“It’s my housekeeper’s day off,” Josh said, and scooped Toby up, eliciting a squeal of delight. This got even louder when Josh hung Toby upside down before finally setting the kid into a chair in front of a loaded plate.
“After-school snack was Toby’s choice today,” Josh explained. “Luckily this coincided with a lunch break for me, and I made what we like to call ‘guilt pancakes.’”
From the ingredients and stuff scattered on the counter, Grace could tell they were wheat pancakes with blueberries, accompanied by turkey bacon. Her own father wouldn’t know a spatula, much less how to turn on the stovetop, so this was impressive.
Josh poured a little dollop of syrup onto Toby’s plate, then ruffled the boy’s hair, his expression soft with something Grace had never seen from him before.
“Be right back, Short Stack,” Josh said. “Eat up.”
Toby held up his lightsaber with one hand, which was, of course, driving Tank nuts. The little pug was doing his circle-the-table thing, growling ferociously at every whoosh, vrrmm-whoosh, posturing like he was a Jedi as well.
“Napoleon complex,” Josh said to Grace. “He thinks he’s bigger than he is.”
Toby grabbed a pancake in his free hand. Flattening it on the table, he rolled it up before dipping it into the syrup and then into his mouth.
“Utensils,” Josh said.
Toby sighed and dropped his lightsaber to reach for a fork.
Tank’s growl came to an abrupt stop when the lightsaber hit the floor, and with a startled snort, he ran off with his tail between his legs.
Toby, holding a fork in one hand, used his other to stuff a huge bite into his mouth.
Josh tapped the unused fork in Toby’s hand, then turned to Grace, gesturing that he wanted a word in private. He led her out the back door, shutting it behind them.
She turned to look inside to see if Toby was using the fork or his fingers, but today the blinds on the window were closed.
“Okay, so here’s the deal,” Josh said. “I lied about it being for an hour or two.”
That had Grace turning back to face Josh. “So I’m not the only one going to hell?”
Josh shoved his fingers through his hair, making it stand up on end. He was so broad that he blocked the sun, and with his arms up and bent, he was really testing the seams of his dress shirt in a way that worked for her, big-time.
Suddenly he dropped his arms back to his sides as if they weighed far too much. “Look,” he said. “The truth is that I’m late. I’m overbooked. My sister’s going to give me a heart attack. I need someone to watch the Bean for me today, and you need money. Plus, he’s a good kid, really good, even if he refuses to use utensils or speak English. He will, however, bark at will, and he’s excellent at catching spiders.”
This stopped her cold. “You have more spiders?”
“No,” he said without missing a beat. “No spiders.”
“You said spiders,” she said. “And I saw a big one in the side yard, in the sprinkler well.”
“That spider went south for the winter.”
“He wanted to be the first to get out of town.”
“Look at you, with all the lies.” But she had to admit, “the Bean” was pretty damn cute. And the Bean’s father was even cuter—though she was sure he’d object to such an innocuous word as cute.
Josh had spoken in a calm, quiet manner, but everything about him said exhausted tension. Not to mention how much he appeared to hate having to ask something of her.
She understood pride. God, how she understood pride. But seriously? Was she really thinking of doing this simply because he was in a bind?
No, a little voice inside her head said. It’s because he’s hot… “How long?”
Josh didn’t move, didn’t give away any sign of relief, but his eyes warmed. “Eight o’clock, at the latest.”
Five hours from now. Grace had no idea what to do with a kid for five hours.
“Offer to kiss her again.”
They both whirled around to find the back door cracked and an eyeball peering at them through that crack—at hip height.
Anna, in her wheelchair.
“Sorry,” Grace told her. “That ship sailed.”
Josh pushed the door shut and held it closed with one hand, the other resting on the wood next to her head. “Sorry about that.” He leaned into her, forcing her into a door-and-Josh sandwich.
Not a bad place to be when it came right down to it. “So,” she said, annoyingly breathless, “eight o’clock, then?”
“Yes, and there’s a but.”
If it was his butt, she was in.
“It’s not just for today,” he said.
This was the proverbial bucket of ice water. “What?”
“I need help for the rest of the week,” he said. “From two until eight…ish.”
“Oh my God, Josh.” All week… “I don’t know.”
“I’m hiring a replacement nanny. I’ve already got feelers out. You and Toby can do the preinterviews and save some time if you want. I’d ask Anna to watch him, but she does the early mornings and late nights already. Plus, she’s not been all that reliable, and Toby’s been through enough.”
“A thousand bucks,” he said.
“Oh my God.”
“Yes or no, Grace.”
He was all hard, unforgiving lines of tough sinew, wrapped in a double dose of testosterone, but it was hard to concentrate on his yummy goodness at the moment, as unbelievable as that was. “A thousand dollars?” she said, dazed. “For half a week? You can’t be serious.”
“It also comes with free room and board. There’s a guesthouse behind my pool. That’s where a couple of our nannies have stayed, though not our last one; she was married. It’s only seven hundred and fifty square feet, but it’s furnished.”
Grace shook her head, but the truth was, he’d had her at free. She’d been staying at the local B&B, and loving it. The three sisters who ran the place, Tara, Maddie, and Chloe, had been lovely, but the B&B wasn’t exactly bank-account friendly. “I’ll have more job interviews this week.” Hopefully.
“We can work that out,” he said.
She nodded, but she was thinking that he smelled amazing, even better than chocolate. So much so that she wanted to bite him.
And was he suddenly closer? She leaned her head back on the door to look up at him, into those warm, mocha eyes. Yeah, he was closer. She could actually bite him if she wanted. But she was going to be good. “There’s no family to help you?” She knew his dad had passed away, but that was all she knew. “What about your mom, or maybe other siblings? Or…Toby’s mom?”
“Both my parents are gone,” he said. “And I have no other siblings. As for Toby’s mom, she’s not available.”
His face was an impassive mask. Impossible to read. Not too hard to guess his thoughts, though—the guy was in a rough spot with no support system in place. Maybe she was nothing but a sucker, but there was something so appealing about a guy supporting his kid, his sister, and an entire medical practice all on his own, doing everything he could to make it all work. “Okay,” she said softly. “I’m in. I’m not sure about the guesthouse; I’ll let you know. But I’ll take care of Toby for the week.” She expected him to back up and let her go, but he didn’t. Her entire visage was the sheer expanse of his chest.
“There’s one last thing,” he said.
She wondered if he looked as good without his clothes. “What?”
“That ship sailed?” he asked, repeating her earlier words to Anna.
Again she tilted her head up. “I just meant we’ve been there, done that. We already kissed, remember?”
His gaze heated. Yeah, he remembered.
“And it was…fine.”
He’d probably shaved that morning but he had a shadow coming in. And his eyes. Fathomless dark pools, as always, giving nothing away of himself or his secrets. “The kiss was…fine,” he repeated, eyes narrowed.
“Well, yeah.” Fine plus amazing times infinity.
He just looked at her.
“Okay,” she admitted, sagging back against the door. “So it was a little better than fine. But I’m not looking for this. For a guy like you.”
“Like me,” he said slowly, as if the words didn’t quite compute any more easily than “fine” had.
And probably they didn’t. Look at him. He could have chemistry with a brick wall. “It’s just that I’m not going to be in Lucky Harbor much longer, so while I’m here, I’m aiming for…fun.”
“Yeah. It’s a new thing I’m trying.”
“And you think I’m not,” he said with a hint of disbelief, “fun.”
“It’s nothing personal.”
“Hmm.” He took a step toward her, and since there was already no place to go, she found herself once again sandwiched between the door and his deliciously hard body. His hands went to her hips, where they squeezed lightly and then slid up her sides, past her ribs, to her arms and her shoulders. By the time he got to her throat and cupped her face, her bones had gone AWOL.
“What are you doing?” she managed.
“Showing you how much fun I can be.”
Oh boy. Just his husky whisper sent a shiver down her spine, the sort of shiver a woman wasn’t supposed to get for a man she didn’t want to be attracted to. And then her body strained a little closer to him.
Josh’s eyes met hers and held. He was purposely building the anticipation, along with the heat working her from the inside out.
“Still think I’m not fun?” he asked softly.