“Boys are like drugs,” Grace said. “You’re supposed to just say no.”
This earned her another eye roll. “He doesn’t care that I’m…” Anna waved at her legs. “He thinks I’m pretty. And…sexy.”
There was something about the way Anna said it that made Grace take another look at her. “You are pretty. You’re beautiful. But a guy that age thinks everyone’s sexy.”
There it was again, the odd look flickering in Anna’s eyes. Uncertainty. “Anna. He’s not pushing you for anything you’re not ready for, is he?”
“I’m ready for anything.”
“Sex. Is he pushing you for sex?”
“I’m paralyzed, not stupid. I’m not a pushover, for anyone.”
“Good,” Grace said, not feeling better, because Anna’s posture didn’t match her words.
“Yeah. Good,” Anna said.
Grace sighed and took her home. In the driveway, Anna didn’t make a move to get out, just faced the side window as she spoke. “So how old were you when you first…”
Grace did the math. Anna had been paralyzed and lost her mom at age sixteen, most likely before she’d had her first anything, leaving her without an influential female in her life. And Grace sincerely doubted Anna would go to Josh about these things. “Forty-five.”
“Look,” Grace said. “There’s no right age. Just as long as the guy is right. Are you telling me that Devon is right?”
“He’s into me.”
“That’s not enough. You have to be into him. And not just because he’s hot either. You’re so smart, Anna. You need a guy to be into you and be just as smart.”
“Just promise me you won’t let him rush you.”
Anna went noncommittal on that, rolling inside the house.
Grace went to the guesthouse and opened her laptop, where she began to weed through the interested applicants for the nanny position. First up was a patient of Josh’s, and all she wanted to know was if Josh was still single. Delete. The next applicant was sixty-five and had asked if there was a retirement plan.
Feeling somewhat discouraged and desperate, Grace finally found two semi-promising applicants and set up interviews for Josh. Then she got Toby from the bus.
“Arf,” he said in greeting.
“Arf,” she said back. “But I was sort of hoping we could speak in English today too. ’Cause we’re going to make pizza for dinner, and dogs don’t eat pizza.”
“I like pizza!”
She smiled, took his hand, and walked him the half block home. They worked on his handwriting and made pizza, and after that, worked on their Jedi lightsaber skills, dueling in the living room.
“Gotta be the bestest Jedi warrior in all the universe,” Toby told her, swinging his lightsaber.
“Awesome,” Grace said. “Why?”
“’Cause if I’m the bestest, then my mom’ll come.”
Grace hunkered before him and stroked a lock of hair from his face. “Actually, I think you already are the bestest Jedi in the universe.”
He beamed at her for the compliment but went back to practicing. Swoosh, vrrmm-swoosh.
Josh got home at eight, looking hot as hell in wrinkled dark blue scrubs and athletic shoes, his hair rumpled, his eyes tired and unguarded. Toby and Tank jumped him on the spot, and the three of them wrestled on the floor like a pack of wolves until suddenly Toby sat straight up, looking green.
“Uh-oh,” he said, and threw up on Josh’s shoes.
Josh grimaced but handled the situation with calm efficiency, scooping up a distraught Toby, cleaning the mess, and corralling the crazy pug that was running worried circles around a sniffling Toby. Finally, Josh sat the now-shirtless Toby on the kitchen counter and handed him a glass of water. “What did you have for dinner?”
“Pizza,” Grace said.
Josh slid Grace a look.
“No pepperoni,” she said quickly. “It was on his list of no-nos. Just sausage.”
“He’s allergic to pork.”
Oh, shit. Double shit. “It didn’t say that on the list. It just said salami and pepperoni.”
“Because he doesn’t like sausage.”
Grace looked at Toby, who was clutching his lightsaber and staring at his bare feet. And she got it. He’d wanted to please her.
Triple shit. She was such an idiot. “I’m so sorry. Do we need to do anything?”
“I think his body took care of it,” Josh said dryly. “And where was Anna? She should have known better.”
“She went out with friends.”
“She was supposed to stay home tonight.”
“She said she’d be back before she turned into a pumpkin,” Grace told him. “An exact quote.”
Josh’s mouth was grim but he kept his thoughts on the matter to himself. Grace busied herself picking up the disaster that the house had somehow become over the past few hours. In the living room, in the middle of the chaos, Tank lay on the couch. He was on his back, feet straight up in the air like he was dead, snoring away.
“You don’t have to clean up,” Josh said, coming into the room behind her, stopping her from picking up by taking her hand in his and pulling her around to face him.
She stared up at him as time stuttered to a stop for a second. Yearning. Aching…
He looked into her eyes, then broke the spell with clear reluctance, stepping back from her as he noticed the puppy, looking like road kill. “How the hell did he learn how to get up on the couch?”
Toby had spent the better part of an hour teaching the pug how to jump that high. Grace nudged the sleepy Tank down, earning a reproachful look and a soft snort. “Sorry about Anna,” she said to Josh. “But maybe if you let up on her just a little—”
“You’re Toby’s babysitter. Not mine.”
Right. Gee, she’d almost forgotten there for a moment. Well, clearly she’d done enough here for the night. She grabbed her purse and headed for the door.
“It’s late,” she said. She’d had a lifetime to learn how to read the people around her, down to the slightest nuances. Her parents’ moods had been quiet, subtle. So she knew exactly when she’d overstayed her welcome. And that was now. “’Night, Josh.”
In heaven, chocolate has no calories and is served as the main course.
The next night when Josh got home, Toby was just getting out of the tub. Grace made a quiet escape to the pool house, which Josh knew was to give him some alone time with his son.
Or she wasn’t all that interested to be in his company.
His fault, of course. He’d been an ass the night before. “Tobes,” he said, “get into your pj’s. I’ll be right back.” He paused, watching Toby pull on his pj bottoms, sans underwear. “What’s with the commando thing?”
Toby shrugged. “Feels best.”
Hard to argue with that. “Pick out a book. Give me five minutes.” He jogged through the house and caught up with Grace at the back door. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself.” She smiled, and it was sweet, if not quite meeting her eyes.
Also his fault. He searched for a way to make it right and came up with nothing. Which really, he figured, was for the best.
“Well,” she said, a little too brightly, “see you tomorrow—”
Suddenly unable to let her go until he’d at least tried to fix this, he caught her hand in his.
She went still, even dug her heels in a little as he turned her to face him.
“I was an ass last night,” Josh said.
Grace met his gaze and felt his struggle. She told herself not to care, but she couldn’t help herself. “You were tired.”
“Okay, so I was a tired ass. I’m still sorry.”
This time when she smiled at him, it was a real one. She had no idea what it was about a guy who could say he was sorry…
“Everything go okay today?” he asked.
“You have two interviews for babysitters on Friday.”
He nodded. “Good. Thanks. You want to sit in?”
“I’ll be in Portland on an interview myself.”
Something came and went in his eyes—regret?—but he nodded. “Your Skype interview went well, then.”
“Very.” She’d gotten the call today that they’d liked her and wanted another interview.
“That’s great,” he said.
“Yeah.” She was trying to work up some enthusiasm. It was, after all, her future, and she wanted a good one. But she also wanted to stop thinking about it. It wasn’t hard to distract herself with the view.
She could tell by Josh’s dress clothes that he’d worked in his office today. He wore dark trousers that fit his butt perfectly—which she knew because she’d checked it out when he’d bent to pick up Toby earlier. His button-down was dark chocolate brown and shoved up to the elbows. No stethoscope or tie today, but his five o’clock shadow had a five o’clock shadow, and his eyes…His eyes gave her a lot, telling her how much he’d seen, done, been through. When he looked like this, a little rumpled, a lot tired, it softened his features, allowing her to see more of him than he’d probably like. He didn’t feel quite so impenetrable to her tonight. He felt…human. Just a regular man, a man who’d most likely saved someone today, probably more than one someone. He did more every day than she could possibly imagine, and she admired him for it, greatly.
She also wanted to hug him. Instead, she reached up to push a lock of hair off his forehead, then caught herself. But before she could pull back, he wrapped his fingers around her wrist and slowly reeled her in.
“Thanks for today,” he said quietly, his other hand going to her waist.