Loving the Chase (Heart of the Storm #1)Sharla Lovelace
Also by Sharla Lovelace
The Reason Is You
Before and Ever Since
Just One Day
Stay With Me
Don’t Let Go
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 by Sharla Lovelace Scroggs
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Eileen Carey
To Ethan . . . Luke 6:27–36.
Stay strong in the storms, my baby.
Maddi Marie’s Special Super Duper Lemon Supreme Foo Foo Bars
Sneak Peek: The Sweetest Chase
About the Author
Go, go, go. Yellow changed to red overhead as Zach Chase sped through the intersection, praying that no one else had the same plan. Or that a cop wasn’t watching. Weaving through the traffic congestion of Richardson, just north of downtown Dallas, he weaseled up between the cars, making his own lane, despising himself for doing what he couldn’t stand to see other motorcyclists do. But he was late, damn it. And this wasn’t something to be late for.
“Sorry,” he yelled through his helmet, zipping by door after door. “Please nobody open your doors right now,” he added through his teeth.
Breaking free of the long line of traffic, Zach whipped the bike down an exit onto a side road and gunned it. He pulled into a parking garage and flipped up his visor to beg the guard for a quick spot up front. He wouldn’t be long. The network would either want him or they wouldn’t. Them, he corrected in his head. They would want them. The whole damn Brady Bunch.
When he pulled up to the window, he spotted the square blue clock inside. Two minutes. Damn it. Zach felt the sweat break out on the back of his neck. They’d said to be punctual, but surely they’d understand the extenuating circumstances.
They wanted storm chasers. Well, he’d been chasing a storm.
At least up until two hours ago. Then he’d booked it home, jumped in the shower to get the mud and sweat off him, and ran out the door five minutes later, still wet, breaking every speed limit law on the ninety-minute trek into Dallas that he managed to make in sixty.
He balanced himself with his feet and rapped his knuckles on the window, smiling when an older woman with a bun and a too-snug khaki shirt looked at him with glazed eyes.
“Hey,” Zach said, working his best smile. “I have an appointment in—” he checked the clock behind her again. “Jesus, in one minute,” he continued, deciding to try self-deprecating and charming. “Is it possible to park my bike up front here somewhere?”
“Appointment with who?” the lady said, checking a battered binder with slow and methodical thoroughness. Zach drummed his fingers on the counter until she looked at his fingers, then at him. “Name, please?”
“Nicole Brian and—” Shit. Shit. “The network manager. I don’t remember his name.”
“That would be Richard Woodbriar,” the woman said, sounding more bored by the second. Zach would rather have his eyes carved out than have a job like that. Stuck in a four-by-four booth all day, talking to smart-assed jerks like him.
“Woodbriar,” Zach repeated. “Yes.” He flashed a smile. “And I’m late. Can I—”
“Motorcycle parking is on this floor and floor two, around the corner to your right,” she said, closing the binder.
He nodded, letting his smile fade, and gave her a thumbs-up instead, hitting the gas. Finding nothing open on the first floor, he searched frantically on the second until he saw an opening. Not a true opening, really. More like a large-ish space between two poorly parked bikes, just a few yards from the elevator door. Probably not part of the official parking plan, but it was definitely going to be part of his.
Zach pulled off his helmet and chained it to the seat, taking off at a jog for the elevator.
Damn it. His shoes were still wet. He looked down as he got on the elevator and pushed the button for the eleventh floor. And caked with dried mud. He hadn’t had time to go digging for different shoes so he’d shoved his feet into the boots he’d worn out in a flooded field, getting rain-gauge figures for Simon. He glanced up at the glowing red numbers above the door, caught his reflection in the semi-shiny metal-plated walls, and scrubbed his fingers through his dark hair. It didn’t have the time to dry either, being encased in a helmet. And he kind of needed a haircut. Oh, well. No turning back now.
Just as the elevator showed him passing floor number seven, his cell buzzed at his hip, and he pulled it out of its clip to see Elijah’s name. It was the third missed call since he’d left the site and didn’t show up back at the house. He’d pay hell, he knew that, but he didn’t have time to ante up right then. He took a deep breath as the number eleven announced itself with a ding, and he blew it out slowly as the doors opened.
“Shake it off, Zach,” he whispered, flexing and re-flexing his fingers. “You got this.”
He stepped out into a buzzing reception area with television screens circling the room above his head, each one on a different channel, all affiliated with the Infinity Network. Men in suits, all with some version of a tie, along with some very sweet eye candy moved as if someone hit fast-forward. Not one woman wore pants or slacks or anything below the knee that he could see; in fact, several had form-fitting skirts riding the other direction.
It was a pretty-people smorgasbord.
“Can I help you?” asked an attractive blonde with curls that wound down to settle sexily on her chest—which, by the way, was displayed nicely. She looked like she’d have legs for days, too, but they were hidden under the semicircle reception desk.
“Yes, I hope so,” Zach said, walking to the desk and picking up a pen at random. He needed something to move among his fingers and work off the nervous energy. As he made eye contact, he noticed her skin pink up just from the intensity of his gaze. Well, well. “I’m here for a meeting with Nicole Brian.”
br /> “Oh, yes,” the blonde said, tilting her head with a smile. “Mr. Chase? Miss Brian told me you were coming.”
“I’m a couple of minutes late.”
“And she just got out of another meeting, so it’s all good,” the blonde said, her soft honey accent making his mind take off to places with her he had no business going. “Just have a seat right there, Mr. Chase,” she said. “Would you like some coffee? Or water?”
“Water would be fantastic,” he said, hoping she would have to get up. And he was rewarded. Blonde Girl had on a tight little dark-red skirt that moved with her like it was painted on.
Zach shook his head free of the distraction. He had to remain professional. The meeting with Infinity could change everything, assuming his family—namely Elijah—would play along. It could put them on the map as one of the top crews in their field, giving them credit and notoriety. Endorsement funding. Recognition. Jonah Boudreau’s little peon crew would be left in their dust. Not that that was the driving factor. But it was certainly a card to play with Eli.
His cell buzzed again, and he clicked it out, figuring it was better to take the heat now and get it over with.
“Yeah?” he answered.
“Where are you?” came the deep and disapproving tone of his older brother.
Zach licked his lips and looked around him. Yeah, not yet. “A meeting.”
“A meeting,” Eli echoed. “What happened to the wrap-up?”
Eli’s need to go back to the house and debrief after every field operation bordered on obsessive, in Zach’s opinion. For the big stuff—funnel clouds and shelf formations and cloud-to-ground lightning—sure. That was logical. Even a good hailstorm warranted a revisit. But sometimes their trip “wrap-up” paperwork amounted to a sentence that read Stood in a ditch for two hours. It wasn’t always glorious. Today was one of those days.
“What was there to wrap up, Eli?” Zach said quietly. “It was a bust.”
“Even the boring stuff needs documenting, Zach,” Eli said. “You don’t get to bail just because you didn’t get to be Indiana Jones.”
“Have you ever seen Indiana Jones?” Zach said, glancing around. “Because that totally made no sense.”
“Since when do you do meetings?” Eli asked, changing the subject.
“Here you go,” the blonde girl said, suddenly standing right in front of him, handing him a bottle of expensive water. “I’m Blakely, in case you need anything,” she said, fingering her curls a little longer than necessary. “Miss Brian will be right with you.”
“Thank you,” he said, as she held eye contact for two extra seconds . . . then three. Damn. As she turned and he watched her saunter away on spiky heels, he shook his head slowly and blew out a breath.
“Are you at a whorehouse?” Eli said, a hint of a mocking jab in his tone.
Zach pulled his phone away to stare at it. “Seriously? Are you twelve?”
“I don’t know,” Zach said. “She’s—” He stopped as he watched her pull her hair over one shoulder to answer her phone, in a move that he knew was designed for him. “She’s probably trouble.”
“And where are you again?” Eli asked, sighing in a way that Zach could easily picture, complete with the rubbing of the eyes, and elbows leaned on his desk. He wore his brother out on a regular basis. He knew that. The way Zach saw it, Eli just needed to up his vitamin intake.
Blakely got back up then and smiled as she approached. “They’re ready for you, Mr. Chase,” she said. “Follow me?”
“Gotta go,” he said into his phone, then clicking it back into place on his belt buckle and getting to his feet. “Yes, ma’am.”
His every step squished beside the click of her heels in the quiet maze of hallways and dark wood floors, and Blakely glanced down at his boots with an apologetic smile. “We’ll be on carpet in a second, don’t worry.”
Zach closed his eyes briefly. “We were just out in the field,” he said. “I didn’t have time to change.”
She nodded, amusement pulling at her lips. “Doesn’t bother me. But good luck with the wolves.”
She winked as they stopped outside double wooden doors. “Here we are.”
Maddi paced in her office, unable to sit down. Or be still. Or take in a full breath, evidently. He was probably there by now. In the building.
Zach Chase was in the building.
She’d managed a neutral and unaffected reaction up to that point, not even flinching when her boss, Nicole, the associate producer, first pitched the plan at a lunch meeting.
A reality show about storm chasers!
Maddi’s stomach had gone a little sour on the chicken wrap she was eating, but she’d just nodded.
Featuring a semi-local family I’ve seen on the news. The Chases!
Had Maddi maybe gone a shade south of gray? Probably. But it would be okay. She was just the assistant. Even if the show actually came to fruition, she probably wouldn’t be all that involved. Nicole would run things. As associate producer, Nicole did most of the work for which the head producer, Brown Broussard, took the credit. And as Nicole’s assistant, if Maddi had to help, it would be minor. Cleaning raw footage as Nicole sent it to her, working and reworking the production schedules. With her tech background, sometimes she was called upon to lend a hand on-site, but mostly she served as the point of contact back at the office.
Still, Maddi braced herself for the possibilities, and then kicked herself for caring. Maddi was a big girl. And a professional.
And it had been seven years.
Funny how today, suddenly that didn’t feel long enough.
And knowing that it would be Zach representing his family in the meeting—right down the hall from her—God, it was like her skin was too tight.
She picked up a notepad from her desk and fanned herself with it, just as Nicole rushed into her office in a blur of designer everything.
“You’re hot?” she said, tugging at her green silk blouse. “Me too. They must be jacking with the air again.”
Yeah, that must be it.
“Hey, you’re up to speed on The Chase, right?” Nicole asked, hands on hips, looking ready to bolt back out again.
Alarms rang in the back of Maddi’s head. “Pretty much,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “Why?”
Nicole breathed a sigh of relief that Maddi didn’t share. At all.
“Because I have another meeting that just got called on Crash,” she said, gesturing to the air around her as if the density of it would prove how busy she was. “Emergency issues—”
“No,” Maddi said, shaking her head, holding her hands up. “You—this is your—you’ve done all the work.”
Nicole dismissed her with a hand. “You were right there with me. You can do this, Maddi,” she said. “You’ve prepared all the documentation. You know as much as I do, if not more.”
Holy hell, she didn’t know the half of it.
Maddi couldn’t breathe. “But—” She gripped the edge of her desk to ground herself. She had to calm down. “I mean, I’ve never done a proposal meeting by myself.”
“You’ll be fine,” Nicole said. “And it’s time for you to prove your chops anyway. Brown and Woodbriar need to see you doing more than research and grunt work.”
Oh, she was good. And she was right. Maddi knew she was right. And any other time with any other client, she would be dancing on her desk for the opportunity to step up. She’d been Nicole’s assistant-slash-lap-dog since she’d joined Infinity, and stepping out of Nicole’s shadow kept eluding her.
“Just go show them what you’re made of,” Nicole said, already halfway out the door. “We’ll debrief later.”
“Yeah,” Maddi whispered. It wasn’t meant to be a whisper, that’s just
all she had. “Later.”
“And Zach Chase looks and sounds like sex on a stick,” Nicole said with a wink. “Let me know if he’s just as charming in person.”
Maddi swallowed hard and leaned against her desk.
“He is,” she said to the empty doorway.
Zach inhaled deeply as Blakely opened the doors to a large conference room with almost as many screens as the reception area had. Two men in open suit jackets sat at a giant solid oak table, casually talking. They stood up as he entered, and he turned as the door closed behind him. Zach pasted on a smile as he turned back, feeling suddenly like trapped prey. He wiped his palms on his jeans, wondering where the woman he had spoken with on the phone was. Nicole Brian had called him. She at least could have been there to make the introductions.
“Mr. Chase,” the man closest to him said, holding out his hand. “Richard Woodbriar. Network manager here at Infinity.”
Zach thrust his hand out, surprised that the man had rough hands and a strong grip. Not the soft desk type he would have pegged him to be.
“This is Brown Broussard,” Woodbriar said, backing up a step so that they could access each other. “Brown is the producer of The Hunt, Crash & Burn, and The Flip Side.”
Zach shook his hand, not as impressed with the handshake, but it didn’t matter. “I’ve seen all those shows, sir,” he lied, though he knew of them. He’d done a little homework and was aware of the reality shows Infinity put out. Ghost hunting, race-car drivers, and a show on flipping houses for profit. “Nice work.”
“Thank you,” Brown said.
They sat, Zach on one side of the table, the two men facing him as if they were at a mediation. It was so formal and stiff, and Zach had to resist the urge to roll his neck and pop his knuckles to shake off the rigor mortis. Who named their kid Brown? Or Blakely, for that matter. Was there a list somewhere of really stuck-up baby names?
“Miss Brian is running behind,” Brown said, blinking rapidly. “Sorry about that. In the meantime, I assure you she’s briefed me on the specifics.”