Worth the Risk by Sydney Scott

Heat Level 3
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SKU 978-0-3695-0947-5

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Sun Valley, 2

Madeline Belmont is a funny, sarcastic, and outspoken high school English teacher who is in love with her best friend of nine years. The only problem? He has no idea and doesn’t seem to feel the same way about his curvy, dynamic friend. Unwilling to risk their friendship, Madi decides to bury her feelings for the only man she’s ever had strong feelings for and try to find love elsewhere.

Owen Graham loves his life as it is and doesn’t really want it to change. He too longs for a relationship, but he doesn’t seem to be able to connect with anyone other than his best friend Madi. When his friend starts dating more earnestly and their relationship changes, he has to confront his own buried feelings for Madi and decide if trying for the happily ever they both want is worth the risk.


Owen Graham has been my best friend since we were partnered up in English 102 during our freshman year at Berkley. While working on a poetry analysis, we discovered a mutual love of food, sitcoms, and the movie, The Princess Bride, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. He’s been such a wonderful friend and I feel so lucky to have him. From the first moment I saw him in class, I was attracted to him, but I had recently gotten out of a relationship and thought I should concentrate on school. I placed any feelings beyond friendship in a little corner of my heart that I kind of forgot about, or maybe wouldn’t let myself look at too closely. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if not taking our friendship to the next level has been a mistake. That small corner of my heart reserved for Owen has infiltrated the rest of it and now it feels like my whole heart belongs only to him. It probably always has. There’s also the fact that starting a family of my own has always been important to me and there’s no one else I could picture myself doing that with besides Owen. I’ve always loved him as a friend, but I realized that I’ve loved him as more than that for a long, long time. The feelings I shoved aside grew without me acknowledging it, and now that I have, I’m not sure what to do about it.

As if conjuring him with merely with my thoughts, Owen comes striding in through my classroom door. Dressed in brown slacks and a light-blue button-down, he looks just as put together as he always does at work. His light-brown hair looks disheveled, but in a styled way that I know for a fact he spends at least ten minutes perfecting every morning. His bright, sky-blue eyes find mine as he comes over to my desk, leaning against it casually and crossing his arms over his chest. He’s gorgeous, and I don’t know how I made it through the last nine years without staring at him with hearts in my eyes the whole time. These thoughts are not helpful, I remind my brain, and libido, if I’m being honest. The words “just friends” come to mind and I shake my head to clear it. I haven’t declared my feelings for him yet and until I do, if I do, I don’t want to make things weird or awkward between us.

Owen looks at me quizzically. He knows me better than anyone, so it isn’t surprising that he’s picked up on my melancholy mood. “You okay, Madi-cake?”

His nickname for me since about day three of our friendship is another helpful reminder that we’re currently keeping everything platonic, and I paste on my best everything’s a-okay smile to not worry him. “I’m fine. Just a little out of it from all the grading,” I fib, gesturing to the stack of essays on my desk.

“I hear that. If I have to grade one more paper containing the thesis statement, ‘in this paper, I will…’, I’m going to scream.”

I chuckle. “I figured your honors and advanced placement classes would know better than that by now.”

“You’d think so, but…” he trails off and spreads his hands out before him. “Anyway, are you ready for moving day next week?” My smile falters a little and I try to hide it, but he sees through it quickly. Stupid man who knows me too well. He reaches over and grabs my hand, the warmth encompassing it spreading to the rest of my body. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

I try not to concentrate on how nice my hand feels enveloped by his and I blink away tears that are threatening. With a shaky smile, I answer his question. “Nothing, really, I promise. I’m very happy for Ames, I’m just going to miss her is all.”

He frowns and his brow furrows, two small lines forming between his eyebrows. “I still don’t see why you don’t move into the same complex as me. Then we’d be closer and could hang out more often.”

Yeah, because that’s what my heart needs, I think to myself. A nice, front-row seat to his dating life that currently does not include me. Hard pass. “As fun as that would be, I couldn’t pass up on the studio that opened up across the hall from our current place. Super easy move and less space to have to clean. It’s a win-win.”

He pursues his lips, not convinced. “I guess.”

“You’re still going to help us move, right?” Manual labor is not my jam, but I wouldn’t mind watching Owen lug boxes around in shorts and t-shirt.

He scoffs. “As if there was ever any doubt. Besides, I distinctly remember donuts being on offer if we helped, right?”

I can’t help but roll my eyes because this man lives for food. It’s basically his primary motivator for just about everything. “Yes, O. You and Noah will be properly fed and watered like the good little pack mules you are.”

He clutches his heart in mock horror and leans back. “Pack mule? Mads, please. I’m a least a packhorse.” He flexes some impressive muscles and I try to avoid staring at him for too long lest I end up drooling on myself.

Ignoring my attraction to him as best I can, I laugh at his goofiness, shoving him a little as I smile. “Thank you for cheering me up with your idiocy.”

He sweeps his arm and bows before me. “Anytime, milady.”

With a chuckle, I stand up from my desk and start to gather my things. “Well, now that my grading is done, I’m going to head home.”

He nods and looks around my empty classroom. “I should head out too. I told my dad I’d help behind the bar tonight.” Owen’s helpfulness, especially when it comes to his family, is one of the many things I love about him. He is always helping his dad at their family pub, The Greedy Goat, and I can’t help but think he’ll instill the same importance of family in his own children.

Shaking off the thought of Owen’s future offspring, I start to walk along with Owen falling in step beside me. “I think it’s nice how much you still help your dad. I bet he appreciates it.” I get a twinge in my chest from not having that kind of parental relationship in my own life, but I ignore it and keep walking.

“He does. Besides, I get free food and beer while I’m there, so it’s a pretty good deal all around.” He chuckles and we walk into the nearly empty parking lot. Most teachers don’t stick around long after school ends on a Friday and I totally understand why. We spend so much of our lives here or working on things for class that when you get the opportunity to escape, you take it.

Owen taps his thigh as he walks and bumps me with his shoulder. “So, I was thinking it could be fun to do a movie night tomorrow. You game?”

Since Amelia always spends Saturday nights with Gabe and his family, I don’t really have anything else planned, and I do love spending time with my best guy friend. I pretend to think about it as I tap a finger against my chin. “I don’t know, O. You aren’t exactly known for your great taste in movies. I’m not sure I can commit to a whole evening of cinematic torture.”

He places a hand to his sternum. “Ouch. I thought you loved my last pick.”

My mouth pulls into a smirk. “I loved spending time with you, but I could have skipped the movie. You’ll have to save the Westerns for when you get together with Noah.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulder and we keep walking. We’ve touched so many times over the years, always friendly, never crossing a line, and I was good with that. It was nice to have someone to hold onto, but it’s different now because I don’t want friendly anymore. Now more than ever, I want to cross that line into something more. “I love spending time with you too, Mads. How about we go with a movie you choose?”

I beam at him and try to get my runaway feelings under control. “Yay! I pick You’ve Got Mail.

He rolls his eyes but pulls me tighter. “I should have known you’d pick a rom-com,” he grumbles good-naturedly.

I pinch his side, and he squeals a little, which makes me laugh. “You love them just as much as I do,” I insist. He won’t always admit to it, but I think Owen is a closet romantic.

“Fine, fine. I love them too. But don’t tell Noah or he’ll give me crap about it,” he says as we get to my white SUV. I chuckle as he steps into my space, leaning in to give me a hug. As his strong arms wrap around me, I want to pretend this is more, but I need some kind of indication he might be open to that. There’s so much at risk here if he isn’t into me as more than what we already are, and as much as I want to take things further, I can’t lose my best friend.

Missing the warmth of his body as soon as I step out of the hug, I open my door but glance back at him one last time. “See you tomorrow at my place?”

He smiles at me. “Yeah, that works. Your place is nicer than mine. I’ll bring the pizza. Mushroom and black olive as usual?”

I know for a fact he prefers pepperoni, but he always orders my favorite toppings when we get together. “You know me well, O.” He knows me better than anyone.

He nods and smiles, a glint in his eye as he backs away slowly. “That I do. I’ll see you tomorrow, Madi-cake.”

With a wave of my hand, I slip into the driver’s seat and watch as he walks over to his blue Jeep. I give another small wave as he pulls out of the lot and drives off toward the pub before starting my car and heading home to my apartment. Maybe one day soon, if I can muster up some courage and declare my feelings, we’ll be heading home together. The thought of that future brings a smile to my face and it stays there the whole drive home.