When I completed and submitted my thirtieth book, I decided to celebrate by offering a taste from each one. Enjoy!
The Consequence He Must Claim is Book Two in my very popular baby swap duet, The Wrong Heirs.
Sorcha is PA to Cesar, always had a crush, and the day she quit gave in to desire, accidentally getting pregnant. That same day, he crashed his car and lost a week's worth of memory. While he's in hospital, his family follows through on the engagement they had arranged for him and Sorcha winds up having the baby alone in London. Except, the baby is swapped and sorting it out requires a DNA test. They call Cesar and he is very surprised. In this scene he has caught up to her at the hospital.
~ * ~
“Why,” he said aloud, moving over to her and switching to Valencian so they could speak with some privacy. “If I’m his father, why did I find out like this? Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why not stay and force me to face it? Why not ask me for support?”
She’d always been good under pressure, rarely revealing her thoughts or feelings, but a vulnerable anger flashed across her expression.
“I tried to see you. I asked your father a dozen times, went to the hospital, but I wasn’t allowed up.” Her face hardened. “It was a difficult time for your family and you were in very bad shape. I wanted to be compassionate about that. When I heard you’d lost your memory…” She searched his gaze as though still having trouble believing it.
So did he. He flinched, angered all over again at his own fallibility. He turned away.
“The circumstances weren’t ideal,” she continued behind him. “You were engaged to Diega even if it wasn’t official—” She sighed. “We talked a lot that day and you confided your reservations about marrying. I thought it meant you were deciding against going through with it or I never would have…”
He glanced back to see her dip her head, smoothing her brow with a troubled finger.
He strained his brain, searching for what he might have said to her. Yes, he’d had reservations about his engagement from the time he was twenty and his mother identified Diega as a suitable future wife, but his parents had a perfectly civil, successful arrangement. This was how his family conducted themselves. You didn’t achieve long-term professional success by chasing “love.” You built a satisfying environment by partnering with people of similar minds and means. He had resolved himself to doing his part in expanding the family’s standing and fortune.
And doing right by Diega’s family.
So he had ignored the feeling in the pit of his gut and approved the plan to engage himself when his mother had pressed him.
Privately he acknowledged that in those weeks leading up to the party, he had begun to feel like the walls were closing in. He wasn’t sure why he would have opened up to Sorcha about it, though. Postcoital lowered defenses or not, that was a more personal thing than he would typically confide even to her.
“I wanted to tell you first, obviously,” she said with a despairing sigh. “But I couldn’t get in to see you. What was my alternative? Tell your father? He would have thought, at best, that I’d done this on purpose. I didn’t, Cesar. We used a condom. It failed. I can see you barely believe me. Your father wouldn’t have, either.” She looked away, cheekbones flushed with indignation while sadness tugged at the corners of her pretty mouth.
What had it felt like to kiss her? As good as he’d always imagined?
His hand closed into a fist and a fresh wave of feeling cheated gripped him.
“I didn’t expect you could believe me, if the memory was gone. In every scenario, when I imagined convincing you or anyone else that Enrique was yours, I saw myself being paid off. I don’t want your money.” Her eyes met his, as steady and truthful as he’d ever seen her. “The only reason I gave your name on the forms here was because it was an emergency. If I hadn’t made it through the surgery, I didn’t want my mother burdened with the cost of raising Enrique. At that point, yes, I would hope you would open your wallet.”
A chill moved through him at her saying “hadn’t made it through.” He brushed aside the thought of such a disturbing outcome and latched onto her other shocking admission. “So you never would have told me?”
She looked down, chewing the inside of her lip. “Never is a long time.” Her gaze flicked up uncertainly. “Enrique might have had questions. I was going to wait and see.”
He was flabbergasted.
He reminded himself the boy might not be his, but damn it, he’d spent three years entrusting Sorcha with confidential information, decisions that affected stock prices, personal opinions that he hadn’t shared with anyone else… Aside from leaving him when he’d been at his lowest point, she’d never let him down. From their first meeting, she’d been disarmingly frank, in fact.
So had he. She knew exactly how he felt about people who lied and kept secrets and messed with his scrupulously ordered life.
“I’m not ‘waiting to see,’” he growled, aware that despite a lack of hard evidence he did believe her. “I called off my wedding.”
She took that in with a stunned expression, then recovered with a shaken little shrug. “Well, I didn’t ask you to. I don’t have designs on you myself, if that’s what you’re worried about.” She made the claim firmly enough, but her lashes trembled as she flicked another look at him.
Like she was trying not to betray that, on some level, she’d entertained the idea.
That didn’t surprise him. He was a rich, titled, healthy man. All women took his measure and often made a play. According to his sister, it was basic biology. He had the kind of power and resources that appealed to fertile women looking for a mate to provide for her young.
And that was what Sorcha ought to expect if he was indeed the father of her child.
“Really,” he said skeptically, folding his arms, taken aback, but when had Sorcha not surprised him?
“Really,” she affirmed. “If you want to make provisions for your son, that’s your choice, but I will proceed as if I’ll be supporting Enrique alone.”
Of course he would support his child. That wasn’t even something he had to consciously decide, it was such a no-brainer. What kind of man failed to provide the basics of life to his offspring?
The natural progression of that thought—how he would provide for Enrique—was a more complex decision he was holding off contemplating.
All his life, he’d had a perfect defense against ambitious women: he was tied to an arranged marriage of his parents’ choosing. Now, for the first time in his life, he was free of that encumbrance, yet morally bound to at least consider marriage to Sorcha.
If Enrique was his.
That odd rush of longing for the boy to be his rose again, stronger this time, bunching his muscles with anticipation as though he could physically fight for the outcome he wanted.
“I wasn’t trying to trap you that day,” Sorcha continued, brow wrinkling. “We had some champagne and talked about personal things. I felt—” She flushed and swallowed, but forced her chin up to meet his gaze with defiance. “I felt like we were friends. That’s why I slept with you.” Her expression darkened to one of hurt and betrayal. “But when I came to the hospital to see you, Diega told me you called me your last hurrah.”
Sorcha’s gaze took a scathing sweep that sliced across him. Slash, slash, slash, like Zorro’s sword dissecting him into pieces.
“She said I had become a challenge. A conquest—her word—that you couldn’t stand to let get away. I’ve been so comforted all these months, Cesar, knowing you had a good laugh at my expense right before you nearly died.”
~ * ~
Be sure to look for Book One in The Wrong Heirs, The Marriage He Must Keep.
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