Baby Benefits(10)


After a moment more of hesitation, she nodded. “It’s a deal.”

Only then did he release her hand. As he slid his hand from hers, he was struck by the delicacy of her bone structure. Such a contrast to the strength of her handshake, as if all the force of her will had been concentrated down into that one simple movement.

She turned and all but pranced from the room, her step lightened in a way he’d never before seen. As if she were overjoyed to be leaving him.

He, on the other hand, still felt the warmth of her palm against his and was struck by the impulse to fist his hand to contain that heat, as if he could hold on to a little bit of her that much longer. Instead he wrapped the hand around Isabella’s chest, held her out to look her over.

He waited for some pang of paternal recognition. Maybe the groundwork for fatherly bonding. Instead, he felt only discomfort. Inadequacy. Incompetence. So he did what he always did when faced with an obstacle. He bluffed.

“Don’t worry, Isabella,” he began, only to hesitate over her name. Isabella sounded so formal for such a squirmy little bundle.

Studying her face, he ran down a list of nicknames. Bella? No, too…girly. Izzie? Out of the question. That’s what Dex called her. Well, crap.

“Don’t worry, kid. She’s not really going to leave. I’ve just bought us two weeks to convince her to stay.”

And he had to convince her to stay. He relied on her too much to let her go. There was no way he’d make it through this without Raina’s help.

And he had a lot in his favor. For starters, he’d seen her expression when she’d held Isabella. The kid was a charmer for sure. She’d win Raina back, even if he couldn’t.

Which meant he had a plan for dealing with only one of the women in his life. As for Kitty, that was another matter entirely. He’d been avoiding her calls ever since he’d returned home to find out the news about Isabella.

He knew postponing the conversation wouldn’t make it any easier. But so far, he had no idea how to break the news to her. He’d been in crisis mode, dealing with Isabella for the past day and a half. A cardinal rule of business was that you first put out the fire most likely to burn down your house.

Of course, now that he had a plan for dealing with Isabella and had convinced Raina to stay on for now, it was time to tell Kitty she was about to become a stepmother.

Almost as if she knew she’d been relegated to the back burner, Isabella scrunched her face up and let out a howl of protest. Unsure of what else to do, Derek sank into his executive leather chair. Holding the screaming child on his lap, he rocked slowly back and forth as exhaustion ate away at his patience.

How could one little infant cause this many problems?

Sometimes, she wondered if she had any brains at all.

“So you didn’t quit?” Raina’s sister Lavender asked from her spot at the kitchen counter where she was tossing a salad.

Raina, sitting at the table, stacked her fists on the tabletop and propped her chin on top of them. Tonight, the scent of French bread warming in the oven and spaghetti sauce simmering on the stovetop wasn’t as comforting as it should have been. “No, I didn’t quit. Not exactly.”

“I knew you wouldn’t,” quipped Kendrick as he strolled through the doorway, nonchalantly dropping his backpack onto the chair beside Raina.

Lavender glared at him as she brushed a strand of light brown hair off her forehead. “Be supportive.”

Kendrick shrugged, swiping a bite of tomato off Lavender’s cutting board as he continued on his way to the living room to where their mother sat, watching her nightly dose of CNN. “Hey, I call ’em like I see ’em.”

Raina lifted her head up just long enough to call, “And don’t leave your backpack in the kitchen.”

Without looking back, he waved a hand as if to say he’d get it later. It didn’t make her feel any better.

“Of course I didn’t really quit. Apparently I have no spine. Even my brother ignores me.”

Lavender chuckled as she scraped the tomatoes into the bowl. “Of course he ignores you. He’s seventeen. He ignores everyone.” Lavender cocked her head to one side, her hazel eyes suddenly serious as she studied Raina. “So?” she prodded gently. “What happened? Why didn’t you quit? Did Darth Vader bully you?”

“Oh, what’s the point in rehashing it all?” Raina stood, ignoring Lavender’s slur against Derek. Cassidy, the youngest of Raina’s three sisters, had nicknamed Derek “Darth Vader” years ago. Because—in Cassidy’s words—he was “tall, dark, and intimidating. And pure evil.” Unfortunately it had stuck.