The House Mate Page 21

I clicked the phone off and then stared at it, dumbfounded.

Where did she get off? I should have been the one asking questions. Why did you leave? Why did you keep her a secret?

And the one that made my heart squeeze with dread.

Are you going to come and take her back from me?

Instead, I had to carry on with my life wondering when the ax would drop, if it ever would. The thought made me sick. All I could do was hope that the fact that Jenn had stayed away this long meant she was happy with her choice and confident in the knowledge that I would do whatever it took to keep Dylan with me.

Upstairs, the pounding of the shower halted, and I focused back on the present. I couldn’t let Jenn take tonight away from me—she’d already taken too much, like the entire first year of my daughter’s life. Tonight had been a dream I didn’t even know I had. Life was too short, and there were too few moments like this to let fear of the unknown steal it away.

For now, my sole focus was Addison.

And I was going to make damn sure she knew it.

Chapter Fifteen


I stepped into the shower and breathed in the hot steam, hoping it might give me some clarity. I couldn’t lie—it was nice to have Max handle all the little details of dinner and the house so that I could relax, but . . .

How the hell was I supposed to relax?

I turned, allowing the rush of hot water to pound down my back as I closed my eyes. I’d had a full forty-eight hours to argue with myself about whether to go along with Max’s proposal, and I was still just as confused as I’d been when he’d propositioned me. I’d even nearly called Lara a few times for moral support, but every time I was on the brink of thumbing the Dial button, I put my phone down again and flopped back on my bed.

I knew what she’d say, of course. She’d parrot back exactly what I’d told her the last time we’d talked. That it was bad business to sleep with the boss, and a one-way ticket to homelessness. But she hadn’t met Max. She had no way of knowing what a difficult choice it was, how impossible it was to look into his dark eyes and not give him everything he wanted.

Opening my eyes, I reached for my loofah and scrubbed until my skin was pink and tingling.

I hadn’t called Lara because I didn’t want to hear her, just like I didn’t want to hear the part of my brain that told me not to imagine what it would feel like to be lying on a bed, naked and exposed to him, and to have his hot, muscular body braced over me. To feel his thick shaft rubbing against my entrance, to feel him move inside me with all the command and force I knew he would.

My nostrils flared and I tilted my head back, allowing the spray of water to coat my hair and rinse away the stubborn bits of Play-Doh still stuck in it.

The real problem here was Dylan. Dylan came first. Even Max had agreed to that.

But there was no way of knowing how things would turn out, and in turn, affect her. And if Max changed his mind about wanting things to be casual . . .

Then Dylan could have a mother again. I would be her mother.

Warmth rushed through me at the thought, but I beat it away. I was getting ahead of myself. All I had to do was get out of the shower, get dressed, and make a choice about tonight.

I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew what was smart. But at this point, it looked like Max and I would find out at the same time, because I still had no fucking clue which I would choose.

I turned the tap until the water stopped, then dried myself off and slipped into the soft cotton dress I’d brought into the bathroom with me.

It was unusual for me to dress in anything other than pajamas after a shower, but after all Max had done tonight, I wanted to look nice for him.

Not because I was going to say yes, but because this sort of felt like a date. Not that it was a date either, it was more like . . .

I sighed. I was confusing even myself now. God only knew how it would sound when I tried to explain how I was feeling to Max.

In my bedroom, I sat in front of my vanity and whipped my semi-wet hair into a bun on top of my head. Normally, that would do it, but then . . .

He’d cleaned and cooked for me. He’d been so sweet.

I glanced at the tiny pink makeup bag, then opened it and pulled out a few essentials. A dab of concealer, a coat of mascara, and lip balm, and I was ready.

Was this why he’d done everything around the house? Because he wanted me to feel beholden to him? Like that might convince me to sleep with him?

I shook the thought away.

That was something Greg might have done—if, in fact, he’d had any interest in sleeping with me. He used to manipulate me all the time to get what he wanted, but that didn’t feel like the kind of move Max would pull. He was just trying to make me feel special, and I wanted to make him feel special in return.

That was all.

I took a deep breath and stood at the top of the steps, willing myself to move. Downstairs, I could already hear the gentle chords of a familiar song, though I couldn’t name it off the top of my head. Steeling myself, I walked down to find Max sitting in the living room, a fresh bouquet of roses and daisies on the coffee table in front of him.

“Wow, those flowers are beautiful,” I said.

“They’re yours. Something to say thank you for everything you’ve done for Dylan and me.”

I smiled. “If you’re going to get me weekly gifts for doing my job, then—”

“It wasn’t your job to redecorate her room like that. I just wanted to show you how much I appreciate it.”

I drew my bottom lip between my teeth, sucking hard. “It was no problem at all.”

“Then it won’t be any problem accepting the flowers either.”

I rolled my eyes. “Do you want more coffee or . . .”

“There’s a bottle of wine uncorked and ready for you in the kitchen, if you want it.”

“Right.” I nodded. “Thanks. Do you want—”

“I’ve already got some. Hair of the dog, and all. I just didn’t want to ply you with alcohol unless you wanted it.”

Wanted it? I was pretty sure that was the only way I was getting through this night. I rushed into the kitchen and poured myself a healthy glass, focusing again on the music. The voice was crooning and sweet.

When my glass was ready, I walked back into the living room. “I thought you were strictly a Bob Dylan guy. You like Elvis Costello too?”

“I like all good music.”

His gaze met mine, and I had half an urge to hightail it back up the steps. He was looking at me like he was a lion and I was a gazelle. Or, more particularly, like he was a starving man and I was a juicy slice of cherry pie.

I swallowed and then settled in beside him on the couch.

“You didn’t send me any messages today. I was convinced you and Dylan had fled to Peru,” he said.

“We talked about it, but Dylan wasn’t interested. She had some spit bubbles to blow and a ladybug to try and eat. Maybe tomorrow.” I laughed.

He chuckled and took a sip of his wine. “So, what else did you guys do?”

“Oh, you know, we read some Clifford and then we went to the pet store to see the real Cliffords.”

“No kidding. What did Dylan think?”

I grinned, remembering her reaching her chubby fingers out to one of the brown-spotted puppies. “She kept pointing to the puppies and calling them babies.”

Max grinned. “Tell me you’re not hiding a dog somewhere in this house?”

I shook my head. “Not yet, but it was a close call. I think Dylan named every dog in the store.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep. Most of them are named ball, but a couple are confusingly named bird.”

He laughed again. “Sounds about right. I was ‘ball’ for the first two days we were together.”

I tilted my head to the side. “Yeah, I could see that. Your head is very round.”

He fake scowled at me and I grinned.

Silence fell between us then, and I combed through my memories of the day, trying to think of something cute Dylan had said or done so that we wouldn’t get down to the crux of the matter—not just yet, at least. Nothing was coming, though, and Max was starting to look at me with that intense, hungry gleam in his eyes again. I knew what he was thinking, what he wanted.

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