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The pencil snapped in Flynn's fingers Monday morning. Ledgers forgotten, he rose with the phone still pressed to his ear and walked around his desk to close his office door. He leaned against it. No one on the sixth floor of Maddox Communications needed to hear what he thought the woman on the other end of the line had just said or his reply to her statement.
"I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?"
"I'm Luisa from New Horizons Fertility Clinic. Your wife has asked to be inseminated with your sperm," a cheerful female voice enunciated precisely as if he was an idiot. At the moment he felt like one.
His wife? He didn't have a wife. Not anymore. A familiar hollowness settled in his chest.
"Do you mean Renee?"
"Yes, Mr. Maddox. She's asking for your sample."
Head reeling, he tried to break down this crazy conversation and make sense of it. First, why would Renee try to pass herself off as his wife when they'd been apart seven years? She'd been the one to file for divorce the minute the one-year waiting period had passed. And second, there was the donation he'd made on a stupid dare back in college. Not a wise decision. Linking the two separate incidents boggled his mind.
"My 'sample' is fourteen years old. I thought you would have disposed of it by now."
"No, sir. It's still viable. Semen, if properly stored, can last beyond fifty years. But you stipulated that your specimen not be used without your written consent. I'll need you to sign a form to release it to your wife."
She's not my wife. But he kept the rebuttal to himself. The advertising agency dealt with some extremely conservative clients. One whiff of this story getting out and they could lose business—not something Madd Comm could afford in these tight economic times.
He scanned his office—the last happy project he and his ex-wife had completed together. When he'd resigned from his previous job and joined the family advertising agency, he and Renee together had chosen the glass desk, the pair of cream leather sofas and the profusion of plants. Plants he'd managed not to kill—unlike his marriage. He and Renee had been a good team.
Had been. Past tense.
He intended to get to the bottom of this fiasco, but one thing was certain. Nobody was getting his frozen, fourteen-year-old sperm.
"Destroy the sample."
"I'll need your written consent for that, too," the faceless voice quipped back.
"Fax over the form. I'll sign it and fax it back."
"Give me your numbers and I'll get it right to you."
Flynn's mind raced as he gave the numbers by rote. He tried to recall the awful months surrounding Renee's moving out, but much of it was a blur. He'd lost his father, his architectural career and then his wife all within six miserable months. A year after Renee had moved out he'd received the divorce papers, reopening an unhealed wound. The old anger returned—anger toward Renee for giving up on them so easily and toward himself for allowing it to happen. He detested failure. None more than his own.
The fax machine in the corner beeped, signaling an incoming missive. He checked the letterhead. "It's here. I'll return it before the ink dries."
After ending the call, he whipped the sheets off the machine, read, signed and then faxed them back.
His last memory of the divorce papers was of his brother promising to mail them after they'd sat on Flynn's desk for a month because Flynn hadn't had the heart to mail them and break that final link with Renee. What had happened to the documents after Brock took them?
The back of Flynn's neck prickled. Wait a minute. He didn't remember receiving a copy of the divorce decree. Hadn't his divorced friends said something about getting an official notification in the mail?
He was divorced, wasn't he? But if so, why would Renee lie to the clinic?
Lead settled in his gut. Renee had never been a liar.
He reached for the phone to call his lawyer, but stopped. Andrew would have to track down the information and call back, and Flynn had never been good at sitting and waiting.
Brock was closer.
Flynn yanked open his door so quickly he startled his PA. "Cammie, I'll be in Brock's office."
"Do you want me to call and see if he's free?"
"No. He'll make time for this." He'd damned well better make time.
Flynn's feet pounded on the black oak floors as he strode down the hall to the opposite side of the sixth floor and Brock's west corner office. He nodded to Elle, his brother's executive assistant, but didn't slow down as he passed her desk. Ignoring her squeak of protest, he barged into Brock's office without knocking.
His brother, with the phone to his ear, looked up in surprise, then held up his finger. Flynn shook his head and made an X with his forearms in the universal "shut down" signal, then closed the door. Brock wrapped up his conversation.
"Problem?" he asked after he'd cradled the receiver.
"What did you do with my divorce papers?"
Brock jerked back in his chair. Surprise filled eyes the same blue as Flynn saw in the mirror every morning, and then the surprise turned to wariness.
Flynn's gut clenched. "You did mail them, didn't you, Brock?"
Brock rose, exhaling a slow breath. He unlocked and opened a file-cabinet drawer, then withdrew a sheaf of papers and swore under his breath. "No."
Shock rattled Flynn to the soles of his feet. "What?"
His heart hammered in his chest and in his ears. "You forgot? How is that possible?"
Clutching the back of his neck, Brock grimaced. "I stalled initially because you were so broken up over losing Renee that I hoped once you two calmed down you'd resolve whatever issue drove you apart. I felt partially responsible for the demise of your marriage because I pressured you into leaving a career you loved to come aboard as Maddox's VP. And then I forgot. Stupid of me, but if you recall it was a tough time for all of us after Dad died."
Flynn's legs went weak. Flabbergasted, he sank into a leather chair and dropped his head in his hands.
Married. He was still married. To Renee.
A confusing swirl of responses swept through him. Tamping them down, he focused on the facts.
If Renee was passing herself off as his wife, then she must have known they weren't divorced. The question was, how long had she known, and why hadn't she called and chewed him out for not mailing the forms, or at the very least, sicced her attorney on him?
"Flynn, are you okay?"
"Of course," he answered automatically. He'd never been one to share his problems. He wasn't going to start now.
As his shock slowly subsided, a completely different emotion took its place. Hope. No, it was more than that. Elation filled him like helium, making him feel weightless.
He and Renee weren't divorced.
After years of silence, he had a reason to contact her. A reason besides finding out why she'd tried to pull a fast one with his sperm. But for now it was enough to know they weren't divorced and she wanted to have his baby.
The surreal feeling left him reeling. "I'll call my lawyer and find out where I stand. I'm going to take a few days off."
"You? You never take time off. But as much as I hate to say it, now is not a good time."
"I don't care. The situation has to be dealt with. Now."
"I guess you're right. Here. Again, I apologize. If you'd ever demonstrated any real interest in another woman, maybe it would have tripped my memory. Maybe not. It's a lousy excuse, but there it is. What brought on this sudden interest in your divorce? Is Renee planning to remarry?"
Flynn flinched. Logically, he knew Renee had probably dated since their separation, as had he, but the idea of her with other men filled him with a possessiveness that should have died long ago. He rose to his feet and took the document that should have ended his marriage and made an instant decision not to share the sperm news. His family was better off not knowing.
"I don't know Renee's plans. I haven't seen her in years." She'd wanted it that way. But now he would see her. His pulse accelerated at the prospect.
"Flynn, I'm sure I don't need to warn you that we need to keep this quiet, but I'm going to, anyway. News of this getting out won't help our cause against Golden Gate Promotions, and I'll be damned if I want to hear that bastard Athos Koteas crowing in glee if we lose more clients."
The mention of their rival almost dampened Flynn's excitement. "Understood."
He returned to his office and crossed straight to the shredder. Through the window above the machine, the sun glowed just above the roof lines in the distance. The symbolism of a new day and a new beginning didn't escape him. Losing Renee had been the biggest regret of his life. His older brother's negligence had given Flynn the perfect opportunity to see if the attraction was still there and if so to win her back.
He fed the papers through the slot one page at a time, enjoying the whine and grind of the machine turning his biggest failure into crosscut paper fragments. When he finished he felt like celebrating. Instead, he sat down at his computer.
He needed to locate his wife.
The light blue BMW's license plate snagged Renee's attention as she turned into her driveway. She almost clipped her mailbox post with her minivan's front bumper and quickly jerked the wheel to the left.
MADCOM equaled Maddox Communications.
Her stomach churned like a dough mixer as she parked beside her visitor. She knew the identity of the car's owner from the "2" part of the tag before her ex— her husband—climbed from the driver's seat.
Ever since she'd heard the clinic's message on her answering machine informing her that her request for Flynn's sperm had been denied, she'd known it was only a matter of time before he came looking for her. The clinic must have contacted him. Her attorney had warned her of the possibility.
But nothing could prepare her for Flynn looming over her car even before she could pull the key from the ignition. The moment she disengaged the locks, he opened her door. Heart racing and her mouth going dry, she fought to appear calm, grabbed her purse from the passenger seat and stepped from the vehicle, ignoring the hand he offered in assistance. She couldn't touch him yet, and wasn't sure she'd ever be ready for that again even in the most casual way.
Dreading the conversation ahead, she tipped back her head to look up at the man she'd once loved with all her heart. The man who'd broken her.
Flynn had changed. And yet he hadn't. His eyes were still impossibly blue and his hair inky dark, but a few strands of silver now glimmered at his temples. His shoulders were as broad as she remembered and even with him wearing his suit, she could tell he hadn't added any fat to his lean torso. If anything, his jaw looked more chiseled.
But the past seven years had been hard on him. There were grooves beside the mouth she'd once lived to kiss, and a new horizontal crease divided his brow. She didn't think those were laugh lines fanning out from his eyes, although he used to smile often during the early days of their relationship, before he'd begun to work for Maddox Communications.
"Renee. Or should I say, wife?" His deep, gravelly tone filled her tummy with the sensation of scattering butterflies. "How long have you known?"
She could have played dumb, but didn't see the point. "That we weren't divorced? Only a few weeks."
"And you didn't call me."
"Like you didn't call me when you decided not to file the papers?"
He frowned at her snippy tone. "There's more to it than that."
"Enlighten me." And then she remembered the Wednesday-morning fish-market cargo in her cooler. "But you'll have to finish this riveting story inside. I have to get the seafood into the fridge."
She opened the van's back door. His hip and shoulder bumped hers when he nudged her aside to grab the cooler. Her senses went wild over the contact. The way they used to. Darn it. Her reaction didn't mean anything. She was over him. Well and truly over him. He'd ripped out her heart piece by piece before she'd left him. No feelings remained other than regret and disappointment.
"Get the door," he ordered.
His words shocked her into motion. She locked the car and hustled up the flower-lined brick sidewalk of her bungalow, scanning the exterior and trying to see it through Flynn's eyes. He hadn't been here since the early days of their short marriage when this had been her grandmother's home. Renee had made a lot of changes since then as she'd turned a private retreat into an inviting place of business.
She'd added flower beds beneath the lemon and orange trees, as well as a bubbling fountain, and she'd hung multiple trailing-flower baskets and a swing on the porch. The stone foundation and shingled exterior had been pressure-washed last year and the trim freshly painted a rich emerald-green, but she'd done the majority of her work inside.
She unlocked and pushed open the front door, then followed him through the foyer and living room to the kitchen, her masterpiece.
He stopped abruptly. "You've expanded."
"I needed a larger kitchen for my catering business, so I enclosed Grandma's back porch and redid everything. I'm using her old bedroom for an office."
She closed her mouth and focused on her stainless, commercial-grade appliances, acres of granite counter-tops and bright white cabinet—a cook's dream. Her dream. Something she had not been allowed to pursue as Flynn's wife.
"Nice. What made you decide to open your own business?"
"It was something I'd always wanted. Granny talked me into taking the leap before she passed away four years ago."
From the shock in his eyes, she guessed he hadn't known about her grandmother's passing. She probably should have notified him, but she'd had enough heartache to deal with over losing Granny without having to face Flynn at the funeral.
"I'm sorry for your loss. Emma was a wonderful lady."
"Yes, she was. I don't know what I would have done without her, and I still miss her. But she would have loved this—another generation of Landers women working with food and feeding the masses."
"I'm sure she would."
In the silence that followed, Renee looked across the kitchen to the ladder-back chair that had been her granny's favorite. There were days when it felt as if Emma were watching over her, but then, Emma had been more of a mother to Renee than her own had been. Her grandmother had certainly been a rock of support when Renee had arrived brokenhearted on her doorstep after leaving Flynn. Emma had opened her arms, her heart and her home, offering Renee a sanctuary for as long as she needed one.