“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?