The Baby Contract(3)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 A flare came into his blue eyes. She could only hope it was amusement and not anger.

 “Vegas invited you to the second floor.”

 “But the person I really want to see is you.”

 “So you hijacked the elevator to the private floor?”

 Mila glanced along the short hallway that ended in two doors. “I didn’t realize it was a private floor.” She wasn’t about to admit she’d planned to search the building from the top down in order to find him.

 “How can I help you, Ms. Stern? And no, you can’t have a job. Sweet-talking your way past reception does not prove your superior tradecraft skills.”

 “That wasn’t my intent.”

 “What was your intent?”

 “To talk to you in person.”

 “Let’s get this over with.”

 Mila’s brain immediately leaped to her rehearsed points. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but the number of high-profile businesswomen, female politicians and celebrities in need of some form of personal protection is rising every year. Estimates show that companies focusing on that fast-growing demographic can see an increase in business of up to 15 percent per year. And offering services that cater specifically to—”

 “You’re making that up.”

 She didn’t let the interruption rattle her. “I’m not. Any number of public sources can point to the rise in female political figures, industrialists, high-powered rock stars.”

 “The 15 percent. You made up the 15 percent.”

 He had to be guessing. Mila was a very good liar.

 “It’s more anecdotal than scientific,” she allowed. “But the fundamental point—”

 “We already cater to women,” said Troy. “We protect hundreds of women, with better than a 99-percent success rate.”

 There was something slightly off in his expression. He was lying right back at her. But why would he lie? And then she got it. He was making up the 99 percent to mock her.

 “You’re making that up,” she said softly.

 “Any number of sources will verify that we have a robust female clientele.”

 She struggled not to smile. “You’re making up the 99 percent.”

 “It’s my company.”

 “You’ve got a tell.”

 “I do not.”

 She lifted her chin. “Right there. Next to your left ear. There’s a muscle that twitches when you’re lying.”

 “That’s preposterous.”

 “Tell me another lie.”

 “I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “I’m not hiring you, not now, not ever.”

 “Because I’m a woman.”

 “Because you’re a woman.”

 “And you think that means I can’t fight hand to hand.”

 “I don’t just think that. It’s a fact.”

 “I’m pretty good,” she said, putting a challenge into her tone. “You want to spar?”

 He gave a chopped laugh. “You’re weak and delusional.”

 “I don’t expect to beat you.”

 Her statement seemed to puzzle him. “Then why the challenge?”

 “I expect to do well, surprise you, exceed your expectations.”

 “You’ll get hurt.”

 She gave a shrug. “Probably a little.”

 “Probably a lot.”

 “I really want this job.”

 “No kidding. But I’m not going to give you a job because you’re foolish enough to challenge me in hand-to-hand combat.”

 “Try me.”

 His phone rang in his pocket.

 “No,” he said to her before answering it. Then he made a half turn away from her. “Yeah?”

 Mila regrouped. She knew she could hold her own against him, and she knew she would surprise him with her skills. She also knew one of his major objections to hiring women security agents was the fear they couldn’t handle themselves in a fistfight.

 She considered simply up and attacking him. He’d have to defend himself. Then at least he’d see what she could do.

 “That was fast,” he said into the phone. “I’m already up on the ninth.”

 He was distracted at the moment, half turned away from her. It would give her an advantage in the first few seconds. His ribs were exposed, and his stance was slightly off balance.

 He glanced at her and instantly drew back, an expression of surprise on his face.

 “Gotta go,” he said into the phone. “Don’t even think about it,” he said to Mila.

 So much for her advantage of surprise. Still, the tactic had a reasonable chance of success.

 The elevator pinged behind her.

 It was enough of a distraction that Troy was able to grab her left wrist. He tried for the right, obviously intending to manacle her hands behind her back. But she was too quick for him.

 She was about to catch him in the solar plexus when a baby’s cries came through the elevator doors. She reflexively looked toward the sound.

 Troy snagged her other wrist, disabling her.

 “That wasn’t fair,” she grumbled over her shoulder.

 “Nothing in this business is fair.” He let her go.

 The elevator opened to reveal an attractive young woman with purple hair, a colorful bag dangling over her shoulder and a squalling baby in a stroller out front.

 “He’s hungry,” the woman said to Troy as she moved forward.

 Troy looked quite horrified by the sight.

 Mila knew he didn’t have a wife. Maybe this was a girlfriend.

 “Then feed him,” said Troy, sounding impatient.

 “I will.” The woman bumped the stroller wheels over the lip of the door.

 Mila could see her conversation with Troy coming to an abrupt and final end as the two of them dealt with the crying baby. She couldn’t afford to let that happen.

 Making a split-second decision, she bent over the stroller. “Oh, he’s adorable,” she said.

 The truth was the baby was quite unattractive at the moment. His face red and scrunched up, eyes watery, nose running and his mouth open with bawls of annoyance.

 Mila refused to let it deter her. “Come here, precious,” she cooed, imitating the behavior of her sappy aunt Nancy around babies. She gathered the messy little guy from the stroller. “What’s the trouble, huh? Are you hungry?”

 She felt ridiculous speaking to an uncomprehending baby in such a sickly sweet tone, but it was the only way she could think of to stick with Troy. And she was determined to stick with Troy.

 She forced herself to keep from grimacing as she brought the baby’s gummy face to her shoulder. Her tank top would wash, and so would her skin. She patted him gently on the back, surprised by the warmth of his little body and by the softness. He felt as though he didn’t have a single bone or muscle.

 His cries changed to intermittent sobs.

 “Let’s get going,” the woman said anxiously. “This won’t last long.”

 Mila refused to make eye contact with Troy, knowing he had to be angry at her pushiness. Instead, she marched past him, heading down the short hall to the doors at the end.





                       Two

 Two women had invaded Troy’s apartment, for two completely different but equally frustrating reasons. Well, maybe not equally frustrating, since he could get rid of Mila Stern in short order, just as soon as she put the baby down. Though, for the moment, the baby was quiet in her arms, and he was hesitant to mess with that.

 Kassidy was bent over his sofa sorting through her shoulder bag, pulling out diapers, flannel blankets and tiny socks.

 “He likes you,” she said to Mila, straightening with a bottle in her hand.

 “He seems like a sweetheart,” said Mila.

 Something pinged on Troy’s radar. Mila’s expression was perfectly neutral, and there was no reason for her to lie about something as innocuous as a baby. But for some reason his suspicions were up again.

 “He can be a terror,” said Kassidy. “Especially at night. It’s going to take Troy a while to get used to all the crying.”

 “Hello?” Troy didn’t like the sound of that.

 The guest rooms were on the opposite side of the apartment from the master bedroom, but the kid seemed to have quite a set of lungs.

 “I’m Kassidy Keiser, by the way,” Kassidy said to Mila.

 Mila looked surprised. She glanced to Troy. “So, you two are...married?”

 “No,” they both barked out simultaneously.

 Drake let out a cry of surprise.

 “Kassidy is my sister,” said Troy.

 Mila’s glance went to Drake. “So the baby isn’t yours?”

 “No!” This time Troy beat Kassidy to the punch.

 “I live in Jersey City,” said Kassidy, taking Drake from Mila’s arms. “That is, I normally live in Jersey City. But I’ve relocated for a while. Me and Drake. We’ll be staying here with Troy until things calm down.” She sat down on the sofa and popped the bottle into Drake’s mouth.

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