Born in Mystery

Born in Mystery

Susan Kearney

July 3025 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-505-8

Book 3 of The Braddacks

 
Our PriceUS$13.95
Code978-1-61194-505-8
 
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

A stalker has Summer Warren desperate. So she quits her job, changes apartments, and assumes a new identity . . . as a surrogate mother. Yet when the stalker finds her again, she has no choice but to seek protection from the babies’ biological father.

Craig Braddack doesn’t know what to think of the leather-clad, motorcycle-riding hot mama that shows up on his doorstep demanding that he protect her and his twins. While he’s suspicious of her story, his fierce protective instincts for his children kick into overdrive when the stalker returns. 

Craig tells himself that his desire for Summer is just chemistry . . . albeit sizzling chemistry. And he wishes he could trust her . . . if only she hadn’t lied to him. Twice. But it will take more than trust to keep Summer and his babies alive. They must work together to out the stalker . . . or die trying.

 


Reviews

Coming soon!


Excerpt

Chapter One

OF ALL THE mornings for some idiot to roar up his driveway.

Craig Braddack had been awake thirty-six hours straight, and he’d anticipated a good ten hours of sleep. Undisturbed. Negotiating the last kinks out of the Taiwan-Singapore contracts vital to keeping his company profitable had used up the last of his energy and patience. Yet from the sound of the revving motor below, he now had to deal with some motorcycle maniac lost in his driveway.

Welcome back to LA. Apparently, living in the suburbs no longer guaranteed a peaceful morning.

Tossing off the tangled sheet, he yanked on a pair of jeans. Without bothering with shirt or shoes, he charged downstairs and flung open the double-wide front door. Whatever invective he’d been about to hurl died in his throat.

He’d expected a punk kid skidding doughnuts on his manicured lawn, not a fantasy woman in black leather, climbing off a motorcycle. But she was real—no fantasy conjured up from a mind lacking sleep. From her booted heels, trim ankles and legs that angled all the way up to curvy hips, she was dressed to drive a man wild. Although she wore a helmet, there could be no doubt of her gender, not with the leather clinging seductively to her lithe curves. Nothing lithe about her chest, though. Her breasts were high and firm, swelling out of a low-scooped neckline.

She removed her helmet, and a lion’s mane of waist-length curly red hair tumbled down her back and sprang around her face, framing bright green eyes, a pert nose and hot red lips. At any moment, he expected her to break into song and dance and a striptease.

Only it wasn’t his birthday.

She smiled at him, a smooth, sexy smile that tied his stomach in knots and reminded him it had been too long since he’d been with a woman. Of course, hot-blooded redheads in black leather weren’t his type, no matter how seductive. His preference ran to blondes, short, sophisticated blondes who had graduated from Radcliffe or Stanford and who never reminded him of his wife. Linda had been a redhead.

He threaded his fingers through his hair, in no mood for adolescent pranks or for memories that caused so much pain. "What do you want?”

He’d used a tone that quelled his employees, but she advanced like a stalking lioness, never breaking stride. She didn’t stop until she stood so close he caught a whiff of vanilla. The delicate scent seemed so at odds with the rest of her that he studied her more closely. If he hadn’t seen uncertainty flicker across her face before she straightened her spine, planted her fists on trim hips and stared him squarely in the eye, he’d have thought her invulnerable. "Answer me, woman. What do you want?”

"Is that any way to greet your wife?” she asked, her voice a throaty purr.

He cocked a brow. "Wife? My wife is dead.”

She ignored his quizzical expression. "Do I look dead? I’m wife number two.”

A shudder ripped through him, and he fought the strong urge to run like hell. If she washis wife—the one he’d wed by proxy—she was the last person he wanted to see.

His fingers tightened on the doorjamb while he dredged the specifics of their bargain from his memory. Their contract was straightforward. Strictly business. He paid expenses. If she delivered, he’d honor the balance. Although he couldn’t recall the small print, her showing up on his doorstep damned sure wasn’t part of their agreement.

Their arrangement, if successful, wouldn’t end for another eight months. Still, he preferred to forget their marriage. When he thought of the woman at all, he pictured her as faceless, colorless, shapeless. Imagining her seductive curves hugged by sexy black leather or envisioning her brilliant green eyes meeting his with a sassy expression had never crossed his mind.

He scowled. Better keep to business.

To deal with her, he’d have to find out if she really was his wife. He studied her vivid features, telling himself to tread warily. Purposely, he let his gaze drift over her. The slight shifting of her weight indicated she wasn’t as cool and calm as she first appeared, but with a determined look she kept her chin high.

What was she up to? How had she found him? She must already want more money.

He had opened his mouth to tell her to leave when she leaned closer, her breasts inches from his chest, the scent of leather enticing him. "I am your wife, and I’m feeling fine, thank you. And very much alive.”

Indulging in a look at the enticing shadow of a deep cleft between her breasts, he cleared his throat. "I can see that”

He hadn’t expected her to blush. She hadn’t seemed the type. Nor did he expect to find the blush so attractive. He was bleary-eyed tired, but he’d have to be dead not to respond to her combination of overt sensuality and blushing naiveté. But something was wrong. Her innocent demeanor contrasted too vividly with her bold and sexy outfit.

"Stay right there,” he ordered, backing away but leaving the door open to keep an eye on her. Fleeing as much to search for the file on his "wife” as to hide his all-too-obvious physical reaction to her, he strode into the den. Still groggy but with morose foreboding, he recalled a picture somewhere.

Dean, Atherson, and Jackson were nothing if not thorough. His attorneys had checked the woman’s background before he’d consented to the proxy marriage. Craig had a picture of his wife in the file, and he didn’t remember a red bombshell but a dull brunette. With a muttered curse, he stalked into his home office, jerked open the door that hid his storage cabinet and seized a handful of folders.

He flung aside the superfluous files in search of the one he wanted. Smith, Temple, Warren...

Got it.

As he returned, he reached into the folder then scowled at a fuzzy photo of a, sure enough, mousy brunette. He squinted in frustration as he compared the blurred features to the vibrant woman who’d entered his foyer with the boldness of a vamp.

She carried a duffel slung over her shoulder and headed blithely toward the den, her hips swaying seductively in tight black leather. Where was she going? Seething with mounting irritation at his limited options, he approached her, glancing at the picture he held and then back to her. She did resemble the woman he’d married.

"Just a minute.” He wasn’t president and sole owner of an up-and-coming international corporation for nothing. He might not have seen his family in a while, but as a Braddack, he knew how to make executive questions sound like a threat. Gritting his teeth, he pointed, his finger stopping just short of the recess between her heaving breasts. "Just what in hell do you think you’re doing?”

She started at the leashed violence in his tone then cocked her chin at a jaunty angle. "I’m moving in.”

"What!”

Then again, his twin brothers Max and Ford had often teased him he wasn’t cut of executive material.

"Don’t yell at me.”

She glared at him as if she had every right to live with him. If he hadn’t been so annoyed, he might have admired her for standing up to him like one of the Braddack brothers. Because no one else did, not his vice presidents, nor his salesmen. Certainly not a slip of a female.

Yet, instead of retreating, she stretched to her full height, squared her shoulders and advanced to stand toe-to-toe with him. "Hasn’t anyone told you it’s not healthy to upset a pregnant woman?”

"Hasn’t anyone told you it’s not healthy for a pregnant woman to ride a motorcycle?” he countered, his gut gripping tight at the unnecessary risks she’d taken. "Especially when you’re carrying my children.”

"I may be carrying your babies, but that doesn’t mean you can run my life.”

That did it. Fury rose up to choke him. Even worse, he could no longer deny she was his wife. He would have cheerfully sold a chunk of his soul to avoid having had to use a surrogate. Having a choice wasn’t one of his options.

Ever since he’d decided to hire a surrogate, he’d worried over his lack of control during the pregnancy. If the surrogate chose to drink herself into a stupor, take up skydiving or experiment with drugs while carrying his children, he had no right to stop her. So he’d had his attorney select the best candidate and done his damnedest not to think about the dangers. And he hadn’t breathed one word of his decision to his family—because he hadn’t wanted to hear their arguments. He didn’t want to see their pity. He didn’t want drama.

He’d wanted peace.

Now she had the nerve to show up here and throw the fact that he couldn’t protect his babies in his face.

Every muscle coiled into a tight spring of tension. "If you don’t like my tone, I suggest you leave before I do something worse.”

"Like what?” A defiant challenge angled across full lips that he found all too inviting.

His mouth watered, and he suddenly recognized the baffling cauldron of emotion bubbling inside him wasn’t just anger. Sure, he was vexed, annoyed and outraged by her audacity—but he was also turned on.

He ought to kiss her senseless. Unbidden images of tasting her lush lips taunted him, tantalized him almost enough to make him pursue her. Almost.

The fantasy couldn’t quite quell his need to shake some sense into her. Instead, he clenched his fists in an effort to override his masculine reaction to her stirring old memories better left alone.

At the uncomfortable feeling in his gut, the sudden need to send her away almost overwhelmed him. Grasping the duffel, he tossed it from the foyer onto the front porch. "You aren’t moving in. That wasn’t part of our agreement.”

With a new wariness in her eyes, she planted her hand on one hip and edged toward the kitchen. "Our agreement is going to change.”

What game was she playing? Her apprehension was genuine enough even if she was careful to conceal it behind a thick layer of outward composure. The contradiction between her sassy words and the troubled look in her eyes made him wonder if she had something to hide.

He sensed reminding her of their legally binding contract would make no difference in her demented decision to live with him. She obviously wasn’t a businesswoman and probably didn’t understand the agreement she’d signed. Driven by frustration and forced to shift position to block her from gaining farther access into his home, he didn’t bother to mask his irritation. "Why is that?”

"Since I’ve agreed to serve as a surrogate mother and bear your twins, I’ve done a lot of research.”

He caught the tension and a hint of desperation in her tone and momentarily regretted his unwillingness to at least listen to her story. "What kind of research?”

"How to make babies.”

At her saucy suggestiveness, he whistled and allowed his features to soften for a moment. "Most girls learn that before their teens.”

He might not like the fact he’d gone from angry to interested in the space of a heartbeat, but now that he’d recognized his own response to her, he could deal with it—even if he was enjoying their confrontation too damn much. But would his plan work? He grinned, hoping blatant sexual suggestions would scare her into running right out the door and leaving him in peace.

Deliberately, he lowered his voice to a murmur. "If you’re not sure how babies are made, I’d be willing to instruct you.”

Her eyes widened, and her soft intake of air revealed she wasn’t as sophisticated as she appeared. She looked down and studied her hands for a moment, then replied as if she’d never hesitated. "I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about pregnancy. Did you know a fetus recognizes its parents’ voices while still in the womb?”

She was one stubborn woman. He ought to pick her up, throw her over his shoulder and carry her out the front door. Yet the idea of running his hands along her curves was all too appealing.

Inadvertently, he stepped back. His mouth tightened in a grim line. "The point being?”

As if knowing the farther she advanced, the harder it would be for him to kick her out, she stepped closer to the kitchen. "I can’t grow the twins for you like peas in a pod and then just hand them over.”

Her frosty words doused his seduction attempts as effectively as an icy shower. A warning shiver prickled down his spine, chilling him to the bone. "If you think for one moment you can change our contract and keep my kids, you have a shock coming. That’s why I insisted on marrying my surrogate. Those babies are mine, genetically and legally.”

"You misunderstand.”

"Explain yourself.”

"You have to bond with your babies.”

"Lady—”

"My name is Bianca.”

"I don’t think—”

"Just talk to your babies. The softer you make your tone, the better.” She cocked her head at a saucy angle while the underlying sincerity of her expression captivated him and threw him off balance at the same time. "Perhaps you can sing?”

He couldn’t have heard her right. Confusion filtered through his wariness, and he gulped. "Sing?”

"Since I’m moving in here, you’ll be close enough for your children to become accustomed to your voice. If you sing to them, you can bond while they’re still in the womb.”

"That’s ridiculous.”

"I know it’s early in the pregnancy. But the babies will sense your tone. They feel vibrations.” Without warning, she took his hand and placed it over her womb.

He went completely still. The warmth of the life inside her radiated through the leather into his palm, filling him with unexpected wonder and banishing the chill. His babies were there. His children.

He’d never thought of the surrogate in terms of living, warm flesh. Her surprise move had robbed him of his emotional detachment, and he could no longer keep his accustomed and comfortable distance. He wanted to hate feeling this way. He didn’t want to feel at all. It had been a long time since he’d allowed anyone to penetrate the echoes of the past and the wall he’d built around himself. But these were his babies. She was the woman who would bear his children.

Reeling with the knowledge that she wasn’t simply a womb for hire but an individual with needs and desires and thoughts that could affect him and his children in the most profound ways, he fought down surging panic. By coming here, she’d personalized a service that was supposed to have been anonymous. She’d shattered his illusion of control. Suddenly, he felt as if he’d been caught in a nightmare from which he couldn’t awaken.

He strode into the kitchen, aimed for the sink and turned on the faucet. With a springy bounce, she followed and stood watching. Ignoring her, he waited for the water to turn colder.

Leaning against the far counter, she wore a look of faint bemusement. "What are you doing?”

He didn’t answer. When the spray numbed his fingers, he splashed his face, praying he’d awaken his sluggish mind to deal with her abrupt invasion into his life. He’d hoped he’d never have to meet her. He hadn’t wanted to see her face, hear her voice, or worse, breathe her enticing scent. He sure as hell didn’t want to touch her stomach, know details about her pregnancy, or consider if it would be hard for her to give up the babies.

He’d intended to remain aloof. In his mind, this was just one more business deal. Now she wanted them to live together. She wanted him to sing, damn her.

She chuckled, the low contralto pleasant to his ears. "You’ll get used to me.”

"That remains to be seen.” Thoughts racing, he splashed his face with icy water then dried with a clean dish towel. He didn’t want her here in Linda’s house. He didn’t want to get used to her. Yet she carried his and Linda’s children in her womb, and he couldn’t shake the certainty that his wishes were now irrelevant. Why couldn’t this Bianca Warren surrogate go back to wherever she’d come from and let him retreat to his comfortable bubble of isolation?

He could almost hear his brothers laughing their asses off. They’d told him repeatedly that he couldn’t live in a bubble. That despite his grief he couldn’t hide from life. And when their sympathy had turned to nagging, Craig had shut them out. Just because Max and Ford had found happiness didn’t mean that he could.

He might not have been happy, but he sure as hell had kept his life simple—until now.

As long as she carried his children, he had few alternatives. He couldn’t risk alienating her. Despite all his precautions, he had no wish to fight over the children in court. Even worse, she could disappear, and he’d never again see her or his children. She could be as demanding as she liked, and as if she’d held a gun to his head, he’d be compelled to put up with her. Unless he convinced her to leave, he was stuck with a woman whom he found too damned sexy, and if he guessed right, in trouble up to her pretty little neck.

AS CRAIG BRADDACK reared back and shut off the faucet, Bianca took an involuntary step back but fought her immediate reaction to pivot and run. He raked fingers through his black hair while he scowled at her with grim determination. Not even a few stray water droplets spiking his lashes could soften his sharp cheekbones, arrogant jaw or the muscle flexing in his neck. Doing her best to ignore his chest, bronzed and bare except for a light dusting of hair, she kept her gaze locked with his. But when he hooked a thumb in his jeans, diverting her attention to the top button that remained unfastened, her mouth went dry.

Her gaze skimmed his features, noting the fatigue in dark eyes that glittered icily. His stubbornly squared chin portrayed the force of his personality, and only the full, sensuous lips hinted at any emotion but raw anger burning just below the surface.

As he tried to steamroller her with his harsh look, she refused to let his turbulent expression squash her determination. She’d blown the first impression big time.

While the disguise had been useful, the black leather clothing had been a mistake. He’d jumped to the wrong conclusion about her principles. She shouldn’t blame him for thinking she sought to take advantage of him by moving in, since that’s exactly what she was doing. But in this case, keeping the babies safe justified her outrageous, uncharacteristic and blatantly sexy behavior.

The black leather had made her feel deceptive and out-of-her-l eague sexy. If she’d had another even half-decent choice, she would have taken it. However, she was out of options. Desperation had driven her to masquerade as a tease, and the ruse had worked. Although the heat in his eyes at the sight of her biker outfit made her wonder if she’d be safer on her own.

But alone, she was vulnerable. She told herself she would have insisted on living with Craig even if he’d had a live-in girlfriend. Yet she’d done her homework. The secretaries at Dean, Atherson, and Jackson gossiped incessantly. Collecting information about him without attracting notice hadn’t been difficult. He didn’t have a girlfriend, dating only occasionally since his wife’s death.

A month ago, a glimpse of him walking through the office hallway had transfixed her. She’d found herself attuned to every remark she heard about him. But it wasn’t his dark good looks or his moderate wealth or his house in a good neighborhood that drew her. That he’d lost his wife so young tugged at her heart. That he intended to raise the children alone had amazed and fascinated her. That he was so obviously available and handsome to boot made her distinctly uncomfortable, but she had more important things to dwell on than her attraction to Craig.

"You can’t live here.” His tone was cold, commanding.

Survival was her first priority. He had to let her stay. But she couldn’t tell him she had nowhere else to go, so instead, she ignored the churning in her stomach and summoned a sweet smile. "Please, don’t use that holier-than-thou tone. You don’t want to scare your children, do you?”

All but snarling with temper, he folded his arms across his chest "You’re pregnant all of one month. My children aren’t developed enough to have ears yet.” He took a deep breath, his chest expanding.

Slowly, he expelled the air and spoke in a more reasonable tone. "Your moving in here isn’t part of our agreement. It’s not as if you don’t have a place to live. With the funds I’m supplying to see you through this pregnancy, you could rent a penthouse apartment.”

In the face of his bleak gray eyes, the cheery kitchen mocked her. If only she could tell him she needed his protection instead of misleading him. But she didn’t dare. No matter how contemptible her little act, it was necessary to convince him to take her in.

Anger toward the stalker choked her. He’d disrupted her life for the second time, forcing her to lie through her teeth, steal a motorcycle and become adept at disguises to visit her grandmother. She’d had to drop her night classes at the law school she attended, and she could ill afford the expense to retake them.

How far would she have to go to stay alive? Sexy hadn’t worked. Perhaps it was time for tears.

It wasn’t hard to squeeze a few out, not after her day. With her life once again in danger, she’d been forced to abandon her car. To flee, she’d taken the only other transportation available—the motorcycle. After she produced the motorcycle’s ignition key and claimed the bike was hers, the officer had let her off with a warning not to ride in the park. That had been the least of her worries. She’d had to get away. Fast.

Thankful for the high school boyfriend who had taught her how to ride a motorcycle, she’d driven straight to the bus station. She’d checked the saddlebags, hoping for a clue to her stalker’s identity. Instead, she’d found and appropriated the too-tight black leather clothes and helmet, retrieved her duffel from a locker where she’d also had the forethought to stash cash for emergencies. Even disguised in the flaming red wig, she hadn’t dared to return to her apartment.

Until today, she’d thought her fortune had changed and that she’d eluded the stalker who’d persisted in pursuing her for months. In her former identity, she was supposed to have been safe. She had changed apartments and job, disguised her appearance and avoided her former hangouts.

Now, her cover blown, she sniffled and tried to appear helpless in the face of Craig’s daunting anger. He had to buy her act. Didn’t he have a heart behind that bare chest? A soul beneath those hard eyes?

The diamond edge in his gaze never lost its sharpness. Playing on his sympathy was a waste of time. The story about bonding with his babies was easier to believe than the truth—and he hadn’t bought the story. Nor was he buying her tears. Time for another change in tactics.

From across the kitchen, he glared at her with suspicion. She hiccuped. "I don’t feel so good.”

Suiting action to words, she slid down the slick cabinet onto the ceramic tile. Three full strides carried him to her. With leashed power, he gathered her into his arms, lifting her as easily as if she were a child. Off balance, she let out a cry and threw her arms around his neck.

His laughter didn’t curtail his stormy expression. "So, have I finally got you where you want to be?”

He’d asked his question in a manner as playful as a kid holding his first puppy. Then she glanced into eyes as darkly gray as thunderclouds on a stormy day, and her throat tightened. His warm breath fanned her neck, and suddenly she realized he wasn’t angry with her. A languid smile curving his lips, he’d dropped his gaze to her mouth and looked as if he was planning a gourmet meal. Did he think she owed him a little something if he agreed to let her stay? Another shiver racked her despite the heat of his bare shoulder against her cheek.

How had she gotten herself into such a mess? All she needed was a place to hide. She wouldn’t get in his way. Why couldn’t he compromise? Why was he holding her so close, and why was she suddenly so aware of the heat of his hand on her hip?

"Put me down.”

A teasing smile played across his lips, yet his eyes remained hard, hinting of ulterior motives. "I don’t think so. You look pale, unsteady. I can’t take a chance on your keeling over and injuring my children.”

Obviously, he had no concerns for her welfare. But then what had she expected? Going in, she’d known Craig Braddack’s reputation—tough, uncompromising, adamantly single since his wife’s death. What she hadn’t expected was her own reaction to his proximity, a nameless, silvery excitement that tensed every muscle and scattered her senses.

He carried her out of the kitchen and up a sweeping flight of stairs without breathing hard. Taking the opportunity to study him, she realized he looked different up close. In his lawyer’s office dressed in a suit and tie, with his hair combed, he’d appeared more civilized. Right now, from the slashing line of his mouth to the tensing muscle of his jaw, he reminded her of a savage.

As he carried her up the stairs, his shoulders rippling into a mountain of chest muscles, panic clutched her. Somehow she’d lost control of the situation. "Where are you taking me?”

"To bed.” His eyes gleamed with a brief flash of amusement that she found irritating and insulting. And undeniably intriguing.

She’d made a fine mess of her situation. And Craig seemed more than willing to take advantage.

Her heart pounded so hard that her ribs ached. "This isn’t funny.”

"Funny isn’t what I have in mind.”

She didn’t need to ask what he did have in mind. The searing intensity in his eyes made her want to hide. Heat curled in her stomach.

From his teasing tone, he’d figured out she was perfectly fine. He’d turned the tables on her, using her excuse of an illness to keep her in his arms. "Let me go.”

He raised an eyebrow. "You’ll leave?”

Damn him for calling her bluff.

"I can’t.”

"Well then, why shouldn’t we enjoy ourselves?” He eyed her speculatively. "It’s not as if we have to worry you’ll become pregnant.”

She didn’t laugh at his humor. Unable to decide whether he was trying to intimidate her into leaving or really meant to take her to bed, she opted to let an uncomfortable silence express her indignation.

The twinkle in his eyes indicated he might be playing games. Yet she was all too aware of his thumb caressing her hip, his bold gaze lingering on her mouth and the maddening hint of arrogance in his tone that revealed he was aware of her reaction to him.

While she had no idea how she’d allowed the situation to veer so far out of control, she wouldn’t be reduced to trading her body for a place to stay. She had to stop him before they reached the upper hallway and his bedroom. After a glance through the window behind him, she broke the taut silence by uttering the first thing she could think of to distract him. "There’s a policeman in your driveway.”

"Uh-huh.” He looked at her as though she’d just escaped the insane asylum.

She shrugged. "Fine. Don’t believe me.”

As he turned at the top of the stairs, she peered again through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the two-story foyer. A police car, blue lights flashing, still stood in the driveway.

At least he’d have to put her down.

For once, she wished she’d been lying about the cop. Dealing with Craig’s amorous advances was preferable to answering a policeman’s questions. Through the foyer window, she watched a uniformed officer ring the front bell. At the chime, she stiffened, and Craig turned.

She wriggled in an effort to make him put her down. "Have you forgotten I can walk?”

Ignoring her struggle except for a slight tightening of his arms, he shook his head. "I don’t know when to believe you.”

"I don’t lie,” she protested, wishing she spoke the truth, wishing the masculine scent of him didn’t intensify her rapid breathing.

He shot her a cool, calculating look. "Really? Something tells me otherwise. There’s a cop at my front door, and suddenly you’re squirming. Keeping you from running seems like a very good idea.”

She twisted, but for all the good her struggling did, his arms might have been carved of granite. "But—”

"I’ve never had a police officer come looking for me. Instinct tells me he wants to speak to you.” Finally, he put her down but kept a firm grip on her arm as they walked down the stairs and through the foyer.

Craig opened the door. "Come in.”

A young, blue-eyed, blond-haired officer stepped inside. He grinned when he caught sight of her. "Sorry to disturb your day—”

"It’s already been more than disturbed,” Craig muttered while she fought not to fidget.

"Is the bike out front yours, sir?”

Craig’s gray eyes drilled her with a piercing stare. "I believe the vehicle belongs to my wife.”

The tension in Craig’s hand radiated disapproval up her arm, and she swallowed hard. She’d intended to ditch the bike or hide it in his garage. In retrospect, she shouldn’t have taken it. But she’d been running for her life. Returning to her car had been out of the question. What could she say?

"Is that true, ma’am? Do you own that bike?”

"Not exactly.” A sinking sensation roiled deep in her stomach as she suspected her limited knowledge of the law wasn’t enough to save her. But she couldn’t let them lock her up—not with her grandmother depending on Bianca’s visits.

Craig raised his eyes to the ceiling in disgust at her evasive reply. "What’s the problem, Officer?”

"I know you leave the country often, sir. I didn’t know you were back. When I saw a strange vehicle outside, I thought a robbery might be in progress. So I ran a make on the plates.”

Craig gripped her tightly. "And?”

"The bike’s stolen.”


 

 

Chapter Two

THE COP’S STATEMENT hit Craig like a sucker punch to the jaw. He’d suspected Bianca had secrets, perhaps a few unpaid parking tickets, but he hadn’t guessed the surrogate so carefully screened by his attorneys could be a thief. Reeling, he backed away, hoping the distance between them would help him understand. It didn’t.

As he waited for her explanation, a denial, an excuse, the remaining heat where she’d cuddled against his chest slowly cooled. His temper didn’t.

She remained silent, her face pale. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, either, but stared at a spot in the vicinity of his left shoulder.

"I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to come downtown, ma’am,” the officer told her.

Unwilling to let her out of sight after this new revelation, Craig reached into his pocket for his car keys. "I’ll drive her.”

"If you gentlemen will excuse me, I’d like to change.” Bianca gestured to her black leather but directed her words at the cop. "My husband enjoys these kinds of games, but I should wear something more appropriate to court.”

More likely she was going to jail.

And that outfit had been strictly her idea. The conniving little witch was making him sound like some kind of pervert. He conveniently ignored the fact that he’d been alternately wildly furious and rashly attracted to her since she climbed off that bike. And that he’d never again inhale the scent of leather without thinking of her.

She retrieved her duffel and walked past him with as much dignity as a woman dressed in black leather could muster. Her eyes still avoided his, and her bottom lip trembled.

Yet she lifted her chin defiantly. "While you calm down, dear, I’ll change in the guest room.”

Was that a not-so-subtle reminder that he needed at least to don a shirt? A hint that she’d moved in? Or her way of telling him she didn’t intend to share his room?

For now.

Conflicting emotions stirred inside him, and compassion rose to the surface. What was it about her that made him want to help her and protect her? Her courage? The vulnerability she tried to hide? Or maybe he was rationalizing away the truth. While she carried his children, he didn’t have a choice. Bianca had already caused him more problems in the past hour than his first wife had during their five-year marriage. Were the memories of the terrible accident and the aching loss finally beginning to fade?

Of one thing he was certain. If Bianca lived here, he could afford to be patient because eventually he’d make love to her. As his thoughts kept cartwheeling, he clapped a hand on his forehead. He must be crazy.

The birth mother of his children was a motorcycle mama. A thief. Even thinking of taking her to bed was out of the question. The shock of meeting Bianca Warren must have fried his brain.

He had to get his act together. Pull some strings. Luckily, although his business profits had slipped during the years since he’d lost his wife, he was getting his company back on track. Besides, there wasn’t a judge in town who didn’t owe him a favor.

No matter how badly his lawyers had misled him in their search for a suitable surrogate to bear his children, his kids would not lack for fresh air and sunshine while she went to jail. Not if he had anything to say about it.

Planning on speaking to her, he bounded up the stairs three at a time but hesitated outside the guest room door. Bianca was talking, her voice low. "Gran, I may not be able to visit today. I’ve got to go downtown to the courthouse.”

Ashamed that he’d been reduced to eavesdropping on her phone call, he strode down the hall and to his bedroom, kicked off his jeans and changed into business attire. He knotted his tie with automatic precision while his thoughts raced. At least today was a weekday, and he stood a chance of arranging her release. He combed his hair and wondered which judge was sitting on the bench.

After returning downstairs, Craig gave the officer a soft drink while they waited for Bianca. At the click of a high heel, the cop glanced up and choked.

Craig patted the man on the back then pivoted to look up. "Bianca?”

"Yes.” The same throaty voice answered, but that was all he recognized, except for the incredibly long legs shown off by silk hose and heels. Shocked wide awake, he stared.

The red mane of lioness hair was gone, replaced by a smooth, sophisticated honey gold ending just below her elegant diamond-studded earrings. She’d replaced the hot-red lipstick with a more natural color, exchanged the black leather for a soft gray-and-cream pin-striped power suit. Cream-colored lace peeked out of the vee of the jacket suitable for any attorney to wear to court. A delicate gold chain hung around her regal neck, an antique locket resting in the hollow of her throat.

She must have sensed his astonishment. Her mouth turned up in a haunting smile. With the serenity of a celebrity about to take her bow after a stellar performance, she offered him the crook of her arm. "This outfit will be more appropriate.”

BIANCA DIDN’T HAVE to read minds to know Craig Braddack’s famous temper was about to explode in her direction. The tense grip on her arm as he dragged her out of the courthouse and down the steps into the sunshine amid the five-o’clock crowd on the city sidewalks never eased.

"That was some story you told the judge.”

"I told the truth.”

"Yeah, right.”

She winced at his sarcastic tone. When the judge remanded her to her husband’s custody, Craig’s mouth had puckered as if he’d been chewing a bitter pill. Without glancing at her, he’d accepted the responsibility with a stiff nod. She couldn’t blame him for his disgust at having to take charge of a criminal, for feeling used and betrayed. No doubt if he could now choose another surrogate, he would do so—and to keep the babies safe, she’d gladly give them up. But that wasn’t possible.

If the babies were to survive, they had to remain inside her. And she needed his assistance to stay alive.

So where was the relief she’d expected to feel at attaining Craig’s help? Convinced that accepting his leashed anger and ill-concealed censure was easier than telling him the truth, she endured the anxiety and tension in silence. Still, the irony of her situation mocked her.

If only she could run. But she couldn’t leave Gran. So she was stuck with Craig Braddack and he with her.

His expression cold and accusing, he turned to her at the foot of the courthouse steps. "Did you really expect Judge Thordale to believe your grandmother bought that stolen motorcycle?”

"Gran’s a little senile,” she lied. The woman who’d raised her was shrewd and as sharp as a Stanford graduate. Fortunately, her grandmother was also skillful at extemporizing, claiming mental gymnastics put a bit of excitement in an otherwise dull existence. More importantly, she’d know what to say if any cops arrived at the nursing home to ask questions. Even better, Garden Grove, the town where Gran lived, had a different police department than Santa Del Ray.

"Let’s pay your grandmother a visit.”

"Why?”

Craig didn’t reply. Instead, he tightened his grip on her as if he feared she’d escape. He led her through the crowd, and her thoughts churned. Gran was good, but could she fool his acute perceptiveness? Bianca had already learned Craig was adept at reading people. From his skeptical glances, she could clearly see shehadn’t allayed his suspicions.

She and Gran would have to stay on guard, or he’d trip them up. She frowned. Since Bianca hadn’t had time to fully explain that the stalker had found her again, would Gran pick up her cues?

At least Bianca no longer had to worry about going to jail.

Because she had no prior record and because Craig had supported the judge’s last campaign, she was now a free woman. Sort of. For a split second, she had the crazy urge to turn and thank him for standing beside her in court. Then she risked a glance at Craig’s hard face and wondered if she’d have been better off in jail.

A muscle flexed in his jaw, and she canceled her absurd notion. Dressed in a suit and tie, he looked every inch the calm, cultured businessman, but the tight grip of his long fingers on her arm betrayed the fury seething beneath the controlled surface.

Nothing was going the way she’d planned. She was supposed to be holed up at home, comfortably curled on a sofa with a good book and munching on carrot sticks—not hiding from a killer. Instead, she was stuck with a keeper who didn’t trust her, a husband who resented her, and a soon-to-swell belly. While her lies were tame compared to the truth, they were necessary to keep her safe.

If she died, so would the precious lives inside her. Even if it meant lying and stealing, the babies had to come first. Craig might not approve of her methods, but she had to protect his children. Nonetheless, the unsettling image of his probable reaction when she finally told him the truth had her trembling.

He marched her along the busy street, and she hurried to match his long stride, heels clicking madly to keep up. Men and women chattered as they exited office buildings. The crowds overflowed the sidewalks and spilled into the streets. As the throng rushed home to loved ones, Bianca imagined hearts brimming with happiness, welcoming hugs and home-cooked meals.

In contrast, what probably awaited her was a lecture—that is, if he deigned to break his furious silence.

After waiting for the light on the corner to turn green, Bianca and Craig stepped off the curb to cross Granville, a busy four-way intersection. From her right, a white Mercedes raced through a red light.

The crowd scattered. A woman screamed. Brakes screeching, the car skidded and fishtailed her way.

No.

Her heart hammered. Her blood iced. He couldn’t be after her again, not twice in one day.

Bianca froze.

Craig’s fingers tightened on her upper arm, jerked her aside. Out of harm’s way. The car passed so close she could have touched the chrome bumper. At Craig’s fierce tug, she crashed into him and would have crumpled if he hadn’t cradled her against his chest.

She clung to him, unable to stop the shudders that racked her. They could have been killed. Was no place safe?

"Get the license number,” she gasped.

Brakes squealed, and the sound of metal crunching drew her attention. She couldn’t see. Around them, people panicked, a dog barked, a child cried. A bicyclist rode by as if nothing unusual had happened.

"Sorry. Too many people are in the way.”

He stroked her back, comforting her. She should chase after the car, write down the license number. But she didn’t want to give up the protective strength of his arms. For the first time in a long while, someone was worried about her, and relaxing against his broad chest felt undeniably good.

His former fury had been replaced by tight white lines of concern at the corners of his mouth. "Are you all right?”

Shaking, she nodded, leaning against the solid strength of him to remain upright on wobbly legs. Would this never end?

He led her to the corner bus stop and carefully lowered her to a bench, his tone gentle. "You’re pale. Put your head between your knees.”

He nudged her head down, his warm hand cradling her neck with a tenderness she’d never suspected in him. She took deep, calming breaths until the lightheadedness ceased.

As her fright eased, a sour taste rose up into her mouth. Surely the attacker in the park hadn’t already found her? How could he have picked up her trail when she hadn’t returned to her apartment or her car? Hadn’t used a credit card or cell phone? His spotting her on the sidewalk could just have been her bad luck. But these clothes were nothing like her normal attire. Neither was the blond wig.

Damn it! She was supposed to have been protected and safe in this new identity.

"Do you want something to drink?”

She shook her head, unwilling to remain alone, hating the lie of omission this time. While he believed the close call an accident, she knew better.

Being unable to predict the stalker’s next move left her at a disadvantage, and she considered telling Craig the truth. In the face of his kindness, the burden of her secret had never weighed so heavily. But at the thought of facing the next eight months alone, her fear spiked, thoroughly stifling her desire to confess.

"I’ll be okay. It’s my hormones overreacting,” she lied. "Just give me a minute.”

Her nerves really were on edge. Yet Craig’s solicitous concern revealed a side of him she hadn’t known existed until now. Despite the fright, she liked his holding her close and fussing over her. Knowing his hands could comfort as well as suffuse her with heat jolted her to a painful awareness.

His concern’s not for you but his children, the cynic in her scoffed.

Her hand moved protectively to her stomach.

"Are you okay?” Panic tinged his voice. "Should I find a doctor?”

"I’m all right. The babies are fine.” Her hands trembled, and she clenched them.

"You’re shaking.” Ignoring the dirt, he knelt on the sidewalk beside her, clasped her cold hands and rubbed them briskly between his warm ones. She wanted to hang on tight and never let go.

Easy. Get a grip. I’m safe now. Surely her attacker wouldn’t try to run her over again right away.

Dizzy, she sat up and peered through the throng of people on the sidewalk. The white Mercedes had jumped the curb and crashed into a brick wall. Hope surged at the possibility her attacker might have been injured and caught.

She peered through the crowd gathered to gawk at the Mercedes. Unharmed thanks to an air bag, the driver was a woman!

Disappointment haunted her.

The driver wasn’t her stalker. There was no way her attacker in the park could have been a woman. The motorcyclist whose bike she’d taken had broad shoulders, a flat chest and thick arms. Whoever he was, wherever he was, he was alive and well. Discouragement, sharp and bitter, left Bianca even shakier.

Her blood stilled, infusing her bones with ice. The cold horror would never be vanquished—not until the man who’d tried to kill her was caught. On the other hand, this sidewalk incident was a simple accident. He hadn’t found her again.

I’m safe. For the moment.

Though the concern on Craig’s face was probably for his babies, his steady gray eyes searched hers with compassion. Obviously, he was a man capable of deep feelings. Powerful feelings.

All of them for his first wife and the children she carried, she reminded herself.

"Are you sure you’re all right?”

"It’s the hormones. Ever since the doctors implanted the embryos, I’ve been emotional, a normal result of pregnancy,” she lied once more, unable to discern whether he believed her.

He didn’t argue. Again she wished she could tell him the truth. She must be more shaken than she’d realized to consider confiding in him. Staying hidden was crucial, as much for her own safety as for his children’s.

After her strength returned, he led her into the nearest coffee shop. The cheery red-and-white-checkered country decor derided her bleak mood. Her nerves jangled. Although she yearned for coffee, the caffeine wouldn’t be good for the twins, so she ordered cranberry juice with a tuna sandwich.

Slowly, her nerves settled, and she munched absently. Opposite her, Craig’s observant dark eyes measured her every move. Clearly, he was full of questions, and just as clearly, he wouldn’t risk upsetting her.

His scrutiny, as if he feared she was about to break apart at any moment, made her uneasy. "You don’t have to keep staring at me as if I’m going to fall apart. I’m stronger than I look.”

"Sorry.”

Fearing in her overwrought state, she might slip up, she didn’t want to answer questions about herself. Right now, she wanted assurance she’d done the right thing by trusting this man. He certainly seemed concerned about his babies. She brushed her fingers over her stomach. "These children must mean a lot to you.”

He stared at his half-eaten burger. "They mean everything to me.”

"Most men don’t choose to raise children alone. You must have loved your wife very much.”

He nodded then sipped his coffee, his starkly chiseled face giving away nothing.

"I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I wondered, why now?” she persisted. "What made you go ahead after all these years?”

His eyes lowered as if to hide pain. He drained his mug and set it aside. "We always wanted children. After Linda’s death, it just seemed right to carry on with her wishes.”

Clearly, sorrow washed over him as he recalled his wife. Bianca hesitated, wondering if she dared ask her next question, then plunged ahead. "How did she die?”

He didn’t say it, but his eyes revealed he still carried the grief with him. Bianca couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have a man love her so deeply that his gaze mirrored the intensity of his devotion. She knew a bit more about him than she intended to admit. The fact she’d seen him before she’d keep strictly to herself.

Craig closed his eyes, looking totally miserable. Although his words were deceptively calm and devoid of emotion, a faint tremor shook him. "I lost her at the beach. She was caught in a riptide. A lifeguard and I finally pulled her out, but it was too late.”

"I’m sorry.”

"I should have known better than to swim with the waves cresting ten feet.” Guilt and pain layered his razor-sharp tone. "Loving the water, Linda had insisted. I could never refuse her.”

"You can’t blame yourself.”

"I still feel responsible for her death.”

And it was obvious, he still missed her with all his heart. A fertility specialist had removed Linda’s eggs and combined them in a laboratory with Craig’s sperm. But Linda had died before the doctor could implant the embryos. During the four years the embryos had been frozen Craig had been unable to forget. The babies in Bianca’s womb were his last link to Linda. Part of her would live on through them, the promise of better days, of all their hopes and dreams. His deceased wife’s presence was so strong at the moment, Bianca felt as if Linda were silently rooting her on.

"My mother talked me into waiting to find a surrogate, believing that the grief should pass before I made such an important decision. My brothers told me to wait.”

"You didn’t listen.” Perhaps he thought the children would make him whole. After the doctors at the clinic had given her background material about Craig, she’d become curious about a single man who still wanted to have his deceased wife’s children. Her initial intention had been to give him the children he wanted so badly so his soul could be in peace.

"My family thought I would meet another woman,” he continued, "and they believed I’d find someone else to have children with, but...”

"But you never did,” she finished for him. Her eyes brimmed, and she tried to swallow the lump in her throat. She couldn’t help a twinge of envy. No one had ever loved her that much.

Unlike Craig, who had loving memories of wife and marriage, Bianca’s past had been more rocky. Although she and Kendrick Yarlboro had enjoyed several happy years, their relationship hadn’t lasted. In the two years since their breakup, she hadn’t been attracted to a man beyond casual interest.

"What about you?” he asked, a dangerous edge to his tone. "Why did you agree to bear children for a stranger?”

"You must have seen my profile.” She had no wish to repeat the personal reasons she’d given to the psychologist before her application had been accepted. In the face of his honesty, grief and pain, he deserved the truth.

Guilt kept her silent.

The waitress left a check, and he paid, leaving a generous tip. He made no move to leave. Instead, he went completely still under the harsh lights, his blunt-cut black hair gleaming. "You sure you can give up the children when the time comes?”

So, he’d finally asked the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. She couldn’t blame him for believing her a thief, for doubting her intentions. Yet she wanted to hate him for questioning whether she’d already changed her mind, wanted to despise him for thinking her so weak in character. Still, she couldn’t hate him when shewas the one who’d lied from the beginning and maintained the lie now.

At least this time, she could answer without hesitation. "You and Linda are the parents. I’m just the babysitter.”

His majestic gray eyes bored into hers. "You’re a lot more than a babysitter. You’ll lose your figure, go through the pain of childbirth.”

She grinned. "Not to mention morning sickness, heartburn and waddling like a duck.”

He returned her grin, then with a puzzled expression, he furrowed his high forehead, arched his ebony brows and shoved his fingers through his hair. "What I’m paying you doesn’t seem enough.”

She hadn’t agreed to be a surrogate for the money, but he would never believe that. Did he think she’d tracked him down to extract more money from him? If he was that cynical, he’d never believe how much she’d wanted children and that she’d given up hope of finding a man she wanted to marry in order to have them.

Even if she couldn’t raise his kids, having them was her chance to do something good, to bring life into the world. She didn’t expect a man to understand. Her motives were difficult to put into words. Her own mother hadn’t lived to raise her, but Bianca had always been grateful for her ultimate gift of life. Now she had her turn to pass the gift on.

Looking into his harsh features, she could never adequately explain such an abstract concept. Instead, she spoke of specifics. "Your terms are more than generous. But I’d prefer you take me in. I want to live with you. It’ll be better for your babies.”

She held her breath. If he booted her out now, she had nowhere to hide—and she and his unborn twins were as good as dead.

His lips curved into a wry smile that made him look carefree and boyish. "Bonding?”

She chuckled. "Bonding.”

AFTER THEIR MEAL in the café, Craig escorted Bianca to his car, gratified to see color had returned to her cheeks. In one fell swoop, he’d almost lost his children, and he told himself that his concern for Bianca was secondary. However, fear for her safety had heightened his curiosity. He now had more questions than before.

Who was she? Why was she so frightened?

Bianca slipped into disguises with a practiced nonchalance, playing her roles with an adeptness he found alluring and all the more fascinating for her lack of perfection that allowed him glimpses of her true character. Recalling her in the provocative black leather and wild red hair had him wondering what she’d have done if he’d walked right up to her and kissed her full lips. Oddly, he found the demure suit and blond hair just as intriguing. What was happening to him? How had he let a liar and thief slip past his normal barriers?

When he held her trembling in his arms, his concern had been every bit as much for her welfare as the babies. That in itself told him how close she was to forcing him to look at how he’d been deceiving himself. Taking her to bed once or twice wouldn’t be enough. Even if he could handle a one-nighter, she was too complex for a simple fling. Even if she wasn’t, taking her to bed was too risky when he had so much to lose. He had to keep the babies’ welfare firmly in the forefront of his mind.

If only she looked pregnant, he would have had an easier time containing his response to her. His mind and his body had never been at odds like this. Why was he having visions of her taking off his clothes, the two of them rolling naked across tangled sheets? She was at best a liar. And a thief.

Yet he’d discerned a hint of vulnerability he couldn’t banish. Perhaps deceit wasn’t a normal part of her life.

While he knew little of the hormonal changes due to pregnancy, he wasn’t completely ignorant. Pregnant women ate pickles and yearned for fresh strawberries; they didn’t steal motorcycles. She couldn’t be the innocent she wanted him to believe.

In court, she hadn’t been as relaxed as she’d pretended. When the judge had agreed not to send her to jail, relief had washed across her tensed features. Although he suspected she wasn’t pleased to find herself in his custody, she hadn’t protested. She might not be a career criminal, but he’d bet everything he owned she was hiding something.

But what? There was nothing suspicious in her file. She’d left him with only one lead, and he couldn’t afford not to follow up.

He started the car. "I think we should talk to your grandmother.”

Her fingers tightened around her purse, but her demeanor remained calm. She met his gaze with a curious hint of amusement. "Why?”

He admired her courage in the face of his resolve, but he had every intention of finding answers. If she wouldn’t reply to his questions, then perhaps her family would. Sensing she didn’t want him to meet her grandmother, he kept his tone reasonable, wondering how she’d avoid agreeing to his suggestion. Bianca had many weapons in her arsenal, and she was good at employing them all. He didn’t know if she’d use sex, tears or an argument, and that intrigued him.

"You told the court your grandmother gave you a hot bike. Don’t you think you should talk with her about it?”

"Turn down Parson onto Fourth. She’s at the Jarrod Home on Sunberry.”

Surprise left him speechless. He hadn’t thought she’d so easily give in to his request. Bianca’s impetuous audacity amazed him. She was as unpredictable as an August rainstorm and twice as arousing. What was she up to?

She seemed almost too eager to bring him to her grandmother in Garden Grove, and he couldn’t understand why. Perhaps lack of sleep was causing his uncharacteristic inability to solve the mystery engulfing her. If she had something to hide, and she must, with all her evasive maneuvers, why would she want him near the one person who could prove her deceit?

Not for one moment did he believe she’d moved into his home so he could bond with his children. Nor did he think she was out to catch a husband. He’d dated too many woman who sized up the Braddack fortune and calculated his net worth not to recognize someone who wasn’t motivated by greed.

So why was she bearing his children? What did she want from him? Why did she show up when he was just getting the business back on into the black? The short drive wasn’t long enough to figure out the answers—not when he wasn’t sure of the right questions.

The Jarrod Home looked more like a hotel than an assisted living center. Inside, the spacious foyer boasted a waterfall, and the pattering of the water echoed soothingly. The scent from a tray of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies wafted into the air. Hallways of rich emerald carpet and flamingo pink tile led them past card and bingo rooms and a whirlpool and exercise area.

Seeing his interest, Bianca commented, "Gran likes it here. She has her own apartment. Meals are served if she doesn’t feel like cooking. Jarrod’s arranges shopping and trips to the doctor, so though she can’t drive anymore, she doesn’t have to relinquish her freedom.”

Her knowledge of the facility impressed him. Obviously, she cared about her grandmother.

They paused in the hall, waiting for a woman with a walker to turn toward the elevator. Potted palms in ceramic containers lined this corridor, giving the home the atmosphere of a luxury hotel.

A bleached-blond man in his late twenties and wearing white tennis shorts ambled toward them, a tennis racquet in his hand. "Hi, Bianca. Almost didn’t recognize you. Nice hair color.”

"Thanks, Fred.” Apparently, the man was accustomed to Bianca’s disguises. "Craig Braddack, I’d like you to meet Fred Hardcastle.”

Fred shook hands with Craig, but his gaze focused on Bianca. "Gran’s acting feisty.”

Bianca chuckled. "Did she beat you again?”

Fred winked. "Does her good when I let her win now and then. But that’s not it.”

"I give up. What’s she done this time?”

Fred shook his head and grinned, showing off his white teeth against his tan as he passed by. "I’m not spoiling her surprise.”

The cheerful man left Craig with an image of friendly concern. Not exactly the sterile and depressing picture he’d expected. If the rest of the staff were as upbeat and sympathetic as Fred, the residents were well cared for.

"How long has your grandmother lived here?”

"A few years. Fred’s the athletic director. Gran says the women go to his clinics just to ogle his legs.” They took an elevator up, and after a short walk down another hall, Bianca stopped at a door decorated with a silver star, knocked and called out, "Gran.”

"Coming, dear.”

Craig angled himself to one side, positioning himself to observe Bianca’s face as the door opened. Instead of some secret signal, her eyes lit with joy, and she smiled with genuine warmth. She hugged the short and rounded woman, who appeared to be in her late seventies. Just as eccentric as her granddaughter, Gran wore jeans and a t-shirt, her thin hair dyed electric blue.

Bianca leaned back from the embrace and examined the older woman. "I like your hair, Gran.” Her grandmother beamed and fluffed out a curl. "Really? I thought this look might be a little young for me.”

"Naw. You don’t look a day over fifty.”

"What are you wearing, child?” She surveyed Bianca’s pin-striped suit. "Did someone die?”

"I had a business appointment,” Bianca explained.

Craig swallowed a grin as he wondered what her grandmother would have said about black leather. He suspected Gran would approve—especially if she had bought Bianca that bike.

Gran peered around Bianca. "Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Bianca’s lips turned up in an easy grin. "Gran, I’d like you to meet my friend, Craig Braddack. He wants to ask about the motorcycle you bought me.”

Gran fumbled for her pink-tinted John Lennon glasses and led them into a spotless den decorated in soft whites, aqua and peach. "Well, I don’t know much about motorbikes. I paid two hundred dollars for it. Do you suppose that was too much?”

Craig took an overstuffed wing chair. Gran seated herself on the matching couch, pulled a Siamese cat into her lap and scratched it between the ears while Bianca paced.

"Where did you buy the bike, ma’am?” Craig asked while Bianca tossed her hair back from her face and gave him a warning look as if she expected he’d cross-examine the woman like a hostile witness.

"I always shop at the mall.”

AT GRAN’S CURT, matter-of-fact reply, Craig restrained his astonishment. No mall he’d ever been to sold motorcycles. Had the old woman been conned? Or was he being set up? Bianca had called Gran from his home. She’d had time to warn her that the bike was stolen. Was he too suspicious? Was Gran who she appeared—merely a dotty old lady with eccentric hair?

"Jarrod’s bus provides daily trips to the mall,” Bianca reminded him.

"Did you get a title?” Craig asked, determined to learn the real story.

Gran looked bewildered. "I didn’t buy any books. My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

Craig choked on a chuckle.

Eyes twinkling Bianca took a seat on the couch. "Gran, he means did you get a... receipt for the bike?”

Gran shook her head and, with a girlish gesture, twisted her finger in her blue hair. "That’s why I got a good deal. The salesman told me September is a special month for sales—like a flea market. Bought it—as is, where is.” She beamed with pride at remembering the correct terminology. "Didn’t it run good?”

There could be no doubting Bianca’s love for her grandmother as she patted Gran’s hand. "The motor ran just fine.” Bianca turned to him. "Is there anything else you need?”

He felt like a heel, trying to trip up the grandmother to catch Bianca in a lie. Yet she was hiding something; he sensed it by the challenging glint in her too-green eyes. He turned back to the elderly woman. "Just one more question, please. When did you buy the bike?”

Bianca crossed her legs, and her foot bounced nervously, the heel of her shoe slipping off one elegant foot. He fought down a twinge of desire.

"Let me see. Fred brought me a chicken dinner that day. I think it was Friday. No, Friday is fish day.” Gran scratched her neck. Her eyes widened. "Sorry. I can’t remember. Is it important?”

Bianca stood and leaned over to embrace her grandmother. "No. It’s not important.”

Craig had difficulty keeping his gaze off Bianca’s long, lean legs. She didn’t seem to notice, but he thought her grandmother did, because behind Bianca’s back, she gave him the thumbs-up signal.

"Thanks for your help, Gran. We’ve got to go.” Bianca kissed the woman’s cheek. "I’ll be in touch.”

As Craig drove home, Bianca lay back against the headrest. Her face still looked tired, but the tension had eased from her shoulders.

"You seem especially close to your grandmother.”

"I am.”

She spoke reluctantly, and he wondered if his suspicions were running rampant. She’d told him precious little about her family, even less about her past. She hadn’t mentioned friends, either. The way she avoided his questions told him not to trust her.

Wanting to do something normal to ground him in reality, Craig pulled over at an ice-cream stand along the beach. The sun had set, and the first stars glittered in the night sky, adding to his strangely restless mood. Lack of sleep and the surprises of the day, not the woman beside him, had caused a tautness to hum through him.

From the moment she woke him this morning, the day had held a fast-forward quality, and he suddenly ached for the peace of a moonlit stroll on a beach with a pretty woman at his side.

"So you grew up with your grandmother?”

"Gran raised me. It wasn’t easy for her, burying a son. She treated me like a daughter—a hellion, she called me.”

He chuckled, picturing Bianca as a mischievous ten-year-old. "Now you causing trouble—thatI don’t find hard to believe.” He spotted a place where the cliffs broke. Moonlight illuminated a path down to the Pacific. "How about an ice cream cone and a walk?”

"Sure. I need the calcium.”

Ten minutes later, she was licking chocolate off her lips while he tried to think of something besides the shape of her mouth. Besides kissing her.

Other couples strolled along the shore. Several people walked their dogs. Someone rode a skateboard with a sail attached down the beach—typical Southern California, September craziness.

To avoid bumping her, Craig unclipped his cell phone from his belt and reattached it to his other side. Bianca slipped off her heels. As they strolled side by side, he recalled the softness of her breasts pressing against him when she’d clung to him earlier. He recalled the feel of her in his arms, the scent of vanilla, the tender way she’d placed his hand over her womb, and he ached to—

Stop it.

What the hell was wrong with him? The woman had secrets that might be vital to the welfare of his children. Instead of thinking about romance, he should be grilling her.

"Where’s the rest of your family?”

"Gran and her brother are the only family I have.”

"And your parents?”

"My parents died in a train crash when I was ten.”

"What about brothers and sisters?”

"Just me.”

Craig might have been avoiding his brothers for a while, but he couldn’t imagine growing up without them. They were close. Despite the fact that he’d isolated himself he could pick up his cell and his brothers would be there for him. And if they could have taken the pain of his losing Linda from him, they would have born it gladly.

"My grandparents were the only family I had left—except for Gran’s useless younger brother, Bob.”

"Useless?”

"Bob only came around when he needed money for liquor. He was famous for ranting about some missing stock that Gran said couldn’t possibly exist.”

"So you lived with your grandparents?”

"Yes. Two years after my parents’ train accident, Grandfather died of emphysema, leaving Gran to take care of me alone. Gran never once complained, scrubbing floors to earn the money to raise me. She’d come home and prepare my favorite foods, and at night, she’d sew doll clothes for my collection.”

Bianca stumbled over a rock. He reached out to prevent her from falling.

A rifle shot cracked the air.


 

 


 

Please review these other products:

 
Kiss Me Deadly

Susan Kearney

January 2013 $14.95

ISBN: 978-1-61194-250-7

Dedicated family attorney Amanda "Mandy" Newman may have survived an attempted drowning and, along with co-workers, just won the biggest lottery in history, but before she can collect, the ticket is stolen. Now, her co-workers are being murdered one by one.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
Dancing With Fire

Susan Kearney

February 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-255-2

In a battle against a ruthless enemy, all they have is each other.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
The Challenge

Susan Kearney

May 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-285-9

Domination. Desire. Destiny.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
The Dare

Susan Kearney

June 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-291-0

Book 2 of The Rystani Warrior series

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
The Ultimatum

Susan Kearney

July 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-322-1

Book 3 of The Rystani Warrior series

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
The Quest

Susan Kearney

September 2013 $14.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-324-5

Book 4 of The Rystani Warrior Series


 

Our Price: US$14.99

click to see more

 
 
Lunar Heat

Susan Kearney

November 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-371-9

A future that’s out of this world.

A seduction that’s out of control.


 

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
Solar Heat

Susan Kearney

November 2013 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-370-2

If she saves his life, he’ll be her enemy forever.


 

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more

 
 
Devil in Paradise

Susan Kearney

January 2014 $5.99
ISBN: 978-1-61194-4-297

Available in E-book ONLY. This item is not available directly from BelleBooks/Bell Bridge Books.

Ari Dillon is not your ordinary hero.

 

Our Price: US$0.00

click to see more

 
 
Born in Secret

Susan Kearney

July 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-501-0

Book 1 of The Braddacks

Our Price: US$13.95

click to see more

 
 
Born in Danger

Susan Kearney

July 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-504-1

Book 2 of The Braddacks

Our Price: US$13.95

click to see more