Wanted: Adored (Kindle Worlds Novella), Page 2Georgia Cates
She smiles and lifts a brow. “Umm . . . yeah. I won’t hate driving that at all.”
“Is black okay? It seemed a little sportier and less . . . grocery getter.” Leighton is young. Single. I hated to put her in a mom mobile.
“Black is great. I love it.”
“Want to go for a drive after we move your things into your room?” I think she should get used to the Q7 before she becomes responsible for driving Scarlett.
“I’d love to.”
“I got Scarlett a car seat, but I’m not sure that I installed it correctly. I’d like you to double-check it.” I followed the directions, but I don’t trust myself to get it right. Not when it comes to something so important regarding my daughter’s safety.
“I had to be checked off on proper infant-car-seat installation since I discharged babies from the nursery. I could inspect it with my eyes closed. Don’t worry; I’ll make sure it’s in there correctly.”
Leighton’s watchful eye and presence in Scarlett’s life puts me at ease. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t accepted my job offer.
I hear the slam of a door and look up into my rearview mirror. “Gunner’s here.”
She turns and looks out the back glass of my truck. “Who’s he?”
“My cousin. I asked him to come over and help move your things.”
“You didn’t have to ask anyone to do that. I can do it.”
“I know, but Gunner is strong.”
“And I’m not?”
I’m not sure if that smile on her face is amusement or sarcasm. “Well . . .” I consider my next words carefully. I’m not acquainted with Leighton well enough to know if she’ll be offended by my saying that Gunner will do a quicker or better job of helping me move her things into the house. “Gunner works a ranch. He’s used to heavy lifting. These boxes won’t be anything to him.”
She chuckles, and I’m relieved. Maybe that means that I’ve not offended her. “I know that I’m not much help.”
“You’re a ton of help with many things.” A grin breaks through the straight face I’m trying to maintain. “Just not moving heavy things.”
It’s not Leighton’s fault. She’s a small woman, and her prior job required her to lift and hold babies who mostly weigh under five pounds.
“I have a full gym at the ranch. Maybe I can interest you in a little light weight lifting with me.” I’ve always worked out alone, but I might not mind a partner.
“Probably not. I prefer running.”
No surprise there. Leighton is fit and light but not physically strong.
“I have a treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bike. You’re welcome to use the equipment anytime you like.”
“Thanks for the offer. I’ll be taking you up on that after I’m settled in.”
“Please do.” I love having a gym at home, but it’s sort of a shame that no one else puts it to use.
Gunner is standing next to my truck when I open the door. He looks at Leighton as she gets out on the other side and grins, not saying a word.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong.” Leighton is hot as hell. I know that everyone who didn’t see her caring for Scarlett at the hospital will think that’s the only reason that I hired her.
Gunner holds up his hands. “Didn’t say a word, bro.”
I lower my voice. “Didn’t have to. I can see it all over your face.”
My cousin offers his hand to Leighton. “Gunner Mathews. Judd’s cousin.”
“Leighton Mitchell. Scarlett’s nurse . . . I mean nanny. Sorry. It’s going to take a minute to get used to saying that. I’ve been a nurse for five years.” She giggles and it makes her seem even younger. “Anyway . . . it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“My wife wanted to come and meet you, but she and the kids have been sick the last couple of days. They’re better now, but she didn’t want to risk bringing any kind of illness into the house since Scarlett is coming home soon.”
Leighton smiles. “That is so considerate. Please tell her how much I appreciate her thoughtfulness and that I look forward to meeting her.”
I hope Ellie will come by soon. Aside from my parents and me, Leighton knows no one in Mason. This is a brand-new start for her, and I don’t want her to be unhappy. I need her to stay for Scarlett.
“I’d like to give Leighton a quick tour of the house.”
Gunner flicks his hand. “Yeah, do what you gotta do. I’ll go ahead and start moving stuff.”
“We won’t be long.”
“Better not be.”
Leighton and I enter the house and two scents hit my nose at the same time: cleaning supplies and a freshly baked cake.
“Wow. Smells clean and delicious in here.”
“Can’t take credit for that. My mom wanted to come over and clean the house for you and Scarlett.” Diane Mathews believes that no one can cook or clean like her. And she’s probably right.
“Your mama is so sweet.”
My mother immediately liked Leighton. The two just clicked. And when I mentioned hiring Leighton as Scarlett’s nanny, she told me to do whatever it took to convince her. Which I’d already done.
“I left my parents’ house when I was eighteen to chase a career in music. I’ve been out from under their roof for twelve years, and she still comes over to make sure that her baby boy is well fed.” She’s a nurturer, just like Leighton.
“And I bet you don’t mind that at all.”
“Nope. There’s nothing like my mom’s cooking.”
Leighton follows as I lead her into the kitchen. “Hey lady. Smells like you’ve been up to something while I’ve been gone.” Lady. I like calling her that.
“Made a sock-it-to-me cake for Leighton. Just a little something to help her feel welcome in her new home.”
Leighton licks her lips. “Mmm . . . I love sock-it-to-me cake.”
My mother goes to my new roomie and embraces her, placing a kiss against her cheek. “We are so happy to have you here, darlin’.”
My new employee has already grown incredibly close to my mother and sister. And just like Scarlett, I’m pretty sure that they like her better than they like me. But I plan on remedying that with my daughter soon.
“I’m happy to be here, and I can’t wait until Scarlett is too.”
She isn’t the only one who’s excited about having her home.
My mother’s smile is wide. “Having a baby in this house—Judd’s bachelor pad—is going to be strange.”
“It’ll be an adjustment for the three of us, but I have no worries. Everything is going to work out just as it should.”
The three of us. It’s odd to hear Leighton refer to us that way. You’d expect that if a woman ever said those words in regard to you, she’d be your wife and mother of your child.
“I’m not a bit worried,” my mom says.
Seems like all I did during the first two months of Scarlett’s life was worry. It began with worry that the paternity test would prove that I was her father. After I found out that she was mine, it was worry about the health and prognosis of my sick child. We got beyond that, and then it was worry about what I would do when it was time for my daughter to come home to a house without a mother.
I’d still be worried if it weren’t for Leighton.
She’s the calm to this storm. The piece in this threesome that’s going to hold everything together.
I’ve never needed a woman. But I need this one.
I need this woman more than she can possibly imagine.
I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT JUDD Mathews is giving me a tour of his ranch. His home. And he’s about to show me to my bedroom.
Where I’ll be sleeping.
In. His. House.
The last two weeks have been a whirlwind, but I think my employment with Judd is going to be
great for all three of us. It just feels right.
I follow Judd down the hallway to my bedroom, and I’m surprised by how normal and homey his residence feels. Not at all the ridiculously huge, formal mansion that I had pictured in my head. And I’m glad; this place feels . . . real.
“Did you grow up here in Mason?”
“I did, on a small ranch about ten miles from here. And that’s where my parents still live.”
Rancher to singer. One day I’d love to hear how that came to happen.
“I think it’s wonderful that Scarlett’s grandparents are nearby. She’ll have the opportunity to be close to them as she grows up. What about your sister?”
“She lives about twenty-five miles away in Cherry Spring. That’s where her husband’s family is from.”
“Let me guess. They live on a ranch?”
Judd chuckles. “I think you’re starting to get the picture about this family.”
“Everyone in your family ranches for a living except you?”
“What do they think of you and your superstardom?”
“My family is proud of me, but I strongly suspect that they would respect me more if I quit singing and stayed here to run this ranch instead of hiring ranch hands to do it for me.”
I wasn’t under the impression that Judd’s family cared much about money, and now I have the proof. “But you have no intention of ever leaving the music industry for ranching?”
“No. It’s not my calling.”
“You never know. I thought I’d be a nurse for the rest of my life, and look at me now. I’m twenty-seven and beginning my second career.”
“If I ever made the decision to stop performing, I’d become a songwriter.”
“Do you write your own songs?”
“I write the good ones.”
Judd Mathews can be funny when he wants to be. “Did you write ‘Everything I Need’?”
“I did. Do you like it?”
The lyrics to ‘Everything I Need’ explain the way a husband should feel about his wife in the most simplified way. He shouldn’t be out looking for anything in other women.
“It’s my favorite song. Period.”
Judd grins. “So you’re a fan?”
I look away because I feel warmth growing in my cheeks. “I am a fan.”
“Did you write ‘Everything I Need’ about Scarlett’s mother?”
“No. The song’s about a woman I dreamed up in my mind when I imagined what I’d want in a wife.”
I know that Judd wasn’t married to Scarlett’s mother, but I’m curious about what kind of woman it is who gets to be the mother of his child. I bet she was beautiful, and he loved her madly. “Are any of your songs about her . . . Scarlett’s mother?”
A wrinkle forms on Judd’s brow. “I didn’t know her mother. She was a one-night stand that happened after a show. She was a bad decision that I made after drinking way too much whiskey.”
That isn’t at all the fairy-tale romance I was expecting to hear.
Scarlett was transported to our NICU in Austin because the hospital where she was born didn’t have a neonatal intensive care. The only thing I knew was that her mother had died shortly after delivery.
“I’m sorry. I just assumed that you were in a relationship.” I look away because I’m embarrassed. “That wasn’t my business. I didn’t mean to meddle.”
That explains so much about Judd’s behavior in the beginning. I thought he was grieving. But he didn’t love Scarlett’s mother. Hell, he didn’t even know her. That’s why it was so difficult for him to connect with his daughter.
“Look at me, Leighton.”
One second, two, three before I’m able to force my eyes back to his.
“I partied that night with my band after the show. I was drunk, and Josie Burns was a mistake. But Scarlett Leighton wasn’t. Please don’t think that I regret her.”
Judd does that sometimes—calls her Scarlett Leighton. And I think that it’s so cute.
“I know you don’t regret your daughter, but I shouldn’t have asked. I overstepped, and I apologize.”
“There’s no need to. Really.”
We stop at the last door at the end of the hallway, and Judd gestures into the room. “This is yours. It’s the largest guest room and has its own sitting area and en suite bathroom.”
The room is huge. Nearly as big as my apartment but very plain. Wood floors. White walls. White bedding. Pretty boring. I’m going to need to put my touch on it.
“Scarlett’s nursery is in here.” Judd walks across the room and opens a door. “I wasn’t comfortable with a wall separating you, so I had someone come in and put an opening between your room and hers. Now you won’t have to go all the way around to get to her.”
Judd may be this famous superstar musician, but he is also proving to be a thoughtful, considerate man. “That’s a wonderful idea.”
“I want you to make this space your own. You can do anything you like with it. Hire an interior designer if you want. My treat.”
“That’s too much after everything else that you’re doing for me.” Plus, I’m not a showy person. My decor from Target is plenty fancy for me.
“Nothing is too much for the woman who is taking care of my daughter. It’s the least that I can do for you.”
No man has ever spoiled me. I wouldn’t know how to accept an offer like his. “It’ll be fine with the furnishings I brought from my apartment.”
“We’ll let my personal assistant take care of getting someone in here for you.”
How can I say no when he’s so insistent? “Okay. And thank you for allowing me to change the room to my liking.”
“It’s important to me that you’re happy here.”
I believe that Judd truly means that. And I don’t think I’m going to have any problems being happy here with Scarlett and him.
I’m a hundred miles from Brad. A hundred miles from where the most devastating events of my life happened. A hundred miles from my old life and everything I left behind.
This is my fresh start.
My new life begins here and now.
In Mason, Texas.
With Judd and Scarlett.
IT’S HOSPITAL DISCHARGE DAY. I’M thankful Leighton was there so that I wasn’t the one to receive all of Scarlett’s discharge instructions. I wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do for her once we’re home.
She has some lingering medical issues, but I can’t believe how far Scarlett has come from being that tiny little two-pound newborn. Lung complications, sleep apnea, digestive problems. The list would be a long one if I named all of her complications, but she managed to pull through, and now she’s a little tigress ready to take on the world.
I’m driving Leighton’s new Audi SUV from Austin to Mason while she sits in the backseat with Scarlett. I can’t resist stealing glances at them in the rearview mirror when Leighton isn’t looking . . . which is basically the whole drive home. All of her attention is on my daughter.
It feels peculiar sometimes—Leighton’s obvious lack of interest in me or my money or my success. I’m accustomed to women throwing themselves at me and trying to use me for anything they can get. But that’s not who Leighton is—and thank God for that.
She isn’t the kind of woman who frequents dark, smoky honky-tonks or tosses back whiskey like it’s water or has one-night stands with a man she’ll never see again. She’s nurturing, wholesome, and respectable. I know a quality woman when I see one, and there’s no mistaking this one. Leighton Mitchell is the kind of woman you marry and hold so tightly that no other man can ever take her from you.
She giggles, and I look at the rearview mirror to steal another glance at her. She’s looking at Scarlett and smiling. “What is it?”
“She just blossomed and then smiled.”
“Little ladies don�
�t . . . fart. They blossom. And they also don’t sweat. They glisten. You should know these things; you have a sister.”
Leighton didn’t know Sally Kate when she was a kid. “My sister was a tomboy. She farted like a man, just like my friends and our cousins and me. Probably even louder.”
Leighton giggles. “Your sister doesn’t strike me as a tomboy . . . who would fart like a man.”
“She changed when she met her husband, Brandon. Decided she wanted to look and act like a girl since that’s what he liked.” Women should never change to become what a man wants. But it happens every day.
“Your sister is so pretty and feminine. I can’t imagine her ever being a tomboy.”
“Imagine a female version of me with long hair, except with green eyes instead of brown, and you’ll have a relatively good idea of what she used to look like.”
Those were the good ole days when I didn’t have to worry about little fuckers trying to mess around with her. And I’m going to be back in the same boat when Scarlett gets older. Always worried about some little shit trying to get into her pants.
“You and your sister favor a lot.” Leighton looks up at me in the mirror. “I don’t know what her mother looked like, but I think that Scarlett resembles you quite a bit.”
“My mother thinks so too, but I don’t see it.”
“Her eyes and lips are shaped like yours. Her nose is different, but sometimes I see something in her profile that reminds me of you.”
I’m surprised to hear that Leighton has noticed my facial features enough to have an opinion about the characteristics that Scarlett and I share. I thought she had little to no interest in me, based on our interactions. Is it possible that her indifference toward me is some kind of pretense?
We luck out, and Scarlett sleeps during the whole drive home from Austin. Maybe another thing she gets from me. I basically drift into a coma every time we travel from one city to the next. Something about riding soothes me into a deep sleep.
“We’re home, Miss prissy pants.” Leighton leans over to release Scarlett’s car seat from its base. “Make that Miss stinky pants.”
“The princess did more than a blossom?”