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"Define unfortunate incident" Ryan Patrick ordered the director of the Lakeview Fertility Clinic from the visitor's side of the ornate walnut desk.
The director's leather chair creaked, revealing each nervous shift of the man's body. "One of our trainees neglected to cross-reference the lot number on your sample. He only checked the names and those were reversed. I want to assure you, Mr. Patrick, this is an unusual circumstance. We have many checks and balances in place to"
"What does this mean? To me. Specifically," Ryan cut in impatiently. He unclenched his fingers from the arms of the chair, but it was hard to relax when the man in front of him looked like he was about to have a heart attack at any second.
The director inhaled a long, deep breath. "Your contribution was given to the wrong woman."
Ryan's abdominal muscles tensed. That would only be a problem if
"Her pregnancy was confirmed two weeks ago," the director added.
Problem. One that jeopardized Ryan's goal of proving to his father that he'd settled down and was ready to take over the reins of the Patrick architectural dynasty. But Ryan was a master troubleshooter. He wouldn't have climbed this far up the ladder of success if he'd thrown in the towel at every obstacle.
Too bad his father couldn't see that.
"Two weeks ago? Why am I just now being informed? And what about my surrogate, the woman I hired?"
"We discovered the situation yesterday when she came in for her appointment. She wasn't inseminated since at your insistence we only had the one vial."
They'd only had one vial because with the reputation of this place he'd expected them to get it right the first time.
"Andyou're certain this other woman is pregnant with my child?"
Ryan tamped down his frustration. Once he'd decided to take the surrogate route he'd spent months interviewing to find the right candidateone with looks, brains and good genetics. One who wouldn't get emotionally attached to the baby she hosted in her womb for nine months and change her mind about handing over his child.
And now the wrong woman was carrying his baby.
"Who is she?"
"I'm not at liberty to release that information, sir."
Ryan exploded to his feet. "You're not at liberty to tell me who's carrying my child?"
Ryan intended to get the information one way or the other. He braced his fists on the desk and leaned forward.
"Don't make me bring a platoon of lawyers in here. Not only will that be financially costly for you, the negative publicity will knock you right off the list of top fertility clinics in the country. This is my kid, and I have the right to know who and where its mother is and whether she's qualified for the job. I want everything you have on her."
The director's face flushed dark red. "Mr. Patrick, I'm sure you understand the privacy of Lakeview's business"
"I want her name and contact information now. Otherwise my legal team will be all over you like a bad rash before lunch."
The man stiffened and swallowed then fumbled with a folder on his desk. "I'm sure that won't be necessary. Ms. Highour other client seems like a reasonable, understanding woman. Once I explain the situation to her"
"I'll handle it. You've screwed up enough. You can cover up your mistake with words like incident, circumstance and situation, but the truth is you've committed malpractice and negligence."
Sweat beaded beneath the man's receding hairline. Ryan eyed him without blinking. Once the man paled, Ryan knew he'd get what he wanted without the aggravation of lawyers. Good. He did not want his father to catch wind of this disaster.
"Ahem. I'll get you the information, sir."
Ryan settled back in the chair when the director hustled out. Next on his agenda: find this woman and convince her to give him his babythe way the surrogate he'd chosen had agreed to.
She would be the best aunt her baby could have. And it would be enough. It had to be.
Nicole Hightower rubbed one hand over her unsettled stomach and reached for a cracker with the other. She was finally going to have Patrick's baby.
Her fingers spasmed around the stylus of her PDA at the reminder that her dream wasn't going exactly as she'd once planned.
She shoved the bland whole-wheat cracker into her mouth and tried to focus on the calendar in front of her. She needed to schedule the client's pilot, crew and plane maintenance for the next three months. She usually loved keeping her customers happy and their travel stress-free, but today her private life kept distracting her from the workload on her desk.
Relinquishing her baby would be hard, but she could handle it because she would be not only a godmother, but also a hands-on aunt. Her sister had promised, and Beth kept her promises. Nicole had always been able to count on her big sistereven at the times when she hadn't been able to count on their parents. Carrying a child for Beth was the least Nicole could do.
And since her sister would continue to work at High-tower Aviation Management and bring the baby to work every day, Nicole looked forward to going down the hall to the on-site day care and visiting herBeth'sbaby during lunch. Even from her desk she'd be able to observe her b niece or nephew. She clicked on an icon on her computer screen and a live feed from the company nursery filled her monitor. The caregivers bustled around, tending to the adorable children of HAMC's employees.
The intercom buzzed jarring her from her tangled thoughts. She quickly broke the nursery link. "Yes?"
"There's a Ryan Patrick here to see you."
Nicole smiled over her assistant's mistake. "You mean Patrick Ryan."
"No, I don't. I'm not talking about your brother-in-law," Lea whispered. "I'm talking about the gorgeous black-haired, blue-eyed, towering hunk of manhood standing in the reception area. His business card says he's the VP at Patrick Architectural Designs. That's one of Knox-ville's most prestigious firms, in case you didn't know. Are we expanding again?"
"As far as I know Hightower Aviation isn't planning to build any new structures." But then her oldest brother, Trent, the CEO, didn't tell her everything. As the youngest Hightower offspring until recently, Nicole was often kept out of the loop.
She double-checked her calendar to make sure she hadn't forgotten an appointment and found no one scheduled for another hour. Then, because she didn't like to go into a meeting unprepared, she typed Patrick Architectural Designs into her Internet search engine. A series of links popped up on her screen. She chose the one that looked the most useful, clicked and scanned the Web page. There were no pictures of the man in question, only of buildings designed by his company and a brief company history. Impressive. They'd been around awhile.
"Patrick Architectural is a commercial firm with projects across the continent," she said into the intercom. "Do you think Mr. Patrick might be a potential client?"
Although normally new clients came to her through the sales department after they'd purchased, leased or bought shares in an aircraft.
His name was an interesting coincidence, though.
"I prefer my fantasy to your logic," Lea quipped.
"You always have, Lea. Bring him back."
Nicole brushed the crumbs from her silk blouse and into the trash can then slid the sleeve of crackers into her drawer. She rose just as Lea tapped on her door and pushed it open.
The man striding into her office like he owned the place was everything her assistant had said and more. Lea hadn't mentioned her visitor's short hair had a curl that he couldn't quite subdue or that his shoulders filled out his navy suit jacket like a tailor's dream above a flat stomach, lean hips and long legs. And his eyes weren't just blue; they were an amazingly intense shade of cobalt. Those eyes assessed her now as he would a Learjet he was considering purchasing.
Nicole fought the urge to check her neckline and the corners of her mouth for more crumbs.
Even his voice had a deep and slightly rough sexual fantasy quality. Not that she ever fantasized about clients. That would be totally unprofessional.
And too much like her mother.
She walked around the corner of her desk and extended her arm. "Yes. How can I help you, Mr. Patrick?"
His handshake was warm and firm and electrified.
Giving up caffeine must be having unforeseen side effects on her system. Why else would she experience a faux espresso buzz on contact? She broke the connection as quickly as courtesy allowed.
His intense gaze shifted to Lea and conveyed something that made the redhead snap to attention. "I'll just go now."
Surprised, Nicole watched her usually unflappable assistant hustle out the door and close it behind her.
Nicole reappraised the man in front of her. Besides tall, dark and gorgeous, he had some kind of magical talent. She'd have to figure out what trick he'd used to make Lea leave without saying a word.
Lea wasn't only an employee. She was also a friend and sometimes the line between friend and supervisor blurredlike when Lea had voiced her vehement disapproval of Nicole's decision to become a surrogate for her sister and brother-in-law. But that was because Lea knew how Nicole felt about her sister's husband. They'd been college roommates when Nicole had fallen head over heels in love with Patrick. And Lea had been there to help pick up the pieces after Patrick had eloped with Nicole's sister Beth.
Lea was convinced that the entire "baby debacle," as she referred to it, was going to blow up in Nicole's face now that she was pregnant.
"Please sit down, Mr. Patrick, and tell me what I can do for you today."
Nicole felt his gaze on her the entire way around her desk as she returned to her seat. Pregnancy had made her breasts larger. She hoped it hadn't done the same to her behind. Not that she cared what he thought of her butt.
After she sank into her seat he lowered himself into the chair across from her desk. The old-fashioned courtesy surprised her. Fewer and fewer men practiced it these daysespecially among the megarich she dealt with through work.
"Congratulations on your pregnancy."
His words stunned her. She hadn't told anyone except Beth, Patrick and Lea. The parents-to-be had the right to know, and Lea had caught Nicole heaving a couple of times and guessed. The rest of their friends and family would find out Saturday when Beth and Patrick made the official announcement at the family's Labor Day picnic. Nicole suspected most people who knew her would be a little freaked out by her decision.
"Thank you. What brings you to Hightower Aviation today?"
"You're carrying my child."
His statement knocked her back in her chair. She must have misheard.
"Excuse me?" The words sounded more like a wheeze, but that was because she couldn't seem to make her lungs work.
"The fertility clinic made a mistake and inseminated you with my sperm instead of your intended donor's."
Head reeling, she grasped the edge of her desk. "That's not possible."
Her visitor reached into his suit coat, extracted an envelope and extended it toward her. When she didn't couldn'ttake it from him he tossed it on her blotter. It slid across the smooth surface and stopped within easy reach. She eyed it like she would a big, hairy, jumping spider.
"The clinic director has written a letter explaining the situation. In summation, my name is Ryan Patrick. Your intended donor's name is Patrick Ryan. The lot numbers weren't checked and you were given the wrong sperm because some moron neglected to notice a comma."
Horror raced through her, making her heart pound and her extremities tingle. "No. You're wrong."
He had to be.
She stared at the envelope. Afraid to open it. Afraid not to. But she couldn't prove him wrong if she didn't open the thing. Her hands shook as she reached for it.
The tearing of the seal and the rustle of paper as she unfolded the page sounded unnaturally loud even above the pounding of her pulse in her ears. The letter bore the Lakeview logo at the top and the director's signature on the bottom. She forced herself to read through the document.
Words jumped out at her. Unfortunate error Donor mix-up Apologize profusely The alarm in her chest and her brain expanded with each line, making it difficult to breathe and think. She read the letter a second time, but the bad news didn't get any better, and she hadn't misinterpreted.
Unless this letter was a hideously tasteless joke, she was carrying Ryan Patrick's baby. Not Patrick Ryan's, the man she had loved since her junior year of college. The man who'd married her sister.
Please, God, let this be a joke.
"This is not funny."
Her visitor didn't crack a smile. "Medical malpractice usually isn't."
She had hoped her sister had developed a sudden sick sense of humor. His stoic expression said otherwise. Pressing a hand over her churning stomach, she dropped the page. "There must be some mistake."
"Yes. Lakeview Fertility Clinic made it. You're carrying my child as a result."
"That can't be right."
"I wish that were true."
She stared at the letter while her overloaded mind struggled to process the information and the possible repercussions. For herself. For Beth and Patrick. For the man in front of her. But it was too much to take in.
What now? What if the baby really wasn't Patrick's?
She struggled to find her professional demeanor, and the best way to do that was to focus on his problem instead of hers. "I'm sorry. This must be very difficult for you and your wife."
"There is no wife."
"No girlfriend, either."
That confused her completely. "I'm afraid I'm not following."
"I'll be a single parent."
"That's not unusual for a woman, but isn't it a little out of the norm for a man? Couldn't you just get married?"
"I've been married, and I don't ever intend to do so again."
There had to be a story behind that bitter tone. But she didn't care to hear it at the moment. She had enough of a mess on her hands. If his story was true. She sincerely hoped he was deranged. A psycho in her office would be much easier to handle than the situation described in the letter. One call to security would fix everything. But this
He extracted a second envelope and placed it in front of her. "I'm prepared to offer you the same financial and medical support I offered the surrogate I'd hired."
Taken aback, she blinked. "You hired a surrogate?"
Why would a guy who looked like him need to pay someone to have his baby? Women should be lining up around the block and begging for the privilege.
"A well-qualified, carefully screened surrogate."
She bristled at his implication that she might be less than qualified to carry his child. For the second time this morning she forced herself to read something she didn't want to and picked up the contract.