Bound By Her Shocking Secret by Abby Green
Of all the things Mia might have expected Daniel to say to her on her return from the bathroom, feeling marginally more composed, it hadn’t been that.
He said, ‘I’ve been in back-to-back meetings all day and the chef has made me something—would you join me?’
Much to her chagrin, Mia felt her stomach respond to that question with a slight hollow ache. She remembered her appetite had never failed to amaze Daniel but, as much as she longed to say no, she hadn’t eaten much herself that day.
She put her light-headedness down to that, and not the man standing a few feet away who had just upended her world with one word.
As much as she wanted to leave right now, she knew they had to talk about this and get it sorted.
‘Okay,’ she said reluctantly, ‘if it’s not putting your staff to too much trouble.’
Daniel held out a hand, indicating that Mia should precede him out of the room. ‘Not at all,’ he replied smoothly.
When they walked into an elegant dining room, Mia noted that he’d taken off his jacket and tie. But he was still wearing a waistcoat which drew attention to his slim waist and lean torso. He managed to look both debauched and yet elegant.
Maybe it was down to the fact that she’d slept with him, so she knew just how debauched he could be...
Not where she wanted her mind to go now. Not when she was feeling so exposed.
There was a long table and two places set at one end. Daniel held out a chair for her and she sat down, trying not to inhale his scent, which was far too evocative.
A middle-aged woman appeared with starters. Mia’s mouth watered when she saw a pear and watercress salad with walnuts.
When the woman had left, Mia said, ‘I wasn’t expecting anything fancy.’
‘It’s not. Eat up.’
Mia took a bite of salad, the sweetness of the pear contrasting nicely with the peppery watercress and walnut. She had to bite back a groan of appreciation. She’d got used to throwing together any old thing to eat, after feeding Lexi, and it had been a long time since she’d had anything remotely sophisticated.
Daniel poured more wine into Mia’s glass and poured some for himself. ‘You never did tell me where your interest in food came from,’ he said.
Mia was suspicious of this innocuous direction in conversation, but she went with it. She’d made lots of meals for Daniel in her little apartment. She’d never seen food as sensual, or a precursor to passion, until she’d met him.
‘My mother. She was a great cook. An amateur, though. She taught me to appreciate it. I think she would have loved to train to be a chef, but we didn’t have the money.’
‘It must have been tough for her...being a single parent.’
Mia nodded. ‘She had to work hard to make ends meet.’
Daniel sat back. ‘And yet in spite of that you’re willing to let our daughter go through the same experience?’
Mia glared at Daniel. She’d walked into that one. She should have known he wasn’t making idle conversation because he was genuinely interested. This was all part of his strategy.
‘It won’t be similar at all. Because Lexi will know you and I earn a lot more than my mother did, so I can support us comfortably.’
‘Until you can’t.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
More staff appeared, to clear away the starter plates, and Mia forced a smile. When they were gone, she looked at Daniel.
‘What happens when you don’t want to model any more?’ he asked. ‘What will you do then?’
His question struck a nerve, because in all honesty Mia had been wondering the same thing herself. But he didn’t know that she was feeling ambivalent about going back into modelling.
She lifted her chin. ‘I can worry about that when the time comes. I might go back to school...get a degree.’ She’d always been interested in the arts, but the death of her mother and the need to survive had put paid to going to college.
‘And who would take care of Lexi?’
‘As you’ll be in her life, I’m sure we can come to some arrangement.’
Although, try as she might, Mia couldn’t quite visualise Daniel standing at the school gates, waiting to pick up his daughter. It was more likely to be an assistant in a chauffered car.
Mia felt a pang at that. She wanted more for her daughter.
Their main courses arrived: tender fillet steaks with fresh vegetables and baby potatoes. Except Mia’s legendary appetite was fading fast. After a few mouthfuls of the exquisitely cooked food, she put down her knife and fork.
Daniel looked at her. ‘Not to your liking?’
Mia shook her head. ‘No—I mean, yes. It’s delicious. But...can we just talk about Lexi and come to some agreement? I don’t want to be gone too long.’
Daniel put down his own knife and fork and picked up his wine. ‘You really think it’s that simple?’
‘I don’t think we need to make it complicated.’
Daniel’s jaw clenched. ‘You made it complicated when you didn’t tell me you were still pregnant.’
Mia fought down the guilt. ‘I can’t change the past. Can we please move on and discuss where we go from here?’
Daniel stood up and went over to the window. Darkness had fallen over the square outside. He turned around and said, ‘I’ve already told you what will happen.’
Mia’s insides knotted even tighter. She put her napkin on the table and stood up. ‘If you’re not going to make any attempt to be rational then I’m leaving.’
And not just because of what he was saying, but because the longer she spent in proximity to Daniel, the more she found herself remembering what it had been like to be with him. The more she found herself yearning for his touch again. Yearning to be consumed by passion. Which was the last thing she should be thinking about or wanting. That was what had led to here. This moment.
The realisation hit her that, no matter what, her life was entwined with Daniel’s for ever. Entwined with a man who didn’t want her any more but who felt a responsibility to a child he’d never wanted.
Mia returned to the drawing room and looked around for her bag. She couldn’t see it.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Daniel.
She was feeling panicky. ‘Where’s my bag?’
Daniel walked over to the other side of the room and picked something up from a table near the door. ‘Here it is.’
Mia walked over and moved to take her bag, but Daniel held it out of reach. ‘You’re really refusing to continue discussing this?’
She glared at him. ‘There’s nothing to discuss. We are not getting married.’
A muscle ticked in his jaw. ‘So how do you see this panning out, then? Some loose arrangement where I get to be on the periphery of my daughter’s life and see her intermittently?’
Mia dropped her hand. Daniel put her bag back down on the table. He folded his arms. Why did she have to be so aware of him? It was so inappropriate—and not conducive to clear-headed thinking.
Mia moved back into the room in order to try and put some distance between them. She even put a chair between them again. Not that Daniel looked as if he was about to bat it aside to get to her.
‘Are you saying your feelings have changed and that you now want a family?’ she asked.
‘I now have a family.’
He had a family whether he liked it or not, and clearly he didn’t like it, but he wasn’t going to shirk his responsibility.
She shook her head. ‘I will not marry just for the sake of it. But I’m perfectly happy to sit down and come to a mutual decision about visitation and access to your daughter.’
Daniel’s face became stony. ‘I won’t agree to anything that’s not legally binding. If we take this to court, Mia, it’ll cost a lot of money.’
Mia stepped out from behind the chair. ‘If it goes to court that’ll be down to one person—you. And I don’t think Devilliers will look too favourably on their CEO’s personal life being splashed all over the press. It works both ways.’
Daniel felt frustration rise at the same time as admiration. Mia had always stood up to him. One of the few people who ever had. And she was right. If they went to court it would be messy, and the board were still letting it be known that they were less than happy with his short-lived marriage.
Daniel wanted to usher a modern era into the Devilliers brand but announcing a secret child, an ex-lover and a potential legal battle for custody, while certainly very modern, was not going in the right direction.
As if sensing that she’d got through to him, Mia said, ‘I’m fully prepared to go through mediation so we can both be satisfied. I’ll sign anything you want once it’s reasonable. I want what’s best for Lexi.’
Daniel’s body tightened at the word satisfied. It reminded him that he’d never felt as satisfied as he had with this woman. Every time. She’d been like a sorceress. And it hadn’t even been down to experience. She was probably the most inexperienced lover he’d ever slept with. Not a virgin, but not far off. And, inexplicably for such a beautiful sexy woman, seriously lacking in confidence.
The first time they’d slept together she’d been so nervous, and when he’d made her come... The look on her face had been one of wonder, gratitude, relief, and a very carnal awakening. It had blasted apart any notion he might have had that conducting an affair with Mia Forde was going to be like every other relationship he’d had. Short and satisfying but ultimately fleeting.
He still woke sometimes in the middle of the night amongst sweat-soaked sheets, his body pulsing with desire for that moment all over again. It definitely hadn’t been fleeting and forgettable...
Daniel focused on the other word she’d mentioned: mediation. The thought of sitting around a table with a bunch of men and women in suits made something curdle in his gut. He might not have ever set out to have a family, but seeing Lexi had awoken something long dormant inside him: the desire to protect. And seeing Mia again had revived something far more potent and adult: a desire to have her again.
Everything Mia was suggesting was eminently reasonable, but Daniel knew that reasonable was not good enough. Not by a long shot. Last time they’d been together Mia had resolutely refused to enter his world, but now things were very different and she really didn’t have a choice. He wouldn’t accept anything less.
Mia didn’t like the look on Daniel’s face. His gaze was narrowed on her and it was far too calculating. She should have known this wouldn’t be easy.
He cut her off. ‘It’s getting late. You should probably return to Lexi. We can continue this discussion another time. After all, there’s no rush, is there? Unless you’re planning on leaving Paris again?’
Mia shook her head, immediately suspicious at Daniel’s volte face. ‘No, that’s why I came back. To tell you about Lexi. To be here so that we could make an arrangement that works for all of us.’
Daniel picked up her bag again and held it out. ‘I’m sure we can do that. I’ll have my driver take you home.’
Mia walked forward and took her bag, a little winded at the speed with which Daniel was despatching her. Her little finger touched Daniel’s hand and a crackle of electricity sparked up her arm. She looked at him, but he seemed oblivious.
He must have sent a telepathic message to his butler because the man appeared in the doorway with Mia’s jacket.
Daniel took it and held it up. ‘Here, let me.’
Mia turned around and let Daniel help her put the jacket on. Did his fingers linger at the back of her neck? Or maybe she was craving his touch so much that she was just imagining it. It sent a shiver of awareness down her spine anyway.
She turned around again quickly, mortified that she couldn’t control her reactions around him. He walked her to the door and opened it.
She said, ‘When will—?’
‘I’ll call you. We’ll make a plan.’
He sounded positively benign, which Mia didn’t trust for a second. This was the man who had managed to pick away at all of her very strong defences to seduce her, and then, even when she’d given in on her terms—or so she’d believed—had still managed to prove that any defence she’d thought she had left was an illusion, by making her fall for him.
It was only when she was almost at her apartment that she had a thought and went cold inside. Perhaps Daniel had been so eager to get rid of her not because he had some nefarious plan, but because of something much more prosaic. He had a date.
It was all too easy for Mia to imagine some sleek blonde or sultry brunette being welcomed into his apartment. Daniel smiling, helping her to take off a coat, revealing a clinging silky dress. Smiling at her the way he’d used to smile at her. Full of wicked sensual promise.
Maybe he’d be considering the fact that even though he hadn’t ever wanted a family, he now had the best of both words; the freedom to pursue his pleasures and an heir to pass on the Devilliers legacy to—which had to be a seductive prospect, no matter what he’d told Mia about the brand enduring with or without a bloodline.
It should be of some comfort to Mia that he seemed to be giving up his fight to convince her to marry him. Clearly he’d decided it was a mistake. But, much to her irritation, relief wasn’t her predominant emotion. It was something far more ambiguous and harder to decipher.
About an hour later, Mia was changed and in soft comfy pyjamas. Lexi had woken, crying, and Mia had given her some milk, and now she was falling asleep again on Mia’s shoulder.
The solid and surprisingly heavy form of her daughter was curled so trustingly into Mia that it almost broke her heart, thinking of her own mother and grieving her loss all over again.
She allowed herself to feel some measure of relief that Daniel knew now. Lexi deserved to know who her father was. To have some kind of relationship with him, hopefully. And Mia hadn’t wanted history to repeat itself.
She’d never had the option of knowing her father. It had been the one subject that had been guaranteed to wind her normally mild-mannered mother up—any mention of who Mia’s father was and she’d say, ‘You don’t need to know. It’s better that you don’t.’
Mia sighed and moved from the window, taking Lexi into the bedroom and placing her back into her cot, before crawling into her own bed.
The fact that Daniel appeared to want to engage in getting to know Lexi was more than Mia had hoped for, based on how he’d reacted when she’d lost Lexi’s twin. She’d never forget the stony look on his face. The way he’d been so cold.
Maybe when the dust settled and they came to an agreement about visitation et cetera, Mia could finally break out of this limbo she’d been in for two years and get on with her life. While Daniel Devilliers got on with his too. Surely over time she would be able to interact with him without feeling as if he could see right under her skin to where her blood hummed whenever he came close. To where her blood was humming even now, when he wasn’t even close.
Mia cursed silently as she thumped her pillow and tried to get to sleep. But sleep was elusive, and when it did finally come it was full of dreams filled with carnal images that left her gritty-eyed and filled with a sense of aching frustration as dawn broke the next morning.
It had taken Mia a while to get going that morning. She was tired, and still unsettled after the last encounter with Daniel, and Lexi was fractious, so neither of them was on the best of form by the time Mia had buckled Lexi into her buggy and was heading out for a walk to the park and the playground.
But she was totally unprepared for the barrage of flashing lights and shouted questions as soon as she opened the door of her building. They were caught on the threshold, with half of Lexi’s buggy on the other side of the door.
Mia was so shocked and stunned she couldn’t move. Questions bombarded the air around her.
‘Is Daniel Devilliers the father of your baby, Mia?’
‘Where is Daniel? Did he know about the baby when he got married?’
‘Are you back together?’
‘Are you looking for a settlement?’
The only thing that broke Mia out of her stasis was the sight of one of the photographers pointing his lens directly at Lexi. Mia reacted with the fierce instinct of a mama bear. She pushed down the buggy’s hood and rain cover and moved back inside the building.
As she did, she heard a sort of commotion at the back of the crowd. She saw a couple of photographers being bodily moved out of the way and then a figure appeared, tall and dark. And grim. Very grim.
He came to the doorway, his dark grey gaze moving over Mia and down to the pram. ‘Are you okay?’
Mia nodded. ‘I... I think so. We were just going out. Who...? What?’
How did they know?
Daniel said, ‘I’ll explain in a minute. Go back up to the apartment. I’ll follow you.’
Before she could respond he turned around to face the mob, effectively shielding Mia and Lexi from sight, blocking the doorway. He spoke in rapid French to the paparazzi, and all Mia could make out was some reference to sending out a statement. Or an announcement.
She went to the lift and pressed the button. Daniel was still talking to the crowd in a clipped, authoritative voice.
When Mia was back in the apartment she put Lexi down with a bunch of toys to amuse herself. She went over to the window and sucked in a gasp. There was now what seemed to be hundreds of paparazzi outside. Cars trying to drive by were beeping. People were stopping, looking. One of the photographers had moved back and was now pointing his camera up at the building. He shouted something and pointed directly at Mia.
She pulled back, closing the shutters.
Lexi looked up. ‘Mama?’
Mia bent down and lifted her up, a sick feeling pooling in her belly. ‘Shh...it’s okay, sweetheart.’
There was a sharp rap on the door and Mia went and opened it. Daniel came in, immediately and effortlessly dominating the space. He was wearing dark jeans and a dark top under a battered leather jacket. His jaw was stubbled. A sly voice whispered that perhaps he hadn’t had time to shave after a night in bed with his date...
At that moment Lexi clapped her hands and said, ‘Man!’
Mia pushed aside her rogue thoughts. ‘What on earth was that all about...? Why were they asking those questions? And how did you know to come?’
Daniel took his phone out of his pocket and did something to the screen before handing it to Mia. She put Lexi down and Lexi immediately toddled back over to her toys, seemingly oblivious to the tension.
Mia looked at the phone and the blood in her face and head drained south. She saw grainy pictures of her arriving in Place Vendôme yesterday evening, being admitted to Daniel’s apartment.
And one blazing headline: Qui est Mia Forde?
Who is Mia Forde?
She looked at Daniel. ‘How do they know my name? How do they know I even have a baby?’
Daniel was grim. ‘I suspect one of the security guards who overheard our initial conversation at the party. Whoever it was must have sensed a story, leaked your name and the paparazzi dug up the rest. I’m making sure I get to the bottom of it. The press have been watching me more since the divorce, so that’s why you were caught arriving last night. It’s my fault.’
She looked at him, a suspicion forming. ‘You made sure they saw me arriving.’
She cursed her naivety. A man like Daniel never gave up until he got what he wanted. She should know. Lexi was proof of that.
He shook his head, his jaw clenching. ‘Not intentionally, no. I wouldn’t do that. I hate those vultures.’
Mia stopped. She had to grudgingly admit that it wasn’t his style. He was ultra-discreet.
‘I’m going to release a statement,’ he said.
Mia’s insides froze. ‘Saying what?’
He looked at her. ‘That we are happy to announce that we have a child together from a previous brief relationship and that we would appreciate privacy at this time.’
Mia was suspicious. ‘That’s all?’
Daniel nodded. ‘There’s no point trying to deny it. They’ll only go digging and find out the truth anyway—and any other dirt they can find.’
Mia shivered to think of the invasive media picking apart her early life. It wouldn’t be pretty. She’d grown up in a trailer park. Perfectly respectable, of course, but coupled with her association with Daniel Devilliers it would undoubtedly be portrayed in the worst light possible, to maximise damage to Devilliers.
Mia had never told Daniel anything about her past beyond very superficial stuff. Maybe now was the time to—
‘My security team will get rid of the paparazzi, but now they know where you live, and that we have a child together, I can’t see them leaving you alone for long, Mia.’
Mia promptly forgot about filling Daniel in about her past. ‘We’ll be under siege.’
‘Yes, I’m afraid so.’
She sat down on the arm of her couch.
Lexi had been amusing herself, but walked over to Daniel now, and held out a unicorn. ‘Man play?’
Mia held her breath, watching as Daniel went down on his haunches.
He took the unicorn from Lexi. ‘What’s her name?’
‘Do you want to show me where she lives?’
Lexi nodded her head vigorously and grabbed Daniel’s hand. She started pulling him over towards her play area.
Mia stood up. ‘Lex—’
But Daniel quelled her with a look, telling her that he didn’t mind, and for the second time in as many days Mia had to contend with the fact of having brought Daniel into their lives, and with the realisation that no matter how much or how little he engaged with them, there was now a new paradigm.
And she didn’t like how watching him interact with Lexi was making her feel. Seriously vulnerable.
Okay, so he obviously wasn’t used to kids—he was talking to Lexi as if she was a very small adult—but for a man who’d professed to having no interest in having children he was making an effort, and he wasn’t looking too uncomfortable.
In fact, Mia could imagine all too well that with a bit of time Daniel might actually prove to be quite natural with his daughter. And that was something she would never have expected in a million years.
A ringing noise made Daniel pluck his phone from his pocket.
Lexi said imperiously, ‘Me say hello.’
Daniel shook his head. ‘Not this time, chérie.’
Mia went and picked Lexi up and Daniel stood too, answering his phone and speaking in rapid-fire French, too fast for her to grasp everything. He was frowning when he terminated the conversation. Mia had understood enough to know it affected her and Lexi.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘The media interest is getting more intense.’
He went to the window and opened the shutters and looked out. Mia followed and gasped. The crowd of photographers had doubled.
‘And this is before we’ve put a statement out.’ Daniel sounded grim.
Mia felt panicky. ‘It’s going to get worse?’
‘What will we do? I can’t stay in here all day every day. Lexi needs to get out and run around.’
‘There’s only one solution.’
Mia was sure she wasn’t going to like this. ‘What solution?’
‘You and Lexi will have to move in with me until things die down a bit. I can protect you both better there.’