Alpha’s Nanny, page 1part #4 of Bears of the Wild Series
Bears of the Wild
Text Copyright © 2019 by Lola Gabriel
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.
First printing, 2019
Secret Woods Books
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How did it never get any more organized, this morning routine? Every time Ash thought he’d found a little life hack, every time he packed the diaper bag the night before, or chopped and packed all of Penelope’s snacks for the week, or bought three of the same blankies in case he couldn’t find one, something new went wrong. Or rather, Penelope changed. She changed her sleeping schedule. She wanted her piggy and not her blankie. She grew seemingly overnight and needed a new diaper size. Or she kept him from eating dinner by needing constant attention before bed, so he ate all her chopped fruit and goldfish crackers instead.
Penelope was unworried by her father’s frantic running around. She was chewing a board book and watching him. She looked a little skeptical, even, like she was thinking her father should just ‘chill out.’ Unfortunately, Ash had to get to work, and he couldn’t find her left shoe. She’d just had a growth spurt, and only one pair fit.
“Pen,” Ash said, sitting down on his haunches to be at her level, “did you put your shoe somewhere?”
Penelope smiled. Her hand was half in her mouth. She shook her head. She wasn’t great at the whole talking thing yet, but she definitely understood most of what her father said to her, he was almost sure of it.
“Are you sure?” Ash asked. Penelope didn’t like the Mary Janes that still fit her. They were her first dress shoes, and she said, “Ow,” when they were put on, though Ash had looked at her lovely tiny ridiculous feet, and they didn’t nip anywhere and were certainly the right size. The harsh reality of growing up: you went from cloth shoes to shoes with buckles and soles.
“Bye, bye, shoe,” Penelope said, and she took her hand from her mouth and waved it. She’d done something with the damn shoe.
Ash looked at his watch. He hated being outsmarted by a not-even-two-year-old, but she could be astonishingly cunning. And she hid things at her level. His wallet showed up behind the radiator, for example, rather than down the top of it where he had automatically looked before cancelling all his cards.
“Daddy book!” Penelope had said when she pulled it out to give it back to him, a few hours too late. Most of her books weren’t much longer than the three sections of his wallet.
Ash didn’t have time to find his daughter’s shoes. This was clear. Her diaper was clean, her snacks were packed, and she was dressed for the weather—apart from the shoes. It would have to do. He picked her up and balanced her on his hip, grabbed her diaper bag, opened the front door, then remembered he also needed his own stuff and doubled back. Penelope was curling his dark hair around her sticky fingers and trying to put his ear in her mouth.
“Thanks for the kisses,” Ash said, “but let Daddy concentrate.” He picked up his bag, half-ran out the door, and struggled to lock it behind him.
“No kiss. Nom, nom, nom,” Penelope said, laughing again. The irony wasn’t lost on Ash. The kid was eating some part of him… time, social life, sanity. Of course, he wouldn’t swap her. But he was late to drop her off now. He really hoped the stroller was in the trunk of the car, where he was almost sure he had left it.
Ash was meeting Sandra, Penelope’s nanny, at Art’s Lattes, a coffee shop a few minutes’ drive away. He’d known Sandra for a long time, he trusted her, and she was good enough with Penelope. But no one quite filled that second parent hole.
In the car, with the baby in her car seat, Ash closed his eyes and breathed deeply and pressed play on the nursery rhymes playlist.
“The wheels on the bus drive Daddy insane, Daddy insane, Daddy insane…”
How long would it be until Penelope picked up on his jokes? Maybe she’d find it funny in a while. It had been a whiplash-fast change for him; harried single father, it didn’t seem he’d had enough time to get used to it. But get used to it, he had. Hadn’t had an option. And anyway, Penelope was worth it.
Ash did an awful job parking in front of Art’s Lattes, shoved some coins into the meter without even looking at it, and unbuckled Penelope. She put her arms around his neck and held tight, knowing he was about to leave her for the day. And imagine how long a day is, a whole eight or nine hours, when you’re less than seven hundred days old. The bell on the door dinged lightly as Ash used his shoulder to push his way in.
“Sandra here?” he asked the barista, a brunette who looked about twenty-five and was wearing a tank top, her hair tied back, with coffee smears on her apron. She shook her head.
“Not yet,” she called over the hiss of the milk she was steaming.
Ash tried to take his phone out of his pocket, but Penelope was squirming. He looked around for somewhere to put her safely. The barista finished the heart on her latte and walked out to bring it to a table, set it down, and then came over. She held out her arms.
“Can I help?” Ash smiled, passing her the restless child.
“Hi,” Penelope said and turned her attention to this new hair, pulling it roughly out of its ponytail.
“I’m sorry,” Ash said. The barista smiled.
“No bother!” She gently removed Penelope’s fingers from her hair. “You want a story, huh?” she asked. “Or do you want to see where we make cakes?”
Ash had three missed calls, all from Sandra. He cussed under his breath as he hit return call. Damn it. Sandra had her own family issues, but she’d been flaking a lot lately. Penelope was attached, and they were connected, but there was a limit.
“Hi,” Sandra said when she answered. “I’m so sorry, but Morag was out all night—”
“Okay,” Ash said. “It’s fine, but I don’t know if—”
Sandra got there first. “I don’t think this is going to work out, Ash, I’m so sorry. You know I, if anyone, know what you’re going through, but my own kids are getting to that age… coming up on their first changes… I can’t handle all of it…”
Ash sighed as quietly as he could. “Sandra, it’s fine. I know you love Penelope. But could you just do today, until I find someone else?”
He got it, sort of. He had no idea what having teenage children would be like. Right now, he had to deal with his toddler, one step at a time. “Okay. Good luck, Sandra. Tell me if you need any help.”
He looked around. The barista—Hannah, her name was Hannah—was explaining the origin of coffee beans to Penelope, and Penelope seemed perfectly happy. When Hannah looked around for a moment, Ash mouthed, Thank you! Hannah smiled and made a no worries gesture.
Ash was meeting with an architecture firm today, about building a new park and community center on a lot that had plenty of more lucrative bids. He liked the idea. He couldn’t be late—they were a very up-and-coming firm, and their work would do something for the unused space.
He called his sister. It took her a little while to pick up. “Avery?”
“Yeah? Be quick, bro, I’m driving.”
“Can you watch Pen?” Ash asked, tapping his foot in a way he hated even in himself.
“When?” Avery asked, sounding like she was only half listening.
“Now,” Ash said. “Today… all day?” Avery laughed.
“Sorry,” she said, “childless sister here. We’re in Vancouver. Amy and I landed about an hour ago and just picked up the rental car.”
“Yeah, baby!” It was the voice of his sister’s girlfriend, Amy, behind her. “Sorry, Ash,” Amy called next, “of course we would if we were in town.”
“I can’t talk and drive,” Avery said. “Hope you find someone. Where’s Sandra? Wait, tell me later, this is our exit.”
After his sister had hung up, Ash closed his eyes and put his phone back in his pocket. He ran his hand through his dark hair. His stubble was a little beyond a five o’clock shadow, too. He hadn’t intended to be doing this alone.
“Hey,” Hannah the barista said from behind the counter, still bouncing Penelope on her hip. Thank goodness the coffee shop was quiet; it was probably because of its stupid name, Ash thought.
“Yeah?” he called, heading over to take Penelope back. Hannah kept her, smiling at her, looking like she was enjoying interacting with a child.
“She’s lovely,” she said. “And obviously, I heard all of that. This is a bit unorthodox, but I might have a temporary solution.”
Ash relaxed a little, looking at her quizzically. “I’m listening.”
“I have a friend,” Hannah said, allowing Penelope to bend her thumb back and forth. “We met when I was working down in California. Her name’s Easton, and she loves to do the unexpected. So she moved to Sitka! And she’s great, trustworthy, and has experience with kids. Was a nanny to the rich and famous in Los Angeles. Why she gave that up, I’ll never know… Hi, Pen, oh, yeah, nice teeth, but don’t bite. Nooo.”
Ash was leaning on the counter. He was so tired.
“What’s the catch?” he asked.
Hannah was looking at Penelope, making faces, when she said, “Human. But what’s Penelope gonna do? Talk? I mean, a little, but no details, right?”
Ash looked Hannah up and down. “I don’t know.”
“You promise she’ll be good with Pen? And actually turn up, for as long as I need her?”
“Definitely,” Hannah said. “Really, she’s great.”
Ash looked skeptical. Then he looked at his watch, sighed, and said, “How soon can she get here?”
Hannah smiled. “Already texted her.”
Easton was so cold. It wasn’t even winter here, and she was so cold. She had been softened by those southern California summers.
The bell of the coffee shop let out a ding as she shouldered her way in, pulling off her gloves.
“Easton!” Hannah greeted her. “Overdressed as usual. Though not exactly fashionable…”
“I’m wearing a cocktail dress under all this,” Easton said. Then she turned to look at the harried-looking, suited man sitting at one of the tables. “I’m not really,” she added. “To be clear. I’m wearing practical clothes I don’t mind getting snot or spit or whatever on.” She glanced at Hannah. Hannah nodded. Then the suited man was standing.
“Sensible,” he said. “I’m Ash, and this…” He looked at the empty pram beside him. “Damn it! Hannah, where did Penelope...?”
Hannah laughed behind the counter.
“She wandered back here,” she said. “You looked busy with your emails.” Hannah bent over and scooped up an adorable, pink-cheeked, curly-haired child. “She was playing with measuring cups,” Hannah said, removing said tools from the toddler’s hands. The baby looked like she was thinking about crying, but then she turned to look at the new face in the room. She tilted her head to the side quizzically.
“Hi,” Easton said, “I’m Easton, I’ll be looking after you today!”
The suited man—Ash, Easton corrected herself in her head—was pulling on his jacket.
“I promise I’m not a terrible father,” he said. “Just very busy and let down by my nanny.”
“They’re slippery, kids.” Easton waved a hand. “Hard to keep track of. Though I will keep perfect track of her, of course.” Ash smiled.
“I’m sure you will. Look, I have to get going, preferably at least ten minutes ago. Can I…?” He pulled keys from his pocket and shoved them at Easton. She grabbed them. “It’s 411 Saltville Close.” He looked at Hannah. “Can you tell her how…?”
Hannah nodded. “Run along, Alph… Ash.”
As Ash left and the door dinged closed, Easton looked her friend, her eyebrows raised. “Who’s Alph?”
“I don’t have a clue,” Hannah said. “Brain fart. Can you take this child?”
Easton walked across the shop, and Hannah handed her the baby over the countertop.
“Hi, baby,” Easton said, holding the girl up and making faces so she laughed. “I’m Easton. Oh, you’re Penelope? So nice to meet you. Does anyone call you Pen? That sounds easier. Can I call you Pen? Huh? Little ballpoint?”
Hannah was wiping the counter.
“Where am I going, Hannah?” Easton asked. “And is this gonna be, like, a long-term gig? You know I’m in need.” Hannah looked up and shrugged.
“Maybe,” she said. “He definitely needs someone reliable, but he’s a big shot. Very particular, you know. You’d have to impress him. She’s his world,” she added, nodding at the child now on Easton’s hip.
“Easy,” Easton said. “Pen and I are going to be best friends.” She turned to the kid. “Aren’t we, sweet stuff? Now, what do you wanna do with the day, huh? Shall we go home so you can show me your favorite toys?”
Penelope nodded, a little shy.
Easton had to drive down several streets she’d never been to before, and she eventually arrived at the driveway of a large house that overlooked the sea and the islands that made up half the town.
“Damn, little one,” she said, unclipping Penelope from her carrier. “Daddy’s rich, huh? Don’t worry, I’m used to dealing with it. If he lets me keep watching you, you’ll end up so well balanced, I promise. Plenty of playing in the mud.” She put the little girl down as she wiggled the key in the lock. By the time she had the door open, the kid wasn’t in front of her anymore.
“Wow, you’re fast,” Easton said as she spotted her in the flowerbed by the edge of the drive.
“Flars.” Penelope smiled a huge smile, some teeth still not in, and pointed at the ornamental flowers she was surrounded by.
“So clever!” Easton replied, running over to her. “Does your daddy like flowers? Should we pick some for him?” Penelope nodded her head enthusiastically, her brown curls bouncing. “Okay,” Easton encouraged. “Which flowers would he like best? Oh, not too many the same… he’ll like lots of colors… and to still recognize his front garden…”
In the huge kitchen—complete with a granite-topped kitchen island and a huge glass wall with sliding
“There we go.” Easton placed the mug on the marble countertop. “Daddy will be so pleased!” Penelope laughed and jumped up and down.
“More!” she cried. “More flars!” Easton smiled, shook her head, and scooped the kid up.
“Maybe later,” she said. “How about now, you show me your room? You have a room, right?”
“Yes,” Penelope said, sounding indignant. “Room up.” She pointed at the ceiling.
“Would you maybe show me?” Easton asked. “If I’m good?”
Penelope nodded enthusiastically and pointed commandingly toward the main hall, where the stairs were. They had wide banisters, almost like a set of unfurling wings. Easton shook her head. She could almost still be in LA.
Up the staircase and in the upper hallway, the walls were home to family photos: an older couple she assumed were Ash’s parents, though there were also black and white pictures of people who looked like them in clothes that seemed too old-fashioned. Maybe there had been 1950s versions of those dumb ‘get photos taken dressed up as a gangster’ kind of place. There were a few photos of a woman with wavy brown hair and piercing eyes. Penelope had enough of her coloring that Easton knew who she must be, though she had similar expressions to her father. Intense, Easton thought, from only having met her dad once.
Other author's books:
- Code of the Alpha: Shifter Romance CollectionMate's Kiss: Royal Dragon CurseAlpha's Nanny: Bears of the WildMate's Baby: Royal Dragon CurseBear’s Fake Bride
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