Excerpt

Urubamba, Peru, January 21

Emilio Santana stared at the folder on the massive mahogany desk—the desk that had served the head of the Santana family for seven generations. Until two weeks ago that desk had belonged to his brother. Now it was his.

He was still reeling from Arturo’s death in a highway accident. But the vast Santana business holdings couldn’t wait for grief. Catapulted into place as the new jefe, Emilio had a world of things to learn—and barely enough time to learn them. He’d never wanted this responsibility. But now it was his—for life.

Arturo had always been the one who took care of things. While Emilio jetted around the world, partying with rock stars and dating glamorous women, Arturo had managed the family estate in Urubamba, the corporate offices in Lima and the portfolio of global investments and properties that comprised the Santana fortune. Steady and competent, Arturo had always been there to bail his wild younger brother out of trouble. Now he was gone, the reality of his loss still sinking in.

Since the funeral and the novena, Emilio had spent much of his time going through the files in Arturo’s home office. Invoices, contracts, business correspondence—he’d found nothing out of the ordinary.

Until now.

The manila folder, marked “Personal,” had been tucked into the back of the file drawer. Inside, Emilio found a certified envelope, addressed to Arturo and mailed from Tucson, Arizona, ten months earlier. Inside was a folded letter, printed on plain white paper and signed in a strong but feminine hand.

March 10

Dear Mr. Santana:
                It saddens me to inform you that my stepsister, Cassidy Miller, passed away March 1 of this year, due to a brain tumor...

Cassidy dead? But how could that be? Emilio stared at the page in disbelief. Cassidy had been so beautiful, so full of life and mischief. He’d wanted her for himself, but she’d chosen Arturo. During the five weeks they’d spent together, Emilio’s brother had never looked happier. Then Cassidy had vanished from his life. Emilio had wondered why, but if Arturo had known, he’d never said a word.
 

Biting back emotion Emilio read on.

I know this news will come as a shock. Cassidy begged me not to tell you about her illness. But now that she’s gone I feel duty-bound to write to you for another reason. In the last days of her life, Cassidy gave birth to a baby boy. Since he was born February 26, nine months from the time she was with you in Peru, I have every reason to believe he’s your son.
Rest assured little Zac, as Cassidy named him, will be well cared for. I’ve brought him home and plan to raise him as my own. My lawyer has advised me to inform you of his birth and ask your permission before taking steps to adopt him.

My business card is enclosed. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume you have no interest in the boy and proceed with the adoption.

Sincerely,
          Grace Chandler

Emilio re-read the letter. His numbness ebbed as the news sank home. Cassidy was gone forever. But Arturo had left a son—a son he’d kept secret. Why?
Looking for answers, Emilio unfolded a second sheet of paper—this one a photocopy of Arturo’s reply.

March 31

Dear Miss Chandler:

My condolences on your loss. You may adopt the boy on condition that he have no future contact with the Santana family, nor any legal claim to the Santana estate. I plan to be married soon and start a family of my own. The appearance of an illegitimate son would cause pain and embarrassment, which I wish to avoid at all cost.
If I can trust you to understand my position and honor my wishes, I will leave this matter entirely in your hands.

Yours truly,
          Arturo Rafael Santana y Morales

Emilio studied the letter. The language sounded brusque, even cold. But Arturo had always put family interests ahead of personal feelings. At the time, he’d become engaged to Mercedes Villanueva, the daughter of a wealthy neighbor. The wedding had never taken place, but Emilio could understand Arturo’s not wanting to deal with his illegitimate offspring.

Illegitimate. Such an ugly word for an innocent child. Turning, he gazed out the window, which commanded a view of the Santana estate. Situated in the lush Sacred Valley of the Incas, the land had been in his family since the 1600’s when Spanish conquistador Miguel Santana had acquired it as a royal grant. Santana had married an Inca princess and settled into the life of a country gentleman. The land reforms of the 1960’s had trimmed away most of the original grant, but the heart of the estate remained, as did the well-managed Santana fortune.

The Santanas themselves hadn’t fared so well. Emilio’s firstborn brother had died of a childhood illness. Now that Arturo was gone, Emilio was the only remaining Santana male. Unless he married and sired an heir—a prospect that loomed like a prison sentence—the family holdings could be fated for seizure by the government or split among his distant kin.

Emilio re-read both letters. Arturo had never wanted to father a child out of wedlock. The impulsive Cassidy must have caught him off guard, without protection. But what mattered now was that Arturo had left a son—a boy who, by now, would be almost a year old.

Legitimate or not, there was no way Emilio would turn his back on his own flesh and blood. Maybe this Grace Chandler person would be amenable to some kind of arrangement. If not, he had the means to exercise his family’s legal rights.
Writing or calling would only complicate matters. He would leave for Arizona tomorrow.

Tucson, Arizona
“How about some lunch, big boy?” Grace lifted Zac out of the jogging stroller and carried him into the house. At eleven months, he was getting heavy. Soon he’d be walking. Then she’d really have her hands full.

Buckling him into his high chair she washed his hands, gave him some finger food and kept an eye on him as he fed himself. Cassidy’s son was a beautiful child, with ebony curls and heart-melting brown eyes. His coloring would have come from his Peruvian father. But when Grace looked at the little boy, it was Cassidy she saw looking back at her.

It had been her plan all along to adopt her stepsister’s baby. The paperwork had taken months, but now the wait was almost over. In a few weeks she would finalize the process that would make Zac her legal son—probably the only child she would ever have.

Splat! A chunk of cooked, mashed carrot hit her cheek and stuck there. Zac grinned and giggled, showing his new baby teeth. Throwing food was his newest discovery, and he was good at it.

“That’s quite an arm you’ve got, mister. We should think about baseball later on.” Laughing, she boosted him out of the chair and untied his bib. “Time to wash up. Let’s go.”

Zac had managed to get as much lunch on his face and hands as in his mouth. As she passed the hallway mirror, Grace caught a glimpse of herself with the baby in her arms. The two of them looked like they’d been in a food fight. In the few seconds it had taken her to cross the small kitchen, he’d smeared the front of her white tee and coated a lock of her hair. Between her morning run and Zac’s meal, she was a sweaty, sticky mess. As soon the little mischief was down for his nap, she’d be ready for a shower.

Grace had just stepped into the bathroom with the baby when the front doorbell rang.
Talk about timing... It was most likely a delivery or a salesperson. Maybe if she didn’t answer, the caller would give up and leave.

But the bell rang again, more insistently this time. With a sigh of surrender, Grace switched the baby to her left hip, strode to the front door and opened it.

The tall, dark man on the porch was a stranger. But Grace recognized him from his photos in the supermarket tabloids, usually with some actress or model draped on his arm. The Peruvian Playboy, one scandal sheet had dubbed him.

But Arturo Santana’s brother wouldn’t just drop by to say hello. Grace’s stomach knotted as she met his piercing eyes. Emilio Santana, she sensed, had come here for a reason. And that reason had something to do with Zac.

Clasping the baby, Grace braced herself for trouble.

Emilio’s gaze took in the woman and child. She was athletically built, her long, tanned legs stretching from white running shoes to black nylon shorts. Strings of dark blond hair had escaped from her sweatband to dangle around her carrot-smudged face. Wide hazel eyes—her most striking feature—blazed defiance. With her golden coloring and challenging manner, she reminded him of a lioness defending her cub.

As for the baby... Something jerked around Emilio’s heart as he studied the boy. The dark Latino coloring was like his own family’s, but he could see traces of Cassidy as well. Dirty face and all, the child was perfection. So this was Arturo’s son.
He found his voice. “Grace Chandler? My name is Emilio Santana.”

Copyright © 2013 by Elizabeth Lane
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.

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