“You were my only choice.”
“Aw,” she said. “We’re both such accomplished liars.”
He laughed softly, and there was another beat of that crazy chemistry, right through the phone.
“I’ll do it,” she said. “I’ll watch Toby for you.”
He let out a breath of relief. “Meet us at the house. And, Grace?” He paused. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, you probably shouldn’t thank me yet.”
Josh disconnected and pulled up to the school. Toby stood on the curb, one hand in his teacher aide’s, the other clutching a Kung Zhu Ninja warrior to his chest.
Josh got out of the car and crouched in front of him. “Hey, Little Man. Sorry Katy wasn’t here to get you. She’s moving a little sooner than expected.”
Toby nodded and studied the tops of his battered Star Wars sneakers. He had newer pairs but he refused to wear them.
Josh met the teacher aide’s eyes. She sent him a censuring look that said, Epic Fail, Dad.
Message received, thank you annoying, condescending teacher aide. “Appreciate you waiting with him.”
“It’s my job,” she said. “And you should know, Toby pulled another vanishing act on us today.”
“I didn’t get a call.”
“Because we found him,” she said. “Thirty feet up the big oak tree in the playground.”
Little black dots floated in Josh’s visual field. As an ER doctor, he’d seen exactly what a thirty-foot fall could do to a body. He’d seen everything. “What were you doing up there?” he asked Toby.
Toby had another silent consult with his athletic shoes, so the aide answered for him. “He had a tree frog clenched in one fist.”
“Toby doesn’t have a frog.”
“No,” she agreed. “But we do. It was liberated from its terrarium in the kindergarten classroom.”
Ah. Now it made sense. Josh looked at Toby. “You saved the frog, huh?”
“Oh, and he spoke today,” the aide added.
“Yeah?” This was great news. “What did you say?” he asked Toby. “Wait. Let me guess. You solved world hunger. Or…created peace on earth. No, I know, you asked a girl out.”
Toby wrinkled his nose like, Ewwww, a girl?
Josh grinned at him, and Toby giggled, the sound music to Josh’s ears.
“He wanted to know if I’d be his new mommy,” the aide said.
Uh-oh. That one had Anna written all over it. Josh sucked in a breath and slid another glance at Toby. “Your aunt teach you that?”
Oh, yeah. Anna.
“He also asked the lunch aide and vice principal. And the janitor.”
Josh kept his expression calm as he rose and took Toby’s hand. Toby used his other to pull up his sagging jeans, and because his Star Wars T-shirt was only half tucked in, there was a strip of pale skin revealed.
His son was going commando.
Josh had no idea why, and hell if he’d ask in front of Judgmental Teacher Aide, so he filed the question away for later. “Ready to go home, Little Man?”
Finally a spark of life. “Arf.”
If chocolate is the answer, the question is irrelevant.
Grace had been at the grocery store when Josh had called and was checking out when she got stopped by Jeanine Terrance, who owned a pottery shop.
“I hear you’re an accountant,” Jeanine said. “And that you’re fixing Amy up with a bookkeeping system. I could really use a better bookkeeping system.”
“Oh,” Grace said. “Well, I’m not—”
“Amy swears by you,” Jeanine said. “I’d do it myself but the left side of my brain is resistant to numbers. I’d pay you, of course, and not just in pottery either. I’m doing really well this quarter. Or so I think. I’ll know better when you fix up my books.”
“Yes, but I didn’t really plan to start bookkeeping…” Grace broke off at Jeanine’s hopeful expression. Hell. One small pottery shop. How much work could it really be? “I guess I could come take a look at what you’ve got.”
“Oh, that’s so wonderful!” Jeanine hugged her, then spared a guilty smile. “Um, you should probably know that I’m not quite as organized as Amy.”
Since Amy’s entire financial portfolio had been shoved into a shoe box, this was cause for some alarm, but Grace had already said yes. She promised to go by later, and drove to Josh’s.
Certain parts of her—her naughty parts—were doing the happy dance at getting to see him again. Her other parts—her smarter parts—were more reserved. After the humiliating Phone Call Incident where he’d heard way too much about her through her conversation with her mom, she’d sort of hoped to keep some healthy distance between her and Josh for a while.
But he’d dangled this job, and she couldn’t really afford to turn it down. She’d told him the truth about the Seattle interview going well, but she didn’t have an offer yet. Next up was the Portland interview. And then all she had to do was wait.
She hated waiting.
When she knocked on the front door, wild barking came from inside. Josh answered, looking pretty damn fine in black pants and an azure blue button-down, the ever-present stethoscope around his neck. Grace’s morning had been spent in a meeting with several men just as well dressed, just as handsome, but not a single one of them had affected her breathing.
Why did he affect her breathing?
His gaze tracked right to her lips, and a shot of hot, wet desire went straight through her, heading south.
Oh no. No, no, no, she told herself sternly. No matter how good-looking he was, or how he made her knees wobble with just one glance, he wasn’t for her. Not even close. He was the kind of man she’d spent her entire life trying to live up to, driven, focused, workaholic…Ain’t happening. Not here, not now, not ever. She repeated that to herself a few times, but her body didn’t buy into the hype. Her body wanted him.
The barking seemed to have increased in decibels. “Don’t tell me it multiplied,” she said.
“Okay, I won’t tell you.”
Hmm. He was also extremely cool and calm under pressure. Something she’d never managed on her best day. And sexy as that was—so damn sexy—she’d discovered that men who had the cool, calm thing down were cool and calm everywhere, including their relationships.
She didn’t want cool and calm in a relationship. She wanted passion. The big bang.
“Arf, arf!” Toby yelled, coming running around the corner.
Josh swung him up and around so that he carried the boy piggyback style. Now there were two faces looking at Grace, both so similar as to be eerie, though Toby’s was minus the fine stress lines outside the eyes and the world of knowledge in them.
“Toby’s going to try real hard to be good,” Josh said.
Toby nodded. Tank was at their feet, running in circles, chasing his own tail. With Toby still on board, Josh bent and scooped up the puppy too. “I can’t promise the same for Tank.”
Tank panted proudly. “Arf!”
Grace gave the pug a steely-eyed look that said, Eat my shoes today and die, which didn’t cow him at all. But she had a genuine smile for Toby. “Hey there.”
“Are you and Tank brothers?” she asked him.
Toby smiled and started to speak, but Josh adjusted his hold on Tank and reached back, covering Toby’s mouth.
“Wait,” Grace said. “I think he was going to actually use words.”
“Yeah, but trust me, you don’t want to hear them.”
Toby pulled Josh’s hand away. “Are you my new mommy?”
Grace’s mouth fell open in shock, and Toby giggled at the sight.
“Okay, Tiger,” Josh said. “You know I love the sound of your laugh, probably more than any sound in the world, but I will squash you like a grape if you say that to one more woman today.”
Toby pointed to Anna, who rolled into the living room behind them.
“Yeah, I know,” Josh said mildly, sending his sister a glance. “I’m going to squash Anna like a grape too.”
Grace was horrified he’d say such a thing to a sweet little boy, much less to his handicapped sister, but Toby just grinned.
Anna did, too, and without a word, continued rolling through the house, ignoring all of them.
Josh set Toby down. “How about you go find something to do that won’t get you in trouble,” he said.
When the kid was gone, Josh looked at Grace. “I called Mallory.”
“You did? For what?”
“I realize that this is a favor, my favor,” he said. “But I had to make sure you’re everything you seem, even with the multiple degrees and what sounds like an…interesting family. And just out of curiosity, what kind of research are you doing for me, by the way?”
She groaned and covered her face. “I told you, I don’t want to talk about it.”
He laughed softly. “So we’re okay?”
“Maybe. What did Mallory say?”
“That I’d be lucky to have you as Toby’s nanny. And that she’d hurt me if I hurt you.”
“What would you have done if she’d said something bad about me?”
“I’d have brought Toby with me to work. I’ve done that before.”
She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like the big, bad, tough doctor shuddered at the memory. “You won’t have to do that this week,” she said.
He gave her a smile that conveyed gratitude, and also a good amount of something else, something that wobbled her knees as he gestured her inside. Every other time she’d been here, the place had been very neat, but not today. Today it looked like a bomb had gone off, especially the kitchen. There were dishes in the sink and ingredients and utensils all over the counters.