A sexy, single dad standalone romance coming soon from New York Times bestselling author Kendall Ryan.
Life threw me a curveball. An adorable eight-pound, four-ounce curveball with her mother’s eyes and my dark hair. I’d like to think my single-dad game is strong, but honestly? I’ve been struggling a little.
When a beautiful young woman moves in next door and offers to give me a hand, I jump at the chance to hire her as a nanny. Jessa is amazing with my daughter. She’s also patient, kind, and way too pretty.
The number one rule of hiring a nanny? Don’t bed the nanny.
It’s a rule I intend to keep.
But as the days pass, I begin to realize how much my life is missing. Companionship. Romance. Intimacy. When I discover my heart has space for one more female, it’s a lost cause, another curveball. The hot-as-hell nanny is leaving soon for a mission trip to Central America. No sense in letting myself fantasize about Jessa being a permanent part of my life.
The closer we get, the more difficult it becomes to keep my feelings in check, because my heart won’t listen. And neither will my libido.
Well, you know what they say. Rules are meant to be broken . . .
Release date: January 19, 2021
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The Stud Next Door
Sunlight pours onto the front porch of the three-bedroom home I bought several months ago. I gave up my apartment in the city for a suburban zip code, a lawn I don’t have time to mow, and nosy neighbors who want to know why my baby’s mom isn’t in the picture.
It’s . . . a lot.
But at this moment, lawn mowers and property taxes are the least of my concerns.
The stress I’ve been under for the last few months, ever since before my daughter was born, has been beaten into temporary submission by warm sunshine, good company, and the cold beer in my hand. Anxiety still lurks just below the surface, in the tension in my shoulders, in the dark thoughts that linger, but for now at least, I’m relatively at ease. Summer has finally come to Chicago, and I’m parked in a lawn chair on my front porch with three of my best friends.
“Just like old times. Right, man?” Hayes leans back in his chair, kicking his feet up onto the brick ledge. He’s the easygoing one, always able to put people at ease.
I used to be that way. Friendly. Fun-loving. Always down for a good time. Now it’s a mixed bag. The stress of becoming a single father has done a number on me, and I’m still fighting for breath on what feels like a sinking ship at times.
“Something like that,” I murmur, lifting the bottle to my lips for a sip. The beer goes down with a bite, hoppy and full-bodied.
To my left, Wolfie grunts his approval. In contrast to Hayes, Wolfie is a bit of a handful. Complicated, but loyal. Unpredictably moody, yet reliable. Although his foul moods have improved drastically since he started dating my younger sister—a story that I have no intention of getting into right now.
“Thanks for the beer, man,” I say, raising my beverage in Caleb’s direction.
“Fuck yeah. Anytime,” he says before downing what I can only assume is half of his beer and releasing an enormous belch.
Caleb is a bit of a wild child. I keep waiting for the guy to grow up, but so far, that hasn’t happened. He’s still the same shamelessly immature guy I met in college, and by all indications, that’s not changing anytime soon.
“Chill, man,” Hayes whispers to Caleb, nodding in my direction. “Boys’ night isn’t just for the boys anymore.”
Ah. That’s my cue to acknowledge the tiny little cherub resting in my arms. Marley, my baby girl, who has my dark hair and my ex’s blue eyes and creamy skin.
“Oh, come on. She’s dead asleep.” Caleb leans forward in his chair. “Hey, Marley. Maaarley. Marzipan!”
My two-month-old daughter doesn’t wake, nestled peacefully against my chest, her plump little fist clutching my T-shirt.
We all take a moment to watch the rise and fall of her back, the cutest little poop-and-puke machine you ever did see. Even when she’s pooping and puking, she’s the most beautiful thing in the world, and you can fight me on that. I’ll die on that hill.
“How’s she been?” Wolfie asks with a deep line etched between his brows, tipping his chin toward the sleeping baby.
I smile. I’ve missed my old roommate’s perpetual frown.
Paternity leave has been . . . interesting. A bit isolating, but I’m starting to realize it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Good. She’s good.” It isn’t a lie. Marley is a good baby, usually low maintenance with only the occasional meltdown. Kind of like her dad.
“How about you?” Hayes frowns as he studies me.
Damn, I must look as exhausted as I feel.
“I’m alive.” I chuckle, but the humor in my voice sounds forced. That’s a new one for me.
“You’ll feel better once you’re back.” Caleb nods sagely, as if my returning to work will somehow restore the balance of the universe.
“If I come back,” I say to remind them, only half joking.
My partners graciously gave me six weeks of paid paternity leave, with a little leeway in the budget to sneak in another week or two.
Together, the guys and I own a sex toy business named Frisky Business, both an ecofriendly line of toys that we manufacture, as well as a retail store in the heart of Chicago. Despite the shop being a second home to me for years, I haven’t set foot in the place in six weeks, and part of me can’t picture myself going back. At least, not until I find someone I trust to take care of the most important person in my life, Marley.
“What about the day cares you were researching?” Wolfie asks, and I can see him crunching the numbers in his head.
I’m well aware that Frisky Business can’t afford to keep me on paternity leave for much longer. It’s already been two months.
I scowl. “No luck. Did you know there’s a government website where you can look up safety violations and infractions of any licensed day care? It’s terrifying,” I say with a shudder that’s all too real. “All the day cares within a five-mile radius have too many accident reports to even count.”
“Shit, seriously? Well, what about Beth?” Hayes asks.
Ah, yes. Beth. Part-time mother of my child, full-time med-school student alongside her med-school-student boyfriend.
They certainly don’t have the time to care for a child 24/7. We share joint custody, but a lot has been falling on me lately, not that I’m complaining. I love spending time with Marley, and I want Beth to be able to build her career. She’s a good mom, juggling school, a new relationship, and Marley with relative ease.
“When she finishes her residency next year, she’ll have more time to care for Marley. For now, she and Brett have her two days of the week. Beth wants more, but she can’t quite swing it right now.”
The guys nod, trying to understand this new life I’ve found myself living.
One day at a time . . .
Let’s rewind. Thirteen months ago, I was happily single, living in the city without a care in the world. The only unknown in my life was the familiar and somewhat amusing panic of waking up next to a woman whose name I couldn’t remember. Back then, I was going on a minimum of three dates per week, some of which ended with a satisfying hookup with whichever lucky lady could keep up with me.
My love-for-life dial was cranked up to 100 and locked into place with superglue. Nothing was gonna slow me down.
Of course, all that changed with a phone call from my former friend-with-benefits. Beth was busy becoming a doctor, and neither of us had time for a relationship. But Netflix and chilling became our thing for a couple of months last year, until those two little pink lines changed everything. Beth was carrying my baby, despite the precautions we’d taken.
But even with the massive overhaul of my social life, life is better with Marley, on all counts. She’s given me purpose, a word I thought was only reserved for the kind of people who go on mission trips to Guatemala twice a year.
Nowadays, I’m so much more than just Connor Blake, the bachelor. More than co-owner of Chicago’s number one sex-toy shop.
I’m a dad.
When I come to, I realize I’ve been droning on about day cares for give or take ten minutes. Even Wolfie’s sharp eyes are starting to glaze over.
“In summary,” I mutter, “finding a good day care in this neighborhood is a bitch.”
“Why don’t you just get a nanny?” Caleb says, cracking open his second beer. “I had the best nanny growing up. She still comes to my family’s Christmas party each year.”
“Probably ’cause you still need supervision.” I sneer at him, relishing the opportunity to give him a hard time.
But before Caleb can get a word out, Hayes cuts in.
“Where do you even find a nanny?”
“I’m sure there are databases for nannies,” Wolfie says, ever the pragmatic one.
“I don’t want to pick some random person off the internet, guys. If I get a nanny, they’d be alone in my home for the majority of the day. I’d need to trust them.”
“Do you have anything valuable to steal?”
It’s Caleb’s turn to give me shit, and damn, does it feel like we’re back in the shop. With a sleeping baby on my chest, I can’t smack him upside the head like I normally would. I’ll make up for it by teaching Marley to kick Uncle Caleb in the shins every chance she gets.
Hayes chuckles, shaking his head. “Other than his kid?”
Never too proud for a pissing contest, I’m about to tell him exactly how much I paid for my high-end espresso machine when a small sedan filled with moving boxes rolls to a halt in front of my neighbors’ house. Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes have lived in that house for over two decades as happily retired empty nesters. I’ve only met them a couple of times, but the old couple have grown on me.
Hayes, Wolfie, and Caleb must sense my curiosity, because the conversation stills as we wait to see who steps out of the car.
I hear the door slam and the soft padding of feet before I know who they belong to. When the driver comes into view to lift the roll-up door, I can’t help but do a double-take because the girl is unbelievably gorgeous.
She’s young, around our age, with thick brown hair pulled back in a long, unruly ponytail. Wearing sneakers, shorts, and a loose-fitting T-shirt, she looks like any twenty-something on moving day. She opens the trunk and lifts out a hefty suitcase, clearly stronger than she looks, and sets it on the sidewalk.
“Do your neighbors have a hot daughter?” Caleb asks, standing to get a better look.
“Will you sit down?” Wolfie sighs, aging with every second that Caleb does anything immature.
For the first time in a while, I’m kind of with Caleb on this one. I’m curious.
“Just sons, as far as I know,” I murmur.
When she reappears, I see her face for the first time. She’s flushed, but not just with the summer heat. She’s excited. And excitement looks really damn good on her.
We all turn to see Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes waving to her from their porch with wide, friendly smiles.
The woman we now know as Jessa sets a box down on the edge of the trunk and gives the old couple a wave. She jogs over to them, giving Mr. Wilkes a hearty handshake and Mrs. Wilkes a quick hug. I can’t hear their conversation, but I get the impression they’re meeting for the first time.
“All right, I’m bored.” Caleb sighs, plopping back down in his chair. “Anyone want another beer? Or am I supposed to finish this twelve-pack all by myself?”
I peer down at Marley, who is squirming unhappily, her bleary little eyes opening and closing. I guess nap time is over.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jessa’s box tilting over the lip of the trunk, about to topple. Instinctively, I jump to my feet, jostling the already grumpy baby. The box falls, Marley wails, Jessa and the Wilkeses turn, and suddenly everyone’s eyes are on me.
“Fuck,” I mutter under my breath. “It’s okay, Marley. It’s okay.” I pat her back softly, but it’s like comforting a fire alarm. I turn to the guys. “Would someone go help her with that box?”
Caleb and Wolfie spring into action as Hayes leans across the brick ledge with an apologetic smile for the neighbors. “Sorry for the commotion, folks. Can we help you out?”
“Oh, that’s all right. It wasn’t fragile stuff. Don’t worry about it,” Jessa calls back, her voice clear and cordial.
But Caleb and Wolfie have already rescued that box and are now unpacking the car, which contains a few more boxes, another suitcase, a smaller bag, and a duffel bag.
“Really, it’s okay,” she says, trying to intercept Wolfie on his trajectory to the Wilkeses’ front porch. One look at him in the zone, and Jessa steps aside, her eyes wide and a timid smile on her lips. “Well, thanks, um . . .”
“Wolfie’s the scary one. That idiot’s Caleb,” Hayes says, waving off her concern. “Best to just let them do their thing. They’ve already got an assembly line going.”
And they do. Caleb stands near the car, pulling out boxes as Wolfie carries them an outside staircase that leads to a separate entrance on the second floor that Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes directed him to.
You’d better believe that I’d be right there with them if I didn’t have a screaming baby in my arms. Marley’s eyes are scrunched tightly closed, tears trailing down her pink cheeks.
I try rocking her. I try bouncing her.
Is she crying because she’s tired? Hungry? Scared? I never fucking know.
In the ear that isn’t already deaf, I hear Hayes making polite conversation.
“That’s my buddy Connor’s house.” He points in my direction. “He’s the normal one. I’m Hayes, by the way. Where are you coming from?”
“Oh, I’m Jessa. Nice to meet you. I’m from a couple hours east of here. Well, east is the lake. Southeast. I’m from Indiana.” She laughs, somehow pulling off awkward and sweet at the same time.
Unable to take my eyes off of her, I ask, “What brings you to Chicago?” Instantly, I regret drawing attention to myself.
Yes, let’s all look at the sad son of a bitch who has no idea how to calm his distraught baby.
I shift Marley’s weight in my arms, hoping a new position will help. It doesn’t.
I don’t even hear Jessa’s answer to my question, as much as I’d like to. While Jessa and Hayes make small talk as Wolfie and Caleb continue to unpack the trunk, I pace back and forth, trying to soothe Marley by gently patting her back and humming softly. I wish I knew what was wrong so I could fix it. She does this once in a while, and I’ve yet to figure it out.
“How old is she?”
I turn to see Jessa walking up the steps, a warm smile on her lips. She’s close enough now that I can fully take in her features—light blue eyes, long lashes, and dozens of pretty freckles dotting her nose and cheeks. The neighbor girl is cute as hell.
“Uh, two months,” I say, my tone harsher than I’d like it to be. Why the fuck am I nervous?
“The best months.” Jessa nods, clasping her hands in front of her heart.
There’s something so warm about this girl. It’s like it comes off her in waves. I have to step back to keep from sweating. But she follows me, her arms outstretched.
What the . . .
“May I?” she asks softly.
My gaze darts to Hayes, who offers me nothing but a useless shrug.
“Uh, sure,” I mutter, allowing Jessa to step into the same square footage as me. The smell of her is intoxicating, sweet and floral, a mixture of shampoo and something decidedly feminine.
Her hands brush against my arms as she scoops Marley into hers. My heart nearly stops when she flips Marley over, my dad brain warning me of danger. But when Jessa starts massaging Marley’s back, the baby stops crying immediately.
“Gas bubbles,” Jessa says, all smiles, and Marley sighs happily.
I’m damn near shocked speechless.
“Holy baby whisperer,” Hayes blurts, his eyes wide.
I’m glad to see I’m not the only one blown away.
“How did you do that?” I ask, aware of how dumb I sound, but I don’t even care. She’s amazing.
“I’m the oldest of six. I can just tell,” she says, her nose scrunching up adorably in unison with her shrug. “She should be settled now.”
Humble too? Be still my cold, dead heart.
“Are you free for a nannying job?” Hayes asks, looking more at me than Jessa. “One that starts immediately.”
I shoot him a glare and he glares back, his eyes saying, What? You need a nanny, dude, and she’s perfect.
“Oh,” she says with a laugh, her cheeks turning pink. “I don’t know. I’ve never been a nanny before.”
She carefully adjusts Marley so that she’s supported comfortably. An unfamiliar warmth floods through my chest at the sight of my baby girl in Jessa’s careful embrace.
“I guess I do need a part-time job,” she says, more to herself than to me. “What’s her name?”
“Marley,” I say, hardly recognizing my own voice.
“Marley.” Jessa coos, nuzzling her nose against my daughter’s soft hair. “The perfect name for a perfect little girl.”
Hayes cuts in. “And he’s Connor, the dad. Could you give him your number?”
He means well, but this recruitment is downright aggressive. And annoying as hell.
Shaking my head, I say, “Please excuse my pushy ass of a friend. You don’t have to—”
“No, I don’t mind. I’ll put it in your phone. Trade you.”
With a moment’s hesitation, I pull out my phone, and Jessa and I swap baby and device with minimal fumbling.
As her quick fingers type her number into my phone, her thumb ring catches my eye. It’s delicate and feminine, a simple band wrapped around a small amber jewel. Did her boyfriend give that to her?
“Here you go. Nice to meet you, Connor,” she murmurs, her long eyelashes casting shadows on her rosy cheeks. When she gives my phone back to me, our fingers brush with an electric shock.
“Sorry,” she says. “Static electricity.”
“All good.” I chuckle, smiling sincerely for the first time in weeks. Nice to meet you too, Jessa.
As the sun begins its descent, Jessa and the Wilkeses head into the house. Marley is fast asleep in the crook of my arm. The guys are finishing off their final beers for the evening, and I’m utterly exhausted.
“Hire that girl,” Hayes says firmly, clapping me on the shoulder. “You don’t have to do it all by yourself. You need the help.”
“Come on,” I say with a scoff. “You heard her. She has no experience.”
He shrugs. “Well, she knew how to get Marley to stop crying. She seemed pretty experienced to me.”
I release a slow sigh. “I’ll think about it. Now, get out of here so I can put Marley down for the night.”
“Let’s leave the man alone,” Wolfie says quickly. He can always sense when it’s time to leave, which is one of the things I love about him.
The guys say their good-byes, and before I know it, I’m alone again. Just me and my baby girl.
I miss having Wolfie as a roommate more than I’d like to admit, but we’re both better off this way. No need to have both of us losing sleep at night, effectively knocking down Frisky Business’s production levels by half. Besides, the man’s in love, and with my sister, no less. Our friendship needed some space.
After kicking off my shoes, I heat up some leftovers and carry my plate and Marley into the living room. After I settle the baby into her body pillow on the couch beside me, I grab my dinner and the remote.
This is my favorite part of the day. I’ve worked hard to get Marley on a schedule. I know that I’ll have to adjust it as she gets older, but for now, she crashes by seven, so this quiet time we get together before bed is pretty sweet. As I eat, she blinks up at me and listens to my predictions about Chicago’s hockey team this season.
“Nystrom’s looking good this year,” I say, glancing at her. “I wonder if you’ll be a hockey fan like your old man.”
She stretches her arms over her head and lets out a yawn. I chuckle and take another bite of my food.
I hope we can share quiet moments like this as she grows. Eating pizza. Watching the game. Maybe even a little trash-talking about the opposing team. The idea of a precocious teenager with Beth’s blue eyes and my dark hair sharing in some smack talk about any team who’s not Chicago brings a smile to my face. I never imagined myself as a dad before, but now I can’t imagine not having Marley in my life.
By the time I’ve finished eating, Marley’s already asleep.
I carry her to her bedroom where her crib and changing station live. I’ve become something of an expert in changing diapers quickly and without any fuss.
Marley is still sound asleep when I lay her down on the soft mattress pad of her crib. In these moments, I don’t feel like an actor performing the role of father. I am her father.
I watch her sleep, all soft sighs and tiny grasping fingers. I love this little girl so damn much.
The soft look on Jessa’s face when she held Marley flashes through my thoughts. It was almost like she loved Marley too. Like she was her own.
I shake off the thought, recognizing it for what it is—my dad brain desperately looking for a mate to help rear my child. But even I know it wouldn’t be healthy to fixate on the cute neighbor who settled my baby one time.
Talk about delusional.
As attracted as I am to Jessa, I can’t let my imagination get the better of me. Even so, I can admire her bright blue eyes and distinct freckles. I can fantasize about her full lips, how they might feel under my fingers, under my own lips.
She’s beautiful, and if I weren’t emotionally unavailable, I wouldn’t have questioned pursuing her. I would have pursued and kept pursuing until she was in my bed. But the reality is that I can’t afford any distractions right now. Not when a tiny life depends on my full attention.
You need the help.
Hayes may have had a point. I can’t stay holed up in my house as a full-time dad forever. I have to take breaks, I have to have fun, and most importantly—I have to get back to work.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I tap out a text before I can psych myself out.
If you’re interested in that nanny position, let’s talk. Would you be free for a chat tomorrow?
I press send. The message is direct and professional, with no indication of exactly how much I’m attracted to Jessa. And if I have any control over my libido, she’ll never know.
This is not how I expected my summer to go. You couldn’t even make this up if you tried.
The day I move into my new place, the perfect job practically falls into my lap? It’s like a dream. Or a fantasy. Maybe I should check and make sure I’m not passed out on the side of the road somewhere in Wicker Park.
And it all happened so easily.
The stud next door needs a nanny. As the oldest of six, I know a thing or two about babies. Sure, I might not have direct experience, but my mom always had her hands full, and when there are that many little ones running around, you learn to start taking care of each other.
Besides, the man didn’t know about gas bubbles, so I’m thinking I’ve got something to offer. He needs help, and I’m more than happy to provide him that service. Especially if that means I get to stare a little longer into those dreamy green eyes.
Connor Blake. Oh yeah, he’s dreamy, all right. Who has a name like that in real life?
I couldn’t get a read on whether he actually wanted to hire me or not, but his friends seemed so encouraging about the idea, that either way, he went with it. Watching the adorable baby next door would certainly be a sweet gig, not to mention that the commute would be ideal. Stumbling next door in yoga pants? Sign me up.
When we texted last night, Connor seemed a little stiff and short, communicating in brief phrases and one-word responses, but he agreed to have me over today. Whether that means this is an interview or if I have the job, I’m not quite sure. But I’ve got my fingers crossed, and my toes for good measure.
Because, let’s be honest—I wasn’t looking forward to applying and interviewing for jobs while trying to explain that I’m preparing to move to Central America in a few months. That doesn’t exactly scream, “Hire me now.”
With a huff, I toss my phone onto the bed and decide to get ready. This hair isn’t going to tame itself. And showing up to my first day (or interview or whatever it is) with an unruly mane of frizzy curls isn’t exactly the best way to start off on the right foot.
I breeze through my cute little living room, admiring my new setup. I spent all afternoon perfecting the placement of my macramé wall hanging over the pale blue velvet couch, and the retro lamp I found at a garage sale last weekend turned out to be the perfect fit.
And I was lucky to find this rental on such short notice. The fact that it’s the upstairs of an older couple’s house means that I don’t have to put my name on anything, I just hand them the money and peace out when my time comes. Not that that means I won’t do my fair share of nesting in the meantime.
I check my appearance in the mirror, running my fingers through my curly long brown hair. I’ve kept my makeup light—just a little concealer and a few dabs of bronzer on the apples of my cheeks.
After slipping on a pair of shorts and a top I don’t mind getting a little spit-up on, I take one last glance at myself in the mirror before heading out the door. The thought of Connor laying eyes on so much of my bare legs sends a little buzz of electricity down my spine.
I never knew the single-dad thing could be so hot, but Connor is very attractive, dad or not.
I stuff my phone in my pocket, lock the door behind me, and take the less-than-a-minute walk from my door to Connor’s. I can still feel the buzz of anticipation running along my spine as I wait for him to answer, and when the door opens, it transforms into a full-on zap.
Was his chest this broad and lickable yesterday? I wouldn’t know—he wasn’t wearing a gray T-shirt this fitted that hugs all his muscles.
His green eyes meet mine, and my insides liquify. I didn’t know a person could actually have a dazzling smile. But there he is, Connor Blake, dazzling away at me with sweet baby Marley in his arms.
“Hey, Jessa, come on in.”
It’s hard not to swoon at the sound of his voice, warm and smooth like a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top of a freshly baked brownie.
All right, now I’m horny and hungry. Focus, Jessa.
“Thanks,” I mumble, squeezing past him as he steps out of the doorway.
Baby Marley gurgles as I pass, and I smile and give her a little wave. She looks up at me, her big blue eyes shining with delight before she rests her face on her daddy’s shoulder. It’s so adorable, I’m about ready to die.
“Oh, you’re being shy now? Because you were awfully chatty just a few minutes ago,” Connor says, his voice light and playful as he talks to his daughter.
Okay, scratch that. Now it’s so adorable I’m ready to die.
“Hi, Marley,” I coo, waving again. “It’s me, Jessa. Your neighbor.”
Marley peers up at me from her daddy’s chest, her lips parted in a sweet, gummy smile.
Connor grins. “I think she likes you.”
I think she likes you too.
Talking about myself in the third person? Probably a sign that I’m not fit to watch his child. Thank God he can’t hear what I’m thinking.
“Why don’t we show you around,” he says.
He shifts Marley onto his other side and leads me through the entryway and into the living room, complete with a charcoal-gray accent wall, sleek built-in shelving, and a plush suede couch. It’s homier than I imagined a bachelor pad would be—although I’m not sure it still counts as a bachelor pad if a two-month-old lives there as well.
“Obviously, this is the living room,” he says, gesturing awkwardly.
I nod, realizing that I haven’t said a word to the man since I set foot into his house, and manage to squeak out, “It’s nice.” Smooth, Jessa.
Connor nods and waves for me to follow him through the open-concept floor plan and into the kitchen.
“Formula’s in the pantry. She breastfeeds when she’s with her mom, but we’ve had a few miscommunications on pumping and passing on the milk lately. So it’s back to keeping some formula in the house.” He plants a kiss on the top of Marley’s head, the look in his eyes somewhere between optimistic and frustrated.
“Has she been taking to the bottle okay?” It’s not that I’m trying to pry, but if I’m going to help out around here, I need the full scoop. We’ll get to Marley’s mom in a minute.
He sighs. “Yes and no. She’s been hit or miss lately. I know she’s hungry, but it’s like she’s picky or something.”
“Well, you’re warming the formula, right?”
Connor looks at me like I just spoke to him in Czech. “That’s . . . something I’m supposed to be doing?”
“I mean, you don’t have to, but if she’s being finicky about the bottle, and she’s used to the breast . . .”
He flashes me another one of his dazzling smiles. “See? This is why I need you. Desperately. We need you. I’m the idiot who serves his daughter cold formula. Please tell me you’ll help us out. I’m willing to beg.”
That string of short sentences makes me weak in the knees. So do his broad chest and white smile. Seriously, the guy is gorgeous.
“Of course. I would love to be Marley’s nanny,” I say, smiling and tucking my hair behind my ear.
“Thank God,” he says on a relieved breath. Then he smiles widely at Marley. “Baby girl, Jessa is your new nanny. Actually, no, she’s our lifesaver,” he says brightly.
Marley gurgles in a way I’m deciding means she’s happy, and Connor leads me upstairs for the rest of the tour.
“But I should tell you, I’m only available for the next two months. I have an assignment in Central America with a nonprofit organization all lined up then.” I told him yesterday that I only needed something short-term, but it’s best to be up front about things, I’ve found.
He nods. “Okay then. Two months. I’ll take what I can get.”
“So, does Marley see her mom often?” I ask, keeping my voice as casual as possible. Because it’s not like I’m trying to ask about his love life. That’s not what I’m interested in at all.
We enter Marley’s bedroom, an adorable little nook painted pale pink. The crib linens, the rug in the center of the room, the curtains over the large bay window—all pink. Oh yeah, this guy totally went all out for his daughter.
“We’re not together, if that’s what you’re asking,” he says with a mischievous smile.
My cheeks flame. “Oh no, I was—”
“Nah, I’m just joking with you,” Connor says quickly, his smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.
“We only dated for a couple of months before we got this little surprise,” he says, nodding to Marley, who’s currently drooling very happily onto his forearm. “Don’t get me wrong—Marley’s the best thing to ever happen to me. But it’s not like her mom and I were planning on being together forever.”
Point one for Jessa.
“We share custody. Marley stays with her mom a couple nights a week, and she’s with me the rest of the time. It’s all very amiable, but that’s also why I only need the help part time. Between my kid and my business, there are a lot of balls to keep in the air.” He chuckles a little at his own joke, and something tells me I’m missing out on the whole story.
“You own your own business?”
“Co-own. My buddies, who you had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting yesterday, and I own a sex-toy shop downtown . . . Frisky Business.”
Jaw, meet floor.
Not only is this man hotter than hell and adorable with his baby girl, now he’s well-versed in the bedroom too? As if it wasn’t hard enough to keep myself from eye-fucking him throughout this whole home tour, now I have to live with the information that he owns a sex-toy store?
Connor scans my face, watching for any sign of disapproval. Or maybe for signs of arousal? I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I know he’s looking. And that’s enough to send another buzz straight to my core.
Act normal, Jessa.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
“I might have to head downtown and check it out one day,” I say, my body feeling like it’s going to combust at any moment.
Connor licks his lips, and if I’m not mistaken, heat flashes through his eyes as he looks at me. “Tell me when, and I’ll give you a grand tour of the store.”
This is going to be a summer job unlike any other.
“Are you kidding me with this thing?”
The electric-blue dildo hangs limply between two manicured fingers. It’s held by my first customer of the day, a woman so disenchanted by what I assume is her first visit to a sex-toy shop that I actually feel sorry for her. Her face is set in a resolute frown, the toy held out with disgust in front of her, not unlike how I held my first dirty diaper.
“It’s your favorite color,” her boyfriend points out.
Isn’t this how it always goes? One wants to try something new, but the other is resistant. One’s looking for a little extra spice in the bedroom, but the other’s a fan of the same old, same old. It’s a matter of finding something that pleases both parties. Lucky for them, I specialize in toys for curious couples. By the time I’m done with these two, they’ll be scampering back to bed to play with their new unmentionables.
“Sounds like you’re looking for something a little more subtle,” I murmur, rubbing my chin thoughtfully. Damn, I’m overdue for a shave. “I think I have just the thing. Come with me.”
The couple follows me farther into the store. I haven’t been here in almost two months, but these customers would never know the difference. I move through the displays with ease, pleased to find everything in its correct place. I let the couple peruse the shelves of discreet toys for a moment before I pluck a sample product off the shelf and pass it over.
“How about this? It’s called the Joie De Vivre.”
I hear Hayes snort from the front counter, trying to cover his laughter. The man knows my strategy. After the customers have explored on their own, sometimes laughing at the toys that verge on the cusp of garish, sometimes blushing with a bit of discomfort, I impress them with the sleek, expensive stuff. Works every time.
“What does it do?” the woman asks, her eyebrows raised.
I can tell by the way she’s inspecting it that she’s already a lot more comfortable with the size and shape of the thing. So I explain how the couple’s toy works, beginning with the functionality of the device and ending with its special features—multiple vibration settings, 100 percent silicone design, waterproof exterior, discreet case.
But as I’m answering their questions, there’s an unfamiliar emptiness in my voice. The customers are none the wiser, but it feels like I’m reading from a script. Before I became a dad, I used to take pride in helping couples with their sex lives. Now I just feel like a fraud.
My own sex life is nonexistent. My libido is next to gone, except in the inconvenient moments when it’s appeared like a tornado around Jessa.
Not gonna lie . . . the girl inspires a whirlwind of conflicting emotions in me.
Jessa is a total pro when it comes to babies—anyone could see that. It honestly shocks me that she hasn’t nannied before. She just seems to know things about babies, things that I haven’t figured out in my two months of fatherhood. She makes it look easy. Too easy. But she’s also very pretty, and that’s been more than a little distracting.
My dad brain wants me to wife her, and my dick wants me to bed her. The romantic in me wonders if I could do both, but then the businessman in me shuts it all down with the simple but cogent reminder: She’s the nanny. You’re her employer. Don’t be a creep.
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