
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August 03, 2009
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Excerpt from Bridging the Gap by Annmarie Mckenna
Carter laughed and hopped in his SUV, ready to fulfill Ridge's wishes lest he cause the man a coronary on the day of his first child's birth. He tried to remember what he knew about the Wellingby site. The project was one of Ridge's babies, his conception, and while Carter had collaborated on it, he had his own projects going at the same time. He knew the former foreman had broken his leg in an on-site accident, and Ridge had said the owner of the construction company had someone to replace him temporarily until the man was able to come back. And from what Carter could recall, it would be awhile until the other man was able to return to work since his injuries were pretty extensive.
A measure of adrenaline raced through his system. Carter loved going to the job sites, loved seeing their projects come to fruition from the ground up. The Wellingby site would be gorgeous. State-of-the-art facility for patrons of the arts from toddlers to the elderly. It was going to be a welcome addition to the community, graciously donated by the Wellingby family.
Twenty minutes later, Carter pulled onto the gravel entrance. The site was in full swing even this early in the morning, like a beehive of activity with yellow hard-hat-wearing workers crawling all over the infrastructure of steel beams. He turned into a section reserved for the workers' vehicles and sat, watching, window down, still unable to believe what he did for a living had a part in creating the vast building being constructed right before his eyes.
The hum and whir of machinery combined with the near-constant knocking of hammers, and the buzz of saws almost overrode the shouts and calls of the workers. He missed it. Architecture was his passion but construction was how he'd made his way through college. His father had been a laborer. Carter had practically cut his teeth chewing on his daddy's tools. He loved sitting four stories up and feeling the steel between his legs, no pun intended, as he attached two beams together.
He sighed. Wouldn't happen today. Two trailers were parked to the right of his position. Inside he'd likely find the new foreman, but his fingers itched to get more hands on and join in the fun of building instead of overseeing and planning.
"Hell." He jerked the keys from the ignition and got out. All this wishing. He was beginning to feel like a girl.
As he walked to the back of the SUV to retrieve his hard hat, gravel crunched beneath the steel-toed Redwing boots he always wore in case he was needed at a site. At least he'd get to look a little bit the part with his boots and hat. The khakis, dress shirt and tie threw the rest out of whack. Anyone with half a brain would know he hadn't come there to pound nails.
The door to the trailer opened just as he reached for it and a man stepped out, nodding to him in acknowledgement. Carter stepped back to let him pass and his knees nearly buckled when a sweet, familiar voice rang out.
"And don't forget the dimension change on the south face of--"
"I gotcha, boss," the man said, adjusting his hat on his head.
He could not have heard her voice. She was at work. A new job. Working for her father. He closed his eyes and swallowed back the rush of unease before stepping up into the brightly lit space to be greeted by the rounded backside of the woman he'd made love to not even twelve hours ago. She spoke on the phone tucked between her shoulder and ear, oblivious to his presence, a white hard hat on her head. A secretary perhaps? He ground his teeth in frustration.
Ryan Dixon, his ass. She'd told him her name was Ryan Cooper. Had Ridge screwed up or had she, for whatever reason, led him astray? Had she known who he was and somehow thought sleeping with him would help her get ahead? And if she'd lied about her name, how many times had she lied to him about other things?
Jesus. Nothing made sense. Sleeping with him wouldn't get her a job. He wasn't even her boss. If anything, she'd answer to the construction owner--apparently her father--and beyond that she'd have to deal with Ridge.
She shifted, wagging that perfect ass in front of him, enticing him to throw her facedown over his knee and paddle said perfect ass with his bare hand.
"Yes, Tom." She paused and stuffed a slender hand in her back pocket. "No, I haven't seen him yet. I'll be sure and tell him when I do."
Carter waited not quite so patiently for her to finish her conversation with whoever she spoke to and stayed well on the other side of the trailer from her. If he got too close, no telling what might happen.
"See you then. Bye."
See you then? Like hell she'd see him then. The only man she'd be seeing was Carter. The tips of his ears grew hot as jealousy swam through him. Great. First the car and marriage, and now the great green-eyed monster had taken hold of his body.
He wasn't through with her yet. Deceit or not. He cleared his throat.
"Are you back already, Jason?" She turned, then shrieked, throwing a coffee mug she'd been holding in the air. It dropped to the ground with a thunk, the liquid sloshing out to drown everything in sight, including her shirt. "Carter?" The name gurgled from her mouth as the hot coffee soaked through the cotton fabric of two shirts to singe her abdomen.
"Hell." He crossed the space in about four steps to reach for her.
Ryan plucked at the button-down shirt and T-shirt underneath. "What are you doing here?" And why was she squeaking?
"I think the more important question is what are you doing here?" The accusation in his voice threw her.
"Working for my father, remember? It's why I couldn't stay the night, you ass. Don't go all caveman on me."
"What?" He stepped closer and the warm, male scent of his skin overrode the mocha-sweet smell of the brew she couldn't function without. She didn't give a rat's ass about those who wanted to poison themselves with the caffeinated crap, but the decaf...that was all hers.
Jesus, she was standing here thinking about coffee while a none-too-happy Carter growled down at her.
And oh goodness did he look hot in a hard hat and tie.
"Carter," she said again, trying to come up with some plausible explanation as to why the man she'd been making love to had known where to find her.
"That's my name, Ryan."
Eyes wide, she stared at him. He was pissed. At her. "Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed or something, or was it just that I didn't stay the night?"
"It has nothing to do with you not staying the night. It's more about you lying to me for the last two weeks."
She gasped. "Lying? What lie? What are you talking about?"
"What about your name? Ryan Cooper?"
"Uh, yeah, that's my name. Don't wear it out." He had to be stoned. There was no other explanation for the sudden turn in his attitude.
"Then why did my partner send me here to meet a Ryan Dixon?"
"Dix--oh." Her eyes crinkled in confusion. "Partner?"
"Don't change the subject."
Had she? She was tempted to put a hand on his forehead to see if he had a fever, but touching him would no doubt lead to doing bad things on her desk. So she did the next best thing.
"Are you feeling all right?"
"Answer the question." His nose almost bumped hers as he leaned in menacingly. The only thing preventing it was their hard hats. He couldn't get that close to her. The plastic rim of his hat clipped hers. Bastard didn't even say sorry, but at least he backed off half an inch, leaving her wondering if her eyes were still crossed from having to look at his face while he was practically inside her.
She could hardly breathe from wanting his lips on hers. All this accusing and not even a, "Hi, honey, I'm home."
"What were we talking about?" Ryan swallowed and stared at his mouth, unashamed at how husky her voice sounded.
"Oh, right. Tom Dixon is my father."
"You told me your name was Cooper."
She nodded. "It is. Tom is my stepfather. I'm not sure why your...partner said my name was Dixon. Who is he by the way? Partner in what, and why, exactly, are you here again?"
A light seemed to go off in his head and a muscle ticked on the side of his face. Made that square jaw so cute. She wanted to nibble on it.
The band in her hard hat must be way too tight.
She hid her smile at his favorite curse. "What?"
Carter sucked in a breath and rubbed at the back of his neck, a gesture she'd seen him do often. "My partner is Ridge Casey. His wife went into labor this morning so perhaps, in his flustered state of mind, he got the name wrong."
"Wait a minute." Ridge Casey. Carter Malone. Malone and...
She frowned at him. "No. No, no and no. Please don't tell me you're that Carter Malone? From Malone and Casey? The firm that designed this building?" Please don't tell me I'm that unlucky.
"Got it in one." He sounded a tad disgusted which only served to confuse her more. Somebody had to have spit in his eggs this morning. Although if she'd been a waitress and he'd come into her restaurant all pissy like he was right now, she'd have done the same.
In hindsight, sleeping with one of the architects did look really bad. "Ah hell." Why in the fig hadn't she connected his name? There couldn't possibly be that many Carter Malones in the area. Stupid didn't even begin to encompass the depth of her dumbness.
To keep busy, and hopefully to look less flustered than she felt, Ryan went about setting her hat on the desk and unbuttoning her shirt.
"What are you doing?" He yanked her hands off the buttons.
She pursed her lips. "Changing my shirt. In case you hadn't noticed, you made me ruin this one. I can't very well run around outside soaked in coffee, now can I?" Although she wouldn't mind taking it off and doing other things inside. But since Carter looked like he'd rather do anything than be cooped up with her in the trailer, she went for simply changing.
"Sorry," he mumbled, thumbing the pulse at her wrist for a moment before letting her go.
"It's fine. I've got extras here. Lots to get into out there, ya know?" She stripped off the button-down and blew out a breath at the long-sleeve shirt underneath. It would have to go too. There were extras in the bottom drawer of the desk, ones she'd only placed there this morning. She was suddenly glad she'd come prepared.
After taking the clothing from her stash, she stood to remove the T-shirt. Carter was on her again. This time he grabbed her wrist and held it up for inspection. Ryan licked her lips and prayed he wouldn't ask her about the bracelet.
"What the hell is this?"
God must have been busy. She tried to wiggle out of his grasp, but he held fast.
"Ryan?" His gaze flicked to hers, a million questions flitting through his eyes and making her squirm.
His eyes slid shut as though he was searching for patience. Then he opened them and calmly flipped the small, football-shaped, stainless-steel medallion over and discovered all of her secrets.
"Epilepsy." His lips moved but there wasn't much sound to be heard.
She jerked her hand out of his. Silence reigned while she finished switching shirts. Only when she had herself situated did she finally look at him again. His jaw ticked away with what most likely amounted to anger, but there was sadness on his face. She hated that pity. Had since she was a kid.
"Did you think that was something I didn't need to know about?" he asked quietly.
"No." Dang it, she did not need to defend herself. "It's just not something I broadcast. The bracelet was with me all along. If something had happened, and that's a big if since I'm on medication and haven't had an episode in almost two years, then the bracelet and my entire life's information is right in my wallet."
You weren't going to defend yourself, dummy.
His eyes flashed and his nostrils flared. "But that's not something I would have known, is it?"
She rounded on him. "In case of an emergency you wouldn't have handed over my wallet to the police or paramedics?"
"You should have told me."
"Do you know what happened the last time I told a man I was an epileptic on our first date? He gave me the hairy eyeball, his entire body shivered like I'd told him I had a penis as well as a vagina, he gulped down the beer he'd just ordered, and he ran as fast as his cowardly legs could carry him, so no, I don't tell everyone what I have. Excuse the hell out of me."
Carter shoved his fingers through his hair, making the short strands stand on end. "Is this a job you should be working with this condition?"
"Oh. Oh, don't even go there, buster. Do not think for one minute you can tell me what not to do because you've had sex with me."
He pushed into her space, nose to nose once more, this time succeeding because he yanked his hat off and she didn't have hers as protection anymore. "Maybe I just don't want to get called one day saying the woman I've been making love to had a seizure four stories up and is now hanging by her lifeline."
Well hell. Since he put it that way...