Treat me, p.15
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       Treat Me, p.15

         Part #8 of One Night with Sole Regret series by Olivia Cunning
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  “I want to see a kangaroo,” Julie said, “but I like this lephalant. Where is her friends and family?”

  “Beats me,” Jacob said. “Maybe they’re inside the elephant house.”

  Amanda read the story of Lucky the elephant from a nearby sign.

  “So she’s all alone?” Julie asked tremulously.

  “She likes to be alone,” Amanda said.

  “I will be her friend,” Julie said. “Hi, Lucky!” she called to the elephant, which took a step backward and swayed her massive trunk.

  “She hears me,” Julie insisted.

  A woman with a pair of boys near Julie’s age entered the observation area. Both boys climbed to stand on a ledge so they could get a better look into the exhibit.

  “Put me down,” Julie said. “I want to stand by myself.”

  Jacob lifted her over his head and set her on the ledge by the two boys. She smoothed her blond curls with both hands and said to the bigger of the two, “My name’s Julie, what’s yours?”

  The boys stared at her as if she were an angel that had fallen from the sky. Jacob cringed as his brain automatically fast-forwarded ten years. There was no doubt she’d grow to be a stunner like her mother. Should he lock her in a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon now or wait until she hit puberty?

  “She’s already a little flirt,” Amanda said with a chuckle.

  Jacob shook his head in denial. “She’s just saying hello.” Though it wasn’t lost on him that both boys were following her and mimicking her motions as if driven by instinct.

  “She’s adorable,” the mother of the boys said. “How old?”

  “Just turned four,” Jacob said.

  “She looks so much like you,” she said to Amanda. “I’m still holding out for a daughter to spoil.”

  “Oh,” Amanda said, “she’s not mine. I’m just her crazy aunt.” She smiled and patted her chest.

  The woman glanced at Jacob. “You’re so good with her, I thought for sure you were her father.”

  “Guilty as charged,” Jacob said.

  The woman glanced from Jacob to Amanda and back again. Based on her expression, he guessed she’d seen Amanda copping a feel earlier.

  “Julie’s mother and I are divorced,” Jacob said, not that it was any of her business, but he didn’t like the judgmental way she was looking at Amanda.

  “I’m sorry to hear that. Jeffrey, Mitchell, let’s go see the rhinoceros,” she called to her sons who were listening in rapt attention to Julie’s story about playing with the real Jojo. She used the stuffed version to demonstrate her interactions with the monkey.

  “I want to see a monkey, Mama,” the smaller boy said. “Julie got to hold one.”

  “That was at a different zoo,” Amanda said helpfully. “In Austin.”

  “We’re not driving all the way to Austin,” she said as she ushered her sons away.

  “Bye, Julie!” They both waved until they were out of sight.

  “Daddy,” Julie said, a slight pout on her sweet face. She stared at the ground and toed a pebble with the tip of her tennis shoe.

  “Yeah, princess?”

  “I want a little brother.”

  “Oh.” That was not what he’d been expecting her to request. “I’ll get right on that.” Jacob glanced at Amanda and grinned. Her eyes widened and her face went white. She shook her head even as he imagined her pregnant with his son growing inside her.

  “Can I have two baby brothers?” Julie asked, holding up two fingers.

  “Maybe someday,” Jacob said.

  He lifted her back onto his shoulders and continued down the path, looking for signs pointing to kangaroos.

  “Why do you want brothers and not sisters?” Amanda asked.

  “I don’t want to share my princess castle.”

  Amanda laughed. “You share it with me.”

  “But you won’t break it. My friend Courtney has a little sister. She breaks everything and she cries all the time.”

  “I think most babies break things and cry,” Jacob said.

  “Did I do that?” Julie asked, planting her hands on the top of his head and shifting forward to look down at him.

  “You were a perfect baby,” Jacob said, giving her ankles a reassuring squeeze.

  Amanda snorted. “How soon he forgets. I don’t think you slept once for the first six weeks of your life, Julie. All you did was cry and poop.”

  Julie sniggered. “Was it stinky?”

  “The stinkiest baby poo ever,” Amanda assured her.

  Jacob had forgotten. He’d been on tour when Julie had been born and had missed out on most of her first weeks. He did remember Tina complaining about his absence and accusing him of sleeping with other women. He wondered how different things would have turned out if he’d called off the rest of the tour to be with his wife and newborn that summer. Would they still be married?

  He reached over and wrapped an arm around Amanda’s shoulders, and for once, she didn’t push him away.

  “Why don’t you have any kids, Aunt Mander?” Julie asked.

  “I haven’t got a husband,” Amanda said.

  “Yet,” Jacob said, tugging her closer to his side.

  “Yet,” Amanda echoed.

  “I know who you can marry,” Julie said.

  Jacob’s heart warmed as he anticipated Julie saying Amanda should marry him.

  “Who’s that?” Amanda asked, looking above Jacob’s head at her niece.

  Julie snorted on a laugh. “SpongeBob.”

  “SpongeBob?” Amanda shook her head. “He’s nice and all, but he’s a little too square for my tastes.” She made a square shape with her thumbs and index fingers and peered at Julie through the opening.

  “Who do you want to marry Aunt Mander? A prince? I want to marry a prince.”

  Amanda shrugged. “I don’t know. I think princes are in short supply these days.”

  “How about a rock star?” Jacob asked.

  “Ooh, rock stars are cool,” Julie said. “I think Daddy knows some of those guys.”

  Jacob bit his lip so he wouldn’t laugh. Just how much hinting did he need to do here to get his daughter onboard with his plan to make her aunt a permanent fixture in their lives?

  “I’ve heard relationships with rock stars never last,” Amanda said. She looked up at him, the golden sunshine dancing through her hair and a question in her hazel eyes.

  “Depends on the rock star,” he said, leaning closer to Amanda. He wanted to kiss her so badly, he could already taste her sweet lips.

  “Giraffe!” Julie yelled, startling him into backing away.

  He’d just have to save all of Amanda’s kisses for later.

  He hoped her lips were well rested.

  Chapter Ten

  They stopped for dinner on the way home, so by the time they reached Jacob’s house, the sun was already setting, casting an orange glow on the world. Amanda couldn’t remember a day she’d enjoyed so much. She always loved spending time with her sweet niece, and the kid’s father wasn’t half bad either. As she retrieved Julie’s bag, and—after only a second of consideration—her own, she watched the two walk hand in hand to the front door.

  “Daddy, can we have a tea party now?” Julie asked.

  “I’m tired, baby,” he said as he released Julie’s hand and fit his key into the lock. “Can I take a rain check?”

  Julie glanced up at the sky. “Okay, I’m checking, and I don’t see no rain clouds.”

  Amanda chuckled at Julie’s literal rain check.

  “Can we do a tea party tomorrow?” Jacob rubbed at one eye beneath his sunglasses.

  Julie had her new stuffed monkey under one arm and her new stuffed elephant under the other. “Jojo and Lucky need to meet their new friends before bed. So we need to have a tea party tonight. Would you like it if you had to sleep with strangers?”

  Jacob laughed, and Amanda wondered just how many strangers the man had slept with. “I guess I can’t argue with
that logic.”

  He opened the door and turned off the alarm. “You go set it up and come get me when you’re ready.”

  Julie hopped through the foyer and down the hall singing, “I’m a little roo. I’m a little roo.”

  Jacob turned to Amanda, who’d entered the house behind them with a bag slung over each shoulder.

  “I could have helped you with that,” he said, reaching for one of the bags.

  “I’m fine,” she assured him. “They’re not heavy.” Not after they’d devoured every smidge of food that had been packed in Julie’s bag. “Should I put my bag in your bedroom?”

  “You’re staying the night?” he asked, cocking his head to one side.

  She couldn’t tell if he was teasing, because he was still wearing his damned sunglasses.

  “If you’d rather I go—”

  His arms were around her and his mouth against hers before she could complete the thought. She dropped both bags to the ground with successive thuds before lifting her arms to draw him closer. His strength, his heat, and his heady scent engulfed her, pulling her under. She was drowning in him and didn’t want to be rescued.

  “God, I want you,” he growled, his fervent kisses moving to her jaw and throat. His fingers tangled in her hair, tugging her head back as he nibbled his way to her collarbone. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to behave myself when I’m around you all day?”

  “Yes,” she whispered, tilting her head to give him better access to the flesh he was already igniting with lips and tongue and teeth.

  Small footsteps echoed off the tiles in the hallway. Jacob tensed. “Fuck,” he murmured against her throat before slowly pulling away.

  “Do you have something in your eye again, Aunt Mander?” Julie asked.

  Yeah, tears of frustration.

  “All better now,” Amanda said tersely. “Thanks to your daddy.”

  “The tea party is ready,” Julie said.

  “I’ll be right there,” Jacob said, still facing Amanda. “I need to go to the bathroom first.”

  Amanda offered him a puzzled look, but he was too busy taking deep breaths to sate her curiosity.

  “Are you coming to the tea party, Aunt Mander?”

  Amanda realized Jacob’s predicament was located in his shorts, and while she was still as hot for him as he obviously was for her, at least her excitement wasn’t so blatantly obvious.

  “Wouldn’t miss it,” Amanda said, stepping around Jacob and taking Julie’s hand to lead her back to her room while Jacob regained control. They were going to have to keep a more appropriate distance from each other until they could be alone.

  Julie showed Amanda where to sit on the floor next to a child-sized wooden table. The small chairs were overflowing with various stuffed animals and dolls. In the seat of honor—Julie’s small white rocking chair—sat her two newest friends, Jojo and Lucky.

  “They’re already best friends,” Julie explained.

  “I can see that. What kind of tea are we having?” Amanda reached for a tiny porcelain cup decorated with pink rose buds.

  “The good kind,” Julie said.

  “Ah,” Amanda said. “My favorite.”

  “What’s taking Daddy so long?” When Julie headed for the door, Amanda caught her arm and drew her into her lap for a vigorous tickle.

  “I think he needs some privacy,” Amanda said.

  “Oh. I don’t want to start without him.”

  “Did you have fun today?” Amanda asked, hoping to distract her from going in search of her father.

  “Oh yes! When I grow up, can I work at the zoo and be a singer too?”

  Lost in Julie’s wide blue eyes, Amanda stroked her silky hair and smiled at her. “You can be whatever you want to be.”

  “And I want to be a princess,” Julie said.

  “You’re already my princess,” Jacob said from the doorway.

  Julie lit up like a Griswold Christmas light display and squirmed off Amanda’s lap. She soon had her father seated on the floor next to Amanda and introduced everyone at the table—real and imaginary—to the newest additions to her eclectic menagerie.

  “I do think she needs a little brother,” Jacob whispered to Amanda.

  Amanda’s head swiveled in his direction, and she choked on her imaginary tea. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

  “There’s only one way that’s going to happen,” he said.

  She lifted inquisitive eyebrows at him.

  “Stop being so terrific. You’re putting strange thoughts in my head.”

  “Apparently,” she said.

  Telling her he loved her that morning had progressed to hints of marriage and blatant requests for more children. He was obviously delirious. Hopefully once he got laid, he’d come back to his senses. Amanda wasn’t prepared to let her sister know she saw him even casually. If she started birthing Jacob’s babies, Amanda was pretty sure Tina would put two and two together.

  But he did make beautiful babies and he was a spectacular father. He was also a rock star. She tended to forget about that part of his life when they were outside the arena. There was no way that her boring self would keep his attention for long. Still, she wasn’t going to let that knowledge stop her from enjoying her time with him while she had him.

  Julie yawned sleepily and started to sway. Amanda snuck a peek at her cellphone, delighted to see it was the tyke’s bedtime.

  “Which pajamas do you want to wear?” Jacob asked, groaning as he staggered to his feet from the hard floor.

  Amanda felt a bit intrusive as she watched him prepare Julie for bed. He helped her into her nightgown—Julie didn’t even protest that she was a big girl and could do it herself—and combed her hair while she brushed her teeth. Once she was tucked into bed with her all of her tea party guests, Amanda leaned over her to kiss her goodnight.

  “Are you going home now?” Julie asked with another sleepy yawn.

  “I’m going to stay the night so I can go swimming with you tomorrow. I hope that’s okay.”

  Julie scrunched up her brow as she considered that bit of news. “I think my bed is too small for you.”

  Amanda chuckled. “That’s okay. I’ll sleep on the sofa.”

  “My daddy has a big bed,” she said. “You can sleep with him.”

  Gladly, Amanda thought. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a good place to sleep. Good night, Julie Bean.”

  “Can you read me a story, Daddy?” Julie asked.

  Jacob eyed the bookshelf near the bed as if it were swarming with cockroaches. “Um . . .” he murmured. “How about I sing to you instead?”

  Julie smiled sleepily. “Sing the angel song.”

  Amanda stepped outside the room but leaned against the wall just outside the door and closed her eyes, listening to Jacob’s smooth, soothing voice as he sang his little girl to sleep. The sound made her heart swell with love. What would her life be like if he became a permanent fixture in it?

  Heaven. It would be heaven.

  Yet she couldn’t let herself think that way. If she got too attached, she would be destroyed when they ultimately parted ways.

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