Sunset and her attorney were already in the conference room when Tony, Pepper, and Bertram entered. Bertram’s secretary who’d had to wait with the two of them heaved an audible sigh of relief. Sunset was clearly pissed at having waited for almost an hour, she had stood up to leave just they entered. “It’s about time.” She snarled.
Tony ignored her. He’d deliberately waited until she was ready to walk out before he’d headed for the conference room. Security monitors were such a wonderful thing. He held out a chair for Pepper, sitting down beside her and leaning an elbow on the table.
“If you’re wanting tests done, we agreed in the last meeting that there won’t be any until the child is born. We have nothing to discuss.” Kuzak told him.
“And yet…” Tony smirked and waved a hand to indicate the room. “...here you are. You’re here because you want money. My money. And you think I’m just going to hand it over.”
“You’re going to pay, Mr. Stark. The only question is how much.” Kuzak returned the smirk.
“No. The only question is what your client is willing to do to get it. Oh wait…” Tony looked Sunset over and let a disgusted sneer curl his lip. “We already know what she’ll do – what she is. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”
Sunset ignored his insult, a serene smile curving her lips. She could afford to. With his child inside her, she held all the cards.
Bertram laid a hand on Tony’s arm, a silent reminder to rein it in. “Mr. Stark is prepared to offer a generous settlement for Ms. Bain with two provisions.”
“We’ll make the provisions.“ Kuzak interrupted.
Tony snorted. Under the table, Pepper patted his leg, reminding him to keep his cool. With sobriety and time to think had come both a degree of steel to his spine and anger that he’d been used. The steel they could use, the anger he needed to keep to himself.
He turned to smile at her and she smiled back. She was proud of him. They’d come back to LA after a week in Long Island and he was back to his old self. Well, not his old self, she patted his leg again, the new old self he’d been after returning from Afghanistan. Sober and sharp, Tony had cleaned up and once again looked as if he’d stepped right off the cover of GQ magazine.
“Two provisions – “ Bertram continued as if Kuzak hadn’t spoken. “Ms. Bain will be given a single lump sum and in return will give up her parental rights. She will also sign a gag order never to reveal that she is the child’s mother. All of this, of course, is dependent on the DNA tests at birth proving this is Mr. Stark’s child.”
“A lump sum? Instead of the monthly support for Ms. Bain to take care of this child for its entire life? I hardly think so.” Kuzak shook his head. “Unacceptable.”
“The alternative is that we go to court where Mr. Stark will ask for sole custody. If that happens, your client gets nothing.”
Kuzak made a dismissive gesture. “You’re bluffing. You’ll never get custody. Not with Stark’s reputation.”
“Really? You mean Mr. Stark, multi-billionaire, hero, the man who single handedly keeps America safe and at peace? That reputation? I don’t think the judge will have any problems awarding him custody.”
Kuzak gaped a bit at the description. “What about the drunk who whizzed in the Bellagio fountains?”
“After your client misled him, slapped him with a paternity suit, and told him she didn’t want to have anything to do with him.” Bertram relaxed back into his chair. “Clearly a case of a broken heart. Give me a woman judge – and I can pretty much guarantee it– and you don’t stand a chance.”
“You can’t buy a judge.” Kuzak didn’t sound so sure of himself.
“We’d never attempt such a thing.” Bertram made a show of looking outraged. “I never suggested any such thing. Your client on the other hand is unemployed – someone did tell you that you’re fired, didn’t they Ms. Bain?”
He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing. “If not, consider this your exit interview. She has no income, no money other than what Mr. Stark is generously giving her, and has a history of industrial espionage. In fact, she stole from Mr. Stark’s company. He’s surely the soul of forgiving and generosity in light of that fact.”
Kuzak chewed his lip and adjusted his tie nervously. “There were never any actual charges of industrial espionage.”
“There doesn’t need to be. The implication that she seduced an underage boy so she could steal from his father’s company will be enough. The court of public opinion will hang your client before we ever set foot in a courtroom. She’ll receive nothing. Not a dime. Tony – ” He turned to his client. “Maybe we should just go ahead with that? It’d be easier and far cheaper. My fee isn’t nearly what this viper will want.”
“Hmm…” Tony nodded his head. “You’re the attorney here, Bertram. If you think that’s what’s best, let’s do it.”
“I do.” Bertram stood up. “Well, then, I think this meeting is over.”
“Wait a second!” Kuzak looked from Bertram to Stark and then to his own client. “You can’t just walk out!”
Sunset was staring at Tony, anxiety on her face. “You wouldn’t do that, Tony. You love me, don’t you? You love me! We can work this out, baby!”
“You can’t be serious.” Pepper muttered under her breath.
“I did love you – but not anymore. You finally killed it, Sunset.” Tony met Sunset’s eyes. Looked at the woman he’d thought he’d loved. The long-lost love he’d cried over and dreamed of for years. He felt nothing for her for the first time since he was seventeen. “It took you twenty years, but you finally killed it.”
“Lump sum. No parental rights. Gag order.” Bertram smelled blood in the water and went for the kill. “This is our only offer. Take it or leave it.”
“This is an completely unreasonable demand – “ Kuzak started.
“How much, Sunset?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow lazily. He knew when a player’s hand was full of deuces and fours and they were about to fold.
“A hundred million!” She blurted out.
“Sunset!” Her lawyer grabbed her arm.”Shut up!”
“Done.” Tony snapped his fingers and papers began to print out of a slot in the table.
“Tony!” Pepper was aghast at the amount he’d just agreed to. He could afford it, but it’d seriously deplete his personal fortune. And it was far more than this conniving bitch deserved for what she’d done to him.
The secretary quickly gathered the papers and presented one copy to Sunset and a second to Tony. Tony’s pen hovered above the contract. “Ladies first.”
Sunset scribbled her name on the line the secretary pointed to and initialed the provisions. Her attorney tried to pull the contract away but she elbowed him. “You don’t know what you’re signing!” He warned.
“I know him well enough to know that what he said is what’s here.” She sneered even as she watched Tony sign the copy he had and slide it over to her. “He’s too much of a goody two shoes to lie.”
Pepper, Bertram, and the secretary signed as witnesses. Kuzak, after a moment’s hesitation, signed both copies as well. They were quickly notarized and the secretary handed a copy to Kuzak, telling him. “This will be filed before the end of the day.”
Tony stood and brushed a piece of imaginary lint off his tie. “Whatever else you can say about me, you can’t say I don’t pay my whores well.”
“Actually, you can’t say anything.” He paused on his way out of the conference room, leaned down until he was inches from Sunset’s face and looking directly into her eyes. “One word. One hint. One rumor. One whisper in a tabloid – and I will take it all back. I will take everything you have – including the cardboard box you’ll be using to sleep in on the streets.”
Straightening, he sauntered to the glass door, opened it, and gallantly waved Pepper through before following her.
Behind him, Sunset swallowed hard. She’d won, but she’d turned Tony from a love sick puppy into a dangerous enemy.
Once they were in Bertram’s office, Tony’s air of confidence and invulnerability shattered and fell away, and his hands began to shake.. “What did I just do?”
“You kicked her ass.” Pepper smiled, barely restraining herself from fist pumping the air,. She would have preferred not to give Sunset a dime, but at least this way they weren’t going through a nasty court battle. There would be nothing for the press to drag up to throw at the child she and Tony would raise and that was the important thing.
He dropped down on the sofa beside her. “What did I do? Pepper, I don’t know anything about babies – I don’t know how to raise a child. Hell – you tell me I’m a child all the time!”
“Tony, millions of people become parents every day. They figured it out and you will, too.”
“I don’t know. I don’t even have a cat – or a plant – I’m pretty sure you have to take care of babies every day, right?” He raked his hands through his hair, destroying the careful styling that had been done before coming to the meeting.
“Think of it as a challenge. There’s new things for you to learn – you love that.” She rubbed his back. “You’ve got a few months to study. By the time the baby’s born, you’ll have it all figured out.”
“There’s books, right?” He looked sideways at her. “Babies For Dummies, maybe?”
“Tons of books. Trust me, absolutely tons.”
“Wait, millions of people having babies every day? You are not in charge of the math, Potts.”
“I’m trying to comfort you and you’re picking on my math?”
“Your next birthday present is a calculator.” Pepper’s hand that had been rubbing his back suddenly smacked him.
“As long as it’s not a pony.”
“Thunder is a miniature horse.” The events of that day were vague, but Tony remembered that much. “You didn’t really sell him to a dog food plant, did you?”
“Tony – no. I donated him to the horse therapy center SI supports.” She giggled in spite of herself, remembering Tony dragging the poor pony – miniature horse – into her office. “It’s perfectly okay to forget my birthday next year, by the way.”
“No. I won’t forget again. Ever. I promise.” He leaned back on the sofa, looping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her with him. “I’m going to have a baby. Wow. That’s so amazing! It’s life changing! Wait, I’m going to have to share my toys, aren’t I?”
Pepper closed her eyes and sighed. Poor kid.