Colliding Hearts

by

L.M. Connolly

When hearts collide, can love survive?

After teacher and artist Rita Morley arrives in Houston from England for her art exhibition she’s so jet-lagged, she dives into a limo. Out climbs the man of her dreams – developer Daniel McCord. He’s also, as her best friend’s brother, off limits, until he makes it clear that he shares the attraction that has always burned between them. They both agree to a vacation fling – one week of sexual bliss. Only Daniel asks her to stay longer, and things turn serious until Rita learns he plans to demolish the building holding her art exhibition. Suddenly the lovers find themselves on opposite sides of the fight.

For Daniel McCord, work has always come first over friends and family and fun until he meets Rita. The sexy and sassy English painter makes his night burn with passion and his days full of stolen moments and joy. He can’t imagine his life without her, but he’s not convinced he can build a life with her. They have different goals and values. Then Daniel’s world is rocked when he discovers he has two brothers he’s never met. He needs Rita in a way he could never have anticipated.

If he can’t convince her to stay, Daniel will lose Rita for good.

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Daniel McCord leaned back in his comfortable leather chair and propped his cowboy-booted feet on a corner of his desk. He eyed the man sitting opposite with mild suspicion and not a little shock. He’d never seen anybody who looked like him before, but here he was, and there was another one like him in Italy.

The man sitting opposite him had just turned Daniel’s world upside down.

From no blood relatives to two was quite a stretch. “Why should I care who my birth mother was? She dumped me on my birth father, and the authorities took me away. I don’t remember any of it. Before I reached my first birthday I was adopted. As far as I’m concerned, my parents are the people living twenty miles away.”

The man sitting opposite him had eyes the shape and color Daniel saw in the mirror every morning. That shade of bright blue was so rare he’d never seen it before—in the flesh.

Ethan Black shrugged. “You have a right to know.” He crossed one leg across his knee, his tailored navy designer suit barely showing a crease. Daniel was wearing a similar number, but in charcoal gray. The two businessmen regarded each other coolly.

Daniel had always known he was adopted. He’d even seen his original birth certificate, but the names on it hadn’t meant anything to him. Tracy and Fred Davis didn’t interest him, and they had disappeared without trace. He’d only made superficial enquiries before, because they hadn’t impinged on his life. Until his brother had walked into his office half an hour ago.

Apparently both biological parents were dead. A thought occurred to him. “Is there a hereditary disease I should know about?”

Ethan grinned. “No, nothing like that. Just a mother who couldn’t settle with one man and kept changing her name. Tracy Davis ran away to New York, changed her name to Evangeline Miller, and married my father. Then she dumped me on him, and married Mario Bianchi.”

“Wait.” Daniel knew he’d seen those eyes before. Their brilliant blue was so distinctive. He tapped ‘Evangeline Miller’ into his laptop and watched the images pile up. He swore. “I always thought her eyes were helped with contacts.”

“No more than yours or mine are.”

No wonder he hadn’t been able to trace his mother. Evangeline Miller had been a supermodel back in the day, glamorous, sophisticated, and feted; a world away from little Tracy Davis from a rundown trailer park. A less enlightened age would have labeled her trailer trash and turned its back on her. As he scrolled down, pictures of her in designer clothes parading down runways were replaced by pictures of her on the arm of first one billionaire, then another. A hotel magnate, then the owner of a motoring company. It almost put his own construction business into the shade. Almost.

“She’s our mother?”

“Uh-huh.” Ethan flicked a speck of lint off his knee. “We didn’t even know she was dead until a couple of years ago. They found the woman in a London flat full of junk. I have a team working through it all. They found documents with my name on them, scrapbooks featuring Ronan and me. I gave DNA for ID, never expected it to come back positive.”

“Hmm.” She’d borne four children that Ethan knew about, and dumped them all. Killed one when their baby sister had died in the crash, then walked away from the rest. She must have been a piece of work. “Do we know if there are any more of us scattered around the globe?”

Ethan’s lips tightened. “Possibly. Probably. I’ve told the team to concentrate on that part of her life. She had you at sixteen, then went to New York, where she met my father. I checked her hospital records here, and you were her first kid.”

“So I’m the first bookend.” Sixteen was far too young to have a baby, but biology being what it was, it had happened. “Well, thanks for letting me know. I’ll tell my family in my own time, if you don’t mind. You know my sister Kelly’s had a tough time recently.” All his concentration had been on Kelly recently. Breast cancer was a bitch.

Ethan nodded. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Thanks. She’s on the mend now. She had her last chemo three months ago, and she’s in Chicago getting her final test.” He checked his watch. “She should be getting in soon. I said I’d pick her up.”

Taking the hint, Ethan got to his feet. “Then I’ll leave you. Except…” He turned back as Daniel rose, too. “You own a building I’m interested in looking at.”

“There’s already a Noir hotel in town.” Until recently, Ethan had been the CEO of the Noir Group of hotels. Although he’d stood down, Daniel had assumed he was still working there. Considering he’d married and become a father recently, the resignation was understandable.

“I’ve left the Noir Group behind. My family is intent on gutting the business and putting nothing back. I didn’t plan to oversee that, so I sold my shares and quit. I’m running my own Rouge Group now.”

Daniel hadn’t heard that. “Which building did you want to see?”

The Rouge Group was making waves opening small, highly secure luxury hotels for VIPs, sensitive company planning meetings and the like.

“It’s called the Faranti building. It’s old and quirky, perfect for a Rouge hotel.”

Damn. Daniel would have loved to have done his brother a solid, but not that. “The Faranti’s a problem,” Daniel admitted reluctantly. It had been a landmark of the city for years, and he hated to be the last person to own it. But the place was in a terrible state. “It’s not in good condition.”

Ethan nodded. “That’s not a problem. Because of the extreme security measures we install, we have to gut the buildings we buy. Poor condition is a bonus.”

There could be hope for the old place, then. Preliminary reports hadn’t been good, but maybe somebody prepared to put some money into the place could save it. “I’ll check with my CFO. She has the figures. Let me get back to you.”

“Thanks. It’s a fabulous building. It would be perfect for our needs. Would you like to come to dinner tonight?” Ethan asked. “I’d love you to meet Scarlett. At my hotel tonight?”

Daniel grinned. “That would be great. Thanks.” They obviously had a lot to talk about.

His face relaxed in the same smile he’d used earlier. Ethan was about to talk about his family. “I gotta go. I promised to take over with Stephen while she went shopping.”

On impulse, Daniel walked around his desk and went for a hug. He wasn’t a hugger, not by any stretch of the imagination, but this was his brother, dammit, the first blood relative he’d ever met. Ethan hugged back, the two seconds of grip and back slapping far more emotional than Daniel had expected. He forced his rising sentiment down.

“Welcome to the family,” Ethan said as they parted. “We’re as dysfunctional as it gets, but we’re trying to mend bridges. We don’t have to repeat our parents’ mistakes.”

Daniel was going to say something clever, but stopped himself with a simple, “No, we don’t.”

He preferred to keep people at a distance, even his family. The urge to touch Ethan had come out of the blue, but he was glad he’d gone with it. “I’ll tell my family about all this, and maybe we can meet up at my parents’ ranch another time.”

“So I’m related to a real cowboy?” Ethan said, a grin quirking the corner of his mouth.

Daniel liked that Ethan was ready to extend the relationship to the people who meant most to him. But he had to fess up. “Not me. But my brother Cade is a rancher, and he takes it seriously. My other brother, Connor, is a games maker. He’s built a hell of a business out of his teenage obsessions. My dad was in that chair before me, worked all his life in construction.”

“Cool to have a construction worker in the family too,” Ethan said without pause. “More useful for me. We might be able to get together on something, if not the Faranti, then something else. We want to expand the Rouge Group as fast as safely possible. The sale of my Noir shares left me with a lot of useful cash, and now we’ve proved the model works, we need to get busy before somebody else jumps on our bandwagon. I want quirky places. I’d appreciate your input.”

“Okay.” Daniel could think of a few places already. Putting this new relationship on a business footing worked better for him. He could learn his brother’s ways by interacting with him in a place he felt comfortable.

Maybe he’d learn how to get close to somebody without risking his heart. Ethan had obviously solved that problem, but he wondered if his brother had the same problems he did when getting close. An invisible barrier went up, but it might as well be a real brick wall for the effect it had.

Ethan shook Daniel’s hand. “Thanks for seeing me. I’ll be in touch, and so will Ronan.”

“Sure.”

Daniel tried not to be impressed that he was related to Ronan Bianchi, one of the best car designers on the planet. He owned a Miller-Bianchi, and loved taking it out.

Daniel’s phone vibrated in his pocket as Ethan left his office.

He flicked open the call. “Kelly, how are you?”

“Tired,” his sister admitted. “But okay.” She paused. “And still in Chicago.”

“Why?” Everything else shot out of his head. Had something gone wrong?

“Chill, Daniel, I can hear the worry in your voice. Everything’s fine. But they’ve rescheduled my last session until tomorrow. It’s not me, it’s the consultant. There was an emergency. I’m fine, Daniel.” The repetition helped Daniel to calm down.

Jesus. “I knew I should have gone with you.” But she was doing so well. Not a setback now, please God. The cancer had gone, according to the experts and Kelly was almost back to her old self. Radiotherapy hadn’t been half as hard on her as chemo, but it still made her tired. Maybe he should fly up to be with her.

“I’m fine,” she said for the third time. “I promise. I’m telling you the truth, Ethan. I’ll come back tomorrow after the treatment. There’s a flight leaving late. I’ll have to fly economy and change at Dallas, but—”

He stopped her right there. “No way.” Not a chance in hell. The company jet was having its annual check, otherwise she’d be on that. But he wouldn’t have her traveling cattle class, not when she was so weak. He knew for a fact that Kelly was frailer than she was admitting to, and he’d seen her after the sessions when she was, frankly, completely exhausted. The flight would deplete her. Not as bad as when she’d been having chemo which had scared him half to death, but bad enough. “I want you on a direct flight on first class. I’ll get my PA on to it, and she’ll send you the information. Where are you staying?”

She told him. At least Kelly had chosen a decent hotel, a five star on the Magnificent Mile. Conveniently close to the best stores in town.

He knew his sister. “Don’t tire yourself out shopping.”

“As if I would!”

“Sure,” he said cynically, but smiled all the same. His sister was still here, and still shopping. He loved that. “Don’t rush back. Rest if you need to, and then come back when you want. Linda will call you and sort it out.” His PA would make sure Kelly was on the right plane. “Do you want me, or Mom and Dad to come up?”

She laughed. “I might call Mom, but honestly, Daniel, I’ll be fine.” She paused. “There’s just one more thing.”

“Go on.” When she took that little-girl voice, something he wasn’t going to like was coming. He braced himself.

“Rita’s arriving today. I was supposed to meet her. She’ll be landing in a couple of hours.”

Damn. Daniel hadn’t met Rita, Kelly’s British friend, but he knew all about her. His family owed her. It had been Rita who’d first noticed the lump on the underside of Kelly’s breast during a shared beach vacation in Spain, and then forced her to see a doctor when they’d returned to London. This visit was supposed to pay part of the debt. Rita was a teacher and an artist, so Kelly had organized an exhibition for her at the art gallery in the Faranti building.

That building again.

But after he’d accidentally seen an email meant for his sister Daniel had severe reservations about Rita Morley. Rita Morley had written that he was hot, that she couldn’t wait to meet him, and hey, rich too.

Daniel didn’t appreciate fortune hunters. He’d been well and truly taken in by one during his college years. Not until his wedding eve had he had his eyes ripped open. He’d taken a good look at Helen and David, his wife-to-be and his best man, and then firmly closed the bedroom door on them. Slammed it, in fact. Ever since, he’d made sure the women he dated knew the score. Nothing long-term, nothing serious.

But he couldn’t deny Rita had helped Kelly when she’d needed it, and the family owed her for that. Gold digger or not, Rita had saved his sister’s life.

His sister continued. “I was supposed to meet her off the plane since my plane from Chicago was landing half an hour before hers from London. We were planning to drive to the gallery together.” Her tone grew wheedling. “Could you meet her, Daniel? I feel shitty about letting her down, but I only just found out about the flight. She doesn’t have a US phone and she’s in the air right now so I can’t call her yet.”

“How about Connor?”

At his mention of their other brother, Kelly laughed. “You’re kidding me. Connor? The guy who spends days on his computer before he realizes time’s passed?”

“Hey, he’s better these days.”

Connor had designed a computer game that had taken the world by storm, but when the big boys had come knocking on his door, he’d dealt with the business himself. That had been at university. Now he was buying the big boys. But, yes, still a geek. Still somebody who didn’t keep track of time. It had been a desperate ploy to even mention him.

Daniel sighed. “Okay, I’ll do it. He didn’t bother to mention their other brother, Cade. He was too far away from the airport, in any case. So you want me to send a car for her?”

“No need,” Kelly said. “I rented a car, so she can get to the gallery on her own. I just want you to meet her there. And, Daniel…”

“Hmm?”

“The other thing is, Rita was staying at my place. But she can’t do that if I’m not there.”

Oh no. Trying to stop what was coming, he said, “I can get her a room somewhere.” That would only take money and he’d gladly get her the best hotel in the city.

“Would you? I feel so bad about this.”

Daniel sucked in a deep breath of relief. “So you want me to meet her off the plane and take her to the gallery.”

“That would be great!”

“I can do that. Will she know me?”

“She’s seen your picture with me. And you’re all over the media. You’re the richest bachelor in Houston according to the Houston Herald. Sure, she’ll know you.”

Daniel didn’t like the insinuation. “I’m taking a break from dating at the moment.”

“Get a life, Brother.”

“I have a life and it’s fine.” He was sick of his family trying to get him a social life.

“When was the last time you dated anyone?”

Startled, he frowned at her and gripped his phone to stop himself consulting it to answer her question. Then, with relief, he remembered. “I took Sophia Reynolds to dinner on Tuesday.”

“And to your place or hers afterward?”

“None of your business.” The answer was neither. Sophia was a friend, nothing more.

“I thought so. Listen, when did you last spend a lazy weekend in bed with a lover?”

This was getting weird. Sisters didn’t ask questions like that. He didn’t question her love life, so what gave her the nerve to ask about his? “What?”

She shrugged. “Never mind. You could always take Rita out to dinner after she’s been to the gallery. Find a bar, or a party. Go to a club later. Have some fun. Remember that? Fun?”

Fun? What good had that ever done him? “Go shop. I’ll see you when you get back. Call me when you arrive and I’ll send a car.”

Still laughing, his sister cut the call. At least he’d cheered her up.

It was three forty-five already and according to the flight number and times his sister had just texted him, Rita would be landing around now. It would take her at least an hour, maybe as much as two to pick up her luggage, and the rental car and another half-hour to get into town.

He’d better call her.

End of Excerpt