Read an Excerpt
"Impossible." The single word escaped Debra Prentice's lips in disbelieving horror as she stared at the three separate pregnancy tests lined up like little soldiers on her bathroom vanity.
Not one, not two, but three tests and each showing a positive sign. Undeniable results that her brain tried to absorb.
Pregnant. There was no question now that she was pregnant. She'd wondered about it when she was late with her period, but had written it off as stress. She'd been late in the past.
Pregnant. How was it possible? Even as the question formed in her mind, memories of a single night six weeks ago gave her the answer.
An unexpected encounter, too many drinks and a mad dash to a nearby hotel room where she'd found complete abandon with a man she had no business being with at all.
Her cheeks burned as she remembered the awkward morning after. Gazes not meeting as they both hurriedly dressed and then the humiliating ride in a cab from the hotel to her front door. And now this, the icing on a cake that should have never been baked in the first place. Pregnant.
A glance at the small clock in the bathroom forced a gasp from her. If she didn't hurry she'd be late to work, and in all the years that Debra had worked as personal secretary and assistant to Kate Adair Winston, she had never been late to work.
She got up and tossed the tests into the trash, then gave herself a quick glance in the bathroom mirror. The slim black pencil skirt she wore didn't display a hint of her current condition but the red tailored button-up blouse only emphasized the paleness of her face, a paleness that the results of the tests had surely created.
Her light brown hair was already attempting to escape the twisted bun she'd trapped it in earlier, but she didn't have time to fix it now.
She left the bathroom, deciding that she couldn't, she wouldn't think about her pregnancy right now. She had a little time to figure things out, but right now she had to get her brain in work mode.
She pulled on a black winter coat and grabbed her purse, then left her two-story townhouse and headed for her car parked at the curb. There was parking behind the townhouse, but she rarely used it, preferring the convenience of curbside parking instead.
The January air was bracing, hovering right around the freezing mark. Thankfully the sky was bright blue and she didn't have to worry about snow or sleet.
The townhouse was located just off Glenwood Avenue in the uptown district of Raleigh, North Carolina. It was Debra's pride and joy, bought two years ago after years of renting. She loved the area, loved the fact that she could paint walls and hang pictures without getting a landlord's approval. It was cozy and filled with all the colors and textiles she loved.
Once inside the car she checked the clock. It was just after seven, but she still had to maneuver morning traffic to get to North Raleigh where the Winston Estate was located.
Every morning in the capital city of North Carolina the morning rush traffic was bad, but on this Wednesday morning it seemed particularly heavy.
Or, maybe it was the racing of her thoughts that made the ride feel longer and more difficult than usual. Even though it was unplanned and unexpected there was no doubt in her mind that she would keep the baby. For her, that decision was a no-brainer.
She would just need to keep the father's identity to herself for the rest of her life. She would let the people close to her assume that the baby was Barry's, the snake-in-the-grass boyfriend who had broken up with her on the night she'd been in that restaurant bar, the same night she'd done something completely out of character.
But, there was no question in her mind who the father was because she hadn't been pregnant when she and Barry had broken up and she was pregnant now. There had only been that single night of utter madness to account for her current condition.
She steered her thoughts away from the pregnancy as she approached her workplace. The impressive Winston Estate was located on two acres of lush, meticulously manicured grounds.
Built in 1975, the six-bedroom, nine-bath white-and-red brick house also boasted a beautiful swimming pool, a backyard area around the pool big enough for entertaining and a small guest house where Kate's security, a Secret Service detail, worked from.
The front entrance boasted a large black iron gate that was opened only when security and Kate allowed. The entire estate was fenced in except for a side entrance through which staff and service vehicles came and went.
Debra turned into the access entrance and waved to Jeff Benton, part of the security team that kept Kate and her family safe when the former vice president was in the house.
Debra pulled into a parking spot specifically for staff and hurriedly got out of the car. She entered the house through a side door that led into a large, empty mud-room and then into the huge kitchen where at the moment fresh coffee and cinnamon were the predominant scents.
None of the help was in the large, airy room that had the latest cooking equipment, but Sam Winston, Kate's thirty-three-year-old middle son, sat at a small table next to a window with a cup of coffee before him.
"Good morning, Sam," she said tentatively. Since Sam's return from overseas where he'd served in Army Special Forces, he'd been distant, at times downright unpleasant, and she never knew exactly what to expect from him when they happened to run into each other.
He looked up from his coffee, his blue eyes dark and unreadable. "Morning," he replied and then shifted his gaze back into the depths of his cup, obviously not encouraging any further conversation.
Debra passed through the kitchen and entered the main foyer. As always, her breath was half stolen from her by the beauty of the black-and-white marble floors and the exquisite winding wooden staircase that led up to the second level.
Beyond the foyer were Kate's official office and a doorway right next to it that led to Debra's much smaller office. She knew that Kate didn't usually go into her office to begin her day until sometime after eight, but that didn't mean Debra didn't have things to do before Kate made her official appearance.
Debra's office was small but efficient with a desk that held a computer, a multifunctional printer and memo pads. A wooden five-drawer file cabinet sat nearby on the right wall. The other wall was a white dryerase area that took up the left side of the room, where she kept track of Kate's ever-busy, ever-changing social calendar with dryerase markers in a variety of colors.
She closed the door, took off her coat and hung it in the tiny closet that stored extra paper and printer supplies and then sat at the desk and powered up her computer.
There was only one personal item in the whole room. It was a framed picture that hung on the wall, a photo of Debra with a Parisian street vendor who sold hot croissants and coffee from a colorful cart just down the block from the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Debra had lived in Paris for the two years that Kate had served as U.S. ambassador to France. It had been an amazing experience for Debra. She'd learned some of the language, wandered the streets on her time off and breathed in the local ambiance.
When Kate's time in that position had ended and it was time to return to the states, Debra hadn't wanted the usual souvenirs of a picture or a miniature statue of the famous Eiffel Tower.
She'd wanted a photo of herself and Pierre, the charming Frenchman who had begun her mornings with a bright smile, a hot croissant and a cup of steaming café au lait. A fellow staffer had taken the photo and Debra had brought it into a local craft store to have it enlarged and framed.
The time in France had been wonderful, but that was then and this was now. Pregnant. She was pregnant. She couldn't quite wrap her mind around it yet, but she knew one thing for sure, once the baby was born her life would be irrevocably changed.
She shoved the thought away and instead focused on her morning work. It took twenty minutes to go through her emails, deleting spam that had managed to get through the filter, marking messages to forward to Kate and answering those that didn't require her boss's attention.
Once the email was finished, she moved to the file folder on her desk that held a stack of invitations for Kate. As a former U.S. ambassador and vice president, Kate was invited to hundreds of events each week.
As Debra looked at each one, she made a list of who, what and where for each event that required a response in the next week or so. The social calendar Debra kept on the wall was an ever-morphing, color-coded animal that required constant attention.
There were rumors that Kate was being groomed to run for president in the next election and she was already being courted by special-interest groups and powerful party movers and shakers.
So far she hadn't mentioned her plans to anyone, but Debra suspected the idea of becoming the first female president of the United States was definitely appealing. Kate had a reputation as a loving mother, a familyoriented person, but Debra knew she was also a woman of great convictions about how the country should move forward in the coming years.
It was just after eight when a familiar soft knock sounded on Debra's door. She grabbed her memo pad and left her desk. It was their routine; Kate knocked to let Debra know she was now in her office and it was time for a morning update.
At fifty-eight years old, Kathleen Adair Winston was an attractive woman with short, stylish light brown hair and blue eyes that radiated honesty, kindness and intelligence. Debra had worked for her long enough to know that she also possessed a will of steel, a slight streak of stubbornness and a love of her family that was enviable.
This morning she was dressed in a pair of tailored navy slacks and a pale blue blouse that emphasized the bright hue of her eyes. Her jewelry was tasteful, a wedding ring despite the fact that she was a widow and a silver necklace with matching earrings.
"Good morning, Debra." Her smile was warm, and adoration for the woman who had been her boss since she'd been a college graduate swelled up inside Debra.
"Good morning to you, Kate," she replied and took the chair opposite the large ornate desk where Kate sat. "Did you sleep well?"
"I always sleep well," Kate replied. "It seems the days are too long and the nights are far too short for my taste."
Debra nodded and smiled and then got down to business. "I have several pressing things we need to discuss this morning," she said.
It took nearly forty-five minutes for Debra to update Kate and get confirmation or regrets on the invitations that required answers.
When they had finished that particular task, Kate leaned back in her chair and sipped the coffee she must have carried with her into the office. "You look tired," she said. "Did you not sleep well last night?"
Debra stared at her in surprise. Did it already show somehow on her face? Did newly discovered pregnancy make a woman look tired the day she realized she was pregnant?
"Nothing to worry about," Debra said, pleased that her voice sounded normal. "I did do a lot of tossing and turning last night. I think it was indigestion, but I'm sure I'll sleep fine tonight."
"Anything in particular on your mind?"
Debra smiled with a forced brightness. "Yes, I'm wondering along with the rest of the world if my boss intends to make a run for the presidency."
Deflect, she thought. She had always been good about making the conversation about other people rather than about herself.
"Your boss still hasn't made up her mind," Kate replied ruefully. She turned in her chair and stared at the wall that held an array of family photos. Most of them were of Kate with her three handsome sons.
"Although I know I need to come to a decision in the next couple of weeks. It's a long, arduous process to begin a campaign, but the men who have already thrown their hats in the ring are not what the country needs right now. I do believe I'd do a better job than any of them, but I also realize the price I'd be asking my family to pay if I decide to become an official candidate," she said as she turned back to look at Debra.
"You'll make the right decision," Debra said confidently. "You always do. Either way, you'll do what's best for both your family and the country."
Kate flashed her the bright smile that had been her trademark both when she'd served her four years as vice president and as a beloved ambassador to France. "You're the special secret in my pocket, Debra. There are days that your efficiency and loyalty are responsible for my very sanity. Thank goodness you possess the organizational skills that keep me on track."
"I have a feeling you'd be just fine without me, but I love what I do, and now I'd better get back to my office and take care of the RSVPs on these invitations." Debra stood. "You'll let me know if there's anything else I can do for you. You have nothing on your calendar for the day so hopefully you can give yourself a break and just relax a bit."
"Maybe." Kate stood and carried her coffee to the window that looked out on a lovely garden.
Debra left the room aware that Kate didn't know how to relax-until she made up her mind about the next presidential election, she would worry and stew, weigh pros and cons, until she made a final decision about what her future would hold.
Debra didn't even want to think about her own future. She knew that the first thing she needed to do was see a doctor. She'd try to schedule an appointment with her gynecologist for the weekend to confirm what she already knew.
In the meantime, day by day-that's how she would have to take things right now. She'd scarcely had time to process the reality of her condition.
Eventually her pregnancy would show and she'd have some explaining to do, but until that day came she had to focus on her work.
She remained at her desk until just after eleven when Kate used the intercom to call her back into her office. Debra grabbed her notepad and reentered Kate's office, only to stop short at the sight of the ridiculously handsome man seated in the chair she had vacated earlier.
Trey Winston was not only incredibly handsome with his rich dark brown hair and striking blue eyes, he was also the CEO of Adair Enterprises, the family business, a rich and powerful man who was well liked by his employees and friends. He was also the father of the baby Debra carried.