Authors: Elizabeth Palmer
Tags: #romance, #contemporary
He laughed. “In my travels through Quincy Market, yesterday. I lost weight from the vegetarian diet in Tibet, and all my American clothes are too big.”
Violet had noticed he was leaner; his jaw and cheekbones were more chiseled, in a male model sort of way. But, if anything, his body seemed even more muscular, more powerful. She dropped her eyes, feeling a blush rise up her neck as she imagined his body naked. What was wrong with her? This man was the enemy.
Daisy burped in response to Jake’s gentle patting, and milk trickled from her mouth onto the towel. He blotted her pouting lips but seemed unfazed.
“She’s falling asleep,” Violet said. “I’m afraid she’s totally off her schedule.”
“Schedules are an American concept.”
“Well, we’re Americans.”
Here we go
. He was going to tell her how to raise her baby, even though he’d be running off to some foreign country in a few months. “I should put her in the crib.”
She stood and reached for Daisy, but Jake just held her more tightly against his chest. Her arms returned to her sides, where her hands clenched into trembling fists. He was the preschool bully who wouldn’t give her back her doll, and Violet felt a familiar surge of fury and frustration. She wasn’t a helpless four-year-old, she reminded herself, and she didn’t have to let Jake Macintyre push her around; she’d let him know who was in charge here. But Jake spoke before she could form the words.
“I’m sorry.” He eased the sleeping baby off his shoulder and cradled her on his lap. “You know what’s best for Daisy. It just feels so good to hold her. Can I at least carry her upstairs to her crib?”
Violet’s hands uncurled. Daisy wasn’t supposed to be napping now and probably wouldn’t sleep long. Jake wasn’t trying to challenge her authority, he just wanted more time with the baby.
“Why don’t you hold her in the rocker, where you can both be more comfortable? I brought a blanket down.”
“Thank you.” He held her eyes, and for the first time, aimed his hundred watt smile directly at her instead of the baby.
It was the smile she remembered from the night of her going-away party. The one that had made her feel all warm and tingly, although not as tingly as she felt when his hand first touched the bare skin of her back, or when he kissed her on the patio. Or when he … she shook her head, reminding herself, as she had so many times, that she’d had too much champagne that night. If she wanted to feel a tingly sensation again, all she had to do was open a bottle of bubbly. It might not be quite the same, but it was certainly safer.
She shrugged and turned away. “I’ll pour us more coffee. How do you take yours?”
“Black.” He stood and moved the baby to his shoulder in one easy motion. “I had no coffee, meat, caffeine, or sugar for the six months I was in Tibet. I’m taking up the Western vices again one by one, but I haven’t wanted sugar yet.”
That would explain why he hadn’t taken one of the pastries she’d gone out for this morning. She’d eaten two before he arrived. “You consider delicious food to be a vice?”
Her tone was sharper than she’d meant it to be, and he held his free hand up, palm out, as though to ward her off. “Don’t shoot me, I didn’t mean it as a criticism. It was hard to give those things up, but when I did I felt pure, healthier. My brain felt sharp and clear, and I think my work was the best I’ve ever done.”
Violet stopped herself from reaching for the lemon Danish. “My brain hasn’t felt sharp in a year.” She felt like she was sleepwalking her way through her workday, but still felt like she’s climbed a mountain when she left the studio each night.
“That’s from hormones, and lack of sleep. I don’t think sugar or any other food is evil, and I’m sure I’ll eat it again someday. I tend to get fired up about the new things I discover when I travel, then move on just as wholeheartedly to the next thing.”
He smiled again, then turned and headed to the living room. This time Jake’s boyish grin reminded Violet of Monty, which made her feel warm in a different way. She followed him, and set his coffee cup on the side table next to the rocker so hard it sloshed.
“Is that what my baby is to you? The ‘next thing’?” she asked, standing over him.
“What?” Daisy startled at the sound of his voice, and he soothed her with a hand on the back of her head.
“When you go back on the road, you’ll forget all about us.” She was flustered. Had she just said
? “I mean, you’ll forget about Daisy.”
He sighed. “Violet, please sit down. I can’t think with you looming over me.”
She sank onto the sofa and tried to take deep breaths. “I don’t want you popping in and out of my daughter’s life. She needs a father she can depend on.”
“Like Rayburn, I suppose?” He pushed the rocker into warp speed.
Now Violet was confused, by his angry tone as much as the name. “Richard? What does he have to do with this?”
Daisy stirred again, and he slowed the rhythm of the rocker. “I had lunch with him yesterday. I know he’s the man you’re planning to marry. Personally, I think you could do a lot better.”
Violet’s sleep-deprived brain finally came through with the missing information — she’d told Jake there was a man in her life who wanted to marry her. Now that she thought about it, it was true. Richard
want to marry her, and had mentioned several times that he’d like to adopt Daisy. But she’d always made light of his proposals and changed the subject. How could Richard think she was going to marry him? Of course the important thing was that
“Who I marry is none of your business.”
“Violet, the man is a buffoon!”
“He’s a wonderful man. Daisy couldn’t have a better father.”
Richard was, she had to admit, the most loyal and dependable friend she had. He was intelligent and honest, a man cut from the same mold as her stepfather, David Gallagher. Most importantly, he was always there when she needed him. The only problem was he didn’t make her feel the thrill of desire she’d felt when she met Jake. But was that really so important? After all, she currently had no love life at all, and was resigned to it.
Perhaps because he’d pushed the rocker into an agitated motion once again, or because their voices had risen, Daisy raised her head, scowled at Jake and began to wail. As soon as his first attempts to soothe her failed, it was obvious he wouldn’t be able to calm her down. Although Violet wasn’t proud of it, she was glad. This time when she stood and held her arms out, he surrendered the baby without protest.
Daisy, relieved to see her mother’s face, stopped crying almost at once.
“Then it’s true? Rayburn’s the guy?”
Violet almost wished the baby would start to cry again so she could delay her response. She patted her back and the baby let out a loud burp — no reprieve. Telling herself the lie was necessary, she mentally crossed her fingers. “Yes. I’m going to marry Richard Rayburn.”
“When?” A vein jumped on Jake’s right temple.
Violet shrugged. “We haven’t set a date.” At least that wasn’t a lie. But she needed to change the subject before his temper flared again. “I think Daisy’s ready for some playtime now that she’s calmed down.”
She pulled the play mat from behind and end table and arranged the baby on her back beneath its hanging toys. Daisy gurgled and kicked her feet, setting the toys into motion. As Violet hoped, this distracted Jake from the subject of Richard. He got down on the floor with them and watched, enraptured, as Daisy flailed at the dangling objects.
“I’m probably biased, but she seems advanced for a three-month-old.”
“Oh, she is.” She knew every mother thought her child was above-average, but the well-thumbed book on child development she kept on the coffee table verified it.
“Does the nanny know she should interact with her like this?”
Violet hesitated. “I tell her, but …”
“Where did you find her, anyway? Did you check into her background before you hired her?”
Her first impulse was to ask him if he thought she was a complete idiot, but she bit back the words and took a deep breath before she spoke. After all, he didn’t really know much about her, did he? Other than what she looked and felt like naked, and how uninhibited she became when she had too much to drink. She reddened at the thought.
“The agency I used does background checks, of course. But I admit I’m concerned about Carrie.”
Daisy had her hand curled around Jake’s index finger, and she was gazing into his eyes and vocalizing. It took a minute for what Violet said to penetrate, but then she had his full attention.
“What do you mean?” Daisy responded to the withdrawal of eye contact by dropping his finger and shifting her attention to a bouncing teddy bear.
Violet shrugged. Her intuition was screaming that something was wrong, but she’d always lived her life according to what she
, not what she sensed, and she had no facts to back up her feeling. Would Jake understand, or dismiss her concerns the way Seth and Richard had? Her brother said she was projecting her desire to stay home with the baby into the situation, and maybe he was right.
“It’s nothing tangible. Daisy doesn’t seem very happy when she’s with her, but it could just be that she prefers me.”
Jake frowned. “Try to describe how Daisy acts,” he said, surprising her.
“A minute ago she reached for your finger and held it. She’s trying to make eye contact with you, and she never saw you before today. She doesn’t do that with Carrie.”
“Does she hold her body rigid when Carrie picks her up?”
“Yes!” Although she hadn’t been conscious of it, Daisy’s body language was probably the source of her intuition. “But that isn’t enough reason to fire someone, is it? Beside, it would take time to interview and hire someone else, and I can’t miss more work.”
“Have you heard of a nanny-cam?”
“I did a story on them once. They’re legal, but it didn’t seem ethical to me to spy on someone who works for you. But that was before I had Daisy. I’d do anything to protect her.” She smiled at the baby, and the smile she gave in response contorted her whole body. Had she ever seen Daisy smile at Carrie? She’d never heard her laugh when the two were together.
“I’m a big believer in intuition,” Jake said, “but if you want evidence before you send the woman packing, I can set up some cameras for you.”
Violet hesitated. She’d planned, for her sake and Daisy’s, to keep their contact with Jake to a minimum — Saturday mornings only. But her options for dealing with the nanny were limited. She could ask the agency to replace her, but if there was really a problem, she didn’t want to just pass her on to another family. Jake was going to be in Boston for a few months in any case, she might as well let him help her.
“Do it,” she said to him. “Can you set the cameras up tomorrow afternoon? Carrie will be back at six.”
• • •
After making a stop to discuss his options for the video surveillance of the nanny with a videographer he knew, Jake headed over to the home security store the man recommended. His purchases included a teddy bear with a camera hidden in its belly. As it was being rung up, it struck Jake that he hadn’t bought anything for his daughter yet.
Not that Daisy needed more toys. They would probably have to discard a real stuffed animal just to make room for this one on the shelf. He’d walked through the townhouse with Violet before he left, to determine where the cameras should be. Daisy’s room was crammed with toys, books, blankets, and frilly pink clothes. The other rooms contained the overflow. When he commented on the abundance, Violet told him her family and coworkers had given her three baby showers.
family and friends didn’t even know Daisy existed.
He wasn’t angry anymore; he understood why Violet hadn’t tried to contact him. She was right that becoming a father wouldn’t have been at the top of his to-do list, if he kept such a thing instead of pursuing whatever adventure presented itself. But Daisy was here, and she had his eyes. She had his
eyes. Jake hadn’t gotten the opportunity to help transport the shower gifts, or time Violet’s contractions, or hand out “it’s a girl” cigars to Jamie and Matt.
He wouldn’t force himself on Violet, but he wasn’t going to abandon his flesh and blood — or let himself be driven away. The most important gift he had to give her was her family, and he was going to begin by letting his brother know right now that he had a beautiful niece. Telling him would make it seem more real and his link to Daisy would become irrevocable.
The stereo in the den played soft jazz when he entered Jamie’s apartment, and he began speaking as he headed down the hall. “Big brother, you’re not going to believe my news.”
But when he walked through the door and saw Jamie with a curvaceous blonde woman on his lap, and his hand under the hem of her hiked-up dress, he almost walked right back out.
“Jake! Don’t go.” The woman giggled as Jamie stood and called to his brother, nearly toppling her to the floor in the process. Not that she could have fallen; she appeared to be glued to his brother’s body. “We’ve been waiting for you. I want you to meet Pamela.”
Jamie had told him there was a new woman in his life, a serious woman from the sound of it. His brother had asked her to move in, something he’d never done before. Although he hadn’t told Jake he couldn’t stay, he planned to move out as soon as he found a place to go. He planned to be in Boston for at least three months, and three would be a crowd for that length of time, no matter how spacious the digs. Not that he expected Jamie’s new romance to last. The record was counted in weeks, not months.
“This is my brother, Jake.” Without taking his eyes off her, he said, “I’ve been waiting for Pamela all my life.”
Jake hoped Pamela didn’t think his brother meant that literally, or she was going to be very surprised when the evidence of all Jamie’s ex-girlfriends began to surface. Nearly every day he discovered some of it himself, everything from exotic beauty products in the guest medicine cabinet to thong panties between the cushions on the leather couch.