The Secret That Can’t Be Hidden
The powerful Greek billonaire meets his match in this thrilling secret pregnancy story from USA TODAY bestselling author Caitlin Crews.
Their desire cannot be concealed…
And neither can her baby bump!
Kendra Connolly has never forgotten her first, fleeting encounter with billionaire Balthazar Skalas. When they meet again, she gives in to temptation—completely. It’s a decision made in the heat of the moment that has life-changing consequences…
Balthazar didn’t expand his empire by being weak. The need he feels for Kendra is a liability, and the discovery that she’s carrying his heir merely increases her power over him. Can this ruthless Greek be strong enough to let himself love her?
From Harlequin Presents: Escape to exotic locations where passion knows no bounds.
Read books in the Rich, Ruthless & Greek duet by Caitlin Crews:
Book 1: The Secret That Can’t Be Hidden
Book 2: Her Deal with the Greek Devil
The Secret That Can’t Be Hidden
If she concentrated on how outrageous the situation was, how humiliating and impossible, Kendra Connolly knew she would never do what needed to be done.
Yet there was no way around it. She had to do this.
Her family was depending on her—for the first time. Ever.
She’d been sitting in her car for far too long already in the parking structure deep beneath Skalas Tower in the hectic bustle of Midtown Manhattan. She’d been given a certain amount of time to appear on the cameras in the elevators before the security officials who’d checked her in would investigate her whereabouts, here beneath the North American power center of one of the world’s wealthiest men. The clock was ticking, yet here she was, gripping the steering wheel while staring at her knuckles as they turned white. Psyching herself up for the unpleasant task ahead.
“There must be some other solution,” she had said to her father.
So many times, in fact, that it had really been a lot more like begging.
Kendra was desperate to avoid…this. But Thomas Pierpont Connolly had been unmoved, as ever.
“For God’s sakes, Kendra,” he had boomed at her earlier today, when she’d tried one last time to change his mind. He’d been leaning back in his monstrously oversized leather chair, his hands laced over his straining golf shirt because nothing kept him from a few holes at Wee Burn when he was in the family home on the Connecticut island his Gilded Age forebears had claimed long ago. “Think about someone other than yourself, for a change. Your brother needs your help. That should be the beginning and the end of it, girl.”
Kendra hadn’t dared say that she disagreed with that assessment of the situation. Not directly.
Tommy Junior had always been a problem, but their father refused to see it. To him, Tommy had always been made of spun gold. When he’d been expelled from every boarding school on the East Coast, Thomas had called him high-spirited. When he’d been kicked out of college—despite the library Thomas had built to get him in—it had been excused as that Connolly bullheadedness. His failed gestures toward entrepreneurial independence that cost his father several fortunes were seen as admirable attempts to follow in the family footsteps. His lackadaisical carrying-on as vice president of the family business—all expense account and very little actual work—was lauded by Thomas as playing the game.
Tommy Junior could literally do no wrong, though he’d certainly tried his best.
Kendra, meanwhile, had been an afterthought in her parents’ polite, yet frosty marriage. Born when Tommy was fourteen and already on his fifth boarding school, her well-to-do parents had never known what to do with her. She’d been shunted off to nannies, which had suited her fine. The old Connolly fortune that consumed her father’s and brother’s lives had been meaningful to her only in that it provided the sprawling house on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, where she could curl up in a forgotten corner and escape into her books.
Her mother was the more approachable of her parents, but only if Kendra conformed to her precise specifications of what a debutante should be in the time-honored fashion of most of her family, who proudly traced their lineage to the Mayflower. To please her, Kendra had attended Mount Holyoke like every other woman in her family since the college was founded, but as she grew older she’d come to understand that the only way to gain her father’s attention was to try to take part in the only thing that mattered to him, his business.
She wished she hadn’t now.
The clock kept ticking, and Kendra had no desire to explain why she was dragging her feet to the Skalas security team, who had already thoroughly searched her car and her person and had sent her photograph up to the executive floor. Where, she had been told coldly, she was expected. Within ten minutes or she would be deemed a security risk.
Kendra forced herself to get out of the car and shivered, though it wasn’t cold. She didn’t like New York City, that was all. It was too loud, too chaotic, too much. Even here, several stories beneath ground with the famous Skalas Tower slicing into the sky above her, an architectural marvel of steel and glass, she was certain she could feel the weight of so many lives streaming about on the streets. On top of her.
Or, possibly, that was her trepidation talking.
Because she’d been so sure she would never, ever have to come face-to-face with Balthazar Skalas again.
She smoothed down her pencil skirt, but didn’t give in to the urge to jump back in the car and check her carefully minimal makeup for the nineteenth time. There was no point. This was happening, and she would face him and the truth was, she was likely flattering herself to think that he would even recognize her.
The flutter low in her belly suggested that it was not so simple as mere flattery, but Kendra ignored that as she marched across the concrete toward the bank of elevators, clearly marked and unavoidable.
It had been years, after all. And this was an office building, however exquisite, not one of her family’s self-conscious parties packed full of the rich and the powerful, where Kendra was expected to present herself as her mother’s pride and her father’s indulgence. Such gatherings were the only reason she’d ever met or mingled with the kinds of people her father and brother admired so much, like Balthazar Skalas himself—feared and worshipped in turn by all and sundry.
Because Thomas certainly had no interest in letting Kendra work alongside him in the company.
Tommy had always laughed at her ambitions. She’d love to think, now, that he’d wanted to keep her at bay because she’d have discovered what he was up to sooner. But she knew the truth of that, too. Tommy didn’t think of her at all. And was certainly not threatened by anything she might or might not do, as he’d made clear today in no uncertain terms.
A reasonable person might ask herself why, when her father and brother had always acted as if she was an interloper as well as an afterthought—and her mother cared about her but only in between her garden parties and charity events—Kendra was carrying out this unpleasant task for them.
That was the trouble.
It was the only task she’d ever been asked to perform for them.
She couldn’t help thinking it was therefore her only chance to prove herself. To prove that she was worthy of being a Connolly. That she was more than an afterthought. That she deserved to take her place in the company, be more than her mother’s occasional dress up doll, and who knew? Maybe get treated, at last, like she was one of them.
And maybe if that happened she wouldn’t feel so lonely, for once. Maybe if she showed them how useful she was, she wouldn’t feel so excluded by her family, the way she always had.
No matter how many times she told herself it was simply because she was so much younger than her brother, or because she represented a strange moment in her parents’ otherwise distant marriage, it stung that she was always so easily dismissed. So easily ignored, left out, or simply not told about the various issues that affected all of them.
Maybe this time she could show them that she belonged.
So even though the very idea of what she might have to do made her stomach a heavy lead ball, and even though she thought Tommy would be better off accepting whatever punishment came his way for his behavior—for once—she marched herself to the elevator marked Executive Level, put in the code she’d been given, and stepped briskly inside when the doors slid soundlessly open before her.
That her heart began to catapult around inside her chest was neither here nor there.
“I don’t understand why you think a man as powerful and ruthless as Balthazar Skalas will listen to me,” she’d told her father, sitting there in the uncomfortable chair on the other side of his desk. She had not said, My own father doesn’t listen to me, why should he? “Surely he’d be more likely to listen to you.”
Thomas had given a bitter laugh. He’d actually looked at her directly, without that patronizing glaze that usually took him over in her presence. “Balthazar Skalas has washed his hands of the Connolly Company. As far as he’s concerned, I am as guilty as Tommy.”
A traitorous part of Kendra had almost cheered at that, because surely that would encourage her father to finally face the truth about his son. But she knew better.
“All the more reason to want nothing to do with me, I would have thought,” she’d said instead. “As I, too, am a Connolly.”
“Kendra. Please. You have nothing to do with the company.” Thomas Connolly had waved one of his hands in a dismissive sort of way, as if Kendra’s dreams were that silly. “You must appeal to him as…a family man.”
Her head had been alive with those too-bright, too-hot images of Balthazar Skalas she carried around inside and tried to hide, even from herself. Especially from herself. Because he was… Excessive. Too dangerous. Too imperious. Too arrogantly beautiful. Even his name conjured up the kind of devil he was.
But it didn’t do any justice to the reality of him, that cruel mouth and eyes like the darkest hellfire. And oh, how he could make the unwary burn…
She’d flushed, but luckily her father paid little attention to such inconsequential things as his only daughter’s demeanor or emotional state. This was the first time he’d ever wanted more from her than a pretty smile, usually aimed at his lecherous business associates at a party.
“What does he know of family?” Kendra had been proud of herself for sounding much calmer than she felt, though it had taken an act of will to keep from pressing her palms to her hot cheeks. “I thought he and that brother of his were engaged in some kind of civil war.”
“He can be at war with his brother, but I do not suggest anyone else attempt it. They are still running the same company.”
“I’m sure I read an article that claimed they’d balkanized the corporation so that each one of them need not—”
“Then you must appeal to him as a man, Kendra,” her father had said, very distinctly.
And they’d stared at each other, across the width of that grand desk of his that he claimed some ancestor or another had won from Andrew Carnegie in a wager. Kendra told herself she must have misheard him. Or misunderstood it. Her heart had been pounding so hard that she felt it everywhere. Her temples. Her wrists. Beneath her collarbone.
Somehow she had kept her composure.
But in case she’d had any doubt about what her father might have meant by that, Tommy had waylaid her moments after she’d left her father’s study. She’d rounded the corner and he’d been there, flashing that grin of his that always meant he thought he was being charming.
Kendra knew better. She hadn’t found him charming in as long as she could remember. Ever, even. A side effect of knowing him, she would have said.
Not that anyone had ever asked her.
“Don’t tell me you’re wearing that,” he’d growled at her, a contemptuous glare raking her from head to toe. “You look like a secretary. Not really what we’re going for here.”
“No need to thank me for running off to rescue you,” Kendra had replied tartly. “The sacrifice is its own reward.”
Tommy had grabbed her arm, hard. Deliberately hard, she’d assumed, but she’d learned a long time ago never to show him any weakness.
“I don’t know what Dad told you,” he snarled at her. “But there’s only one way out of this. We have to make sure that Skalas won’t try to press charges against me. And that’s not going to happen with you in this dowdy, forgettable outfit.”
“I’m going to appeal to his sense of family, Tommy.” She’d ignored his comments about her outfit because there was no point arguing with him. He always went low and mean. Always.
Tommy had laughed. In a way that had sent cold water rushing down her spine in a torrent. “Balthazar Skalas hates his family. He’s not looking for a trip down memory lane, sis. But rumor is, he’s always looking for a new mistress.”
“You can’t mean…”
Her brother had shaken his head. Then her, too, because he was still gripping her arm. “You have one chance to prove you’re not useless, Kendra. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste it.”
Hours later, she was still numb. The inside of the executive elevator was sleek and mirrored, and Kendra could see the panic on her own face, mixed right in with the smattering of freckles her mother abhorred. She wanted, more than anything, to pretend her father had meant something different. That Tommy was just being Tommy.
But she knew better.
That sinking feeling inside told her so.
What’s the difference, really? she asked herself as the elevator shot up. A mistress or a loveless marriage?
Because Tommy might have asked her to make herself a mistress, but her mother had been trying to marry Kendra off for years. Emily Cabot Connelly hadn’t understood why Kendra hadn’t graduated from college with an engagement ring. And she’d taken a dim view of Kendra’s attempts over the past three years to convince Thomas to give her a job at the company when that was no way to find an appropriate husband.
“I don’t want to get married,” Kendra had protested the last time the topic had come up, a few weeks ago on the way to a dreary tea party for some or other pet charity of Emily’s.
“Darling, no one wants to get married. You have certain responsibilities due to your station in life. And certain compensations for the choices that must result.” Her mother had laughed. “What does want have to do with anything?”
Kendra knew her mother expected her to do as she had done. Marry to consolidate assets, then live a life of leisure as a reward that she could make meaningful in whatever way suited her. Charities. Foundations. If she wanted, she could even hare off to the Continent like her black sheep of a great-aunt and “forget” to come home again.
If she thought about it that way, Kendra supposed becoming a mistress to a man like Balthazar Skalas would be much the same thing, if of shorter duration.
The reward was the point, not the relationship.
No one seemed to care that Kendra wanted to make her own reward.
The elevator rose so fast the leaden ball that was her stomach stayed behind, buried beneath the ground. She saw a security camera with its red light blinking at her from one corner and was happy that it was there. It reminded her to remain composed. She was here for a business meeting, in sensible heels with her pencil skirt and a dark, silky blouse that made her feel like the vice president of the family business that she intended to become one day.
I do not look like a secretary, she told herself, eyeing her reflection.
But she also did not look like a woman auditioning to be the mistress of a man like Balthazar Skalas.
A man she kept assuring herself would not remember her. He must attend a thousand parties, and if that flash of heat that sometimes woke her in the night was any guide, affected at least a thousand women in precisely the same way.
As she watched, her cheeks grew red.
It didn’t matter what her father or Tommy said, because she was the one who had to do this thing. And she had to believe that a cool, measured approach, neither denying Tommy’s transgressions nor attempting to find a better side to a man who she already knew had only hard edges, was a reasonable course of action.
Unless he remembers you, a treacherous voice inside her whispered.
When the elevator doors opened again, she walked out briskly. And if she’d been in any doubt as to where she was, the lobby she found herself in reminded her. It was all sleek marble with the company name etched into stone. Skalas & Sons. Almost as if theirs was a quaint little family enterprise, when, in fact, the late Demetrius Skalas had been the richest man on earth at one time.
When he died, his two sons had taken the reins of the multinational corporation that sprawled about into different industries. Everyone had predicted they would run the business into the ground. Instead, the two of them had doubled their father’s wealth within the first two years of their ownership. Each one of them was now far richer than their father had ever been.
Something no article she’d ever read about the Skalas family—and she’d read them all—failed to trumpet.
Balthazar was the eldest son. He split his time between the company’s headquarters in Athens and important satellite offices like this one and was considered the more serious of the two brothers. Constantine was the flashier of the two, thanks to his penchant for race cars and models, and he spent more time in the London office.
The rumor was they detested each other.
But neither Skalas brother ever responded to rumors about their personal lives.
Kendra had expected the office to be empty as it was coming up on eight o’clock that night—the only time the great Balthazar had found in his tightly packed schedule. Instead, she could hear the hum of activity, and as she walked toward the reception area, could see people hurrying back and forth as if it was eight in the morning.
The woman waiting behind the reception desk offered a perfunctory smile. “Ms. Connolly, I trust?” When Kendra nodded, because she seemed to have lost her voice somewhere on the trip from her car, the woman pressed a few buttons. “Mr. Skalas is on a call, but will be with you shortly.”
She stood and led Kendra through the great glass doors behind her desk into the rest of the office. Then walked briskly on heels that were not the least bit sensible, making it look as if she was gliding on air.
It made Kendra instantly feel inadequate.
Still, there was nothing to do but follow the woman where she led. Instead of turning toward the noise and people, the receptionist took her in the other direction. Where there was only a long, gleaming, marble hallway with one side dedicated to an art collection so fine it made Kendra’s head spin. On the other side, floor-to-ceiling windows showed Manhattan laid out at her feet. She couldn’t help but feel as if she was walking along the ramparts of an ancient castle, forced to sacrifice herself before a terrible king for the good of her village—
But imagining that she was in the Dark Ages didn’t make this any better.
At the end of the hall the receptionist led her into another room, this one clearly also a waiting area, but far more elegant. And hushed.
“This is Mr. Skalas’s private waiting area,” the woman told her. “Please make yourself comfortable. If you require assistance, you may step across the hall, where the secretarial staff will be happy to help in any way they can.”
Then she was gone.
Leaving Kendra alone with her mounting panic.
She couldn’t bear to sit, afraid she might come out of her own skin. She stood and stared out the windows instead.
“There’s nothing to fear,” she told herself firmly, if under her breath. “He won’t remember anything about you.”
The real trouble was that she remembered all too well.
She didn’t recall what charity event her mother had used as an excuse that summer. Kendra had only just graduated from Mount Holyoke, certain it would be a matter of months before she could take her rightful place in the family company. She’d figured it was her job, then, to act the part of the businessperson she intended to become. She might not have taken naturally to the world of business—far preferring a good book and a quiet place to read it to the endless rounds of deals and drinks and men in their golf togs—but who ever said life was about what felt good? Surely it was about what a person did, not what they dreamed about. Accordingly, she’d been putting herself out there. She might not have felt sparkling and effervescent, the way her mother always told her she ought to, but she could pretend.
And so she had, waving a cocktail around as she’d laughed and mingled and exhausted herself so thoroughly that after dinner, she’d sneaked off for a few moments’ break. The dancing was about to begin beneath the grand tent that sprawled over the part of her parents’ lawn that offered the best views of Long Island Sound.
She paid no mind to the distraught woman who passed her in a rush of tears and silk on the trellis path that led to her favorite gazebo, set up above the rocky shoreline. It was a pretty evening and the air was warm with scents of salt, grass, and flowers. She could hear the band playing behind her as she walked, and she welcomed the dim light of the evenly spaced lanterns along her way because they were far less intrusive than the brightness inside the tent. She could drop her smile. She could breathe.
It was only when she climbed the steps to the gazebo that she saw him standing against the far rail, almost lost in the shadows.
And then wondered how she could possibly not have felt his presence, so intense was he. The punch of him.
Kendra had felt winded.
He wore a dark suit that should have made him indistinguishable from every other man at that party. But instead she found herself stunned by the width of his shoulders, his offhanded athletic grace. His mouth was a stern line, his eyes deep set and thunderous. His hair was thick and dark and looked as if he had been running his fingers through it—though it occurred to her, with a jolt, that it had probably not been his fingers.
It had been a clear, bright evening, but she suddenly felt as if a summer storm had rolled in off the Sound. As if the clouds were thick and low. Threatening.
And all he did was lift a brow, arrogant and ruthless at once. “I don’t believe I sent for a replacement.”
It had made no sense. Later, she would tell herself it was something about the way he’d gazed at her as if he’d brought her into being. She’d never seen anything like it before. All that fire. All that warning. And other things she couldn’t define.
He’d lifted two fingers and beckoned her near.
It hadn’t occurred to her to disobey. Kendra drifted closer, aware of herself in a way she never had been before. Her breasts felt thick and heavy in the bodice of her dress when she usually forgot they were there. Her thighs seemed to brush against each other, rich whispers. And between her legs, she felt herself heat, then melt.
But this spellbinding man gazed at her in stark command, and she could do nothing at all but go to him.
“So eager,” he murmured when she drew near.
Kendra hadn’t known what that meant, either. His words didn’t make any sense, and yet the sound of them soared inside of her. She felt as if she was a fluttering, desperate, small thing that he could easily hold in the palm of his hand—
Then he did.
He wrapped a hand around the nape of her neck and hauled her those last few, thrilling inches toward him. She found her hands on his chest and the sheer heat of him seemed to wallop her, making her knees go weak.
“Very well,” he’d said. “You’ll do.”
Then he’d set his mouth to her neck.
And Kendra had died.
There was no other explanation for what happened to her. His mouth against her skin, toying with her, tasting her. She felt her mouth open wide as if on a silent scream, but all she did was let her head fall back in delicious, delirious surrender.
The hand that gripped her neck dropped like a band of steel around her hips, drawing her even harder against him.
It was too much. She could hear the sound of the party in the distance, laughter and the clinking of glasses, but she was on fire.
And then she felt his hand move beneath the hem of her dress, volcanic and impossible.
She didn’t like to remember any of this. It had been three years and it was as if it had only just happened. She could feel everything as if it was happening now, high above Manhattan with her hands pressed to the glass that was all that separated her from stepping out into air.
A fall that seemed tame in comparison to Balthazar Skalas in a darkened gazebo on a summer night.
She had opened her mouth again, that time to stop the madness—or so she liked to tell herself now—but nothing came out. His mouth continued to toy with her skin, chasing fire along her clavicle and sucking gently on the pulse at the base of her neck.
And meanwhile, his hand, huge and utterly without hesitation, skimmed its way up the inside of one thigh to the edge of her panties. Then, before she could even find the words to protest—or encourage him, more like—he stroked his way beneath.
Her whole life, Kendra had considered herself remarkably self-possessed. It came from being raised like an only child, so much younger was she than her brother. Always in the company of adults. Always expected to act far older than she was. Her friends in boarding school and college had always allowed impetuousness to lead them down questionable roads, but never Kendra. Never.
But that night, none of that mattered.
Because Balthazar stroked his way into her melting heat, and Kendra…disappeared.
There was only that strong arm at her back, his mouth on her neck, his fingers between her legs as he played with her. He murmured something she didn’t understand, rough and low against the tender skin in the crook of her neck, that only later it would occur to her was likely Greek.
But she didn’t have to understand the words to know that whatever he said, it was filthy.
It had shot through her like a lightning bolt.
She’d made a noise then, a sob, and he’d growled something in reply. And then he’d pinched her. Not hard, but not gently, either. That proud little peak that already throbbed—
Kendra had bucked against him, lost and wild and heaving out another kind of sob, high-pitched and keening.
How had the whole of the East Coast not heard her?
When she finally stopped shaking, she’d found him staring down at her, a kind of thunder on that face of his, so harsh that it was almost sensual. Brutally masculine and connected, somehow, to all the places where she’d still quivered. To where his hand still cupped her, so that all her molten heat was flooding his hand.
A notion that made another shudder rip through her.
“You are surprising,” he’d said, rough and low. “I am not usually surprised. Come.”
He’d pulled his hand from her panties, and she’d thought that harsh line of his mouth almost curved when she’d swayed, unable to stand on her own once he released her.
“Come?” she repeated.
“You’re more of a meal than a snack,” he had told her then, too much heat in his dark gaze. “And I prefer to savor my meals. I have a house not far from here.”
Reality had reasserted itself with a sickening thud. What on earth did she think she was doing?
A question she still couldn’t answer, three years later.
The back of her neck prickled then. She sucked in a breath as she turned, then froze.
It was as if she’d summoned him. He stood in a door she hadn’t known was there, that must have opened soundlessly, because she had no idea how long he had been watching her.
He was just as she remembered. Balthazar Skalas, the devil himself, his deep dark eyes alive with mockery and that cruel twist to his mouth.
And she could tell, instantly, that he remembered her perfectly.
“Kendra Connolly,” he said, as if he was tasting her name. His dark eyes glittered and she felt it. Everywhere. “Your brazenness is astonishing, truly. Have you finally come to finish what you started?”
End of excerpt
The Secret That Can’t Be Hidden
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