The Rancher's Secret Son

The Rancher's Secret Son

by Sara Orwig

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460386934
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Series: Lone Star Legends
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 278,236
File size: 287 KB

About the Author

Sara Orwig lives in Oklahoma and has a deep love of Texas. With a master’s degree in English, Sara taught high school English, was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma and was one of the first inductees into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame. Sara has written mainstream fiction, historical and contemporary romance. Books are beloved treasures that take Sara to magical worlds. She loves both reading and writing them.

Read an Excerpt

Nick Milan looked at the small white business card attached to the contract on his desk, and a shock ran through him. Just like last night, when he'd first seen it, he was shaken clear to his core. "Claire Prentiss."

Just saying the name brought a shadowy image to his mind. An image of a willowy, black-haired, brown-eyed beauty writhing in his arms. The mental picture tortured him, and he pushed the card to the back of his desk. It was almost time to meet his client for what should have been a routine real estate closing. With Claire as the broker, however, it would be far from routine.

The depth of his reaction to the prospect of seeing her again shocked him. It had been four years since he'd held her, four years since he'd been in love with her. Four years since she had rejected his marriage proposal and they'd gone their separate ways. For a long time after the bitter fight that had led to their breakup he'd been hurt and angry with Claire. But that was over. So, why was he still affected by the mere sight of her name?

Claire Prentiss was part of his past now, he tried telling himself. Out of his life for years. She was probably married with kids, helping her grandfather run his real estate agency and still using her maiden name because of business.

Judging by the way his hand shook as he turned his wrist to check his watch, he needed more convincing.

Nick picked up the contract and placed it in his briefcase, snapping it shut the way he wished he could shut out the painful memories of Claire. He had to now. He had work to do.

As he drove to his appointment, he forced himself to focus on the closing, which he wished now he had never agreed to do. But it was for a friend. Paul Smith had called late yesterday afternoon, suddenly deciding he needed his attorney present. Nick had agreed, not knowing Claire would be involved. Why would he? She was a Houston broker. What was she doing closing a deal in Dallas? His friend had sent the contract to Nick's office immediately after the call, but Nick had been too busy to read it until evening which is why he'd taken it home with him. If it hadn't been close to midnight and way too late for his friend to get another attorney, he would have backed out there and then.

He'd spent a sleepless night dreading this meeting and being tormented by memories that would best be forgotten.

In minutes he parked the car and stepped out into a chilly, brisk December wind that whipped through the tall buildings in downtown Dallas. Entering the lobby of one of the office towers, he met up with Paul and shook hands, swallowing the words he longed to say: Get another lawyer to represent you. Instead, together they rode the elevator to a commercial real estate office on the twenty-seventh floor.

As they entered through the double glass doors, Bruce Jernigan, the agent who represented the buyer, came forward to meet them.

"If you gentlemen will come this way, we'll get started. As you know, the seller was hospitalized and could not appear, so she has legal representation in her real estate broker." He led them down a long corridor to the conference room, where he opened a door onto a room with dark wood paneling.

Nick's gaze went to Claire instantly. Standing beside the table, she gripped it as her eyes widened and all color left her face. He realized she hadn't known he would attend the meeting until this moment. While he wasn't as shocked as Claire appeared to be, his insides clutched. He felt as if the breath had been punched from his lungs. As he approached and extended his hand, he couldn't drag his eyes from her. At twenty-four she had been beautiful. Now she was breathtaking.

Regaining her poise, she pulled down the jacket of her tailored navy business suit, then shook his hand. "So, we meet again." Her voice hid the tremble he felt in her fingers before she pulled away. "It's nice to see you again, Nick. Mr. Jernigan had just started to tell me that the buyer was bringing an attorney. I had no idea it would be you."

The moment their hands touched, he'd felt an electric current, another reaction that surprised him. Since losing Karen and their unborn baby two years ago, he had been numb around women, his heart shut away, even his physical urges flatlined. Until now. Seeing Claire elicited emotional and physical responses that shook him. He wanted neither of those reactions.

As he moved to a chair beside his client, his gaze roamed over Claire. Tall, with dark brown eyes and raven locks that fell to her shoulders, Claire looked more sophisticated than when he had known her years ago. He didn't have to look at the label to know she wore a designer suit. When her jacket swung open as she sat, her waist looked as tiny as he remembered.

"Let's get down to business." Mr. Jernigan's voice cut into his thoughts.

For the next half hour it was an effort to concentrate on business and not study Claire or let his thoughts drift to the past. He was grateful for a short break while they waited for copies to be made of various documents. He stepped out of the room to check with his office and take calls, then returned, walking to the table where Claire again stood.

When she reached for a glass, he picked up the water pitcher. She glanced up at him and he felt another electrifying tingle as her gaze met his. Smiling at her, he steadied her hand and poured her water, aware of his fingers over her warm, slender hand.

"Thank you," she said.

"So, you're still working at your grandfather's agency," Nick said, recalling how dedicated she had been to her family and assuming she still was. "Is he as active?"

She shook her head. "No, Grandpa's had a heart attack and another little stroke. He had been grooming me to take over the agency for a long time, and I did so a couple of years ago."

"It was a good thing you're loyal and stuck with your family. How's the business going?"

"Fine," she said, smiling slightly. "I'm happy that the business has grown and we have a lot of good listings. I suppose your parents, especially your dad, are pleased with your legal and political career."

"Yes, they are. Especially my dad. So you know I'm in the Texas legislature?"

"Yes. You do make the papers now and then," she said, her cheeks getting slightly more rosy. Was she embarrassed for him to discover she had kept up with his career? He was pleased she had, even though he had always tried to push thoughts of her aside and to avoid knowing much about her.

"You look great," he said, smiling at her, and she smiled in return, a cool smile, yet it sent another wave of longing crashing over him.

"Thank you. I'm sure you enjoy being a Texas State Representative. I know the Texas legislature isn't in session until January, so do you live here in Dallas when you're not in Austin?"

"Yes." He glanced over her head to see everyone returning to the table and he knew soon they would be through and she would be gone.

He didn't know what prompted the feeling, but he didn't want to part. As he glanced back at her, her thickly lashed eyes were gazing at him, making his pulse quicken. Impulsively, he said, "Come to dinner with me tonight and we can catch up."

Her eyes widened. "Do you think that will be of concern to your wife?"

He felt as if he had suffered a blow to his solar plexus. Drawing in a tight breath, he said, "I didn't realize that you didn't know… I'm widowed. My wife was killed in a car wreck two years ago. She was pregnant."

All color drained from Claire's face as her eyes opened wider, looking enormous and panic-stricken, a reaction that shocked him. A visible tremor ran through her and she put a hand on the table to steady herself. He reached out to grab her arm. Odd, he thought. Why would she have such a profound reaction to the news that he was a widower?

"Are you all right?"

Instantly her face flushed and she appeared to pull herself together. She withdrew her arm from his grasp and stood up straight. "Yes. Sorry, it's just …personal. I—" She seemed to think better of what she was about to say and changed her course, giving him a pat response. "I'm sorry for your loss."

He became aware that everyone was getting seated around the table and their time together was over. "Come to dinner with me. It'll be an early evening."

She stared at him so long he wondered whether she heard him, but then she nodded. "Yes. I'll give you my cell phone number after the meeting. We better sit now, because the others are waiting."

While she moved away from him, he saw the color slowly return to her face. He sat down, stacking papers in front of him, but nothing could keep him from wondering about her strong reaction.

What had happened in her life? Had she been in love with someone who was also killed? He couldn't guess why he had gotten such a startling response from her to the news that he had lost Karen and his unborn baby. Tonight he would probably hear why, over dinner.

An hour later, the closing was finalized. As everyone milled around and talked, Nick circled the table to Claire.

She held out a piece of paper. "Here's my cell phone number and the hotel where I'm staying."

"How's seven?"

"That's fine, Nick," she said. "I—"

His cell phone buzzed and he held up his index finger to get her to wait a second. He needed to take the call. In two minutes, when he turned back around, Claire was gone.

Nick finished up with his client, then he returned to the office and was inundated with calls. It was after five before he had a chance to think about the evening and Claire. Now he wondered why he had asked her to dinner in the first place. Their parting four years ago had been so painful, so final. Why was he putting himself in a position to relive those agonizing moments? It still hurt to think back to that time in his life. He'd been so driven to succeed in his career and in politics—was even more so now—and he'd needed a wife who, above all else, supported him in those goals, even if it meant leaving behind her own family obligations. Claire had been deeply involved in her family and their lives had been her priority—and apparently they still were, seeing as how she had taken over the agency from her grandfather. Nothing had changed.

Tonight he'd make their dinner short. A brief catch-up and then goodbye. It was all he could handle.

Claire ordered flowers for her client and had a congratulatory note attached. It wasn't until she was back in her hotel room and had texted her client that she had a moment to think about the events of the day and her upcoming dinner date.

Instantly, she thought about Nick's news that he was a widower. She could hear his voice. "Ididn't realize that you didn't know… I'm widowed. My wife was killed in a car wreck two years ago. She was pregnant."

Nick's wife and unborn baby had been killed. When he announced that, Claire's head had spun and for a moment she'd thought she was going to faint. She wished with her whole heart she had never come to Dallas. Claire ran her hand across her eyes and sighed. She had never dreamed she would encounter Nick.

Why had she agreed to go to dinner with him? Tears stung her eyes. She didn't want to get involved with him again—yet she had no choice. She still hurt over the breakup with him four years ago. Nick hadn't understood her family obligations then. He had simply wanted her to leave them behind to devote her life to him. She'd had to walk away and she didn't want to draw him back into her life now, when she faced life-changing problems far worse than she'd faced before.

She picked up her purse and took out her wallet.

Her heart twisted as she looked at the picture of her son. Nick's son. The child Nick knew nothing about. She looked into the same blue eyes beneath the same dark brown hair as Nick's. She had once loved his father with her whole heart, until their breakup had torn her to pieces. After their breakup she had learned she was carrying Nick's baby.

She hadn't told him right away because she'd needed time to make decisions. Their last time together had been painful, filled with terrible accusations that couldn't be taken back. The memories echoed in her mind even now. He had proposed and she had asked him how they would ever work out being married when she had to take care of her ailing mother and help her grandfather with his business in Houston. Nick had expected her to move to Washington, DC, to be the society wife he had dreamed about—something she could never be.

Nick had accused her of being so wrapped up in her family she couldn't love anyone else. But it wasn't like that at all. Her mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and her grandfather had suffered a mild stroke. They needed her the same way Nick needed his father's approval.

She could almost hear herself say those words to him. She accused him of going into law only because of a family tradition. All Milan males had become lawyers. Yet he couldn't see that he was more tied to his family than she was to hers.

Her last night with Nick had been bitter and hurtful, each of them flinging accusations until he had stormed out, slamming the door, and she had let him go, knowing it was over forever between them. Brokenhearted, she had cried most of that night and for days afterward. The memories still hurt and she didn't want to ever go through that pain again.

After their breakup Nick didn't try to call and she didn't want to talk to him. Then she discovered she was pregnant. Hurting, still angry with him, she'd planned to tell him about her pregnancy, but it was easier to keep quiet and avoid another confrontation. Nick would only push harder for marriage. He'd have to, as an out-of-wedlock baby would hurt his political future.

While she was thinking about how to tell him she was pregnant and what she would do about it in the future, time slipped past. From a friend she heard that Nick had gotten engaged. Shocked and angry with him, she was hurt badly that he had rushed into marriage with someone else so soon after breaking up with her. She'd decided to keep quiet about his child. He would marry and have his own family, and he didn't need to know about the baby she carried. Nick had made his choice, so she would go on with her life just as he had gone on with his.

Until now.

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