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The boardroom door of Masters' Developments Corporation thudded against the wall. From his seat at the head of the oval table, Gabe Masters looked up sharply to see her standing there. Her blue gaze sought and fixed on him. The shock of her sudden appearance registered through every cell of his body. Only years of sitting around this very table, maintaining the bland expression that served him so well in negotiations, kept him in his seat and his shock hidden.
How dare she?
Julia, his PA, appeared breathless at her side. The wildly misnamed Chastity Stevens, with her coiffed honey-blond hair, wearing a figure-hugging black suit as though she was still in mourning, managed to make his elegant PA look downright frumpy. Her perfectly shaped lips were a glossy red, as were her vertigo-inducing shoes and her small elegant bag. Her white-knuckled grip on that bag was the only indication that she wasn't utterly composed.
It was no consolation for her intrusion.
"I'm sorry." Julia shot him a look, her eyes wide. "I couldn't stop her." She reached for Chastity's arm. But with a subtle sidestep, Julia's hand was left flailing in the air.
"It's fine, Julia. I'll handle this." He nodded for his PA to leave.
The gazes of the other men at the table, which had at first flicked to him, were now all fixed on Chastity, noting the porcelain skin, the baby-doll eyes framed by long, dark eyelashes and the seductive curves accentuated by the fitted suit. Curves. He knew just how much those curves had cost. Hadn't his brother, Tom, paid for them, and kept on paying?
Till the day he died.
Gabe fought for composure, fought to keep his voice calm. It was astruggle he'd win. He always did. He stood. "I'm afraid now's not a convenient time, Ms.—" he put emphasis on the title "—Stevens." She had never taken Tom's name and he was glad of it. "If you'd like to follow Julia, she'll set up an appointment for you."
"Don't pretend you don't know I've been trying for weeks to make an appointment to see you. It gets old quickly, and infuriating soon after." Her frustration gave Gabe a savage sense of satisfaction. But it wasn't one he could indulge. Not here. Not now.
"I've been a little busy lately." He shared a conspiratorial smile with the men around the table, heard their muted chuckles in response. They'd all been putting in long hours negotiating the purchase terms for his next resort.
That was part of his reason, but he'd also not attached any importance to seeing the gold digger who'd driven a wedge into his family. That damage, now Tom was dead, could never be repaired.
"Excuse me one moment, gentlemen." Gabe strolled toward her. "Leave now," he said in a lethally quiet voice, "and Julia will make an appointment. You have my word." With one hand he held open the door, and with his other gestured for her to leave. She'd made enough of a scene, he needed her gone. A multimillion-dollar deal was at stake here, riding in part on his reputation. It had been difficult enough getting the other men here when so many businesses had wound down for New Zealand's traditional slow, summer month of January.
This deal needed to be signed today. He was not going to have it compromised by her.
He caught her subtle trademark scent of spring flowers—incongruously innocent. What little color had been in her cheeks leached away as she held his gaze for several thudding heartbeats. And even if he'd wanted to, he couldn't have fathomed the expressions that chased one after the other through those wide eyes. Anxiety, he would have said if he'd had to put a name to the predominant emotion. But that made no sense at all. She was the one who'd barged in on his meeting.
Finally, she turned and stepped out of the room.
Gabe nodded to Marco, his second in command, trusting him to take over, before he followed Chastity out.
"You don't seriously expect me to place any faith in your word," she said as he closed the door behind them.
"I don't have time for this. I've asked you to leave. And I meant the building, not just the boardroom." She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. "If you don't, I guarantee you won't get to see me at all, won't get whatever it is you've decided you want from me." He saw her stiffen, saw the flare of delicate nostrils.
Her blue eyes filled with a steely resolve he hadn't seen before. "And if you don't see me right now," she said, "then I guarantee you won't ever get to see the child I'm carrying. Your own flesh and blood."
Gabe could only stare at her as he processed her outrageous claim.
"My office." He spoke through clenched teeth. "Three doors down on the left," he added, though she knew perfectly well where it was. After all, she'd worked here until two years ago, first briefly for him and then for Tom. Till she'd decided that becoming Tom's wife was a far more lucrative position than being his PA.
Chastity, paler than ever, paused outside his office door. Instead of going in, she glanced frantically around, then veered toward the reception area, breaking into a run as she neared it, pushing through the swinging doors and past the trio of poinsettias on the glass coffee table. His last sight of her was with one hand clamped over her mouth as she raced into the women's restroom.
He was waiting, seething, at the doorway when she reappeared a few minutes later, face still pale, but her head held high. A single damp tendril of hair clung to her jaw, the only sign anything was amiss.
She knew better than to look for any sympathy from him as she preceded him into his office. The one time he had asked anything of her—that she not stand between Tom and his family—she had coolly denied having any influence in the matter. Gabe shut the door behind them, then leaned against it. And waited.
But now that she'd presumably gotten what she wanted, his attention, she seemed reluctant to speak. She lowered herself unsteadily onto one of the leather swivel chairs before his desk, her shapely legs pressed together and angled out to the side, one ankle tucked behind the other. She turned to him, opened her mouth, closed it again and looked toward the window. He followed her gaze. The Auckland sky was a clear, bright blue, but whitecaps dotted the distant harbor and low on the horizon, gray clouds gathered, threatening a storm that might finally break the humidity oppressing the city.
Gabe looked back at Chastity. Moisture beaded at her hairline and her hands were clenched around the armrests of the chair. He expelled a harsh sigh and strode over to the hidden bar on the far side of his office. He poured water into a glass, crossed back and held it toward her. Her gaze flicked up, not quite meeting his, before she stretched out a manicured hand and wordlessly took the glass. Gabe moved away, resumed his position at the door, arms folded against his chest.
Chastity wanted to speak, but couldn't as she fought back another surge of nausea. Please. Not in front of him. She'd thought she was beyond caring what he thought.
Apparently not. He was the last person on earth she wanted to humiliate herself in front of.
The Masters family, and Gabe in particular, wouldn't take her news well. He'd thought their connection with her was over. Just as she had.
For the last month she'd been agonizing over how to break the news to him. But day after day, week after week when he hadn't returned her calls, her angst had given way to frustration and then anger. Enough anger that she'd stormed in here determined to fulfill her promise to Tom before any more of the year slipped by. Unfortunately the strength the anger had given her seemed to have vanished with her last hasty trip to the bathroom. She took a sip of water then set the glass down on the edge of his desk.
Last night, before her bedroom mirror, she had rehearsed what she planned to say. She'd thought she had it down pat. Brief, informative and above all emotionless, like the man standing in front of her. And yet here she was, in the understated luxury of his enormous office, unable to get even the first word out.
"What do you want? And make it quick." So, maybe he wasn't emotionless. He despised her. It infused every word he uttered. "I have a meeting to get back to."
She forced herself to speak calmly. "If you'd seen me when I asked, I wouldn't have had to do this."
"And what is this precisely?"
She'd known it wouldn't be easy, but she'd forgotten the sheer potency of six foot two of angry man. Chastity drew in a deep breath. "I'm trying to do the right thing." Finally, she looked up and met a gaze as dark as bitter coffee. So similar and yet worlds apart from Tom's.
"As much as that would make a refreshing change, I find it very hard to believe."
She couldn't entirely blame Gabe for his cynicism. Tom had used her as an excuse for all but severing contact with his family, initially without her knowledge. And then once she found out, she hadn't protested, she had cared only that her presence gave Tom the space he had said he needed. The fact that the distance suited her, too, was an added benefit.
She looked at Gabe, the high-achieving golden boy of the family. All she had to do was give him her news and then leave. "I'm pregnant." The quiet words fell from her lips.
Before she could continue with her carefully planned explanation of the circumstances, Gabe's gaze dropped to her almost flat abdomen, the slight thickening of her waist concealed by her jacket, and then tracked back up. "Now that I can believe."
And just like that, the sustaining anger was back. His brother had been dead for three months, and Gabe was implying that she'd slept with another man. Without conscious thought she launched herself from her chair and drew back her arm. His callous insinuation had brought flooding back the humiliation she had thought she'd left behind her years ago.
Gabe's stance changed, ready, eager to intercept her blow. She didn't know what she'd intended, but as her glare locked on his, she caught herself, lowered her arm and sat back down. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of having her thrown out and bringing assault charges.
And she couldn't afford to indulge her own satisfaction in having at least tried to wipe the smug superiority from his face.
For long seconds a tension-filled silence electrified the air between them.
"How in the hell do you think you're going to convince anyone that a child of yours has anything to do with me or my family?" He paused, his features sharpened, the panther about to strike a lethal blow. "Tom was sterile."
Chastity stood. She didn't have to take this. She'd told him she was pregnant, like she'd promised. It wasn't her problem that Gabe chose not to believe her. "If you'll step aside, please, I need to leave." She walked toward the door, toward Gabe, who remained unmoving. In a few moments she'd be gone, giving them both what they wanted. If only he'd move. Finally she was one step away from him. Contempt burned in his eyes.
Slowly, he shook his head. "I thought you'd sunk as low as you could go. Clearly I overestimated you." He opened the door wide.
Her nails dug into her palms. She'd made her choices in life and she stood by them. He had no right to judge her. She stepped past him, fixed her gaze on the elevator doors beyond the reception area, and, ignoring the blatantly curious look of the receptionist, headed straight for them.
It wasn't till she stood waiting for the car to reach the top floor that she became aware of someone behind her. She glanced over her shoulder. Gabe stood there, arms folded across his chest, feet planted apart like a bouncer at a night club. He was seeing her off the premises.
The elevator pinged, the doors slid open. Chastity stepped in and turned to face him. Granite Man, Tom had sometimes called his older brother. It wasn't hard to see why. But against her will, she also remembered a time when she'd first worked here, when he had at least always been fair.
But most importantly, she reminded herself, there were two parts to her promise to Tom and she'd only fulfilled the first. She had vowed to tell Gabe not only that she was pregnant, but also how the baby had been conceived. If she didn't do it now she'd only have to come back.
As the doors started to close, Gabe lowered his arms and turned away. Chastity sucked in a deep breath, put out her hand and the doors stopped. Gabe swung back. "What—"
"Things aren't always what they seem, Gabe. And the world won't always fall into place according to your rigid rules." She held his stony expression. Tension arced between them. "Before he died, Tom and I tried IVF." She spoke quickly, just needing to get the words out. "We used the sperm he banked before his radiation therapy." She lowered her hand, and as the doors closed between them, she had the grim satisfaction of seeing Gabe Masters's smooth, chiseled jaw drop open.
At the ground floor, Chastity stepped out into the building's light-filled atrium and, taking deliberately slow, deep breaths, tried to admire the fountain she'd once found both beautiful and soothing. She stared at the glistening play of water, but in her mind's eye could see only a pair of dark, accusing eyes. It would take more than a fountain to erase that image. She should feel relief that she'd kept her promise to Tom. She could now move on. Instead, she felt only a chilly foreboding.
"Explain it to me again." The deep voice, so close, startled a gasp out of her. She whirled to face Gabe, his gaze deadly serious. He stood between her and the exit.