The Billionaire's Daddy Test

By: Charlene Sands

One

Adam Chase had a right to know his baby daughter.

Mia couldn’t deny that, but her heart still bled as if a dozen knives were piercing her. Darn her conscience for leading her to Moonlight Beach this morning. Her toes sifted through sand as she walked along the shoreline, flip-flops in hand. It was cooler than she’d expected; the fog flowing in from the sea coated the bright beach with a layer of gloom. Was it an omen? Had she made the wrong choice in coming here today? The image of Rose’s innocent little face popped into her mind. Sweet Cheeks, she called her, because she had the rosiest cheeks of any baby Mia had ever seen. Her lips were perfectly pink, and when she’d smiled her first little baby smile, Mia had melted.

Rose was all Mia had left of her sister, Anna.

Mia shifted her gaze to the ocean. Just as she’d hoped, she spotted a male figure swimming way beyond the breaking waves hitting the shore. He was doing laps as if there were roped-off columns keeping him on point. If the scant research she’d found was anything to go by, it was surely him. Adam Chase, world-class architect, lived at the beach, was a recluse by nature and an avid swimmer. It only made sense he’d do his daily laps early, before the beach was populated.

A breeze lifted her hair, and goose bumps erupted on her arms. She shivered, partly from the cold, but also because what she came here to do was monumental. She’d have to be made of stone not to be frightened right now.

She didn’t know what she’d say to him. She’d rehearsed a thousand and one lines, but never once had she practiced the truth.

With another glance at the water, she spotted him swimming in. Her throat tightened. It was time for the show, whatever that was. Mia was good at thinking on her feet. She calculated her steps carefully, so she’d intersect with him on the sand. Her hair lifted in the breeze, and another shiver racked her body. He stopped swimming and rose up from the shallow water, his shoulders broad as a Viking’s. Her heart thumped a little faster. He came forward in long smooth strides. She scanned his iron chest, rippled with muscle—all that grace and power. The few pictures she’d found in her research hadn’t done him justice. He was out-and-out beautiful in a godly way and so very tall.

He shook his head, and the sun-streaked tendrils of his hair rained droplets down along his shoulders.

“Ow!” Something pricked her foot from underneath. Pain slashed the soft pad and a sharp sting burned. She grabbed her foot and plunked down in the sand. Blood spurted out instantly. Gently, she brushed the sticky sand away and gasped when she saw the damage. Her foot was cut, slashed by a broken beer bottle she spied sticking out of the earth like a mini-skyscraper. If she hadn’t been gawking...

“Are you hurt?” The deep voice reverberated in her ears, and she lifted her eyes to Adam Chase’s concerned face.

“Oh, uh.” She nodded. “Yes. I’m cut.”

“Damn kids,” he said, glancing at the broken bottle. He took her hand and placed it on the bridge of her foot. “Put pressure here and hang on a sec. I’ll be right back.”

“Th-thanks.”

She applied pressure, squeezing her foot tight. It began to feel a little better, and the stinging dissipated. She glimpsed Adam as he jogged away. Her rescuer was just as appealing from the backside. Tanned legs, perfect butt and a strong back. She sighed. It was hardly the way she’d hoped to meet the very private Adam Chase, but it would have to do.

He returned a few seconds later holding a navy-blue-and-white beach towel. He knelt by her side. “Okay, I’m going to wrap it. That should stop the bleeding.”

A huge wave crashed onto the shore, and water washed over her thighs. Adam noticed, his gaze darting through amazingly long lashes and roving over her legs. A warm rush of heat entered her belly. She wore white cotton shorts and a turquoise tank top. She’d wanted to appear like any other beachgoer taking a leisurely morning stroll along the water’s edge, when in fact she’d deliberated over what to wear this morning for thirty minutes.

Now Adam Chase was touching her cautiously. His head down and a few strands of hair falling on his forehead, he performed the task as if it were an everyday occurrence. She had to admire him. “You seem to know what you’re doing.”

“Three years lifeguarding will do that to you.” He glanced up and smiled, flashing a beautiful set of white teeth.

That smile buoyed her spirit a little.

“I’m Adam,” he said.

“Mia.”

“Nice to meet you, Mia.”

“Uh, same here.”

He finished his work, and her foot was tied tightly but with an excess of material hanging down. She’d never be able to walk away with any dignity. The makeshift tourniquet was ugly and cumbersome, but it seemed to do the trick. The bleeding was contained.

“Do you live close by?” he asked.

“Not really. I thought I’d go for a stroll along the beach this morning.”

“Do you have any beach gear?”

She nodded. “It’s about a mile up the beach.” She pointed north. “That way.”

Adam sat up on his knees and peered down at her, rubbing the back of his neck. “You really should have that cleaned and bandaged right away. It’s a sizable gash.”

She shivered. “Okay.”

The water crept up to their legs again.

Adam frowned and glanced at her encumbered foot.

Pushing off from the sand, she tried to rise. “Oh!” Putting her weight on her foot burned like crazy. She bit her lip to keep from crying out any more and lowered herself back down onto the sand.

Adams’s eyes softened. “Listen, I know we’ve just met, but I live right over there.” He gestured to the biggest modern mansion on the beach. “I promise you, I’m not a serial killer or anything, but I have antiseptic and bandages in my house, and I can have you patched up pretty quickly.”

Mia glanced around. No one else was on the beach. Wasn’t this what she’d wanted? A chance to get to know Adam Chase? She knew darn well he wasn’t a serial killer. All she knew was that he liked his privacy, he didn’t go out much and—most important of all—he was Rose’s father.

She could write volumes about what she didn’t know about Adam Chase. And that’s exactly why she’d come here—to find out what kind of man he truly was.

Rose’s future was riding on it.

“I guess that would be okay.”

Come to think of it, no one knew where she was today. Rose was with her great-grandmother. If Adam did have evil on his mind, it would be a long time before anyone came looking...

The mountain of a man scooped her up, and she gasped. Pay attention, Mia. Her pulse sped as he nestled her into his chest. His arms secure about her body, he began to carry her away from the water’s edge. On instinct, she roped her arms around his neck. Water drops remained on his shoulders, cooling his skin where her hands entwined.

“Comfy?” A wry smile pulled at his lips.

Speechless, she nodded and gazed into his eyes. There were steely flecks layered over gray irises, soulful shadows and as mysterious as a deep water well. Oddly, she didn’t feel uncomfy in his arms, even though they were complete strangers.

“Good. Couldn’t think of a faster way to get you to the house.”

“Thank you?” she squeaked.

He didn’t respond, keeping his eyes straight ahead. She relaxed a little until her foot throbbed. Little jabs of pain wound all around the bottom of her foot. She stifled a shriek when a few bright red drops of blood seeped from the towel onto the sand.

“Does it hurt?” he asked.

“Yes, this is...awful.” She barely got the word out. Adam Chase or not, she wanted to crawl into a hole. What a way to meet a man. Any minute now, she’d probably bleed all over his gorgeous house.

“Awful?” He seemed to take exception with that. She wasn’t complaining about his sudden caveman move, how he’d plucked her into his arms so easily. No, that part had been, well, amazing. But she felt like a helpless wounded animal. She couldn’t even stand on her own two feet.

“Embarrassing,” she muttered.

“No need to be embarrassed.”

His stride was long and smooth as he moved over the sand toward his mansion. Up close, the detail of his craft showed in the trim of wide expansive windows, the texture of the stucco, the unique decorative double glass doors and the liberating feel of an outdoor living space facing the ocean—a billionaire’s version of a veranda. Fireplaces, sitting areas with circular couches, overhead beams and stone floors all made up the outskirts of his house. The veranda was twice the size of her little Santa Monica apartment, and that was only a fraction of what she could see. Inside must be magnificent.

“Here we are,” he said, steps away from the dream house.

“Uh, do you think we could stay out here?” She pointed to the enormous outside patio.

He blinked, those dark gray eyes twinkling. “Sure. If you feel safer outside.”

“Oh no, it’s not that.”

His perfectly formed eyebrows arched upward. “No?”

“I don’t want to ruin your carpeting or anything.” Lord knew, she made a decent living at First Clips, but if she destroyed something in the mansion, it could take years to pay off a replacement.

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