“Sounds good.” I expect her to pull out cans of soup, but instead, she grabs a big container from the fridge. “Is that homemade tomato soup?” I ask.
She grins at me as she carries it to the stove and transfers the contents to a pan. “I made it early this morning. It’s tomato bisque, actually, but don’t tell Lilly. She insisted that soup is good and bisque is gross, so we’re just going to call it soup.” She stirs the soup and turns on the gas to warm it.
“No wonder Mom was so insistent on hiring you.” I shake my head in wonder. “You’re the whole package, Nic.”
“It’s not a big deal,” she says softly. “I like to cook.”
“But you barely eat,” I say.
She shrugs and drops her gaze down her body. “I eat plenty. I’m not in any danger of wasting away.”
“You’re perfect,” I say before I can stop myself. She meets my eyes and blinks, and I drag a hand over my mouth. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . you are. You’re gorgeous. I hope you don’t feel like you need to lose weight. Your body is . . .” I swallow hard. “You know.”
She makes me tongue-tied and fumbling when I’ve always found it easy to flirt with women. Maybe that’s the difference. I’m not trying to flirt. I sincerely want her to know how gorgeous she is.
She avoids my gaze and stays silent, further evidence that I’m more awkward than charming when it comes to her.
“And now I’m the asshole boss who says inappropriate things to his employee.”
She laughs and pulls a loaf of bread from the bin. “You’re fine, and thank you. That’s nice, especially coming from someone whose body is also . . . you know.” Her pink cheeks grow darker and she avoids my eyes. She’s so fucking cute when she’s embarrassed.
“I’m sorry about that Thanksgiving conversation. I really didn’t mean to put you in an awkward situation. You have four days off while we’re at the cabin, and you can spend that time however you want.” She told Lilly that she needed to see what her friends were doing, but made no mention of family. I take another breath as she slices cheddar cheese from the block. “You won’t go home and spend it with your parents?”
She stills her knife mid-slice, hesitating a beat before finishing. “No.”
I wait a beat, hoping she might fill the silence with some detail about herself, but she doesn’t. “I guess you probably want to use the time to look for a new job.”
Her careful expression falters. She puts down the knife and turns to me. “You want me gone that soon?”
“No. Not at all. Actually . . .” I shove my hands into my pockets. “I had to call the agency this morning because none of the candidates they sent me were acceptable. I was hoping you could hold off your search until we find someone.”
“I wasn’t planning to leave you in the lurch.”
“I couldn’t blame you if you did.” I take a step forward. I shouldn’t, but I do. One step, then two more. I take another step so I’m standing right in front of her and she’s looking up at me through her lashes. “You don’t owe me anything. I was a jerk to you the second you walked in my door, and you responded by throwing yourself into this job. I don’t deserve all you’re doing for me.”
“I made a promise,” she says. “I’m just trying to follow through.”
“I screwed this up, Nic. I take responsibility for that.” I fist my hands at my sides because I want to touch her and she’s right here. So close, so warm, so sweet. “I’m the one who missed the meeting when you came to visit last month. I’m the one who isn’t comfortable having any personal history with my daughter’s caregiver.” I swallow and release my fists so I can tilt her face up to mine. Once my hand is on her jaw, I instinctively slide it into her hair. “I’m the one who can’t stop wanting things from you that you’re not here to give me.”
Her gaze drops to my mouth. “I didn’t think you wanted anything from me anymore.”
“I’m trying not to, but I keep thinking about . . .” Don’t finish that sentence. I flick my thumb over her earlobe and down the column of her neck.
She closes her eyes and releases a shaky breath. “About what we left unfinished,” she says for me.
“Daddy!” Lilly calls from the living room. “How do you spell forever?”
It’s Nic who moves first. She takes my hand from her neck and steps back. “I won’t look for another job until you find a replacement.”
Relief sweeps through me—too much relief—followed by dread at the thought of searching for someone suitable. Or is that dread at the thought of her inevitable departure?