His Ex's Well-Kept Secret

By: Joss Wood

They’d stabilized him in Milan. Then Linc sent their private plane and a team of doctors to Italy, and Jaeger was transferred back to New York. After operating to stem the bleeding on his brain, they’d kept him in an induced coma until the swelling in his brain subsided. He woke up to the news he’d lost ten weeks of his life, and his beloved uncle, the man who’d raised the Ballantyne siblings, was dead.

Jaeger pulled his eyes from the long-legged beauty at the window and turned back to the stones. Kashmir Blues...why did that phrase keep jumping into his brain? Jaeger picked up his desk phone and punched in a number, impatient for Beckett to answer. His brother had a computer-like brain and remembered most of their uncle’s many stories. From the age of ten, he, Beckett and Sage, along with the housekeeper’s son, Linc—who Connor adopted along with the rest of them—listened to Connor’s gemstone-related tales. Beckett always remembered the finer details.

“You’re calling because you can’t handle the hot chick and you need my help?”

Jaeger scowled at his brother’s greeting. “Yeah, that’s why I’m calling,” he sarcastically replied.

“Thought so. Hang on, sweetheart. I’ll be right there to rescue you.”

If he’d been alone, he would have told his cocky younger brother exactly what he thought of his comment. Because he wasn’t, Jaeger just asked him what jumped into his head when he heard the phrase Kashmir Blues.

It took Beckett less than ten seconds to respond. “Great-Grandfather Mac called a cache of sapphires he saw in the London store the Kashmir Blues. Fifteen brilliant stones. Because other gem dealers, like Jim Moreau, also saw them, we know they definitely existed and weren’t just a figment of Mac’s whiskey-soaked imagination. Strangely, they’ve never, as far as I know, turned up again.”

Until, maybe, today. Could these ten stones be part of the original fifteen? If they were, Jaeger was staring at a hell of a find. He placed the handset back into its cradle. Good God. Could he really be looking at the biggest gem discovery of the last fifty years?

“Well, are they worth anything?” Piper demanded, her hands on her slim hips. Jaeger couldn’t help noticing the sun shone through her thin silk blouse. He could see the curve of her breast, the lace of her bra. He wanted her stones but, by God, he also wanted her with a ferocity that roared and clawed.

Pull yourself together, Ballantyne. This is not the time to think about sex.

“Yeah, they are worth something,” Jaeger slowly replied. “But how much, right now, I’m not sure. I need to do some tests. I’d like other experts to look at them.”

“I thought you were an expert.”

“I am. But with stones like these—” magnificent, important, breathtaking, expensive stones “—I like to make doubly sure.”

“I’d prefer to keep this between us,” Piper said, lifting a stubborn, sexy chin.

“My other experts are my two brothers, Linc and Beckett, and my sister, Sage. They are all Ballantyne directors, and we don’t discuss our clients with anyone else.”

Piper folded her arms across her chest and stared down at the floor, lifting one hand to hold her riotous hair back from her face. When she looked up at him, her expression was fierce. “No games, no lies...if I wanted to sell them right now, what would you offer me?”

“Do you need the money?” She didn’t look like she did. Her clothes were fashionable, her shoes new.

Piper dropped her hand and sent him a hard stare. “I know you might not realize this, but some people do.”

Jaeger held her hot eyes, not bothering to tell her he’d seen more poverty on one trip to Southeast Asia than she could ever comprehend. He knew what people would do for money; he’d witnessed what people would do for money.

He couldn’t help that he was the heir to a dynasty, that he was wealthy beyond belief, but he worked damn hard every day of his life. He didn’t lie or cheat people out of their stones. He paid good prices for good gems. He didn’t deal in blood diamonds, and he boycotted mines and miners using child labor. Like his parents, like Connor, he operated ethically, dammit!

Annoyingly, the urge to explain was strong.

What was it about this woman? And why did he care what she thought about him?

“Give me a number,” Piper demanded, but he heard the fear in her voice, and her hope that the gems would solve a very big problem.

“I’d give you a million,” Jaeger said, just to test her. Actually, he’d consider paying her double, but he wanted to see what her reaction would be.

Her shoulders slumped and she bit the inside of her lip. So a million was short of what she needed.

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