The Billionaire's Christmas Baby
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The maid, the billionaire...and the baby
Hotel maid Sunny Raye only went to Max Grayland’s hotel suite to clean—and found herself calming a tiny abandoned baby! With just days until Christmas, the gorgeous but bewildered billionaire demands Sunny help him care for Phoebe over the holidays. She agrees—only if they spend Christmas with her family!
Max is totally out of his comfort zone, but warmhearted Sunny is a revelation. And Max finds he wants more than a nanny for Phoebe—he wants Sunny to lighten his life forever.
Phoebe was still awake, nestled in his arms, gazing upward as if trying to make sense of this man who was holding her.
This man sitting beside Sunny.
They were sitting at the end of the pew, in case Phoebe decided to roar and they had to take her out.
Anyone looking at her and at Max might think...
Don’t go there, Sunny thought. This was a fantasy. There’d never been time or space for her to think of a love life.
She gazed down at her hands, at the lines and calluses formed by years of hard work, at the absence of rings. She stretched them out and suddenly, astonishingly, Max’s fingers were closing over hers.
‘Good hands,’ he said in an undervoice. ‘Honourable hands.’
She should... She didn’t know what she should do. Had he known what she was thinking? How many hands had this man seen that looked like hers? None.
She should tug her hand back and the contact would be over. That was the sensible course, the only course, but she couldn’t quite manage it. His clasp was warm and strong. Good.
Fantasy enveloped her again for a moment, insidious in its sweetness. To keep sitting here, to feel the peace of this moment, this place, this man...
The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby
MARION LENNOX has written more than one hundred romances, and is published in over a hundred countries and thirty languages. Her multiple awards include the prestigious RITA® Award (twice), and the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award for ‘a body of work which makes us laugh and teaches us about love’. Marion adores her family, her kayak, her dog– and lying on the beach with a book someone else has written. Heaven!
‘The story is one of a kind and very interesting. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.’
Stranded with the Secret Billionaire
SHE’D FORGOTTEN GRAN’S cherry liqueur chocolates.
Sunny Raye abandoned her scrubbing and gave in to the horror of her memory lapse.The discount store near home brought in mountains of chocolates for Christmas. They were cheap and delicious, but they’d be sold out by now.
It was ten at night and she was bone-weary. She’d agreed to work overtime because she needed the pay—Christmas was expensive—but all she wanted now was her bed. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve and she was rostered to work again from eight to five. Where could she find time to buy Gran’s chocolates, and how much would she need to spend?
‘How long does it take to scrub one floor?’
The stain on the tiles was hard against the bathroom door. She hadn’t been able to shut it, which meant she was in full view of the guest sitting at the desk. He was annoyed? The feeling was mutual. This was a job for Maintenance, not for a scrubbing brush.
But Sunny’s job was to make the guest feel that this was a scrubbed stain rather than a missed-by-Housekeeping stain. Keep him happy at all costs—that had been the order. When Max Grayland was in town the hotel fell over itself to make sure all was right with his world. Heads would roll over this stain, but it wouldn’t be her head.
Enough. She dried the floor with care, then rose. Oh, her knees hurt, but perky must be maintained.
‘I’m so sorry, sir,’ she told him brightly, as if this was the start of her shift rather than two hours after she was supposed to be gone. ‘It appears to be a bleach stain, possibly from hair dye. It should have been noticed and I apologise that it wasn’t. I can arrange for the tile to be replaced now, if you like.’
Ross in Maintenance would kill her, but she had to offer.
‘However, it’ll involve noise and you may wish us to leave it until morning,’ she added. ’Meanwhile, I can assure you it’s clean and totally hygienic.’
‘Leave it then.’ Max Grayland pushed the documents he’d been working on aside and rose, and she sensed he was almost as weary as she was. With reason? She knew he’d flown in from New York this morning, but Max Grayland crossed the globe at will. Surely travelling in first-class luxury prevented jet lag?
How would she know? Sunny had never flown in her life.
But he did look tired. Rumpled.
He was a financial whiz, she’d been told, a man in his mid-thirties, at the top of his game. The media described him as a legal eagle, and that was what he looked like. He was tall, dark and imposing, with deep, hooded eyes and a body that seemed toned to the point of impossible.
He was still wearing the clothes he’d worn at check-in but he’d ditched his jacket, unbuttoned the top of his shirt and rolled his sleeves. His after-five shadow looked like after five from the night before.
What was a man like this doing looking exhausted? Didn’t he have minions to jump to his every whim?
He stalked over and stared at the stain as if it personally offended him, but she had a feeling he was seeing far more than the stain. He raked his dark hair and his look of exhaustion deepened.
‘Leave it,’ he growled again. ‘Thanks for your help.’
That was something at least. Most of the guests who stayed in the penthouse didn’t bother to say thank you.
‘I’m sorry I can’t do more.’ She edged past him, which was a bit problematic. She was carrying a mop and bucket and she had to edge sideways. She didn’t edge far enough and her body brushed his.
She smelled the faint scent of aftershave, something incredibly masculine, nice...
Good one, Sunny, she thought. This morning her hair had been tied into a neat knot, but the knot had loosened hours ago and she hadn’t had time to redo it. After a day’s hard physical work in the hotel’s often overheated rooms, her curls were limp and plastered against her face. Her uniform was stained. She knew she smelled of cleaning products—and she was suddenly acutely aware that the guy she was brushing past was a hunk.
A billionaire hunk.
Get a grip.
‘Goodnight, sir,’ she said primly and headed for the door. For some reason she wanted to scuttle. What was he doing, unsettling her like this?
Cherry liqueur chocolates, she told herself firmly. Focus on imperatives.
But a rap at the door made her pause.
Her training told her to melt into the background, which was impossible when she was in his room, carrying an armload of cleaning gear.
‘What the...?’ Behind her, Max Grayland growled his displeasure. ‘I don’t need anyone else fussing over this. Tell your people to leave it.’
He was assuming it’d be the manager, coming to grovel his apologies. She hadn’t reported that she couldn’t fix the stain, though. Brent wouldn’t be here yet.
But access to the penthouse suite floor was security locked. Stray visitors didn’t make it up here.
‘You’re not expecting anyone, sir?’
‘I’m not,’ he snapped. ‘Tell them to go away.’ And he retreated behind his desk.
There was nothing for it. She put down her mop and bucket, pushed her stray curls back behind her ears—gee, that’d make a difference—and opened the door.
And almost fainted.
She knew the woman in front of her. Of course she did—this was a face that was emblazoned on billboards, on buses, on perfume advertisements nationwide. Exotic and glamorous, Isabelle Steinway’s pouty face was her fortune. She was famous for...well, for being famous. Her fame had just started to fade when news of her pregnancy had hit the tabloids, and for the last few months the media had been going nuts. There’d been gossip galore, fed by Isabelle’s publicity machine—a secret father, the body beautiful doing all the ‘right things’ and selling those ‘right things’ as exclusives...
And then nothing. For the last few weeks Isabelle had inexplicably gone to ground. There’d been a publicity statement that she wished for privacy for the birth, which was a huge ask for the public to believe.
But she was here now, glamorous as ever, in a tight-fitting frock that made a mockery of the fact that she must have just given birth.
A night porter was standing behind her, looking anxious. Nigel must have been badgered into allowing her up here, Sunny thought, but who could blame him? The media reported that what Isabelle wanted, Isabelle got, and one pimply-faced teenage porter wouldn’t be enough to stand in her way. Nigel looked terrified. And deeply unhappy.
He was pushing a pram and the pram was wailing.
But Isabelle was ignoring the pram. The moment Sunny opened the door, she swept in, brushing her aside as if she was nothing. As indeed she should be. She should disappear, but Nigel was blocking her way. He’d pushed the pram into the doorway, stopping her leaving, and his gaze was that of a rabbit caught in headlights.
They were both stuck.
She might as well turn and watch the tableau in front of her.
The penthouse had been decorated for Christmas. A massive tree sparkled behind them. There were tasteful bud lights hanging from the windows, and through those windows the lights of Sydney Harbour glittered like a fairy tale.
The two centrepieces in this tableau were also like something out of a fairy tale. Yes, Max looked exhausted, but this man would look good after a week in the bush fighting to survive. The warrior image suited him—business clothes seemed almost inappropriate.
And Isabelle? She was wearing a silver-sequined frock that would have cost Sunny a year’s wages or more. How had she got into it so soon after giving birth? There must be a whalebone corset somewhere under there, Sunny thought. Her blonde hair was shoulder-length, every curl exquisitely positioned. Her crimson mouth was painted into a heart shape. Everything about her seemed perfect.
Except the pram behind her. The wail coming from its depths was growing increasingly desperate.
But Isabelle seemed oblivious to the wail. She was focusing on Max, her glower designed to skewer at twenty paces.
‘She’s yours,’ she spat and Sunny watched Max react with blank incredulity.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Do you think I want her?’ Isabelle’s voice was vituperative. ‘I never wanted her in the first place. Your father... “Have a baby and I’ll marry you,” he said. “You’ll be taken care of for life. You’ll never have to work again.”’ Her voice was a mock imitation, a vicious recount of words obviously said long ago. ‘And now...your father’s will... Yeah, he changed it, like he promised he would. His whole fortune for this kid, held in trust by me until the age of twenty-one. But he never said anything to me about a son! I would have aborted. No, I’d have never got pregnant in the first place. So now he’s dead and the will says everything goes to his youngest son. But there’s only one son, and that’s you. You get it all, and my lawyer says I’ll even have to file a claim for this one’s maintenance. Do you think I slept with a seventy-eight-year-old egomaniac and carried his kid for maintenance?’
Her voice ended on a screech. She sounded out of control, Sunny thought—there was real suffering under there. Real betrayal.
She looked again at Max and saw blank amazement.
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ he managed.
‘So welcome to the real world,’ Isabelle snapped, fighting to get her voice back to a reasonable level—which was tricky seeing she was talking over a baby’s screams. ‘She was born last week. Two days after your father’s heart attack. You can do a paternity test if you like—I don’t care. She’s your father’s. Her papers are with her. Everything’s in the pram. Her name’s Phoebe because Phoebe’s the midwife who delivered her and when I said I didn’t care she sounded shocked so I said I’d call her after her. But now...if you think I’ll sit at your father’s funeral like a grieving widow you have another think coming. My lawyers will be contacting you for compensation.’
‘Isabelle...’ Max sounded gobsmacked. ‘I’m so sorry...’
‘I don’t want your sympathy,’ Isabelle hissed. ‘Your father lied through his teeth to persuade me to have this kid and I might have known... But it’s over. There’s a house party up north starting tomorrow, with people who really matter. I have no intention of taking that...’ she gestured at the howling pram ‘...with me. You inherited everything your father possessed, so she’s yours.’
‘You’re planning to abandon your baby?’ Max’s voice was filled with shock, but also the beginnings of anger. ‘Yours and my father’s baby?’
‘Of course I’m abandoning it. It was a business contract and he broke it.’
‘So he planned a son—why? To keep me from inheriting?’
‘If he’d told me that I might have even done something,’ Isabelle snapped. ‘For the amount of money he promised me, I could have fixed it. Sex selection’s illegal in this country but he had enough money to pay for me to go abroad. But the stupid old fool didn’t even have the sense to be upfront.’
‘You know he had a brain tumour. He died of a heart attack but he had cancer. You know he wasn’t thinking straight.’
‘I don’t know anything and I care less,’ Isabelle snapped. ‘All I know is that I’m leaving. My lawyers will be in touch.’ She whirled back to the door, blocked now by the goggling Nigel and the pram. ‘Get out of my way.’
Nigel, shocked beyond belief, edged the pram aside so Isabelle could shove her way past. She stalked the four steps to the elevator and hit the button.
The elevator slid open as if it had been waiting.
‘Isabelle!’ Max strode forward, but the terrified Nigel had swung the pram back into the doorway and bolted, straight through the fire door.
The pram held Max back for precious moments.
The elevator doors slid closed and the fire door slammed.
Isabelle and Nigel were gone.
THE FIRE DOOR looked very, very appealing.
Cleaning staff were supposed to be invisible.
‘Enter discreetly. If guests are present, act as if you’re a shadow. Listen to nothing and if there’s the slightest sense of unease disappear and go back later. If there’s a problem call Housekeeping and have a guest relations manager handle it.’
That had been the mantra drilled into her two years ago when she’d taken this job and Sunny liked it that way. There was too much drama and worry in her personal life to want any more at work.
So, like Nigel, she should bolt for the fire door. Except that would mean pushing past Max, pushing past the pram, possibly even dripping her mop on both.
He’d have to move. He’d have to tug the pram inside, so she could edge out.
Meanwhile, she tried melting against the wall, acting like part of the plaster, hoping he wouldn’t notice her.
Though there was a sneaky little voice that was thinking, Whoa, did I really see what I just saw? Where was a camera when she needed it? The media would go nuts over what had just happened.
Right. And she’d lose her job and she wouldn’t get one again in the service industry and what else was she trained for? She’d left school at fifteen and there’d only been sporadic attendance before then. She was fit for nothing except blending into the wall, which she’d done before and she had every intention of doing now.
Max didn’t seem to notice her. Why would he? He’d just been handed a bombshell.
He walked cautiously forward and peered into the pram. The wails increased to the point of desperation and the look on Max’s face matched exactly.
She expected him to back away in alarm. Instead he leaned over and scooped a white bundle into his arms. The wails didn’t cease. He stood, looking down into the crumpled face of a newborn, and something in his own face twisted.
The pram was still blocking her path but with the baby out of it she could pull it to one side. She could leave.
She edged forward and Max turned as if he suddenly realised he had company.
She was still standing with her mop and bucket. Her cleaner’s uniform was damp down the front. Her curls were escaping from her regulation knot. She looked nothing like the image of immaculate efficiency the hotel insisted she maintain. Brent would have kittens if he could see her now, she thought, but there was nothing she could do about it.
‘Do you know anything about babies?’
There was a loaded question. The answer was more than she wanted to think about, but she wasn’t going there.
‘If you need help, you might ring Housekeeping,’ she suggested, clutching her mop and bucket like a shield and lance. ‘Or I can ask them to send someone up.’ She listened to the wails and softened just a little. ‘She sounds like she needs feeding,’ she suggested. ‘You might check the pram for formula, or Housekeeping could provide some. Goodnight, sir...’ And she edged forward.
She didn’t make it two steps. He was in front of her, blocking her way.
‘You’re not going anywhere,’ he growled. ‘Take her.’
‘I’m the cleaner.’ She wasn’t putting her mop and bucket down for the world.
‘Until I find someone else, you’re here to help. You stay until I get Housekeeping up here. Put that gear down and take her.’
‘Sir, she’s your baby...’
‘She is not my baby.’
It was a deep, guttural snap that shocked them both. It appeared to shock even the baby. There was a moment’s stunned silence while all of them, baby included, took a breath and reloaded.
Max recovered first. Maybe he had the most to lose. He strode to the door, slammed it shut, pushed the pram in front of it and then walked straight to her. He held the bundle out, pressing it against her.
She could hold her mop and bucket with all the dignity she could muster, or she could take this bundle of misery, a crumpled newborn.
Did she have a choice? What’s new? she thought bitterly. When there’s a mess, hand it to Sunny.
She set the cleaning aids aside and took the bundle. As if on cue, it—she—started wailing again.
‘I’ll ring Housekeeping,’ Max snapped. ‘Stop her crying.’
Stop her crying. Right. In what universe did this man live? A universe where babies had off switches?
But as he stalked to the phone she relented and peered into the pram.
There was a bag tucked in the side. She investigated with hope.
A folder with documents. A tin of formula. A couple of bottles. Two diapers.
Okay, this baby’s mother wasn’t completely heartless. Or...she was pretty heartless, but Sunny had coped with worse.
She sighed and headed for the penthouse’s kitchenette. She’d seen Max make himself a hot drink a few minutes ago. Blessedly, he’d overfilled the kettle, so she had boiled water. She balanced baby in one hand, scoop and bottle in the other, made it up, then ran cold water in the sink to immerse the base of the bottle to cool it.
The wailing continued but she could hear Max in the background on the phone. ‘What do you mean, no one? I want a babysitter. Now. Find someone. An outside agency. I don’t care. Just do it.’
A babysitter at ten o’clock, the night before Christmas Eve? Christmas was on a Sunday this year, which meant today was Friday. The whole world—except the likes of hotel cleaners—would have started Christmas holidays today. Celebrations would be almost universal and every babysitting service would be stretched to the limit.
Good luck, she thought drily, but then she looked down into the baby’s face. Phoebe was tiny, her face creased in distress, her rosebud mouth working frantically. How long since she’d been fed?
This little one’s mother had handed her over without a backward glance. This man didn’t want her.
There were echoes of Sunny’s background all over the place here, and she didn’t like it one bit.
She needed to leave.
She could feel sogginess under her hand. And the baby...smelled?
‘Get someone up here. Get me the manager.’ Max was barking into the phone, but she tuned it out. How long since this little one had been changed?
A tentative examination made her shudder. Ugh. She gave up on the thought of a simple change and headed for the bathroom. She stripped off all the baby’s clothes, then used the washbasin to clean her. The wailing was starting to sound exhausted, but the baby had enough strength to flail her legs in objection to the warm water.
But Sunny was an old hand. Washing was brisk and efficient. She had a replacement nappy but no change of clothes. No matter—she was warmed and dry. Sunny wrapped her expertly in one of the hotel’s fluffy towels, carried her back to the living room, checked the bottle, settled down on the settee—had she ever sat on anything so luxurious in her life?—and popped one teat into one desperate mouth.
Then finally the world settled. The silence was almost overwhelming.
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