Lilly rarely naps anymore, but there are exceptions for summer days at the beach and sledding days at the cabin. She was so exhausted after her big morning in the snow that she didn’t even argue when I suggested a nap.
I kiss her forehead and quietly close the door behind me before heading downstairs.
Carter and Levi are in the rec room playing Destiny on the PlayStation—the game Jake got them hooked on. They wave me over when I poke my head in, but I decline and head to the kitchen. Shay’s at the coffee pot, flipping through a magazine as she waits for it to fill.
“Where is everyone?” I ask.
“Carter and Levi are in the rec room, Brayden is in the office doing a couple of bids, because a day without work sends him into withdrawal, and Jake—” She looks around and frowns. “Where is Jake?” She shrugs. “Jake’s probably jacking off somewhere.”
“Or he wooed the neighbor girl and is banging her in the barn,” Carter calls from the rec room.
Shay snorts. “That’s highly probable.” She looks at me, then narrows her eyes. “Oh, but you weren’t looking for everyone, were you? You were looking for the hot nanny.”
“Don’t call her that.”
“She is hot.” Levi steps into the kitchen and grabs the pot of coffee Shay’s patiently been waiting on. “And she’s too young for the rest of you, so if you’d kindly back off, I do believe I’ll make my move.”
“Don’t you fucking dare.” My words come out low, and there’s far more threat in my tone than I meant to expose.
Levi’s eyes go wide and he turns to me. “Is there a reason my celibate brother wants me to keep my hands off the hot nanny?”
“Maybe because she’s my employee.”
Now Carter steps into the kitchen. Apparently everyone needs to be up in my business. “Or maybe because he already hooked up with her.”
Levi draws back to look me over. “Seriously? Didn’t she just start, like, three weeks ago? I’m impressed, big brother. Didn’t know you still had it in you.”
“Why did you tell him?” I ask Shay.
“I didn’t,” she says. “But you just did.”
“Nah, one of the guys at the fire station was talking about it. His sister-in-law was washing her hands when Ethan kicked everyone out of the ladies’ room and locked the door.” He grabs an apple out of the basket on the island and takes a bite. “And I work out with the girl who was your waitress on Nic’s birthday. She said you two had a very romantic evening.”
“Why can’t anyone mind their own business?” I sound like a defensive little bitch. “There’s nothing between me and Nic.”
“So, if there’s nothing between you, then I’m free to . . .” Levi waits, as if I’m going to give him my blessing.
“You’re a fucking hypocrite. Either step up or step aside.”
“She just got out of a bad relationship,” I say. “If she’s going to give any Jackson a chance after having her heart broken, it’s going to be me.” The words come out before I can stop them, but once they’re said, I don’t want to take them back.
The whole room goes quiet as everyone stares at me.
“You’re in love with her,” Levi says. He sounds spooked.
“Seriously,” Carter says. “I had no idea. I just thought you two were fucking around.”
I shake my head and stuff my hands in my pockets. “She’s not ready. But she will be, and I’ll be there.”
Shay’s conspicuously silent and studying me, her expression pinched.
“Unless Jake beat you to it.” Carter nods to the picture windows behind the kitchen table, and I follow his gaze to see Jake and Nic walking up the snowy hill together. They’re laughing. Clumps of snow cling to her hair, and her cheeks and nose are bright red. They both look like they’ve been rolling around on the ground.
I stare for too long, my stomach tight as I wait for him to take her hand or put his arm around her.
Levi clears his throat and nudges my side with his elbow. “I’m sure Jake was as clueless as I was. I’ll make sure he gets the message.”
“Levi, don’t . . .”
He arches a brow.
I shake my head. There’s no use asking him not to bring it up with Jake. I fucking meant what I said. “Just be discreet.”
I hear them come in the back door and shed their coats in the mudroom. It’s all I can do to keep my feet rooted in the kitchen. I want to go after them and make sure he’s not touching her. I want to stop her from throwing that gorgeous smile his way. Smiles like hers shouldn’t be wasted on the likes of my scoundrel brother. But I don’t. I stay in the kitchen, pour myself a cup of coffee from Shay’s pot, and wait for Nic to join us.