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Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir

By:Heidi Betts

Her Little Secret, His Hidden Heir
Heidi Betts

       Prologue




Vanessa Keller-soon to be simply Vanessa Mason again-sat at the foot of   her hotel-room bed, staring at the small plastic wand in her hand. She   blinked, feeling her heart pound, her stomach roll and her vision go   fuzzy around the edges.

As bad luck went, this ranked right up there with having your plane go   down on the way to your honeymoon destination or getting hit by a bus   right after you'd won the million-dollar lotto.

And the irony of the situation …

A harsh laugh escaped her lungs, taking with it a puff of the stale air she'd been holding onto for the past several minutes.

She was newly divorced from a husband she'd thought was the man of her   dreams, staying in a downtown Pittsburgh hotel because she didn't know   quite what to do with her life now that the rug had been yanked out from   under her. And if that wasn't enough to make her wonder where things   had gone so wrong, now she was pregnant.

Pregnant. With her ex-husband's child, when she hadn't managed to   conceive in the three years they'd been married, even though they'd   tried … or at least hadn't worked to prevent it.

What in heaven's name was she going to do?

Pushing to her feet on less-than-steady legs, she crossed to the wide   desk against the far wall and dropped into its cushioned chair. Her   hands shook as she laid the small plastic stick on the flat surface and   dragged the phone closer.

Taking deep, shuddering breaths, she told herself she could do this.   Told herself it was the right thing to do, and however he reacted, she   would handle it.

This was not a bid to get back together. Vanessa wasn't sure she would   want to, even with a baby now in the picture. But he deserved to know he   was going to be a father, regardless of the current state of their   relationship.

With cold fingers, she dialed the familiar number, knowing his assistant   would answer. She'd never cared for Trevor Storch; he was a weaselly   little brownnoser, treating her more as an annoyance than as the wife of   the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company and his boss.

After only one ring, Trevor's squeaky, singsong voice came on the line.   "Keller Corporation, Marcus Keller's office. How may I help you?"

"It's Vanessa," she said without preamble-he knew full well who she was.   He was probably privy to more of the details about her marriage and   subsequent divorce than he deserved to be, too. "I need to talk to   Marc."

"I'm sorry, Miss Mason, Mr. Keller isn't available."

His use of her maiden name-not to mention calling her Miss-struck   Vanessa's heart like the tip of a knife. No doubt he'd done it   deliberately.

"It's important," she said, not bothering to correct or argue with him.   She'd done enough of that in the past, as well as overlooking his snide   attitude just to keep the peace; she didn't have to do it anymore,   either.

"I'm sorry," he told her again, "but Mr. Keller has instructed me to   tell you that there's nothing you could possibly have to say to him that   he wants to hear. Good day."

And with that, the line went dead, leaving Vanessa openmouthed with   shock. If hearing herself called "Miss Mason" rather than "Mrs. Keller"   felt like a knife tip being inserted into her heart, then being told  her  ex-husband wouldn't even deign to speak with her any longer thrust  the  blade the rest of the way in to the hilt and twisted it sharply.

She'd known Marc was angry with her, knew they'd parted on less than   friendly terms. But never in a million years would she have expected him   to cut her off so callously.

He'd loved her once, hadn't he? She'd certainly loved him. And yet   they'd come to this-virtual strangers who couldn't even speak a civil   word to one another.

But that answered the question of what she was going to do. She was   going to be a single mother, and without Marcus's money and   support-which she wouldn't have taken, with or without the prenup-she'd   better find a way to take care of herself and the baby-and she'd better   do it fast.





One




One year later …

Marcus Keller flexed his fingers on the warm leather of the steering   wheel, his sleek black Mercedes hugging the road as he took the narrow   curves leading into Summerville faster than was probably wise.

The small Pennsylvania town was only three hours from his own home in   Pittsburgh, but it might as well have been a world away. Where   Pittsburgh was ninety percent concrete and city lights, Summerville was   thick forests, green grass, quaint houses and a small downtown area  that  reminded Marcus of a modern version of Mayberry.                       
       
           



       

He slowed his speed, taking the time to examine the storefronts as he   passed. A drug store, a post office, a bar and grill, a gift shop … and a   bakery.

Lifting his foot from the gas, he slowed even more, studying the bright   yellow awning and fancy black lettering declaring it to be The Sugar   Shack … the red neon sign in the window letting customers know they were   open … and the handful of people inside, enjoying freshly made baked   goods.

It looked inviting, which was important in the food service industry. He   was tempted to lower his window and see if he could actually smell the   delicious scents of breads and cookies and pies in the air.

But there was more to running a successful business than a cute name and   an attractive front window, and if he was going to put money into The   Sugar Shack, he wanted to know it was a sound investment.

At the corner, he took a left and continued down a side street,   following the directions he'd been given to reach the offices of Blake   and Fetzer, Financial Advisors. He'd worked with Brian Blake before,   though never on an investment this far from home or this close to   Blake's own offices. Still, the man had never steered him wrong, which   made Marcus more willing to take time off work and make the long drive.

A few blocks down the street, he noticed a lone woman walking quickly on   three-inch heels. Given the uneven pavement and pebbles littering the   sidewalk, she wasn't having an easy time of it. She also seemed   distracted, rooting around inside an oversize handbag rather than   keeping her attention on where she was going.

A niggle of something uncomfortable skated through his belly. She   reminded him somehow of his ex-wife. A bit heavier and curvier, her   coppery hair cut short instead of left to flow halfway down her back,   but still very similar. Especially the way she walked and dressed. This   woman was wearing a white blouse and a black skirt with a short slit at   the back, framing a pair of long, lovely legs. No jacket and no clunky   accessories, which followed Vanessa's personal style to a T.

Shifting his gaze back to the road, he tamped down on whatever emotion   had his chest going tight. Guilt? Regret? Simple sentimentality? He   wasn't sure and didn't care to examine the unexpected feelings too   closely.

They'd been divorced for over a year. Better to put it all behind him and move on, as he was sure Vanessa had done.

Spotting the offices of Blake and Fetzer, he pulled into the diminutive   three-car lot at the back of the building, cut the engine and stepped   out into the warm spring day. With any luck, this meeting and the   subsequent tour of The Sugar Shack would only take a couple of hours,   then he could be back on the road and headed home. Small town life might   be fine for some people, but Marcus would be only too happy to get  back  to the hustle and bustle of the city and the life he'd made for  himself  there.



Vanessa stopped outside Brian Blake's office, taking a moment to   straighten her blouse and skirt, run a hand through her short-cropped   hair and touch up her lipstick. It had been a long time since she'd   gotten this dressed up and she was sorely out of practice.

It didn't help, either, that all of the nicer clothes she'd acquired   while being married to Marcus were now at least one size too small. That   meant her top was a bit too snug across the chest, her skirt was a  good  inch shorter than she would have liked and darned if the waistband   wasn't cutting off her circulation.

Thankfully, the town of Summerville didn't require her to dress up this   much, even for Sunday services. Otherwise, she may have had to invest  in  a new wardrobe, and given what a hard time she was having just  keeping  her head above water and her business afloat, that was an added  expense  she definitely could not afford.

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