“I think you’re making this too complicated,” Ella said. “But if you need to get to know him better first, do it.”

“He’s only here for a week or two. There is no way I’ll know him well enough by then. And I have only slept with one guy, and that was in a serious relationship. I can’t do a one-nighter or a fling. It doesn’t compute with me.”

“So how’s that working out? Feel good? Pleased with yourself?” she teased.

“Fine. I’m miserable. I wish I could have let myself spend the night with him. I’d be curled up in his bed now with his arms around me. He has great arms. He has great everything,” I said miserably.

“Okay, well that sucks for you, but I really need to get back to sleep. Night,” she said and hung up, that heartless bitch. She totally went back to sleep while I was being dramatic about my girly blue balls. Because I had wanted to stay, but I had to face the fact that I’m not the kind of woman who could spend the night with a man she barely knew without regretting it later.

Regret was a bigger problem than this misery. Regret and potential heartbreak were a recipe for disaster.

So I went to sleep, went to work, and dealt with Payton’s tantrums and being shorthanded because one of the aids had come down with pinkeye. Which meant we had to disinfect everything and reteach handwashing skills just in case.

I was in the middle of singing “Happy Birthday” to demonstrate how long to wash your hands with soap when Jeremiah walked into the common area of my daycare center. And took all the air with him. I stopped mid-song and looked at him. The kids tried to finish singing on their own, but being two and three-year-olds, they threw in some lyrics from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to try and finish up in style. I laughed and started over, finishing the lesson properly and sending them to the sinks in their respective age-level rooms to do some guided practice at thorough handwashing and germ-killing.

“That was fantastic,” he said, sidling over to me, looking as usual, like a model for an expensive catalog. “You guys should cut an album.”

“Our mash-ups are legendary,” I said. “You should have heard our Jingle Bells and Lizzo mix at the holidays. It was epic.”

“It must’ve been. I hope you don’t mind that I stopped by. I wanted to get a sense of the full economic impact this factory has on the surrounding community. Would you mind showing me around?”

“Sure. I think you got a general idea of the number of students here. We have forty-nine full-time kids ages 2-4, plus the sixteen in our accredited pre-K program for 4and 5-year olds. Our toddler room fluctuates because some of them come part-time, but at full attendance we have eleven of those as well. That’s a total of seventy-eight kids divided among seven classrooms. We have a full bathroom in each room, plus changing facilities for three at once in the toddler room and trainer potties. Every room has a work sink as well for handwashing, art, and snack time. Our kitchen is separate and accessible only with a lock fob for safety reasons. We passed all health department inspections every year with no demerits.”

“It sounds like a full-service facility. You must be very proud of it. How long has it been open?” he said.

He followed me into the kitchen and looked over the place. When I went out ahead of him, his hand brushed the small of my back. It was electric, scorching arousal whisking up my spine.

“I opened three years ago, right after I graduated college”

“That’s impressive,” he said.

I reached out and brushed a nonexistent piece of lint off his shoulder just to touch him, to see the muscle in his jaw tighten at my touch. I liked seeing how he was just as affected as I was.

“I knew there was a need in the market,” I said. “And it’s been very satisfying making a success of it. The first year was basically figuring out what worked—what to have for meals that the kids would eat but was still nutritious enough to meet state guidelines and how big the portion sizes should be, what do we ask parents to send versus what do we stock as supplies, that sort of thing. It was a lot of trial and error. About halfway through year two, I added the toddler room at parent request, which meant hiring more personnel and figuring out tuition rates for younger, more care-intensive kids.”

“It sounds like you’ve had quite a journey,” he said as I showed him the last classroom on the tour.

“The babies are napping. I wouldn’t open that door for anything, but you can see through the window there,” I said.

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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