Bargaining for Baby / The Billionaire's Baby Arrangement. Robyn Grady
loosened slightly. “What are you proposing?”
“What you’re dying to have me propose. I’ll relieve you of any obligation and take Beau off your hands.” She would raise him, and show him love and loyalty and a million other values of which this man was clearly devoid. She’d work it out somehow with her job, with her father. “And if you’re worried that I’ll ask for financial support, don’t be. I’d rather wash dishes fifteen hours a day than take one penny from you.”
The air heated more, crackling and sparking between them before those big bronzed hands lowered from his belt.
“How are you in small aircraft?”
Her mouth fell open then snapped shut again. What was he talking about? Hadn’t he heard a word she’d said?
“I flew down in a twin engine,” he went on. “There’s room for passengers but some people get queasy about small planes.” His mouth twitched. “Though I have a feeling you’re not the queasy type.”
“I meant what I said—”
“You meant what you said to Dahlia,” he cut in, but then dropped his voice as a curious older couple wove around them. “I don’t need you to understand me. Believe me, you don’t want to. But know this. I want you to keep your promise. I want to do right by this boy. I want to give him a home.” Under the artificial light, his green eyes sparkled. “Come back with us to Leadeebrook.”
A choking breath caught in her chest.
Infuriating. Insufferable. How dare he be charming and sincere now!
But, although she’d like to deny it, the note of caring in his voice had touched her. Maybe there was an ounce of human in Jack Prescott, after all.
Sensing her slide, he moved to take over the carriage’s handles. Still wary, she shook her head. “I’m not sure …”
But then he actually smiled—a damnable slow, bone-melting smile. “I think you are, Maddy.” He began to walk and when she relented and followed, he added, “You’ve got two weeks.”
Four days later, Maddy clutched her passenger seat armrest as Jack Prescott’s private aircraft touched down on Leadeebrook Station’s unsealed airstrip.
Jack had given her two weeks to fulfil her promise to Dahlia. Two weeks, no more, to have Beau settled in his new home with his new guardian. She would’ve liked more time, or at least the option to discuss the possibility of an extension should she deem one necessary. But, in the short period she’d known Jack, of one thing she was certain—he didn’t speak for the sake of hearing his own voice. He was prepared to tolerate her company for precisely fourteen days. She supposed she ought to be grateful he’d seen the light and had relented at all.
When she stepped out from the plane onto the floor of the open ended hanger, the heat hit her like the long breath off a fire. The urge to spin around and crawl back inside the cool of the sumptuous cabin was overwhelming. Instead she gritted her teeth and edged out into the blinding white sunshine.
Shading her brow, she cast a curious glance around the endless isolated plains—miles of bleached dry grass, parched scattered gum trees, lazy rolling hills shimmering a hazy purple in the distance.
She worked her dry throat enough to swallow.
Practically any part of Australia could get hot enough to fry eggs on the pavement. A serious summer’s day in Sydney could rival a stint in a sauna. But out here the heat was different—bone dry—as if any sign of moisture would evaporate off a person’s skin as soon as it surfaced. Within a week she’d be as dehydrated as the lifeless leaves hanging from those tired eucalypts.
Something bit her calf. She slapped at a beast of a fly then cringed at the red dust clinging to her new Keds. Who would choose to live in this godforsaken wilderness? No wonder Dahlia had escaped.
“Welcome to Leadeebrook.”
At the husky voice at her back, Maddy angled around. Jack had followed her off the plane, aviator sunglasses perched upon his proud nose, carrying the diaper bag with one arm and Beau in the other.
Grinning, Maddy set her hands on her hips.
Heck, her iron cowboy looked almost relaxed. Nestled against that hard chest, Beau certainly did, which was a good sign. She’d been so worried.
Since the accident, she’d taken time off work to be with the baby 24/7. While her father sympathized with the situation, he wasn’t pleased that his star junior account executive had asked for a leave of absence. He was less pleased when she’d told him she needed an additional two weeks out of the office. He needed the national deal she was working on bagged, no excuses.
She’d worked to reassure him. The Pompadour Shoe and Accessory campaign and media schedule were a wink away from being polished to a “simply-sign-here” shine. She’d be back in plenty of time to tidy loose ends. But these two weeks belonged to Beau, and today, in this unfamiliar environment, she felt more responsible for that baby than she could ever have dreamed possible.
When Jack had insisted she leave the plane cabin first—that he would bring the sleeping baby out directly—she’d automatically gone to object. She’d grown so used to the weight of him, his powdery scent, his smile; she ought to be the one to carry the baby out to greet his new home. But her friend’s final request had echoed again in Maddy’s mind.
Her job here was to do everything in her power to nurture an environment in which these two could connect and she could walk away knowing that Beau would be happy and cared for … that, God willing, he’d be loved and appreciated for the special little person he was.
That meant stepping back.
Watching the baby blink open his sleepy blue eyes and frown questioningly up into Jack’s suntanned face—seeing Jack shift the nappy bag higher on his arm in order to push the sunglasses back into his thick hair and return the curious look—a cord in Maddy’s chest pulled tight.
There’d been a slight shift in Jack’s attitude toward his nephew. It seemed that now the funeral was behind them, he’d begun to show a tentative interest in his ward. Tender looks. Once the barest hint of a smile. But this was the first time he’d carried the baby, and while his wall was still steadfastly up, hopefully these small steps were seeds that would grow into a lasting, mutually loving relationship. Maybe, despite her misgivings and the sinking feeling that had minced around in Maddy’s belly the whole uncommunicative flight here, Dahlia’s wish would come true. That by the time she returned to Sydney, this aloof lone cowboy would have opened up, not only his home but also his heart to the person who needed him most.
Maddy stepped forward. But rather than take the baby, she cupped Beau’s soft warm crown and smiled.
“He’s awake. I can’t believe he slept the whole flight.”
“Isn’t that what babies do? Sleep?”
When Jack’s dubious gaze met hers, a frisson of awareness shot like the crack of a pistol through her blood. His sex appeal went beyond powerful; it was mesmerizing. The urge to tip close and savor that hypnotic lure was near irresistible.
Clearly Jack didn’t mean for her to melt whenever they came within arm’s distance. He had not the slightest interest in her that way. But she could do without him looking at her like that—as if she puzzled or intrigued him. As if he needed to know how her mouth might fit beneath his.
Her insides twinged and, guilty, she averted her gaze.
Those kinds of feelings were not only misplaced, they were dangerous. Next thing, she’d be looking at him cross-eyed. If she wanted to survive the following days—and nights—alone out here in Nowheresville with this maddeningly tempting man, she’d best make a pact with herself right now.
No matter how strong the tug—no matter what words Jack said, or smiles Jack gave—she’d allow nothing other than these