Allison Bradley has enough hassles repaying her ex’s crushing debts, juggling a demanding executive job, and raising her little boy on her own. The last thing she needs is to fall in love! But when her usual nanny bails, an agency sends wildly handsome biker Joe Martin as a replacement – -and Allison finds there’s something about this most unlikely babysitter that arouses long-forgotten hopes and dreams.
Joe Martin dreams big. He might be a nanny now, but he’s on the brink of a new career that will take him to the top. A ready-made family isn’t on his agenda. But the chemistry between him and his gorgeous new boss sizzles from the get go. Can the passion Joe and Allison ignite lead to a change of heart and a life together?
When Allison opened her front door to the tall, powerfully built man wearing faded denim jeans, a leather biker’s jacket, and carrying a helmet in one hand, she assumed he was a courier delivering a parcel from her office.
But he wasn’t.
“Mrs. Bradley?” he said, his voice as husky as the sound of a Harley skidding in gravel, “I’m Joe Martin, your new nanny.”
Allison stared at the man with his big, booted feet planted on her front veranda. At his thick, dark hair tied back roughly from his face with a leather string, at the gold stud piercing his left earlobe, at the worn jeans that molded long, muscular legs.
Was this some kind of joke?
He looked big and tough and as handsome as hell. A tradesman, perhaps. A footballer, maybe. But not a nanny.
Joe Martin wasn’t fazed at her stare. In fact he stared right back with bold, confident eyes of a blue so deep they seemed navy, until Allison found herself dropping her gaze and clutching the fine, almost translucent, fabric of her robe across her breasts, suddenly aware of what she must look like to him.
Her heartbeat stepped up a gear in awareness that he was a very good-looking guy and she was only a silken step away from nakedness.
She normally wouldn’t dream of answering the door dressed in a silky robe but the alarm had failed to go off, and she was running late for work. Very late. She’d only just stepped out of the shower and her wet, blond hair was dripping down her back.
She clenched her fists so tight her nails dug into her palms. One thing went wrong and then everything snowballed. Lia, the nanny she’d had for the last two months, had walked out without notice yesterday. Now she was facing a biker babysitter on her front doorstep, on a morning when she desperately needed things to flow smoothly.
The seven o’clock bus roared by and in the distance she could hear the hoot of the departing ferry. She was getting later for work by the second.
Joe Martin scowled. “I guess the agency didn’t tell you that I’m a man.”
Allison almost choked on a splutter of nervous laughter. As if he needed to state the obvious. She didn’t think she’d ever met anyone so aggressively male.
“No, they didn’t,” she finally managed to get out, annoyed at herself for letting the man’s appearance floor her. “I had no idea.”
How had the message on her voice mail gone? “We’re in luck. I’ve found you an awesome nanny,” Sandy, the girl from the Help From Above agency, had enthused. “I’m sending Jo around first thing in the morning.”
Naturally Allison had assumed Joanne or Jody or Joelene. Anything but Joseph.
Annoyance at the agency began to percolate through her shock. “I’m sorry,” she said, feeling at a disadvantage in her near-transparent nightwear. Her sensible cotton dressing gown was soaking in a bucket, a victim of baby puke, hence the inappropriately sexy robe. Thank heaven she’d at least pulled on some panties before she’d answered the door.
“There’s been a mistake. I can’t have a man looking after my child. I’ll call the agency right now.”
Her words sounded firm to her own ears, but inwardly she felt like sobbing with panic. She had to go to work. There was no choice. The deal she and her boss, Clive, had been working on for months would be made or broken by the meeting scheduled for 8.00am. Another day she might have been able to dial in to a conference call. Not today. It was the most important deal of her career – she desperately needed the commission it would earn her if she pulled it off. As well, after all the mentoring and support Clive had given her, she didn’t want to let him down.
She needed to hand Mitchell over to a caring, competent nanny – a female nanny. Help From Above were usually so reliable. She couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong. Please let them have someone else available on short notice. She reached for the door to close it.
“I want to talk to the agency too,” Joe Martin said. “They should have briefed you about me.” He pulled out a cell phone from the pocket of his leather jacket. “Let me call them now.”
“No. Please. I’d rather you left.” Hadn’t she wasted enough precious time already on this mix-up?
His black leather biker boots remained planted on her veranda. “I am who I say I am. I’ve been booked as your nanny. I’ve got my ‘Introducing Your Heavenly Helper’ ID to prove it.”
Allison had seen a few of those blue ID cards in recent times as she’d sought the ideal nanny for eighteen-month-old Mitchell.
Joe Martin continued. “Don’t think I’m not as angry about this as you are. I’d be a fool if I didn’t realize there are parents who are hung up about male carers. I expect the agency to realize that, too.”
Allison gritted her teeth at the way he said “hung up”.
“Hung up” and “uptight” – they were adjectives she, as a topflight corporate banker, had often had hurled at her. She was used to insults – any banker in this time and age had better get used to being among the least popular people in the world. But there was nothing “hung up” about ensuring the safety of her child.
Then there was her own safety to consider. Everything she’d ever been told about letting strange men into her house warned her to keep this big, powerful biker firmly on the other side of the threshold.
But he pulled out a battered wallet from his hip pocket and held out his identification card. For a long moment it stayed there between them before she reached for it. Her fingers brushed his as she took it from him. She snatched her hand back as if she had been singed. The inadvertent touch made her suddenly, uncomfortably aware of this biker nanny as a very attractive man.
Avoiding his eyes, and hoping he hadn’t noticed her reaction to his touch, she peered at the picture on Joe Martin’s card.
He took a great photo. In the color image, small as it was, he looked as impressive as any movie star; eyes the darkest blue she had ever seen; slightly crooked nose and strong jaw saving him from looking too handsome. He was hot. Her cheeks burned as she looked at the photo, then up at the man. What on earth was he doing working as a nanny?
But the card left no doubt as to his credentials. To earn that blue card, the Help From Above employees underwent character and background checking second to none.
She nodded. “I’ll still confirm your identity with the agency, of course,” she added, glancing anxiously at her watch. This man was the most unlikely nanny she had ever seen.
There was a sudden, awkward pause as she debated whether or not she should invite him inside while she called the agency. She was rescued from the uncomfortable silence by a high-pitched childish wail from the kitchen.
“Ohmigod! Mitchell!” She’d thought she’d only be at the door for a second to let the nanny in and had left him in his highchair.
She turned and rushed through the living room. Joe Martin followed her into the house. But she couldn’t worry about that now.
She kicked toys out of her path, convulsing with fear at the thought of what might have happened to her baby. It was just what the childcare books warned against. Never leave your baby by himself with food in case of choking. Why had she been so careless? What if-?
As she reached the kitchen door, she stopped so fast she could sense Joe Martin nearly bump into her.
Mitchell was still safely in his highchair where she’d left him eating his breakfast. But both cereal bowl and spoon were on the floor. The cereal they’d contained was now dripping through her son’s shock of ginger hair, streaking down his face and onto his clothes.
Not that it bothered the baby. He just wanted his spoon back and was making his demand heard in no uncertain terms. “Poon,” he ordered, once he saw the adults, “want poon.” He hiccuped and started wailing again.
Behind her, Joe Martin laughed – a big, generous laugh that rang with genuine amusement. “I don’t think I’ll need to call on my first aid training,” he said.
Looking at the mess all over the baby and the floor, Allison couldn’t see the humor. She couldn’t stop her voice from breaking into a half sob. “Mitchell, no! Not this morning. Please.” Would she ever learn not to dress him before she fed him?
Without invitation, Joe Martin strode past her and hunkered down so his face was level with Mitchell’s. “Hey, little guy,” he said. That deep, husky voice was surprisingly gentle. “You’re meant to eat your breakfast, not wear it.”
The baby immediately stopped screaming, looked searchingly in Joe’s face, and then grinned at him, displaying his motley collection of baby teeth.
Allison stared, amazed. Mitchell’s usual reaction to an unknown male was a shy turning away.
“Now where’s that spoon?” Joe asked Mitchell. He reached down, retrieved it, took it to the sink, washed it and returned it to Mitchell. The baby waved the spoon around in the air like a wayward conductor, chuckling at Joe the whole time. “Now keep it up there, okay?” said Joe, grinning back at Mitchell.
Allison’s annoyance at her son turned to a fierce defense. “He’s usually pretty good.” She kissed Mitchell on his soft little cheek. “Aren’t you, sweetie?” she said, as she wiped away a smear of cereal with her sleeve. She could never stay cranky with her son for longer than a second.
“Of course he is,” said Joe. “What is he? Eighteen months? He’s doing great.”
Joe reached for the paper towel roll. “You call the agency, I’ll wipe him off. He’ll need a clean T-shirt, but his pants are okay. Once I’ve done that, I’ll deal with the mess on the floor.”
“Uh…okay. I’ll call,” she said.
But she found herself reluctant to turn away from the sight of the hunky male tenderly wiping the cereal from her son’s face – and her son’s unhesitating acceptance of his administrations. Joe was so big, his hands almost spanned Mitchell’s head, and yet he was so gentle. She wasn’t used to seeing a man playing such a nurturing role with her child. It unsettled her how appealing she found it.
Never, not once, had she seen Mitchell’s father, her ex-husband, Peter, care for his son. Peter had walked out on her before Mitchell was born. He hadn’t wanted their baby and had only seen him once since his birth.
Not for the first time, Allison felt wrenched by an angry sadness at the thought of what Mitchell had been denied. And, though she always fought against self-pity, she couldn’t help but recognize that as a lone parent she had suffered too. How different it would be to raise a child with a partner to share both the joys and the tribulations of parenting. A partner as caring with kids as this man.
She still had half an eye on Joe as she called the nanny agency and asked for Sandy. “Sandy, it’s about Joe Martin, I-“
Before she could say another word, Sandy giggled conspiratorially over the phone.
“The awesome Joe? Isn’t he the hottest hunk you’ve ever seen?”
Allison looked over at Joe Martin as he deftly wiped cereal off her son’s bedraggled hair.
Hot hunk? Oh, yes. Joe’s muscular legs strained against the tight denim; where the leather jacket fell open, the white T-shirt molded a powerful chest. He laughed at Mitchell, and the flash of strong white teeth in his tanned face made her heart miss a beat.
Joe Martin had the kind of untamed good looks that would make people stop and stare at him in the street – he could be a model, an actor, any job where looks were a career currency.
She was taken by surprise at the sudden, uncontrollable flush that warmed her cheeks. She took a deep, steadying breath. Of course he was good looking. No red-blooded woman could deny that. But not her type.
She’d always gone for a more intellectual, less physical type of man, not trusting animal attraction as the basis for a relationship. She liked to retain control over her emotions – and you couldn’t do that with a man who made your knees turn to Jell-O just by looking at him.
And why was Sandy going on about Joe Martin’s looks? Help From Above was supposed to have found her an efficient, trained and thoroughly reliable nanny. Not a man-of-the-month straight out of a calendar shoot.
Allison turned away from Joe and cradled the phone close to her mouth. “Hmm,” she murmured, as non-committally as she could, in response to Sandy’s enthusiastic description of Joe Martin’s undoubted physical assets. “I had no idea you were sending me a man. When you said ‘Jo’ on your message I assumed you meant a woman.”
She could hear the smile in Sandy’s voice. “I thought I’d give you a surprise. Cheer you up. You’ve had it so tough.”
It took an effort, but Allison managed to suppress a sigh of exasperation. Sandy had been so good to her, helped her beyond the call of agency duty, always sympathetic to the problems faced by a mom on her own.
But she was very young. At Sandy’s stage of life she still thought a woman’s problems could be solved by meeting a good-looking man. Not caused by one.
Allison lowered her voice to a whisper. “Sandy, you must know I wouldn’t want a man. Not many women would. You hear stories about…about…” It was difficult to elaborate on a mother’s fears within Joe Martin’s earshot.
“I tried to call you last night on your cell without any luck. All I got was your voice mail. That’s when I left the message Joe could start with you in the morning. Believe me, Mrs. Bradley, you won’t get better than Joe Martin. He’s got qualifications coming out of his ears and references so glowing they shine in the dark. I gave you all that in the email.”
“What email?” asked Allison.
“I sent you an email when I couldn’t reach you by phone. To back up the voice mail message.”
Last night. Her laptop. She’d taken Mitchell out to the supermarket – it was a treat he loved though it kept him up well past his bedtime. When they’d got back, she’d snuggled with him in the rocking chair in his room and read him stories. Lulled by cuddles and kisses, Mitchell had soon fallen asleep. With his warm little body against hers, and exhausted from a grueling day at work, she’d dozed off in the chair.
When she’d woken up sometime during the night she’d settled her sleeping little boy in his cot, then staggered half-asleep into her own bed without even brushing her teeth. Checking her emails was the furthest thing from her mind. As was setting the alarm – hence the panic this morning.
“Can you hold a moment, Sandy?”
Allison dashed into the alcove off of the kitchen that housed her desk and a filing cabinet. It was essential for her job to have a home office, small as it was, for the copious amount of after-hours work expected of her. She opened her laptop.
Sure enough, there was an unread email from the Help From Above agency. She quickly scanned it: “Dear Mrs. Bradley, this is to introduce Joseph Martin, one of the best nannies on our books.”
Damn. The one night she didn’t check emails before she went to bed. If she’d read this in time, she could have called Sandy first thing and told her she wouldn’t accept a male.
As it was, she’d been so relieved at the voicemail message she’d thought no more about it, knowing she was okay for the morning. Sandy had said “Jo” was excellent and Allison had had no cause to disbelieve her. Just delighted such a gem was available at short notice.
Now she was facing the impossible situation of harboring in her kitchen a totally unsuitable biker babysitter. She cursed under her breath and went back to the phone. Please God, perform a miracle and let Sandy find someone else in the next ten minutes.
“Joe really is first rate,” said Sandy. “His references are impeccable. He’s gone through every checking process. Our other clients have been over the moon about him. It’s only because another client decided to go on vacation that he’s available. Believe me, you can trust Joe Martin with Mitchell.”
Allison wasn’t convinced. She had never considered the thought of having a male look after Mitchell. A nanny was a female role, a mother-substitute role. She glanced over at Joe. Tall. Powerful. Testosterone charged. So not a mommy figure.
“I haven’t got anyone else,” said Sandy.
Allison glanced up at the clock. She’d have to try another agency. “Okay I-“ Her cell phone rang from her briefcase. “Could you please hold again, Sandy?”
She burrowed through the case, hunting for the cell phone amid a tangle of chocolate bar wrappers. She knew it would be Clive.
He didn’t even wait for her to say “hello”.
“Are you on your way?” Her boss’s tone was terse. “You know how much is riding on this meeting.”
“Of course,” she lied, thinking of her robe and bare feet, her blond hair still dripping uncomfortably down the back of her neck. “Just getting in the car.”
She didn’t dare admit otherwise. Clive didn’t deserve the extra worry of fearing she’d be late. He’d probably been up all night agonizing about the meeting as it was. She didn’t want to contribute to his ulcer.
She realized she had a phone at each ear. Clive relieved her of her dilemma by hanging up, with a brusque reminder to meet him in his office before going to the boardroom.
She put down the cell. “Damn. Damn. I mean darn.” She met her son’s inquiring little face. “You didn’t hear that, Mitchell. Mommy doesn’t use naughty words.” Mitchell chortled in delight.
Joe Martin’s dark eyebrows arched in amusement, a smile played around his mouth. She knew she had looked ridiculous standing in her nightwear with a phone at each ear. But with the clock ticking away, and still no nearer to a child-minding solution, she was in no mood to be laughed at.
“There’s nothing funny about it.” She pulled her robe tighter across her breasts again, hoping it hadn’t gaped open while she was on the phone. How had this morning gotten so out of control?
He shrugged his broad shoulders. “Was I laughing?”
She opened her mouth to reply but then the faint, disembodied voice of Sandy from the agency came through the other phone. “Mrs. Bradley? Mrs. Bradley? Are you there?”
Joe Martin took the receiver from Allison’s hand. “Yes, she is,” he said. “She wants to ask you to get her another nanny.”
Allison snatched it back. “No, I don’t.” She glared at the man who seemed to take up so much room in her tiny kitchen. Joe glared right back, no longer smiling.
Mitchell started to whimper. Joe reached out and patted him on the shoulder. “It’s okay, little fella,” he murmured. Mitchell quietened immediately.
Allison swallowed hard. It seemed she was upsetting every male in the room. She hadn’t meant to seem aggressive; she was just starting to succumb to heart-thumping panic. She took a deep breath to calm herself. Then looked at Mitchell smiling up at Joe in delight. She weighed up the balance sheet of the situation. “Sandy, I don’t have a choice. I’ll keep Joe Martin for today. But please get me a female nanny for tomorrow.”
She slammed the receiver down so hard in its cradle it jarred her arm. Then bit hard on her lower lip. But she didn’t dare show her pain in front of Joe Martin. She needed to seem completely in command.
Joe Martin held her gaze for a long, thoughtful moment. “You do have a choice. If you’re so concerned about me, you could stay at home and look after Mitchell yourself.”
“Excuse me?” Did she hear right? It seemed the nanny was challenging her. Couldn’t he see how desperate she was to get to work? How could anyone think she’d put herself through this kind of torture if she didn’t have to?
He couldn’t be expected to know the details of her personal life; why she had to work full-time in a demanding job whether she liked it or not. But what right did he, a stranger, have to question her?
It had been like leaving part of her heart behind the first day she’d left three-month old Mitchell with a nanny to go back to work. She’d wept all the way to the office, nauseous with terror that Katie – the first and best nanny she’d had – might not look after him as well as she should.
It had gotten easier. Mitchell had thrived, happy with his carer. Allison loved her job – welcoming its stimulation as well as the pay, though she would have preferred to work fewer hours. But always the guilt simmered away under the surface. Guilt that she wasn’t giving enough of herself to her child.
It was only this guilt, and her habit of justifying herself to people critical of women in her situation, which made her even attempt to answer Joe Martin’s question.
“Surely you realize I’d be at home more with Mitchell if I could? Who else would pay the bills if I didn’t work?”
His eyes narrowed. “Mitchell’s father?”
“Huh. That’s a joke and a half.”
“You’re American, right? So Mitchell’s dad is back home?”
“No. He’s Australian and right here in Sydney.”
Allison couldn’t suppress the bitterness in her voice. Apart from living expenses, she was saddled with her ex-husband Peter’s gambling debts. She’d had no idea of the extent of his addiction until after he’d left her – or how cleverly he’d ensured her shared liability for his debts. He’d been as cunning as he’d been dishonest. And now she was legally as well as honor-bound to pay off their creditors.
Peter paid only minuscule child support. Although he had a good job as a financial consultant, he and his wily lawyer had made him look practically a pauper on paper for the family law court. As a result, Mitchell’s future education and welfare rested entirely with her. And she wanted him to have every opportunity. “Look, Mr. Martin-“
“Joe,” he said.
“Joe,” she said, uncomfortable at the intimacy using his name implied. It seemed too close, too friendly, when she wanted to keep her distance – though she never called her female nannies anything other than their first names.
“I’m not going to justify my job to you. If I’m not at work in twenty minutes I might not have a job.”
“I get that,” he said, spooning fresh cereal into Mitchell’s mouth. Unbelievably, Mitchell was swallowing it without complaint. Whatever she might feel about Joe Martin’s suitability, her son had taken to him immediately.
“I guess I’ve started off on the wrong foot with you. But I agreed to employ you and I’m grateful you’re here to help me out.”
Joe turned to face her. “It’s what I do.”
She swallowed hard against a sudden rush of anguish. Leaving her precious child for the first time with a stranger never got any easier. “That said, if…if you do anything to harm my son, I…I’ll kill you. I swear I will.”
She had no idea how ferociously her green eyes gleamed or how her face had tightened like a mother cat snarling in defense of her kitten.
It was over the top. She knew it as soon as the words left her mouth.
“I’m sorry. I-“
“Don’t apologize. If I had a child I would expect his mother to be as passionate as you are about his safety. I promise I will look after Mitchell.” As Joe spoke, he moved behind her child’s highchair in a protective stance. “I’m the oldest of six children and have looked after young kids for most of my life.” He then added, almost as an aside, “I’m also a schoolteacher trained in early childhood education.”
She couldn’t mask her surprise. “You’re a schoolteacher?”
Schoolteachers hadn’t come packaged like this in her day-six foot two hunks clad in denim and leather. She doubted there would have been any truancy problems at her school if they had.
Joe Martin shrugged off his leather jacket and flung it over a kitchen chair. Allison caught her breath. His tanned arms were defined by hard muscle, his pecs buff under the white T-shirt. Oh my. If a teacher at her school had looked like this, the girls would have been lining up for detention. Fabricating any opportunity to be in hottie Mr. Martin’s classroom.
He turned and caught her staring. “I don’t seem like a schoolteacher?”
She hadn’t been thinking about his teaching qualifications at all. Too lost in admiration of his well-proportioned body with its wide shoulders and narrow hips. So different from her thin, wiry ex.
“Uh, I haven’t been in a classroom for quite some time,” she said. Joe’s clothes, his hair, his earring, his motorbike – who would blame her for not taking him for a schoolteacher? “You…uh…you just…I…”
“You judge people by appearances?”
“Of course I don’t. It’s just you-“
He laughed aside her attempt at justifying herself, and she realized he was aware of her discomfiture. Had he caught her ogling him? Lord knows it wasn’t something she made a habit of. It had been a long time since she’d been aware of any man’s sexual appeal. Too long, maybe.
Deftly, Joe wiped Mitchell’s mouth clean of cereal with paper towel and Allison followed the movement of his lean brown fingers. From nowhere flashed the thought of how they might feel on her body, stroking, caressing…
Her flush deepened. Dear heaven she hoped he couldn’t read minds.
Thankfully, he didn’t look up from his task.
“If it would make you happier, I could take Mitchell somewhere else for the day,” he said. “A relative’s house, maybe?”
“I don’t have relatives in Sydney.”
Her mother was long dead. Her father had remarried and lived in Boston. Not that he would help her. She hadn’t seen him for years, had given up trying to keep in touch when he made it obvious he wasn’t interested.
She’d met Peter when they’d worked for the same bank in New York City. When he wanted to go home to Australia she’d gone with him, in love and excited about making a new start in a new country. She liked Sydney but all the old, special friends she could call on for help lived back in the States. She was Mitchell’s sole support. Paid babysitters and nannies like Joe were her only help.
“Mitchell usually goes to playgroup today.”
“So I’ll take him. Just write down the details for me.”
Allison scribbled the time and address of the playgroup on the notepad by the phone. She glanced again at the clock. If she didn’t get a move on she’d still be at home when playgroup started.
She pulled a big, blue folder from the shelf. “This is the Mitchell manual. All the stuff about his food and routine are in here. Doctor’s details, my contact numbers, everything you might need.”
Joe unstrapped Mitchell from his highchair. “Then maybe you should be getting dressed,” he said in that distinctive, husky Aussie drawl. “Remember, you told your boss you were just about to leave. Time’s running out.”
As if she needed reminding. “You look after Mitchell. I can look after myself.”
She fled the room rather too quickly for dignity, glad to escape those blue eyes that, she felt sure, could see right through her robe.
Joe found it hard to keep his eyes from Allison’s shapely, retreating rear end. But at least those magnificent breasts weren’t tantalizing him through that almost transparent robe. Every time she’d moved he’d expected a nipple to pop into view. He’d had to look down at her feet – but even they were pretty with delicate, pink-edged toenails.
This woman was hot. She had just the kind of lush, curvy body that turned him on.
Or would have, if she wasn’t a client.
When he’d started working for Help From Above, he’d made it a strict rule to keep his hands off the women who employed him. Not that any of the others had given him the instant jolt of attraction he’d felt for Allison Bradley.
He picked up a beaker and poured some juice for Mitchell, guiding it carefully so juice didn’t follow cereal onto the baby’s T-shirt. “Good boy,” he murmured as Mitchell drained the beaker.
What a cute little kid he was, with his merry, nutmeg-brown eyes and the ginger hair standing straight up from his head like a miniature mohawk. He must get his coloring from his father, not his green-eyed, platinum-haired mother.
Joe glanced over at the wedding photo displayed prominently on the dresser. Yep, except for the eye color, the man standing next to a smiling, younger Allison was definitely an older version of Mitchell.
Where was Daddy now? Joe’s mouth tightened in a grim line. Since he’d been nannying he’d seen more fatherless kids than he ever wanted to see. And, shocking to him, too many mothers more interested in their careers and social life than their children.
It was a slice of a particular strata of middle-class life revealed that he didn’t particularly care for. And it made him resolve that when he eventually settled down – some day far, far in the future – he’d be damn sure to be there for his kids as a father should. Marriage and children, for Joe Martin, were lifetime commitments.
For now, he hoped he brought something positive into the lives of those children living in a dad-free zone, and nannying gave him the flexibility and income he needed to chase his dream.
Allison Bradley’s marital situation was none of his concern. And it had been out of order of him to say anything about her caring for Mitchell herself. He was just there to look after her kid to the best of his ability for the hours he was paid for.
He went to lift Mitchell out of his highchair. The scent greeting his nose made him recoil. Where in heck was the change table? This part was definitely the downside of the job.
Allison’s cell phone rang as she whirled through the kitchen to pick up her briefcase. “I’m stuck in traffic,” she fibbed to Clive. She didn’t dare admit she was still at home, even though she was finally dressed and ready to go. She hung up and turned to Joe. “Please, if the office calls, tell them I left ages ago.”
Joe turned away from the highchair. Allison stopped, aware of his slow, thorough appraisal of her appearance. His gaze traveled up from her mid-heeled court shoes, to the trim, tight skirt of her navy suit, to her hair now brushed away from her face into a business-like pleat.
She realized she was being thoroughly checked out in a sexual, man-woman way – and not being found at all wanting. She was surprised and, despite herself, flattered. She willed herself not to blush.
“So,” he drawled, “a boss lady.”
“You judge by appearances, too?” she couldn’t resist retorting.
“Doesn’t everyone?” he replied. “Your appearance says executive – and you work somewhere where they’d rather you were a man.”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know that?”
“I just guessed the second bit.” Then he shrugged. “The agency told me you were a bigwig at a bank.”
Allison smiled. “Bigwig” or not – and she was really more of a not-so-bigwig – this would be the last big deal she’d ever have the opportunity to work on if she didn’t get to the office pronto. They’d never take her seriously again.
Her heart twisted painfully as it did every morning she had to say good-bye to Mitchell. She turned to where he sat in his highchair. The first thing Joe Martin needed to do was change that cereal-encrusted T-shirt. She wrinkled her nose as she got within kissing distance of her son. No, the second thing.
“I know,” said Joe Martin. “I need to ask you where-“
“Diaper changing station. His bedroom. First on the right at the top of the stairs,” she replied. “Sorry I haven’t got time to do it myself.”
In spite of her tension, she found herself suppressing a giggle. This was one of the advantages of having a nanny – someone to share diaper-changing duties.
Allison ruffled Mitchell’s hair and kissed one smooth cheek and then the other. “Be a good boy for Joe.” She risked a big cuddle; the cereal must surely be dried by now. “Goodbye, my precious.”
“Bye bye, momma,” her son replied, waving his plump little hand. “See ya.”
Allison looked over her son’s head and up at Joe, struggling to be the boss lady but knowing only the imploring mother was showing in her eyes. “Please, look after him,” she said, unable to prevent the slight break in her voice.
“I will,” he replied. “I promise you.” She relaxed at the depth of understanding in his voice.
His obvious sincerity went a long way to reassuring her about Mitchell’s safety. But that didn’t stop her from vowing as she ran out of the door, wiping the cereal from her jacket, that she would somehow find another nanny today and sack Joe Martin the second she got home this evening.