Read an Excerpt
Chloe Patterson couldn't stop smiling as she put the finishing touches on her makeup. She kept thinking she should pinch herself, make sure everything that had happened to her in the past six months wasn't a dream. First her engagement to Todd Hopewell, one of the most sought-after bachelors in Riverton, New York, then the incredible news she had confirmed only this week.
But neither was a dream. The magnificent two-carat sparkler on the ring finger of her left hand was certainly very real. Moving her hand closer to the rays of late afternoon sunlight streaming through her bedroom window, she watched, mesmerized, as the jewel-like colors burst into the air.
Oh, she was so excited and happy! Life was going so well, so incredibly well. There was so much to look forward to. From now on, there would only be light in her life. The dark days were all in the distant past, and they could no longer affect her.
Shivering with anticipation at the thought of seeing her fiancé again, she spritzed herself with the light fragrance she favored, then rummaged in her jewelry box for her favorite gold hoop earrings.
Almost a month was too long for her and Todd to be apart, she thought yet again, especially when their wedding day was less than six weeks away. She knew he must feel the same way. Just because he'd seemed a little distant lately and hadn't called or texted much since he'd been in California didn't mean a thing.
He wasn't neglecting her. It was just that he was so busy. She knew how important the assignment in San Francisco was to him. To them and their future. He'd explained that he needed to prove something to his family—that this was the first time he'd been entrusted with an existing project and potential future business this important to the company. That the harder he worked, the sooner he could come home. And now… in just a few short minutes he would be there.
Back to me.
Back to us.
Gently, she touched her stomach—still flat, still concealing her delicious secret. Of course, she was only about a month along—she figured she'd conceived the night before Todd left for the coast—and it was way too soon to be showing. In fact, she hadn't even seen a doctor yet, but she'd used two pregnancy tests. And both were positive.
Besides, her breasts were tender, and she'd even felt a bit nauseous once or twice. She was definitely pregnant. For the past couple of days—ever since she'd confirmed to herself that she was going to have a baby— she'd almost been afraid to be too happy. It was hard not to, though. She'd wanted a baby since she was old enough to think about such things. She still found it hard to believe that all her dreams would soon come true— that she'd have a husband and a child—a family and a home all her own.
Would Todd be as happy about the baby as she was? She hoped he wouldn't think it was too soon. After all, she was almost thirty, and he was thirty-two. They were hardly children. Surely he would be happy.
Biting her lip, she wondered what his mother would say when she realized Chloe was pregnant. At the thought of the coolly elegant Larissa Lenore Hopewell and that assessing way she had of looking at Chloe as if she didn't quite measure up to the Hopewell standards, some of Chloe's happiness faded.
What was it about Todd's mother that was so intimidating? Why was it that Chloe, who was so confident in her professional life, who had been independent and pretty much self-supporting since she was eighteen, could be reduced to a babbling idiot by one of Larissa's just-short-of-openly-critical comments?
"Oh, stop thinking about her," she muttered to herself. Still, she couldn't help but remember how Todd had never once contradicted her when she said she didn't think his mother liked her. Then again, Todd never contradicted anything his mother said, did he?
Chloe pushed aside the disloyal thought. Of course he was solicitous of his mother and her opinions. They were important to him and his future—their future— which was so closely aligned with his family. Things would be different when they were married. She would just have to be patient with him, that's all.
Still, it was important what Larissa Hopewell thought. Every woman wanted her future mother-in-law to approve of her. After all, Todd's mother would be their child's grandmother—the only grandmother he or she would have, since Chloe's mother was long gone. Most important, this baby would be the first Hopewell grandchild because neither of Todd's two older brothers had children yet. Surely… surely that would be important to Larissa.
Chloe sighed. She would just have to work harder to win Todd's mother over. The thought had barely formed when the doorbell rang.
Chloe's heart skidded. Todd!
Rushing from the bedroom, she hurried down the stairs and across the entryway. She nearly tripped on the stack of boxes leaning against the wall—boxes she'd been meaning to begin using to pack up her belongings for the move to Todd's place. "Todd!" she cried, flinging open the front door of the rented townhome.
But it wasn't Todd.
Instead, a FedEx driver stood on the doorstep. "Ms. Patterson?"
"Delivery for you. Sign here, please."
She eyed the overnight envelope as she signed the delivery ticket.
"Thanks." He smiled briefly, handed her the envelope and then walked rapidly back to his truck.
Frowning, Chloe closed the door slowly. The return address on the label said the envelope had come from Todd—sent from San Francisco. What in the world? Had she gotten the dates wrong? Had something happened? Was he not coming home today?
With mounting trepidation, she pulled the strip that opened the package. Inside there was one lone sheet of paper. Even before she pulled it out, her heart began knocking against her chest.
I know this will be a shock. Yesterday Meredith and I were married. When you get this, we will be on our honeymoon in Fiji. We fought our feelings for each other for weeks now, but it was no use. I hope someday you'll forgive me. The ring is yours. Sell it if you want. I'm sorry. Todd
Shocked and disbelieving, Chloe stared at the paper as if staring long and hard enough would change the words to something that made sense.
Married! To Meredith!
She shook her head. No. This couldn't be happening. Meredith Belson was Todd's assistant. A childhood friend of his. She…she had been so nice to Chloe. She'd even recommended a wedding planner to help Chloe with all the details for her upcoming wedding. She had believed Meredith to be her friend, too. In fact, aside from Molly, Chloe's cousin and best friend, Meredith was the last person Chloe would ever have imagined would betray her like this.
Shaking, Chloe walked to the stairs and sat down. Samson, her cat, sensing her distress, sidled up to her and meowed.
Chloe kept staring at the stark words. Yesterday Meredith and I were married.
How could she?
But it's not Meredith's fault, is it? She's not the one who said he loved you. She's not the one who asked you to marry him. Todd is the one who betrayed you.
Chloe was too numb, still too shocked to cry. Todd. Todd and all the bright dreams of the future he had brought into her life… were gone.
To someone else.
Keep the ring. Sell it if you want.
As those cruel words echoed, tears finally filled Chloe's eyes, but these weren't sad tears. They were angry tears. Wrenching the ring off her finger, she threw it against the wall. Samson jumped in alarm and, in a blur of ocher fur, raced away.
The flawless stone set in platinum fell to the floor. It lay there, a glittering, forlorn symbol of what would never be.
What am I going to do?
And it was only then that the most serious consequence of Todd's betrayal really hit her.
Oh, God. How could she have forgotten the baby? The baby Todd didn't know about.
She swallowed hard, clutching her stomach. A wild hope flooded her. Surely, when Todd did know, he would realize he'd made a terrible mistake. He would come back to her. To them. She had to tell him. Right now. Even though he'd said he and Meredith were on their honeymoon in Fiji, Chloe knew Todd well enough to know he would never be without his BlackBerry.
I'll text him.
Yet even as she started up the stairs to find her cell phone, she knew texting Todd was a crazy idea. Did she want Todd back because he felt guilty? Of course she didn't. She wanted him to love her! She wanted him to want to be with her. No way was she going to try to blackmail him or guilt him into anything.
Once more, she sank down onto one of the steps. This time the tears that ran down her face were filled with heartbreak.
She would have her baby alone.
In fact, she didn't want Todd to ever know about their baby. If he had rejected them, they would reject him.
No matter what it cost her.
Simon Foster Hopewell III had the beginnings of a monster headache as he reviewed the revised budget for the fiscal year beginning next month on the first of June.
He couldn't believe what a botched mess this latest version of the production department budget was. And this was the third time it had been revised. Picking up a red felt-tip pen he angrily crossed out items one by one. Somehow his department heads needed to understand that they had to stay within the guidelines they'd been given, whether they liked it or not. Maybe they operated like this at home, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, but they were not going to operate like this at Hopewell Enterprises. Not as long as he was in charge.
Blowing out an exasperated breath, Simon sat back in his swivel chair and glanced up at the large oil portrait of his great grandfather, the first Simon Hopewell, for whom he'd been named. A stern man who came from Quaker stock, he'd be appalled at the way business was conducted nowadays. Old Simon had never borrowed a penny in his life.
Simon closed his eyes. He was tired. Tired of being the heavy here at the company and tired of being the heavy at home. Ever since his father had died two years ago of a sudden, massive heart attack, most of the responsibility for both the business and the family had fallen onto his shoulders.
Certainly he got no help from Noah, who wanted nothing to do with the business and spent his days working at a homeless shelter and his nights fooling around with the rock band he'd started. Noah was a good guy; Simon actually admired him for his convictions and his lack of interest in money, but he had to face facts. Noah was never going to play a part in the Hopewell family fortunes.
And the jury was still out on Todd. If he did a good job with the clients in San Francisco, then Simon might consider giving him more responsibility within the business. But Simon wasn't convinced that would happen. In fact, he'd been worrying ever since he'd entrusted Todd with the San Francisco assignment.
Todd was spoiled. He was also impulsive, always jumping into things. He started out enthusiastic, but his interest could quickly wane. He had been indulged by their mother from the day he was old enough to understand he was her favorite. He really didn't like to work hard, although he could talk a good game and was so charming he fooled a lot of people into thinking there was substance there.
One thing Todd had done right, though, was choose wisely when it came to the woman he planned to marry. His choice had surprised Simon, especially after hearing what his mother had to say about Todd's fiancée, but after meeting Chloe Patterson, Simon had decided his mother was wrong. Simon liked Chloe. From the beginning, she'd struck him as sensible and practical, the kind of woman who would temper Todd's tendencies to plunge without thinking.
And after investigating her privately—Simon hadn't wanted to, but he'd known if he didn't, his mother would, and he'd decided him doing the deed was the lesser of two evils—he'd been even more reassured. Yes, Chloe was literally from the wrong side of Riverton's tracks. Yes, her mother had deserted Chloe and her father when Chloe was only eight years old—left them for a much younger lover and come to a bad end five years later, and yes, her father had become an alcoholic and committed suicide a couple of years later. Also, Chloe hadn't gone to an Ivy League school the way the Hopewell brothers had, and she would bring no money or position to the marriage.
But—and Simon considered these attributes more important than money or position or anything else—she had gone to work at eighteen, educated herself by taking some night courses at the local community college and started her own Web design business while holding down a full-time job at a small tech company in nearby Mohawk. According to the investigator, she had grossed more than sixty-five thousand dollars from the business last year and was on track to do better this year. She had health insurance and owned a paid-for car, and she had a decent savings account—not riches, certainly—but enough so that if she'd wanted to buy her own condo or small house, she could've managed a down payment.
She was a strong young woman, and she would be good for Todd. Simon was certain of that.
And she was lovely, with a charming smile, beautiful green eyes and thick, shiny brown hair. A girl-next-door type. Just the kind of woman Simon liked best. She also had long, gorgeous legs. And Simon was definitely a leg man.
Too bad I didn't meet her first.
It wasn't the first time Simon had thought this. But you had to make an effort if you wanted to meet the kind of woman who would make a great wife and mother, and Simon hadn't made any kind of effort at all since his love affair with Alexis had gone south.