The Millionaire's Love-Child
It was every mother's worst nightmare.Annie's son had been swapped at birth!But it got worse: her charismatic ex-boss, Brant Cadman, was raising her real son – and she his! Brant made Annie an irresistible proposition – marry him.Annie knew both their sons needed their mom and dad.Plus, she couldn't deny the intense physical attraction between them… because once they'd shared a night of love…
The Millionaire’s Love-Child
‘NO, NO! It’s not true! I don’t believe you!’
Annie swung away, towards the window, her bare shoulders stiffening in rejection of the man’s devastating statement. Beneath the dark strands of her fringe, bewildered brown eyes stared out on the small square of garden that formed the rear of her terraced London flat, at the low boundary wall where the long-haired tabby crouched, poised to eject any other exploring cat from its territory. ‘You’ve got to be joking. Tell me it’s just some cruel joke. That you’re making it up. You are, aren’t you?’
‘I’m sorry, Annie.’ Behind her, those deep masculine tones were soft, yet unrelenting. ‘If I could have found an easier way to tell you, believe me, I would have.’
‘Don’t you think I’d know?’ Her thick layered hair bounced against her shoulders as she pivoted to face the man again, disbelief and confusion stamped on the pale oval of her face.
For a few seconds her eyes read—what? Sympathy, in the green-gold depths of his? Some emotion that softened those angular features with their forceful jaw and that hawk-like nose which, with his sleek black hair and the immaculate tailoring of his dark suit, added up to an almost intimidating presence. ‘Don’t you think I’d have realised if a mistake like that had been made? Do you think I wouldn’t know my own child?’
‘Annie. Annie…’ His hand outstretched, he made a move towards her, but she recoiled from any contact, shivering suddenly beneath her scanty purple sun-top and jeans. ‘You’re in shock.’
‘What do you expect?’ she flung at him, backing away from any further attempt to console her. How could he offer any consolation except to retract what he had just said?
Broad shoulders sagged almost indiscernibly beneath the well-cut jacket, and his breath came heavily as he said, ‘Don’t you think that this has been hard for me?’
She could see the lines now at the corners of those beautiful eyes, and the way his smooth, olive skin seemed stretched across his cheekbones from battle-scarring emotions made him appear even fiercer than when she had known him before. If, of course, she could claim to have known him before. She had, after all, been just a cog in the running of his empire.
Brant Cadman. Thirty-five years old and the driving force behind Cadman Leisure, whose name was synonymous with a whole chain of retail outlets, sports complexes and manufacturers of his own brand of sportswear, including the company where she had worked with Warren. But that was before she had paid the price of trusting someone. Before she had felt the need to leave her job, stung by the shame of everyone knowing. Before she had had her son.
And here Brant was, saying that the child she had raised for the past two years wasn’t her child at all, but his. His and some other woman’s. That the hospital where his own son had been born had found a discrepancy in their records which had only come to light following advisory blood tests after both he and the boy had been exposed to some viral infection during a recent visit to Spain.
Hot tears burned Annie’s eyes now, the long strands of her fringe tangling with her equally long lashes as she shook her head in denial.
‘No, no. It isn’t true! Sean’s mine! He’s always been mine!’ In all her twenty-five years she could never have imagined being dealt a blow like this.
As she swayed she saw Brant glance swiftly around, grab the chair beside the second-hand table where her paints and brushes and the miniature water-colour she was working on lay. He set it down beside her, exerting gentle pressure on her shoulder as he urged, ‘Annie, sit down.’
Like an automaton, she obeyed, too numb to do anything else.
‘When they told me, I didn’t want to believe it either.’ His voice was raw with the intensity of anguish he had obviously suffered—was still suffering—because of it. ‘But as soon as you opened the door to me, there wasn’t any doubt.’
What was he saying? Her face tilted swiftly to his, pain warring with incomprehension. That the child he was raising, whose existence until a few moments ago she had never given more than a passing thought to, somehow resembled her? Was actually hers?
She shook her head again. It wasn’t possible. The child slumbering in the next room, obliviously peaceful in his afternoon nap—he was hers. Sean was her baby.
‘OK. So the baby you thought was yours and your wife’s suddenly isn’t. But what makes you think Sean’s yours?’ Numbness and shock were giving way to a challenging anger. ‘What makes you think you can come here and try to take my baby away? Did the hospital send you? Did they tell you to come here?’
‘No.’ He slipped his hands into his pockets, his pristine white shirt pulled tautly across his chest, as though he’d taken a breath and forgotten to let it out. ‘And the last thing I want to do,’ he said quietly, ‘is take your baby away.’
Annie took a gulp of air. She, too, was finding it difficult to breathe. ‘You can try,’ she dared him vehemently.
He chose to ignore the challenge. ‘The hospital called me in when they found Jack’s blood type didn’t match up with the record they had on computer. They confirmed from their records of Naomi’s blood group and now my own that we couldn’t have produced a child with the same type as Jack’s. There was only one baby born that day two years ago whose details show up as having the correct blood type for any child of ours. Yours Annie. The only conclusion they could come to was that some time before our babies left the hospital, there had been a switch.’
‘No. It’s all a mistake! They had no right to give you my name!’
‘They didn’t,’ he said, looking down at his feet. ‘They said they couldn’t divulge the identity of our son’s—as they called it—“biological mother”.’
A low moan, that could have come from her own throat rang out from the direction of the garden. An ominous sound presaging a bitter conflict, a struggle from which only the strongest and most determined could emerge unscathed.
‘So what led you here?’ Had he known two years ago that Annie Talbot—poor jilted Annie, his ex-employee—had given birth on the same day as his wife? Because she hadn’t. Not until afterwards. Not until a friend had told her that Naomi Cadman had died within twenty-four hours of producing a son. ‘No one’s contacted me. Wouldn’t they have done if these ludicrous assumptions of yours were true?’
‘They should have. They said they were doing so.’ His hands dropped from his pockets. ‘And they aren’t assumptions, Annie. I wish they were. It’s fact—yet to be confirmed, but from the hospital itself.’
‘But…you said they wouldn’t give out information, that it was against their—’
‘They didn’t. Not knowingly. When they called me in, I was left alone in the office for a short spell. The computer was on. I’d have to be superhuman not to have given in to the need to know.’
‘So you scrolled through the records?’ Eyes accusing, she wanted to rush to the phone. Report him. Tell them he’d picked her name from a whole host of others who could have given birth that day.
‘No, Annie. I merely strode over to look at it from the other side of the desk. Your details were on the screen. I suppose such carelessness is hardly surprising from an establishment that sends parents home with the wrong children.’
The wrong children. His words, and the anger that infiltrated them, was bringing her to the slow and awful realisation that it might possibly be true. That Sean, whom she loved and cherished more than life itself, might not be hers. That she might suddenly find herself in a long, traumatic battle to keep him.