An unwanted wife, a broken contract, and a secret baby.
Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez’s life is idyllic. She married the man of her dreams, has a supportive stepfather and has a job she loves. Until the night she discovers everything she thought was true, was a lie. Her husband only needs her to settle a debt to her stepfather. The payment? Impregnating Elizabeth. Both Elizabeth, and the child she now carries, are unknowing pawns in a contract forged between two powerful men bent on adding to their wealth.
Terrified, she flees.
Rafael ‘Rafe’ Martinez wants Elizabeth the first time he set eyes on her until he is forced to tangle with her stepfather, who presents Rafe with the unholy bargain. When he realizes Elizabeth only wants him to impregnate her; Rafe is 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. Rafe assuming Elizabeth is behind the contract. And Elizabeth presuming that he only wanted her 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 if they can survive her stepfather’s murderous intentions.
Excitement bubbled in Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez as she slipped through the front door of her stepfather’s home. The mansion was not to her taste, ostentatious in the extreme with expensive marble, gaudy antiques, and flashy paintings. Nothing of her mother’s elegant touch remained after her death.
Her sandaled feet slapped against the pure white marble tile of the foyer. The grand staircase split into two sections ran on either side of the entrance and swept to an arc that met on the second floor of the house. A small balcony overlooked the foyer and the great room where Harold held lavish parties. Large dangling crystals set in the chandelier took up half the room, clinking when the air conditioning kicked on, breaking the oppressive silence in the house.
This wasn’t her home, never had been. Harold and her mother had moved here after they’d married. Even though her mother had passed several years ago, Elizabeth still considered Harold Moore part of her family. The only family she had other than her husband, Rafael. Heading for the great room, she stopped when she heard nothing in that direction.
Turning back to the foyer, she took a right at the foot of the stairs towards Harold’s office. Giddy at finally being able to deliver her news, she skipped a few steps over the plush cream carpet as she passed a door that led to a cream-and-beige parlor on the left. Hearing Rafe’s deep, sexy baritone, she stifled a giggle and took a sharp right down the only other hallway.
With Esther, the housekeeper, gone for the evening, surprising Harold and Rafe would be a piece of cake. She froze as her name was ground out between clenched teeth. Loathing coated every syllable, confusing her because Rafe had never spoken in that tone before. Worried, she crept to the door on silent feet.
“No! I agreed to a year, and I’ve given you a year and two months.”
Elizabeth flinched at Rafe’s harsh tone. Her best friend Megan would have stormed into the meeting, yelling and screaming at the two of them until they provided answers. Elizabeth had never been that bold, preferring to soothe out tempers and arguments.
“Elizabeth’s not pregnant, Rafe. Therefore, the contract is null and void.”
Her heart felt as if it had stopped beating. Peeking around the crack in the door, she quickly pulled away and pressed her back against the wall. So much anger and rage were painted across both faces of the men she had thought cared for her. Considered family.
“No! My lawyers and I read it. The agreement stated I had to do everything in my power to get Elizabeth pregnant, and I have. I have fucked her every night. You can ask Megan if you don’t believe me. Elizabeth shares every damned detail with her.” He all but spit the words out, as if taking her to bed was revolting.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ve more than done your nightly duty in the bedroom,” Harold stated acerbically.
“If she’s not pregnant, it’s not my fault.” Rafe’s voice lowered.
“But it is. That was the only thing I asked of you—”
Tears fell as her heart twisted in her chest. Was Megan in on this as well? Why? Elizabeth’s mind flew through all the nights Rafe had made love to her—not love. Sex. Seen in a new light, what she had mistaken as a passionate claiming was just a fuck. Everything she had thought to be true was a lie. But why?
“Fuck you, Harold. That was not part of the contract. Hell, I didn’t want any part of this. All I ever wanted was my grandfather’s cabin, which you bought out from underneath me like the sneaky, conniving bastard you are.”
But that was another lie. Rafe had asked her to marry him. Granted, he hadn’t actively pursued her except to ask her out the first time they met. After that, everything spun from there. The accidental meeting at a friend’s birthday party after a week of silence as if their first date had gone badly. Another few dates squeezed between his busy schedule. Then he had asked her to marry him.
Had she wanted him?
Yes, she had been more than obvious about that. However, she had never pursued him, would never have done that. Her mother had raised Elizabeth better than to chase down a man who had expressed no interest in her after that first date. She had assumed Rafe—no, he was not, had never been, Rafe—Rafael had been stressed about his work. When his big project was done, it was as if he finally noticed her. Pursued her. Captured her.
Only he had never chosen her.
“I’m filing for divorce tomorrow and will finally be rid of you and your manipulative daughter.”
“I still can’t understand why you won’t wait another few months. The timeline won’t change—”
“Chloe’s ready to be married, she wants a family, and my entanglement needs to be severed.” Rafael’s venomous tone softened at the mention of Chloe.
“Oh. Well then, I’ll have my attorneys discuss this with your attorneys. However, do not think you’ll get off that easily. Elizabeth wanted a child out of this, and as long as there is breath in my body, she’ll have it. So, you might have to leave a few deposits—”
“Whatever, as long as I get the damned cabin and my divorce.”
She realized then Rafael was at the door, his hand that had touched her so intimately held the knob. Not wanting to face him with a tear-stained face and a shattered heart, she fled the way she had come and rounded the corner where the main staircase was. Elizabeth moved so fast she hit the tiled floor only to lose traction. She slid across the marble and skidded into a wall. Pushing away from the wall, she clutched her purse to her heaving chest, trying to calm down.
When she met Rafael again, she wanted it to be on her terms. Calm and composed, so he never knew how much he had hurt her.
A quiet sob passed her lips, breaking through the silent room, alerting her to the need for stealth if she wanted to avoid her husband. Soon to be ex-husband. Pressing a hand to her mouth, she needed to clean up before she confronted Harold. She needed to shore up her mental defenses. If he saw a hint of weakness, she would never get the answers she so desperately needed. Instead, he would be protective and try to shield her.
Spinning on the ball of her right foot, she headed to the small bathroom under the stairs.
She quietly shut the door and turned on the light. The crinkling of the plastic bag reminded her of the reason she had come. Looking down, she set the innocuous bag with its equally mundane contents on the side of the pedestal sink. The bright pink stripes shone like a beacon, all but making the pregnancy test glow. Positive.
Stupid. She had been so stupid, wanting to rush over as soon as she had seen Rafael’s calendar with a meeting scheduled for Harold’s house tonight. She had wanted to share the news with both of them; this was the first time they had been together since Christmas. They were her only family left. Elizabeth felt like they should know before she told her best friend, Megan. Boy is the surprise on me.
Shoving the plastic bag deep into her purse, she lifted her face to the mirror. She looked the same only with runny mascara and red-rimmed eyes.
She had been called plain her entire life. The merging of her gorgeous mother and handsome father had misfired in her genes. Instead of platinum blonde hair like her mother’s, she had gotten muddy brown like her father’s, but instead of the piercing green eyes that set him apart, she had received her mother’s deep navy-blue orbs.
Her features were even, but not breathtaking. Her mother, Lillian Sutherland Moore, only had to walk into a room, and men would stop to watch, to lust for what they could never have. Maximillian Sutherland had the same appeal, women threw themselves at him, but with Lillian, he never strayed. Nor had she ever looked at anyone but Maxim. After several years of mourning her lost love, Harold Moore again captured Lillian’s attention.
Allowing herself one last shuddery breath, Elizabeth looked around for a rag before she remembered this was the water closet. Nothing except guest hand towels graced this bathroom since it was mostly used for the elegant dinner parties Harold threw. A handful of tissue from the box on top of the commode handled the majority of the cleanup. Mascara that had left black smudges under her eyes, was mopped up with a bit of hand soap and water. She reapplied her blush and powder, slicked more lipstick on, and ran a brush through her shoulder-length hair.
When she felt she had done all she could, Elizabeth stowed everything back in her purse, washed her hands, and stepped out of the small bathroom. Taking a minute to gather the rest of her courage, she slipped around the corner and froze at the tableau in front of her.
Megan was plastered against Harold, his lips ground into the smaller woman’s, and his hands gripped her ass. What.The.Hell?
Shocked, Elizabeth didn’t know what to do. She wanted answers, wanted to know why Harold had bribed Rafael to marry her, wanted to know why Megan had told him so many personal details, and really wanted to know why he wanted Elizabeth pregnant. At least one of the answers presented itself. Her best friend was obviously sleeping with her stepfather, so of course, pillow talk would be involved. Those talks must have led to personal details of Elizabeth’s life. Why would they discuss her instead of their own relationship? She hadn’t a clue.
And why were they keeping their affair a secret? How long had it been going on? Obviously, not while her mother was alive. No one would cheat on Lillian.
Elizabeth had been so lost in her thoughts that she jolted at Megan’s vibrant voice. “So, he’s really leaving her?”
“Yes, it seems Chloe is ready to get her claws into him.”
There was that name again. Who was Chloe?
“So, what do we do? How do we get our hands on the trust?” Megan’s question, one after the other in rapid succession, filled in a few more blanks.
However, the blanks they filled in made Elizabeth’s stomach churn more as she huddled deeper in the shadows.
“I’ll pay someone else, though Rafael said if it got him out of the contract faster, he would be willing to make a sperm deposit.”
“She’ll jump on it. She fancies herself in love with him, and she wants his baby.” Megan’s mocking tone made Elizabeth want to curl up and hide. Had her friend always hated her? “Just remember our deal, Harry-hon. I took care of Lillian for you, and I’m helping you with Elizabeth, so I expect my cut of that trust or you and I will have issues—”
He grinned down at her, his smile hard and cold. “As if we would ever have problems. But as soon as she has that baby, we’ll have to kill Elizabeth to gain control of the child and open the trust. Which means—”
“I know what it means.” Megan flashed a diamond ring that graced her third finger. “Only marriage will do to knit up your broken family.”
When had they gotten engaged? The hateful words they spewed slammed Elizabeth like a fist to the face. They planned on killing her after her baby was born. Her hand moved to her stomach as if to protect the small life within her. Was Rafael in on this as well? Had they all been laughing behind her back as they plotted her death? Had any of them ever been on her side? Shivers raced over her skin, she needed to leave without being seen. All thoughts of confronting any of the serpents flew out of the window, now that she realized they intended to kill her and take her child.
Thank God she had parked in front and not in the garage the family used. She hadn’t wanted anyone to catch her before she’d sprung her surprise. But now, Megan and Harold stood between her and freedom. The front door was so close, but the obstacle between her and it was insurmountable. Elizabeth wasn’t stupid, though the past year might speak otherwise. If Harold and Megan even suspected she had overheard them, they would kill her now and take their chances in court trying to get what they wanted.
The trust had to be the one her grandfather set up as that was the only one tied to her baby.
Cowering in the meager shadows the stairs provided, she struggled to remember what she could about the trust. Her father’s estate automatically defaulted into it on his death. Lillian had not needed the money; she had more than enough to take care of Elizabeth and herself. So, she had included Maxim’s estate into the trust.
Elizabeth hadn’t needed the money either; her mother had left her enough to live on for a lifetime. Then she had married Rafe and had her mother’s estate invested. Thank God she hadn’t put it into the trust.
Now…now she would need that money to run.
She couldn’t fight. At least not yet. Protecting her baby was more important. For her and it to survive, she needed to leave this house without anyone knowing she had ever been here.
After what felt like hours, but couldn’t have been more than a handful of minutes, Megan laced her fingers with Harold’s and led him up the left staircase.
“How about we continue these negotiations in bed?”
“Lead the way,” Harold growled, making Elizabeth shudder in disgust as the sound echoed through the downstairs. Their footsteps trailed away as they reached the upstairs.
She couldn’t relax even with them out of sight. Her imagination ran wild. They could come back down and find her. With Harold’s resources, they could hold her until she had the baby and then make her disappear. Her heart pounded in fear.
Swiping a trembling hand over her face, she forced herself to calm down.
Being a writer gave Elizabeth insight into how to get out of this situation. She knew she needed to tread carefully if she wanted to live. Anger began to churn in her. She wanted to survive if for no other reason than to rain hell on these assholes for screwing with her.
She was glad now she had some sort of experience to fall back on. Otherwise, she probably would run straight to the police, and that would be a mistake.
One, because she couldn’t prove any of this as Harold and Megan would deny everything. And two, with Harold being an attorney, he would have contacts that would tell him about his whacko stepdaughter trying to send officers on a wild goose chase.
So, she needed to lay low for a while until after the baby was born. Elizabeth counted to fifty, slow, and measured. Felt time slipping away as her nerves twisted tighter and tighter, urging her to hurry. But hurrying would put her in danger because if she rushed, she was sure to make mistakes. And with her and her baby’s lives on the line, she couldn’t afford any errors.
Even if her gut was screaming at her to get home before Rafael, she forced herself to calm. It didn’t matter if she was there before him as long as he was the one who mentioned the divorce first.
Then any questions she had would seem natural as well as any shock. Elizabeth didn’t know where she could run, but she would figure it out after she escaped.
Shaking her head, she raced for the front door and was out and in her car in seconds. She needed to focus on her first step, which was getting home and confronting Rafe.
Frustrated, she frowned. That place was not her home. Nor was it safe, but it was the first step. The next would be to leave without anyone noticing her actually fleeing.
Then she would make her own home. One where she and her baby would be loved.