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Haley, I want my calendar cleared for the day and you to be in my office in five minutes. There's something I need you to do."
Haley Rollins stared open mouthed as Lucien, or as he preferred to be called, Luke Garnier passed her desk on the way into his private office. For the past five years, every weekday morning at promptly eight-thirty, he'd arrived at the corporate offices of Garnier Construction, ordered her to get him coffee and expected her to be in his office to review his day's itinerary. But today he was more than half an hour early and failed even to mention the requisite cup of coffee.
What on earth could have happened that would cause a man so set in his ways to deviate from his routine?
Something was definitely in the works and if the look on his handsome face was any indication, he considered it to be of the utmost importance. Her usual Monday morning slump vanished.
Reaching for her phone, Haley made quick work of rescheduling his appointments, then after a quick trip to the break room for the coffee she knew he wanted, entered Luke's office a few minutes later. But as she walked across the room, her eyes widened and she had to remind herself to breathe. She never got tired of looking at the sexiest man she'd ever seen.
He had removed his suit coat and stood at the plate glass window behind his desk, staring pensively at the downtown Nashville traffic on the busy street below. With his hands stuffed into the front pockets of his trousers, the gray fabric had pulled taut over his tightly muscled derriere, drawing her attention to the narrowness of his hips, while at the same time his crisply pressed, tailored white shirt emphasized the width of his broadshoulders. The contrast was amazing and a testament to his excellent physical condition. And it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide her reaction to him.
"You're three minutes late," he said without turning around.
Bringing her wayward thoughts in check, she calmly set his coffee mug on the desk. "I had several calls to make in order to free up your day."
She wasn't surprised that he knew the moment she walked into the room, even though the plush carpet made the sound of her late entrance inaudible. Luke Garnier missed very little. And he never hesitated to comment on his observations. Ever.
"Sit down, Haley. There's something I want to talk over with you." His tone of voice denoted the serious nature of their discussion and for the briefest of moments, a tiny shiver of trepidation coursed through her.
She'd been extremely careful, but had he finally realized that his efficient, reliable, emotionless executive assistant had done the unthinkable? Had he discovered that she'd developed a huge crush on him practically from the moment he interviewed her for the job five years ago? That she might even be in love with him?
Seating herself in the leather armchair in front of his desk, she gave herself a mental shake. Her feelings for him had been the only thing that he'd failed to detect and she had no reason to believe that had changed. She'd never given him the slightest indication that she viewed him as anything more than her workaholic boss. A boss who made no secret of the fact that he had no interest in anything that took his attention away from Garnier Construction. His business was a very demanding mistress and that was just the way he preferred it.
"How was your trip to Wichita this weekend?" she asked when he continued to stare out the window. He hadn't shared the reason for his last-minute trip or whom he'd been meeting with, but Haley had no doubt it was the cause of his early arrival at the office this morning. "Did everything go well?"
His shoulders slowly rose and fell, indicating he took a deep breath before he finally turned to face her. "It actually depends on how you look at the outcome."
His noncommittal answer confused her. She'd never known Luke Garnier to be indecisive about anything.
He was the type of man who viewed things as either black or white, up or down, right or wrong. Gray areas in his business or his personal life were quite simply nonexistent.
Frowning, Haley shook her head. "I'm not sure I understand."
"I wouldn't expect you to." His intense blue gaze pinned her to the chair for several long moments as he decided exactly how much he wanted her to know about the meeting, then raking his hand through his thick black hair, he took another deep breath. "I've just become the new owner of Laurel Enterprises."
She couldn't have stopped her surprised gasp if she'd tried. "This is huge, Luke. Laurel Enterprises is the largest, most successful builder of vacation rentals and log homes in eastern Tennessee. Maybe in the entire state."
He nodded. "Laurel and all of its holdings are mine now."
"Congratulations! How on earth did you get Emerald, Inc. to relinquish it?" she asked, somewhat in awe of the achievement. She had seen him accomplish several seemingly impossible goals in the past, but obtaining Laurel Enterprises from the infamous Emerald Larson had to be an all-time best, both professionally and personally.
"Let's just say I had the inside track on gaining control of Laurel and leave it at that for now," he replied, giving her a one-shouldered shrug.
His answer only served to confuse her even further. As his executive assistant, Haley knew almost as much about Luke's vision and goals for Garnier Construction as he did. And she couldn't, for the life of her, figure out why he wasn't more triumphant about the acquisition. For someone whose already quite lucrative construction company had just doubled in size, he was being extremely reserved about it.
But she knew better than to ask why he wasn't more enthused. If he wanted her to know how he'd pulled off the deal, he would tell her.
"Well, whatever magic you used to convince them to sell to you worked beautifully. You've been wanting to expand into that area of the business for some time." She smiled. "Shall I set up an appointment with your attorney to examine the purchase agreement?"
"No, all paperwork was taken care of over the weekend."
"Should I contact your banker to have the funds transferred?"
"No need. Laurel has already been signed over to me. Free and clear."
Surely she'd misunderstood. "Excuse me? Did you say free?"
When his vivid blue eyes met hers, he gave her a half smile. "Yes."
Unable to believe what she was hearing, Haley sat forward. "Emerald Larson, the most successful woman in the corporate world, the first woman to crack the top five of the Fortune 500 list, just gave you the company?"
"Yes, but that's not what I want to discuss with you," he said, his tone indicating that the subject was closed. He lowered himself into the high-backed executive chair behind his desk. "I've come to the realization that now that I own the largest construction company in the South, I need someone to ensure the continuance of Garnier Construction long after I'm gone. I need an heir."
She wasn't sure what shocked her more, his admission that Emerald Larson had handed him Laurel Enterprises on a silver platter or that he suddenly thought he needed someone to inherit his assets. "What brought this on?" she blurted before she could stop herself.
To her surprise, he didn't seem at all upset that she was questioning his decision. "My brother and sister aren't the least bit interested in the construction business," he explained. "Jake is perfectly content being the most expensive divorce lawyer in Tinseltown and Arielle adores teaching preschool kids whatever children that age need to learn. That's why I've decided to hire a surrogate and produce an heir of my own."
Haley knew her expression conveyed her disbelief, but she was beyond caring. "Don't you think that's a little drastic? Having a child is a huge step."
Luke shook his head. "It makes perfect sense. To make sure that the Garnier name will be a force to reckon with in the construction business for decades to come."
"And you think that having a child will make that happen?"
"I believe it tips the odds in my favor, yes."
"But it will take years before a child would be ready to learn all that you have to teach."
"That's why the sooner I get started, the better."
Luke could tell from the look in her turquoise eyes that Haley thought he'd lost his mind. And truth to tell, he wasn't entirely sure he hadn't done that very thing.
But after seeing Emerald Larson's desperation to find family members to take over her vast holdings, he'd realized that building a corporate empire meant nothing without someone to carry on the legacy. That's why he had thought about who would take over his company and what they would do with it when the time came for him to retire.
It had taken a couple of sleepless nights, but to be certain Garnier Construction continued to grow and prosper long after he was gone, he concluded he would have to spend years grooming his own replacement. And who would have more of a vested interest in learning all that he knew than his own son?
That's when he'd decided to have a child. Luke could start by taking him to the job sites as a toddler, then by the time the boy understood how to avoid the pitfalls of the business and how to encourage Garnier's growth, he'd already be familiar with the way the operation worked.
"Are you really serious about hiring someone to have your baby?" she asked, finally finding her voice.
He wasn't at all surprised by Haley's astonishment. He'd had much the same disbelieving reaction himself when the idea first took shape. But the more he'd thought about it, the more it made sense to hire a surrogate from a reputable agency in order to produce his heir. The last thing he wanted or needed was the hassle of finding someone, then the trouble of convincing the woman to have his child without the slightest possibility of a future together. It would be much easier to choose a woman who had already decided to serve as a surrogate.
"If you think about it, it's actually the smart thing to do."
She raised one light brown eyebrow. "Maybe it makes sense to you. But I seem to be missing your rationale on this."
Why he felt compelled to explain himself to her was something of a mystery. He never explained his reasoning or actions to anyone, for anything. But he suddenly felt it was very important that Haley understand.
"I need an heir. I don't have a wife, nor do I want one. That's why surrogacy is the obvious answer. I get what I want without any further obligation to the boy's mother. Once the heir is born, she goes her way and I take the child and go mine."
"And you're definitely going through with this?" she asked, looking more doubtful with each passing second.
"Yes." He leaned back in his desk chair. "I want you to research the state laws and compile a list of reputable agencies specializing in surrogacy. I'll expect it on my desk by noon."
"Is there anything else you need?" she inquired, rising to leave.
"No. That will be all for now."
As he watched her close the door to his office, Luke could tell that she strongly disapproved of his decision. But he knew her well enough that she wouldn't voice her objections. And that was one of the many reasons Haley Rollins made the perfect executive assistant. She was amazingly efficient, had business instincts that rivaled his own and knew when to voice her opinions and when to keep them to herself.
An hour later, Haley breathed a tiny sigh of relief as she closed the Internet browser on her computer. It appeared that Luke would have to forego his plan of producing an heir through a surrogate. From everything she found on the subject, the state of Tennessee had taken a clear stand and only allowed married couples to enter into surrogacy agreements.
Nibbling on her lower lip, she glanced at his closed office door. It wasn't that she didn't think Luke should have a child of his own. She did. But only for the right reasons. And she certainly didn't consider having a baby simply because he needed someone to run Garnier Construction eventually to be one of them.
Unfortunately, her boss wasn't the type to give up that easily. He'd made up his mind, set his course of action and that was that. There wasn't a doubt in her mind that he would somehow find a way to get what he wanted. He always did.
Her chest tightened at the thought. She'd been giving babies a lot of thought herself after receiving a birth announcement from a friend and would give almost anything to have a baby. Considering her feelings for Luke, she'd like nothing more than for him to be her baby's daddy. But aside from the fact that he'd never looked at her as anything more than his extremely competent executive assistant, she wanted all the things he wanted to avoid. She wanted love, marriage and the close family life she'd never had.
She slowly pushed away from her desk and walked over to tap on his office door. There was no sense in thinking about any of that now. His plan had run into a huge obstacle and was effectively stalled, at least for the time being.
"Luke?" He was on the phone and motioned for her to enter, so she seated herself in front of his desk as she waited for him to end the conversation.
"I'll be there on Saturday. Set up a special meeting for me with the office staff, then I want to visit the job sites to meet the construction crews. In the meantime, reassure them that I have no plans to make any major changes. Their jobs are just as secure now as they were when Emerald, Inc. owned Laurel Enterprises."
Hanging up the phone, he turned his attention her way. "I take it that you've already compiled the list of surrogacy agencies?"
"I didn't get that far," she stated, shaking her head. "It appears that your plan has run into a bit of a snag."
"And that would be?" he prompted.
"State law allows only married couples to hire surrogates."
She could tell when he rubbed the back of his neck with his hand that he wasn't at all happy with the news. "Are there any exceptions?