Lauren held Jamie on her hip while she finished loading the washer. Anger simmered in her gut and she fought to keep her temper under control lest she scream and scare Jamie. She pushed the button. As the washer started her nephew crowed.
She kissed his forehead. “Time for a walk.” Maybe the activity would quench her fury. Ass, indeed. She had named the man perfectly. Where did he get off? The man who dated a new bimbo every night had no reason to talk, especially since he had no idea how much she had changed.
She grabbed Jamie’s jacket from a hook and her own. With a glance into the main room she opened the door into the garage.
After opening the stroller she dressed her nephew and slid her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. She opened the garage and pushed the stroller down the driveway. At the end she guided the stroller around the circle past clusters of red brick units. Jamie bounced and laughed.
Lauren laughed and moved from a leisurely walk to a trot. Her thoughts drifted to the guardianship problem. Had Tony ever held his nephew? He was so different from his brother. Jim had spent time every day with his son. Those memories brought tears close to the surface. She sucked in a breath. No tears in front of Jamie.
She slowed. “Fast enough.”
Lauren brushed his cheek with a kiss. “Maybe more after.” They passed one of the yards where a bird feeder hung from a pole. She halted. Several brown birds perched on the feeder. “Look. Birds.”
“Bir. Bir.” Jamie shouted.
“Just where are you going?”
Tony’s deep voice startled her. The birds took flight. She grabbed the stroller handle and nearly toppled herself and her nephew. With care she straightened. “We’re out for a walk.” Her glare matched the one from his blue eyes. "Did you think we were running away?”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.” He ran his fingers through his dark hair. “I’ve heard stories.”
“I imagine you have but that was in the past. Put this conversation on hold. I’d rather not have Jamie upset again.” She met his gaze. “Since you’re staying tonight perhaps we’ll talk when he’s down for the night.”
“No perhaps. We will.”
Lauren pushed the stroller ahead. “I hope you left the garage door open. I didn’t bring the house key.”
“I did.” He grasped her shoulder.
Even through the layers of clothing she felt the heat of his fingers. Why him? Why was she attracted to man who wanted nothing good for her?
He stepped away. “Fine. We’ll talk but I’m ready to return to the condo."
“Go ahead. Jamie and I will finish our walk. Fresh air is good for him, not like city air with fumes and garbage. I enjoy the exercise.”
“I can think of more enjoyable ways of exercising.”
“I’m sure you can but they aren’t on my agenda.”
“Tee, go,” Jamie yelled.
Following his appeal for speed Lauren moved at a trot. Unfortunately Tony kept pace. Lauren stopped at the pond. “No ducks today.” She pushed the stroller up the slight rise and into the garage.
“Why don’t you move your car so I can park in the garage?” Tony asked. “You’re not using the space. Weather report calls for rain.”
His request reminded her of the car that would never park here again. She blinked a tear away. She had no time for another sob fest. “Stay with Jamie.”
“Up. Up,” Jamie chanted.
Lauren wanted to laugh at the expression on Tony’s face.
“You can make the move later,” he said.
“How are you going to be his guardian if you won’t pick him up?” Her question snapped with the anger churning her gut. She pushed the stroller into the garage, freed Jamie and carried him inside.
Tony followed. “There will be a nanny for all that stuff.”
She turned and glared. A dozen comments formed and were discarded. Though her childhood had ended during her teens after her parents had died Lauren remembered how her parents had loved and cared for her. Because her sister had been a junior in college and hadn’t been able to keep her in the college dorm Lauren had ended in a group home. The rules there had been unfair and she had run.
Had Tony’s childhood been strict? She remembered Jim saying after their mother had died there had been caretakers for them.
She glared at Tony. “Hugging and kissing their children are what parents do.”
He shrugged. “I’m his uncle. Didn’t Jim mention we were raised by nannies?”
“He said very little to me about your childhood. Wasn’t my business.” Lauren removed her jacket and Jamie’s. She put him on the activity quilt. “Watch him and I’ll move my car.” She handed the baby his favorite toys. “He’ll be content. You won’t need to touch him.”
“Just a minute,” Tony said. “I want to make sure you don’t run.”
“And leave Jamie to your care. Never.” As she reached the door of the garage she pulled the keys from the hook. “I’ll be right back.” She escaped before he reached her. She pulled her car from the drive and into the space beside his low black car. Then she dashed inside.
“You can move yours now.” She rubbed her arm to erase the chill from being outside without a coat.
As he left she breathed in relief to have a few moments free from his oppressive presence. She sat on the floor and opened the cloth book Jamie loved. “Cat.” She pointed to the picture. While repeating the word a second time she ran a finger under the letters.
She heard the garage door close and stiffened. Jamie patted the book. She turned the page. “Dog.”
“Dog,” Jamie repeated.
Tony loomed over them. “Isn’t he a bit young for reading?”
She glanced up and sat the bulge beneath his zipper. Is that all he ever thinks about? “Jim and Carrie read to him every day. I’m following their routine.”
“You’re joking. I can’t imagine my brother doing anything except patting the boy’s head the way our father did.”
“His name is Jamie.” She turned her attention to her nephew and the book.
Her words and Jamie’s continued. Tony slouched on the couch with his legs crossed at the ankles. Lauren knew he watched her with the intensity of a lion waiting to pounce. What was he planning? Nothing good.
The mantle clock struck five times. Lauren rose and lifted Jamie. “Time for dinner, love. Ready to eat?”
“Eat. Eat,” he chanted.
“What about us?” Tony asked. “A bit early isn’t it?”
Lauren shrugged. “I skipped lunch. You can go out. There are some good restaurants in town. For me, I’ll heat some chicken and barley soup my landlady sent and grill a chicken and cheese sandwich.”
“I’ll join you. Since I’m staying for the weekend I’ll carry my things to the bedroom. Guess there’s only one bed.”
Determined not to permit him to stir the embers of anger into flames, she drew a deep breath. “You’re right. I’ll change the sheets after I feed Jamie.”
“Is there a reason? Evidence you want to hide?”
She fastened Jamie in the high chair. “You’re sick.”
“Ick. Ick,” Jamie chanted.
“That too.” She kissed his forehead.
Tony moved from the couch to a stool at the bar separating the kitchen from the rest of the main floor. She felt his stare as she moved. Great. Now she had a stalker.
“I’ve a proposition.” Tony rested his elbows on the marble surface.
She glanced at him and was nearly lured by his mesmerizing blue eyes. Then she recalled his nasty assumptions. “And that is?”
“Move to the city. Stay at my apartment and be the child’s nanny.”
She set a jar of baby food in the bubbling water. “And become your mistress?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Yours not mine. I have a life here.”
“I’m sure you do. I can take you places you’ve never been. Why not accept my offer?”
“And settle for being a nanny when I’m listed in the will as one of Jamie’s guardians?”
“A position you’ll lose if we go to court.”
“I’ve heard enough.” She pulled the jar from the pan and set it on the counter. She ran cold water over her stinging fingers. “Unless you plan to feed Jamie, I suggest you move. Better still. Take your car and return to the city.”