Welcome! Can you believe it's June 1 already? My family and I are preparing for our summer vacation and believe it or not I'm taking work. I have four books with reverted rights that I intend to have up for readers by January 1, 2013. But...more excitingly...I'm prepping some of my workshops to go up as ebooks. They'll be a little cheaper than actually attending the classes, but they also will be classes I will no longer be offering as workshops. They are sort of retiring. :). Plus, having them in book form on your ereader I think will be an easy way to find them. If your office is anything like mine, you'll consider that a blessing.
June 5 THE TYCOON'S SECRET DAUGHTER releases. I'm excited for this book, not just because I love it (though I do :D) but also because it's part of a two-book series that explores what happens when a family has some big secrets. After Max Montgomery goes to work for his rich, ruthless father, he discovers that the baby Brandon Montgomery talked his wife Gwen into adopting is actually Brandon's illigitimate son. So Chance Montgomery, the adopted son, really is a Montgomery. Max really does have a brother.
That doesn't bother him so much as the fact that Brandon asks him to keep the secret from his mother...and his brother.
Family secrets can do a lot of damage and Max suffers mightily for his father's sin. So does Chace.
Exiting the elevator in the lobby of Mercy General Hospital, Max Montgomery glanced up and did a double take. The woman leaving the coffee shop looked exactly like his ex-wife.
Petite as Kate had been, wearing blue jeans and a little flowered top that was her style, with thick, shoulder-length sable-color hair that swung when she moved, she had to be Kate.
He shook his head, telling himself that was nuts. His wife had left
almost eight years ago and he hadn’t seen her since. She’d divorced him through
lawyers. Hadn’t answered the letters he’d sent to her parents’ home. Hadn’t
even returned to visit as far as he knew. Not even at holidays. That couldn’t
be her. Pine Valley, Pennsylvania
He made his way to the wide glass exit doors and they automatically parted, but curiosity turned him around before he could step out.
The woman now stood in front of the elevator he’d exited, her back to him.
Sensation vibrated through him, the radar he’d always had with her. He’d always known when she was within twenty feet. Always known when she was about to walk into the room. Always known.
It had to be her. The radar never failed.
He took a few cautious steps toward her, but stopped. Even if it was her, why would she want to see him? What would he say? Sorry I screwed up our marriage, but I’m sober now.
Actually, that wasn’t such a bad idea. Of all the people on his twelve-step list, people he needed to make amends with, he’d contacted everyone but her. The person who most deserved his apology.
If it wasn’t her, he’d simply apologize for the mistake.
Either way, he’d be apologizing. No big deal.
He sucked in a breath, crossed the small space between them and tapped on her shoulder.
His heart stopped then sped up again. It was her.
His mind flew to the day he’d met her at a pool party at a friend’s house. She’d worn a green bikini that matched her eyes. But though her looks had been what caught his attention, it was her personality that hooked his heart. Sweet. Fearless. Funny. In one short conversation, she’d made him forget every other woman he knew. And now she was here. In front of him.
His heart stumbled. His knees weakened.
But when she realized who’d tapped her, the happily surprised expression on her face crumbled and was replaced by something Max could only describe as a look of horror.
A lump of emotion lodged in his throat. More of their life together flashed through his brain. The way they’d talked till dawn the day of the pool party. The first time they’d kissed. The first time they’d made love. Their wedding day.
He’d thrown it all away for the contents of a bottle.
He cleared his throat. “Kate.”
She motioned with her coffee. “I…Um…I need to get this up to mom.”
This time when his heart up-ended it was with fear for her. “Your mom is here? As a patient?”
“No. No. She’s fine.” She glanced around nervously. “Daddy had a stroke.”
Was that any better? “Oh, my God. I’m sorry.”
“He’s okay.” She looked to the right again. “The stroke was reasonably mild. Prognosis is good.” She tried to smile. “I’ve really gotta go.”
It was the worst moment of his life. Eight years ago, she would have turned to him in this kind of tragedy. Today, she couldn’t stand to be around him. In some respects, he didn’t blame her. But he’d changed. He’d been in Alcoholics Anonymous for seven years. He was sober. And he did realize what he’d lost. But more than that, apologizing, admitting his faults, was part of his twelve-step program.
When the elevator pinged, he caught her arm to prevent her from turning. Electricity crackled through him.
Their gazes caught. His heart swelled with misery. God, how he’d loved her.
She swallowed. “I’ve really gotta…”
“Go. I know. But I need a minute.”
Hospital employees walked out of the elevators behind them. The gathering crowd waiting for the elevator loaded inside.
She glanced around nervously.
Pain skittered through him. She couldn’t even stand to be seen with him. He thought back to the times he’d embarrassed her and the pain became a familiar ache. He’d disappointed so many people.
But that was seven years ago.
And today was today.
He pulled her a few feet away from the elevators. “I have to tell you that I’m sorry.”
Her face scrunched with confusion. “Have to?”
“Yes. It’s part of the program.”
Her eyes lit with recognition. “Oh, twelve steps.”
She looked at him differently now, closely. “You’re sober.”
He finally let himself smile. He’d wanted to be able to tell her that for seven long years. “Yes.”
Her voice softened. “I’m so glad.”
His chest loosened a bit. Breathing became easier. “I am too.”
An awkward silence stretched between them. He understood. There really wasn’t anything for them to say. He’d ruined their marriage. She’d left him to save herself.
She showed him the two cups of coffee again. “I should get this to my mom before it gets cold.”
Pain radiated out from his heart to his entire body. He’d had this woman. She’d loved him and he’d loved her. She’d been everything to him and he’d driven her away.
Don’t dwell on the past. Focus on the future.
He stepped back. “Yeah. Sure. I’m sorry.”
The bell for the second elevator pinged. The doors swooshed open. Kate turned to get inside, but a little girl raced out.
“Mom! Grandma sent me to find you. She thinks you’re making that coffee.”
His knees that had been weakened began to shake. The little girl’s hair might have been the same sable color as Kate’s, but those blue eyes … they were
Pain morphed into shock. Could this be his child? His daughter?
“And who is this?”
Kate’s gaze flicked to his. Her hand fell protectively to the little girl’s shoulder. “This is Trisha.”
His body went stock still. “Short for Patricia?” His beloved grandmother’s name? Why name the little girl after his grandmother if she wasn’t his?
She smiled weakly. Her eyes filled with tears. She whispered, “Yes.”
He had a child. A daughter. And Kate had kept her from him?
He looked at the little girl again. Pain, wonder, curiosity simultaneously burst inside him. Everything in him wanted to touch her. To examine her. To see the beautiful child he’d made.
But anger warred with longing and both of them were wrapped in confusion. Was this why she’d left him? Because she was pregnant? Because she didn’t want him to know his child?
Fury rose, hot and eager for release, but thank God his common sense had not deserted him. With this beautiful little girl standing so sweetly innocent in front of him, he couldn’t out-and-out ask Kate if this was his daughter.
Kate wanted to grab her baby girl and run away. Not because she feared Max. When he was sober, he was a great guy. And right now he was sober. But drunk? He had never hurt her, but he’d ranted and raved, smashed dishes, broken windows. The night she’d made the choice to leave rather than tell him she was pregnant he’d smashed their television and thrown a vase through their front window. She’d known she couldn’t bring a child into that world.
But she’d also realized it wouldn’t be good enough to merely leave him. He had money. He had power. After she had their baby, he’d get visitation, and she wouldn’t be able to control what happened. If he drank around their little girl, or drove her baby girl around drunk, he could kill her. And there would be nothing she could do to stop it, if only because every judge in the county owed his election to the Montgomerys.
That frightening night, standing amid the evidence that his bad behavior was escalating, she’d made the only choice she could make. She’d disappeared.
She swallowed, motioned to the elevator. “We’ve gotta go.”
He hesitated. His gaze slid to their daughter, then returned to her. “Okay.”
She saw the anger in his eyes, and quickly herded their daughter into the elevator. The doors swished closed. Her eyes drifted shut and she expelled a low breath as guilt trembled through her. She had no idea how long he’d been sober. Her parents didn’t travel in his social circle and she lived too far away to hear a rumor.
What if he’d stopped drinking the day after she left? What if she’d kept Trisha away from him for nothing?
“Who was that?”
She opened her eyes to glance down at her daughter. This was neither the time nor the place to tell Trisha that she’d just seen her father, but she knew the time and place were coming soon.
The elevator doors opened. “Let’s go. Gramma’s waiting for her coffee.”
Trisha giggled. “I know. She thinks you’re making it.”
Kate smiled at her sweet, innocent daughter whose world was about to be turned upside down, and headed to her dad’s room. His ‘incident’ had been a few days before. He was awake now, at therapy a good percentage of the day and so eager to get home he was gruff.
“Hey, Daddy,” she leaned in a bussed a kiss on his cheek. “If I’d known you were awake I’d have brought you coffee too.”
Her mom stepped from behind the privacy curtain surrounding the bed. Only as tall as Kate, dressed in jeans and a sleeveless top, with her brown hair cut in a neat short style, Bev Hunter said, “He doesn’t get coffee until the doctor says so.”
Her dad rolled his eyes for Kate, but smiled at his wife. His words were slow and shaky when he said, “Yes, warden.”
Kate hands were every bit as shaky when she gave one of the two coffees to her mom. “Here.”
“Thanks.” She popped the lid, took a sip. “You were gone so long I worried that you’d gotten lost.”
“Mommy was talking to a guy.”
Bev’s eyebrows waggled. “Reeee-lly?”
“He wasn’t somebody I wanted to see.” She nudged her head in Trisha’s direction. “But this isn’t the time to talk about it.”
Her mom frowned, then her eyes widened in recognition. “You didn’t?”
“I didn’t do anything. He just suddenly appeared out of nowhere. But July is the month Montgomery Development does their annual physicals.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I should have remembered that.”
Her mom groaned. “So he was here, and he saw Trisha.”
Kate grabbed a paper cup from her dad’s tray table and handed it to Trisha. “Would you throw this away in the bathroom trash can and then wash your hands?”
Trisha nodded eagerly like the well behaved almost-seven-year-old that she was. When she was gone, Kate said, “I have about thirty seconds. So just let me say Max found me. Trisha came out of the elevator when we were talking. He took one look at her and knew.”
Her mom pressed her hand to her chest. “I knew you shouldn’t have come home!”
“I wasn’t about to desert the two of you when Daddy was so sick.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Mom, Max is sober.”
Bev took a second to process that then snorted in disgust. “And you’re feeling guilty?” She snorted again. “The man had become violent and was getting worse by the day. You had no choice but to protect your child.”
“But I could have checked on him--”
“You have no idea when he got sober. For all you know, he just went to his first AA meeting last week. This isn’t the time to be second guessing.”
Kate heaved out a sigh. “Okay, but I know Max was angry. If I don’t make the first move to initiate some sort of visitation for him with Trisha, he’ll probably come to the house tonight. Or I’ll be hit with some kind of legal papers tomorrow. Or maybe both.”
Walking out of the bathroom, sweet, trusting, Trish smiled. Kate’s heart sank. If he came to the house, they’d have their talk in front of Trisha. And she didn’t want Trisha to hear her dad was a drunk. Especially when she was too young to understand.
“You know what? I think I better deal with this now.” She faced her mom. “Will you guys be okay for an hour or so without me?”
Her eyes filled with worry, Bev said, “Sure.”
Kate sucked in a breath and turned to her daughter. “You behave for Grandma.”
Trisha nodded and Kate left her dad’s hospital room. She got into her car and drove to downtown
The small city was old, and working to revive itself after the loss of the
steel mills in the 1990’s. Buildings from the 1940’s were being renovated.
Trees had been planted along the sidewalk on Pine Valley Main Street. Even a few new restaurants
had popped up.
She left her car in a non-descript parking garage and headed out. A couple of blocks and two turns took her off the beaten path to the place in the city where the newer, more modern structures stood. She stopped in front of the yellow brick building housing Montgomery Real Estate and Development. Only four stories, it nonetheless had an air of wealth and power. Quiet. Dignified. Understated.
She hesitated. Though Max had been reasonably calm at the hospital, she knew he was angry with her. He had to be. If the tables were turned, she’d be furious with him. So his anger was justified. And she had to admit that.
Maybe it would be better to give him a day or two to get past that? To get his bearings.
Blowing her breath out on a long sigh, she told herself no. If she didn’t meet with him on her terms, they’d meet on his. He’d either come to the house and they’d fight in front of Trisha, or they’d meet in a room filled with lawyers. And she’d really lose because he could afford much better lawyers than she could. If at all possible she had to settle this without lawyers.
She walked through the glass double doors into paradise. Glancing around the remodeled lobby, she took in vaulted ceilings that soared to the roof. Sunshine poured in through huge skylights and fed the potted trees that sat on each side of the two white sofas in the reception area. A polished yellow wood reception desk sat in the center of everything.
had been wealthy when she’d been
married to Max, and she knew their business had grown. But actually seeing the
results of that growth was a staggering reminder of their different stations in
Fear shivered through her. She’d kept wealthy Max Montomgery’s daughter away from him for seven years – nearly eight if she counted the pregnancy. Though she’d almost called him a hundred times over the years to tell him about Trisha, to give him a chance to be part of her life, every time she’d picked up the phone, she’d remember that night. The smashed television. The shattered glasses from the bar shelf. The broken front window. And she’d been afraid. Not just for herself, but for their daughter. He’d made her afraid. Why should she be the one cowering now, when he’d given her no choice but to leave?
She straightened her shoulders. She would not cower. She would not back down. He’d made this bed. And she would remind him of that. Maybe even ask him if he’d like those details coming out in court if he argued with her over custody or visitation.
Dark brown travertine tile led to the reception desk. The pretty twenty-something redhead manning the station greeted her with a smile. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’d like to see Mr. Montgomery.”
She glanced down at a small computer screen. “Do you have an appointment?”
“No. But if you’ll tell him Kate Hunter Montgomery is here. I’m sure he’ll see me.”
The young woman glanced over at Kate with raised eyebrows. Kate stood perfectly still under her scrutiny, knowing exactly what the receptionist saw. A small woman with big green eyes and hair just a little bit too thick to tame. Not exactly the woman everyone would expect to be married to a mogul – a ridiculously handsome one at that. With his black hair, blue eyes and tall, lean body, Max had always been a magnet for women. Beautiful women. And he’d chosen her.
It sometimes still puzzled her. Other times it made her realize that having your wishes come true might be the worst thing that could happen.
The receptionist pressed two buttons on her phone then turned away.
Kate heard only muffled words. Her name. Her description.
Then a wait.
She’d probably called Max’s secretary, who had taken the information to Max.
Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds.
Her face grew warm, her hands clammy. Surely he wasn’t so angry that he’d refuse to see her?
Memories of being married to a wealthy man came flooding back. His job was important. His place in the community was even more important. Fundraisers. Ribbon cuttings. Balls. Parties.
Always worried she’d say or do the wrong thing.
Never feeling good enough.
Righteous indignation surged in her blood. She was the star project manager at her job in Tennessee. She raised a daughter on her own. If she went to a fundraiser, she contributed. If she went to a ribbon cutting it was for a building she’d helped build.
Hell, yeah. She was good enough. And if Max thought he and his money were going to push her around, he was sadly mistaken.
The receptionist faced her. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Montgomery. You may go up.”
“Actually, it’s Ms. Hunter now.”
The receptionist nodded in acknowledgement. “Take the third elevator in the back of that hall.” She pointed to the left. “By the time you get there, a security guard will be there to punch in the code.”
She walked to the last elevator with her head high. The security guard said, “Good morning, Ms. Hunter.” Proof the receptionist was very good at her job. Punching a few numbers into a keypad, he opened the elevator, motioned her inside and stepped back as the doors closed.
The ride to the fourth floor took seconds. The door swooshed open. More potted trees accented a low, ultra-modern green sofa and chair. A green print rug sat on the yellow hardwood floor.
Sitting at the desk in front of a wall of windows, Max looked up.
Catching him off guard, Kate didn’t see the angry father of her child or the rich mogul. She saw Max. Real Max. Max with his thick, unruly black hair. Max with his easy smile and pretty blue eyes.
The day they’d met he’d stolen her breath and her heart.
Which was another reason why she’d moved across the country rather than simply move out when she’d gotten pregnant. No matter how bad their life, she’d always loved him and he’d always been able to charm her.
She swallowed. Her bravado from the reception area began to fade. But she forced it back to life. She wasn’t here to argue for herself, but for Trisha. To protect Trisha.
He rose from his tall-back, yellow-brown leather chair. “Kate. I have to say I’m kind of surprised.”
“Yeah. Well, I’m not the wimpy girl you married.” There. Best to get that out in the open before they went any further. “We have something to discuss. We’re going to discuss it.”
“Big talk from a woman who ran away.”
“From a drunk,” she said, not mincing words because she knew she’d done the right thing and she wasn’t going to let his good looks and charm suck her in again. Too much was at stake.
“And hitting below the belt, I see.”
“Saying the truth isn’t hitting below the belt. Unless you can’t handle the truth.”
His breath poured out in a long hiss as he motioned toward the green sofa and chair. “I know who and what I am.”
She headed for the chair, not wanting to risk that he’d sit beside her on the couch. “Then this conversation should go very easily. We have a daughter. You’re sober now. And I’m willing to let you spend time with Trisha as long as I’m with you.”
Max lowered himself to the sofa. “With me? I don’t get to see my child alone?”
Her chin lifted again. “No. Not until I trust you.”
Max stared at her. Just as he’d changed over the past eight years, she had too. Gone was his sweet Kate, replaced by somebody he didn’t know. Maybe even somebody he didn’t want to know. Maybe even somebody who deserved the burst of fury he longed to release.
He rubbed his hands down his face. No matter how much he wanted to yell and rail, he couldn’t give into it. Not only had he been at fault for her leaving, but just as drinking didn’t solve anything, neither did losing his temper. Another lesson he’d learned while she was gone.
His voice was perfectly controlled as he said, “I don’t think you’re in a position to dictate terms.”
“I think I am.”
“And I have two lawyers who say you aren’t.”
Her eyes widened with incredulity. “You’ve already called your lawyers?”
“A smart businessman knows when he needs advice.”
“So you think you’re going to ride roughshod over me with lawyers?”
“I think I’m going to do what I have to do.”
She shook her head. “Do you want me to leave tomorrow? Do you want me to hide so far away and so deeply that you’ll never, ever see your daughter?”
Control be damned. “Are you threatening me?”
“I’m protecting my daughter. We play by my rules or no rules at all. I won’t put Trisha at risk.”
“Risk? You have no reason to fear for her. I never hurt you!”
“No you just smashed TV’s and broke windows. You were escalating, Max, and you scared me.”
Guilt pummeled him enough that he scrubbed his hand over his mouth to give himself a few seconds to collect himself. Finally, he said, “You could have talked to me.”
Her face scrunched in disbelief. “Really? Talk to a guy so drunk he could barely stand? And how was that supposed to work?”
“I might have come home drunk, but I was sober every morning.”
“And hung over.”
He sighed. “No matter how I felt, I would have listened to you.”
“That’s not how I remember it. I remember living with a man who was either stone cold drunk or hung over. Three years of silence or lies and broken promises. Three years of living with a man who barely noticed I was there. I won’t sit back and watch our little girl staring out the window waiting for you the way I used to. Or laying in bed worried that you’d wrecked your car because you were too drunk to drive and too stubborn to admit it. Or spending the day alone, waiting for you to wake up because you’d been out all night.”
Fury rattled through him. “I’m sober now.”
“I see that. And I honestly hope it lasts. But even you can’t tell me with absolute certainty that it will. And since you can’t, I stand between you and Trisha. I protect her. She will not go through what I went through.”
Her voice wobbled, and the anger that had been pulsing through his brain, feeding his replies, stopped dead in its tracks. She wasn’t just mad at him. She was still hurting.
She rose and paced to his desk. “Do you know what it’s like to live with someone who tells you they love you then doesn’t have ten minutes in a day for you?”
Max went stock still. This was usually what happened when he apologized. The person he’d wronged had a grievance. It had been so long since he’d had one of these sessions that he’d forgotten. But when Kate turned, her green eyes wary, her voice soft, filled with repressed pain, remorse flooded him. She had a right to be angry.
“I’ll tell you what it’s like. It’s painful, but most of all it’s bone-shatteringly lonely.”
Guilt tightened his stomach. He’d always known he’d hurt her, but he’d never been sober enough to hear the pain in her voice, see it shimmer in her eyes.
And she wanted to save Trisha from that. So did he. But the way he’d protect her would be to stay sober. “I won’t hurt her.”
“You know, you always told me the same thing. That you wouldn’t hurt me. But you did. Every day.” Her voice softened to a faint whisper. “Every damned day.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m sorry. Really sorry.”
Righteous indignation rose up in him. He’d apologized at least four times. He hated his past as much as she hated his past. But this time she wasn’t innocent.
“Did you ever stop to think that maybe I’d have gotten sober sooner if I’d known I was having a child? Did you ever stop to think that if you’d stayed, I might have turned around an entire year sooner?”
“No.” She caught his gaze. “You loved me, Max. I always knew it. But I wasn’t a good enough reason for you to get sober. I wasn’t taking a chance with our child.”
“You could have at least told me you were pregnant before you left.”
“And have you show up drunk at the hospital while I was struggling through labor? Or drunk on Christmas Day to ruin Trisha’s first holiday? Or maybe have you stagger into her dance recital so she could be embarrassed in front of her friends?” She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
The picture she painted shamed him. Things he’d done drunk now embarrassed him as much as they had his friends and family. And he suddenly understood. Making amends with Kate wouldn’t be as simple as saying he was sorry. He was going to have to prove himself to her.
He blew his breath out on a sigh, accepted it, because accepting who he was, who he had been, was part of his recovery. “So maybe it would be good for you to be around when I see her.”
Her reply was soft, solemn. “Maybe it would.”
“Can I come over tonight and meet her?”
“I was thinking tomorrow afternoon might be a better idea. I take my mom to the hospital everyday but lately Trisha’s been bored. So I thought I’d start bringing her home in the afternoon.”
“And I can come over?”
“Yes. Until my dad is released from the hospital, we’ll have some privacy.”
With that she turned and headed for the elevator. Prickling with guilt, he leaned back on the sofa. But when the elevator doors swished closed behind her, he thought about how different things might have been if she’d told him about her pregnancy, and his anger returned. She hadn’t given him a chance to try to sober up. She hadn’t even given him a chance to be a dad.
Still, could he blame her?
A tiny voice deep down inside him said yes. He could blame her. He might see her perspective, but he’d also had a right to know his child.
He rose from the sofa and headed for his desk again. That’s exactly what his father had told him the night he’d confronted him about being his adopted brother Chance’s biological father. About bringing his bastard son into their home with a sham. A lie. An adoption used to cover an affair.
I had a right to know my child.
He ran his hand across his forehead as nerves and more anger surged through him. He hadn’t thought about that part of his life in years. His brother had run away the night Max had confronted their dad. Which was part of why Max drank. At AA, he’d learned to put those troubles behind him, but now, suddenly, here he was again, wondering. Missing his brother with a great ache that gnawed at his belly. Because Kate was home and Kate was part of that time in his life.
He looked at the bottle of whiskey on the glass shelf above the bar behind the sofa, then shook his head and fell to his desk chair. Losing Chance might have been the event that pushed him over the edge with his alcoholism, but he wasn’t that guy anymore. He hadn’t been for seven long years. He only hoped seeing Kate, fighting with Kate, meeting a daughter he didn’t know he had, didn’t tempt that guy out of hiding.
He grabbed his cell phone from his desk and hit the speed dial number for his sponsor.