Bargaining for Baby / The Billionaire's Baby Arrangement. Robyn Grady
bedroom chest of drawers. Sue had not only been his wife, she’d been the other half of his soul. The better half.
Still Tara had put her argument forward. He needed someone steady in his life, she’d said. She needed someone to help manage her property. That had gotten Jack’s attention. Twenty years ago, Jack’s father buckled under hard times and had sold half his land to a neighbor, Tara’s great-uncle. Later, he’d tried to buy the land back but Dwight Anderson wasn’t interested.
After Sue’s death, Jack’s life had seemed pointless. He’d found no joy in occupations that had once caused the blood to charge hot and fast through his veins. Even throwing a saddle over Herc and giving his stallion free rein down a beloved Leadeebrook plain had seemed a chore. But the idea of fulfilling his father’s dream of regaining those choice acres had offered Jack’s darker days a glimmer of meaning.
Tara was a good woman and attractive by any man’s standards. Perhaps they could help each other out. But before he married again, a matter needed sorting.
The human race relied on the power of maternal instinct—women wanted children and Tara would make an excellent mother. But he had no wish to become a father.
He’d made mistakes—one error unforgivable. He thought about it often and not only when he visited the tiny grave which lay beside his wife’s in the Leadeebrook family plot. Having your heart ripped from your chest once was enough for any man. He wouldn’t tempt fate by siring another child.
If Tara wanted a marriage of convenience, it would be without plans of a family. Although she had acquiesced with a nod when he’d told her as much, the mist in her eyes had said that she hoped he’d change his mind. Not tomorrow. Not ten years from now. On that point he was firm.
Jack’s gaze had settled on the lightly-swaddled bundle when the woman in the red dress spoke again.
“Dahlia and I were friends,” she murmured in a thready voice. “Good friends.”
He inhaled, rushed a hand through hair that was overdue a cut and got his thoughts in order. “The doctor said it was a hit-and-run.”
At a pedestrian crossing, of all places. Dahlia had died of internal injuries only minutes before he’d arrived. He’d touched her hand, still warm, and remembered how he’d taught her to ride Jasper, his first mount, and how he’d consoled her when her pet lamb had passed away. When she’d reached out and had begged him to understand … when his sister had needed him most.
“She regained consciousness briefly.”
The woman’s words took Jack off guard. The back of his knees caved and he sat, wishing he hadn’t. Taking a seat implied he wanted to talk. What he wanted was to take off his boots, down a stiff Scotch and.
He looked up too quickly and the light faded in and out.
And what? Face forms, funeral directors, a choice of clothes for the coffin?
“She spoke to me before … before she slipped away.” The woman’s lips were full and pink now, the bottom trembling the barest amount. “I’m Madison Tyler.” She repositioned the baby and lowered to sit beside him. “Friends call me Maddy.”
He swallowed hard against a closed, dry throat. “You said she regained consciousness … spoke to you.”
Surely not about him. Dahlia had been a wreck after their parents’ deaths. Not even his wife’s patience and support had gotten through to her. That final night, Dahlia had shouted she didn’t want another thing to do with her brother, his stupid rules or Leadeebrook. She’d come to Sue’s funeral but he’d been too dazed to speak. Over the years, he’d received Christmas cards, but no forwarding address.
His hands clenched on his thighs.
Lord and Holy Father, he should have set pride aside and found her. Protected her. Brought her back home.
The baby stirred and Jack took in the sleeping face, the shadow of tiny lashes on plump healthy cheeks. So new and full of promise.
Full of life.
Clearing his mind and the thickness from his throat, he found his feet and the bulk of his control.
“We can talk at the wake, Miss …”
He drew his wallet from his back pocket and dug out a card. “I’ll see that the notices are posted. You can get me on this number if there’s anything.”
Finding her feet, too, she searched his eyes.
“I need to speak with you, Jack. I need to speak with you now.” She stole a glance at her baby. “I didn’t know … Well, Dahlia hadn’t spoken about you before.”
When her gaze meshed with his again, her eyes were round and pleading, as if she wanted an explanation. She seemed sweet enough, and understandably shaken, but whatever Dahlia had said, he wasn’t about to justify himself to a stranger. To anyone, for that matter.
His gaze broke away as he waved the card. “I really ought to go.”
“She told me that she loved you,” she blurted out, jerking half a step closer. “That she forgave you.”
Bent over, placing his card on the chair, he stopped, clamped his eyes shut and willed away the thumping heartbeat in his ears. He wanted this week to be over. Wanted to get back home. Back to his land. What he knew. What he could keep.
He straightened slowly and kicked up a firm chin. The baby was stirring, beginning to squeak and complain. A part of Jack was drawn to the sound while another only wanted to plug his ears and stalk away. The last straw would be to hear an infant cry.
Exhaling, he shoved the wallet in his back pocket. “There’s nothing you can do here. You should get that baby home.”
When she purposely held his gaze, he shook his head then shrugged. “Sorry. You’ve lost me.”
But she only rolled her teeth over her bottom lip, her eyes huge and …
He assessed her classic bone structure—flawless porcelain complexion, the delicate curve of her jaw—and, despite the day, an instinctive flicker of arousal licked over his skin.
Was she implying that the child was his?
Some time after his wife’s death, concerned friends had tried to lure him out from behind the walls he’d built around himself. They’d invite him to Sydney, to introduce him to suitable ladies within their circles. Although his heart had remained closed, there’d been a time or two he’d invited a date back to his inner city penthouse.
Was that why this woman seemed familiar? Had he slept with her sometime in the past?
He shucked back tense shoulders.
No. He’d have remembered those lips.
He spared a tight smile. “Maddy. Neither of us is in any mood for games. Whatever you have to say, I’d appreciate it if you would spit it out.”
She didn’t flinch or coil away from his candor. Rather her expression took on a steely air.
“Dahlia left the baby with me today,” she said. “He’s not my son. This baby is your nephew.”
Two beats of roaring silence passed before her words hit his chest, winding him as surely as if he’d been rammed by a twenty-foot log. He blinked rapidly, tried to find his breath. He must’ve heard wrong.
“That’s … not possible.”
A tear rolled down her cheek, catching and beading on the bunny blanket’s blue hood while her periwinkle eyes gleamed with quiet strength.
“Your sister’s last wish was