The Baby His Secretary Carries

BOOK 1 in the Bound by a Surrogate Baby Duet

The Italian boss’s proposal…

The secretary’s secret!

Faced with a hostile takeover, tycoon Gio must strengthen his claim on the Casella family company with a fake engagement. He’ll never commit to a real one again. Despite his forbidden attraction, his dedicated PA, Molly, is ideal to play his adoring fiancée. The only problem? Molly is pregnant!

Secretly carrying a surrogate baby, Molly can’t reveal the truth of her pregnancy. But knowing Gio’s protecting his legacy, she agrees to the ruse temporarily. Until pretend passion becomes red-hot reality! Will innocent Molly walk away from Gio unscathed or forever burned by his irresistible touch…?

A temporary engagement is made complicated when this CEO’s PA reveals she’s expecting! Secrets, longing and passion are to be found in the new romance by USA TODAY bestselling author Dani Collins.

Read all the Bound by a Surrogate Baby books:

Book 1: The Baby His Secretary Carries
Book 2: The Secret of Their Billion-dollar Baby

The Baby His Secretary Carries

BOOK 1 in the Bound by a Surrogate Baby Duet
Passionate Worldwide Romance

Add this book to Goodreads:

Add The Baby His Secretary Carries to Goodreads

The Baby His Secretary Carries

is BOOK 1 in the Bound by a Surrogate Baby Duet
The full series reading order is as follows:
“I’m not generous, Molly. I’m merely willing to pay the price required to get what I want.”
— Gio, The Baby His Secretary Carries

I write a lot of secret baby books and I’m always looking for a fresh angle so, when my editor asked if I was interested in writing a duet and “one of them with a baby” I said, “Sure. I’m thinking of a surrogate?”

This was long before I began writing the book so all I was thinking was that there are two stories to tell–the woman who surrogates and the couple who are the parents.

When I dug into it, I had to consider why Molly would volunteer to carry a pregnancy. I came up with her wanting to repay her friend who placed her own baby for adoption with Molly’s family, but now has fertility issues. And yes, I did learn that doctors typically don’t work with surrogates who haven’t already carried a successful pregnancy, but this is romance and the father of the baby is stinking rich so Molly is pregnant with a baby that is not hers. He also paid very well for her to keep it super-secret for reasons that are explained in Book Two.

Then I had to figure out who she falls for and how that pregnancy gets in the way of her romance.

Along came Gio, her boss, a sexy Italian whose grandfather is ill and his only wish is that Gio would marry and give him an heir. When Gio finds out his very efficient P.A. is pregnant, he’s shocked–and very curious who the father might be. He also sees an opportunity to give his grandfather his dying wish. He talks Molly into posing as his fiancée.

She goes along with it because it’s an old man’s dying wish… Except he doesn’t die and Gio keeps kissing her and things get very complicated.

These turned into very big stories in very sexy, fast-paced books, but I had so much fun writing them. I hope you love The Baby His Secretary Carries and its companion story, The Secret of Their Billion-dollar Baby.

The Baby His Secretary Carries



Molly Brooks was already hyperaware of her sale-rack blouse, cotton culottes and discount sandals when she stepped off the elevator onto an upper deck of the Alexandra. She hadn’t had time to shop and had had to make do with what was in her closet, not that she owned clothing that belonged in this setting, anyway.

The superyacht was gliding past Cyprus as though barely touching the water, but she was thrown off balance when someone in a crisp white uniform asked sharply, “Are you supposed to be here?”

No. Definitely not.

Her immediate supervisor, Valentina, had twisted her knee while skiing yesterday. Molly had been on a plane within the hour and was strictly here as a gofer so Valentina could stay in her stateroom and keep her leg elevated.

“I’m bringing this to my employer, Georgio Casella.” She nodded at the leather portfolio she held with the freshly printed document inside it. “For his review and signature.”

“Why isn’t he doing it electronically?” the man asked with a scowl.

Because it was a court document detailing the theft of proprietary information, not that it was any of his business.

“I’m not privy to his reasons.” Molly channeled Valentina’s polite smile and cool tone. “Perhaps you’d like to ask him when you show me where to find him?”

With a grumble, he led her through an opulent lounge, where emerald cushions accented ivory sofas placed to view the wall of windows overlooking the sea. A crystal chandelier sparkled and the fresh flowers on an end table perfumed the air as they passed.

They moved into a darker room with tinted windows and a curved cherrywood bar. Colorful bottles were arranged behind it and glasses dangled above. The stools were low-backed and upholstered in black leather. Highboy chairs and drink tables were arranged near the windows and the doors opened onto—

He was in the freaking pool.

Please don’t keelhaul me, she pleaded silently as she looked into the mirrored finish of Gio’s unforgiving sunglasses.

If she hadn’t felt his attention zone in on her like a raptor swooping for a bunny, she would have thought he was asleep. He didn’t even lift his head. He sat low with his arms splayed along the edge of the free-form pool. The water cut across his tanned, muscled chest, right in the middle of his brown nipples.

Don’t look!

Molly jerked her gaze back to his sunglasses, hoping he hadn’t seen her ogle him. She didn’t mean to, but the man absolutely fascinated her, leaving her mouth dry every time she had to talk to him. Thankfully, that wasn’t often. Valentina was his executive assistant and Molly was Valentina’s support. Until this trip, she had never seen him outside the London office and he was only there on and off, as he traveled constantly, usually with Valentina by his side.

Today, he had a topless woman next to him. She lowered her sunglasses to give Molly a look that asked, What on earth has the cat dragged in?

Oh, God.

Gio was a guest aboard this yacht. He wouldn’t like her embarrassing him or jeopardizing the deal he was working out with the yacht’s owner, Rafael Zamos.

She sent a wavering, apologetic smile to the handful of people here with him: the other couple in the pool, also mostly naked, the two men at the bar, one with his shirt hanging open over his barely there swimsuit, and the two women lying topless on nearby loungers.

“I—” Her throat closed and her heart stalled as she recognized…Sasha?

She looked so different! Her burnt caramel hair was tinted a bright blond. Her face and figure were elegant and lean, not rounded by youth and pregnancy. She wore pink gloss on her lips, eyelash extensions and diamonds in her ears.

She also wore a look of horror as she yanked her filmy cover-up across her naked breasts.

“What are you doing here?” Sasha—or Mrs. Alexandra Zamos, Molly was realizing through the rushing sound filling her ears—sounded livid.

All the blood in Molly’s body drained into her sandals. A plummeting sensation assaulted her gut. She genuinely thought she might faint.

“What’s wrong, Alexandra? Is the help supposed to stay belowstairs?” Gio’s topless paramour was laughing at Molly, though, not her friend. “You’re such a snob.”

“Molly is my assistant’s assistant,” Gio said crisply. Now his head came up. “What do you need, Molly?”

“Valentina, um…” Molly cleared her throat, trying to recover from seeing her adopted sister’s mother for the first time in eleven years.

She should have done her homework! Her coworkers had been green with envy that she was leaving the blustery November streets of London to spend a week aboard the Zamos yacht, but Molly hadn’t bothered looking up photos or gossip about the owners. She had used her time on the flight to Athens to study the deal the men were negotiating. It had been made clear to her that she was expected to stay on the crew level. If anyone would rub elbows with Gio’s vaunted peers, it would be Valentina, exactly as it always was.

And how could Molly ever imagine she would bump into Sasha like this? She had known Sasha’s family was wealthy, but not thiswealthy.

“Valentina finished the, um…” She waved the portfolio, mind splintered, voice still jammed. “She said you wanted to sign it as soon as it was ready.”

She hoped Gio attributed her raging blush to the mortification of finding them all like this, rather than the anguish that she was dragging Alexandra’s painful past into what seemed to be the happily-ever-after she very much deserved. Would she tell Gio to fire her? No. She wouldn’t do that to her. Would she?

“Your executive assistant has an assistant?” the man behind the bar drawled as he poured from a silver shaker into martini glasses. “No wonder it was so difficult to get hold of you to extend this invitation.”

He must be Rafael Zamos, the yacht’s owner and Sasha’s husband. Molly couldn’t make that detail work in her head, but she pushed aside her utter astonishment, even though she was highly curious about him. He was very easy on the eyes, with dark hair and a tanned, powerful chest, but she made herself look away.

She glanced once at the ashen face that Alexandra was smothering with big sunglasses and a floppy hat, and pulled herself together. Betray nothing.

“I’m very sorry I’ve interrupted your…” Orgy? “Shall I leave this?”

She forced herself to meet the glint in Gio’s sunglasses again when she actually wanted to sprint to the bowels of the ship.

“No. Valentina is right. I want to keep that moving.” He turned and set his hands on the ledge, propelling himself upward, seemingly without effort. One foot touched the ledge and he was standing before the water had fully sluiced off him.

How dare he? Now he was nothing but swarthy skin, sculpted muscle and neatly trimmed body hair. He had the lean physique of a swimmer with broad shoulders and long limbs. His narrow hips wore a slash of black that barely contained whatever cockatiel he was smuggling. Not that she was looking!

“Sir.” The purser hurried forward with a towel.

Gio—he was always Gio in her head, even though she’d never called him anything but Mr. Casella—took the towel in a laconic reach of his arm and wrapped it around his hips. He rolled his wrist to invite Molly closer.

With her heart pounding, she picked her way past Sasha’s painted toenails and opened the leather portfolio.

She felt everyone’s gaze pinned on them as he read the top page, then swiped his fingertips on the towel before he lifted the second page.

Rafael began dishing out martinis, briefly distracting everyone’s attention.

“Thank you, my love,” Sasha said, then took a hefty gulp of hers. Her hand seemed unsteady. Did Rafael’s gaze linger on his wife an extra second, noticing that?

The yearning to talk to her old friend was so strong, it was like a scream trapped in Molly’s throat. Her hands felt sweaty and all her muscles were threatening to twitch violently, purely to discharge the tension trapped within her.


Gio had finished reading. She stared at her own reflection in his sunglasses, wishing she could see his eyes, but also glad that she couldn’t. His mother’s Icelandic blood was crystal-clear in his blue eyes and they often felt as though they pierced into her soul. His eyes always mesmerized her, being such a contrast to the rest of him, which was a reflection of his father’s Italian heritage.

She shakily fished into the pocket of her culottes.

“Calm down,” Gio said in an undertone that only she could hear. “I’m not angry that you’re here.”

He had noticed how rattled she was. As much as she loved her job, however, getting fired right now was the least of her worries. She was terrified of exposing Sasha when she had promised so sincerely and solemnly that she would never, ever reveal her secret.

Gio took the pen she offered and grasped the edge of the portfolio. His cool fingertips grazed the overheated skin of her own hand.

What fresh hell was this?

She stayed very still while he applied the weight of his signature, holding her breath until she could bolt.

“You can get this to the mainland for me?” he asked Rafael as he returned the pen to her. “I’d like it in London by morning.”

“Of course.” Rafael nodded at the man in the white uniform, who continued to stand by, waiting to escort the riffraff back where she belonged.

“Again, I’m very sorry,” Molly said to the gathering, closing the folder and doing her best to hide behind it. “I’ll stay below from now on.”

“I was just surprised,” Sasha said in a defensive tone. She adjusted the fall of her bathing suit cover so it was level across the top of her thigh. “I like to know who is on board, including any staff our guests bring along.”

“You thought we had a stowaway?” Rafael was sipping his martini, once again watching his wife with a narrow-eyed, inscrutable expression.

“What exactly do you do for Gio?” Sasha asked without answering her husband.

“As Mr. Casella said, I report to his executive assistant, Valentina. I help her with emails and correspondence, assist with reporting and presentations. I also run personal errands to free her time, so she can be more accessible to Mr. Casella. She suffered an injury so I came along at the last minute to be her legs. That’s probably why you didn’t see my name on the passenger list.”

“I didn’t see ‘Legs,’ either,” Sasha said, prompting a few dry chuckles. She turned a pout upward to her husband. “Much as it pains me to admit it, I think you may be right, darling. I need my own assistant. Either that or you should hire an assistant for Tino, so little things like sending me an updated passenger list doesn’t fall through the cracks.”

“Happy wife, happy life. I’ll have Tino call an agency today.”

“I’ll reach out to him myself once I know exactly what I want. Tell me a little more…Molly, is it?” Sasha didn’t give her a chance to reply. “Never mind.” She flicked her hand. “We don’t need to discuss that here. Come by my stateroom tomorrow. Have breakfast with me,” she offered with a pleasant smile. “You can tell me about your duties so I can hire exactly the right person. Would you mind, Gio?”

“If you’re planning to poach her, then yes. I mind very much.” He threw off his towel and levered himself back into the pool. “I’m sure Valentina would, too.” He took little notice of the woman who drifted closer, bare breasts practically grazing his rib cage as he stretched out his arms again. “Molly may make her own choice, of course.”

Was that a threat? She shot a look of alarm toward the water, but he didn’t sound worried.

“Come by at ten,” Sasha said. “The men will be in their meetings. Everyone else will still be sleeping. Won’t you, dolls?”

“Oh, I expect to be up all night and needing my beauty sleep, yes,” the woman in the pool purred as she slithered even closer to Gio.

Ugh. Molly did her best not to think about that and smiled weakly at Sasha. She didn’t know if she should be relieved that she would be able to speak privately with her, or filled with dread. Should she call her mother? Pack her bag and prepare to find her way back to New York?

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said and quickly made her escape.

Chapter One

Eight months later…

“Molly. My office.”

Molly jolted as she came back from the powder room to find Gio standing in the doorway between her office and Valentina’s.

How did the man get more compelling each time she saw him? He wore one of his tailored suits. This one was a dark gray pinstripe, but he’d removed the jacket.

She was a sucker for any man wearing a vest and tie over a crisp white shirt, but when he wore it, she was dazzled. Maybe it was the way his icy blue eyes glittered and the way his jaw gleamed from a fresh shave. Maybe it was the fact he wore his hair in a more rakish style these days, still short at the sides, but a little longer on top, giving him a lean, hawkish look that was intolerably sexy.

Not that she wanted to notice, but she was a woman with a pulse, wasn’t she?

“Let me get my tablet.” She rubbed her clammy palms against her hips, nervous because today was the day she was asking Valentina for a medical leave. They had a meeting with Gio in the diary. Afterward, she planned on talking to Valentina privately.

“You don’t need it.” He waved for her to move through Valentina’s sumptuous office ahead of him. Valentina’s office was empty, the lights not turned on yet.


Gio’s office was a massive, airy space in relaxing earth tones. There was a comfortable lounge area where an oxblood sofa and matching chairs faced a view of London’s skyline. A discreet nook held a bar and a kitchenette to service the small table for dining or hosting a one-on-one meeting. Nothing so crass as a whiteboard existed in here. That was saved for the boardroom down the hall, beyond the carved, double doors.

She reflexively moved to stand in front of the chair she used when she and Valentina met with him in here.

“I understood you were coming in at ten for our meeting. Is Valentina on her way?”

“Valentina isn’t coming.” After shutting the door to Valentina’s office, he moved to close the double doors as well. The click seemed overly loud and ominous.

“No?” Molly’s stomach gave a dip and roll that warned her she might not be fully past the morning sickness after all. Her lungs compressed as she waited for him to circle his marble-topped mahogany desk and take his seat.

This was already a very nerve-racking day. Now she was also hyperaware that she was alone with him.

Despite a crush on her boss that she was certain she had not hidden well, Gio had never once acknowledged it or acted with any hint of impropriety. Nevertheless, his masculine energy radiated toward her like a heat wave. She couldn’t seem to ignore it. She needed Valentina’s buffering presence—especially when she caught his gaze flickering over her light gray pants and pale pink blouse when he nodded at her to sit.

She had made great strides with her wardrobe and hair, given her generous salary and Valentina’s sophisticated example, but she still felt like a bumpkin from New Jersey, always obvious in her awe. She didn’t feel she had anything close to equal footing with this man, which was glaringly obvious to her so it must have been to him.

“I hope Valentina’s all right?” The last time her boss had failed to come into the office had been while she was still recovering from her knee injury.

“She’s perfectly fine.” He leaned back in his chair. “She wanted to be here for this, but I sent her to New York last night. She’s taking over as executive director of R and D.”

“What?” There she went, sounding like an uncouth hayseed. “I mean, that’s fantastic for her. Wow. I had no idea she was even interested in taking a position like that.”

Molly was genuinely pleased for her mentor while also experiencing immediate panic. Had Valentina not wanted to bring Molly along?

What does this mean for me?

Her brain took another sharp swerve. What did it mean for the baby?

Her hand started to reflexively cover her unsettled stomach, but she caught it with her other hand, resisting the urge while her mind continued to stumble and race.

“This promotion has been in the works for some time, but we kept it between us. She needs to clean house on arrival. Aggressively.” His eyebrows went up with the significance of that.

Heads will roll.

She blinked. She was often privy to confidential information, but never like this, where he was not only sharing the actions that would be taken, but also his view of it. She felt as though she was being invited into the inner circle. It was flattering, if disconcerting.

“You’ll draft the announcement, with her input,” he continued. “Once I approve it, you can send it out. There will be several releases as we restructure. Brace yourself for some busy days.”

“Of course, but…” She barely stopped herself from stumbling into an um… “Sensitive press releases usually happen at Valentina’s level. They should include the name of her replacement as a contact. Has that been decided?”

“You tell me, Molly.” He tapped the keyboard beneath the monitor on his desk. The screen flickered to life. “Valentina assured me you are the best person to take her place. I agree. All of your reviews are excellent.” He angled the screen so she could see the column of nines and tens in the matrix she and Valentina had filled out two months ago.

“Wait.” Molly almost fell out of her chair. She genuinely wanted to lean forward and dangle her head between her knees, but clung to the arms instead.

“I encourage promotion from within. You know that.”

“Yes, but…” That’s how Molly had come to London, by applying for an internal posting while she’d been assisting in the marketing department in the New York office. She had a business degree with a focus on marketing and analytics, but she had never expected her PR position to lead to a top-floor job here, let alone this.

“I’m not ready to work for the president and CEO.” The owner.

Even as she blurted out her protest, she could hear Valentina chiding her in that very same review.

“Confidence inspires confidence,” Valentina had insisted. “Believe in yourself, Molly.

“Valentina deliberately increased your responsibilities after this review, ensuring you could seamlessly take over for her.”

“Because there was a mandate for every department to have a succession plan. For emergencies,” she blurted. A lovely young woman named Yu had job-shadowed Molly for a week, to ensure she could cover Molly’s desk in a pinch.

That pinch was supposed to happen three weeks from now, when Molly went on medical leave.

“R and D is leaking like the Titanic,” Gio said starkly. “Not just money, but information. I consider that an emergency. Valentina has been dispatched to right that ship. I need a qualified assistant. You are qualified.” He waved at the screen. “Welcome to your new title of executive assistant.”

“But—” She once again stopped herself from covering her belly. Her stomach was churning with a load of gravel. “I was…” She crushed her own fingers as she clenched her hands in her lap. She couldn’t announce her pregnancy. She’d signed a nondisclosure agreement committing to hiding it.

Hiding it was becoming an issue, however. Two days ago, a coworker had had the temerity to ask if the salad she was eating was an attempt to drop the weight she was gaining.

“I have a thyroid condition,” Molly had lied coldly.

She had hoped to speak to Valentina after the twelve-week scan and be on leave by now, but Valentina had been traveling with Gio. Molly had just rounded fourteen weeks and even though her bump wasn’t pronounced, everything about her was becoming rounder, from face to breasts to tummy to backside.

Offering three weeks’ notice as they entered July seemed more than fair. Things usually slowed down in summer. She could finish training Yu and not be missed too badly.

She had thought.

Gio was watching her with raised eyebrows, awaiting whatever words she was trying to find.

She couldn’t take this job without disclosing that she didn’t intend to be here.

“May I have a few days to think about this?” She needed to ask Sasha— Well, she couldn’t explain her predicament to her, could she? Everything that happened in this office was strictly confidential. What the heck was she going to do?

“I know you’ve been taking meetings with headhunters, Molly,” Gio said with a jaded blink.

“What?” It truly felt as though the room was spinning, she was so disoriented by this conversation. “What makes you think that?”

“Valentina said you’ve booked personal time during work hours lately. Afternoons here and there. I respect that.” He shrugged it off. “Everyone should test the waters now and again to find out what they’re worth. Now you’re better prepared for this meeting.”

She really wasn’t. A bubble of hysterical laughter was trapped in her throat because those meetings had been about engaging her for something far more personal than “assistant.”

“Of course, now I’m also prepared,” he said dryly as he tapped a few more keys. “If I must compete for your loyalty, I’ll bring more to the table. This is the salary I’d like to offer with a signing bonus if you commit to at least two years. You’ll hire your own assistant, of course. Valentina said you seemed to like Yu, but she pulled a handful of other résumés she thought might be a good addition to this floor. You’ll have an allowance for wardrobe, since you’ll accompany me constantly. Also, a company expense account and use of a car service. I think you’ll find I’ve been very generous, but by all means, let’s negotiate. No one is irreplaceable, but I’d rather not replace you. Not when we’re so comfortable with each other.”

Comfortable? That was the last thing she felt around him!

Dear Lord, those numbers on the screen were positively blinding.

Why did he have to offer her dream job now? She had not only agreed to be a surrogate for Sasha, but she was also three months pregnant with the couple’s baby!

She couldn’t take this job. Not only was it demanding as hell, but she also couldn’t become visibly pregnant, take a few weeks off, then come back without a baby. There would be a lot of questions.

The thought of refusing made her want to cry, though.

“This is a lot to take in,” she managed to say in a cracked voice. “I won’t leave you in the lurch now that Valentina is gone, I swear. But I’d like a few days to give more thought to all of this.”

He sat back, tongue sliding across his teeth behind his closed lips as he used his laser vision to x-ray her insides. Could he see the baby?

For some reason she blushed and dropped her gaze, feeling transparent in other ways. Could he see how deep her crush went?

“Are you romantically involved with someone?” If there was gruff dismay in his tone, it was work-related, she knew that, but his question made her nerves go taut.

“No.” Her throat was hot. She watched her own fingers torture themselves. Dating was a nonstarter. She compared everyone to him, but she couldn’t help pointing out, “Not that you’re allowed to ask that.”

“I was asking as a friend.” His tone was heavy with irony. “I understand why you want time, Molly. That’s another reason I know you’re right for this job. You’re not impulsive. You manage a crisis with a cool head and not a lot of hand-wringing. Typically.” His gaze penetrated the marble desktop as though he knew she was knitting an invisible scarf in her lap.

She could have laughed uproariously at his judgment of her. He should have been in that stateroom with Sasha eight months ago, when a mere hour after reuniting with her friend, she had declared, “I’ll do it. I’ll be your surrogate.”

She had no regrets. None. But she hadn’t thought she would inconvenience Valentina with her absence. An assistant to an assistant was an easy job to cover. Executive assistant to a man like Gio required near twenty-four-seven accessibility. Travel at a moment’s notice. He needed to be comfortable granting access to his most personal details—which woman required flowers after staying over, for instance.

A potent silence grew between them as she searched for some way to explain her reluctance. Dare she explain that her recent meetings were medical in nature? That’s what she had been planning to tell Valentina. She had a note from a doctor and everything.

The burble of an incoming call had him glancing at the screen and hitting a button.

“Valentina,” he said crisply. “Molly is here with me and she’s being modest, trying to persuade me that she’s not qualified.”

“Gio, I’m so sorry.” Valentina’s cultured, boarding-school accent had never sounded so pained. “Ilario called me. He didn’t know that I’ve been sent to— It’s your grandfather. He’s very ill and refuses to see a doctor. Would you like me to meet you in Genoa or…?”

As Molly watched the color drain from Gio’s swarthy complexion, her heart was nearly pulled from her chest. It was well known that he was estranged from his parents. His grandfather had raised him and the pair were very close.

She snapped into the reliable assistant she had trained so scrupulously to become.

“I’m here, Valentina. I’ll arrange everything and go with him. It sounds like you have your hands full, but please keep your line open. I’d like to know I can call with any questions that might arise.”

“Absolutely. Thank you, Molly. Keep me posted.”

“I will.” Molly stood and reached across to hit the button that ended the call. “I’ll have the jet readied.”

“Signor.” Ilario was the maggiordomo here in Gio’s grandfather’s Portofino villa. He had worked for the family since Ottorino’s marriage sixty years ago.

“He’s in his room?” Gio asked.


“Have the doctor come. I’ll go up and persuade him to let him in.”

“Grazie.” Ilario flicked his gaze to Molly.

Gio had hold of her arm again. He kept doing it and didn’t mean to. She wasn’t his date. She wasn’t wearing five-inch heels and an evening gown. She didn’t need a supportive hand as she climbed in and out of his jet or his car.

Nevertheless, he had offered assistance every single time.

She was so damn warm, though. He felt encased in ice. His frozen fingers kept seeking out the warmth that seeped through the sleeve of her silk blouse, trying to thaw blood that had slowed and thickened with dread.

He hated this sensation, so he was seeking the most immediate and efficient means of melting it away: touching her.

“I’m Molly.” She offered Ilario the sunny smile that Gio had felt like a strike of lightning through his center the first time he’d met her. That extreme reaction was the reason he had kept her firmly in the role of employee, enjoying the heat of being near her, but staunchly avoiding stepping into the fire.

“Valentina is tied up,” she continued, notably not introducing herself as Valentina’s successor, which annoyed him. “She told me you usually have a room set aside for her. Perhaps you could direct me to it and I’ll keep myself out of the way?”

“No.” Gio firmed his hold on her arm. “Let me see him so I know what I’m dealing with. Then you and I have things to discuss.”

He might have dropped everything to come straight here, but he had also dropped a proverbial bomb on the New York office by sending Valentina there. He’d descended into a bleak place on receiving this difficult news about his grandfather. His mind had become fully occupied by the ways he’d have to reassemble his life if it shattered.

The demands of his position waited for no one, though. Molly had been fielding calls the whole flight, rising to the challenge, he had dimly noted with satisfaction. She maintained an air of smooth aplomb, calming the most hysterical voices while keeping a force field of untouchability around him, providing him the space and privacy to process whatever was about to happen with his grandfather.

She was also being ridiculously accommodating, murmuring things like “If that’s what you prefer.” She slid her hand into his, as though he was a damn child needing a sense of security.

He knew better. There was no such thing as “security,” but he accepted the interlacing of her fingers. There was a sick knot in his gut that grew bigger and thornier as he drew her up the wide staircase and along the black-and-white checkerboard tiles of the upper hall.

“Gio?” Her voice was small, but it was the first time she’d ever called him by his first name. That startled him enough to halt him in his tracks.

He tried not to notice his female employees in any way beyond the skills they brought to their positions, but he had always been aware of Molly. She was a natural beauty with a pale peach skin tone and big brown eyes. In the year she’d been working under Valentina—who was an example of the Swiss boarding school she’d attended, full of heiresses and aristocracy—Molly had begun making the most of her own attributes. Her rich brunette hair was in a smooth twist, her makeup had been freshened on the plane and her slacks had a chic flare over her wedged heels.

Lately, she had put on a few pounds. They added a voluptuous softness to her already very feminine figure, making it harder than ever for him to keep his eyes off her.

“You’re hurting my hand.” She wiggled her grip in his.

He swore and released her, then pinched the bridge of his nose, realizing that a terrific pounding sensation had lodged behind his eyes.

“It’s okay. I understand,” she murmured. Now she was petting his sleeve. “This is a difficult thing to face. If you want me to come in with you—”

“I do.” He would swear that he wasn’t a dependent person. He didn’t allow himself to be. He removed people from his sphere before they had the chance to cut him out. It was a lesson he had learned very early. Too early.

Perhaps that was what was at play here. He was irritated that she hadn’t leaped to swear allegiance to him this morning. He was keeping her where he could see her until he understood exactly which way she would jump.

Why? When Valentina had asked to be promoted and leave his day-to-day world, he had made it happen without a single qualm. “Everyone is replaceable,” he had told Molly this morning, and he’d meant it.

This isn’t about Molly, he chided himself. This was about the inevitable loss of his grandfather. Death could be delayed, but not escaped. No one lived forever.

He took a deep breath and looked to the door into his grandfather’s private suite, dreading what awaited him.

Molly’s warm hand tucked itself into his again. She covered the backs of his knuckles and gave him a patient look. How had he never noticed those gold flecks in her dark brown eyes? Her skin looked so downy, he wanted to cup her cheek and run his thumb along her wide bottom lip. Maybe his tongue.

Her lashes flared wider, as though she sensed his carnal thoughts.

He yanked his attention back to the door, away from a weak attempt at self-distraction.

Taking greater care this time, he clasped her hand then quietly opened the door, drawing her through the sitting room to the bedroom, where his grandfather was lying in his wide bed.

Gio had occasionally come in here as a child, but couldn’t remember being here as an adult. It looked the same, though. Ottorino’s bride had redecorated the entire villa when they’d married and Nonno hadn’t changed a thing in the decades since. He’d never remarried and never had more children beyond the son his true love had given him.

The sheers were drawn so the view of the sea was blurred. Muted light fell on his grandfather’s pale, aged face.

“Nonno,” Gio said gently as he stood beside the bed.

Ottorino was eighty and wore his pajamas, but his iron-gray hair was neatly combed, his jaw shaved. He blinked his eyes open. His dark brown irises were immediately alert.

“You’re here,” he said in raspy Italian. “That’s good. Who’s this? Not a nurse.”

“No, this is Molly. My…” He still had her hand in his. She hadn’t yet agreed to the job so it seemed a misnomer to say “My assistant,” but that’s what he called her.

“Oh?” His grandfather seemed to perk up, drawing some significance from Gio’s brief hesitation. His gaze slid to their linked hands.

Gio released her.

“What does the doctor say?” Gio asked.

“It doesn’t matter what he says. If it’s my time, it’s my time.” Nonno’s fingers lifted off his chest. “I only wish you were married with a son, Gio. Then I could die in peace.” His eyebrows inched into a wrinkled line. “A daughter even. Someone to carry on this legacy we’ve built. Why did we bother, if not for your children?”

“I know, Nonno.” Guilt stabbed at Gio, along with old anger. He had tried to fulfill his grandfather’s wish three years ago, but after spending a fortune on a lavish wedding, his fiancée had chosen to run off at the last minute with her childhood sweetheart, leaving Gio with the bill and the humiliation of being left at the altar.

He hadn’t bothered with a serious relationship since.

There was a quiet knock on the sitting-room door.

“Not the doctor.” Nonno rallied into sounding cross.

“Your legacy includes creating a stubborn man in your own image. What did you think I would do?” Gio asked. “Let’s see what he says. Won’t you feel foolish if I’ve come all this way and you only need more fiber in your diet?”

“You’re not funny.” Nonno had a stare like a basilisk, but his mouth twitched. “Let’s see if I have time to plan my own funeral, then.”

“I’ll step out,” Molly said quietly. “It was very nice to meet you Signor Casella,” she added in decent Italian. “I hope you feel better soon.”

“Otto,” his grandfather corrected. “Don’t go far. You brighten up the place.”

“I’ll be here as long as Gio needs me,” she said with a reassuring smile. She walked away through the sitting room.

“Assistente?” Nonno pried gruffly.

Gio ignored that and turned to greet the doctor Molly let in on her way out.

Chapter Two

Nausea struck hard. Molly had no choice but to seek out the nearest powder room.

She would love to believe this was food poisoning. She doubted it was even morning sickness. It was stress, pure and simple.

What a day! And it was only midafternoon.

As Gio had predicted, her phone had exploded once Valentina began composting the bad apples in New York. Panic had spread like a plague from the lowest receptionist to the board of directors. Everyone wanted to speak to Gio, to know if they, too, were going to lose their jobs. Molly had drafted the announcement, but Gio had been so withdrawn, she hadn’t asked him to approve it.

All she had managed to do was put lids on fires with cryptic phrases like “An announcement is forthcoming” and “Leave that with me.”

She usually thrived on days like this. She loved the challenge in this job, which made the new role, and her inability to embrace it, all the more frustrating.

That conflict had her moaning in suffering as much as this awful dry retching.

“Molly?” Gio knocked sharply on the door. “Are you sick, too?”

“What? Oh, God.” She flushed the toilet and lurched to her feet, then splashed water on her face and rinsed her mouth. Her mascara was smudged from her watering eyes and her cheeks were splotchy.

Wonderful. Not that she expected him to see her as desirable, but she didn’t want him to be outright repulsed.

She dabbed herself back to presentable and yanked open the door, practically walking straight into Gio. He stood in the doorway, frowning with concern.

“Should I get the doctor?” was his baffled question.

“No. I’m fine,” she insisted. “What did the doctor say about your grandfather?”

“Could be a virus that’s got into his heart. Nonno has accepted IV fluids, but still refuses to go to hospital. He doesn’t want major interventions.” He raked his hand through his hair. “He lost my grandmother after fifteen years of marriage and says it’s been too long without her.”

“Oh.” She covered her chest where her heart turned over in sympathy.

“I can’t force him to accept treatment, but…” He wanted to. That’s what she took from the tortured way he looked toward his grandfather’s suite.

“I’m so sorry, Gio.” Empathy overwhelmed her. These last hours had been so difficult to watch and now he was facing possibly his grandfather’s last hours. It was unbearable.

She reacted on instinct, the way she would to anyone in such blatant pain. She closed her arms around his waist, trying to offer what little consolation she could.

He turned to iron, making her realize she was grossly overstepping their boundaries, but as she started to pull back in embarrassment, his arms clamped around her, squashing her to his front with a hard hug.

This was supposed to be comfort, but she found herself closing her eyes, absorbing the feel of him. This was what it would be like to be with him in a different role. To be someone he cared about who touched him all the time. To know intimately the beat of his heart against her cheek and the precise degree of heat that radiated through his crisp shirt, warming her torso. To draw in the fragrance of cedar and spice, and recognize it as his and hers and home.

She had an urge to run her hands all over his back and tilt up her mouth to his, one that was almost impossible to resist.

He released her abruptly, then muttered, “That wasn’t appropriate.”

“I know, I’m sorr—”

He flicked his hand, dismissing the hug as inconsequential. Which made her heart pang.

He seemed to have pulled a cloak over himself, one that made him impossible to read. He nodded jerkily toward the powder room. “What was that, if not illness?”

“Nerves,” she insisted and pushed her hands into her pockets to keep from stacking them protectively over her belly.

“Why? Not this job? You’ve stepped up exactly as I expected you would. It’s done,” he said with finality. His expression was hard, his vivid blue eyes piercing into her. “If you want more money, say so, but quit being coy and let’s move on to addressing the day’s business.”

The air in her lungs turned to fire and evaporated, making her voice a thin squeak as she said, “I can’t take it.”

She hated to refuse when she knew he needed her right now. She paced down the checkered tiles of the hall. How apropos. She felt as though she was in a real-life chess match, watching all the careful, strategic moves she had planned being thwarted. She’d been racking her brain all morning, trying to figure out new options.

“What is the issue?” He folded his arms, very much the imposing boss who intimidated the hell out of her. “Spell it out for me.”

Working for him was the chance of a lifetime, but it was also too much. He was too much. Even without this other secret she was carrying, she would struggle to hide her attraction. It was bound to become as obvious as her pregnancy if she worked closely with him, the way Valentina always had.

On the other hand, if she left, she would regret it forever. Professionally, it amounted to walking away from her career. Yes, in roughly six months she’d be able to return to it, but she wouldn’t have this job, not if she turned him down now. On a personal level, she would lose the chance to know this extraordinary man a little better.

A maid bustled past with a tray, heading toward his grandfather’s room.

Gio tossed an impatient look at the interruption, then clasped Molly’s elbow the way he had been doing since leaving the London office. He steered her into a bedroom of masculine colors with a sitting area, a desk beneath a tall window and doors that opened onto a balcony overlooking the sea.

At any other time in her life, she would be charmed beyond measure by a room like this, but— She flung around in time to see him closing the door.

“This is my room. No one will bother us.” He crossed his arms again. “Now speak freely,” he demanded.

I’m not at liberty to!

She had to tell him something, though. She licked her lips and said haltingly, “The appointments that Valentina saw in my calendar were medical. I don’t want to discuss it, but I anticipate needing time off—”

He swore sharply. “You’re pregnant?”

“Wh-why would you say something like that?” Molly asked. Her hand grappled the air before clasping onto the back of the chair by the desk.

“It’s the only conclusion that makes sense.” His ears rang as though he’d taken an uppercut to the jaw. But, yes, this explained both her reluctance to accept a job that most people would kill for and the retching he’d just overheard. “Don’t deny it. Guilt just landed on your face like a cream pie.”

Her hand tightened on the chair and her color seemed to drain away. For one second, he thought she might faint, but she looked toward the window and her spine straightened.

He might pass out—his shock was that profound. Why? People were entitled to a private life. Even his employees, he thought ironically, but how? Who?

“You said you aren’t seeing anyone.”

“I’m not.” Her voice was firmer than he’d ever heard it. “I don’t want to talk about this. My personal health is not my employer’s concern.”

She shifted to face the door to the balcony, leaving it closed, but staring out. Her silhouette was the figure he had involuntarily memorized—average in height, narrow shoulders, a deliciously round ass. She was definitely plumper than a few months ago, though.

He ran his hand down his face, trying to assimilate this development with the rest of what had happened today.

“Valentina doesn’t know.” Would she have told him if she had? She was very loyal, but also very ethical. She wouldn’t betray anyone’s medical status without their permission.

“No one knows.” Molly twisted around, voice taking on a note of warning. “It’s common for people to keep things under wraps for the first trimester, in case it doesn’t work out as planned.”

If she was concerned about miscarriage, she obviously wanted this pregnancy. His mind filled with wild thoughts he wasn’t entitled to have, but who the hell was this man who’d made love to her, but wasn’t involved with her?

“Does the father know?”

Her mouth tightened. “None of this is information I am required to share with you.”

“I’m not threatening your employment, Molly. I’m trying to preserve it.” Wasn’t that obvious? “If you need a mat leave, fine. Tell me what we’re working with. We’ll find a way around it. I don’t see how this prevents you from becoming my assistant.”

Assistente? His grandfather’s skepticism rang in his ears, then his plea. I only wish you were married with a son, Gio. Then I could die in peace.

“This is a very private matter that is not up for discussion.” She stubbornly folded her arms. “I was about to ask Valentina for a six-month leave, starting three weeks from now. Provided I have no health complications, I can offer that to you. I’ll support whoever you pick to take over for Valentina—”

Three weeks? How far along are you?”

“Three,” she said firmly, ignoring his question. She pointed at her middle. “Everything about this topic is firmly off-limits. It’s as classified as any company information that you have ever sent across my desk. I mean that, Gio. Tell no one.”

He’d never seen her like this, with her chin up and her eyes sparkling with battle. It was hot. She was.

Shut up, libido.

Don’t go far… Nonno’s voice echoed in his head. You brighten up the place.

Could she brighten up an old man’s final days?

“Three weeks,” he repeated, swiveling the puzzle pieces in his head, trying to make them fit. “I’m not prying—” he was definitely prying “—but I need to know whether the baby’s father will be annoyed at your devoting every minute of the next three weeks to me.”

She clung to her elbows, shoulders hunched. After pursing her lips and seeming to debate her words, she finally gave a small, pained frown of concession.

“The father and I are not involved. Not in the way you’re suggesting.”


“I was intending to work until the twenty-first,” she continued, looking to her toes. “I can give you that without any reaction from him.”

“Does he plan to support you and the baby? Is that why you’re refusing my offer?”

“Three weeks and this topic is off-limits.” She drew a circle above her navel. “Those are my terms.”

“Three weeks in which I will continue to sweeten my terms in order to persuade you to stay. You’ll immediately take everything I offered you this morning.” He kept speaking even though she opened her mouth to interrupt him. “You’ll take the full signing bonus. I’ll double it each time you double the timeline of your commitment.”

“You don’t mean—”

“I’ll double it if you agree to stay another three weeks, double it again if you stay for twelve.”

“That won’t happen,” she cried. “I’m not playing hardball, Gio. This is the reality of my situation.”

“We see it differently.” He shrugged. “You’ll need more than one assistant because I am now your sole priority.” Why did he like that thought so much? “We’ll stay here and work out of the Genoa office. I understand you may have physical limitations, but outside of that, you’re mine in whatever role I need.”

Her eyes widened. A soft blush came into her cheeks.

He usually did his best to ignore that, too. A lot of women betrayed an awareness of him. He was rich, well-dressed, intelligent and kept himself fit. He never let female attention go to his head, though. With Molly, however, he always felt when she was watching him and he damn well liked it.

Being her employer, he’d always been careful to keep his low-key arousal to himself. There were enough mermaids in the sea that he didn’t have to fish where he worked. In fact, his latent interest in her had been his only reservation in bringing her on as his executive assistant. He’d been confident he could keep his hands to himself, and still was, but everything about their relationship was changing, becoming far more personal than he had expected.

Which didn’t matter. He could handle that, too.

He believed, until she bit the edge of her lip in a way that tightened his gut.

“If I agree to those terms, will I have your solemn promise that you will never, ever tell anyone about…?” She dropped her gaze to her thickening waistline.

“I can promise that.” He didn’t like it, but he could and would. He held out his hand.

She swallowed and searched his expression.

Was she waiting for him to clarify that he wouldn’t cross any lines? Because he was about to wipe his feet on those lines and blur them into oblivion.

“Do we have an agreement?” he prodded. “Are you thinking about extorting more for the signing bonus first?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Predictably, she hurried forward to shake his hand, horrified by the implication she might be greedy. “You’re already being very generous. Thank you.”

He snorted. “I’m not generous, Molly. I’m merely willing to pay the price required to get what I want.”

“What do you mean?” She tried to withdraw her hand, but he held on to it.

“I mean we’re going to tell my grandfather that you’re my fiancée.”

The Baby His Secretary Carries

is available in the following formats:
The Baby His Secretary Carries
Early from Harlequin: Jan 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Jan 23, 2024
ISBN-13: 9781335593184
The Baby His Secretary Carries
Early from Harlequin: Jan 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Jan 23, 2024
ISBN-13: 9781335593184
Pages: 210

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I also may use affiliate links elsewhere in my site.