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Front Page Affair
Author: Mira Lyn Kelly





Flashbulbs exploded. Shutters snapped like automatic fire around him as reporters from rags of all caliber called for attention, each voice clamoring to rise above the rest.

“Mr. Evans!”

“One more over here!”

Beneath the awning of the exclusive Chicago hotel, Nate Evans offered up a stock smile, responded to a few light questions with a handful of ambiguous words and waited for the question he knew would come.

It didn’t take long.

“Mr. Evans! Care to explain your sudden absence from the social circuit these past months?”

The question shot through the early autumn evening, silencing all others with its gathering strength while narrowing the focus on him like an interrogator’s spotlight.

They knew when they were onto something.

But he was ready for the assault. Invited it.

Feigning surprise at the inquiry, Nate paused in mock consideration before answering. “Guess I’ve been so caught up in business, I hadn’t realized I’d gone off the map.”

His answer wouldn’t satisfy even the most limited curiosity. And more than that, it was a lie. He’d spent the last six months laying low. Flying under the radar to avoid notice while the nightmare of his life slowly, painfully, worked itself toward an unsatisfactory resolution. Six months out of the limelight, away from the cameras, only to find his absence conspicuous enough in itself to fuel new rumors and speculation as to the cause.

Who’s the beauty behind this bachelor’s broken heart?

The squelched headline had hit him like a sucker punch to the gut and he’d spent a fortune making it go away. Buying time. But if he didn’t get a stranglehold on the situation, the trash hounds would dig and dig until they found the truth. And then they’d keep digging, making such a muck and mess that the dirt slung in their quest for ratings would reach anyone and everyone even remotely tied to his life.

His dad didn’t need that.

Neither did Bella, the tiny baby who’d dragged a commitment from his jaded heart with a fist too small to wrap around his thumb. She was pure and precious and new. And though she didn’t belong to him, he’d sworn to protect her from whatever hardships he could. And preventing a media circus from assailing her home and her mother—who wasn’t in any shape to defend against it—was top on the list.

Which brought him to tonight. The first who’s-who gala event available to spin the press off his scent.

He smiled his best cat-about-to-give-the-canary-a-go smile for the cameras. “Better find out if any of the ladies still remember me.” And with that parting sound bite, he jogged the few steps through the grand entrance, looking for all the world as though he didn’t want to miss a minute. As though he wouldn’t rather be in his physician’s office turning his head to the left to cough, than heading into the “society wedding of the season”.

He needed a diversion—and the sooner the better. So this was it.

He’d dive headfirst into tonight’s sea of swank and silk, in search of the biggest scandal he could find. He’d reel in a beauty he could splash across the tabloid pages. Someone with enough hook she’d drag the press’s interest out of the past and secure it in the now.

Someone who knew the score.

That was the touchy part, because, when it came to his dates, Nate didn’t do soft. He didn’t do love. And he didn’t do forever. He made certain his women knew what they were getting into with him—and then he did them with enough attention and skill they didn’t care there wasn’t anything deep or lasting between them.

Scanning the throngs of social elite gathered within the gold-domed ballroom, he searched for a like-minded wave-maker. Except after barely five minutes, Nate realized he’d miscalculated—and in no small way. Finding a woman to flaunt was easy. There were at least a hundred willing candidates batting thick-fringed lashes at him. But with each toss of perfectly coiffed hair and every lingering glance, the apathy that had kept him so easily unattached these past six months turned to something darker.

More suffocating. Everywhere he looked, false claims and secret agendas lurked beneath the guise of enticement, and he found himself backing away rather than closing in.

And then he saw her.

Payton Liss, slinking through the crowd, using every evasive technique at her disposal to dodge the conciliatory hand pats, air kisses and general gossipy blood sport that occurred post nuptials—regardless of the social strata involved.

The good girl from his past. Brandt’s little sister. Miss Off-Limits herself.

Payton didn’t need his money. She wouldn’t want his name. And she’d help him regardless of what went down with Brandt all those years ago because she habitually did the right thing.

Or make that, she mostly did the right thing.


The corner of his mouth quirked as, while he watched, she pilfered a dinner roll from the table closest to the kitchen access hall and slipped stealthily out the door.

Nate’s feet were moving before his brain had even finished processing the plan.


Neck deep in a cloud of ill-fitting taffeta and tulle, Payton Liss pressed her shoulders into the wall behind her. Stretching across the floor of her hideout—a miraculously unlocked utility room, discovered purely by accident three weddings before—she braced a foot against the door and straight-legged with the determination of a second-string bridesmaid on the run.

“Not a chance, Nate. The women will sniff you out. Go find your own storage closet.”

Between the gap of the door and frame, ice-blue eyes slid over her, bringing to both mind and body the heart-pounding effect that gaze once elicited. “You open this door, Payton, or I’m heading straight back into that reception—and I’m telling every schmuck I can find you’re alone in here…crying.” The last word he delivered with the smug satisfaction of a man who knew he’d already won.

Her breath caught as she stared in outraged indignation. “I am not crying!” Hiding, yes. Sulking, some. Crying, not a chance.

“It’ll be like open season. Every guy intent on snaring himself a top-floor job in Liss Industries moving in for his white-knight moment. And the talk…”

Her stomach seized. It was the talk that had driven her into hiding in the first place.

The “Poor Payton” talk.

“…Such a good girl…so desperate for a wedding of her own…so disappointed when he left her…what her father had wanted, but what did he expect…”

She couldn’t stand the sound of it anymore.

They were all wrong. But even if she bellowed out the truth, no one would believe her. She’d done too good a job for too long of forcing herself into the mold of a quiet-souled, docile-minded lady who didn’t exist. And for nothing. In the end, no amount of perfect behavior could save her father from the weak heart that had plagued him the last fifteen years of his life.

Pushing back the well of emotion that still rose at the thought of losing him the year before, she shook her head. Nothing could upset him now. No defiant choice or willful stand for independence. He was at peace and, though his death broke her heart, it also set her free.

But no matter the changes she made, no one could see past the illusion she’d perfected to the real woman trying to break free. Which was why this had to be the last society event. She needed a life. One she could live on her own terms.

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