By Geri Krotow
Copyright © 2013 by Harlequin Books S.A.
How much harm could it do to take a three-mile run with Val? It was strictly professional, a way to get some insight into her vision for BTS.
No matter how many times Val told him to consider her as team leader, not boss, he knew he had to remember that she was his boss.
He felt shivers on the nape of his neck just before he heard the gravel crunch under her feet. So much for keeping her at a professional distance. His body had been reacting to her presence since he’d walked into that damned office.
Clad in black running tights and a neon pink hoodie, she reached him in three long strides.
“Good morning.” He greeted her cheerfully in an effort to keep his physical awareness of her private.
“Hey.” Val leaned over to re-tie her purple running shoe. Her slim hands worked quickly and expertly. He wondered how they’d feel on his body. Val straightened and narrowed her green eyes on him. He watched her take in his long-sleeved running shirt and shorts.
“You going to be warm enough?”
He laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m used to snow and ice in February. This is perfect running weather.”
Val grinned. “I know it seems mild, but these temperatures won’t really go up for several months. It’s not the cold as much as the damp that gets to me.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve managed so far.”
They started off slowly, and by the half-mile mark were moving in cadence with each other. Lucas found it a delight to run with a woman who could match his stride so easily.
“What made you come out here and start BTS? I read the website—” he motioned with one hand “—and I know you’ve dedicated it to the memory of your brother.” He shook his head. “I’m very sorry for your loss, Val.”
“Yeah, it was a hard time. Thanks.” She didn’t vary her stride or her focus on the rough trail. Apparently she’d answered this question a million times.
“I was at a point in my life where I needed something different, a break from the day-in, day-out grind of social work in a clinical setting.” She leapt gracefully over a log as he ran around it. “You may remember that my childhood wasn’t the best, and that my dad suffered from PTSD as a result of his service in Vietnam. My mother…she became a shell of herself, always so careful around Dad, trying to pretend everything was okay.”
“I haven’t forgotten anything you told me, Val.” He didn’t want to pull the pity card by telling her why he’d had to leave Penn State, and her, so many years ago. But he owed her an explanation at some point. She’d meant so much more to him than his actions had implied.
“It’s no surprise that I got my degrees in social work. I thought I’d solve the problems my family had.” She laughed, but with little humor. “It took a while, but I finally accepted that I wasn’t ever going to fix my parents, or re-do my childhood. I had to focus on making a difference for others.”
She pushed back her sleeves as she ran. He wondered idly what she wore under the sweatshirt. Or maybe not so idly… Desire for this woman had simmered for the past month, and what she’d confided in him only fanned the flames.
“The social work itself was rewarding, and I’m so grateful I had that chance to do it. But I felt it was my apprenticeship, felt I was supposed to do more. I didn’t have any idea what that would be, what would come next. Then Chet died.”