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His fists balled inside the pockets of his tuxedo pants, Blake Dalton forced a smile as he stood amid the wedding guests jamming the black-and-white-tiled foyer of his mother's Oklahoma City mansion. The lavish reception was finally winding down. The newlyweds had just paused in their descent of the foyer's circular marble staircase so the bride could toss her bouquet. The couple were mere moments from departing for their honeymoon in Tuscany.
Blake was damned if he'd block their escape. His twin had waged a tumultuous battle to win the stubbornly independent pilot he'd finally finessed to the altar. Alex had earned these two weeks in Tuscany with his new bride, away from his heavy responsibilities as CEO of Dalton International.
Blake had no problem taking up the slack in his absence. An MBA, a law degree and almost a decade of handling the corporation's complex legal affairs had honed the leadership and managerial skills he'd developed as Dl's CFO. He and Alex regularly took over sole control of the multibillion-dollar conglomerate during each other's frequent business trips.
No, the job wasn't the problem.
Nor was it their mother, who'd waged a fierce and unrelenting campaign to get her sons married and settled down for over a year now.
Blake's glance cut to the matriarch of the Dalton clan. Her hair was still jet-black, with only a hint of silver at the temples. She wore a melon-colored Dior lace dress and an expression of smug satisfaction as she surveyed the newly married couple. Blake knew exactly what she was thinking. One son down, one to go.
But it was the baby peering over his mother's shoulder that made his fist bunch even tighter and his heart squeeze inside his chest. In the weeks since person or persons unknown had left the six-month-old on his mother's doorstep, Molly had become as essential to Blake as breathing.
DNA testing had proved with 99.99 percent certainty that the bright-eyed infant girl was a Dalton. Unfortunately, the tests hadn't returned the same accuracy as to which of the Dalton brothers had fathered the baby. Although even identical twins carried distinctive DNA, there were enough similarities to fog the question of paternity. The report had indicated a seventy-seven percent probability that Alex was the father, but the issue couldn't be completely resolved until the lab matched the father's DNA with that of the mother.
As a result, the Dalton brothers had spent several uncomfortable weeks after Molly's arrival tracking down the women they'd connected with early last year. Alex's list had been considerably longer than Blake's, but none of the potential candidatesincluding the woman who'd just become Ms. Alex Daltonhad proved to be the baby's mother. Or so they'd thought.
A noisy round of farewells wrenched Blake's gaze from the baby. He looked up to find his brother searching the crowd. It was like looking in a mirror. Both he and Alex had their father's build. Like Big Jake Dalton, they carried six feet plus of solid muscle. They'd also inherited their father's electric blue eyes and tawny hair that the hot Oklahoma sun streaked to a dozen different shades of gold.
Blake caught Alex's eye and casually, so casually, shook his head. He had to forcibly blank both his face and his mind to block any more subtle signals. In the way of all twins, the Dalton brothers could pick up instantly on each other's vibes. Time enough for Alex and Julie to hear the news when they got back from Tuscany. By then Blake would have dealt with it. And with the shock and fury it had generated.
He rigidly suppressed both emotions until the new-lyweds were on the way to the airport. Even then he did his duty and mingled until the last guests finally departed. His training as an attorney stood him in good stead. No one, not even his mother, suspected there was fury boiling in his gut.
"Whew!" Ebullient but drooping, Delilah Dalton kicked off her heels. "That was fun, but I'm glad it's over. Went off well, don't you think?"
"Very," Blake answered evenly.
"I'm going to check on Molly." She swooped up her shoes and padded on stockinged feet to the circular marble staircase. "Then I'm hitting the tub to soak for an hour. You staying here tonight?"
"No, I'll go back to my place." With a vicious exercise of will, he kept his voice calm. "Would you ask Grace to come down? I'd like to talk to her before I go."
His mother lifted a brow at his request to speak to the woman she'd hired to act as a temporary nanny. In the weeks since a baby had dropped into the lives of all three Daltons, Grace Templeton had proved indispensable. Become almost part of the family. So much so that she'd served as Julie's maid of honor while Blake stood up with Alex as best man.
She'd also started the wheels turning in Delilah's fertile mind. His mother had begun dropping unsubtle hints in recent days about how sweet Grace was. How well she interacted with Molly. And just tonight, how good Blake had looked standing beside her at the altar. The fact that he'd begun to think along those same lines only added to the fury simmering hot and heavy.
"Tell Grace I'll be in the library."
For once Delilah was too tired to pry. She merely waved her shoes and continued up the stairs. "Will do. Just don't keep her too long. She has to feel as whipped as I do."
She was about to feel a whole lot more whipped. Yanking on the ends of his black bow tie, Blake stalked down the hall to the oak-paneled library. The soft glow from the recessed lighting contrasted starkly with his black mood as he retrieved the report he'd stuffed into his pocket more than an hour ago. The facts were no less shattering now than they had been then. He was still trying to absorb their impact when Grace Temple-ton entered the library.
"Hey, Blake. Delilah said you wanted to talk to me."
His eyes narrowed on the slender blonde, seeing her in a wholly different light. She'd changed from the lilac, off-the-shoulder tea gown she'd worn for the wedding. She'd also released her pale, almost silvery hair from its sophisticated upsweep. The ends now brushed the shoulders of a sleeveless white blouse sporting several large splotches.
"'Scuze the wet spots," she said, brushing a hand down her front with a rueful laugh in her warm brown eyes. "Molly got a little lively during her bath."
Blake didn't respond. He merely stood with his shoulders rigid under his tux as she hitched a hip on the wide, rolled arm of the library's sofa.
"What did you want to talk about?"
Only then did she pick up on his silence. Or maybe it was his stance. Her head tilting, she gave him a puzzled half smile.
He countered her question with one of his own. "Did you happen to notice the man who arrived at the reception just before Alex and Julie left?"
"The guy in the brown suit?" She nodded slowly, still trying to gauge his odd mood. "I saw him, and couldn't help wondering who he was. He looked so out of place among the other guests."
"His name's Del Jamison."
Her brow creased. Blake guessed she was mentally sorting through the host of people she'd met during her stint as Molly's temporary nanny. When she drew a blank, he supplied the details.
"Jamison's a private investigator. The one Alex and I hired to help search for Molly's mother."
She was good, he thought savagely. Very good. Her cinnamon eyes transmitted only a flicker of wariness, quickly suppressed, but she couldn't keep the color from leaching out of her cheeks. The sudden pallor gave him a vicious satisfaction.
"Oh, right." The shrug was an obvious attempt at nonchalance. "He was down in South America, wasn't he? Checking the places where Julie worked last year?"
"He was, but after Julie made it clear she wasn't Molly's mother, Jamison decided to check another lead. In California."
She couldn't hide her fear now. It was there in the quick hitch in her breath, the sudden stillness.
"I'll summarize his report for you." Blake used his courtroom voice. The one he employed when he wanted to drive home a point. Cool, flat, utterly devoid of emotion. "Jamison discovered the woman I was told had died in a fiery bus crash was not, in fact, even on that bus. She didn't die until almost a year later."
The same woman he'd had a brief affair with. The woman who'd disappeared from his life with no goodbye, no note, no explanation of any kind. Aided and abetted, he now knew, by this brown-eyed, soft-spoken schemer who'd wormed her way into his mother's home.
And into Blake's consciousness, dammit. Every level of it. As disgusted by her duplicity as by the hunger she'd begun to stir in him, he stalked across the room. She sprang to her feet at his approach and tried to brazen it out.
"I don't see what that has to do with me."
Still he didn't lose control. But his muscles quivered with the effort of keeping his hands off her.
"According to Jamison, this woman gave birth to a baby girl just weeks before she died."
His baby! His Molly!
"She also had a friend who showed up at the hospital mere hours before her death." He planted his fists on the sofa arm, boxing her in, forcing her to lean back. "A friend with pale blond hair."
"Blake!" The gold-flecked brown eyes he'd begun to imagine turning liquid with desire widened in alarm. "Listen to me!"
"No, Graceif that's really your name." His temper slipped through, adding a whiplash to his voice. "You listen, and listen good. I don't know how much you figured you could extort from our family, but the game ends now."
"It's not a game," she gasped, bent at an awkward angle.
"No! I don't want your money!"
"What do you want?"
"Just.. Just..!" She slapped her palms against his shirtfront. "Oh, for Pete's sake! Get off me."
He didn't budge. "Just what?"
"Dammit!" Goaded, she bunched a fist and pounded his chest. Her fear was gone. Fury now burned in her cheeks. "All I wanted, all I cared about, was making sure Molly had a good home!"
Slowly, Blake straightened. Just as slowly, he moved back a step and allowed her only enough space to push upright. Slapping a rigid lid on his anger, he folded his arms and locked his gaze on her face. Assessing. Considering. Evaluating.
"Let's start at the beginning. Who the hell are you?"