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There was no doubt about it, the man was insufferable.
Yet here she was sitting in her pickup truck in the visitors' lot of the Western Oil headquarters building in El Paso, the ruthless, Texas-afternoon sun scorching her face through the windshield.
Katherine Huntley hadn't seen her brother-in-law, Adam Blair, CEO of Western Oil, since her sister's funeral three years ago. His call asking to meet her had come as something of a surprise. It was no shock, however, that he'd had the gall to say he was too busy to meet on her own turf in Peckins, two hours north, and asked her to come to him. But he was the billionaire oil tycoon and she was a lowly cattle rancher, and she was guessing that he was used to people doing things his way.
But that's not why she agreed to come. She was long past overdue for a trip to the warehouse store for supplies anyway, and it gave her the chance to visit the cemetery. Something she did far too infrequently these days. But seeing Rebecca's grave this morning, being reminded once again that Katy had gone from baby sister to only child, brought back the familiar grief. It simply wasn't fair that Becca, who'd had so much to live for, had been taken so young. That her parents had to know the excruciating pain of losing a child.
Katy glanced at the clock on the dash and realized she was about to be late, and since she prided herself on always being punctual, she shoved open her door and stepped out into the blistering heat. It was so hot the soles of her boots stuck to the blacktop. She swiftly crossed the lot to the front entrance, and the rush of icy air as she pushed through the double glass doors into the lobby actually made her shiver.
Considering the suspicious looks the security guards gave her as she walked through the metal detector, they must not have gotten many women dressed in jeans and work shirts visiting. And, of course, because she was wearing her steel-toe boots, the alarm began to wail.
"Empty your pockets, please," one of them told her.
She was about to explain that her pockets were already empty, when a deep voice ordered, "Let her through."
She looked up to find her brother-in-law waiting just past the security stand, and her heart took a quick dive downward.
Without question the security guards ushered her past, and Adam stepped forward to greet her.
"It's good to see you again, Katy."
"You, too." She wondered if she should hug him, but figured this situation was awkward enough without the burden of unnecessary physical contact, and settled for a handshake instead. But as his hand folded around her own, she wondered if he noticed the calluses and rough skin, not to mention the short, unpainted fingernails. She was sure he was used to women like Rebecca, who spent hours in the salon getting pedicures and manicures, and all the other beauty treatments she neither had time nor the inclination for.
Not that it made a difference what he thought of her nails. But when he released her hand, she stuck them both in her jeans pockets.
In contrast, Adam looked every bit the billionaire CEO that he was. She had nearly forgotten how big he was. Not only did he look as though he spent a lot of time in the weight room, he was above average in height. At five feet nine inches, few men towered over her, but Adam was at least six-four.
He wore his dark hair in the same closely cropped style, although she could see strands of gray peppering his temples now. Of course, as was the case with men like him, it only made him look more distinguished. There were also worry lines at the corners of his eyes and across his forehead that hadn't been there before. Probably from the stress of dealing with Rebecca's illness.
Despite that, he looked good for a man of forty.
Katy was only seventeen when her sister married Adam ten years ago, and though she had never admitted it to a soul, she'd had a mild adolescent crush on her gorgeous new brother-in-law. But neither she nor her parents would have guessed that the charming, handsome man intended to steal Rebecca away from them.
"How was your trip down?" he asked.
She shrugged. "The same as it always is."
She waited for him to explain what she was doing there, or at the very least thank her for making the long drive to see him. Instead he gestured to the shop across the lobby. "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
"Sure. Why not?"
Other than the shop employees, everyone seated inside
wore business attire, and most had their nose buried in a laptop computer, or a cell phone stuck to their ear. But when Adam entered, everyone stopped what they were doing to nod, or greet him.
Good Lord. When the man entered a room, he owned it. But he was the boss, and it was obvious people respected him. Or feared him.
She followed him to the counter and he spouted some long, complicated-sounding drink to the clerk, then turned to Katy and asked, "What would you like?"
"Plain old black coffee," she told the clerk. She didn't care for the frou-frou blends and flavors that had become so popular lately. Her tastes were as simple as her lifestyle.
With drinks in hand, he led her to a table at the back of the shop. She had just assumed they would go up to his office, but this was okay, too. A little less formal and intimidating. Not that she had a reason to feel intimidated. She didn't know why she was here, so she wasn't really sure what she should be feeling at this point.
When they were seated, Adam asked, "How are your parents? And how are things at the ranch? I trust business is good."
"We're good. I don't know if you heard, but we went totally organic about two years ago."
"That's great. It's the way of the future."
She sipped her coffee. It was hot and strong, just the way she liked it. "But I'm sure you didn't ask me here to talk about cattle."
"No," he agreed. "There's something I need to discuss with you. Something
She couldn't imagine what personal matter he might have to discuss with her as anything they might have had in common had been buried along with her sister. But she shrugged and said, "Okay."
"I'm not sure if Becca mentioned it, but before she was diagnosed, we had been having fertility issues. Our doctor suggested in vitro, and Becca was going through the hormone therapy to have her eggs extracted when they discovered the cancer."
"She told me." And Katy knew that her sister had felt like a failure for being unable to conceive. She had been terrified of disappointing Adam. Her entire life seemed to revolve around pleasing him. In fact, Becca spent so much time and energy being the perfect high-society wife that she'd had little time left for her family. Adam's schedule had been so busy, they hadn't even come for Christmas the year before she got sick.
If it had been Katy, she would have put her foot down and insisted she see her family. Even if it meant spending the holidays apart from her spouse. Of course, she never would have married a man like Adam in the first place. She could never be with anyone so demanding and self-centered. And especially someone who didn't share her love for the ranch. But according to her parents, practically from the instant Becca left the womb, she had been gunning to move to the city, to live a more sophisticated lifestyle.
Sometimes Katy swore Becca was a doorstep baby.
"She was so sure she would beat it," Adam continued. "We went ahead with our plans, thinking we could hire a surrogate to carry the baby. But, of course, we never got the chance."
"She told me that, too," Katy said, pushing down the bitterness that wanted to bubble to the surface. Harvesting the eggs had meant holding off on treating the cancer, which just might have been the thing that killed her. Katy had begged Becca to forget the eggs and go forward with the treatment. They could always adopt later on, but Becca knew how much Adam wanted a childhis own flesh and bloodand as always, she would have done anything to make him happy.
It would have been easy to blame Adam for her death, but ultimately, it had been Becca's choice. One she had paid dearly for.
"I'm not sure what any of this has to do with me," Katy said.
"I thought you should know that I've decided to use the frozen embryos and hire a surrogate to carry the baby."
He said it so bluntly, so matter-of-factly, it took several seconds for the meaning of his words to sink in.
Baby? Was he saying that he was going to hire some stranger to have her sister's child?
Katy was beyond stunned
and utterly speechless. Of all the possible reasons for Adam asking her here, that particular one had never crossed her mind. How could he even consider doing this to her family?
She realized her jaw had fallen and closed her mouth so forcefully her teeth snapped together. Adam was watching her, waiting for her to say something.
Finally she managed, "I
I'm not sure what to say."
"So we're clear, I'm not asking for your permission. Or your approval. Out of courtesysince it's Rebecca's child, tooI felt I should tell you what I plan to do."
He wasn't the kind of man to do things as a "courtesy." He did nothing unless it benefited him. She was guessing that he'd consulted a lawyer, and his lawyer had advised him to contact Becca's family.
"I also thought you could give me some advice on the best way to break the news to your parents," Adam added, and Katy was too dumbfounded to speak. As if losing their daughter wasn't heartbreaking enough, now they would have to live with the knowledge that they had a grandchild out there with a father who was too busy to even give them the time of day? How could he even think about doing this to them? And then to ask her help ? Was he really so arrogant? So self-absorbed?
"My advice to you would be don't do it," she told him.
He looked confused. "Don't tell them?"
"Don't use the embryos." She was so angry, her voice was actually shaking. "Haven't my parents been through enough? I can't believe you could be selfish enough to even consider putting them through this."
"I would be giving them a grandchild. A part of their daughter would live on. I'd think that would please them."
"A grandchild they would never see? You really think that's going to make them happy?"
"Why would you assume they wouldn't see the baby?"
Was he kidding? "I can count on one hand how many times you and Becca came to visit the last three years of your marriage. My parents were always making the effort, and in most instances you were too busy to make the time for them." She became aware, by the curious stares they were getting, that the volume of her voice had risen to a near-hysterical level. She took a deep breath, forced herself to lower it. "Why not get remarried and have a baby with your new wife? You're a rich, handsome guy. I'm sure women would line up to marry you. Or you could adopt. Just leave my family out of this."
Adam's voice remained calm and even. "As I said, I'm not asking your permission. This meeting was simply a courtesy."
"Bull," she hissed under her breath.
Adam's brow rose. "Excuse me?"
"I'm not some simple, stupid country girl, Adam. So please, don't insult my intelligence by treating me like an uneducated hick. I'm here because your lawyer probably warned you that my parents could fight this, and you want to avoid any legal entanglements."
His expression darkened, and she knew she'd hit a nerve. "Your family has no legal rights over the embryos."
"Maybe not, but if we decided to fight you, it could drag on for years, couldn't it?"
His brow dipped low over his eyes, and he leaned forward slightly. "You don't have the financial means to take me on in court."
Not one to be intimidated, she met his challenge and leaned toward him. "I don't doubt there's some bleeding-heart attorney out there who would just love to take on a case like this pro bono."
He didn't even flinch. Did he know she was bluffing? Not only did she know of no attorney like that, she didn't think her parents would ever try to fight Adam. They would be miserably unhappy, but like Becca's defection from the family fold, they would accept it. And learn to live with it. They didn't like to make waves, to cause problems, which is why they allowed Becca to drift so far from the family in the first place. Had it been up to Katy, things would have been different.
Adam's expression softened and he said in a calm and rational voice, "I think we're getting ahead of ourselves."
"What do you even know about being a parent?" she snapped. "When would you find the time? Have you even considered what you're getting yourself into? Diaper changes and midnight feedings. Or will you hire someone to raise the baby for you? Leave all the dirty work to them?"
"You don't know anything about me," he said.
"Sad, considering you were married to my sister for seven years."
He took a deep breath and blew it out. "I think we got off on the wrong foot here."
Actually, what she had done was reverse the balance of power so that now she had the upper hand. It was the only way to deal with men like him. A trick Becca had obviously never learned.
"Trust me when I say, I have given this considerable thought, and I feel it's something I need to do. And I assure you that both you and your parents will see the baby. My parents are both dead, so you'll be the only other family the child has. I would never deny him that."
"And I'm just supposed to believe you?"
"At this point, you really don't have much choice. Because we both know that the chances of finding a lawyer who will represent you for free are slim to none. I've been in business a long time. I recognize a bluff when I see it."
She bit her lip. So much for having the upper hand.
"I'm not doing this to hurt anyone, Katy. I just want a child."
But why did it have to be Becca's child? "We may not be as rich as you, but we can still fight it." "And you would lose."
Yes, she would. But she could put up one hell of a fight. And put her parents through hell in the process. Not to mention decimate them all financially.