Read Chapter One Here
Austin sat in his Porsche 911 Turbo with Marnie in the passenger seat. Enclosed in the small space, he was suddenly aware of the cloying scent of her perfume that would no doubt linger long after she exited the vehicle. Why hadn’t he noticed that it bothered him before?
Dammit, he knew why, he thought, and curled his fingers tighter around the leather steering wheel. As he’d walked out, he’d had a compelling need to turn back around. He had. And he’d met Quinn’s gaze. In her eyes, he’d seen a wounded look that seared him to his soul. Although they weren’t together, he now felt uncomfortable being with Marnie, who’d merely been a substitute for the female he couldn’t have.
As she reached over and placed her hand on his thigh, Austin tensed, wishing he’d made an excuse to go home alone. But he hadn’t and there was no valid reason he couldn’t enjoy this night. He was single, available, and dammit, he needed to get laid, and Marnie was clearly interested.
“I’m so glad you took me up on my offer,” she said, sliding her hand closer to his crotch.
Driving, he grasped her wrist and slid her fingers away from his dick, which sadly hadn’t reacted the way he’d hoped once they got things going between them. Fuck. “Come on, Marnie. We’ll have plenty of time back at my place. I’ll make it worth the wait.”
He caught her pout from the corner of his eye.
“I don’t remember you being so stuffy,” she said.
“I just don’t want to get pulled over because your hand is on my cock and I’m swerving all over the road.” He threaded his fingers through hers, keeping one hand on the wheel. “Relax and I’ll make you feel good soon,” he promised.
“Fine.” She huffed and settled back into her seat.
He turned off at his exit and finally, after what felt like an eternity, drove into his neighborhood and up to his gated property. The house wasn’t truly enclosed, the gates were just for show, ending at the lit pillars on either side of the drive. He pulled all the way up and parked, planning to walk to the front door. With a little luck, he’d be taking Marnie home afterward, so no need to take the car inside the garage.
No sooner had he turned off the ignition than she began to slide across the center console and he cleared his throat. “Lots of beds inside. Counters, too. You can take your pick.” Looking at her, he winked, hoping she took his words as charming and not the blow off he was giving her.
This was going to be a long fucking ordeal. Too bad men couldn’t claim headaches and call it a night.
“Jeez.” She unsnapped her seat belt and opened her door.
He met her outside the car and wrapped an arm around her waist in an effort to calm her down by pulling her against him. “It’s going to be good.” He gave her ass a squeeze and she giggled, allowing him to relax.
In the distance, a strange noise captured his attention. “Did you hear that?” he asked.
She shook her head but then the noise sounded again. “Yes. Is that … a cat? A kitten?” She moved more quickly toward the front door and the sound, which was becoming louder and more persistent.
He shrugged and rushed after her. The front porch lights shone down on the steps, and he realized something had been left outside the double doors, his stomach churning at the sight.
Marnie stopped in her tracks. “That’s a baby carrier.”
He blinked to clear his vision because he’d really hoped he’d been wrong, that he hadn’t seen that. “I’m sorry, say that again?” Because he had to be sure. He was suddenly too queasy to be thinking rationally.
“It’s a baby carrier and that noise is a baby!” Marnie’s voice rose in panic.
“What the fuck?” Hesitantly, he took the three steps and looked at the car seat he’d seen his friends with kids use.
Movement came from inside, and as he bent down, two blue eyes stared up at him, and he noticed what looked like a pink sticky note stuck to the shifting blanket.
Frowning, he bent down and retrieved the note with three words scrawled onto it.
Jenny is yours.
His stomach churned and he’d be lucky if he didn’t lose what was left in his stomach.
“Holy fuck, Austin! You have a kid!” Marnie said, obviously reading over his shoulder and now sounding hysterical.
And at her panicked shriek, the baby began to cry, loud wails that traumatized him immediately because he didn’t know what the fuck to do.
“Pick her up!” he shouted over the din.
Eyes wide, Marnie shook her head. “Hell no. That wasn’t part of tonight’s deal.” She’d already grabbed her phone and begun tapping on the screen.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his gaze darting between the woman he’d hoped would take charge and the infant who’d thrown off the white blanket that had covered her. Little legs covered in footed pajamas now kicked up a storm as the screams she let out increased in volume.
“I’m calling an Uber. What do you think I’m doing?” Marnie looked as panicked as he felt.
Desperate, he grabbed her wrist. “Please, don’t go. Stay. Help me.”
She shook her head. “Oh, no. I’m meeting the car at the end of the driveway. Good luck, Austin. You’re on your own.” With that pronouncement, she and her high heels headed down the path and away from him and this bundle of joy as fast as she could go.
He glanced again at the baby screaming her little lungs out. Thank God it was warm out, but maybe too warm, and he picked up the carrier handle in one hand, the bag he’d just noticed in the other, and brought the infant inside the air-conditioned house. He took the baby into the kitchen and settled the carrier on the floor along with what he hoped was a diaper bag. Because Lord knew he had nothing with which to feed a baby. Change a baby. Nausea threatened.
“Jesus Christ,” he muttered under his breath.
The screams continued but he was scared shitless to take the baby out of the carrier and hold her.
Who could he call? His mother? He immediately discounted that idea. Before he knew what this fucking situation really was, he wasn’t telling his mother someone left his baby on the doorstep.
Was it his baby? Fuck.
He ran a hand through his hair. Should he call Bri? He shook his head. His sister would be all over him about how he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, and though that had once been true, he hadn’t had sex all that often in the last … how old was this baby, anyway? At a glance, he hadn’t a clue.
He paced the floor, his heart pounding as loud as the screams. He needed someone who could handle a crisis. Who wouldn’t panic. Who would take charge and make him feel like everything was going to be okay.
The name of that person came to him immediately, and though he cringed at the thought of dialing her number, he really had no choice. He was desperate, at a complete and utter loss, and she was the one person he trusted to handle things. Even if it changed how she looked at him forever.
Quinn washed up, changed into a pair of sweats and a tee shirt, and climbed into bed, letting her muscles relax as she settled against her fluffy pillows. Instead of thinking about her night, which would only lead to her remembering moments she didn’t want to dwell on, like Austin leaving with that woman or her family’s lack of understanding her, she picked up her Kindle to dive into a romantic comedy she’d been reading. Once she chilled out enough, she’d shut the light and try to fall asleep.
No sooner had she begun reading than her phone rang.
A glance told it was Austin and her heart began to race. What could he want this late? Something had to be wrong and she grabbed the phone, answering immediately. “Hello?”
“I need you. Really, desperately need you. Can you get over to my place now?”
In the background, she heard an indistinguishable sound. “What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked, knowing he’d left with the waitress, or at least she thought he had.
“Just get over here fast. Please.” He disconnected the call, leaving her staring at the phone in her hand.
Worried now, she glanced down at her outfit, decided it was good enough given the strange circumstances, grabbed her car keys, and rushed out the door. At this time of night, there was little traffic on the roads, and she arrived at Austin’s house in less than twenty minutes, pulled into his driveway, and parked behind his Porsche.
She rushed to the front door, finding it open, which was odd, stepped inside, and loud baby screams assaulted her senses. She immediately thought she was dreaming. Austin had an infant in his house? How could that be?
She walked through the main entryway with gorgeous vibrant paintings on the walls and toward the too familiar sound. She knew the way. Not only had she been here after Austin’s surgery but she’d dropped contracts and paperwork off on occasional days he’d been sick or working from home, so she headed toward the kitchen.
“Austin?” she called over the angry, upset sounds.
“In here!” he yelled back.
She stepped inside and froze.
He stood over a baby in a car seat carrier, literally wringing his hands.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Someone left her on my doorstep!”
Quinn immediately bent down and shifted the handle so she could lift the crying infant out of the seat and cuddle her against her chest. “Shh. Shh.”
She rocked from side to side, rubbing her hand over the little back in a soothing motion. “What’s in that bag? See if there’s formula or diapers.” Something that would soothe the baby.
But as he knelt, the infant responded to being comforted and held by Quinn. The baby calmed down and pulled in quick breaths, then released them.
“Oh, thank God. She stopped crying. How did you do that?” Austin asked, glancing up from his crouched position.
“You were a tense mess and transmitting that to her. Plus you didn’t pick her up or even try and comfort her,” Quinn chided him.
“She scares me. I don’t know shit about babies.” He dug through the bag on the floor. “What’s this?” He held up a burp rag.
Quinn rolled her eyes. “Give it to me.” She took the soft cotton and dabbed at the little one’s wet face and eyes and wiped her tiny nose. “There you go. All better?” she asked.
Two big blue eyes stared up at Quinn. My God, this baby was beautiful. “You said she?”
He rose. “The note said she’s a girl.” He picked up the pink sticky note that had fallen to the floor. “Here.”
She glanced at the paper and her eyes opened wide. “And you didn’t know about her?” she asked, voice rising in disbelief.
“No,” he replied a bit sheepishly.
With a frown for him, she looked back to the baby and smiled. “Hey, Jenny. You’re so pretty. Are you sure she’s yours?” she asked Austin, still rocking the baby in what was a natural motion that quickly came back to her from taking care of her youngest siblings and cousins.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
She shot him an incredulous glance. How could he not know he had a child? “Jesus, Austin. Are you that much of a man-whore?”
He actually looked insulted. “Hey, I’m not a man-whore. Anymore,” he muttered. “The last time I was with a woman was…” He paused as he obviously mentally did the math. “About a year ago. A little before surgery…”
“You mean before tonight. The last time you were with a woman before tonight was a year ago.” Her voice trailed off. “Seriously?”
He nodded. “I’ve been busy building the business. And for the record, I wasn’t with Marnie tonight,” he muttered.
But they both knew if not for the baby cockblocker in her arms, he would have been.
“Didn’t you leave with her?” she asked.
He nodded, not meeting her gaze. “She took one look at the baby and bolted.”
“Nice.” Quinn didn’t try to hide her sarcasm, then bit the inside of her cheek. “Why did you call me?”
His warm gaze settled on hers. “Because you’re you. You handle things. You keep me organized and settled.”
“In business,” she said through gritted teeth. “Why not call your mother or sister?”
“Are you kidding?” He dipped his head. “My mother would be all gaga-goo-goo over the baby and want to keep her forever, and my sister would be all over me … well, for exactly the things you just called me out on. And I wasn’t about to explain myself to my little sister.”
“She’s only two years younger than you but point taken.” For now. There was no way this infant was becoming Quinn’s problem. “Why don’t you hold her and I’ll check for necessities for tonight. A bottle, formula, and diapers.”
A look of horror crossed his face. “I can’t hold her.”
“You can and you will.” She handed the baby to him, giving him no choice.
He took her awkwardly into his arms and the screaming started again immediately. “See?”
Quinn adjusted the way he held Jenny so the baby felt more secure in his arms, but the cries didn’t abate.
Ignoring them the best she could, she lifted the bag to the kitchen table and went through it, doing a mental inventory as she laid out each item. “Powdered formula, four diapers, a onesie, you have the burp rag, and a pacifier. Thank God. You’ll be okay until morning.”
Quinn picked up the pacifier and walked to the sink, running it under the instant hot water to sterilize it, then dabbed it against her hand, waiting until the rubber cooled off. Returning to a still clearly panicked Austin, Quinn put the pacifier into the baby’s mouth.
Jenny immediately sucked it right in and quieted. Until she glanced at Austin and wound up to wail once more.
“Take her, please.” Austin held out the infant, her little legs dangling beneath her.
“Fine.” Quinn accepted the baby and cuddled her against her chest again.
When Jenny immediately settled, Austin’s shoulders relaxed. “I’m calling you the baby whisperer,” he muttered.
“Let’s sit down and talk,” Quinn suggested.
He nodded and she followed him into his comfortable family room and the place of their kiss. Any time she walked into this room, the memory assaulted her and she was reminded that the kiss had turned her life upside down. She hadn’t been with any man since.
Instead of sitting down, she kept rocking from side to side with the baby in her arms. “Think. Could she be yours?”
He threaded his hands through his hair, messing up the longer strands and giving himself an adorably shaggy look. Add the more than five-o’clock shadow and he was one sexy man.
“How old is she? I can’t tell,” he said.
Quinn looked at the baby’s face, gauged her size, “About three months? Four? It’s hard to know. I can check the size of her clothes but that’s my best guess.”
He groaned. “So if you do the math, nine months of pregnancy, three to four months old … yeah, it’s possible. But I wore a fucking condom. I always do.”
She closed her eyes, not wanting to think about him with a female in an intimate situation. Not at all. “Okay, well, you’ll get that sorted out. In the meantime, as I said, you’re good for the night. I can make a bottle before I go so you can feed her before bed.” She bent down and put the quiet baby into his arms.
“Wait, what? Where are you going? You can’t leave me!” he practically yelled.
Predictably, between his loud voice and tense body, Jenny started to wail once more.
Quinn narrowed her gaze at him. “I’m going to make a bottle and you are going to learn to hold her.”
“You can’t leave me.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “You don’t expect me to move in and play nanny for you, do you?”
He treated her to his most endearing grin.
She folded her arms across her chest defensively. “Charm isn’t going to work.”
“What about begging? Will that work? A raise? A promotion?” he rambled, his nerves clear. So was the abject fear in his eyes and panic in his expression.
She narrowed her gaze. “I’m already your executive assistant. I can’t become your executive executive assistant.”
He let out a breath and glanced at the little girl in his arms. Despite his terror, there was something endearing about the man and the baby. She couldn’t say no to him on a normal day but now?
Fine. She’d stay tonight and they’d figure something out in the morning. But she didn’t have to let him off the hook that easily. He needed to learn to stay calm with the baby and that wouldn’t happen if she kept giving in to him immediately.
“Try calming her down. I’m going to make a bottle. We’ll discuss the rest when I get back.”
An hour after Austin had called Quinn for help, she’d had baby Jenny fed, changed, burped, and settled on a nest of blankets surrounded by couch pillows beside his bed. While his head was still spinning, Quinn had stepped up and taken charge.
Watching her with the baby had been a revelation. He’d been kidding when he called her the baby whisperer, but no joke, the woman had a magic touch.
He owed her more than he could repay and was so damned grateful. For the first time since finding a baby on his doorstep, he could breathe.
“She’s asleep,” Quinn said softly and gestured her head toward the bedroom door.
He followed her out and, once in the hall, leaned against the wall. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. She’s a sweet little thing.”
“When she isn’t a crying banshee,” he said wryly.
Quinn treated him to a tired smile. “Unless she’s colicky, babies cry when they’re hungry, wet, uncomfortable, or want to be held. Relax more around her and it should help.”
“You do that.” She chuckled. “Okay well…”
They hadn’t discussed her staying the night again, and his heart sped up at the thought that she might leave him alone with the baby.
Reaching out, he grabbed her hand, and despite the baby situation, touching her sent a jolt of awareness through him. “You’re staying, right?” He heard the pathetic plea in his tone and he didn’t care. “Please?” When it came to this situation, he was not above begging.
She bit down on her full bottom lip, drawing his attention to her lush mouth. “I could come back in the morning.”
“What if she wakes up? You see how much she hates me.”
Quinn shook her head, her grin adorable. “She doesn’t hate you. She’s reacting to how tense you are.”
“Please? I’ll pay you.”
“It’s not about money!”
He wondered what it was about, because she was clearly good with babies. True, he was asking her to do something outside of her job description, but it wasn’t illegal, for Christ sake. “If not money, then what?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ll stay the night but tomorrow we are figuring out an alternate plan.”
He noted she hadn’t explained her own panic over helping with the infant. Instead of calling her on it, he held up his hands in agreement. “Fine. Perfect. Thank you.” He blew out a sigh of relief.
“I’m assuming this huge house has a guest room?” She began to yawn and lifted a hand to cover her mouth.
He wanted her in his bed. Next to the baby and beside him, but he knew better than to push for the impossible. Any sexual feelings he had for her needed to take a back seat to his new reality.
“Sure. Come on. You can stay in the room right across the hall.” Where she could be on her feet and rush to the baby when she woke up.
His house was a six-bedroom on the bay with stunning views and was a good tax write-off. Did he need a mansion? No. But he had a big family and liked the idea of being away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
He led her to the guest room with a queen-size bed. “You have your own bathroom. There are towels, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and all the basics. My family likes to crash here every so often, so my housekeeper keeps things stocked for them.” He gestured for her to go inside.
“Thank you.” As she stepped past him, he caught a whiff of her perfume. He’d trained himself to ignore the sensual scent at the office, but this was his home. And with her hair up in a messy bun, wearing comfortable sweats and a tight tee shirt that showed her generous breasts, ignoring her was all but impossible.
“Get some sleep,” she said, breaking into his thoughts. “Who knows how quickly we’ll be woken up again.”
He nodded. “Thank you, Quinn. You’ll never know how much I appreciate your help.”
She smiled. “You’re welcome.”
He walked out and headed back to his room, pausing at the sight of the infant snuggled on the pallet on the floor. His stomach twisted anew.
Sitting down on his bed, he pulled out his calendar and went back one year, scrolling through various days and weeks, and then it hit him. He’d been in Chicago a year ago, doing business with a client, and he’d been at the hotel bar. A woman had sat down beside him. Nelle Jamieson was her name. They’d flirted. She’d taken him out of his head. Given he’d recently learned about Jesse not being his real dad, he’d been in a mood, feeling alone, and they’d gone upstairs to his room.
He was a free agent. Why not? But he’d used condoms, dammit. He always used protection. Which wasn’t effective if this little one was his.
He’d seen her eyes. They were a deep blue. Could get darker, turn the indigo of his family. Not that they all had that color eyes, but the gene was a strong one. Of course, he’d have a DNA test run. And he had cameras outside. He’d have to run the tape and see if he could get a good look at who’d left the baby on his front porch.
Which begged another question. What kind of woman left a defenseless, innocent baby outside at night? Alone? His protective instincts rose for this sweet baby.
He ran a hand over his face and lay down on the bed. Little noises reached his ears. He heard every move and sigh the baby made. And if she really was his, the woman who abandoned her could be damn sure she’d never get near the infant again.
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