"Look, I don't want to upset your sister - obviously she has enough on her plate right now - but I've got to be honest with you. I don't think this is going to work," Amy Deveraux told Nick Everton the moment she came face-to-face with him on his sister Lola's doorstep. "Not on any twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week basis, anyway."
For once in her life, Amy was going to be practical - instead of emotional. She was going to let her actions be ruled by her head, not her heart. And there was simply no way Amy could share such intimate quarters with this man and the adorable three month old baby Nick cradled awkwardly in his arms.
Forget that Nick Everton was the most drop-dead gorgeous, thirty-six-year-old guy Amy had ever seen. Forget that he was successful, smart, funny - according to Lola, anyway - and genuinely dependable and chivalrous. Or that he was kin to one of her best friends. Nick Everton was just too darn big and physically imposing. Amy guessed he was at least two-hundred and twenty pounds of solid muscle on a six-foot-five frame. His shoulders were broad, his waist trim. And he looked great in his dark-blue suit and slate-blue shirt and tie.
"I thought I was supposed to be the one heading for the hills," Nick said, as he propped a hiccuping Dexter against his shoulder and patted his nephew clumsily on the back. Nick's light-gray eyes gleamed as he took Amy in with the same steady-but-curious appraisal Amy was giving him. "Me, being a guy and all ..."
Amy forced her glance away from the wind-tossed strands of Nick's ash-blond hair and ruggedly handsome face. "So maybe we could just split the babysitting duties, fifty-fifty," Amy continued, determined to work this out rationally, in a way that was acceptable to all three of the adults involved.
Nick shrugged. "Sounds good to me," he said, the corners of his masculine lips lifting in an enticing smile.
"There's only one problem with that," Lola interrupted as she came out to join them on the raised porch of her South Carolina low-country cottage. She shot an affectionate look at her brother before taking Dexter from him and ushering Nick and Amy inside. "Nick's never baby-sat for Dexter, Amy. You have."
Only once, Amy thought, when Lola'd had a doctor's appointment. Dexter had been asleep the entire time. Amy hadn't had to do a thing except watch over the little angel. "Nick and Dexter seem to be getting along now," Amy pointed out as she tried to avoid the tantalizing sandalwood cologne clinging to his skin. Nick might not know much about how to hold a baby, as had been evidenced by his awkwardness with his nephew, but Dexter had cuddled against Nick's powerful shoulders and chest willingly and instinctively.
"Nick also knows nothing about taking care of babies. In fact, it's my guess my brother has never so much as changed a diaper," Lola continued, stating her case matter-of-factly.
Nick shrugged and shoved both hands into the pockets of his trousers. A devilish look on his face, he braced a shoulder against the wall and smiled confidently at both Amy and his younger sister. "How hard can it be?"
Lola merely rolled her eyes. "And Dexter can get really fussy sometimes," Lola continued firmly to Amy. "Nick would definitely have a hard time dealing with that."
Nick grinned at Amy, not about to dispute the veracity of that particular observation. "So maybe it could be your turn then," Nick said to Amy with a wink.
"I'm not kidding around here, Nick," Lola told him sternly, commanding his attention once again. "It's going to be traumatic enough for Dexter to be separated from me indefinitely. He needs both a `mother' and a `father' here with him while I'm gone."
Abruptly Nick straightened and moved away from the wall. His expression was suddenly every bit as serious as his thirty-four-year-old sister's. "Dexter has a mother and a father, Lola," Nick reminded her quietly. He spoke as if carefully underscoring every word. "He has you and Chuck."
Lola swallowed, her face suddenly becoming pinched and pale, as the upsetting events of the day - which had started by a visit from military personnel - caught up with her. She began to tremble. "What if something happens to one or both of us?" she whispered as she sank onto the nearest chair. "What happens to Dexter then?" she asked plaintively.
"Nothing will happen," Nick promised her firmly. The tension between the two Evertons climbed.
Lola looked unconvinced as she bounced her baby boy on her thigh. "You more than anyone ought to know how unpredictable life can be," Lola began nervously. "Sometimes things just happen."
Like Lola's husband's unexpected injury in the line of duty, Amy thought sympathetically. But Lola's older brother had no such sympathy for his sister, Amy noted, perplexed. Instead of agreeing with Lola, Nick Everton gave Lola a warning look, as if ordering her to say nothing more on that dark subject. More tension flowed between Lola and Nick, and the room fell silent, but for baby Dexter's conversational gurgle. Lola and Nick were still staring at each other when the doorbell rang. Cradling Dexter closer, Lola hurried to the door. "That must be Jack Granger now," she said.
Amy caught Nick's puzzled glance and explained, "I asked Jack to come over. He's a family friend and an attorney, and Lola wanted some papers drawn up before she got on the plane to Germany this afternoon. It's not the kind of work Jack normally does - he's a corporate lawyer for my family's shipping company - but he agreed to help us out because there was literally no other way to get a will drawn up and notarized on such short notice."
"Not to mention the guardianship papers," Jack Granger said as he strode into the room. One of those guys who was all business all the time and not in the least bit emotional, Jack gestured at the woman accompanying him. "Everyone, this is Sue. She's a notary public, and she's going to attest that everything done here today is certified."
Everyone said hello to Sue - a petite brunette with a ready smile - as Jack finished the introductions and began to set up for the document signing.