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If it had been left up to Tristan Adams, he would not have given Danielle Timmons-Foster the news. But it hadn't been left up to him. For the past two months her life had been one hellacious lie. A part of him wondered if one more lie wouldn't hurt. But for Danielle he knew it would.
And when she hurt, he hurt.
She had dropped onto the sofa and was staring at him as if he had totally lost his mind. He almost wished he had. Or, at least, that this episode had been one long nightmare they would finally wake up fromand find that not only was her husband not dead, but that he hadn't left three wives behind. Three wives who, until a couple of months ago, each assumed they were Mrs. Marc Foster. And now to add salt to the wound, he'd just told Danielle there might be a fourth woman out there with the title, as well.
"Tristan, please tell me you're joking," Danielle said, her voice soft, low and sounding utterly defeated. "It's a sick joke, but I'll accept it. I don't want to believe what you just said. I can't believe what you just said."
He nodded slowly, understanding. He had been with her when she'd gotten the call two months ago that her husband of five years was dead after having choked onof all things his wedding ring. He'd also been with her at Marc's funeral in California when they'd discovered she wasn't the only Mrs. Foster. And he'd been by her side at the attorney's office when it had been declared that the second wife, Renée, was the legal Mrs. Foster and that Danielle, his first wife, and Alexandra, his third, had gotten duped with phony marriage licenses.
He released a long sigh and crossed the living room's hardwood floor to sit beside Danielle on the sofa. He took her hand in his and tried to smile. "Dani, I stopped teasing you the day you began wearing your first training bra, remember?"
He knew that would get a smile out of her. She would remember that day. It would remind her of happier times when her brother had been alive. Tristan couldn't help but smile himself whenever he thought of Paul Timmons, his best friend since kindergarten. They'd lived in the same neighborhood and had gone to school together, had played peewee football and gone off to college togetherroommates at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a long way from their hometown of Port St. Lucie, Florida. And then when they'd finished college, they'd returned home to go into business together. They started A&T Shipping Company, making it into a very successful corporation. Then the Iraq war started and Paul's reserve unit was shipped out for duty. Paul never made it back home alive.
"When will it end?" Danielle asked, her words intruding into his thoughts. "How could I have been married to a man and not know him the way I thought I did?"
Tristan's grip on her hand tightened. They had covered this ground before and he felt partly to blame. Danielle had been a well-known international model when she had been contacted about Paul's death. Since their parents had gotten killed in a plane crash her first year in college, Paul had been all the family she'd had. Losing him had taken a toll on her. Claiming she was tired of the glitz and glamour of life as a successful fashion model, she had returned to Port St. Lucie to take over Paul's role as Tristan's partner.
Barely two months after Paul's death, Marc Foster had opened a business account, and since Danielle's role was to wine and dine new clients, she had taken on Marc. If Tristan hadn't been so torn up with grief himself over losing his best friend, he would have seen Marc for the conniving snake he was. Marc had set his sights on Danielle and less than a month later, Danielle had called to say she and Marc had eloped to Atlanta.
The reason Tristan blamed himself was that he had promised Paul the day he'd left for Iraq that if anything were to happen to Paul, he would look after Danielle. Apparently he'd done a piss-poor job of it.
Danielle pulled her hand from his, stood up and began pacing the floor. It wasn't hard to realize she was madder than hell. He would be, too, if he were in her shoes.
She had dropped by last night for dinner and he had talked her into spending the night, since the guest room practically had her name on it, anyway. He knew she thought of him as nothing more than her best friend and confidant. He was hoping that one day she would begin to see him as more.
He leaned back in the sofa trying to recall when he had finally broken down and admitted to himself that he was in love with her. Had it been that day she'd called to say she'd eloped? That was probably the reason he had taken off a couple of days and drank himself into a stupor.
He had called himself all kinds of fool for letting Marc into her life, but not once had Tristan gotten out of line or tried convincing her to divorce the guy. He'd respected her marriage. He'd even tried to like Marc. When he saw that he couldn't, he'd gone five years and pretended he did.
But he should have suspected something wasn't on the up-and-up with the guy. Because Danielle confided in Tristan, he knew about the spats the couple had about Marc's job as a salesman and the frequency of his out-of-town trips. He also knew that they were on bad terms around the issue of childrenDanielle wanted a child but Marc never seemed to have the time to slow down and give her one. Now they knew why. The man had been living a double life. Tristan took that back. Marc Foster had been living a triple life. And now, according to Marc's brother, Chris, who'd called late last night, there may have been a fourth woman involved.
"Who told you about the fourth woman?"
He glanced over at Danielle. She stoodall five foot eight of herin a stance he found totally sexy. She was an absolutely gorgeous woman whose face and body had once graced the covers of a number of magazines. Her face was tilted at a haughty angle, her hands were on her hips, her feet were bare, and she was wearing a short skirt with an even shorter ribbed top. Today she looked more like twenty than thirty, with a body that made men weep.
His gaze zeroed in on her face. She had coffee-colored skin, dark almond eyes and lush, full lips. Her shoulder-length hair was tousled and sexy. She looked like she'd just crawled out of bed. Too bad it hadn't been his.
Dani didn't know how he felt about her. Didn't have a clue. She assumed their rela-tionshipas it had always beenwas that of little sister and big brother. Boy, was she wrong. At thirty-four, he could no longer think of her as a little sister. She was a full-grown woman in every sense of the word. But he would continue to be her best friend until she finally opened her eyes to see just how things really were.
Her saying his name reminded him that he hadn't answered her question. "Chris called after you went to bed last night."
She inhaled and he watched the movement of her chest when she did so. The low cut of her top displayed the top swell of her breasts. "Do Alex and Renée know?"
He shrugged. "Yes. Chris mentioned he told Renée and that he had spoken to Hunter to relay the news to Alexandra."
He thought about the three women, who at Marc's funeral had quickly become bitter enemies. Over the past couple of months, however, after discovering that Marc had been a pathological liar, they had actually bonded. Marc had betrayed all three of them. And now there might be a fourth one out there.
Alexandra and Hunter Smith had gotten married last month, and Renée and Chris Foster were engaged and would be getting married later this month. Hunter was Chris's friend. He'd agreed to fly to Atlanta and escort Alexandra to Marc's funeral in California two months ago.
"How did Chris find out?"
Tristan hesitated before saying anything, deciding to give her the skimmed-down version without a lot of detail. If he told her everything, she'd be more upset. "It seems that Marc had a locker at the airport. Chris had all Marc's mail at that post-office box in Costa Woods forwarded to him, and two days ago he received a renewal notice for the locker. Chris caught a plane out to California to check out the locker and found an apartment key inside it. After a little investigating he determined where the apartment was located and went there."
"And from what he discovered, he reached the conclusion that there could be a fourth Mrs. Foster, or that Marc was planning another wedding. Chris leans toward the latter."
Tristan went to her and pulled her into his arms, wanting her to get her emotions out. She had cried in the attorney's office when it was revealed that Marc was sterile, but he felt she was still holding a lot inside. She refused to let all of it out.
She pulled away from his arms. "No, I won't cry again," she said angrily. "If I cry again that means Marc has succeeded in humiliating me again. And I won't let him."
Danielle walked back over to the sofa and calmly sat down. "Now, Tristan," she said in a composed voice, "does Chris know how to contact the woman?"
He sat beside her. "No," he said.
"Who's been paying the rent?"
"Chris spoke with the landlord and it appears Marc had a paid-up lease for a full year."
Danielle nodded. "And from what Chris found at the apartment he's pretty sure there might be a fourth woman?"
"Yes, it's a very good possibility."