Daniel snorted his disagreement. The only person he wanted to fantasize about him was Alex. The thought of Alex reminded him that he had to get this conversation moving or he’d be late. “What’s your point, Gran?”
“You might have missed it but there have been a couple of messages to you from a Hector Lamb.”
Hector Lamb? He recognized that name. “Did he send me a message on the ranch account, saying he wanted to meet me to discuss a mutual acquaintance?” The butterflies started to take flight. “I presume he is talking about Stephanie.”
Daniel ran a hand across the back of his neck. “What does he want? Does he know that we haven’t had any contact with her since I was a kid?”
This wasn’t the first time one of Stephanie’s marks showed up at their door, demanding restitution. When he was younger, it had been a common enough occurrence—money frequently changed hands to keep Stephanie out of jail—but even after she broke off communications, there had been a few men who tried their luck trying to extort money from them.
“He doesn’t want anything,” Rose replied. “No, that’s not true. He wants to meet you.”
Rose’s eyes brimmed with tears again. “Hector was in Austin for business. He met your mom. They had a weeklong affair. He left and when he returned five months later, it was obvious that she was pregnant. Your mom told him that the baby was a boy, that it was his and that she was going to name him Daniel.”
Daniel felt the room tilt, his vision go blurry. He forced himself to concentrate on Rose’s words, to make some sort of sense of what she was saying.
“Stephanie was still married to her loser ex and she was using his name. Hector offered to look after her and his baby, and he returned to Houston to rent her a flat, to buy furniture and a car. She was supposed to arrive in Houston two weeks later but—”
“She never arrived.”
“Because, you know, Stephanie could never make life easy for herself. She went back to using the name Clayton and Hector couldn’t find her. More important, he couldn’t find you.”
Daniel forced the words out from between clenched teeth and dry lips. “He looked for me?”
“He never stopped.” Rose’s smile was gentle. “He saw that picture of you in that magazine article and just recognized you. He knew you were his.”
“How?” Daniel croaked the word.
“You look just like him, darling. You couldn’t be anyone else’s child.” Rose placed her hand on his shoulder. “Honey, you’re trembling. I know it’s a shock, but he wants to meet you, wants to know you.”
Daniel scrubbed his hands over his face, his heart banging inside his chest. He took a couple of deep breaths before he remembered that parental attention and love always came with a price. Why was his father here? What did he want? What was in it for him?
And, crucially, how much was he prepared to pay to have his father in his life?
Rose’s hand drew big circles on his back. “Do you want to meet him?”
He’d have to meet him to discover why he was here, what he wanted. “Yeah, I guess.”
Rose’s smile was pure delight. “Excellent!” She jumped to her feet and clapped her hands. “Because he’s waiting at the main house with Gus. He wants to meet you, too.”
Today? Now? Jesus...
* * *
Alex left the doctor’s room, clutching a black-and-white picture of her baby, who looked—admittedly—more like a peanut than a baby. But the heart was beating strong, and everything, as the doctor had informed her, was progressing normally. She was as healthy as a horse and the baby was thriving. Could she come back in two months, and would the baby’s father be joining her at future appointments?
Well, no. Because she was going to Houston, to start a new life there.
Alex looked up and down the street and glanced at her watch. Daniel had missed the appointment and was nearly two hours late. Obviously, she and the baby were not the priority he’d promised her they would be.
It was better, Alex told herself as she slid behind the wheel of her car, that she found out now and not later. She could still leave, she could wrench herself away from Daniel and Royal, and start afresh in Houston.