Texas Tycoon's Christmas Fiancée (3 page)

BOOK: Texas Tycoon's Christmas Fiancée
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“Too bad we didn't meet under other circumstances,” he said in a deeper tone, this time setting her heart racing. As he left, closing the door, she let out her breath.

“But we didn't,” she said to no one, surprised by his last remark which, for a brief moment, had taken her away from the problem. How much more difficult it was to deal with the situation when the messenger was a charismatic, sexy man like Nick.

She felt completely wrung-out, as if she had been sparring with a formidable foe. She didn't imagine she had seen the last of the Raffords. Men with wealth such as theirs did not accept defeat easily.

Was she cutting Michael off from a myriad of marvelous opportunities that Eli Rafford could provide? That was exactly what had sent Alicia to see Bart. Would Alicia have jumped at this chance and think Grace was being a poor guardian? Grace simply feared the Rafford patriarch would take Michael from her, but she needed to give Nick's request more consideration before she totally slammed the door on the Raffords. Eli Rafford could insure Michael's future. After a few days, it still wouldn't be too late to contact Nick and agree to his wishes.

The thought chilled her more.

She wanted no part of Eli Rafford and she couldn't imagine that he merely intended to see Michael a few times. She suspected he wanted his small grandson. And he would want to give him the life he had given Nick—nannies, chauffeurs and boarding schools. As far as she was concerned, she could give Michael vastly more because he would have her loving care and attention.

She walked around her desk and looked up her attorney's phone number, afraid she would need help to fight this battle. Frightened and concerned, she was certain it wasn't over and that she had not seen the last of Nick.

Two

N
ick drove his black sports car away from the strip mall where Grace rented space for her office. Relief dominated his feelings as he glanced at his watch. His lunch appointment with his closest friends would get his mind off this problem for the time being.

Jake and Tony were already waiting and soon Gabe Benton joined them. Over hamburgers, Nick realized the lunch was not pushing his problem out of mind.

“Nick, I don't think you heard a word I said,” Jake stated.

“Sorry,” Nick answered. “It's Dad and what he wants. Long story, but the three of you know about the baby that might be Bart's. Dad has a bee in his bonnet about getting the baby into the Rafford family.”

“And that's not what the baby's guardian wants,” Tony guessed.

“Money talks. I can't imagine your dad hasn't made her an
offer or had you make her an offer,” Jake remarked. “That's the usual MO for all our dads.”

“She's not interested.”

“Is this the new caterer you had?” Tony asked.

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

“Simple. Just marry her,” Jake suggested with a twinkle in his eyes.

Nick gave him a look. “I'm not marrying anyone to get something for Dad. I'm not marrying for years, period. All you guys will be married before I am.”

“The hell you say,” Tony replied. “Name your price, I'll bet you're married first.”

Nick relaxed, enjoying the good-natured exchange and getting his mind off his problem. “I will be the last. One million in the pot.”

“Oh, no. I'm definitely going to be the holdout. I'll bet a million and I will win,” Jake said.

“I'm guaranteed to win,” Tony stated.

“You guys—betting a million over getting married. I could be the winner because I'm the youngest, but my money is going elsewhere,” Gabe said. “Count me out of this.”

“All right,” Nick said. “We have a bet. Last one to marry gets one million from the other two—namely, I will collect from both of you.”

“Deal,” Jake said as Tony nodded. “It's sweet,” Jake added. “Gabe is our witness. I don't expect this bet to be over for years.”

“You guys are in it now, and it will be years,” Nick said, smiling and relaxing.

Their conversation shifted to sports and for half an hour he didn't think about Grace, the baby or his father. It wasn't until he told his friends goodbye and left that he went back to thinking about his father's demands.

“Might as well get this over now,” he said to himself,
dreading breaking the news to his father. He changed direction and headed to his father's palatial estate. When he entered the grounds, he called his dad's nurse to let her know he was coming.

Circling splashing fountains, assorted statues and well-tended beds of flowers, Nick drove around the mansion to the back, sitting in the car long enough to call his office and tell them when he would be in.

He pushed the bell at the back and the door was opened by a gray-haired uniformed woman he had known since childhood.

“Good morning, Miss Lou,” Nick said, smiling at her.

“Morning to you, Mr. Nick. Your father will be glad to see you.”

“I have doubts about that. I'm telling him something he doesn't want to hear.”

She laughed. “None of your escapades now!”

“There hasn't been any such nonsense since I went off to college,” he said, laughing with her.

She chuckled and shook her head. “He's in the library. He'll be glad to see you. I think he's lonesome. He talks to me a lot more now.”

“Then he shouldn't be so lonesome. You're good company,” Nick said, smiling at her. He walked down the broad terrazzo-floored hall to enter the spacious room that included three walls of shelves filled with books and pictures.

His father was in a chair near the bay windows and his nurse turned to smile at Nick as she stood.

“Good morning.”

“Hi, Megan. Morning, Dad,” Nick said, crossing the room. “Megan, you can stay. I won't be here long,” he said, but she shook her head.

“I have some things I can do,” she said.

Nick watched the petite auburn-haired nurse as she left
through the open door into the hall. Nick sat facing his father, who was dressed and had shaved, wearing a cardigan over his shirt and with his feet in slippers. He was a thinner version of his old self and more gray had spread through his thick black hair. Nick knew he resembled his father and wondered if this was how he would look someday.

“How are you this morning?” Nick asked.

“Same as last week. I take it you've talked to Grace Wayland.”

“Yes, I did. I went to her office today to discuss Michael.”

“So when do I get to see my grandson?”

“Dad, because of Alicia, Grace has very strong feelings about us. She resents Bart's treatment of Alicia, especially Alicia's last visit with Bart.”

A pained look crossed his father's face and his gaze shifted to the windows. Nick noticed a muscle working in his dad's jaw while he crushed the corner of his open cardigan in one hand. “I'm sorry I didn't talk to Bart more at the time. I made a mistake in not taking an interest from the first.”

“Grace is bitter over her friend. She sees no point in bringing Michael to see you.”

“Damn it, Nick! You can be persuasive. Why didn't you talk her into a meeting?”

“Well, maybe my heart wasn't in it. Stop and think a minute about it. We're not certain this is Bart's child.”

“He told me that it probably was his baby. Early on, I didn't feel strongly about it, but my life has changed. I want to see my grandson. This is vital to me,” his father snapped, some of the old force returning to his voice. He stood and walked to the mantel to brace his arm on it. “I want that child in the family. I intend to see that he has the family name.” Eli turned to stare at Nick. “Doesn't she realize it will be better for Michael?”

“I pointed out to her that you can do a lot more for Michael
than she will ever be able to,” Nick said patiently, knowing there would be more to come because his father never gave up on something he wanted badly.

“She's not thinking about the baby.”

“That doesn't matter if she refuses to allow you to see him. Bart signed away his rights. He gave up any claim. Add to that, Grace's bitter feelings over the treatment her friend received from Bart.”

“I suppose she blames Bart for Alicia's wreck.”

“She probably does,” Nick said, mindful that Grace did blame Bart. “Dad, give it up. Someday I'll give you grandchildren. Besides, you've told me that you never wanted more children, nor did any of the women you married. It's a late point in life to decide you want to enjoy a grandchild.”

“Nick, damn it, I intend to give my grandson his heritage of the Rafford name and in some manner to rectify what Bart did.”

“You'll send your blood pressure higher worrying over this,” Nick said gently. “Right now, you're not completely well. You can't deal with a grandbaby. You really never have wanted to have babies around.”

“No, I haven't. I just want to see the little boy. I want him legally an heir—and I've told you that you will get the bulk of the estate no matter what happens. I wouldn't think of cutting you out of most of what I possess, but there is enough for him to have a trust. After all, Nick, he is your nephew.”

“It's difficult to relate to a baby I've never seen, with a deceased mother I can't recall meeting.” Stretching out his long legs, Nick folded his hands, giving his father time to vent his frustration.

“Bart handled things badly, but I'm aware of this family's responsibility—”

“Dad, you don't have a responsibility. Bart signed his away totally.”

Eli scowled, glaring at his son. “I want this baby in our family and I can do so much for him.”

“Grace Wayland doesn't want you to. She doesn't want you to meet him. She refused to see you. I'm sorry, but there it is.”

“The hell you say? You walked out and gave up? You don't give up when it's something you want.”

“Understand, Grace was adamant about it. She's incensed over her friend. She isn't going to be talked into it.”

“Well, then I'll bribe her into it. Did you tell her I would set up a trust for Michael?”

“I told her you could do many beneficial things for him. I pointed out to her that you can do far more for Michael than she can and it didn't move her. She doesn't want nannies or chauffeurs or boarding schools for him.”

“Damn it, what's the matter with the woman? She's in business for herself. You told me she came from a poor background with no college education in the family. How can she turn up her nose at money for the baby?”

“She's unhappy with the Raffords,” Nick reaffirmed patiently.

“Alicia came from that same poor background, but she appreciated money.”

“I can imagine,” Nick remarked drily, thinking his brother got tangled up often with women after his money. “In a way, it's refreshing to meet a woman who doesn't put the dollar first.”

“Refreshing? It's damned stubborn. She's letting emotions cloud her judgment and she isn't giving the baby a fair shake.”

“She was unmovable,” Nick said, hanging on to patience. “Maybe if I try again in a few months she will have thought it over and softened up about it.”

“Nick, time is important to me. It grows shorter by the day.”

“Your doctors say you are doing fine. Let's wait a few weeks—Christmas is coming and maybe the holidays will change her mind. I'll talk to her again sometime,” Nick said, astounded at the words coming out of his mouth. He didn't want to argue with Grace Wayland again, but his sympathy went out to his dad. “I'll try again soon. We won't give up.” When he stood, Eli crossed the room.

“I don't want to give up. This is my grandson. I'm sticking to what I want, to know him and give him our family name.”

Nick nodded. “I tried, Dad. I better go. I have an eleven-o'clock appointment. I'll let myself out.”

On his way out, Nick checked in with the nurse and the staff, then left. Relieved to have broken the news to his dad, he wondered whether his dad would give up. Nick didn't want to argue further with Grace. With a little time maybe his dad's feelings about the baby would cool, although Nick knew that was probably wishful thinking. His dad was like a dog with a bone over something he wanted and couldn't have. He would go after it and hang on like crazy.

Nick shifted his thoughts to business, running over the information he had been given for a morning appointment to discuss a land acquisition in the Dakotas. Wrapped in thoughts about business, he continued to the twenty-story building in downtown Dallas that housed the Rafford energy company.

Business occupied Nick for the rest of the day until late afternoon, when his direct line rang and he saw it was a call from his dad.

“I knew it,” he said under his breath, wondering what scheme his father had hatched during the day to pressure Grace about the baby. His father wouldn't discuss it over the phone, so Nick promised to drive out and see him after work.
He replaced the receiver and spent another hour working before closing up.

As he walked through his secretary's station he smiled. “See you tomorrow, Jeananne.”

“Have a good evening,” she answered.

“Thanks, I will,” he said as he left, wondering if his father was going to make another plea that would mean dealing with Grace. He couldn't imagine any other reason for the request to drive out and see him again. They went months without seeing each other. Twice in one day had to mean something was brewing.

Nick drove through the estate, up the winding driveway past the statuary and fountains. He continued to the back, the easiest way in, greeting the staff and heading this time for his father's favorite living area.

Still in his cardigan and slippers, Eli smiled. “Thanks for coming. I want to talk further about this problem of Michael.”

“I figured you did.”

“Would you like to join me in a drink? I have a fine bottle of red wine.”

“Sure, Dad. Let me,” Nick said, crossing the room to the bar where a bottle of red wine had already been placed on the counter with two crystal glasses beside it.

He uncorked the bottle to pour the Pinot Noir.

“So how are profits this month?” Eli asked.

“Better than last month,” Nick answered, picking up their drinks. “I have a land deal in North Dakota that will be good I think.”

“I don't worry that you'll ever spread yourself too thin even though you do take risks.”

“You recognize you have to take risks,” Nick said. “I learned that from you.”

“Here's to success,” Eli said, lifting his glass of wine.

Nick sat in a navy wing chair facing his father and lifted his glass. “I'll gladly drink to that. So what's up?”

Eli smiled. “I'm aware how persuasive you can be when you want to be. I'm going to do a little arm-twisting myself. Nick, I want my grandbaby in my life. I'm counting on you to see to it that my wish is granted.”

“I've tried. With Bart signing away his rights and declaring that he wanted nothing to do with the baby, there's little I can do.”

“You made tentative overtures about my seeing Michael. I want Michael legally my grandson and to have my name. I intend to get what I want.”

Now Eli sounded like himself and not a frail, aging man. Nick wondered where the conversation was going and what his dad had in mind.

“I talked to my lawyer today. Harvey came out to the house after lunch. I hate to do this, Nick, but I don't think you're taking me seriously or are convinced about how much I want my grandson in my life.”

“Wrong. I'm definitely taking you seriously,” Nick said as he braced for another odious assignment.

BOOK: Texas Tycoon's Christmas Fiancée
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