Read an Excerpt
"You're a father."
Matt Valente broke into a grin as he sat down on the hotel bed. "I didn't know I was pregnant."
"Don't be smart, Matthew," Cesare Valente snapped down the telephone line. The founder of the House of Valente perfume dynasty was clearly not amused. "Remember Lana Jensen?"
The smile dropped from Matt's lips. "She was my top accountant a while back, so yeah, I should remember her." That perfect body that beautiful face those Nordic blue eyes hinting at a Scandinavian heritage that seemed as clear as crystal but were in fact deep and hiding lies.
"She had your baby."
The only thing she'd had was him.
They'd both been a little tipsy at the office Christmas party and she'd taken advantage of his inebriated state to seduce him. They'd made love on the sofa in his office.
Not that he'd been any less to blame for succumbing to her charms, despite her giving him the come-on for months, her blue gaze skittering away every so often, teasing him with a sensual game of cat and mouse.
Afterward he'd regretted not keeping to his golden rule of no personal involvement with office staff. As chief financial officer for the family business, he didn't need any complications in the workplace.
"I don't believe it. She's lying."
"I saw the child with my own eyes, Matt. I was in my Mercedes waiting for the light to change when Lana crossed in front of me pushing a small child in a stroller. I checked out the birth certificate. Your name's on it."
Matt's hand tightened around the phone. "Dad, that's a breach of privacy."
Hell, if his name was on that birth certificate he needed to sort it out.
"Matt, I did what needed to be done. And that included a background check on Lana."
Matt's lips twisted. "Why am I not surprised?"
"It was necessary. She's the mother of my grandchild."
"And she'd suitable?" he asked with a touch of sarcasm.
"As far as I'm concerned, yes. Her parents are dead, and she has an uncle who lives in France and is a respected businessman. Do you want to know more? There's some other information on her family. I can send you the report."
"No, thanks." He knew all he needed to know about Lana Jensen. More than enough.
And he needed to make his father see sense.
"Dad, look, you can put any name on a birth certificate. I didn't think you'd fall for that old trick."
"She's a Valente, figlio mio." Son of mine. "She looked just like you. There's no doubt in my mind."
Something odd bounced around in Matt's chest. "It's a girl? Er I mean, she's a girl?"
"Yes. And I'm delighted. It's about time we had another little girl in the family."
Matt grimaced. Girl or boy, it didn't matter to him. "Well, I'm not."
"You will be once you see her."
"Who said I was going to see her?"
"She's my granddaughter, Matt. If you don't go to her, then I'll bring her to you."
Matt's jaw clenched. "This is to trick me into getting married, isn't it? You may have forced Alex and Nick to marry, but I'm not falling for it, Dad."
A year ago they'd been about to branch into the North American market with their top-selling perfume, Valente's Woman, when Cesare had threatened to sell the business out from under Alex's feet if he didn't marry. Then a couple of months ago, Cesare had promised to give the Valente estate to anyone but his second son, Nick. Both his brothers had been given no choice but to do what their father wanted or lose what they loved most. As youngest son, Matt had decided there was nothing his father could do to him to make him marry.
"Matt, I admit I had no compunction in forcing your two brothers to marry, and I would have found a way to force you to marry, too. Only now I don't have to, do I? You've brought a daughter into this world and you will give that daughter your name. She will be known as a true Valente."
"Don't dictate to me, Dad. If this child is mine, and I'm in no way convinced of it, then I'll give her my name. You can count on it."
"That's all I wanted to know. The family jet is at Brisbane Airport waiting for you. Nick and Sasha are already there and will attend the conference dinner in your place."
His father was like a damn bulldozer at times. Not even the heart attack had stopped his interfering in his sons' lives.
"I've got a date for the dinner tonight."
"You had a date. I suggest you break it and get back to Sydney tonight and go see the mother of your child as soon as possible. I like Lana and I'm sure she'll be reasonable."
At the mention of Lana, his gut clenched, but there was no way he wanted his father to know that. Cesare would somehow use that knowledge in future if he could. He could imagine the older man's reaction if he ever told him Lana was a thief and that he'd covered up for her without telling anyone. And he couldn't wholly blame his decision not to report their theft on Cesare's heart attack at the time either.
"What woman is ever reasonable, Dad?" he mocked.
Cesare laughed and said goodbye, and Matt hung up the phone and went to stand at the window in his hotel suite. He looked out over the sweeping coastline of Queensland's Gold Coast as the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean tumbled onto the golden beaches of Australia's tourist capital.
Tonight he'd planned a romantic dinner and a night of lovemaking with a lady friend of his.
Now he could only think of one woman.
She'd been the only woman he'd made love to without a condom. He'd been so hot for her, and the alcohol he'd consumed had lowered his guard.
But if that child was hisif Lana had lied to him about being protected from a pregnancythen she'd done more than stolen that fifty thousand dollars from the House of Valente.
She'd just stolen his freedom.
* * *
"Oh my God!" Lana gasped a split second after opening her apartment door and seeing the man on the other side. Panic raced through her at the speed of light. It couldn't be him. It just couldn't be.
"Yes, you'd better start praying," Matt Valente declared.
Recovering hastily, she played for time even as she edged the door shut a fraction. "Matt, what are you doing here?"
"You know the answer to that."
"Invite me in, Lana."
Not for all the tea in China.
"Sorry, no. I'm going out shortly." She started shutting the door with more haste. "Perhaps if you have something to say you can telephone me tomorrow and"
He pushed past her into the apartment, despite his haste, gently moving her out of the way. "I've got plenty to say and I intend on saying it now."
She tried to hold back her agitation. "Look, you just can't come in here and"
"Where is she, Lana?"
Lana froze. "Where is who?"
Dear Lord, until that moment she'd been hoping this wasn't what his visit was about.
"So you know?" she whispered.
"It's true, then."
She bit her lip. "No. I mean er sure, I had a baby but"
"Give it up, Lana. She's my daughter. My father saw you with her on the street and he checked out her birth certificate."
She gaped at him. "But but that's an invasion of my privacy."
"Do you think he cares?"
Just then a child's babble issued from the living room and Matt shot her a dark look.
Lana stepped in front of him. "Matt, please. Just leave. Don't do this."
"No chance in hell," he growled, and stepped around her, taking a few paces to the doorway. He went stone still as he saw the little toddler standing up against the playpen railings.
Lana tried not to think about how he must be feeling right now. She told herself not to feel sorry for him. Matt Valente was a playboy who wasn't ready to settle down or have children. If he was here, it was only because his father had made him come.
"What's her name?"
Surprise kicked in. "You don't know?"
He didn't move a muscle. "What's her name?" he said rawly.
A moment slid by, then, "Megan Valente."
Apprehension slithered down Lana's spine. "Actually, it's Megan Jensen."
"Soon it will be Valente," he said with the full superiority of a Valente male.
Her mind reeled. "What do you mean?"
He ignored the question as he walked over to Megan, crouched down in front of the eleven-month-old and looked at her through the bars.
Lana could see his reflection in the decorative wall mirror. There was awesome wonder on his handsome face as he took in each and every feature of the beautiful little girl.
Her heart tilted. For Megan's sake she wanted Matt to love his daughter. For her own sake she wanted him to deny parentage, leave and never come back.
"Hello, Megan," Matt said softly, not touching, not moving, not doing anything except capturing her attention.
Megan stared back entranced, her brown eyes so like her father's. She looked so cute, a little dark-haired doll with chubby cheeks and bow-shaped lips that had recently learned to blow a sloppy kiss for her mother.
Suddenly Megan transferred her gaze to Lana and within the space of a second her face began to screw up and she let out a wail.
Lana rushed forward and lifted her out of the playpen. "It's her bedtime," she said, soothing her daughter with a "shh" and patting her back until the little girl hiccupped and quieted.
Matt got to his feet, his expression unreadable. "Put her to bed, then we'll talk."
"Put her to bed, Lana."
"If you insist." She hitched Megan higher on her hip. "Take a seat. I'll be back in a minute."
"No. I'm coming with you."
She swallowed. That sounded ominous. "Why?"
"I'm interested in everything my daughter does."
"At least you're admitting it now."
Trying not to show how upset she was with all this, she hurried past him and down the hallway to the smaller bedroom. She had stenciled Megan's room with a variety of farm animals, adding a musical mobile that played a lullaby above the crib, and giving her daughter plenty of soft toys to cuddle. The room looked lovely.
Megan had fully settled down by now as Lana changed her diaper. She lay there quietly, her eyes on Matt in the doorway as if she was fascinated by him despite herself.
Don't let him get to you, sweetheart, Lana wanted to say. Ignore him and he'll go away.
Then she kissed Megan on the cheek. "Good night, pumpkin," she murmured, then put her in her crib.
She was grateful when Matt stepped back to allow her to leave the now-darkened room without having to squeeze past him. "Coffee?" she said, heading for the kitchen, needing something to do.
"Don't you have something stronger?"
She shot him a look over her shoulder. "Sorry. I don't usually drink."
"Yeah, I remember."
His sarcasm had her spinning to face him. "That was different. It was Christmas and"
"You thought I'd be a good lay."
The breath caught in her throat. "It wasn't like that."
"It wasn't? Then perhaps you thought I'd be a good sperm donor and future moneymaker?"
She'd been so attracted to Matt back then, and working for him the two years previously had made her crazy with want. Yet in spite of them both having a few drinks too many, it hadn't been cheap.
Not for her anyway.
It had been intense and overwhelming, and she hadn't been able to help herself when she'd literally run into him coming out of the elevator as she went to collect her purse from her desk after the party. He'd held her to stop her from falling and that had been all it needed. She'd lifted her mouth up toward his and he'd groaned and backed her into his office.
"Yes?" he prompted now, a sudden sensual look in his eyes telling her he remembered.