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A Little Too Late
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For nine long months, I’ve been fighting to figure out how to be a single dad, how to be alone.
For nine long months, I’ve been failing.
When Hannah walked through the door, I took my first breath since I’d found myself on my own. She slipped into our lives effortlessly, showing me what I’ve been missing all these years. Because Hannah made me smile when I thought I’d packed the notion of happiness away with my wedding album.
She was only supposed to be the nanny, but she’s so much more.
The day my wife left should have been the worst day of my life, but it wasn’t. It was when Hannah walked away, taking my heart with her.
*This contemporary romance features Charlie from A Thousand Letters*
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This time will be different.
I repeated the thought as I had a hundred times that afternoon, hoping the words were more than wishful thinking. When I glanced down one final time to check the address written on the heavy paper, my heart skipped in my chest.
On the other side of the Victorian brownstone’s door was a man who had lost his nanny without warning. I’d left my last au pair job in a rush that left me in limbo, and without another job, I’d lose my visa. And I wasn’t quite ready to give up and go home. Not yet.
Another jolt of nerves raced up my back. The employment pairing by the agency had been hasty and thoughtless. I should have refused the moment I’d learned he was single. If I took the job, I’d have to move in with him for a year. I’d be alone with him, sharing his space, after swearing I wouldn’t put myself in a position like the one I’d just walked away from. But I had no options. Things had happened too suddenly to plan for, and the opening at the Parker residence had popped up at the exact right moment.
So, there I was, standing on the doorstep of a beautiful home off Central Park, gambling on my future.
I summoned a long breath from deep in my lungs. I’d be smarter this time. And, if I caught even the slightest scent of danger in the air, I would refuse the job, simple as that.
Still, my heart tightened, thumping as I rang the doorbell.
It stopped completely when the door opened. For a moment, my fears washed out of me, fool that I was.
The first time I saw Charlie Parker, I didn’t see one thing at a time; I saw all of him. It was an assault on my senses, an overwhelming tide of awareness, and for a moment, the details came to me in flashes over what was probably only a few seconds but felt so much longer.
His hair was blond and gently mussed, his face long and nose elegant. I could smell him, clean and fresh with just a touch of spice I couldn’t place. I tipped my chin up—he was tall, taller than me, and I hovered just at six feet—and met his eyes, earthy and brown and so deep. So very deep.
And then he smiled.
He was handsome when he wasn’t smiling. He was stunning when he was.
I was so lost in that smile, I didn’t register the flying gob until it whapped against my sweater. Tiny splatters of something cold speckled my neck.
This was the moment the clock started again, and the sweet serenity slipped directly into chaos.
A blond little boy looked up at me from his father’s side with a devilish gleam in his dark eyes. The spoon in his hand was covered in blood-red jam and aimed at me like an empty catapult.
Several things happened at once. Charlie’s face morphed into embarrassed frustration as he reached for who I presumed to be his son. The boy—Sam, I guessed from the names I’d been given by the agency—spun around lightning fast and took off down the hallway, giggling. Another child began to cry from somewhere back in the house, and a bowl clattered to the ground, followed by a hissed swear from what sounded like an older woman.
I glanced down at the sliding, sticky mess against my white sweater and started to laugh.
Charlie’s head swiveled back to me, his face first colored with confusion, then in horror as he looked at the Pollock painting on my sweater.
“Oh my God,” he breathed, his apologetic, wide eyes dragging down my body. “Jesus, I am so sorry.”
I was still laughing, almost a little hysterical. I couldn’t even tell you why.
I waved a hand at Charlie, and he took my elbow, guiding me into the house as I caught my breath. Another crash came from the kitchen, and a little girl came toddling out into the entry, leaving powdery footprints on the hardwood.
Charlie’s face screwed up. “Sam!” he called, stretching the word, a drawn-out promise of consequences.
A riot of giggling broke out in the kitchen.
We both snapped into motion. I followed him as he scooped up his crying daughter and stormed toward the kitchen. The little girl watched me over his shoulder with big brown eyes, her breath hitching in little shudders and her small finger hooked in her mouth.
Charlie stopped so abruptly, I almost ran into him.
When I looked around him and into the kitchen, my mouth opened. I covered it with my fingers as laughter bubbled up my throat.
A bag of flour sat in the middle of the floor, the white powder thrown in bursts against the surrounding surfaces and hanging in the air like smoke. The floor next to the bag was the only clean spot, shaped like a small bottom—the little girl’s, I supposed. A bowl lay upside down, its contents oozing from under the rim and slung in a ring from ceiling to cabinet to floor, as if it had completed a masterful flip on its way to its demise. And in the center of the madness stood an older woman with flour in her dark hair and dusted down the front of her. Clutched under her arm was a wriggling Sam, offending spoon still in hand.