The Ties that Bind(9)

By: Emilie Rose



A sound from behind made her jump. Speak of the devil. Hollister deposited her suitcase inside the door and dropped the basket of Cody’s things on her bed. His thundercloud expression had returned. “Where’s the boy?”

“The boy” again. That really disturbed her. “Graham was sound asleep. I put him in his crib.”

“Check on him regularly.”

“I will.”

Hollister suddenly seemed bigger, broader, and stronger now that he was blocking her path and they were alone in the house save the boys. He seemed to shrink the space, narrowing it down to the two of them—so much so that she could almost forget her inquisitive son.

“Is that the room Graham usually occupies when he visits?”

“He doesn’t visit.”

Surprised, she blinked. “Ever?”

“No.”

“You see him at his mother’s?”

“Ms. Aronson, my personal life is none of your business,” he all but snapped. “I’ll leave you to get settled. Feed yourself and the boys whenever you want.”

She had a dozen more questions, the most urgent being where his bedroom was located, but he was already testy, and she was afraid he’d misconstrue her question as interest. “Could we get baby gates for the top and bottom of the stairs?”

“Tell Sarah in the morning. She’ll deal with it. Good night.”

He pivoted abruptly and left.

Anna wasn’t disappointed, but she did feel strangely adrift in this unfamiliar place with no friends or allies.

She said a quick prayer that she wouldn’t need either.

* * *

The trio already occupying his kitchen brought Pierce to a dead halt in the doorway. Obviously his eight-thousand-square-foot house wasn’t big enough for him to avoid his unwanted guests.

Anna glanced up from the banana she was slicing. The last banana. The one he’d planned to eat with his breakfast.

“Good morning, Mr. Hollister.”

It had been a good morning. Until now. He’d had a long, head-clearing run then a shower. All he needed before he settled in for his first full day’s work since the kid’s arrival was food, but the slimy, messy faces of the boys in their high chairs killed his appetite. “You’re up early.”

“Your son is an early riser.”

“Kat’s son.”

Anna tilted her head, questions filling her eyes. Her reddish-brown hair slid across her shoulders. It was only then that he noticed the strands were slightly disheveled—as if she’d crawled from bed in a hurry and hadn’t had time to brush them. That led him to detecting her flushed cheeks and sleepy eyes—half-closed pale blue eyes currently narrowed on him.

“Kat is his mother?”

“Yes.”

“I fixed the boys breakfast. I hope you don’t mind that we didn’t wait for you.” She divided the small pieces of fruit between the messy trays, noisily kissed the top of each boy’s head, making them laugh, then crossed to the sink to wash her hands.

Her mid-thigh-length khaki skirt and sleeveless top displayed her slender figure and long, pale limbs in a Catholic schoolgirl kind of way. He found her I’ve-just-been-woken appearance and the faint scent of honeysuckles she left in her wake disturbingly appealing. Warning bells rang in his conscience.

“Help yourself to whatever’s in the kitchen.”

“About that…” She faced him, pinching her plump bottom lip between straight, white teeth as she dried her hands. “I took inventory of your refrigerator and pantry. There’s really not a lot here.”

“The cabinets are well-stocked.”

“I meant for the boys. Smoked salmon, spicy gourmet sandwich meats, salad and Portobello mushrooms may work for you, but not for them. Toddlers need easier to digest foods. What does Graham like to eat?”

He caught himself watching her pink mouth move and jerked his gaze to hers. “I don’t know.”

“Does he have any food allergies?”

Irritation replaced unwelcome interest. “I don’t know that either. The housekeeper takes care of the shopping. Make a list and give it to her when she comes in later today.”

Anna’s puzzled expression returned, creasing her freckled brow. “I’ll do that. If you’re going to join us each morning—and I’m sure Graham would love that—I can prepare enough breakfast for you, too.”

Eat with the dirty duo? No thanks. Each child had food smeared on every reachable surface. Even their hair bore traces of whatever gooey substance she’d fed them. The need to escape surged through him, but his growling stomach insisted he tough out this encounter long enough to feed himself.

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