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"I'm sorry, Dad. I'm not flying back to Atlanta tomorrow just to handle one meeting. It's completely unnecessary." Emily's hand tightened around her cell phone and she gave Wendy a rueful grimace. "I'll join in by conference call."
Even through the phone line, she could feel her father's irritation. John Michael Fortune had always expected his employees at FortuneSouth Enterprises to give him more than a hundred percent of their attention, and his children who worked for him were no exception. "There's no reason for you to still be in Red Rock," he stated. "It's June, for God's sake. Wendy had that baby months ago. I think even she might have learned how to heat a bottle and change a diaper by now."
Emily winced. She held the phone closer to her ear and hoped to heaven that Wendywho was sitting in a lovely white glider near the nursery's windowcouldn't hear. And even though tiny MaryAnne had been born in February, she'd still been early.
Emily focused on the baby's perfectly shaped head as Wendy slowly rocked and nursed.
That's what mattered, she thought to herself. "There's nothing on my plate that I can't handle long-distance," she said into the phone. And there wasn't. She was the director of advertising for their telecommunications company, and whether John Michael gave her many accolades or not, she knew she was doing her job well.
Business was booming, after all.
"I don't know what's gotten into you," her father muttered, still clearly dissatisfied. "Ever since that tornado, nobody's been the same. And you, with this baby nonsense"
"People died in that tornado, Dad," Emily cut him off, not wanting to hear the rest. They'd all been the lucky ones, but there were others who hadn't been so fortunate. Emily had ended up with only a sprained ankle. Her mother, thankfully, only a broken wrist. "It's sort of a life-changing experience, you know."
She heard his enormously frustrated sigh. "Fine," he snapped. "Conference into the meeting this time. But I'd better see your face on Friday at the first Connover meeting."
For a fleeting moment, Emily was tempted to ask what the unspoken "or else" was, but she fought the urge. Yes, she was bristling at the iron hand of her father's management, but that didn't mean she didn't still respect his position both as her father and as the head of FortuneSouth. "I've already got the charter flight scheduled to be there," she promised. "Say hello to Mother for me."
"Say hello yourself," he returned bluntly. "She's missing all of you a lot these days, since it seems half her family is deserting Atlanta for Red Rock."
Emily's grip tightened on the phone again. She talked to her mother regularly, and John Michael knew it. Like her father, her mother didn't entirely understand Emily's actions these days, but, typically, she'd been far less critical about it. "I love you, Dad."
"Friday," he returned.
She sighed and hit the end button on her phone. Even under the best of circumstances John Michael wasn't an affectionate soul. She looked over at Wendy. "Do you ever wonder what on earth attracted our parents to each other enough in the first place to get married and have six children together?"
Wendy smiled a little impishly. "Frankly, Em, I don't want to think too much about Mom and Dad getting busy making babies." She leaned down to kiss her daughter's perfectly pink forehead. "I prefer to think we were all immaculately conceived."
Emily smiled, too, though it took some effort. Her gaze fell on the cheerful hand-painted flowers bordering the walls. "Maybe I should start looking into that method, myself." She plucked a stuffed white rabbit off a gleaming white shelf and bent its long ears. "Considering how everything else I've tried so far to become a mother has been a bust."
Wendy deftly adjusted her nightgown as she shifted the baby to her shoulder. "Honestly, Em. Only you would come out of a tornado with a spreadsheet in her head that lays out every possible way to become a mommy. Did you ever consider just trying to meet a man first?" She patted Mary-Anne's back and was quickly rewarded by a decidedly indelicate little burp. She grinned and stood up from the glider.
"You're sounding surprisingly old-fashioned. These days, I hardly need a man in my life to become a mother." Emily reached out for her niece. "Let me take her."
Wendy surrendered the baby happily enough. "Far be it for me to suggest that you won't handle being a single mother as admirably as you handle your career, but I am a mother now. And I'm here to tell you that I can't imagine doing this without Marcos."
Emily sighed a little. "I'm thirty years old. If there were a Marcos out there for me, I'd have found him by now."
Wendy lifted her eyebrows. "Really? Where? In the offices of FortuneSouth? That's pretty much where you've spent all of your time since forever!"
"I'm not at FortuneSouth now, am I?" Emily reasoned. "And I'm not looking for romance, anyway. Romance has never led anywhere. But raising a child? That's another story. I'm going to be a mother. Pure and simple." Emily jiggled MaryAnne and smiled as her niece chortled happily. "Isn't that right, sweetie peetie? Auntie Emily is going to get a baby."
"Romance for you has never gone anywhere because you've never made room for it to go anywhere."
"I've dated plenty of men!"
"Yeah. Maybe once. Twice if they were lucky. How many have you loved more than your job?"
Emily rolled her eyes. "None of them were anywhere near as interesting as my job. And most were more interested in what I could do for them, than in what we could be together." She grinned good-naturedly. "Besides, I figure there are a finite number of good men out there and you and Jordana have already snapped up this family's allotment of them."
Wendy just shook her head and seemed to see the wisdom in changing the subject. "Speaking of Jordana. What time are you going over to Tanner's office today?"
Tanner Redmond was the newest addition to the Fortune fold, having recently married their sister. "I said I'd be there by three. But I'm meeting with the adoption attorney again at eleven."
"Then before you go, I'm gonna go grab a shower while the grabbin's good." Wendy strode out of the nursery, her scarlet nightgown flowing behind her.
Maybe Emily was the only one with spreadsheets in her head, but Wendy was the only one whose vivid personality was enough to eclipse even scarlet-colored silk. Emily held up MaryAnne until they were nose-to-nose. "Your mama sure found her place, didn't she?" There'd been times when the entire family had wondered if their wild young Wendy would ever settle anywhere.
MaryAnne kicked her bare little feet, her cheeks rounding as she opened her mouth in a gummy grin, and Emily felt such a wistful longing inside her that she could hardly bear it. She cuddled the baby close, carrying her out of the nursery. "This time next year, you'll have a new cousin," she told her niece. "And you'll be great friends and won't ever argue over who gets to play with which doll like your Auntie Jordana and I did." There was only a year separating Emily and Jordana. By the time their live-wire baby sister, Wendy, had come along several years later, they'd both been in elementary school.
Now, both Wendy and Jordana were well into making families of their own and Emily was the odd one out. "Not for long, though, right?" She jiggled MaryAnne as she walked through her sister and brother-in-law's home.
She'd been up and showered for hours already; the early-to-rise habit sticking even though she'd been away from home base in Atlanta for nearly three months now. She'd already toyed some more with the mock website that she wanted to show Tanner, dealt with a few minor crises with her staff at FortuneSouth and saved a bunch of real estate listings she was interested in looking into on her cell. And as soon as Wendy was finished showering, Emily would meet with the adoption attorney she'd been working with for the past few months. If that meeting ended up as fruitless as all the others she'd already had, then she'd confirm her appointment next week with the gynecologist to go forward with a second insemination attempt. After that, she'd head out to Tanner's office for the brief duty-meeting with Tanner and his marketing guy.
She didn't particularly mind the meeting. It had sort of been her own fault, anyway, because she'd happened to mention that the website for his flight school was a little dry. Fortunately, her new brother-in-law hadn't been offended. Instead, he'd asked her to come in and discuss the matter, as well as kick around some marketing and advertising strategies for increasing the flight school's business. Of course, she'd said she would. He was Jordana's brand-new husband and the father of the baby they were soon expecting, so how could Emily refuse?
Besides, she liked Tanner.
And even though she'd come up with the mock site herselfsomething she had some fun doing, even though the technical end wasn't particularly her area of expertiseit didn't mean she was particularly interested in discussing business with anyone any more than she was interested in her own duties with FortuneSouth these days.
For the first time in her life, Emily's eye was not only on business. She'd realized what mattered and one way or another, she was going to become a mother.
Not because she was trying to keep up with her sisters. But because it was the one thing she'd come out knowing, after that horrible day when the tornado had ripped through the Red Rock airport, seemingly bent on changing all of their lives.
She was thirty years old. She was alive. She wanted to be a mother. To give all the love inside her that she had to give to a child, the same way she'd always known her mother loved her.
And she wasn't going to waste any more time.
Max Allen eyed the plain watch on his wrist and held back an oath while he picked up his pace, crossing the tarmac from the Red Rock Regional Airport's terminal to the hangar that housed Redmond Flight School. Admittedly, he wasn't looking forward to the meeting that his boss, Tanner Redmond, had set up with his sister-in-law. But that didn't mean he wanted to be late for it.
After a month, he still had a hard time believing that he was even working for Tanner as his assistant. Which meant he also needed to swallow the obvious fact that his boss figured he needed some help and had asked him to meet with Emily Fortune.
Best thing Max could do was forget about all the reasons he wasn't qualified to handle any sort of sales and marketing for the flight school, and learn anything and everything he could from the high-powered advertising executive.
He skirted a slow-moving fuel truck, absently giving the driver, Joe, a wave, and broke into a jog to cross the last fifty yards. Not a smart move, he realized, when he pushed through the door to the business office and cool air-conditioning wafted over him, reminding him that it was a hot June afternoon out there.
Not only was he running late, but he was going to look like he'd been running late, too.
Through the window of Tanner's office, he could see the back of a blond head. The woman had already arrived. Naturally.
He shoved his hand through his hair and blew out a deep breath. Hell with it. The lady would just have to put up with him the way he was. Sweating, unqualified and all. Before long, Tanner would probably realize the error of his ways and Max would be out of the job, anyway.
At least he had the animals at the Double Crown where he still worked part-time as a ranch hand. They didn't have to bother seeing beyond his checkered past; all they cared about was getting their feed and water when they needed. And he was pretty sure that Lily Fortune would let him go back to full-time, even though the woman had been one of the ones to encourage Max to take a chance with the flight school gig when Tanner had offered it.
He reached out and pushed open Tanner's office door, his gaze focused on his boss's face. "Sorry I'm late." Might as well get the obvious out of the way first. "I got hung up talking to the maintenance supervisor." Though the airport was up and running again, repairs were still going on from the damage caused by the December tornado.
Tanner didn't look unduly worried. "No problem." He gestured toward the woman sitting in front of his desk. "Emily Fortune," he introduced. "This is
"You," the woman interrupted as she rose.
Max focused on her, then, and her obvious surprise. She was stepping away from the leather chair she'd been sitting in, her hand extended toward him. She was wearing a black jacket and matching pants that only accentuated her slender figure, and her pale blond hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. She looked expensively professional and even though there was no dirt covering her face and no debris tangling in her hair, the green eyes staring back at him through narrow, black-framed glasses were definitely the same ones he remembered.
He must have stuck his own hand out automatically, because her smooth, warm palm met his, her long fingers clasping his in a no-nonsense way and jolting his attention away from that mossy green.
"It was you at the airport that day," she was saying in a smooth voice that held a trace of a Southern drawl. "Wasn't it?"