Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir(3)

By: Heidi Betts

“We’ve met.”

Marcus’s voice hit her like a sledgehammer to the solar plexus, but it was only one of a series of rapid-fire shocks to her system. Brian had spoken her ex-husband’s name and her stomach had plummeted all the way to her feet. At the same time, Marcus had risen from his seat and turned to face her, and her heart had started to pound against her rib cage like a runaway freight train.

She saw him standing in front of her, black hair glinting midnight blue in the dappled sunlight streaming through the tall, multipaned windows lining one wall of the office, his green eyes gleaming with devilment. Yet his suit-and-tie image wavered and no amount of blinking brought him into focus.

“Hello, Vanessa,” he murmured softly.

Brushing his jacket aside, he slipped his hands into the front pockets of his matching charcoal slacks, adopting a negligent pose. He looked so comfortable and amused, while she felt as though an army of ants was crawling beneath her skin.

How in God’s name could this have happened? How could she not know that he was the potential investor? How could Brian not realize that Marcus was her ex-husband?

She wanted to kick herself for not asking more questions or insisting on being given more details about today’s meeting. But then, she hadn’t really cared who Brian’s mystery investor was, had she? She’d cared only that he was rich and seemed willing to partner up with small business owners in the hopes of a big payoff down the road.

She’d convinced herself she was desperate and needed a quick influx of cash to keep The Sugar Shack’s doors open. But she would never be desperate enough to take charity from the man who had broken her heart and turned his back on her when she’d needed him the most.

Not bothering to address Marcus, she turned her gaze to Brian. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work out,” she told him, then promptly turned on her heel and marched back out of the office building.

She was down the front steps and halfway up the block before she heard the first call.

“Vanessa! Vanessa, wait!”

The three-inch pumps she’d worn because they went so well with her outfit—and because she’d wanted to make a good impression—pinched her toes as she nearly ran the length of the uneven sidewalk in the direction of The Sugar Shack. All she wanted was to get away from Marcus, away from those glittering eyes and the arrogant tilt of his chin. She didn’t care that he was yelling for her, or that she could hear his footsteps keeping pace several yards behind her. “Vanessa!”

Turning the corner only a short distance from The Sugar Shack, her steps faltered. Her heart lurched and her blood chilled.

Oh, no. She’d been so angry, so eager to get away from her ex-husband and escape back to the safety of the bakery that she’d forgotten that’s where Danny was. And if there was anything she needed to protect more than her own sanity, it was her son.

Suddenly, she couldn’t take another step, coming to a jerky stop only feet from the bakery door. Marcus rounded the corner a moment later, coming to an equally abrupt halt when he spotted her simply standing there like a panicked and disheveled department store mannequin.

He was slightly out of breath, and she found that more than a little satisfying. It was a nice change from his normal state of being calm, cool and always in control. And nothing less than he deserved, given what he was putting her through now.

“Finally,” he muttered, sounding completely put out. “Why did you run?” He wanted to know. “We may be divorced, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sit and have a civil conversation.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” she bit out. And there was nothing she had to say that he wanted to hear. The cruel declaration replayed through her mind, bringing with it a fresh stab of pain and reminding her of just how important it was to keep him away from her child.

“What about this business of yours?” he asked, running a hand through his thick, dark hair before smoothing his tie and buttoning his suit jacket, once again the epitome of entrepreneurial precision. “It sounds like you could use the capital and I’m always on the lookout for a good investment.”

“I don’t want your money,” she told him.

He inclined his head, acknowledging the sincerity of her words. “But do you need it?”

He asked the question in a low tone, with no hint of condescension and not as though he meant to dangle his wealth over her head like a plump, juicy carrot. Instead, he sounded willing to help her if she needed it.

Oh, she needed help, but not of the strings-attached variety. And not from her cold, unfeeling ex-husband.

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