“You stole my fuckin’ drugs.”
The foot at my throat presses me further into the cold, scratchy pavement. I gasp, my fingers clawing at fleshy ankles. His skin doesn’t budge; my nails are too short to break the flesh that I’m so desperately scraping at. It does nothing to move him, or send him on his way. Instead, he pushes harder, cutting off more of my air supply.
“That’s not exactly how it went down,” I croak, struggling.
“You were meant to deliver them; instead you fuckin’ sold them, and ran with the money.”
He’s right about that. I did take the drugs and sell them. I had good reason—my boyfriend was in trouble, and I was doing anything I could to get him out of trouble. I didn’t think ahead. I didn’t realize that I’d then owe a very unhappy drug dealer money. Not my finest moment, that’s for damned sure.
“I had no choice . . . I was helping someone I care about.”
He presses his boot down further into my throat, and my air supply narrows down to a dangerous level. My head pounds as the blood and oxygen are cut from my brain.
“I bet that person ain’t here helpin’ you tonight, now, are they?”
No, he’s right about that. Samuel is probably sleeping with someone else. The moment his debt was cleared, he left me. The dirty, cheap fucker left me. Now I’m dealing with the backlash. A furious drug dealer who wants his money.
Money I don’t have.
“Don’t I get,” I gasp, “one chance to get your money?”
He glares down at me through angry grey eyes. I squirm again as my vision starts flittering in and out. Shit, I’m going to pass out and he’s probably going to kill me, or worse, drag my helpless body away to do God knows what with.
“I have m-m-m-money,” I croak.
“If you had money, you wouldn’t have stolen my drugs.”
“I . . .” God, I’m on the edge. “I can get it. I s-s-s-swear.”
He stares at me, and for each second he does, my vision swims. Then, much to my relief, he lifts his boot off and reaches down, hurling my weak body up. He pulls me close, so close that our noses touch. My knees wobble and I have to push all my focus into not falling flat on my face and giving him another chance to take me.
“Listen, and listen fuckin’ good. You’ve got two weeks, and trust me, that’s me bein’ fuckin’ generous. Get my money, or I come for you.”
“Don’t try and run. You do, I’ll fuckin’ find you.”
I close my eyes, take a deep, burning breath and nod again.
Then he’s gone.
And I know . . . I just know . . . I’m in deep, deep shit.
“You can’t be serious, Jaylah!”
I turn and scowl at my best friend, Josie. She’s leaning against my kitchen counter, her face scrunched, her pretty little nose turned up. I glance at her arms, which are crossed angrily across her ample chest. She’s a tiny, busty, ball of sass. It’s why I adore her.
“It’s a job, it gets me away from the house. If I’m away from the house, I’m not so easily tracked,” I point out, popping a piece of carrot into my mouth and chewing loudly. Josie glares at me.
“He’ll find you no matter where you are!”
I shake my head, wagging my finger at her. “It’s only been a few days; I still have a week or so left. I don’t know if I’ll have that kind of money before then, so being away is safest.”
“He’ll come here . . .”
“And I won’t be here.”
“What if he goes after me? Or someone else you care about?”
I give her a ‘really?’ look. “My parents live six hours away and their surname is completely different to mine, since I changed it. He wouldn’t find them easily. Besides, I’ll tell Dad and he’ll be ready. You live two hours away; I hardly think he’s going to go after you. The person he’d likely go after is Samuel, and personally, I’m not going to complain if Samuel gets his ass kicked.”
She drops her head into her hands and sighs loudly. “Even if it does get you away . . . you’re forgetting one vital piece of information.” She lifts her head. “You’re not a fucking nanny!”
I snort, choking on a piece of carrot and throwing myself into a coughing fit. When I’m done, I straighten, patting my chest and rasping, “How hard can it be? Changing nappies, feeding . . . it’s a piece of cake.”
“It’s a child . . .” She gapes. “You know—not a dog!”
I wave a hand. “It’s live-in, it’s good pay, and it’s only a baby.”
“Babies poop, and cry, and spew . . .”
“So do dogs,” I point out.
“Jesus, Jay. There’s got to be something else.”
I take a step closer. “I have Gregor after my ass. He doesn’t play nice. I need somewhere he can’t find me. He won’t find me there; it’s some distance away. I can pay him off, and then it’ll all be over. It’s a thousand dollars a week, including food and a room! All to look after one baby.”
Josie sighs and shakes her head. “I can see there’s no talking you out of this. At least go and make sure it’s what you want before saying yes.”
I smile. “Good news—I’m going right now to meet the child and his father.”
“Oh, God,” Josie groans.
“It’ll be fine.” I wave my hand, grabbing my keys with the other. “You’ll see.”
It’s not fine.
Oh no. It’s far from fine.
I’m standing in front of what is quite possibly the most dazzling man I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s Native American, of that I’m sure. He’s got these chocolate eyes and dark hair that, I won’t lie, makes me want to punch him. It’s that beautiful. Long and thick, flowing around his shoulders. He’s tall and muscled, wearing a leather vest over a dark, tight tee.
Oh boy. Oh boy. Oh boy.
“Ah . . . are you, um, Mack?”
He looks me up and down, slowly. “Yeah.”
God. His voice. Like melted honey, mixed with cream . . . oh, man.
“Oh, good. I’m Jaylah. I’m here for the, ah, nanny position.”
He quirks his eyebrow. “You’re a nanny?”
My spine straightens and I put my hands on my hips. “Excuse me, buddy, but I’ll have you know I’m the best damned nanny there is.”
He stares at me, expressionless. He’s a hard man; you can see it in his eyes and the firm expression that seems set on his face.
“What did you expect?” I go on. “Mrs. Doubtfire?”
His lips twitch, but he doesn’t smile.
“You available all day, every day?”
I tilt my head to the side. “I don’t get a day off?”
I cock my eyebrow. “You want me to babysit . . . every day?”
He stares at me, like that’s already obvious.
“What are you, like some fancy businessman or something?”
I already know that’s a joke before it’s finished leaving my lips, but I say it anyway. He gives me a ‘seriously?’ look, and I realize it really was a stupid question.
“Okay, well, clearly you’re not a businessman.” I laugh sheepishly. “But what could possibly keep you so busy you need me to look after your kid seven days a week?”
“None of your fuckin’ business,” he snaps.
“Keep your shirt on,” I huff. “I was only asking.”
“You either want the job,” he says, his voice low and deep, “or you don’t.”
“I do,” I point out. “But I have a life, you know. Friends and stuff.”
“You can visit them, with the baby.”
He does that staring thing again.
“Only one thousand dollars a week? To basically be the child’s . . . mother?”
“One and a half if you start now.”
“One and half thousand?” I breathe.
“No, one and a half fuckin’ dollars.”
Oh, a smartass. Nice.
“And I live . . . here?”
He nods sharply.
“And . . . you live here?”
He looks like he wants to slap my stupidity right out of me.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
He nods. “Come in.”
“Wait, aren’t you going to ask me some nanny questions? Like, what are you going to do if my child runs onto the road and gets hit by a car?”
He gives me a strange expression. “He’s a baby. Come in.”
“What about if he chokes?”
“Baby . . .” he grinds out. “Drinks fuckin’ milk.”
“Climbs through a window?” I call out, following him inside.
“Plays with your hairdryer?”
He stops, turns, and gives me a mortified expression.
“What?” I say, shrugging. “You have nice hair . . . it’s only an assumption.”
Okay now he looks like he wants to punch me, or throttle me.
“I mean seriously . . . you’re not going to ask me anything?”
He growls. “You a murderer?”
I gape. “Ew. No.”
He narrows his eyes. “Yes or no?”
“Ah, kind of.”
He nods and continues, like that’s an acceptable answer. “You capable of heating a bottle?”
“Gettin’ up when he cries?”
“Then you’re hired. Now move.”
We step into a really nice, really modern place. The cool floor is pleasant against my feet as I follow him into the lounge room. I skid to a halt when I see all the people on the lounge. There are a few really pretty girls, but the rest are males. Big, burly males that look like they’ve dropped out of heaven and been rolled in leather. They’re gorgeous.
They’re also . . . oh, no.
Oh no, no, no.
Mack nods to one of the girls and she stands, walking over to me, a baby wrapped up in her arms. She stretches it out to me with a smile. God, she’s pretty, like a mini Pocahontas or something. Her eyes sparkle with humor at my expression. I reach out, take the baby and hold it close. I’ve never held a baby . . . shit . . . where’s his head?
“I’m Santana.” She smiles, warmly. “Welcome.”
I turn back to the group, who are all staring at me, and I’m about sure I’m going to pass out.
I know who they are. I’ve seen the news.
Motorcycle club. The biggest in the city.
Oh God. I’m a nanny for a biker.
This should be interesting.
“You have to take me to get clothes,” I say, following Mack towards the kitchen, his baby tucked tightly in my arms. “I can’t look after the baby and get my things at the same time. I don’t have a seat. You’re going to have to watch him while I go and—”
“Seriously?” I cry. “You wanted me to start right away and I am, but I need to get all my things and—”
He spins around and glares at me. “Then go and fuckin’ get them. Take the baby; get the seat. I don’t fuckin’ care just do it.”
The baby? Not his name. Not my son. I narrow my eyes and watch as he swings the fridge door open and pulls out a beer, then he turns back to me, brown eyes burning holes through me.
“Are you always this moody? If so, I think we need some sort of call . . . so I know when you’re not approachable.”
He stares at me, lip curled in disgust. “Call?”
“You know, like a bird call. Ka-kaw! Ka-kaw!”
He blinks. “Are you fuckin’ nuts?”
“No.” I narrow my eyes suspiciously. “Are you?”
He gives me an unfathomable look, one that says he has no idea how to take me. “You’re the one makin’ fuckin’ bird noises—no, scratch that. No fuckin’ bird makes noises like that.”
“They do,” I say matter-of-factly. “I’ve heard them.”
He looks to the ceiling for calm.
“Well . . .” I encourage, tapping my foot against the tiles.
He mutters a few choice curses, and looks back to me. “I don’t make bird noises and I don’t do calls. You stay away from me; I stay away from you. Take care of the baby. I’m at the club half the time so you won’t need to worry about anything else but that.”
“Does the baby have a name?” I mutter sarcastically.
“And his mother?”
“None of your fuckin’ business.”
“That’s apparent,” I mutter.
He shoots daggers in my direction. “You do your job, we’ll be fine.”
I roll my eyes and turn, staring down at the bundle in my arms. He’s definitely like his father. All dark hair, brown eyes and gorgeous olive skin. My guess, he’s only about two months’ old. He’s tiny, and squishy and adorable. I’m not a huge fan of babies, or children for that matter, but this one . . . he’s cute.
“Your father is an arrogant bum-head,” I murmur, figuring it best not to swear in front of an infant. “But you and I will get along just fine.”
Mack grunts. “I’m questioning your sanity.”
I turn and glare at him. “Excuse me, biker, but you’re the one who hired me without asking questions.”
He crosses his arms. I jerk my chin up.
“Just do your fuckin’ job.”
“Jesus, you’re a bossy man. I’m surprised anyone decided to breed with you in the first place. Yeesh.”
A low, throaty growl leaves his throat, but I ignore it. I walk towards the room that Santana told me belonged to the baby before they all left us alone. “Come on, handsome. Your daddy needs therapy. It’s not his fault, he was likely born that way . . .”
“Fuck me,” Mack mutters from the kitchen. “I’ve hired a fuckin’ looney.”
I smile, stepping into the room. I place Diesel down onto the table that holds all his diapers, and unwrap him. God, so tiny. His little legs kick about. I have no idea. None. Zero. I don’t even know how to use a diaper. I pull out my cellphone and scroll down until I find my mother’s name.
“Hello?” she answers.
“Hey, Mom, it’s Jay.”
“Jay,” she croons. “I haven’t heard from you in weeks. How are you, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine,” I say, placing a hand on Diesel’s belly. I don’t know if he’ll roll right off the table. I don’t even know if he can roll . . .
“You sound off. What’s going on?”
“Well,” I hesitate, “I took a job.”
“Oh, how wonderful. What is it?”
Here goes. “I’m a nanny.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No,” I scoff. “It’s a great job. Live in. It’s this little baby, he’s about two months’ old and his name is Diesel.”
“Oh God, how did you get a job like that? Someone needs to help that baby, right now! Do you need me to call someone . . . the police maybe?”
“Jesus, Mom,” I groan. “I’m not going to kill the child.”
“Do you remember what you did to your Cousin Lucy?”
I throw my head back and groan. “It was an honest mistake. At the time it seemed like it would work . . . She was crying too much.”
“You tied a basket to the clothes line and put her in it, then you swung her and she fell out.”
“I was twelve. My motherly instincts hadn’t kicked in,” I protest.
“That poor, poor child. She never was the same.”
“She was fine!” I cry. “There was only a slight dent in her head.”
“Oh, God. You should quit. Right now.”
“Well, I’m not quitting. So I need your help.”
“You’re going to prison.”
“You’re going to do something worse. That poor baby. He’s too young to die.”
I roll my eyes and sigh. Diesel starts croaking on the table, squirming uncomfortably. “Mom, pay attention. I need to know how to take care of a baby.”
“You can’t just take care of a baby! There are no instructions. It’s so hard, oh God . . . There was this one time when you ate prunes . . .”
“Mom,” I cry. “Focus.”
“Right,” she says sternly. “I can’t believe I’m helping you with this. His death will be on me.”
“Jesus, Mom, I’m not going to kill the child.”
She’s silent and I know she’s shaking her head, not believing a word I say.
“You said he’s two months’ old?”
“Then he’ll need a bottle every three hours.”
“Every three hours!”
She sighs. “Do the world a favor and let someone else have the job.”
I’d love to, but the money is too good to pass up and I need it. Call me selfish, but I can’t change what needs to be done.
“No, it’s okay. Three hours is fine.”
Goodbye sleep, I’ll miss you. It was great knowing you.
“He’ll also need his diaper changed a lot. You need to check it every few hours. Make sure you clean his, ah, parts properly. You don’t want infection. Oh, and don’t forget the diaper cream.”
“It stops that diaper rash they get on their little bottoms, the poor chickens.”
God, my mother just called children . . . chickens.
“Fine, bottle, diapers, diaper cream. What else?”
“Wind!” she cries. “Wind will make him cranky. You need to pat his back until he burps mid-way through and after his feedings.”
“You need to keep him nice and warm; it’s cold out. Wrap him at night, it’ll help him sleep. Don’t put him on his stomach. He could stop breathing.”
Oh, man. I don’t want that to happen. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. Diesel starts crying beside me and I stare down at him.
“Oh,” Mom croons. “Is that him?”
“Yes, he’s crying. What do I do?”
“Maybe he’s hungry. You need to offer him food. If he’s not hungry, you need to change his diaper. If that’s not it, give his back a good, soft pat. He might have wind. If not, maybe he’s tired. Give him a pacifier and nurse him to sleep.”
My God. This baby thing is hard.
“Okay,” I say, as Diesel’s screeches get louder.
“You’re meant to be looking after the baby, not talking on the phone!” a voice barks.
I turn to see Mack standing at the door. He’s got his arms crossed and he’s glaring at me.
“I’m getting advice,” I point out.
“I thought you were a fuckin’ nanny?”
“Who is that?” Mom cries. “And tell him to stop using such vulgar language. That’s not the baby’s father, is it? My goodness, no wonder—”
I move the phone from my ear.
“Now you’ve sent my mother into a frenzy. I am a nanny, I’m just getting advice on sleeping . . . ah . . . patterns.”
He gives me a skeptical look. “Well, stop him from crying while you’re at it.”
“You could always come and, I don’t know, pick him up. He is your son.”
He turns and walks off.
I sigh and press the phone back to my ear. “Sorry, Mom, all is well.”
“What’s going on? Who is this man you’re babysitting for?”
“It’s not babysitting, and he’s a single father.”
“That’s not good. It’s never good.”
“I’m going now, Mom,” I say, because Diesel’s screeching is getting louder. “I love you.”
I hang up before she can answer. I lift the baby into my arms and walk out into the kitchen. There are some bottles on the sink, and a tin of formula beside them. Right, I can do this. I spin the tin around, reading the back. It doesn’t look so hard. I hold Diesel in one hand and open the tin, flipping a bottle over and scooping some of the powder into it. I lose half the contents onto the counter, but it’s not bad for my first shot.
Then I pour some water from the kettle in, figuring boiled must be the best. It’s too cold. Shit. I remember the days of my mother testing temperatures on her wrist, but how the hell did she heat it? I find a glass and fill it with hot water, plonking the bottle into it. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to use the microwave. Right?
After ten minutes of Diesel’s screaming, the bottle is warm. I shake it once more and rush to the couch, adjusting him awkwardly as I press the bottle to his lips. He latches on like a trooper and begins sucking with a force I’ve never seen coming from something so tiny. His little hands are balled into fists and his brown eyes are on mine.
My chest feels funny . . . This little warmth creeps through me.
He is kind of cute.
While he’s feeding, I pull out my phone and balance it in one hand, doing the old one finger text.
Jaylah – Hey Jos! I need a favor . . .
Josie – What did you do? Did you kill the baby? Have you been kidnapped?
I giggle, and reply.
Jaylah – No, not yet, anyway. I need my stuff. I got the job, woohoo. Could you be a gem and pack up the basics for me?
Josie – Why can’t you come and get it?
Jaylah – Well, the father is kind of moody. It’s a long story; you’ll see when you come over.
Josie – I guess I don’t get a choice. See u soon!
I text her the address and a list of what I want, then I drop the phone on the couch beside me. Diesel has nearly finished his bottle and his eyes are drooping.
“Uh-uh, buddy,” I say, poking his cheek softly. “It’s not bedtime yet.”
He doesn’t respond. His eyes flutter closed and he stops sucking. Great. I haven’t even bathed him. I stand, plucking the bottle from his lips. He makes a few sucking motions, then his mouth settles and he makes a squeaking sound. Then he’s asleep. Damn. I wish I could sleep that easily.
I carry him into the bathroom. Hmmm. That’s a big, big bath. It’ll be impossible to bathe him in that. I turn and walk out, edging down the hall. I’m not sure which room belongs to Captain Broody, but there are only a few so it won’t be hard to find. I’m right; he’s in the second room on the right. He’s sitting on his bed, playing his guitar softly.
Oh God, he plays the fucking guitar.
I think I just peed a little.
“Ah,” I begin, and he snaps his head up, glaring at me. “Where do I bath him?”
He looks confused. “Where do you usually bath something?”
“The bath is too deep.”
He narrows his eyes. “So hold him.”
“I’ll break my back leaning over it.”
He cocks an eyebrow.
“Seriously?” I snap. “Some help would be good.”
“Who is gettin’ paid here?”
“Jesus, never mind.”
I turn and walk out. As I pass the laundry, I stare at the deep yet not too big sink in there. That’ll be perfect. Smiling happily, I gather a towel, find some baby soap and fill it. I lay a towel out over the washing machine, and place Diesel down. I begin to undress him, but halt when I start trying to take the tiny shirt over his head.
I move it, but it catches on his chin.
Shit. His head is too big for this tiny hole. Who invented such an outfit?
I purse my lips and use my fingers to stretch it as much as I can, slipping it over his head. He cracks up, and begins to cry, his little legs flailing about. “I’m sorry!” I cry, lifting his naked baby body into my arms. Ack, he’s so tiny, so freaking small. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It’s the shirt . . .”
I’m talking to a baby.
I’ve lost it.
I stick a finger into the water. It’s warm, so I gently lower Diesel in. His body quickly becomes slippery and I have to use both of my hands to make sure he doesn’t sink. I swish his body side to side gently, letting the water go around him. He stops crying and starts making cooing sounds at me. Oh God.
“You’re all right, little man,” I say, smiling. “You’re going to grow up and be a super dude.”
He coos and my heart melts a little more. Who knew babies were so cute? I wash him as best I can and then lift him out of the water. The screeching starts again; someone doesn’t like being taken from his bath. I quickly wrap him in a towel and carry him into his room, placing him on the table thing again. I’m sure there’s a name for it; I just don’t know what it is.
I place a hand on his belly and lean down, taking a diaper and a warm suit. I stand up straight, and am struck in the eye with . . . oh my God . . . the baby is peeing in my eye! I squeal loudly, wanting to jump back but not wanting him to roll off the table. He continues to squirt at me, and my shrieking becomes louder as warm urine is splashed over my face.
“What the fuck?”
“He’s peeing on me!” I squeal. “Your child is peeing on me. Hold him, oh my God, my eye!”
Then loud, booming laughter.
“You horrible . . . horrible . . . horrible . . .”
He laughs louder.
“Will you hold him? I’m going blind!”
“You gotta learn. Have fun with that.”
Then I hear his heavy footfalls as he leaves. Seriously? Seriously?
“You will pay for this,” I yell. “There will be sweet, sweet revenge.”
Oh God, help me.