Baby Benefits(7)


“Whoa, there.” In a second, Dex crossed the room and pulled her from Derek’s arms.

Instantly, Isabella quieted down. She curled up in the protection of Dex’s arms and buried her face against his chest.

Resentment surged through Derek. Dex was his kid brother. Derek had spent his entire life protecting and taking care of him. And sure, sometimes he was a pain in the butt, but he was basically a good guy. So why did the sight of Isabella cuddled in his arms make Derek want to deck him?

Dex cradled her, slowly swaying back and forth. To Derek he said, “You need to be careful. You don’t want to drop her.”

Derek glanced at the stack of books on his desk. Drily, he said, “I bought fifteen books on child rearing at the bookstore this morning. I’m pretty sure one of them would have mentioned that it’s better not to drop the baby on the floor.”

Dex smiled. “Hey, I’m just trying to help. The learning curve here is pretty steep.”

“It can’t be too hard. You did it.”

“I had help.”

As he said the words, the door to the office swung open. Raina stood in the doorway, hands on her hips, a resentful scowl marring her delicate features.

“He’ll have help, too. At least for a few weeks.” She marched across the room to Dex. “Hand me that baby.” Once she had Isabella in her arms, she pressed a hand to Dex’s back. “Now, don’t you have a job to be doing? Or at least a wedding to plan or something?”

“I was just helping,” Dex protested.

“No. You thought you were helping. What you were actually doing was butting in. You learned to do this without Derek breathing down your neck, he should get to do the same thing. As it is now, you’re just making him nervous.”

Dex grinned.

“He isn’t—” Derek started.

“Yes, he is. Besides, if you’re going to try to learn to be a father in two weeks—” Sarcasm dripped from her voice, making it clear she thought he was insane “—then the last thing you need to be thinking about is how this genius does things. Trust me when I tell you, he’s no expert.”

“Hey—” Dex protested.

She turned her glare back in his direction. “I mean it. For the next two weeks, I don’t want to see you anywhere near here. You’re always complaining about not having enough responsibility at work, well, here’s your chance. Go find something to do. Goodness knows, Derek is going to be too busy to work for the next two weeks. And while you’re at it, I hope you’re planning on spending a lot of time with Lucy, because Derek doesn’t need you hanging around the house, either.”

Dex grinned as he allowed himself to be shuffled toward the door. To Raina he said, “I guess you decided to finally push back.” Before leaving he looked up at Derek one last time. “One word of advice—babies eat every two hours.”

Every two hours? “That can’t be right.”

“It is. I swear. Oh, and babies don’t eat pizza.”

Raina glared. “Of course they don’t eat pizza.”

“I’m just saying…” He didn’t finish the sentence, but retreated through the door, hands held up in the universal sign of surrender.

Derek made a mental note for himself. No pizza.

When the door closed behind Dex, Derek turned his attention to Raina. She held Isabella cradled in her arms, murmuring soothing nonsense to the baby. As Isabella settled into her arms, tension seemed to drain away from Raina. She tucked her face to the top of Isabella’s head and inhaled deeply.

For an instant, an expression crossed her face unlike any he’d ever seen before. The mixture of serenity and yearning nearly took his breath away. Raina, who he’d always thought of as merely pretty, was beautiful.

The moment passed so quickly he might have imagined it. Then she was looking up at him again as fierce annoyance flickered across her face. Once again, an expression he’d never before seen. But this time decidedly less pleasant, and perhaps easier to deal with.

“Here’s the deal,” she began. “Let me make it clear that I think you’re being ridiculous. It shouldn’t matter that Isabella has a close bond with her uncle. You should be glad she has people who care about her in her life. Having said that, if you really think you have to compete with Dex and learn to be a father in two weeks, then I’ll spend that time teaching you everything I know about children.”

“Which I suppose is considerable.” He didn’t bother to keep the note of sarcasm out of his voice. He had no doubt Raina could master anything she set her mind to. She could certainly help him learn, but how much did she already know?