I couldn’t do it. Cassandra Gregory was one of my biggest clients. She’d sent many more wealthy women my way too. But damn if I could leave Amanda at my apartment and walk into this woman’s beach house and screw her. It would be a fucking miracle if I could even get it up. The guilt of having lied to Amanda and left her there taking care of Daisy was bad enough. Remembering how good it felt to be inside Amanda and having her cling to me and call out my name while she found release was a whole other issue. No one else was going to measure up to that. I’d see her and feel wrong. I couldn’t do this.
I pulled my Jeep into the parking lot of Cassandra’s beach house. I was going to have to tell her something. Anything to put this off. I needed the money. Jimmy had another orthodontist appointment for his braces next week, and I needed at least a thousand dollars for that. Then I needed to get new windows put in the kids’ rooms. Two of them were cracked. Jimmy had said it was wetting the wall and floor when it rained. The last thing I needed was for the trailer to get a rotten floor.
My phone rang. I glanced down to see my mom’s name light up the screen.
Shit. Not who I wanted to talk to right now. But if I ignored her, she could go over to the apartment while I was gone and Amanda was there.
“What?” I said angrily into the phone. It was all her fault I was even in this predicament.
“Bring Daisy home. She’s better by now. And my car’s got a flat tire. I need new tires.”
“I’ll bring Daisy home tonight if I think she is okay. And if you want new tires, get a damn job.”
Stupid bitch hated for me to pay the bills, but she sure didn’t mind asking me for money.
“You want me driving around on those bad tires of mine with your brothers and sister? Fine. I’ll drive ’em to school. They hate the bus anyhow.”
It was a threat she’d keep because she was just that vicious.
I glanced up at the house in front of me. I needed the money. I always needed more money. I should have forced the prick who Dewayne had invited to the poker game to pay me cash and not taken that damn flat-screen. It wouldn’t have been enough cash, but it would have helped.
“I’ll get your tires. But you better not drive the kids anywhere until I do.”
I hung up the phone and threw it in the passenger seat. Shutting off all emotion and locking any feelings I had for Amanda deep inside, I opened the door to my Jeep and stepped outside. I’d been doing this for three years now. I could do this. I had to.
Three hours later I parked my Jeep back at my apartment and got out, slamming the door behind me. I’d had enough time on the drive home to get very worked up. I kicked at my tire and slammed both hands down on the hood. Deep breaths. I needed to take deep breaths. My chest hurt, my stomach was twisted in knots, and the fuck money in my pocket was heavier than it had ever been. Before I’d let Amanda in, this had been easy. Now it was sick. I was a screwed-up son of a bitch, literally. I needed to feel whole again. I needed to be near Amanda. I stalked across the parking lot and made my way up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Seeing her and holding her would make it better.
The woman I’d just been paid well to entertain flashed in my mind, and I froze. I couldn’t touch Amanda right now. I had to get clean. I needed a shower. The hottest fucking shower I could stand. Amanda didn’t need to be close to the cheap, meaningless sex I’d just had.
I opened the door and walked in. The television in my room was on, and I could hear the girls talking. Before either of them realized I was home, I headed for the bathroom.
I heard the click of the front door closing and watched the bedroom doorway for Preston to appear. He didn’t. Glancing over at Daisy, who was now watching the television again after explaining to me that this girl was a bunch of kids’ nanny and a couple of them were adopted, I eased off the bed.
“I’ll be back,” I assured her when she turned her head full of curls to look at me. She smiled and went back to watching her show.
I closed the bedroom door on my way out and walked into the living room. The sound of the shower answered my question. Preston had come home from the gym all sweaty, and he wanted to get clean first. That was a shame. I’d have liked to see him sweaty.
I went over to the fridge and pulled out the fried chicken and biscuits that Daisy had helped me make earlier. Preston was sure to be hungry after being at the gym for three hours. I turned on the oven and put a chicken breast and a leg along with a couple of biscuits on a cookie sheet, then slid it inside. I wasn’t a fan of the microwave. I was more than positive it was the cause of all kinds of health problems.
The water in the shower turned off, and the butterflies in my stomach started up as I waited anxiously to see him again. It was ridiculous that I was so excited about it. He’d only been gone three hours.
When the bathroom door opened, Preston stepped out with nothing but a towel around his waist. There were no words for this. Nothing compared. His eyes met mine and a smile touched his lips.
“Hey you,” he said as he walked over to me. I was cemented to my spot in the kitchen.
“Hey,” I managed to reply. Keeping my eyes off his body and on his face was another problem.
“Something smells good.” He looked over at the oven, then back at me. “Did you cook?”
Preston lowered his head until his mouth hovered above mine. “Sexy as hell and she cooks. Dayum, baby, it don’t get no better.”
Giggling, I stood on my tiptoes to kiss his mouth before stepping back and checking on his chicken.
“Daisy helped me,” I told him.
“Is that so? I think you need to check on it again,” he said with a wicked grin on his face as I stood back up.
“It needs a few more minutes,” I explained.
“I was just admiring the view.”
I let my gaze travel down his damp, barely covered body, then back up again. “I could say the same,” I told him.
Preston’s eyes went dark and smoldering instantly. “You look at me like that again, and I’ll haul you off to the bathroom and take you up against the sink.”
I took a step toward him. “Is that a threat or a promise?”
Preston reached for my waist and jerked me against him, when the bedroom door opened. Daisy came skipping out, smiling.
“Pweston,” she called out in greeting, and then a small frown touched her forehead. “Wheyah is youwah clothes?”
I covered my mouth to stifle my laugh and reached for a pot holder to get Preston’s food out of the oven.
“Well, Daisy May, I need to go get some. I just took a shower to get the nasty off me.”
“We cooked you dinnah,” she said happily, pointing to the food I was putting onto a plate for him.
“And it looks delicious. Thank you, girls, for taking care of me. I’ll go get some clothes on, then come eat.”
“Good idea,” Daisy agreed.
I watched Preston walk toward the door to his room, and the view of him in his towel was just as nice from the back. I needed a fan.
“Did you tell him about the peanut buttah pie yet?” Daisy asked in a whisper after Preston closed the door.
“Nope. I thought I’d let you surprise him with it. Since you did all the hard work on it.”
Daisy clapped her hands and did a little happy dance. There was no way she was going to be able to let him eat all his meal before she pulled that pie out of the fridge.
“Why don’t you help me fix him a drink?”
Daisy ran to the dishwasher and got out a clean glass. She handed it up to me. “He likes to dwink root beeah, I think. ’Cause Jimmy said he dwinks beeah, but I don’t think it’s the kind my momma dwinks. He don’t like it when she dwinks that stuff.”
Bless her heart. She was so little and knew so much already. I wasn’t about to be the one to tell her that Preston did in fact drink beer. But I also knew there was not going to be any root beer in this kitchen.
“How about the sweet tea I made earlier? You think he’d like that?” I hoped so, because that was what he was getting. I opened the fridge and shoved the Bud Lights to the back of the fridge and moved the orange juice in front of them before Daisy noticed.
“It’s yummy sweet tea. I think he will,” she replied.
I finished pouring his tea and fixed him a plate at the table with Daisy’s help just in time for him to come strutting out of his room in a fitted light-blue T-shirt that matched his eyes, and a pair of low-slung jeans. That look should be illegal.
His feet were bare and tanned. I hadn’t paid much attention to them before, but now I knew even his feet were sexy.
“Should I stand still until you’re done?” Preston teased. I snapped my head up and met his amused gaze. “Don’t let me stop you. I was enjoying it. Please continue.”
I couldn’t help it. I laughed. He’d caught me ogling him.
“You dress like that, and it’s hard not to look,” I replied, and turned away from him to unload the dishwasher.
“What’s wong with his clothes?” Daisy asked, confused.
I opened my mouth to tell her nothing, but Preston beat me to it.
“Nothing, Daisy May. I just think Manda may like the way I look in my clothes.”
My head shot up and his twinkling eyes met mine.
“If she does, then you should weah them all the time. She’s sweet and fun and pwetty, and you can bwing hewah with you when you come see us.”
The excited little voice made me want to go hug her tightly and assure her she’d see me again. She still hadn’t said a thing about her mother or even mentioned going home. That said more than any words she could have said. It broke my heart.
“That’s a good idea, Daisy May. Maybe I should wear this every day. Might get Manda to stick around a little while. She and I could come get you and the boys and take you to get a burger sometime.”
Daisy jumped up excitedly on the balls of her feet. “Yes, yes, please.” She turned back to me. “Do you like him in otha clothes, owah just those?” The sincerity of her question made me smile. She was really going to campaign to get Preston to wear that outfit every day just so she could see me again. If she hadn’t already edged her way into my heart, she’d have done so then.
“Actually, Daisy, I think he looks nice all the time. He just caught me looking this time.”
Daisy’s eyes went big, and a grin broke out on her face when she looked back at Preston. “She likes you, and she’s weally, weally pwetty and fun.”
Daisy was selling me to Preston. That might have been the sweetest thing ever.
“She smells real nice too, and I have a thing for that pretty blond hair of hers,” Preston added, leaning back in his chair and studying me.
“She does smell good,” Daisy agreed. “And hewah sweet tea is yummy.”
Preston nodded. “Yeah, she has all kinds of stuff that is yummy.”
I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing, and leaned a hip against the counter to watch the two of them study me.
“And she can sing, too. She singed me all kinds of songs.”
Preston’s eyes went wide at Daisy’s statement. Dang it. I hadn’t meant for her to tell Preston
I’d sung to her. She’d asked me to, and I figured no one had ever sung to her before. I’d let her crawl up into my lap, and I’d sung her every song she’d asked me to.
“Really?” Preston asked with a mischievous smile on his face. “Hmm. I didn’t know that. I guess that will be the deciding factor for me. Amanda will have to sing for me before I decide if I want to keep her around.”
Daisy seemed pleased with this. “Yay! You will keep hewah. She sings weal pwetty.”
I already dreaded the moment he got me alone.
Preston’s phone rang, and he tensed up immediately. The playful look on his face was gone. Who was he expecting?
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, then let out a sigh. “I’m bringing her home in a little while. Let me eat first.”
Oh no. It was his mom. I wasn’t ready to give Daisy back to that woman.
He put the phone down and looked over at Daisy. “Momma is ready for you to come home, Daisy May. Why don’t you go get your stuff together while I finish up?”
Daisy’s little face fell, but she didn’t argue. She nodded and went to the bedroom.
I watched her until she was out of sight, then looked back at Preston. “Does she have to go?” I asked in a low voice.
Preston frowned and nodded. “Yeah.” He didn’t like it either.
“You think she’ll be okay? Will your mom remember to give her the antibiotics every day? Because it is real important that she take them until they’re gone.”
“Jimmy will make sure she gets all of it. He’s good with stuff like that.”
Tears stung my eyes, and I had to walk away before I started crying and Daisy saw me. I went to the bathroom and turned on the faucet to mask my sniffling. The idea of sending Daisy back to that old, dirty trailer with a momma who didn’t care was horrible.
“Hey.” Preston opened the door to the bathroom and stepped inside. “Come here.” He pulled me into a hug and rested his chin on my head. “I know this sucks, but I promise you, she’ll be fine. I’m going to make sure you get to see her again. Heck, if you’ll stop crying, I’ll get her a phone too so you two can talk.”
I nodded. I liked that idea. “Okay.”
“Okay you want me to get her a phone?” he asked.
Preston chuckled. “Done. Now stop crying. I check on them more than once a week.”
I didn’t want to make him feel like he was failing them when it was obvious he was doing everything he could to take care of them. If he had a real job, I didn’t know what it was. He had school and baseball. Over the years he’d had some side jobs, but nothing that stuck around long. Somehow he got money. I’d started to ask him about it when the bathroom door opened and Daisy stood there frowning up at us.
I couldn’t let her know why I’d been crying. I smiled and stepped out of Preston’s arms. “Nothing. I just got something in my eye and came in here to get it out.” I reached back and turned the water off.
“Why was Pweston hugging you?”
The kid didn’t miss anything.
“I was getting it out for her,” Preston replied.
Daisy seemed to be okay with this answer, so she nodded. “I got my stuff weady to go.”
“All right, my Daisy May, let me finish eating, and then we will go.”
“But what about his supwise?” Daisy asked me looking at the refrigerator hopefully.
“I think now would be an awesome time for his surprise,” I replied, and she dropped her bag and ran over to retrieve the peanut butter pie out of the fridge. Preston shot me a questioning look and I just grinned.
“I did all the hawd stuff. Just ask Manda,” Daisy informed him as she held out the peanut butter pie toward him with pride.
“You made me a pie?” Preston asked with awe in his voice as he bent down to her level.
“Yep, I did. Peanut Buttah.”
Preston bent over and kissed her cheek. “I bet that’s gonna be the best peanut butter pie I’ve ever had.”
Daisy beamed up at him, and at that moment, Preston Drake was absolutely perfect.