Baby Benefits(5)


“That’s absurd. Dex didn’t—”

“When I left for New York, Dex had no experience with children and even less interest in them. By the time I made it back, he’d bonded with her.” He looked down at the child, searching for some semblance of a bond himself, but at the moment he felt only panic.

Raina shrugged. “The situation is hardly the same,” she said weakly. “And yes, he certainly did seem smitten, back when he thought she was his daughter, but—”

“He’s still—” Derek cast around for the right word, but couldn’t find a better one than what she’d used. It seemed to curdle on his tongue. “Smitten. I had to argue with him to let me bring her to work with me today.”

He couldn’t say why it bothered him so—the way Dex seemed determined to protect Isabella from Derek’s incompetence. He only knew that it did.

Raina merely frowned. “Why did you bring her to work with you? I thought Dex had hired a nanny?”

“He did. I’ve given her the next two weeks off.”

“Why on earth—”

“Dex didn’t have a nanny at first. That’s probably why he bonded with her so quickly.”

“Dex had Jewel—or rather Lucy—to help him.”

“And I have you.”

Her gaze narrowed and she jumped to her feet. The crumpled ball of paper in her hand crackled as she squeezed it even tighter. “Oh, no, no, no. I am not taking care of this baby for you.”

“I’m not—”

But she interrupted him, something she rarely did.

“You know, I’ve done a lot of crazy things for you over the years.” She marched around his desk to glare at him. “I’ve worked weekends. I’ve missed vacations. I’ve given up holidays. I’ve gone on last-minute business trips where I’ve stayed in crappy hotels and eaten worse food. But this is where I draw the line.”

Raina’s tirade stunned him into momentary silence. If he didn’t know better, he’d think she resented the work she’d done. But before he could ask, she spun away from him to pace the floor.

“I’m not helping you take care of that baby. I don’t want anything to do with her. I don’t care if she’s yours.” Her gaze flickered to Isabella and her expression softened for an instant before hardening again. “I don’t care how cute she is.”

He watched her with fascination. He’d never seen her like this. In all the years she’d worked for him—and it must be, what, eight or so by now—she’d always been the consummate professional. Well dressed, well-groomed, well-spoken. She’d never raised her voice. Never glared at him. Never showed so much as an ounce of disrespect.

Funny how he’d never realized before today how long her legs were, but now as she was striding across his room, they were hard to ignore. As was the way her cheeks flushed a pretty shade of pink when she raised her voice.

Something dangerously like desire stirred inside him as he watched her. He quickly stifled the reaction. This situation was strained enough as it was.

“Raina, I’d never ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

Her head whipped around toward him. “Not comfortable with?” She let loose a laugh that had a slightly maniacal tone to it. “You wouldn’t ask that of me? How on earth would you even know what I’m comfortable with?”

This time, when he obviously had no response, she just stood there, waiting for him to answer. The moment stretched on seemingly forever and he felt his own inability to handle the situation spinning out of control.

Finally, she just shook her head. Then she stalked out of the room slamming the door behind her. He felt the concussive force of it like a physical thing.

To the empty room, he asked, “What the hell was that about?”

And where the hell had his calm, professional assistant disappeared to?

The only answer to his questions was the stirring of the tiny baby in his arms.

Woken by the slamming door, she twisted against his chest, pushing with all her five-month-old strength against the confines of his arms. When he didn’t release her, she let out a wail of frustration.

He knew how she felt.

Raina didn’t stop walking until she’d made it out to her car. She climbed in, slammed the door behind her, and pounded her fist on the steering wheel only to jump when she accidentally hit the horn. The blare of the horn echoed through the parking garage, causing several people to turn and gape in her direction.