Tempt Me(6)

By: Carly Phillips


“I’m well versed in all our clients and how the office runs, and—”

“No need for the hard sell. I said yes,” Dan said with a grin. “I have two new guys coming on board to replace Ben for short-term work now that he’s off guarding Summer on tour,” he said of the man who’d just re-fallen for a woman who was destined to be a major pop star. “And Shane really is based out of Texas. He just does freelance here, so it was time. We’ll have coverage for you on a day-to-day basis.”

Austin rose from his chair. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You’re going to help me cut back. It’s me who has to say thank you.” Dan held out his hand and Austin accepted it.

“I won’t let you down.”

Dan smiled in that fatherly way he had. “Your daughter comes first, Austin. I, of all people, understand that.” Dan had raised his son, Jared, and when Ava Talbott, one of their team, was a teenager and her own mother had issues, he’d taken her in and raised her like his own. Dan understood the importance of family.

“You and I can start going through how things around here run. We’ll get you spending more time at home as soon as possible.”

It wasn’t until the ride home, when he had more time to think, than he realized the one drawback to his brilliant plan. Time at home with Bailey meant time at home with Mia. Alone time, since his kid was in school full time. And wouldn’t that wreak havoc on his plan not to think about her sexually or otherwise unless it related to his daughter.

* * *

A week after Bailey started school, ballet classes began. Mia ran errands for the better part of the afternoon, doing food shopping and getting Austin’s dry cleaning before picking up Bailey from the small studio. The little girl looked adorable in her pink leotard, tights, and ballet slippers, her silky hair pulled back into a ponytail.

They drove home, Bailey in a booster in the back seat.

“How was class?” Mia asked.

“Good! I learned first position.” She kicked the back of the front car seat, trying to get her little feet into the pose.

“You can show me when we get home. I bet your dad will want to see, too.” Mia glanced in the rearview mirror before refocusing on the road.

She pulled onto the street and caught sight of a black sedan parked at the end of the road. She’d seen the car earlier in the week and again this morning and had thought it was odd. This street was far off the highway and didn’t get a lot of stray cars.

“What’s for dinner?” Bailey asked. “’Cause I’m hungry. Can I have a snack when we get home?” She rattled off questions and statements like they were demands.

“What happened to please?” Mia asked. “You can have a healthy snack before dinner, like baby carrots. And your dad mentioned wanting to bring in pizza, so that’s what we’re having.”

“Can I have hummus with the carrots? Please?”

As Mia pulled into the driveway, she turned to see Bailey with her hands clasped together in supplication. For hummus. “A little bit.”

Mia unhooked the booster seat and Bailey scrambled out of the car, then Mia grabbed some grocery bags for her first trip into the house. No sooner had she entered than she realized the air conditioning seemed to have stopped working what must have been hours earlier, because the inside of the house was too hot.

She put the bags on the counter and finished emptying the SUV of groceries before calling Austin on his cell phone. He was on his way home and said he’d get the repairman on the phone as soon as he hung up with her.

Mia glanced at Bailey, who was dancing around the kitchen in long sleeves and tights. “Let’s change into cooler clothes, okay?”

“Can I wear my bathing suit?” Bailey asked, her brown eyes sparkling with delight.

Mia laughed. “Why not? Just don’t expect to go swimming.”

“We can pretend to swim. Can I change my Barbies into bathing suits, too?”

“I don’t know. Do you have homework to do first?” she asked.

Bailey scrunched her nose in reply. “A little.”

“Okay, homework first, then you can play with your dolls.”

“But it’s ho-o-t,” she whined, finally bringing up the obvious as a complaint, probably because Mia had just asked her to do something she didn’t want to do.

“And you’ll be in your bathing suit so you won’t be as uncomfortable.” She ruffled the top of the child’s head. “Let’s go change.”

“Will you put on a bathing suit, too?” Bailey asked.