Nick held up a hand. “And you’re going to halt all legal action to get custody of Jennie.”
“Why should I do anything you want?”
Nick started with what was most important to him first. Jennie. “Jennie isn’t Jilly’s daughter.”
“I know that.”
It appeared that Candace was right; Desmond was only trying to hurt him though his daughter, enough to make him pursue a frivolous legal suit purely to frustrate Nick. But did he know who her real mother was?
“Then you know you have no right to her.”
The older man picked up a pen and tapped it against the wooden edge of the desk. “My daughter adopted her—she’s my grandchild.”
Nick’s first reaction was to lean over the desk and punch Desmond, as he’d been dying to do for weeks. Instead, he said, “I intend to challenge that adoption. I don’t want my daughter growing up like Jilly did, with a guardian whose only way of showing his love is to buy her whatever she wants.”
Desmond blinked, and Nick regretted his hotheaded reply. The man had lost a daughter. Then he remembered the pain that had poured out in Jilly’s diary. It was no wonder that the only way she knew to respond to being in love was to try to buy the loved one.
It had been a disastrous course of action; but spoiled, emotionally starved Jilly had been too insecure to know any other way.
Nick held his father-in-law’s gaze, until Desmond looked away first.
“I found the journal Jilly kept. It made for very interesting reading.” That jerked Desmond’s attention back to him, Nick noticed with satisfaction. “She poured everything into it—even the reason why the IVF was done offshore—she knew she would never get her harebrained scheme past the ethics committee that approves surrogate arrangements in New Zealand. When I gave the necessary signature for my sperm to be transferred offshore, I had no knowledge that it wouldn’t be used to impregnate my wife, but rather the surrogate she had chosen.”
Jilly had written of her overriding need for a baby to fill the emptiness of her life. That had caused Nick a pang of guilt. He’d been so busy resenting Jilly for forcing him into an untenable situation that he’d never tried to figure out what had been behind her desire for a child. Jilly had also written about her craving to experience pregnancy firsthand. Nick could only assume that longing had triggered the fake pregnancy she’d enacted—together with the desperation for Jennie to be seen as her child.
Watching Desmond carefully, Nick added, “New Zealand law requires the baby’s real mother to be listed on the birth certificate. Jilly bribed the midwife who tended to the baby’s birth to state that Jilly was the baby’s mother.” When Candace had first claimed to be Jennie’s mother, Nick had known it was impossible. According to the birth certificate, Jilly was Jennie’s mother. Jilly’s journal had solved another piece of the puzzle.
Heaven knew what else Jilly had done.
It was time to play his hand. “The baby’s birth certificate will be corrected.” He hoped to attend to the change quietly. Jennie’s status as Candace’s daughter was something he intended to handle as tactfully as he could. “Do you want your daughter’s fraud to be made public? The fact that she lied to me, her husband, about being pregnant while forging my consent to a surrogacy arrangement? About bribing medical practitioners to go along with fertilizing another woman’s egg and implanting it offshore into that woman without my knowledge and consent? About paying off a midwife to falsify a birth certificate? Do you want people to know how mentally frail she was? How your years of emotional neglect affected her?”
Desmond started to object, then he stopped.
“You’ve worked to build a media image as a philanthropist, a devoted father to Jilly. Desmond, do you want that tainted?” Nick pressed on. “Do you want the real story of your troubled relationship with your daughter made public? The facts of how she manipulated the surrogate system exposed, along with how she bribed medical officials?”
Holding his breath, Nick waited. Would it be enough to persuade Desmond to back down?
“No,” Desmond conceded at last. He tossed aside the pen he’d been fiddling with, and spat out, “I’d rather she was remembered as the beautiful, happy woman she was before she married you.”
Nick nodded. “I was not the right man for her—there can be no doubt about that.” He regretted the years he and Jilly had both wasted. From Jilly’s journal he’d learned that in her way she did love him, and she’d come to realize her mistake in forcing him into a union he didn’t want. That had been one of the motivations for a baby. To bring them closer together. She’d thought that Nick needed a child—she’d viewed him as a great prospective father. That had deeply touched Nick, giving him a way forward to remember Jilly in a kinder way.