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The CEO's Unexpected Child

By:Andrea Laurence

The CEO's Unexpected Child
Andrea Laurence

       One

"I don't care, Stuart. I'm not letting a total stranger just take my daughter from me."

Claire Douglas's lawyer, Stuart Ewing, patted her on the hand. He had a  grandfatherly way about him, an easygoing attitude that belied the fact  that he was a courtroom barracuda. She had a lot of faith and money  invested in the man, but that didn't mean she wasn't terrified deep  down.

"We'll work something out, Claire. I just need you to keep your cool  when we go in there. Don't let your emotions get the best of you."

Claire frowned. Keeping her emotions in check was not exactly her  specialty. She'd been bombarded with emotions over the past two years.  Her life had become a roller coaster from the moment she found out she  was pregnant. After years of failed fertility treatments, it had been  their last chance. That moment had been the highest of highs.

Her husband dying in a car accident when she was five months pregnant  was the lowest of lows. Especially the painful revelations that followed  it. The birth of her daughter had been the only thing that pulled her  out of that dark place, giving her a reason to be joyful and live her  life again.

But she'd never expected this. The disclosure of the mistake they'd  made at the fertility clinic had changed her whole life. It had made her  a millionaire, and at the same time had threatened the stability of her  small family.

"Mrs. Douglas? Mr. Ewing? They're ready for you." The receptionist at  the front desk gestured to a set of double doors that led to a  conference room.

There, Claire presumed, waited the man who was trying to take her child  and the lawyer he'd hired to help him. She felt her stomach roll,  threatening to return the coffee and bagel she'd forced down her throat  that morning.

"Come on, Claire," Stuart said, pushing up from the waiting-room chair.  "Everything is going to be fine. You're not going to lose your  daughter."

Claire nodded, trying to act calm and assured, though she was anything  but. There were no guarantees. They were marching into a room where  Edmund Harding was waiting for them. He was the kind of lawyer every  billionaire in Manhattan had on speed dial. Harding had such a level of  prestige and influence that he could probably get the courts to do  anything he wanted.

Scooping up her purse, she forced her trembling hands into tight fists  at her sides and followed Stuart into the conference room.

The room was elegant and intimidating, with a large rectangular glass  table that cut it in two like a blade. There was no question that it  divided everything into their side and their opponents' side. There were  plush leather rolling chairs lining the table, but at the moment all of  them were empty.

Claire's gaze drifted to the large, floor-to-ceiling windows on the  left side of the room. A man stood in front of it, looking out over  Central Park. She couldn't make out any of his features, just the  hulking shape of his broad shoulders and narrow waist. The man was tall,  his arms crossed over his chest. He emitted an intense energy that  Claire picked up on immediately.

"Ah, Mrs. Douglas," a voice called. "Mr. Ewing, please have a seat."

Claire turned toward the voice and found a man on the other side of the  room. He was gathering paperwork in his hands and carrying it to the  table. The man had a certain studious look about him that convinced her  that he was the infamous Edmund Harding. That meant the man by the  window had to be...

"Luca, we're ready to begin," Edmund said.

As Claire settled into her seat, the man at the window finally turned.  When he did, Claire was very glad she was already sitting. The face that  regarded her was like a Florentine masterpiece of the Renaissance. He  had a square, clean-shaven jaw and high cheekbones that looked as if  they were carved out of marble. Dark brows hovered over narrowed eyes  that crinkled at the edges.

Those eyes ran over Claire for a moment, then turned away,  disinterested. He strode to the conference table and sat beside his  lawyer.

This was the father of her child?

She almost couldn't believe it, and yet her daughter's dark curls and olive complexion certainly hadn't come from her.

"Before we begin, can my assistant bring anyone anything? Water? Coffee?" Edmund asked.                       
       
           



       

"No, thank you," Claire said quietly.

"Coffee, black," the man across the table demanded. No niceties, no  please or thank you. He seemed very much to be the kind of man who was  used to getting what he wanted.

He wouldn't get his way this time. Claire was determined not to let  this man get his hooks into her daughter. He didn't even know Eva. How  could he possibly get custody of her?

The assistant brought Luca a mug of black coffee and silently disappeared as quickly as she arrived.

"Thank you for coming today," Edmund began as the door clicked shut.  "We asked to meet with you in person because we feel as though our prior  communications aren't having the impact they should. Mr. Moretti is  very serious about pursuing his joint custody filing."

Being served with papers that said a stranger was demanding custody of  her daughter had nearly floored her. When she had learned the truth  about the mix-up at the fertility clinic, a part of her had hoped that  the biological father would be disinterested in Eva. She found out  quickly that was not going to be the case.

"Don't you think that filing was premature?" Stuart asked. "He hasn't  even met the child, but he thinks he should have joint custody?"

"He would've met his daughter weeks ago if your client had cooperated  with our requests. We had no choice but to do something Mrs. Douglas  couldn't continue to ignore."

The two lawyers continued to argue, but Claire found her attention was  drawn to the silent force sitting across from her. While his lawyer did  all the talking, Luca Moretti leaned back in his chair and studied  Claire. His dark hazel eyes ran over every inch of her. She did her best  to hold still, not wanting to squirm or show any sign of weakness in  front of him.

Instead, she focused on studying him just as closely. It was so easy to  see pieces of him in Eva. When her daughter was born, Claire had been  confused by the baby they handed her, with the head of dark, curly hair.  Claire had dark honey-blond hair. Her husband, Jeff, had light brown  hair. Neither was olive skinned nor had a cleft in their chin, but Eva  did.

But all her confusion and worry disappeared the moment she looked into  her daughter's gray eyes. She fell in love that instant, and no longer  cared what Eva looked like because she was perfect. For all Claire knew,  Jeff had Spanish or Italian blood he'd never told her about.

The doubts hadn't arisen in her mind again until the clinic called  three months later. They'd informed her that their last vial of sperm  was due for destruction in three months if they didn't use it. They  hadn't opted to pay the lifetime storage fees because they'd intended to  use it all fairly quickly.

The call confused her because they'd used their last dose when they  conceived Eva. That information had raised red flags, and it wasn't long  until they discovered the truth-her husband's sperm had a number  transposed on the paperwork and another client's sperm was used instead.

Luca Moretti's, to be exact.

The thought sent a chill through her. The man had never touched her and  yet a part of him had been inside her. What was a man like Luca doing  at a fertility clinic, anyway? Putting himself through college by  selling sperm for cash? Every inch of his body, from his broad shoulders  to his hard jaw, screamed the kind of masculinity she hadn't been  exposed to in a very long time, if ever. With the right look, Claire was  certain he could make a woman's ovaries explode. If a man like Luca  needed the services of a fertility clinic, a lesser man didn't stand a  chance with his own progeny.

And yet, he was there. When the news broke, Luca had focused his  attention on the fertility clinic. He'd sent Edmund after them and  before Claire knew it, the clinic was begging to settle out of court and  keep the scandal quiet. She had instantly gone from a comfortable  middle-class woman, to someone who didn't need to work another day in  her life.

But then Luca turned his legal bulldogs on her. Claire wouldn't back  down, though. She didn't care if it cost her every penny of her  settlement battling in court. Eva was her baby. It was hard enough  trying to deal with the revelation of her daughter's paternity. She was  still trying to work through her anger and confusion about Jeff's death.  How could she tell Jeff's parents that Eva wasn't their biological  granddaughter? She had a lot on her plate already. She didn't need Luca  coming out of nowhere and making demands about her child.                       

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