|Cover Art by Meredith Russell|
Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes begin a journey that will change their lives forever.
Set against the backdrop of the Double D, the cast of the Texas books face changes that won’t leave a single one of them untouched.
Jack and Riley want to extend their small family of three. Their first choice is surrogacy with Jack as the father and when all this begins smoothly both men can’t help but contemplate at what point would things go wrong. After all, their lives are far from normal and nothing is ever smooth.
Add a small four year old boy in foster care into the mix and suddenly things become a whole lot more complicated.
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….I recommend this to those who love cowboys and city slickers who are in
love, adorable children, celebrations and joy, hot sex, sweet moments
and a pure happy ending…..”
The Novel Approach – 5/5 – “….Riley and Jack surely didn’t disappoint in the smexy parts. They managed to help everyone on the ranch out of a situation or two, attempt to get a woman pregnant and still managed to steam up the windows of the “old barn” just like they have in the past, but with a few new surprises that Jack has cooked up….”
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“….You don’t need to read the first three books in the series, this could be a standalone, but I would highly recommend starting at the beginning of this love story. Jack and Riley, along with a FABULOUS supporting cast will grab your heart, and I don’t think you are going to be getting it back anytime soon!
I highly recommend this book and the entire series. You will not be disappointed! ….”
Rainbow Book Reviews – “….As ever, the variety of subplots and events is great and makes sure I was never bored. The issues of surrogacy and adoption are handled sensitively, as is the addition of a child with learning difficulties to the mix. If you like the Campbell-Hayes men and want to know what’s going on in their lives, if you enjoy romantic soap operas and ever-unfolding drama, and if you’re looking for a great read with lots of heat between loving husbands as well as deeply felt love and affection for their growing DD ranch family in the heart of Texas, don’t miss this book! The next installment can’t come quickly enough!….”
Mrs Condit & Friends Read Books – 4.5/5 – “….Texas Family can be read as a stand alone but is better as part of the series. I had not read the first three books and was able to enjoy this one on its own, but there were situations and characters that I did not have the complete 411 on and I feel I lost a little bit of the story to that. So, I will go back to read the first three because I liked this one so much I know I will enjoy them, too. Another sweet, romantic story from RJ Scott, who always delivers what she promises: people in love and an HEA….”
Crystal’s Many Reviewers “… While I thoroughly enjoyed the last two books, Texas Family gave me that little something extra that I needed. Perhaps it was because Riley and Jack were committed to their new family goal and had to lean on one another emotionally more so this time around, but I felt like their already strong bond just got stronger. There is no doubt that these two men love one another and would do anything they could for each other, but some of the situations they faced in Texas Family were such that there was nothing they could actually DO, so they had to rely on one another for support and comfort.”
Jack knew exactly where he would find Riley. This early in the morning, if the bed was empty of his husband and Hayley was missing as well, then Riley would be out behind the house in the newest addition to the Double D. The pool. Seventy-five feet of water and Jack loved to watch Riley carve his way through every inch of the distance. The extra part to the ranch had been Riley’s idea, and he was teaching Hayley to swim. Having the two of them in the wood and brick building was enough of an excuse for Jack to grab some coffee and go to join them after finishing early morning chores. He had used the pool, but it wasn’t really his thing to swim up and down. He preferred getting his exercise with his clothes on. Unless, of course, Riley was involved, then clothes off was the default setting. Riley, on the other hand, was evidently half fish, and Hayley appeared to have inherited that part of her Daddy.
Today was the first meeting with the clinic, and neither he nor Riley had really slept last night. They’d talked until the early morning—going over what they wanted so they’d be ready. The reality of a ten am meeting in downtown Dallas was enough to shake Jack. He couldn’t believe they were finally doing this, but he and Riley were in total agreement. They wanted a brother or sister for Hayley, whatever they had to do to get there.
He pushed through the new door from the back of the house into the pool atrium. This was where the showers were and the changing area if it was needed. He toed off his boots and socks. This next thirty minutes was his idea of a break after his early chores. The sound of Hayley squealing had him smiling, and he arrived just as she flew through the air and sank beneath the water with a splash. Riley grinned up at him. He didn’t look tired; if anything he looked energized and happy.
Jack couldn’t help smiling back. His husband was so damn sexy, all wet and gorgeous. “Is that some new swimming technique you’re teaching?” he asked.
“It’s called the patented Daddy dive,” Riley said seriously. Then he ducked under the water to hide as Hayley rose to the surface spluttering and laughing. She dived under again almost immediately and didn’t notice Jack watching. He made himself comfortable on one of the recliners and waited. Hayley had a few minutes before she needed to get ready for school, and he hated being the one to spoil her fun.
“Pappa!” she shouted and splashed over to him as soon as she caught sight of him. “Did you see? I can hold my breath for hours and hours now.”
“I saw,” Jack said immediately. Then he looked pointedly at his watch and saw her wrinkle her nose in reaction. “Time to get ready for school.”
“Already?” she whined. Even her whine sounded like Riley when he was forced out of bed early.
“Sorry, babe, remember Robbie’s taking you to school this morning and he’s already in the car.” He added the last with a wink.
“He so isn’t,” she said and stuck out her tongue. She didn’t argue though and was out and giving Jack a damp hug before running into the main house for a shower and to get dressed. Riley floated to the edge of the pool and leaned on the side with his head on crossed arms.
“Mornin’,” he said. “Where’s my kiss?”
Jack shrugged and pointed to his lips. “Up here on the side of the pool like every other time you ask.”
“Damn it, Jack, one day you’ll get close enough, and I’ll pull you into this pool with me.”
“We have a perfectly good shower, you know,” Jack replied. They exchanged the same words every morning, and the familiarity of them made him smile.
Riley wrinkled his nose, and for a second he looked exactly like Hayley, or rather Hayley looked like him. Then he added something new to the morning exchange. “I was thinking…”
“Always a bad thing,” Jack smirked.
Riley ignored him. “We should lock all the doors and make love in the water.”
Jack sat upright on the chair. “We don’t have the time,” he said quickly. Thank God his brain was thinking better than his cock, which was already showing definite interest in getting near Riley in the pool.
“Not today.” Riley heaved himself up and out of the water in a smooth movement, then shook his hair like a shaggy dog. Jack jumped when splatters of water hit his skin. Then he inhaled sharply as Riley took the few steps closer to him. “I’d want to take it slow and take my time bringing you to the edge so many times you’re begging me.” He was thick and erect, and the tight swim shorts left nothing to the imagination. Water sheeted down six four of toned muscled perfection, and Jack’s jeans were suddenly the tightest they’d ever been. Over three years and he still couldn’t get enough of the man who was the other half of him.
“Jeez, Riley,” Jack breathed. “We only have a few minutes, and we need to get Hayley…”
Riley stopped right in front of him and placed his hands on his hips.
Jack wriggled in the seat, and then in a smooth move he stood and had semi-naked Riley in his arms. There was only so much temptation he could take before his iron will snapped like brittle candy. They kissed hard and fast, and Riley walked them back until Jack felt the door handle against his ass. Maybe they couldn’t go slow, but they could sure get each other off in the space of a few minutes. Effectively blocking the only exit apart from the fire door, no one could accidentally come in and find them; no one would know what they were doing. They could kiss and Jack could slip a hand into Riley’s shorts as easy as anything. As soon as his fingers pushed past the cotton and closed around Riley’s hard cock, he sighed into the kiss. He wanted this so badly. Riley was his addiction and every day, every hour, every goddamned minute, he wanted to connect with him.
Riley used a knee to encourage Jack to spread his legs a little, then shuffled to slouch a little—just enough so that when Riley pulled at buttons and cotton, he could have Jack’s cock rubbing against his own. Jack smacked his head back against the wall and whimpered with a curse on his lips. Riley took immediate advantage. He locked his lips to Jack’s throat and began to bite a path of kisses and touches from throat to chin and then back to claim Jack’s lips again.
“I love you,” he whispered before deepening the kiss. Jack slipped his other hand between them and yanked at the cotton that pressed into his fingers. Finally he could move his hand under to gently play with Riley’s balls as they moved against each other. Riley’s breathing hitched, and he let out his own whimper at the touch. They knew each other so well, which buttons to press, where to touch, and all too soon Riley was spilling over Jack’s hand with Jack not long after. They stood in the embrace against the wall for a few seconds before they separated. Riley glanced down at his hand and grimaced.
He looked over his shoulder at his pristine pool, his pride and joy, then back at his hand.
“Maybe we should stick to the barn,” he said.
Jack couldn’t help but laugh. “Guess no sex in the pool after all, then,” he said.
Riley quirked a smile. “No.” They kissed and Jack couldn’t have been more in love at that single moment than he had ever been.
“I love you, het-boy.”
They kissed again but this time when Riley pulled back, he looked thoughtful. “You ready for the meeting?” he asked gently.
Jack sighed. “As ready as I’ll ever be to justify why we want to grow our family.”
“I don’t think it’s like that. I don’t think we’ll need to justify a damn thing,” Riley said fiercely. “And if we do, then we leave and we find somewhere else to help us. It’s that easy. I need to eat,” he added.
“You always need to eat,” Jack said.
“Today is a day for bacon,” Riley said firmly. Then with a grin, he indicated they should go through the door, and Jack followed. They stopped at the sink and washed their hands; then with a few more snatched kisses they made their way to the kitchen.
Riley fell on the coffee as if he hadn’t had any in days. Jack watched from his seat where he nursed his own coffee as Riley virtually inhaled the first cup followed by two muffins and the bacon he fried on the stove.
“Done?” he asked wryly as Riley slid into the chair opposite him.
Riley patted his flat stomach. “Done,” he said.
“Daddy, can you tie this for me?” Hayley, dressed in the navy and red uniform of the Bryant Faraday School for Girls, came and stood next to Riley. She handed over a bright red tie.
Without argument or discussion, Riley pulled back Hayley’s long blonde hair and tied it expertly with a few twists of his hands. Jack tried but he never quite managed to get her hair looking quite as cute as Riley did. Riley grabbed her in for a close hug, but she pushed him away quickly.
“Don’t crease me,” she said quickly. “We have school photos today.”
Riley pouted his best daddy-pout. “Can I at least get a kiss?” Hayley placed a smacking kiss on his cheek, then stepped back.
“Do I look okay?” She smoothed a hand over her skirt and frowned down at herself. Jack thought she’d never looked prettier than at that moment.
“Gorgeous, sweetie,” Riley offered. “No running off with the photographer.”
“I’m only a kid,” she huffed. Seeming to need some more reassurance, she turned to Jack. “Pappa? What do you think?”
“Always gorgeous,” Jack replied. He got a similar kiss to Riley’s, and then she left the kitchen in a hurry.
“Remind me to clean the shotguns for when the boys visit,” Riley said with a small groan.
A knock on the door interrupted what Jack was about to say and was followed by Robbie poking his head around the corner. “Mornin’, did we need anything besides me checking on the feed order?” he asked.
“Nope, we’re good,” Jack answered. “Thank you again for taking Hayley to school.”
“No worries. Tell her I’ll be in the car waiting.”
Robbie closed the door behind him, and Jack looked pointedly at Riley. They’d spent a long time talking about building another place on the property for Robbie and Eli—after all, they couldn’t live the rest of their lives in the apartment over the barn. The only thing stopping them was Riley talking to Eli. Jack could swing Robbie by saying it was part of his salary here, but Eli would know different. Riley was an open book, and his sweeping statement about building a place for the new couple had been met by an outburst of stubborn pride from Eli.
“I’ll talk to Eli,” Riley said quickly. “As soon as this morning is out of the way. Okay? I promise.”
“And you actually will?” Jack asked.
“Daddy, sign this,” Hayley interrupted, and Jack could see the relief clearly written on Riley’s face. Riley and Eli arguing wasn’t a nice thing for anyone—each was as stubborn and intractable as the other.
“What is it, hun?” he asked as she laid the paper flat on the table. Jack glanced at the heading and groaned inwardly. Careers day meant only one thing to Riley. Him standing in front of a room of Hayley’s classmates talking about ethical oil exploration and coming home to say he’d watched each one of them die a death through boredom. Riley could talk passionately to adults all day about what he did, but he seemed to struggle with Hayley’s cohort. Last time he’d nearly convinced Jack that it was his turn to go and, in his words, do something horsey. Because, as he pointed out, little girls liked horses.
Unfortunately for Riley, Jack had been away delivering Catty to her owners, which left Riley home alone with nowhere to hide.
“Are you sure you want me to do this again?” Riley asked carefully. “Last time I could swear your friend Abbey was sleeping through the whole thing.”
“’Course I want you to,” Hayley said immediately. “You could make a ‘hunt the oil’ game up or something. Or Pappa can do it—he can talk about the horses.” She glanced at Jack, who smiled at her. Every so often he realized she hesitated before asking him to do things at the school or helping her with her homework. He didn’t have to have a degree in childcare to know what that meant, and he resolved to sort out the issue. He wanted Hayley to look on him as a dad that didn’t just deal with the fun stuff like horse riding. But first he couldn’t resist teasing Riley.
Jack nodded. “Hunt the oil sounds good.”
Riley looked at him meaningfully and narrowed his eyes. He knew Jack was laughing at him, and Jack really tried his hardest to not let the mirth escape.
“If it’s okay with you, Hayley, I’d love to take my turn,” Jack asked.
“Are you sure, Pappa? I know you’re busy and all…”
“I would love to. Maybe after school we could write down some ideas?”
“That would be so cool,” she said. Then she pushed the piece of paper to him, and Jack scribbled his name at the bottom and indicated in the information box what he would be talking about. Then she dropped the bombshell. “Megan Hunter’s dad is on the same morning as you.”
Riley snorted into his coffee. “Aiden Hunter, the actor? The one from the action films with the multimillion dollar box office returns. The one married to the model. That’s Megan’s dad, isn’t it?”
“Yep, Megan’s really cool.”
Jack listened with dread growing in the pit of his stomach. Riley had lucked out on this one. Jack was going up against an actor? How sexy could he make horses compared to red carpets and action movies? Hayley grabbed the letter, kissed both her dads goodbye, and left. As soon as they heard the car leave, Riley collapsed in hysterical laughter over the table.
“You are so screwed,” Riley said between crying with laughter. “You against Aiden Hunter. At least I had Emma Granger’s mom, and she’s a professor of physics and was as dry as a cracker.”
“I might be ill that day. Or I’ll send Robbie, he can take Eli and some models,” Jack said thoughtfully.
Riley stopped laughing. “You wouldn’t?”
Jack stood and stretched tall. He needed a shower and to get dressed for this meeting. Walking behind Riley, he dug his fingers in his husband’s hair and used the grip to tilt his head back. The kiss was long and drawn out.
“I wouldn’t,” he said as he pulled back. “I’d do anything for our daughter. Even go up against a Hollywood sex god.”
When he saw the sappy look on Riley’s face, he knew he’d said the right thing. He was still feeling a million feet tall after being on the receiving end of one of Riley’s beautiful smiles as he walked down the corridor to the bathroom. Half an hour to make himself look less cowboy and more responsible dad, and he’d be ready to go.
He showered quickly and shaved as close as he could, and then he stood uncertainly in front of the closet he shared with Riley. His side was jeans, one suit, a couple of shirts. What would Riley wear? He’d probably dress in one of those damn suits of his. Gently, Jack ran his hands over the sleeve of the nearest one, then sniffed it. The scent of Riley was on everything, and he couldn’t get enough of it.
Time to act like a grown up, he told himself. He was a horseman but he also ran a successful business. Decision made, he pulled out his only suit jacket and pants, and he dressed quickly before he could change his mind. He was fiddling with the tie when Riley came back in the bedroom. Glancing in the mirror, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and he stopped with the tie.
“What are you wearing?” he asked incredulously. Riley was in dark jeans and a button-down shirt. Jack turned to face his husband.
Riley shook his head. “I could ask the same thing.”
Jack went into defensive mode. “I wanted to show them I wasn’t just some cowboy—I didn’t want to let you down.” Damn. He never meant to add that last part.
Riley crossed the room and placed his hands on Jack’s arms. “And I didn’t want to come over as being up myself.” He rested his forehead against Jack’s and chuckled under his breath. “What are we doing here?” he asked wryly.
“Being something we’re not.” Jack closed his eyes. “They’ll see right through it, won’t they?”
“Change for me,” Riley said quickly. He released his hold on Jack, then rummaged in the closet before pulling out dark jeans and a white button-down. Finally he dragged out Jack’s best boots and stood back.
Jack considered the clothes, then looked at Riley. Copying his husband’s actions, Jack located the suit he loved Riley in most and a shirt, then added a tie to the pile.
“Change for me,” Jack repeated. “Let’s be who we are from the start.”
Riley stole a quick kiss, and then in a rush of skin and curses, the two men stood next to each other in the mirror. Jack never grew tired of seeing Riley, but looking at them side by side, with Riley in the dark suit, his blond hair short and spiked in a tidy style, immaculate and cool, and him in his jeans, his face smooth but his dark hair a little more unstructured, Jack had only one thought in his head:
The nerves grew as they left the Double D, and neither of them spoke as Riley drove his 4×4 down the potholed road that led to the exit of the ranch. Jack vowed that this time next week those damn holes would be fixed after all these years. Riley stopped the car at the junction and crossed his hands on the steering wheel.
“You okay?” Jack asked, concerned.
“Yeah. No.” Riley sounded as confused and concerned as Jack felt. “What if we don’t find anyone, what if no one wants to carry a child for us, because of who we are?”
Jack wanted to join in with the questioning. After all, it was only what he felt in his own head, but instead, hearing Riley vocalize the same thing gave Jack the perspective to see things more clearly.
“What’s not to like?” he began. “And Riley, if we can’t do it this way, then we can adopt, whatever, but we’ll always have Hayley.”
Riley nodded, and then after a short pause he took the turn toward the city. Only when the Dallas skyline came into view did they begin to talk again. This time, instead of worries and concerns, they began to talk about possibilities.
Jack relaxed back in his seat as tension seeped away.
After all, what could go wrong?
The Walker Clinic was through a plain door in an unassuming building nestled in amongst other buildings that all looked the same. Riley was more than just a little thankful they had left with at least half an hour to spare to find both the building and parking in this residential area.
“You okay? Riley? Talk to me,” Jack asked. Riley looked at Jack and only half heard what his husband had said. He stumbled up the curb outside the clinic and realized he wasn’t looking where he was going. What the hell had happened to him? He was the composed one this morning, the one who calmed Jack down, and now suddenly it hit him what he was doing. And hit him for all the wrong reasons. What if the place needed background checks that went back more than just what Riley was doing now? What if they found out about…?
“Sorry?” he asked carefully. He needed to calm the hell down if he was going to come over as responsible-Riley as opposed to freaked-out-Riley.
Jack frowned. “You look really out of it.” He grabbed Riley’s hand and pulled him to a halt just outside the door. “What’s worrying you?”
“Nothing,” Riley lied.
Jack leaned in and his voice held a note of warning. “Riley, do we have to go back to the car and talk about this? Something is clearly getting to you, and you need to tell me what it is.”
“Jack, I just…”
“Look, if you’re not ready, if you want it to be you, whatever is going on in your head, we can handle. We can wait.”
Riley was horrified. “No,” he said quickly. “I don’t want to wait.” He swung to face Jack fully, then cradled Jack’s face tenderly. He knew Jack loved the fact that Riley was okay with PDAs, and Riley wanted to see a smile return to Jack’s worried expression. They were right outside the clinic, but Riley didn’t want Jack going in with doubts about how Riley felt.
“I want to go in, like we planned, tell them we want a baby, do everything we can for us to be dads again.” Jack smiled at him and Riley’s heart melted. Suddenly he wasn’t ready to share his fears with his husband simply because he didn’t want to ruin Jack’s day. This was special. “Sometimes it’s hard to believe what we are doing.” Jack opened his mouth to talk, but Riley silenced him with a kiss. “Only because it often feels surreal to me that we are together, committed, with Hayley…” He deliberately trailed off so Jack could draw his own conclusions about why the nerves had set in. Jack placed his hands on Riley’s hips and helped himself to another kiss at the same time. With a smile, Riley backed away, and then they finally rang the bell at the door. And waited.
The man who opened the door, five eight with a shock of white-blond hair, smiled at them, then ushered them in.
“I’m Marcus,” he introduced himself quickly. “You must be Mr and Mr Campbell-Hayes.” They shook hands, and Riley and Jack both nodded at his words. “It’s so nice to meet Dallas royalty,” he said with a grin. Riley contemplated being offended, but Marcus was so damn small and cute that Riley didn’t have the heart to say a word. A quick glance at Jack had him seeing similar thoughts pasted on his husband’s open expression. Marcus led them through a waiting area with plush sofas and low lighting and through an unmarked door. The room they walked into looked like something out of a showroom for cozy. Sofas, a large walnut desk, and shelves of books made the room inviting, and Riley felt the stress of the last few minutes slip away. They were safe in here. No one else sat with them, and no one appeared to be judging them.
“Please take a seat,” Marcus said softly. “Would you like coffee? A soft drink?”
“Coffee,” Jack said immediately.
“Water,” Riley added.
Marcus disappeared through the door, and Riley watched him go with fascination. He was slim and had this sexy wiggle as he walked. Dressed in an expensive suit, he was all kinds of cute.
“Who do think we’re seeing?” Jack whispered. He looked a little uncomfortable in the large chair he’d chosen, but then Jack was never entirely happy unless he was outside. Add the nerves of what they were doing, and it made for a restless cowboy.
“One of the Walkers, I guess,” Riley whispered back.
Jack nodded his head to the door Marcus had just left through. “He’s kinda cute,” he said.
Riley nodded. “Pocket-sized.”
They grinned at each other and only stopped when the door opened and Marcus returned. He passed over coffee and water, and then with no other words, he sat down in the seat opposite the ones Riley and Jack had chosen. Riley looked to the door, waiting for someone else to walk in, but when Marcus pulled over a folder and a pen, Riley got the feeling this was the M Walker they were here to see, partner in the Walker Clinic. Jack appeared to get with the flow at the same moment, and he and Riley exchanged a silent what the fuck? Riley had been expecting a woman. Hell if he knew why, but he’d assumed M was for Margaret or Mathilda or anything that wasn’t Marcus. Did men have the right stuff to help them? Wasn’t the whole surrogacy process more of a woman’s thing?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Marcus began. Riley snapped back to look at the guy, and guilt flooded him like Marcus could see inside his head. Or had he said something out loud? He looked at Jack quickly but Jack didn’t give any indication that Riley had said anything untoward. “You’re thinking that this whole process is going to be as easy as one two three. The first thing I would say to you, that I would say to anyone starting this process, is that what you are planning to do is the hardest, but most rewarding, journey that you will ever take.”
Riley blinked at the words. They were strong words, fighting talk from the little guy with the folder. Marcus’s brown-eyed gaze went from Riley to Jack and back again.
“You’re not selling it to us,” Jack commented dryly.
Marcus inclined his head. “It’s not my place to sell anything to you. But I say the same thing to all my IFs. IF is what you are designated in the surrogacy community—intended fathers. IFs. The Walker Clinic will be with you every step of the way through the process.”
“No disrespect,” Jack began carefully. “But you don’t look a day over twenty, how do you think you can help us?” Riley squirmed at the question while at the same time silently thanking Jack for pointing out the obvious.
Marcus smiled and didn’t appear to take offense. He had dimples for God’s sake—how much cuter could one guy be?
“I’m twenty-eight. My mother and father started this clinic in the eighties, and now my sister and I work with all new parents. I have been part of this place since I was born. This is the older part of the building where we meet new clients, but we have offices out the back that you will become more familiar with as your journey progresses.” He waved a hand around the room. “Let’s talk, and if by the end of the meeting you feel I am not the best fit, then I can get Marcie in, or I can refer you to other agencies dealing with surrogacy. Marcie is my twin sister and has her own clients, but you may think she would be a better fit.”
“The Walker Clinic is the one we’ve had recommended to us; we want to work with whomever you think is best,” Riley said quickly. He saw the subtle change in Marcus’s expression from all business to more relaxed.
“Okay. So let’s start by checking some details from you against the form you completed.” He opened the folder and depressed the top of the pen to start writing. He nodded at Riley. “I have your full name as Riley Nathaniel Campbell-Hayes.” Marcus paused and Riley nodded. “Height, six four; hazel eyes, blond hair, born July 19th, 1982. You are the owner of CH Consultancy, which deals with ethical exploration and oil, and your home address is listed as the Double D ranch just outside of Dallas. You have A-negative blood, you have one sibling, and your mother is still with us. No history of…” He trailed off and ran his pen down the list. Riley knew what he’d written on the form and most of the boxes were blank. “You’re independently wealthy and have a young daughter who attends private school. Is this accurate?”
Riley nodded, then emphasized with a spoken ‘yes’ when he realized Marcus was still looking at the paperwork.
Marcus ticked something, then moved to check Jack’s information. “I have your full name as Jackson Robert Campbell-Hayes, five eleven, blue eyes, dark hair, born May 1st 1979. You are the owner of the Double D ranch, which is also your primary address. You have O-positive blood, you have two siblings, and your mother is still with us. You cite your income as being derived from training and breeding horses. Is this accurate?”
“Accurate,” Jack answered.
“And you are a married couple.”
“In Canada,” Riley said. “It’s not legal in Texas.”
Marcus ignored him. “Married,” he said simply. “There are legal processes we need to go through. Did you bring everything on the list?”
Riley handed over the envelope that contained his and Jack’s lives. Passports, financial statements, and the myriad other small things the Walker Clinic needed. Marcus opened, checked, and ticked then handed the whole package back to Riley.
“I’m assuming both of you will pass the background check, and you’re both in agreement to a psychological assessment? We take our matching very seriously.”
Riley nodded. He was happy to agree to an assessment if it meant he and Jack could grow their family.
“That’s fine,” Jack said less confidently than Riley felt. Their one bone of contention in this whole process was that Jack didn’t do well being asked personal questions. To him family was sacrosanct and wasn’t to be shared with everyone.
“Right, down to the details now. When my assistant spoke to you, she said you indicated that you wanted to follow the surrogacy route. You understand there are two different routes to becoming parents this way. A gestational surrogate has no genetic link to the child she is carrying. This means the egg is provided by an egg donor. A traditional surrogate is genetically related to the child she is carrying, she is both the egg donor and the surrogate.”
“We want to go the gestational route,” Jack said firmly. Riley glanced between Jack and Marcus. He and Jack had both independently and together considered asking Beth or Eden to donate, but when it came down to it, neither seemed right. Beth had her medical problems, and Eden was dealing with everything she and Sean were going through with Sean’s impending surgery.
“Noted,” Marcus said. “Then we have the screening process to go through. Did my assistant go through that with you?”
Riley gripped Jack’s hand. Abruptly this was surreal. He couldn’t believe they were actually sitting here having their lives dissected in such a blatant way. He needed to remember why they were doing it.
“Blood type, HIV, Hepatitis B and C, other STDs,” Riley reeled off. “She said you test for cystic fibrosis and other genetic complications.”
Marcus tapped his pen on the folder in his lap. “Jackson, you have indicated it would be you donating.”
“Jack. Call me Jack, and yes, it was me, we decided, because Riley…” He worried at his lower lip with a tooth. Riley squeezed his hand.
Marcus nodded as if he knew what Jack was going to say. He’d probably heard all the reasons under the sun before and probably did know what was going to be said. “We’ll need to do semen analysis, sperm count and motility, then once the medical and psychological screening has been completed, you’ll be assigned an intended parent code. That will be your identification to the surrogates we have who will look at your profile anonymously.”
“So we won’t know who is looking at us?” Jack asked.
“No, not at all.”
Riley suddenly wanted all his cards laid on the table. “But they know who we are?”
“No. Not in the truest sense of the word. We give enough details, socio-economic class, character, requests, and so on.” Marcus looked at Riley directly. “Does that cause a problem?”
Riley didn’t know what to say. How did he word his concerns without coming across as a superior idiot with privacy issues? What if the details that were given were enough for the potential surrogates to work out who Riley and Jack were? And was that actually important? Wouldn’t the surrogates be tied into some kind of confidentiality clause anyway? Thankfully Jack came to his rescue.
“Riley is a very rich man. That is a blessing and a curse,” Jack explained. “He has trust funds for our daughter and owns a considerable interest in Hayes Oil. We have to have some level of privacy. Also we have to be sure that we wouldn’t go through all of this for the surrogate to refuse us our child or use that same child against us in some way for financial gain. On the other hand, we need for the surrogate to know we’re not just going to have a child and dump him or her with a nanny. We’re not like other…”
“Rich people?” Marcus finished.
Riley felt relieved that Jack had decided to take this tack. The firm, no-compromises statement was exactly what Riley wanted to say but couldn’t.
“Part of the plus for your profile on the system will be that any child given to you will want for nothing.” Marcus paused. “Every surrogate we have on our books is contracted with strict confidentiality clauses. We have matched more than a few couples like yourselves where money is a factor.” He tilted his head then smiled and damn, those dimples were back again. “Some of them even have more money than you, Mr Campbell-Hayes.”
“Good to know,” Riley said with an answering smile. He liked Marcus.
Marcus continued, “The Walker Clinic will assist in negotiating the contractual terms and fees associated with your final agreement with your intended surrogate. This ensures all parties are on the same page before the agreements are drafted. Legal fees are not included in surrogacy fees. With tests and the legal phase, we are typically looking at six weeks. Once all parties have signed the agreements, we require that you fully fund an escrow account to cover all fees, and then the Clinic will give you a calendar for cycle medication starts. Does that all make sense?”
“One important thing, we have our own lawyer to liaise with yours,” Jack said. “Riley’s father will be working with us on this. We would want a level of secrecy, conditions on not exposing our family to the press, the usual.”
“Nothing we haven’t done before,” Marcus agreed. “I’ll need his details as and when you sign final paperwork today.”
Riley leaned forward in his chair. There was one more question that was absolutely vital to have answers to—the issue of surrogate selection. “How do you decide which surrogate is matched with us? I know we have a choice, but I am guessing you need to sign off on things?”
“We don’t have forced matching where we give you just one appropriate surrogate. Instead, here we think that the relationship between intended parent and surrogate is the foundation to the success of the whole process. It’s in our best interests and yours that we match you with your most compatible surrogate.”
“But we get final say,” Jack insisted.
“Absolutely. All the surrogates we have in our program see profiles first. They get to review all the intended parents, and from that they mark which ones they would be interested in working with. Once a surrogate has selected your profile, her profile is sent to you. That way you may have one surrogate or several at a time who say they’d like to match with you. When you get to see the surrogate profiles and if you like one or more of them, we will set up a meeting between you so that you can get to know each other better. I will be available and included in this call to supervise it and to be on hand if there are any questions. If you like each other, then we can begin the whole process; if not then we start again.”
Riley had one more question. He wanted timescales, black and white so he knew exactly what was happening. “So six weeks until we actually carry out a…uhmm…”
“Implantation?” Marcus asked with a small smile.
“That, yeah.” Riley couldn’t believe that he was blushing. Idiot.
“How quickly you match depends on how choosy you are and how your profile is seen by the available surrogates. Your flexibility and openness to the process will give you the most options.”
“How are surrogates screened?” Jack asked.
“A thorough screening and vetting process including a detailed medical, psychological, personality profile, and educational and pregnancy history. A detailed background and criminal check is undertaken, including our Investigative Service going into courthouses and personally searching records where applicable. Surrogates and egg donors are also medically screened again by your chosen clinic after you decide to match with them.”
“Thank you. And what is your success rate?”
Marcus smiled broadly. “Most of our intended parents leave our program with a child or children.”
“And the ones who don’t?”
“It’s not for want of trying. We have had a few cases where the client wasn’t successful. This could be because there was an issue with their own genetic material. Jack, you indicated you would be the donor and that you have no children. Have you ever fathered a child?”
“Not possible,” Jack said firmly. “I’ve never slept with a woman in my life.” He glanced at Riley, who bit his lip to stop himself from snorting in laughter. Jack sounded so damn horrified.
“Well, time will tell if your genetic material is useable.”
Jack squirmed in his seat. “If I can’t do it then Riley will.”
Riley was shocked. They hadn’t actually discussed that. They’d always focused on how this baby would be their baby, but genetically it would be Jack’s. Was Jack going to be able to accept things if they didn’t work out how the two of them wanted?
“Really?” Riley asked.
“Makes sense,” Jack replied.
Abruptly it was just the two of them staring at each other—Marcus forgotten.
“But then the baby wouldn’t be yours.”
“Hayley is yours,” Jack said softly. “But she’s ours. You know that.”
Riley was swamped with emotion, love and sadness and everything in between. “I love you, Jack.”
Jack leaned over and kissed Riley. “I love you too.”
Finally they turned to face Marcus, who was sitting with a wide grin on his face and his arms crossed over his chest. “I like you guys,” he said.
“One important thing,” Riley began, “we would want to be involved in every step, scans, tests, and we’d want to be part of our surrogate’s pregnancy as much as we can. “
The smile was replaced by serious-Marcus again. “It’s important to us that the intended parents are involved in the pregnancy, and anyone we match would want that as well. Many of our surrogates and intended parents become friends.”
“But not too much,” Riley interjected. “We would want our own lives; the surrogate wouldn’t be involved in how we brought the child up. Right?”
“Absolutely. What kind of friendship you have is your business. You may want just a business arrangement. How much interaction you want is part of the matching process.”
“Okay, so one more question,” Riley began. This was the single thing that plagued his dreams. “What happens if our surrogate changes her mind?”
Marcus nodded at the question, then answered very seriously. “On some, rare occasions, a surrogate changes her mind before contracts are signed. If that is the case we will rematch you as soon as possible. Once the surrogate is pregnant, you are already tied by contracts that will be checked and triple checked to hold up in a court of law in Texas.”
Anxiety curled in Riley’s stomach. Knowing his family history, why would he expect surrogacy to be any easier? He could see this was going to be a long and stony journey ahead of them.
They finished the meeting with a handful of brochures and their bank account several thousand dollars lighter.
When they stepped outside into the sunshine and the door closed behind them Riley stopped. Nothing out here had changed. The sky was still blue, the heat of a Texas day still there. But inside him, Riley’s whole world had changed. Utterly, irrevocably changed.
“I’m excited,” he lied. He could have used many different adjectives. Petrified. Worried. But he kept a lid on his anxieties so he didn’t come over as a complete idiot.
Jack turned to him, and Riley couldn’t help but see how pale Jack look.
“Fuck, Riley, I’m glad one of us is.” He grasped Riley’s hand firmly. “’Cause I’m too freaking terrified to be excited.”