I walked into the living room and froze at the sight of the blonde bombshell sitting on my sofa. What the hell was wrong with Adam? I’d been so clear about who I did and did not want to interview. Why was she sitting on my couch?
Adam stood up with a pained expression. “King, this is Briar St. Clair. I have a copy of her resume and background check if you’d—”
“Can we speak in private? Adam?” I gritted my teeth and crossed my arms over my chest, blatantly not reaching for the papers Adam held out to me.
“Yeah. Sure. Excuse us, Briar. We’ll be back in a few.”
The blonde on the sofa nodded tightly as her shoulders hunched into her body. The smiling confident woman I’d glimpsed earlier was gone. Now she was as still as a statue, her eyes wide.
I didn’t have time to smooth over my bad manners. Adam could apologize for me later. While showing the gorgeous woman the door.
I stomped over to the stairs and climbed them to my office without looking to see if Adam was following. His Chucks squeaked on the steps behind me. Reaching my office, I waited for him to enter, then smoothly closed the door. I wanted—needed—to slam it, but I didn’t take out my anger on inanimate objects. Or employees. That was what my workout time was for. Not to mention the fact that my daughter was sleeping in her room down the hall.
“What the hell were you thinking?” I bit out.
“I know it looks bad, but if you’d just listen—”
“’Looks bad?’ It looks like you’re busy flirting and not interviewing the kind of nanny candidate I asked for.”
“I wasn’t flirting. We were actually talking about you.”
“I’m sure.” I raised my eyebrows. I knew how much cachet Adam could pull by name dropping me. The fact that he’d do it, while interviewing a potential employee, in my own home, had me questioning our three-year employment history.
“Not like that.” Adam’s lips twisted in disgust. “I’m insulted you think I would do that. What we were talking about was how she never brought up you. She was only curious about Zoe. She didn’t seem to care you were in the picture.”
I rolled my eyes. Right. “And I told you I wanted to interview more mature candidates. Nannies who have experience. What’s-her-name looks like she’s barely out of college.”
“Briar just got her master’s in teaching. She has a bachelor’s in early childhood education and has been a preschool teacher for the past seven years. Five at her current school. She loves children and has a history of sticking around.”
“What she doesn’t have is a history of being a nanny. What the hell, Adam? She’s not who I asked for.”
“She’s the best candidate out of all the resumes the service sent over. Most of the others seem to be frustrated actors still looking for their break. At least Briar likes kids, and has made a career out of teaching and caring for them. She’s the one, I’m telling you. Briar is the one for Zoe. Just read through her resume and background check. Please.”
“If you don’t believe me, I still have the stack of headshots and ‘resumes’ from the other candidates for you to look through. It’ll take you less than five minutes to see I’m right.”
“Fine. I’ll look at her paperwork.” I grabbed the stack of papers from Adam.
A smug grin curved Adam’s lips. “I get that you don’t want someone attractive who’s trying to get into your bed.” Adam frowned. “Wait, that came out wrong.”
“No, it sounds about right to me,” I muttered as I glanced over Briar St. Clair’s experience. Dammit if Adam wasn’t right. She sounded perfect.
In person, she looked like I’d always pictured the sirens in Homer’s Iliad. All blonde and curvy in the right places. And that face. Somehow, she’d looked both innocent and experienced. I could easily picture a seductive pout on her gorgeous lips.
But if I hired her, I couldn’t think of her like that.
And she definitely couldn’t think of me. Period.
“I just meant you don’t want to hire a nanny who’s all about you. I don’t think Briar will be like that. She just got divorced a few months ago, and from what the security firm said, she’s not looking for another guy to replace her ex.”
Divorced? I thumbed through the report.
Ex-husband Danny Jansen filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences, and St. Clair resumed use of her maiden name. St. Clair did not contest the divorce and moved out of the marital home. Danny Jansen married Shana Jones one month ago, and they are expecting their first child in three months.
St. Clair currently resides with her parents in Los Angeles.
Wow. That was a lot to unpack.
“See what I mean?” Adam asked from my elbow where he was clearly reading over my shoulder.
“I do. Have her sign the NDA. I’ll bring Zoe down for the introduction when she wakes up.” I pulled my cell phone out and checked the baby monitor app. The tiny screen showed Zoe moving in that restless way that meant she’d be awake soon.
Adam paused on his way to the door. “You don’t want to talk to Briar first?”
“I’m not the one she’ll be working with. Zoe’s opinion is the most important. Maybe if I’d paid closer attention to it, we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”
“Zoe has liked all the nannies.”
“Yeah, but she’s never bonded to them. She would always whine for me and cry when I left. She needs a woman in her life who’s fun and plays with her and puts her needs first.”
“You do know that Mary Poppins is a fictional character, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “Get the NDA signed. I’ll be down with Zoe in a minute.”
Adam chuckled as he left the room.
A squawk from my phone had me checking the baby monitor app again. No doubt Zoe was awake and plotting her escape. The video feed showed me Zoe sitting up in her bed and patting her favorite stuffed bunny while quietly babbling to herself. She told Bunny all her secrets.
My heart melted.
I thumbed the volume button and listened to her toddler talk. Half the time I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I loved every single syllable out of her mouth.
Tucking my phone back into my pocket, I headed for her room. And when she saw me standing in her doorway, she squealed.
“Dada!” Her little body shimmied out of her floor-level toddler bed, and she ran over to me, burying her face in my knees. She hugged me as tight as she could then gave me grabby hands as she demanded, “Up. Up.”
I hoisted my eighteen-month-old baby girl into my arms and she wrapped her tiny arms around my neck. My heart about choked me. This. This right here in my arms was all I ever needed. “You have a good nap, sweetheart?”
“Dada, hungwy. Cheez toes?”
I laughed. If there was one thing in this whole world I could count on, it was that Zoe would wake up happy and wanting Cheetos. “Let’s go see if there’s any in the pantry. Want to take Bunny with us or does she need to sleep longer?”
“Bunny! Cheez toes.”
“We’ll take Bunny but no feeding her Cheetos. You remember how dirty she got last time.”
Zoe squealed as I added Bunny to my wiggly load and immediately buried her face in her plush fur. I grinned to myself as I carried both of them down the stairs, listening to Zoe’s happy babbling about Cheez toes and malk.
Right up until I reached the stairway and heard the murmurs coming from below.
More specifically the feminine one.
I paused at the top of the stairs. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to introduce my baby to another woman who wouldn’t measure up. None of them had so far. What would make Briar any different? Why did I let Adam talk me into this?
Jaw clenched, I stomped down the stairs and passed Adam and Briar without a word on my way to the kitchen.
“Here’s Zoe,” Adam said behind me before laughing awkwardly. “Um, I guess she’s hungry. How about we join them in the kitchen?”
I wanted to yell at him, shield my daughter from her, and just get on with our day, but I knew I couldn’t. As much as I hated this, I had to see if she was a fit with Zoe. I needed a nanny if I wanted to work, especially given my upcoming insane schedule. Maybe it was time to retire. Stay home with Zoe and be hermits.
That sounded like heaven.
Unfortunately, I’d already signed way too many contracts with ridiculous exit clauses to make that my reality anytime soon.
I needed a nanny. And I needed a good one as soon as possible.
After plunking Zoe down in her highchair with Bunny on the tray, I went about making her afternoon snack. I had all of about five seconds before I heard Adam and her come into the kitchen.
“And this is Zoe.” Adam’s voice had my spine snapping straight.
“Hey Zoe. I’m Briar. Who is this?” Her chirpy voice bounced through the kitchen and irritated the hell out of me.
I didn’t care what Adam said. She was too young. And too pretty. No doubt she’d be “accidentally” bumping into me in the hallway or magically appearing in my bed at night. Just another pretty face who didn’t give a crap about my daughter.
Zoe didn’t answer. Smart kiddo. This time I’d pay attention to Zoe’s body language and not the sweet face and cutesy voice promising she just needed some time to get used to another new person. I didn’t need to turn around to know that Zoe’s face was mostly likely buried in Bunny’s fur as she cringed away from the stranger.
But when I finally turned around that wasn’t what I found. Instead, Zoe was just staring, wide eyed, at the strange woman sitting in the chair next to her.
My chair to be specific.
Then my daughter did the most unexpected thing ever. She smiled at her, held Bunny out to her, and babbled away.
The sight did weird things to me. I felt both glad and bummed at the same time. I wanted Zoe to click with her nanny, but did it have to be her? And so soon? She couldn’t have made her work for it a little? Thrown a little fit or some mac and cheese at least? Why’d she have to click with a beautiful, young nanny? Why not an old, homely one? Maybe with a stooped back and a hooked nose?
I was an ass.
I listened to Zoe babble and her ‘uh-huh’s as I set the mac and cheese on Zoe’s tray.
I wanted to see what little miss perfect would do. So I took a seat on the opposite side of the table and watched the show.
“Are you hungry, Zoe?” She asked.
“Cheez toes!” Zoe screamed, slamming her palms down on the tray.
“Huh.” She tilted her head and smiled conspiratorially at my daughter. “I don’t see any cheese toes. Looks like your daddy made some yummy mac and cheese. What kind of shapes are those?”
And then it happened.
Just as she leaned over to look at Zoe’s lunch, my daughter’s hand smacked the side of the bowl, sending it and the wiggly cartoon shaped mac and cheese flying—straight into her face.
The bowl bounced off the wall behind them and clattered to the floor. Then there was stunned silence for a few beats while she wiped cheese sauce and pasta off her face.
“Zoe.” I sent her my best disappointed dad look. “That wasn’t nice. She—Briar—wants to be your friend. Is that how we treat friends?”
Zoe’s bottom lip quivered. “I wike Bwi-are.”
“I like you too, peanut.” Briar accepted the towel Adam offered and used it to pull some cheese sauce out of her hair. “How about me and you clean up this mess and then eat some lunch?”
“’Kay. Den cheez toes?”
“You gotta take that one up with your daddy.” Briar deftly disconnected the highchair tray and pulled Zoe out of the chair before settling her on her hip. “I’m not in charge of lunch.”
“Dada?” Zoe blinked at me.
“Oh wow. She has totally got your number.” Briar laughed.
Adam laughed too. “She has us all wrapped around her finger.”
“Here.” Briar handed the cheese-stained kitchen towel to Zoe. “Let’s get to work so you can get some lunch.”
Zoe immediately rubbed the towel over the top of Briar’s head.
My heart stuttered in my chest watching the two of them. Briar’s face lit up with her laughter at Zoe’s intent concentration on cleaning Briar.
This. This was what I’d wanted for so long.
Adam was right.
She was perfect.
And now totally off limits.
Adam sidled up to me and asked under his breath, “So what do you think?”
We both watched Briar and Zoe bend to wipe up the mess. Zoe happily babbled away while Briar nodded and actually cleaned up the mess behind Zoe’s efforts.
I sighed. “You were right. Show her the room and have her sign the contract if she still wants.” I could practically hear Adam gloating. “Can you at least try to be a gracious winner?”
Adam smirked. “Doubtful.”
I just shook my head and watched Zoe and Briar another minute. Despite the way they clicked, a sense of doom settled into my stomach. This wasn’t going to end well. None of them had so far. Only now I was worried that Zoe was the one who’d end up with the broken heart this time.
And I’d fight like hell to make sure that’d never happen. The second Briar proved herself unworthy, I’d boot her ass out.
I had to protect my little girl. No matter what.
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