The House Mate Page 20


I cleaned the stove, the counters, and the tiles, and by the time I got to cooking, I cleaned as I went along too.

“What are you up to in there?” Addison asked as she tried to walk toward the stove, but I waved her off.

“Nope, dinner is a surprise. You spend time with Dylan.”

While I cooked, I could hear her in the other room, playing with my daughter, reading her books and showing her how to stack blocks, and my stomach clenched.

This time two weeks ago, I would have been cracking open a beer and ordering takeout for the thousandth time. Or maybe I would have been bringing home some random woman to warm my bed for the night, the only sort of company I’d kept until now . . . now that Dylan was here.

And if I was being honest with myself, now that Addison was here.

Looking back, I felt sort of bad for my old self—the lonely, restless existence that came from flitting from one woman to another. Having nothing to come home for.

That was the way it had been with Jenn too. I’d thought back then that she was my girlfriend, but even that label had me skirting away just as fast as I could. And had she actually been a girlfriend? Not really. Thinking on it now, I realized I hardly knew anything about her. She would just come over, share a quick fuck, and then stare at her phone while we ate takeout. She never asked about my dreams, and I never asked about hers. We were together, but also apart. Strange that even then I knew it wasn’t something I wanted for life.

That wasn’t companionship or a relationship at all. It was just mutual loneliness.

Still, it was the most long-term relationship I’d ever had. Besides Jenn, it was only one-night stands and flings I could barely recall now. As much as I might have enjoyed a woman’s company, none of them had ever had the kind of energy and warmth Addison brought into the house.

She was just so damn easy to talk to—like I could share my darkest secrets with her and she would understand everything I said. She shared about herself too. She’d told me about her stupid ex and her mother, and let me into her world.

Only a few nights ago, we’d been sitting together on the sofa, watching something on TV, and she’d tilted her head to the side. “It must have been really hard to find out you’d be a single parent the way you did.”

I’d nodded. “I guess it was, yeah.”

“Most people have nine months to prepare, but you didn’t even have that. And looking at you and Dylan? You’d never know it.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

She pointed at the TV. “I was just thinking about the nanny on this show. She’s pretty much the only parent. That’s the way it was for my nanny, but it’s really not like that for me. You’re a good father.”

My heart stuttered. “Thanks. I didn’t know you had a nanny.”

She nodded, still staring at the TV. “She actually sort of looked like this lady.”

The woman on the screen was chubby and kind-looking, with salt-and-pepper hair and an easy smile.

“My mom made her wear a stupid uniform too.” She shook her head. “She was a single parent, like you. But she did her best.”

“Not exactly a ringing endorsement.”

“Science waits for no man. Without a father around, my mom couldn’t really follow her dreams and spend all her energy on raising me. It wasn’t her fault.”

“Wasn’t it?” I’d asked.

She’d glanced at me, a shadow of sadness tinged with regret playing over her face. “Every parent is different. I just want you to know that you’re a good one.”

A trill of laughter sounded from the next room, interrupting my memory, and I smiled to myself, picturing the two girls together. If I didn’t know better, they might have been mother and daughter. So easy and comfortable together, almost instantly.

“All right, dinner is ready.” I called them in, then swept my hand out toward the buffet I’d created.

“Whoa.” Addison smiled as she walked into the room with Dylan on her hip. “What’s all this?”

“Breakfast for dinner. You’ve made pancakes two times in the past week, so I thought—”

Her grin widened. “I guess my secret is out. They’re the only way to eat cake for breakfast while maintaining your dignity, so they’re pretty much my favorite food.”

“I guess so.” I cut up a pancake for the baby and sat her in her high chair while Addison loaded her pancakes with the fresh berries and homemade whipped cream I’d made.

“I had no idea you could cook,” she said.

“I got a little help from Pinterest,” I admitted, and she laughed.

“I told you it’s addictive.”

I joined her at the table with a plate, and we talked about our day.

“How’s the hangover? Gone or still nursing it?” she asked around a mouthful of food.

I grinned and tucked into my own stack. “Yeah, it was a rough morning, but by lunch I was fine.”

“You really didn’t have to cook and clean like all this,” Addison said, but I shook my head.

“I wanted to. You work hard, and I want you to know how appreciative I am.”

Her eyes went suspiciously soft, and she looked away.

For the next little while, the three of us ate and chatted, Dylan piping up with some happy squeals as I mashed up a strawberry for her. Addison and I cleaned off the table and sat back down with cups of decaf coffee while the baby played on the floor with a set of pots and pans. It was the most domestic evening of my life, and I was happier than a pig in shit. Who knew?

Now if we could just end this night on the perfect note . . .

“Dylan’s head is bobbing already, so if you want to put her to bed and then unwind while I do these dishes, that would be good.”

“You can’t be serious. You—”

I held up a hand. “Not negotiating.”

She looked down at the sink full of dishes and then at Dylan. “I’ll pay you back for this.”

“You will not,” I countered.

She picked up the baby and carried her from the room, allowing me to watch her hips as they swayed. Something buzzed in my pocket and I flinched in surprise. That would teach me for letting her body hypnotize me so completely.

I glanced down at the screen and saw a number I didn’t recognize.

“Probably some telemarketer,” I grumbled, but I answered just in case. “Hello?”

“Hey,” a familiar female voice said on the other end of the line, and I nearly dropped my phone.

“Jesus, Jenn? Where the hell are you?” Fury, panic, and frustration all filtered through my mind, but I couldn’t decide which one to pick.

“I’m around. I just wanted to see how you and Dylan are doing.”

“And you didn’t think to do that the day after you dropped her in my lap? Or maybe any of the days since?” I snapped.

Silence crackled over the line before she blew out an annoyed sigh. “Max, don’t—”

“No, you don’t. You don’t get to dump her off like a sack of flour and then call a week later and ask anything about my daughter.”

“Our daughter,” she said quietly, correcting me.

How was she so calm? It was like she was completely without feeling, reciting a speech she’d written long before this call.

“You brought her here and left. That makes her my daughter now, Jenn.”

There was a pause on the line, then she continued as if I’d never spoken. “Did you find the medicine I left in her diaper bag? She had some bad diaper rash and—”

“I’ve been taking care of her. The diaper rash is gone,” I snapped.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Relief. Like all her problems were solved. “That’s good to hear. Is she eating well? Asking for me?” she asked hopefully.

Asking for her? Like Jenn needed the validation of Dylan crying for her mother for her own selfish reasons. The thought sent a bolt of hot fury through me, and I gritted my teeth. “I’m hanging up.”

“I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t want to intrude; I just want to know how you’re all doing. Are you managing?”

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