Burned by love and grieving over his brother's death, sexy billionaire CEO Carter Anderson wants nothing more than to protect his family. So when beautiful and unassuming physical therapist Gwen Radley shows up at the funeral, pregnant with his brother's baby, Carter's certain she wants an interest in the Anderson empire—and both his suspicion and attraction grow when circumstances force Gwen to move into his family's mansion.
An orphan, Gwen's never wanted anything more than a family, and she finds in the Andersons a place she and her baby might belong. When Gwen's therapy expertise leads to long hours of intense, late-night collaboration on a lucrative project, the attraction between her and Carter leads to a night of white-hot passion. But Carter's distrust remains, leading them both to wonder if he will ever embrace his brother's baby—or the love that's blooming between them.
About the Author
Lea Nolan writes smart, witty contemporary stories filled with head-swooning, heart-throbbing, sweep-you-off your feet romance. She also pens books for young adults featuring bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history.
With a master's degree in women's studies and public policy, and an undergraduate degree in history, she spent twenty years as a health policy analyst and researcher, writing hundreds of fascinating reports and articles tens of people enjoyed. Today, she teaches graduate courses in health policy, law, and financing, and takes on the occasional consulting gig.
Born and raised on Long Island, New York she loves the water far too much to live inland. With her heroically supportive husband and three brilliant children, she resides in Maryland where she scarfs down crab cakes whenever she gets the chance. Contact her via her website www.leanolan.com, on Facebook www.facebook.com/LeaNolanAuthor or on Twitter @Lea_Nolan
Read an Excerpt
Gwen Radley sat in the front seat of her Honda Civic clutching Ben's obituary. She'd worried over it so much, the newsprint smudged her fingertips. Jenkins and Sons Funeral Home and Mortuary was just yards away, across the already full parking lot.
She could do this. All she had to do was open the door, force her legs to move toward the building, then slip in unnoticed. It should be easy enough. By now there had to be at least a hundred people inside, grieving the fallen soldier. She'd pay her respects, whisper her secret to Ben as she slipped the sonogram photo under his clasped hands, and sneak out, no one the wiser.
Seizing the door handle, she drew a deep breath as her heart thudded in her chest. This wasn't the way she was supposed to see Ben again. In her head, she'd planned to meet up a few months from now when he was home on leave, healthy and whole and not her former patient. She'd accidentally-on-purpose bump into him, give him a glimpse of her swollen belly and let the conversation go from there. Of course, she'd make it clear she had no expectations. How could she? They were friends, nothing more, save for their crazy one-night encounter the evening before he returned to Afghanistan. It wasn't as if they were in a relationship, or had planned to share their lives together. She'd expected to raise the baby on her own, but he deserved to know they'd created a life.
At least that's how it was supposed to happen.
Gwen squelched the sob rising in her throat. She'd never speak to Ben again, hear his ringing laughter, or chuckle at one of his off-color jokes. They were never in love but he was a good man and could have been a good parent. But now, he was gone too soon, cruelly taken by an IED on a dusty road in Kandahar Province.
For a moment, she considered backing out of her parking spot and returning to work, where this whole mess began. But then her conscience took hold, yanking her back to reality. This was her only chance to give Ben a picture of the life they'd created. He'd never meet his child in person; the least she could do was send him to eternity with this one memento.
After pulling the keys from the ignition, she tossed them into her purse next to the ultrasound images and threw open the door. Out of the car, she smoothed the skirt of her navy blue dress then straightened and strode across the parking lot. There was nothing to be embarrassed about. Lots of women got pregnant by almost-strangers who were their former physical therapy patients. In fact, it probably happened every day.
Who was she kidding? Gwen shook her head as a tiny wail escaped her lips.
At the funeral home door, she passed two steroid-infused security guards in dark black suits and mirrored sunglasses. She'd expected to see people in military uniforms, but these guys looked like private security. Since when did an army captain warrant such a detail?
Inside, she waded through a sea of mourners too immersed in their own despair to notice her presence. A visitor's book rested on a console in the main foyer. She thought about signing it, but then thought better of it, choosing instead to remain anonymous. On her way to the viewing room she spied the closed casket from the threshold. Damn. She wouldn't be able to give him the picture herself. Expecting this might be the case, she turned around to locate the funeral director.
A serious looking man in a dour suit stood in the lobby, surveying the crowd. He had to be her man.
"Excuse me," she said, lifting her loose purse strap on her shoulder. "Do you work here?"
He nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I'm Jack Jenkins, one of the funeral directors. May I help you?"
"Uh, yes, please." Gwen motioned for him to follow her into the vestibule beside Ben's viewing room, just out of earshot of another lurking security guard. "I have an important favor to ask," she said, her voice low. "It's probably the most crucial thing I've ever asked anyone and I know you might think it strange, but I'd really appreciate your help."
His smile was reassuring. "You'd be surprised what people ask us to do. And you know what? It's never that weird. Why don't you try me?"
She lifted the flap on her purse and pulled out the strip of three grainy black and white images. Ripping the first picture from the rest she whispered, "I need you to put this in Ben Anderson's casket, preferably in his hands." Tears swelled at the possibility that, after the explosion, that might be impossible. "Or in his breast pocket over his heart." She handed him the photo.
The funeral director's eyes softened as he glanced at the tiny bean-shaped fetus. "I understand. It's not a strange request. In fact, it's very sweet." He tucked the picture in his jacket. "It would be my honor to do this for you. And for Ben."
Gwen exhaled a grateful sigh as she dropped the remaining photos back in her purse. "Thanks so much, I really appreciate it."
"Of course, I'll have to speak to the family about it first." His expression was pained. "They've been very keen on keeping things as orderly as possible." He nodded toward the mirror-eyed behemoth in the hall.
"I understand." She nodded as she pried her lips into an innocent smile and tried to squelch her panic.
Another mourner caught Mr. Jenkins's attention. It was Gwen's cue to flee. She'd already scratched out her name on the photo so it would be untraceable, but she didn't want anyone to see her talking to Mr. Jenkins.
Turning to leave, Gwen nearly collided with a brutally good-looking man in a charcoal gray suit. Light brown hair and blue eyed, his chiseled nose and strong jaw reminded her of the Greek gods she'd read about as a kid. His aftershave hinted of sandalwood and lime.
He extended his hand. "Thank you so much for coming, Ms ..." He scanned her face, expecting her to fill in the blank.
"Gwen Radley." Heart racing, she grasped his palm and was struck by his firm grip. Who was this man, and how long had he been standing behind her? Had he heard her conversation with the funeral director? "You're welcome. I'm just glad I could come." Fumbling for something else to say, she blurted out the only thing that came to mind. "I'm sorry for your loss."
His face clouded with grief. "Yes, it's been tough. Though, after three tours, we always feared this could happen." He shook his head. "But how can you ever prepare for something like this?"
"I expect you can't." It seemed there were a lot of things you couldn't prepare for. Like, for instance, a surprise baby.
"Where are my manners? I'm Carter, by the way." He mustered a smile. "I don't believe we've met."
"No, I don't think we have." Of course they'd never crossed paths. She'd only known Ben a few weeks before he'd returned to duty.
"How did you know Ben?"
She decided to stick to the basics. He didn't need to know the rest. "We met while he was here for his rehabilitation a few months ago. I work at Walter Reed."
Carter nodded. "If only he'd been smart enough to stay home after that." His eyes glossed over and he looked away, toward the room that held Ben's polished wood casket. "He didn't have to go back, you know."
She couldn't help but chuckle. Despite only knowing Ben Anderson a short while, there was one thing she knew with absolute certainty. He was committed to being a soldier. The army was his calling, a part of his soul, and he never shied away from a fight. "There was no talking him out of it. He wanted to go back."
Carter laughed, easing his deep frown lines. "Yeah, he was a stubborn S.O.B. but he was a dedicated one." Even amid Carter's loss, his smile was beautiful.
Gwen's eyes widened in surprise from his language.
"Oh, sorry. I ... I'm not quite myself," he said. "You know, even though I always knew it could happen, and told myself a thousand times to expect it, I never actually thought it would. I figured the soldier boy routine would eventually get old and I'd get my brother back."
Wait. Did he say brother? She'd have never guessed. They looked nothing alike. Aside from having completely different features and coloring, their personalities seemed worlds apart. Ben was thick-necked and battle-worn, gruff but irrepressibly adorable, even with a stubby crew cut and coarse five-o'clock shadow. Carter, on the other hand was classically good looking, refined like tempered steel, and he resonated an air of dignified grace. And from the line of his tailored suit, an exceptionally fit and toned body lay beneath the exquisite wool fabric. There was no denying Carter reaped the lion's share of the family's gorgeous genes.
What was she thinking? Pregnant with a dead man's baby, the last thing she should be doing is checking out his brother. He was her future child's uncle, for goodness sake.
Swallowing hard, she forced the thoughts away. "I don't think we can ever anticipate life's twists and turns. It's how we deal with them that matters."
He choked out a laugh, but it was bitter, ironic. "You've got that right." He turned his attention to an older woman who stepped out of the viewing room. Late-fifties with silver-streaked hair and dressed in a sharp, black Chanel suit, she seemed to be searching the crowd. "Over here, Mother," he called. Gwen had seen her earlier near Ben's casket beside an elderly man in a wheelchair who appeared to have suffered a stroke. When she approached, Carter made the introductions. "Mother, this is Gwen Radley."
"Thank you for coming." The woman extended a bejeweled hand. Besides the stunning sparkler on her left ring finger, her wrist dripped with diamond tennis bracelets.
"May I present the indomitable Judith Anderson." Her perfume smelled like orchids and reminded Gwen of the exotic and ultra expensive counter at Lord and Taylor.
Judith sighed. "Oh, I don't feel so indomitable today. Let's just say I'm resilient. It's a pleasure to meet you." She forced a smile but the red tint in her eyes proclaimed her grief.
"Gwen knew Ben from his time at Walter Reed," Carter added.
"Oh?" Judith asked. "It's kind of you to show your respects. I suspect you're quite accustomed to funerals. You've probably lost your fair share of patients."
"Actually this is the first I've ever attended," Gwen answered. With so many casualties who'd been forever damaged by the devastation of war, she'd learned early not to get too close to her patients. Professional distance protected her from the inevitable gut-wrenching loss. That was just one of the cruel lessons she'd learned as a former foster child. Far better to remain detached, treat her patients as best as she could, and then go home to the tiny basement apartment she rented from Mrs. Lemley. At least that's what she'd done until that night with Ben.
Carter tilted his head. "Really? Your first funeral?"
"Ben must have been special, then," Judith said.
"Special enough to ask the funeral director to put something in his casket." Carter's expression was open, inquisitive, and didn't betray a hint of accusation. Still, he looked as if he'd like an explanation. Judith tilted her head. Evidently she wanted one, too.
Gwen's pulse thundered. He'd overheard. Was he going to sic a security guard on her? A thousand words collided in her head. How could she possibly explain her relationship with Ben and what happened between them? Yes, he was special, but not in the way they might assume. And if she could find a way to describe their reckless, lust-filled, one-time encounter, what would they think of her? Or Ben?
She wouldn't even try. A funeral was not the place to tell them about their impending grandchild and nephew. Instead, she should make up something plausible and beat it out of there. The truth could wait until after the baby was born, or maybe she'd avoid it altogether and keep it to herself. Nothing required that she tell them. But would that be fair?
The room seemed to spin and soar to a thousand degrees.
"Are you all right?" Carter leaned close and gently grasped her arm.
"Uh, yeah. I'm fine." Disoriented, Gwen pressed a quaking hand to her forehead. Feeling woozy, she wobbled on her heels. Her purse strap slipped from her shoulder and crashed to the floor, spilling its contents. The ultrasound pictures fluttered out, face up.
Gwen, Carter, and Judith stared at them in silence.
Finally, Judith spoke. "I'm guessing you two were closer than I presumed."
Gwen sank to the floor and quickly swept up her belongings, shoving them into her purse without a care for their order.
"Holy shit," Carter whispered as he rubbed his clean-shaven jaw.
Rising to her feet, she searched for the right words. "I ... I can explain," she stammered.
Carter stood frozen, a stunned statue of a Homeric god in an expensive business suit.
"Let's discuss this later, dear," Judith said, patting Gwen's wrist and mercifully putting her out of her misery. "Follow the procession to the house after the funeral. We'll talk there." Her face was calm, maybe even happy, but Gwen couldn't tell for sure. For all she knew, Judith was enraged and about to blow.
Nodding, Gwen shuffled through the hall, past a stone-faced guard into the viewing room and took a seat at the back. She hadn't planned to stay and attend the funeral. It would've been easier if they'd thrown her out in shock and anger.
Even without looking, she felt the weight of Carter's stare from across the room. It was as if he was boring a hole through her skull. Perhaps it was his relentless glare or her abject humiliation before the Andersons, but her stomach suddenly rumbled with queasy unease. Of course, it could also be the tiny baby flip-flopping in her womb.
Oh, God, please no. This wasn't the time for a morning sickness attack. They'd begun a little later than for most women, when Gwen was ten weeks pregnant. Her period had always been unpredictable, and frankly, sexual encounters occurred so infrequently she didn't notice she'd skipped a couple cycles. It wasn't until her stomach started acting up six weeks ago that she went to the doctor and got the shocking diagnosis. Now, at Ben's funeral, she was afraid she was on the verge of another epic bout. Breathing deep, in through her nose and out her mouth, Gwen willed away the sour sensation. Sneaking a small package of saltine crackers from her purse that she'd swiped earlier from the diner, she discretely nibbled on the corner. She had to settle her stomach. If it were remotely possible, she'd like to make less of a spectacle of herself.
After the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Gwen steered her forest green Civic behind the long line of cars headed to the Anderson house. Since it was mid-morning, the bulk of the normal Washington, D.C., traffic was light and the drive to Potomac, Maryland, was relatively quick.
They made a series of turns, then headed down a long, tree-lined and slat-fenced drive. Two miles later they crossed under an iron gate inscribed with the words River View, and approached what had to be the Andersons' house. Holy mother of mansions, it looked more like a fancy English estate or hotel. Calling it a house was like saying Mount Everest was a hill. Had Ben really lived here? It didn't seem possible. He was the type of guy who seemed more comfortable in a barracks than an estate.
The head car, a Bentley limousine, pulled up the circular driveway and stopped in front of the vast double doors. At first, Gwen had assumed it was the funeral director's car, but now she suspected it was the Andersons'. Because, really, no one who lived in this house could ride in anything other than a Bentley.
Gwen nestled her comparatively tiny car into an empty spot and debated whether to go in. She watched as Judith stepped out first, followed by Carter, who helped lift his father into his wheelchair.
It wasn't too late to drive away and never contact them again. But they knew her name and where she worked. Hell, their security force had probably run her license plate, too. There was no escape. She was going to be a mom. And these people were her baby's relatives. She had to be strong and face this. Besides, it wasn't like she wanted anything more than to give them the details about the baby. What they did with that information was up to them. If they didn't want anything to do with Ben's child, that was their decision. But at least she'd give them the choice. It was the right thing to do.
That realization calmed her. She was the one in the driver's seat, not them. Actually, they should be the ones who were nervous. She didn't have to let them see her child.
Her confidence restored, Gwen climbed out of the car. She fell in line behind the other mourners and strode across the gravel, then climbed the wide stone steps to the mansion's double doors.
Excerpted from "His Billion Dollar Baby"
Copyright © 2014 Lea Nolan.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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