Jet-setting bachelor Dex Messina thought he knew everything about women…until he met the tiny infant girl abandoned on his doorstep. One thing Dex was sure of: the gorgeous redhead who stormed back into his life, insisting she’d made a mistake, was hiding something. And uncovering her secret would be his pleasure. To gain custody of her beloved niece, Lucy Alwin would do anything–even pose as the woman with whom Dex had shared one intimate night. But if boldly lying to the powerful billionaire was difficult, resisting their burning desire could prove impossible.
Sometimes the story idea you start with is not the book you get in the end. This is one of those books.
A couple of years ago, I read a short article about Safe Haven locations. These are places where you can legally abandon your infant anytime in the first few weeks of life. Most states have Save Haven laws. In Texas, for example, fire stations, police stations and hospitals are all designated “Save Havens.”
After reading the article, I became fascinated by the idea of Save Haven babies. What happened to the children after they were abandoned? Why would a parent do such a thing? I just knew there was a story there somewhere.
At the time, I between contracts. Desire had just changed their guidelines and I didn’t know if my writing was what they were looking for. Nevertheless, I wrote up blurbs for several “Save Haven” ideas. Of the four ideas, this was the one my editor liked. Two brothers who happen to be living together find a baby on their doorstep with a note that says, “She’s yours. You’ll have to take her for a while.” The only problem is they don’t know who the mother is, so they don’t know which one of them she belongs to.
Ironically, I didn’t get to use the Save Haven element at all. Babies have to be brand new to be Save Haven babies and I decided to work with an older baby. So in this book, baby Isabella is five months old, well past the Save Haven age, but old enough to have her own personality and be more fun to interact with.
As the taxi pulled to a stop in front of the sprawling monstrosity his brother called home, Dex Messina pinched the bridge of his nose. Man, he was tired.
He was getting too old for this. He’d just spent a week in Antwerp working sixteen-hour days getting ready for the opening of Messina Diamonds’ new diamond-cutting branch. On top of that, the seventeen-hour flight from Belgium—complete with a six-hour delay in New York—had taken its toll.
“This the place?” the cabbie asked from the front seat.
“Home sweet home.”
Since the renovations on his own urban loft had hit yet another snag, Dex was living with his brother, Derek, a situation that suited neither of them and had been going on far too long. Only the amount of time Dex spent out of the country and the fact that he stayed in the detached guest-house made it bearable.
Dex handed the driver a fifty, pulled his bag from the seat beside him and climbed out of the car. He swung the rugged canvas duffel over his shoulder and walked up the curved path. The towering oaks and clusters of shrubbery were perfectly manicured to hide the house from the road while creating the impression one had left the exclusive Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park altogether.
Ivy crept up the far corner of the building. A low stone retaining wall crumbled at one end. Both gave the impression of gently declining nobility.
Everything in Derek’s life was like that. Perfect. Controlled. Pretentious.
It set Dex’s teeth on edge. Made him want to take his motorcycle out of storage and pop some wheelies on his brother’s plush green lawn.
Not that he would. He was a respectable contributor to the family business these days. A damnpillar of society.
Why he even—
Dex stopped short just shy of the mahogany double doors.
He stared for a long moment at the object blocking his path before he convinced himself he wasn’t hallucinating.
It was an infant car seat.
Next to the car seat sat a bag decorated with smiling cartoon bears. Far more disturbing than the car seat itself was what appeared to be in it. A pile of blankets, out of the top of which rose a tiny pink stocking cap.
Dex crouched down to get a closer look, then thought better of it. Instead, he yanked his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed his brother’s number.
“You at home?”
“Yes. Don’t tell me you missed your flight. I need you in the office to—”
“No. I’m at the front door. You might want to join me.”
“Then why are you calling me?” A note of frustration crept into Derek’s voice.
Dex was too shocked to be annoyed by it. “Just get your butt down here.”
He flipped his phone closed. Sitting back on his heels, he rubbed his hand along his jaw, staring at the car seat and its bundle of…joy or whatever.
Five minutes later Derek swung open the front door. He had clearly been working. He’d lost his jacket and tie and the sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up. “This better be good.”
Dex said nothing but looked up at his brother with a quirked eyebrow, waiting for Derek’s reaction. If he hadn’t been so completely thrown for a loop himself, the situation might have been amusing.
Derek looked down at the car seat. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“If it is, I’m not in on it.”
“You didn’t bring this thing home with you?”
Dex chuckled despite himself. “No. I didn’t bring home a baby from Antwerp. I’m guessing that would be illegal.”
“What’s it doing here?”
“It was here when I drove up.” Feigning a flippancy he didn’t quite feel, Dex reached into the car seat and pulled aside the blanket to reveal the tiny head of a sleeping infant. The baby’s skin seemed impossibly pale in the moonlight, its delicate rosebud of a mouth the only color in its face.
The infant was so still, he couldn’t even tell if it was breathing. Feeling a burst of panic, he pulled loose the pink blanket and pressed his palm to the tiny cotton-covered chest.
The infant drew in one shuddering breath, then exhaled slowly. As he felt the warm breath drift across his hand, he felt something tighten inside of him, even as relief rocked him back on his heels.
“It’s alive?” Derek asked.
“What’s that?” Derek asked.
Dex looked to where Derek was pointing. When he’d untucked the blanket, he’d dislodged a note. He picked it up and stood.
Derek took it from him and stepped out of the shadow of the doorway so that the landscape lighting from the yard shone on the note. D—
Her name is Isabella. She’s yours. You’ll have to take her for a while. The note wasn’t signed.
For a long moment, Derek and Dex merely stared at each other. Then they both turned to stare at the baby.
“This is quite the mess you’ve gotten into this time.” There was a note of grim censure in Derek’s voice.
“I’ve gotten into?” Why it surprised him that Derek assumed this was his mess, he didn’t know. “Who says it’s mine?”
Derek propped his hands on his hips. “It’s not my baby. I’m scrupulously careful about that kind of thing.”
“Trust me. About that kind of thing, so am I.”
“You found her,” Derek pointed out.
“Yes. At your house.”
“Where we both live.”
They stared each other down, neither relenting.
Even as he looked into his brother’s steely-blue eyes, Dex knew how ridiculous the conversation was. Yet conceding that they had no way of knowing who’d fathered the baby was like admitting that it could be his.
A little mewing sound came from the car seat and they both turned to the baby. She moved her head, her mouth opening and closing as if searching for something. He’d been on enough flights with crying babies to know that this could go very bad if they didn’t do the right thing.
He dropped to his knees, ran his hand along the edge of the car seat and found a pacifier attached by a cord. With the precision of a movie hero disarming a nuclear weapon, he eased the pacifier into her mouth.
Holding his breath, he watched her suck contentedly, bringing a hand to rub against her cheek and then fall back asleep.
From behind him, Derek let out an audible sigh. “This is ridiculous.”
Pulling his phone out of his pants pocket he spoke into the phone. “Call Lorraina.”
“You’re calling Raina?” Dex asked in a whisper as he pulled Derek farther away from the baby. “It’s after midnight on a Sunday night.”
“It’s a little late to be calling your assistant. Besides, someone abandoned a baby on your doorstep. We should call the police.”
Derek’s gaze narrowed. “Absolutely not. That would be a public relations nightmare.”
“And naturally the public image of Messina Diamonds is more important than the welfare of this baby.”
He didn’t know if Derek heard him or not because by then Raina had picked up and Derek was talking to her. A few minutes later, he flipped his phone closed. He stood, hands clasped behind his back, glaring at the tiny infant.
“She said she can’t come.”
“I can’t blame her.”
“She did give me some…advice.” Derek sounded disgusted. “She said if the baby wakes up, we should feed her.”
“Then I guess we’re on our own.”
Dex stared at the car seat before mustering the courage to approach again. Derek, he noticed, didn’t seem any more eager than he was to move the child off their front door step and into the house.
Finally, Dex pushed himself forward, plucked the car seat up by the handle and headed inside. Derek stopped him before he reached the door.
“Do you think that’s wise?”
“She’s a baby. Not a vampire. We’ve got to bring her into the house at some point.”
Derek nodded reluctantly and followed them into the front room. Dex set the car seat down in the shadow of the sofa, where the lights wouldn’t shine on her face, then sat down in the chair beside her to wait.
Derek handed him a brandy before lowering himself to the armchair opposite. “You’ll have to stay with her tomorrow.”
Dex nearly choked on the brandy. “Why me?”
“I leave for London at noon.”
“Why can’t Raina watch her?”
“Raina’s coming with me. She’ll be back by the end of the week, but she’s going to be busy planning the reception for next week. You’ll have to find someone to watch the child soon. Someone you can trust. I need you in the office by Tuesday for the board meeting.”
Dex took another sip of his brandy. “Good thing you’re not leaving until noon.”
Derek looked up. “Why’s that?”
“Because first thing in the morning, we’re going to go get paternity tests.”
Lucy Alwin—as a rule—didn’t lie. She didn’t like doing it and she wasn’t any good at it.
But today, she was going to have to lie her butt off. And she’d better damn well be convincing at it. Isabella’s future was at stake.
She double-checked the address one last time and turned her Toyota Prius onto Briarwood Lane. The sight of one mansion after another did little to quell her nerves and only reinforced what she already knew. The Messinas were filthy rich. And very powerful.
She eased her car to a stop across the street from number 122, mentally cursing her twin sister yet again. She’d warned Jewel a year ago, “You have to tell Dex Messina you’re pregnant now. He needs to know he’s going to be a father. Because if he finds out later that you’ve deceived him, he may do everything in his power to take your baby away from you.”
But had Jewel followed her advice? No. Instead, she’d been determined to do this her own way. And on her own. Of course, Jewel’s definition of “on her own” involved relying heavily on Lucy. From the moment she’d first held her darling niece in her arms Lucy hadn’t minded one bit.
But over the past month, Jewel had slowly been withdrawing from both Lucy and Isabella. Then, late last night—long after Lucy was asleep—she’d dropped sweet baby Isabella on Dex’s doorstep, then hightailed it out of town.
It was morning before Lucy had even realized they were gone. Jewel, apparently in an attempt to reassure Lucy, had left a note saying she was going out of town for a couple of weeks, but that Lucy shouldn’t worry, she’d left Isabella someplace safe.
For the first time in her life, Lucy was thankful for her sister’s laziness. Jewel hadn’t bothered to move Isabella’s car seat from Lucy’s car to her own. Instead she’d borrowed Lucy’s Prius only to exchange it later on her way out of town for her own car. Thank God she had. Jewel had used the car’s GPS system to look up Dex’s address. That was the only way Lucy had known where Jewel had left Isabella.
It had taken Lucy another three hours to design and execute a plan to get Isabella back. A plan that involved raiding her sister’s closet and having her hair cut and dyed to match Jewel’s vibrant red.
In short, Lucy had to convince Dex that she was Isabella’s mom and that she’d made a terrible mistake abandoning her baby. To do that she’d have to first convince him she was the woman he’d had a one-night stand with fourteen months ago.
How exactly she was going to do that was the question that had plagued Lucy since she’d developed this hare-brained plan. She and Jewel didn’t just dress differently.
Lucy was sensible, no-nonsense practicality while Jewel was exotic, seductive sexuality. In short, Jewel had a way of manipulating and controlling men that Lucy had never comprehended, let alone replicated.
If Dex remembered Jewel at all—and men never forgot a woman like Jewel—then Lucy was going to have a hell of time convincing him that she was her twin sister. Her best hope was to get in and out of there as quickly as possible and pray that he wouldn’t look too closely at her.
She didn’t know if she could pull this off. She only knew she had to try. For Isabella’s sake.
The Messinas, for all their wealth and privilege, were known for their ruthlessness. For their cold-hearted pursuit of the all-mighty dollar. No way Lucy was going to let one of those men care for her niece.
No, Isabella needed someone in her life who would always do the right thing for her. Since that person obviously wasn’t going to be Jewel, Lucy was more than happy to step up to the plate.
With that thought spurring her on, Lucy stalked up the winding front path and rang the doorbell. She heard Isabella’s cries from the behind the door and distress clutched her throat. Any lie she told today was well worth it.
She had to remind herself of that when the massive front door swung open to reveal Dex Messina, looking just as attractive as he had the first time she’d seen him, but considerably more rumpled and annoyed.
“Are you the nanny?” he asked.
“No. I’m the mother.”