The Baby Contract(5)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 Their gazes stayed locked, and a tickle of awareness found its way into her pores. There was no denying he was a good-looking man. And masculine strength was definitely a turn-on for her. But it was odd that his belligerence wouldn’t have counteracted those two traits. She wasn’t blindly attracted to just any tough guy.

 The scanner chugged and whined in the background.

 “You need to leave,” he said.

 “You don’t want to know what I found?”

 “We both know Kassidy’s in no real danger.”

 “We do?”

 Mila wasn’t ready to go that far. Though it did seem likely Kassidy was experiencing the harmless, if annoying, adoration that could be directed at any pretty young woman in the public eye.

 “You’ve given it a nice try,” he said. “You’ve given it a terrific try. You’ve gone above and beyond in trying to get me to hire you. I’ll grant you that.”

 “Thank you. So, hire me.”

 “I’m not hiring you.”

 “Why not?” she asked.

 He rolled his eyes with obvious derision. “You’re stalling again.”

 “I’m serious. In this day and age, what possible reason could you have for not hiring women?”

 “You want the truth?”

 “I’d love the truth.”

 “Okay. Here it is. It’s a simple equation of muscle mass.”

 She gave herself an extra beat to frame her response. She knew this was her last and only chance to change his mind. Simple, she decided. Simple and direct was her best bet.

 “Skills can overcome muscle mass.”

 “Maybe,” he allowed, surprising her.

 She felt encouraged. “And don’t discount knowledge and intelligence.”

 He squared his shoulders, not looking at all like somebody who was about to capitulate. “I don’t discount knowledge and intelligence. I hire for skills. I hire for intellect. I hire for experience. I hire for proficiency. And when all of those elements are present, I then hire for strength and power.”

 “I have all of those things.”

 “How much do you even weigh?”

 “A hundred and twenty pounds. Almost.”

 He shook his head in a pitying way. “Two guys come at you, big guys, five hundred pounds between them. What do you do?”

 “Shoot them,” she said without hesitation.

 “You’re unarmed.”

 Mila knew two could play at this game. “What about you? How do you control a situation where the other guys are armed and you’re not?”

 “I’m never not.”

 “You know what I mean.” She stared levelly across at him. “There are times when even you, Mr. Two Hundred...whatever—”

 “Two-fifteen.”

 “Mr. Two-Fifteen, all muscle and sinew, are overpowered by the opposition.”

 “Less often than you,” he said softly.

 Something had shifted in the depths of his eyes, and she felt the sexual awareness all over again. He’d moved closer as they spoke. Or maybe she’d moved closer. But she could smell him now, and he smelled good. Another couple of inches, and she’d feel the heat of his body.

 She told herself she wanted to fight him, not kiss him. But she knew it was a lie. She’d been trained to face the honest reality of any physical encounter. Anything less put her at an absolute disadvantage.

 “You’re trying to distract me,” she said.

 “You’re the one trying to distract me.” He leaned in, closing the gap between them even farther.

 “It’s not on purpose.”

 “Of course it is.”

 “You think I can do that?” she asked, easing closer. “With you? With all that self-discipline you must have, I could distract you with sex?”

 His expression faltered.

 “If I can,” she continued, “you should probably hire me, because that’s something over and above what any of the muscle-bound brotherhood can accomplish.”

 “That’s your strongest attribute?” he taunted. “I wouldn’t think you’d want to brag about it.” But his gaze kept hers trapped, and the air seemed to thicken around them.

 She realized her mistake. “It’s not my strongest attribute.” As she spoke, she surreptitiously shifted her right hand around his side. “My strongest attribute right now is the knife pointed at your kidney.”

 “You don’t have a knife.”

 “It’s in its sheath. But I do have a knife.”

 He moved, and she instantly jerked her fist against him to show she could have stabbed him.

 He grabbed her wrist, and his other hand went to her throat.

 “You’re dead,” she told him.

 “I’m bleeding out,” he agreed. “But you’re dead, too.” His hand gently stroked the skin of her neck.

 “Am I hired?” she asked.

 “You’re insane.”

 His voice was a whisper. His face hovered over hers. She smelled his skin, imagined the taste of his lips, the feel of his body enveloping hers.

 He was going to kiss her. It was in the smoke of his eyes, the twitch of his fingers, the indrawn breath that tightened his chest. She shouldn’t let him. She couldn’t let him. But she knew she was going to let him. And it was going to be fantastic.

 Kassidy’s excited voice sounded through the doorway. “Mila?”

 Troy instantly stepped back.

 Mila snapped to reality. “In here.”

 “I’ve got a gig tonight,” Kassidy sang. “It’s a good one. The Ripple Branch on Georgia Avenue. They had a cancellation.”

 She appeared in the doorway. “Oh, hi, Troy.” She focused her attention on Mila. “Can you come with me?”

 “Love to,” Mila immediately answered.

 Kassidy barely took a breath. “You okay to babysit?” she asked Troy.

 “What?” The question clearly took him aback. It was probably the only thing that stopped him from ordering Mila not to go anywhere with Kassidy.

 Mila knew she shouldn’t laugh at his obvious predicament, but it was tough to fight the urge.

 “Drake should go to sleep by eight,” said Kassidy. “And I don’t have to leave until seven. I could have everything ready in advance. All you’d have to do is give him a quick bath, a bottle, and wind up his rainbow jungle toy. He loves watching it while he falls asleep.”

 “Sounds easy enough,” said Mila.

 “Go away,” Troy growled under his breath. “You don’t work here.”

 “Your sister needs protection.”

 “My sister needs a nanny.”

 “Before you fight with me, take a look at what I’ve found,” said Mila. “I wouldn’t call your sister’s situation high risk, but it’s not zero either.”

 “Nothing’s zero,” he said.

 “There’s something there,” she said.

 It was just out of reach, like the wisps of a dream. But Kassidy’s anxiety was real. The girl’s instincts were telling her to protect herself. Mila didn’t like to ignore instincts.

 “You’re so transparent,” he drawled.

 “Fine,” said Mila. “Believe whatever you want. Hire me, don’t hire me, but I’m going to the performance with Kassidy tonight.”

 “It’s a free country,” said Troy, his blue eyes going icy gray. “Call a nanny service before you go,” Troy said to Kassidy. “I’m not your babysitter.”

 “It’ll be easy,” said Kassidy.

 “I’ve got work to do.”

 Mila fought an urge to tease him, but she bit back the unwise words. She’d accompany Kassidy to the performance tonight and file a report with Troy in the morning. Maybe he’d read it. Maybe he wouldn’t. Even if her work was exceptional tonight, it might not change his mind. There might be nothing she could do to change his mind about hiring her. But she wasn’t going down without a fight.

 * * *

 In the ops control room, Vegas turned his head at Troy’s entrance. He did a double take of Drake sleeping on Troy’s shoulder.

 “New recruit?” he asked.

 “It’s the apprenticeship program,” said Troy, his hand splayed across Drake’s diaper-covered bottom, easily balancing the baby’s slight fifteen pounds.

 Two dozen video screens decorated the walls, receiving feeds from fixed and mobile cameras, tracking devices and information from their international offices. This time of night, people were just arriving at work in Dubai.

 “I take it this is the new nephew,” said Vegas.

 “He’s not my—” Troy stopped himself. He supposed, technically, Drake was going to be his nephew. “There’s a nanny on the way. She had car trouble or kid trouble or something.”

 All Troy knew for sure was that he was alone with Drake, and he didn’t like it.

 “Kassidy’s out on the town?” asked Vegas, disapproval in his tone.

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