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Gemma Watkins stopped dead as she stepped outside the hospital waiting room. A tall man was striding toward her along the corridor. His broad shoulders, his purposeful walk, reminded her of
Please God, not Tate Chandler!
In that instant he saw her. His footsteps faltered just a hint, then increased pace until he reached her. "Gemma," he rasped.
His voice traveled under her skin like a shiver of apprehension. This was the man who'd once been her lover. The man she'd once fallen in love with. The man who'd cut out her heart almost two years ago.
She couldn't believe it was him. Tate Chandler was an Australian who'd taken his family's luxury watchmaking business to new levels and high international standing. He was a man suited to his surroundings, whether it was here in this large hospital close to the city, his well-appointed headquarters on the most prestigious street in Melbourne or his luxurious penthouse in one of the city's most affluent suburbs. He was a billionaire with a powerful presence that went beyond his supreme good looks. He had the golden touch and his touch was golden. She knew that firsthand.
Gemma swallowed the panic in her throat. "Hello, Tate."
His blue eyes flicked over her blond hair tumbling to her shoulders, to the flush of her cheeks, as if he couldn't quite help himself, then as quickly his eyes narrowed. "I hope your being here is merely a coincidence."
It took a moment to actually absorb the words. Her brows drew together. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Skepticism crossed his face. "My family dedicated the new children's wing in my grandfather's name today. Surely you saw mention of it? It's been in all the media."
"No, I didn't." She'd been too busy working and trying to keep her head above water. "So your grandfather's dead?"
"Three months ago."
"I'm sorry." Tate had been very close to him. "But you can't think I came here today to see you. I could see you anytime I like."
His lips twisted. "You think so?"
Her heart constricted. He hadn't forgiven her for what he saw as her betrayal. Had she expected he would?
And that brought her back to why she was at the hospital today. What bad luck that she'd decided just now to look for the nurse from the recovery room. She supposed she could be grateful that the rest of his family didn't appear to be anywhere in sight. "Well, I must"
"What are you doing here then?"
She saw not one ounce of kindness in his eyes. "I'm with a friend."
"Of course it's a male," he mocked. "Nothing's changed there, has it?"
Her hesitation made her look guilty, but he couldn't know it wasn't for the reason he thought. Realizing this was her "out," she lifted her chin. "This has nothing to do with you, Tate. Goodbye." She went to move past him, but he put his hand on her arm, stopping her.
"Does the poor sucker know he's one of many?"
"You what? Don't care? Believe me, I know that more than anyone."
The words stung. She'd willingly given herself to Tate the day she'd met him at a party held by her architect boss. At the time, she'd wished she hadn't given away her virginity years ago to a boyfriend in high school. She'd fallen instantly in love with Tate and had known then what her mother had meant when she'd advised Gemma to keep herself for the man she loved. Gemma would have been proud for Tate to have been her first.
She could only thank the Lord now that she hadn't told Tate she loved him. Somehow she'd kept that secret to herself and had managed to keep some of her pride intact when he'd turned his back on her after a month-long affair. During their short weeks together, they'd barely left Tate's penthouse apartment. His best friend had been the only one to know about their relationship.
The memory of it all made her shudder. Their unexpected reunion today was so unfair, yet she couldn't tell Tate the truth. Not now. He might decide to
"Oh, there you are, Gemma." A female voice a few
feet away from them made Gemma suck in a quick, sharp breath. She turned to look at the nurse from the recovery room. Oh, God, she'd almost forgotten.
"He's fine, love," Deirdre said before Gemma could ask. "And out of recovery now."
"Thank God!" Gemma forgot about Tate as intense relief washed over her. They'd said it would be a minor operation, but there were always risks with these things.
Deirdre's gaze dropped to Tate's hand on Gemma's arm, and she frowned slightly. Gemma knew she had to act quickly. From the depths of her being, she dragged up a reassuring smile. She didn't want any issues here. The sooner she got away from Tate, the better. "I'm coming now, Deirdre. Thank you."
The nurse paused a second longer, before seeming to accept there wasn't a problem. "I'll go tell Nathan that Mommy's coming then." She headed back to the recovery room.
Gemma didn't need Tate's tightening grip to feel the increased tension emanating from him. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears as she gathered the nerve to look into his eyes, torn between running to Nathan and staying here and standing guard.
"You have a son? "
Her heart quailed. How could she deny it now? "Yes."
His head went back, as if from a blow. Then, without warning, his expression changed, turned suspicious. "And his name is Nathan?"
She gave a quick nod.
"My grandfather's name was Nathaniel."
"It's a common enough name," she said, finding her voice, kicking herself now for allowing herself that one weakness.
All at once, he swore. Then he dropped her arm and strode past her.
Like a mother bear, Gemma jumped in front of him, putting herself between him and her son. "He's only ten months old, Tate," she lied.
He stopped. "He's not Drake's, is he?"
"No!" He'd never believed her innocent where his best friend had been concerned. Drake Fulton had made her uneasy, always being too friendly whenever Tate left them alone together, making it more than clear he wanted her. In the end he hadn't gotten her, but he'd made damn sure Tate hadn't held on to her either.
"So your son belongs to another man."
She dropped her hand. "Yes."
She prayed Tate would turn and walk away. Instead, he surprised her and moved ahead. She quickly caught up to him, frantic with worry. "Wh-where are you going?"
He continued toward the recovery room, purpose in every step. "You've lied to me before."
"I didn't. I" She sidestepped a young couple walking down the middle of the corridor, then caught up to him again.
He ignored her as he hit a button outside the recovery room to open the electronic doors. She went with him as he entered the room, watched his gaze slice down the row of occupied beds. Past Deirdre now attending to one of the patients.past the nurse at her station.until he came to the crib set slightly away from the rest of the beds.
Time was suspended in the air.
Then, almost in sync, they both started forward, stopping only when they reached the small blond boy playing with his teddy bear. Nathan looked up, and Gemma held her breath.
Tate couldn't know. He just couldn't
And then Tate turned to look at her, his face white. His eyes skinned her alive.
She was going to pay dearly for this.
Tate felt the blood drain from his face the minute the infant looked up and caught him by the heart. Caught and grabbed and would never let go.
For just a moment, Tate almost wished that the boy wasn't his, that he could turn and walk away and never have to see Gemma again. He didn't want her in his life again.
But one look and he knew.
This was his son.
And Tate wasn't going anywhere.
Just then, the boy saw his mother. He dropped his teddy bear and threw his arms out to her with a cry, and Gemma gave a small sob as she ran to the crib and lifted him up and over the side. "Sh, darling, Mommy's here," she murmured, hugging him and soothing him.
She leaned back to check the boy. It would have been touching if Tate hadn't suddenly realized something.
"What's wrong with him?" he heard himself ask in a croaky voice, not sure if he could bear knowing.
Gemma lifted her headand her chin. "What do you mean? He's perfect."
She'd taken his comment the wrong way. He'd have been offended if he'd had the time. "I'm talking about why he's here in the hospital." The child didn't show any outward signs of an operation except for the hospital gown.
She winced. "Yes, of course." Then she took a breath. "They put tiny tubes inside his ears to drain them. He was getting repeated ear infections and the antibiotics weren't working anymore. Without the tubes, he could suffer hearing loss, and that could affect his speech and development."
As serious as that sounded, Tate felt the tension ease out of him. Thank God it wasn't anything critical.
And then he remembered her lies, and the tension was back. "You didn't think to tell me about it?" he said, keeping his voice low, aware of others in the room.
"Why would I?"
"Because he's mine, dammit."
Her arms tightened around her son. "No, he isn't."
"Don't lie, Gemma. He has my eyes."
Fear came and went on her face. "No, he's got blond hair like me. He looks like me. He doesn't look like you at all. And he's only ten months old."
Nathan did look like herexcept for the eyes. "He's mine. And he's a year old. I know it, and so do you."
"Tate, please," she choked out. "I don't think this is the right time or place to discuss this."
"Gemma " He had to know this minute. He had to be sure.
She shuddered, then expelled a deep breath. "Yes, he's yours."
Hearing the words out loud was like a wave breaking over Tate. For a moment he couldn't breathe, couldn't get his bearings. And then he looked at his son. He wanted to hold him in his arms and feel the moment, but as much as he wanted to hug Nathan tight, Tate figured things had to be taken slowly. A child had the right to personal space.
Gemma looked dismayed. "Wh-what are you going to do now?"
He had to concentrate, and that was hard when he was so damn angry with her. "We'll have a paternity test done first. As proof."
Her eyes widened. "So you're not really sure?"
"I'm sure, but I want there to be absolutely no doubt about this. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time I've been fooled by you, would it?"
He would never forget finding her kissing his best friend. And then having Drake awkwardly confess she'd been coming on to him from the start. The incident had made Tate want to kill both of them. Much to his credit, Drake had been honorable enough not to let her seduce him. It was the measure of the man that he could withstand such a beautiful woman. Sure, out in the corridor Tate had asked her if the infant was Drake's, but the question had been more about covering all bases than believing his friend had slept with her. Drake wouldn't do that. He always kept his word.
"I've all but admitted he's your son, Tate. There's no need for a paternity test."
"Your word isn't good enough, I'm afraid." His jaw felt so tight he thought it would snap. "We'll talk about everything later."
She straightened. "No, it'll have to wait. I'm taking Nathan home as soon as the doctor releases him."
"We'll be going to my home."
She gasped. "There's no need for that."
She swallowed. "He's already unsettled from being here. I want to get him back in familiar surroundings. He needs the comfort of his own home right now."
Only for his son's sake did Tate relent. "Then I'm coming with you and staying the night, but tomorrow we'll be going to my place."
"Don't worry. I'll sleep on your sofa. We need to talk, and I'm not letting you out of my sight."
"Can't we leave it until tomorrow? It's only just lunch-time. I'm sure you want to return to your office and get some work done today."
That's all he was going to say. He'd already missed the first year of his son's life, he wasn't missing a minute more. Having his child without telling him was unforgivable. What if something had gone wrong with the operation? What if he'd never gotten to stand here with his own flesh and blood? What if Nathan had needed him? Tate's chest constricted with the oddest pain.
Right then the nurse appeared beside them. "Didn't I tell you your baby boy would be fine?" she teased Gemma.
Gemma nodded. "Thank you, Deirdre. You've been wonderful."
"You're very welcome, love," the nurse said. "Now, I see the doctor has just come in, so you should be able to take your little one home shortly."
The younger man appeared at Deirdre's side and glanced from Tate to Nathan, then back to Tate. "So you're the father," he said without question.
Gemma made a sound that could be mistaken for a sob, but all Tate felt was fatherly pride swelling up inside his chest. The doctor's assumption was based solely on the sight of Tate and Nathan together.
Father and son.
Tate cleared his throat. "Yes, I'm Nathan's father."
The doctor accepted that, then turned his attention to the infant.
Tate sent Gemma a look that said it all: There was no going back now.