Tempt Me(9)

By: Carly Phillips

She swallowed hard. “Okay, come settle down and eat and you can tell me about the other animals you saw,” she said to the girls. Hopefully the others were better-behaved than the gorillas.

Austin shot her a thankful glance, laughter dancing in his eyes. She grinned and that sexual attraction simmered along her nerve endings.

“Mia, you really should have come along. It was fun to see the various animals. You would have enjoyed it,” Sarah Rhodes said, her voice kind.

She had short, dark hair and brown eyes that reminded Mia of her son’s, while Austin was the spitting image of his father, John, but the older man’s eyes were a mossy green. If his father was anything to go by, Austin would age well, not that she’d had any doubt.

“I appreciate it but I had a nice morning. It was good for Bailey to be with her family.” She smiled at the other woman.

“Mia, this looks wonderful. Thank you,” Austin’s dad said, walking over to the counter where she’d set out a variety of options for lunch. “Let’s eat!”

Mia laughed as the girls beat him to the counter, grabbing plates and putting together their sandwiches.

“You snooze, you lose, Dad.” Austin glanced at the girls. “Easy on the mustard, Bailey Button,” he warned just as she squirted too much onto her bread.

“I’ll help them,” his mother said.

With all the commotion, the sound of the doorbell was muffled, but Mia picked up on it, as did Austin, his gaze flickering with a question toward the front of the house.

“I’ll get it!” Mia walked out of the room and strode to the door. “Who is it?”

When no one answered, she peeked out the side glass pane and saw a woman impatiently pacing back and forth. She opened the door partway. “Can I help you?”

An attractive brunette with a cool stare met her gaze. “I want to see my daughter.”

Mia went mute. Nothing had prepared her for the eventuality of Austin’s ex, Bailey’s mother, showing up on their doorstep and demanding access to her daughter. Wearing a bandage-style dress that was more appropriate for a nightclub than a visit with her child, she assessed Mia, looking her up and down. Considering she’d dressed down, as she always did for her job, she doubted this woman found anything worth noting.

She swallowed hard, her hand still on the edge of the door, not opening it entirely. “I’ll have to talk to Austin.”

“Austin is it? And just who the hell are you?”

Mia straightened her shoulders. “I’m the nanny.”

“Really,” she said with a disbelieving snort.

“Mia? Who’s at the door?” Before she could reply, Austin came up behind her, his big, warm body solid behind hers. “Kayla? What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Daddy, who’s here? Are we having company? Can I say hi?” Bailey’s little voice sounded from behind them and Austin stiffened.

“Is that my Bailey?” Kayla asked, taking a step forward.

“Get Bailey out of here now,” Austin said harshly in Mia’s ear.

His body language, his tone of voice vibrated with barely leashed anger he obviously didn’t want his daughter to hear or see. No more than he wanted to see his ex-wife.

Mia swung around him, scooped Bailey into her arms, and brought her back into the kitchen with her grandparents.

She mouthed who the visitor was to Austin’s parents, and they helped her keep Bailey busy. Mia needed the same distraction. She only wished she could be a fly on the wall to hear what was going on between Austin and his ex-wife outside.

* * *

Austin stared at his ex, furious that she’d show up on his doorstep without warning. Asking to see the little girl she’d mistreated was just ammunition to make him even angrier.

He pulled the door closed behind him so Bailey couldn’t hear and faced Kayla on the front porch. First impressions mattered and one look at her in a skanky dress and heels told him she wasn’t here to kneel down and hug the child she hadn’t seen in two years.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, folding his arms across his chest.

“I think that’s obvious. I want to see my daughter.” But there was nothing maternal in her voice or her demeanor. There was calculating going on behind those eyes. He was sure of it.

“Try again.” He blocked the door with his body, lest she get some bright idea about trying to push past him.

She hadn’t wanted to be Bailey’s mother to begin with. Having a baby, then a toddler was too much work, too hard when she’d rather be partying and spending money.

She stepped closer, the cloying scent of her perfume too familiar and unwelcome. “Come on, Austin. Let me come in. We have a lot of catching up to do.” She followed up her words by trailing her fingers up his chest in a faked seduction attempt neither of them were really buying.