The pain below her heart grew more intense.

Nick Valentine deserved to find a woman he could really love. For all his life. Candace wished that woman were her. But it wouldn’t be her. Even though he was the father of her baby…and the man she loved.


Nick would never be hers.

Shaking her head, she said slowly, “I’m sorry Nick, I can’t marry you.”

Not even for Jennie.

Nick had retreated to the sanctuary of his study, where he’d poured himself one measure of single-malt Scotch, then collapsed onto the burgundy love seat.

He’d been so certain she would say yes.

If Candace married him, it would’ve been a tidy solution, and Jennie would’ve been safe. He couldn’t fathom why she’d refused the most sensible course of action under the circumstances.

There’d been flashes of time over the past few days when he could’ve sworn she desired him almost as much as he craved her. It had been there in the way her gaze flicked to him, then quickly away, in the soft flush of color that followed, in the slight stutter she developed when he stood too close.

But she’d turned him down flat.

Well, he supposed it served him right for being so sure of her.

He raised the heavy crystal glass to his lips and took a sip, savoring the smoky flavor.

It wasn’t over yet. Nick was determined to escalate that reciprocal passion he’d sensed in her. He was convinced he could change her no to a yes.

He knew he didn’t have a lot of time. He’d have to move fast if he wanted a marriage to thwart the thorn in his side that Desmond had become. He had to move now.

If he wanted to keep Candace.

Thirteen

Nick had rarely entered Jilly’s suite of rooms during their marriage.

Now as he crossed the threshold he noticed that it smelled…empty…like a hotel room long deserted. The curtains were drawn, dimming the room. He flicked the light switch, picked up a remote and activated it. The curtains opened and sunlight filtered in through the lacy blinds beneath.

The bedcover in Jilly’s signature gray and white and lime lay smooth and uncreased. Two crystal perfume bottles stood on the dresser, and a Lalique vase stuffed with silk tulips occupied a writing desk beside the windows.

Feeling like an intruder, Nick crossed to where a dressing room opened off Jilly’s en suite. Her clothes had already been packed up and given to charity. The wall safe was empty. Nick had placed Jilly’s jewels in a bank deposit box in trust for Jennie, the day after the funeral.

Any hope that he might discover secrets that had not died with Jilly was fading rapidly. The bathroom cupboards held only unopened toiletries, clean towels and a hairdryer. Impersonal items waiting for the next occupant. The personal items Jilly had used were long gone.

Back in her bedroom he checked the dresser drawers, her bedside table…all empty…as he’d expected. He’d gone through them himself. Nick moved on to her writing desk, already knowing what he’d find.

The first drawer revealed her wallet, a checkbook, an expired passport and a folder of canceled credit cards. The next drawer down contained Jilly’s lime-green laptop and an iPhone. The final drawer held a box of Jilly’s gold embossed stationery, envelopes, her address book…exactly as she’d left them. He lifted the stationery box out and opened it. Letterheads with Jilly Valentine surrounded by tiny pink hearts. He smiled. How Jilly. There were thank-you notes, too. He put the box back and started to close the drawer, then paused.

Taking out the stationery box again, he lifted the large black address book, and pulled out a second black volume. Jilly’s appointment book. Next he opened the drawer above and extracted her laptop with its power cable.

Seating himself on the padded desk chair, Nick flipped open the cover of the five-year appointment book. Finally he booted the laptop up. In less time than expected he’d found a file labeled Journal. Opening it, Nick started to read.

The following morning, Nick strode past an unsuspecting receptionist and, at the end of the corridor, entered the corner office unannounced.

Desmond Perry sat behind his desk, puffed up as an angry toad. Red-faced, he demanded, “What’s the meaning of bursting into my office like this?”

Nick took a seat in one of the two chairs in front of the desk, and leaned back. “If you prefer, I can arrange to see you another time with my lawyer in attendance. Or you can listen to what I have to say now.”

Desmond stopped blustering. “What do you want?”

“I want you to stop harassing my sister and brother-in-law and tell your crony at NorthPark to withdraw his eviction notice.” Nick paused, while Desmond stared at him. “I want you to forget about trying to acquire enough of a stake in Valentine’s to force a takeover—yes, I know about your plan to develop the land, not for high-density apartments, but for a shopping mall in partnership with NorthPark.”

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