Read an Excerpt
In her twenty-four years, Tess McDonald had made her share of bad judgment calls, but this one topped them all. All of her life she'd been determined not to turn out like her mother, but here she was, making the same stupid mistakes. Maybe it was destiny.
Or just dumb luck.
She stared up at the sprawling structure of marble and granite. Dark and foreboding under overcast, gloomy skies, it loomed before her like a castle out of a modern-day fairy tale. An enchanted castle where nothing was as it seemed and monsters lay in wait, ready to devour unsuspecting maidens. And what fairy tale would be complete without an embittered, cagey prince? A loner afflicted by some disfiguring curse, set free only by love in its purest form.
But Tess had abandoned the mystical for the practical a long time ago. Fairy tales weren't real. There were no princes — cursed or otherwise — no enchanted castles and the only monster she knew was still living with her mother back in Utah.
She climbed the wide marble steps to the front door, and lifted a reluctant hand — come on Tess, just do it — and forced herself to press the bell. The hollow ring penetrated the massive, intricately carved double doors, kicking her heart into a frantic beat. Seconds ticked by as she waited for someone to answer. Seconds that felt like hours. When she'd almost convinced herself no one was home, the door opened.
She'd expected a maid or a butler, one in full uniform of course — possibly looking like Lurch from the Addams Family. Instead it was Ben, looking much like he had when they'd met.
Mysteriously and intriguingly dark.
His raven hair lay at his collar in silky waves and heavy lidded bedroom eyes in the darkest, richest shade of brown, studied her. Everything about him reeked of prestige and wealth, from the expensive looking black cashmere sweater and custom tailored slacks, to the tantalizing scent of his cologne.
She felt the same shiver of excitement as she had when she'd caught him staring at her from across the bar that night. Their eyes had met, and the heat penetrating in the dark, bottomless depths made her heart go berserk with anticipation.
The way it was now.
He hadn't said a word. He'd just held out his hand in silent invitation and she'd taken it. He'd led her to the dance floor and when he pulled her into his arms, pressed her to the lean length of his body, she melted against him. Then he'd dipped his head and brushed his lips over hers.
Now, there were kisses, and there were kisses. Kissing Ben had felt like two pieces of a puzzle locking together in a perfect fit. Her knees had gone weak, and the room had spun around her like a carousel. She knew in that instant that she would sleep with him. It wasn't even a conscious decision. It was just something she had to do. An opportunity she would regret for the rest of her life if she let it pass.
She also knew that he was just interested in one night. The, I'm-not-looking-for-a-relationship line he fed her between kisses in the elevator on the way up to his room had been a big tip-off. She'd never expected to see him again.
Considering the look on his face now, neither had he.
She knew she should say something, but she couldn't seem to make her mouth work. All she could do was stare, wondering if he knew who she was. If he remembered her. If he was wondering how she'd managed to track him down. She'd never been one to read the tabloids and she didn't have cable television so it had been weeks later that she'd learned from the girls at work who he really was.
What he'd been hiding.
He wedged his shoulder in the doorjamb and folded his arms over his chest, looking her up and down, those dark eyes putting a chink in the man-resistant armor she wore these days.
"And here I thought you'd been abducted by aliens," he finally said, in that velvety dark-chocolate voice.
Okay, so he did remember her.
He wasn't really going to pretend she'd wronged him somehow, was he? To stay the night in his room would have only been delaying the inevitable. The morning brush-off. The gee-it-was-nice, have-a-good-life speech men like him were notorious for.
At the time, she didn't think her heart could take that, because she had fallen stupidly and completely in love with Ben that night.
"You weren't looking for a relationship," she reminded him.
His eyes narrowed. The same bottomless pools she'd found so entrancing that night. How could she have known what he'd really been hiding behind that dark exterior?
The smoldering look in his eyes burned hotter. "I'm still not looking for a relationship."
"I just came to talk. Can I come inside?" Though he looked hesitant, he held the door open wider and stepped back, all but disappearing into the dark interior.
The rubber soles of her work shoes squeaked on the marble floor as she stepped inside the cavernous foyer, and hazy darkness swallowed her like a hungry beast. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, oddly shaped, ominous shadows crept soundlessly around her like restless spirits.
You don't believe in spooks, she reminded herself. The door closed behind her with a thud that bounced off the walls and echoed up the cathedral ceiling. Ben simply stood there, towering over her, arms folded over his chest, biceps straining against the sleeves of his shirt, his face hidden in shadow. His intimidating size, ropes of lean, corded muscle, were part of what had intrigued her that night, what had drawn her to him. As if she hadn't learned her lesson so many times before. Dark angsty men were nothing but trouble.
But, boy they could be fun for a night or two. He may have been dark and reserved in the bar, but under the covers she'd never had a more attentive, exciting or imaginative lover. It was all coming back now. How alive and beautiful he'd made her feel.
And why she'd run like hell in the middle of the night.
What he didn't know is that he'd given her a gift. The piece of her that had always been missing, even if she hadn't realized it. For the first time in her life she had a purpose. She wasn't alone. And for that she owed him everything.
That included an explanation.
True, the timing couldn't have been worse, but that didn't mean she wasn't happy. And scared of course. This would change everything.
She'd considered not telling him. Odds are he never would have found out. They didn't exactly run in the same social circles. In fact, she had worked so many hours since moving here, she wasn't even part of a social circle. And after everything he'd been through in the past year, well, he probably would have been better off left in the dark.
And considering the lack of light in here, that was exactly where he preferred to be.
She thought she could handle the burden alone, but as hard as she'd tried, her best efforts just weren't cutting it anymore. She needed his help. And since there was no easy way to say it, to soften the blow, she decided it was best to just get it out.
She took a deep breath and held her chin high. "I just thought you should know that I'm pregnant and you're the father."
Her words hit Ben like a sucker punch.
For months now he'd considered going back to the resort bar in the hopes that she would be there. That they could reconnect. Something inside him had changed that night with her. He'd begun living again.
But this he'd never expected.
She may have acted as if she hadn't known who he was that night in the resort, but clearly he'd been set up.
How could he have been so stupid?
He knew exactly how, and why now, months later, he still felt that tug of longing when she stood in his foyer. She'd been the first woman he'd connected with since the crash. The only one who had been able to make him forget the pain.
He used to believe that his heart had died along with his wife and unborn son, but something had clicked between himself and Tess that night.
Maybe it was because she was so different from Jeanette. Slim and angular and schoolgirl pretty to his wife's lush figure and exotic beauty. She'd looked so petite and nymphlike. Sweet and innocent.
What a joke.
He never should have left the house that night, but the idea of spending the holidays in solitude had forced him out of his self-imposed isolation. He should have known what was up when he woke the next morning alone.Yes, it was true he told her he wasn't looking for a relationship, but he hadn't asked her to leave, either. He thought there had been a connection.
Apparently, he'd thought wrong.
He wondered how many other men she'd picked up in that bar. How many she'd used. And why she'd picked him to seal the deal. Because he was vulnerable? Or was it his bank balance?
And to think that he'd been this close to falling in love with her.
"You neglected to mention that you worked at the resort," he said. She hadn't told him much of anything about herself. Not that he'd asked. He hadn't been looking for conversation, just a sweet, warm body to lose himself in. Kind of like a Christmas present to himself. By the time he realized he wanted more, she'd already disappeared.
She lifted her chin and looked him in the eye. "We didn't spend a whole lot of time getting to know each other."
"Actually, I thought we got to know each other rather intimately."
Tess bit her lip and her cheeks flushed bright pink. It would have been charming if he believed it were anything but an act.
"Maybe you don't remember, but we used protection," he said, sure that she would come up with some creative excuse why the condom had failed. All three of them, or had it been four?
She didn't. "Believe me, I was just as surprised as you are. I didn't plan this, either."
"Let's say it is mine. What do you want from me?" Like he didn't already know. She probably had a long list of demands. Would she expect him to marry her? Did she think they would settle down together and play house? Or maybe she was looking for a break into acting.
She wouldn't be the first who'd tried to use him for his connections.