“I want to sit by Nana!” Lilly announces, wrapping Kathleen in a hug.

“Of course,” her grandmother says. “Do you think I’d want to sit by anyone else?”

Ethan

I’m sure my mother put Nic by me at dinner to make her more comfortable, but Nic’s body language says she’d much rather be somewhere else—under a rock in a dark cave, for instance.

“Is the turkey too dry?” Mom asks Nic.

“It’s delicious,” she says. “I think I’ve just had too much coffee today and it’s killed my appetite.”

Mom tsks. “You and Shay both need to eat more food and drink less coffee.”

“I eat plenty,” Nic reassures her. If that’s true, I’m not sure when it’s happening. She’s barely eaten more than a few bites in my presence, and I’m sure that’s once again because I’m making her uncomfortable. At this rate, I need to find a new nanny ASAP, or there’s going to be nothing left of Nic by the time I find her replacement.

“Me too, but Mom worries. It’s her MO,” Shay says with a sympathetic smile in Nic’s direction.

“What do you think of the new nanny?” Brayden asks Lilly.

“I think she’s hot,” Levi says. He winks at Nic, who blushes so hard that her ears turn red.

“Smack him for me?” Mom asks Shay, who’s sitting by Levi.

“Nic is the best,” Lilly says, oblivious to Levi’s inappropriate come-on. “We’re gonna have so much fun together. Aren’t we, Nic?”

Nic nods and grins at Lilly. “Absolutely.”

“Why does the kid get to have all the fun?” Levi asks. Shay smacks our youngest brother upside the head, and he winces. “Ouch!”

Nic fixes her gaze on her plate.

“What does Uncle Levi mean?” Lilly asks.

Shay shoots a glare in Levi’s direction. “He’s just jealous because we never got to have a nanny when we were kids.”

“So jealous,” Levi says, then ducks before Shay can hit him again.

“Daddy?” Lilly asks, turning her attention to me. “I have a question about this whole nanny thing.”

“Sure, kiddo.” I’m used to Lilly’s questions. She’s full of them, and I’ve always tried to be as open and up-front with her as possible. “What’s that?”

“Why is Nic sleeping in the guest room?”

Nic and I exchange a look. “She’s going to be staying with us,” I say carefully. “Remember what we talked about? Nic is our new friend, and she’s going to take care of you while Daddy is on call.” Until I find you another nanny and shake up your life yet again. Shit. This whole thing is a mess.

Lilly rolls her eyes. “I know that, but why is she sleeping upstairs?”

“That’s where her room is,” Mom says.

“She’s not staying in Nana’s apartment because Nana needs a place to stay when she comes home,” Shay adds.

“Of course she wouldn’t stay in Nana’s apartment.” My child looks seriously irritated with all the adults at the table. Because we’re morons, apparently. “I didn’t say that.”

“I guess I don’t understand the question, sweetie,” I say softly.

Lilly’s nose wrinkles, and she folds her arms as she stares me down. “I thought she was going to be sleeping in your room.”

There’s a collective inhale at the table, followed by a few coughs as my brothers try not to laugh.

I try to play it cool. “If Nic slept in my room, where would I sleep?”

“In your room,” she huffs. “In your bed. With Nic.”

Carter, Levi, and Jake give up on holding back their laughter, and their chests shake. Shay bites her lip, and Brayden, ever the dignified one, takes a big gulp of his wine to hide his smile.

Next to me, Nic’s eyes are wide as saucers. “Lilly, no, honey. Your daddy and I are just friends. I won’t be sleeping in his bed or his room.”

Lilly frowns. I don’t know where she thought this conversation would go, but she clearly doesn’t care for the direction it’s taken. “But my mommy slept in his bed.”

Well, shit.

My mom and I look at each other, and she gives me a sympathetic smile. In all of our careful preparation to get Lilly ready for the new nanny, it never occurred to any of us that it might sound like we were getting her ready for a new mommy.

Nic reaches across the table and takes Lilly’s hand. “Your daddy and mommy were married, sweetie. They were more than friends. They were husband and wife. Your daddy and I, though, we’re just friends.”

Nic shifts her gaze to mine, and a shot of lust surges through me. There’s something in me that rejects “just friends” with Nic on a very chemical level, but Nic sounds so convincing that I can only assume this arrangement hasn’t been as difficult for her as if has for me.

“Daddy will sleep in his room,” she continues. “And you’ll sleep in your room like you always do.”

“Oh.” Lilly looks thoughtful. “I just thought you were a special friend.”


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