Baby for the Billionaire

By: Maxine Sullivan

Chapter Nine

“Something wrong?” Nick asked, watching as Sasha jumped slightly, her green eyes looking nervous all of a sudden.

“Wrong? Why do you say that?”

He’d been watching her over the top of his newspaper. “You were quiet during dinner and didn’t eat much, and now you’ve been staring at the television like it has you under its spell.”

A hint of pink stained her cheeks. “I find this show fascinating.”

He looked at the television screen and saw they had gone to a commercial. “You were watching the news, Sasha, and I wouldn’t exactly call the news fascinating. Interesting, but not fascinating.”

“That’s your opinion.”

“Let’s not quibble about words. Something’s the matter.” He hesitated to bring this up but “If it’s about the party and Brenda—”

“It isn’t,” she dismissed without hesitation. “And I’m not giving that a second thought, okay?”

“Okay.”

There was something definitely bothering her. She was too pale and not herself.

“I guess it’s the renovations,” she suddenly said. “There was a lot of work to be done in the initial stages.”

Why did he have the feeling she was just saying that to stop him prying further?

“Is it too much for you?”

She looked horrified. “No! That wasn’t what I meant. I love it. I really do. But with coming back from England, then the wedding, then working on the redesigning, I suppose I’m just a little tired tonight.”

It made sense yet.…

The news returned and she pasted on a smile that surpassed the false one on the newsreader’s face. “The news is back on.”

“Then don’t let me stop you from being fascinated,” he drawled.

Her smile couldn’t hide her wariness as she returned to look at the screen. He still wasn’t convinced there wasn’t something troubling her.

He was even more convinced ten minutes later when he heard the telephone ringing out in the hallway and Sasha didn’t move. She didn’t even appear to hear it. Normally she would get up to answer it straightaway.

He was just about to do it himself when he heard Iris pick up the phone. Then the housekeeper popped her head around the door. “There’s a telephone call for Mrs. Valente. It’s her mother.”

Apprehension crossed Sasha’s face, then vanished. “Iris, please tell my mother I’ll call her back later.”

“Yes, Mrs. Valente.”

Nick scowled as the other woman left. “You don’t want to speak to your mother?”

She darted a look at him, then away. “I only saw her today. It can wait.” She turned back to the television but there was a flush to her cheeks that gave her away.

Something was definitely wrong.

And it had something to do with Sally Blake.

Half an hour later he walked into the kitchen and found Sasha talking on the telephone.

“I said I wouldn’t say anything,” she was whispering, “and I won’t. But—” Suddenly she saw him standing in the doorway and went pale. “Mum, er … I’ve got to go. Nick’s just walked in.” She hung up.

Nick leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms. Her words had been a warning to her mother, not a comment.

“Is the hot chocolate almost ready?” he asked, reminding her why she’d come here in the first place.

“Wh-what? Oh yes. I was just about to make it.” She hurried over to the refrigerator and took out the milk.

“Your mother has a problem?”

She darted him a look. “You heard?” Without waiting for an answer she turned and took some mugs out of the cupboard. “It’s um … women’s problems,” she said, not looking at him now. “Nothing you want to know about.”

So, she was using that age-old excuse, was she? How could he refute it?

“Nick, why don’t you go back in the living room. I’ll bring in the drinks shortly.”

He nodded, then turned and let her be, but if she thought she’d convinced him that nothing was wrong then she was in for a shock. He fully intended to keep an eye on things. Sally Blake had a secret and Sasha knew what it was. And that was fine as long as it didn’t impact Sasha too much.

But by her reactions, it did.

Sasha had a restless night until Nick growled and pulled her into his arms, where she promptly fell asleep.

But her thoughts returned as soon as she opened her eyes the next morning. Dear Lord, how could her father cheat Cesare that way? Not to mention the whole Valente family? How could he cheat his own family like that? It put her in a terrible position.

“How about meeting me for lunch today?” Nick suddenly said, doing up his tie. “You’re coming into the city anyway to talk to your suppliers.”

His words brought her back to the moment and Sasha rolled on her side and watched Nick finish dressing for work. He was so handsome. So virile. She loved him so much.

And she might have to give him up.

Oh God, this might be her last chance to spend time with her husband. Her world would fall apart soon enough.

She leaned up on one elbow. “I’d love to have lunch with you, Nick.”

He looked pleased. “Good. Leo will come back and pick you up in a couple of hours. He can drive you around while you do your business.”

“I can drive my own car.”

“Leo’s not doing anything until he takes me home again. You may as well make use of him.”

Her lips curved upward. “Make use of his services? Yes, I think I can do that.”

“Hussy,” he murmured, kissing her before he left.

She lay there in bed, just letting her love for Nick be a part of her. He was a part of her, and she would never doubt that again.

She had her mother to thank for realizing that. Going to her parents’ place yesterday had shown her Nick was not like her father.

Nor was her parents’ marriage the same as her own marriage. At first she’d been scared and had projected her fears onto Nick. Nick Valente would not do what her father had done. Nick was good and honest. He’d been open and aboveboard about everything. And despite Brenda’s phone call, Sasha was convinced the other woman had just been trying to make trouble. If Nick had called Brenda then it had been for an honest reason. She’d bet her life on it now. Nick was to be trusted.

Her father was not.

She kept those good thoughts of Nick close to her heart for the rest of the morning. Hopefully having only good thoughts would keep the bad thoughts at bay.

“You seem to be enjoying the view,” he said over lunch at the harborside restaurant.

Sasha turned to look at him with a smile. “Their menu boasts they have the most glorious view in the world. I was merely checking it out.”

“And?”

She surveyed the Harbour Bridge and Opera House through the large glass windows. “I’d say their claim is well-supported.”

He smiled, then, “So, what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day?”

“I’ve got a couple more places to visit before I finish up.”

He took a sip of wine. “By the way, how’s your mother today?”

She dropped her gaze to her plate so he wouldn’t see the panic in her eyes. She was sure he hadn’t believed her last night about her mother’s medical problems. If the positions had been reversed she wouldn’t have believed him.

Taking a breath, she looked up. “I only spoke to her last night, so I don’t think anything’s changed since then.”

His eyes had a speculative look. “Aren’t you concerned for her health?”

“Of course, but it’s nothing urgent. My mother will be fine.” Time to change the subject. “By the way, you didn’t tell me about the U.K. launch. Did it go well?” She’d been understandably preoccupied last night and had forgotten to ask him about it.

His gaze held hers for a second too long, as if he was considering why she had changed the subject. “It went very well by all accounts. We’re launching it on the Continent next.”

She was grateful he didn’t mention Claudine and any upcoming launch in France.

“It’s a gorgeous perfume, Nick.”

“I notice you wear it a lot.”

“It’s my favorite.”

“It’s every woman’s favorite.”

She smiled at the usual show of Valente arrogance, and all at once he smiled back with the full power of a Valente smile. The breath hitched in her throat.

The waiter returned to refill their glasses, allowing her to mentally break free of Nick.

When they were alone again Nick said, “How would you like to go on a harbor cruise on Wednesday? We have some prospective customers visiting from the States and I need to take them out to lunch and show them the sights. They’re only here for a couple of days.”

For a second, sharp anxiety twisted inside her. Would her father have paid back the money by then? Or would she have to gather her strength for Friday’s deadline? How did a person knowingly send their father to jail?

“The women aren’t anything like Claudine,” Nick reassured her, thankfully reading her hesitation wrong.

“It sounds like fun.”

They ate in silence for a while, until Sasha’s cell phone rang. She left it in her handbag, ignoring it and wishing she’d thought to put it on silent.

“Aren’t you going to answer it?”

“No.”

“It could be important.”

Nothing was as important as lunching with Nick. Every second with him counted.

She gave an unconcerned shrug. “It’s only about the renovations. I’ll get to it later.”

Her phone stopped ringing.

“Would you like dessert, madam?” the waiter asked, suddenly appearing at her side.

“Um …” Her cell started to ring again. She opened her handbag and went to turn it off, but not before she caught the number displayed. It was her mother.

“No, just coffee,” she said, trying to appear unconcerned as she switched the phone off.

Nick asked for coffee, too, then glanced to Sasha, “Was it a contractor?”

Flustered, she said the first thing that came to mind. “What? Oh, no, it was just my mother. I’ll call her back later.”

Nick’s eyes were full of questions. “I’d have thought you’d want to talk to her.”

Oh hell. Was she giving too much away?

“It’s not exactly a subject to be discussed over lunch,” she pointed out.

Nick grimaced. “True.”

Just then Nick’s cell phone began to ring.

He glanced at it. “I don’t know that number.”

“Let me see.” Her heart sank. “It’s my mother.”

He frowned. “Then it must be important if she’s calling me,” he said, handing it straight to her.

There was nothing for it except to answer the phone, but Sasha got a shock as she listened to her mother’s tearful voice. Oh God, she shouldn’t have ignored her previous calls.

“My father’s had a heart attack,” she whispered to Nick in an aside, then spoke to her mother again. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Mum.” She finished the call.

“We’ll be there soon,” Nick said, gesturing to the waiter, and a few minutes later hurried her out to the waiting car. “What’s his condition?”

“I don’t know.”

Could she have been the cause of this? Her mother would have had to tell him she knew. And having his daughter threaten him with exposure and probable jail would certainly cause him stress enough to have a heart attack.

Yet how could she not do something about what she knew, she wondered, feeling like she was shriveling up with stress herself as they headed to the hospital.

Nick squeezed her hand. “You know, my dad’s heart attack looked bad at first but it ended up only being a mild one.”

She’d forgotten about Cesare’s heart attack. Suddenly she felt guilty. “Nick, you shouldn’t have come with me. I appreciate it, but I don’t want you to go through it all again with my father.”

“Don’t be silly, Sash,” he said gruffly. “I’m your husband.”

Warmth rose up inside her and she had to blink back tears. He’d called her “Sash”—the name he’d called her years ago. It was something she’d forgotten until this moment.

“He’ll be fine.” He pulled her close and she leaned into him, grateful for his presence, comforted by his arms around her, and the now familiar scent of him.

It was only as they were walking toward her mother in the waiting room that Sasha had a tense moment of apprehension. Would her mother inadvertently say something in front of Nick about how Porter had taken the news? Would she blame Sasha’s ultimatum for all this? Nick would have to ask why.

“Mum?”

“Oh, Sasha,” Sally cried and hugged her.

Sasha returned the hug, relief easing through her. It didn’t look like her mother was about to barrage her with blame. “How is he?”

Sally moved back. “I don’t know. They told me to wait here.” She sniffed. “But it’s been ages now and no one will tell me what’s happening.”

“I’ll find out,” Nick said ominously, spinning on his heels. “Stay here.” He strode out the door toward the nurses’ station.

Sasha led her mother back over to her seat. “Mum, what happened?”

Sally gave a shuddering sigh. “When your father got up this morning he said he had indigestion so he took some antacid and went off to work. The next thing I know …” her voice shook “… they called me to stay he’d been brought here in an ambulance.”

“So you haven’t seen him yet?”

“No.”

“Mum, did you—”

Nick strode back through the sliding glass doors. “The doctor’s coming out shortly to talk to us.”

“Oh God,” Sally said and started to sob.

They didn’t have to wait long for the doctor, and Sasha put her arm around her mother’s shoulders as he told them the news that it didn’t look like it been a heart attack at all.

“We’re running more tests, but it appears it wasn’t.”

“Thank God,” Sally said.

“What could it have been, Doctor?” Sasha asked.

“I’m not sure. We’ll be keeping him here overnight. He’s in a private room and Mrs. Blake can stay with him, if you like?”

“Oh, yes,” her mother said. “Can I see him, Doctor?”

“He’s resting, but I don’t see why not.” He paused. “But only Mrs. Blake for now.”

Sasha watched her mother and the doctor leave the room. It was wonderful that her father was going to be okay, but he still had to face tomorrow.

And so did she.

“Nick, why don’t you go back to work? I’ll stay here with Mum until we know more.”

His jaw set stubbornly. “No. You need me. I’ll stay.”

“Seriously, I’ll be okay. Besides, it’ll probably be hours.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, but it’s no use just sitting around here doing nothing. I’m fine.”

His gaze rested on her. “If you’re sure?”

“Yes. Now go.” It would give her the chance to talk to her mother in private. Sasha couldn’t imagine she wouldn’t have told her husband about yesterday, but she needed to know for sure.

Hours later her father had been given a cautious all clear and Sasha was allowed in to see him, but in the end she didn’t get to ask her mother anything. Sally wouldn’t leave her husband’s side.

And as Sasha looked at her father sleeping peacefully on the bed, she wished so much that it could have been different. If only her father was a different man … a different person.

If only he was a better husband and father.

If only she could love him more.

Sasha finally arrived home around nine and found Nick asleep on the sofa in front of the television. She’d expected to be home much sooner, so that when he’d phoned her she had even insisted he go straight home and not come to the hospital.

Now, standing in the doorway her heart softened as she looked at Nick. He was such a part of her. He’d always been a part of her. It would be like losing a limb to do without him.

For a moment her vision blurred. She blinked back the tears and turned away to hurry to the kitchen. She wasn’t hungry but Iris had put a portion of lasagna in the oven for her, so she’d have to make the effort to eat it.

But first she showered and changed into her silk nightgown and robe, then put the lasagna on a tray and took it into the living room.

Hungrier now than she’d realized, she turned the television down low while she ate her food and watched Nick sleep. She thought the smell of the food might wake him, but it didn’t, and she was sipping at her decaffeinated coffee and deciding to cover him with a blanket when his eyelids lifted.

For a moment he looked disorientated. Then he sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. “Damn, I fell asleep, didn’t I?”

She gave an understanding smile. “You were tired.”

“What time is it?”

“Almost ten.”

His eyes grew alert. “You must be exhausted yourself.”

“I’m better now that I’m home.” And she was.

He scrutinized her more. “How’s Porter?”

“They’ll keep an eye on him overnight, but they’re confident it wasn’t a heart attack.”

His face relaxed. “See, I told you there was nothing to worry about.”

“I know.”

All at once his gaze noted her night attire, and the air stilled. His eyes burned into her, making her heart skip a beat. She waited for him to get to his feet and pull her into his arms.

Only, he seemed to withdraw. “I think I’ll use a spare room tonight. You need your sleep.”

Disappointment filled her. “I won’t be able to sleep without you,” she said, putting herself on the line … putting her heart on the line and hoping he didn’t notice.

The light of passion flared in his eyes again but was banked as he stood up and held out his hand. “Fine. We sleep, and that’s all.”

Her heart expanded at his thoughtfulness. He wanted her yet was prepared to put her needs first. Or what he thought she needed.

Happy to just be able to share his bed, she put her hand in his and together they went up the stairs. He made no attempt to make love to her, but he held her in his arms until she fell asleep. And she found that was just as welcome as making love.

She was home.

And she was where she wanted to be.

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