“Which is exactly what this artist strives for. So wait, where are you going?”

“Graham just called me. He brought Talon home from the hospital and is having a lot of trouble with her.”

“It’s…” Richard glanced at his watch with narrowed eyes. He’d lost his glasses somewhere in the mess of his creation, I was certain. “Three in the morning.”

“I know.” I walked over to him and kissed him on the top of his head. “Which is exactly why you should get some sleep.”

He waved me off. “People who get showcases at museums don’t sleep, Lucy. They create.”

I laughed, walking to the front door. “Well, try to create with your eyes shut for a bit. I’ll be back soon.”

As I pulled into Graham’s driveway, I was stunned by the size of his house. Of course, all the mansions in River Hills were stunning, but his was hauntingly breathtaking. Graham’s property was much like his personality—secluded from the rest of the world. The front of the house was surrounded by trees, while the backyard had a bit of open land to it. There were pebbled pathways that marked the areas that were supposed to be made into gardens, but the wild grass just grew high in those areas. It would’ve been great for a beautiful garden. I could envision the types of unique flowers and vines that could exist in the space. Behind the patch of field were more trees that traveled far back.

The sun hadn’t risen yet and his house was dark, but still so beautiful. In front of his porch sat two huge lion statues, and on his rooftop were three gargoyles.

I walked up to his door carrying two cups of coffee, and right as I was about to ring the doorbell, Graham was already there, rushing me inside.

“She won’t stop screaming,” he said, not greeting me, just hurrying me into the house with the crying baby. The house was pitch-black, except for a lamp that sat on the living room table. The draping on all the windows was heavy red velvet, making the home feel even darker. He led me to Talon’s room, where the tiny girl was lying in her crib, her face red as day as she hollered.

“She doesn’t have a temperature, and I laid her on her back, because you know…” He shrugged. “I read up a lot about SIDS, and I know she’s not able to roll, but what if she does by mistake? And she’s not eating much. I’m not sure what to do, so I was going to try kangaroo care.”

I almost laughed at his nerves, except there was the issue that Talon was in distress. I looked around the room, noting that the little girl’s bedroom was two times the size of my own. Scattered across the floor were dozens of parenting books opened to certain pages, with other pages folded down so he could return to them at a later time.

“What’s kangaroo care?” I asked.

When I looked up from the books, I noticed a shirtless Graham standing before me. My eyes danced across his toned chest and caramel skin before I forced myself to stop gawking at him. For an author, he was unnervingly good-looking and fit. A tattoo traveled up his left arm, wrapping around to the back of his shoulder blade, and his arms appeared as if his biceps had their own biceps, who had then given birth to their own biceps.

For a moment, I considered if he truly was an author and not Dwayne Johnson.

After he took off Talon’s onesie, leaving her in only a diaper, he reached into the crib, lifted the crying baby into his muscular arms, and started swaying back and forth as her ear lay against his chest, over his heart.

“It’s when the parent and the child have skin-to-skin contact to form a bond. It works best for mothers, I believe, though the nurses told me I should try it, which seems pointless,” he grumbled as the crying continued. He held her as if she was a football and swayed frantically, almost as if he was falling apart from not being able to calm her.

“Maybe we should try feeding her again,” I offered. “Do you want me to make a bottle?”

“No.” He shook his head. “You wouldn’t know how warm it would have to be.”

I smiled, unbothered by his lack of faith in me. “That’s fine. Here, hand her over and you can go make the bottle.” His brows furrowed and doubt crept into his frown, deepening it. I sat down in the gray gliding chair in the corner and held my arms out. “I promise to not let her go.”

“You have to protect her head,” he told me as he slowly—very slowly—placed Talon in my arms. “And don’t move until I’m back.”

I laughed. “You have my word, Graham.”

Before he left the room, he glanced back at me, as if he expected the baby to be on the floor or something ridiculous. I couldn’t fault him for his fears, though; it seemed Graham had a hard time when it came to trust, especially after my sister walked out on him.

“Hello, beautiful,” I said to Talon, gliding her in the chair, holding her close to me. She was beautiful, a work of art almost. A few weeks ago she had been a tiny peanut, and since the last time I saw her, she had gained five pounds. She was a survivor, a beacon of hope. The more I glided in the chair, the more she seemed to calm down. By the time Graham returned to the room, she was sleeping peacefully in my arms.

He cocked an eyebrow. “How did you do that?”

I shrugged. “I guess she just really loves this chair.”

He grimaced and reached for Talon, taking her from my hold and placing her sleeping self into the crib. “Leave.”

“What?” I asked, confused. “I’m sorry, did I do something wrong? I thought you wanted—”

“You can go now, Lucille. Your services are no longer needed.”

“My services?” I remarked, stunned by his coldness. “I just came to help. You called me.”

“Now I’m uncalling you. Goodbye.”

He hurried me to the front door and ushered me out without another word. Not even a thank you was mentioned before he slammed the door in my face.

“Don’t forget to drink the coffee I brought you that’s sitting on the counter!” I hollered, banging on his door. “It’s black—ya know, like your soul.”

“He called you over at three in the morning?” Mari asked, unlocking the shop the next morning. We were closed on Sundays, but we went in to prep for the following week ahead. “Granted, I was happy when you didn’t come to wake me at five in the morning for hot yoga, but I was wondering where you were. How’s the baby?”

“Good, she’s doing well.” I smiled as I thought about her. “She’s perfect.”

“And he’s…handling it all by himself?”

“The best he can,” I said, walking inside. “He’s struggling, I think. Him calling me was a big deal, I could tell.”

“That’s so weird that he’d call you. He hardly knows you.”

“I don’t think he has family of his own. I think his father was the last family he had. Plus, I gave him my number in case he needed the help.”

“And then he kicked you out?”