The Nanny Proposition: Excerpt

Liam Hawke held the cell phone tightly against his ear, but it didn’t help. The person on the other end of the phone wasn’t making any sense.

“Mr. Hawke? Are you there?”

“Hang on a moment,” he said and pulled his Jeep to the side of the road. At his brother’s enquiring stare, Liam said in an undertone, “Listen,” and hit the speaker button on his cell. “Can you repeat that, please?”

“I’m a midwife at the Sacred Heart Hospital and I just informed you that you’ve become a father. Congratulations.” Liam frowned, Dylan’s eyes widened and the woman continued. “Your daughter, Bonnie, is two days old and still here with her mother. Unfortunately, her mother has had some complications following the birth and has asked me to contact you. It would be best if you came right away.”

A baby? Dylan mouthed as Liam loosened his tie and undid the top button on his shirt, which had suddenly become too tight. There had to be a mistake. Babies didn’t magically appear. Usually there was nine months’ notice, for one thing.

The L.A. sun shone down on them through the sunroof as Liam swallowed and tried to get his voice to work. “Are you sure you have the right person?”

“You’re Liam John Hawke?” she asked.

“I am.”

“You were in a relationship with Rebecca Clancy?”

“Yes”—if you could call their arrangement a relationship—”but she wasn’t pregnant when we broke up.” Which had been a good while ago. He struggled to remember when he’d last seen her but couldn’t bring a time or place to mind.

How long had it been? It could have been eight months ago…. An uncomfortable heat crawled across his skin. Then another piece of information registered. “You said Rebecca had some complications. Is she all right?”

The midwife drew in a measured breath. “I think it would be better if we spoke in person.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he said and disconnected. He pulled the Jeep back out into the flow of traffic and made a U-turn.

Dylan pulled out his cell. “I’ll cancel the meeting.”

When Dylan ended the call, Liam threw him a tight smile. “Thanks.”

“You had no idea?” Dylan asked.

“I still have no idea.” He ran a hand through his hair, then brought it back to grip the wheel. “Sure, I was dating Rebecca back then, but that doesn’t prove I’m the father of her baby.” He’d heard she’d been dating again soon after their breakup. First order of business would be a paternity test.

After a frustrating delay in L.A. traffic, they arrived at the hospital. They made their way to the neonatal unit, where they were greeted by a woman in a pale blue uniform. She led them through to the nursery. “Ms. Clancy took a turn for the worse after I called you, and she’s been taken back to surgery. Her parents went up with her, so they’ve left Bonnie with us here in the nursery.” She leaned over and picked up a bundle of soft pink blanket with a tiny face peeping out.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she cooed. “Your daddy’s here to meet you.”

Before Liam could head the nurse off with an explanation about needing a paternity test, she’d placed the baby in his arms. Large eyes fringed by long dark lashes blinked open and looked up at him. Her tiny pale pink face seemed so fragile, yet somehow more real than anything else in the room.

“I’ll leave you two to get to know each other for a few minutes,” the midwife said. “There’s a comfy chair over there in the corner.”

Dylan cleared his throat. “I’ll just…ah…pop out and get us a couple of coffees.”

But Liam was only vaguely paying attention to them. Bonnie was all he could see. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d held a baby and he wasn’t one-hundred-percent sure he was doing it right, but he held her closer and breathed in her clean, sweet smell. He could feel the warmth of her body through the blanket, and a ghost of a smile crept across his face.

All three Hawke brothers had their mother’s unusual hair color of darkest brown shot through with deep red—and Bonnie already had a thick crop of hair exactly that shade. He’d still demand a paternity test, no question, and he’d need to have a full and frank discussion with Rebecca, but he was sure of one thing: Bonnie was his. She was a Hawke.

As he sank into the chair and stared into the eyes of his daughter, the world stilled. His baby. His heart clenched tight, then expanded to fill his chest, his body. And for the first time in his life, Liam Hawke fell head over heels in love.

He lost track of time as he sat there, holding his daughter and telling her stories about her new family, of her two uncles and of his parents, who would adore and spoil their first grandchild rotten. An hour ago he was on his way to a business meeting with Dylan for their family company, Hawke’s Blooms. How had his day gone from thinking about the business of growing and selling flowers to thinking about a having a little girl in his life?

A movement out of the corner of his eye made him look up to see a middle-aged couple enter the nursery. They stumbled to a halt just inside the door. “Who are you?” the heavily made-up woman demanded.

Instinctively, he held Bonnie a little tighter. This had to be Rebecca’s parents. He’d never met them when he’d dated Rebecca—given the relationship had barely lasted three months before he’d ended it, the opportunity had never arisen. He guessed he’d be seeing more of them now.

“Liam Hawke,” he said calmly, politely. “Bonnie’s father.”

Scowling, the man stepped forward on one Italian-shoed foot. “How do you even know about Bonnie?”

“Rebecca asked the nurse to call me.” Not wanting to disrupt the baby, he stayed in the chair and kept his voice level. “But the real question is, why wouldn’t I know about her?”

“Rebecca would never have done that,” the woman said, her eyes narrowing. “When Rebecca’s discharged, she and the baby will be coming back to live with us—she moved in two months ago. We’ll raise Bonnie together. In fact, you can hand her over now and leave before Rebecca gets out of surgery. If she’d wanted to see you, she’d have mentioned it before now.”

Liam took a breath, prepared to give the couple some slack given their daughter was in surgery. But they were seriously mistaken if they thought he was going anywhere.

“So your plan was to never tell me I have a child?” he asked and met their gazes steadily.

“Rebecca’s plan,” the man corrected.

Their arrogance was astounding. To deliberately keep a baby’s birth—the existence of a person—secret was beyond comprehension. “She didn’t think I’d want to know? That Bonnie would need a father?”

The woman sniffed. “You can’t provide anything that she won’t already have. Your wealth is nothing to ours. And she’ll have people around her capable of love.”

He heard the unspoken critique of his family’s wealth clear enough—the Hawke family didn’t just have less money, they had new money. He felt his blood pressure rise another notch. He’d come across the prejudice often, always from people who’d never put in a hard day’s work in their lives, whose riches had been passed down and all they’d had to do was spend and perhaps adjust the investments. He’d never been able to conjure up any respect for someone who’d inherited their money and position.

About to respond, Liam frowned and paused. Something in that last dig had been especially pointed. What exactly had Rebecca told them about him? They hadn’t broken up on the best of terms, sure, but he hadn’t thought it had been too bad. Though, now that he thought about it, hadn’t Rebecca talked about her parents being cold and manipulative? Was this coming from Rebecca or from them…?

A man in a surgeon’s gown appeared in the doorway. His face was drawn as he took off the paper cap that had covered his hair. “Mr. and Mrs. Clancy?”

“Yes?” Rebecca’s mother grabbed her husband’s hand. “Is she out of surgery? How is she?”

“I’m afraid I have some bad news. Rebecca fought hard, but her body had—”

“She’s gone?” Mr. Clancy said, his voice hoarse.

The doctor nodded. “I’m sorry.”

Mrs. Clancy let out a loud, broken sob and slumped against her husband, who pulled her against him. The noise made Bonnie’s face crumple, then she began to wail. Stunned, Liam looked down at her. Her mother had just died. She was motherless. Her life would always be affected by this one tragic incident.

And he had no idea what to do.

The midwife rushed through the door, jostling to get past the doctor, who was still talking to Rebecca’s parents, and took Bonnie from him. Liam watched her soothe Bonnie as if from a distance. As if it wasn’t really happening.

“I’m so sorry about the news, Mr. Hawke,” she said.

“What—” He cleared his throat. “What happens to Bonnie now?”

“Rebecca had already filled in the birth certificate and named you as the father. So as far as the hospital is concerned, you have custody of her. If you don’t want her, I know Rebecca’s parents were talking about raising her. How about I call the social worker to help you sort through your options?”

Bonnie had calmed down to a mild hiccup. Bonnie. His baby. She had worked her little arm free from the blanket and was waving it in the air. He reached out to touch her tiny fist, enclosing it in his.

“There’s no need,” he said and met the midwife’s gaze. “Bonnie will live with me. I’ll raise my own daughter.”

The midwife smiled in approval. “We’ll show you some basics, like how to feed her, then you’ll be on your way. She’s already had all her tests and passed everything with flying colors.”

Liam blinked. Now? Just like that? He knew next to nothing about babies….

Suddenly Rebecca’s mother was in front of them, making a grab for the baby. “I’ll take her,” she said, shooting Liam a defiant look. “We’re going home.”

Unperturbed, the midwife handed Bonnie to Liam. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Hawke is her father. Your daughter named him on the birth certificate. He has custody.”

Mr. Clancy came to stand beside his wife and narrowed reddened eyes at Liam. “We’ll see about that. He’s not fit to raise a baby and I’ll say that in court if I have to.”

Liam didn’t flinch. The Clancys could try whatever they liked. No one was taking his daughter from him.

As Jenna arranged the last of the weekly flower delivery—fragrant jasmine and sunshine-yellow lilies today—into a crystal vase, she heard her boss, Dylan Hawke, arrive home from an all-nighter. Judging by the voices coming from the penthouse foyer, his brother Liam was with him. Liam had a smooth, deep voice that always made her melt….

And that is a completely inappropriate way to think about your employer’s family. Or any man. It had been falling for a man and forgetting her duty that had put her in this position.

She gathered up the flower stems she’d trimmed and ducked into the hall before the men made it into the living room. One of the things she’d learned growing up in a royal palace was that housekeepers were expected to keep a low profile—like magic cleaning and cooking fairies who were rarely seen.

From the adjoining kitchen, she heard a baby’s cry and she stilled. It sounded like the cry of a newborn. Her arms ached for her own little Meg, but she was in day care, and at eight months old, her cry was different. Her boss, Dylan, and his two brothers, Liam and Adam, were all bachelors, and none of Dylan’s friends had been expecting as far as she knew. She’d been pregnant herself for part of the time she’d worked here, so an expectant mother would have caught her attention.

Footsteps sounded down the hall, and then Dylan’s face appeared around the corner. “Jenna, we could use your help with a slight baby problem.”

“Sure,” she said, wiping her hands and following him back out. The Santa Monica penthouse apartment’s large living room was decorated in whites and neutrals so the only spots of color were the flowers she’d just arranged and the two men who stood in the center, one awkwardly holding the tiny bundle that was now crying loudly. Jenna breathed an “ohhh,” her arms aching with the need to comfort the little thing.

As they approached, Liam glanced up at his brother, then back to the baby he was gently jiggling. Even as her heart sighed at the sight of the six-foot-plus man with the tiny pink bundle, Jenna frowned. Who would leave their new baby with two clueless men? Despite being respected and feared businessmen, they were clearly out of their depth.

“Liam,” Dylan said. “You remember Jenna. She’ll know what to do.”

Jenna glanced at her boss and asked in an undertone, “What to do about what, exactly?”

He stared blankly at her and then shrugged. “About the baby,” he whispered.

Right. Well, maybe if she could calm the baby, she could find out what she needed to do.

“Yes,” she said, her eyes on the little person nestled in Liam’s strong arms. “Maybe I can help?”

Liam regarded her with an assessing gaze—he was less certain of her ability. He needed help—that was evident from the baby’s cries becoming more desperate and the awkward way he was holding her—but his eyes held a fierce protectiveness. He wasn’t handing this baby over to just anyone. She respected that—in fact, the sight of a man being so protective brought a lump of emotion to her throat. She’d have to lay his fears to rest if she was going to help.

“Hi, Mr. Hawke,” she said, smiling brightly. “I’m not sure you remember me, but I’m Jenna Peters.” She generally tried to stay out of the way when Dylan had guests, so she and Liam had never had a conversation, but she hoped he might at least recognize her.

He nodded in acknowledgment, but he then turned his attention back to the tiny, squirming girl he held.

“I have an eight-month-old daughter, Meg, and she cried like this when I first brought her home. Would you like me to try some of the tricks I learned with Meg on this little girl?”

Liam looked down at the baby, stroked a fingertip softly down her cheek, took a deep breath and oh-so-carefully placed the baby in Jenna’s arms.

“Bonnie,” he said, his voice rough. “Her name is Bonnie.”

As he said the name, his dark green eyes softened and Jenna’s stomach looped. He was still standing close, as if not wanting to be too far from the baby. Jenna shivered. She could feel the heat from his body, see the day’s growth of dark beard, smell the masculine scent of his skin….

She stepped back, away from this man’s aura. The priority here was Bonnie.

Jenna pulled the pale pink blanket a bit more firmly around the little girl, laid her across her heart so the baby could feel the beat and began to pace and rock, crooning as she went. The cries gradually quieted until a wet-faced Bonnie peered up at her.

“Hello, little one,” Jenna murmured, unable to stop the smile spreading across her face.

Dylan crept across to look over Jenna’s shoulder. “Good work, Jenna,” he whispered.

But Jenna’s gaze was drawn to Liam. He looked from the baby across to her, his features holding too many emotions to be easily deciphered, though gratitude was definitely one of them. He and this baby must have a strong link—perhaps they were related, or he was close to the parents.

He cleared his throat. “How did you do that?”

“I’ve laid her over my heart,” she said, smoothing the fine, dark hair on Bonnie’s head. “Babies like to feel the beat.”