“Why don’t you just tell me the truth for once?” he said.
“You aren’t going to like this.”
His hands dug even deeper. “Is it mine?”
Aware of those rough fingers and of the muscle ticking along his hard jawline, she fought for every breath.
“Nobody has to know,” she whispered.
“What? Nobody has to know? That’s your answer?”
If she’d struck him, he couldn’t have looked more stunned. “I know,” he said. “I know.”
“I wasn’t planning to blackmail you. I just wanted to tell you. That’s all. I swear.”
“I—I…” She broke off. “Because it’s yours.”
There was no trace of tenderness or even humanity in Nico’s face. She’d seen such cold implacability in the courtroom many times. It always spelled doom. No matter what she said, he wasn’t going to believe her.
“I’m telling you the truth. That’s the only reason I called.”
His eyes narrowed until all she could see was glittering blue slits of fire behind his black lashes. “Well, you’re not blackmailing anybody because you’re going to marry me, you little fool.”
“Impossible. You told me we could never be together.”
“That was before you became pregnant with my child.”
My child, too! she wanted to scream.
“What about Viola? Your family? Your mother?”
“They will have to accept it, as I have to accept it. A higher duty calls.”
“You’re a prince. I want you to marry Viola. You have to marry her.”
“And have my child grow up a bastard in America, raised solely by a woman like you, never knowing him and all the while knowing he’ll always feel abandoned by me, his father, knowing, as well, you could use him and threaten to sell your story for your own gain. No! What would that do to him, to have his father abandon him to a mother like you?”
Stung, she almost wept. “I would never do that!”
He stared at her for a long moment. “Did you know who I was that first day? Did you do this deliberately?”
“I don’t need you or your title or your money. I’m an attorney. I have my career—”
He laughed. “Some career. You were fired from Merrit, Riley & Whitt. Two days ago.”
“How do you know that?”
“Money buys a lot of answers. Being a lawyer, you should know that.”
“I’ll have you know there are privacy laws in this country.”
“There should be laws against what you did to me. All your miserable life, you’ve been out to prove you were somebody.”
“How do you know—”
“Is that why you ditched the sperm-donor plan, why you wanted to catch a prince?”
“I—I want you to leave! Now! I—I called you because I thought you were a reasonable person and I wanted to tell you, just to let you know. But now I know who you really are—a total, arrogant bastard.”
“As I know who you really are.”
“But I’m not what you think and you are what I—”
“All your life, you’ve felt like an outsider. Your sister was the one everybody loved. You’ve fought and scraped to climb out of some imaginary gutter. You didn’t care who you hurt.”
Who had talked to him?
“I don’t need you. I can raise my baby without you or anybody else.”
“But you’re not going to because I won’t allow it. You’re going to marry me. For a year. So I can stake my legal claim to my son.”
“I hate you.”
His eyes flashed with equal passion. “Surely we can stand each other for a year.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Yes, and it’s your fault.” His tone was low and was so maddeningly calm she wanted to slap him, wanted to yank tufts of his thick black hair from his scalp. “After the year is over, you can do what you want.”
“My life is here.”
“Not for the next year. No child of mine is going to be a bastard.”
“My child, too!”
“If you don’t agree to marriage on my terms, I’ll fight you for custody. My family is very powerful. Don’t force me to lean on you. Believe me, it will not be a pleasant experience.”
She tried to swallow. She’d been the legal lackey representing wealthy people and corporations too long not to know the power of big money. He was right. He could crush her.
“So, you will marry me, and fast,” he said. “You can seek a divorce when our child is three months old. After our divorce, I will want to see him as often as possible.”
“Him? How can you keep saying our baby is a boy?”