The Baby Contract(7)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 “I’m trending,” said Kassidy in an excited whisper as the apartment door swung shut behind her.

 She scrolled through the screen of her phone while she kicked off her shoes and started for the living room. “It’s mostly good.”

 “I’ll go through the posts in the morning,” said Mila.

 She was dead tired right now, and as soon as she retrieved the rest of Kassidy’s email printouts from Troy’s dining table, she was headed home for bed. She’d taken dozens of photos of the audience and the outside crowds, and she’d add the new social media posts to the mix. She intended to get back to her situational analysis early tomorrow.

 “Oh, look,” whispered Kassidy, coming to an abrupt halt at the edge of the living room. “How sweet is that?”

 Mila followed Kassidy’s gaze to find Troy sound asleep on his sofa. He was flat on his back, Drake sprawled across his chest, eyes closed, his face pressed into the crook of Troy’s neck.

 “Sweet,” said Mila. Though, even sleeping, she found Troy more imposing than sweet.

 His eyes blinked once then came fully open, obviously alert.

 “What happened to Alice Miller?” asked Kassidy.

 “She left.” Troy cradled Drake and sat up, glancing at his watch. “This one slept until five minutes after she drove away.”

 Troy’s short hair was still neat, his shirt wrinkle-free, and he seemed completely awake and alert. The only flaw to his otherwise perfect appearance was the shadow of a beard. But it was sexy—made him look rakishly handsome.

 “He’ll be hungry soon,” said Kassidy, moving to take Drake from her brother.

 “He’ll be chubby soon the way he eats,” said Troy.

 “That’s what babies do,” said Kassidy.

 “That’s not all they do,” said Troy. “Don’t go making more plans that include me. This diaper duty is not going to be a regular thing.”

 Kassidy hesitated, glancing uncertainly at Mila.

 “What?” asked Troy.

 “They really liked me,” said Kassidy.

 “She was fantastic,” Mila added. “I meant what I told you on the phone.”

 The night had obviously been thrilling for Kassidy, and Mila hoped Troy didn’t put a damper on it.

 “Is there any money in this?” asked Troy as he relinquished Drake. “What I mean is, enough for a full-time nanny?”

 “Eventually,” said Kassidy. “I think. I’m sure.” She didn’t look all that sure.

 Mila was no expert, but it seemed the money ought to rise along with Kassidy’s popularity. There might be a lag time up front, but it had to be worth the financial risk of hiring a nanny so that she could continue to perform.

 Drake let out a cry, and Kassidy rubbed his back, cradling him close, rocking her body to soothe him. “It’s okay, baby,” she crooned. She headed for the kitchen. “Let’s get you a bottle.”

 Mila and Troy were left alone in the dimly lit living room.

 He rose to his feet. “Is this the part where you remind me she needs a bodyguard?”

 Mila didn’t see an advantage to pressing him further about a job tonight. But she wasn’t going to mince words, either. “What your sister needs is a proper security plan.”

 “Here we go,” he said.

 “No, we don’t. That’s a conversation for tomorrow. Right now, I’m taking my analysis and going home. Can you tell Kassidy I’ll call her and let her know what I find?”

 “What are you looking for?”

 “I don’t know yet,” Mila answered honestly as she gathered the pile of paper. “I’ll go through the photos and the social media posts, see what jumps out. Last we checked, she was trending, so there’ll be plenty of material.”

 “Trending where?”

 “Just here in DC.”

 He nodded thoughtfully. “How big was the crowd tonight?”

 “Capacity.” She stopped halfway to the door to stand in front of him. “Which I’m told is three hundred. And there was a lineup outside.”

 “What’s the typical for the Ripple Branch?”

 “On a Thursday, the manager says it’s usually at two-thirds capacity.”

 Troy looked thoughtful. “So she had an impact.”

 “She had an impact.”

 “They’ll want her back.”

 “Them and a dozen other places in the DC area,” said Mila. “I did some rudimentary research on Eileen Renard. She seems legit, and she seems excited.”

 “You checked out Eileen Renard?”

 “Yes.”

 “And you have pictures from tonight?”

 “The audience, the lineup, staff, autograph seekers outside the back door.”

 “Do you have a list of the new offers for gigs?”

 Mila pulled her phone from her pocket and lit up the screen to show him.

 “You made a list,” he said without glancing at it.

 “Of course.”

 “You’re hired.”

 Her brain stumbled. “What?”

 “Temporarily.”

 “Did you just offer me a job?”

 “You need to be quicker on the uptake than that, Mila.”

 “You can’t blame me for being surprised.”

 “I want you to watch Kassidy.”

 Temporary wasn’t her first choice, but she’d absolutely take it. It was an opportunity to show him what she could do.

 “That’s a smart decision,” she told him.

 Now he looked amused. “Not half-confident, are you?”

 “I’m fully confident.”

 “Are you going to get cocky on me?”

 No, she wasn’t. “Confidence is different than arrogance. I was the one on the ground tonight. I saw what I saw, and my assessment stands.”

 “You think she needs a security strategy.”

 Mila was about to say she knew Kassidy needed a security strategy, but it had already been a long evening. “I do.”

 “We can talk about it in the morning.”

 Drake started to cry in the kitchen.

 “And a nanny,” said Troy. “We’re definitely going to talk about a nanny.”

 * * *

 Mila sat across from her sister, Zoey, beside the front window in the Benson Street Bakery. Steaming mochas and fresh-baked banana muffins sat on the table between them. Rain spattered on the glass. Pedestrians rushed past in the half light, while the morning coffee crowd lineup snaked through the center of the small space.

 “Anything worth doing has a high barrier to entry,” said Zoey, breaking off a bite of her muffin.

 “Do you have to quote Mom this early in the morning?” Mila cut her muffin in half and spread it with a layer of butter.

 Zoey grinned. “Didn’t get a lot of sleep last night?”

 “A couple of hours.” Mila took another drink of the creamy coffee, thinking maybe she should have gone with espresso. But, man, this tasted good.

 “He’s hot,” said Zoey, turning her phone to show Mila a picture she’d found of Troy.

 “I don’t care about hot,” said Mila. Though there was no denying Troy’s sex appeal. “He’s a bit annoying. And he’s definitely chauvinistic. But he’s great at the job. I can learn a lot from him. And that’s all I care about right now.”

 Zoey turned the picture back toward her, taking it in with moony eyes. “Will you introduce me?”

 “No, I won’t introduce you. You think I want my sister dating my boss?”

 Mila’s brain flicked involuntarily back to the moment yesterday in Troy’s office when she’d almost kissed him. Or had he almost kissed her? It didn’t matter. Her feelings were the same, and they weren’t good. Maybe she should introduce him to Zoey.

 Her sister was five foot eight, model thin, always dressed for success, and men buzzed around her like bees on a hive.

 Right now, Zoey put on a conspiratorial grin. “I might be able to influence him in your favor.”

 “You’re going to sleep my way to the top?”

 “What are sisters for?”

 “Not that.”

 Zoey laughed. “You want him for yourself?”

 “No,” said Mila, telling herself she had to keep any attraction to Troy under ironclad control.

 “Hang on,” Zoey said, studying Mila’s expression. “You are interested in him.”

 “Not interested,” said Mila.

 But her sister was a lawyer, a skilled cross-examiner. There was no chance of getting away with an outright lie.

 “Attracted, sure,” she continued. “I’m female, and I have a pulse. But that’s where it stops, and it’s definitely not going any further.”

 “I guess you won’t get him to take you seriously once he’s seen you naked.”

 “He’s not going to see me naked.” Mila felt her face heat.

 “Okay.” Zoey drew out the word, obviously fighting a grin.

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