"You should have seen your face, Daddy!" Kim shouted. "Your eyes got this big." She did an imitation that made her look like she was being strangled.
"Yeah, yeah," he said, winking at them before he squatted at the edge of the pool, gazing into Hayley's eyes as she swam to him. "I swear that one—" he nodded at the swimsuit "—is smaller than the other."
"If you don't like it, don't look."
"Honey, no man alive could resist looking at all that lovely skin."
She flushed at the compliment. "You should know never to dare me, Nash."
His muscles clamped. A memory surged. "Making love on Hunting Beach," he whispered, and her skin darkened.
"Shh." Hayley glanced at the girls, sitting on the steps waiting for her permission to come in. She hadn't meant to bring that up. Instantly she pushed away from the pool ledge, diving under the water and coming up beside the girls. She helped them into their inner tubes, spinning them.
"Lunch is in the fridge," she called as Nash started to walk away. She looked back over her shoulder and met his gaze. "It's fend for yourself till dinner."
"Are you dismissing me?"
Hayley grinned. "Yeah, cowboy. Go to work."
He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. "And if I don't want to?"
The twins looked between the adults, nudging each other.
"Suit yourself. You're the boss."
Nash flung off his hat and dove into the pool, clothes and all.
"Daddy!" his daughters shrieked when he came up beside them.
Hayley blinked. "I don't believe you did that."
He smoothed his hair back. "Why?"
"It's so not you."
"Let's get one thing straight," he growled, pushing his daughters in their tubes to the center of the pool and out of earshot. "Things are different. We both are."
Her guard went up, a reaction he'd come to recognize since she'd arrived. "Nash."
"Don't go flying off again," he told her, holding himself at a respectable distance when he wanted to crush her in his arms. "We're both older, wiser, and I have my children to consider. Can't we just take it as it comes and be … friends?"
Friends. She ought to be hurt by such a bland description. But isn't that what she wanted? "Fine. That's all we are now, anyway."
That stung, but Nash masked his hurt with a smile. "If we're going to be pals, then you'd better wear a bigger bathing suit."
"If we're going to be pals, Nash, then you need to stop looking at me like you want to devour me."
He inched closer, knowing it wasn't wise. Knowing he'd destroy the truce he'd just formed with her. "But I do, baby, I do." His gaze swept her breasts, nearly spilling from the bikini top, before meeting hers. "In one bite."
Hayley inhaled and didn't have time to comment. He dove underwater and swam to the opposite end of the pool, pausing long enough to give his daughters a kiss before he strode, dripping wet, back to the house.
Hayley sank underwater, praying it cooled her hot skin.
Friends? What a crock.
Nash threw down his pen and rubbed his face. For two days he'd smothered his feelings and kept innuendo and anything misleading out of conversation with Hayley. He accepted chance meetings, meals and idle conversations with an attitude that was nothing more than friendship. It was a supreme effort, being around her, wanting her, so mostly he stayed in the corral or in the barns, working with the vet and birthing a new foal. Well, mostly he stayed away. He saw her only at dinner. She still refused to join them for meals. It upset the girls, but she carefully explained to them she was the nanny, not their mother. Nash's throat ached then, because of the catch in her voice when she said this and when she finally looked at him. The girls didn't understand and sulked until Hayley brought them root-beer floats for dessert. Five-year-olds. So easily rerouted, he thought, wishing a root-beer float did the trick for him.
Nash sighed, then racked papers and set them aside, unable to concentrate another moment. All this not wanting was driving him nuts. The house was uncomfortably silent, and just knowing she was out there somewhere sent him out of his chair. So much for restraint, he thought, leaving his office, heading to the kitchen and hoping she was in bed. Then he saw her and wondered where the woman found the energy to get up before sunrise and stay awake past nine.
Sitting in the middle of the living-room floor, she wore denim shorts and a purple tank top, her face in a medical book and a notepad beside her. Stacks of books and papers littered the floor like layers of cake waiting to be devoured. An open briefcase rested a few feet away. Quietly he backtracked to the kitchen, then returned, clearing his throat and holding up two glasses of iced tea.