"Other than that my granddaughters are happy, not a thing. See you in the morning."
Hayley said goodbye and hung up. Butterflies started jumping in her stomach.
Meeting Mrs. Grace Rayburn wasn't the problem. Being alone in this house for another week with her son was.
The next morning Kim and Kate raced through the house, skidding to a halt in the kitchen. "Morning, Miss Hayley!" they chimed.
"There's my ladies," Hayley said happily, squatting as the girls launched themselves into her arms, wrapping her in bone-crushing hugs. "Oh, what a way to start a day!"
They giggled and when they pulled back, she told them to go into the dining area off the kitchen, and she'd bring them their breakfast.
"But we want to be in here with you."
The innocent statement touched Hayley deeply, and she swallowed around the knot in her throat. She lifted them each onto a stool, then gave them their breakfast, flipping on the small TV on the counter so they could watch cartoons. While they ate, Hayley cleaned up the breakfast mess from nearly a dozen men, and by the time the girls finished, so was she.
"Go wash up and dress in the clothes I laid out," she told them. As they hurried off in a whirlwind of pink nightgowns, she called, "Brush your teeth and bring down a comb and barrettes so I can put up all that hair."
Hayley slumped on the stool, slapping a dish towel over her shoulder. She'd spent yesterday evening cooking dinner, running bubble baths and avoiding that "I'm going to be alone with you" look Nash kept throwing her way. Which was why she said she'd take care of everything for the twins. At least their cute little pink-and-navy-plaid suitcases were already packed and by the door, with their stuffed bears and dolls and everything else little girls needed to survive in a room that wasn't their own.
"A handful, huh?"
Hayley looked up.
Hayley smiled. "Yeah, are you sure you want this chaos for two weeks?" Hayley wondered how long the woman had been standing there.
Grace waved the remark off, walking into the kitchen. She wasn't any more than fifty-five and stunning. Her short haircut was chic and swept to one side, showing off the silver streak in her brown hair. Though she wore jeans and a red blouse, she was a woman who took good care of herself, minding the tiny details that make men look twice and other women envy.
She smiled, giving Hayley a bold once-over, then saying, "Let's talk, honey."
Hayley offered her a cup of coffee and poured one for herself. They sat at the counter across from each other.
"I knew what you looked like. He's got a snapshot in his wallet, though it went through the wash once."
That was obviously how Grace knew the photo was there, Hayley thought, the center of her chest tightening. She had one of Nash, too, tucked in the lining of her suitcase. Hayley met her gaze. "Grace, let's be honest. No matter what you might be thinking, I'm here, working for Wife Incorporated because the money is great. I have a career to get back to, and Nash and the girls deserve more. And I don't fit in here. Besides, we agreed to be friends."
Grace nodded, at home with her honesty. "Okay, then let me say one thing."
Hayley smiled. "Just one?"
"My son made a big mistake years ago." Grace lowered her voice. "Give him a chance."
"I forgave him, Grace."
Grace's brows drew down and she tipped her head slightly, studying Hayley. "You know it all?"
"I believe so, yes."
"I guess if you're still here, it says something."
"It says that I stick to my obligations."
"Is that what those three are, obligations?"
Hayley looked at her coffee. "Of course not." Those three had suddenly become a glaring marker in her life and a wedge in her heart. She couldn't seem to go forward. She looked at Grace. "I'm leaving. I have to. I don't want you to think there's something here that will alter that. There is just no way."
Grace absorbed this. At least, Hayley thought she did, and she knew she sounded cold.
The moment passed and Hayley launched into questions about Grace's place, and they discussed the ranch and the girls, skipping politely past Michelle and on to Nash.
"This auction is the biggest event of his year."
"I gathered that. I'll do what I can to help."
"You two talking about me?"
Hayley jerked around. Man, did he look good. A body didn't have the right to have so much sex appeal. "God, Nash, your ego is way too big."
He strolled inside, walking to his mother and planting a kiss on her cheek. "You look great, Mom."
Grace eyed him. "So do you. At least it looks as if you're eating better."