**SNEAK PEEK** The Baby Fling
Chapter One — Bianca
I feel a headache coming on as I push my blonde hair away from my face and pick up my glass of wine. I take a sip and pray that it will somehow triple its ability to erase the night I’m about to have from my memory. I place my glass back down on the table in front of me and smooth out a wrinkle in the pristine white tablecloth.
I glance around the restaurant—taking in every man who walks through the door as I wait for the one my mother set me up with. I look at the time on my watch. It’s now going on 8 p.m. and our date was scheduled for 7:30. I vow to give him until the hour—four more minutes—before I get up and leave, though I’ll make sure to tell my mother how long I sat waiting for the man she declared to be my “perfect match.”
I lift my glass of wine and finish it off before picking up my clutch from the table and pushing back my chair. I stand just as a man approaches.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” he says around a nervous-looking smile. Small wrinkles form around his green eyes and as he runs a hand through his thick blond hair. “You’re Bianca, right?”
I force a smile on my face. Damn . . . I was so close to getting out of this. “Yes. You’re Max?” I ask.
He nods. “I am. Please don’t tell your mother how late I was. She’s been putting so much pressure on me about this date. I can’t believe I’ve already blown it.” He takes his seat across from mine and I have no choice but to sit back down. I flag down the waiter and motion toward my empty wine glass.
“I’ll make you a deal: I won’t tell my mother you were late as long as you don’t tell her how much wine I’ll be having with dinner tonight.” I offer up a flirty smile.
He lets out a quiet laugh and nods. “Agreed.”
The waiter is back with the bottle of wine and he quickly fills our glasses.
“Thank you,” I say as I pick up my glass and take a sip. “So, Max, tell me about yourself.”
He straightens his back and sits taller as his eyes move to focus on mine. “Well, my full name is Maxwell Weaver III. My family owns the Weaver Distillery. I’m currently working there as head of operations.”
“My mother told you to say all of this, didn’t she?”
He pauses his speech and his face goes slack. He was hoping I didn’t see through his well-thought-out speech to win me over with old family money, a name everyone knows, and the promise of a bright and luxurious future. “She did,” he finally admits, hanging his head.
I laugh and that causes his eyes to lift back up to mine. “She’s always doing this, you know.”
I roll my eyes. “She’s so determined to find me a suitable husband that she latches on to anyone who has a social status and forces them down my throat. No offense, Max, but this is never going to work out between us. It’s only our first time meeting and it already reeks of Rebecca Greer.”
“Well, that’s good news. I’m sort of engaged,” he says around a nervous chuckle.
That makes me burst out laughing. “Does my mother know?”
He laughs and nods. “She does, but she’s had it in her head that I would like you better than the woman I’ve been dating for the last four years, so . . .”
I laugh and take a sip of my wine. “This is a new low. Her list of men must be dwindling.” I place my glass of wine back on the table. “So, what does your fiancée think you’re doing right now?”
“I told her I had a business dinner—that the Greer family was looking to invest and I needed to convince you.” He shrugs one shoulder and offers up a crooked smile. “It was the only thing I could think of.”
“My mother . . .” I breathe out, running my fingers up and down the stem of my wine glass. “Does your mother do this to you?”
“She tried to. That is, until I finally met a woman on my own and brought her home. She hasn’t set me up for two years now.” His brows draw together as he thinks back.
“I thought you said you’ve been with her for four?”
“I did,” he says around a smile. “She didn’t give up until we were engaged. The wedding is set for this fall.”
I take a long sip of my wine. The more I drink, the funnier this whole thing is, but the funnier it gets, the more angry I feel. I can’t believe my mother set me up with a man who’s getting married in a few short months. I plan on giving her a piece of my mind. All this matchmaking has to stop. I don’t know why she’s so adamant about marrying me off. It’s not like it’s the early 1900s anymore. A single woman isn’t looked down on anymore. In fact, these days, we have a higher standing than ever.
She thinks something is wrong with me because I prefer to focus on my education and career. According to her, a woman my age should be focusing on finding a man, getting married, and having children.
“Look, you obviously have someplace better to be, so this fake meeting/date can wrap up at any time.” I reach for my purse to pay for the wine, but he holds up his hand.
“The way I look at it, this saved me from having to pick out wedding flowers—something I couldn’t care less about. So how about we continue with our meeting? And since this is now a business dinner, it’s on dear old dad.” He smiles. “Go ahead and order the most expensive steak on the menu. Hell, steak and lobster—surf and turf!”
I smile. “That’s nice of you, but I really would like to get out of here. It’s been a long day.” I pick up my purse and pull out my card.
He holds up his hand. “Don’t worry about paying for the wine. I’m going to stick around and have some dinner. If I get done with this too early, I’ll have to join my fiancée at the flower shop around the corner, and as you can probably guess, I really don’t want to do that.”
I laugh as I slide the card back into my purse. “Well, thank you.” I stand up and smooth out my dress.
He stands with me. “It was nice to meet you, Bianca. I hope you figure out a way to get your mother off your back.”
I laugh. “Well, I’ll probably have to get married before that’ll happen, but thank you for the wine.”
He takes my hand and shakes it gently before releasing me and allowing me to walk away.
I swear this is the last date I let my mother set me up on.
“I’m Chad, it’s nice to meet you. Your mother has said wonderful things about you.” He kisses the top of my hand with his wet lips, and while it makes me want to shudder, I refrain.
I force a smile into place. “Thank you. It’s nice to meet you, too.”
He releases my hand and pulls out my chair. I take a seat and he scoots me forward. I look around the restaurant that’s all too familiar. This is my mother’s favorite restaurant and she assumes it’s my favorite too, because every time we go out, we come here. Little does she know that I hate this place. I only pick it to make her happy.
“So, Chad, tell me about yourself,” I say. It’s the same way I start all of these dates.
“Gee,” he wiggles in his seat. “I don’t really know what to say.”
I reach for my glass of wine—the only thing that gets me through these dinners. “Just say whatever comes to mind. Where do you work? What do you like to do in your spare time? You’re not about to get married, are you?” I joke, but am also completely serious after that last date.
He lets out a laugh with a snort. “No, not getting married. I’m 32 and know I need to settle down, but I like my life, ya know? Plus, if I got married, that would leave Mother alone.”
I nod. I can completely agree with enjoying life, but the part about his mother is a little concerning. He’s cute in a nerdy way, but still not my type. His dark hair is parted down the middle and combed to either side. He’s wearing black plastic-framed glasses, and the only thing they’re missing is some white tape across the nose. And he’s wearing a bowtie with sailboats on it. If J.Crew were a human, it would be him. What’s wrong with my mother?
“I still live with my mother,” he confesses completely out of nowhere.
“You’re 32 and still live at home?” I ask, reaching for my wine again.
He nods. “Yeah, Mother’s getting older and needs some help around the house.”
I nod, trying not to be judgmental. “Well, that’s nice of you. So you moved back in?”
He shakes his head. “No, I never moved out. I was living in the pool house, but when she got sick, I moved back into my childhood bedroom to be closer to her.”
I motion for more wine. “So you and your mom are close?” I say, trying to be polite rather than feeling creeped out a bit.
“Oh, we’re very close. Mother likes it that way. She doesn’t like it when I spend too much time with friends or playing video games. She insists that I be with her for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We also have our evening snack and tea together in the living room as we watch reruns of I Love Lucy. It’s her favorite show.”
I nod and force my smile in place. “What’s your favorite show?” I ask, wanting to lead the subject away from his overbearing mother.
“Oh, anything Mother likes, usually.”
I nod and press my lips together. “What do you watch when you’re not with your mother?”
“Oh, I’m always with Mother. She wasn’t too happy about me missing dinner tonight. She said she was going to punish me and not let me have snack time tonight. But the joke’s on her! I’ll just have dessert here with you.”
I push my chair back and stand. “I’m sorry, Chad, but I have to go.” I don’t look back as I rush out of the restaurant alone.
This is absolutely the last time I let my mother set me up.
“So, Jason, what is it that you do? Tell me about yourself.” I pick up my glass of wine and force myself to sip it instead of tossing down the whole glass like I want to.
“Well, I really like animals.”
Okay, this is good. I get excited. “Really? That’s awesome. I have a friend who just recently opened up her own animal shelter. You two should meet.”
He smiles and nods excitedly, causing his red hair to bounce. “I would love to take in some foster cats if she needs the help. I already have seven of my own.”
My eyes double in size. “You live with seven cats?”
He nods. “Well, it started with just Sassy. She’s my oldest. But she got out one day and the next thing I knew, she was having kittens. So now I have her children: Razzles, Buttons, Bubbles, Sparkles, Rainbow, and Charlie.”
“Charlie. That’s different in comparison to the other names. Why did you choose that one?”
“Oh, I named her after my favorite movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
I swallow down the whole glass of wine. “A children’s movie?”
He smiles and nods. “It’s always been my favorite.”
I nods and press my lips together. “Of course.”
“So this friend of yours, does she have any cats that need fostering?”
I think my eyes bug out of my skull. “Don’t you think you have enough? I mean, she could probably take some off your hands.”
He gasps like I’ve slapped him across the face. “Oh no! My cats are family. They’re my children. I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of any of them. Just the other day, Bubbles sat on my chest when I was asleep. So when I opened my eyes, all I saw was her staring at me. I swear, it was like she was telling me she loved me. They all have their own personalities. It’s really cute.”
I nod and wave down the waiter for more wine.
“You always drink this much?” he asks, watching as the waiter pours more wine into my glass.
“Only on dates,” I say, lifting my glass.
“I don’t drink. I actually don’t allow alcohol in my house. It’s dangerous, you know? If you have a glass sitting on the table, the cats like to stick their head in and lap at the liquid. I only drink water, so they’re always free to drink anything that’s out.”
I feel my stomach roll. “You drink after your cats?”
He nods. “Cats are very clean animals.”
I push my chair back and stand, leaving without another word.
I’m serious this time. Never again.
Chapter Two — Brett
I’m dead asleep when my phone rings and pulls me back to reality. With a groan, I roll over and grab the phone off the table. “Yeah?”
“Someone sounds hung over.” I can tell immediately that it’s Harley. Once upon a time, I had it bad for Harley, but I couldn’t expect her to wait around for me, and while I was gone, she found the man she’s married to now. I had no choice but to let her go and hope someone better came along—someone better suited for me, that is.
“Nope, not hung over. Just tired,” I say, rubbing the sleep from my eyes as I sit up on the couch and look around my trailer. Trophies, ribbons, and photographs line the shelf on the far wall.
“How was the race last night?”
“Managed to pull third. Not exactly a win, but still pretty good considering how fucked my bike was.”
“Ah, I bet you’ll get ‘em next time. Where are you now?”
I shrug as I rub my eyes and try to think. “Georgia . . . I think.”
“When will you be home?”
“What’s with all the questions?” It’s too early to think this hard.
“I just want to see you and hang out.”
I snort. “Yeah, right. What’s the real reason?”
“Well, if you’re going to pull it out of me . . .” she starts. “I have someone I want you to meet.”
“No! No, Harley. No hookups.”
“Please?” she whines. “I swear, Brett. She’s perfect for you. She’s tall, tan, and thin but nicely stacked. She has long blonde hair, dark eyes, and she’s super smart.”
I hear my phone chime through the earpiece.
“There. I just sent you a picture.”
I pull the phone from my ear and look at the screen, tapping on the message and pulling up the picture. The woman in the photo is gorgeous. She’s wearing a wide smile, showing her perfectly straight white teeth. Her eyes are dark brown and they’re framed by long, thick lashes. And her blonde hair is a mixture of natural tones that give perfect highlights. Her cheekbones are high, her lips are plump, and her nose is straight. I’m convinced that this woman is a model. She’s too perfect not to be.
“Umm, hello?” I hear Harley shout through the speaker on the phone.
“Oh, sorry,” I say, pulling the phone back to my ear.
“Did you see the picture?”
“Yeah, I did.”
“And I’ll be home Friday.”
She squeals. “Perfect. We’ll all go out to dinner on Saturday. Sound good?”
I roll my eyes. I’ll probably hate myself for this later, but I say, “Fine.”
She giggles with my approval. “I’m so excited! See you this weekend!”
The phone goes dead and I let it fall from my ear onto the couch as I throw myself back. My eyes close as I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I know I just agreed to meet this woman, but my mind fills with all the same warnings it always does when I think about trying out the dating world again. It never ends well. And at this point, I don’t really expect it to. I mean, how could it? How could anything last when I’m never home, given that I’m always racing around the country? Back when I chose this career—when I was just a teenager—I never thought about love, life, or anything other than racing and being the best. Well, I got my dream, but somewhere along the way, the dream changed.
I’m at the top of my career, winning race after race. What I don’t have is anyone special to share it with. I see the other guys who race, and they all have wives and families. When I asked a few how they managed to maintain a relationship given the lifestyle we live, almost every single racer told me that his woman was the one who’d always been by his side. A good woman who’d waited for the man she loved.
When I started out, I broke up with the girl I was with, not wanting her to waste her life waiting around for me. Not to mention, I didn’t want anything holding me back. I haven’t been in a good relationship since. Every time I tried starting something up, it always ended in heartache—mostly for me. While I was on the road, whichever woman I was seeing was usually running around behind my back doing whatever she wanted. I stayed faithful but she didn’t. It only took a couple of times before I learned my lesson. Having a normal relationship with my lifestyle isn’t possible. Since then, I’ve stuck to casual dating. When I meet a woman, I make it clear that I’m not a relationship kind of guy—that I won’t be around for long, and I’m only meant to be a good time.
I keep my options open, but honestly, I haven’t found a woman who’s made me want to settle down and change my life. I thought that maybe Harley could be that girl. We met and hung out a few times, taking things slowly and building a friendship. When I returned home, I asked her on a date and she accepted. However, we didn’t make it far, because I was already too late. The man she’s now married to snuck in and stole her heart. As happy as I was for her, I was also turned off to relationships even more. A lot can change in the time I’m gone, making it impossible to grow a relationship at the usual pace.
While the woman in the picture is beautiful, I’ll make it known that I’m not available for any kind of long-term relationship. If she’s cool with that, then we can have some fun. However, if this woman is looking for the love of her life, I’ll get out of her way before either of us gets hurt.
“Come on, Brett! Let’s hit the track!” my manager, Bill, says from outside the trailer.
My eyes open and lock on the phone at my side. The picture is still on the screen, her smiling face watching me. I pick up the phone and stare at the picture one last time. My heart starts to race and a tingle forms in my stomach. I wonder where the weird feeling is coming from then shake my head clear as I push myself up, heading for the door.
The week passes by rather quickly with practice, travel, and races. We make our way closer and closer to Chicago with each passing day, and by Friday night, I’m walking back into the house I haven’t seen in months. Fortunately, I have a cleaning lady who keeps things up for me around here. She keeps the house clean, the bills paid, and the kitchen stocked. She knew I’d be home tonight, so when I open the fridge, I find a fresh steak waiting to be thrown on the grill.
I call a few friends to let them know I’m home as I grill and toss back beer after beer. Before I know it, a party is in full swing with half-naked girls swimming in the pool and more liquor being passed around than anyone could possibly drink. I enjoy catching up with old friends and kicking back. The night drifts into a fuzzy memory I know I’ll barely remember tomorrow.
I come stumbling out of my room and the brightness of the day blinds me. I stumble and bump into the wall.
“Whoa, Mr. Moore,” the cleaning lady, Susan, says, reaching out to steady me.
I manage on my own, placing my palm flat against the wall.
“You must’ve had one hell of a party here last night. The kitchen was trashed.” She laughs and the sound reminds me of my late grandmother.
“I’m sorry about that, Susan. You can leave it and I’ll get to it later.”
“It’s already taken care of, Mr. Moore.”
I turn and look at her, confused.
“It’s going on 3 p.m. I’m nearly done for the day.”
I shake my head, unsure of how I managed to sleep all day.
“Why don’t you go get cleaned up and I’ll run down and make you some lunch to kill that hangover?”
“Thank you, Susan.”
She laughs. “You’re welcome, dear.”
I swear, when I’m home, Susan takes care of me like I’m her own son. She cleans up after my parties, cooks, and even unpacks my bags from the road without me having to ask her to. I couldn’t ask for a better woman to share my life with. Too bad she’s my one and only staff member.
By the time I get out of the shower and exit the bedroom, the smell of food is filling the house and wafting up my nose. I walk into the kitchen and find the table set. There’s a plate with a BLT sandwich and crinkle-cut French fries. I plop down in the seat and start shoveling it in.
She laughs. “You act like you haven’t eaten in a week.”
I shrug. “I feel like I haven’t eaten in a week.,” I say around a mouthful.
“You want me to fix you another one?”
I shake my head. “No, thank you. I have dinner plans and don’t want to spoil it with eating too much.”
“Dinner plans, hmm?” She starts cleaning up the mess she made while cooking. “Anyone special?”
“Just a friend and her husband . . . and the friend she’s trying to set me up with.”
“Oh, a date?”
“Something like that.”
“Maybe this will be the last first date you’ll ever have to go on.” She sounds too cheerful. She of all people should know that it won’t lead to anything. It can’t.
I laugh and nearly choke. “Any woman who ends up with me will have to be crazy. It won’t last with my lifestyle. I mean, would you want to be married to a man like me who’s gone all the time?”
She shrugs. “You’re a good man, Brett. One of these days, a very special woman will notice that and it won’t matter how long you’re gone. She’ll wait.”
I roll my eyes at her motherly speech. “Yeah, right,” I mumble.
She comes over and sits beside me at the table. “You’ll see. When you’re least expecting it, it’ll happen. Is there anything you want me to do before I take off for the day?”
I shove the last fry into my mouth. “No, I think you’ve done more than enough for today. Thanks.”
She stands up, takes off her apron, and hangs it on the hook on the wall. “There’s wine in the fridge. There is also a nice cheese and fruit platter if you need a little snack later.”
I laugh. “You think I’m going to drink wine and snack on a cheese and fruit tray by myself?”
She smiles and shrugs. “You never know,” she says, walking out of the kitchen.
Harley ends up texting me her address and asks to meet there. I agree and make the drive over. I haven’t been to her new house yet, and pulling up into the drive, I’m amazed by the size of it. It looks like Harley did pretty well for herself after all. Right next to the house is the new shelter she’s opened up. The property is big and well-maintained. I park the car and climb out, making my way up to the door. Before I can even knock, the door opens and Harley is holding a baby to her chest with a big smile on her face.
“Hey, I’m so glad you made it!” She pulls me in for a hug and I’m careful not to crush the baby in her arms.
I laugh. “Who’s this?” I ask, motioning toward the baby.
She looks down at the baby and her eyes light up. “This is my son, Sidney, and Foster has Steph in the living room. Want to meet her while we wait for the sitter?”
I feel my brows lift. “Two babies?”
She nods with wide eyes. “Yeah, when Foster does something, he really does it,” she jokes, leading me into the living room.
I hold out my hand as I approach Foster. “Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you.”
He smiles and shakes my hand. “Likewise. Look,” he leans in, “thank you for going along with this plan of hers. She just has it in her head that you and B would be great together.”
I nod my head. “No problem. I mean, what else would I do with my time off?”
“So, Harley tells me you race motorcycles?”
I nod. “That’s right.”
“How do you get into something like that?”
“I was born into it. I think most people are. Growing up, I lived, breathed, and slept racing. If I wasn’t racing, I was working on my bike or trying to figure out how to get to the next race. I’m just one of the lucky ones, because it’s actually paid off.”
“Yeah, Brett’s always traveling to the next big race, which is why I think he and B would be perfect together. She’s so busy with work that it’s hard for her to have a relationship anyway. So in this case, neither of them would have to feel bad about being absent,” Harley says as she takes the baby out of Foster’s arms and lays her down on the baby bed that’s set up in a corner of the living room.
“So, what does Bianca do, anyway?”
“Oh, she’s, like, super smart,” Harley responds. “She’s been making robotic prosthetics. In fact, this dinner we’re going to is actually a charity dinner for her father’s company. One of the leaders is retiring, and they’ll be introducing Bianca as the newest member of the management team.”
I feel my eyes roll. “Seriously? You know how I feel about these big corporate parties.”
Harley shrinks down. “I know, but B needs someone by her side tonight. Her mom finds any single man she can and shoves him down her throat. Since this is her big night, she could use the deflection. That’s where you come in.”
“Sometimes the men her mom sets her up with aren’t even single,” Foster points out.
I look at Harley and she nods. “It’s true. She once set her up with an engaged man hoping he’d like B better than he liked his own fiancée.”
I laugh and shake my head. “What kind of shit are you getting me involved in?” I ask, rubbing a hand over my jaw.
“Oh, that’s nothing. I was supposed to marry her,” Foster says with a sheepish grin.
Harley laughs and I just stare at him, confused. “It sounds like they’re the weirdest family I’ll ever meet.”
Harley moves up to Foster’s side and slips her arm through his. “Yeah, but they’re worth it. You’ll see.”
I now feel more nervous than excited, but it’s too late to back out now. When the babysitter arrives, the three of us load up in the car and head toward this big business function. My stomach is in knots the whole way, but the moment we step inside, I’m handed a glass of scotch and my troubles melt away.