alente's Baby (The Valente Series #3) by Maxine Sullivan

One

“Y ou’re a father.”

Matt Valente broke into a grin as he sat down on the hotel bed. “I didn’t know I was pregnant.”

“Don’t be smart, Matthew,” Cesare Valente snapped down the telephone line. The founder of the House of Valente perfume dynasty was clearly not amused. “Remember Lana Jensen?”

The smile dropped from Matt’s lips. “She was my top accountant a while back, so yeah, I should remember her.” That perfect body…that beautiful face…those Nordic blue eyes hinting at a Scandinavian heritage that seemed as clear as crystal but were in fact deep and hiding lies.

“She had your baby.”

A baby?

No way.

The only thing she’d had was him.

They’d both been a little tipsy at the office Christmas party and she’d taken advantage of his inebriated state to seduce him. They’d made love on the sofa in his office.

Not that he’d been any less to blame for succumbing to her charms, despite her giving him the come-on for months, her blue gaze skittering away every so often, teasing him with a sensual game of cat and mouse.

Afterward he’d regretted not keeping to his golden rule of no personal involvement with office staff. As chief financial officer for the family business, he didn’t need any complications in the workplace.

“I don’t believe it. She’s lying.”

“I saw the child with my own eyes, Matt. I was in my Mercedes waiting for the light to change when Lana crossed in front of me pushing a small child in a stroller. I checked out the birth certificate. Your name’s on it.”

Matt’s hand tightened around the phone. “Dad, that’s a breach of privacy.”

His.

Hell, if his name was on that birth certificate he needed to sort it out.

“Matt, I did what needed to be done. And that included a background check on Lana.”

Matt’s lips twisted. “Why am I not surprised?”

“It was necessary. She’s the mother of my grandchild.”

“And she’d suitable?” he asked with a touch of sarcasm.

“As far as I’m concerned, yes. Her parents are dead, and she has an uncle who lives in France and is a respected businessman. Do you want to know more? There’s some other information on her family. I can send you the report.”

“No, thanks.” He knew all he needed to know about Lana Jensen. More than enough.

And he needed to make his father see sense.

“Dad, look, you can put any name on a birth certificate. I didn’t think you’d fall for that old trick.”

“She’s a Valente, figlio mio.” Son of mine. “She looked just like you. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Something odd bounced around in Matt’s chest. “It’s a girl? Er…I mean, she’s a girl?”

“Yes. And I’m delighted. It’s about time we had another little girl in the family.”

Matt grimaced. Girl or boy, it didn’t matter to him. “Well, I’m not.”

“You will be once you see her.”

“Who said I was going to see her?”

“She’s my granddaughter, Matt. If you don’t go to her, then I’ll bring her to you.”

Matt’s jaw clenched. “This is to trick me into getting married, isn’t it? You may have forced Alex and Nick to marry, but I’m not falling for it, Dad.”

A year ago they’d been about to branch into the North American market with their top-selling perfume, Valente’s Woman, when Cesare had threatened to sell the business out from under Alex’s feet if he didn’t marry. Then a couple of months ago, Cesare had promised to give the Valente estate to anyone but his second son, Nick. Both his brothers had been given no choice but to do what their father wanted or lose what they loved most. As youngest son, Matt had decided there was nothing his father could do to him to make him marry.

“Matt, I admit I had no compunction in forcing your two brothers to marry, and I would have found a way to force you to marry, too. Only now I don’t have to, do I? You’ve brought a daughter into this world and you will give that daughter your name. She will be known as a true Valente.”

“Don’t dictate to me, Dad. If this child is mine, and I’m in no way convinced of it, then I’ll give her my name. You can count on it.”

“That’s all I wanted to know. The family jet is at Brisbane Airport waiting for you. Nick and Sasha are already there and will attend the conference dinner in your place.”

His father was like a damn bulldozer at times. Not even the heart attack had stopped his interfering in his sons’ lives.

“I’ve got a date for the dinner tonight.”

“You had a date. I suggest you break it and get back to Sydney tonight and go see the mother of your child as soon as possible. I like Lana and I’m sure she’ll be reasonable.”

At the mention of Lana, his gut clenched, but there was no way he wanted his father to know that. Cesare would somehow use that knowledge in future if he could. He could imagine the older man’s reaction if he ever told him Lana was a thief and that he’d covered up for her without telling anyone. And he couldn’t wholly blame his decision not to report their theft on Cesare’s heart attack at the time either.

“What woman is ever reasonable, Dad?” he mocked.

Cesare laughed and said goodbye, and Matt hung up the phone and went to stand at the window in his hotel suite. He looked out over the sweeping coastline of Queensland’s Gold Coast as the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean tumbled onto the golden beaches of Australia’s tourist capital.

Tonight he’d planned a romantic dinner and a night of lovemaking with a lady friend of his.

Now he could only think of one woman.

Lana Jensen.

She’d been the only woman he’d made love to without a condom. He’d been so hot for her, and the alcohol he’d consumed had lowered his guard.

But if that child was his—if Lana had lied to him about being protected from a pregnancy—then she’d done more than stolen that fifty thousand dollars from the House of Valente.

She’d just stolen his freedom.

“Oh my God!” Lana gasped a split second after opening her apartment door and seeing the man on the other side. Panic raced through her at the speed of light. It couldn’t be him. It just couldn’t be.

“Yes, you’d better start praying,” Matt Valente declared.

Recovering hastily, she played for time even as she edged the door shut a fraction. “Matt, what are you doing here?”

“You know the answer to that.”

“I do?”

“Invite me in, Lana.”

Not for all the tea in China.

“Sorry, no. I’m going out shortly.” She started shutting the door with more haste. “Perhaps if you have something to say you can telephone me tomorrow and—”

He pushed past her into the apartment, despite his haste, gently moving her out of the way. “I’ve got plenty to say and I intend on saying it now.”

She tried to hold back her agitation. “Look, you just can’t come in here and—”

“Where is she, Lana?”

Lana froze. “Where is who?”

“My daughter.”

Dear Lord, until that moment she’d been hoping this wasn’t what his visit was about.

“So you know?” she whispered.

“It’s true, then.”

She bit her lip. “No. I mean…er…sure, I had a baby but—”

“Give it up, Lana. She’s my daughter. My father saw you with her on the street and he checked out her birth certificate.”

She gaped at him. “But…but that’s an invasion of my privacy.”

“Do you think he cares?”

Just then a child’s babble issued from the living room and Matt shot her a dark look.

Lana stepped in front of him. “Matt, please. Just leave. Don’t do this.”

“No chance in hell,” he growled, and stepped around her, taking a few paces to the doorway. He went stone still as he saw the little toddler standing up against the playpen railings.

Lana tried not to think about how he must be feeling right now. She told herself not to feel sorry for him. Matt Valente was a playboy who wasn’t ready to settle down or have children. If he was here, it was only because his father had made him come.

“What’s her name?”

Surprise kicked in. “You don’t know?”

He didn’t move a muscle. “What’s her name?” he said rawly.

“Megan.”

A moment slid by, then, “Megan Valente.”

Apprehension slithered down Lana’s spine. “Actually, it’s Megan Jensen.”

“Soon it will be Valente,” he said with the full superiority of a Valente male.

Her mind reeled. “What do you mean?”

He ignored the question as he walked over to Megan, crouched down in front of the eleven-month-old and looked at her through the bars.

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