Where the hell had she gone?

He rolled over onto his stomach, burying his face in the silk fabric, his sleep-numbed brain trying to make sense of what the hell had happened. The sheet smelled of soap and lavender; no hint of her spicy, slightly exotic fragrance lingered. The only softness a plump abandoned feather pillow, damp and crumpled.


He swore viciously.

More asleep than awake, he swung his legs out and stumbled from the bed to the bathroom. In the shower cubicle, he turned the faucets on and let the force of the cold water crash over his overheated body.

He refused to yield to the desire that still raged through him. He told himself it had all been an illusion, nothing but a cruel trick played on him by his starved libido. No woman could ever be as good as a man’s desperate fantasy.

Not even Candace…

Six

His arms folded behind his head, Nick leaned back in the leather chair behind the walnut desk in the study that was his only retreat in a house Jilly had created and furnished with help from an expensive design team. It was Tuesday evening, and Candace was still living in his home.

He hadn’t figured out what her motivation was for lying about being Jennie’s mother—nor had she given up on her insistence that she was.

The other thing that hadn’t changed was that he still craved her with a hunger that made absolutely no sense. Nick couldn’t believe he was fantasizing about a woman whom he should be kicking out.

The past few days had been hell.

Every now and then a flash of that crazy dream would creep insidiously into his brain before he could banish it. Traitor.

First thing yesterday morning Nick had ordered Busby to drive Jennie and Candace to his doctor, where the swabs for DNA tests had been taken.

Candace had shown no surprise when he’d bowed out, inventing a meeting to attend. Yet while being thankful that she wasn’t suspicious of his reasons for absenting himself, Nick couldn’t help feeling that he’d given Candace more ammunition for her belief that he was an unfit father for Jennie.

But he’d been eager to avoid questions about why he wouldn’t give a sample. A call to his doctor had satisfied Nick that it wasn’t necessary. Buccal samples taken from Candace and Jennie by mouth swabs would be sufficient to establish with certainty that Candace wasn’t, in fact, Jennie’s mother. Even though his doctor had suggested that the result would be more conclusive had his DNA been available to be matched, Nick had chosen to ignore that advice.

Now, with the samples taken and the results from the diagnostic laboratory fast-tracked and due any minute, Nick had been tensing every time his cell phone beeped.

He couldn’t make up his mind what he wanted more: for Candace’s claim to be true, proving she hadn’t lied, or for it to be false so that he could be rid of her, once and for all.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Nick knew which would be the easier solution to deal with. Getting Candace out of Jennie’s life—out of his own—and returning to the even keel of his existence was what they both needed.

So why did that leave him feeling so…flat?

Nick stared sightlessly at the two antique botanical watercolors that flanked the study door. They’d belonged to Henry. Instead of selling them, the old man had insisted on gifting them to Nick. Usually the pictures gave him an immense sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

But today all he could think of was Candace. Of how she’d disrupted his life and turned his world upside down. He wasn’t going to allow her to unravel Jennie’s world, too.

When he’d called his assistant yesterday morning to tell her he wouldn’t be in for the day, there’d been utter silence on the other side of the line before Pauline had asked if he was ill. Only then did Nick realize that in all the years Pauline had worked for him he’d never taken a day off—the only time he didn’t go in to work was when he was out of the country on business trips. Hell, he hadn’t even taken time off for a honeymoon after he’d married Jilly. Much to his new bride’s tearful dismay.

But there’d been no need for a honeymoon and all the trappings of romance. He’d been nothing more than his bride’s bought husband—and he hadn’t intended to prop up the pretense with a fake honeymoon.

Jilly’s expectations had been suffocating. She’d wanted a pet. A husband who came when she crooked her finger, who mated on demand—one she could trot out and show off to her friends. Her attempts to domesticate him had had the effect of driving him away to seek his freedom in the corporate corridors she avoided and the boxing gym she despised.

Despite his romantic surname, Jilly had made a horrible mistake. He’d never been cut out to be the trophy husband she’d mistakenly believed she could groom him to be.

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