A Clandestine Corporate Affair - By Michelle Celmer Page 0,1

brisk December wind. Then her heart started to beat faster as that familiar awareness crept through her and heat climbed from her throat to the crest of her cheeks.

She tore her eyes away.

“He was Leo’s college roommate,” Beth said, tickling Max under the chin. “I couldn’t not invite him. It would have been rude.”

“You could have at least warned me.”

“If I had, would you have come?”

“Of course not!” She’d spent the better part of the past eighteen months avoiding him. Having him this close to Max was a risk she simply could not take. Beth knew how she felt about this.

Beth’s delicate brow pinched, and she lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “Maybe I thought it was time you stopped hiding from him. The truth is bound to come out. Don’t you think it’s better now than later? Don’t you think he has a right to know?”

As far as Ana was concerned, he could never know the truth. Besides, he’d made his feelings more than clear. Though he cared for her, he wasn’t in the market for a committed relationship. He didn’t have time. And even if he did, it wouldn’t be with the daughter of a direct competitor. That would be the end of his career.

Wasn’t that the story of her life. For her father, Walter Birch, owner of Birch Energy, reputation and appearances had always meant far more to him than his daughter’s happiness. If he knew she’d had an affair with the CBO of Western Oil, and that man was the father of his grandson, he would see it as the ultimate betrayal. He had considered it a disgrace that she’d had a child out of wedlock, and he’d been so furious when she wouldn’t reveal the father’s name that he cut off all communication until Max was almost two months old. If it wasn’t for the trust her mother had left her, she and Max would have been on the streets.

For years she had played by her father’s rules. She’d done everything he asked of her, playing the role of his perfect little princess, hoping she could win his praise. She dressed in clothes he deemed proper and maintained a grade point average that would make most parents glow with pride, but not her father. Nothing she ever did was good enough, so when being a good girl got her nowhere, she became a bad girl instead. The negative reaction was better than no reaction at all. For a while, at least, but she’d grown weary of that game, too. The day she found out she was pregnant she knew for her baby’s sake it was time to grow up. And despite his illegitimacy, Max had become the apple of his grandfather’s eye. He was already making plans for Max to one day take over Birch Energy. If her father knew Nathan was Max’s daddy, out of spite he would disown them both. How could she in good conscience deny her son his legacy?

That was, in part, why it was best for everyone if Nathan never knew the truth.

“I just want you to be happy,” Beth said, handing Max, who had begun to fuss, back to her.

“I’m going to take Max home,” Ana said, hoisting him up on her hip. She didn’t think Nathan would approach her, not after all this time. Since their split he had never once tried to contact her. Not a phone call or an email, or even a lousy text. He’d gone cold turkey on her.

But running into him by accident wasn’t a chance she was willing to take. Not that she thought he would want anything to do with his son. “I’ll call you later,” she told Beth.

She was about to turn when she heard the deep and unmistakeable rumble of Nathan’s voice from behind her. “Hello, ladies.”

Her pulse stalled then picked up triple time.

Damn it. Ana froze, her back to him, unsure of what to do. Should she run? Turn and face him? What if he looked at Max and just knew? But would running be too suspicious?

“Well, hello, Nathan,” Beth said, air-kissing his cheek, giving Ana’s arm a not-so-gentle tug. “I’m so glad you could make it. You remember my cousin, Ana Birch?”

Ana swallowed hard as she turned, tugging Max’s woolen cap down to cover the small blond patch behind his left ear in his otherwise thick, dark hair. Hair just like his father. He also had the same dent in his left cheek when he smiled,