The Marriage Contract

By: Kat Cantrell

A Billionaire’s Baby Plan


Despite never having believed in miracles, Desmond Pierce witnessed one at 7:23 p.m. on an otherwise nondescript Tuesday as he glimpsed his son for the first time.

A nurse in navy blue scrubs carried the mewling infant into the small room off the main hospital corridor where Desmond had been instructed to wait. The moment his gaze lit on the baby, he felt a zap of recognition in his gut.

My son.

Awed into speechlessness, Des reached out to touch the future.

Warmth and something totally foreign clogged his throat. Tears. Joy. Vindication.

Amazing. Who knew money really could buy happiness?

The kid’s face screwed up in a wail of epic proportions as if the nurse had poked him with a pin. Des felt his son’s distress with deeper empathy than he’d ever experienced before—and that was saying something. It winnowed through his pores, sensitizing his muscles almost to the point of pain as he held himself back from snatching the boy from the nurse’s arms.

Was this terrible combination of wonder, reverence and absolute terror what it was like for all parents? Or had he been gifted with a special bond because his son wouldn’t have a mother?

“How are you this evening, Mr. Pierce?” the nurse inquired pleasantly.

“Regretting the sizable donation I made to this establishment,” he growled and immediately bemoaned not taking a moment to search for a more acceptable way to communicate. This, after he’d vowed not to be his usual gruff self. “Why is my son crying?”

Better. More in the vein of how he’d practiced in the mirror. But the hard cross of his arms over his chest didn’t quell the feeling that something was wrong. The baby hadn’t been real these last forty weeks, or rather Des hadn’t let himself believe that this pregnancy would end differently than Lacey’s.

Now that he’d seen the baby, all the stars aligned. And there was no way in hell he’d let anything happen to his son.

“He’s hungry,” the nurse returned with a cautious half smile. “Would you like to feed him?”

Yes. He would. But he had to nod as emotion gripped his vocal cords.

An explosion of teddy bears climbed the walls behind the rocking chair the nurse guided him to. A vinyl-sided cabinet with a sink occupied the back corner and the counter was strewed with plastic bottles.

Des had done a lot of research into bottle-feeding, as well as all other aspects of parenting: philosophies of child rearing, behavioral books by renowned specialists, websites with tips for new parents. He’d committed a lot of it to memory easily, largely owing to his excitement and interest in the subject, but then, he held two doctorates from Harvard. There were not many academics that he hadn’t mastered. He was pretty sure he could handle a small task like sticking the nipple into the baby’s mouth.

Carefully she settled the baby into his arms with a gentle smile. “Here you go, Dad. It’s important that you hold him as much as possible.”

Des zeroed in on the pink wrinkled face and the entire world fell away. His son weighed nothing at all. Less than a ten-pound barbell. Wonder tore a hole through Desmond’s chest as he held his son for the first time. Instantly he cataloged everything his senses could soak in. Dark eyes. Dark hair peeking from under the knit cap.

Conner Clark Pierce. His son.

Whatever it took, he’d move heaven and earth to give this new person everything. Private tutors, trips to educational sites like the pyramids at Giza and Machu Picchu, a workshop that rivaled his father’s if he wanted to invent things like Des did. The baby would have every advantage and would never want for anything, let alone a mother.

The nurse pulled the hat down more firmly on the baby’s head. That’s when Conner started yowling again. The baby’s anguish bled through Desmond’s skin, and he did not like it.

The nurse turned to the back counter. “Let me make you a bottle.”

She measured out the formula over the sound of the baby’s cries, which grew more upsetting as the seconds ticked by.

Des had always felt other people’s pain deeply, which was one of the many reasons he avoided crowds, but his response to his son was so much worse than general empathy. This little person shared his DNA, and whether the suggestion of it sharpened the quickening under his skin or there really was a genetic bond, the urgency of the situation could not be overstated.

She finally crossed to Des, where he’d settled into the rocking chair, and handed him the bottle. Like he’d watched in countless videos, he held the nipple to the baby’s bottom lip and tipped it.

His son’s lower lip trembled as he wailed, but he would not take the bottle. Des would never describe himself as patient, but he tried diligently fourteen more times.