His Ex's Well-Kept Secret

By: Joss Wood



She had to calm down.

She was going to see Jaeger again. Her one-time lover, the father of her child, the man she’d spent the past eighteen months fantasizing about. In Milan she hadn’t been able to look at him without wanting to kiss him deeply, madly, without wanting to get naked with him as soon as humanly possible.

Jaeger, the same man who’d blocked her from his life.

Piper sucked in as much air as she could. She had to pull herself together! She was a few months shy of thirty, a mother. She was not a gauche girl about to meet her first crush. She had sapphires to sell, her house to save, a child to raise. She was being utterly ridiculous! This meeting had nothing to do with Ty or Milan. This meeting was about her gems and her need to raise the cash to keep her home. Ty’s home.

Unable to sit still, Piper walked down the hall to examine another painting, this one by Crouch. Not his best work, she decided. Piper turned when male voices drifted toward her, and she immediately recognized Jaeger’s deep timbre. Her skin prickled and burned and her heart flew out of her chest.

“Miss Mills?”

Piper hauled in a deep breath and looked at Jaeger. His hair was slightly shorter, she noticed, his stubble a little heavier. His eyes were still the same arresting blue, but his shoulders seemed broader, his arms under the sleeves of the black oxford shirt more defined. A soft leather belt was threaded through the loops of black chinos.

The corner of his mouth tipped up, the same way it had the first time they’d met, and like before, the butterflies in her stomach took flight and crashed into one another. Heat ran up her neck and into her cheeks and she bit her bottom lip, frantically telling herself she couldn’t, wouldn’t, throw herself into his arms and tell him that her mouth had missed his, that her body still craved his.

He held out his hand. “I’m Jaeger Ballantyne.”

Yes, I know. We did several things to each other that, when I remember Milan, still make me blush.

What had she said in Italy? “When we meet again, we’ll pretend we never saw each other naked.”

Oh, God! Was he really going to take her statement literally?

Jaeger shoved his hand into the pocket of his pants and rocked on his heels, his expression wary. “Okay, skipping the pleasantries. I understand you have some sapphires you’d like me to see?”

His words instantly reminded her of her mission. It shouldn’t—it didn’t!—matter that he was being a hemorrhoid. She’d spent one night with the Playboy of Park Avenue and he’d unknowingly given her the best gift of her life, but that wasn’t why she was here. She needed him to look at her stones and, ideally, confirm they were valuable. She needed him to buy the gems so she could keep her house.

Piper nodded. “Right. Yes, I have sapphires.”

“I only deal in exceptional stones, Ms. Mills.” Jaeger told her, his expression guarded.

Tired of wasting time, and feeling like an idiot, Piper reached into the side pocket of her tote bag and hauled out a knuckle-size cut sapphire.

“This exceptional enough for you, Ballantyne?”





Two

Jaeger lowered his loupe and looked at the sapphire he held between his thumb and index finger. It was a small stone, barely four carats, but its color and quality, like those of the rest of the ten stones, were off the charts.

Like the woman who owned them.

Jaeger turned his head to the right and looked toward the window where she stood, watching the traffic on the famous street below. Like the stones, something in her called to him. She wasn’t beautiful, precisely, but she was...dazzling. With her naturally curly hair and cat-like green eyes, her stubborn chin and long, lean swimmer’s body, she was exotic, interesting. Utterly feminine...

And majorly pissed off with him.

Jaeger knew women. He should—he’d had enough experience dealing with them. He knew when they were moody or sad. He could recognize manipulation and desperation from a mile away, could see calculation and greed with one glance. He could read body language like other people read text, and Piper Mills was five feet seven inches of pure pissiness.

Directed at him.

He wanted to ask if they’d met before, but he knew that couldn’t be possible. Apart from those two months last year, his memory was impeccable, and he knew they’d never crossed paths before that. The probability of them meeting during his lost months was slim indeed. Credit cards, air tickets and a private investigator had filled in the blanks for the majority of the time he’d lost.

He’d spent July in Burma and Thailand, on the trail of a fantastic ruby he’d subsequently lost in an auction held in the back rooms of Bangkok. From Bangkok, he’d flown to Milan, where he visited Ballantyne and Company and examined and purchased some inexpensive art deco jewelry. He’d spent some extra time in Milan, not unusual since it was his favorite city, but the visit had ended badly. On his way to the airport, the taxi he’d traveled in was T-boned by a delivery truck, and he’d become the human filling in a vehicular sandwich. He’d sustained a broken clavicle and bleeding on the brain.

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