When a mysterious email threatens her family’s corporation, executive Marlowe Colton puts all her energy into protecting Colton Oil. But a more shocking scandal comes in the form of her archrival—and one-night lover—Bowie Robertson, who uncovers the consequence of their passion. As danger encroaches, Bowie and Marlowe must put aside any bitterness to safeguard the family neither ever expected.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Marlowe Colton had always thought that one of the perks of being the president of Colton Oil was having her very own private, luxurious en suite bathroom installed within her rather cavernous office.
An en suite bathroom where she was currently having her very own private nervous breakdown as she stared at a small white stick that had the audacity to mock her with a glaring pink plus sign.
Her breathing grew shorter and more erratic as she continued to stare at the awful, incriminating stick. Her stomach kept tightening until it had twisted itself into a hard, painful knot.
Marlowe realized that she was sweating even as she felt a cold chill shooting down her spine and passing over every part of her body.
And the nausea was back. In spades. Any second now, she was going to throw up.
"No, you're a Colton," she told the unusually pale blonde looking back at her in the mirror. "You're not going to throw up. You're not!" she insisted.
Marlowe blinked back tears. They weren't tears of joy, or tears of sorrow. What she felt stinging her eyes were angry tears. Angry tears that were aimed at no one but herself.
How could she have let this happen? One stupid moment of intoxicated but entirely willing weakness and longing and now here she was, in the throes of morning sickness.
It wasn't possible.
And yet the stick in her hand told her it was all too possible.
It was a reality.
The white stick had come out of the discarded white box that was now haphazardly sitting on the edge of the sink. The pharmacist had assured her that this product was supposed to be the best, the most accurate pregnancy test on the market. She truly doubted that it had made a mistake.
Besides, if she was being completely honest with herself, the thought that she was pregnant had been in the back of her mind for the last six weeks. Ever since she had lost her head and her iron grip on her emotions by succumbing to the sexy, dark good looks and charms that she had been all but bred to hate. Because the man on the other side of that bed six weeks ago had a father who hated her father, and that feeling was very, very mutual.
What in the name of all that was good and proper had she been thinking? Marlowe silently demanded of her reflection.
That was just it — she hadn't been thinking. For once in her career-driven life, she hadn't been thinking at all, just feeling. Or at least telling herself that she'd been feeling. Feeling an overwhelming attraction to a man she had viewed as the enemy for as far back as she could remember.
This was what came of trying to behave civilly toward someone who she had been taught did not deserve to be treated with any sort of respect.
All of her life, Marlowe had done exactly what was expected of her — and then some. She was a Colton, and Coltons were supposed to behave a certain way. At least Payne Colton's daughter was supposed to behave in a certain way.
She closed her eyes, fighting another strong, rising wave of stomach-lining-destroying nausea as it tried to claw its way up her throat.
If only she hadn't gone to that stupid energy conference ...
Or, at the very least, if she hadn't spent so much time arguing with Bowie Robertson, president of Robertson Renewable Energy Company, over proposed pipelines and the environmental consequences they could have. The argument went on and on relentlessly until everyone else at the conference had withdrawn for the night. That left just the two of them to continue the argument on their own.
How heated words had somehow given way to splitting a bottle of champagne — or had that been two bottles? — she still really wasn't clear about. But somewhere along the line, their different philosophies and the eternal ongoing rivalries that defined their lives had just somehow managed to melt away, leaving nothing to get in the way of a very real and exceedingly strong attraction that had mysteriously taken root and been growing between them for who knew how long.
Marlowe could remember only bits and pieces of their night together after that. One of those bits and pieces had included a very strong desire to be, for once in her life, swept away, for the space of at least that one isolated evening.
An evening that became free of thoughts about rivalries, corporate profits and even the ever-increasing concerns about green energy being a threat to her family's oil company.
Just one carefree evening, that was all she had wanted, Marlowe thought.
And now this stick and its menacing, mocking pink cross were exacting a price for those frivolous few hours of passion she had spent.
A price she had never, even in her wildest dreams, been prepared to face up to and pay.
That wasn't to say that she didn't want children. She did, Marlowe thought. She did want children. But just not now.
And definitely not with him.
They hadn't even spoken a single word to each other since that fateful night, as if silence was actually an acceptable way of denying that those few hours of unabashed passionate consorting — of wild, consensual lovemaking — had ever happened.
But not talking about it, not acknowledging that it took place, was not a way of wiping that night's existence out of the annals of time. The pregnancy test clearly testified that it had happened, she thought ruefully, frowning at the offending mark on the white stick. And that, in turn, had most definitely produced a consequence. A very big consequence.
Marlowe felt her throat closing up. What the hell was she going to do now?
The question throbbed insistently over and over again in her brain. But no matter how many times she asked herself, she came up with the same answer.
She didn't know.
She had absolutely not even a glimmer of an idea what she was going to do about this.
The only thing that she did know was that her father was going to see this pregnancy — and how it came about — as nothing short of a personal betrayal of him of the first order.
"I wasn't thinking of you at the time, Dad," Marlowe whispered to the man who wasn't there in person but was somehow always around Colton Oil headquarters in spirit. Payne Colton was the reason behind everything she did.
The truth of the matter was that her father had always been a very strong presence in her life, influencing, in one way or another, her every move, practically her every thought.
But not that night.
That night the intrusive spirit of Payne Colton had been utterly absent. At least, he had been by the time she and Bowie Robertson, drunk on champagne and each other, had gone up to her suite at the Dales Inn. The Dales Inn was the only hotel in town, and coincidentally it was also where the green energy conference was being held.
To someone viewing this from the outside, with everything that was going against them — feuding fathers, rival companies — that night she and Bowie might have come across as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Except, once the dust had settled again, they were much more like the Hatfields and the McCoys, but with the Coltons focusing on drilling oil wells and the Robertsons worrying about environmental impact.
She sighed, holding her head with one hand. There was no happy ending in sight here.
But then, she remembered, there hadn't been one for Romeo and Juliet, either.
Her head was really beginning to hurt, Marlowe thought. And it didn't exactly help her condition any to have both her desk phone and the cell phone she had left next to it when she'd walked into the bathroom ringing like crazy now. The phones sounded as if they were jointly heralding the end of the world and doing so just slightly out of sync.
Maybe they were, she thought darkly, still staring at the offending stick.
"Why don't they shut up?" she cried, helplessly putting her hands over her ears.
As if that would stop the noise, Marlowe thought angrily.
She rose to her feet — her legs felt oddly shaky, she realized, holding on to the wall for a moment to get her balance — and opened the bathroom door and glared accusingly at the offending phones.
If they were both ringing like that, something had to be very, very wrong, she thought.
Something other than an offending white stick with its glaring pink cross.
Taking a deep breath, Marlowe made her way over to her wide custom-built desk. Part of her was hoping that the ringing would abruptly stop by the time she reached the phones.
No such luck.
Braced for almost anything — after all, the worst possible thing had already happened, she reasoned — Marlowe picked up her multiline desk phone. Thinking it was one of the company's many administrative assistants on the other end, she said tersely, "Okay, this had better be good."
"On the contrary," she heard her father's deep voice rumbling against her ear, "this is very bad. And where the hell have you been? Why aren't you answering your phone?" Payne Colton, chairman of the board of Colton Oil, demanded angrily. "Your damn phone's been ringing off the hook. Why were you just ignoring it?"
"Dad?" Marlowe said shakily, still looking at the stick she was clutching in her hand.
Payne snorted. "Well, at least you still know who I am," he retorted in disgust. "Did you forget your way to the boardroom?"
"What?" What was he talking about? It was after five o'clock. There was no meeting scheduled this late, at least none that she recalled. "No," she responded after a beat.
"Well, that's good, because that's where the rest of us are, sitting around that big old table and twiddling our thumbs, waiting for you to make an appearance." His voice hardened. "I sent you a text," he snapped, the fury he was feeling now more than evident in his voice. "Didn't you see your email?"
No, Dad, I didn't see my email. All I see is this big, ugly white stick that's about to topple my whole world, Marlowe thought numbly.
"Well, Your Highness, we're still all waiting for you to deign to put in an appearance," her father was saying while she was having her crisis. "So read that email I forwarded to you and get that skinny behind of yours in here. Pronto! Do you hear me?"
Hovering over her laptop, Marlowe hit a key. The screen that was currently there gave way to another one that contained her corporate email. She scrolled up the page to the latest message to see what had set her father off like this.
Her mouth dropped open when she got to the subject line.
She reread the words twice.
"Oh my Lord!"
Her father took her shocked response to mean she had looked at the email. Or at least she had seen enough of the email to shake her up, which was good enough for his purpose.
"All right, get in here now,
Marlowe!" Payne screeched. "I'm not going to ask you again."
Marlowe's knees were shaking so badly, she had to sink down into her chair. This had happened to her twice in the last fifteen minutes, she thought, feeling as if she was completely losing her grip on the immediate world.
Despite her father's voice reverberating in her ear with his loudly shouted demands, Marlowe opened her email, hoping that maybe the contents weren't as bad as it initially seemed.
It was worse. Marlowe's head was suddenly filled with a swirling kaleidoscope of memories, all grounded in her childhood. Adventures and events that she and Asa, whom everyone called Ace, had shared as children. Ace was her big brother. He was a big brother to all of them, even to her adopted brother, Rafe. Ace didn't care. He treated Rafe just like he was a real brother.
That was just the way that Ace was.
Marlowe looked back down at the email's subject line.
That was absolutely absurd, she thought. Who would say such a crazy thing? Who would even come up with such an idiotic idea, she silently demanded, stunned beyond words. Maybe this was the work of some competitor in an attempt to disrupt the company. "Marlowe? Marlowe, are you there?" Payne Colton's deep voice thundered, bringing her back to the moment and her suddenly cold and incredibly inhospitable-feeling office.
It took her a second to focus and come around. Thinking took another second. "Yes," she said, breathing heavily, "I'm here, Dad."
"No," her father corrected her sharply, "you're there. I need you to come here.Now!" he declared. "Can you do that for me?" he asked his daughter sarcastically. "Can you hightail it out of your overdecorated office and get yourself to the boardroom five minutes ago?" Payne shouted.
It wasn't just Marlowe's knees that were shaking now — it was all of her.
With effort, she gripped the armrests of her chair and literally hauled herself up to her feet. Testing the strength of her legs for a second to make sure that she wouldn't just fall flat on her face with the first step she took, Marlowe slowly moved her hands away from the armrests. By now her heart was pounding against her chest like a drumroll.
"I'm coming," she told her father in what seemed like a whisper.
"What did you just say?" Payne demanded angrily. "I can't hear you!" he declared like the marine drill sergeant that all his children, at one time or another, had felt he was.
Marlowe took a deep breath, filling her lungs with air before she repeated the words. "I said I was coming."
"Then get here already!" Payne snapped.
The next moment, the connection was abruptly terminated. Only her father's disapproval and anger lingered in the air around her like a dark, malevolent cloud.
This wasn't happening, Marlowe silently insisted as she closed down her laptop.
That done, she raced out of her office. None of it, she tried to console herself. None of this terrible stuff was happening. Not this hateful email and not that positive pregnancy test.
It was all just a bad dream, and any second now, she was going to wake up, Marlowe promised herself. And when she did, all of this was just going to be an awful, fading memory.
Her high heels resounded, clicking rhythmically against the highly polished marble floor as she ran down the corridor to the Colton Oil boardroom. The staccato sound seemed to mock what she had just told herself.
Her heart fell with a thud as she reached the open boardroom door.
It didn't look as if she was going to wake up from this one after all.CHAPTER 2
It was almost surreal that after all these years of being on the opposing side of every argument, Bowie Robertson couldn't seem to be able to get thoughts of Marlowe Colton out of his head. The simple truth of it was that he hadn't been able to stop thinking about the Colton Oil president for the last six weeks.
At first, it had been because the woman was singlehandedly responsible for what was admittedly the greatest night, bar none, of his thirty-two-year-old life.
Granted that, for years now, he had been very aware of the fact that Marlowe Colton, with her shoulder-length mane of whitish-blond hair and a figure that wouldn't quit, was drop-dead gorgeous. But he had also viewed the woman as the personification of an ice queen. An ice queen with nothing but cutthroat ambition running in her pretty veins.
He had been completely blown away to find out that the total opposite was really the case.
Yes, he had had a great deal of champagne to drink that night, but even an entire river of alcohol wouldn't have been able to drown his brain to the point that would get him to believe something that wasn't really true. He would have to have been beyond utterly drunk to believe that what had actually been a sow's ear had transformed into the proverbial silk purse.
No, he wasn't suffering from some sort of delusion; that had actually happened.
But as enchanted as he'd been by the slightly vulnerable, passionate, warm, funny woman he had made love with in her oversize hotel bed, the cold reality was that it had turned out to be just another illusion, a sleight of hand with no staying power once it was viewed in the light of day.
In fact, he had discovered that Marlowe actually did care about the environment and that she had set up awards for Colton Oil employees who created sustainable technologies and were working to make the family business more eco-friendly. That notably went against her father's narrow-minded view, but once he had left her room and was on his way back to his own world, Bowie quickly found out just how cold and vicious Marlowe Colton could really be.
A few short hours after they had spent what he had viewed at the time as an exceptionally passionate night together, Bowie found himself to be a marked man.
Marked for death.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Colton Baby Conspiracy"
Copyright © 2020 Harlequin Books S.A..
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 1/2 STARS! The beloved Coltons are getting another spin-off series The Coltons of Mustang Valley and Marie Ferrarella is kicking it off with COLTON BABY CONSPIRACY. It was a fast read with a delectable forbidden romance holding the limelight as suspense begins to build around every corner. I really enjoyed it! Marlowe Colton receives shocking news that is threatening to split her beloved family apart at the seams just as she realizes she's pregnant from a one night stand with the enemy. She knows she has to buckle down and stop the madness happening around her before it can reek more damage, but danger starts lurking at her door just as the man she shouldn't want comes knocking. Bowie Robertson isn't about to let their family feud keep him away from his unborn child once he learns there is one. He's determined to keep Marlowe safe from the lurking danger and keep her sane as she works on her family dynamics. This book set up a good family history to get us started on the books to come and after the ending of this one, I'm especially looking forward to nabbing book two! Really enjoying this leg of the Coltons so far.