Why does Nate’s hockey player hands slipping Morgan’s sock onto her tiny foot make my ovaries hurt? I’ve said it a million times, she’s a Morgan fix, not a baby fix. I’m twenty-one. My biological clock hasn’t even started to tick. I may have a knack for taking care of babies, but it doesn’t mean I’m ready for my own.
“I thought…” my mind shakes off the aching-ovaries internal monologue “…you were going to fire me today.”
He blinks a few times, twisting his lips, but I don’t get the impression my confession shocks him. That would have elicited a head jerk. No head jerk. Just a contemplative expression.
Well played. He’s going to make me introduce him to the gigantic elephant sitting in the corner of the room.
“I know things about you. That’s why you asked me to leave last night.”
As he busies his hands with folding in the flaps to the boxes of Jenna’s clothes, he gives a tiny shrug. “It was late. You looked tired. I just said you could go home. That’s all.”
“You’ve never told me to ‘go home,’ until last night. There have been many, ‘thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow’ or ‘I appreciate all you do’ or even ‘have a good night,’ but not the cold ‘go home’ you gave me after I said I know you have a birthmark in a place we both know I haven’t seen.”
Keeping his gaze on the boxes, he grunts. “It just surprised me a little that you thought you knew it with such certainty. I was worried about you, but clearly my concern came across as anger.” He glances up. “It wasn’t my intention. I’m sorry.”
“So…” my eyes flit side to side before locking to his again “…you’re saying you don’t have that birthmark?”
Nate stacks one box on top of the other and lifts them. “Nope. Maybe one of your old boyfriends had that mark.” He carries the boxes down the hall.
I sit on the edge of the bed and bounce Morgan a bit until he returns. “I think you should show me your stomach.”
“What?” He scoffs, avoiding eye contact as he shuts the closet door.
“Your shirt. Take it off.”
“It’s inappropriate.” Nate leaves the room again. “I have about two hours of work to do. We can order in dinner if you’d like.”
“You’re a man.” I cradle Morgan and chase after him, not interested in dinner. “Taking off your shirt would not be inappropriate.”
“Ask my boss if taking off my shirt in front of a student would be considered inappropriate.”
“I’m not your student.” I stop at the entrance to his office as he plops down on his desk chair and opens his laptop.
“You’re my nanny—my twenty-one-year-old nanny. I’m one hundred percent certain taking off my clothes in front of you would be inappropriate.”
“Shirt. I didn’t say ‘clothes.’”
He chuckles and it’s condescending. “Chinese?”
“I’m not hungry.” I’m starving, but my curiosity has a bigger appetite.
“There’s a takeout menu in the top drawer by the fridge. Order me something with chicken. Rice, no noodles.”
I frown, bouncing Morgan as her eyes roll back in her head, eyelids too tired to stay open. “That menu in your drawer is a Thai menu not a Chinese menu.”
He shifts his attention from the screen to me for a brief moment. “What’s the difference?”
“Thai is spicier and made with less oil and curry. Fresher ingredients. Healthier.”
Nate blinks a few times. “I like spicy.”
“Do you?” He leans back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head.
What has happened? He’s gone from spooked to actually challenging my knowledge of him.
“Yes. You eat pineapple with jalapeños on your pizza. You have to like spicy food to eat that shit.”
“She can hear you.” He shifts his attention to his sleeping baby in my arms.
“She can hear you.” He grins, something between a smirk and a grimace.
“Sorry, Professor Anatomy. I’ll go order you a Thai dinner with chicken.”
I stop before I get two feet past his office door. “Yes?”
“What have you decided?”
“About?” I take a step backwards so I can see him.
I have a degree in education. I want to teach. That’s the goal. I need to jump at any chance to build my résumé.
“She’s attached to you,” he says.
He’s not playing fair.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, how long will this job last? Until she starts school? Until you find a good replacement?”
“Until you no longer want to watch her.”
So. Damn. Unfair.
I adore Morgan, and I can’t foresee a day in the future where I don’t want to be with her. But … she’s not my daughter, and being a nanny isn’t my goal in life. A drop-dead sexy guy with a motorcycle could decide he wants to marry me. And … eventually my ovaries could ache for a child of my own—of our own. Then what? What if Morgan is not in school yet? If she’s attached to me now, what will it be like in another year or two?
The job I worried about keeping has turned into the job I can’t shake.
“I’ll call them tomorrow and tell them I have to regretfully decline the job offer.”
Nate’s lips curl into a small grin. “Thank you. Rachael will be thrilled to know she can go to grad school without feeling guilty about Morgan.”
I’m not doing this for Rachael. It’s not that I don’t like her, but it’s a little unfair and ridiculous to choose her future over mine. I’m doing this for Morgan. I think I’m doing this for Nate too. But what scares me the most is that I’m doing it for myself because Nate has my every thought held hostage in this vortex of the unexplainable. It’s dizzying. I can’t make sense of it or even see straight when I’m with him.
I have to figure this out. That’s why I’m agreeing to this.
After our dinner arrives and Morgan is fed and asleep in her crib, I edge the conversation toward my newest addiction—his past.
“Have you always liked ‘Chinese-Thai’ food?” I’m pretty sure I know the answer, but I want to see where it takes this conversation.
He grins over a mouthful then covers his mouth with the corner of a napkin. “No. Daisy loved crab rangoon and fried rice. Asian food made me—” He swallows.
“Thirsty.” It’s not a question. I’m just finishing his sentence before he does.
Lifting a questioning eyebrow, he takes a drink of water, studying me with an intensity that would have left me squirming in my seat a few weeks ago. Not now. Now I want to push him into acknowledging what’s going on between us. This familiarity can no longer be ignored or I’ll have a breakdown that will dwarf anything that’s happened to my mom since my dad died.
I’m not going to push him. There’s no need to start a fight, but I’m not going to censor every memory I have of him—or every thought I read from his mind. I’m still not sure which it is.
“Yeah.” His eyes narrow.
I return a tightlipped grin, a small challenge of sorts.
“I’d be up half the night running to the kitchen for a drink and then to the bathroom because of all the dang water.”
Nate chuckles, adjusting the barstool beneath him. His knee brushes mine, and we both share an awkward glance and look away.
An innocent brush of skin. Knee skin. Not lips. Not caressing hands. Why did this happen again?
It shouldn’t be familiar, and it shouldn’t spook me because it’s already happened once. But it does because the first time I felt it—Crazy Swayze. This time we both felt it. There’s no denying what just happened. And each contact feels stronger and more familiar.
“Um…” he clears his throat “…now it still keeps me up at night, gulping down gallons of water and running to the bathroom, but occasionally it’s worth it. Jenna loved this restaurant.”
We let a few moments of silence fill the room. It’s a weird thing humans do after mentioning the name of someone who recently died—an unspoken moment of reflection and respect. I see many flashes of reflection cross Nate’s face when he doesn’t realize I’m watching him. There’s such sadness in his eyes. Sometimes it’s when the photo of him and Jenna on the mantle snags his drifting gaze, and sometimes it’s when he watches Morgan sleep.
“I like when you tell me about Daisy.”
A glint of something resembling life breaks through the grief that just stole his handsome facial features. “You’re snoopy.” He winks.
“If I’m Snoopy then you’re Charlie Brown.” I poke at my lo mein with my chopsticks.
“Jesus …” he whispers.
Nate’s lips part like he’s silently gasping. So many of his expressions are eerily familiar, but not this one. Shock? Fear? I can’t decipher the meaning behind the look he’s giving me, but it sends an icy tingle along my spine.