Another Sneak Peek: Chapter Two of Worth the Risk

Chapter Two

EJ

Damn. I didn’t see this coming at all. Not to have a hot as sin woman knock on my door to be Bree’s nanny, sort of recommended to me by Brayden, or the fact that she’d be a single mom. Raelynn looks at me with these big, watery green eyes. All I thought I was getting was a new roommate, but adding a kid to the mix makes things trickier, doesn’t it?

There’s a buzz from her pocket and she winces.

“I’m sorry. I need to pick him up from school.” She carefully hands Bree back to me. “I’m sorry for wasting your time.” She moves for the door the moment my princess is securely in my arms.

“Wait,” I call out, standing to follow her. “You threw me for a loop. I wasn’t expecting that. You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who I’ve liked and actually seems interested. I need someone to hire, too. The job is yours if you want it. We’ll figure the rest out as we go.”

I’ve never seen such a heavy tension leave someone before, but I swear, it’s like I lifted the world from her shoulders.

“Can I start this afternoon?”

“Yeah, sure. Come back here once you pick up your boy.”

She surprises the hell out of me by coming over and hugging me, careful not to disturb Bree. “Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me.” The sincerity is obvious.

I nod as she pulls away with embarrassment. “Hey, what does he like to eat?”

She chuckles to herself. “Hotdogs and mac and cheese are his favorites. He likes to drink water or apple juice, too.”

I nod. Raelynn leaves. I cancel the remaining interviews just in time for Bree to start whining, so I feed her, change her, and gather her up to run to the store. Hotdogs and mac and cheese are not regular items in my kitchen. Once I’m back home, I sit on the couch with Bree in my lap and play patty cake, which causes her to giggle constantly. My mother also returns. I sent her out for a spa day because I felt like hiring a nanny needed to be something I did on my own.

Now that I have a nanny, Mom will be able to move back home. She was home over the summer, but she came back once the season started. Mom has been helping me adjust to becoming a dad and learning how to take care of a baby, but she can’t stay forever. Hence, the nanny search. It’s taken way longer than I thought possible.

“Well?” Mom asks.

“We have a nanny.”

“Oh, yeah? Do you think she’ll be good?”

“Yeah. Her name’s Raelynn. She’s younger than I am, but she knows what she’s doing. She’s actually a single mom. She seems to have had a rough time; she has no one but her kid.”

“Wait. They’re both moving in with you?” Mom frowns at this and I know she is feeling the same thing I was when Raelynn told me about her son.

“They should be here soon. Her son is five, so he’s in school during the day.”

“Are you sure about this, son?” Mom interrupts.

“Yeah. Bree likes her and Raelynn seems perfect for the job. I have a good feeling it’ll work out like it should.” That’s the only reason I still hired her. My gut told me the second she held my daughter that this girl was the one. I can’t waste any more time looking for other okay nannies when I know I’ve found a fantastic one.

Mom is quiet for a moment. “Okay then. I’m going to stick around for a few days and make sure she passes my inspection.”

“Ma.” That causes her to glare at me. “You might make her nervous.”

“And? She’s going to be caring for my granddaughter. I need to make sure your instincts are correct.”

Before I can argue with her further, there’s a knock on my door. I forgot to take down the sign about the doorbell. I open the door with Bree in one arm and Mom hovering behind me to find Raelynn and the spitting image of her in the form of a little boy. He has his arms wrapped around her thigh as he hides behind her, peeking out with one eye.

“Hey. Come on in. This is my mom, Alice. She’s been helping me so far and she’ll be here until you get settled in.”

I step aside. The boy stays glued to Raelynn’s side as she and my mom shake hands. We go into the living room and he climbs onto Raelynn’s lap.

“Hey,” I say gently. He glances at me. “What’s your name?”

He ignores me and Raelynn rubs his back. “Jackson’s shy when it comes to new people.” She glances down at him. “Jackson, this is Mr. Bertuzzi. Don’t you want to tell him hey?”

Jackson looks over with his head still resting on his mom’s shoulder and mumbles, “Hey.”

“My friends call me EJ; you can too.” No way that kid should have to say Bertuzzi if he ever does talk to me. “Want to watch cartoons with my mom while I talk to your mom in the kitchen?”

Jackson shakes his head. Raelynn whispers something in his ear. “Any cartoon will work,” she tells me. Jackson moves to his own seat on the couch. “I’ll be right in there, okay?” she tells him as she stands. I place Bree in my mom’s lap and we go into the kitchen.

We hammer out the details of her pay, and she thanks me like three more times for giving her the job.

“What’s your story?” I finally ask. She’s definitely got one.

A wry smile appears as she glances into the living room. “Which one?” Raelynn shakes her head. “Most recently, stuff happened back to back to back to make making ends meet that much harder; I lost my job and apartment this morning, and everything I own is in my car. If you hadn’t given me this job, the last of my money would’ve been spent on dinner for Jackson and a very cheap hotel room.”

“You don’t have any family? Or friends?”

She shakes her head. “It’s just Jackson and me.” Raelynn clears her throat. “Can you watch him while I get our things and put them in our room?”

“Sure.” Then I realize she said our room. “Actually, I have another spare bedroom, the one next to yours. Jackson can have it.” There’s a twin bed in Bree’s room, so I’ll sleep in there and let Mom have my room until she leaves.

“Oh. Thank you.”

I feel like I should help her, or do it for her, but she may want to move her things herself. She goes outside and I return to the living room. Jackson’s eyes widen as he watches his mom walk out the door.

“It’s okay.” He whips around to look at me. “She’s getting your stuff out of the car. She’ll be right back.”

“You aren’t going to help her?” Mom asks.

“She seemed to want to do it herself. Go move your things into my room.”

She purses her lips, but gets up to do it, leaving me alone with the boy.

Jackson sits on the edge of the couch and seems to be anxious as he waits for his mom. Then he looks at me. “You’re a Rebel.”

My eyebrows rise. “Yeah, I am.”

“You were at my school.” His little legs swing, bumping into the couch each time.

“I was?”

He nods. Oh, maybe I was. We went to some of the local schools in September, right before training camp, for this reading program thing. We read to a few classes and then played ball hockey with the older kids.

“What’s hockey?” he asks as if he’s been dying to ask this question ever since I went to his school.

“It’s a game. Like baseball or basketball, but you play on ice with skates.”

Raelynn walks back inside, her arms loaded with stuff. She smiles at Jackson before continuing up the stairs. Bree cries, so I pick her up from where Mom placed her in the pack ʻn play and sit on the couch. Jackson and Bree eye each other. Bree leans over and tries to grab Jackson, but he leans away from her.

“Who’s that?” he asks.

“This is Bree. I’m her dad.”

“She drools a lot.”

I laugh. “Sometimes. I bet you drooled a lot when you were a baby.”

Jackson doesn’t seem to like that idea. “Momma,” he says when she comes back down the stairs.

“Yeah, baby?”

“Did I drool when I was a baby?”

She laughs. “Yep. All babies drool.” She kisses the top of his head before going back out to her car.

“Mr. EJ, I’m thirsty.”

Part of me wants to correct him and tell him he can just call me EJ, but if his mom has told him to say mister, then I don’t want to overstep. “What would you like to drink?”

“Apple juice.”

“You’re in luck. I have some of that. Come on.” He follows me into the kitchen. “Do you drink out of a big boy’s cup?”

“Yep,” he answers, popping the p just like Raelynn did earlier.

I find my smallest plastic cup and pour him some juice. I hear the door open and close, and then footsteps up the stairs. I carefully watch him and I’m kind of impressed when he drinks out of his big boy cup without spilling his juice. I so have a ton to learn about kids. Raelynn appears in the kitchen a moment later, some papers in her hand.

“Momma, look! No straw!”

“I see. Did you tell Mr. EJ thanks for fixing you something to drink?”

“Thanks,” he quickly says.

“Welcome, buddy.”

Raelynn looks uncomfortable for a second. “Um, mind if we use your table? He’s got some homework.”

“In kindergarten?” I ask with disbelief.

She laughs. “Yep.”

“Go ahead. I’ll start dinner.” I put Bree in her seat and get busy while listening to Raelynn help Jackson focus on his homework. “Are you guys allergic to anything?” I ask as Mom appears in the kitchen.

“No.”

Good to know. I let Raelynn know that there’s an extra carseat in the garage and that she can park in there starting tomorrow. I’ll run out to get an extra key made in the morning. I’ll need to write down the code for the alarm system, too. I give her my cell, Mom’s cell, and the number of some people within the organization in case of an emergency. I’ll give her the full house tour tomorrow morning.

Jackson is delighted about having hotdogs and mac and cheese. I feel like an oddball in my own house as Raelynn asks him about his day and the apparent upcoming field trip. Jackson can be a chatterbox if he’s talking to someone he likes. Raelynn offers to clean up, but I decline her offer. I go upstairs to change a stinky diaper, something I didn’t think I would be doing at twenty-four, that’s for sure. Raelynn and Jackson are cuddled on the couch, watching TV when I come back.

We watch cartoons before Raelynn declares it’s bath time. Bree is fast asleep on my chest, so I show Raelynn where everything is after laying her down.

“I like her,” Mom declares. “She seems like a good mother and that means she’ll be a great nanny.”

“Told ya.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m going ahead to bed.”

I follow after her to get what I need from my room, so I won’t disturb her later. Afterward, I check on Raelynn and Jackson. The bathroom door is open, showing it’s empty, so I peek into Jackson’s bedroom.

“I wanna go home, Momma. I don’t wanna stay here. Why can’t we go home?”

“This is part of Momma’s new job, baby. Isn’t this better than our home? You even get your own room here.” He didn’t have his own room before? “You know how Peter Pan goes on an adventure? That’s what we’re doing. We’re on an adventure.”

Jackson seems to think about this. “Is Mr. EJ Captain Hook?”

Raelynn laughs. “No, he’s not. Think you’ll be okay in here by yourself?”

“I’m scared.”

She crawls into bed next to him, her back facing me. “I’ll be right here while you fall asleep, okay?”

He must nod because they don’t talk anymore. I quietly move away to stop eavesdropping. I can’t imagine how bad things might’ve been for her, or what it must be like to raise a kid without any help or a lot of money. Kids are expensive, and mine isn’t but nine months old. With Bree down for the count, I quickly jump into the shower. Afterward, I head downstairs to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and set the alarm.

Jackson is all alone in his room, I peek into Bree’s room, and then stop outside of Raelynn’s. The door is cracked. I’m about to knock when I hear soft cries. Oh man. I’ve never been good around crying chicks. Do I knock or leave her alone? Before I can think better of it, I push her door open.

“Raelynn? You okay?”

She’s lying on her side, her back facing me, and she hasn’t yet changed into any pajamas. Still, I can see her quickly wipe her eyes. “I’m fine. I was tired, so I’m going to bed early.”

“Okay. Well, um, I’ll be across the hall in Bree’s room if you need anything. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the morning.” I wait to see if she’ll say anything, but she doesn’t. “Good night, Raelynn.”

“G’night, Elias.”

With that, I close her door and retreat to my temporary bedroom. Bree was a surprise that entered my life. I was a carefree guy who played the sport he loved for a living. Then, all of a sudden, I’m a single dad with an unfamiliar set of responsibilities. I’ve never worried so much in my life. I don’t know what I would’ve done if my mom hadn’t dropped everything to come help me. I still don’t know what I’m doing half the time, so I’m relieved to have Raelynn, an expert practically like my mom, around to take care of Bree when I’m not here, but to also help me out.

I fall asleep in the pink room, worried that I’m going to somehow mess my little princess up.

~ ~ ~

Something pokes my shoulder and then I hear, “Mr. EJ. Mr. EJ. Mr. EJ.”

My eyes creak open to see Jackson standing next to the bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Where’s my momma?”

I toss my sheets aside and am surprised when Jackson takes my hand. “Her bedroom is right next to yours,” I whisper as we cross the hall to her room. Raelynn is on her back, her arms above her head, and she’s sound asleep.

“Momma,” Jackson whispers, poking her in the ribs before I can say her name.

Her eyes fly open and she quickly sits up. I’ve never seen someone wake up so fast. “You okay, baby? What’s wrong?” She glances between us.

“He found Bree’s room by accident. He was looking for you.”

“He didn’t wake her, did he?” I shake my head. “I’m sorry he woke you, Elias.”

I shrug. “I live with a baby. It’s okay.”

Jackson lets go of my hand to crawl in bed with his mom. She seems able to handle the situation, so I turn to leave. “Momma, I wanna sleep with you,” I hear Jackson say. “It’s too dark in that room.”

“Okay, come on.”

I make a mental note to find the kid a nightlight when I get the key made in the morning. Since I’m up, I peek into Bree’s crib. Her eyes are open and I’m surprised she’s not crying. “Hey, princess,” I whisper, reaching my hand inside her crib, smiling when she grabs a finger. I pick her up and settle into a recliner that’s in her room. I rock her gently until she falls back to sleep.

My life has been turned upside down. It’s been hard and exhausting and more often than not, I feel like a dumbass. But it’s been worth it. Bree has made it worth it.

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