Page 2 of Anybody's Dad

"No way." She plucked a tissue from a lace-covered box and blotted her eyes.

"Tessa, listen," Dia said in a calm tone that always soothed Tessa. One would think she was the elder sister. "He's not an ogre."

"Have you met him?" Warts and baldness immediately came to mind.

"No, just his lawyer."

"You guys run like a wolf pack, so that doesn't count."

"He has rights." Dia's voice was tight.

"No, he doesn't. This baby is mine, all mine. Selecting sperm from a bank was supposed to insure that. If I wanted a father around I would have gone the conventional route."

"And you selected his. Why?"

"Oh, that hardly matters now. It's the clinic's fault, let him sue them."

"He's not suing. He wants to be a part of his child's life."

Panic raced through Tessa. "Never. Do you hear me, Dia? Never!"

"Tessa, sit."

Tessa sat, a soft plop onto a stack of floor pillows.

"Most men get the hell scared out of them when it comes to pregnancy and babies." Like her ex, Tessa thought, flipping her braid back over her shoulder. "Perhaps he just wants to offer financial support?" Dia finished.

Tessa made a face, then glanced around her cozy little house. "I don't need it."

"I know, but give him the chance to do the right thing. If you don't, this could get ugly."

A judge, the media, she realized, her child given an initial like Baby M. "Okay, okay. I will, under protest. One meeting and that's it."

"Tomorrow morning at nine. My office."

Tessa's brows knitted softly. "You were so sure I'd say yes?"

"You pay me to know what you need before you need it."

"Living in the same house for twenty years didn't hurt either, huh?"

Dia's laughter filtered through the phone, making Tessa smile as she said goodbye. Flicking off the cordless phone and tossing it aside, Tessa sank deeper into the mound of pillows, spread-eagle. Toeing off her sandals, she stared at the bordered ceiling, smoothing her hands over her belly. The baby moved in a slow, rolling wave, and she touched every ripple, smiling to herself, gaining strength. She wasn't going to let this person, this entity she refused to give a face to, get to her. This baby was hers, extra special, extra loved and extra wanted, because when she was young and married to Ryan, she'd had her chance and lost it.

Her ex hadn't wanted to be a father, ever, and although he'd said often enough that she was all he needed, she chose not to believe him. Disillusionment and hard reality hit when her birth control failed and he gave her a choice—abort or divorce. The confrontation had ended her marriage and she realized her own naiveté had allowed it to happen. The foolishness of youth, she thought. But miscarrying in the middle of her divorce had devastated her the most. Tessa's eyes burned suddenly and she stroked her belly, taking deep calming breaths. Just thinking about how Ryan had come rushing back when he'd heard about the miscarriage still upset her. She'd lived on her anger then, focusing on her career, on becoming financially independent enough to afford a child, without a father. She'd almost waited too long.

But now, she was exactly where she wanted to be. And she'd fight this faceless enemy with everything she had before giving into the donor's arrogant demands to be a part of her baby's life.

"We'll get through this," she whispered to her unborn child.

This Chase Madison didn't know what he was up against when he faced a mother protecting her child.

* * *

Two

Chase stood near the office window, his back to his lawyer, Tigh McBain, and stared out the spotless glass, watching the traffic move on the streets below. His breath almost made frost, it was so cool in the long conference room, and he checked his watch for the third time. "She's late."

"Tessa's always late," a soft voice said, and he turned to see a small, slender young woman enter the conference room. She greeted Tigh politely, setting her briefcase on the long table as her secretary, a man for God's sake, followed her, placing a coffee service and a pitcher of water on the table.

"And you tolerate it?"

She met his gaze, and Chase saw the shark beneath the impeccably tailored attorney. "Sisters have a tendency to tolerate a lot from each other."

Sisters. Wonderful. Nothing like having her family forces joined against him.

"I'm Dia Lightfoot." Chase looked her over thoroughly, and she seemed to expect it, an odd smile crossing her lips. She was attractive, severe in appearance, businesslike in a fitted Chanel suit, black hair whipped tightly into a twist. Everything about Ms. Dia Lightfoot spoke of a professional hardness he saw too often in women climbing the corporate ladder. But to Chase, every lawyer was a shark, including Tigh. God, was this what awaited him? A woman so unable to spare a moment from her demanding career that she chose a sperm bank instead of taking the time for a relationship? His stomach knotted and he returned his gaze out the window, hands braced behind his back. He rocked on his heels, flinching when a buzzer sounded. He glanced back to see Ms. Lightfoot flip a cellular phone and speak softly, then click it off and drop it into her briefcase. "She's on her way up."

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