His Ex's Well-Kept Secret

By: Joss Wood

Oh, God, judging by his serious face, whatever he was about to say would be a kick to the gut. She tightened her grip on Ty and waited for the hammer to fall.

“This property is owned by one of your father’s companies and will definitely have to be sold to repay some of his creditors.”

Piper felt her knees buckle, and she dropped to a chair, Ty landing on her lap. “What? But he left this house to my mom, who left it to me. I’ve requested a copy of the deed but I’ve received nothing.”

“That’s because he left the right for your mom to live in it. He didn’t leave the asset. It’s definitely not yours to live in. It will be sold. That is indisputable.”

Indisputable? That sounded pretty damn final. Piper pushed past the panic and forced herself to think. “Would I be able to buy it?” she asked, her voice breaking.

“Do you have around three million dollars?” Simms asked. “Or a way to raise three million dollars?”

No, but she had some stones that might be worth that much, if they were real. This was her home, Ty’s home! She’d lost her mother; she couldn’t lose her house, too. If she could raise money from the sapphires, she might be able to get a mortgage for the rest...

“I can try to find the money. How much time do I have?”

Mr. Simms’s face softened. “Your father left a hell of a mess, and you’re being punished for it. That’s not right. I’ll push the sale of the property down my list of priorities and hope like hell I don’t get caught. What about three months?”

Piper nodded, tears in her eyes. “Three months to raise three million. Holy crack-a-doodle.”

Simms cocked his head at her. “If anyone can do it, Michael Shuttle’s daughter can.”

Piper didn’t bother explaining that, while she carried Mick’s DNA, she’d been anything but his daughter.

But she was Gail’s daughter and Ty’s mom, and she had a life she loved, a life now under threat. Piper looked around her colorful, cozy home, and her stomach twisted into a sailor’s knot. This was her nest, the center of her life. It was her refuge, her cave, her son’s playpen. It was where she felt safe.

Leaving her house and her life wasn’t an option, so she had to fight for it, and that meant... God. Piper pushed her hand against her flat stomach, ordering her lungs to work.

Fighting for her life and her home meant selling her stones. And selling her stones meant going back to see Jaeger, the only man who’d ever tempted her to walk on the wild side. It didn’t matter that she was still furious that he’d refused to see her, still hurt that she was so easily forgotten. She needed him.

Dammit. She needed Jaeger.

Only, she quickly qualified, to buy her sapphires so she could save her and Ty’s home. She didn’t need Jaeger to be her lover or Ty’s dad or even to rehash the past and explain his actions.

It was a simple transaction: she’d give him ten sapphires and he’d give her a considerable amount of money.

It would be swift and simple.

With her rising stress levels, she didn’t think she could cope with anything but swift and simple.

* * *

Sitting in the reception area, three floors up from the magnificent flagship jewelry store on Fifth Avenue, Piper took in the details of the Ballantyne and Company headquarters.

Unlike the restrained elegance of the jewelry store below, where the furnishings were top quality but designed to play second fiddle to the magnificent jewels, the corporate offices were modern, light and airy. Orange backless couches sat on polished cement floors, and wide windows allowed visitors to watch the Manhattan traffic below. Modern artwork—Piper instantly recognized the massive monochromatic Pinz—dominated the wall above a light wood credenza holding a coffee machine.

The knowledge that she was in danger of losing her house had galvanized her, and she’d swung into action. She had no choice; she had to establish whether the stones were valuable or not.

Piper hadn’t wasted her energy trying to get an appointment with Jaeger directly, choosing instead to use her contacts in the art world. Art collectors had deep pockets, and many of them, including her old client Mr. Hendricks, purchased jewelry as well. She’d once saved him from purchasing a fraudulent Dali, and he’d quickly agreed to facilitate a meeting between her and Jaeger.

She would’ve saved herself a lot of heartache if she’d had this brainwave last year. Baby brain, she decided. Those pregnancy hormones had a lot to answer for!

Despite Jaeger acting like a toad after Milan, she trusted him professionally to tell her the truth about the stones. His reputation as an honest dealer was vitally important to him. Ballantyne and Company was also reputed to pay the highest prices for quality gems. Three very good, very business-y reasons for her to be here. Piper felt a drop of perspiration run down her spine. Her heart was bouncing off her rib cage and the air seemed thin.

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