Tied up, tied down, p.12
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       Tied Up, Tied Down, p.12

         Part #4 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
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Page 12

 

  “Nice to meetcha, Miz Bancroft. ”

  When Annie yelled, “Sky. Did you hear me? Line two,” Skylar had no choice but to dump him with Dee.

  Ten minutes later, she found Kade and Dee chatting in the herb drying room. He turned around at her approach. His heated I-wanna-eat-you-up look made her nipples hard and her belly clench. Then his handsome face lit up when he noticed Eliza was in her arms.

  “There’s my sweet girl. ”

  At the sound of his voice, Eliza’s tiny feet kicked.

  His grin widened. “Didja miss me, baby? You been behavin’ for your mama today?”

  “Your sweet girl hasn’t slept for more than fifteen minutes at a time all day. ”

  “Maybe that means she’ll sleep all night for a change. ” He nuzzled Eliza’s pudgy neck. “Which ain’t fair because it’s your night to be up with her. ”

  “My night? I thought we were taking turns?”

  “Me too, sweetheart. But I took all the turns last night. You didn’t move when I got out of bed. At midnight. At two. And at four. ”

  Dee chuckled. “Oh. I get it now. ” Still smiling, she said, “Nadia wants to talk to you before you leave. She says it’s important. ” Dee disappeared around the corner.

  Skylar withheld a groan. She liked Nadia. She liked that Nadia wasn’t afraid to talk to her when she kept her distance from everyone else. She liked that Nadia wasn’t a drama queen. But it bugged the heck out of her Nadia was so fickle, and Sky didn’t have to guess what Nadia wanted to talk to her about. Again.

  “Lemme take Eliza home so you can get back to work. ” Kade lifted her from Skylar’s arms. “Come on, girlie. You and me gotta date with a warm bottle and a hot bath. ”

  “Do you want to drive my car? Or just take the car seat out of it?”

  He frowned. “I have a car seat in my truck. ”

  “Since when?”

  “Since the day after I moved in. I bought one, figurin’ it’d be easier if we had two. ”

  “I didn’t know. ”

  “You didn’t ask. You assumed. I’m findin’ you do that a lot with me, Skylar. ” His eyes met hers. “See you at home. ”

  Why was everyone acting so weird today?

  The second Sky returned to her office, Annie, a forty-something, no-nonsense native Wyoming cowgirl, descended on her like a rabid coyote. “So Eliza wasn’t an immaculate conception as you’d led all of us to believe?”

  Sky snorted.

  “Granted, that spectacular hunk of a man is pretty damn close to god-like. ”

  No argument here.

  “Not that he had eyes for anyone but you. Lord, with the hot way he was eatin’ you up, we all thought he was gonna nail you right there in the main room next to the coffee pot. ”

  Her cheeks heated.

  “Eliza’s daddy is living with you, and you couldn’t mention it to me? For godsake, you’re sleeping with him and you’ve kept it to yourself?”

  Damn. News traveled fast around here. “It’s not what you think. ”

  “No?”

  “No. ”

  “Then you are an idiot, Sky. A freakin’ idiot. ” Annie tossed up her hands and stormed out.

  What was wrong with everybody today?

  Thirty minutes later Nadia knocked and Skylar motioned her in.

  Dark-haired, dark-eyed Nadia was a refugee from Bosnia who’d immigrated to the United States through a local church.

  Last year during the interview process, Nadia had referred to herself as the perfect peasant. Ugly, stick-thin, strong as an ox, uneducated, and an “eyes forward, no-talking”

  kind of worker. The description haunted Skylar, as did the occasional evidence of physical abuse on Nadia’s arms and face.

  Despite repeated attempts of her coworkers to convince Nadia to ditch her husband, and Nadia’s promises to follow through with it, Nadia stayed with the abusive man. A sad fact of life in rural America. With the lack of financial and social resources, many women didn’t have a choice but to stay in a bad relationship.

  The whole situation worried Skylar, and quite frankly, she’d nearly called the damn sheriff herself, but as Nadia’s boss, she couldn’t interfere. The one time she’d approached Nadia to offer whatever support she’d needed, the woman tearily told her to mind her own business. And as much as it pained her, Skylar had done as Nadia asked.

  So far, Nadia’s son, four-year-old Anton, hadn’t shown signs of abuse and was a well-adjusted little boy who played well with the other kids in the daycare program.

  Instead of standing in front of the desk like she was facing a firing squad as she usually did, Nadia paced. “What’s up, Nadia? Dee said it was important. ”

  “It is. ” She paced to the far wall and back. “I like working here. It is good for Anton, it is good for me. ”

  “I like having you here. I’m not flattering you when I say you are a great employee. ”

  “Thank you. ” Nadia stopped and looked at Skylar with haunted eyes. “When I’m here I work hard. ” She clenched her hands at her sides. “I need to ask you a favor. ”

  “Okay, I’m listening. ”

  “If my husband calls, I’d like you to tell him I’m not here. ”

  A thick silence hung in the air.

  Sky’s stomach churned. How many times in the last year had Nadia asked for this favor? A dozen, probably. The very next day Nadia would recant her request, claim she’d been stressed out or tired and she hadn’t meant it. Then she’d vehemently deny her husband had anything to do with her decision. Skylar had suffered through this type of wishy-washy behavior before with her sister. India promising to get clean. To get sober.

  To stop using and abusing her body and take control of her life.

  Nadia was in the same holding pattern. It might be cynical, but Sky didn’t think this was the time Nadia would stick to her declaration either and she tried damn hard to keep the doubt out of her voice. “I know you’re a private person, Nadia, but honesty is necessary for me to understand what’s going on. Why should I lie to Rex?”

  “Because I’m leaving him. For real this time. A friend is letting us stay with her. I need this job and this is the first place he’ll try to find me. ”

  “As happy as I am that you’re taking a positive step, do you think he’ll believe you just up and left town? Especially when he knows how much you like working here?”

  “He thinks I hate this job. ”

  That was a new twist. “Excuse me?”

  Nadia thrust out her chin. “It’s not true. I lied to him. In the last couple of weeks I started complaining to him about this place and how bad it’d gotten. How I hated everyone who worked here. I even hinted I was looking around for something else and I’d found another daycare for Anton. ”

  Smart woman, laying the groundwork, but it made Sky absolutely sick that Nadia had to go to this much trouble to get out of a horrid, unsafe situation.

  “When he realizes we’re gone, hopefully he’ll think I’ve moved to Denver. I told him I have cousins there. ”

  “Do you?”

  “No. I don’t have any friends there either, so there’s no way he can trace me. Except through here. ”

  Skylar stayed calm and professional even as she wanted to ask more detailed questions on why Nadia was convinced this outlandish ruse would work. She tapped the pen on her calculator, contemplating issues Nadia might not have considered, but ones that affected everyone in her employ. “Is the woman who’s hiding you out another employee?”

  “No. I’d never ask that of someone or put such a burden on you. You’ve been very good to me, which is why I hate to ask such a big thing. Again. ”

  Helpless to say no, Sky said, “Okay. I’ll inform Annie since she fields most of the phone calls. But you have to promise me one thing, Nadia. ”

  “What?”

  “If anything changes, if y
ou decide to return home, or if he threatens you, you have to tell me right away. I can’t be flying blind in this situation when I have a business to run and other employees—including children—to consider. ”

  “I promise. But this time it’s for real. ”

  Sky wanted to ask what’d happened to force the change. She wanted to know if Nadia had enough money. If Anton had his favorite toys. If Nadia was scared. However, Sky did none of that. It’d make Nadia even more self-conscious and might make her reconsider her plan if Sky questioned it.

  She pretended to squint at the clock when she was trying to hold it together and follow Nadia’s lead, remaining brusque and businesslike. “Ten minutes until quitting time. Maybe you’d better fill in your coworkers on what’s going on before you take off. ”

  Nadia nodded.

  Just as Skylar took a breath and dropped the mask of hard-ass boss lady, Nadia stopped at the door and turned around.

  “That man who was here earlier? Is he Eliza’s father?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Why wasn’t he around before, when you were pregnant?”

  Wow. That was an intensely personal question from mind-your-own-business Nadia.

  “That’s a long story and one I’d rather not get into. Why do you ask?”

  “Because he reminds me of my husband. A stubborn cowboy. A big man who’ll use his fists to prove himself. ”

  “Kade is not like that. ”

  “Don’t kid yourself. They’re all like that,” Nadia said, and slipped out the door, leaving Skylar in stunned silence.

  An hour later, Skylar entered the quiet house. No sign of Eliza or Kade in the living room. Maybe they were napping upstairs.

  She rooted around in the freezer and threw a boxed casserole in the microwave. She set the plates and silverware on the ruffled placemats and poured two glasses of tea.

  The stairs creaked and a freshly showered Kade entered the kitchen with an empty bottle. “She’s scrubbed, fed and sleepin’. I ain’t gonna claim sleepin’ like a baby, ’cause I’ve learned that sayin’ is a total lie. But she’s out. ”
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