While everyone celebrates Hayden and Addie’s engagement, I slip out a side door, needing some air after watching the emotional reunion between Addie and her dad and his acceptance, finally, of Hayden. I’m so happy for both of them. I think they’re great together, and Hayden needs someone like Addie to keep him grounded and sane. Not to mention that after the shameful way he was raised, he deserves to be someone’s true love.
As I walk out to the far end of the pool deck at my brother’s gorgeous home in Mexico and look down on the sea below, I can’t help but wonder whether I deserve the same. Watching my brother, Flynn, fall madly in love with Natalie, and now Hayden and Addie, who’ve gone from an unexpected kiss at the Oscars a few weeks ago to engaged, I’ve begun to question whether I’m ever going to get my turn. Both my sisters have been married for years to great guys I would’ve hand-chosen for them. For the longest time, Flynn and I were the Godfrey family holdouts, and now he’s gone over to the dark side, too.
Though I suppose it’s not really the dark side if the perpetually happy, silly grin on his face is any indication of his true feelings about love and marriage. Natalie is the ideal woman for him, and I’m thrilled for them. I used to worry he would never find anyone real or genuine in the Hollywood fishbowl in which he lives. But Natalie is as real as it gets, and I adore her. My whole family does. Everyone is happy.
That leaves me as the only Godfrey still single. At Flynn’s wedding, I heard my mother tell someone she’s proud of me for focusing on my career. My sisters both have successful careers—Aimee owns a dance studio, and Annie is an attorney—and they have beautiful families, too. They make it look easy, when I know it’s anything but.
Annie and Hugh have been together since high school, and Aimee met Trent in college. Flynn was married briefly in his early twenties to “Valerie the Hag,” as my sisters and I called her back when she nearly ruined our beloved “baby” brother’s life with her shenanigans.
Me? I’ve never come close to getting married. Truth be told, I’ve never come close to being in love.
Guys are a mystery to me. No matter how great one of them may seem, there’s always a downside. I’ve dated guys who were handsome and charming and said all the right things, only to find out they were saying all the right things to a lot of women—at the same time. Then you have Social Guy’s alter ego, who is no less frustrating. You know the type—you have to pull every thought out of his head because God forbid he should share anything voluntarily.
I’ve dated the bad boys, the ones who make a woman’s motor run on full steam, before their “badness” evolves into regular old poor behavior that’s an instant turnoff. Then you’ve got your run-of-the-mill commitment-phobes, the ones who tell you from the outset they aren’t looking to settle down—ever. Why should they when they can have a different woman every night?
Recently, I had the misfortune of getting mixed up with a whole new type right when I thought I’d seen it all. You know what that guy was after, other than the obvious? An introduction to my famous brother. Yeah, being used to get to my brother was a real blast, and frankly, he turned me off dating in general. I’d rather be by myself forever than be used to get to my famous family members.
Or so I tell myself… Then I’ll see my adorable nieces and nephews, my ovaries exploding from the craving for a child of my own, and I’m reminded that I’m not getting any younger. Soon I’ll be thirty-six, which isn’t ancient by anyone’s standards, but my eggs are definitely on a timer.
Now there’s a cheerful thought.
I’m thinking about having a baby on my own. Why not? It’s the twenty-first century, after all, and I have friends who’ve done it. One of my college friends had twins by herself and then met a single dad two years later. They’re married now and delighted with their combined family.
Not that I think having a baby would improve my luck on the dating front, but I’m sick of waiting for something that probably isn’t going to happen, and I don’t want to wake up someday, after that timer has gone off, and realize I missed my opportunity to be a mother.
I’ve gone so far as to look into what would be involved, and my doctor is willing to work with me to make it happen. I’m due to see her again when I get home from Mexico, and the thought of actually doing it makes my skin tingle with excitement and fear and a million other emotions. I haven’t told anyone, even my sisters, who usually know everything, but I suppose I’ll have to cue in my parents before I actually go through with it.
I giggle at the thought of showing up at my parents’ Beverly Hills home, thirty-six, single and pregnant.
“What’s so funny, darling?” a voice asks from behind me. And not just any voice, but the panty-melting voice with the British accent that makes me swoon every time I’m around him. I once talked him into reading The Night Before Christmas to my family just so I could listen to the way he said the familiar words. My only regret is that I didn’t think to record it.
I turn to face Jasper, my brother’s close friend and business partner, who has also become my good friend during my tenure as a production manager at Quantum. Jasper… tall, blond, muscular in a lanky sort of way, handsome as sin, talented as all get-out and a manwhore of the highest order. He’s the proverbial pot of honey when it comes to women, attracting them as effortlessly as he breathes. Speaking of a man who will never settle for just one when he can have them all, Jasper Autry fits that bill to a T.
“I was just thinking about something funny that happened at home,” I say in response to his question, because I can’t very well tell him I was thinking about egg timers and ovulation cycles.
“Care to share the joke?”
“It was one of those had-to-be-there things with the kids.”
“Ah, I see.” He hands me one of the two mimosas he brought outside with him.
“You’re welcome.” His golden-brown eyes are always full of mischief, as if he’s got a huge secret he’s dying to tell me, or at least that’s how it seems. Now is no different. Those amazing eyes are alight with glee. “How about our boy Hayden and our lovely Addie? Got to say I never thought I’d see him so… domesticated.”
“He’s happy,” I say more sharply than I intended. “Nothing wrong with that.”
Jasper’s brow lifts in response to my tone. He’s not used to women speaking sharply to him. He’s far more accustomed to them dropping their panties at his feet than talking back to him. “Nothing wrong indeed.”
“Sorry. I just mean it’s nice to see. That’s all.”
“Believe it or not, I agree, even if my mates are falling like dominoes these days.”
“You might not want to drink the water.”
“Drinking the water is never a good idea in Mexico.”
I crack up laughing, which doesn’t surprise me. He makes me laugh frequently. His endlessly witty take on life is one of many things I enjoy about him.
“I couldn’t help but notice you looked awfully pensive out here, staring at the deep blue sea all on your lonesome. What’s on your mind, darling?”
God, I want to tell him. I want to tell someone, and why not Jasper, my good friend who I trust to keep my confidences confidential? He’s not in my family. He’s not one of my girlfriends who would try to talk me out of it, certain that my Mr. Right is just around the next corner waiting to be found. In fact, he might be the perfect person to test this idea on.
“If I tell you, do you promise not to breathe a word of it to anyone, especially Flynn?”
“Of course I won’t tell anyone. Let’s not forget you could fairly ruin me with the secrets you’ve kept for me over the years.”
“That is very true.”
He takes me by the arm and leads me to one of the double lounge chairs on the pool deck. “Step into my office. My initial consultation is free of charge, but only for the best of friends.”
“You are far too charming for your own good.”
“My mother says the same thing. I say I’m just charming enough for my own good.”
Rolling my eyes at his outrageousness, I curl up on the lounge and take a greedy drink from the glass, seeking some much-needed liquid courage.
“Now tell me this deep dark secret before I expire from curiosity.”
With the moment of truth upon me, my nerves go bat-shit crazy. This’ll be the first time I’ve said it out loud to anyone who matters. “I’m thinking about… No, wait, that’s not true. I’m not thinking about it anymore. I’m actually going to do it.”
His brows lift, and I swear he stops breathing.
“I’m going to have a baby.”
“You…” His gaze falls to my flat abdomen. “Like… Are you already… Oh. Well. Okay, then.”
I can’t help but laugh at his stuttering commentary. “No, I’m not pregnant at the moment, but I hope to be. Soon.”
“Forgive me for asking the obvious, but I can’t help but notice you seem to be stubbornly single. So who’s the lucky guy who gets to father this child of yours?”
“Don’t know yet. That’s part of what has to be decided when I get back to LA. I’ve got thousands of men to choose from, and I have to decide whether I want looks over brains, or maybe I’ll get lucky and find both in one donor.”
He closes his eyes and sighs. “Ellie…” Opening his eyes, he looks directly at me and says, “For the love of God and all that’s holy, you do not need to resort to a sperm bank to find a father for your child.”
That makes me angry. “When you’re a single woman who wants to have a baby, you do need to ‘resort’ to a sperm bank.”
“You, my love, could have any man you want.”
“That’s not true. It’s different for women. We can’t run around the way you guys do without getting a nasty reputation, especially when our parents and brother are household names. It’s not as easy as you think.”
“I hadn’t really looked at it from that point of view. I can see how fame by osmosis might pose a bit of a challenge. And PS, we don’t ‘run around,’ as you say.”
“What would you call it?” I ask in the drollest tone I own.
A charming smile lights up his gorgeous face. “Having fun?”
“I’ve tried that route. Hasn’t been all that fun. I’m done waiting for lightning to strike. I want a baby, and I’m running out of time to make that happen. I’m doing this.” At some point during the getaway to Mexico, my plan moved from maybe to definitely.
“And you’re sure you want to do it this way?”
“I’m sure this is the only way to do it in light of my perpetually single status.”
“It’s not the only way.”
I’m almost afraid to look at him, and when I do, the calculating look he gives me makes my skin heat with awareness of him. “What do you mean?”
“You could ask an old friend who is both handsome and smart, not to mention incredibly charming, to provide the start-up ‘capital’ you require to get your project off the ground.”
I’m flabbergasted by what he’s suggesting, but I can’t show him that. I can’t take the chance he might be joking. “If only I knew someone who fit that bill.”
His low chuckle is both sexy and exciting. “You do. You know just the guy.”
My heart is beating so hard and so fast, I fear I might hyperventilate. “And this guy would be willing to provide his ‘capital’ for such a project?”
“Under the right conditions.”
After a long pause, I say, “What conditions?”
“It happens the old-fashioned way. No laboratories, turkey basters or test tubes, just hot, sweaty, no-holds-barred capital infusion.”
My body ignites at the images that scorch my brain in the scope of five seconds. Holy shit. Have I gone blind, deaf and dumb, or is Jasper Autry telling me he wants to have sex with me—and make a baby with me? “Are you for real right now?”
“My darling Ellie, I have never been more ‘for real’ in my entire life than I’m being right now.” He leans in closer to me, so close I stop breathing. “Say yes.”
I swallow hard. “Are there other conditions?”
“Only a few.”
“When you’re with me, you’re with only me.”
Nodding, he says, “Same goes. And we do this my way or not at all.”
“What does that mean?” I ask, my voice squeaking.
“I’m in charge in bed.”
I’m suddenly so turned on that I’m concerned there’ll be a wet spot on the lounge chair when I get up. “What if I’m not into that?”
“Then there’s no deal.”
I take a moment to process what he’s saying. He’s dominant in bed. Oh. My. God. Clearing my throat, I say, “What about custody of the output of your input?”
Smiling, he says, “All yours with occasional visitation for the capital contributor.”
“Would he or she know that you’re the contributor?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“And you’d be amenable to legally binding documents that spell out these things in advance?”
With his finger on my chin, he forces me to look directly into his eyes. “I’d be amenable to anything that gets the supremely sexy and endlessly untouchable Ellie Godfrey into my bed.”
Now imagine that sentence said in the sexiest fucking British accent you’ve ever heard. I know, right?! What the hell else can I say to that but “Okay.”
“We have a deal.”
He gifts me with the sexy smile that made a cinematographer into a celebrity. “Suddenly, I can’t wait to go home.”
Two days after Jasper and I struck our “deal,” it’s clear to me that I’ve gone into “business” with the devil himself. He watches me constantly, making me feel hunted, but not necessarily in a bad way. More in the about-to-be-devoured way that an antelope would experience when in a cheetah’s cross hairs. And yes, I just compared myself to an antelope. But they’re always the ones who get eaten in the nature shows, so the analogy fits.
Thankfully, none of the friends or family we’re vacationing with has noticed that I’m playing the nervous antelope to Jasper’s hungry cheetah. I’ll confess to being conflicted about his newfound interest in me, but I suppose I shouldn’t be. If a reasonably attractive woman offers a man unfettered access to her vagina for the purposes of breeding, she ought to expect a certain level of interest.
But there’s interest, and then there’s cheetah-level interest, thus my dilemma. In all the years I’ve known Jasper and secretly lusted after him and his sexy British accent, I’ve never once suspected he returned the admiration. Sure, he likes me as a buddy, a colleague, as his close friend’s sister, as a woman to vent to about other women. But as a romantic partner? Not so much.
Since our conversation the other morning, however, all that has changed, and his interest is such that I find myself in a perpetual state of arousal and heightened anticipation, wishing we could act immediately on our plans. At the thought of my longtime dream of being a mother coming true, I’m a mess of emotions—excitement, anxiety, joy and fear. That’s a lot to hide from the perceptive group that surrounds me on lounge chairs by the pool on our last full day in Mexico.
Everyone is still over the moon about Hayden and Addie’s engagement, and talk of wedding plans continues unabated forty-eight hours after the big announcement. Addie is incandescent with happiness, and Hayden hasn’t stopped smiling for even a minute. I’ve never seen my brother’s best friend look so serene. Normally, he’s like a thundercloud looking for a place to explode. That intensity has served him well in his career, but has made for a messy personal life.
Falling for Addie has grounded and centered him, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them. Hayden is the second of our group to take the marital plunge, the first being my brother, Flynn, who can’t keep his hands off his lovely wife. They’ve disappeared together so often during this trip that jokes about search parties have been a daily occurrence.
I enjoy being with Flynn and Natalie for the few hours every day that they come up for air. My brother has spent his adult life in the public eye, his life before Natalie a series of high-profile film roles, adoring fans and a brief disastrous marriage that left him determined to stay single—until Natalie came along and changed his mind about a lot of things.
I’ll admit to being a tiny bit envious of my brother, who, like our two sisters, has found true love and a life partner. Only recently have I started to take stock of my life and realize I’m going to end up alone if I can’t see past my exacting standards where men are concerned and find someone I can stand to spend my life with.
How’s that for a pretty low bar? Someone I can stand to spend my life with. You’ve uncovered my big secret—I’m a realist without a romantic bone in my body, and after having dated every form of toad known to mankind, I’m ready to settle for one who doesn’t disgust me. I’m under no illusions that my baby-making enterprise with Jasper will be anything more than a DNA exchange with, perhaps, a few satisfying sexual encounters along the way.
In the meantime, I need to get busy finding an actual father for my yet-to-be-conceived child. I like to think of myself as a modern, independent woman, but underneath my contemporary veneer is the heart of a traditionalist. I was raised in a two-parent family, my nieces and nephews are being raised in two-parent families, and I want the same for my child. I want a man who is ready to settle down, who is mature, comfortable in his own skin, confident but not cocky. Someone who works for a living and won’t be looking to sponge off me or my famous family members. It would be nice if he’s handsome and polite. As you can see, I’m not being unreasonably picky. I know women who won’t date a man if he has so much as a crooked tooth, even if he’s the nicest, sexiest, most charming man they’ve ever met. The tooth is a deal breaker.
I’m not that girl. No one is perfect, least of all me, so why would I expect someone else to be? I’m not looking for perfection, but it would be nice to find someone I could talk to about things that interest me, who keeps up-to-date on what’s going on in the world, who cares about the things that matter to me—family, friends, my community, the larger world around us.
None of this sounds overly ambitious, right? Well, you’d be hard-pressed to find a man in Los Angeles, or most of Southern California, for that matter, who meets even half of my reasonable criteria. I’ve found if he’s handsome and fairly intelligent, he’s already been married three times and comes with several ex-wives, not to mention multiple kids with all different women. In other words: drama. No, thanks. I get enough drama at work, the kind we manufacture on behalf of Quantum Productions.
I get plenty of drama by association from my famous brother and our famous friends. I don’t need it in a relationship, too.
Or maybe you find a guy who is mature, never been married, confident but not cocky. Except when the other shoe drops, you discover he can’t hold down a job to save his life, or he doesn’t speak to his mother or some other highly undesirable quality emerges that negates the good things.
It’s exhausting. If it were going to be just me, I’d say to hell with finding a nice, normal guy to settle down with. But I can’t deny my child a daily father figure in his or her life simply because I’m tired of the dance. That’s not fair to my future child, thus my determination to find someone.
When I get home to Los Angeles, I’m going to do something I said I’d never, ever, ever do, no matter how desperate things got. I’m going to register with an exclusive dating service that’s come highly recommended by my dear friend Marlowe Sloane. The service has a reputation for pairing people who aren’t able, for whatever reason, to be listed online. I’ll still have to use a different name, so I can keep my famous family out of the equation. If I can find a man who falls in love with me, Ellie, and not the Godfrey name, that’ll be cause to celebrate. If I find one who might also be willing to raise my unborn child as his own, that’ll be a flat-out miracle. I’m hoping for a miracle.
Addie spreads a towel on the lounge next to mine and plops down to work on her already impressive tan. I stay huddled under my umbrella with Estelle Flynn’s voice in my head, telling me I’ll have wrinkles by forty if I keep up my sun-worshipping ways. My gorgeous mom with her porcelain skin is a real buzz-killer on a Mexican vacation.
“You aren’t working, are you?” she asks, eyeing my iPad.
“Nah, just taking a quick look at my email.” As head of the production logistics team at Quantum, we’re always working two or three films ahead of the rest of the group, scouting locations and securing the permits necessary to film in far-flung locations. We also handle travel, lodging and meals for the talent and crew. “My people have things under control, or so it seems.”
“The best part about going on vacation with my boss is that my people are on vacation, too,” Addie says. “Ahhhh, so relaxing.”
“And so unfair,” Ellie says. “I’m on vacation with the bosses and still getting slammed.”
“Totally unfair, especially since you’re the sister of one of the big bosses.”
“Right? I need to demand a meeting with my brother.”
“Just do it next week. His assistant is on a badly needed vacation.”
My laughter morphs into concern when I notice a big bruise on the inside of Addie’s wrist. “What happened there?”
Addie shades her eyes from the sun. “Where?”
“Your wrist is all bruised. Is that from when you fell the other night?” She tripped and nearly fell down a sharp embankment during a thunderstorm. Fortunately, Hayden and Flynn were right behind her and managed to help her to safety.
Turning her arm inward, Addie takes a closer look at it, as if seeing it for the first time. “Oh yeah, must be.” Keeping her other hand propped over her eyes, she says, “Tell me I’m crazy, but there seems to be an Englishman in our party looking at you like he wants to have you for dinner.”
I don’t know where to look—at Jasper sitting on the other side of the pool with the guys or anywhere but there. “I… I have no idea what you mean.” The one thing I know for certain is that my brother and the other Quantum partners cannot know about my deal with Jasper. It’s our personal business, and the last thing I want is to make this a group project with everyone asking questions. I shudder at the thought of it.
“You and Jasper… I can really picture that.”
I snort out a laugh. “Glad you can, because I can’t. Me and the playboy? Right.”
“You know better than to believe everything that’s said about him. You know him better than that.”
“I know that he goes through women like you and I go through water.”
Since she can’t dispute that fact, Addie says, “Hayden and Flynn think the world of him. That ought to count for something.”
“Of course it does, and I also think the world of him, but I know him too well to ever picture what you’re envisioning.” However, I think enough of him to make a baby with him, not that any of our mutual friends and colleagues will everknow about that. The idea of actually “making a baby” with Jasper makes me feel overheated. “I’m going in the pool. Want to come?”
“Thanks, but I’ll stay here and grab some Zs while Hayden is in the meeting with Flynn and Nat.”
I stand and remove my cover-up, revealing the bikini that seemed modest until I have to wear it in front of Jasper. Now I feel overly exposed, and not in a good way. “They’re in a meeting? On vacation?”
“It’s informal, which is why I’m out here rather than in there. They’re talking about the screenplay for Nat’s story. Flynn’s got a guy lined up to write it, and he wanted Hayden’s input before they move forward.”
“They’re really going to make that film, huh?”
“Flynn is extremely determined, and you know how that goes.”
I laugh, because yes, I know how driven my little brother can be when he sets his mind to something. I’m not unlike him in that way. I’ve decided I want a baby, and less than two weeks after finally making that decision, I’ve found someone to father my child and I have a plan. It’s a Godfrey family trait. We’re all Type-A, get-things-done people, and as I take the steps into the pool, I notice that my baby daddy is watching me. He’s watching me very closely.
She’s killing me in that teeny, tiny bikini that leaves nothing to my fertile imagination. If I were to create the ideal Southern California girl, Ellie Godfrey would be her—long legs, full breasts, a flat, toned belly and real blonde hair that cascades down her back, nearly reaching her supple arse.
It’s all I can do not to drool at the sight of her in a peach bikini as she disappears under the water and resurfaces looking like a sea nymph. She’s an actual wet dream, and the thought of making a baby with her grabs the attention of my John Thomas, which is the last bloody thing I need with Emmett and Sebastian sitting on either side of me and Kristian next to Seb. They’re reading, sleeping and listening to music, and thankfully paying no mind to my aroused state.
Wouldn’t that be something if they were to tell Flynn that I sported wood while watching his sister in the pool? Thank God for sunglasses. If they happened to notice the wood—and why would they be looking anyway?—at least they won’t be able to tell what—or who—caused said wood.
Since my conversation with her the other day, all I can think about is having sex with Ellie Godfrey. Prior to that life-changing twenty minutes, the possibility of any kind of sex with her was so remote as to have only been considered in passing. Such as, Damn, Ellie looks hot today, or I wonder how she’d be in bed, or Cripes, I’d love to know if her breasts are as fantastic as they look. Check that one off the list. The bikini confirms they’re every bit as spectacular as they appear when fully clothed—a thought that does nothing to ease the ache in my groin.
Bloody hell. I’m lusting after the sister of my friend and business partner. If I wasn’t half-knackered on sun and tequila, I might tell myself to knock it off. But I haven’t been in my right mind since she confessed to wanting a baby and I offered to provide stud services. As I’ve yet to have a moment alone with her since, I’ve wondered a few times if perhaps I dreamed the whole thing.
But I wasn’t dreaming when the exquisite Ellie Godfrey told me she yearns for a baby. I wasn’t dreaming when I told her I’d happily father her child, but only if we make the baby the old-fashioned way. In truth, I never expected her to take me up on my offer, and that she did so willingly tells me a lot about how badly she wants this baby we’re going to make together.
In the days that have passed since our momentous conversation, a few other thoughts have come to mind. First and foremost, no one, especially my family back home in England, can ever know that I’ve fathered a child, for reasons Ellie hasn’t the first clue about. Second, I need to talk to Emmett about the legalities, and Ellie needs to engage a lawyer of her own. We need to do this completely by the book.
The last bloody thing on God’s green earth that I need is legal problems with any member of the Godfrey family. My association with Flynn has been successful and profitable beyond my wildest dreams, not to mention I value his friendship. I won’t risk that even if it means finally getting a chance to touch gorgeous Ellie. Regardless of my worries, my relationship with Flynn won’t stop me from moving forward with my plans to get into the baby-making business with his sister.
She’s a grown woman who can make her own decisions, and she’s decided to allow me the supreme honor of fathering her child. I can’t and won’t take back my offer, nor will I leave her to the impersonal process of sperm banks, and God knows what else is involved with that. I shudder to imagine how that works.
No, I’m more than happy to do this the way God himself intended, and to allow her to raise our offspring as she sees fit. She’ll be a marvelous mother. Of that I have no doubt. She has a marvelous mother. I’m more than halfway in love with Stella Flynn, as are most of Flynn’s friends. I want Ellie to have her fondest desire, and I expect to fully enjoy knocking her up. As much as I like and admire Ellie, though, she and I could never be an actual couple. She’s too sweet—and far too vanilla—for the likes of me.
I can do sweet and vanilla to make a baby. But long-term? No way. I’m almost thirty-seven years old, and I found out a long time ago that I’m not capable of nice and sweet as a rule. No, I want hot, dirty, kinky sex. I need it the way some people need caffeine to get through a day. A man reaches a point in life where he’s not willing to compromise on certain things. My kink is nonnegotiable, and thus my realization quite some time ago that I’m likely to remain single rather than have to settle for a nice, wholesome girl who’d rather be electrocuted than tied up, flogged, spanked and fucked every which way to Tuesday.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t picture Ellie Godfrey submitting to me or any other man. She’s not a sub, but I am a Dom. I’d like to live to celebrate my next birthday, so I won’t be dominating Flynn’s sister, as much as I’d love to release the beast with her. The beast shall remain chained and under wraps while we make this baby she wants so badly.
How long could it take anyway? A month, maybe two? Once there’s a bun in the oven, I can get back to business as usual, and that means lots of different women who are as kinky as I am, if not more so. Far fewer complications in the long run, even if thoughts of more than baby-making with Ellie have crossed my mind a few times in the last few days. It’s just not possible, and that makes me unreasonably sad.
I look over to see that Emmett has put down his book, Seb has his eyes closed and his headphones in place, and Kristian is snoring loud enough to wake the dead, the way he always does after getting pissed on whiskey. “Can I have fifteen minutes Monday morning?” I ask Emmett.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“A personal matter.” Though it would probably make more sense to retain outside counsel for this personal matter, that’s a risk I don’t want to take since the mother of this child is Flynn Godfrey’s sister. I can’t risk some outside attorney deciding it would be more profitable to sell that tidbit to the rags than to serve as my counsel. Finding another lawyer would also take time I’m not willing to waste. I’m afraid to give Ellie the opportunity to reconsider our agreement. As a Quantum partner, I pay a portion of Emmett’s salary, and he’ll respect the attorney-client nature of our conversation. I have no worries about him telling anyone, even if I fear he won’t approve of our plans.
“Everything okay?” he asks, as my friend and not as my attorney.
“Yeah, it’s all good, mate. Just a detail I need seen to.”
“I’m your guy for details.”
Ellie emerges from the pool, glistening with drops of water offsetting her tanned skin, her nipples tightening into buds that I can clearly see under her skimpy top. I have to grit my teeth to contain the urge to pounce right here, right now. Since that’s not an option, I’ll see to the legalities, and then we’ll get down to business as fast as bloody possible.
A happy, relaxed, tanned group flies back to Los Angeles on Sunday night. We agreed to stay as long as we possibly could, which is why we touch down at LAX at ten after ten. Flynn and Hayden have nine o’clock meetings in the morning, but I’ll be at the office by seven to catch up on the two million emails that piled up while we were away. I’m meeting with my team at nine thirty to be looped back into what’s going on.
I’m gathering my stuff when I catch Jasper staring at me. He’s done a lot of that over the last few days, and I’m beginning to expect that when I glance his way, he’ll be looking at me like he can’t wait to see me naked. Antelope, meet cheetah. My body hums with awareness of him, especially the girl parts. If he can make me hum just by looking at me, what’ll happen when we get down to baby-making?
“El?” Kristian gestures for me to go ahead so he can follow me off the plane.
“Still daydreaming that you’re in Mexico?” he asks, chuckling.
“Something like that.” I can’t very well confess to fantasizing about having steamy baby-making sex with Jasper. Ugh, I’m a hot mess over this, and nothing has even happened yet. All he has to do is speak in that deliciously crisp British accent, and my panties melt.
He could read the Chinese menu to me in that accent, and I’d be done. My family still talks about me getting him to read The Night Before Christmas to us just because I wanted to hear it read in that accent. What they don’t know is that I went home and got myself off with Pete, my biggest vibrator, still hearing that delicious voice read the most innocent of words.
To this day, the words “’twas the night before Christmas” make me wet when I think about him saying them.
Speaking of Pete, I try to remember the status of his batteries and whether they still have some life left in them. I sure hope so, because I need to take the edge off this crazy craving that’s been happening ever since we struck our deal. Every part of me is tingling in anticipation, and I wonder, for a brief second as we get into cars to head home, if I’ll see Jasper as soon as tonight.
I go into a panic at the thought of him showing up before I’m ready. I need to shave and wax and… polish. I can’t just throw open the gates and let him come rolling in. Preparation must be done, and I need proof that he’s clean before the gates open for business.
He must sense my panic attack, because the next time I glance his way, he’s got his right eyebrow raised in inquiry. He’s getting into the passenger seat of Kristian’s new silver Tesla while I unlock my red BMW M6 convertible. Jasper points to his phone, and I nod before getting into my car.
Call you in an hour, his text reads.
I can deal with a call. I’m not ready to take him on in person. Not yet anyway. I leave the airport and head north on Route 1 to my home in Venice. I’m not sure if Jasper is going to his place in the city or to his Malibu beach house, but what does it matter? When he calls in fifty-seven minutes, I’ll tell him I’m not available tonight and we can talk tomorrow.
My skin feels tight, as if it’s shrunk in the time we spent away. Probably too much sun. But if that’s the case, how do I explain the beaded nipples and the tingling between my legs that occurs every time I think of the plans I made with Jasper? To say his willingness to father my child was unexpected is putting it quite mildly. Never in a million years had I expected to tell him I want a baby, let alone accept his offer to father my future child.
“It happens the old-fashioned way. No laboratories, turkey basters or test tubes, just hot, sweaty, no-holds-barred capital infusion.”
Dear God, remembering the way he said that has me pressing on the accelerator, desperate to get home to Pete. I roll into Venice Beach and drive along the famous boardwalk, which is still busy even late on a Sunday night. While my brother and his friends prefer the refined sophistication of Malibu, I dig the edgier, artsy vibe of Venice. I live a block from the beach in a two-bedroom bungalow that I’ve fully restored myself. I’ve taken do-it-yourself classes on everything from plumbing to electrical rewiring to refinishing floors to plastering walls.
Every inch of the gleaming beauty I call home has my stamp on it, and I enjoyed it so much that I’m looking for another house to restore. At this point you must be wondering what a Hollywood princess like me is doing in Venice Beach, renovating my own house when I can afford to hire people to do it for me. That’s true, I can. My parents are fabulously wealthy thanks to successful careers in show business. The whole world knows who Max Godfrey and Estelle Flynn are, and their crown prince, Flynn Godfrey, is an international superstar.
But I’m just Ellie, daughter of stars, sister of a superstar, and I live off what I make from a job that pays me very nicely. My parents set up trust funds for each of us that matured on our twenty-fifth birthdays. My sisters used some of their money to buy homes for their families, but I’ve never touched mine, and I don’t think Flynn has ever used his either. He doesn’t need it, and neither do I.
I have everything I need in this cozy home within walking distance of the Venice Beach boardwalk and the beach itself. I can smell the ocean from my front porch, along with the scents of fried food and sunscreen and occasionally the exhaust from too many cars and motorcycles.
My parents are “babysitting” my dog, Randolph, and tomorrow I’ll go to Beverly Hills to pick him up from Grammy and Pappy’s house—and yes, that’s what they call themselves when they refer to their granddog, Randy. I think they fear they’ll never have actual grandchildren from me, so they go all-out in their affection for my fur baby. Have I ever got a surprise in store for them!
The house is strangely quiet without Randy to greet me, and it smells musty from being closed up all week. I throw open the windows to let in the cool ocean breeze that ruffles the curtains. And no, I didn’t make them myself, although sewing is on my list of things I still want to learn how to do. At the doorway to the room across the hall, I flip on the light and study the empty space that I hope to soon fill with a crib, changing table and everything else I need for the baby I want so desperately.
My heart beats faster with excitement now that I have a plan in place to make my dream come true. Jasper and I will make a beautiful baby. I have no doubt about that. I’m just not sure how I’ll stand to wait nearly a year to meet my little one. Sighing with impatience, I turn off the light and go into my room.
Though I thought about Pete all the way home, I hold off on our reunion, knowing Jasper is going to call. I unpack the clothes I washed before we left Mexico, change into comfortable pajamas, wash my face and brush my teeth before getting into bed with my phone plugged into the charger. My skin is sensitive and tingly, as if something is about to happen. If he can wind me up like this in anticipation of a phone call—
The phone rings, ten minutes ahead of when he said he would call, and I nearly jump out of my tingling skin.
“For Christ’s sakes,” I mutter before taking the call and forcing a cheerful, this-is-no-big-deal-when-it’s-the-biggest-deal-ever tone. “Hi there.”
“Hello, darling.” The word sounds like dahling in his yummy accent, and the endearment has me melting into the pillows.
“Hi.” Wow, how exciting does my hi sound after his oh-so-sexy dahling?
“Well,” he says, “you’ve put me into a right state the last few days. I hope you know that.”
“Wait. What? What did I do?”
“Um, shall we start with the show in the pool yesterday?”
“What show in the pool?” I ask, genuinely baffled.
“The peach bikini, the wet skin, the hard nipples, the endless legs, the hair. Need I continue?”
His deep, rich laughter makes me hot all over. “All I’ve thought about since the other morning is how long I have to wait to make good on our plan.”
“Oh. You… You have?” That last word sounds more like a squeak than a word from a usually articulate woman. It’s the accent. It’s my kryptonite. I could die happy if I could go listening to him talk.
“I have indeed. What about you?”
“It’s crossed my mind. A time or ten thousand.”
That laugh is quickly becoming my second-favorite thing about him.
“So you’re excited, then?” he asks in a low, intimate tone that I’ve never heard from him before. Of course I haven’t heard it. I’ve never been intimate with him before.
I press my legs together, as if that alone can stop the insistent throb between them. “About the baby? Very much so.”
“How about the making of the baby? That, too?”
“Um, yes, that, too.”
“Oh no! That’s not what I meant! You don’t know how relieved I am to not have to go the clinical route to have a baby. You’re doing me a huge favor, and I appreciate it.”
“Well, I’m sure it’ll be a dreadful hardship,” he says, sounding so terribly British I would’ve swooned had I not been in bed, “but somehow I’ll get through it.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Yes, darling. I’m joking.”
“Oh.” I release a nervous twitter that sounds nothing like my usual laugh. “Good.”
“However, I’m not joking when I say we need to see to the practicalities of our arrangement before we proceed.”
“What practicalities do you mean?” Is he thinking your-place-or-mine type of stuff?
“The legal kind, for one. Due to our friendship and as well as my friendship and partnership with your brother, I think we need to tend to the legal business before the fun stuff. Just so there can be no misunderstandings later.”
“I can live with that.”
“Do you have a lawyer you can ask to represent you?”
I immediately think of my childhood friend Cecily St. James, who’s in private practice in LA. “I do.”
“If you shoot me his or her info, I’ll have Emmett set up a meeting.”
“Emmett? As in Emmett Burke, who we work with?”
“As in Emmett Burke, the general counsel who works for me as one of the Quantum principals.”
“But… He’s Flynn’s friend, his lawyer, his…”
“Ellie, take a breath. I trust him implicitly, and I’m using him as much for your protection as mine.”
“How will he protect me if he’s your lawyer?”
“He cares about all of us. He’d never breathe a word of what we’re planning to do to anyone. I can’t be that certain about another lawyer, and I want to be certain. Don’t you?”
Well, when he puts it like that… “Yes, of course I do. I’ll get you my lawyer’s contact information.”
“Excellent. We’ll get it sewed up right quick and move forward. Yes?”
“You said for one thing. What were the other things?”
“I figured you might have some conditions.”
“This may seem somewhat insulting, but I wondered how I’ll know that you’re, you know… clean.”
“You’re wise to ask. I’m happy to provide documentation. I assume you’ll do the same?”
Ellie told herself she wasn’t insulted that he would ask, but she felt the sting nonetheless. “Absolutely.” She was due to see Dr. Breslow on Tuesday and could take care of it then. And since she hadn’t had sex since her last exam, she’d be able to easily prove she was STD free.
“Well, very good, then. Soon enough we’ll have ourselves sorted and can get down to it.”
“Is that a euphemism where you’re from?”
“I think it’s a euphemism everywhere for what I’m referring to.”
His dirty laugh sets off a wildfire that warms me from the inside and makes my face—and other important parts—feel overheated. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yes, see you then.” I press the big red button on my phone to end the call and put it aside to reach for the bedside table, where Pete is waiting to take the edge off. That’s when I remember I forgot to get batteries. Hopefully, he still has some life left, because I need him tonight.
Though I arrive at the office early, eager to see to the details of my arrangement with Ellie, Emmett’s first opening isn’t until eleven. I’m useless as my morning passes with an unusual lack of productivity. All I can think about is getting Ellie into bed, which is perplexing more than anything. I’ve known her for years, worked closely with her and hung out in our close group of friends regularly. Over the years, she’s become somewhat of a sounding board for my trials with other women. But until that morning in Mexico, I never allowed my overly active imagination to seriously go there with her, because of who she is to Flynn, more than anything. Now she’s all I think about. How does that happen so quickly?
I want the details sorted as quickly as possible so we can get on with it. With that goal in mind, I make an appointment with my doctor for tomorrow. Legal, medical and logistical. Two down, one to go. Where will we meet to make our baby? Her place or mine or somewhere neutral, such as a hotel room? I need to ask her what she prefers.
I have shit I need to get accomplished on this first day back to work, but with most of the blood in my body hanging out with J.T., my concentration is crap. By the time eleven rolls around, I’m a useless bag of nerves and hormones, not to mention anxiety. What a potent combination.
Right about now, I should probably make a confession. While I never allowed my imagination to run in Ellie’s direction, more than once I wished she wasn’t off-limits to me. I’ve harbored a low-burning, what-if, wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if-we-could-but-we-never-will sort of crush on her. Not that I ever would’ve acted on it, for reasons you know by now. But she intrigues me. I can’t deny that if I were to seek out an actual relationship, she’s someone who could make me reexamine the way I live my life.
However, my life is set up the way it is for reasons I’ve kept to myself all these years, and I’m not at liberty to reexamine anything. That’s why I need to be very, very careful with how I approach this baby-making project so no one, especially Ellie, gets hurt.
Emmett buzzes my extension to let me know he’s free. When I stand, I experience a moment of dizziness that reminds me of where most of the blood in my body is currently located. “Give me five,” I say in reply to him.
“See you then.”
The line goes dead, and I force myself to think of the most unsexy things in the world—the smell of liver cooking at my grandma’s house on Sundays, smoking, facial tattoos, people who are rude to waiters in restaurants. That last one does the trick. I abhor rudeness.
Now that I’ve got J.T. under control—for the moment anyway—I head down the hall to Emmett’s office, entering after a quick knock. He’s on a tense-sounding call, so I take a seat and feign an interest in my phone to give him some privacy.
He ends the call, slamming the receiver onto the desktop phone.
I raise a brow in his direction.
“I despise the first day back after vacation.”
“That bad, huh?”
Emmett waves off the aggravation and forces a smile. “What can I do for you?”
I choose to go for shock value since his day has been shitty so far. “It seems I’ve decided to have a baby.”
Emmett’s mouth falls open. “You… You wanna run that by me one more time?”
“You heard me right the first time.”
“And you… Have you…” He clears his throat. “Is a baby already on the way?”
“Not yet.” Suffice to assume he’s no longer thinking about his frustration. I’m amused by the uncharacteristic stammer in his voice. He’s usually so cool and collected. It’s funny to experience Emmett shocked nearly speechless.
“I’ve agreed to father a friend’s child.” I can almost see his brain working overtime to wrap itself around what I’m telling him.
“This friend… She’s someone you know well?”
“She’s someone we all know well.”
Emmett stares at me, waiting for me to fill in the blanks for him.
His eyes nearly bug out of his head. Yep, definitely not thinking about whatever was stressing him out earlier. “As in Ellie Godfrey?” he asks, blanching.
“The one and only.”
“Pardon me for asking, but are you out of your fucking mind?”
I can’t help myself. I laugh. Hard.
Nowhere near as amused as I am, Emmett sits back in his chair, arms crossed, glaring at me.
When I get myself under control, I say, “First off, she’s the one who wants a baby. Second, I offered to help her out so she’s not stuck messing with a sperm bank. Third, the baby will be hers and hers alone. And fourth, that’s where you come in—making sure it’s clean and legal and all sewn up.”
“So you and Ellie are going to—”
“Make a baby. Right.” I stick out my chin for effect. “I imagine he’ll be a cute little chap, don’t you think?”
“I, uh, yeah, of course. But Jesus, Jasper, it’s Ellie.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And do you also know Flynn will fucking kill you for touching his sister?”
“No, he won’t. She won’t let him. This is what she wants, Em. She wants it more than anything, and if we have our way, no one other than our lawyers will need to know who the baby’s father is.”
“You really think you can keep something like this a secret?”
“We aren’t going to tell anyone. Are you?”
Emmett scowls. “Don’t ask me that. You know better.”
“I do, and that’s why I trust you to handle it for me. I’m giving her full custody and anything else that has to happen to make the baby entirely hers.”
He picks up a pen and balances it between his fingers as he eyes me with trepidation in his expression. “As your attorney and your friend, I feel I have to warn you against signing away your rights before the baby is even conceived or born. You may feel differently once you meet your son or daughter.”
“I won’t feel differently, and Ellie has agreed to liberal visitation, which is all I’m interested in. I have no desire to change nappies or have my beauty sleep interrupted for months.” An ache in the center of my chest makes a big, fat liar out of me, but my reality is what it is, and no child of mine is going to be saddled with the burdensome obligations that have marked my life. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy, let alone my own child.
“Jasper, I can’t, in good conscience, allow you to do this.”
“Do I need to get another lawyer?”
“Of course not. I just want you to think about it—really think—before you do something that can’t be undone.”
“You’re one of my best mates, Em, as you well know. So is Ellie. I don’t expect anything to change between her and me once we conceive this child. We’ll still be friends, and she’ll have what she most wants. I’ll get to have some hot sex with a beautiful woman. It’s a win-win.” And I… I’ll be able to look on from a safe distance as my child grows and thrives without the weight on his shoulders that’s been sitting on mine since the day I was born.”
Emmett taps his pen on the desktop as he continues to stare at me. “This hot sex you’re going to have with our friend’s sister…”
“What about it?”
He leans in, elbows on his desk, gaze intense and focused now that the shock has worn off. “She’s not in the lifestyle, Jasper.”
“I know that. I have no plans to dominate her, not the usual way anyhow. She wouldn’t have it.” I wait a beat while trying to gauge his mood. “So, you’ll represent me, yes?”
“Yeah, I’ll represent you,” he says with obvious reluctance. “I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“You say that like I’m often off the rails and out of control.”
“You never are, which is why I’m concerned. This isn’t like you.”
“Every so often, we have to step outside our comfort zone to see what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
“So that’s what this is?”
“This is me doing a favor for a dear friend. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
“There are ways you can do this favor without ever laying a hand on her.”
“I’m well aware of that, as is she. We’ve agreed that we prefer the time-tested method of conception over the laboratory version.”
Emmett pauses for another long moment before he says, “Does she have representation?”
“She’s arranging that today. Shall I have her lawyer get in touch?”
“Um, sure, that’d be good.”
“You’re not bowling me over with your enthusiasm.”
After another long pause, Emmett says, “Despite our close friendship, you’re still one of my bosses, Jasper, and my job is to protect you, the other principals and Quantum itself from exposure. I wouldn’t be doing my job as your counsel if I didn’t tell you I think this might be a bad idea. As your friend, I fear it won’t be as simple as you make it out to be, and I worry you’re getting into something that could be disastrous for you on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Flynn will kill you if he ever finds out—and people you consider close friends may offer to help him.”
I listen to what he has to say, and even though I don’t agree, I appreciate the place it’s coming from. Indeed, we pay him to look out for our best interests, and that’s all he’s doing. But his warnings aren’t going to convince me to rescind my offer. I’d never do that to Ellie—and besides, I’m looking forward to it too much to even think about reneging.
“I understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying it, but I’m set on this. If you’re concerned about being put in an odd position with Flynn, I can get someone else—”
“No. You’re not getting someone else.”
“Very good, then. We’d like to get the details sorted this week. I know you’re swamped after vacation, but I’d appreciate a swift resolution.”
“No problem,” he says, though I can tell he still isn’t happy about it.
No matter. He doesn’t need to be happy. He just needs to make sure it’s all set up the way we want it.
“Once I hear from her attorney, I’ll draw up the papers and set up a meeting for all of us on Thursday. Will that work?”
Three days. I suppose I can wait three more days if I have to. “That works. Thank you.” I get up to leave, but I feel his gaze on me as I go. If I’m being truthful, I probably would’ve said the same stuff to him if the roles were reversed.
The hallway is deserted, so I take a chance and knock on Ellie’s closed door, and when she calls out to come in, I duck in before anyone can see me. Yes, I’m aware that I’m being somewhat silly, but our plan feels fragile and tenuous. I’m terrified of something messing it up—like her brother catching wind of it and freaking out before we can consummate our plans.
“Hi,” she says, giving me a curious, adorable look. “Just dropping in?”
I realize I’m leaning against the back of her door, acting as if I’ve escaped from something. Reaching for my lapels, I adjust the fit of my bespoke suit coat and try to find some of my legendary cool. I’m so rarely rattled that the emotion catches me off guard. “I saw Emmett.”
I drop into her visitor chair, my gaze drawn to the photo of her with her parents that sits on the credenza behind her desk. Today, Ellie is wearing a pretty floral silk blouse and her hair is down. She’s lightly tanned from the trip, and the dusting of freckles on her nose is so damned sweet.
“Jasper? Are you all right?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to stare. You look quite lovely today. Well, every day, but today in particular.” I sound like an utter prat. When she asks me what an utter prat is, I realize I’ve said that out loud. “It’s slang for idiot.”
“Ahh, well, you’re not an idiot, but you are acting sort of strange.”
I comb my fingers through my hair, looking for a way to expend some of the energy rattling around inside me. “Emmett threw me for a bit of a loop.”
“Why? Does he disapprove?”
“He didn’t say so in as many words, but the gist was that I may regret signing away full custody of a baby who hasn’t even been conceived yet.”
“Don’t worry, I haven’t changed my mind about that or anything.”
“That wasn’t the part I most expected him to object to.”
“Well, he did mention the possibility of Flynn and others I consider close mates conspiring to murder me.”
That makes her laugh, and the husky, sexy sound catches J.T.’s immediate attention. I cross my legs, hoping to squash the blood supply, but J.T. is a persistent bugger when he sets his mind on something—or someone.
“Have your attorney contact him. He promised to get it done this week.”
“I’ll have her call him today.”
“I’d like to take you to dinner tonight.” I hadn’t planned to say that when I came in here, but I need to see her away from the minefield that is the office. I need more of her, and that need isn’t just coming from J.T. It’s bigger than that, a thought that makes my heart beat a little faster than usual. What the bloody hell is wrong with me?
“Oh, um, sure. I can do that. I have to get Randy from my parents’ house, but I could go after that.”
I decide to get out before J.T. blows up into a full-on cock stand that she’ll surely notice. “Great. I’ll pick you up at your place at eight.” I’m out the door before she can reply or see what being around her has done to me. Christ, I’m a wreck, and I haven’t even touched her yet.