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He believed in rules. Being the oldest of six boys, he'd learned early in life that rules created control from chaos. Being the principal of Paradise Pines High School, he knew control meant the difference between order and anarchy.
So when he opened his door on Sunday morning to find Samantha Dell, the new school nurse, standing on the front deck of his mountain home with a baby in her arms he saw trouble in tight jeans.
"Good morning, Alex." She graced him with an overbright smile.
"Hello, Samantha," he greeted the leggy blonde, fighting to control the quick surge of wanting that hit every time he looked into her lively green eyes.
He had a strict personal policy against dating colleagues, a policy she challenged twice a week. Technically, she didn't work for him, but as the district nurse, she spent two days a week at his high school, which in his mind put her off-limits.
And if that wasn't enough to put a damper on his desire, the chubby-cheeked kid she held would be.
With some regret he pulled his customary defenses in place and lifted his glance from the sweet curve of her hips up over a pale pink sweater cropped at the waist to her anxious jade-green gaze. Then, almost objectively, he studied the dark-haired, blue-eyed baby in her arms, wondering what brought the pair to his home on a cold January morning.
"Alex, I need to talk to you." Nerves wore at the edges of Samantha's smile. She cleared her throat.
"May I come in?"
He glanced down at his T-shirt and shorts still damp from his morning run. Hardly ideal for entertaining. Sundays were his day of excess. He slept an extra hour, ran an extra mile and drank an extra cup of coffee or two while reading the paper. Sunday nights meant dinner at Gram's. Between the paper and dinner he occupied himself with everything and nothing, whatever struck his fancy.
If he was occasionally lonely, most of the time he appreciated the peace and quiet of his life.
Samantha's expression warned him his peace was about to be destroyed.
"Come on in." He stepped aside. He'd seen her with the boy, who couldn't be more than a year old, around town, but Alex always managed to keep his distance. "Is this your son?"
In the entry she turned to face him, her arms tightening around the little boy until he wiggled in her grasp.
"No. He's yours," she said in a rush.
Disbelief rooted him in place. She couldn't mean that the way it sounded. At a loss, he looked from her to the baby then back at her. "Mine, how?"
She blinked as if surprised by his question, but she quickly recovered. "Yours, as in you fathered him."
"That's not possible." Denial came first, sharp and sure. He always, always protected himself. "I only met you four months ago."
"I'm not his mother, but you are his father." Her voice was quietly earnest, compassion lit her direct gaze. "I know this must come as a surprise."
She was serious. This wasn't some kind of joke. Sudden panic sent adrenaline coursing through his blood. His head went up, his shoulders went back and he stood braced to fight. He felt as if his whole life was being threatened.
Samantha reacted to his aggressive stance by taking a large step back and eyeing him with caution.
Seeing he'd frightened her, he fought for control. Determined to rule his emotions, he wiped the frown from his face and waved her into the living room.
After a brief hesitation, she led the way into the next room then perched on the edge of his black-leather couch and settled the baby on her lap. She swept an affectionate hand over downy-soft brown hair. The baby turned to grin at her then stuffed two fingers in his mouth.
Alex chose the matching chair several feet away. In the four months he'd known her, he'd found her to be intelligent, dedicated and friendly with most people, if a little distant with him. He figured her reserve came from the same belief he held that you shouldn't mix business with pleasure.
Eyeing the little guy in the red T-shirt, miniature overalls and baby Reeboks, he didn't know what to think.
All he saw when he looked into those baby-blue eyes was years of responsibility. As the oldest, Alex had done his baby duty and helped with his five younger brothers when he'd still been a child himself. He'd been fourteen when his parents died in an earthquake in South America, making him the man of the family. They were supposed to have been on a buying trip for the family jewelry store but they'd been on an archeological excavation instead. They'd paid the price for playing when they should have been working. But Alex and his brothers were the ones who suffered.
To this day sorrow at their loss mixed with feelings of resentment.
Thank God for Gram, she took them in, provided a home and worked overtime to hold the business together. Alex did his best to hold the family together.
Make no mistake, he loved his brothers. He also loved kids, as principal of the high school he had to, but the thought of going home to one after spending eight hours with four-hundred teenagers blew his mind.
Not that he believed for a millisecond the boy was his.
"Who's the kid, Samantha?" he demanded. Again. Hoping for a different explanation, one that made sense.
"Gabe is eleven months old." She licked her bottom lip, the gesture revealing an underlying uncertainty. One she tried to hide by lifting her chin and meeting his gaze straight on. "He's my nephew." She tensed as if bracing herself. "And he is your son."
He pushed to his feet. He wished she'd stop saying that.
"I don't have any children. By choice." And by God's will.
With a pang, he pushed the thought away.
He saw he'd startled her, but she quickly recovered. "You may not have meant to, but you did. According to my sister's letter, you met at a Caribbean resort the summer before last."
Excerpted from Daddy's Little Memento by Teresa Carpenter Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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