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Authors: Holley Trent

Calculated Exposure

BOOK: Calculated Exposure
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She went to Ireland looking for a muse, but found a mathematician instead.

 

Photojournalist Erica Desoto has spent five weeks in Western Europe hoping for inspiration, with just one decent photo to show for her effort. And that shot was accidental. As her sabbatical comes to a close, she’s ready to give up on her portfolio altogether.

Serial dater Curt Ryan isn’t looking for love...or even a distraction. With a PhD to finish and his family under intense scrutiny by the Irish press, he already has too much on his plate. But when his godchildren barrel into a pretty American who just happens to live a few hours from where he studies in North Carolina, a new distraction is exactly what he gets.

Back in the States, Erica and Curt initiate an incendiary no-strings-attached affair that inevitably has both questioning what they want…and what they’re willing to do to get it. Mathematician Curt risks emotion clouding his logic. For Erica, keeping her muse close may mean embracing the exact things she ran from as a young woman. Is exposing their hearts a calculated risk both are willing to take?

 

CONTENT WARNING: Contains Cubana snark, adult language, and explicit sex including back door loving.

 

 

 

Highlight

 

“Aw, poor baby.” She pressed against him once more and this time pushed her hand down his waistband, inside his boxer shorts.

He sucked in a breath as her warm skin awakened his and ground his teeth. He very nearly shuddered.
Jesus.

“Like that?”

“What do you think?”

“I think you do.”

“What are you gonna do about it?”

“Nothing.” She pulled her hand out and backed away, smirking audaciously as she went.

“Are you frickin’ kidding me?”

She did a slow shake of her head, and never took her gaze from his. “No. I think you’re more fun than a quick, standing shag. Don’t know why I think that, and I might be wrong, but I’d like to find out. You call me when you get back to the US and I’ll finish what I started.”

He scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest. He paced. He laughed.
Are you kidding me?

Any other woman, he would have called a tease and written off, but this one, this woman standing in front of him with a smile that could have made the devil bow down. She was something else.

She might have been his match.

 

 

Calculated Exposure

By Holley Trent

 

 

 

 

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Dedication

 

Many thanks to my fellow NaNoWriMo masochists, especially the ones from Colorado Romance Writers, who shook their pom-poms in Novemeber 2012 when I was writing this book’s first draft. The backstory and subplots in this one nearly did me in.

A hearty
muchas gracias
to author Melissa Blue who beta read that first draft and offered some very valuable feedback that made me pout a little at first, but she was right. Dang it.

And finally, eternal gratitude to Lyrical’s Piper Denna who edited the technically rough
Saint and Scholar
and yet still cheerfully read this submission. Does wonders for a writer’s self-esteem.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Erica Desoto closed her eyes and mentally retraced her steps. It was a
lot
of steps.

She’d been on sabbatical five weeks: searching Western Europe for her muse and trying to capture that one great photograph her portfolio desperately needed. Actually, she could have done with ten or twenty but with even one interesting picture, the trip wouldn’t have felt so much like a waste of her Paid Time Off.

She scratched her head and paced in front of the ruined stone wall, idly fondling her camera’s full memory card and murmuring, “When was the last time I saw it?”

A groan escaped her chest as she slumped onto the low wall, kicking the rocks with her heels and feeling no better for it. “Fucking LaGuardia.”

Her gut had told her not to borrow the professional 128 GB memory card from that coworker at the newspaper office. She’d rarely talked to the guy before he’d offered the thing. Now the card had probably found its way into some delighted stranger’s possession. There went two hundred bucks down the drain behind that PTO.

With a mumbled oath, she slipped the full card back into its slot, powered the camera on, and began a painful, systematic deletion of scenery shots. Her photos capturing the Irish countryside’s misty bogs sure were pretty, but those shots wouldn’t win her a new job.

A job was the point of the whole thing. Otherwise, she could have stayed at home doing the same shit as always like her boss Tate had so heartily endorsed.

After clearing a quarter of the images taken in Ireland, England, and France, she set her sights on the castle ruins again. She brought her camera to her eye and manually adjusted the focus, framing the fortification’s decimated tower to its best advantage. Scared to even breathe until it was over, slowly she depressed the button, listening to the camera’s processor beep its readiness.

Fifty pounds of unbridled, shrieking, toddler energy knocked her flat on her ass.

The squirming battering ram whined, “You
not
Sharon!” The child brought tiny clenched fists to bright green eyes and batted tears away.

Oh shit.

“Uh…” Erica wiped dirt off her palms onto her jeans, pulled her legs underneath her body, and heaved herself up. “
Ay, pobrecita.

She helped the little girl to her feet as well as the toddler boy accompanying the moppet, and looked up to see a blond man wearing black horn-rimmed glasses running down the path toward them.

“God, Emma. Adam!” He bent down, scooped up both children, and placed one on each of his hipbones before turning gray-blue eyes up to Erica. “I’m sorry, Miss. I bent down to tie my shoe and they were off like bolts.”

“No
Sharon
!” the girl shrieked again.

Erica raised a questioning brow at the man.

“Uh…” He set the kids, who’d stopped squawking and instead now stared at Erica with keen interest, down. “No, this woman isn’t Sharon, Emma,” he said to the girl, then looked up at Erica again. “Sharon is their aunt. I think they probably saw the dark hair and thought you were her. You’re about the right height.”

“Ah.” Erica nodded and examined her camera. There were no new dings or scratches in the case or on the lens glass, but when she toggled the power switch, she could only groan. She’d lost her shot.

Figures. Oh well. Innocent mistake
.

Her late grandmother had taught her to save her anger for people who deserved it, and those kids–cute little cherubs–didn’t. Besides, the photo would have been another bland, uninspired shot, anyway. Hell, Emma and her little brother were probably doing Erica a favor and saving her from herself.

Erica fastened the lens cap and eyed the chaperone.

Hmm
.
Hello, rubio.

Blond wasn’t her type, generally, but it was Ireland and when in Ireland, she figured she should do as the Irish did. Assuming he wasn’t already being done.

With an exaggerated shrug and pout for the benefit of the kids, she said, “Sorry, not your auntie. I’m pretty awesome, though.”

Emma smiled and immediately hid it away, pressing her face against the man’s leg.

“Oh! You’re American,” he said, surprise tingeing his brogue.

“Since I was seven, anyway.” Erica stuffed her camera into its bag and slung the strap over her shoulder. “Looks like you’ve spent some time there yourself.” She reached out and delicately lifted one placket of his flannel shirt to indicate the familiar ram mascot on his t-shirt.

He looked down and emitted a bitter laugh. “Yeah. Past nine years, on and off.”

“Oh yeah? We’re practically neighbors. I live in Kannapolis. Work in Charlotte.”

“Small world. I’m supposed to fly back next week, meet with my advisor, teach some classes, so on and so forth.” He rolled his eyes.

“What’s wrong, can’t find a babysitter?” she teased. She’d never been good at beating around the bush, lacked the finesse for it. But, hell, being on sabbatical meant doing things out of the ordinary, and doing
him
would certainly count.

He smiled, a broad, toothy grin that reached the edges of his eyes and she forgot how to breathe for a moment.

Dios mío, what a face.

“Babysitting would be a problem, I suppose, if I were taking these tots back to the US with me. Their parents would miss them a bit much, I think.”

“So, you’re single?” It came out of her mouth before she could stop it. She pulled one corner of her lips up into the smirk her mother always threatened to slap off her face.

“Unequivocally. Probably not something you should aim to fix.”

Yeesh.
He wasn’t making it easy, but she raised one brow and mirrored his grin. “I don’t have time to fix broken things.”

He scoffed and sat on the stone wall, crossing his arms over his chest. “Right, so why ask?”

She raised her shoulders in a quick shrug. “I’m not averse to the occasional meaningless fling.”

Now he laughed outright, doubling over at the waist. “I think we’ve swapped roles here. Pretty sure that was supposed to be my line.”

“One you’ve used much?”

He pushed his glasses up and rubbed tired-looking eyes. “Maybe. Listen, do you have a card? I can probably catch you when I’m back Stateside. If you’d like, I mean.”

“I would. You’re kinda cute.”

“Just kinda?”

She winked and unzipped her camera bag’s outer pocket, retrieving one of the stored heavy, cream-colored business cards.

He took the card from between her fingers, pocketed it without reading, then extended one hand. “Curt Ryan.”

She put her hand in his and shook. “Erica Desoto.”

The small girl returned from her wandering and yanked one leg of Curt’s jeans, pointing toward a cordoned-off entrance. “Look!”

Curt squatted and craned his neck, seeking the item in her line of vision. “Ah. I see it.”

She pulled at the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “Let
go
!”

“Nope.”

And again. “Go!”

“We shan’t. Your ma would probably wallop me good. We can’t go back there. It’s closed.”

“Why?”

“Because.”


Why
?”

Erica laughed and started backing away. Poor guy. If the girl was like most of the two-year-olds she’d encountered in her twenty-eight years, they’d be trapped in that loop of questioning and non-answering for an hour. When Curt looked up, she gave him a little finger wave good-bye.

He winked.

She turned around and hid her burning cheeks. Why the hell was she blushing? Cubans didn’t blush.

When it receded, she looked over her shoulder once more to find Curt standing and settling the boy onto his shoulders for a ride.

He caught Erica looking, raised his brows just slightly, and let that troublemaking grin span his face again.

She faced front and quickened her pace. He was a player. He didn’t look like much of one, but she could tell. Actually, he looked a hot mess in his rumpled clothes and worn-out Chucks, but she had a sneaking suspicion he’d clean up pretty damn well…not that she had any desire to clean him up. Oh, no. The men who looked the most like they didn’t give a shit always seemed to hold the most surprises. She’d learned that from working in journalism for nearly ten years.

Her cheeks burned again as she pondered what Curt Ryan’s surprises were and whether they could top her own.

* * * *

While his godchildren patted wet sand into shapes resembling habitable structures, Curt sat on a nearby playground bench, squinting at his phone’s screen and baffling over his PhD advisor’s email. The tome’s length was only reason Curt could tell the emotionless bastard was being stern. The email had to be at least a thousand words, but easy enough to summarize:
Shit, or get off the pot.

Curt looked up just as little Adam raised a handful of sand overhead and tracked a passerby with his gaze like a stalking cat. Curt called out, “Nope!”

Adam made a sheepish expression and dropped the sand.

“No throw!” Emma said to her little brother, emphasizing the admonition with a finger wag.

“That’s right. No throwing,” Curt reaffirmed before squinting at his touchscreen once more.

He tapped
reply
and composed a reasonably professional e-mail using only his thumbs.

 

Yes, Dr. Yeo, I am aware I could have completed my PhD requirements four terms ago. I understand you’re overloaded with responsibilities in the department. And yes, I am aware you don’t get paid extra for each student you advise
.

BOOK: Calculated Exposure
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