Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir

By: Heidi Betts

At first she didn’t respond, buying some time by rearranging the lightweight afghan so that it covered her exposed flesh, but not the baby’s face. Then with a sigh, she raised her head and met his gaze.

“What do you want me to say?” she asked softly.

Her seeming indifference had his molars grinding together and his fingers curling even tighter, until he thought his knuckles would pop through the skin.

“An explanation might be nice.” Followed by a few hours of abject groveling, he thought with no small amount of sarcasm, while outwardly he struggled not to let his true level of annoyance show.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was pregnant before the divorce became final. We weren’t exactly on speaking terms then, so I couldn’t find a way to tell you, and to be honest, I didn’t think you’d care.”

Fury bubbled inside his chest. “Not care about my own child?” he growled. “Not care that I was going to be a father?”

What kind of man did she think he was? And if she could believe he was the sort of man who wouldn’t care about his own flesh and blood, why had she bothered to marry him in the first place?

“How do you know it’s your baby?” she asked in a low voice.

Marc laughed. A sharp, humorless bark of sound at the sheer ridiculousness of that question.

“Nice try, Vanessa, but I know you too well for that. You wouldn’t have broken your vows to have some sleazy, sordid affair. And if you’d met someone you were interested in while we were still married…”

He trailed off, a sudden thought occurring to him that hadn’t before. “Is that why you asked for a divorce? Because you met someone else?”

It would be just like her. She would never have cheated on him, never been physically unfaithful. But emotional infidelity was another matter, and toward the end, he had to admit that they hadn’t been as close or connected as at the beginning of their relationship.

With his brother as second-in-command, he’d taken over the Keller Corporation and started spending longer and longer hours in the office or traveling for business. Vanessa had complained about feeling lonely and being treated like an outsider in her own home—which was something he could understand, given his mother’s less-than-warm nature and the fact that she’d never really cared for the woman he’d married. Hadn’t she made that clear from the moment he’d first brought Vanessa home for a visit and announced their engagement?

But even though he’d heard Vanessa’s complaints, he knew now that he hadn’t listened. He’d shrugged off her unhappiness, thinking perhaps she was turning into a bit of a bored trophy wife. He’d let himself be consumed by work and told himself it was just a phase—that she’d get over it. He even thought he remembered suggesting she find a hobby to keep her busy in hopes that it would distract her and keep her off his back.

No wonder she’d left him, he mentally scoffed now. He’d have left him after being dismissed like that.

By her own husband. The man who was suppose to love, honor and cherish her more than anyone else on the planet. Boy, he’d really messed up on that one, hadn’t he?

As always, hindsight was twenty-twenty…and made him want to kick his own ass.

Which meant that if Vanessa had met another man, Marc couldn’t really blame her for leaving him in hopes of moving into a situation that made her happier than the one she’d been in with him.

The thought of another man touching her, being with her—especially with his baby growing inside her belly—made his vision go red around the edges and his mind fill with images of tearing the aforementioned male who’d dared to touch his woman limb from limb. But he couldn’t blame her, not when so much of what had gone wrong between them was his own fault.

“Is it?” he asked again, suddenly needing to know. Though he wasn’t sure what difference it would make now.

“No,” she answered quietly. “There was no one else. Not for me, anyway.”

He raised a brow. “What does that mean? That you think I was being unfaithful?”

“I don’t know, Marc. Were you? It would certainly explain all those extra hours you were supposedly spending at work.”

“I had just taken over the company, Vanessa. A lot of things required my attention, practically around the clock.”

“And I wasn’t one of them, apparently,” she muttered, bitterness clear in her tone.

Marc rubbed a spot between his eyes where a headache was brewing. He’d heard that level of frustration and discontent in her voice before, so many times. The same as he’d heard her complain that he wasn’t spending enough time with her.

But what choice did he have? And why couldn’t she have cut him some slack? The twenty-four-hour workdays hadn’t lasted forever. Nowadays, if he was at the office past five, it was usually because he didn’t want to go home. Why bother, when there was nothing much there for him to enjoy other than a soft bed and a giant plasma television?

“This again?” he ground out. “Do we really have to get into this again?”

“No,” she replied quickly. “That’s the nice thing about being divorced—we really don’t.”

“So that’s why you didn’t tell me you were pregnant?” he demanded. “Because I wasn’t paying enough attention to you before the divorce?”

A furrow appeared in her brow. At her breast, the baby continued to suckle, though he could only hear the sounds, not see the child’s mouth actually at work.

“Don’t be obtuse,” she snapped. “I wouldn’t keep something like that from you just because I was pouting or angry with you. If you’ll recall, we didn’t exactly part on the best terms, and you were the one who refused to speak to me. That sort of thing makes it difficult to have a personal heart-to-heart.”

“You should have tried harder.”

Blue eyes flashing, she said, “I could say the same about you.”

Marc sighed, rocking back on his heels. It was nice to know that even after a year apart, they could jump right back to where they’d left off.

No growth or progress whatsoever, and to make matters worse, there was a whole new wrench thrown into the works. One with his blood running through its veins. One that he should have been told about from the very beginning.

But arguing with her about it or getting red in the face with fury over having his child kept from him for so long wasn’t going to get him anywhere. Not with Vanessa. She would simply argue right back at him and they would end up exactly where they were—in a stalemate.

Striving instead for calm and diplomacy, he said, “I guess that’s something we’re going to have to agree to disagree about.” For now. “But I deserve a few answers, don’t you think?”

He could see her mulling that over, trying to decide how much pride or privacy it would cost her to share the details of the last year of her life…and fess up to something he suspected even she knew had been wrong—namely keeping his child from him.

“Fine,” she relented after a moment, though she sounded none too pleased with the prospect.

While he weighed his options and tried to decide where to start, she shifted the baby in her arms and quickly rearranged her clothing beneath the veil of the knitted throw to make sure she was completely covered.

The child, Marc noticed, was sound asleep. Eyes closed, tiny pink mouth slack with sleep. And suddenly he knew exactly what he needed to know most of all.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” he asked, his throat clogging with emotion, making the words come out scratchy and thick.

“A boy. His name is Danny.”

Danny. Daniel.

His son.

His chest grew tight, cutting off the oxygen to his lungs, and he was glad when Vanessa rose from the sofa, then turned to toss the afghan over the back so she wouldn’t see the sudden dampness filling his eyes.

He was a father, he thought, blinking and doing his best to surreptitiously suck in sharp, quick breaths of air in an attempt to regain his equilibrium.

When he and Vanessa had first gotten married, they’d discussed having children. He’d expected it to happen before long, been ready for it. When it hadn’t in the first year, or the second, the idea had drifted further and further to the back of his mind.

And that had been okay. He’d been disappointed, he supposed, but so had she. But they’d still been happy together, still optimistic about the future, and cognizant of the fact that they hadn’t even begun to explore all of their options yet. If getting pregnant the fun, old-fashioned way hadn’t worked out, he was sure they’d have discussed adoption or in vitro or even fostering.

But as it turned out, they hadn’t needed any of that, had they? No, she’d been pregnant when they’d signed the divorce papers.

“When did you find out?” he asked, following her movements as she trailed slowly across the room. The baby— Danny, his son—was propped upright against her shoulder now and she was slowly patting his back, bouncing slightly.

“A month or so after the divorce was final.”

“That’s why you moved away,” he said quietly. “I expected you to stick around Pittsburgh after we split. Then I heard you’d left town, but I never knew where you’d gone.” Not that he’d intentionally tried to check up on her, but he’d kept his ear to the ground and—admittedly—welcomed any news he managed to pick up through the grapevine.

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