“I love her too. That’s why I’m doing this.” Her words are crisp, almost angry. “I’m protecting her.”
“But you’re not. You can’t protect her from pain. I know they say love shouldn’t hurt, but that’s impossible. Love—the good kind—fills us so completely that when we feel it pulling away, it’s like having our guts cut out.”
“Why would I want to do that to an innocent child?”
“But that’s just it. You are doing it. You’re pulling away because you’re afraid of what might happen. You need to come home.”
Silence fills the line, and I close my eyes. I don’t like to say anything that might make someone angry with me, but here I am, saying the last thing she wants to hear.
“Is that all?” she asks. Her voice is softer now. “You’ve said what you need to say?”
I swallow. “Yes. That’s all.”
“Then I’ll go. But . . .” She hesitates a beat. “Thank you for saying your piece. I will think about it.”
I smile, hope blossoming in my chest. “Good. That’s all I ask.”
“There’s nothing wrong with them.” My administrative assistant folds her arms and glares at me.
“They’re not good enough.” I shove the stack of applicants to the side and shake my head. The agency sent me another list of candidates for the position, and I had Dreya go through them for me. I told her to give me the five she thought were the best, and she gave me five applicants who aren’t half as good as Nic is on paper—and Nic is even better in person.
Dreya looks to the ceiling for a few beats—the way she does when someone is trying her nerves and she’s searching for patience—then takes a deep breath and looks at me again. “No one is good enough for our children. You’re looking for someone competent and caring, not someone who’s perfect. It’s simple.”
It’s not. I look at the stack again. “Maybe I’ll give a couple of phone interviews.”
“Why don’t you just ask the girl you have to stay? It sounds like she’s perfect. Who cares if you bumped uglies? You’re adults.”
I snap my gaze to hers. “What?”
She rolls her eyes. “This is Jackson Harbor, Dr. Jackson. There are no secrets—especially not about things that happen at your brother’s bar.”
I try to scowl, but Dreya has worked for me for too long to be intimidated and stares right back.
“If the problem is that no one measures up to her, ask her to stay.”
I look into her kind but stern eyes. Dreya’s my mom’s age, and she’s worked for me from the beginning. She’s the only one who has the courage to put me in my place when I’m being a prick, and the only one I let get away with it. “What happens when she leaves, Dreya?”
She steps forward and squeezes my wrist in a rare gesture of affection. “People leave. Sometimes because they want to. Sometimes because they have to. That’s life, Ethan, but think how much we’d miss if we never let anyone close because we were afraid it might hurt when they leave.”
I shake my head. “Lilly isn’t afraid.”
She releases my wrist and steps back. “I know. I wasn’t talking about her.”
“What do you think?” Ethan asks as I scan the résumé for the retired preschool teacher. “Isn’t she perfect?”
I hand it back to him and manage a smile around the tightness in my throat, reminding myself that I want him to find the right candidate for this job, reminding myself that no matter how much I love and adore Ethan Jackson’s daughter, I can’t stay here and continue to pretend to be someone I’m not. “She’s exactly what you’re looking for.”
He looks down at the paper and then back to me, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. “Should I set up the interview?”
“That’s up to you, Ethan. She looks great on paper. Now it’s just down to whether or not your personalities are a good fit.”
He squeezes the back of his neck. “When you got your degree, did you plan on being a nanny, or was this just a temporary move for you?”
God, I hate the lie. I should have finished my degree. I never should have let love pull me away from my dreams. “I never intended to be a nanny long-term. I wanted to open my own preschool someday, but it hasn’t worked out.”
“My mom’s pushing me to find a long-term live-in nanny for Lilly. I was so opposed to bringing anyone in at all at first, but I wanted her to be able to travel, so I agreed. But now that I see you with Lilly . . .” He looks away. “You’re really amazing with my daughter.”
My face warms. “She’s a really amazing girl.”
“I don’t want to arrange this interview if I already have the perfect candidate for a long-term position.” His eyes meet mine, and I wish I were better at reading people. I see worry and sadness there, but there’s more. It’s as if he’s searching my eyes for answers. “I need to make this decision based on what’s best for my daughter, not based on what I want.”