Straddling the Line

straddling-the-line

She Only Wants to Belong

CFO Ben Bolton has enough on his plate running his family business. But when lovely Josey White Plume enters his office, his priorities shift. He refuses to let such a compelling woman walk away. The chase is on.

All her life, Josey has sought one thing: to fit in with her Lakota family. She has no time for some sexy rich guy’s pursuit. But she can’t stop thinking about Ben-wanting him…kissing him. Yet falling for a wealthy outsider will destroy everything she’s worked for-unless she can find a way to straddle the line between his world and hers.

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The Bolton Brothers: Book 1

May 2013 from Harlequin Desire
ISBN-10: 0373732457




ISBN-13: 978-0373732456

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Praise

Straddling the Line was named 2013 CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Desire!

4 stars! A hot, Harley-riding hero, a softhearted, dedicated heroine and a couple of wacky family members will keep you turning the pages.–RT Book Reviews

I really like how their romance unfolds. It’s super sexy, with tons of tension and good chemistry. This is the first I have read of this author, but it won’t be my last.–Mandi Schreiner (Smexy Books) at HEA USA Today Blog

I adore Sarah M. Anderson’s Native American books but this has to be one of my favorites…They brought so much to each other’s lives that I rooted for them from start to finish. They both tried so hard to fit into one of their worlds that it was beautiful to watch them learn to try to walk in all of their worlds with the help of someone who accepted them no matter what.  I loved them.–Scorching Book Reviews

It’s an emotional journey neither expected in STRADDLING THE LINE and one that readers will enjoy reading…Another enjoyable tale from Ms. Anderson. –Romance Reviews Today

When a book makes me smile from the very beginning and I am able to go the entire book with that same smile on my face I know I am reading something special…The story is fun and original.–Ramblings and Reviews

How these two interact, the relationship they build is just beautiful to see. Josey and Ben are two very different people but they compliment each other in their strengths and weaknesses.  They have a lot to teach each other and a lot to learn.  Together they are amazing. Together they can straddle the line between two worlds and make it work for both of them.–A Pleasant Journey

Sarah M. Anderson delivers another great contemporary, proving that she can write great tales whether it’s cowboys or bikers, Native Americans or just your typical guy next door. This was my third book from her, and I know that I’ll be reading many more! For a quick read, one that’s both sweet and a little sexy, be sure to pick this one up!–The Book Queen’s Book Palace

…An incredible book. Sarah M. Anderson will have you laughing and have you crying as you devour Straddling the Line. Ben and Josey are incredibly layered characters and as each layer unfolds you will be more and more amazed at their depth. You can’t help but route for a happy ending for these two. The brothers books come out later in the year and I know I cannot wait.–Cataromance

5 stars! It took a lot for both Josey and Ben to finally see that they didn’t have to pick one part of their lives over another.  They just had to find a way to make those worlds work together.–Susan’s 2013 Reading Blog

4 stars!  I liked the characters a lot and I hope that we do see quite a bit of them in the next two books since it is a series about the three brothers. I am definitely glad that I picked this one up.Dandelion Wine Book Blog

4 stars! In Straddling the Line, we see Josey and Ben dealing with insecurity. Ben wondering if Josey is just going out with him, because he help with the school or himself. Josey with her insecurity that no one will really love her for who she really is. I actually enjoyed the story. I can’t wait to read the rest of the Bolton Brothers.In Search of Great Romance

I really enjoyed this one. It is different in that the motivations are understandable and seem intrinsic to the story, something that’s very hard to achieve in the category lines. The heroine is her own person without being stupid, the hero is strong without being a jerk. Lovely.The Good, The Bad and the Unread

4 stars! I loved how the these two are always in conflict of what to do. They wanna please everyone and at the same time do what they love…They are truly perfect together and both needed to learn their spaces and forget about people judging them…I liked this first book and it’s a great introduction to this series.Book Travels

From RT Book Review’s FOREWORDS – THE BOOKS BEFORE THE BUZZ:“If you love your heroes hot and Harley-riding, then be sure to keep an eye out for The Bolton Boys from Sarah M. Anderson’s upcoming Harlequin Desire tales. Middle brother Ben, the CFO of Crazy Horse Choppers, will fall for heroine Josey against his better judgment in July 2013. Then in September 2013, eldest brother Billy becomes a reality show contestant and meets single mother Jenny. And although there’s no publishing date yet for their baby brother Bobby’s story, we know that he’s going to find out he’s a daddy-to-be when Stella walks back into his life — but can he clean up his act enough to prove that he’s real father material?”


Chapter One

Josey took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and opened the door to Crazy Horse Choppers. She did this all while managing to completely ignore the impending sense of doom in her stomach—a sense of doom that told her soliciting educational donations from a motorcycle shop was a hysterically bad idea. She couldn’t help but wonder if any of the people in here had even graduated from high school.

The waiting room brought new meaning to the concept of ‘minimalist’—some jackets with the company name hung on one wall over a small table with a coffee pot on it. A black chair that looked leather was pushed up alongside the table. A wall of glass separated the room from the actual shop. Several large, scary looking men were working—with the kinds of tools she needed—on the other side of a glass wall. Bad idea or no, she was desperate. A shop class wasn’t a class without shop tools.

That thought was cut short by a hard looking woman—stringy hair that was supposed to be blond, tattoos practically coming out of her ears, and more piercing than Josey could count—shouting, “Help you?” over thrashing music. Metallica—Josey thought. Typical. Hopefully, a bar fight wouldn’t break out.

A second later, the music quieted—replaced with the high whine of shop tools cutting through metal. The receptionist winced.

Josey immediately revised her opinion of the woman. If she had to listen to that whine all day, every day, she’d resort to heavy metal to drown it out, too. “Hello,” she said, sticking out her hand. The woman looked at Josey’s manicure and bangle bracelets and curled a lip. It was not a friendly gesture. Undaunted, Josey just smiled that much sweeter. “I’m Josette White Plume. I have a 9:30 with Robert Bolton.” After another beat, Josey pulled her hand back. She kept her chin up, though.

So what if the receptionist looked like she’d come to work directly from an all-nighter? Bikers were people, too. At least that’s what Josey was going to keep telling herself. A happy secretary was the difference between getting a purchase order pushed through in a week versus six months.

The receptionist—the nametag on her shirt said Cass—leaned over and flipped a switch on an intercom. “Your 9:30 is here.”

“My what?” The voice that came over the other end was tinny, but deep—and distracted.

Didn’t Robert remember she was coming? She’d sent an email confirmation last night. The impending sense of doom grew. She swallowed, but managed to do so quietly.

Cass shot her a look that might be apologetic. “Your 9:30. More specifically, Bobby’s 9:30. But he’s in L.A.—or did you miss that?”

Wait—what? Who was in L.A.? Who was Cass talking to?

The doom in her stomach turned violent, hitting her with a  wave of nausea. Dang, but she hated it when those stupid senses were on target.

She thought she’d been prepared. She’d spent weeks e-stalking Robert. She’d spent hours scrolling through his Twitter feed, taking detailed notes on with whom he was meeting and why. She knew his favorite food (cheeseburgers from some dive in L.A.), where he bought his shirts (Diesel), and which actresses he’d been spotted kissing (too many to count). Her entire pitch—down to the close-cut, cap-sleeved, black wool banquette dress she was wearing—was built around the fact that Robert Bolton was an slick, ego-driven salesman. Heck, she knew more about Robert Bolton than she knew about her own father.

And none of that mattered right now. She was completely, totally unprepared. More than anything in this world, Josey hated being unprepared. Failure to plan was planning to fail. Being unprepared was about the same thing.

The voice on the other end of the intercom grumbled, “I’m aware Bobby’s in California. Is it a client or a supplier?”

“Neither.”

“Then why the hell are you bothering me?” The intercom snapped off with an audible huff.

“Sorry,” Cass said, clearly not. “Can’t help you.”

The dismissal—blunt and heartless—took all of her nerves and grated on them. Josey would not be ignored. If there was one thing she’d learned from her mother, it was that a silent Lakota Indian woman was a forgotten Lakota Indian woman. So what if Robert Bolton wasn’t here? Someone was up there, and whoever it was would have to do. Screw being unprepared. Winging it had its advantages. “Sure you can. You probably run this whole place, don’t you?”

Cass smiled—without making eye contact, but it was still a smile. “Damn straight I do. Those boys would be lost without me.”

Josey considered her line of attack for a moment. “You probably aren’t old enough to have school-aged children—” Cass’s head popped up, a pleased smirk on her face. She might be 35 or 55—there was no telling with all those tattoos. But flattery could get a girl everywhere—if well done. And Josey could do it well. “I’m raising money for the vo-tech program at a new school, and I thought a chopper shop would be the perfect place to start.”

So that was a lie. This was a last-ditch attempt to get some equipment. She’d started out corporate—Ford, Caterpillar, Mack Trucks—and had slowly worked her way down the food chain to local auto repair shops, remodeling contractors, and even shop teachers at wealthier schools. Nothing. Not a damn thing.

Josey had gotten 22-year-old internet billionaires to kick in a few computers; a T.V. chef who was on a healthy food kick to pay for some kitchen equipment, and a furniture place to give her last year’s model dining room tables and chairs to use for desks. She couldn’t pry a bandsaw out of anyone’s cold, dead hands. Against the vocal protests of several of school board members, she’d decided to try Crazy Horse.

What did she have to lose? The school opened in five weeks.

“A school?” Doubt crept across Cass’s face. “I dunno…”

“If I could just talk to someone. . .” Cass shot her a mean look. Right. She was someone, so Josey pulled out a brochure and launched into her pitch. “I represent the Pine Ridge Charter School. We’re dedicated to the educational and emotional well-being of the underserved children of the Pine Ridge reservation—”

Cass held up her hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I give.” She flipped on the intercom again.

“Damn it, what?” On the bright side, the man on the other end was not longer distracted. However, he sounded mad. That sense of doom came rushing back in.

“She won’t go.”

“Who the hell are you talking about?” Excellent, Josey thought. Shouting.

Cass looked Josey up and down. There was something sneaky in her eyes as she said, “The 9:30. Says she’s not going anywhere until she talks to someone.”

“What the fuck is your problem, Cassie? You suddenly incapable of throwing someone’s ass out the door?” The shout was so loud that it briefly drown out the sounds of the shop.

Whoa. F-bombs at 9:30 in the morning. What on Earth was she getting herself into?

Cassie grinned like she was up for a round or two. She winked at Josey and said, “Why don’t you come down here and throw her out yourself?”

“I do not have time for this. Get Billy to scare her off.”

“Out on a test drive. With your father. It’s all you today.” She gave Josey a thumbs-up, as if this were a positive development.

The intercom made a God-awful screeching nose before it went dead. “Ben’ll be right down,” Cass said, enjoying being a pain in the backside. She pointed to a door in the wall of glass.

Maybe she should bail. Don Two Eagles had been right—Crazy Horse Choppers was a crazy idea. Josey put on her best smile as she thanked Cassie for helping out, hoping that would hide the panic hammering at her stomach. Ben—Benjamin Bolton? She knew next to nothing about Ben. She thought he was the Chief Financial Officer, and Robert’s older brother—well, brother, at least. That was all she had to go on.

Before she’d made up her mind to stand her ground or bolt, the glass door flew open. Ben Bolton filled the doorframe, anger rolling off of him in waves so palatable Josey fought to keep her balance. Should have bolted, she thought as Mr. Bolton roared, “What the hell—”

Then he caught sight of Josey. For a split second, he froze as he stared at her. Then everything about him changed. His jaw—solid enough to have been carved from granite—set as his eyes flashed with something that might have been anger, but Josey chose to interpret as desire. He straightened up and puffed out his chest.

Okay. This situation was salvageable. Brothers often liked the same things—music, games—why should women be any different? She didn’t have enough time left to start over. She batted her eyelashes at him—a move she’d learned a long time ago worked despite being clichéd.

“Mr. Bolton? Josette White Plume,” she said, advancing on him with a hand outstretched. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today.” They both knew that he’d taken no such time, but a gentleman wouldn’t contradict a lady. His reaction would tell her exactly what kind of man she was dealing with here. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

Bolton’s nostrils flared as the muscles along his jaw tensed. “How can I help you, Ms. White . . . Plume?” He said her name like he was afraid of it.

Lovely. Hopefully he wouldn’t start spouting all that PC nonsense about how she was an indigenous American of Native descent. As long as no one called her an Injun, the world could keep turning. She tightened her grip on his hand enough that one of his eyebrows notched up. “Perhaps we could discuss the particulars elsewhere? Somewhere more private?”

In her experience, men who ran companies always preferred to discuss the particulars—how available she was, if she was free for dinner, whether or not she was willing to spread her legs in return for ‘free’ donations—somewhere more private. The trick was to promise them everything but the spread legs. That’s what made Josey so good as a professional fundraiser. She knew all the tricks. Getting wealthy, powerful, egotistic men to give her things in return for nothing was all just a trick, an illusion of promises.

At least now she was using her powers for the forces of good. Somehow, that made the old tricks feel less dirty.

Bolton hadn’t let her hand go yet. If anything, he had tightened his grip on her. She couldn’t tell if his hair was black or brown in the dim light of the waiting room, but he’d look plenty good either way. Suddenly, he dropped her hand so fast that it bordered on pushing her away. “Why don’t you come up to my office?” he asked, that flash of anger growing a little stronger.

Behind her, Cass snorted. Bolton shot her a look of pure danger, a look so hot Josey might have melted if it had been aimed square at her. But the dangerous look went right over her shoulder. By the time Ben Bolton turned those baby blues back to her, he was back to that no-man’s-land between danger and desire. He stared down at her with an intensity she didn’t normally feel. He was waiting for her answer, she realized after a silent moment had passed. That was unusual. Most men just expected her to follow.

“That would be fine. I wouldn’t want to keep Cass from her work.”

Bolton narrowed those blue eyes, the challenge making them anything but baby-ish. He turned on his heel and stalked out the room. Josey barely had time to grab her briefcase before he’d disappeared out of sight.

“Good luck with that,” Cass called out behind her in a cackling laugh.

In these shoes, Josey had to hurry to keep up with Bolton’s long strides. He took the metal stairs two at a time, leaving his bottom somewhere between hand and eye level. She shouldn’t be openly gaping—not in public, anyway—but she couldn’t help it. The whole back end was a sight to behold. Ben Bolton had wide shoulders packing the kind of muscle that a gray button-up shirt couldn’t hide. His torso was long and lean, narrowing into a V-waist that was wrapped in a tooled leather belt, which was way more cowboy than biker. His ankles were the safest place to look, Josey decided. The black denim jeans flowed over black cowboy boots with extra thick soles. Nothing terribly sexy about that.

One thing was abundantly clear. Ben Bolton wasn’t a normal CFO.

Below her, someone wolf-whistled. Before she could react—cringe, stick out her chin in defiance, anything—Bolton whipped his body to the railing and shouted, “That’s enough!” in a voice powerful enough that Josey swore she could feel the vibrations through the metal stairs.

The sounds of the workshop—the clanging of hammers hitting metal, the whine of air compressors, a stream of words she could only vaguely discern as cursing—instantly died down to a low hum as Bolton bristled. For a moment, Josey thought she saw the railing bend in his grasp.

Josey’s insides went a little gooey. This wasn’t a show of power, this was actual power, so palatable that she could nearly taste it. Ben Bolton commanded absolute respect, and he got it.

And he used it to defend her.

Bolton’s glare swung down to where she stood precariously perched on a step, as if he thought she’d challenge the authority that had silently reined in about, what—twelve men armed with power tools? And then he was moving away from her, taking each step slowly and methodically this time. Josey’s pulse began to flutter at her wrists. She was used to men trying to impress her with their money, their things—all symbols of their power. This was a man who didn’t appear to give a damn about impressing her. Heck, given the way he now stood at the top of the stairs, arms crossed and boot tapping with obvious impatience at her careful pace—Josey was pretty sure he detested her. Somehow, that made it that much more impressive.

When she neared the top, Bolton flung open a steel door and waited for her to get her butt in the office with poorly disguised contempt on his face. The doom ricocheting around her belly got harder to ignore. She’d missed her chance to bolt, though. She had no choice but to tough this out.

The moment the door shut, the sounds of the shop died away. Blissful silence filled her ears, but her eyes were now taking the brunt of things. Bolton’s office had so much metal in it that Josey was immediately thankful the sun wasn’t shining in through the floor-to-wall windows. Underneath sprawling piles of papers, the desk appeared to be stainless steel, as was the wall of filing cabinets—custom made. Even the tiles on the floor looked to be steel. The walls were painted gray, making the whole place look depressingly industrial. In a wire mesh trash can, she saw the remains of what had to be the recently departed intercom. Had he ripped it out of the wall? Because of her?

No wonder Bolton was in a bad mood. If Josey had to work in this office, she’d probably curl up into a lump of iron ore and die.

Bolton motioned her to sit in a shop chair—also metal. He sat down in a wheeled chair that was a smooth black leather and fixed her with another one of those dangerous/desirous glares. He picked up a pen and began bouncing the tip on the metal desk, which filled the air with a perfectly timed pinging. “What do you want?”

Oh, yeah, he was mad. Being as she had no Plan B, Josey decided to stick with Plan A. It was still a plan, after all. “Mr. Bolton—”

“Ben.”

That was more like it. Familiarly bred success, as far as she was concerned. “Ben,” she started over, managing a faint blush. “Where did you go to school?” Robert had graduated from a suburban high school in a wealthy area of Rapid City about twenty miles from where they sat. Odds were decent Ben had gone there, too.

“What?” Confusion. Also not bad. An opponent off-balance was easier to push in the right direction.

“I’d be willing to bet that you graduated near the top of your class, maybe played on the football team? You look like a former quarterback.” Josey followed this up with one of her award-winning smiles—warm, full, with just a hint of flirting while she checked out those shoulders again. If Ben Bolton wasn’t so intimidating, he’d be all kinds of hot. What did he look like without all the gray?

Flattery usually got her everywhere—but not with this man. Ben’s glare moved farther away from desire and a heck of a lot closer to dangerous. “Valedictorian. And running back, All State. So what?”

Josey managed to swallow without breaking her smile. The ‘All State’ was a good sign—bragging, if only just. But the pinging of the pen on metal got louder—and faster. “Your school had computers in every classroom, didn’t it?” Before he could demand ‘So what?’ again, she kept going. “New textbooks every few years, top-of-the-line football helmets, and teachers who actually understood what they taught, right?”

With a final, resounding clang, the pen stopped bouncing. Ben didn’t stop glaring, though. Josey sat through the silence. She would not let this man intimidate her. At the very least, she wouldn’t let him know she was intimidated. So, chin up and shoulders back, she met his gaze and waited.

His hair was a deep brown, she realized. She could see the warm tones underneath—much browner than her own chestnut hair. A few streaks of salty white hair were trying to get a foothold at his temple, but his hair was cropped close  in a no-nonsense buzz cut. The scowl he wore looked permanent.

Does he have any fun? The question popped into her mind out of the blue, but it had nothing to do with game-planning her strategy. She found herself hoping he had some kind of fun, but she doubted it occurred within the walls of this steel box.

Finally, he broke the silence. “What do you want.” It wasn’t a question—oh, no. A question would be getting off easy. This was an order, plain and simple.

That meant the answer to all of her previous questions was ‘yes.’ She couldn’t afford to waste anymore time on setting up the pitch. If she didn’t get on with it, he might take it upon himself to throw her out personally.

“Are you aware that the state of South Dakota has recently been forced to cut all funding to schools across the board?”

A look of disbelief stole over his face. “What?”

Right. He hadn’t known she was coming; obviously, his brother hadn’t told him about her. Okay, she’d take shock. She pressed on. “As I told your brother Robert—”

“Bobby.”
She forced a smile at the interruption. “Of course. As I told him, I’m seeking donations for the Pine Ridge Charter School.” The disbelief got closer to incredulous, but Josey didn’t give him a chance to interrupt her again. “Fewer than 20% of Lakota Sioux students graduate from high school—less than 30% go past the eighth grade.” No, he didn’t believe that either, but then, few people did. The numbers were too unbelievable.

“Currently,” she went on like a warrior out to count coup, “there is no school located on our reservation. Students must be bussed two hours each way to receive a sub-par education—textbooks that are twenty years old, no computers, teachers who don’t give a darn if their students live or die.” The near-curse word got her something that might have been a quarter of a grin. Maybe.

Maybe Ben liked things a little gritty. Well, Josey could do gritty. “Between the butt-numbing trip on busses that break down all the time, the crappy education, and the unrelenting bullying for being American Indians, most choose to drop out. People expect them to fail. Unemployment on the reservation is also near 80%. Any idiot can see that figure mirrors the dropout rate almost precisely.” She batted her eyes again. “You don’t look like an idiot to me.”

The pinging started back up. The only thing he was missing was a cymbal. “What do you want?” His words were more cautious this time out.

He was listening. Suddenly, Josey had a good feeling about this. Ben Bolton was a numbers guy—he liked his facts hard and fast. But he was a biker, too—so he could appreciate things that were rougher, tougher, and just a little bit dirty.

Did all that apply to sex, too?

Her face—and other parts—flushed hot. With everything she had, Josey shoved that question out of her mind. She had a job to do. Pleasure came later—if it came at all. She handed him the three-color brochure she’d designed herself. “The Pine Ridge Charter School is designed to give our Lakota children a solid foundation, not only for their education, but for their lives. Studies have shown that graduating from high school raises a person’s total lifetime earnings over a million dollars more than a dropout. All it takes is a fraction of that cost up-front.”

He flipped her brochure over. She could see him processing the photos she’d taken of the happy kids crowded around her mother for a story at a family gathering, and the architectural drawings for the four-rooms school house that was only half built out on the flat grassland of the rez. “Your children?” His eyes cut down to her bare left hand.

“I am a registered member of the Pine Ridge tribe of the Lakota Sioux.” She hated having to add the ‘registered’ part, but there it was. The red in her hair made people look at her like she was just a wannabe. She had her grandfather to thank for her hair, but that was the only part of him that showed up. She was a Lakota Indian because she could prove it to the government. “My mother will be the principal and chief educator at the new school. She has a doctorate in education and has spent a lifetime teaching our children how important a good education is to them—and the tribe.”

“Which explains why you sound like you graduated from high school.”

Now it was her turn to glare. “My MBA is from Columbia. Yours?”

“Berkley.” He flipped the brochure onto his desk. “How much?”

“We aren’t begging for money.” Mostly because she knew she wouldn’t get it, but it was also a point of pride. The Lakota didn’t beg. They asked nicely. “We’re offering a unique sponsorship opportunity for businesses around the state. In return for supplies, we will provide free publicity in several forms. Our website will have a detailed list of contributors on our site, as well as links and feedback to your own internet presence.” She leaned forward and tapped her finger on the web address at the bottom of the brochure. When  she looked up at Ben again, his eyes were fastened on her face—not her cleavage. But the intensity of his gaze made her feel like he was looking down her dress.

Slowly, she sat back in her seat. His eyes never budged, but the inherent danger that had lurked in them since word one was almost gone. Nothing but desire was left—she hoped. “Everything donated to the school will be labeled with the sponsors information, helping your business build brand-loyal customers while equipping them with the tools they need to be able to afford your products—”

“You’re going to put ads in the school?”

No, Ben Bolton was nobody’s idiot. “I prefer not to think of them as ads—more along the lines of a pizza parlor sponsoring a t-ball team.”

His shoulders moved, a small motion that might have been a sign of laughter. “So, ads.”

“For your business,” she added, undeterred. “Crazy Horse Choppers has been around for forty years, and given how you built this state-of-the-art production facility a few years ago, I have every reason to believe you’ll be around for another forty.”

He tilted his head in her direction, a sign of respect from a man who commanded it. So she wasn’t completely unprepared—a comforting thought. His appreciation was short lived. “I’m only going to ask this one more time. What do you want?”

“The Pine Ridge Charter School is designed to provide children with not only a world-class education—” He began to ping the pen on the desktop again. “But job training. To that end, we are asking for the equipment necessary launch an in-depth vocational technology program.”

A smile—a real one, the kind of smile that made a woman melt in her business dress—graced his face. Whoa. All kinds of hot. “Finally. The point. You want me to give you shop tools for free.”

The way he said it hit her funny. A note of panic started growing again in her belly. “In so many words, yes.”

He picked up the brochure again. He looked like he was really weighing her proposal, but then he said, “No.”

Suddenly, her mouth opened, and words began to flow out of it. “Consider it a back payment on your pirating the name of one of our great leaders for your decidedly non-Lakota company. Crazy Horse? Remember him?”

What the hell was that? That wasn’t a part of the plan. Egotistic white men never responded positively to the demands of The Angry Indian. Josey’s success in the white world had never been based on the all-white-people-should-feel-guilt model, but rather on the I-won’t-hold-your-race-against-you-if-you-don’t-hold-mine-against-me model. Her refusal to play the race card had gotten her a long way in her life. But throwing Crazy Horse out there, like Ben was personally robbing his grave? That had been all about the guilt.

Ben didn’t move for a moment, not even to glare at her. When he did, he set the brochure carefully to one side and put both hands on the desk, palms down. For all the world, he looked like he was about to vault the damn thing. “Look. You’re obviously intelligent and obviously beautiful. But this business operates on razor-thin margins as is. I can’t afford to give away a bunch of tools for nothing.”

A small, girly part of her went all gooey again. He thought she was beautiful. Obviously beautiful. “Not even for the free advertising?” Her voice came out pinched. She couldn’t manage to keep the defeat out of it.

His shoulders flexed. “Not even for the free advertising.”

He was staring at her again, waiting to see if she’d challenge him. She swallowed and bit her lower lip. The barest glimmer of desire crossed his face. “Isn’t there . . . anything I can do to change your mind?”

The trick was to promise them everything but the spread legs. She was pretty sure she’d just broken her own rule, because that had sounded like she’d forgotten the but.

Not that it worked. Ben Bolton was so not the normal CFO. The normal CFO would have unzipped by now. But not him. She thought she saw his pupils dilate at the offer, but it was hard to be sure because his eyes narrowed to angry slits. “Does that work?”

No, she wanted to tell him, because she never made the offer—at least, not if she didn’t want to. He was arrogant, domineering, and quite possibly heartless—a real Scrooge in leather—but Josey didn’t have any doubt that Ben Bolton was good in bed. Or on his desk. Or even on one of his choppers, for that matter. She wouldn’t mind if Ben took her up on the offer. Not in the least.

And he wouldn’t even say yes to that.

The rejection stung her pride, and she wanted to tell him to go to hell, but she never got the chance. At that moment, a huge crash reverberated up through the floor of his office, loud enough that every piece of metal in the joint shook with enough force that she had to grab onto her chair to keep from falling off it.

Ben slumped forward, weariness on his face. He held up one hand and did a silent countdown—three, two, one—before his phone buzzed.

“What?” He didn’t sound surprised.

The voice on the other end was loud enough that even Josey winced. Ben had to hold the receiver a half a foot away from his head.

“I’m busy,” was all he said, slamming the phone down. “Miss White Plume . . .” He paused, as if he was waiting for her to reciprocate his ‘Ben’ with her ‘Josey.’ When she didn’t, he went on with an apologetic shrug. “I’d recommend coming over here,” he said, motioning to the side of the desk. Another huge crash shook the floor. “Right now.”

Closer to him—mere seconds after that rejection? The next crash seemed closer—like a herd of buffalo were stampeding up the stairs. Josey was in no mood to be trampled. She gathered her things and scurried over to Ben’s side of the desk. He took a protective step in front of her just as the door was thrown open with enough force that she was sure she saw the hinges come loose.

A man—no, more like a monster—burst into the room. He was huge—easily six-five, with a long handlebar mustache that was jet black. His muscles were barely contained by a straining blue t-shirt, which matched the do-rag he had tied over his head. His eyes were hidden by wrap-around shades, making it impossible to know how old he was. “Goddamn it,” he roared, the noise echoing off all the metal, “you tell that bastard you call a brother that I told him to—”

Josey’s presence registered, and the man bit off his curse at the same time an even bigger man, covered with tattoos of all shapes and sizes with enough facial hair to render him indistinguishable from a black bear, shoved into the room. “I told you, there’s no Goddam way you can pull that asinine idea off, and—”

The man in blue punched the bear in the shoulder and jerked a thumb toward Josey. She couldn’t help it. Even though she was mad as all get out at Ben for turning her down—both times—she found herself cowering behind him. Compared to the wall of bikers hollering on the other side of the desk, Ben was the safest thing in the room, if not the building.

“Aw, hell,” the bear muttered.

“What you got there, son?” Ah. So the man in blue was Bruce Bolton, Chief Executive Officer of Crazy Horse Choppers—and father of the Bolton men. Which meant that the bear behind him was probably Billy. Looked like that test drive they’d been on hadn’t gone well.

Josey decided she didn’t particularly like the way the senior Bolton was eyeing her—and she especially didn’t like being a ‘what.’ Not that she could be sure—he still had on his sunglasses—but she got the distinct feeling he was undressing her with his eyes.

Ben’s shoulders flexed. “I told you, I’m busy.” He reached over and picked up his phone. His motions seemed calm, but she could sense the coiled tension just below the surface. The worst place in the world had to be the middle of a Bolton brawl, because it sure looked like all three of them were ready to throw down, here and now. Maybe that’s why the whole office was done in metal. Easier to wash the blood off.

“Cassie, please escort our guest to her car,” he said, ice daggers coming off his words. He set the phone back down, positioning his body just a fraction more between Josey and his father.

No one moved; no one said a thing. They didn’t have to. Josey was afraid to breath, lest that be interpreted as asking for it.

She’d been scared before, sure. She’d talked her way out of being felt up by associates of her grandfather; she’d beaten the living crap out of a boy who’d thought she was an easy target back in high school. But this? Hands down, the scariest situation she’d ever gotten herself into.

Cass appeared, shoving her way into the room. “Damn, Bruce, you’re scaring her,” she said, hip-checking the older man out of the way. “Come on,” she said to Josey. “They’ve got to have their little pissing contest in private.”

Ben nodded, a small movement that she took to mean she was safe with the only other woman in the place. Moving slowly, she stepped around the desk, careful to avoid the older man. The younger one gave her plenty of room before he favored her with a familiar nod.

“Miss White Plume,” Ben called to her as soon as she was clear of his office’s threshold. “Good luck.”

Cass shut the door, which wasn’t enough to block the sound of a battle royal erupting behind it. Josey didn’t get the chance to wish him the same.

She had the feeling she’d just about used up all of her luck for the day.

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