Title: Claiming His Secret Heir
Series: The McNeill Magnates #5
Author: Joanne Rock
Publisher: Harlequin Desire
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 1, 2018
Can he win back his wife?
When Caroline McNeill shows up outside her husband’s mansion, she claims to have no memory of the past year…or their passion-filled honeymoon. But faking amnesia is the only way Caroline can find out if Damon was behind her abduction. She needs to trust him—a man she craves but still barely knows—before she can tell him about their infant son. Did the Silicon Valley mogul merely marry to claim an inheritance then dispose of her? Or is what they share real and forever?
GOODREADS LINK: https://www.goodreads.com/…/35634257-claiming-his-secret-he…
“A marriage certificate?” Squinting at the washed-out ink, the gardener scratched the spot under the man-bun, shifting the dark hair side-to-side. “For Mr. McNeill?”
“I’m Caroline Degraff.” She pointed to the name on the second line, trying to recapture the sense of shock she’d felt when her sister first showed her the paper.
She hadn’t recalled the marriage for weeks after her father rescued her, yet he’d never mentioned it until she confronted him. He’d tried to keep her isolated from her family so she wouldn’t learn the truth. Her mother was dead, her younger brothers at boarding school, and her sister had been at university in the States. What else had he kept from her about her marriage? About Damon? Her therapist had gently suggested that Caroline had been subjected to gaslighting.
The gardener’s gaze flicked up from the paper. “You’re Mr. McNeill’s wife?”
Her throat went dry. She remembered enough about Damon to know he might never forgive her for this deception she had planned. But if he’d been the one tricking her into romance in the first place, what would it matter?
She was going to fake amnesia to find out what he had to say about her disappearance. She had to know for sure if her father had been lying to her about her husband.
“I’m honestly not sure.” She allowed all the doubts and fears of the last months to come through in her voice. That much was not an act. “We’ll have to ask him because…” She bit her lip and blinked back the swell of emotion before she spilled out a lie that was crucial to getting the answers she needed for her child. “I don’t remember.”
He reached for her again, needing to offer some kind of comfort when she was clearly rattled. “Caroline, it’s not good for you to be so agitated. Let’s think about something else. Something happier.”
“Why would you believe I left of my own free will if we were so happy?” With her lips pursed and her eyebrows scrunched in confusion, she stared up at him waiting for answers he didn’t have.
Okay. Answers he didn’t want to share.
“Every couple argues. When your father said you’d been contacting him regularly, I assumed I must have missed something, but you’d be home soon.” He didn’t want to delve into this now. Not when his whole purpose today had been to relive good times.
“And when months went by?” She peered up at him, frustration simmering in her clear brown eyes.
“I took solace from the knowledge that you loved me once and you’d love me again.” He dropped his palms on her shoulders, drawing her closer. Wanting her to feel the connection that still stirred inside him every time she was near. “I knew what we shared wouldn’t just disappear. I hired private investigators to find you myself.”
He could feel her swift intake of breath. A mixture of wariness and some warmer, answering emotion flared in her eyes, but she didn’t move away.
The wind stirred the leaves at their feet and whirled around them. To Damon, it felt like it was drawing them closer.
“I’d like to show you what I mean.” He teased a touch along her jaw, testing the softness of her creamy skin, breathing in the faint scent of roses.
He wanted to take his time, to soak in the feel of her, the warmth.
If she remembered nothing else, she had to remember this.
Slowly, he grazed his lips along hers, the barest brush of mouths. Of breath. He tipped his forehead to hers, standing still, waiting.
When her fingers curled into his shoulders, her nails softly pressing through his sweater and tee, Damon’s blood surged in a heated rush. He ground his teeth against the bolt of hunger and forced himself to step back. He simply took her hands in his and caressed them and kissed them.
“That proves passion is still there,” she said finally, her voice expressing the same hunger he felt. Yet she backed up another step and slid her hands away from his, tucking them into her pockets. “But what about love?”
Caroline didn’t know what came over her.
Simple attraction to her husband? Or was it a memory of true love inspired by the wedding rings he’d carefully slid into place on her left hand?
She didn’t know. But the compulsion to get closer, to test the swirl of complicated feelings sending pleasure to every atom of her being, was too strong to ignore.
How long had it been since she’d experienced something so…delicious?
Her tentative exploration of Damon’s lips didn’t last long. A breath. An instant. Then his hands came around her waist, drawing her whole body toward him, as if he could encompass all of her with one squeeze of his powerful arms.
The pleasure she’d been feeling multiplied ten times. A hundred times. Being pressed up against her husband’s muscular warmth sent tingly sensations everywhere from her breasts to her thighs, with the most potent concentration deep inside her. Being in his arms, kissing him, felt more like coming home than crossing the threshold of this colorless mansion ever had.
This, she recognized.
This, she remembered in her body more than her brain.
How else could she account for the sudden, reflexive need? Her hands tunneled into his dark hair, and she craved more. More of the kiss and the man.
He accommodated her instantly, pulling her fully across his lap. Her thighs draped over his, her hip pressed intimately to his arousal. The chilly night air blew lightly on her back, but it didn’t cool the heat their bodies generated where they touched. Damon kissed her with a slow thoroughness that undid her. She dropped her hands to his chest, wanting to feel the thrum of his heartbeat, to see if the rhythm was as unsteady as hers. Or maybe just to reassure herself this was no fevered dream or wishful memory.
Damon McNeill in her arms was the real thing.
She broke the kiss, needing to feel that addictive slide of his mouth on her neck. Behind her ear. Down to the base of her throat. She didn’t know if she steered him there or he simply understood everything she wanted. Arching into him, she let the heat build, not questioning it. Needing it.
He said he wanted to start over, didn’t he?
Was it madness to begin again this way, right here and now?
For the first time in months, she didn’t have to struggle to remember. She could simply be. Feel.
She tugged at the buttons on her sweater, needing to feel his kiss on her breasts. He thumbed aside the bra strap as she exposed it, his hands working seamlessly beside hers…
He shook out the waterproof blanket on the snow—plastic on one side, wool plaid on the other. She watched him line up the sled at one end of the blanket before he knelt in the snow to open the picnic hamper. All the while, Caroline rocked the carriage gently, tilting it back and forth. Thankfully, their bodyguard sat outside the trees, keeping an eye on the hill below to make sure no one intruded on their space. She didn’t feel “watched,” per se, although she felt certain the guy kept an eye on them somehow. The team Damon hired seemed very skilled at maintaining a discreet presence.
“I know that I’m not alone any longer, and I’m glad for that.” She debated lifting Lucas out of the baby carrier, but then changed her mind, putting the brakes on the contraption and facing the carrier toward the blanket so they could keep an eye on him.
“Are you ready for the winter picnic to end all picnics?” Damon asked, waiting to open the picnic basket until he had her attention.
He shoved his gloves into the pockets of his vest. His dark hair had a few fresh snowflakes coating the top where he must have brushed against one of the evergreen boughs.
“Do you know what’s in there?” She peeled off her own gloves, ready to eat. “I can’t imagine what a winter picnic entails, so my expectations are fairly low.”
“I packed this myself. And believe me, my expectations run permanently high.” He tipped open the lid with a flourish. “I present to you, the Post-Sledding Woodland Feast.”
Caroline felt her eyes go wide. Crammed inside the huge basket were two brightly colored thermoses and insulated mugs, a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth, a wooden cheeseboard with fresh fruits and cloth-covered cheeses, a tray of shrimp on ice, a stack of Sternos and a lighter, a bag of huge, homemade-looking marshmallows, a tin of graham crackers, chocolate-covered strawberries…
“And champagne!” Her gaze finally reached a bottle of a highly recognizable brand of bubbly inside a champagne bucket. “Is that even legal?” She glanced around, half expecting a park ranger to issue a citation.
“Alcohol in the park is regulated, but not prohibited, so no one will bother us unless we start causing trouble.” Grinning, he gestured for her to have a seat on the blanket. “Get comfortable and I’ll serve us.”
She did as he asked, her eyes still on the stuffed hamper.
“You packed this?” It was a feat of engineering, the way everything was stacked and prepped.
“The technical mind is good for more than designing software, you know.” He pulled out fondue sticks and set them beside the Sterno cans so they could toast their own marshmallows. “And under the champagne is a bottle of whiskey if you’d rather doctor up the hot chocolate.” He produced a smaller basket with airline-sized bottles of Jameson and Baileys, plus a variety of add-in flavors from vanilla and almond to butterscotch.
“You have outdone yourself.” She glanced up into the carriage to check on Lucas. Surrounded by trees on three sides, their picnic spot felt safe and surprisingly private considering the view of the mayhem near Cedar Hill and the row of emerging snowmen lining the biggest walking trail less than fifty yards away.
“I will admit, it’s been hell keeping a lid on the surprise all day.” He found two small hurricane lanterns and placed candles inside them even though the sun still shone brightly outside. Then, he uncapped one of the containers of cocoa and poured her a mugful. “Here. You can add what you like while I work on the seating.”
He scrambled around to the back of the blanket where he used one arm to scoop a pile of snow under the edge of the wool plaid. It took her a moment to understand why he wanted a big lump of snow under the spot where she was sitting. But then he covered it up again, packing the pile into a U-shaped curve to create a support for her back.
“Genius,” she announced, settling into the snow seat with her mug of hot chocolate, the picnic spread out at her feet. “It really is the picnic to end all picnics.”
“I’ll drink to that.” Damon poured his own hot chocolate and settled on the blanket beside her. “Here’s to our first real day as a family.”
She met his blue gaze, his eyes all the more crystalline in the bright sun. He’d taken considerable time and trouble to make the day perfect for her, and Lucas, too. While she’d been sleeping late to catch up on rest, he’d been ordering a special sled and packing the perfect picnic.
“To family,” she echoed, softly clanking her pewter cup to his.
Tipping the drink to her lips, she savored the complex swirl of flavors. She hadn’t added much alcohol, just enough to give a pleasant jolt of warmth on the way down. The almond and vanilla notes were especially good, and the melting homemade marshmallow she’d set on top was a gooey bonus.
She was about to compliment the first beverage course, but when she turned to him again, she felt a flash of heat from the simmering look he gave her. His mug remained untouched, his attention fixed on her mouth.
He was very still.
“What?” Self-conscious, she set her cup aside in the snow. “I have marshmallow all over my face, don’t I?”
Her hand went to her nose, but Damon caught it. He’d set his own drink aside, too, freeing his hands.
“Let me.” He canted closer, his focus shifting to her eyes.
The heat ratcheted up so much it was a wonder they weren’t melting snow.
She could feel her heartbeat quicken, the answering spark she’d always experienced with this man. Time and distance hadn’t broken it. Even forgetting him completely for weeks on end hadn’t erased the response she had to him.
Four-time RITA nominee Joanne Rock has never met a romance sub-genre she didn’t like. The author of over eighty books enjoys writing a wide range of stories, most recently focusing on sexy contemporaries and small town family sagas. An optimist by nature and perpetual seeker of silver linings, Joanne finds romance fits her life outlook perfectly–love is worth fighting for. A frequent speaker at regional and national writing conferences she enjoys giving back to the writing community that nurtured and inspired her early career. She has a Masters degree in Literature from the University of Louisville but credits her fiction writing skills to her intensive study with friend and fellow author Catherine Mann. When she’s not writing, Joanne enjoys travel, especially to see her favorite sports teams play with her former sports editor husband and three athletic-minded sons.
There is a giveaway for the first two McNeill Magnates books by Joanne Rock, plus journal, calendar notes, and Younique Lip Bon Bons (US only) AND digital copies of the first three McNeill stories– The Magnate’s Mail-Order Bride, The Magnate’s Marriage Merger and His Accidental Heir (Open internationally) (2 winners total)
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