The House Mate Page 9

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Shaking my head at myself for what felt like the millionth time, I set to work on dinner. I’d marinated some steak, and the potatoes were already in the oven. All I had to do was sear the meat and sauté the asparagus, and it would be the perfect masculine meal.

As the vegetables sizzled in their skillet, I set the table, listening to both father and daughter laughing as they said hello to each other again. Apparently, it hadn’t taken much doing to get Dylan up—she’d screamed as soon as her bedroom door opened, and I could hear their soft-spoken conversation all the way from the kitchen.

An hour later when the steak was ready, I called for the little family to join me in the kitchen and served the food on the table. I cut Dylan’s steak into tiny pieces and mashed her potato while Max set her in her high chair. As we walked past each other, I felt all the air drain from the room again, swallowed up by his very presence.

“You shouldn’t have done all this.”

My heart sank. I’d wanted him to be impressed, wanted to go above and beyond to make sure this house felt like a home. I’d been so eager to hear his praise, but now I felt like a fool.

Feeling Max’s intense stare on me, I focused my attention on making sure Dylan was eating well.

It had been a while since I’d been able to prepare a home-cooked meal like this. Greg was a gluten-free, GMO-free, non-dairy vegan. After taking so much criticism when I had tried to cook for him, I eventually just gave up. It was irrational, but tears filled my eyes and I had to work to blink them away. I’d been here all of one day, and yet Max’s approval felt like everything.

“I can do that. Here, let’s switch spots,” he said, but I waved him off.

“It’s fine. If you don’t like the meal, I won’t be offended.” And if he wanted to order a pizza or run out for a burger, what did I care?

“Who said anything about not liking the meal?”

I dared a glance in his direction.

Using his knife and fork, Max cut a big bite of steak and popped it into his mouth. I held my breath while he chewed.

“Eat,” he commanded. “After dinner, you’ve got the rest of the night off. I’ll do the dishes and put Dylan to bed.”

“I can’t let you do that,” I said, but his gaze turned stern.

“I meant what I said before. You worked all day; you deserve some down time.”

“But you worked too. You need—”

“Let me worry about what I need.”

His declaration cut off any chance of further discussion, and I settled back into my food was renewed vigor. Partly because I was starving and partly because I was dying to get away from his commanding gaze, but also because my face was flaming at the thought of Max and his needs.

Jesus, what kind of nanny pictured her boss naked?

A horny one, my inner devil shot back.

I shoved a bite of steak in my mouth and chewed, forcing myself to think of anything but the man across from me.

Desperate for escape and some space between me and Max, the second Dylan was settled and my food was done, I stood from the table and brushed my hands against my jeans.

“All right, well, it’s nearly six, so . . .”

I glanced around. I’d already done the cleaning earlier that day, so all that was left was the dinner dishes. Which meant I was done for the day, with nothing left to do.

“Yes, by all means. Go relax,” Max said, encouraging me with a smile.

I started for the stairs, then decided a bath and pajamas might be a nice idea—just the thing to put me in a mood for chilling.

I filled the tub and stepped in, luxuriating in the bubbles, and trusted that Max had everything covered. I spent the next hour talking myself down. Max was my boss, and hiding in my room every night after six p.m. like an eighty-five-year-old cat lady was so not going to work for me. I needed to bite the bullet, face my demons—in this case, the luscious Max—and get past this ridiculous schoolgirl crush. The only way around this thing was through it.

When I was done with my bath, I tossed my hair up in a bun, dressed in my pajamas, and headed back down the stairs, filled with a renewed sense of determination. Once I got to know Max and we became friends, I’d see him as more than just the hunky, underwear-model-worthy man of the house. Maybe we could open a bottle of wine and talk. Break the ice. I might even get the chance to ask him about Dylan’s mother.

When I arrived in the kitchen, though, it was to find Max poised at the sink, my ceramic coffee mug in his hands.

A surge of guilt rolled over me. He probably hadn’t gotten the chance to breathe since he’d walked through the door, and here I was letting him take dish duty while I goofed off.

Noticing my entrance, he turned to face me, and I could have sworn that his gaze raked over me. I crossed my arms over my chest, if only for good measure. I knew the flannel of my pajamas would hide the fact that I wasn’t wearing a bra, but with the X-ray heat of his vision, I felt like I couldn’t be too sure.

“Where’s Dylan?” I asked.

“Asleep. She went out like a light.”

I nodded. “Good. She only napped for a half hour that second time, so she was probably pooped.” I glanced at the dishes again. “Look, don’t you want a couple minutes to yourself? I’m sure I can handle the rest of the dishes.”

He looked down at the few plates that were still in the sink. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“You know, a shower wouldn’t be half bad.” He turned the water off, then thanked me and left the room.

The dishes were just as quick and easy to finish as expected. I was done within ten minutes, which left me just enough time to scavenge for the bottle of wine I’d picked up at the store. Opening it, I poured two glasses, then stood back and wondered if I was being too forward. What if he didn’t like wine? Or what if he didn’t want to spend his evening rehashing his past with his daughter’s nanny? Or what if—

“Hey.”

I turned to find him standing in the doorway wearing nothing but a fitted white T-shirt and jeans. He was frigging sex on legs, and my belly gave a nervous flip, the familiar sense of intimidation and longing mingling in my gut.

Remember the plan. Wine, chat, and get to know him, my inner voice reminded me.

But something told me this was going to be a lot trickier than I’d thought.

Chapter Seven

Max

The half-filled wineglass was a welcome sight. So was Addison, though I hated myself for thinking it. Why the hell hadn’t I drawn up some kind of contingency plan for when we were alone together? Maybe developed some kind of new hobby that took me out of the house in the evenings? Or admitted that I was, in fact, Batman and would be super busy fighting crime.

As it was, I hadn’t. And here we were. And I was screwed.

“That for me?” I asked.

She nodded. “Yeah, it’s a cab. But I can make coffee if you’d rather—”

I shook my head. “No, wine sounds great. I’ve had a long day, and I wouldn’t mind unwinding a little.”

She smiled, her full lips curving in the most inviting way. “I know what you mean.”

I led her out to the living room, and though she seemed uncertain at first, she followed, settling in beside me on the couch.

Close.

Too fucking close.

I could smell her shampoo, and that alone was making my blood run hot.

“God, I don’t know how you drink red wine on here, let alone have a baby crawling around it. I’m getting hives just thinking about spilling.” She lifted her glass and I tried to keep my face impassive.

I hadn’t even thought about the fact that the furniture would be something of a giveaway. No parent in their right mind would have a white couch with a toddler. Even if I’d thought of it, though, I hadn’t had time to replace it. I hadn’t had time to do much of anything. One day things were normal, and the next, Dylan was here.

Now, as I pictured those round cheeks and gummy grin, I found it hard to remember exactly what normal was, though.

“Not to mention the white carpet in Dylan’s room,” Addison added.

“I’m asking for trouble,” I said with a nod. I still wasn’t sure how close to keep my cards to my chest, and I hedged, wondering if I should just tell her the whole sordid tale and get it over with. Luckily, she saved me the trouble of having to make my choice just yet.

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