Can he tell her the truth…this time?
Will he risk everything for a reunion? Will she give him the chance?
Discovering he’s a long-lost heir isn’t the only surprise awaiting Darius Taylor-Pratt in Royal, Texas. He’s next door to his ex after five long years. Darius broke off his red-hot relationship with designer Audra Covington without explanation. He still has regrets…and truths he’s hiding. Rekindling their flame may cost him…especially when new secrets surface to threaten their second shot at seduction.
About the Author
Reese Ryan writes sexy, contemporary romance featuring a diverse cast of complex characters. She presents her characters with family and career drama, challenging love interests and life-changing secrets while treating readers to emotional love stories with unexpected twists.
Past president of her local RWA chapter and a panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Reese is an advocate of the romance genre and diversity in fiction. Visit her online at ReeseRyan.com.
Read an Excerpt
Darius Taylor-Pratt sat in front of a heavy mahogany desk and surveyed the space around him.
The room's dark decor seemed better suited to an older man than to upbeat lifestyle guru and reality TV star Miranda Dupree.
Miranda, founder of the Goddess health and lifestyle brand, had invited him to Royal, Texas, for a meeting. She'd proposed a collaboration with Thr3d, his quickly growing performance wear company, to create a Goddess-branded line of athletic wear.
The timing was terrible.
His team was preparing for their first LA Fashion Week runway show. Still, this deal could catapult Thr3d to the next level. So he hadn't been able to board the plane she'd sent for him quickly enough.
Heavy footsteps approached. Too heavy to be the five-foot-three, redheaded sprite. Miranda probably weighed less than a buck twenty-five.
A man with a messy shock of brown hair, brown eyes and a five o'clock shadow entered the room.
"Hello, Darius. I'm Kace LeBlanc." The man extended his hand. "Attorney."
Darius regarded him warily as he stood to shake his hand. "Don't lawyers typically get involved after an agreement has been reached?"
Kace thumbed through papers in a folder already on the desk. "In a business deal, yes. But I'm not Miranda's lawyer."
"Then whose attorney are you, Mr. LeBlanc?" Darius's shoulders tensed.
"I represent the estate of Mr. Buckley Blackwood, recently deceased. The estate which he left to his ex-wife, Miranda Dupree Blackwood."
"How nice for her."
That explains the furniture, but not why he's here.
Darius returned to his seat and glanced at his black-and-gold Tissot chronograph watch before meeting the man's gaze again. "Will it be much longer before Miranda joins us?"
"I apologize for the subterfuge in bringing you here. But you've been summoned to meet with me about a completely different matter."
"Miranda has no interest in partnering with my company?" When the man didn't respond, Darius shot to his feet. "Look, I don't know what this is about, but I'm a busy man. I don't have time for your little shell game."
"I assure you, you'll want to hear what I have to say," the man said calmly. "I only need ten minutes of your time. When I'm done, if you'd still like to head straight back to LA, the driver will take you to a fueled and ready plane."
Darius set his stopwatch. "You've got exactly ten minutes." He sank onto the chair. "Why am I here?"
"Does the name Buckley Blackwood mean anything to you?"
Darius shrugged. "I know he's Miranda's ex-husband, and that he owned a bank."
"Plus this six-hundred-acre ranch, homes around the globe and investments in a variety of other business interests, like Thr3d."
"You're saying he invested in my company?" Impossible. He knew the names of every investor. Buckley Blackwood wasn't one of them.
"He invested in Thr3d using a shell company."
"That still doesn't explain why I'm here." Darius's patience was wearing thin.
"You're here for a private reading of Buck's will." The man tapped the document in front of him.
"Why would an investor include me in his will?"
"Buck was more than just an investor, Darius. He was ... your father."
The room became eerily quiet. The only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock on the wall behind him.
Darius stared at the man a few moments longer, sure someone would pop through the door and declare that this was a prank.
"Look, Mr. LeBlanc —"
"Kace ... there must be some mix-up. You've got the wrong guy."
"You're Darius Taylor-Pratt, son of former actress Liberty Taylor. Adopted by your stepfather, William Pratt, at the age of two. You're thirty years old, and you received your undergrad at —"
"All right." Darius held up a hand. He wanted Kace to stop talking long enough for him to wrap his head around what was happening. He sucked in a deep breath and tried to slow his rocketing heart rate. "You're saying that this guy, this ..."
"... and my mother ... they were together at some point."
"He knew I was his son. Yet, he never so much as called or dropped a birthday card in the mail in thirty years." Anger slowly crept up his spine. "Why? Was he ashamed that he'd fathered a son by a black woman?"
"No," Kace responded emphatically. "That wasn't it at all."
"Then what was it exactly?''" Darius seethed, unconvinced.
"You were the product of an affair during his first marriage. That's why he thought it best to care for you from a distance. When you were two, and your mother married Mr. Pratt, Buck agreed to allow him to adopt you and raise you as his son. You were to be informed of the adoption once you turned eighteen, which I assume you were."
Darius gripped the armrest without response, his head pounding and his muscles tense.
He'd been told that Will wasn't his biological father. But his mother wouldn't reveal his father's identity beyond saying he was a wealthy man who didn't want to "complicate" his life.
"Darius," the man said, "I realize this must come as a shock to you, but —"
"That's the understatement of the year, Mr. LeBlanc." He gritted the words through clenched teeth.
"Just Kace is fine," the man insisted.
Darius was beginning to hate Kace's sympathetic expression. It felt a lot like condescension and pity.
"The old man is dead, so I'm obviously not here for a father-son reunion." The declaration made him sound like a heartless ass, but Buckley Blackwood had shown him the same callous disregard. "And you could've conducted the reading of the will via video conference. So why the hell am I really here?"
"I'll allow Buck to explain for himself." Kace read the final will and testament of Buckley Blackwood. The more he read, the more agitated Darius became.
Buckley Blackwood was a coward and an asshole.
Too cowardly to claim him as his son while he was alive. And the kind of jerk who left everything to his pretty, young ex-wife while leaving nothing to his children. And just for shits and giggles, Darius was being asked to take a DNA test to prove he was Buck's son.
"Any questions?" Kace put down the will and clasped his hands on the desk. The man seemed braced for a verbal assault.
"What's the point of a DNA test? The man's dead, and it's not as if I'm in line to inherit anything."
"You have three siblings." Kace laid out the photos individually. "Kellan, Vaughn and Sophie."
Darius's mouth went dry, and he couldn't speak. He wanted to shove the photos onto the floor and call bullshit on this entire charade.
But he couldn't.
Darius picked up each photo and studied it.
His brown skin was darker than theirs, but they shared many facial features.
His nose, chin and cheekbones were similar to theirs, and he and Sophie had the same rich brown eyes.
An unexpected sense of belonging washed over him, like a wave at high tide, with the power to knock him off his feet. He swallowed hard, returning each photo to the mahogany desk.
"Do they know about me?"
"They learned of you after their father's death."
"Does anyone else know?"
"So far, just the family," Kace said.
"Good. Let's keep it that way." A knot tightened in his gut. The same one he'd developed when he'd gone to school with wealthy kids who'd treated him like an undeserving outsider.
He'd learned to relish that status. Had incorporated it into the Thr3d brand. But he wasn't keen on experiencing that kind of painful rejection again. Especially not from people with whom he shared DNA.
Darius wanted to walk out. Refuse to play along with the old man's sick game. But a part of him needed answers. And this was the only way he'd finally get them.
"I'll take the test."
"They're expecting you at Royal Memorial Hospital." Kace slid a sheet of paper across the desk, then closed the folder. "As for the estate ... from what I've learned about you, you've always been a fighter. Two of your siblings are contesting the will. I'm certainly not encouraging you to do so, but —"
"It is an option." Darius rubbed his jaw.
Kace gave him a subtle nod. "I'll be in touch when I get the DNA results. In the meantime, someone else would like to speak with you. Should I send her in?"
Darius nodded absently, not really listening. He pulled his phone from his pocket once the door clicked shut behind Kace. He needed to tell his mother and stepfather he finally knew the truth about his paternity. But they were on vacation. And this wasn't the kind of conversation they should have over the phone while they were an ocean away. He'd wait until they returned from Europe and talk to them in person.
His relationship with them had been strained since he'd learned that Will wasn't his biological father. He could've forgiven that lie. Maybe even understood it. But when his mother refused to reveal the identity of his father, Darius had been furious.
Now he knew the truth.
He was the son of some rich asshole who hadn't wanted him when he was alive but felt the need to alleviate his conscience on his deathbed.
The door opened suddenly, startling him.
"Hello, Darius. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." Miranda Dupree extended a hand.
He scrambled to his feet and shook her hand. She was nearly a foot shorter than him. "Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Dupree."
"Call me Miranda, and please, have a seat." She settled onto the chair beside him. "I apologize for not being direct about why I invited you here." She sifted her fingers through her wavy red hair. Her sparkling, deep blue eyes seemed sincere. "But I didn't think you'd come if I'd told you the truth."
But that didn't earn her a pass for lying to him.
"So the collaboration was just a ruse?"
"I prefer to think of it as bait." Miranda smiled sweetly. "What I said about wanting to create a signature clothing line ... that's absolutely true. I'd like to revisit the topic once all of this is sorted out."
He acknowledged her statement with a slight nod. But his head still swirled with the news of his paternity.
So much for those fantasies of a reunion with my long-lost father.
"Darius." Miranda placed a gentle hand on his forearm. "I can only imagine what you must be feeling."
"Then I'll tell you." He glared at her. "I feel like I'm being manipulated. By you. By that lawyer. And by a gutless old man who never gave a damn about me when he was alive but wants to play God with my life now that he's dead."
Miranda seemed willing to absorb his anger, her gaze still warm and sincere. "If I was in your shoes, I'd probably feel the same. But there's something you need to see."
Miranda retrieved a thick envelope from the desk and sat beside him again.
"Buck and I hadn't spoken much since our divorce. So I was as shocked as anyone that he charged me with handling some very sensitive matters after his death. I've received more instructions via letters over the past few months. Yes, the man could be an asshole." She laughed bitterly. "But one of his deepest regrets was never getting to know you. He implored me to bring you here, so you'd have the opportunity to get to know your brothers and sister. And he wanted you to know that, regardless of what you might believe, you were never far from his thoughts."
"He had a damn funny way of showing it."
"Buck struggled to show affection with everyone. It destroyed both of his marriages. And it's the reason his relationships with his children were strained. The reason he died alone." She frowned. "But it doesn't mean he didn't care about you."
Miranda handed him the envelope. "Buck wanted you to have this ... to know that even though you were apart, he always held you in his heart."
She stood. "I'll leave you alone with it. You can review it here for now. Once the DNA results have been confirmed, it's yours to keep. When you're ready, my driver will take you anywhere you'd like to go. I've reserved a furnished rental home in town for you. It's yours for as long as you need it."
Miranda handed him two business cards. "If you need me or Kace, just give us a call. I'll be in touch." Once Miranda was gone, he opened the envelope. It held a scrapbook overflowing with photos and newspaper articles. On the first page, there was a photo of a newborn he recognized as himself. A duplicate was in his mother's prized photo album.
Darius made his way through the scrapbook one aged photo, yellowed newspaper clipping and dog-eared magazine article at a time.
The man had been following his childhood, his academic career and his business triumphs. Yet, he hadn't reached out to him once in thirty years.
What am I supposed to feel for a man like that?
Darius dropped the scrapbook onto the desk, slipped his Prada shades back on and met Miranda's driver, Leslie, at the car.
"Where shall I take you, sir?" She opened the door. "Back to the airport or to your rental home?"
Darius slid into the back seat. "Neither. Take me someplace I can get a decent hamburger, fries and shake, please."
He wasn't sure what he'd do next. He only knew that he thought better on a full stomach, and he longed for the comfort of carbs while he plotted his next move.CHAPTER 2
Darius stepped inside the quaint little Royal Diner. The place looked like a throwback from the fifties, with its red faux-leather booths and black-and-white checkerboard linoleum tile floor.
He ordered a mile-high bacon cheeseburger, wedge fries and a thick, handmade strawberry shake. The same meal he'd ordered when his mother and Will would take him out to eat after a big win or a devastating loss.
It was still his go-to meal for either.
And today he found himself thinking of his mother and stepfather more than he had in months.
He was furious that his mother hadn't told him Buckley Blackwood was his biological father. But part of him missed the great hugs his mom gave whenever he'd had a bad day. And the corny jokes Will would tell to lift his spirits.
But then, they hadn't distanced themselves from him. He'd pulled away from them because they'd been lying to him his entire life.
Buckley Blackwood was just another lying parent who only revealed the truth when it was convenient. Darius already had a bookend set of those.
He should feel badly that he'd never meet his biological father. But the only thing he felt toward Blackwood was resentment. The man could've picked up the telephone or flown his private plane to reach him at any point in the past thirty years.
He'd chosen not to. Not even when he was dying and knew he had only weeks to live. Instead, he'd apparently spent the end of his life concocting this manipulative scheme.
But to what end?
Amanda Battle, the woman who'd introduced herself as the owner of the little diner, brought him his meal and shake. He nibbled on one of the fries, dipping it into the ketchup he'd poured on his plate.
Darius had spent the past twelve years musing about his mysterious biological father. Right now, he wanted to hate the man. But the scrapbook Miranda had given him didn't correspond with the heartless man he'd imagined.
It wasn't just that the old man had been collecting photos, news clippings and such about Darius his entire life. The photos showed signs of frequent handling. The dog-eared magazine articles appeared to have been read repeatedly. It was the kind of scrapbook he'd expect from a parent who actually gave a damn about his kid.
He sighed, nibbling on more fries. The two sides of the man who was likely his father were incongruent, at best. But clipping out a few magazine articles didn't excuse Blackwood for being a shitty, absent father.
For that, he would never forgive him.
Darius took another of the wedge fries, swiped it in the milkshake and popped it in his mouth.
It was something people over the age of twelve usually found repulsive. But today, he deserved to indulge himself.
"A bacon cheeseburger, fries and a strawberry shake. I was going to ask if it was a really good day or a really bad one, but then you dipped your fry into your shake, so I guess that answers that."
Darius froze, then turned toward the familiar voice. His eyes widened.
"Audra Lee Covington?"
No, it isn't possible.
What would his grad school girlfriend be doing in Royal, Texas?
"So you do remember me." She folded her arms. "I wasn't sure you would. After all, you never returned my calls."
Remember? He couldn't forget her if he tried. She'd been his biggest regret. The woman who still haunted his dreams.
He stared at her, blinking. Still not sure he could believe his eyes.
She was stunning, as always. Her dark wavy hair was tucked behind her ears and fell to her shoulders. Gold-and-diamond starburst ear climbers decorated the outer curve of each ear. She wore a cream-colored, chunky-knit sweater and distressed skinny jeans that hugged every curve. And there was a small, star-shaped diamond stud in one nostril.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Secret Heir Seduction"
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