Henriqua Lopez was still nursing sore ribs and terror that she would miscarry her unexpected, but no less wanted, baby. She might not be in a great position, given the circumstances—penniless, likely to be arrested and having made an enemy of the baby’s father wasn’t a great environment in which to raise a child—but she couldn’t bring herself to regret her pregnancy.
Adrenaline urged her to run. Again. It wasn’t the best coping strategy, but it worked in the short term. There was no running from the baby growing inside her, though. And she was out of places to run to. This was her last resort. A terrible gamble, but one she would take so her baby didn’t wind up as powerless as she was.
As she scanned the hotel’s elegant reception room filled with fifty-odd guests in their Sunday best, her gaze crashed into the one pair of dark brown eyes she’d hoped to avoid.
Damn this eye-catching dress. Her tall frame meant she’d only just begun to show despite entering her fifth month of pregnancy. The empire waist disguised her small bump very well, but the color was a neon sign.
She told herself not to let his notice distract her from her mission, but she was held motionless as they stared at one another. Despite the distance across the room, his glower went into her like a hot knife. It twisted, bringing a flex of agony into her throat while the rest of her swelled with yearning at the sight of him. She drank in his height and dark hair, his wide, clean-shaven jaw and searingly handsome features. Each detail was memorized and pocketed greedily to be recalled and cherished later.
Because a clock was ticking in her head.
She dragged her gaze across the room again. Zeroed in on the elderly woman holding court on a sofa. She was a picture of old-world elegance. A woman, Ben had told her with affection, who loved unconditionally. She had an unfailing sense of duty to her children and grandchildren. By the accounts of Ben’s downfall online, she even stood by her blood no matter what terrible crime they appeared to have committed.
Did she know Ben hadn’t salted those mineral samples himself? That his lover had played an unknowing part?
Henriqua should have walked away the first day of their dig in Bogotá, when Ben had mentioned Vincent. Her stepfather tainted everything he touched. He had turned her mother against her, leaving her to die without reconciling with her daughter. Henriqua had worked unfailingly to earn top marks at school, yet Vincent, a professor at her university, had left an impression with her fellow students that her top grades were favoritism on his part. He’d even taken credit for her budding geological career.
She had never imagined he could stoop to felony, though, and setting up others to take the blame. What a nightmare.
Henriqua started toward Eszti Barsi, as anxious to clear Ben’s name in the old woman’s eyes as she was to beg for help.
A firm hand grasped her arm right where Vincent had wrenched it as he threw her to the floor a few days ago.
The bruises sang with pain, but Henriqua didn’t flinch as she turned.
“Don’t touch me,” she said, shaking off Ben’s touch. It hurt. The bruises hurt and so did rebuffing him. His touch still thrilled her despite the scathing way he wiped his hand against his trousers, as though she was something dirty.
She turned away, determined to reach Eszti.
“Henriqua.” His tone, so glacial and implacable, paralyzed her feet and caused a tremor of acute emotion to shiver through her. “Leave now or I’ll call the police.”
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