The Marriage Contract(3)

By: Kat Cantrell

How in the hell had he developed such a visceral attraction to his wife in the space of a few moments?

Didn’t matter. He hadn’t met her first because he hated to navigate social scenarios. He stumbled over the kinds of relationships that seemed easy and normal for others, which was why he lived in a remote area of Oregon, far from Astoria, the nearest city.

Desmond had always been that weird kid at the corner table. Graduating from high school at fifteen hadn’t helped him forge a lot of connections. Neither had becoming a billionaire. If he’d tried to have a normal relationship with McKenna Moore, it would have ended in disaster in the same fashion as the one he’d tried with Lacey.

Bonds of blood, like the one he shared with his son, were the only answer for someone like him. This baby would be his family and fulfill Desmond’s craving for an heir. Maybe his son would even love him just because.

Regardless, the baby belonged to him. Desmond decided what would happen to his kid and there was no one on this entire planet who could trump his wishes.

Except for maybe his wife.

But he’d paid his law firm over a million dollars to ensure the prenuptial agreement protected his fortune and an already-drafted divorce decree granted him full custody. It was ironclad, or rather, would be as soon as he filed for the divorce.

She’d recover from childbirth, take Desmond’s divorce settlement money and vanish. Exactly as he’d envisioned when he’d determined the only thing that could fill the gaping hole in his life was a baby to replace the one he’d lost—or rather, the one Lacey had aborted.

Never again would he allow a woman to dictate something as critical as to whether his child would live or die. And never again would he let himself care about a woman who held even a smidgen of power over his happiness. One day, his son would understand.

“Ms. Moore,” he finally growled out long past the time when it would have been appropriate to start speaking. “We have a problem. Our son needs you.”

* * *

Desmond Pierce stood in McKenna’s hospital room. With a crying baby.

Her baby.

The one she’d been trying really hard to forget she’d just pushed out of her body in what had to be the world’s record for painful, difficult labors...and then given away.

McKenna’s eyes widened as she registered what he’d just said and her eye sockets were so dry, even that hurt. Everything hurt. She wanted codeine and to sleep for three days, not a continual spike through her heart with each new cry of the baby. The muscles in her arms tensed to reach for her son so she could touch him.

She wasn’t supposed to see the baby. Or hold him. The nurse had told her that when they’d taken him away, even though McKenna had begged for the chance to say goodbye. The cruel people in the delivery room had ignored her. What did they know about sacrifice? About big, gaping holes inside that nothing would ever fill?

For a second she’d thought her son’s father had figured that out. That he’d come strictly to grant her wish. The look on his face as he’d come through the door—it had floored her. Their gazes connected and it was as if he could see all her angst and last-minute indecision. And understood.

I’ve come to fix everything, he seemed to say without a word.

But that was not the reality of why Mr. Pierce was here with the baby. Instead he was here to rip her heart to shreds. Again.

They should leave. Right now. Before she started crying.

“He’s not my son,” she rasped, her vocal cords still strained from the trauma of birth.

She shouldn’t have said that. The phrase—both true and brutal—unfolded inside her with sharp teeth, tearing at her just as deeply as the baby’s cries.

He was her son. The one she’d signed away because it ticked all the boxes in her head that her parents had lined up. You should find a man, have lots of babies, they’d said. There’s no greater joy than children.

Except she didn’t want kids. She wanted to be a doctor, to help people in pain and in need. Desmond had yearned for a baby; she could give him one and experience pregnancy without caving in to her parent’s pressure. They didn’t approve of western medicine. It was a huge source of conflict, especially after Grandfather had died when homeopathic remedies had failed to cure his cancer.

Being Desmond Pierce’s surrogate allowed her a creative way to satisfy her parents and still contribute to society according to what made sense to her. That’s what she’d repeated to herself over and over for the last hour and she’d almost believed it—until a man had burst into her hospital room with a crying baby in his arms.

And he was looking at her so strangely that she felt compelled to prompt him. “What do you want, Desmond?”

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