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Colton King never saw the fist that slammed into his jaw.
He shook his head to clear it, then blocked the next punch before it could land. The furious man who'd stormed into Colt's office only moments before took a step back and ground out, "You had that coming."
"What the hell?" Colt dropped his packed duffel bag to the floor. "Had it coming?"
Colt did a fast mental review and came up empty. He didn't know this man and he couldn't think of a single other person who wanted to hit him-at the moment. His always-temporary relationships with women invariably ended amicably. Heck, even he and his twin brother, Connor, hadn't had a good argument in weeks.
Yeah, he'd had angry clients show up at the Laguna Beach, California, offices of King's Extreme Adventures if they didn't find the monster waves they'd been promised. Or if the dead man's run on a mountain was closed due to avalanche.
Colton and Connor arranged adventure vacations for the wealthy adrenaline junkies of the world. So, sure, there had been more than a few times when a customer was mad enough to cause a scene. But not one of them had ever punched him. Before now.
So the question was, "Who the hell are you?"
"I called security!" A woman announced from the doorway.
Colt didn't even glance at Linda, the admin he and Connor shared. "Thanks. Go get Connor."
"On it," she said, then vanished.
"Calling security won't change anything," the guy who had just punched him said flatly. "You'll still be a selfish bastard."
"Okay," Colt muttered. Not the first time he'd heard that, either. But a little context would be helpful. "You want to tell me what's going on here?"
"That's what I'd like to know." Connor stepped into the room to take a stand beside his twin.
Colt was glad to have him there, though he could have taken the guy who'd gotten in one lucky sucker punch. But probably not good business to have a fistfight here in the office, and having Connor around would help him leash his temper. Besides, fighting wouldn't give him the answers he wanted. "You took your best shot. Now tell me why."
"My name is Robert Oaks."
Oaks. Long-buried memories raced through Colt's mind in a blinding rush. A ball of ice dropped into the pit of his stomach and his body went utterly still. He studied the stranger glaring at him and in those narrowed green eyes, he saw
familiarity. Damn it.
The last time he'd looked into eyes like those had been nearly two years ago. At the end of a week in Vegas that should have been ordinary and instead had been
amazing. One specific memory rose up in his mind and Colt wished to hell he could wipe it away, but he'd never been able to pull that off. The morning after he and Penny Oaks had gotten married in a tacky chapel on the strip. The morning when he'd told her they'd be getting a divorce-right before thanking her for a fun week and then leaving her in the hotel room they'd shared.
He didn't want to think about that day. But hard to avoid that now, with the man who had to be her brother standing in front of him.
Robert Oaks nodded slowly as he saw realization dawn on Colt's face. "Good. At least you remember."
"Remember what?" Connor demanded.
"Nothing." He wasn't getting into this with Connor. Not right now, anyway.
"Oh, nothing. That's great." Oaks shook his head in disgust. "Just what I expected."
Anger stirred. Whatever was once between him and Penny was just that. Between the two of them. He wasn't interested in what her brother thought. "Why are you here? What do you want?"
"I want you to do the right thing," Robert snapped. "But I doubt you will." His fist bunched. "So I thought punching you would be enough. It wasn't."
Impatience stirred and twisted in the anger still balled in Colt's guts. He had a KingJet waiting to fly him to
Sicily. He had places to go. Things to do. And damned if he'd waste one more minute with Robert Oaks.
"Why don't you quit dancing around and get to it. Why are you here?"
"Because my sister's in the hospital."
"Hospital?" Something inside Colt lurched unsteadily. Instantly, memories shifted, his mind filling with images of another hospital, the cold green walls, the grim gray linoleum and the stench of fear and antiseptic flavoring every breath.
For a second or two, he felt as though there was a weight on his chest, dragging him back into a past he never wanted to visit again. Deliberately, he pushed away from the blackness at the edges of his mind and fought his way back to the present. Pushing one hand through his hair, Colt focused his gaze on Penny's brother and waited.
"My sister had an appendectomy yesterday," Robert told him.
Relief that it wasn't something more serious was a small, slim thread winding its way through the tangled mass inside him. "Is she okay?"
Robert snorted a derisive laugh. "Yeah, she's fine. Except, you know, for worrying about how she's going to pay the hospital bill. And worrying about her twins. Your twins."
All of the air left the room.
Colt knew that because he couldn't draw a breath.
"My-" He shook his head while he tried to get a grip on what Penny's younger brother was telling him. But how the hell did you make sense of something like that coming at you out of the blue? What the hell was he supposed to do? Say? Think?
Colt scrubbed both hands across his face, forced one shaky breath into his lungs and finally managed to say, "
"Twins? Penny had a baby?"
"Two," Robert corrected, and looked from Colt to Connor and back again. "Looks like twins run in your family."
"And she didn't tell him?" Connor sounded as stunned as Colt felt.
Fury rose up and nearly choked him. She had never said a damn word. She'd been pregnant and hadn't told him. She'd delivered two children and hadn't told him.
He had children?
That weight was back on his chest again but this time he ignored it.
"Where are they?" The demand was short and sharp.
Robert looked at him warily and Colt knew that his expression must have mirrored the anger erupting inside.
"My fianc e and I have been taking care of them."
Them. Colt was the father of twins and he knew nothing about them. How was that even possible? He'd always been careful. But apparently, his mind taunted, not careful enough.
A small voice in the back of his mind whispered that this might all be a lie. That Penny could have told her brother a lie. That the babies weren't really his. But even as he considered that possibility, he dismissed it. That would have been too easy, and Colt knew better than most that there was nothing easy about any of this.
"A boy and a girl, if you're interested."
Colt's head snapped up and his gaze narrowed on Robert. A boy and a girl. He had two kids. Hell, he didn't know how he was supposed to feel. The only thing he was sure of at the moment was that his children's mother had some explaining to do.
"Damn straight I'm interested. Now tell me what hospital Penny's in."
He got all the information from Robert, including the man's cell number and his address. When building security arrived, Colt sent them away. He wasn't going to press charges against Penny's brother-the guy was pissed and defending his family. Colton would have done the same. But once Robert had left, Colt released some of his fury by kicking his duffel bag across the room.
Connor leaned against the doorjamb. "So, trip to Sicily is off?"
Colt was supposed to be in the air right now, heading for Mount Etna to try out a new BASE jumping spot. It's what he did-searching out the most dangerous, most awe-inspiring sport sites for their ever-growing client list.
But now, he had a different sort of adrenaline burst waiting for him. Colt slanted his twin a hard look. "Yeah, it's off."
"And you're a father."
"Looks like it."
He sounded calm, didn't he? He wasn't, though. There were too many emotions, too many thoughts crowding his mind for him to even separate one from the other. A father. There were two babies in the world because of him, and he'd had no idea until a few minutes ago. How was that even possible? Shouldn't he have felt something? Shouldn't he have damn well been told that he was a father?
Colt shook his head, still trying to wrap his mind around it. He couldn't. Hell, no kid deserved to have him for a father. He knew that. Rubbing the center of his chest to try to ease the ache settled there, Colt blew out a breath. How was he supposed to be feeling? Anger tangled with sheer terror, then twisted into a tight knot that iced over and left him feeling cold to the bone.
"And you were gonna tell me about this when?"
Colt gaped at his twin. "Seriously? I just found out myself, remember?"
"I'm not talking about the twins-I'm talking about their mother."
"Nothing to tell." Lies, he thought. Lies. Truth was, there was plenty to tell, just nothing he wanted to talk about. It was the only time in his life Colt had kept something from his twin. He still couldn't explain why. Colt shoved one hand through his hair. "It was the convention in Vegas nearly two years ago."
"You met her there?"
Colt stalked across the room and picked up the duffel he'd packed for his now-canceled trip to Sicily. Slinging it over his shoulder, he turned to face his brother. "I don't want to talk about this now, okay?"
If he didn't get out of there in the next ten seconds, he was going to blow. Temper boiling, it was all he could do to hold it together.
"Too bad," Connor said shortly. "I just found out I'm an uncle. So tell me about this woman."
His twin wasn't going to let this go and Colt knew it. Hell, if the situation was reversed, he'd be demanding answers, too, so he couldn't really blame him. Didn't make this any easier, though.
"Not much to say," he ground out, teeth gritted. "I met her at the extreme sports convention. We spent the week together and then-"
Colt blew out a breath. "We got married."
If he hadn't been in such a foul mood the look on his twin's face would have made Colt laugh hysterically. He'd never seen Connor so shocked. Of course, why wouldn't he be? Colt felt pretty much as if someone had knocked him over the head with a two-by-four, himself.
"You got married?" Connor pushed away from the doorjamb and stalked into the room. "And you didn't bother to tell me?"
"It lasted, like, a minute," Colt said. Even now he couldn't believe that he'd surrendered so deeply to the passion he'd found with Penny that he'd actually married her. He hadn't said anything to Connor because he hadn't even been able to explain to himself what he'd done.
Shaking his head, he turned and looked out the window at the ocean beyond the glass. Surfers rode their boards toward shore. Tourists strolled along the beach, snapping pictures as they went, and farther out on the water, sailboats skimmed the surface, bright sails fluttering in the wind.
The world was going on just as it always had. Everything looked completely normal. Nothing out of place. And yet
for him, nothing would ever be the same again.
"Colt, it's been nearly two years, and you never said a word?"
He glanced over his shoulder at his twin. "Never could find a way to say it. Con, I still don't know what the hell happened." Shaking his head again, he huffed out a breath and tamped down the anger still rising within him. "I came home, got a divorce and figured it was done. No point in telling you about it when it was over."
"Can't believe you were married."
"You and me both," he muttered, and turned his gaze back to the ocean, hoping for the calm that sight usually brought him. This time it didn't work. "I figured there was just nothing to tell."
"Yeah, well, you were wrong."
Understatement of the century.
"Looks that way." He had kids. Two of them. He could do the math, so he'd already worked out that they were eight months old. Eight months of their lives and he'd never even seen them. Never even guessed that they might exist. Cold fury rose up inside him again and he struggled to breathe past what felt like an iron band, tightening around his chest.
It had been close to two years since he'd seen Penny- though he'd thought about her far more often than he wanted to admit, even to himself. But at the moment, it wasn't memories driving him. Or the desire he'd once felt for her. It was cold fury, plain and simple. The kind of raw rage he'd never felt before. She'd kept his children from him and she'd done it deliberately. After all, it wasn't like he was hard to find. He was a King, for God's sake, and the Kings of California weren't exactly low profile.
"Fine. So what're you gonna do?"
Colt turned his back on the ocean and faced his twin. Steely determination fired his soul and filled his voice as he said, "I'm going to see my ex-wife. Then I'm going to get my kids."
Every time she moved, Penny felt a swift stab of pain. That didn't stop her from trying, though. Wincing, she shifted around carefully until she could reach the rolla-way table that held her laptop. Swinging it around, she then scooted up higher on the bed, moving much more slowly than she wanted to.
Penny was more accustomed to moving through life at top speed. She had a business and a home and two babies to care for, so hurrying was the only way she could keep up. Being forced to lie still in a hospital bed she couldn't afford was making her a little crazy.
Every moment she was stuck here was another dollar sign ticking up on the bill she would soon be handed. Every moment here, her babies were without her. And though Penny trusted her younger brother and his fianc e, Maria, completely, she missed the twins desperately. Since she worked out of her home, she was with them all the time. Being away from them made her feel as if she were missing a limb.
She reached out to pull the rolling table closer and gasped at the quick stab of pain slicing through her. "Ow!"
"You probably should lie still."
"Oh, God." Penny froze, hardly daring to breathe. She knew that voice. Heard it every night in her dreams. Clutching the edge of the table, only her eyes moved, tracking to the doorway where he stood. Colton King. The father of her children, the star of every one of her fantasies, her ex-husband and absolutely the last man on earth she wanted to see.
"Surprised?" he asked.
That word really didn't cover what she was feeling. "You could say that."
"Well then," he snapped, "you have some idea of how I feel."