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Why did she have to be so attractive?

Why did she have to be so attractive? I should have known, because her sister was, too. But for some reason, I expected someone different. Elle told me that Alice had been living in her home for the past three years, helping them out with Amelia and rarely going out on her own. Elle said it would be good for Alice to get out.

I assumed that meant she wouldn’t be good in social situations, but she was refined. I would have thought she came from money, but she wasn’t wearing anything that screamed designer or wealth. Even her car was an older model.

I was intrigued when she spoke to Maggie first and then immediately got down on her knees to play with her. She was good with kids. It didn’t matter if she went to college or had any formal training. I wanted someone who was good with my daughter and who’d show up for work.

I didn’t know if it would work out. I hadn’t known that with any of the other nannies, either, but I had a good feeling when I watched her interact with Maggie. It was almost like something aligned in my chest. A missing piece clicked into place.

This was the woman I’d been looking for all along. She was young and energetic. She didn’t mind getting down on the ground to play with Maggie. Alice would also introduce her to her niece, so she’d have a friend. It was more than I was hoping for at this point.

I couldn’t afford to lose her. I’d do anything in my power to keep her. Especially since Maggie seemed taken with her. If Maggie was happy, it was easier to leave and go to work. The guilt wasn’t so heavy.

The only problem was this ridiculous attraction I had to her. She was exactly my type. Girl next door with brown hair, expressive eyes, and long, tan legs. In her favor, she didn’t seem interested in me. She was solely focused on Maggie. As she should be.

I should have been happy about that. But the part of me that hadn’t been interested in a woman in a long time took notice of her. As long as I could control this attraction to her, I’d be fine. I didn’t want to do anything that would mess this up for Maggie.

Maybe Alice already had a boyfriend and that’s why she didn’t go out much. She was already settled and happy, just biding her time until she got engaged and had kids of her own. Her back story didn’t matter. The only thing that did was that she was a reliable employee and wouldn’t walk around the house in sleep shorts.

I’d never offered the guest room to any of the previous nannies, but I was hoping it would help with the early hours. After meeting Alice, I should have nixed that idea. But I hadn’t, and now it was too late.

Maggie tugged on my fingers. “Daddy, Daddy. When can Miss Alice come back?”

“She’ll move in tomorrow.”

Maggie’s eyes grew wide. “Will she sleep in my room?”

I smiled at her assumption. “The guest room.”

Her face fell. “Oh.”

“She needs her own space.”

She nodded. “Right.”

“And this way, Alice will be here when you wake up.”

“She’ll make me breakfast?” she asked hopefully.

“That’s the idea.”

She clasped her hands together and did a little twirl around the room. “I’m so excited.”

The tension in my shoulders eased. Maybe things would start going my way. Ever since Maggie’s mom, Felicia, moved out of state to finish her residency at a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, I’d been her sole support. It was tough not having anyone to share the burden with. But I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

Maggie looked at me as if I was her everything, and I loved that. I didn’t want to be a weekend dad. I wanted to be with her full time, even when I had trouble finding someone reliable to watch her when I was working.

I tried to find her a day care, but they didn’t start as early as I needed to be at work. This way, Maggie could be in her own home, playing and relaxing. Hopefully, Alice was the solution to all our problems.

“You ready to go to Grandma’s for dinner?”

“Yes, yes, yes,” she said as she ran over to the front door and sat on the floor to pull on her shoes.

I was lucky to work with my brothers and father and live so close to them. It meant Maggie had a large extended family and didn’t ask about her mother much. She was so young that she barely remembered a time when Felicia lived closer. I was almost grateful for that, even as my heart ached for what she was missing out on.

I packed her a small bag of her favorite toys, even though Mom kept a bunch at her place, too. My parents’ home was large and on a single-acre lot with the mountains in the background. My father built it when we were young.

When we arrived, I helped Maggie down from my large truck, and she raced toward the house, knowing someone would be there to open the door for her. I followed more slowly, carrying her glittery-pink backpack.

My oldest brother, Mac, opened the door for Maggie.

“There’s my favorite girl!” Mac exclaimed as he picked her up to give her a smacking kiss on her forehead. She giggled, squirming until he put her down, and then raced toward the kitchen where she knew she’d find my parents, who doted on her.

When Mac saw me, he crossed his arms over his chest. “You don’t need to come in. You can just leave Maggie with us.”

“Not likely,” I said, used to the ribbing. The running joke with my brothers was that they adored my daughter and could do without my grumpy ass.

Mac raised his brow. “A pink backpack?”

I lifted it. “One day, this is going to happen to you too.”

He finally stepped aside so I could enter. “I’m just happy to dote on my favorite niece. I don’t need any kids of my own.”

“Mmm,” I said as I made my way to the noise in the kitchen.

My father built a dream kitchen for my mother. The centerpiece was the large gourmet island where we always stood. He’d even added a bump-out for the long table that was surrounded by windows, with a view of the mountains. It was large enough that it felt spacious, even with all of us present.

I kissed my mother on the cheek, and she said, “You need to visit more often.”

“More often than family dinner night?” I asked lightly.

“You rarely come,” she chided softly.

“I like to keep Maggie to myself.” We’d discussed my reluctance to miss any time I had with Maggie. I worked long hours, and I wanted as much one-on-one time as I could get.

“Maybe I could take her one day a week or something to get my Maggie fix.”

“That can probably be arranged after the new nanny settles in.”

“Another one? What happened to the last one?” Mom asked as she turned to pull the casserole dish out of the oven.

I leaned on the counter next to my dad. “She wasn’t showing up for work on time. You know I need to be at the job site early.”

Dad raised a brow. “Will this one be any better?”

“I offered her a room so that she’d be there when Maggie wakes up.”

The conversation around us died down. Maggie sat at the table with my middle brother, Tyler, who was coloring with her. Mac was filling water glasses.

“You have a live-in nanny?” Tyler, looked up from Maggie’s coloring book.

“Alice. She moves in tomorrow.” I tensed, waiting for the comments.

“How well do you know this woman?” Mac asked, ever the protective eldest brother.

“She’s Elle Carmichael’s sister. The woman who owns the barber shop, Smoke & Mirrors.”

“I didn’t know Elle had a sister.” Tyler was the most outgoing of the three of us. He had an easy way about him that attracted women to him.

“I think she keeps to herself. She moved here about three years ago and lived with Elle and Gray to take care of their daughter, Amelia, who’s the same age as Maggie.”

Mom smiled as she looked up from cutting a loaf of bread. “Maybe they can have playdates.”

My brothers and I ate alone, so when we were all over for dinner, Mom made large quantities of food designed to fill us up.

I shifted on my feet, hoping that was the end of the inquiries. “That’s what it sounded like.”

“Are you sure about this?” Mac met my gaze from across the room.

“I need someone reliable so I can work without constantly checking my phone or worrying.” Alice hadn’t asked about salary, but I intended to pay her more than the other nannies, even if she was getting free room and board.

“That’s understandable,” Mom said. She was the one who understood me the best. I think it’s because my brothers weren’t parents yet. They didn’t understand the responsibility, the constant anxiety that I wasn’t providing enough for Maggie. Especially with her mom in and out of her life.

Dad slapped my shoulder. “We need you focused on work. Can’t have anyone getting hurt.”

“Hasn’t happened yet.” I might not have been physically injured from the distractions at home, but it hurt my focus. I wanted more responsibility at work, and being the youngest brother, I got the least. I wouldn’t be able to convince my dad to listen to my business ideas if I was exhausted from no sleep and my head constantly on Maggie at home.

We helped Mom move the food and drinks to the table. Sitting around my childhood table, I felt settled in a way I didn’t at home. This was my family. Felicia might not have been present, but Maggie had me, my parents, and my brothers. She was loved. When I was worried I wasn’t doing enough, I tried to remind myself of moments like these.

She had a lot. Even if sometimes I wished she had an intact family. A mother and a father. But Felicia and I had never been serious. We’d dated casually, and when she got pregnant, I told her I’d be there for her. I would have married her if that’s what she wanted, but she didn’t. She said the pregnancy wouldn’t derail her plans of being a doctor.

I just didn’t think she’d move across the country for a job opportunity and never come back.

Food was passed around, and conversation carried on around me.

At some point, Mac leaned in. “Just how old is this nanny who’s living in your guest room?”

I shrugged. “A couple of years younger than me, I would think. Twenty-five or twenty-six.”

“She hot?” Tyler asked from across the table, clearly eavesdropping on our conversation. He’d kept his voice low, probably worried that Maggie, who was sitting at the other end of the table next to Mom and Dad, might overhear.

“She’s pretty. Girl-next-door looks.” There was no way I was telling them the truth. Alice was gorgeous, and there was something intriguing about her. There was a depth to her eyes that told me she had a history. A troubled one. It didn’t concern me because she was so genuinely entranced by Maggie. I wasn’t sure if it was all children, but Maggie was drawn to her too.

“Is it going to be a problem having a hot nanny living with you?” Mac asked, ever the responsible one.

“I need her to watch Maggie. I won’t do anything to screw that up.” I needed to cut the cord on this attraction because she wasn’t a love interest. She was tasked with looking after my daughter. The most important job, in my mind.

“No kissing the nanny, then,” Tyler said with a smug grin. He was probably going to enjoy my discomfort over the next few months.

“And you wonder why I don’t come to family dinners.”

Mac elbowed me hard in the ribs. “What? You can’t handle the ribbing?”

I grunted at the contact.

“Boys. How many times do I have to tell you, no wrestling at the table?”

Mac rolled his eyes like we were still teenagers. “I wasn’t wrestling.”

“Elbowing. Whatever it is you do when you think I’m not looking.”

“Yeah, be good.” I was pleased that Mom always stuck up for me as the youngest. Although that usually meant harsher treatment from my brothers when Mom was out of the room. It was worth it when she chided them.

Tyler pointed at me. “Watch yourself.”

“I know what you boys do. Wait until I leave to give each other trouble. I won’t have it in my house.” Mom pointed her fork down the table at us.

“Now, Miranda, they’re grown men.”

She gave him an exasperated look. “Then they should start acting like it.”

Mom and Dad broke off into bickering about how to handle us. It wasn’t anything different from years ago. It felt good to be home. I was glad Maggie got to be a part of this.

“Mom can’t save you forever,” Mac hissed from my side.

“We’re not kids anymore, you know. We could probably act more mature.”

Mac snorted.

Something about being home made us all act like we had as kids. We fell into our roles—Malcolm, who we call Mac, the older, protective brother; Tyler, the peacemaker and comedian; and me, the baby. I’d hoped Maggie would take on that role, but apparently, you never outgrew your family. Some things didn’t change.

We ran a business together too, and those same roles naturally seeped in over there, as well. Mac was the project supervisor and Tyler handled a lot of the customer service issues. But I didn’t have a specific role. Usually, I was supervised by my father or one of my brothers. Like I could never be trusted on my own. When Maggie was a baby, it was because I was exhausted and needed the extra help.

But she was older now, and if I had a reliable babysitter, maybe it would finally be time to ask for more responsibility. Technically, we were equal partners, but our opinions didn’t hold the same weight. Dad tended to listen to Mac and not Tyler or me.

Mac was the responsible one. It was too soon to ask for more. I needed to make sure Alice was going to work out first. Then I’d feel better about asking for more responsibility. I wanted to manage my own projects. I didn’t want my dad or my brother there to babysit me.

At the end of dinner, Mac grabbed the cake he’d bought from the local baker.

“Oh, what’s the occasion?” Mom asked.

“Your anniversary is coming up, and we’d like to give you your present early.”

“Oh?” Mom asked, exchanging a look with Dad. I think they thought we’d throw them a party because they loved getting together with family and friends. Hopefully, we hadn’t miscalculated.

Mac stood, an envelope in his hands. “You haven’t gone on a vacation in forever. Not since we were kids, and we took those road trips.”

Back then, Dad said we didn’t have the money or time to take away from the business to go on long vacations, so we’d do day or weekend trips. We loved them, but we wanted our parents to have some time off, and my mom had been wanting to travel.

“We already bought the tickets, so there’s no taking them back,” Tyler added.

“Where are we going?” Mom asked.

“Open it.” Mac handed her the envelope.

She opened the flap and pulled out the printed itinerary from the airline and tour company. “A two-week tour of Europe.”

Mom stood to hug Mac. “You’ve never gone, and you’ve always wanted to. It’s time for you two to take some time for yourself.”

“What about the business?” Dad asked, clearly uncomfortable with the idea of so much time away.

The natural leader, Mac, said, “You have the three of us to hold things together. If you ever want to retire, you need to rely on us more. We want to take over the business so you can have more time off.”

“It’s time,” Tyler added.

Mom’s eyes filled with tears, but I wasn’t sure if they were happy tears or not. “I can’t believe we’re finally going to Europe.”

Mom hugged Dad, and seeing how happy she was, Dad seemed reluctant to argue.

“It’s all paid for. All you have to do is enjoy yourselves. We’ll take care of the business and the house.”

Mom stood and hugged Mac, Tyler, and then finally me. “I can’t believe you planned and paid for it all.”

“You deserve it. You’re always taking care of us and the business. You never take any time away.”

She pulled back to see my face. “It’s going to be hard for your father, you know.”

“He needs this the most. He holds on to the business with two hands, even when he has us.”

Mom patted my cheek. “You’re such good boys.”

My parents were great people, loving and supportive. I couldn’t understand how Felicia could walk away from Maggie so easily. I understood wanting a career, but she didn’t want Maggie. I wanted it all, the family and a work-life balance.

Watching Mom hug my dad again made me long for a partner. Not Felicia. I couldn’t love someone who could walk away from her child, but I wanted someone to be on my side. To love me and Maggie.

Was that even a possibility?

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