His Ex's Well-Kept Secret

By: Joss Wood

He liked her a bit too much...and that meant he had to move on.

“When are you going back to the city?” Jaeger asked.

“My flight leaves in the morning. You?”

He’d leave as soon as she did; she was the only reason he was still in Milan. “Tomorrow, as well.” Jaeger moved the pad of his thumb up her smooth calf.

“When we meet in the city,” she said, “let’s be all business.”

Whoa! What?

Piper’s toes dug into the bare skin of his thigh.

“Don’t look so shocked, Jaeger. If not for the sapphires, I’d never hear from you again,” Piper stated, her voice not accusing.

Jaeger dropped his hand from her thigh.

“It’s okay, Jaeger, I get it. It’s not what you do.” Piper continued. “The problem with being the biggest playboy on the East Coast, one of the famous Ballantyne siblings, is that the world knows how you operate. You date a girl for a couple of days, maybe for a couple of weeks if she’s really, really lucky, and then you move on.” Piper lifted her hand when he opened his mouth to respond. “Don’t look so worried. I knew the deal going in.”

“The deal?”

“This was fun, a moment in time, an unexpected encounter. So when we meet again, we’ll just chat about the stones and pretend we never saw each other naked.”

Jaeger didn’t know he was going to speak the words until they flew out of his mouth. “What if I wanted to? See you naked again, that is,” he clarified.

Surprise flashed across Piper’s face, but it was quickly followed by a healthy dose of doubt.

“I’d probably ask you not to.”

Okay. So not what he’d expected to hear.

Piper tipped her head to the side, her expression thoughtful. “Jaeger, I’m a normal woman who has her feet firmly on the ground. I enjoy my job as an art appraiser. I date. I have a full life. I don’t need you to sweep me away and into your world. I don’t like your world.”

“My world?”

“Big money, Manhattan, socialite city. It’s not me. It’ll never be me,” Piper said, her tone and expression earnest.

“I’m not asking you to marry me, Piper, or even date me,” Jaeger replied, feeling irritated. This wasn’t how the conversation normally went. Usually he fielded the demands about when he’d be calling, when their next date would be. He didn’t particularly like that the shoe was very firmly, and uncomfortably, on the other foot. “I was just wondering if you’d like to—”

“—hook up again sometime?” Piper cocked her head, the corners of her mouth lifting. When she exposed her neck, he wanted to nibble on her collar bone, kiss that spot under her jaw. “Thanks, but no. Hooking up is not something I make a habit of. This interlude will be a lovely memory, but recreating this back home won’t work for me.”

Piper tucked a long curl behind her ear. “There’s something about Italy that’s sexy and seductive. It’s a place that subliminally encourages you to seize the day and act out of character, and this—” Piper waved her hand at his bare chest “—is very out of character for me. In the real world, I sleep with guys only if I think we are going somewhere, if the man has the potential to become important to me. Thanks to the tabloids, we all know you don’t do commitment, so that rules you out.”

Okay, sure, that was true but... But? There was no but. She had him pegged!

Piper stood up and pulled the knot on her robe, allowing the sides to fall open. The fabric framed her pretty breasts, and the moisture in his mouth evaporated. With a small shrug the robe slid down her arms and then to the floor, and she stood in front of him gloriously naked. She straddled his thighs and gently touched his mouth with hers. “If this is all the time we have, then we’re wasting it, Ballantyne.”

Jaeger gripped her butt in his hands and stood up, holding her. Her legs locked around his waist as he carried her to the bedroom.

She was the perfect one-night stand; she’d let him off the hook with no drama and little fanfare, and he should feel grateful, he thought, lowering her to the bed.

So, then, why didn’t he?


Eighteen months later

Piper Mills pulled her reading glasses from her face and tossed them onto her desk. Rubbing the bridge of her nose, she pushed her chair back from her Georgian mahogany writing desk and scowled at her laptop screen, where the offer of an exciting consultation sat in her inbox, waiting for her response.

Of course she would like to appraise a recently discovered Daniel Glutz. She’d written her master’s thesis on the German painter. But it was impossible. The painting was in Berlin, and since Ty’s birth nine months ago, she was restricted to appraising art on the East Coast, to trips she could undertake in a day or less. Although she loved and trusted her nanny, Ceri, and Ceri’s twin brother, Rainn, who was also good with Ty, she still didn’t feel comfortable leaving her precious child for extended periods. She couldn’t leave Ty overnight. Not yet.

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