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Authors: Sami Lee

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BOOK: A Man Like Mike
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She rounded the corner into the kitchen and immediately caught sight of Mike walking toward her. She tried to straighten as she finally got her heel fitted into her shoe, but momentum carried her forward. She would have fallen on her face if Mike hadn’t reached out and caught her.

Strong, capable arms, Eve noticed as he set her on her feet. She could feel solid, flexed biceps beneath her fingertips and coarse forearm hair brushing against the tender flesh of her inner arms. Heat emanated from him, and she realised from his slightly damp shorts and shirt that he had been jogging. He smelled not unpleasantly of the outdoors and musky, male sweat.

“Falling at my feet, Eve?” Amusement coated the deep timbre of his voice. “I thought you were immune to my charms.”

Not completely immune, apparently
. Eve’s pulse kicked up a notch. She realised that the moment she had been standing in his loose embrace had gone on too long and, with a huff of annoyance, jerked away from him. “You have charms?”

Mike only laughed at her barbed comment. “Perhaps I’m slipping. Why are you in such a hurry?”

“I’m going to be late. I’m never late. At least I never used to be, before…”

He gave an incline of his head to let her know he understood that she meant ‘before Bailey’ and glanced at his watch. “What time do you start … nine? You’ve got plenty of time.”

“I like to get there early, and I still have to drop Bailey off at the childcare centre on the way.”

“Childcare centre? Why?”

She looked at him as if he had taken leave of his senses. “Because I can’t take him to work.”

He gave her the same look she had given him. “He doesn’t need to go to childcare. I’m here.”

” Eve queried before she could stop herself. She didn’t realise how incredulous the word sounded until it was out of her mouth.

Mike regarded her with a droll expression. “Yes,
. I’m pretty sure I can handle the responsibility, Eve.”

“I didn’t meant that the way it sounded,” Eve said, abashed that she had offended him. “I just thought you said you were working.”

“I don’t start until tomorrow. Besides, I’ve arranged to work nights so I can be here in the daytime for Bailey.”

He had? Eve had no idea Mike was so keen to spend that much time with his nephew. He had said as much yesterday, but arranging his working hours so he could spend all day with him? She hadn’t expected him to go to such lengths. And shouldn’t he have consulted
about his plan?

To find out now, only after she’d been rushing around for the past half hour trying to get Bailey organised... Eve felt a surge of anger. “You could have told me sooner. I’ve been racing around like a lunatic this morning!”

Mike swept his gaze over her from head to toe and wondered what she would look like if she had it all together. As it was she looked about as skilfully styled as a department store mannequin.

Her make-up was magazine-ad perfect, her lips painted a deep cherry red. Her red hair was swept back in a short pony tail at her nape, a series of pins keeping firmly in place any strands that didn’t make it that far, so not a one swept against her cheek. Her business suit was black and serious-looking, the skirt resting just below the knee and the jacket buttoned over a pale blue, collared shirt so that very little of the slim body beneath was apparent.

The style bordered on the severe and was more in keeping with the Eve he had met before than the one he had discovered yesterday, who had looked dishevelled and natural and feminine, who had made him notice her slender curves, the plump softness of her naturally pink lips, who had surprised him with her ability to muddle his brain.

Even this suited-up version of Eve had muddled him for a moment, when she had nearly fallen and he’d instinctively caught her. The drift of her enticing perfume had made unexpected suggestions to his libido that the feel of her in his arms had emphatically punctuated.

“I thought I did tell you I was working nights.” Mike pushed aside his disturbing realisations about Eve’s effect on him. “And I had planned to hash out the details with you last night, but you said you were tired and went to bed early.”

“Oh.” She flushed, adding colour to her cheeks beneath her subtle layer of blush.

Was she embarrassed because—as he had suspected last night—she had really gone to bed early to avoid him and not because she was tired? Mike felt like a heel. It had never been his intention to make Eve feel uncomfortable in her own home and, despite the deed being in his name, this place
her home. He had meant what he said when he had told her she and Bailey could stay as long as they needed to.

But she didn’t want him here, that was obvious. She didn’t like him, full stop. That seemed clear too.

Yet what could he do about that? If Eve had a bad opinion, it was hers to have. It didn’t change the fact that he wanted to be a part of his nephew’s life. That he had a right to be. He’d do his best to make things easy on her, but the fact remained that, for now, she was just going to have to get used to having him around.

“Don’t worry about a thing, Eve,” Mike told her, wishing his words were enough to erase that furrow from her brow. “Bailey’s safe with me.”

“Of course he is.” Her eyes flickered over him before skittering away. She walked past him to the pantry and stuck her head inside it.

Mike glanced down at himself, realising she might be finding his appearance and—he subtly sniffed his armpit—aroma, offensive. Or was her jumpiness caused by something else?

Mike thought he knew enough about women to know when one was attracted to him, but he found himself dismissing the notion when applied to Eve. If Eve had a type, he was fairly sure he would not fit the bill. Someone with an office job like her own and a wardrobe full of Armani suits would be much more like it. And, he reminded himself, he’d already established that she wasn’t
type. Case closed, as far as he was concerned.

So why couldn’t he keep his eyes from repeatedly straying to her as she hastily bundled together her things and, with a big hug for Bailey and a slight nod of acknowledgment for him, disappeared out the door?

Chapter 3

Eve ascended the stairs of the cottage, to be greeted by the mouth-watering aroma of fresh herbs and garlic and the sound of Bailey’s gleeful laughter backed by classic rock from the radio.

She had a powerful urge to walk back out and check the number swinging from the letterbox. It felt strange not to be lugging Bailey and his nappy bag along with her briefcase. The sounds and smells from inside brought her up short on the top step until she re-acquainted herself with the idea that Mike was inside with Bailey.

When was the last time she had arrived home to an occupied house? Eve thought back nine years, to the year she turned nineteen. She had moved out of Jacinta’s parents’ sprawling two-storey house in inner-city Hamilton and into a studio apartment near the university she had just begun attending. Though she adored Jacinta and had been deeply grateful that her parents had opened their home to her when she lost her mother at the age of twelve, Eve had never been a particular fan of sharing living space with her best friend. Jacinta had been so unpredictable and messy, so oblivious to any attempts Eve made to create structure in her world, that it had driven her thoroughly nuts.

So when Jacinta had demanded to know why Eve felt the need to leave the security and relative luxury of the Drysdale household, she had told her:
‘I just need a place of my own, my own space. And I want to make my way in the world without taking any more charity from your parents.’

‘It’s not charity. They love having you here because they think you keep me from going completely wild—which is pretty true. Forget making your own way in the world! I need you to stop me from screwing up.’

‘I’ll still be around for that—we’re going to the same uni. Even if you are doing arts and I’m doing business, I still expect to see you every day for coffee and girl talk.’

‘Damn right you will. Because you, Evelyn O’Brien, are never getting rid of me.’

Nine years. It had been nine years since she had come home to a house that was anything other than empty, save for the potted plants Jacinta had insisted on buying her and that Eve’s busy schedule had repeatedly succeeded in killing off.

With care, as though she were walking through a painting of home-and-hearth perfection and not her real world, Eve put one foot in front of the other until she found herself in the living room. Mike was holding Bailey by his hands and swinging him around in circles, causing squeals of delight to bounce off the walls.

She watched them for a moment, trying to figure out what the heavy weight in her chest was all about, before Mike caught sight of her standing in the doorway and pulled Bailey to a stop, mimicking sound of screeching tyres. “Hey, kiddo,” he spoke to his nephew. “Look who’s home.”

Bailey turned and saw her, and his little round face lit up in greeting as he began toddling toward her, arms outstretched. The weight in Eve’s chest pressed harder, squeezing her heart until it became difficult to breathe. But she smiled at Jacinta’s son and put down her briefcase before swinging him into her arms and kissing his soft little neck, breathing in his sweet baby smell. “Hey B. How was your day? What did you get up to?”

Mike answered, “We went for a walk down by Moreton Bay, then we went for a drive, and this afternoon the big fella’s been helping me cook.”

Eve glanced at the array of bubbling pots and partially chopped ingredients cluttering the hitherto under-used kitchen. “So I see. It smells divine.” Her eyes grazed over him before settling again on Bailey. Coward that she was, she couldn’t look at Mike. She wasn’t fully certain her insides wouldn’t turn to goo the way they had this morning when the sight of him in running gear and a sheen of sweat had confronted her. “What’s cooking?”

“Herb encrusted swordfish, asparagus salad and garlic roasted potatoes. Hope you’re hungry. White wine?”

Speechless, it took Eve a moment to respond. Mike had cooked for her? Her equilibrium took another hit, and she felt more than a little unbalanced by all that was happening. Yet, even as she questioned the wisdom of sharing a meal with Mike, let alone adding alcohol to the mix, Eve found herself saying, “Yes, thank you.” Perhaps wine would help relax her.

When Mike turned to get her a glass, she took the opportunity to study him unobserved. He wore a grey T-shirt, so well worn it moulded with long familiarity to his frame, and a pair of equally worn faded jeans with rips in the knees that didn’t look affected. His hair looked like he had run his hands through it in lieu of styling, and his morning’s shave looked like it had turned into five o’clock shadow at around noon. He reminded Eve of some kind of blackguard, of a character straight from the pages of one of Jacinta’s historical romance novels. A charmer, an adventurer. A real lady-killer.

Eve was glad for the minute it took him to pour her wine. It gave her the chance to keep her frighteningly powerful leap of physical reaction in check. Romantic tales had been Jacinta’s thing, not hers. She was much too familiar with life’s cold realities to indulge such fanciful thoughts.

She put Bailey on the red and purple chequered rug in the middle of the living room and stepped forward to accept the glass of straw-coloured wine, praying her fingers wouldn’t touch Mike’s in the process; but he held the glass by the rim so she had easy access to the stem, averting any contact.

Glancing past his shoulder toward the kitchen again, she noticed some of the unfamiliar items sitting on the chopping bench. “You’ve been shopping, too. You didn’t have to go to so much trouble.”

“Oh, yes, I did,” Mike affected a frown, the shake of his head a gentle chastisement. “Your cupboard was bare, Miss Muffet.”

“You’ll have to pay more attention to Bailey’s nursery rhymes. I think you’ll find it was Old Mother Hubbard whose cupboard was bare. Miss Muffett sat on her tuffet.”

“Her tuffet? Is that a real thing?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a polite way to say bottom.”

“And bottom is a polite way to say—”

“Yes, I know what it means.” Eve cut him off, perturbed when his gaze trailed over her body with a teasing glint. She sat on the overstuffed sofa and made a task of watching Bailey play. She did
need the embarrassment of having Mike rate her backside in his mind. “Let me know how much the grocery bill was, and I’ll give you my share.”

“Forget it.” Mike dismissed the offer out of hand. “I needed some supplies for your woefully under-stocked kitchen, and I bought some extra veggies to mash up for Bailey. It’s got to be better for him than that bottled stuff.”

Eve’s spine immediately stiffened. “The bottled ‘stuff’ I buy is the most nutritious available, and it’s organic. It’s not always easy, when you’re working, to find the time to peel, chop, cook and mash—”

“Eve.” When she turned to look at him he said, “I was not having a go at you. I know you’re doing your best.”

Which, she concluded, was still short of good enough. “Why, thank you for the high praise.”

“Come on, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Why are you always so defensive?”

Because, you’re right. Whatever I do, I always feel like it will be just short of good enough for Bailey
. She stifled the words by taking a sip of her wine, much preferring to appear prickly and defensive than weak and uncertain. “Perhaps it’s because you’ve swept in here and started picking at the way I’m doing things.”

“I’m not picking,” Mike answered, his jaw clamping as he took a seat on the edge of the opposite sofa, putting down his wine glass as though to keep from smashing it in his clenched hand. “I wouldn’t dare. It’s obvious from the library of books about the feeding and sleeping patterns of infants you have lining your bookcase that you’re forearmed with information.”

It would have been hard to miss the touch of derision in his comment. Eve eyed him levelly over the rim of her glass. “If you have something to say about my reliance on books by the
, spit it out.”

BOOK: A Man Like Mike
11.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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