His Billion Dollar Baby
by Lea Nolan
Copyright © 2014 by Lea Nolan. All rights reserved, including the
right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.
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Gwen Radley sat in the front seat of her Honda Civic clutching Ben’s
obituary. She’d worried over it so much, the newsprint smudged her
fingertips. Jenkins and Sons Funeral Home and Mortuary was just yards
away, across the already full parking lot.
She could do this. All she had to do was open the door, force her
legs to move toward the building, then slip in unnoticed. It should be
easy enough. By now there had to be at least a hundred people inside,
grieving the fallen soldier. She’d pay her respects, whisper her secret
to Ben as she slipped the sonogram photo under his clasped hands, and
sneak out, no one the wiser.
Seizing the door handle, she drew a deep breath as her heart thudded
in her chest. This wasn’t the way she was supposed to see Ben again. In
her head, she’d planned to meet up a few months from now when he was
home on leave, healthy and whole and not her former patient. She’d
accidentally-on-purpose bump into him, give him a glimpse of her swollen
belly and let the conversation go from there. Of course, she’d make it
clear she had no expectations. How could she? They were friends, nothing
more, save for their crazy one-night encounter the evening before he
returned to Afghanistan. It wasn’t as if they were in a relationship, or
had planned to share their lives together. She’d expected to raise the
baby on her own, but he deserved to know they’d created a life.
At least that’s how it was supposed to happen.
Gwen squelched the sob rising in her throat. She’d never speak to Ben
again, hear his ringing laughter, or chuckle at one of his off-color
jokes. They were never in love but he was a good man and could have been
a good parent. But now, he was gone too soon, cruelly taken by an IED
on a dusty road in Kandahar Province.
For a moment, she considered backing out of her parking spot and
returning to work, where this whole mess began. But then her conscience
took hold, yanking her back to reality. This was her only chance to give
Ben a picture of the life they’d created. He’d never meet his child in
person; the least she could do was send him to eternity with this one
After pulling the keys from the ignition, she tossed them into her
purse next to the ultrasound images and threw open the door. Out of the
car, she smoothed the skirt of her navy blue dress then straightened and
strode across the parking lot. There was nothing to be embarrassed
about. Lots of women got pregnant by almost-strangers who were their
former physical therapy patients. In fact, it probably happened every
Who was she kidding? Gwen shook her head as a tiny wail escaped her lips.
At the funeral home door, she passed two steroid-infused security
guards in dark black suits and mirrored sunglasses. She’d expected to
see people in military uniforms, but these guys looked like private
security. Since when did an army captain warrant such a detail?
Inside, she waded through a sea of mourners too immersed in their own
despair to notice her presence. A visitor’s book rested on a console in
the main foyer. She thought about signing it, but then thought better
of it, choosing instead to remain anonymous. On her way to the viewing
room she spied the closed casket from the threshold. Damn. She wouldn’t
be able to give him the picture herself. Expecting this might be the
case, she turned around to locate the funeral director.
A serious looking man in a dour suit stood in the lobby, surveying the crowd. He had to be her man.
“Excuse me,” she said, lifting her loose purse strap on her shoulder. “Do you work here?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’m Jack Jenkins, one of the funeral directors. May I help you?”
“Uh, yes, please.” Gwen motioned for him to follow her into the
vestibule beside Ben’s viewing room, just out of earshot of another
lurking security guard. “I have an important favor to ask,” she said,
her voice low. “It’s probably the most crucial thing I’ve ever asked
anyone and I know you might think it strange, but I’d really appreciate
His smile was reassuring. “You’d be surprised what people ask us to
do. And you know what? It’s never that weird. Why don’t you try me?”
She lifted the flap on her purse and pulled out the strip of three
grainy black and white images. Ripping the first picture from the rest
she whispered, “I need you to put this in Ben Anderson’s casket,
preferably in his hands.” Tears swelled at the possibility that, after
the explosion, that might be impossible. “Or in his breast pocket over
his heart.” She handed him the photo.
The funeral director’s eyes softened as he glanced at the tiny
bean-shaped fetus. “I understand. It’s not a strange request. In fact,
it’s very sweet.” He tucked the picture in his jacket. “It would be my
honor to do this for you. And for Ben.”
Gwen exhaled a grateful sigh as she dropped the remaining photos back in her purse. “Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.”
“Of course, I’ll have to speak to the family about it first.” His
expression was pained. “They’ve been very keen on keeping things as
orderly as possible.” He nodded toward the mirror-eyed behemoth in the
“I understand.” She nodded as she pried her lips into an innocent smile and tried to squelch her panic.
Another mourner caught Mr. Jenkins’s attention. It was Gwen’s cue to
flee. She’d already scratched out her name on the photo so it would be
untraceable, but she didn’t want anyone to see her talking to Mr.
Turning to leave, Gwen nearly collided with a brutally good-looking
man in a charcoal gray suit. Light brown hair and blue eyed, his
chiseled nose and strong jaw reminded her of the Greek gods she’d read
about as a kid. His aftershave hinted of sandalwood and lime.
He extended his hand. “Thank you so much for coming, Ms…” He scanned her face, expecting her to fill in the blank.
“Gwen Radley.” Heart racing, she grasped his palm and was struck by
his firm grip. Who was this man, and how long had he been standing
behind her? Had he heard her conversation with the funeral director?
“You’re welcome. I’m just glad I could come.” Fumbling for something
else to say, she blurted out the only thing that came to mind. “I’m
sorry for your loss.”
His face clouded with grief. “Yes, it’s been tough. Though, after
three tours, we always feared this could happen.” He shook his head.
“But how can you ever prepare for something like this?”
“I expect you can’t.” It seemed there were a lot of things you couldn’t prepare for. Like, for instance, a surprise baby.
“Where are my manners? I’m Carter, by the way.” He mustered a smile. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“No, I don’t think we have.” Of course they’d never crossed paths.
She’d only known Ben a few weeks before he’d returned to duty.
“How did you know Ben?”
She decided to stick to the basics. He didn’t need to know the rest.
“We met while he was here for his rehabilitation a few months ago. I
work at Walter Reed.”
Carter nodded. “If only he’d been smart enough to stay home after
that.” His eyes glossed over and he looked away, toward the room that
held Ben’s polished wood casket. “He didn’t have to go back, you know.”
She couldn’t help but chuckle. Despite only knowing Ben Anderson a
short while, there was one thing she knew with absolute certainty. He
was committed to being a soldier. The army was his calling, a part of
his soul, and he never shied away from a fight. “There was no talking
him out of it. He wanted to go back.”
Carter laughed, easing his deep frown lines. “Yeah, he was a stubborn
S.O.B. but he was a dedicated one.” Even amid Carter’s loss, his smile
Gwen’s eyes widened in surprise from his language.
“Oh, sorry. I…I’m not quite myself,” he said. “You know, even though I
always knew it could happen, and told myself a thousand times to expect
it, I never actually thought it would. I figured the soldier boy
routine would eventually get old and I’d get my brother back.”
Wait. Did he say brother? She’d have never guessed. They looked
nothing alike. Aside from having completely different features and
coloring, their personalities seemed worlds apart. Ben was thick-necked
and battle-worn, gruff but irrepressibly adorable, even with a stubby
crew cut and coarse five-o’clock shadow. Carter, on the other hand was
classically good looking, refined like tempered steel, and he resonated
an air of dignified grace. And from the line of his tailored suit, an
exceptionally fit and toned body lay beneath the exquisite wool fabric.
There was no denying Carter reaped the lion’s share of the family’s
What was she thinking? Pregnant with a dead man’s baby, the last
thing she should be doing is checking out his brother. He was her future
child’s uncle, for goodness sake.
Swallowing hard, she forced the thoughts away. “I don’t think we can
ever anticipate life’s twists and turns. It’s how we deal with them that
He choked out a laugh, but it was bitter, ironic. “You’ve got that
right.” He turned his attention to an older woman who stepped out of the
viewing room. Late-fifties with silver-streaked hair and dressed in a
sharp, black Chanel suit, she seemed to be searching the crowd. “Over
here, Mother,” he called. Gwen had seen her earlier near Ben’s casket
beside an elderly man in a wheelchair who appeared to have suffered a
stroke. When she approached, Carter made the introductions. “Mother,
this is Gwen Radley.”
“Thank you for coming.” The woman extended a bejeweled hand. Besides
the stunning sparkler on her left ring finger, her wrist dripped with
diamond tennis bracelets.
“May I present the indomitable Judith Anderson.” Her perfume smelled
like orchids and reminded Gwen of the exotic and ultra expensive counter
at Lord and Taylor.
Judith sighed. “Oh, I don’t feel so indomitable today. Let’s just say
I’m resilient. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She forced a smile but the
red tint in her eyes proclaimed her grief.
“Gwen knew Ben from his time at Walter Reed,” Carter added.
“Oh?” Judith asked. “It’s kind of you to show your respects. I
suspect you’re quite accustomed to funerals. You’ve probably lost your
fair share of patients.”
“Actually this is the first I’ve ever attended,” Gwen answered. With
so many casualties who’d been forever damaged by the devastation of war,
she’d learned early not to get too close to her patients. Professional
distance protected her from the inevitable gut-wrenching loss. That was
just one of the cruel lessons she’d learned as a former foster child.
Far better to remain detached, treat her patients as best as she could,
and then go home to the tiny basement apartment she rented from Mrs.
Lemley. At least that’s what she’d done until that night with Ben.
Carter tilted his head. “Really? Your first funeral?”
“Ben must have been special, then,” Judith said.
“Special enough to ask the funeral director to put something in his
casket.” Carter’s expression was open, inquisitive, and didn’t betray a
hint of accusation. Still, he looked as if he’d like an explanation.
Judith tilted her head. Evidently she wanted one, too.
Gwen’s pulse thundered. He’d overheard. Was he going to sic a
security guard on her? A thousand words collided in her head. How could
she possibly explain her relationship with Ben and what happened between
them? Yes, he was special, but not in the way they might assume. And if
she could find a way to describe their reckless, lust-filled, one-time
encounter, what would they think of her? Or Ben?
She wouldn’t even try. A funeral was not the place to tell them about
their impending grandchild and nephew. Instead, she should make up
something plausible and beat it out of there. The truth could wait until
after the baby was born, or maybe she’d avoid it altogether and keep it
to herself. Nothing required that she tell them. But would that be
The room seemed to spin and soar to a thousand degrees.
“Are you all right?” Carter leaned close and gently grasped her arm.
“Uh, yeah. I’m fine.” Disoriented, Gwen pressed a quaking hand to her
forehead. Feeling woozy, she wobbled on her heels. Her purse strap
slipped from her shoulder and crashed to the floor, spilling its
contents. The ultrasound pictures fluttered out, face up.
Gwen, Carter, and Judith stared at them in silence.
Finally, Judith spoke. “I’m guessing you two were closer than I presumed.”
Gwen sank to the floor and quickly swept up her belongings, shoving them into her purse without a care for their order.
“Holy shit,” Carter whispered as he rubbed his clean-shaven jaw.
Rising to her feet, she searched for the right words. “I…I can explain,” she stammered.
Carter stood frozen, a stunned statue of a Homeric god in an expensive business suit.
“Let’s discuss this later, dear,” Judith said, patting Gwen’s wrist
and mercifully putting her out of her misery. “Follow the procession to
the house after the funeral. We’ll talk there.” Her face was calm, maybe
even happy, but Gwen couldn’t tell for sure. For all she knew, Judith
was enraged and about to blow.
Nodding, Gwen shuffled through the hall, past a stone-faced guard
into the viewing room and took a seat at the back. She hadn’t planned to
stay and attend the funeral. It would’ve been easier if they’d thrown
her out in shock and anger.
Even without looking, she felt the weight of Carter’s stare from
across the room. It was as if he was boring a hole through her skull.
Perhaps it was his relentless glare or her abject humiliation before the
Andersons, but her stomach suddenly rumbled with queasy unease. Of
course, it could also be the tiny baby flip-flopping in her womb.
Oh, God, please no. This wasn’t the time for a morning sickness
attack. They’d begun a little later than for most women, when Gwen was
ten weeks pregnant. Her period had always been unpredictable, and
frankly, sexual encounters occurred so infrequently she didn’t notice
she’d skipped a couple cycles. It wasn’t until her stomach started
acting up six weeks ago that she went to the doctor and got the shocking
diagnosis. Now, at Ben’s funeral, she was afraid she was on the verge
of another epic bout. Breathing deep, in through her nose and out her
mouth, Gwen willed away the sour sensation. Sneaking a small package of
saltine crackers from her purse that she’d swiped earlier from the
diner, she discretely nibbled on the corner. She had to settle her
stomach. If it were remotely possible, she’d like to make less of a
spectacle of herself.
After the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Gwen steered her
forest green Civic behind the long line of cars headed to the Anderson
house. Since it was mid-morning, the bulk of the normal Washington,
D.C., traffic was light and the drive to Potomac, Maryland, was
They made a series of turns, then headed down a long, tree-lined and
slat-fenced drive. Two miles later they crossed under an iron gate
inscribed with the words River View, and approached what had to
be the Andersons’ house. Holy mother of mansions, it looked more like a
fancy English estate or hotel. Calling it a house was like saying Mount
Everest was a hill. Had Ben really lived here? It didn’t seem possible.
He was the type of guy who seemed more comfortable in a barracks than
The head car, a Bentley limousine, pulled up the circular driveway
and stopped in front of the vast double doors. At first, Gwen had
assumed it was the funeral director’s car, but now she suspected it was
the Andersons’. Because, really, no one who lived in this house could
ride in anything other than a Bentley.
Gwen nestled her comparatively tiny car into an empty spot and
debated whether to go in. She watched as Judith stepped out first,
followed by Carter, who helped lift his father into his wheelchair.
It wasn’t too late to drive away and never contact them again. But
they knew her name and where she worked. Hell, their security force had
probably run her license plate, too. There was no escape. She was going
to be a mom. And these people were her baby’s relatives. She had to be
strong and face this. Besides, it wasn’t like she wanted anything more
than to give them the details about the baby. What they did with that
information was up to them. If they didn’t want anything to do with
Ben’s child, that was their decision. But at least she’d give them the
choice. It was the right thing to do.
That realization calmed her. She was the one in the driver’s seat,
not them. Actually, they should be the ones who were nervous. She didn’t
have to let them see her child.
Her confidence restored, Gwen climbed out of the car. She fell in
line behind the other mourners and strode across the gravel, then
climbed the wide stone steps to the mansion’s double doors.
A housekeeper in a black and white uniform greeted them at the door.
After directing the other guests to an adjacent great room, she spoke to
Gwen. “Mrs. Anderson is waiting for you in the library.”
“Thanks,” Gwen answered, trying to contain her awe of the
museum-quality tapestries that hung in the grand foyer. The largest
flower arrangement she’d ever seen sat on a round table in the middle of
the space, infusing the air with its sweet perfume.
The housekeeper led her through a series of elaborately decorated
rooms and halls to a richly appointed library. Judith sat on a sofa, a
white shih-tzu dog slung across her lap. Carter leaned against a desk,
his arms crossed and expression tight.
“Please have a seat.” Judith’s voice was bright.
Gwen perched on the edge of the sofa opposite Judith. Clearing her
throat she said, “Things didn’t go exactly as I planned earlier, and I’m
“There’s no need to apologize, dear,” Judith said.
“I’d like to explain,” she began.
Something between a scoff and a grunt leapt from Carter’s throat.
“This ought to be good.” He looked like a simmering pot whose lid was
about to blow.
Judith cut in. “First things first. I am correct that the photos in your purse are of my fledgling grandchild?”
Gwen smiled, her hand reflexively stroking her tummy. “Yes.” She
nodded. “It was taken about a month ago. I’m almost four months along
now, into my second trimester. Statistically speaking, once you get this
far, it’s a keeper.”
“Lucky for you,” Carter said. “You wouldn’t want to lose that golden ticket of yours, now would you?”
“What?” Gwen turned toward him. His expression was so cruel it was ugly.
“Carter, that’s enough.” Judith’s voice was firm.
“Wait, what do you mean? A golden ticket?” Gwen asked.
He uncrossed his arms and gestured to the grand library. “What do you
think I mean? That kid—if it’s even Ben’s—is your ticket to the big
time. An opportunity to grab a piece of his inheritance and trade in
that little shitbox car of yours.”
She rose, her cheeks burning. “Who do you think you are? You don’t know a thing about me.”
He grunted. “I know it’s awfully convenient that you picked today of
all days—the day we buried my brother—to drop this little bomb on my
Setting her hands on her hips, Gwen shot back, “Frankly, it’s not at
all convenient, but it’s a fact and one I’ve got to deal with.” Bile
worked its way up her throat, making her want to spit.
Judith stood and the shih-tzu leapt to the floor. “Please, sit, we’ve
got a lot to talk about. I was hoping you’d consider moving into River
Her mind spinning, Gwen peeled her eyes from Carter to focus on Judith. Had the Anderson matriarch just suggested that Gwen live
here? Among perfect strangers who’d only just learned of her existence a
few hours ago? Why on earth would she do such a thing? Sure, River View
was big enough to house an encamped army, and its inhabitants could
probably go days without seeing each other, but Gwen already had a home.
And a sweet, little old landlady who needed her company and depended on
the paltry rent she paid.
Carter laughed. “Mother, don’t be ridiculous.”
“There’s nothing ridiculous about wishing to be close to my grandchild,” Judith snapped.
“There is, if that grandchild is encased in the womb of a con artist,” he retorted.
Carter’s words seared like a lash from a whip, causing Gwen to suck
in a sharp breath of air. “I didn’t come looking for charity, and I
certainly won’t be insulted. I came here because it was the honorable
thing to do, to explain that Ben had fathered a child. But I can see now
it was a giant mistake.” Head throbbing, she spun on her heels and
stalked out of the room, trying not to trip on the Persian rug.
Carter watched as the enchanting scammer stormed out, then paused at
the end of the room, clearly not remembering the way to the front door.
At the hall, she turned left, which he knew led to a butler’s pantry. A
moment later she doubled back and passed the library threshold, this
time headed the right way out.
Despite his anger, he almost chuckled. There was something undeniably
endearing, though unmistakably womanly, about her. He’d thought that
the moment he laid eyes on her outside the viewing room. When he should
have been focused on the loss of his only brother, she’d caught his eye
as she walked across the lobby. He’d been transfixed by her shiny auburn
hair, bright green eyes, and the smattering of freckles that dotted her
nose. They hinted at the feisty Irish ire that clearly bubbled just
below the surface. And then there were the shapely curves that filled
out her blue dress and the long, toned legs beneath. Not to mention her
scent—an intoxicating mixture of peaches and sweet cream—that filled the
air. She’d been the lone shaft of sunlight in the somber funeral home.
But then she’d gone and ruined it with her sordid announcement.
Well, he had news for her. She was out of her depth. Not only because
she was obviously unaccustomed to navigating enormous mansions like
River View, but because she must not have anticipated how difficult it
would be to pull off her little scheme.
She was no Deandra. His ex-wife had a PhD in advanced gold digging.
After her, little Ms. Gwen “Oops-I-Got-Knocked-Up” Radley looked like a
kindergartener who still lugged around a binky. His five-year-long
tussle with Deandra had prepared him for any battle and taught him
lessons he wouldn’t soon forget. If Gwen thought he or his family would
fall for a similar stunt again, she was sorely mistaken.
His mother crossed her arms. “I hope you’re pleased with yourself.”
Carter smiled. “Actually I am.” He loosened the knot on his tie. “If
only because I stopped you from moving a charlatan into our home. You
should be thanking me.”
Her nostrils flared slightly, a clear indication she was pissed.
Nearly always unflappable, Judith Anderson rarely showed signs of
strain, but now she looked about as angry as when he’d run off to marry
Deandra without a pre-nup. “I most certainly will not. You may have cost
me something far more valuable than any of the riches your father ever
He groaned. “Oh, come on, Mother. You can’t be serious. Don’t tell me
you fell for her act.” Never mind that he, too, had been drawn in by
her, but only at the outset. “We haven’t even verified that she’s
pregnant. For all we know she’s a grifter angling for the big score.”
She crossed her arms. “Do you think she’s faking her pregnancy?”
“Probably not. But who’s to say it’s Ben’s? He never mentioned having
a stateside girlfriend while recovering from his knee injury.” Carter
walked to the bar and poured himself a scotch. He wasn’t normally a
drinker, but today of all days, he’d make an exception. “How do we know
it isn’t someone else’s?”
She scoffed. “Your previous experience is clouding your judgment. Surely Gwen realizes we’ll insist on a paternity test.”
He shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe she’s not smart enough.” He swallowed a
mouthful of scotch. The rich, oaky flavor burned his throat in the best
way possible, easing the pain of admitting he was deluding himself. Who
was he kidding? Gwen was no dope. Despite his distrust, he had to
confess he’d sensed a deep brilliance behind her eyes. Those dazzling
emerald eyes. He shook his head, forcing the image from his mind. “Or,
maybe she thinks we’re dumb enough to simply take her at her word.”
“She doesn’t strike me as stupid. In fact I’m guessing she’s quite
quick. She was certainly intelligent enough not to put up with your
guff.” His mother had always been a good judge of character. Hence, her
immediate and visceral hatred of Deandra. He despised how right she was.
“Having a backbone doesn’t make you smart.” Though, he had to admit
her response was pleasantly surprising. Deandra would have proclaimed
her innocence, then found a way to manipulate him into seeing her point
“Perhaps not, but I’ll tell you one thing. You’d better get used to
her, because one way or another, I intend on bringing her into our
He clanked his glass on the bar. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I’ve just lost one son. I won’t shun my grandchild.”
“Mother, taking her in won’t bring Ben back.” Carter’s voice
tightened as his grief swelled. “It’s cruel of her to dangle a baby in
front of us, as if it could replace him. It can’t. Nothing ever could.”
His brother’s face flashed in his mind. Ben—his sweet, crazy, warrior
little brother. It was impossible to accept he was gone.
“Don’t you think I know that?” Judith clutched her chest as if he’d
just plunged a blade through her heart. “My son is in the ground.” Her
lips quivered as she swallowed a sob. “We owe him this.”
Assuming it was his child. Exasperated, Carter tried to make her see logic. “But, Mother—”
She raised her hand to cut him off. “But nothing. Someone’s got to
preserve this family. It’s not like you can be counted on to further
Fury boiled in his gut. He gripped the crystal tumbler so tightly a hairline fissure cracked its etched, glassy surface.