Grace took a moment to fix herself, even though the truth was she needed a lot more than a moment. Her hair was a complete wreck, her body still quivering, but she couldn’t seem to get rid of the grin that came from two pretty great orgasms. She did the best she could to look presentable and entered the big house, nearly tripping over Anna. “Sorry!”
Anna studied her for a beat. “You just missed Josh.”
Grace worked on looking innocent as they went into the kitchen. “Oh?”
Anna shook her head. “Amateur.”
Grace sagged, giving up the pretense. Tank was jumping up and down in hopeful entreaty behind his baby gate, snuffling and snorting. Grace released him from his doggie prison. The puppy immediately caught sight of the lightsaber lying on one of the chairs and began posturing, growling fiercely at it.
“You drive him crazy,” Anna said. “You know that, right?”
“It’s the lightsaber.”
Anna rolled her eyes. “My brother. You drive my brother crazy.”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s you.” Grace gave Tank the signal to sit.
He didn’t. Instead, he barked.
Grace took a doggie cookie out of a container on the counter. “Sit.”
Tank rolled over. Twice.
Tank offered her a paw to shake, and Grace gave up.
“So,” Anna said, “are you going to fall for Josh like the other nannies? Because I don’t recommend it. Falling for him is the fastest route to getting fired. Or dumped.”
“What are you talking about?”
Tank whirled in circles, then rolled again, clearly going through his entire repertoire of tricks for another cookie.
“Didn’t you interview your employer before you took the job?” Anna asked Grace.
“Well, I…” Not this time, she hadn’t. “This job sort of happened in a hurry.”
Plus she hadn’t wanted to probe. Which was entirely different from not wanting to know. Because she did want to know.
“You never wondered why none of your predecessors are still around?” Anna asked. “Or why such a great guy with such a great family”—she stopped here to flash a grin so similar to Josh’s that Grace blinked—“can’t keep a nanny? Or a girlfriend? It’s because they all fall hard for him. And he doesn’t have a heart, so he doesn’t fall back.”
“Wow,” Grace said.
“I know. You really need to get it together.”
“No, I mean you’re pretty mean. Anyone ever tell you that?”
Anna didn’t seem to take this personally at all. “Mean as a snake,” she agreed. “I’m majoring in it at college.”
“No, you’re not. You’re majoring in not-going-to-class.”
Anna sighed. “Is this going to turn into another lecture?”
“You’re taking cooking and a creative writing class,” Grace said. “A saint would be bored. I’m telling you, try something more challenging.”
“But why not?” Grace asked. “I don’t get it. If you’re smart enough to be as mean as a snake, then you’re smart enough to do something with yourself.”
“Like whatever you want,” Grace said. “It’s wide open. Hell, you could play softball if you wanted.”
“Hello, I’m in a wheelchair.”
“No, I saw it on the Washington University website,” Grace said. “They’ve got a whole handicapped athletic program, including softball and soccer and self-defense classes.”
Anna blinked twice.
“Run out of excuses?” Grace asked her.
Anna snorted. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you’re supposed to be nice to the poor handicapped girl?”
“You have to earn nice.”
Anna narrowed her eyes, and Grace shrugged. “It’s true. You don’t get an ass-pass just because you’re handicapped, no matter what you think. And to be honest, you don’t seem all that handicapped.”
Anna sputtered at this. “Are you blind?”
“No. Are you?”
Anna just stared at her. “I’m paralyzed.”
“I know. You keep telling me.”
“I’m paralyzed from a car accident that killed my parents,” Anna said with great emphasis. Clearly she had this routine down, and just as clearly, it usually worked for her. “You’re supposed to feel sorry for me. Everyone feels sorry for me. It’s what they do.”
“Listen,” Grace said softly. “I hate that you went through that. It must have been hell. No one should ever have that happen to them.” In fact, just thinking about it brought a punch of emotion that blocked Grace’s windpipe, for Anna, for Josh. She physically ached for him and what he’d faced, and she had no idea how he’d managed to keep it all together. “But you lived,” she reminded Anna softly.
“So? I still can’t play soccer.”
“Could you before?”
“Yes! I was great before.”
“Then you’re still great,” Grace said. “Play wheelchair soccer.”
“That’s stupid. And pathetic.”
“No, stupid and pathetic is not doing anything at all but bitching about not going to Europe, when really, if you wanted to go, you’d just go. I mean, as you keep saying, you’re a grown-up.”
Anna let out a low, disbelieving laugh. “I take it back. I don’t like you better than the last few babysitters at all.”
Grace smiled sympathetically. “They babied you, huh?”
This got some spark. “I don’t need babying.”
That got a very small smile out of Anna, but a genuine one. Then her attention turned to the guy coming down the hall from her bedroom in nothing but boxers, yawning.
“He’s gone, right?” Devon asked, his voice sleepy and thick. “Your brother?”
“Yep,” Anna said.
“You fell asleep on me last night,” Devon said.
Anna let out a laugh that was so completely fake that Grace’s eyes flew to her, and then to Devon. But Devon either missed that fact entirely or didn’t care. He scratched his head, then his chest. If he scratched his ass next, Grace was going to throw up in her mouth a little bit.
“What do you want to do today?” Anna asked him, so clearly wanting him to get dressed and out of the house that Grace nearly shoved him out the door herself. She wanted to tell Anna to grow a set and kick his ass. But when Grace had been Anna’s age, she’d have highly resented anyone telling her what to do. In fact, it would have made her do the opposite, so she bit her tongue, hard.
“Thought we’d go to Seattle and hit some stores,” Devon said. “The new snowboards are in.”
“Don’t you have physical therapy?” Grace asked Anna, trying to toss her a life preserver.
But Anna didn’t want one. “Seattle sounds great,” she said.
“Cool,” Devon said. “But I don’t have my wallet.”
Anna shrugged. “No problem.”
Okay, that was it. “You,” Grace said, pointing at Devon. “Out.”
Grace opened the front door and gestured with a jerk of her chin.
“Dude,” he said. “I’m not dressed.”
“Dude, I don’t care. Come back when you can pay your own way.”
Devon stalked stiffly out, and Grace shut the door on him. Actually, she slammed it.
Anna’s eyes narrowed. “Is this your idea of helping me toe the line? Because it sucks.”
“There’s the line, and there’s common sense. You figure out the difference, and we’ll talk.”
Anna glared at her for a minute, then shrugged. “I’ll need a ride to PT in an hour.”
“I’ll be here.” Grace watched Anna vanish down the hallway, then turned to the little pug demon puppy. “So how do you feel about chocolate pancakes?”
Beware of chocolate squares; they make you round.
For several days, Josh was up to his eyeballs in patients with the flu and strep throat. Throat cultures and breathing treatments became his favorite words. By the end of the third day, he was practically swaying on his feet in exhaustion. “We done?” he asked Dee, knowing he still had to face the mountain of paperwork on his desk. “Anyone left to see?”
“No.” She knocked on wood. “Don’t jinx it or someone’ll come knocking. Run while you can.”
“What about Mrs. Porter? Didn’t I see her on the schedule earlier?”
“She was here, but she got tired of waiting. Said you were cute, but not that cute, and she’d see you another day.”
“What brought her in?” he asked.
“Headache. She said it was probably because she’d lost her glasses and would just get another pair from Walmart later instead of bothering you.”
Josh spent twenty minutes at his desk facing the torturous pile of files before he was paged into the ER. One of the on-contract doctors couldn’t show up for the first half of their nightshift, and they needed Josh. He called Anna, who informed him she couldn’t babysit the rug rat because she had a date. So Josh called Grace. “I hate to ask,” he said, “but—”
“I’ve got him right here. I heard your call with Anna. We’re just getting back.”
“I took Anna and Toby to see a soccer game.”
This surprised him. Anna had been a big soccer player before the accident. Ever since, it was as if she’d erased soccer from her vocabulary. “Really?”
It wasn’t often he was rendered speechless. “She went willingly, or did you have to kidnap her at gunpoint?”