Bargaining for Baby / The Billionaire's Baby Arrangement. Robyn Grady
minutes later, sitting across the table from Jack Prescott, Maddy brought the china cup to her lips, certain that she’d never seen anyone look more drawn.
Or more handsome.
With the shadow on his strong square jaw—as well as his demeanor—growing darker by the minute, his teaspoon click-clacked as he stirred sugar into his cup.
Over the intercom, someone called for Dr. Grant to go to ward 10. An elderly woman at a nearby table smiled at the baby before tasting her scone. By the cashier, a nurse dropped a full plate. The clattering echo bounced off the walls yet Jack Prescott seemed oblivious to it all. His hooded yet intense gaze was focused only inward.
From beneath her lashes, Maddy analyzed the planes of his rugged, Hollywood face—the cleft chin, the straight proud nose. How he managed to look both passionate and detached at the same time she couldn’t guess. She sensed a fierce, almost frightening energy broiling beneath the mask. He was the kind of man who could single-handedly beat a bushfire in forty knot gusts and refuse to let anything he cared for suffer or die.
The million dollar question was: What did Jack Prescott care about? He’d barely looked at the baby, the orphaned darling he’d only just met. The man sitting at this table seemed to be made of stone, a perfect enigma. She might never know why Dahlia had excluded her brother from her life. If it weren’t for little Beau, Maddy wouldn’t want to know.
Jack settled his cup in its saucer, and then slid a bland expression toward the baby, who was settled again, asleep on his side in the carriage with a tiny fist bunched up near his button nose. Jack had been the one to suggest coffee, but after so long of a silence, Maddy couldn’t stand his chilly calm a moment more. She had a task to complete—a promise to keep—and a finite amount of time in which to do it.
“Dahlia was a great mother,” she told him. “She’d finished her degree in business marketing before the baby was born. She was taking a year off before finding and settling down to a good job.” Maddy’s gaze dropped to her cup as a withering feeling fell through her center. Now was the time to say it. Now was the time to confess.
“Dahlia had barely been out of the apartment since bringing him home,” she went on. “I’d talked her into going to the hairdressers, having her nails done—”
Maddy’s stomach muscles gripped and she grimaced under the weight of her guilt.
If she hadn’t suggested it, hadn’t made the appointment and practically pushed her friend out the door, Dahlia would still be alive. This baby would still have his mother and have no need to rely on this brusque man who seemed set on ignoring him.
“He’s three months old today,” she added, in case he was interested, but Jack only concentrated on stirring more sugar into his drink.
Maddy blinked several times then pushed her cup away and glanced, sick at heart, around the noisy room. This exchange was never going to be easy, but could it have gone any worse? What was she supposed to do now? The man was as sensitive as a slab of cold steel.
“Where’s the father?”
Maddy jumped at his graveled question. But the query was an obvious one, even if he wouldn’t like the answer.
She lowered her voice. “Dahlia was the victim of a rape.” His face darkened before he swore and shoveled a hand though hair black as ink. “And before you ask,” she continued, “she didn’t report it.”
Flecks of gold ignited in the depths of his hostile green eyes. “Why the hell not?”
“Does it matter now?”
Like so many in her situation, Dahlia hadn’t wanted the misery of a trial. She hadn’t known her assailant and preferred to keep it that way. She’d needed to heal as best she could and bury the horror as well as the hurt. Then Dahlia had discovered she was pregnant.
Choking on raw emotion, Maddy focused and straightened her spine. “What matters is she had a beautiful baby.” This bright little boy she’d loved very much.
Jack studied the baby, the single line between his dark brows deepening as a pulse ticked at one side of thick, tanned neck. His next question was a grudging growl.
“What’s his name?”
Jack Prescott’s nostrils flared and his gaze slid away.
Maddy smothered a humorless laugh. Was this man a machine? Certainly these were special circumstances—he’d lost his only sibling today. But did he ever deign to show the world any emotion other than irritation?
Hot tears pricked behind Maddy’s eyes as her hand tightened around her cup and rising emotion blocked off her air. She couldn’t hold her tongue. No decent person would. Nothing had mattered more in her life than the outcome of this meeting—fulfilling the promise that she’d made—and if she had to brush an over-indulged ego the wrong way to get results, then by God, that’s precisely what she’d do.
“He’s your flesh and blood,” she challenged. “Don’t you want to pick him up and hold him?”
Promise him everything will be all right? That he’ll be safe?
A dreadful thought struck and the fine hairs on her arms stood up at the same time as she slumped back. “Or would you rather he go straight to foster care?”
Not that she would let that happen. She’d take Beau herself first. Her own mother had died when Maddy was five. Growing up she’d longed for someone to braid her hair in the morning, burrow down beneath the covers with and read to her at night.
Maddy’s father was a good man but obsessed with his business—sometimes it seemed as if Tyler Advertising was more Drew Tyler’s child than his only daughter. He ran his corporate castle with an iron fist and didn’t see a place on its staff for a “delicate girl” like Maddy. She disagreed. After serious and extended debate, she’d won and had gone to work at the firm.
These past weeks her father had become understandably edgy over his daughter closing her first big solo deal. Beneath the brave face, Maddy was nervous, too. But, come hell or high water, she’d have the signatures she needed and by the date promised. One month from today.
No one would guess how painfully shy she’d been as a girl, how hard she’d worked on her flaws in order to reflect her father’s celebrated style of business savvy and determination. Now, not a day went by that Drew didn’t in some way acknowledge his daughter’s efforts. Still, there were times she wished she’d known a mother’s love.
Her gaze fell to the baby.
How would this little one fare?
Jack’s long, tanned fingers reached for the sugar bowl. “I don’t recall saying I wouldn’t take him,” he drawled.
“You hardly seem gripped by the idea.” Maddy slid back and one inky black brow arched.
“You’d do better not to be so hostile,” he said.
“You’d do better not to be such a cold fish.”
While her heart pumped madly, his expression didn’t change. Those lidded sexy-as-sin eyes merely peered into hers until a not unpleasant shiver rippled over her skin, heating her from crown to curling-toe.
Blinking rapidly, she shifted back into the hard plastic seat.
Not only was this man dripping with bad-boy sex appeal, in that last point he’d been right. He might be as demonstrative as a stunned salmon, but now was the time for calm, not commotion. No matter how difficult, for the baby’s sake, she must keep her emotions in check.
All of them.
Maddy loosened the grip on her cup and found the calm place inside that served her well in trying situations.
“This day has been a shock for us both,” she admitted, “but, believe me,