BEVERLY BARTON.

His Secret Child






Excerpt Letter to Reader About the Author Title Page Dedication Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Epilogue Copyright

I Need You, Sheila.

He massaged her shoulder, felt her shudder. Is there some man in your life who would object to our being friends?

Im not involved with anyone right now, she told him.

Then why

Because I dont have room in my life for you, Caleb Bishop! she said, pulling out of his grasp.

Caleb jerked her up against him and brought his mouth forcefully down on hers.

She tried to fight the urge to melt into him, to give herself over to his assault, but the effort failed. She responded to his brutal kiss with equal fury.

This mad dizziness was a unique sensation. Sheila hadnt felt anything like it since the last time Caleb kissed her. The night she had given him her virginity and her heartand he had given her Danny.

The child he didnt know he had fathered.

Dear Reader,

Spring is in the airand all thoughts turn toward love. With six provocative romances from Silhouette Desire, you too can enjoy a season of new beginnings. . .and happy endings!

Our March MAN OF THE MONTH is Lass Smalls The Best Husband in Texas. This sexy rancher is determined to win over the beautiful widow hes loved for years! Next, Joan Elliott Pickart returns with a wonderful love storyJust My Joe. Watch sparks fly between handsome, wealthy Joe Dillon and the woman he loves.

Dont miss Beverly Bartons new miniseries, 3 BABIES FOR 3 BROTHERS, which begins with His Secret Child The town golden boy is reunited with a former flameand their child. Popular Anne Marie Winston offers the third title in her BUTLER COUNTY BRIDES series, as a sexy heroine forms a partnership with her lost love in The Bride Means Business.

Then an expectant mom matches wits with a brooding rancher in Carol Graces Expecting . . .And Virginia Dove debuts explosively with The Bridal Promise, when star-crossed lovers marry for convenience.

This spring, please write and tell us why you read Silhouette Desire books. As part of our 20th anniversary celebration in the year 2000, wed like to publish some of this fan mail in the booksso drop us a line, tell us how long youve been reading Desire books and what you love about the series. And enjoy our March tides!

Regards,

Joan Marlow Golan

Senior Editor, Silhouette Desire

Please address questions and book requests to:

Silhouette Reader Service U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269 Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

About the Author

BEVERLY BARTON has been in love with romance since her grandfather gave her an illustrated book of Beauty and the Beast. An avid reader since childhood, she began writing at the age of nine and wrote short stories. poetry, plays and novels throughout high school and college. After marriage to her own hero and the births of her daughter and son, she chose to be a full-time homemaker, a.k.a. wife, mother, friend and volunteer.

When she returned to writing, she joined Romance Writers of America and helped found the Heart of Dixie chapter in Alabama. Since the release of her first Silhouette book in 1990, she has won the GRW Maggie Award and the National Readers Choice Award and has been a RITA finalist. Beverly considers writing romance books a real labor of love. Her stories come straight from the heart, and she hopes that all the strong and varied emotions she invests in her books will be felt by everyone who reads them.

His Secret Child

Beverly Barton

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To Paula Detmer Riggs,

with whom I share secrets that only our souls know.

One

Caleb Bishop dropped his suitcase on the front porch. He was home. Funny thing was, this old house in Crooked Oak didnt seem much like home anymore. Hed left at eighteen and had been back only twicehis grandfathers funeral and his sisters wedding.

He wouldnt be here now if there was anyplace else on earth where he could hide away and lick his wounds.

Giving the old wooden porch swing a nudge with his hand, he watched it sway back and forth and remembered the summer hed helped his grandfather build the swing. At that time his brother Jake had already been gone six years and theyd had no idea where he was. Hank had been in the army for a year, and their tomboy sister Tallie had been only fourteen. He had just turned sixteen and his prized possession was a black 1980 Camaro, the car he later wrecked, the night after his high school graduation.

Turning around to face the house, Caleb reached under the cushion in the wooden rocker to the left of the swing. He clasped the house key in his hand. Shaking his head, he grinned. Some things never changed, especially in a place like Crooked Oak, Tennessee. Maybe that was the reason hed come home, back to where life was uncomplicated and the people were basically good.

Using his right hand, he inserted the key in the lock, then turned the doorknob. The damn thing wouldnt open. Was it stuck? Had Tallie changed the lock and just forgotten and left the old key under the cushion? Balling his hand into a fist, he gritted his teeth and cursed. Switching to his left hand, he turned the key again and heard a distinct click, then he grabbed the doorknob and notated it. The door opened. Caleb grunted.

The simple things were what bothered him the most because they were the things he often forgot he could no longer accomplish the way he used to. Unlocking a door should be easy, and it was, really. Just not quite as easy as it had been when his right hand had worked properly.

Caleb stared at his hand, then ran his gaze up the length of his disabled arm. Sometimes he wished theyd just sawed the damn thing off. What good was it to him, hanging there, the whole thing, from armpit to fingertips, practically useless to him?

He kicked the door open wide, picked up his suitcase and stepped into the living room. Home sweet home.

A womans voice, singing a few lines from an old Lionel Richie hit, drifted through the house. Caleb froze. Who the hell was here? Not Tallie. She was living in Nashville now and married to the governor of the state. Then who could it be? No one else knew he was coming home.

Maybe Tallie had hired a local woman to come in and freshen up the place. Caleb set down his suitcase, retrieved the key, then closed the door and walked toward the sound of the womans voice.

Hello? he called. Whos there? He hoped whomever Tallie had hired knew how to keep her mouth shut. He really needed a few days of peace and quiet before word leaked out that the hometown celebrity had returned. He was Crooked Oaks most famous citizen. Caleb Bishop, star pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. At least, thats who he had been. But not anymore.

Oh, she gasped. II didnt expect you until tonight.

She stood in the arched opening between the living room and dining room, a tall, rawboned blonde wearing a pair of overalls. He guessed her age to be around thirty. Her cleanscrubbed face looked vaguely familiar.

Im sorry, she said. I meant to be out of here before you arrived. Tallie asked me to air out the place and bring in some supplies. She told me that you probably wouldnt want to go into town for a few days.

She looked at him with wide, round blue eyes. All the while she kept babbling away, apparently trying to explain her presence. It was obvious he made her nervous.

Its all right. Caleb looked her over from head to toe. She was a big woman, strong and sturdy and rather attractive in a plain, wholesome way. He was sure he knew her. Why the hell couldnt he remember who she was? Im glad Tallie hired you to take care of things. Will you be coming by a couple of times a week?

I beg your pardon? Seeming surprised by his question, she stared at him with those big, beautiful blue eyes.

Didnt my sister hire you to take care of things around here for me?

Oh. Her face reddened, completely obliterating the tiny smattering of Heckles across her cheekbones. Tallie didnt hire me. She and I are friends. I got the place ready for you as a favor to her.

Suddenly, he remembered. Sheila Hanley! My God, I didnt recognize you at first. Sheila Hanley, the girl whod made it possible for him to pass twelfth grade English, graduate from high school and accept a college baseball scholarship. How could he not have recognized her? Shed grown older and slimmer, and her once-dark blond hair was now sun-streaked, but she hadnt changed that much. The biggest change was in her dark blue eyes. He didnt remember them being so cool and void of emotion.

Sheila Vance, she corrected him.

Oh, yeah, thats right. You married Dan Vance and had a kid, didnt you? Caleb racked his brain trying to remember anything Tallie might have told him about Sheila over the years. Sorry about Dan. He was a good man. I always liked him. You and Mike took over his share of the business after he died, didnt you? Hows Mike doing these days? Your brother was a real pal when we were growing up.

Mikes fine. Hes remarried and expecting his first child. He and I recently bought out Tallies share of the business. The garage and tow truck are all ours. Sheila nodded toward the kitchen. Theres a barbecue plate for your supper and I brought in enough supplies to last a week. I changed the linens on the bed in your old room and

Thanks, Sheila, I appreciate all youve done. When he took a step toward her, she backed away.

Youre welcome. IIll let myself out the back door. She turned to walk away from him.

Caleb called out to her. Wait.

She halted, but didnt face him.

Im sorry I didnt recognize you at first, he said.

Thats all right. Weve both changed a lot in twelve years.

Why didnt I see you at Grampss funeral or Tallies wedding? Sheila was one of his sisters best friends. He couldnt understand her absence at the only two family events that had been important enough to bring him home.

I was there, Caleb. You just dont remember. No reason you should. You flew in and right back out the day of your grandfathers funeral. I never got a chance to speak to you. Turning slowly, Sheila faced Caleb. And the day Tallie got married, you arrived late. Besides, I dont think you could see anyone except your girlfriend that day. You couldnt keep your eyes off her.

The mere mention of Kimberly knotted Calebs stomach. He closed his eyes, trying to blot out the pain, but Kimberlys face flashed through his mind. Brown eyes. Large, laughing mouth. Delicate body. She was the most beautiful thing hed ever seen. Hed been crazy about her. And hed killed her.

Noticing the sorrow in Calebs black eyes, Sheila regretted that shed said anything about the woman he had loved and lost. Im sorry, I wasnt thinking when I

Its okay, Caleb said. Kimberly died nearly a year ago. I should be able to handle talking about her. Besides, youre right. When I brought her home with me to Tallies wedding, she was the only woman I could see.

She was very beautiful, Sheila told him. Everyone thought so. You two made a striking pair. A perfect couple. She would never forget how ugly and insignificant shed felt when shed watched them togetherCaleb and the delicately slender supermodel who had been his latest live-in lover at the time. Theyd both been absolutely perfect in face and form and so totally right as a couple.

Were not so perfect anymore, are we? Caleb rubbed his aching right arm. Kims dead and Im . . .Im useless.

Somewhere deep inside Sheila existed the young girl who had once adored Caleb Bishop, a foolishly naive girl who would have done anything for himand had. Now the remnants of that innocent teenager spiraled up from the depths of Sheilas heart in sympathy and concern for this man who stood in front of her, a man who was little more than a stranger now.

Just because your baseball career is over doesnt mean youre useless. Her calm voice had a sharp, judgmental tone. Youre still rich, handsome and intelligent. There are a lot of people whod give anything to have that much.

Knowing full well that Sheila had just put him in his place, Caleb chuckled. Being able to laugh at himself felt damn good. He hadnt been able to do that in a long time. Usually when someone talked to him as plainly as Sheila had just done, he bit their head off.

Now I remember that your honesty was one of the things I always liked about you, he said. You never played games the way so many girls did. You always said what you thought and you sure as hell gave me more than one tongue-lashing that last senior semester when you tutored me in English.

Im surprised you remember anything about those months. They were so long ago. A lifetime ago, Sheila thought. Dannys lifetime.

Despite the fact that I didnt recognize you when I first walked in, I do remember you and those months when you pounded some sense into my brain. I know, better than anyone, that without your help I never would have graduated and gone on to play baseball in college. I owed you a lot, Sheila, and I never repaid you in any way.

Your grandfather paid me to tutor you. It was a job I did for other kids who needed help. And you took me out to celebrate after graduation. Back then, that meant a lot to a girl like me. You could have had a date with any girl in the whole county.

Sheila silently chastised herself for reminding him of that night. Why had she? For her sake and Dannys sake, she should hope he never remembered any of the details. If he did, he might find out the truth shed kept hidden from him for twelve years.

God, that was some night, wasnt it? I was leaving for the summer a week after graduation and I was really full of myself because Id won a baseball scholarship.

Yeah, it was some night, Sheila said. But Im afraid I cant hang around and reminisce anymore. Ive got to get home. Danny has practice. . . She stopped talking midsentence, realizing that she shouldnt be discussing her son with Caleb Bishop.

Danny? Is that your son? Caleb asked. You named him after his father, huh?

Yes, Dannys my son. Sheila backed into the kitchen. I hope youll be comfortable here. Enjoy your supper. And if you need anything, give me a call. I left my number on a pad by the phone. She nodded toward the small table in the living room.

I wish you could stay. I . . . Hed been about to tell her that he was lonely and needed someone to talk to, to listen and understand. Someone even to fuss at him and argue with him. But Sheila had her own life. A child. A home. A business. Shed hardly have any time to waste on him. After all, what was he to her? Nothing more than her friend Tallies big brother.

Dont give in to that sad, wounded, lost look in his eyes, Sheila told herself. Dont involve yourself in Calebs life. If you do, youll just get hurt again. And this time, it wont be only you who will suffer. Itll be Danny, too.

Ive got to go, she told him, but she lingered, drawn to him now, as she had been long ago.

Hed been a devastatingly handsome young man; some had even called him pretty. But Sheila had always thought Caleb was too masculine to be a pretty boy, despite his perfect features. He was, in some ways, better looking now since he had matured. Hed always been big, but the gangly form of his youth had disappeared and left in its stead a sturdy, muscular body that made a woman wonder what it would be like to be possessed by all that masculine power.

Caleb studied the woman in front of him. Thanks for everything you did. Getting the old homestead ready for me. Airing out the place and bringing over my supper was nice of you. He had always liked Sheila, had even thought of her a few times over the years. Shed always had a gentle strength hed never known in any other woman. He didnt think hed ever known any other female, except his sister Tallie, whom hed genuinely liked. Oh, hed adored a lot of women, seduced more than his share, had even been head over heels in love a couple of times, but he didnt think hed liked any of those women. Not even Kim. She had been as big a phony as hed been. Her whole world had revolved around herself, just the way his world had revolved around him.

I have to go, Caleb. Sheila realized that she needed to break eye contact with him, to end the spell his pleading gaze had cast over her.

Yeah, I know. Go on. Im fine. Ill settle in, eat my supper and go to bed early.

Give Tallie a call and let her know you made it home okay.

Youd think she was my mother instead of my kid sister, the way shes hovered over me since the accident.

She loves you, thats why.

For one brief moment Caleb thought he saw a flicker of some deep emotion on Sheilas face. Surely after all these years, she didnt still care about him. Twelve years ago shed had a crush on him and despite the fact she hadnt been his type back then, hed been flattered by her shy adoration.

Ill see you around, Sheila said, her voice steady and calm. Take care of yourself.

She made it to the back door before Caleb caught up with her. He grabbed her shoulder. She froze. He turned her slowly to face him. To most of the people around here, Im a local hero, and thats going to make it difficult for me to fit in. I need a friend who isnt intimidated by the fact that I was the star pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. I need you, Sheila.

No, her mind screamed. Yes, her heart pleaded. Im sorry, Caleb. I cant I . . .

He massaged her shoulder, felt her shudder. Caleb wasnt sure exactly why it was suddenly so important to him to renew his old friendship with Sheila, but it was. Maybe she reminded him of good times, of being very young andWho was he kidding? He was a man whod been without a woman for more than a year. Hed spent months in the hospital after the accident and not until recently had he been able to even dress himself. Sheila Hanley Vance might not be a beauty, but there was something about her that made him want to run his hands over her big, sturdy body, made him want to lift her onto the wooden table in the middle of the kitchen and slide between her legs.

Even if he hadnt recognized her when hed first seen her tonight, his body had remembered hers. Shed been a virgin that night twelve years ago, but shed been eager and wild and as willing as any woman hed ever taken.

There had been too many women in his life, especially when hed been younger. He couldnt even remember some of their names. But Sheila had been different. Different because he had genuinely liked her.

Is there some man in your life who would object to our being friends? he asked.

I date occasionally, she told him. But Im not involved with anyone right now.

Then why

Because I dont have room for you in my life, Caleb Bishop. Pulling out of his grasp, she turned her back to him and opened the door. I dont have time to be the kind of friend you need. But there are dozens of women in Crooked Oak whod be glad to be your friend.

She walked out onto the back porch, but before she could close the door, Caleb grabbed her around the waist and twirled her so that she faced him. He jerked her up against him, circled the back of her neck with his big left hand and brought his mouth forcefully down on hers.

She tried to fight the urge to melt into him, to give herself over to his assault, but the effort failed. She responded to his brutal kiss with equal fury, opening her mouth to accept his thrusting tongue.

This mad dizziness was a unique sensation. Sheila hadnt felt anything like it since the last time Caleb had kissed her. The night she had given him her virginity and her heartand he had given her Danny.

Suddenly remembering her sonCalebs son, the child he didnt know he had fatheredSheila ended the kiss and shoved against Calebs chest

Cupping her hip, he pressed her into his arousal and groaned deep in his throat. We were friends, even lovers for one night. Theres no reason why we couldnt be again, since neither of us is attached.

Pushing him away, Sheila glared at Caleb. Her heart wept for what could have beenand for what could never be. But she looked at him squarely, her eyes dry, her face void of emotion. Calmly and without anger, she said, When you first walked into your old home a few minutes ago, you didnt even recognize me. I doubt youve given me, our former friendship or our one-night stand a thought in twelve years. Im not one of your beautiful, sophisticated women, Caleb. Im a widow and a mother, living in a little town in Tennessee. Im not in the market for a brief affair with the hometown hero.

She turned and walked away, out into the yard and down the gravel road at the side of the house. Standing on the back porch, Caleb watched her until she was out of sight. With every soft, natural sway of her womanly hips, his whole body throbbed with need.





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