Read an Excerpt
With This Ring
NO! Nivea groaned as she scanned the paper. She felt the blood leaving her face and the room began to spin. She anchored herself against her baby’s crib as she read the DNA paternity test results for the second time: Based on DNA analysis, the alleged father, Knox Bowers, can be excluded as the biological father of Mackenzie Westcott. They do not share the same genetic markers.
Despite the scandal and the dissention that she’d caused within her family when it was discovered that she’d had an affair with her sister’s husband, Nivea had desperately wanted Knox to be the father of her baby. It wasn’t that she had genuine feelings for him; she didn’t. The thought of him having to pay her child support for the next eighteen years had given her malicious pleasure.
But now those dreams were destroyed. She glanced at her sleeping daughter and shook her head. She should have known that Mackenzie was too pale to have been fathered by a black man. Knox was light-skinned and all, but still…the baby should have had a little more color if it were his.
Livid about the test results, she balled up the paper and flung it in a waste bin that was decorated with images of Tinker Bell.
No doubt, Knox had received the news, too. He and her sister, Courtney, were probably gloating. Luckily, Nivea wasn’t speaking to anyone in her family, except her father, and it was a relief that she wouldn’t have to bear witness to their smug faces.
What should she do, now? She didn’t know how to get in touch with those two bartenders she’d had a threesome with on New Year’s Eve. She barely recalled what they looked like and didn’t even know their names. And what could their broke asses do for her, anyway? Absolutely nothing! Nivea pondered her dilemma. Someone needed to be held accountable. Why should she alone bear the financial burden of raising a child?
She thought about the list of men who could potentially be her daughter’s father and decided to go after Dr. Bertram Sandburg. He had a thriving practice, was on the staff of several hospitals, and probably had other streams of income. The man made a shitload of money, and his support payments would far exceed the measly pittance she would have gotten out of Knox, who was still in school and only working part time. She had wanted to hurt Knox and Courtney so badly, she hadn’t thought about the bigger picture.
Four-month-old Mackenzie began to fret and Nivea lifted her from the crib. The nursery was decorated in shades of pink, cream, and lilac. Nivea had put a lot of effort into making the room beautiful and cheerful, yet it was rare for Mackenzie to sleep in her own room. She preferred sleeping with her mother.
A wave of overwhelming love and protectiveness surged through her as she kissed her child. “Are you hungry, Kenzie-Ken?” she cooed, patting her daughter’s back.
She sat in a cream-colored rocking chair with plump, lilac cushions. She lifted her top and began to nurse her daughter. She hadn’t planned on breastfeeding, but moments after giving birth, she’d bonded with her daughter in a way she would have never thought possible. At that moment, she decided that synthetic baby formula wasn’t good enough for her precious bundle of joy.
With the baby nestled in her arms and feeding, Nivea rocked back and forth, her thoughts running a mile a minute. She made a good salary—more than enough to provide a decent life for her and Mackenzie. But her daughter deserved better than a decent life. She deserved a fabulous life—a life that included a big house with lush grounds, the best private schools, music lessons, dance lessons, horse riding lessons and her very own pony. Mackenzie would be a refined world traveler, envied for her discerning taste and sophistication. And of course, she’d be the best-dressed little girl among her playmates.
And someone with Dr. Sandburg’s means could provide the extravagant lifestyle that Nivea believed her daughter was entitled to.
She’d taken an extended maternity leave, but was scheduled to return to work in less than thirty days. There wasn’t a chance in hell she was going to put her beloved baby in a germ-infested child care center that was run by incompetent high school dropouts. She needed a full-time nanny to come to her home and take care of Mackenzie, and she would watch the woman like a hawk on the nanny cams that would be installed in every room. Nivea frowned as she imagined the huge expense of having to pay a nanny.
She needed a big payday…and soon!
Dr. Sandburg would want to avoid the scandal of a paternity suit, wouldn’t he? Maybe she could convince him to forego the paternity test and persuade him to give her a hefty, lump sum in lieu of a lifetime of monthly payments. It was a pretty good deal, Nivea thought.
Surely, he wouldn’t want his wife and colleagues to know that he’d fathered a biracial child outside his marriage. From what she recalled, the doctor was a softie and would buckle under the pressure. How much should she demand from him? A million? No, that wasn’t nearly enough. She’d blow through that before Mackenzie was old enough to even enjoy her privileged life.
Perhaps she could figure out a way to get him to agree to an outrageous monthly support payment for the next eighteen years. It was worth a try. And if the doctor wanted to play hardball, she’d take him to court. After all, there was a slim chance that he was actually the father. And if he was, she’d get a high-powered attorney who would show him no mercy and bleed him dry.
Feeling better, a smile formed on Nivea’s lips. She hadn’t succeeded in marrying a doctor, but she’d done even better by having unprotected sex with one. She planned on getting all the benefits of being married without being tied down to a boring, old physician.
The next day, swathed in Dolce & Gabbana with Mackenzie making a fashion statement in a Little Marc Jacobs heart-print dress, Nivea paid Dr. Sandburg a visit.
“Good to see you, Nivea,” the doctor said although his sour expression contradicted his statement.
“Good to see you, too, Bertram,” Nivea said, pointedly using the doctor’s first name as she took a seat in his private office. Her skirt rose up and she adjusted it. The ten extra pounds of stubborn baby weight had accumulated around her hips, tightening her wardrobe, but Nivea refused to move up to the next size. She’d get back to the gym eventually, but in the meantime, she’d have to start wearing Spanx or some kind of shapewear.
“Have you returned to work? Your replacement…a fine young man, told me you were on maternity leave.” He sat behind his desk, hands folded calmly, while his eyes shifted warily to the baby in Nivea’s arms.
“Not yet. Listen, Doc, I didn’t come here to discuss work. I came to introduce you to your daughter.”
“Are you insane?” Dr. Sandburg bolted from his chair and stood up, pointing to the door. “I advise you to leave my office right now, young lady.”
“I’ll leave, but don’t you want to meet your daughter first? I think you should. Otherwise, it may get ugly, and I don’t think you want a mandatory paternity test, do you?”
“Think long and hard before you try to ensnarl me in a paternity suit.”
Startled by the boom of his angry voice, the baby wriggled and began to fuss. “Aw, what’s the matter with my little Boo-Boo? Don’t cry, sweetie. Daddy’s a little upset right now, but he’ll calm down.”
“Do not refer to me as Daddy,” Dr. Sandburg bellowed. His voice seemed to shake the walls and his face was bright red with indignation. “We were intimate only once, and I’m not going to allow you to pin your illegitimate daughter on me.”
Nivea rose abruptly. “I thought we could talk like civilized people, but since we can’t, I’ll have my attorney contact you regarding the DNA test. She’s a real barracuda, and of course, she’ll hold a press conference to alert the public that she’s representing a young woman—a hardworking pharmaceutical sales rep who was lured into a sexual relationship by a prominent physician who coerced her into an illicit affair. A doctor who forced her to whore herself before he agreed to conduct business.”
“That’s an outrageous lie. I never forced you to do anything.”
Nivea narrowed her eyes. “The public loves a juicy scandal. My lawyer will also mention that you’re addicted to painkillers. The medical review board should find that interesting. Who knows, before this is over, you might lose your license to practice medicine.”
“This is blackmail.”
“It’s not. I’m a mother fighting for her child’s rights. But since you want to play hardball, I’ll contact my attorney. She can probably get a statement together in time for the five o’clock news.”
Dr. Sandburg dragged his fingers across a ruddy cheek. “Tonight’s news?”
Nivea nodded. “My attorney is a real alpha-female type. She’s particularly aggressive when it comes to men who try to shirk their parental responsibilities.”
“There’s no need to involve lawyers,” he said, beginning to backpedal. “Sit down, Nivea. Let’s keep this between the two of us.”
“No, I’m not sitting down. I want you to look at your daughter. She’s your spitting image,” Nivea said, approaching Dr. Sandburg and holding up Mackenzie for him to get a better view of her face. It was such a lie. Her gorgeous child looked nothing like the wrinkly, pot-bellied, gray-haired doctor, and he should have been honored to be associated with her little diva!
“I don’t see any resemblance,” he said, recoiling and barely looking at the child. “How much will it take to make you go away? I can’t let my wife find out about this; she’ll die from humiliation.”
Nivea inhaled excitedly. This was going exactly as she’d planned. “Your wife doesn’t have to know about this if you agree to my terms and conditions. Now, I was going to ask for a one-time, large sum, but I have to think long-term when it comes to our daughter’s future.
Dr. Sandburg made an inpatient sound. “How much?”
“A million up front and twenty thousand a month until she’s eighteen.”
He choked. “You’re out of your mind! I don’t have that kind of cash on hand. My money’s tied up. Give me a more reasonable figure.” He waved his hand. “Never mind, I’ll tell you what I’m willing to pay. After I pay you, I want you and your baby to go far, far away.”
“Let me hear the figure you have in mind?”
“I’ll give you two hundred and fifty thousand in cash. Take it or leave it; it’s my final offer.”
“Two hundred and fifty?” she echoed derisively. “That’s appalling. You can do better than that.” Nivea paced with the baby and patted her back as if to comfort Mackenzie from having heard how little the doctor thought she was worth. “I bet you spent a hell of a lot more money raising your other children.”
“As a matter of fact, I didn’t.” He looked at Nivea through hard, challenging eyes.
Something about the way he was looking at her gave Nivea a twinge of alarm, and she began to squirm under his sickeningly, confident gaze. She wondered if he had figured a way to outmaneuver her.
“I don’t have any children. Long ago, I had a bout with measles. You understand what I’m implying, don’t you?” His mouth curved into a triumphant smile.
Oh, shit. The bastard was implying that he’s been shooting blanks. Now what? Think, Nivea…think!
“You may have had measles, but that doesn’t change the fact that you fathered my child,” she said in a voice that lacked conviction. She cleared her throat. “My, uh, attorney is going to insist on a DNA test to…um…you know, prove it.” Jesus, why was she stammering? This was not the time to sound uncertain. Guiltily, she glanced away from Dr. Sandburg. She’d doubted that he was the father and now she knew for certain. They both knew it. But Nivea was banking on the fact that he wouldn’t want to be publicly accused of being an adulterer, a drug addict, and a whoremonger. The threat of exposing him was the only weapon in her arsenal.
“I’ll give you a hundred thousand,” Dr. Sandburg said suddenly, his lips pressed together in a tight line of defiance.
Nivea gazed at him, uncomprehending. “Huh? What happened to the two-fifty you offered?”
“That offer is off the table. Take the money or we can battle it out in court,” he said with his double-chin jutted out in determination. “I’ll risk the damage to my reputation before I give in to extortion tactics.”
Nivea opened her mouth to object to the word, “extortion,” but then sighed in resignation.
“You’re going to have to sign some papers. I want you to sign a gag order, for starters. If my wife ever caught wind of your accusations, my marriage would be over!”
Cradling Mackenzie, she lifted the fingers of her right hand and examined her French manicure as she digested Dr. Sandburg’s words. He was terrified of his wife finding out, which gave Nivea even more leverage. She would need more money than he’d offered to keep quiet. Her beauty requirements alone cost a fortune, and now that she’d be caring for two high-maintenance females—her and her daughter—how could she possible stretch a hundred thousand measly dollars?
Nivea had a background in real estate, so perhaps she could flip the money by buying and selling some slum property. Ugh. The thought of being bothered with that made her nauseous. Her father was good with investments; he could help her double or maybe triple her money. But investing took time and she had urgent needs and immediate expenses. Goddamn this old, gray-haired, sterile asshole!
Begrudgingly, she extended her hand. “I’ll take your offer.”
“Good,” he said, giving her a flimsy handshake and then collapsing into his chair in exhaustion.
“When will you cut me a check?” she asked anxiously.
“I don’t want to leave a paper trail; I’ll pay in cash.” He slid a prescription pad toward her. “Jot down your address and phone number. My lawyer will be in touch with you after he’s prepared the paperwork. I’ll pay after you’ve signed.”
Cradling Mackenzie, she scrawled her personal information on the prescription pad, flung the strap of her designer diaper bag over her shoulder, and left the office.