Baby Benefits

By: EMILY MCKAY
One





“What do you mean, she’s mine?”

Derek Messina stared blankly at his brother, Dex. In his arms, Dex held a sleeping infant, which Derek pointedly did not look at.



The child could not be his.



True, sixteen days ago, she’d been left on his doorstep in the middle of the night with an ambiguous note pinned to her chest. Since his brother lived with him, it had been only logical to assume she was Dex’s mess to sort out. Which was why—after they’d both taken a paternity test the next morning—Derek had left on a business trip to New York and Antwerp feeling confident the baby wasn’t his.



“She can’t be mine,” he repeated firmly. But the conviction in his voice couldn’t block out the doubt and confusion that had begun to settle in his belly.



Dex merely looked at him with a wry smile. “She’s yours.”



Was that a hint of regret in Dex’s voice?



“If this is your idea of a joke, it isn’t funny.”



“You think I would joke about this?” Dex shot him a look of annoyed disbelief. “No. Don’t answer that. The results of the paternity test we both took are sitting over there on the counter.”



With a growing sense of dread, Derek crossed to the kitchen counter where a short stack of papers sat. However, he couldn’t quite force himself to pick them up. To face the possibility that his brother wasn’t lying to him…



Because if he was honest with himself, he knew Dex wasn’t. When they were just kids, Dex had pulled his share of pranks, but those days were long past.



No, if Dex said this baby was Derek’s, then she was his.



Damn it.



The timing couldn’t be worse. Not that there was a good time to find out you’d fathered a five-month-old.



Finally Derek picked up the papers and read them. Documentation that he was a genetic match for little Isabella Alwin. Just as Dex had claimed.



He looked up, gestured with the papers. “When did you find out?”



“Five days ago.”



“And you didn’t call me?”



Dex’s gaze sharpened with something like distaste. “I didn’t see any reason to. You wouldn’t have cut your business trip short anyway.”



True. But he definitely would have done things differently.



“I don’t have to tell you how important this trip was,” he said to Dex.



“Right, Messina Diamonds finally opened its diamond-cutting house in Antwerp. We’re no longer just a family of uncouth miners. Now we’re playing with the big boys.” Bitterness laced Dex’s words. “Of course that’s much more important than your child.”



The cynicism in Dex’s voice snagged his attention, even through the fog of his shock. He studied his brother from across the room, noting the protective way Dex cradled the sleeping infant in his arms, the hand that cupped the back of her head, the way he shifted slowly from one foot to the other. If Derek didn’t know better, he’d say Dex had been lulling babies to sleep all his life.



The peaceful tableaux roused his own cynicism. Dex was even less of a family man than he was. Two weeks of caring for a mewling infant couldn’t have changed that. He’d bet good money on it. Except he wasn’t a betting man.



Finally, Derek forced himself to look at the child. Downy copper-colored curls covered her head. Her cheek rested against Dex’s chest. Impossibly long lashes lay against gently flushed cheeks. Her tiny rosebud of a mouth was parted. He might have thought she was a doll if it hadn’t been for the moist half-moon of drool on Dex’s shirt.



Turning his back on them both, he headed for the liquor cabinet in the living room. He poured two brandies and handed one to Dex, who had followed him. Somehow he looked almost natural holding a baby in one hand and a brandy in the other.



Resisting the urge to toss back his own drink, Derek took a careful sip before setting it aside. Shoving his hands deep into his pockets, he appraised her shrewdly. “She doesn’t look like me.”



Dex’s gaze narrowed, as if annoyed. “She’d be a damn ugly baby girl if she did.” After a moment of watching the child, he said, “She has Dad’s eyes. Your eyes, too, I suppose.”



His father’s eyes? Well, wasn’t that just a kick in the gut?



Though he supposed that was hardly her fault. Not that any of this was her fault. No, it was just bad timing and bad luck. And perhaps overconfidence on his part. He’d known there was a possibility she was his when he’d left on his trip for Antwerp, but he hadn’t really believed it. That had been his mistake and his alone.