Claiming His Secret Heir(10)

By: Joanne Rock

“I’ll be fine.” She gave him a smile that threw caution to the wind. He remembered it from when they’d climbed the bell tower in Florence and she’d challenged him to see who could scale the four-hundred-some steps faster. “The fresh air and exercise will be good for me.”

He still wanted to wrap her in cotton and keep watch over her for days, but he nodded.

Leaving the picnic basket in the back, he locked his door before stalking around to her side and helping her down. He only touched her briefly, putting his hand on her forearm to steady her while she hopped out, but it reminded him how long it had been since he’d touched a woman. Touched her. Even when he’d thought she was never coming back, he hadn’t consoled himself with someone else. In his mind, he’d still been married.

He watched Caroline take in the sights, her head turning as she studied the oak woodland and grassy knolls, the combination of forest and rolling hills scented with bay leaves and the cool, damp earth. The sun shone warmly enough for a southern California winter day, but little light penetrated the thickest patches of trees nearby.

Dressed in a dark blue running suit and a pink tee she’d found in her closet, she started toward the closest hiking trail, her new white sneakers fast on the well-worn path.

“Ready?” Her ponytail swung around her shoulder as she turned back to see him.

“Which way looks good?” he asked, curious if she had even a subconscious memory of the place.

“It seems sunniest in that direction.” She pointed toward the grassier path heading south.

He followed her, discreetly lifting branches out of her way when low boughs seemed too close to head height. For the most part, however, the trail was wide open and the preserve was quiet save for an older man taking his Dalmatian for a walk.

When they reached a high spot with a view of the Bay, Caroline dropped down to a flat rock and zipped her jacket up midway. Damon sat beside her, admiring the view from the peak, and all the time debating if he should ask her more about her ordeal or if he should focus on making new, happier memories. Before he could decide, she turned dark brown eyes his way.

“You said you searched everywhere for me.” Her voice was quiet. Serious. “Why didn’t you report me missing?”

The wind whistled through the tree branches overhead, a lonely sound that echoed through him.

Yesterday, when they’d touched on this subject, he’d been too stunned by the realization that she didn’t remember him to focus on the question. Now, he heard the hurt in her voice. The doubts underlying the question. She had hesitated to come back to him, thinking he might have “moved on.”

Which gave him no choice but to bring up her father.

He ground his teeth at the very thought of the man.

“Your father showed the police proof you’d been in touch with him. He said you’d left the marriage of your own volition and said I should respect your privacy.” He studied her expression, trying to interpret what she might be feeling at that news. “Do you remember much about him?”

“No. I’ve made progress since those first days where I didn’t recognize my own name. I can visualize my family, as well as college and the jobs I had after I graduated. But I don’t really remember anything about why I came out to Los Altos Hills. The last apartment I can recall clearly was in New York City.” She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I can remember that I worked for my father, and I have a few memories of my childhood, but not much about him personally.”

Just his luck, she hadn’t wiped out all memory of Stephan Degraff. Just of Damon.

“Then you might recall your close relationship with your father,” he ventured carefully. “How often the two of you spoke.” Stephan Degraff counted on Caroline’s business advice for his investments, calling on her anytime day or night if he had a question. The guy was relentless. Manipulative. And then, a disturbing thought occurred to Damon. “I’m surprised you didn’t go to him first if you didn’t recollect anything about me.”

“I—” She hesitated, a mixture of emotions evident in her eyes. Guilt. Worry.

“It doesn’t matter.” He covered her knee with one hand, not wishing to upset her. “I’m glad you came here.”

“But my father told the police that I left you? Was it you who called the police?”

“You texted me when your plane landed after you returned here from London.” He wasn’t going to mention the argument they’d had about the UK trip. “It didn’t make sense to me that you would contact me then, only to pack up and leave me.”

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