Abel Lockwood would do anything to become a father—including hiring a company that matches donor mothers with prospective fathers. Love Child caters to wealthy bachelors who’ve been unsuccessful in creating a family through traditional means. Despite Love Child being an unconventional route to take, the conception takes place exactly the way nature intended.
Nearing forty and still single, Abel has accepted he won’t meet the right woman to marry and have a family with, so Love Child is his last hope for becoming a father. He’s gone through the files of the potential donors and handpicked one perfect candidate to create his baby with.
The moment he comes face to face with Adeline Matthews, Abel knows she’s the one. But not just the one he’s hoping to make a baby with. She’s the one he’s hoping to create a family with.
I was minutes away from meeting the woman who would become the mother of my child. Rather, the woman who would likely become the mother of my child.
Her file had set her apart from the rest. Adeline Matthews. I felt like I knew so much about her without having ever exchanged a word with her. I felt like I knew exactly what she must look like, though I’d never laid eyes on her.
My instinct told me this was the woman who would be the mother of my baby, so now all it came down to was hammering out the terms and signing the contract. The agency would help out with that, and of course our lawyers would add their expertise into the mix, but if all went well, by the end of the day, I would be that much closer to becoming a father.
Being a father. It would be my most important legacy and my proudest achievement. God knew the journey to get here had been my greatest challenge.
When the elevator doors chimed open on the top floor of one of the high-rises in downtown Chicago, I was met by both my attorney and the creator-slash-CEO of Love Child, Suzanne Reynolds.
Suzanne had stepped back from the successful company she’d grown from the ground up, but I’d heard she made the occasional appearance for a high profile client. I didn’t consider myself high profile, though I supposed my name carried a certain degree of influence in the upper stratum thanks to the generations of Lockwoods building an empire in commercial development.
“Mr. Lockwood”—Suzanne greeted me with a smile—“happy to meet you.”
“Likewise, Ms. Reynolds,” I replied, shaking her hand when she extended it. The woman had one hell of a handshake. “Have you met my attorney, Tom Bainbridge?”
She nodded. “Yes, Tom and I have worked together on several prior matches. He’s a great attorney to have in your corner.”
“That’s what he reminds me of every time he sends me the bill for his services at the end of the month.” I nudged Tom as Suzanne directed us past the front desk. “‘If you want the best, you pay for the best.’”
Suzanne cocked her brow, smiling. “No offense to Mr. Bainbridge, but my attorneys are better.”
Beside me, Tom snorted good-naturedly. The guy had been in the business long enough that insults rolled right over him.
“Keep that in mind, Mr. Lockwood, when and if you meet the right donor today,” Suzanne continued. “Don’t get so caught up in negotiating price and terms that you lose her. You’ve selected a handful of my top donor candidates. Consider that when you make your offer.” Moving up beside her, I made sure she was looking at me when I replied. “I’m not bargain shopping for the mother of my child, Ms. Reynolds. The terms are what concern me. Not the price.”
“Glad to hear it.” She waved at a woman who looked about to have a baby any day now. I could only imagine how ecstatic the father must be. Hell, I was ecstatic at the possibility of having a child soon—I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel days away from the actual birth.
We continued quietly down the hall. There wasn’t much left to say. I knew how this all worked, and I was ready to move forward.
The décor of Love Child’s office was no different from any other prestigious company’s offices I’d been in: modern refinements, piercing functionality, and neutral colors. But hanging from the walls were pictures of past clients with the child or children they’d had with the aid of Love Child. Every single one of those men was not only a client but an investor in the privately held company. After today, hopefully I’d be the newest member. God knew I was ready.
We all believed in the gap Love Child had managed to fill. A woman could go to a sperm bank and have a child all on her own. A couple could have a child through numerous different outlets. But a man—a single man—had limited options if he wanted to become a father on his own. He could hire a surrogate, which wasn’t as cut-and-dried as most people thought; he could try to adopt, which was nearly impossible in the best of circumstances; or he could jump through the legal hoops involved with shared custody. But if he wanted to be a single parent without complications, he had no choices.
Or at least he hadn’t until Love Child’s inception.
That was why every man who became a client agreed to become an investor—because we were all committed to the mission this company embodied. We were just as committed to keeping it a secret from the public eye. The media would have spun the hell out of it until everything about this respected company became tarnished by slanderous labels and lewd accusations.
They’d see us as a bunch of wealthy men preying upon innocent young woman. We’d be painted as entitled bigots, believing the world and the people in it were our ice cream truck to point at what we wanted and hand over the price in exchange.
Society wouldn’t understand. It wouldn’t want to understand. People wouldn’t see that the men who had found their way to Love Child’s door were decent, hardworking individuals who would give every last dime to have a child. People wouldn’t be willing to understand that the women who carried our children weren’t being taken advantage of but were revered and appreciated far beyond any sum of money.
Society wouldn’t embrace Love Child’s mission. And that was why you’d never hear about it on the evening news or overhear someone mention someone they knew having used its services.
People wouldn’t understand. But I didn’t give a shit.
I wanted to become a father, and the traditional way of becoming one had been painful and unsuccessful.
When we stopped outside a closed door, Suzanne paused with her hand on the door. “Adeline Matthews. She has five other interviews with would-be fathers this week. I know you mentioned she was your top pick, but she told me she won’t be making a final decision until she’s met with all of the clients.”
My jaw set. I didn’t like the idea of the potential mother of my child meeting with five other men to discuss the same topic. “If I decide she’s the right one, I think you’ll find I can be quite persuasive.”
Suzanne held her half smile, her eyes suggesting she knew something I didn’t. “You might want to make sure your persuasion comes from the heart in Miss Matthews’s case and not from your checkbook.”
I found myself almost smiling back. I liked Suzanne Reynolds. She was nearing retirement age but still acted like she’d barely entered the workforce. She ran a tight ship, cared about what she did, and worked as hard as I did. That might have explained why we were both single and without children of our own.
The job had become our spouse, the schedule our offspring. At first, it hadn’t seemed like much of a sacrifice to me. Hitting thirty-five had changed my opinion on that though. No job could warm a bed. No amount of money could fill a house with laughter.
No, I’d been a fool to place my career before a family. At least now I had a chance to remedy that.
“Ready?” Suzanne asked.
“Since I signed my name on the application paperwork three months, eleven days, and . . .”—my gaze dropped to my watch—“two hours ago.”
When Suzanne opened the door, she waved Tom and me in first. Two people were already seated at the long table. One of them stood and shook hands with Tom. The other took a few seconds before she stood. It almost looked like she was trying to gather her courage as she sucked in a deep breath.
Suzanne fired off introductions, but her voice disappeared the moment my eyes fell on Adeline Matthews. The breath I’d been in the middle of hitched in my chest, feeling like it was straining against my ribs.
When she stood—her big brown eyes looking straight into mine—it wasn’t only my lungs and heart reacting to her. She wasn’t just the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen—she was the most beautiful thing to have ever been created. Sweet smile, angelic face, innocent demeanor—perfection was hovering ten feet in front of me.
She was petite but had the type of body that was hard to come by in this day and age of size zero clothing and thigh gap goals. She had a woman’s body. Curves, shape, and a soft, feminine quality that was not making me think innocent things about Miss Matthews. All I could focus on was the way her body would feel against mine, the way her curves would look silhouetted against my bedroom wall, the way her light, wavy hair would looked spilled across my pillow as I moved above her, planting my baby inside her.
That was another reason for the clandestine nature of Love Child—the process of actually creating the baby wasn’t done in a laboratory. Conception didn’t take place in a petri dish, and a fertilized egg wasn’t procedurally implanted inside of the mother’s body.
No, the mother became pregnant the old-fashioned way. The way nature had intended. That was the main reason I’d gone with Love Child instead of searching for a surrogate mother. I didn’t want my baby’s moment of creation to occur in a cold, sterile environment. I wanted my baby to be created from warmth and passion. Emotion and feeling. Connection and combustion.
The actual sex had been of less concern to me than the thought process behind it. But now, seeing Adeline, I was looking forward to the sex. I was really looking forward to the sex.
This was her. The mother of my child. My god, I’d never been so certain of anything in my entire life. I was looking at the woman who would bear my child, who would give me the most precious gift of my existence.
The urge to power around the table and wrap her up in my arms or throw myself at her feet became intense enough I feared moving closer. I didn’t want to start off the meeting by making a fool of myself and ruining the entire thing.
I couldn’t ruin this. Adeline would be the mother to my baby. I knew this with absolute certainty.
Now all I had to do was convince her.
“Miss Matthews, thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” When my voice rolled over her, I noticed her hands curl at her sides.
Was she frightened by me? Startled by my voice? I had to be twice her size. I’d been told plenty of times that my deep voice could be on the sharp side of commanding, but couldn’t she tell? Couldn’t she hear it in my voice?
She had nothing to fear from me. My goal, from this moment on, was to protect her. From threats, pain, disappointment . . . from a damn mosquito that dared to get too close. The overwhelming urge to protect her consumed me.
We’d agreed to nothing. She’d barely made eye contact yet. But I already felt savagely possessive of her.
Like hell she was meeting with five other men. If I couldn’t get her to commit to me today, I’d find out who the other five were and have them removed from her schedule. Through whatever means necessary.
Adeline Matthews was mine.
She was about to know it too.
Kat Austen is the secret pen name of a New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author. Kat writes short and steamy reads that leave hearts (and other parts) satisfied.
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