Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir

By: Heidi Betts

“As long as it has a bed and a bathroom, I’m sure it will be fine. I’ll be spending most of my time here with you, anyway.”

Vanessa’s eyes widened at that. “You will?”

One corner of his mouth quirked. “Of course. This is where my son is. Besides, if your goal is to expand the bakery and possibly branch out into mail-order sales, we’ve got a lot to discuss, and possibly a lot to do.”

“Wait a minute.” She let the spatula in her hand drop to the countertop, feeling her breath catch. “I didn’t agree to let you have anything to do with The Sugar Shack.”

He flashed her a charming, confident grin. “That’s why we have so much to discuss. Now,” he said, flattening his palms on the edge of the counter, “are you going to show me to this Harbor-less Inn, or would you prefer to simply give me directions so you and your aunt can both stay here and talk about me after I leave?”

Oh, she wanted to stay behind and talk about him. The problem was, he knew it. And now that he’d tossed down the gauntlet by effectively telling her he knew that’s exactly what would happen the minute he left the room, she had no choice but to go with him.

Which was exactly why he’d done it.

Reaching behind her back, she untied the strings of her apron and pulled it off over her head.

“I’ll take you,” she said, then turned to her aunt. “Will you be okay on your own while we’re gone?”

The question was just a formality; there were plenty of times when Vanessa left Helen in charge of the bakery while she ran errands or took Danny to the pediatrician. Still, her aunt shot her such a contemptible look that Vanessa nearly chuckled.

“All right. I’ll be back in a bit.”

She headed for the door, saying to Marc as she passed, “I just need to grab my purse.”

He followed her out, waiting at the bottom of the stairs while she ran up to collect her purse and sunglasses.

“What about the baby?” he asked as soon as she returned.

“He’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure your aunt can take care of him and the bakery at the same time?” He pressed as they moved past the store-front’s display cases and small round tables toward the door.

Vanessa smiled and waved at familiar customers as she passed. Once outside, she slipped on her sunglasses before turning to face him.

“Don’t let Helen hear you asking something like that. She’s liable to hurl a cookie sheet at your head.”

He didn’t laugh. In fact, he didn’t look amused at all. Instead, he looked legitimately concerned.

“Relax, Marc. Aunt Helen is extremely competent. She runs the bakery by herself all the time.”


“And watches Danny at the same time. We both do. Truthfully, she’s been a godsend,” Vanessa admitted. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

Or what she would have done without her, when she’d found herself jobless, husbandless and pregnant all in the space of a few short months.

“So are we taking your car or mine?” she asked in an attempt to draw Marc’s focus away from worrying about Danny.

“Mine,” he said.

Vanessa kept pace with him as he turned on his heel and started down the sidewalk in the direction of Blake and Fetzer where he’d left his Mercedes. She was still dressed in the skirt and blouse she’d worn for her disastrous meeting earlier that morning. She wished now that she’d taken the time to change into something more comfortable. She especially wished she’d exchanged her heels for a pair of flats.

Marc, however, looked as suave and at ease as ever in his tailored suit pants and polished dress shoes. His jacket was slung over one shoulder, his other hand tucked casually into his slacks.

When they reached his car, he held the door while she climbed in the front passenger side, then rounded the back and slid in behind the wheel. He slipped the key in the ignition, then sat back in his seat, turning to face her.

“Will you do something for me before we head for the hotel?” he asked.

A shiver of trepidation skated beneath her skin and she immediately tensed. Hadn’t she already done enough? Wasn’t she already doing enough simply by accepting Marc’s presence in town when what she really wanted to do was snatch up her child and head for the hills?

She also couldn’t help remembering the many times they’d been alone in a car together in the past. Their first dates, where they’d steamed up the windows with their passion. After they were married, when a simple trip to the grocery store or out to dinner would include soft, intentional touches and comfortable intimacy.

She was sure he remembered, too, which only added to the tightening of her stomach and nervous clench of her hands on the strap of her purse where it rested on her lap.

“What?” she managed to say, holding her breath for the answer.

“Show me around town. Give me the ten-dollar tour. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but you can’t be dropping everything every time I need directions.”

Vanessa blinked and released her breath. Okay, that wasn’t nearly as traumatizing as she’d expected. It was actually rather thoughtful of him.

Since her mouth had gone dry, for a second she could only lick her lips and bob her head in agreement. With an approving nod, he started the car and began to pull out of the lot.

“Which way?” he asked.

It took her a moment to think of where to start, and what she should show him, but Summerville was so small that she finally decided it wouldn’t hurt to show him pretty much everything.

“Take a left,” she told him. “We’ll do Main Street, then I’ll take you around the outskirts. We should end up at the Harbor Inn without too much backtracking.”

A lot of the local businesses he could make out for himself. The diner, the drugstore, the flower shop, the post office. A little farther from the center of town were a couple of fast-food restaurants, gas stations and a Laundromat. In between the smattering of buildings were handfuls of houses, farms and wooded parcels.

She told him a bit of what she knew about her neighbors, both the owners of neighboring businesses and some of the residents of Summerville.

Like Polly—who ran Polly’s Posies—and went around town every morning to deliver a single fresh flower to each store on Main Street free of charge. The vase she’d provided Vanessa was front and center on the counter, right next to the cash register, and even though she never knew what kind of flower Polly would choose to hand out on any given day, she had to admit the tiny dot of color really did add a touch of hominess to every single business in town.

Or Sharon—the pharmacist at Main Street Drugs—who had given Vanessa such wonderful prenatal advice and even set her up with her current pediatrician.

She had such close relationships with so many people in town. Something she’d never had while living in Pittsburgh with Marc. In the city, whether visiting the grocery store, pharmacy or dry cleaner’s, she’d been lucky to make eye contact with the person behind the counter, much less make small talk.

Here, there was no such thing as a quick trip to the store. Every errand involved stopping numerous times to say hello and catch up with friendly acquaintances. And while she’d never missed that sort of thing before, she knew she would definitely miss it now if she woke up one day and realized it was no longer a part of her life.

“That’s about it,” she told him twenty minutes later, after pointing him in the general direction of the hotel where he would be staying. “There isn’t much more to see, unless you’re interested in a tour of the dairy industry from the inside out.”

A small smile curved his lips. “I’ll pass, thanks. But I think you missed something.”

She frowned, wondering what he could possibly mean. She hadn’t shown him the nearest volunteer fire department or water treatment plant, but those were several miles outside of town, and she didn’t think he really cared about that sort of thing, anyway.

“You didn’t show me where you live,” he supplied in a low voice.

“Do you really need to know?” she asked, ignoring the spike of heat that suffused her from head to toe at the knowing glance he sent her.

“Of course. How else will I know where to pick you up for dinner?”


As much as Vanessa would have liked to argue with Marc about his heavy-handedness, in the end, she didn’t bother. He had a nasty habit of getting his way in almost every situation, anyway, so what was the point?

She’d also reluctantly decided that, for as long as Marc was determined to stay in her and Danny’s lives, it was probably better to simply make nice with him. There was no sense antagonizing him or fighting him at every turn when he potentially held so much of her future in his hands.

At the moment, the only thing he seemed to want was time with and information about his son. He wasn’t trying to take Danny away from her or making threats about trying to take him later, even though they both knew he was probably within his rights to do so.

The threatening part, not the actual taking. But if she were in his shoes, anger and a sense of betrayal alone would have had her yelling all manner of hostile, menacing things.

So this afternoon when Marc asked her to show him where she lived with Aunt Helen, she took him to the small, two-story house on Evergreen Lane. It wasn’t much compared to the sprawling estate where he’d grown up with servants and tennis courts and a half mile, tree-lined drive just to reach the front gate, but in the last year, it had become home to her.

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