Baby Benefits(11)

By: EMILY MCKAY




While it had been amusing at first, her family’s intense dislike of Derek only made her feel awkward now. If her siblings only knew how much he’d done for their family…Well, they’d be embarrassed to say the least. However, if they knew how she really felt about Derek, then they’d just be baffled.



Sidetracking the question, Raina asked, “Don’t you need help with dinner?”



But Lavender held up a hand in protest. “No way. Tomorrow night is your night to do dinner. And I happen to know that Kendrick let you help with last night’s tacos. Besides, I suspect you’re just trying to distract me.” She pointed the chef’s knife at Raina with a mock scowl. “Now ’fess up.”



“It’s not that I didn’t quit, it’s just that it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned.” She struggled to put her feelings into words. When she’d stormed out of his office, she’d felt confident. Sure she’d made the right decision. Won a major victory. But the more she thought about it, the more she wondered if she’d been outsmarted.



Lavender made a “keep it coming” gesture, so Raina summed up the agreement she’d made with Derek. As Raina spoke, Lavender’s chopping slowed, then stopped all together as she focused her attention on Raina’s story.



“So after two weeks, he’s supposed to fire you?”



“Yep.”



“Well.” Lavender cocked her head to the side. “That sounds like a good thing. All you have to do is make it through the next two weeks, win this bet you’ve got going with him and walk away with a bundle of money.”



“That’s if I can get Isabella to respond to him,” Raina pointed out, her sense of dread building.



“True. But that shouldn’t be so hard to do.”



“Easy for you to say. You’re the early childhood development major. Me, I passed myself off as some kind of expert on kids.”



“You helped Momma raise four kids. I’d say you are an expert.”



“Did you miss the part where I said Isabella is five months old? Sure, if she was fifteen or even five, maybe I’d be a help. But Momma didn’t get sick until I was nineteen. Before that I was just an ordinary kid with younger brothers and sisters. There’s certainly nothing in my background that makes me an expert on infants.”



“Don’t sell yourself short. You’re great with babies. They love you. And you certainly adore—” Lavender broke off, frowning. “Oh. That’s what you’re worried about.”



“What?” Raina tried to keep her expression blank, but failed miserably.



“You’re worried you’re going to fall in love with this kid of his. That after a couple of weeks of dealing with the charming little tot, you won’t want to quit. You’ll be afraid of leaving her at the mercies of Darth Vader.”



“I—” She started to deny it, but then shrugged. Why bother? “I guess I am.”



Yes, the girl was adorable. And yes, Raina nursed a serious hankering to scoop the imp up in her arms, nuzzle her head, and suck in a big ol’ lungful of baby smell. And of course, the idea of getting attached to Isabella scared her. After all, she’d made a pledge to herself. Kids were not in her immediate future. It was time to put her own needs first for once.



But Isabella was only part of the problem. It was Derek who really had her worried. He was hard enough to resist as it was. Toss in an adorable kiddo and Raina may well be doomed. After all, was there anything sexier than a man with a baby? Look what had happened to Lucy, after all. She’d fallen for the Dex/Isabella combo like a ton of baby formula. Raina, already nine-tenths of the way to hopelessly devoted to Derek, didn’t stand a chance.



Of course, she couldn’t explain that to Lavender. She just wouldn’t get it. Raina had exerted far too much effort over the years convincing her family Derek was a jerk. They saw him as…well, the nickname said it all.



Lavender would never understand how Raina had seen past all that to fall in love with him.



She dropped her head back into her hands. “I should have just quit. If I’d stuck to my original plan, I’d never have to even walk into the office again.”



Let alone see Derek, she added to herself with misery.



“So do it.”



“What?” Raina looked up.



“Go back there tomorrow and quit. For real this time.” Lavender sliced through a carrot with a bloodthirsty flourish. “Go all Donald Trump on him and fire his sorry butt.” She punctuated each of the last four words with an emphatic chop.