With a quick jerk, Jasmine tightened the corset in the back. “I’m going to have to bring your dress in…again. Try not to lose any more weight.”

“It’s not like I’m trying,” she muttered under her breath, but loud enough for the other woman to hear.

“Well, a man like Michael likes a real woman so—”

Alexis swiveled around on the stand and Jasmine took a step back, her eyes widening. “Listen, you’re not my friend and you’re certainly not my mother so keep your opinions to yourself.” She turned back around and stared blindly into the mirror.

She’d been putting up with the other woman’s crap for months, but lack of sleep and restless nerves overruled any sort of good manners that had been drilled into her over the years.

Once the fitting was over, Alexis savored stepping back out in the cold. Anything was better than being cooped up with that woman.

“Do you want to go to The Dandelion?” Michael wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“You know my weakness.” The restaurant overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and had the best quiche in the south.

“I’m parked right over there.” Behind a small tree, his SUV was right on Main Street.

So was the SUV with the dark tinted windows she’d seen earlier. “That’s weird.”

“What is?” His grip tightened protectively and she inwardly smiled.

“Huh? Oh, nothing.” It didn’t make sense to drive a few blocks and re-park, but maybe the owner was lazy.

As they neared Michael’s vehicle, she instinctively glanced through the windshield of the other vehicle.

In that moment, the impending hurricane she’d been worried about crashed over her head in a violent downpour. An icy fist clasped her heart as her gaze collided with very familiar dark eyes. A haze descended on her and she fought to breathe. It was as if someone had hit her with a two-by-four right in the stomach. She blinked a couple of times, but the vision in front of her didn’t disappear.


His dirty blond hair was still the same, a little too long, as if he hadn’t had a haircut in months, and his coffee-brown eyes were just as penetrating as ever. She couldn’t see them from where she stood, but his eyelashes were sinful. The kind women would kill to have. And he was surprisingly clean shaven, showcasing sharp cheekbones. Even though he was sitting, his shoulders were still incredibly broad. With his shaggy blond hair he could almost pass for a laid-back surfer-boy type, but there was a darker edge to him. And once someone looked into his dark eyes, there was nothing remotely boyish about him. He was all man. Dominating and powerful. How had she forgotten how sinfully attractive he was? Her recent dreams were nothing compared to the reality.

She wanted to stop the memories, but they rushed in with a vengeance. As she remembered the way his wide palm used to cup her cheek before devouring her mouth, an unwanted shiver curled through her. His kisses had always been hot, scorching, demanding. And she’d been all too willing to give him everything he wanted.

Hunter never wavered as he stared at her, but she could almost swear he was remembering the same thing she was. She felt as if he were undressing her with his eyes.

Instinctively, she took a step closer to Michael.

“Honey? What’s wrong?” She could feel Michael’s eyes boring into her, but she couldn’t look away from him. From the man who’d broken her heart.

She didn’t respond. Instead, she stared into those hauntingly familiar eyes. Eyes she saw every day when she looked at her son.

Next to her, Michael turned and followed her line of sight. “Who is that?”

“Take me home.” She sounded like she’d swallowed gravel. They were the only words she could manage and they’d have to be enough. Anything else would require too much effort. Alternating rushes of heat and cold snaked through her body. She blindly reached for Michael’s hand and forced herself to look away.

True to form, her soon-to-be-husband didn’t argue as he hustled her to his vehicle. He held open the door for her and sped away. In the rearview mirror, she watched the SUV until they turned onto South Street. When she was sure he hadn’t followed them, she allowed herself to lean back. She stared out the window, watching the barren trees and houses with Christmas decorations fly by as they pulled out of downtown and into her neighborhood. She lived in one of the historic homes right on the outskirts of the downtown area so they didn’t have far to go.

Michael finally broke the silence when they turned into her driveway. “Was that Jonathan’s father?”

She opened her mouth to respond but her throat wasn’t cooperating. What was he doing here? Did he want to see Jonathan? If he thought he had any rights to her son, he was in for a serious surprise.

“Uh, honey?” Michael interrupted her thoughts.

She wrapped her arms around herself in a pathetic effort to stop shaking. “Yes. That’s him.”

Chapter 2

Well, that had gone well. Hunter slammed his fist against the vehicle’s center console. He hadn’t meant for her to see him. Hurley Beach wasn’t large and he had a fairly good idea where she was going so he hung back.

If she saw him follow her, she could react irrationally and he didn’t want her doing anything stupid.

She was probably in a state of shock. She’d stared at him as if she wanted to rip his heart out. Her eyes had narrowed dangerously, making her sharp, exotic cheekbones even more defined. Even angry, she was still beautiful and he hated that he noticed. Hated his ever-present physical attraction to her.

Absolutely hated it.

No one had ever gotten him worked up like her. She was so petite and almost delicate-looking, but he knew better. The woman could take care of herself. Not that it did anything to subdue his protective urge when it came to her.

Seeing her up close only made things worse. Those pale blue eyes of hers had turned to dark storm clouds. He’d usually only seen them like that when she was turned on. She had the same reaction when she was angry.

He kicked his SUV into gear and did a quick U-turn. As he started to pull away from the curb, his cell phone vibrated against his hip. When he flipped open the razor-thin device, a flashing icon told him he had a new email, so he put the vehicle back in Park.

As he scrolled down the detailed message, his lungs seemed to shrink in his chest. Everything he possibly wanted to know about the woman he’d left behind was in this message. Alexis wasn’t married, but she was about to be. And the guy was loaded. Some corporate jerk who made millions buying and dismantling companies.

Her son—her five-year-old son—didn’t have a father listed on the birth certificate. As he stared at the birth date, nausea swirled inside him. She must have been pregnant when he’d left. It didn’t take a genius to figure out he was the father. The dates were perfect and he’d been her first. They’d always used condoms until she’d gone on the pill, but nothing was foolproof. Obviously.

He was a father…

His blood turned to ice. He hadn’t even considered the possibility that the kid was his. No wonder she’d looked at him with a mix of horror and despair. He thought he’d been prepared for anything. Anything but this. She’d gone through her pregnancy alone and had raised her son—their son—by herself for all this time.

He had a son. The earlier anger he’d clutched onto reared its head with a vengeance. Tom Davis had not only stolen the woman he loved, but his son. And now he’d have no chance of being a father to him or a husband to Alexis. Even if he managed to keep them safe and make sure Davis was eliminated for good, he’d never have a place in either of their lives. He couldn’t make his poisonous past part of their future. Once he was sure they were safe, they’d be better off without him. But now that he knew what he’d be leaving behind, Davis was going to pay one way or another for what he’d taken.

After reading the email three times, he kicked the vehicle into gear. He couldn’t change the contents of the letter and he couldn’t outrun his past. He’d wanted to stick to his plan and simply watch her until he was sure she was safe, but now that she was aware of his existence that was impossible. Maybe he’d subconsciously wanted her to see him. He knew how to be invisible, but like an idiot, he’d tried to get as close to her as possible, just for a better glimpse of what he’d left behind. But when he’d seen her exit the boutique with that guy, he hadn’t been thinking about keeping his cover. No, he’d been thinking about kicking the other man’s teeth in and claiming what was his.

Except she wasn’t his. Wouldn’t ever be his again.

And now he had a bigger problem.

Even though he wanted to stay away from her, he couldn’t. He might be the last person she wanted to see right now, but he’d protect that kid and her with his life. Convincing Alexis she was in danger when she probably wouldn’t talk to him would take some serious finesse.

Unfortunately he lacked finesse on all levels.

Alexis didn’t know what else to say except yes. Yes, that was Jonathan’s father, and no, she had no idea why he was in town. A part of her had considered the possibility that Hunter had died. Sometimes she’d wondered if it would have been easier that way. Then it wouldn’t have been as if he’d abandoned her. Now all the anger and doubts she’d buried for years rushed to the surface of her sanity, threatening to bubble over.

“I’m coming inside with you.” Michael jumped out of the vehicle, and before she had time to protest, he’d rushed to the other side and opened her door.

Trying to ward off the cold, she tugged her scarf a little tighter as she stepped out. “Listen, I need to be alone right now. I…I don’t even know what to say or think.” Without waiting for a response, she headed for the front door.

She jumped when he slammed the passenger door with more force than necessary, but kept going. “What?” She glanced over her shoulder at him.

He was right on her heels. “When are you going to let me in, Alexis?”