Her Pregnant Agenda
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Wintersoft’s CEO is on a husband hunt for his daughter. Trouble is Emily has uncovered his scheme. But can she marry off the eligible executives before Dad sets his crazy plan in motion?
“You have a miracle in there.”
“Two of them,” Ariana responded.
Grant moved a hand to either side of her belly and drew her to him. The babies moved beneath his touch.
They stood there, connected in a most elemental way, and Grant’s urge to share in her babies shifted and changed. He had the most frightening need to pull her closer, to lay his mouth over hers, to feel her heartbeat against his.
Their glances connected. She knew he wanted to kiss her and she wanted it, too.
Ariana Fitzpatrick, pregnant or not, was exquisite. A dark and delicate beauty who caused him to feel things he didn’t want to feel and to think things he had no business thinking.
With the great discipline he’d cultivated over the years, he removed his hands and stepped away.
October is bringing big changes in the Silhouette and Harlequin worlds. To strengthen the terrific lineup of stories we offer, Silhouette Romance will be moving to four fabulous titles each month.
Don’t miss the newest story in this six-book series—MARRYING THE BOSS’S DAUGHTER. In this second title, Her Pregnant Agenda (#1690) by Linda Goodnight, Emily Winters is up to her old matchmaking tricks. This time she has a bachelor lawyer and his alluring secretary—a single mom-to-be—on her matrimonial short list.
Valerie Parv launches her newest three-book miniseries, THE CARRAMER TRUST, with The Viscount & the Virgin (#1691). In it, an arrogant royal learns a thing or two about love from his secret son’s sassy aunt. This is the third continuation of Parv’s beloved Carramer saga.
An ornery M.D. is in danger of losing his heart to a sweet young nurse, in The Most Eligible Doctor (#1692) by reader favorite Karen Rose Smith. And is it possible to love a two-in-one cowboy? Meet the feisty teacher who does, in Doris Rangel’s magical Marlie’s Mystery Man (#1693), our latest SOULMATES title.
I encourage you to sample all four of these heartwarming romantic titles from Silhouette Romance this month.
Mavis C. Allen
Associate Senior Editor, Silhouette Romance
Her Pregnant Agenda
For Gayle Warrington, who encouraged me from the beginning and still awaits every book with enthusiasm and excitement. Friends like you are hard to find.
Books by Linda Goodnight
For Her Child… #1569
Married in a Month #1682
Her Pregnant Agenda #1690
A romantic at heart, Linda Goodnight believes in the traditional values of family and home.Writing books enables her to share her certainty that, with faith and perseverance, love can last forever and happy endings really are possible.
A native of Oklahoma, Linda lives in the country with her husband, Gene, and Mugsy, an adorably obnoxious rat terrier. She and Gene have a blended family of six grown children. An elementary school teacher, she is also a licensed nurse. When time permits, Linda loves to read, watch football and rodeo and indulge in chocolate. She also enjoys taking long, calorie-burning walks in the nearby woods. Readers can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FROM THE DESK OF EMILY WINTERS
She was not going to cry.
Ariana Fitzpatrick rushed into the forty-ninth floor ladies’ room of Wintersoft, Inc., found the place thankfully empty and slammed into the first stall. She shoved a Kleenex hard against her eyelids. No matter how rotten the day, no matter how guilty she felt, she would not cry. Not again. She was past the crying stage of pregnancy.
She glanced down at the seven-and-a-half-month protrusion around her middle and sniffled. “Way past the crying stage.”
She sniffled again and leaned her throbbing head against the cool stall divider. Reaching for another tissue, she found the dispenser empty, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sobs ripped free like a mob at a soccer game. Once loose there was no stopping them. She, normally so professional and calm, cried until her headache became a concussion, her eyelids turned to puff pastry, and her throat felt like raw hamburger.
“I hate you Benjy Walburn,” she blubbered, slamming one fist into the wall.
“Are you all right in there?” A voice called, and Ariana wished she were anywhere but here. She clapped a hand over her mouth and hiccuped.
Someone rapped on the stall. “Would you like to talk?”
“No.” And that one word started the bawling over again.
“Open the door,” a concerned voice demanded.
“Who is it?” Ariana managed to squeak.
“Emily Winters. Who’s in there?”
If she wasn’t already squalling her brains out, she’d cry. Emily Winters, the boss’s daughter. The jig was up, the party was over. She may as well come clean. Besides, she was desperate for a tissue.
“Ariana Fitzpatrick,” she said and stepped out, taking care not to whack her belly on anything in the process. She grabbed for the tissue dispenser.
“Ariana!” Emily’s gaze flew to Ariana’s midsection. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she managed to say, which was a silly answer given that she clearly was not all right.
How could she explain to Emily Winters, of all people, the extent of her duplicity? Ariana battled another wave of tears. More than anything she didn’t want to lose her job. Couldn’t afford to lose it now with the babies coming and Benjy gone like the wind.
“Obviously, something has happened. If not your babies, then what?” In a chic blue sheath topped with a white jacket, Emily looked slim and professional. With the emphasis on slim.
Ariana was desperate to tell someone, was certain she would explode if she didn’t. These months of white lies and saving face and fretting over possible damage to Wintersoft, Inc. had taken an enormous toll on her. Who better to hear the truth than the boss’s tenderhearted daughter? Before the tears rolled again, she managed to blurt, “I’m a big fat liar.”
With the emphasis on fat.
Emily didn’t looked shocked, only concerned. “Want to tell me the problem? Maybe I can help.”
“Well, uh—yes,” Emily’s sapphire gaze dropped to Ariana’s middle filling up half the distance between the stall and the sink. “I had noticed that.”
Ariana finally found her humor and laughed. Emily joined her. Who wouldn’t notice a woman who’d swallowed a Volkswagen?
“I think everyone in the company is excited about your twins and the upcoming wedding.”
Ariana fought back a new threat of tears. “That’s the problem. There’s not going to be a wedding. I made that up.” The little white lie had seemed like the best solution at the time. “Benjy jilted me two months ago—on the day we were supposed to be married.”
“Oh, Ariana, I’m so sorry.” Emily ripped more tissue from the dispenser and poked the soft paper into Ariana’s hand. “But I don’t understand. Why lie about it? You’re not the loser, he is.”
Ariana sniffed and dabbed at her sodden face. One of the twins elbowed her. Taking the hint, she leaned sideways, giving him more room. “I love my babies and wouldn’t undo them if I could. But I was worried about causing a problem for the company. My job in public relations is to make Wintersoft, Inc. look good. Instead I’m a walking poster child for an abstinence program.”
At least that was part of the reason. She’d thought everything would eventually work itself out and the lie wouldn’t matter, but the problem only grew until she didn’t know what to do anymore.
“Nonsense. The company’s image is not the important issue here, Ariana. You and your twins are.” Emily frowned. “This Benjy jerk is planning to support you financially, isn’t he?”
Ariana sighed and pressed the tissue into her burning eyes. “According to Benjy, I’m on my own. He thinks the stork brought these babies.”
The bathroom door swished open and Carmella Lopez entered. The older woman took one look at Ariana’s tear-stained face and draped a motherly arm over her shoulders. “What’s outrageous?”
Executive assistant to Emily’s father, Carmella was way too close to the top of the pecking order for Ariana’s comfort. She’d much rather Mr. Winters never know about her duplicity. But Emily spoke before Ariana could stop her. “Ariana’s fianc? left her and refuses to support their babies.”
“The dog.” Carmella stepped away, sympathetic brown eyes traveling over Ariana’s very pregnant body. “What you need is a good lawyer.”
“As if I can afford one,” Ariana bemoaned.
Eyes lighting up, Emily held up a finger. “I told you I could help. One of the best attorney’s in Boston is our general counsel, and I’ll bet we can talk him into taking your case pro bono.” She took Ariana’s hand and pulled her to the door.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t.” Ariana pulled back, horrified. Wasn’t being pregnant, unwed and jilted bad enough without becoming a charity case to boot?
“Of course you can. Lawyers do that kind of thing all the time. Ethics or something. And Grant Lawson is the embodiment of ethics.” She gave another tug, and Ariana, already overbalanced, had no choice but to follow.
Carmella forestalled them. “Emily, could you come by my office later? We need to discuss an important matter.” Some sort of mental message passed between the two women.
“Of course.” Emily wiggled two fingers and pushed Ariana into the hall. “See you later.”
Ariana had a stitch in her side by the time Emily escorted her up to the fiftieth floor, through the outer office and passed Mr. Lawson’s prim and proper assistant, Sunny Robbins. After a soft knock, she poked her head around the door marked General Counsel. “Hi, Grant, do you have a minute? Ariana could use some advice.”
Working furiously over a stack of papers, Grant Lawson glanced up at the interruption. He lay his pen aside. “Advice is what I do best. Come on in.”
Athletically built with black hair and stunning blue eyes, all six foot two of Wintersoft’s top attorney exuded strength and power. Mr. Perfect, as the girls in the secretarial pool called him, was gorgeous. Respected by everyone in the company, he was the object of more than one single female’s fantasy. But while friendly and polite, he maintained a businesslike reserve that screamed, “Don’t get too close.”
Though aware of his good looks and impeccable manners, Ariana was not among the drooling. She was too busy falling for men who needed rescuing. Trouble was, she never succeeded in solving their problems; she only added to her own.
Rising, Grant came around the desk. “Have a seat, ladies.”
They did. Emily sat with her long, slender legs crossed and her skirt at midthigh. Ariana envied anyone the ability to cross one leg over the other. Choosing the widest chair, she eased into the plush brown seat. Getting out of the thing might be another problem altogether.
“Ariana’s ex-fianc? is refusing to pay child support,” Emily said. “I told her you might be willing to take her case—pro bono, of course, since her fianc? has left her in such a difficult situation.”
Grant leaned his backside against the desk and crossed his ankles. Ariana would bet a week’s salary that suit was tailor-made to conform perfectly to his oh-so-fit physique. There ought to be a law against a man looking that good in the presence of an overly pregnant woman with a tear-blotched face.
“I’ll need the details first, but I’m always happy to help a co-worker if I can.”
“Good.” Emily rose from the deep cushioned chair, graceful as you please. Ariana turned green with envy. “I’ll leave you two to discuss the particulars.” She squeezed Ariana’s shoulder gently. “Everything will work out. Don’t worry. You’re in good hands.”
With that she took her leave and Ariana was left to confess her total stupidity to Mr. Perfect. As the story unfolded, faint lines appeared in Grant’s forehead. Occasionally he broke in with a question. Twice he nodded, his appraising gaze drifting over Ariana in a way that made her squirm. He probably thought she was an idiot.
When she finished, feeling that she’d dumped all her dirty laundry on the floor before him, Grant tapped one thumb against his lip, clearly thinking the matter over. A gold Rolex peeked from beneath perfectly white cuffs.
“So, Ariana—Do you mind if I call you that?”
“I’m feeling pretty old lately, but Ms. Fitzpatrick really does me in. Ariana would be great.”
A tiny smile tipped the sides of his mouth. “And I’m Grant. Somehow you don’t look like a Fitzpatrick. Irish, isn’t it?”
The expression on his face said her tan skin and mahogany hair sharply contrasted with the image of an Irish woman.
“My dad is Irish. Mom is Cuban.”
“Ah. That explains it. I’d wondered.”
Ariana batted her eyes in surprise. Grant Lawson, aka Mr. Perfect, had wondered about her? She was seven and a half months pregnant with twins and a man like Grant had wondered about her? The teeny compliment lifted her spirits immeasurably.
“So tell me about this ex-fianc?.” Grant resumed his relaxed posture, leaning on the desk. Ariana suspected he struck the stance as a means to disarm people and gain their confidence. His pose worked. Some of the tension eased from her shoulders, relieved to finally share her problems—and the truth—with someone in the company.
For weeks, ever since she’d waited three hours at the courthouse only to discover Benjy not only wasn’t going to marry her, but he had moved in with a woman he’d been seeing for weeks, Ariana had propagated the myth that they were awaiting the twins’ birth before tying the knot. Wintersoft had been good to her, giving her a chance in the competitive field of Public Relations, and the software company didn’t deserve a tarnished image because of her.
“Benjy ran off the day we were supposed to be married.”
“Benjy?” He cocked an eyebrow. “Is that your dog?”
She could tell he was kidding. “I wish. Then I could have taken him to the pound.”
“Or had him put to sleep?”
Ariana laughed, surprised that the coolly aloof Grant Lawson had a sense of humor. She appreciated his efforts at levity. Anything to ease the awful strain she’d been under. “Unfortunately, Benjy is the father of my twins. The very absent, unconcerned father of my twins.”
“He is a dog.”
“More like a lap poodle. I only wished I’d recognized his penchant for expecting women to take care of him. And when I say women, I mean multiple women.”
An instant change came over her new attorney. The cool pose stiffened. His top lip thinned to a narrow line. When he spoke, his voice was harsh. “He cheated on you?”
“I suppose I should have suspected it by the way he avoided making definite wedding plans, but I was clueless until he didn’t show up at the courthouse. Even then, I worried he’d been in an accident.” She gave a rueful laugh. “Stupid, huh?”
“You had a right to expect fidelity from the father of your children. Trust is an important part of a relationship.”
The news of Benjy’s betrayal had been a knife in the back. She’d tried so hard to help him when he came out of rehab, but as soon as she was too pregnant to be his pretty little toy anymore, he found other playmates. And she’d been too naive to recognize the symptoms. Admitting such a thing aloud, even to a lawyer, was humiliating.
“And what about you?” Grant pinned her with a courtroom gaze that would have quelled any witness. “Were you unfaithful?”
“Never.” Ariana blushed at the blunt question. Though Benjy was not the first in a long line of bad relationships, he had been her first and only lover. She’d been so certain her love was all he needed to overcome his problems that she’d given herself to him completely.
Ariana’s self-confidence suffered to know she’d been used, that Benjy had only wanted someone to take care of him while he got back on his feet. He’d never wanted to marry her. In fact, he’d been furious about the pregnancy and had even urged her to end it. But after a terrible fight, Benjy had done an about-face, asking her to marry him at some vague, future date.
Grant rocked away from the desk and stalked around to his chair. “I’ll take your case.”
Ariana batted her eyes in surprise.
Just like that? He’d take her case.
He yanked a legal pad from beneath a neat stack on his desk. “Mr. Poodle will do his part to look after your children. You have my word on that.”
Grant furiously scribbled notes on the pad, letting his mind drift over the bits of information Ariana had shared. He did plenty of pro bono cases, especially for company employees, and he enjoyed doing them. Those were the cases that made him feel like a true champion of the law, serving those in need. But he hadn’t taken Ariana’s case out of altruism, not totally anyway. If there was one thing he knew about it was ugly domestic cases in which one partner cheated the other and then tried to skip out scot-free. No one should have to live through that kind of pain.
He raised his eyes to the woman who knew exactly how that felt and was struck again by her smooth skin. Though every previous conversation had been business related, he’d noticed Ariana before. She was lovely. Almond-shaped eyes that defied him to name the color. And dark brown hair that floated around her shoulders with a rich, natural shine. Always warm and friendly even to the biggest jerks in the building, she had a dark beauty that would fascinate any man who still had a heart in his chest. Which left him out since a great gaping hole occupied the area in his rib cage where a heart once resided.
He tried not to look at her stomach—a near impossible task. He’d never seen anyone quite so pregnant. Behind the brave thrust of her chin and the steady gaze, he saw the tear-stained cheeks and detected the vulnerable quiver of her full lower lip. All his protective urges leaped to the fore. Urges he hadn’t acknowledged for a long time. And though they disturbed him no little bit, he’d be hanged if this fianc? of hers got away without taking equal responsibility for those children.
“Do you know this Benjy character’s current address?”
“I know where he works.” She gave him the address. “But don’t expect him to be cooperative.”
The idea angered him. What kind of worthless scum refused to acknowledge his own offspring? Children didn’t deserve to be pawns in domestic litigation. If he’d been fortunate enough to have a child…
He put the brakes on that thought immediately. Just as he’d closed the door on love, he’d promised not to dwell on what could never be.
He pushed a pad toward Ariana. “Will you write that address down? Along with the correct spelling of Mr. Walburn’s name?”
The element of surprise was always important in these cases, so he needed to make certain he had every last detail, right down to the correct spellings. He was nothing if not thorough.
Ariana gripped the chair arms and rocked several times, her off-center body not cooperating. When he started to offer his assistance, she held up one hand to stop him, and shook her head. “I can do this.”
She rocked again and then again. On the next try she stood. Hiding a smile, Grant exhaled, unaware he’d been holding his breath. Her stubbornness appealed to him.
He watched her move toward the desk, a light green dress billowing softly around her legs. Except for the enormous midsection, Ariana Fitzpatrick was actually very small and graceful. Tiny hands, slim shoulders, fine-boned, heart-shaped face with the kindest eyes he’d ever seen. An odd twist wrenched his gut. Sympathy pains surely, though he wasn’t prone to such feelings. A man couldn’t find a woman appealing when she was pregnant with someone else’s baby. Could he?
Taking the pen, Ariana leaned over the paper. Her hair spilled forward, inches from his nose. He inhaled—purely a function of normal biology—and filled his lungs with the faint scent of flowers. Gardenias, he thought.
Nature forced another breath. Ah, lovely. So clean and fresh. He studied her profile, admiring the graceful angle of her neck, waiting for the moment she lifted her head so that he could study her delicate face more closely. Purely for professional reasons, of course. An attorney gained a lot of information from a client’s eyes.
As she straightened, her naturally dark complexion paled, and she grabbed for the edge of the desk.
“Whoa,” she whispered and weaved sideways, knocking his nameplate to the beige carpet.
Grant was out of his chair and around the desk faster than a guilty criminal could say appeal. He slipped an arm around her middle and had the novel experience of feeling a stomach move beneath his fingertips.
Instead of the aversion he’d expected, his own stomach quivered in awed response. He shook off the sensation. Sentimentality had no place in attorney-client relations.
“Are you all right?” His voice sounded gruff.
“Fine.” She panted a few times, then took a deep breath. “A little dizzy. That’s all.”
He backed her to the chair and very gingerly eased her down, then remained standing in front of her, studying the pale line around her mouth. “Has this happened before?”
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