Real fucking smooth.
I’d like to blame that moment in the bathroom for all my inappropriate thoughts, but where this woman is concerned, my thoughts have never been innocent. And now that I know for sure she won’t stay on as Lilly’s nanny, I can’t get my mind off bringing her into my bed.
Rather than stay home and make myself crazy with thoughts of what I can’t have, I head to Jake’s bar. Jackson Brews has become the Jackson family living room of sorts. On any given night, I can count on running into one or more of my siblings there, in addition to Jake.
But when I head to our typical booth, I don’t spot any of my brothers. I see Nic. She’s shrunk into the far back of one of the semicircular booths, and a man stands on the opposite side of the table, leaning in as if he’s trying to tell her a secret.
“Hey, John.” I walk straight to the table and smack the guy between the shoulder blades. “Is there a reason you’re talking to my girl again?”
Nic’s tense shoulders visibly relax as John straightens, and she flashes me a grateful smile.
“I wasn’t bugging her,” John says. “I was just keeping her company. There some law against that?” But he can’t manage to speak the excuse without running his gaze over Nic again, stalling for too long on the swell of cleavage in the V of her black sweater. Creep. When he turns to me, his expression is belligerent. “Anyway, don’t feed me your bullshit about her being your girlfriend. I know she’s your nanny, and she’s here waiting for a date, not for you.”
I don’t respond. I’m too distracted by his word choice. Date. She has a date. Of course she does, you idiot. Women like Nic don’t stay single forever.
John must take my silence as doubling down on my warning because he walks away in a huff.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Nic says.
“I think I did. He’s got his eye on you, and I think he’s figured out that you’re more likely to take his shit than make a scene. Let me know if he bothers you again. Jake can’t stand that guy anyway. He’ll throw him out on his ass.”
She snorts. “Good to know.” She pats the bench beside her. “Why don’t you sit here and keep me company?”
I hesitate. On the one hand, I can’t stop thinking about Nic, and every instinct I have wants to take advantage of the opportunity to be near her. On the other hand, I’m not sure I can act like some big-brother figure when her date strolls in to take my spot.
“Come on,” she says. And it’s the smile that gets me—all her sweetness shows on her face, and I find myself sliding into the booth, the magnet pulled to its mate.
I settle on the edge of the seat. I tell myself I don’t scoot farther in because I want to see her face when we talk, but the truth is probably more about resisting the temptation to touch what isn’t mine. “You look amazing.”
She tucks her chin and reaches for her drink, and I notice she’s drinking water. I don’t think I’ve seen her drink alcohol since the night we met. “Thank you.”
“Who’s the lucky guy?” I want to snatch the words back the second they’re out of my mouth.
“John said you’re waiting on a date.” I’m butting in where I don’t belong, but I don’t care. “I didn’t realize you’d had the time to meet anyone.”
“I haven’t.” Her phone buzzes, and she digs in her purse for it. “Do you mind if I get this?” Her gaze flicks to the screen and then back to me. “I hate to be rude, but this is the friend who’s meeting me tonight.”
“Not a problem.” Friend. So, not date? I can’t decide if this is good news or evidence that I should get up and leave now. I care too damn much. Her love life is none of my business.
She swipes across the screen of her phone and puts it to her ear. “Hey, girl! I’m in a booth at the back of the bar.” Her smile falls away. “No, no. Don’t worry about it. It’s totally understandable. We’ll just meet up later.” She listens and swallows. “No, it’s fine. Please, don’t worry about it. It’s just another day . . . I know you will. Please don’t feel bad. I’m sitting here with Ethan, so it’s not like I’m alone.” She nods, listening again. “Sounds amazing. Perfect. See? It’s fine . . . Thank you. You too. Bye.”
She hangs up her phone and slides it into her purse before staring down into her water. Her lips twist as she fights a frown. Anytime she does that, I get the impression she doesn’t have much experience frowning. She’s one of those perpetually cheerful people who sees the good in every day and lives her life with complete enthusiasm—in other words, she’s everything I’m not.