Mike didn’t have much time to think about his disturbing conversation with Rebecca Andrews after she stormed out of his office, because, shortly afterward, his brother Stephen strode in with a sly grin on his face.
“How is it that I always seem to have middle-aged, fat-around-the-middle, chain-smoking men in my office, and I come up here and see a beautiful young woman leaving yours? Life is definitely not fair, bro.”
He threw his tall, lanky frame into the chair just vacated by Rebecca.
Mike smiled distractedly.
“Yeah, but you’ll probably have a lot less headaches with all your middle-aged men put together than I’ll have with that one woman.”
At this point, he would gladly traded places with his brother. He didn’t need this complication right now. His hands were more than full with the day-to-day management of their large family conglomerate. He already had a major mess to deal with in the form of a lawsuit headed by a civil rights group claiming Walters Industries discriminated against single mothers. The irony of the situation was not lost on him.
Stephen nodded sagely.
“Hmm. Affairs of the heart aren’t always easy.”
Michael’s brother was two years younger than him, slightly shorter, and no less handsome. But he was handsome in a different way. Mike was broad-shouldered and muscular, giving him a rugged look, while Stephen had a slender build, with a jaw slightly less square. They both shared the same dark hair, but Stephen’s eyes were hazel rather than green.
“Believe me. I wouldn’t consider this an affair of the heart, although there were a lot of heartfelt feelings involved, mostly anger and mistrust.”
Stephen looked at him curiously.
“Okay, so why don’t you fill me in?”
Mike sighed deeply.
“Quite simply, she claims I have a five-year-old daughter.”
Stephen hesitated a moment.
“She certainly took her sweet time telling you about it.” His voice was no longer amused.
“She’s not the mother. Sylvia Hutchins is, or rather, was.”
“Sylvia? I remember you telling me about her.” He paused, and then, “What do you mean ‘was’?”
“She died a month ago…cancer,” he said flatly.
“Shit. I’m sorry, Mike. But who is this other woman?”
“A friend of hers. Her name is Rebecca Andrews. She’s the legal guardian of Sylvia’s daughter. She said she promised Sylvia she would contact me to tell me I’m the child’s father.”
Stephen looked at him narrowly.
“You don’t believe her, do you? You know what people like that are after.”
Mike took a moment to answer, and then shook his head slowly.
“No. I find it hard to believe Sylvia wouldn’t have told me herself. She had always been so open and honest.”
He thought of the girl he had known so many years ago. He had been captivated by her delicate looks, her easy smile, and her outgoing, down-to-earth personality. He had become bored with the rich daughters of his father’s friends, who were more concerned with who was wearing what and who their stylist was than with things which really mattered. He had been impressed with Sylvia’s strong character and her artistic outlook on life.
He had also been at a point in his life when he was questioning where he really wanted to go with his future. His father had been aggressively pushing him toward heading the huge corporation that he had built up over the years. Mike, on the other hand, would rather have sunk his teeth into a small business he could have built up on his own. He knew he would have found it much more satisfying. In the end, not wanting to hurt his parents, he followed his father’s wishes and agreed to head up Walters Industries.
He regretted not being honest with Sylvia from the start of their relationship, but he had been enjoying their time together, and he instinctively knew she would look at him differently if she was aware of his background. Selfishly, he had wished to put off the inevitable. Besides, he had enough bad experiences with women who were only interested in his money. He wanted to be sure of Sylvia’s feelings about him before he told her the truth.
When she suddenly refused to see him, he knew she had discovered the truth on her own. After several attempts to contact her, he convinced himself it was for the best. He decided Sylvia would have had trouble integrating into his world. He also became resigned to the fact that he had a promise to keep to his father and, at least for the moment, that was what he had to concentrate on.
His decision had not been without regret. He thought of Sylvia many times throughout the years since their break-up and he often wondered if they would have been able to work things out and build a life together. It saddened him to think of her suffering and dying from cancer.
Now, all of those memories had been pushed to the forefront of his mind by an angry, obviously resentful, beautiful woman. He was aware of his brother’s eyes on him, expectantly waiting.
“No, Steve. I don’t believe her. It just isn’t possible.”
His voice must have sounded doubtful.
“Look, I’ll hire a private investigator to check her out and then you can have a clear conscience.”
“No. Forget it. There’s no point putting more importance on this than it deserves.”
He hoped he was putting his brother’s mind at ease but, deep down, he had a feeling this was only the beginning.