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The Billionaire Daddy

Lauren Smith knew she was crazy. A sane woman wouldn’t burst into the lobby of a swanky Manhattan high rise, all marble and crystal and gold. Not a sane woman wearing a bargain basement shift and carrying a battered canvas suitcase. Yet, even as deranged as she was, she realized she was a far cry from the type who belonged in these surroundings.

Since her sanity was no longer a consideration, she might as well forge on, figure out a way to dredge up the nerve to force a confrontation with the rich and powerful scoundrel who occupied the penthouse.

“You will go up to that fancy watch dog and demand to see him.” She stiff-armed the revolving door. The uniformed sentry eyed her with mistrust. She swallowed. “Don’t let him see your fear,” she muttered. “Tell him you’ll chain yourself to—to…” She gave the cavernous, glittering lobby a panicked examination. “To what? With what?”

Plan B.

She yanked back her shoulders and marched toward the scowling doorman in his fancy epaulets and frippery. “Make him understand this is a matter of life and death,” she muttered under her breath. She eyed the man with bloodthirsty resolve. “His!”

The guard opened his mouth, but she cut him off. “I must see Mr. Dade Delacourte immediately, on a matter of—”

“It’s about time!” He grasped her elbow and whirled her toward a bank of gilded elevators. “Get up there, girl!” He turned a key in a slot above the buttons marking the building’s 80 floors. “Mr. Delacourte is roaring like a wounded lion.”

Before she could demand or threaten or even breathe, Lauren found herself shooting upward. She grabbed the rail to avoid staggering to her knees, no longer curious about how it felt to be blasted into space. Dazed, she watched the floors zoom by—35-48-67….After soaring past eighty, the elevator kept going, though the space where the numbers were displayed went ominously blank. “Where does this guy live?” She strangled the handrail, suddenly panicked. “Pluto?”

The rocketing conveyance came to a stop so smooth Lauren decided the engineering required for such a soft landing could be afforded only by the filthy rich. She had been so tensed in her attempt to keep from crashing through the roof, she nearly fell on her backside from overcompensation. Lauren shook her head, working focus on a world no longer falling away at the speed of light. The elevator doors whooshed opened.

She stilled, hardly breathing, to take in the unknown—this alien, celestial region called ‘a penthouse.’

A spacious foyer appeared before her, with lush carpeting and white marble walls, luxurious yet austere. On either side of a set of double doors gray stone pedestals supported imposing earthenware urns, no doubt exhumed from some primal civilization. Lauren would bet her teacher’s pension they were priceless.

She heard a sound and shifted in time to see a woman in starched gray push open the double doors and rush toward her. “Hurry, hurry!” She beckoned, her gestures nervous, impatient. “He’s waiting.”

Lauren tentatively stepped out of the elevator. The heels of her pumps burrowed into the thick carpet, and she swayed precariously. In the process of righting herself, she realized she still held her suitcase. She hadn’t even had time to find a hotel, having rushed immediately to the Delacourte building.

She wondered if she should leave the bag by the elevator. Her quandary was cut short when it was snatched away. “I’ll get this into the limo,” the woman whispered. “Just go!” Before Lauren could get steady on her feet, she felt a hand at her back, then a brisk shove. “It’s the second door on your left, after you leave the foyer.”

Her equilibrium returning, Lauren twisted to ask what in heaven’s name the woman was talking about, and what was behind the second door to the left after the foyer. “But—” She cut herself off, dismayed to see the maid disappear behind the closing elevator doors.

Lauren would have been relieved by such a frenzied reception, except for the fact that nobody knew she was coming. She wanted nothing more than to have Mr. Delacourte relinquish her baby niece with speed and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he had no idea Lauren Smith existed. He didn’t know her little sister had been the woman who had given birth to his child.

Even if he didn’t want the baby—which she was sure he didn’t, having left Millie alone and pregnant—he could have no idea who Lauren was or the reason she’d come to New York City. So, why had she been rushed up to his penthouse as though she were a fireman and the place was a blazing inferno?

Nervously, she peered beyond open double doors, twenty feet straight ahead. She saw a long hallway that opened into what no doubt was the living room. Eyeing the second door on the left in the hall, she chewed her lower lip. Assuming the ‘he’ the maid mentioned was Dade Delacourte, she should stomp right in and state her business.

She would have her chance to explain who she was, and make it clear she had no intention of allowing him to be burdened with a baby he didn’t want. She had come to take little Christina Lauren Delacourte off his depraved hands.

She fought a shiver of loathing. No! Don’t call him depraved! She must be civil. Just because he’d lied to Millie, and told her he could get her into movies, seduced her, then dumped her was no reason to be nasty. Just because his little fling had left Millie pregnant, with no place to go but home to Oklahoma and Lauren, was no excuse to walk in and kick him in the shins. Though the idea had a certain merit. He probably wanted to get rid of the baby as much as she wanted custody. They could handle this in a rational, adult manner.

Lauren heard a click and glanced up in time to see a tall man wearing beige slacks and navy knit shirt. As he exited the second doorway to the left, he raked a hand through hair, dark as midnight. “Dammit,” he growled, making her flinch. “Where is that nanny? She was supposed to be on her way up…” He turned. His gaze clashed with hers. “You!” The word sounded like an accusation, and Lauren took an unsteady step backward. “You’re the nanny the agency sent.”

His narrowed glare cut off her ability to breathe.

Muscles bunched in his jaw. “Don’t dawdle, woman!” He flicked a hand in a gesture that she follow him. “Come see to the child. We were supposed to leave for the Hamptons over an hour ago.”

With a quick snap of broad shoulders he pivoted away. She stared, struck by a purposeful, stalking grace to his movements, a man clearly in control of his world. Lauren realized instantly who this growling scoundrel was. She’d done research on him once the private detective she’d hired finally discovered where Millie had run off to, just before the baby was due.

It had taken the investigator nearly six months, but yesterday he’d called with news. Millie—bitter and bent on revenge—had hitchhiked to New York City, where she’d given birth to a baby girl, Christina Lauren Delacourte, listing Dade Delacourte on the birth certificate as the father. Her retaliation for being abandoned by him, had been to abandon her child to him, to raise, alone.

For a woman like Millie, selfish to the core, forcing Mr. Delacourte into years and years of parental responsibility was the perfect pay-back. Then she’d silently slipped away, no doubt back in Hollywood, using some stage name as she followed her single-minded dream to become a movie star.

As Lauren stared after Mr. Delacourte, she gritted her teeth, telling herself sternly that he was not all that handsome. Yet, even as she struggled to believe that, she took a step in his direction, then another, some part of her responding without the authorization of her brain.

You’re the nanny the agency sent.

Come see to the child.

The jumble of words echoed in her dazed brain. You’re the nanny the agency sent. Come see to the child. As the fog of panic and confusion began to clear, she went over those two sentences again, with more understanding. You’re the nanny the agency sent! Come see to the child!

He thought he was a nanny? Did he think he’d hired her to take care of his baby? Her niece? Her own little namesake? She blinked, focusing on his broad back as she absorbed this turn of events.

He reached another door and shifted to look back. His brows dipped ominously when he saw she hadn’t ventured beyond the foyer. “Miss Quinn, if you’re having second thoughts about this job, say so. I don’t have time to read your mind.”

His admonition jarred her out of her stupor. Miss Quinn? So that was the nanny’s name. Hadn’t he said he was planning to leave for the Hamptons. An hour ago! No doubt he needed a nanny to keep the ‘little nuisance’ out of his way while he hosted wild parties on his private beach.

A stab of renewed disgust made her recoil. Oh, no, she vowed, little Christina Lauren won’t be tainted by the immoral lifestyle of this beast—not if she had her way!

The words of the lawyer she’d consulted came back, cracking like a whip in her brain. “Miss Smith, if Mr. Delacourte is not inclined to give over custody, no court in the land is likely to take his child away from him. He’s the CEO of the multi-billion dollar Delacourte Industries, a highly respected man. The only way you could get custodianship of your niece would be to uncover damning evidence against him. Prove he is an unfit parent.”

Icy dread twisted in her stomach. What if he said no to her request, and tossed her out on her ear! She couldn’t stand the thought, couldn’t bear to go back to Oklahoma without Christina. Just imagining it shattered her.

On the other hand, there was no question that Dade Delacourte was a lecher. Poor Millie was a living example of his reckless lust. All Lauren would need to get proof of his utter lack of suitability to bring up an innocent little girl was to spend a few days in close proximity with the man. That would provide her with all the proof she would need. But how—

The two sentences he’d shouted at her came roaring back. You’re the nanny the agency sent. Come see to the child.

Her brain exploded with a profound insight. A nanny would spend time in close proximity with him—under the same roof! Here was her chance! Providence had dropped it right in her lap! Did she dare refuse?

Well?” he growled, and she jumped.

“I—I’m coming—sir.” If proof of Mr. Delacourte’s unfitness is what it will take to get my niece, then I’ll get it, or my name isn’t Lauren Smith! Which, ironically, right now it wasn’t. Since she planned to make every effort to insure the Mr. Delacourte believed she was Miss Something Quinn.

Trying not to think about how foolhardy this slap-dash scheme might be, Lauren put one foot in front of the other, increasing her pace, scurrying down the long hallway toward the man she most despised in the world.

From the book THE BILLIONAIRE DADDY, by Renee Roszel
Published by Harlequin books S.A. Copyright © 2000 by Renee Roszel
Publication Date (USA), January 2000, ISBN # 0-373-03589-6
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