The Secret Daddy Billionaire Cowboy – Book 4 – Sneak Peek

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The Secret Daddy Billionaire Cowboy

The boy has his eyes and the mother has his heart…

When billionaire Mac Johnson goes back to his Montana hometown to help with the family ranch for the summer, a one-night stand from four years ago shows up on his doorstep.

Even with all his money, Mac can’t deny his attraction to Sydney Olmstead…then or now. Why she never called him after their immediate connection still stuck in his craw. He left his number on her counter, for crying out loud!

Sydney has her own secrets and family that wants to exploit everything about her – including her son. Willing to do anything – even face her biggest mistake – Sydney puts her pride and her parental rights on the line to give her son what she can’t – security, a future, and a family name.

When she introduces Mac to a boy with the Johnson blue eyes, Mac has to decide how much he’s willing to let go of his family’s expectations, so he can gain the love of a woman he never should have let get away and a son he never knew existed.

Can Sydney and Mac find a future or will their pride destroy all chances at love?

 

Chapter 1

Sydney

Sydney couldn’t forget Danny’s favorite stuffed animal. The plush Batman toy didn’t stand taller than five inches as it watched her with its embroidered lips curved in a wry smile. As if it knew what she was doing and blamed her for the situation they were in.

He wasn’t the only one. Sydney clenched her teeth together as she roughly took the judgmental toy in hand and shoved it into the side pocket of the duffel bag she packed for her son. Even a toy found her lacking as a parent.

Great. That totally made her feel better about what she was doing. Even her thoughts were riddled with sarcasm at this point – sarcasm and blame.

The room wasn’t bigger than fifteen by fifteen with a closet that could have passed for a decent sized area and probably would have been Danny’s own room, if it hadn’t housed the hot water tank. Sydney had slept on a cot she’d found in a second-hand store while she’d let Danny have the twin bed that had been left behind by the previous tenant. Winters were cold, but if it got too bad, they cuddled in one bed and combined their blankets.

As sparse as it was, Sydney would miss their small place. It was theirs – palace or not.

Sniffing, she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand and gripped Daniel’s blue baby blanket in her fists. He hadn’t slept without that blanket since she’d brought him home from the hospital. Twisting her fingers in the soft material, Sydney blinked back another deluge of tears.

She didn’t want to pack him up. His things were the last to go. Hers were already in the car. They didn’t have the same destinations, though.

That was the hardest thing holding her back. If they’d been leaving together, it’d be one thing, headed toward a fun adventure where they could find peace and happiness. Two things she hadn’t known since her loud-mouthed mother gossiped at her family reunion.

As it was, Sydney and Danny couldn’t stay together. Not if Sydney wanted to keep him safe. Sydney would never be able to escape Kevin Smith – her uncle or the things he demanded from her. As a lawyer with more than enough friends in the police department, Kevin had threatened Sydney with enough reasons to give Daniel up for adoption to random strangers to protect him.

Instead of anything as horrible as all that, grace fell on Sydney. Danny’s father had returned to town and she had to claim the opportunity before Kevin found out.

A knock on the door of her apartment snapped her out of her thoughts. She dropped Danny’s blanket and rushed from the single room she and he had shared for four years.

Holding up a hand to her son as he leaned forward on the air mattress they used for a couch, Sydney smiled tightly, keeping her voice low. “Hold on, baby, let me see who it is.” She wasn’t ready. It couldn’t be Kevin. Please, don’t let it be Kevin.

Sydney’s silent plea ran repeatedly over and over in her mind as she crossed the short distance to the thin door. Closing her eyes, she placed her hand on the panel and counted to three. The slim chain lock wouldn’t hold anyone out, but it left her feeling better anyway.

Cracking the door, Sydney peered out into the early afternoon. The apartment’s exterior entrance was a bonus on days like that with the sun warming the front of the building.

Felicity Huffstaker folded her arms and narrowed her eyes. Her perpetually pinched expression had two stages – judging and condemned. When she looked at Sydney, she was clearly torn between the two and there was never any softening. “You said you’d be out next week. When? And I need a forwarding address for any bills.”

“Did you want to come in?” Sydney closed the door for a brief moment to slide the lock free and then opened the door more. Even Felicity would be a welcome visitor.

The woman jerked her head backwards, shock inferring itself in the slightly agape position of her mouth. She fluttered her hands at her chest. “No, I can’t go in there. What would people think?”

Shoulders slumping forward, Sydney nodded tightly. “Got it. I’ll leave the address on the counter.” She snapped the door shut in Felicity’s face.

Reality wasn’t something Sydney would ever be able to escape. What would people think indeed, if Felicity – the manager of the low-income apartment complex went inside the home of a known drug dealer and prostitute?

Except, Sydney was neither of those things.

Two Rides, Montana wasn’t big but Clearwater County’s vast size didn’t aid in escaping rumors about one’s past. Four years before, Sydney had moved into the apartment when she’d found out she was pregnant with Danny. She’d wanted a fresh start and the cute complex on the outskirts of Two Rides was exactly what she needed. Or so she’d thought.

At least she’d been able to escape the antagonizing town she’d grown up in. Living with the reminder of her weekend with Danny’s father had changed her life. She loved her son and would do anything for him.

Including give him to the man who’d fathered him.

Rolling her head from side to side on her shoulders, Sydney closed her eyes for a moment. She just needed a moment. She told Felicity she was leaving next week so that when Felicity talked to Kevin – which she tried to do often – Kevin wouldn’t know exactly when Sydney was leaving. She wanted to be a step ahead of him for once.

The disdain from Felicity left a sour taste in her mouth which was surprising. Wasn’t she used to being treated like that? Everyone in town believed the rumors Kevin had spread about her. She couldn’t get a job in town, so she’d picked up data entry online and worked the early hours just to make something to pay bills.

Working from home didn’t help the rumors that she was a drug dealer and a prostitute. People didn’t see her working so they assumed that’s what she was doing. Even the police had tried catching her in the act, knocking on her door at three in the morning when her lights were on and she worked at the counter in the miniscule kitchenette.

She shuffled by Danny sitting contentedly on the air mattress. He wiggled his fingers at her as she went by. Only Danny could make her feel better when she was in a mood. She grinned back at him, her tears forgotten for a moment. His dark hair and brilliant blue eyes showed off his fair skin and a light smattering of freckles across his nose.

Back in the bedroom, Sydney heaved a sigh. She didn’t want to pack anymore. She didn’t want to leave. Why couldn’t she just stay? Maybe Kevin wasn’t serious. Maybe he wouldn’t do what he’d insinuated for the last few months. Taking her son wasn’t legal, but he’d been grooming the town and the police for so long, it probably wouldn’t be hard to make it legal.

Her flip phone buzzed on the chipped dresser between their two beds. Sydney leaned to the side, her insides chilling as she pulled the phone to her. She turned and settled onto the bare mattress, flipping open the face and staring at the message.

 

I’ll be there at three to get him.

 

Kevin. Again. And this time there was no suggestion, no threat. It was plain as the trees on the Montana mountains that he wasn’t messing around.

Her chest tightened and Sydney sobbed, frustrated that she was being rushed, tortured that she had to even go through with everything in the first place. Had Kevin found out that she was leaving today? Or was he thinking the same thing she was? That Danny’s father was back in town and he had to act now if he wanted a chance at blackmailing at him?

Sydney didn’t want to blackmail anyone. She wanted to make sure Danny was safe. That’s all that mattered.

He’d be there in two hours. Thankfully, Sydney had packed her things in the dark of the night when she normally worked. She’d gotten two weeks off, stating she was moving and her boss – the only nice person on the planet in Sydney’s life – had emailed her back saying that was fine. Sydney was a good worker and she’d never asked for time off. Ever.

Setting her jaw, Sydney pushed herself up from the mattress. Kevin wouldn’t get a response. He didn’t expect one. Tucking her phone in her pocket, she pulled the last of Daniel’s things from the small two-drawer dresser and stuffed them into the duffel. Everything he’d ever owned fit in that bag. Even with the pillow on top the middle sagged from too much unused room.

Kevin’s text fueled her resolve and reminded her what was at stake. She quelled the ache in her heart from losing her son and focused on everything his father would be able to give him.

Everything she couldn’t.

At the park two days ago, Sydney had overheard a group of moms on a playdate talking about the enigmatic man returning to Two Rides to see his family. According to the gushing women the entire Johnson family was making their way back to the Johnson Ranch because the patriarch of the family had health problems.

In Two Rides, though, one never knew truth from more conjecture and judgment. The whole community had talked about a couple of billionaires in the area finding love with single cowgirls from the town. Sydney didn’t know of any billionaires besides the Johnsons. Even if she did, she didn’t stand a chance at keeping one.

Her situation was a good reason never to trust the busybodies gossiping by the slides while their children played. Everyone believed the things Kevin declared – that Sydney had been working the streets and had a child from that. He’d told everyone that he’d brought her back and was helping her get back on her feet. When Sydney had been reading while Danny played, she’d learned that one as well.

Gossiping housewives with nothing better to do didn’t seem to care who heard what they said – or they went out of their way to be heard and to hurt. Whichever.

Kevin had ruined her for finding a respectable job in the small town. No one wanted to hire a rumored ex-hooker. Even though most of the people knew Kevin for what he has – an oily snake lawyer – they didn’t fight against the reputation destruction he put her through. She barely qualified for state help and everything she had went toward taking care of her son.

Even her pride.

Sydney zipped up Danny’s duffel, the whir soft but final as Sydney cast one last glance over the room. It was so small nothing could hide from her search. She hadn’t missed anything.

Kevin had constantly put Daniel’s pedigree down, claiming he was a worthless whelp who was no better than his white trash mother, Sydney had lost it. In a fit of anger, she’d confirmed what her mother had reported at the reunion – the truth of who Danny’s father was and just exactly where he came from. Mac Johnson, Danny’s father, was infamous around Montana and Wyoming for the wind turbines he’d put up on the plains around Clearwater County. It didn’t matter who you were, you knew the name.

With the truth revealed, Kevin’s attentions had turned from Sydney to Danny almost instantly. He knew the appeal of having the son of a billionaire in his clutches. While Kevin had plotted to blackmail the Johnson family, Sydney had dreamt of returning to the arms of Mac Johnson and the romance they’d started all those years ago and had never finished.

In the kitchen, she set the duffel by the door. Joining Danny on the air mattress she stared at the TV she’d found at a thrift store and waited for her nerves to calm down. At the end of the segment, Sydney reached forward and turned off the set. Turning to her little boy, Sydney pushed her dark blonde braid behind her shoulder and grinned. “Are you ready for our adventure?”

Danny nodded and reached out, his small fingers wiping away the remnants of her tears. In a solemn voice, Danny asked, “If it’s an adventure, why are you crying?”

Laughing while her heart was breaking, Sydney squeezed him in a side hug. “I’m just sad about leaving our home. We’re going to have so much fun, though, and we’ll be safe. That’s an important thing, right?”

She waited for Danny to smile, the worry lines around his eyes softening at the mention of being safe. She couldn’t let Danny know that she was leaving, not until she was actually saying goodbye. Even then, she might just tell him she’d be back soon.

Just thinking of seeing his father again left her stomach tied in knots. She would go back to him today but not to confess her never-dying feelings for the man. Instead, she’d deliver her world to him and walk away.

All to make sure Danny was safe and Mac couldn’t be blackmailed. One way or the other, Sydney would make sure her son was protected. Who better to do that than Mac’s family with more money than a king?

Chapter 2

Mac

Mac crooked his finger and rapped his knuckle on the oak door to his father’s suite.

He waited for his father’s now feeble voice to welcome him inside. He didn’t know what to make of the announcement his mother had made to the family through email. Mac wasn’t sure what was real and what was a ploy to get family back to her fold. No one else did either and Mac had been elected out of his siblings to come home and find out what was going on.

His father’s sickness was real and the more he saw of his dad; the more real his eventual and sooner-than-later death became. He ran his hand down his face as his phone dinged in his pocket. Since he’d reported to everyone else in the family what the reality was, he’d been getting more and more messages from his brothers and sisters to find out all the details.

His last message to the group had been pretty blunt but told them to get their butts home and find out for themselves what was going on. Plus, Mac really didn’t think they had a lot of time left.

Pushing open the door, Mac winced at the dark interior of the room. Mid-afternoon wasn’t the time to hide from the sun and that’s what his dad was doing – or that’s what his mother was doing to his father.

Mac cleared his throat and peered into the shadows of the well-furnished room. A large California King bed captained the area to accommodate the elder Johnson’s height. Even his frail form hadn’t taken off any of the six-foot-four frame.

“Mac, I’m glad you came.” Daniel Johnson wasn’t a meek man by any measure, but he was kind and he softly patted the spot beside him on the bed.

Mac’s eyes adjusted to the dim interior. His father leaned back against a pile of white pillows stacked against the hard, walnut headboard. A navy-blue comforter had been folded half-back in the heat of the afternoon, but there was no fresh air running through the room.

Stilted was the word that came to mind. The room felt stilted and stagnant and Mac suddenly wanted to run away, to be anywhere but there. No matter how many times he’d felt that way over the last couple days since he’d returned, he didn’t let himself run. He couldn’t do that to his dad.

“Hey, Dad, can I open the windows a bit?” He wasn’t sure if it was more for him or his father, but Mac couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t figure out how Daniel could breathe either and get better there in that smothering room.

Daniel closed his eyes and nodded softly, a pained expression tightening the skin around his mouth. “Of course.”

Mac moved around the room silently, pulling open floor-length curtains and pushing the window panes outward. A soft breeze snuck into the room as if it wasn’t sure it was allowed inside.

Turning back into the better lit room, Mac smiled at his dad as if to say, look what I did! His dad had opened his eyes and watched him with a tolerant smile but clutched at the edges of the comforter and tugged, not moving much, but trying with all his might. His knuckles were white as he gripped the blanket but it didn’t move.

Furrowing his brow, Mac moved forward. “Dad, are you okay? Is it too cold now?” He hadn’t been thinking. He should have asked if he would make things uncomfortable for his father by changing the set up. He should have known that his mom wouldn’t do anything to his dad that wasn’t for his own good. If nothing else, Paris Johnson loved her husband. Mac shook his head. “I can close them.” He moved to go back to the windows, but Daniel’s voice stopped him.

“No. I miss the outdoors, I just… can you help me pull the covers up?” He’d abandoned all pretense at being fine. He’d even stopped saying fine when asked how he was. He’d stopped pretending he didn’t need help and instead, he’d set aside his pride to ask for things that he needed.

Turning back, Mac pasted a well-conditioned smile onto his lips. The same expression he wore when he had to fire someone or he knew someone’s company was about to be demolished. It was a smile that didn’t hurt to have on his lips because it was full of condolences and lacked nothing but smugness and pride.

Approaching his dad’s bed, he leaned over and used both hands to pull the comforter up over Daniel’s chest. Mac tucked in the edges, smoothing the lines of the blankets. Wearing the smile as if it were a shield against any pain that might slough off his dad and onto himself, Mac fluffed the pillows behind Daniel, careful not to budge him.

Daniel studied him and offered a wry smile in return. “You can wipe that consolation smirk off your mouth, son. I might be dying, but I’m not blind.”

Startled, Mac’s composure slipped and his dad must have seen the pain in his eyes because he reached out and placed a hand on Mac’s shoulder. Shifting to claim a spot beside his dad on the mattress, Mac clenched his jaw and nodded tightly. They hadn’t faced the truth about what was happening.

“Hey, look. It’s not a big deal. It’s cancer. There’s nothing we can do about. Everyone dies.” Daniel studied Mac. The pancreatic cancer was moving fast and there was nothing anyone could do.

“I should be able to do something, Dad.” Mac swallowed. Admitting his inability to do anything to save his father was like slicing off a finger. The situation was unacceptable. He was a doer, a fixer. He didn’t sit around and wallow in his problems. No, Mac saw a need and he filled it. That’s what his motto was. That’s what he lived by.

“Psh. Why? Because you have money? I have money. Your siblings have money. Just because we have money doesn’t make us invincible. We’re not going to live forever. You need to focus on finding a woman and making a family. That should be your main goal.” Daniel’s hand slid from Mac’s arm as he sank back into the pillows. Mac hadn’t realized he’d been leaning forward or the effort he expended trying to stay there.

“I know, I just –” A knock on the door pulled Mac’s attention from his father’s face.

Missy, the hostess and acting butler while Stewart was gone, cracked open the door and offered an apologetic smile to Mac and his father. “I’m sorry to interrupt, sirs, but you have visitors.”

“I don’t think my father is up for any visitors, Missy.” Mac turned back to Daniel, a question in his eyes as if he might be wrong, but he wanted to make sure.

“Not for Mister Daniel, sir. You have two visitors. She demanded to see you on the front patio.” Missy nodded as she backed out of the door, her eyes downcast.

Everyone was sad to see Daniel’s decline and many of them didn’t want to look his sickness directly in the face. If a great man like Daniel could get terminally sick, then why couldn’t they?

Mac patted his father’s hand. “I’ll be right back, Dad. I didn’t think anyone even knew I was back.” He’d done his best to keep his return under wraps. He hadn’t returned, per se, just more along the lines of being there for his father until he wasn’t needed any longer. Plus, once he’d returned and found the truth, he hadn’t wanted to leave. Not yet. Not until…

Sliding from his position on his dad’s bed, Mac strode from the room. He couldn’t contain his relief as he walked through the door. Freedom from the suffocating ambience he hadn’t been able to really budge even with opening the windows. He wasn’t sure what it was, but Mac felt like he couldn’t breathe. Was that how his father was feeling with death looming over him?

The hallway turned before allowing him to descend the steps by the front door. He hadn’t grown up in Two Rides, Montana, but his parents’ families were from Taylor Falls and when his mom had wanted a home in the boundaries of the less-populated town of Two Rides, his father hadn’t hesitated. They’d procured a large ranch and taken over that fraction of Clearwater County like they’d been born to it. That had only been four years or so.

Mac and his siblings hadn’t stayed home long enough to know if they liked the ranch life. But four years before, he’d come home for the summer and fallen in love with the wide expanse of fields, trees, and mountains as far as the eye could see. He’d started wearing cowboy hats and boots and moved his business headquarters into Butte – closer to home but still in a big-ish city. Improving the state had seemed like the next step.

His boots slid across the tile with a whisper. As he reached the bottom step, he glanced out the window by the front door for a glimpse of who could be calling for him. Missy had spoken as if there were more than one but had specifically mentioned a she.

Mac didn’t know anyone in Two Rides, except Stryder – a business partner. Stryder was out of town with his bride. In fact, Stryder hadn’t even known Mac was in the area. They last spoke six weeks before when Stryder had asked him for a consult on a construction matter. He’d wanted to put turbines around a town he was procuring and improving. That was the last contact Mac had with anyone in Two Rides before his mother reached out to him.

Honey-colored hair moved side to side as a woman outside his front door bent down toward something. Her soft voice pushed through the door and the half-open window. “Look at your shoe laces. He’s going to think you’re homeless.” Was that tear-laced humor in the voice?

Where had Mac heard the lilting tones before? The woman’s voice was familiar but he couldn’t place it, as if he’d only heard it in a dream some time long ago. Her back and shoulders were trim and covered in a peasant-style shirt with embroidery around the back neckline. Wavy hair fell forward, revealing the clasp of a small silver chain.

She stood, flipping her hair back over her shoulder and then wiping at the soft skin under her eyes.

Her eyes. Mac caught his breath. He rushed to hide from her view and stood with his back against the door while he struggled for normalcy. She was there. After four years, she’d finally come to her senses. But was it too late? Why would she come now?

Why was Sydney there and why was Mac’s heart pounding like a thousand wild Mustangs raced through his chest? In a matter of seconds his life was tossed into the rodeo ring and he didn’t know if he wanted to come back out. What was she doing there?

He’d never gotten over her or her rejection of him. He’d chalked it up to insensitivity or maybe even disinterest after the alcohol wore off. Mac wasn’t sure, but he’d left his heart with her that weekend they’d spent together.

She’d never called him. He pressed his fingers to his eyes for a minute, pinching the bridge of his nose and inhaling slow and steady.

Dropping his hand, Mac stared sightlessly into the foyer. Why was she there and who was she talking to?

Mac took a deep breath. There was no getting around it. Not only did he have to talk to her to find out what she wanted, but he longed to talked to her. He had to. He’d been anxious to see her again – had even gone in search of her almost a year later, but he’d never asked her last name and no one knew who he was talking about when he’d asked around.

She’d disappeared like an angel and he’d left it at that.

Steeling himself against showing any excitement she was there, Mac gripped the handle to the door and used the smile he’d used on his father. Pulling open the heavy mahogany panel, he let his gaze find her face and he steadied his breathing – with more effort that he should have needed.

Why hadn’t she aged? She looked as fresh as the evening he’d met her in the park. He’d offered to buy her an ice cream and she’d laughed, commenting on his boldness. But even then, he’d been captivated by her and couldn’t think straight.

Sydney lifted her gaze to his, gripping the hand of a small child at her side. Mac didn’t look at the boy as he stared at Sydney with her bright green eyes and high cheekbones. Why couldn’t she have gone and gotten ugly or something? Why was she even more enchanting in person than in his memories?

Time seemed to stand still as he remembered kissing the tip of her nose and asking if she had any Native American ancestry. She’d laughed and rolled her eyes as she’d wrapped a chunk of her honey-blonde hair around her fingers and caressed his cheek with it – his skin still tingled at the thought. Her words had been distinct but teasing. “Only if Indians were blonde.”

Since then Mac hadn’t laughed half as much as they’d laughed together. She brought joy into their conversations and he didn’t know how he could laugh again without hearing her voice. And there she was. Again. Finally.

The silence stretched and Sydney shifted on her feet, fear in her eyes.

The fear surprised Mac. Why was she afraid? He wasn’t scary. Whatever had brought her there had filled her with terror and Mac’s protective side reared up.

Whatever was wrong, he would fix it. She would have moved on from their weekend together, but he couldn’t. He’d fallen for her then and as she stood before him, he realized he’d never stopped caring. Being attracted to a woman like her was not something a man recovered from quickly, if at all.

She needed something and Mac was just enough of a sucker to want to help her.

Chapter 3

Sydney

Sydney tucked her free hand behind her back. She didn’t want Mac to see her shaking. And, boy, was she shaking. She almost couldn’t hold it to just her hands. Her knees trembled just standing there in front of him with his tousled hair and a line where the hat brim would have been. Jeans stacked over worn but nice brown leather boots. He didn’t drip money like the family name Johnson implied.

In that part of the states, Johnson was synonymous with cash.

What was Sydney doing? She couldn’t believe she was there and doing what she was doing. Her heart hurt. Everything about her hurt and she just wanted someone to hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright. There Mac was, but he wasn’t the one to console her. He couldn’t be. She was about to break up his perfect world.

Standing in the doorway with his dark hair and broad shoulders. Why couldn’t she stop noticing his hair? His Johnson blue eyes stared at her as if seeing water in the middle of the desert and Sydney couldn’t help but wonder if he even recognized her.

The silence further unnerved her and she swallowed, working her dry mouth for something, anything to moisten her tongue so she could speak.

A small tug on her hand pulled her trapped gaze from Mac’s and she looked at her son, who was dancing from one foot to the other and staring up at her with something close to anxiety. “Mom, I need to go potty.”

Wide-eyed, Sydney turned her gaze back to Mac whose own eyes had widened as he stared down at the boy. Shifting his gaze between Sydney and Danny, Mac blinked and his surprise disappeared. Crouching down, Mac got on eye level with the boy. Sydney gripped Danny’s fingers tighter in her hand. What was he going to say?

“You know what I love doing? I like finding a tree. Do you ever do that?” Mac didn’t look up at Sydney, and instead watched the boy.

Danny stopped moving and nodded solemnly at Mac. “I like those flowers over there. Can I use them?” He pointed a small finger at a well-trimmed yellow rose bush.

Mac laughed, his grin wide and surprising. He hadn’t lost any of his rugged charm or his naturally good looks with his chiseled features and intensely blue eyes.

She’d never been able to get over his eyes. Then when Danny had been born and his own eyes nearly perfectly matched Mac’s, she knew she’d be haunted by Danny’s father as long as she had him.

Sydney chewed her bottom lip. “I don’t know. Are you sure? I mean, they’re rose bushes.” Peeing outside wasn’t her favorite suggestion for Danny, but she didn’t want to go inside and she had a feeling the small child wouldn’t be able to hold it. He’d drank almost an entire bottle of water on the way there.

Danny looked up at her with desperate excitement. “Mom, I need to go.” He tugged free from her hand, and he ran toward the rose bushes as if he’d never make it.

Unsure what to do with her hands, Sydney folded her arms and watched her son, more than aware of Mac’s movements as he stood and stared after the child.

“You have a son.” Mac finally glanced at her and Sydney faced him, every cell in her body rebelling against what she had to do, what she didn’t want to do.

She had to be logical. If she didn’t do this, Kevin would do something worse. She lifted her chin and fixed him with her stare. “We have a son, actually.”

Mac’s cool exterior cracked and disbelief warred with confusion and then possibility as he studied her and then turned back to watch the boy. “It’s not possible.”

Sydney shook her head. “I assure you, it’s possible. Let me know if you need a lesson on how babies are made.” She knew what he was going through. She’d felt the same for the first four months she’d been pregnant, as if the entire thing was a dream and she’d never wake up from it.

After a long moment, Mac turned toward her, his eyes full of suspicion and doubt. “Why wait until now to tell me?”

Sydney dropped her hands to her sides and shifted her feet. “I tried, Mac. When I came here to tell you, you were already gone.” Plus, his mother had laughed when Sydney had shown up at the house and asked to see him. She’d been seven months pregnant and obvious in her girth that she was with child. Mrs. Johnson hadn’t even opened the door enough to hear all of Sydney’s story. She’d just replied that Sydney wasn’t the first to claim her sons as their baby daddies. Everyone was after money, she’d said. What made Sydney different?

Nothing. Nothing made Sydney different in the woman’s eyes and Sydney had seen that. Rather than waste her time and energy on explaining herself, she’d turned away, cradling her stomach in her hand.

She hadn’t wanted to tell Mac for his money. She’d wanted to tell him because he was going to have a baby and she wanted him to have the option of being a part of the child’s life or not. Who wouldn’t be excited to be a father? She’d wanted to see him… she’d hoped…

“You came here? I… I had no idea.” Mac’s emotions played across his face as his expressions shifted. He looked at her, studied her. “You look good, Sydney.” His voice was low, and in one second, he’d recreated the intimacy they’d found together that weekend.

Shallowly breathing, she shook her head. “No, I don’t.” Clearing her throat, she narrowed her eyes. Keep it together. She had to do this. She had to protect Danny. “Look, I don’t want to belabor this. Let me get through this before he gets back.” She lifted her chin. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Everything inside her said not to do it. While everything Kevin said promised her Danny would never be free of him, if she didn’t.

She had to do this to protect her son, even if she gagged on her own words.

“Look, I need to leave him with you. I… You’re in danger and so is he, unless you take him and claim him as your own. I put your name on the birth certificate, so there’s no doubt as to your paternity in that regard, but because I did that…” She shook her head and wiped at the hot tears escaping her eyes.

Mac’s surprised turned to worry. “Wait, he’s in danger? You’re in danger?” He shifted his gaze past her as if he could see where the trouble lay. He reached out to place himself between her and what? There was nothing there that he could see and she knew it.

Danny came back, running and holding a dandelion in his hand. “Look, Mom, I picked this for you!” He held up the flower in his hand, pure delight in his eyes until he saw Sydney’s tears. He slowly lowered his hand and then turned toward Mac. “Are you making her cry, too?”

Mac glanced at Sydney but knelt down again to be on level with his son. “I would never want to make your mom cry. She’s pretty special.”

His words brought out a sob in Sydney and she tried not to gasp as her heart wanted to die. She didn’t want to leave Danny and seeing Mac with her son and all the feelings tossing about in her heart, she didn’t want to leave him either. She wanted a family that she deserved. She wanted a chance to have the happiness one saw on television or read about in books.

Sydney crouched down alongside Mac, facing Danny and his worried gaze. “Honey, remember I told you we were going to visit someone very special?” How did she tell him who Mac was? Where did she start? “This is Mac Johnson. He’s your daddy.” There, she said it. She blurted it out like if she didn’t she’d never say the words. Danny always asked if he had a dad and why couldn’t he meet him. Other kids had dads. Was Kevin his dad?

That last question had scared Sydney more than anything. If Kevin convinced Danny that he belonged in their lives, there was nothing Kevin wouldn’t be able to do to control Danny and anything that happened to him.

Kevin wanted the Johnson money and he had no qualms using Sydney and her son to get it.

Danny’s mouth fell open and his eyebrows raised high. “Really? My daddy?” He glanced shyly at Mac. “Did you know I’m your son?”

Mac didn’t say anything and then his voice was strangled as he studied Danny. “No, I didn’t know you were alive.” Mac’s Adam’s apple bobbed with emotion.

“Well, I am!” Danny smiled, pointing at his chest as if it wasn’t obvious he stood there alive. He bounced in his red and blue Velcro-shoes, too much energy and happiness for such a small body.

Sydney laughed, despite her sadness that she had to leave him. Pulling Danny into her arms, Sydney met Mac’s gaze with a fierceness in her expression. “Protect him – he’s all I have left that’s worth anything. Protect our son, Mac. Promise me.” She gripped the back of Danny’s shirt along the hemline, trying not to grab him and run away.

Danny pulled away and patted Sydney’s arm. “It’s okay, Mom. We’re safe now. I have a dad.” He solemnly turned back to Mac and held out his hand. “I’m Daniel Olmstead. What’s your name?”

Sydney raised her eyes to try to read what was going on in Mac’s mind. He stared at Danny, something bright in his eyes. His lips curved upward in a slightly awed smile.

Sydney had to have faith that she was doing the right thing.

Protecting Danny was the most important thing in her life. She would have to believe the same thing would be Mac’s main concern. If it wasn’t, then she’d fail at being what she’d promised Danny she would be – a good mom.

Kindle

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