The House Mate Page 8

“I was thinking, the last couple of days have been tough for you. Do you and Dylan want to come over to my place tonight? It might be nice for you to get a home-cooked meal for a change.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I actually already have plans.”

She rolled her eyes. “No one calls the drive-through at Wendy’s ‘plans.’”

I laughed. “No. Dylan’s new nanny is making us dinner.”

“Oh,” she said, her voice tight. After a pause, she added, “I’d wondered where that little muffin was today.”

I nodded. “Yep, she’s home, and happy and safe. But like I said, that was very nice of you to offer. Thanks again.”

“Anytime. It’s an open invitation.” Tiffany hesitated and then headed back out the door, closing it with a tiny snap.

I threw myself back into work, and at one point, realized that I was humming under my breath.

I patted myself on the back for a job well done. Now that Addison was living in the house and taking care of the baby, everything was going to be perfect.

Chapter Six


I swept the hair out of my face and stared around the newly cleaned kitchen.

There was no denying it had been an undertaking. What few groceries left in the fridge needed to be cleaned out—and the hazardous waste department was probably a better candidate to do it than I was, but I’d done my best all the same. My arms were sore up to the elbows from scrubbing away at dishes and getting on my knees to tackle the floors, but there was no doubting the place looked better. I might have even gone so far as to say it looked damned good.

Now that Dylan was upstairs napping, I finally sank into a chair, ready to search online for the recipe I’d be making for tonight’s dinner.

God, that little girl was an angel.

I hoped Max knew how lucky he was to have her. She hadn’t thrown a single temper tantrum—not one, all day. Even when she’d been hungry, she waddled into the kitchen and sat in front of her high chair like a patient puppy waiting to go outside.

Playing with her was easy too. She needed to learn to share, but she understood sounds and shapes well for her age, and when we read together, she listened intently to every word. A few times, she’d even added some words of her own—like “bird” or “car” or “horse.” But then, on the rare occasion, she’d say “Da-da.”

And twice, she’d said “Ma-ma” too.

I didn’t know if this was simply because kids learned these words practically in unison—like one couldn’t exist without the other—or because maybe because her mother had been in her life at some point?

In the quieter moments, when I was picking up the living room, I searched the photos in the frames along the mantel to find some sign of a woman in Max and Dylan’s life, but there was not even the slightest hint of one. Other than a picture of an elderly woman with her arm slung around Max, who was wearing an Army Ranger uniform, there were no women in his pictures at all. They were all photos of his college graduation, campfires with his friends, and beach trips.

There wasn’t even a picture of Dylan. Not anywhere.

It was odd. Based on how doting and careful he’d been with her yesterday and this morning, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who was such an egomaniac that he didn’t bother to frame pictures of his own daughter. It was possible, of course, that since he was a guy he just hadn’t thought to change things around. After all, for all I knew, the pictures he had could have been set up by his mother when he’d first moved in.

Still, it didn’t seem right to me. Not really.

I let out a sigh and scrolled down the page, then selected the tastiest-looking picture and glanced at the recipe. With quick, efficient movements, I collected all the ingredients listed and pushed aside the thoughts in my brain that were exploding with curiosity.

I didn’t know Max very well. Maybe I was the caregiver for his daughter, but that didn’t give me the right to ask personal questions of him.

And yet . . .

What happened when Dylan was old enough to ask me about her mother? Shouldn’t I know whether she was out there somewhere, whether she might show up some weekend to take Dylan for a visit and leave me alone in the house with Max?

My mind stalled on that thought, idling to picture what a dinner alone with him might be like. What the evening afterward could bring.

Excitement and anxiety filled my heart in equal measure. Just thinking about being alone with him had me nearly hyperventilating. He was just so . . . daunting. When I’d messaged him throughout the day, he’d only responded to direct questions. And then, when I’d made a little joke about not wanting to kill him, even then he’d answered with a serious response. With the stern, impassive look that was always on his face, the worry etched into his features, it was hard not to take him seriously. He was intimidating, and I wasn’t even sure why.

But then I would picture him smiling down at his little girl—holding her in those big strong arms covered in ink, and my knees went weak. His presence was like this looming aura that filled any room he was in, and I was swallowed up in it instantly—on eggshells, holding my breath, hanging on to every word . . .

And wanting to ride him like a bull at the rodeo. Not that it matters. Because it definitely does not.

I shook my head and read over the recipe again, but just as I reached for the first ingredient, the front door swung open.

“Max,” I gasped, breathless. I’d been so distracted by thoughts of him in his military garb and riding him like a bull that I hadn’t even heard his truck pull up.

He grinned at me, and I noticed that his straight white smile slanted a little to one side, making his jaw look that much more rugged and square.

God, what was with me and this guy’s jaw?

“You’re home early.” My gaze shot toward the clock. It was barely even four. I stepped into the foyer as he looked around the living room and his eyes went wide.

“You didn’t have to do all this.” He gestured to the vacuumed carpet and polished furniture.

“It was no trouble,” I said. “Really.”

“I have a cleaning lady—”

“I know, I know.” I waved him off. “But you know, I live here too and I wanted to do my share.” I shrugged. “I prefer a tidy house, anyway.”

He walked into the kitchen, and I followed behind him like a hungry puppy following a trail of dog treats. No doubt my face looked just as hungry as one too, now that I got a good look at his backside in his fitted slacks.

I swallowed hard.

“I’m drawing the line,” he said. “You are not making dinner. You must be exhausted.”

My feet screamed in agreement with him, but I shook my head all the same. “No, absolutely not. I’ve already got a recipe. You sit down. You’ve been working all day.”

“You’re the one who’s been working all day.” He gestured toward the clean kitchen, and I rolled my eyes.

“The cleaning, sure, but Dylan’s no work. It was a great day.”

That much was true. Even with all the running and chasing and multi-tasking, Dylan was a joy. I already felt a deep bond with the little girl, and the reward that came from taking care of her? Well, that was a whole hell of a lot better than passing paper coffee cups along to bleary-eyed zombie-like commuters.

“She’s still down for her nap, though, so if you go upstairs—”

“I’ll be quiet.” He nodded. “Look, I’m sorry I’m here earlier than you expected. I couldn’t stay away. I was just a little nervous, but I have to say now that I’m impressed.”

I blushed, trying not to look as flustered as I felt. Why should his praise feel like I was being given a gold star by a favorite teacher? I knew I’d done a good job, had gone above and beyond the call of duty. And still . . .

Whenever I looked at him I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

“Actually, I was going to say you should probably wake her up. If she sleeps much longer, she’ll never go to bed tonight,” I said.

He nodded, beaming. “All right. I’ll go say hello.”

He exited the room, and while I listened to his heavy footfalls on the stairs, I finally allowed myself to exhale again. God, one more week of living here and I was going to need an oxygen tank.

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