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Feeling ready to burst out of his skin, Logan Rafferty shoved the board report across his wide cherrywood desk and took an agitated look around his office. As CEO of Good Sport, the premier Sacramento area sporting-goods manufacturer, Logan merited an expansive corner space. But for the moment, despite the generous dimensions of the room, the walls seemed to be closing in on him.
When the intercom finally buzzed, it took two tries for his finger to find the speaker button. "Yes?"
"No need to bark at me, Mr. Rafferty," his matronly assistant, Mrs. Lockhart, chided him. "Ms. Jacoby is on her way up."
His edginess increased tenfold, driving him to his feet. He expected this morning's meeting would be perfunctoryhe would quickly discharge his last responsibility to his late wife and then Shani Jacoby would be on her way. But Logan knew better than to count on a sure thing. Just facing Arianna's childhood friend, confronting the animosity between him and Shani that had only escalated with his wife's death a year ago, wouldn't make for a pleasant encounter.
The knock on his office door jolted him. "Come in," he said brusquely.
Mrs. Lockhart pushed the door open halfway, giving him a "behave yourself" look before she stepped inside. Shani was still hidden by the door and Logan moved to one side to watch her as she entered.
Good Lord, was she always such a knockout? Despite his better judgment, Logan stared at her, at her lush mouth, her high cheekbones, her exotic, light brown eyes. She was so slim he could span the waist of her cream-colored slacks with his hands and his palms itched to do just that. Her arms, bared by her sleeveless V-neck, were faintly sun-kissed, their warmth another temptation to touch.
Those light brown eyes narrowed on him, the lush lips pressed together. No doubt she didn't appreciate him leering at her. He gave himself a mental kick, reminding himself why Shani was here. "Thank you, Mrs. Lockhart."
His assistant gave him one last glower before she exited. Logan motioned to the chair opposite his desk. "Please, sit."
Shani did, although she perched on the edge of the soft leather chair as Logan moved around to his side of the desk. She looked past him through the floor-to-ceiling windows, at the oak-studded rolling hills visible from the fifth floor of Good Sport headquarters. When her gaze rose higher, he turned to look over his shoulder and spotted a red-tailed hawk gliding through the pale blue summer sky a moment before it dived for something in the heat-seared golden grass.
Needing something to do with his hands, he picked up a sterling-silver letter opener from his desk. It had been a gift from Arianna to celebrate Good Sport's tenth anniversary. Her way of showing him how proud she was the first year Good Sport topped twenty million in sales.
Guilt over all the ways he'd failed his late wife seemed to add weight to the ornate silver knife. In the early years of their marriage, with Good Sport struggling, threatening more than once to go under, she'd supported him without complaint. What had he given her in return?
Shani spoke finally, bringing his attention back to her. "We both know why I'm here." Her throaty voice sent sensations up his spine. "Why don't we just cut to the chase?"
She was right, of course; they might as well get this over with. He'd ask her, just as he'd promised Arianna. She'd say no and he could proceed with the plans he'd made.
He dropped the silver knife on his desk. "You're probably aware that shortly before Arianna died" something flickered in Shani's eyes accusation? "we'd started four more embryos."
She dipped her head in acknowledgment. "She told me you were going to try a third time."
"I arranged to have them placed in cryopreserve. I needed the time to consider whether to proceed further with them. I've now decided to hire a gestational carrier to attempt to bring them to term." As he spoke, Shani's gaze fixed on him, as pointed as the glittering letter opener on his desk. "Before I do that, I'm duty bound to ask you first if you're willing"
"To act as surrogate. To carry her babies." She sighed, a tantalizing sound. "Arianna and I discussed it."
"But even if you did promise her you would"
"I didn't. I only told her I would consider it if she " Her mouth compressed again and her gaze dropped. "If I'd known then how little time "
"It was an accident, Shani. Nothing either of us could have predicted."
Except he and Arianna had argued that day, just before she'd driven up to Lake Tahoe. He'd run their angry words through his mind a thousand times since then, had wondered if she'd missed that curve on Highway 50 because of how upset she'd been.
Shani hooked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear. "She wanted me to promise her, but I told her I couldn't."
Relief eased his tension. "Then I'll go ahead as planned."
He'd set things in motion three weeks ago, calling his attorney, John Evans, who'd put him in contact with a service that kept a database of potential gestational carriers. That was after John had done all he could to talk Logan out of using the embryos at all. John had been dead rightLogan was single, knew nothing about raising children and didn't have room in his life for them.
But his attorney's arguments didn't change one important factthe burning sense of obligation within Logan to do what he could to bring these babies to term. Because he owed that much to Arianna. And he was convinced he could give his children what his own father had failed to give himstability, respect, a sense of worth. That, more than anything, made it imperative to give them a chance at life, to show himself, show his father what parenting should be.
"Have you already found someone?" Shani asked, pulling his attention back to her. She'd locked her hands together in her lap, her arms pushing her small breasts together. The shadow between them riveted his gaze.
"Someone?" His thoughts derailed, for an instant he couldn't remember what they'd been talking about.
He forced himself to refocus on her face. Not much safer territory with that generous mouth, those intriguing light brown eyes. "I'm considering two candidates."
There was no reason to feel defensive; he'd had both women thoroughly vetted. "They have excellent references."
"But how would Arianna feel, having a woman she'd never met carry her babies?"
Her tone was neutral enough, but there was a message in those soft brown eyes. That somehow, no matter how he chose, he'd be failing Arianna. Again.
"What other choice do I have?" he asked her, tamping down the sense of guilt. "You've already said you wouldn't." He didn't know why he goaded her, since her refusal was exactly what he'd wanted.
"But I haven't. I only said that Arianna left the choice up to me."
Alarm bubbled up inside him and, on its heels, irritation. "Stop playing games, Shani. I don't have the time. You have no intention of doing this." Of course she didn't. She couldn't possibly.
"Why not? I'm young and healthy."
"I don't see how a pregnancy would fit into your lifestyle.You're about to start your senior year at Sacramento State." The moment he said it, he knew it was a mistake.
She stared at him for several long moments before she spoke. "Have you been keeping tabs on me, Logan?"
He'd been curious, that was all. Once he knew he had to contact her, he'd checked around a bit, to see what she was up to. He'd spoken to a couple of her professors and had been impressed by how hard she'd worked over the years toward her bachelor's degreesometimes no more than a class or two a semester while working two jobs. This year had been the first she'd finally been able to take a full course load, while still working.
His interest didn't mean anything. He simply had wanted to know how stable her life was in the remote chance she'd say yes.
It was time to play his trump card, to finish this awkward encounter. "The bottom line, Shani, is that you can't. The fertility clinic won't transfer the embryos into a surrogate without a track record of pregnancy. Since you've never had a baby"
"You can contact them yourself. Arianna may not have known that when she asked you."
"She knew. She also knew " She shifted in her chair, her gaze drifting outside again. "I had a baby, Logan. Eight years ago, when I was eighteen."
Damn. When did Logan get so drop-dead gorgeous? That tidy dark brown hair begged for fingers to rumple it and those blue eyes cut right to her soul. Her heart pounded as she imagined what his body might feel like if she ran her hand under that well-tailored suit.
Over the years, Shani's dislike of Logan had overwhelmed any acknowledgment of his physical characteristics. When she'd last seen him a year ago at Arianna's funeral, Shani had been so swamped by grief, overwhelmed by anger, she'd had to block out Logan's presence to avoid making a scene. She'd wanted to scream at him, hit him. She'd managed to make it through that awful day knowing she would never have to face the man again.
But now, with her sorrow eased by time, it was as if a door had opened to an entirely new view of Logan. While before she had dispassionately understood her friend's attraction to her husband, now Shani experienced that magnetism firsthand. It was nothing she couldn't ignore, but it unsettled her nonetheless.
Shani had assumed Logan would never give a second thought to those embryos, which were the last memorial of her beloved friend. And if, against all odds, he did decide to bring his and Arianna's children into the world, she'd planned to simply say no to her own participation.
Except now she was here and there was nothing simple about the decision. And the prospect of giving up a final opportunity to be close to Arianna, to hold a part of her close to her heart for nine months as she'd held her own son, was unbearable. Even if it meant making a deal with the devil.
Shani forced herself to look back at Logan. He wasn't shocked at her admissionin this day and age, an unwed pregnant teenager wasn't exactly a scandal. But she saw his surprise, and suspected his view of her had altered. She'd always confronted his innate power with strength of her own. Now he'd seen a chink in her armor.
And he zeroed in on that weakness. "Where's the child now?"
She ignored the ache in her chest. "Adopted by a family back in Iowa." Of course, she didn't know if her son, eight years old now, was still in Iowa. Although it had started out as an open adoption, after three years of receiving photos of her son that had broken her heart, she'd needed a clean break.
Arianna had known exactly what she was asking when they'd talked about the surrogacy. Could she nurture another baby inside her, knowing she would give it up? Shani had told Arianna that wouldn't be a problem.
The real issue was dealing with Logan. Overbearing, cold-blooded Logan, who'd always rubbed her the wrong way, who'd made it obvious he didn't care much for her, either. She'd had her world torn apart by a harsh, emotionless man once in her life. She wasn't about to let that happen with Logan.
He shoved his chair back and rose, no doubt hoping to intimidate her with his six-feet-plus height. "Being a surrogate isn't a cakewalk."
"Arianna told me what to expect." And she'd read up on it at the time.
He paced past her across the hardwood floor of his lavish office. "There are daily medications, oral during the prep period, by injection during the pregnancy itself."
"I'm not afraid of needles."
"You might react badly to the medication or the pregnancy itself." As he retraced his path across the office, energy seemed to sizzle off of him. "It might impact your education."
"I'll deal with it."
He stopped and towered over her. She fought the urge to stand, to try to match his height. "Once you're confirmed pregnant, you'll have to stay at my guest-house for the duration."
"No." Stay with him? That was a crazy, dangerous idea.
"It's a deal-breaker. I need to make sure the pregnancy is going well."
"Were you going to require the same of the surrogate you hired?"
"I would if they weren't both married. But it's not necessary since they live with someone who can keep an eye on them."
Anger flared up inside her. "I don't need someone watching over me."
"Then look at it this way, Shani. If you're in the guest cottage, I can be involved in the pregnancy in a way I couldn't with the other women. These are my babies you'll be carrying."
It hit her then, with the force of a punch in the gut. She wouldn't just be nurturing Arianna's progeny for those nine months. She'd have a part of Logan inside her, as well.
Bad enough to be dealing with the man outside herself. To be pregnant with his child, to feel it growing daily, participating with him in one of the most intimate of acts between a man and womanshe must be insane to even consider it.
"Is there someone in your life you haven't told me about? Someone who would have a problem with you living on my estate?"
Shani wished she could tell him there was someone, someone tall, dark and handsome in her life to take care of her. But the only "man" sharing her bed was her cat, Seymour, and he spent most of his time curled at the foot of it, purring.
"There isn't. But what if there's a problem?" she asked. "What if a month after the doctor says I'm pregnant, what if I " She couldn't quite say the word
"miscarry" out loud.
"I'll continue to pay rent on your apartment to keep your lease current," Logan said. "You'll be able to go back at any time once you've fulfilled the surrogacy agreement."
Either by giving birth to his baby or if she failed, that last memory of Arianna would be gone. "You don't want me doing this. Why make it easier by paying for my apartment?"
"Because Arianna would have wanted it." He looked away, then back at her, his blue eyes fierce. "Are you still willing to do this?"
She nearly told him she'd changed her mind. Why would she throw herself into a situation that would only add to the turmoil in her life?
Because of Arianna. They'd talked about it more than once, but that last time, not long before Arianna's death, the ever-present sadness in her friend's face had seemed so much more profound. The years of marriage to Logan had taken their toll.
Logan still towered over her, his broad shoulders filling her field of view. Edging her chair backward a few inches, she got to her feet, her low heels not adding much to her five-foot-eight. But unlike her dear, lost friend, she wasn't about to let herself be intimidated by this man, no matter how many inches he had on her.
"I won't let you rule my life, Logan, won't let you use my friendship with Arianna or her babies to control my actions."
He stood so close, she could barely breathe. "I couldn't care less about controlling you. I only want what's best for my embryos. To me, that means you stay at my estate."
She lifted her chin to better meet his gaze and wondered if the embryos were truly his only concern. He'd always loomed so large in Arianna's life, her friend sometimes complained she felt invisible around him.
But she wasn't Arianna. She could hold her own with Logan, no matter where she lived. "Fine. I'll live at your estate."
Was that relief in his face? Or annoyance?