He watched her carefully as the meeting progressed, trying to be surreptitious about it. Aside from his parents, Morrison and Iya’s assistant, no one at Morrison & Roth knew of their affair. He and Iya had always kept their visible relationship friendly and professional. The emotions he was feeling right now, however, would be visible in his eyes if anyone saw him looking at her. The questions loomed in his mind.Was she or wasn’t she? And if she was, then was the baby his? Or Max’s? Sebastian pushed the thought away. Iya wouldn’t have kept on sleeping with Max after they rekindled their affair…or would she ? He was after all her husband. A baby could be the one thing that pushed Iya and Max to work on their marriage. Which would mean he would lose her forever.
Dread curled in his stomach.
Get a grip man, you don’t even know if she is actually pregnant. He chided himself quietly.
At the front of the executive conference room of Morrison & Roth’s New York Office, his father spoke in his quiet but authoritative voice, discussing the outline of the direction the company was to go in as they expanded their reach into the African continent. He spoke mostly with the people who had put together the project. They had an office in Durban, South Africa but they intended to set up more banks in other African capitals. They had initially been targeting Lagos, Nigeria and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the pilot project but the recent conflict in Nigeria had pushed them further out West to Accra, Ghana. The project had been Iya’s baby and the plan was for her to take on management of the region. He watched her calmly and competently answer his father and Roger Morrison’s probing questions and swelled with pride. They’d both come a long way since those coffee soaked days at Cornell spent poring over business and finance text books. She had assumed with everybody else that control of the project and the eventual responsibility of directing the African region would go to Navnit Bharathan with whom she had worked on the project. Navnit worked with their Durban office and had better contacts within the business community in Africa. Navnit was also loyal to Morrison. The elder Roth had made it clear that he wanted his own person taking point on this project. It had taken some arm twisting and outright bullying but the voting members of the board had voted in Iya’s favor. His father and the elder Morrison had apprised him of the decision earlier that morning, in the limo that had picked them up from La Guardia airport where they had flown in from Chicago to attend this meeting. He had wanted to tell Iya in person before they had filed into the conference room. He had wanted to privately enjoy her celebration before anyone else, but she had been no where to be found. She avoided non professional contact with his parents like the plague. It would be at the end of this meeting that the announcement would be made.
The position would likely make enormous demands on her time and energy and would need her to spend significant amounts of time in Durban, Accra and Dar. She would have to travel constantly between the three countries in the upcoming years. Would she be able to while carrying a child and then caring for a newborn? What would Max think? What did he think? The baby could be his own blood for all he knew. Another thought popped in his head as he sneaked a glance at her. What would the board think when they found out that they had entrusted one of the company’s biggest and most delicate projects to a woman who was about to become a mother? The reaction was bound not to be a good one and the Morrison faction certainly could leverage that to their advantage. Iya deserved this promotion. She may not have the contacts Navnit did but she was just as, if not more, brilliant and she had worked on the project just as much as he had. Plus it would make the company look very, very good to have an African woman at the helm of their first foray into the choppy and complicated waters of the African financial markets.
Nathan Roth finished the reviewing the outline and smiled after sharing a nod with Morrison.
“Excellent work as always, folks. This is a go then. Navnit and Iya have coordinated this from the start and will both continue to coordinate through phase one. We are, however, assigning ultimate project control and responsibility to Iya.” He focused his gaze on Iya, who looked a little shell shocked. “Successful completion of this venture is your path to managing directorship of the African division of Morrison & Roth, Mrs. Litumbe. Congratulations. I am positive you will not disappoint.”
The room erupted into polite applause, the expressions on people’s faces ranging from shock (mostly the assistants), through approval, to barely suppressed anger. Navnit’s face was a smooth mask of civility as he congratulated Iya. Morrison had obviously warned him ahead of time. He gave her a hug which managed to be friendly, despite the antagonism Sebastian knew the other man felt. Iya looked his way and Sebastian felt his breath hitch. Her face was luminescent with her joy even though a faint worry line marred its brown perfection and her eyes looked slightly panicked. He knew than that his suspicions were correct.
Iya was pregnant. She had met every other professional challenge with cool and collected grace but this, the highlight of her career brought out panic.
He tried to smile reassuringly, giving her a thumbs up but she shifted her gaze away quickly. Another realization hit him.
The baby was likely his.
Iya avoided his eyes only when she was trying desperately to hide something from him. She knew he could read her body language easily and that her eyes were the first giveaway. He was lost in his thoughts but his head whipped up and towards his father when he heard the name Hammond.
“I’m sure you all know that Kyle, Secretary Hammond’s son is running for Congressman here in New York.” His father was saying. “We are supporting that campaign. Bob Hammond has been friends with both Roger and I since our school days and he has been a friend to this company. I am saying this in the interest of full disclosure. We don’t hide who we back politically and the Hammond kid is going places his father never did. We want to stay on board that ship.”
Nathan Roth met his son’s eyes then, his gaze, previously warm now shuttered and cold.
“Secretary Hammond and his wife Carol will be joining us for lunch, after this” he said “They’d like to personally thank us for our donation. They will be accompanied by Kyle and his wife Josie, their other son Andy, his wife Adelaide and their daughter Carolyn. Carolyn’s a pistol. She’s about to start undergrad at Harvard and will be interning with us for the summer. She’ll be on this project with you and Navnit.” The elder Roth nodded towards Iya as he spoke.
Sebastian felt his jaw slacken and it took all his self control not to let his mouth drop open in shock. The familiar red hot ball of anger that always accompanied thoughts of Kyle Hammond expanded in his chest. What in the fucking hell was his father doing? Casually he leaned back in his chair, using the movement to look at Iya. She stared straight ahead, her eyes glazed over, her back ramrod straight, her pallor grey instead of the warm brown it normally was. Her lips moved silently and her chest rose and fell erratically even as her fingers clenched and unclenched on the pen she held.
Son of a bitch. Sebastian thought to himself, knowing immediately that she was in the beginning stages of a panic attack. He swung his gaze back to his father, his father who had followed his gaze to Iya. The elder Roth was looking at Iya’s pale drawn face, a nasty, satisfied gleam in his eyes as he took in her rapidly deteriorating state. Sebastian did the only thing he could do. He made as if to adjust in his chair but casually tipped over the stack of leather bound folders which contained details of the project. They fell to the carpeted floor in multiple thuds. They also tipped over his glass of water and it spilled into this lap, drenching his shirt and pants.
“Sorry about that…” He said smoothly, pushing back his chair to stand up, effectively pulling everyone’s attention. He waved away the help of the assistants who scrambled forward to help. “Ah…hell…” he looked down at his soaked crotch and then up at the room, his face heating up. “I’m gonna have to change. I apologize folks, please carry on.”
He caught his father’s eyes and gave him a murderous look. Nathan Roth was no fool. He knew that the spill had not been an accident. He quickly dismissed the meeting, after making a joke about Sebastian’s accident.
“Dad? A word?” Sebastian said loud enough for Nathan and everyone else in the room to hear, then he left the room, fury running like fire in his blood. He hoped Iya found a way to get out of the room quickly. The distraction was the best chance he could give her. He wanted to kill his father. Wanted to pound his fist into the elder Roth’s face till it was bloody and broken. It was outright cruel what he had done, not just to invite the whole Hammonds clan here knowing what Kyle had done to Iya, but to have invited them on the one day Iya couldn’t exactly excuse herself from the meeting. And then to put Bob Hammond’s granddaughter, the project Iya was leading, meaning she would have to mentor the girl. It was incomprehensible.
His long legs made short work of the walk to his suite of offices. He glanced back only once to make sure his father was following.
It was also good that the executive suites were sound proof because what he was about to do would dismantle the company his family had spent their entire existence creating.
It was with great effort and self control that Iya managed to smile and thank the people who still wanted to congratulate her on her imminent promotion, after the meeting was adjourned. She finally excused herself saying she wanted to call her husband to share the news and escaped on shaking legs to her office suite. The moment she was behind closed doors, the true horror of what was about to happen sunk in. For the first time since that fateful night she would be expected to talk to Kyle Hammond directly. Not just Kyle, with Carol and Adelaide and Andy. Not just talk, make nice and reassure them that Carolyn Hammond would be in the most capable hands.
She began to tremble, cold to her core even though her skin felt feverishly hot. She kicked off her shoes, shrugged out of her suit jacket and stripped off the rope of pearls around her neck even as she struggled to gasp in air into her lungs through her constricting airways. She clenched and relaxed her muscles, breathing shallowly and tried desperately to stop the panic attack that was brewing wild.
Sebastian. She needed Sebastian. But he was not here. Where was he?
She made it over to her small refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water. She gulped it down within seconds and pulled out another. She rubbed the cold bottle against her forehead, then her temples, down to her neck, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth, still trying to calm her racing mind.
Why would Nathan Roth do this? He knew everything. He couldn’t possibly have forgotten. He had to know that facing the Hammonds with barely any warning would be near impossible for her. He had to know that this arrangement for their granddaughter would be a nightmare for her. He had to know.
He knows. The thought came unbidden to her. He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows exactly what effect it would have and he did it purposefully because he wants to push you to leave. He must know about your affair with Sebastian. Must know about the video Morrison has and this is his was of cleaning up. He knows you will never agree to the terms he has set. He expects you to back out right here, right now as you try to get as far away from the Hammonds as you can. He has drawn the line and showing you whose side this company is firmly on and what your options are if you plan to stay with them.
Iya felt a hot surge of anger as the realization dawned on her. The sad thing was, he was right. There was no way in hell she would mentor Bob Hammonds granddaughter or put herself in any position where she would have to deal with the Hammonds again, whether personally or professionally.
Had Sebastian known? He had not looked surprised when her unexpected promotion had been announced which meant most likely he had. The least he could have done was warn her by text or something. Her initial panic morphed into rage. How could he have kept this from her? How could he?
The possibility of his betrayal burned in her stomach.
A knock on her door.
Certain it would be Sebastian, she called out for the person at the door to enter.
Kyle Hammond walked into her office.
“Hello, Iya.” He smiled as he sauntered in. It was the same predatory smile from the cafeteria at Cornell. “You look well.”
At first, she thought the cramping pain was from clenching her stomach muscles to calm her anger but she soon realized that the source of the cramps was lower in her belly, deeper. They felt almost like menstrual cramps except… Iya froze as she felt the warm sticky wetness trickling down her inner thigh…
Oh God NO!