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The best part of being rich was, of course, the toys. There wasn't anything Wyatt McKenzie wanted that he didn't have.
Gliding along the winding road that led to Newland, Maryland, on a warm April morning, he revved the engine of his big black motorcycle and grinned. He loved the toys.
The second best thing about being rich was the power. Not that he could start a war, or control the lives of the people who depended upon him for work and incomes. The power he loved was the power he had over his own schedule.
Take right now, for instance. His grandmother had died the month before, and it was time to clear out her house for sale. The family could have hired someone, but Grandma McKenzie had a habit of squirreling away cash and hiding jewelry. When none of her family heirloom jewelry was found in her Florida town house, Wyatt's mother believed it was still in her house in Maryland. And Wyatt had volunteered to make the thousand-mile trip back "home" to search her house.
His mother could have come. She'd actually know more about what she was looking for. But his divorce had become final the week before. After four years fighting over money, his now ex-wife had agreed to settle for thirty percent interest in his company.
His company. She'd cheated on him. Lied to him. Tried to undermine his authority. And she got thirty percent of everything he'd worked for? It wasn't right.
But it also hurt. They'd been married for four years before the trouble started. He'd thought she was happy.
He needed some time to get over his anger with her and the hurt, so he could get on with the rest of his life. Looking for jewelry a thousand miles away was as good an excuse as any to take a break, relax and forget about the past.
So he'd given himself an entire month vacation simply by telling his assistant he was leaving and wouldn't be back for four weeks. He didn't have to remind Arnie that his gram had died. He didn't have to say his divorce was final. He didn't have to make any excuse or give any reason at all. He just said, "I'm going. See you next month."
He revved the engine again as he swung the bike off the highway and onto the exit ramp for Newland, the town he'd grown up in. After buying the company that published his graphic novels, he'd moved his whole family to Florida to enjoy life in the sun. His parents had made trips home. Gram had spent entire summers here. But Wyatt hadn't even been home for a visit in fifteen long years. Now, he was back. A changed man. A rich man. Not the geeky kid everybody "liked" but sort of made fun of. Not the skinny nerd who never got picked for the team in gym class. But a six-foot-one, two-hundred-pound guy who not only worked out, he'd also turned his geekiness into a fortune.
He laughed. He could only imagine the reception he was about to get.
Two sweeping turns took him to Main Street, then one final turn took him to his grandmother's street. He saw the aging Cape Cod immediately. Gables and blue shutters accented the white siding. A row of overgrown hedges bordered the driveway, giving a measure of privacy from the almost identical Cape Cod next door. The setup was cute. Simple. But that was the way everybody in Newland lived. Simply. They had nice, quiet lives. Not like the hustle and bustle of work and entertainmentcocktail parties and picnics, Jet Skis and fund-raisershe and his family lived with on the Gulf Coast.
He roared into the driveway and cut the engine. After tucking his helmet under his arm, he rummaged in his shirt pocket for his sunglasses. He slid them on, walked to the old-fashioned wooden garage door and yanked it open with a grunt. No lock or automatic garage door for his grandmother. Newland was safe as well as quiet. Another thing very different from where he currently lived. The safety of a small town. Knowing your neighbors. Liking your neighbors.
He missed that.
The stale scent of a closed-up garage wafted out to him, and he waved it away as he strode back to his bike.
He stopped, glanced around. Not seeing anybody, he headed to his bike again.
This time the voice was louder. When he stopped, he followed the sound of the little-boy lisp and found himself looking into the big brown eyes of a kid who couldn't have been more than four years old. Standing in a small gap in the hedges, he grinned up at Wyatt.
"Is that your bike?"
"Yeah." Wyatt took the two steps over to the little boy and pulled back the hedge so he could see him. His light brown hair was cut short and spiked out in a few directions. Smudges of dirt stained his T-shirt. His pants hung on skinny hips.
He craned his head back and blinked up at Wyatt. "Can I have a wide?"
He pointed at the bike. "A wide."
"Oh, you mean ride." He looked at his motorcycle. "Um." He'd never taken a kid on his bike. Hell, he was barely ever around kidsexcept the children of his staff when they had company outings.
The lyrical voice floated over to Wyatt and his breath stalled. Missy. Missy Johnson. Prettiest girl in his high school. Granddaughter of his gram's next-door neighbor. The girl he'd coached through remedial algebra just for the chance to sit close to her.
"Owen! Honey? Where are you?"
Soft and melodious, her sweet voice went through Wyatt like the first breeze of spring.
He glanced down at the kid. "I take it you're Owen."
The little boy grinned up at him.
The hedge shuffled a bit and suddenly there she stood, her long yellow hair caught in a ponytail.
In the past fifteen years, he'd changed everything about himself, while she looked to have been frozen in time. Her blue-gray eyes sparkled beneath thick black lashes. Her full lips bowed upward as naturally as breathing. Her peaches and cream complexion glowed like a teenager's even though she was thirty-three. A blue T-shirt and jeans shorts accented her small waist and round hips. The legs below her shorts were as perfect as they'd been when she was cheering for the Newland High football team.
Memories made his blood rush hot through his veins. They'd gotten to know each other because their grandmothers were next-door neighbors. And though she was prom queen, homecoming queen, snowball queen and head cheerleader and he was the king of the geeks, he'd wanted to kiss her from the time he was twelve.
Man, he'd had a crush on her.
She gave him a dubious look. "Can I help you?"
She didn't know who he was?
He grinned. That was priceless. Perfect.
"You don't remember me?"
"Well, I was the reason you passed remedial algebra."
Her eyes narrowed. She pondered for a second. Then she gasped. "Wyatt?"
He rocked back on his heels with a chuckle.
"In the flesh."
Her gaze fell to his black leather jacket and jeans, as well as the black helmet he held under his arm.
She frowned, as if unable to reconcile the sexy rebel he now dressed like with the geek she knew in high school. "Wyatt?"
Taking off his sunglasses so she could get a better look at his face, he laughed. "I've sort of changed."
She gave him another quick once-over and everything inside of Wyatt responded. As if he were still the teenager with the monster crush on her, his gut tightened. His rushing blood heated to boiling. His natural instinct to pounce flared.
Then he glanced down at the little boy.
And back at Missy. "Yours?"
She ruffled Owen's spiky hair. "Yep."
"Mom! Mom!" A little blond girl ran over. Tapping on Missy's knee, she whined, "Lainie hit me."
A dark-haired little girl raced up behind her. "Did not!"
Wyatt's eyebrows rose. Three kids?
Missy met his gaze. "These are my kids, Owen, Helaina and Claire." She tapped each child's head affectionately. "They're triplets."
Had he been chewing gum, he would have swallowed it. "Triplets?"
She ruffled Owen's hair fondly. "Yep."
"You and your husband must be so " terrified, overworked, tired " proud."
Missy Johnson Brooks turned all three kids in the direction of the house. "Go inside. I'll be in in a second to make lunch." Then she faced the tall, gorgeous guy across the hedge.
Wyatt McKenzie was about the best looking man she'd ever seen in real life. With his supershort black hair cut so close it looked more like a shadow on his head than hair, plus his broad shoulders and watchful brown eyes, he literally rivaled the men in movies.
Her heart rattled in her chest as she tried to pull herself together. It wasn't just weird to see Wyatt McKenzie all grown up and sexy. He brought back some memories she would have preferred stay locked away.
Shielding her eyes from the noonday sun, she said, "My husband and I are divorced."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
She shrugged. "That's okay. How about you?"
His face twisted. "Divorced, too."
His formerly squeaky voice was low and deep, so sexy that her breathing stuttered and heat coiled through her middle.
She stifled the urge to gasp. Surely she wasn't going to let herself be attracted to him? She'd already gone that route with a man. Starry-eyed and trusting, she'd married a gorgeous guy who made her pulse race, and a few years later found herself deserted with three kids. Oh, yeah. She'd learned that lesson and didn't care to repeat it.
She cleared her throat. "I heard a rumor that you got superrich once you left here."
"I did. I write comic books."
"And you make that much money drawing?"
"Well, drawing, writing scripts " His sexy smile grew. "And owning the company."
She gaped at him, but inside she couldn't stop a swoon. If he'd smiled at her like that in high school she probably would have fainted. Thank God she was older and wiser and knew how to resist a perfect smile. "You own a company?"
"And here I thought the gossip mill in New-land was incredibly efficient."
"It probably is. In the past few years I haven't had time to pay much attention."
He glanced at the kids. One by one they'd ambled back to the hedge and over to her, where they currently hung around her knees. "I can see that."
Slowly, carefully, she raised her gaze to meet his. He wasn't the only one who had changed since high school. She might not be rich but she had done some things. She wasn't just raising triplets; she also had some big-time money possibilities. "I own a company, too."
His grin returned. Her face heated. Her heart did something that felt like a somersault.
She looked away. She couldn't believe she was so attracted to him. Then she remembered that Wyatt was somebody special. Deep down inside he had been a nice guy, and maybe he still was underneath all that leather. But that only heightened her unease. If he wasn't, she didn't want her memories of the one honest, sweet guy in her life tainted by this sexy stranger. Worse, she didn't want him discovering too much about her past. Bragging about her company might cause him to ask questions that would bring up memories she didn't want to share.
She reined in her enthusiasm about her fledgling business. "It's a small company."
"Everybody starts small."
He smiled again, but looked at the triplets and motioned toward his motorcycle. "Well, I guess I better get my bike in the garage."
She took a step back, not surprised he wanted to leave. What sexy, gorgeous, bike-riding, company-owning guy wanted to be around a woman with kids? Three kids. Three superlovable kids who had a tendency to look needy.
Though she was grateful he was racing away, memories tripped over themselves in her brain. Him helping her with her algebra, and stumbling over asking her out. And her being unable to keep that date.
The urge to apologize for standing him up almost moved her tongue. But she couldn't say anything. Not without telling him things that would mortally embarrass her. "It was nice to see you."
He flashed that lethal grin. "It was nice to see you, too."
He let go of the hedge he'd been holding back. It sprang into place and he disappeared.
With the threat of the newcomer gone, the trips scrambled to the kitchen door and raced inside. She followed them, except she didn't stop in the kitchen. She strode through the house to the living room, where she fell to the sofa.
Realizing she was shaking, she picked up a pillow, put it on her knees and pressed her face to it. She should have known seeing someone she hadn't seen since graduation would take her back to the worst day in her life.
Her special day, graduation Her dad had stopped at the bar on the way home from the ceremony. Drunk, he'd beaten her mom, ruined the graduation dress Missy had bought with her own money by tossing bleach on it, and slapped Althea, knocking her into a wall, breaking her arm.
Her baby sister, the little girl her mom had called a miracle baby and her dad had called a mistake, had been hit so hard that Missy had taken her to the hospital. Once they'd fixed up her arm, a social worker had peered into their emergency room cubicle.
"Where's your mom? "
"She's out for the night. I'm eighteen. I'm babysitting."
The social worker had given Missy a look of disbelief, so she'd produced her driver's license.
When the social worker was gone, Althea had glared at her. She wanted to tell the truth.
Missy had turned on her sister. "Do you want to end up in foster care? Or worse, have him beat Mom until she dies? Well, I don't."
And the secret had continued .
Her breath stuttered out. Her mom was dead now. Althea had left home. She'd enrolled in a university thousands of miles away, in California. She'd driven out of town and never looked back. And their dad?
Well, he was "gone," too. Just not forgotten. He still ran the diner, but he spent every spare cent he had on alcohol and gambling. If he wasn't drunk, he was in Atlantic City. The only time Missy saw him was when he needed money.
A little hand fell to her shoulder. "What's wong, Mommy?"
Owen. With his little lisp and his big heart.