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April 20, 2012
Tanner Redmond had always believed the axiom What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The fact that he was still alive after all he'd lived through proved he was one strong sonuvabitch. So why, then, was he afraid a baby might be his undoing?
He parked in a space in front of Jordana Fortune's condo in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. Sitting in the rental car for a moment, he tried to quiet the anger that had simmered inside him since he'd heard her voice on the phone less than twenty-four hours ago.
He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Had she really planned to keep this secret from him? What made her think she had the right?
He had no idea, but as soon as their conversationwhich had gone nowherehad ended, he had flown into Atlanta from Red Rock, Texas. Now that he was here in person, she wouldn't be able to put him off so easily. He intended to make it perfectly clear he wasn't going away.
With a quick jab of his thumb, he sprung the car's seat belt. He headed up the walk of pavers toward the hunter-green double doors set like a bruised eye in the middle of the stately, two-story red brick building.
He pulled back the brass door knocker and gave three sharp raps. It was slightly before seven o'clock in the morning. It was early, but his plan for the daybreak visit was to catch her before she went into work. She wasn't expecting him. He hadn't called before flying in because he wasn't about to give her warning, time to run, a chance to avoid him and the secret she'd already hidden for four months.
If not for Jordana's cousin, Victoria, who'd told him to call Jordana because she desperately needed to talk to him, he would still be blissfully unaware that the woman who'd blown him off after their one night was pregnant with his child.
The opening door drew him out of his inward brooding. There stood Jordana, looking shocked and so damned beautiful with her blond hair wet from her morning shower. Seeing her standing there in her bathrobe, with her face fresh and makeup-free, he didn't know whether he wanted to kiss her or put his fist through a wall.
"Tanner? What are you doing here?" She tugged at the sash of the robe, then crossed her arms over her ribs. The protective gesture pulled his gaze to her belly, which showed no signs of the child growing within. Of course, that big white terry robe wasn't exactly formfitting. It even swallowed up the prepregnancy curves that had been etched in his memory since that night.. when they'd taken refuge from the storm. His eyes slowly made their way back to hers.
For one weak moment, seeing her again reminded him just how out of his league Jordana Fortune was. Not because her family had more money than European royalty, but her sheer presencethat mixture of grace and rock-solid strengthleft him a little speechless.
Yeah, come to think of it, he'd been a little speechless after she'd left him with a handshake and a no-nonsense "thanks for everything" the morning after they'd made love for the first and only time. That was the night the tornado had destroyed Red Rock and parts of San Antonio.
Nothing had been the same since. And given that he would be a father before the year was over, it was beginning to sink in that nothing would ever be the same again. It scared him to death because his own father hadn't been strong enough to be a family man. Tanner pushed the thought back into the dark recesses of his mindthe place where he stored his faded memories of the man who had once been his father and redoubled his vow that he would stand by his family no matter what.
"Seriously? You're asking me why I'm here?" His voice was a hoarse and throaty rasp. "You're pregnant with my child, Jordana. I wanted to see your face when you told me how long you thought you could keep that news from me."
Jordana sighed heavily and glanced around. He couldn't tell if her reaction was resignation or fear fear of what? The neighbors finding out her little secret?
"Come in." She stepped back and motioned him through. He stepped onto the hardwood of the entryway and glanced around at the expensivelooking decor. High ceilings and vibrantly colored walls with paintings. The place was like a snapshot out of one of those architectural magazines. The day's first light was beginning to stream in through oversize windows that surrounded a large fireplace along the condo's back wall. Inviting and elegant. Just like Jordana. He would've expected nothing less of the crown princess of the Fortune South Enterprises dynasty.
"Look, I'm sorry, Tanner. You must've misunderstood our conversation yesterday. You didn't have to come." She closed the door, but kept her hand on the doorknob, as if she didn't expect him to stay very long. "You're under absolutely no obligation with this child. I don't need or want your help. I thought we had established that when we spoke."
Her cool words were a hot slap in his face. "I'm not here for you," he bit back. "I'm here for my child. And I intend to be involved in his life every step of the way."
She blanched. "His life?" Her right hand slid to her belly. "How do you know the baby is a boy?"
"I don't, but I intend to be there when we find out and for every other milestone in our kid's life. So, you might as well get used to that right now."
Tanner had been raised by a single mother who sometimes worked two jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. She'd done a damn good job. His loser of a father had never paid a penny of child support. It was obvious Jordana didn't need his financial help in raising their child. But the thought that she'd considered cutting him out of his baby's life cut him to the core. His own father had been so absent from Tanner's and his siblings' lives that Tanner referred to him as "The Sperm Donor" rather than a father. As far as he was concerned, the name father or dad was a title earned by men who took their roles and responsibilities seriously. Tanner had always vowed he would be there for his kids when the time came to have kids.
He just hadn't expected that time to be right now. Since leaving the Air Force seven years ago, he'd been married to his company, Redmond Flight School. Although he wanted kids somedayin the very distant futurea family of his own hadn't been on his radar. Well, that's what he got for having impulsive, unprotected sex with Jordana. He had been taking her to the airport so that she could meet her family and fly back to Atlanta with them. The Fortunes had chartered a flight to take them home after they'd all gathered in Red Rock for the wedding of Jordana's sister Wendy Fortune to Marcos Mendoza. When Jordana had heard reports of a storm bearing down on Red Rock, she'd refused to fly out with her family. Then she'd changed her mind. Tanner had offered her a ride to the airport. They'd both been a little unnerved about being stranded out on the road when the tornado struck. And they'd both sought warmth and comfort in the other's arms. One thing led to another and Well, you play, you pay.
"I know this is a hell of a time to ask, but were you not on birth control when we ?"
Stupid question. He realized it the minute the words passed his lips. The fact was further confirmed when sadness, or something just short of defeat, colored her golden-brown eyes. She shrugged and gestured toward the living room. "Sit down, Tanner. I need a cup of tea before I can deal with you at this hour. Do you prefer tea or coffee?"
He glared at her. Deal with me? "Coffee. But I don't want any.''
She glared back. "How do you take yours?"
"I don't want to put you out."
"Well, I'm going to make it, anyway. So you'd be putting me out a lot less if you answered my question."
The woman was pigheaded as all get-out. "Okay. Fine. Black." At least he'd have her attention through the duration of a cup of joe, which he planned to nurse.
He watched her as she turned and padded barefoot, hips swaying under the cover of that big white robe, in the direction of what he presumed was the kitchen. He waited until she was out of his line of vision before he made his way into the living room and settled in a floral-print, overstuffed armchair.
He raked his fingers through the close-cropped hair on his head. How could he have been so stupid? He didn't make a habit of having unprotected sex. Actually, he'd been so wrapped up in work lately, he hadn't had many opportunities for protected sex. Nonetheless, he didn't do it. For obvious reasons. But dammit, Jordana had been so aggressive that night. So wonderfully, deli-ciously insistent and responsive only a dead man could've said no.
His body responded as he remembered that night. He sucked in a deep breath, fighting against arousal. Seeing her for the first time after all these months, with her clean morning face and her blond shoulder-length hair, slightly tussled as it started to dry, reminded him of why he hadn't been able to resist her. She was sexy as hell, of course he hadn't refused her. God almighty, despite the mess they were in, he even wanted her now.
He leaned forward in the chair, bracing his forearms on his knees, lacing his fingers loosely together. Maybe there really was a thin line between love and hate. Well, desire and hate, he quickly corrected. He didn't know her well enough to be in love with her no matter what his body was trying to tell him. Obviously, he didn't really hate her, either. He was upset and more than a little angry at how things had turned out.
That had him focusing on the darker side of the desire-and-hate equation. The clear-cut side. His emotions might be muddled right now, but the one thing he knew for a fact was he hated the way Jordana had hidden his child from him. Anger coursed through his veins and clarified his momentary confusion.
He would stick to his plan. He would not leave Atlanta until she agreed to marry him and come back to Red Rock, Texas. His child would not be born illegitimate. Come hell or Jordana Fortune, he would do the right thing.