Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir

By: Heidi Betts

Instead, he allowed her to lead him back through the front of the bakery and outside to the space for rent next door. Though it was locked and they were unable to enter, he could see clearly through the plate glass windows that it was half the size of The Sugar Shack, but completely empty, which meant that there would be very little remodeling necessary to turn it into anything Vanessa wanted. And if his vision of the mail order aspect of the business matched hers, he imagined it wouldn’t take much more than a few computers, several packing stations, and a direct and open path connecting it to The Sugar Shack for easy access.

While he continued to peer inside, studying the structure of the connected, unrented area, Vanessa stepped back, standing in the middle of the sidewalk.

“What do you think?” she asked.

He turned to find the afternoon sun glinting off her hair, making it shine like a new penny. A flash of desire hit him square in the chest, nearly knocking him back a pace. His throat clogged and he felt himself growing hard despite the knowledge that he had no right to be attracted to her any longer.

But then, who was he kidding? They might not be married anymore, but he had a feeling it would take a lot more than a signed divorce decree to keep his body from responding to his ex-wife’s presence. Something along the lines of slipping into a coma or having a full frontal lobotomy.

Tamping down on the urge to step forward and run his fingers through her mass of copper curls—or do something equally stupid, like kiss her until her knees went weak—he said, “I think you’ve done very well for yourself.” Without him, he was sorry to acknowledge.

She looked only moderately surprised by the compliment. “Thank you.”

“I’m going to need some time to look at the books and discuss things with Brian, but if you’re not still completely set against working with me, there’s a good chance I’d be interested in investing.”

If he’d expected squeals of joy or for her to throw herself into his arms in a display of unabashed appreciation, he was doomed to disappointment. She nodded sagely, but otherwise didn’t respond.

And he didn’t have a reason to stick around any longer.

“Well,” he murmured, stabbing his hands into his pockets and rocking back slightly on his heels, “I guess that about does it. Thank you for the tour—and the samples.”

Damn, he felt like a teenager out on his first date, and the polite smile she offered only made matters worse.

“I’ll be in touch,” he told her after a moment of awkward silence.

Tucking a strand of hair behind one ear, Vanessa tipped her head, but said, “I’d prefer you have Brian call me, if you don’t mind.”

He did mind and a muscle in his jaw ticked as he ground his teeth together to keep from saying so. As much as it annoyed him, though, he understood her reluctance to be in contact with him again. He suspected that even if he offered to sink a boatload of money into Vanessa’s enterprise, she might refuse just on principle. A ridiculous principle that would only cause her to end up shooting herself in the foot, but principle all the same.

Vanessa remained on the sidewalk outside The Sugar Shack, watching as Marc walked away, back toward the offices of Blake and Fetzer. Not until he was well out of sight, and she felt sure he wasn’t going to turn around and come back, did she let herself release a pent-up breath.

Then, as soon as the pressure in her chest eased and her heart was beating normally again, she spun around and returned to the bakery, heading straight for the stairs that led to the second floor apartment. Halfway up, she heard some of her aunt’s favorite 1940s big band music playing, and beneath that, the sound of Danny fussing.

Taking the last several steps two at a time, she hurried in and found her aunt pacing back and forth across the floor, bouncing and hushing and doing everything she could think of to calm the red-faced child in her arms.

“Poor baby,” Vanessa said, reaching for Danny.

“Oh, thank goodness.” Helen sighed in relief, more than happy to hand over her squalling charge. “I was just about to give him a bottle, but I know how much you prefer to feed him yourself.”

“That’s all right, I’ve got him now,” Vanessa told her, continuing to bounce Danny up and down as she moved to the ugly, beige second-hand sofa along the far wall, unbuttoning her blouse as she went. “Thank you so much.”

“How did things go? Is Marcus gone now?” Her aunt wanted to know.

“Yes, he’s gone.”

When the words came out more mumbled than intended, she realized it was because she wasn’t entirely pleased with that fact. She might have thought Marc was out of her life for good, and may have been desperate to keep him away once he’d shown up in Summerville unexpectedly, but she realized now that seeing him again hadn’t been entirely unpleasant.

One glance from those moss-green eyes and her body went soft and pliant. Her blood turned the consistency of warm honey, her brain functioning about as well as too-flat meringue.

Spending a short amount of time with him while she’d shown him around the bakery had been…not horrible. If it hadn’t been for the secret she was hiding just one floor above, she may even have gotten him that cup of coffee and invited him to stay a while longer.

Which was a really bad idea, so it was better that he’d taken off when he had.

She had Danny pressed to her chest, content now that his belly was being filled, when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. Considering that everyone who knew about the second floor apartment—namely she and Aunt Helen—was already up there, she suspected she was about to get a very rude surprise.

There was no time to jump up and hide the baby, no time to yell for Aunt Helen to run interference. One minute she was glancing around for a blanket to cover her exposed chest, and the next she was frozen in place, staring with alarm at her stunned but furious ex-husband.


Marc honestly didn’t know whether to be stunned or furious. Perhaps a mix of both. He wondered if the whooshing sound in his ears and the tiny pinpricks of white marring his vision would ever go away.

It wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on.

First, Vanessa had lied to him. The space above the bakery wasn’t used primarily for storage and as a place for her octogenarian aunt to nap when she started to feel run-down. It was actually a fully furnished and operable apartment, complete with a table and chairs, a sofa, a television…a crib in one corner and a yellow duckie blanket covered with baby toys in the middle of the floor.

Second, Vanessa had a child. She wasn’t sitting for a friend; hadn’t adopted an infant after their separation just for the thrill of it or to exert her independence. Even if she hadn’t been breast-feeding the baby in her arms when he’d walked in the room, the protective flare in her eyes and the alarm written all over her face told him everything he needed to know about her connection to the child.

Third and finally, that baby was his. He knew it as well as he knew his own name. Felt it, deep down in his bones. Vanessa would never have been so determined to keep him from discovering she was a mother if that weren’t the case—if she didn’t believe she had something momentous to hide.

Not only that, but he hadn’t become the CEO of his family’s very successful textile company by being stupid. He could do the math. The only way Vanessa could have such a young infant was if she’d either been pregnant before their divorce had become final or if she’d been cheating on him with another man. And despite the differences that had pushed them apart, infidelity had never been one of them—not by him and not by her.

“Want to tell me what’s going on here?” he asked, slipping his hands into the front pockets of his slacks.

It was safer that way. Burying his hands—now curled into tight, angry fists—in his pockets kept him from reaching out to strangle someone. Namely her.

And though his words might have been delivered in the form of a calm, unruffled question, the sharp chill of his tone let her know it was a demand. He wasn’t going anywhere until he had answers. All of them.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a blur of blue-topped motion as Aunt Helen bustled forward and tossed a blanket over Vanessa’s half exposed chest and the baby’s head. Marc didn’t know which was more disappointing—losing sight of his ex-wife’s creamy flesh…or of the child he hadn’t known existed until thirty seconds ago.

“I’ll be downstairs,” Helen murmured to her niece before turning a critical glare on him as she passed. “Yell if you need me.”

What Aunt Helen had to be annoyed about, Marc couldn’t fathom. He was the victim here. The one who had never been told he was a father, who’d had his child kept from him for so long. He didn’t know how old the baby was, exactly, but given the amount of time they’d been divorced and the nine months of her pregnancy, his guess would be about four to six months.

Vanessa and her wily Aunt Helen were the bad guys in this situation. Lying to him. Hiding pertinent facts from him for the past year.

After glancing over his shoulder to be sure they were finally alone, he took another menacing step forward.

“Well?” he prompted.

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