Chase didn't think his stomach could clench any tighter. He wasn't noticing the magnificent skyline, or his chilled skin. His imagination was too busy painting an unpleasant picture of Dia's sister. A duplicate of the shark in heels, he thought. Gritty. Clinical enough to breed her baby in a doctor's office.
A rap on the door sounded, and Chase turned as the secretary pushed open the heavy wood, then stepped aside.
Chase's brows rose high on his forehead as a very pregnant woman moved gracefully into the icy room. His conjured images were instantly destroyed as she seemed to float to her sister, hugging her. Not a brief touch of cheeks, but a real, loving hug. The temperature rose, warming the room. And Chase couldn't take his eyes off her or her rounded tummy. That's my baby in there, he thought, then brought his gaze to her face. He noticed the small straw hat first, the rolled brim, fanned back over one ear, her long black hair tucked behind and falling down her back. Her obviously pregnant body was clothed in a flowing cream silk and lace creation reaching mid-calf. The dress was shapeless, yet the simple garment draped her like a mystery, showing curves and showing nothing. Bet she never strapped herself into suits and heels, he thought, pleased and wary. His gaze immediately dropped to her legs as if whether or not she wore high heels would make a difference, yet he found matching opaque stockings and shoes that looked more like ballet slippers. Even her feet were delicate.
Tessa Lightfoot was femininity at its finest. And he was sunk.
How was he supposed to fight this? This ethereal image of motherhood.
She smiled, but he only caught half of it, her face turned away as her counsel introduced her to his. Tigh flashed her his easy grin, then offered her a chair, and she sat, clutching her tiny beaded handbag on her lap before she finally twisted a look at him.
The air between them was charged with defiance before Tessa turned back to Dia, taking a calming breath. Oh, lord. Did he have to be so handsome? Where were the warts she spent half the night praying for? she wondered as his lawyer gestured to an empty chair and Chase rounded the back of the table, sliding in it. He adjusted his tie and let his gaze creep across the table and up to her face. She could feel it, like a fingertip under her chin, and she fought the urge to look at him. She kept her gaze locked on Dia.
Her lawyer racked papers and addressed Tigh. "Miss Lightfoot wants to know what rights you believe you're entitled to."
"I don't believe I am, I know."
Tessa looked at him sharply, briefly, and in a heartbeat, Chase was snagged in those vivid green eyes.
"Miss Lightfoot feels this is the clinic's problem."
Ignoring Tigh's prior warning to let him negotiate, Chase went on. "It's our problem. Because that's our baby. And does Miss Lightfoot," he growled, "even have a voice?"
Tessa cocked a look at him. "As a matter of fact I do, though not as loud as yours."
Chased stared, then grinned suddenly, and Tessa was startled, her cheeks warming. Dia and Tigh exchanged a glance.
"Surely your client will agree this is an unusual situation," Tigh said. "We would like to know how this mistake was discovered."
The lawyers exchanged copies of paperwork. "Lab techs were updating records, a periodic checking of log numbers against donors, making certain no donor is used more than once." Chase felt his skin tighten. "The donor's—" Dia cleared her throat, making Chase squirm "—Mr. Madison's—sperm was incorrectly listed."
"Then how do they know he's the one," Tigh asked, "if he was just a number in a registry?"
Dia glanced at Tessa and she nodded.
"When this matter arose, Miss Lightfoot underwent amniocentesis to be certain."
That she would go through such pain and risk told Chase more than he wanted to know and he leaned across the table, his gaze flicking between Dia and Tigh, then to Tessa.
"And?" His breath locked in his lungs.
Tessa knew this should come from her and lifted her gaze from her lap, her eyes glossed with unshed tears. She put just enough resentment into her tone as she said, "It was your donation, Mr. Madison."
The wind went out of Chase then. There had been the shadow, the sliver of a chance that this was just a mix-up in paperwork. But now that warm feeling came again, spreading to his fingers this time, seeping into his heart and burrowing deeper and stronger with each passing moment. A dad. He leaned back in the chair, so damned pleased. And he hoped it showed, hoped this woman realized that he wasn't giving up any rights to his child, without one hell of a fight.
But Tessa knew, by his expression, his eyes, warming to a wonderful cobalt blue. She looked away suddenly. Oh, God, what have I done? Acknowledging him offered him rights. Parental rights. No. He's just the donor, a test tube of defrosted fluid.