“Don’t worry, I don’t need anything from you.”
If you were a guy like George Stark-Potts—billionaire’s son, CEO of a massive multi-national corporation and famous as hell—that was exactly what you wanted the one-night-stand who turned up pregnant to say. It helped that the woman in question was at the very top of the Hollywood A-List. She did not need his money.
A trust fund for the baby mushroomed anyway, about five minutes after he told his parents. They were mad at him and excited at the same time.
“I don’t want anything from you,” is what it morphed into next. Kayla freely told anyone who asked who her baby’s father was. He was a catch, and it burnished her reputation. But all she wanted was to name drop, and it very quickly became, “I don’t want you involved in any way.” He had a reputation and a legacy and everyone just assumed he was the one who walked. George let them.
He learned of his daughter’s birth from the press—from Ruby seeing it in the paper and calling to yell at him about not bothering to tell Mom & Dad. He didn’t tell her he hadn’t even known it was a girl.
Kayla bothered to call him eventually, deigned to let him meet her eventually, and eventually even his parents. But she was very clear that Clementine was hers. And what did he know about babies anyway? She went to spend a year filming a movie in Australia, and took the baby with her.
George went on with his life. He caught glimpses of Clementine in the press, so often he sometimes wondered if Kayla saw her as a fashion accessory. His mother complained. Ruby complained. Even AJ complained, and AJ was the only who knew the whole story.
Then Kayla got a new boyfriend, some French playboy who honestly made George look like a Mormon in comparison. He didn’t see much of Clementine anymore, except paparazzi shots with her nanny in parks in LA. While her mother was in France.
One morning not long after that started, he walked into his office to find his father sitting behind his desk. “We need to talk.”
George stifled a sigh. “What about?”
Stubbornness ran in his veins. “What about her?”
“She’s being raised by a nanny. Isn’t she?”
“As far as I can tell.” Dad showed no signs of moving, so George sat on his office couch. “I don’t actually get any input.”
“Fine,” he said without missing a beat. “Lets get you input.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
He waved a hand. “Legal is working on the necessary paperwork for you to file for custody.”
“Jesus.” George rubbed his eyes. “Dad you can’t just do that. I barely know Clementine. I can’t just take her away from her home.”
“You’d rather leave her to be raised by staff? Her mother is on another continent.”
“I’m sure the nanny is doing a very nice job. Better than I would.”
“Until one day the nanny pisses off Kayla. Then Clementine wakes up in the morning and discovers the only stable and loving person in her life is gone and she’ll never see them again. There will be a couple more, maybe, and then boarding school at seven. Kayla is marrying a European aristocrat who doesn’t like children. Those guys love boarding schools.”
That was the voice of experience, right there. George bit down on the urge to point out that not everyone in the world is Howard Stark. “I don’t see how you think I’m going to be any better. I can’t raise a kid on my own. She’s still going to have a nanny.”
“You and your siblings had nannies. Hey, find one that’s really awesome and maybe AJ will marry her.” Dad stood up, and he paced. “Your Mom and I tried to go it alone for like a minute and almost killed each other. There is nothing wrong with childcare during the work day. But we were your parents at night, and on the weekends. Did you ever have a school thing or big game and look and not see one of us there? Your mother ran this company and I ran the Avengers. Don’t tell me you don’t have time.”
“I’m telling Uncle Steve you think you ran the Avengers.” George sighed. He’d lost this fight the minute Dad called Clementine his granddaughter. Family meant everything, he’d been taught that from infancy. Didn’t matter if your family included a dozen superheroes and their kids. Someone needed you and you moved heaven and earth to get it done. It was only a surprise it had taken this long for someone to put their foot down.
“Fine,” he said. “Let me know what I need to do. Hell, maybe we can get the nanny to come with her. So she has some consistency.”
His father sat on the other side of the couch. “It’s not like the court is going to hand her to you and wave. You ask for full custody so they’ll negotiate. You should get 50/50, they may start you with less. If it’s less, they’ll almost certainly award her child support. Doesn’t matter she doesn’t need or want it. The court won’t care. I’d suggest asking to share the nanny and pay her whole wage yourself.”
George thought about what little he knew of Kayla. The baby as a fashion accessory. How obnoxious and loud his cousins had been when they hit two and were toddling around getting into everything. About the new boyfriend and the lack of press. He thought about them all the way he would have a business deal, then he looked at his father again. “I bet you a hundred bucks Kayla signs her over.”
Dad sighed. “I believe you. I think if my parents had divorced, Howard would have handed me over without hesitation. It was ironic that he adored my mother. If he’d done what everyone probably expected and traded her for a younger model when she turned 35, everyone involved would have been happier.”
“It was nice of Howard to set the bar so low for Stark fathers for generations to come.”
“It’s hard. Parenting. A lot of time it sucks.”
“You know, I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before.”
“But then you come home from a terrible day and your kid will crawl into your lap, throw their arms around your neck and offer to kiss your boo-boos, and the whole universe right itself. And your bad days won’t even involve almost ending the world.”
George grinned. “When mom gets on the phone to yell at me they do.”
He laughed. “If you want us to come help, we can.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that would be a great hardship for you both.”
“It might be. Ruby will we pissed.”
George winced. “Please don’t piss Rubes off on my account.”
He waved a hand. “I’ll handle it. Call if you need us.” He pulled himself to his feet very slowly. Tony Stark could still own a room if he wanted to, but he was 84. A decade ago he’d had his failing heart replaced with an artificial one. He acted like it made him immortal, but George knew biology was still biology. There weren’t that many years left.
He took up next to him, torn between hugging his father or offering to help. “I’ll be in touch, let you know what happens.”
“Call if you need us. Your mother will probably come visit whether you need her or not.”
“Yeah. I figure.” He grinned. “Clementine probably needs a grandma to spoil her.”
“That’ll happen pretty definitely.”
“Too bad you guys covered up the ball pit in Ithaca.”
“I can have one installed in your house, no problem.”
George held up a hand. “One thing at a time.”
Amelia Pierce was not having a good day.
Her employer, who could not be bothered to return calls about her own daughter’s healthcare, had called to let her know that Clementine’s biological father was taking custody of the little girl. He’d be sending someone to pick her up in two days. Amelia was to pack up all of Clementine’s things in 48 hours, and then her services were no longer needed.
She had to swallow twice before she could even speak. She’d taken care of Clementine her whole life. Two days. . . “Won’t. . . won’t her father need a nanny? Isn’t he single and a CEO?”
“Well, I told him you were here illegally, and the Starks are very into being aboveboard and all, so that’s a no go. Anyway, they’ll want to hire their own help.”
Kayla had brought her from Australia on a tourist visa, and promised to sort it out when they got back to the US. Amelia had been desperate to get out of Australia and hadn’t questioned it. And then Kayla couldn’t be bothered. “I’m ‘illegal’ because you didn’t do the paperwork properly.”
“Yes, yes. I was very busy you know. I’ll tell you what, I’ll send you a plane ticket back home, okay?”
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Amelia said, “I need two tickets, one for Milo.” She had a one-year-old son.
Kayla laughed. “When they’re little they sit in your lap! I’ll get you a ticket for Friday.”
“Friday? I can’t— I don’t have anywhere to go back there. I can’t just—“
“Well,” Kayla said slowly, like she was talking to an idiot, “You won’t be living in my house any more once you’re not in my employ. So you’ll have to go somewhere on Friday. Might as well be Australia.”
She thought about crumpling. She thought about telling Kayla she was a terrible person and that she could go fuck herself. She thought about screaming. She thought about how the NDA she signed and wondered if a tell all book would sell well enough to cover the costs of the inevitable lawsuit.
But she had too much to do right now. She had to pack. And then go upstairs and try to prepare a toddler to have her world shattered. Right now she did not for one second doubt that Kayla would call ICE on her just to be a heartless bitch. “I’ll take a ticket to Brisbane.”
After she hung up, she cried until the babies woke from their naps. Then she squared her shoulders and got to work.
It was awful and depressing and she didn’t get much sleep, but she managed to get Clementine, Milo, and herself all packed in the allotted time. Kayla’s PA sent her the ticket to Australia, which Amelia tucked away in her purse and tried not to think about.
She expected the new nanny to show up to get Clementine. Probably some young bimbo who’d never changed a diaper, based on what she knew of George Stark. She tried not to cry again, thinking about poor Clem being watched by someone who didn’t know her or care about her. More crying wouldn’t do her any good.
At ten am the doorbell rang.
She took a deep breath and stood, leaving the two of them in the very baby-proofed playroom with the door open and gate up so she could hear. She took another deep breath and went to open the door.
On the other side was not a busty child education drop out as she had expected, but George Stark himself, in a crisp button down shirt and suit pants. He was just taking off his sun glasses as she opened the door and gave her the smile she’d seen on the front of magazines when he saw her.
Oh, she was not in the mood for that. “Don’t smile, this is going to be very ugly.” She stepped back into the hall and towards the playroom, leaving him to follow. She assumed. “I packed her a couple suitcases with her essentials. Kayla wanted me to give you all of her furniture and toys. You’ll need to send movers, or at lease someone with a truck.” She stopped and turned. “I assume you’ll need her carseat, did you bring a car with a back seat and a roof?”
He blinked. “Yes. It has a trunk, too. And I have a car seat, but if she’s attached to hers we can switch it out.”
“In the grand scheme of things she’s losing today, I don’t think she’ll notice the car seat.”
Rubbing the back of his neck, he blew out a breath. “Look, I know you have a thing lined up in Australia, and I hate to be that guy, but is there anything I can offer to get you to stay? I don’t know what Kayla was paying you but I can beat it.”
Amelia wheeled around. “What?”
“Kayla told me you had a new job lined up in Australia, when I asked about you coming along with Clementine. I know you’ve been with her a long time and I really think it would be better if she had you with her during the transition at least. So if there’s anything I can offer that-“
It took that long to get her mouth working. “That fucking bitch.” This was an entirely new level of anger. She tipped her head back and stared at the ceiling. “I can’t believe she. . . and she told you. . . fuck.”
“And Kayla strikes again.” He waited until she looked back at him, then offered her a far more natural smile. “Can we start over real quick. Hi, I’m George. I’d like to raise my daughter to the best of my abilities. Would you be interested in working for me to continue as her nanny?”
She held out her hand. “I’m Amelia. Did Kayla tell you I’m here illegally and working under the table?”
“She did not mention any of that,” he told her, shaking her hand. “Probably because it would look terrible for her in court.”
Amelia sighed. “She brought me here from Australia, and screwed up the paperwork. When my visa expired, I was eight months pregnant and not allowed to travel. Soon I was stuck here—if I leave at this point I’ll be barred from returning for ten years. Kayla told me she told you about all of that and you didn’t want to get involved in the mess.”
He crossed his arms, frowning. “I mean, it’s not ideal. But I have very expensive lawyers and Stark deals with work visas all the time. I’m sure we can get it sorted out.” He gestured to her. “If you’d like to stick around, of course.”
She wasn’t going to have to leave. She wasn’t going to have to watch Clementine drive away knowing she’d never see her again, knowing Clem would keep asking and keep crying, not understanding why she’d been left. Her vision swam until he was blurry. “Excuse me,” she choked out, turning away so he wouldn’t be watching her cry.
After a moment, a hand appeared over her shoulder, waving a handkerchief. She took it with a nod, privately wondering who the hell carried handkerchiefs in this day and age. She wiped her face and blew out a shaky breath. “Thank you. You don’t have to pay me, really, until the immigration gets sorted out. Just give me somewhere to stay and feed me.” She looked up at him. “It’s worth it for Clem.”
“I’ll pay you something. You have a kid to take care of.” He frowned. “You have a kid, don’t you? You said you were pregnant so I assumed-“
“Yes, yes. I have a son, he’s one. I hadn’t even gotten to that yet. But he eats off my plate and breastfeeds, he doesn’t need much.”
“Whoa, whoa.” He held up his hands. “Seriously. You’re not stray pets. I will feed and house you both and give you a stipend. When we get your immigrations stuff worked out we can talk formal salary and benefits and all that fun stuff, okay? For now you’re just. . . a friend who’s helping me out, okay?”
She nodded, and took a steadying breath. “Look I. . . I love her like she was mine, and I thought I was losing her. It’s been a rough morning.”
“I’m sure. I’m guessing it’s been a shitty few days. What do you say we get loaded up and I’ll show you all where we’re staying? Then we can go get ice cream or something.”
“That sounds wonderful.”