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Authors: Sami Lee

A Man Like Mike (6 page)

BOOK: A Man Like Mike
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It was too much.
He
was too much. Too magnetic, too tempting, his closeness too overwhelming, so that she thought for a moment she would be sucked into him. That she would give into the heat of the moment.
Why now
? she asked herself, when it had been so many long years since she had felt a spark of interest in any man?
Why him
, when he was the worst possible man to spark that interest? The kind of man who would kiss a woman out of sheer, idle curiosity … who’d have her eating out of the palm of his hand simply because he could.

She couldn’t afford to be that woman, no matter the momentary temptation. She would be forever tied to him in some way because of Bailey. Since he wasn’t going to be the one to do it, someone had to make sure that relationship didn’t get more complicated than it already was.

“I’m not some idle curiosity you can satisfy Mike,” she told him when she at last found her voice, her indignation. “I’m not another one of your groupies eager to give you whatever you want.”

A fog seemed to clear from his expression. His hand dropped away from her face, his eyes narrowing. “That’s not the first time you’ve insinuated that I have a conga line of women dancing through my life. What makes you assume that?”

“It just seems to fit.” She lifted a shoulder, more at ease now that some distance had been put between them. “You said yourself you don’t want to get married. And Jacinta said—”

“Ah,” he interrupted her, a derisive twist to his lips. “
Jacinta
said something like that. No doubt after my brother had told her a bunch of exaggerated stories.”

“He used to say you didn’t take things too seriously, that’s all. I had the impression—”

“I don’t think I care too much for your impressions.” He moved away, stuffing his hands in his back pockets. “I never cared much for my brother’s, come to think of it. Not when he considered my career choice light-weight, my manner with women philandering. Certainly not when he apparently decided I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, care for his son in the event he was no longer around to do so.”

His words jolted her. With a sinking feeling, Eve realised how incredibly insensitive she had been. Mike had every right to feel slighted that Derek had agreed to assign guardianship of their son to someone outside his family rather than to his own brother. She had thought only of how their decision affected her, never of how it might have impacted Mike.

Realising how self-absorbed she’d been, Eve felt about two feet tall. “I’m sorry, Mike,” she said, “I’m so sorry I never thought about things like that. It’s just that Jacinta and I were so close. I considered her the sister I never had, and I think she felt the same way about me. She wouldn’t have meant her decision as a mark against you, I’m sure of it.”

He looked at her over his shoulder, and from his expression, Eve knew he wasn’t as sure of that as she was, but he said, “It doesn’t matter. I meant what I said earlier—you’re doing a good job with Bailey.” He grinned disarmingly, making Eve almost believe he had forgotten altogether the tense emotion of moments ago. “Derek was right about one thing—I never did take things as seriously as he did. Nor as seriously as you do, for that matter.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning, if I had kissed you, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have brought an end to the world. A kiss is just a kiss and all that.”

But could it ever be that simple between the two of them? “That’s an interesting theory.”

“Anytime you want to test it,” he grinned. “I’m available.”

Eve shook her head at him, saying forcefully, “Goodnight, Mike,” before turning on her heel and making her way down the hall, ending their conversation before that smile of his worked its magic and she was tempted to rise to his mocking challenge.

It was not a temptation she could afford to give in to. Maybe a kiss between them would mean nothing to Mike, but Eve couldn’t be so sure of her own indifference.

Two nights later, Eve awoke to the sound of Bailey’s now familiar cry and rolled over with a groan to see the red digital display of her alarm clock glowing two-thirty-two am. Right on time. Bailey often woke some time between two and three in the morning, no longer needing to be fed but sometimes needing to feel her presence in the room, her warm hand against his forehead or help finding his dummy.

She listened, waiting to see whether Bailey would settle himself, as was suggested by one of the many books she had read, madly trying to learn the dos and don’ts of parenting before she did something to scar Bailey for life. After the requisite waiting period, Eve realised that Bailey would not settle on his own this time, and she slid from beneath the covers. Pulling on a lightweight cotton robe to ward off the chill that was beginning to creep into the autumn nights, she padded barefoot to the end of the hall and Bailey’s room. The sight that greeted her stopped her dead.

In the soft orange light of the Winnie-the-Pooh night light, Mike held Bailey close to his bare chest, the dim illumination accentuating his tan and the sculpted muscles of his back. His hair was pillow-mussed, and Eve was assailed by an unwelcome image of him lying in bed, tangled in warm sheets, wearing even less than the grey sweat pants he now wore and sporting one of his sexy, come-hither smiles.

With annoyance, Eve pushed the image aside. Just when she had started to think she could forget all about that surprising chemistry that had arced between them the night they had shared dinner, she had to see him without his shirt on, the sight pushing her heart rate to new heights.

With Mike working nights now, they barely spent fifteen minutes together after she arrived home from work, and that time was wholly spent discussing Bailey’s daily activities. If Mike was growing bored or weary of spending the days amusing his nephew with trips to the park or building Lego towers, it didn’t show. And if he had thought any more about their exchange on the subject of kissing and its importance, that wasn’t obvious either.

“What are you doing?” Damn him for looking sexy and perfectly suited to cradling a baby to his chest when he had not a clue what he was doing.

He turned at the sound of her voice, his dark brows lifting. “Bailey was crying.”

“I heard. I was on my way.” Bailey opened half-closed lids to pin his big saucer eyes on her, his whining gathering impetus at the sight of her. As usual, her presence seemed to upset more than comfort him, and Eve felt herself wanting to whine a little herself.

“I thought I’d save you the trouble, let you get some sleep.” He sent her a wry smile. “But something tells me I wasn’t supposed to help.”

“You’re not helping,” Eve pointed out, feeling somehow powerless to stop herself sounding like a shrew, even when she kept her voice low. The interrupted sleep she was used to, but add to that a disruption to her and Bailey’s fragile routine and an unwanted awareness of Mike’s body and she felt just about ready to pitch one of Bailey’s toy trucks at the man’s head. “I’ve been allowing Bailey the opportunity to settle himself before I tend to him in the middle of the night. And I prefer not to change his environment by taking him out of his cot.”

“That sounds like something straight from one of those dour parenting books you’ve got out there.”

Eve’s fingernails dug into her palms. Bailey was already watching the exchange between them with interest, the undertones in their voices doing nothing to settle him back to sleep. With that in mind, Eve denied herself the gratification of arguing with Mike, whose arrogance was made possible only by an ignorance she would dearly love to point out to him. Instead, she stepped forward and held out her arms, relieved when Bailey immediately wriggled free of Mike’s embrace to settle into hers.

Eve rested her cheek against the little boy’s. “There you go B. We need to get you back to sleep now, okay? Good boy.”

She crooned to him, yet still he cried. She rocked him in her arms, but he looked up at her as though she were the most useless person in the world and opened his mouth to issue an ear-piercing scream.

Immediately Mike was beside her, offering his arms. “Let me take him.”

Eve sent him a look that could wither a flower on the stem. “You’re not helping. There’s too much activity in the room.”

“And you looking like you’re going to put your head through the wall is helping?”

“I’m fine,” Eve lied, her teeth clenched. Bailey’s screams were only mounting and, gallingly proving Mike’s point, each wail pushed her blood pressure higher. “Would you please just leave?”

With a look of pure frustration, Mike did as she asked. Without another word he stalked out of the nursery.

Damn. She hadn’t meant to fight with the man, but taking care of Bailey was her job, not Mike’s.

Eve forced the tension from her shoulders, gentling her tone. “It’s all right B. It’s all right.” She made gentle shushing noises that seemed to get her nowhere. At last, in desperation, she began to sing the first song that came into her head, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, by the Supremes, because she had heard it on the radio earlier that day.

Blessedly, the sound seemed to arrest Bailey’s attention. Gradually his sobs turned to tiny hiccupping sounds and by the time Eve sang, ‘before loneliness will cause my heart to break’ for the third time, his eyes were drooping.

Relief washed over her. At last she felt confident to gently place Bailey back in his timber cot, tucking his favourite teddy bear beside him. Eyelids at half-mast, he immediately reached for the toy, scrunching its plush ear in his hand the way he liked to do as he drifted off and looking at her with his big, droopy blue eyes.

Although it had seemed longer to her, he had gone from hysterical screaming to sleep in less that fifteen minutes, a much shorter time than it had taken her to settle him a month ago.

Backing slowly out of the room, Eve turned at the door, only to collide with Mike, who had at some point returned, unnoticed. He was leaning on the doorjamb, quietly watching her.

She felt cool skin, solid muscle, beneath her hands before she used them to push herself away from him. Her pulse skyrocketed again … because he had scared the life out of her, she told herself. “How long have you been standing there?”

His voice was as soft as hers. “Long enough to know you’re not going to win any karaoke competitions.”

“Very funny,” Eve told him in a tone that said he was being anything but. So she couldn’t hold a tune to save herself. It wasn’t very gracious of him to point it out.

Nor was it polite of him to watch her without making his presence known. And couldn’t he have put on a shirt? Her gaze trailed of its own volition over firm muscles, lightly dusted with dark, straight hair that looked like it would be soft to the touch. A narrow trail of it bisected his flat stomach before it disappeared beneath the elastic waist of his pants.

Stop it!
Eve scolded herself. This was hardly the time or the place to be ogling a man, just because he happened to be there and happened to be good-looking. She forced her eyes to move back to his face, only to find him giving her the same perusal she’d given him.

Suddenly feeling conspicuous in her barely dressed state, Eve pulled the sash of her robe tighter.

He spoke casually, as though the air around them wasn’t charged with enough electricity to keep Bailey’s night-light glowing for years to come. “I’ve made a pot of chamomile tea. Want some?”

She stepped past him, pulling the nursery door halfway closed. “Chamomile? I wouldn’t have picked you for a herbal tea drinker.”

“I’m willing to try anything once.”

Eve moved down the hall to the kitchen. “Why do I feel like you mean something by that?”

“Because you’re prickly and defensive.”

He said it in good humour, but Eve felt her shoulders tensing. “I don’t think I care for your impressions,” she retorted, using his own words of two nights ago against him.

“See,” he said. “Defensive.”

Irritated that she had just gone and proven his point, Eve turned to pull two china cups from the overhead cupboard, placing them beside the waiting teapot. She could feel Mike’s eyes on her as she poured the steaming, pale liquid into the cups. At length he asked, “When was the last time you tried anything new?”

She turned wide eyes to him. “You mean like taking over care of a child?”

“I’m not talking about that. You didn’t have much of a choice there. I mean in general. I bet you’ve been at the same job for years. I bet you’ve never done anything crazy.”

Feeling besieged, Eve said, “And just look where doing something crazy got Jacinta and Derek. Why are you attacking me, Mike?”

“I’m not.” He breathed out a sigh of frustration, scrubbing a hand down his face. For the first time, Eve noted the tired lines framing his eyes and thought of how little sleep he must have had. She knew, because she had heard his car drive in the last two nights, that he didn’t get home until around eleven, probably didn’t get to sleep until after midnight. Now it was after three, and he looked exhausted.

She quashed the quick leap of sympathy. She hadn’t asked him to tend to Bailey during the night.

“I’m just trying to understand why you’re so inflexible,” Mike explained. “Why you’re so averse to accepting help.”

“I’m not…” her voice trailed off. Okay, so she
was
. She had learned the hard way how to stand on her own two feet. She didn’t need Mike’s help, and she certainly didn’t want it.

She wasn’t going to launch into a revealing narrative about her difficult childhood, so she focused on the present. “I told you, I have a system whereby I allow Bailey a chance to soothe himself back to sleep. Then if I do go in, I try not to—”

“Alter his environment too much. I got it the first time. Do you really think you can learn all there is to know about this from a book?”

“And just how many children do you have, oh wise one?”

“None.” His lips twitched. “Fingers crossed.”

She gave him a look that made it plain how very unamusing she found that joke. “Do you suppose I should just rely on some mystical motherly instinct to take over?”

“Why not? Women have been having babies for centuries without doing a veritable degree in child-rearing.”

BOOK: A Man Like Mike
13.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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