The Baby Bargain
Once A Marine Series, Book 1
Entangled Publishing (March 11, 2013)
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“Beauty and the Beast at its hottest!”
—Susan Mallery, NYT bestselling author
Seeing Adam Waters is the last thing veterinarian Megan Young expects. Ex-Marine. Ex-boyfriend. And still extremely dangerous territory. But Adam doesn’t know the secret Megan has been keeping from him. The secret that was created three years ago, after their last night together…
Adam returns to Raven’s Cove to sell his home in a final break with the town and memories that haunt him. The problem is that his attraction to Megan is as blazing hot as it ever was. But when a vicious smear campaign against Megan turns ugly, Adam learns the truth he never knew—he has a son.
Now the only way Megan can protect her child is to strike a bargain with Adam. And it’s a bargain that looks a lot like blackmail…
Read an Excerpt
Dr. Megan Young sank into the empty receptionist’s chair to check her schedule for the next day. With her staff gone for the day, she enjoyed a few minutes of blissful silence before heading home.
Even Max was quiet as he snoozed in his bed at her feet. That was one of the perks of being a veterinarian; she could bring her dog to work.
The door opened.
“Stay, Max.” Megan walked around the desk. “We’re closed, but if this is an emergency—” She snapped her mouth closed when she saw who it was. Not a pet emergency, but definitely a problem. It wasn’t the bulldog expression that worried her, but the envelope the man shoved in her face.
“Megan, be smart and take the money.”
Of course he didn’t bother with a greeting. Or even an explanation, not that she needed one. She stared pointedly at the thick white envelope in the man’s hand. “You mean the bribe?” She let disgust coat her voice.
Nathan McCray’s blue eyes narrowed. “Now you balk? After all the money you charged me for Celtic Fire’s vet visits? You milked my dimwitted ex-wife for every cent you could.”
Megan had to struggle to contain her boiling fury. “Get out.” She would not allow anyone to bad-mouth her integrity as a veterinarian. She loved animals, more than people sometimes, and she would never cheat their owners.
“I was a famous pro golfer while you were still in school.” He leaned closer and added, “I made Raven’s Cove the town it is today, and I can destroy you and your veterinary practice with a few phone calls.” He shoved the envelope toward her. “Take the money I’m offering you. All I want in return is your testimony that you have revised your medical opinion on Celtic Fire’s health, and I am the better person to get custody of her.”
Never. Nathan and his ex-wife were in a custody battle over their show dog Celtic Fire, and Debbie McCray’s attorney had subpoenaed Megan to testify on Debbie’s behalf. This wasn’t Nathan’s first attempt to influence Megan’s testimony, but offering her a bribe was the most insulting. McCray had just proved himself to be the jerk she had always suspected him of being. “You don’t deserve Celtic Fire. Debbie loves that dog.”
“First you force us to retire the dog from show. Now Debbie is trying to stop me from breeding her.” He snorted in disgust.
She glanced around her waiting room, done in mellow greens and browns that were meant to soothe the anxious owners of her patients. It didn’t help her right now. Turning back to McCray, she struggled to stay calm. “I’ve explained this to you. The infection Celtic Fire had last year damaged her heart. A pregnancy could be dangerous. Even fatal—”
“That dog is a champion, and after all the money and aggravation I put into her, I intend to recoup my investment.”
She’d heard enough. A dog was not an investment. “Get out. Now.”
McCray stepped deep into her personal space. His perfectly tailored golf shirt and slacks did nothing to hide the true thug underneath. “No one tells me to get out. I—”
A low growl came from behind the reception desk.
The arrogant confidence in McCray’s expression drained away to fear. “What is that?”
“Max, come.” Megan dropped her hand to her side and her eighty-five pound German shepherd mix walked over and sat beneath her hand. Then he pulled back his lips and growled low in his chest.
Megan felt the fur on his neck stand up. Max was easy-going until he got riled, and then he could be very intimidating, to say the least, making him the perfect companion. “I am asking you to leave, Mr. McCray.”
The man’s faded blue eyes darted to the dog, then back to her. “If that dog comes near me, I’ll file a vicious dog report. And then you and the dog will be destroyed.” He backed toward the door, yanked open the handle, and left.
Through the window, Megan watched him practically run to his car. She dropped to her knees and hugged Max. “Good boy.” She pulled a treat out of her white coat pocket and gave it to him. The dog wolfed it down, and nudged her hand to check for more. “That’s your limit on treats.” But there wasn’t any limit on her love for the animal, and she spent a few minutes petting and talking to him as her heart rate slowed from her encounter with McCray.
“Time to go home and see Cole.”
But the door opened again. Megan shot to her feet, worried that McCray had come back. She sucked in a breath and braced for another battle, then froze.
Not Nathan McCray.
This was worse.
Time slowed as she stared at the man pushing the door open with his shoulder. When the light hit his face, she gasped as the memories in her head spun and danced. Adam Waters. A part of her brain noted that he carried a dog, but Adam dominated her thoughts. Image after image flashed through her mind, snapshots of the man she had met in college and fallen in love with. But that was before he broke her heart.
The second time, he’d told her he was never coming back.
His rich voice sounded exactly as she heard him in her dreams. But this was more like a nightmare. Adam.
“What are you doing here?” It was unbelievable. Adam had always hated Raven’s Cove, while she had loved the small town nestled along the coastline not far from Carmel, California. Since Adam’s parents were no longer alive, she couldn’t imagine what brought him back here now.
He shouldered the door open wider and strode into the waiting area. Megan got her first clear view of the bleeding, whimpering dog in his arms. The animal weighed about forty pounds—possibly a juvenile Labrador—but Adam lifted it with ease. “Tell you later. Right now, the dog needs help.”
The dog, concentrate on the dog, she told herself. “What happened?”
His golden-brown eyes darkened. “She was hit by a car. The cretin kept right on driving. No one stopped.”
The disgusted anger riding his voice snapped her into action. “Bring her to the back room,” she said and headed to the treatment area. Max started to follow. “Max, bed.”
Obediently, the dog turned and went to his bed behind the reception desk. In the treatment room, Megan donned gloves. “Put her on the table.” Adam gently lowered the dog.
Megan watched, mesmerized as Adam’s arms and shoulders rippled and bulged beneath his cotton pullover shirt. While he calmed the dog, questions blew through her mind, fast and furious. What was he doing here? Why was he in town? Did he know?
Once the dog had stopped trying to escape, Adam straightened up to his full six-foot-two. He kept a hand on the dog’s back, rubbing her coat. And Megan saw that his brown shirt had dark patches of blood from carrying the poor animal.
“Bad cut here.” Adam pointed to the dog’s left flank. “She’s in a lot of pain, Meg.”
Meg. He’d called her that for the nearly two years they had dated in college. But she didn’t have time for a trip down memory lane. Quickly, she moved next to him and examined the six-inch gash. The dog whimpered and tried to move away. All business now, she said, “My staff is gone. I’m going to need your help with her.”
“Tell me what to do.”
“Hold her and keep pressure on the wound.” She set a sterile pad over the cut and Adam pressed his large palm over it. With his free hand, he stroked the Labrador’s head gently. Megan checked the animal’s hip and leg, looking for anything that appeared broken or any sign of internal injuries. “No tags on her?”
“No collar at all.” He kept the animal still and somewhat calm by petting the dog’s furry brown head. “She looks a little rough, like she’s been on her own for a while.” He stroked the dirty, matted fur on the dog’s neck. “No worries, girl, we’ll get you fixed up. Find you a home.”
“She might have a microchip.” Megan kept going with her examination, feeling the dog’s accelerated breathing, but she was reasonably certain it was from fear and pain rather than a chest injury. She didn’t hear any gurgling or wheezing. The dog’s gums were a normal color and her ears looked fine. Megan couldn’t feel any breaks or dislocations. “Her left flank and hip took the worst of it. I want to do an x-ray. Can you move her to the table right through that door?” She pointed across the room to the door of the x-ray room.
“Sure.” Adam lifted her while Megan kept pressure on the wound. With Adam following directions, they worked seamlessly, and soon she was studying the x-rays on the light board. Satisfied, she went to the locked pharmacy cabinet while she said, “No breaks or fractures. I’m going to give her a shot, then suture the cut once she’s numb.”
Adam returned the dog to the treatment table, and Megan injected the contents of the syringe into the animal’s hip. She looked up and met Adam’s eyes. For a second, everything else slid away and it was just the two of them, no injured dog, no old heartbreaks, no complications…
“Good thing you were still here tonight,” he said softly.
His voice brought her back to reality. That was the danger of Adam—his magnetism overwhelmed her until she believed he actually cared about her, wanted to share more than sex with her. But after being burned twice by his deceptive allure, she knew better.
“I got held up. I was just leaving when you came in.” She needed to check with her mom and see if she’d keep Cole for a couple more hours. “I have to make a call. Watch her for a minute.” She peeled off her gloves, dumped them in the trash, and hurried to her small office to find her cell phone.
Her mom answered on the second ring. “Hi, Sweetie. Going to be late?”
Parental guilt snaked through her as she walked down the hallway. “Got an emergency. Can you take care of Cole for a while longer?”
“Of course. We’ll see you when you get home.”
Grateful, she paused in the hallway. “Tell Cole I love him. ’Bye.” She stowed her phone in her lab coat pocket and continued to the treatment room. She jerked to a stop in the doorway.
Adam had stripped off his shirt, and he stood under the lights, his skin gleaming with pure male strength. His muscles were well defined but not gym bulked. Nope, this body came from years of hard work. Back in college, he’d been hot in a cute, boyish way. But a decade in the Marines—many of those years in Special Ops—had carved a hard and dangerous man out of the boy.
Adam belonged to the Marines, as evidenced by the emblem tattooed on his right biceps, an eagle holding a globe and anchor in his claws. Inked above the image were the words Semper Fi, and below it the letters “USMC.” A true symbol that he’d never belonged to her. She didn’t want to dwell on the old feelings that those thoughts dredged up and moved her gaze from his tattoo. His brown hair was longer than last time she’d seen him, and his tawny eyes were edged in faint lines that hinted at torment. Once he’d been a heartbreaker with his good looks. Now he had a lethal edge that made him devastating.
His eyes brightened as he saw her. His gaze drifted down to her mouth, igniting memories of their shared kisses. Her skin warmed as she stood there, the moment growing intimate.
He lifted his stare to her eyes. “Have to cancel a hot date?”
Jerking her gaze away from him, she pulled herself together and went to gather up her suture supplies. “You took off your shirt.”
“Dried blood itches. I hate the feel of dried blood.”
His words hung in the air for a second, and Megan glanced over to see his jaw clenched tight, his chest rippling with internal tension. Bad memories? Ten years of being in war-torn countries had to have marked him.
“I have another shirt in the car.”
A wave of sympathy assaulted her resolve to keep Adam at a distance. That sympathy had been her downfall three years ago. He’d come home for his parents’ funeral, and her heart had ached for him losing both his parents in a car accident. She’d spent time helping him…and they’d ended up in bed.
She thought at the time that suffering such a loss had made him realize he truly cared for her. But the morning after his parents’ funeral, he told her he was returning to duty and would never come back to Raven’s Cove. He was done. Yet here he was, and Megan had to remember that she hadn’t meant anything to him beyond a few hours of pleasure. What else could she believe? If he had cared about her, he would have stayed in contact.
Clamping down on her feelings for Adam, on her desperate need to find out what he was doing in town, she returned to the dog and focused on the one who really needed her. Stroking her head, Megan said, “You’re being a very brave girl.” The dog’s shivering had stopped and her muscles were relaxing. The shot was numbing up the area Megan had to suture.
“Who is Cole?” Adam asked, his voice edgy. “Your boyfriend?”
He must have heard her on the phone. Long practice kept her hands working steadily as she began suturing, but panic raced through her system at hearing that name on Adam’s lips. She could feel his stare on her as he waited for an answer.
“Is eavesdropping one of the skills you learned in Special Ops?”
He was silent, so she paused in her stitching and looked up.
His eyes heated. “Not skills, simple curiosity. I’ve missed you, Meg.”
Adam’s voice was pitched low and needy. The tone skated over her skin and sank deep into her belly. The memory of his touch was burned on her mind and body. She’d never found anyone else who made her feel like he did when he was with her, as if she was the center of his world. Twice she’d thought that meant he wanted a real relationship, and twice he’d cut her off. That was what she had to remember for her own sake, not to mention Cole’s.
She returned her full attention to the dog that needed her. “And Cole is none of your business.”
But that was a lie.
Had she done the right thing by not telling Adam that she’d had their son?