Being the single father of a preemie at twenty-five was not what Keith Lane envisioned for his future, but after a one night stand, that’s exactly where he ends up – juggling work and caring for his son, and struggling to keep it all together.

Sara Saunders has a heart of gold and a sweet disposition, and wants nothing more than to have a relationship with her nephew. When she finds out Keith needs a nanny it seems like the perfect solution ¬– Keith needs help, and she’s the most qualified candidate he could ever hope to find!

Despite his initial reservations and instant attraction to her, Keith takes a risk and hires Sara. Sparks fly and he soon realizes that he wants her as more than just a nanny, but Sara’s habit of acting without thinking lands her over Keith’s knee before they even have a first date.

Luckily, Sara craves the discipline and structure that Keith can provide, and their relationship thrives. But when the past shows up on his doorstep Keith questions everything he thought he knew about Sara, and wonders if taking a chance on her would turn into the worst mistake of his life.

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Excerpt

Chapter One

 

The twin aggravations of noise and distraction reverberated through the house right as Keith was rushing to get out the door and off to work. The phone rang, the baby cried and the doorbell chimed all at the same time, creating a mangled cacophony of sound that made Keith curse under his breath. He rushed down the hall to Carter’s bedroom to deal with the most important issue first—his five-month-old son lying in his crib, already dressed and ready to go to the sitter’s. Hence the crying. The boy did not like to be left alone, even for the five minutes that Keith needed to make sure the diaper bag was properly stocked, his work duffle held a clean uniform and he hadn’t accidently left the stove on, again. He’d learned his lesson after showing up at work with a bag full of onesies and wipes.

“Okay buddy,” Keith said, picking up the red-faced baby. “Let’s go see who’s at the door.”

Carter immediately quieted and gave Keith a gummy grin, his tears drying quicker than a desert storm. He swore the kid knew exactly what he was doing and how to push his father’s buttons to get exactly what he wanted. Keith knew he needed to quit giving in, but he couldn’t help it. Carter had needed constant attention and care after being born prematurely. Now that he was growing and doing well, Keith couldn’t stand to hear him cry, even for a minute. If that made him a softhearted pushover, then so be it.

The doorbell rang again, but the phone had thankfully stopped. Keith made his way down the hall, tripping over a pile of toys and stumbling into the highchair in the kitchen. Even though he’d upgraded from his small one-bedroom apartment to this three-bedroom, two-bath house, it still felt like there wasn’t enough room for him, Carter and all of Carter’s stuff.

He opened the door to find his brother’s girlfriend on the front porch looking very smug.

“Having a tough time there, Keith,” she said in greeting, before stepping into the house. Angie took every opportunity she could find to suggest that Keith get help taking care of Carter. Mrs. Thompson next door watched him several days a week, and Angie and his brother Kevin both helped whenever they could. Despite the help, the bigger Carter got, the more Keith struggled to keep up with him. After working a ten-hour night shift at the factory, all he wanted to do was shower and collapse into bed. Unfortunately, Carter generally woke up a few hours after Keith went to bed, making that impossible, so he’d been living in a perpetually sleep deprived state for months.

He tried to sleep whenever Carter did, and that worked for now, but as Angie liked to remind him every time he saw her, Carter would start sleeping less and less during the day, and then Keith would be screwed. He couldn’t function on less than the five or so hours of sleep he currently snuck in throughout the course of the day.

While he hated the idea of having a stranger in his home all day, alone with Carter, he was beginning to resign himself to the fact Angie was correct. He needed to admit that he couldn’t do it all by himself. There wasn’t any shame in doing whatever he needed to do to make sure his son was well cared for, and since Carter’s mother wanted nothing to do with him, hiring a live-in nanny appeared to be Keith’s only option.

Closing the door behind Angie, Keith took a deep breath before meeting her knowing gaze. Was he really about to do this? Relent after months of claiming he could handle everything, and running himself ragged in the process?

“Yeah, I think I need some help, Ang.” He waited for her to gloat, or dance around yelling ‘I told you so’, but he should have known Angie would never do something so mean. At least not anymore, and not to his face. Before she started dating his brother, she had quite a reputation as a mean girl with a wild streak. Kevin somehow managed to tame her with love and discipline, and now Angie was one of the most thoughtful, caring people Keith knew. Although she did still have a stubborn streak and a bit of a temper, that was his brother’s cross to bear.

“You have excellent timing, bringing that up now,” she said, taking Carter out of his arms for a snuggle. “Remember that cousin of Molly’s who came to see Carter in the hospital?”

Keith did remember her, mostly because he threw her out of the nursery when he found out she was visiting his son. He didn’t want anyone associated with Molly getting anywhere near Carter. Molly had never been a mother to Carter. She was nothing more than the woman who gave birth to Keith’s son. Keith had been so angry he couldn’t see straight. He was angry at her poor choices that led to Carter coming into the world early, jeopardizing the baby’s life. He was furious at Molly’s refusal to take any interest or responsibility for the child she had brought into the world. That bitch had hightailed it out of the hospital as soon as the doctors cleared her to leave. While she’d said all along she didn’t want the baby, Keith had thought—and hoped—that seeing Carter would make some dormant maternal instinct kick in and Molly would clean up her life and be a mother. He didn’t mind taking primary responsibility for Carter, but he’d really believed she would want to spend some time with her son. Though in hindsight, Keith knew he wouldn’t have allowed her to take Carter, given her lifestyle and living situation.

“Yeah, I remember her.” He struggled to picture the young woman in his mind, but only came up with a vague image of long blond hair, skinny jeans and a black sweater. Oh, and blue eyes that widened in nervousness and fear when he confronted her at the hospital. “What about her?”

Angie hesitated to answer and Keith knew he wasn’t going to like whatever came out of her mouth next. “Well, she came back a few times to see Carter and really seemed interested in him.”

“When?” he asked. “I never saw her again. In fact, I’m pretty sure I told her not to come back.”

Angie paused again and Keith gave her a hard stare, prompting her to spit it out. “I kind of told her to come back when you weren’t there.”

“Angie, why would you do that?” Keith cut her off more sharply than he intended, but what the hell? “You knew I didn’t want anyone from Molly’s family around.”

“And I didn’t understand why.” He gave her another look at that comment, this one extremely exasperated, because Angie knew exactly why Carter was off limits to Molly. “I mean, I get why you didn’t want Molly around, but her family didn’t turn their back on Carter and walk out of the hospital, and I thought they could help you.”

“From what I understand, her parents are no better than she is. That’s why she ended up the way she is.” He couldn’t believe Angie had gone behind his back and let some stranger near his kid.

“Keith, I know you’re angry right now, but just listen to me,” she pleaded. “I really think Sara cares about Carter, and she’s not some druggie or crazy person. She goes to school part-time and was working at a day care up until a little while ago.”

Keith took a deep breath, struggling for calm. “How do you know all this, Angie?”

Her eyes darted around the room before she answered. “I kind of kept in touch with her and we’ve become friends.”

“What do you mean, you’re friends?” he barked. Carter jumped at the harsh tone of Keith’s voice and he tried to rein it in before he made his son cry. “Does Kevin know about this?”

“Um, yeah. He does now.” Angie’s cheeks turned pink and Keith knew his brother hadn’t been happy with Angie’s deception. That was most likely why she was paying him this unannounced visit. Kevin must have made her come over here to fess up. Keith bet she probably couldn’t sit comfortably either.

“At first, he was upset because I didn’t tell him who she was when she and I became friends, but he actually agrees with me.”

“Agrees with what?” he demanded. Kevin couldn’t possibly think that this random woman should be a part of Carter’s life.

“That she would make a good nanny for Carter.” Keith opened his mouth to argue, but Angie cut him off. “She’s got experience with small children, goes to school part-time and needs a job. And she’s really nice and actually cares about Carter. She asks about him all the time and loves seeing pictures.”

“So I should just let this woman move into my house tomorrow and leave my son alone with her? Is that what you’re suggesting, Angie? Because that’s not going to happen.” Keith turned and headed back to Carter’s room to finish grabbing everything he needed for the day. Angie had clearly lost her mind suggesting this hare-brained idea. Hiring someone who had connections to Molly was a risk he wasn’t sure he wanted to take. He had that woman out of his and his son’s lives, and he didn’t want her back in it—not even a little bit.

Angie’s insanity became more evident when she followed him down the hall, still holding Carter, and unfortunately, still talking.

“No, I’m not saying that you should jump in that fast, but you could meet her and maybe let her come over and see how she is with Carter. If that visit goes well, then let her babysit a few times. Then make the decision about whether she should be here full time.”

He busied himself stuffing diapers, wipes and several changes of clothes into the bag to take to the sitter’s house, thinking about Angie’s suggestion. As much as he hated to admit it, she made sense. He still wasn’t convinced this Sara would be good with Carter, but he needed help and he had to start somewhere. Meeting someone who was related to Carter, and that Angie knew, was better than putting an ad online and having who knows what kind of people responding. Maybe she would be just like Molly and it wouldn’t work, but, maybe Angie was right, and Sara had her head on straight and would take good care of Carter. If anyone could spot a walking disaster, it was definitely Angie, since she used to be one. What could it hurt to meet her and have a conversation? If she were crazy, he’d leave and never see her again. If not, then he’d take the next step and have her spend some supervised time with Carter at home.

“Yeah, okay,” he said finally, after a long pause that Angie silently waited through. “Give me her number and I’ll set up a time to meet with her.”

“Really?” Angie cried. “That’s great. I’m so glad, Keith, and I really have a good feeling about this.”

“Don’t get too excited, Angie. I’m only agreeing to have coffee and feel her out. It may not work out how you’re imagining.”

“I just know you’re going to love her,” she said, carrying on like Keith hadn’t said a word. She’d grabbed Carter’s light jacket and was trying to get his squirming baby arms into the correct sleeves.

“We’ll see,” he replied, not bothering to argue with Angie any more. Once she had an idea in her head, it was tough to shake out and it really didn’t matter what she thought anyway. Ultimately, Keith made the final decisions where Carter was concerned. He knew when to ask for help, like now, but even then, he was in control. He couldn’t have his life any other way.

A childhood spent with no mother and a mostly absentee father had made Keith crave stability. His older brother tried hard to take care of both of them, but Keith often felt like a rudderless ship with no captain. He didn’t want that for Carter, or himself, and he could feel his life careening in that direction. While he appreciated everyone’s help, Carter needed something more stable than being carted to a different sitter’s house every day. Not to mention the fact Mrs. Thompson was seventy years old and Carter was getting too big, and too mobile, for her to keep up with. She hadn’t complained yet, but Keith knew it was only a matter of time before she wouldn’t be able to do more than a few hours at a time.

Speaking of Mrs. Thompson, they needed to get a move on.

“I need to drop Carter off and go to work, Angie, but thanks for stopping by,” Keith said, shouldering the diaper bag and reaching for the baby. “I appreciate your concern and I know you only want what’s best for Carter. I’ll meet with this girl, but you can’t be mad at me if I don’t hire her for the job,” he warned.

Angie paused on her way out the door and pinned him with a serious, but compassionate, look. “I won’t be mad if you don’t hire Sara. This isn’t about her specifically, though I do think you’ll like her, but you have to start thinking about the future, about what you’re going to do as Carter grows and becomes even more of a handful than he already is, and she’s as good a place as any to start.” Without waiting for a response, she turned and walked out of the house.

Keith locked up and made the short walk next door to drop his son off. The elderly lady doted on Carter like one of her own grandchildren and had the patience of a saint, so Keith had no concerns about leaving his son for the day. By the time he reached his car five minutes later, his phone had already vibrated with a text from Angie that included the cousin’s name and phone number. He took a deep breath as he started the car, and before he could talk himself out of this crazy idea, he called the number and made plans to meet the next day.