The Baby Contract(8)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 “Stop,” said Mila. “We’re talking about my career, not my love life.”

 “Let’s talk about my love life.”

 “You have a love life?” Mila immediately realized how that sounded. “I mean, other than the dozens of offers you get every week.”

 “I met a guy,” said Zoey.

 “A guy, guy?” Mila asked in surprise.

 Zoey had an active but very informal dating life. Her career came first, and she’d studiously avoided the demands a serious relationship would put on her. She was already the youngest person in her prestigious law firm to make associate partner.

 “Is there another kind?” she asked.

 “An honest to goodness potential maybe-you’re-the-one kind of guy?”

 Zoey hid a smile behind her coffee cup. “Yes.”

 Now Mila was baffled. “Then why do you want to meet Troy?”

 “I don’t. I wanted to see your reaction when I asked to meet him. He seems like your type.”

 “Annoying chauvinist is not my type.”

 “Rough and ready is your type. I know how you feel about those metrosexual guys.”

 “Only because I can’t stand aftershave.”

 It seemed shallow to discount an entire classification of men. Mila didn’t want to seem shallow. But she did prefer a man with a lot of obvious testosterone, one who looked at home in jeans and a canvas work shirt, one that she couldn’t physically overpower in less than a minute. There was no particular reason for the preference. It was just the way her hormones worked.

 “You also hate men in skinny jeans and cardigans,” said Zoey.

 “That’s just good taste.” Then Mila stumbled. “Wait. Your new guy, he’s not into cardigans, is he?”

 “Business suits. Silk ties.”

 “Not bow ties.”

 “Designer suits. Business formal.”

 “He’s a lawyer?”

 “He’s a judge.”

 “Are you allowed to date a judge?”

 “Sure. Of course, I can’t date him and argue in front of him at the same time.”

 “But, otherwise...?”

 “Otherwise, it’s fine. Well, technically fine, from a professional standpoint, anyway.” Zoey worried her muffin.

 Mila might not be an experienced trial lawyer, but even she could tell her sister was holding back something important. “What aren’t you telling me?”

 “It’s Dustin Earl.”

 “Dustin Earl?”

 “Yes.”

 Mila gave her head a little shake. “Are there two of them?”

 “No, just the one.”

 “You’re dating the judge who approved the demolition of the Turret Building.”

 Zoey pursed her lips. “That building was over two hundred years old.”

 “That would be Preservation Society’s point.” Mila had heard it all from her mother.

 “It was condemned,” argued Zoey.

 The structural integrity of the building—or even the merits of the decision—wasn’t really Mila’s point. “Mom’s going to have a cow.”

 Their mother, Louise Stern, was also a superior court judge. She called Judge Earl a brash, maverick upstart with little appreciation for the long-range impact of his decisions. They disagreed on almost everything, but nothing more stridently than the fate of the Turret Building.

 “Tell me about it,” said Zoey, popping another bite of her muffin into her mouth.

 “Are you going to tell Mom and Dad?”

 “I’m not telling anybody.”

 “You just told me.”

 “You don’t count.”

 Mila couldn’t help but smile at that. “Gee, thanks.”

 “You know what I mean. You’re not going to tell Mom or Dad, or Rand or Franklin.”

 Their oldest brother, Rand, was a decorated captain on a Navy cruiser somewhere in the Mediterranean. Franklin’s Green Beret missions for the Army were secretive. But he was probably hunkered down in a jungle on some mountainside, monitoring drug kingpins or rebels.

 Zoey continued, “And I knew you wouldn’t freak out.”

 “True enough,” Mila said as she worked her way through the oversize muffin. “I’ve got far too many other things pinging my worry meter.”

 Zoey’s clandestine love life would have to take a backseat to Troy’s reluctance and Kassidy’s security.

 “Things like Troy Keiser,” Zoey said, the glint returning to her eyes.

 Mila refused to take the bait. “If I don’t get him to hire me permanently, I’ll have to explain a professional failure to the family.”

 Zoey lifted her coffee cup. “If you fail, it’ll take the pressure off me.”

 “Or the other way around,” said Mila. “If they’re freaking out about Dustin Earl, nobody’s going to care that I’ve blown my dream job.”

 “You want to bet on that?”

 “No,” said Mila.

 Not that she’d ever wish her sister ill. But she doubted even the infamous Judge Earl would be enough to distract her family from any kind of career failure.

 If Troy turned her down, she’d have four drill sergeants all shouting at her to get up off the mat, to regroup and try again. If a job with Troy Keiser was the best credential for her future career, then that was exactly what Mila was expected to achieve. No hesitation, no excuses, no giving up.

 “I’m headed to Pinion Security right now,” she said, polishing off the last of her coffee.

 “Show him what you’ve got, little sister.”

 Mila had made up her mind to take it slow, take it steady and methodical in order to impress Troy. She wouldn’t try to knock it out of the park in the first five minutes.

 “There’s nothing for me to do but paperwork this morning,” she said. “And after that I have to find a nanny.”

 “A nanny?”

 “Kassidy can’t perform without someone to take care of Drake.”

 “And if she can’t perform, she can’t be in danger. And if she’s not in danger, you can’t save her.”

 Mila frowned, not liking the way that sounded. “My plan is to keep her out of danger. If there’s no danger, I’ve still done my job.”

 “Troy Keiser probably won’t be all that impressed if you keep her safe from nothing.”

 Much as she hated it, Mila knew Zoey’s words were the bald truth. If Kassidy’s fans were simply fans, it would be difficult for Mila to shine. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to wish any danger on Kassidy. And the most foolish move in the world would be for her to see things that weren’t there. She’d have to keep herself on an even keel, make sure she didn’t look too hard for threats.

 * * *

 This morning, Troy had found himself second-guessing his decision to hire Mila. Second guessing wasn’t like him. And he couldn’t afford to do it. He was in a business full of split-second decisions, most of which were final, some deadly final.

 “How did she convince you?” Vegas asked from across their shared office.

 It was a utilitarian room, with a couple of guest chairs, computers, monitors, an old-fashioned whiteboard and a large rectangular work table in the middle. Their desks both faced the windows, side by side, looking toward the river.

 “It was Drake who wore me down,” said Troy. “I don’t care who does it, but somebody’s hiring a nanny.”

 “Kassidy can hire her own nanny.”

 Troy had to admit it was true. Not that he had a whole lot of faith in Kassidy’s judgment. But she could use a reputable service. Last night’s nanny seemed perfectly fine. Her only problem was leaving too early.

 “Mila seems methodical,” Troy said to Vegas, using the reason he’d settled on for himself. “I appreciate methodical.”

 “Do you think Kassidy’s under any real threat?”

 “I think Mila will find out. If it’s nothing, terrific. Then once we have a nanny, Mila’s gone.”

 Troy would let her go without a second thought. Her persistence might have seemed admirable last night, but she was just another investigator. He’d decided that a woman was probably good for Kassidy under the current circumstances, but once the threat assessment was complete, that would be the end.

 “Have you set up the employment entry tests?” asked Vegas.

 “No.” Troy was surprised by the question. “This isn’t a regular hire.”

 Successful completion of four stringent performance tests was required of every Pinion Security agent—tradecraft theory, technical skills, weapons proficiency and physical fitness. There was an overall 80 percent failure rate, even among ex-military members. The obstacle course was particularly grueling. There was no way a woman could complete it.

 “So, you’re lowering the standards?” asked Vegas.

 Troy took in his partner’s critical expression. “Yes. I’m lowering the standards. For her. It’s a one-shot mission, she’s not—”

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