Needed: full-time father!
Riley is a single, successful businessmanand knows absolutely nothing about children! But he sees it as his duty to take care of Maya and her baby.
Maya is doing just fine. She doesn't need a man to hold her hand or a part-time father for her son. Even so, Riley's nudging his way into their hearts.
So Maya gives him an ultimatum: either he's properly part of their lives, or there's no place for him at all! Riley's about to discover how it feels to have a family of his own!
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About the Author
Nicola Marsh has always had a passion for reading and writing. As a youngster, she devoured books when she should've been sleeping, and relished keeping a not-so-secret daily diary. These days, when she's not enjoying life with her husband and sons in her fabulous home city of Melbourne, she's busily creating the romances she loves in her dream job. Readers can visit Nicola at her website: www.nicolamarsh.com
Read an Excerpt
MAYA EDISON STOOD ramrod straight, oblivious to the huge society crowd that had turned the funeral into a farce. She stared at the casket containing her dead fiancé as it was lowered into the ground, wishing she could cry.
Wishing she could feel something other than the soul-deep weariness that had seeped into her bones around the time she had moved in with Joe Bourke, fallen pregnant with his child and bought his phoney lines about wanting to get married.
Wishing she didn't feel the slightest hint of relief that her nightmare with Joe was over. Or the overwhelming guilt at her role in his death.
Loving Joe had been a rush, a whirlwind romance that had plucked her up and deposited her in the eye of an emotional hurricane, leaving her to pick up the pieces less than two years later.
She turned at the light touch on her elbow, nodding mechanically, gaining some comfort from the genuine concern in Riley's deep blue eyes.
Riley Bourke, Joe's serious older brother, the only person at this funeral who had lent a helping hand after Joe's death, the only person who seemed to care.
Joe had used to scoff at Riley, labelling him a stodgy, boring old fuddy-duddy when in fact only six years separated them. Unfortunately, Joe's twenty-eight had been going on eighteen, something she'd realised all too late, while Riley's solid dependability had been a godsend since her fiancé"s death.
The rest of Joe's friends were hangers-on, party people who hadn't relinquished their hold on her fiancé even after he became a father. They were only here now to get their faces in tomorrow's newspapers.
Joe Bourke, entrepreneur, leading player in Australia's horse racing circles, Melbourne's society darling and all-round nice guy, was dead.
Big news in a city that had fawned over him, laying his life out for all and sundry on a regular basis in the gossip columns. Joe had lapped up the publicity, she'd hated it. Yet another reason why they'd grown apart and something that had ultimately led to this tragic day.
"You don't have to come to the wake. Why don't you take Chas home?"
Riley hadn't relinquished his hold on her elbow, obviously not convinced she was all right.
She'd have to do better than this. For some strange reason, she'd had no compulsion to weep till Riley looked at her with real compassion. Suddenly she wanted to blubber like Chas when he was wet, hungry or teething. Thankfully, her precious son had slept in his pram next to her during the entire funeral, oblivious to the fact he'd lost his daddy before he really knew him.
Not that Joe had shown the slightest bit of interest in getting to know his son over the last fourteen months since Chas had been born.
Mentally chastising herself for paying out on Joe even on the day of his funeral, she managed a weak smile. "I'd like nothing better than to take Chas home but shouldn't I be at the wake?"
She refrained from adding, Won't people talk? People had been talking since the minute Joe had met her at the Cup Eve Ball less than two years ago and swept her off her feet, right into his plush South Bank apartment.
"What was one of the richest men in Melbourne doing with a horse strapper? A girl who mucked out stables for a living? A girl who hadn't given up her job despite being cocooned in the dreamy arms of Joe Bourke?"
Oh yeah, people had talked. And talked. And were still talking, a soft tittering sweeping the crowd now that the formalities were over and they looked forward to the elaborate bash Riley had organised at a nearby hotel to celebrate his brother's life in style.
Unfortunately, some of the talk she abhorred so much reached her ears just as Riley leant closer to say something.
"Look at her; Joe's barely cold in the ground and she's already moving on to the next rich guy. And Joe's brother, no less! There's a name for girls like her, prostituting themselves to the highest bidder."
Maya stiffened and turned stricken eyes to Riley, furious at the scathing condemnation tossed so casually and cruelly, mortified that Riley, a man she hardly knew, had to hear it. However, before she could marshal her thoughts on how to respond—which had been to ignore it and walk away whenever anything unsavoury had tarnished her relationship with Joe—Riley slid his arm around her shoulder and placed his free hand on the bar of Chas's pram.
"Let's go,'he said, leaving her little option but to obey as he gently propelled her away from the spiteful woman who'd uttered the slanderous words that still rang in her head.
Unfortunately, people would think her relationship with Joe had been based on money rather than love. People like that, in Joe's social sphere and born with a silver spoon clutched in their fists wouldn't understand how a naïve, trusting young woman could fall so quickly for a smooth charmer.
They wouldn't understand that she'd spent her entire life hoping for a knight in shining armour to sweep her off her feet and give her the fairy tale ending she'd only read about in the few tattered second-hand books she'd owned as a child.
And they'd never understand how a past she'd worked so hard to forget could raise its ugly head and wipe out her son's future.
"It's okay, Riley. You don't have to do this." She stopped as they neared the cemetery's periphery, grateful for his support but needing time out to process her feelings, to bank her guilt at the part she'd played in Joe's death, and to grieve in peace.
Riley kicked down the brake on Chas's pram and turned to face her, his strong grip on her upper arms feeling way too good. Joe hadn't touched her in a long, long time and she'd craved affection her whole life.
"Do what? Protect my brother's fiancée and my nephew from vile, malicious gossip? Do what any brother would do?"
"You're not my brother."
The words popped out before she could think and he blinked in surprise—but not before she'd glimpsed a spark of an emotion she couldn't identify. At a guess, it looked like relief.
Not that she could blame him—relieved not to be related to a gullible idiot. Joe had obviously felt the same way, prolonging their engagement, feeding her false promises till he'd finally spilled the truth the night they'd fought for the last time, the night he'd been too tanked to walk a straight line let alone drive.
"No, I'm not your brother, but I'm here for both of you," he said, glancing at Chas with a tenderness that took her breath away. "Whatever you need, let me know. I want to help."
"Thanks," she said, wishing he'd stop looking at her like some sort of pathetic charity case.
If she'd learned one thing over the years it was to hold her head high. Pride was all she had left.
"You sure you're going to be all right?" 'Positive," she said, injecting some force into her voice before she broke down completely and wept on Riley's broad shoulders. "And I appreciate you taking care of all this."
She waved a hand towards the dispersing crowd in the distance, relieved that she wouldn't have to deal with their probing stares or harsh censure any longer. Her life with Joe was over and she'd do her best to see that Chas didn't bear the brunt of the stigma she'd had to face.
"No problems. If you need anything..." Riley trailed off, his steady gaze drawn to Chas once again as if he didn't want to let her son out of his sight.
Great. Another Bourke who doubted her mothering skills. Joe had often thrown put-downs her way in his usual joking fashion. Sadly, she'd learned that Joe's 'jokes'were a front for cruel barbs, insults meant to hurt her where she'd feel it most. She'd trusted him enough to tell him about her past—so what had he done? Honed in on her insecurities when their relationship faltered, sticking the knife in and twisting it just for the fun of it.
No, she wouldn't miss Joe.As much as she'd loved him, had idolised him, he was her past. Chas was her future.
Looking down at her sleeping son blowing small air bubbles out of the corner of his mouth, she managed a weak smile, feeling some of the tension of the day ebb away.
"We'll be okay," she said, tracing Chas's baby-soft cheek with her index finger, overwhelmed by how much she loved this little boy.
And as she gently lifted her slumbering son and placed him in his car seat, and Riley helped load the pram and nappy bag in the back of her four-wheel drive station wagon, she knew they would be okay.
She had no other option.
"Your brother must've been a good man."
Riley took a sip from his third espresso of the afternoon and stared at Matt Byrne, the lawyer who'd handled his business dealings for the last few years. "My brother may have been a lot of things but I don't think good was one of them."
Obsessed with winning? Yeah.
Cocky, brash and charming. Definitely.
But good? Uh-uh.
Matt raised an eyebrow. "By the size of this turnout, I'd say quite a few people would disagree with you."
Riley followed Matt's gaze, sweeping the crowd which included several TV celebrities, politicians and a few models. Notably absent were members of the racing fraternity—though, considering Joe's growing gambling debts and the number of times Riley had bailed him out, he wasn't surprised.
"Most of this crowd are here for the free food and alcohol," he said, annoyed at the bitter tone creeping into his voice.
Matt didn't know about Joe's carousing, his penchant for beautiful women, his love of the high life and Riley wanted to keep it that way. The fewer people who knew about Joe's private affairs, the better. It made it less likely that any more gossip would taint Maya and Chas.
Maya... A fleeting image flashed across his mind of the petite blonde dressed in head to toe black, her face hidden by a huge hat, the way her luminous green eyes had stared up at him when that vile woman had implied she was a tart.
He'd been prepared to dislike Joe's fiancée, half-believing the rumours he'd heard about her gold-digging tendencies, and therefore had been staggered by how much he'd wanted to haul her into his arms and comfort her, to block out the cruel whispers and tell her everything would be all right.
A strange reaction considering he hardly knew her. Joe had seen to that.
"What's going on, Riley? You never lose your cool." Riley wrenched his attention back to Matt. "You met Maya, right?"
"Yeah. Gorgeous woman. She must be devastated that Joe's gone. And that poor little kid—"
"Chas will be fine. That's why I flew you down here." 'I'm still surprised about that. Surely a hotshot like Joe would have his own lawyer to handle the will?"
"I want you to do it," Riley bit out, knowing Joe hadn't had a lawyer. The last guy who'd been foolish enough to take on that particular responsibility had washed his hands of Joe's dealings quick smart. "That way, I know everything will be done right."
"Gee, thanks, mate. Though, by your tone, I'd swear you have as much confidence in my abilities as that woman over there has of making it to the door without falling flat on her face."
Riley grimaced as a supermodel tottered on incredibly high heels towards the heavy oak doors, either drunk, high or both. Great company his brother had kept.
Making a lightning-quick decision, Riley beckoned Matt towards the huge glass windows overlooking Collins Street. "Look, I have a feeling Joe's will is going to be messy. Or, more to the point, what he's left behind will be messy."
Matt's expression didn't change—a true professional, which was why Riley trusted him. "How so?"
Riley sighed and tugged at the tie knotted at his throat. He hated wearing the things and couldn't wait for the day when stockbrokers took to T-shirts and jeans. As if.