An unwanted wife, a broken contract, and a secret baby.
Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez’s life was idyllic. She married the man of her dreams. Had a supportive stepfather. And a dream job. Until the night she discovered everything she thought was true was a lie. Her husband only needed her to settle a debt to her stepfather by getting Elizabeth pregnant. The child and Elizabeth unknowing pawns in a contract forged between two powerful men bent on adding to their wealth.
She fled from it all.
Rafael ‘Rafe’ Martinez wanted Elizabeth the first time he set eyes on her. Until he was forced to tangle with her stepfather, who presented Rafe with the unholy bargain. When he realizes Elizabeth only wanted him to impregnate her, Rafe’s done and demands a divorce so he can be free to find love elsewhere.
A year later, the two meet again only to discover they both have been lied to. Him thinking Elizabeth had anything to do with the contract. And her thinking he only wanted Elizabeth because of the contract.
Little do either of them know the rocky path of their beginning will lead them to a love like no other, but first, they have to survive her stepfather’s murderous intentions.
“Liz, are you saying you bought a place somewhere that’s not in California?”
“Yes.” Elizabeth sighed when Rafe gently urged her to sit up. Feeling vulnerable, she snagged her long-sleeved shirt and dragged it over her head before meeting his gaze.
“Would you be willing to move back?” he asked.
“God, no.” She shuddered at even the thought of it. “Not with what I know now. It’s toxic for me there, Rafe. The entire state. Harold’s ruined it all for me by spreading vicious lies. I don’t have any friends because I only ever needed Megan.”
“We can change that—”
“No, we can’t.” She knew they couldn’t; she had just been too blind to see it before. “Any committee I’m on whenever I say ‘I have the funds,’ or ‘I’ll contribute such and such’ they always call Harold—-”
“But with Harold arrested and gone—”
“They’ll call you.” She ran a hand through her hair. “You didn’t even believe I had any money until a few days ago. It’s a nightmare, and there were always comments, but I never knew they were pointed at me until I found out Harold had allowed everyone to continue to believe I’m broke. Even after my mother died.”
“Yes, about why I wasn’t asked to lunch with the others since they were going to some five-star restaurant. They doubted I would be able to afford. No one said it to my face, but I was the committee member they were discussing, you know the one who someone else needed to pay for.” Her face flamed at the memory. “It was embarrassing when all these little digs finally made sense. I’m not sticking around in California.”
“Then where will you go?”
“Back to my ranch…” she gasped and slapped a hand over her mouth.
“Harold doesn’t know you have a ranch?”
“No one here does. It’s like a safe haven that I’ve used the past year while trying to figure out how to lure Harold and Megan out.” She laid her hand over his thigh. “But, I trust you, Rafe.”
“I probably should tell you I’ve changed my name to Colby—”
He covered her mouth and shook his head sharply. “Don’t.”
Confused, she frowned at him.
“No one except Tanner knows your new name and new address, right?”
“Don’t tell me. The music should drown out the microphones in here, but I refuse to chance your safety like that.”
Her eyes popped wide. She had forgotten about the bugs her temporary security team was using to keep her safe.
“Do you understand?”
Her heart melted at seeing his tender side peek out.
She nodded again, and he removed his hand.
“You changed your name too.”
It wasn’t a question, but a statement and the sparkle in his eyes were mischievous as if he loved sharing a secret with her.
And though he didn’t ask, she felt the need to try to explain. “Elizabeth felt like a name for a fool after everything came to light, and I wanted a new start at a new place with a new name.”
The sparkle brightened, and a smile stretched across his face. “After this is over, I’m going on a treasure hunt—”
“Wait. What?” What the hell is he talking about? I just told him I changed my name and moved to a whole new state, and he’s talking about treasure hunts?
His palm cupped her cheek.
“I have the best idea. When we’re done in Alaska, I need to go home, and you’re going to return to wherever your home is—”
“Shh, let me finish.” He placed a gentle kiss over her lips.
She reluctantly motioned zipping her lips and tried to keep quiet even though she wanted to protest. They had just found each other, and now he wanted to break up?
“We’re not breaking up, so get that look off your face. But my mother comes back from her trip abroad in February. I have several trips planned for a venture opening their business in February. But the most important thing is,” his earnest gaze tangled with hers. “I want to find you. I’ve been trying to think of a way to apologize for all the bullshit you went through and show you that you can trust me. That I’m not going to let you down again, and this is it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m going to find you. Each day we’re separated, I want us to talk either by phone or by text. If I’m listening like I should have been from the beginning, you’ll give me hints to where you live now, and I’ll use those to find you.”
“Holy crap. You want to stalk me like prey.” And why does that turn me on? Heat curled in her at the thought of having his undivided attention focused on tracking her.
“I do. I want you to know I’m paying attention. So, don’t say ‘this is your hint for this week.’ Just toss something in during our normal conversation—”
“To show you’re actually listening to me.” Like he hadn’t during their marriage. To be fair, she hadn’t paid enough attention either, and she would need to own that.
“We both need to work on our communication, and I think this will do it.” He pulled her into his lap and held her close. “I love you. I have been in love with you the second you tripped over the sidewalk trying to rescue that kid’s dog.”
Her face heated to scalding as she remembered that coffee date. The poor little girl was almost in tears trying to catch the puppy before it darted into traffic. Elizabeth had just barely snagged the ball of fluff before it jumped the curb. Unfortunately, she had tripped over an uneven paving stone, but she had still caught the dog. “I didn’t know you saw that.”
“I did. It was one of the reasons I knew you wouldn’t back out of the contract when Harold presented it. That maybe we could have made it work.” He tightened is arms as if to feel she was actuall there. “Little did we know we were doomed from the start.”
“Why? Why would that be the tipping point?”
“Because you were stubborn enough to forget about breaking your fall instead, you grabbed that mutt and body-slammed the concrete.”
“Yeah, I have to say that hurt like hell.” She nuzzled into the hollow of his neck and sighed. He really did love her. They had just gotten sidetracked for a moment. Just as she was about to suggest another round, heavy footsteps traveled to them, and she scrambled from his lap. “Kenneth.”
“Sounds like he’s awake.”
“Shit.” She snatched up her clothes and raced for the downstairs bathroom, glad she had at least tossed on her shirt even though it only reached the top of her bare thigh. Lying around half-naked with Rafe was one thing, but she would never live down her absolute embarrassment if one of her security people caught a glimpse of her naked ass.