Baby for the Billionaire

By: Maxine Sullivan

Chapter Seven

With Alex using the family jet in England, making it unavailable to take to Melbourne, Nick was glad he’d hired another plane. At least this way he wouldn’t leave the tainted memories of the funeral in the family jet and could put it all behind him once it was over.

He only wished Sasha had stayed at home, he thought, watching her in the leather chair opposite as she stared out the aircraft window. She was dressed appropriately in black and looked elegantly sedate, but he still didn’t think this funeral was the place for her. He appreciated her concern, but it wasn’t warranted. He could handle this by himself.

Dammit, his mother didn’t deserve to have Valente representation at her funeral. Okay, so his father had wanted to do the right thing, but then, his father had always wanted to do the right thing. The older man just hadn’t known there had been a price to pay.

And that he’d been the one to pay it.

An hour later they pulled up outside the church and a knot tightened in Nick’s gut. Just as he squared his shoulders he heard Sasha gasp.

“It’s beautiful,” she murmured, looking up at the church through the limousine window.

He took a glance but he wasn’t really interested in a building right now.

She sat back on the seat and winced. “Oh, Nick, I’m sorry. This isn’t the right time to say that.”

“It’s fine.”

She shook her head. “No, I was being insensitive. It’s just that this is the type of church I always dreamed I’d be married in.”

That caught his attention. “You did?”

She flushed, then gave a shrug. “Sorry. It took me by surprise when I saw it.”

Just like she was taking him by surprise.

“No need to apologize,” he said, as the driver opened the car door.

Nick had the strangest feeling when he saw his mother’s casket near the altar. He stopped inside the door, his legs unable to move. This was his mother, something inside him screamed.

And then he felt Sasha touch his arm and at that moment he was truly grateful to have her with him.

The service was brief with only about twenty people who’d bothered to come. Two of the men he remembered as her husbands from years ago. Not much for a life spent with five husbands and various lovers.

A life spent on the edge.

Outside the church a man in his early sixties came up to him and shook his hand. “Nick, she would have been so happy you came.”

Nick’s brows flattened. “And you are?”

“I was Julieann’s husband.”

“Husband?” Nick bit back from asking which one.

“Her last one,” the man said, reading his mind. “My name’s Ted, by the way.”

Ted’s eyes darted to Sasha. “And this must be your new wife,” he said, startling Nick, then explained, “Julieann read about your marriage in the papers.”

Nick grimaced inwardly. He wondered how long before his mother would have found a way to make use of that knowledge.

“How long were you married, Ted?”

“Five years.” The older man’s eyes didn’t waver. “She’d changed, Nick.”

“Really? So she wasn’t drunk behind the wheel of her car when she died?”

“No, she wasn’t,” Ted said firmly. “She’d been working the nightshift at an old people’s home. She fell asleep because she was tired.”

“My mother would never have been working. Period. And certainly not working to help anyone else.”

Ted began to look upset. “I told you, she’d changed. Believe me, she had.”

Nick held himself in check. Nothing would convince him of that statement. “It doesn’t matter if I believe you or not. It’s over.”

The older man blinked rapidly, then reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I think you should have this.”

Nick didn’t take it. “What is it?”

“It’s a letter. To you. She was planning on sending it, but kept putting it off until she felt you were ready.”

Nick still didn’t take it. “I don’t want it. It’s too late.”

Ted continued to hold out the envelope but his hand shook a little now. “Then it won’t do any harm for you to read it.”

Nick stared hard at him. “Were you good to my mother, Ted?”

Moisture refilled Ted’s eyes as he straightened. “Yes, I was.”

“Then I’ll take it for your sake.” Nick took the envelope, aware of the other man’s relief. He couldn’t promise to ever read it. “I’m sorry for your loss, Ted.”

“I’m sorry for yours, too, son.”

Swallowing a lump in his throat, Nick cupped Sasha’s elbow and walked her to the limousine. Ted had no need to offer condolences for losing his mother.

You couldn’t lose something you had never had.

After dinner that evening, Sasha wasn’t surprised when Nick said he was going to do some work in the upstairs study. He’d already spoken to his father about the funeral, and then Alex had called from London with concern in his voice.

She knew Nick was upset and he needed to be alone to think about the day’s events. She understood he was having trouble assimilating what Ted had told him about his mother, how to fit that image into the person Nick knew her to be. She could only imagine the thoughts going through his head right now.

Of course, he hadn’t needed to hear her exclaim over the church like they were attending a joyous wedding instead of a solemn funeral. Yet she hadn’t been able to stop herself. The moment she’d seen it, she’d fallen in love with its picture-book setting. The perfect picture for the perfect wedding she had dreamed about.

She sighed and pushed aside her wistful thoughts as she settled down to do some work of her own. For once, time dragged. She wanted to go and see how Nick was doing.

For a few hours she held back, but at nine o’clock she couldn’t wait any longer. She went upstairs and knocked on the study door, only to find him nowhere to be seen.

And then she saw the letter from his mother lying open on the desk. Her heart started to thud.

Hurrying to the window she saw his car was still parked outside in the driveway. Then she checked their bedroom but he wasn’t there either. She was about to go downstairs and check the kitchen when she noticed a door open at the far end of the landing.

Nick’s old bedroom.

She found him sitting on the side of the bed in the dark, the light from the hallway spilling across the center of the room, showing him with his elbows on his knees, staring down at the floor.

“Nick?” she murmured with concern, wanting to rush to him but not wanting to intrude in a private moment.

He lifted his head. “Sasha.”

“Are you okay?”

A moment’s silence, then he straightened. “Yeah, I am.”

She took a few steps into the room. “I went to look for you in the study.” She hesitated. “Urn … I saw your mother’s letter was open and I was concerned for you.”

“Did you read it?”

“No! I would never do that.”

He grimaced. “I wasn’t accusing. I thought you might have read it to see if it had upset me, that’s all.”

“And has it? Upset you, that is.”

“Yes and no.” He took a ragged breath. “No, because my mother truly was genuinely sorry for all she’d done. Yes, because it’s too late to tell her I forgive her.”

Stunned surprise rippled through her and she sat down on one of the brocade chairs. “You forgive her?”

He nodded. “My mother was never the type of person to ask for forgiveness. You see, she never actually realized she needed forgiving in the first place.” He gave a half smile at that. “And I would’ve said a leopard never changed its spots, but some things happened to Julieann that had a profound effect on her.”

“What was that?”

“She fell in love for the first time ever. With Ted.” He gave a tiny pause. “And she got cancer.”

Sasha’s heart saddened for the woman. “Cancer?”

“Yes, and she recovered but it made her look back on her life and see all the hurt she’d caused. Believe me, I know the woman my mother was in her younger years, and she would never have written that letter. Never.”

Sasha knew he would never let himself be fooled by anything insincere. “I’m glad she changed for the better.”

“Me, too.” Then his brows pulled together. “I guess for once my father was right and I was wrong. If Dad hadn’t convinced me to go, I’d probably have received the letter in the mail and not read it at all. I know for sure I wouldn’t have been so quick to forgive, but meeting Ted today convinced me he was genuine. And that the letter was, too.”

“I liked Ted.”

“Me, too. He’s much better than her previous husbands. There were five,” he said before she could ask. “And apart from Ted, they were all after my mother for the money she could get out of my father.”

Sasha’s forehead creased. “Did your father just hand over money whenever she asked for it?”

He shook his head. “No, it wasn’t quite like that. From the time I was seven she’d turn up here every couple of years until I was twelve, and insist on my staying with her and her current husband for a few days while they were in town.” His lips twisted. “Naturally she’d insist on being paid ‘expenses’ and then blow it all at the races.”

Sasha listened with rising dismay. She was beginning to see why Nick had disliked his mother so much.

“My dad didn’t want to stop me from seeing her, but he would always ask me if I wanted to go. I thought he wanted me to, so I did.” He shrugged. “I’ve never told him the truth.”

Her eyebrows rose. “Your father didn’t realize this? He just handed you over to a woman who had no respect for anyone or took no responsibility for anything?”

“He thought he was doing the right thing. Besides, he told me years later he had someone keep an eye on me while I was away, and he thought I was having an okay time. She’d dump me on her parents, you see, while they went off to the races, so he thought I was getting to know my grandparents. They couldn’t have been less interested in me if they’d tried.”

Oh, poor Nick. “What did you do when you were with them?”

“Sit and watch television. I was miserable and couldn’t wait to get back home.” He took a shuddering breath. “It was only a few days, but it felt like a lifetime.”

“And there would’ve always been the fear that you would never come back home again,” she said half to herself.

A muscle began to throb in his cheek.

She stared aghast. “Oh my God. That’s why you won’t let me redecorate this bedroom. This was your sanctuary whenever you returned home, wasn’t it?”

He nodded with a taut jerk of his head. “Yes. I felt safe here. I still do. I used to imagine they would never get to me here.”

Her heart constricted. “Oh, Nick. I’m sorry you had to go through all that.”

“Hey, it wasn’t so bad,” he said, making light of it now.

“Yes, it was.”

A look of discomfort crossed his face. “Okay, so those times were bad, but I always made it back home and that’s the important thing.”

She looked at Nick and something tumbled around in her chest. She could imagine him a little boy or a young teenager putting on a brave face, terrified of going with his mother and her latest new husband, not knowing if he would ever come back to those who loved him.

The urge to hold him was strong and she stood up and went to stand between his legs, pulling his head against her breast in a comforting fashion. He didn’t resist, and they remained like that for a while.

Only, suddenly, she wanted more tonight. She wanted to show him that this was their home and she was his wife and he had no need to fear being abandoned ever again.

She turned his head up to her. “Let me make love to you, Nick.”

His eyes flared with desire. “Yes, Sasha,” he said in a low, raspy voice. “I need you to love me tonight.”

His words cut the air from her lungs.

Love him?

Oh God, she thought as she bent her head and began placing soft kisses down his cheek until she came to his mouth.

She already did.

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