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Brad Price stared at the object in his hand, then at the tiny baby girl grinning up at him as she grabbed her foot and tried to stuff her tiny toes into her mouth. When had Sunnie lost her little pink sock?
Scratching his head, he scanned the floor. She had it on when they arrived at the Texas Cattleman's Club not two minutes ago. How could a baby barely six months old be so quick?
He once again glanced at the disposable diaper he held. What in the name of all that was holy had he gotten himself into, taking on the responsibility of raising his late brother's child? He knew about as much when it came to taking care of a baby as he did about piloting a spacecraft to the moon.
When he had made the decision to adopt Sunnie, he had even gone so far as to give serious consideration to dropping out of the race for the TCC presidency. But only briefly. He had made a commitment to seek the office, and he never went back on his word. Besides, he believed in the club and everything it stood for, and he intended to raise Sunnie to believe in those values, too.
The organization needed someone with a level head and a solid plan, and he was the man with both. He had several ideas on ways to bridge the ever-widening gap between the old guard and the younger members in order to unite the club and renew the solidarity that had always been an integral part of the TCC. It was something that had to be done to ensure its future and to continue the valuable services it had always provided for the residents of Royal, Texas.
But if he didn't figure out how to change Sunnie's diaper, and damned quick, it would all be a moot point. He would miss outlining his vision for the TCC at the annual general meeting, and for the first time in the club's history, a womanthe only woman ever to be allowed to join the organizationwould be voted into office by default. He'd be damned if he'd let that happen.
Closing his eyes, Brad counted to ten. He could do this. He had a master's degree in financial planning, had graduated from the University of Texas summa cum laude and in the years since had built a thriving career as a certified financial planner, amassing a sizable fortune of his own. Surely he could figure out something as simple as changing a baby's disposable diaper.
But where did he start? And once he figured out how to get the one she was wearing off and the new one in position, how the hell was he supposed to fasten it around her waist?
As he studied the sides of the diaper Sunnie was wearing, he tried to remember what his housekeeper, Juanita, had told him when she gave him a detailed lecture on diaper changing before she left him high and dry to rush off to Dallas for the birth of her third grandchild. Unfortunately, he had been preoccupied with putting the final touches on the campaign wrap-up speech he was supposed to give at today's meeting and barely heard the woman. In hindsight, he should have taken extensive notes or at the very least given the matter his undivided attention.
Just when he decided he was going to have to find one of the club's female employees and ask her to do the honors of changing his niece, he heard the door of the coat room open. "Thank God," he muttered, hoping it was someone who knew more about the intricacies of a disposable diaper than he did. "Would you mind giving me a hand here?"
"Having a bit of a problem, Mr. Price?" a familiar female voice asked. Relieved that help had arrived, Brad couldn't work up the slightest bit of irritation at the obvious humor in Abigail Langley's tone.
Turning to find his lifelong nemesis standing just inside the door, a knowing smile curving her full coral lips, Brad released a frustrated breath. They had been rivals for as long as he could remember and for the past several months bitter opponents for the coveted office of president of the TCC. At any other time her perceptive expression would have no doubt had him grinding his teeth. At the moment, he couldn't feel anything but gratitude.
"How are you at putting these things on a baby?" he asked, holding up the offending object.
Laughing, Abby hung up her coat. "Don't tell me the mighty Bradford Price has run into a problem he can't solve with his superior logic."
Not at all surprised that she took the opportunity to make fun of him, he gave her a sarcastic smile. "Cute, Langley. Now will you get over here and help me out?"
She walked over to stand beside the plush sofa, where his niece lay nibbling on her toes as she stared happily up at them. "You don't have the slightest clue what you're doing, do you, Bradford?"
Her use of his given name never failed to cause a slow burn deep in his gut. He knew she was using it to taunt him, much as she had done when they were in school. But he couldn't afford to retaliate. If he did she might not help him, and there was no point in denying the obvious anyway. They both knew he was in way over his head. Besides, arguing with her wouldn't get him any closer to getting the damned diaper changed.
"Isn't it apparent?" The familiar irritation he always felt when they were together had replaced his earlier relief at seeing her. "Now, are you going to help me or am I going to have to go in search of someone who will?"
"Of course I'll change Sunnie," she said, as she set down her purse and seated herself on the couch beside the baby. "But I'm not doing it to help you." She tickled the baby's rounded little tummy. "I'm doing it for this little angel."
He didn't care who Abby was doing it for, as long as his niece was changed and dry in time for him to make arrangements for someone to watch her while he gave his closing campaign speech to the TCC general membership. Then, when all of the candidates had finished speaking and were asked to leave the room for final comments from the members, he fully intended to take Sunnie home for a much-needed nap for both of them.
The day had barely begun and he was already exhausted. Taking care of a baby was proving to be a lot more work than he had anticipated. Aside from the feedings at the most god-awful hours of the day and night, there was so much to take along when they left the house, it was like moving.
"Why didn't you leave the baby with your housekeeper?" Abby asked as she tucked her long, dark red hair behind her ears and reached for the diaper bag Juanita had packed before leaving on her trip.
"She got a call early this morning that her youngest daughter has been scheduled to have a Caesarian delivery tomorrow. She's on her way up to Dallas to be there for the birth," he answered, absently. "She won't be back for a couple of weeks."
Fascinated by Abby's efficiency, he watched her line up baby wipes and powder, then lift Sunnie to place a white pad with pink bunnies on it beneath her. How did women automatically know what to do? Were women born with an extra gene that men didn't have?
That had to be the reason, he decided. He and Abby were the same age, and up until Sunnie came into his life they had both been childless. Yet taking care of a baby seemed to come as naturally to Abby as drawing her next breath, while he was at a loss as to what he should do about everything.
In what Brad would judge to be record time, Abby had the old diaper off of Sunnie and the new one in place. "These are what you use to fasten the diaper around her." She pointed to the tabs on the sides he hadn't noticed before. "They are a softer version of Velcro so as not to scratch her tender skin. All you have to do is make sure it's snug, but not too tight, then"
Fascinated by the sound of her melodic voice and wondering why he suddenly found it so enchanting, it took a moment for Brad to realize Abby had stopped speaking. "What?"
"Pay attention, Price. You can't be assured that someone will always be around to come to your rescue whenever Sunnie needs changing."
"I am paying attention." He had been listeningjust not to the crash course on diapering a baby that Abby had been delivering. He wisely kept that bit of information to himself.
Looking doubtful, she asked, "What did I just tell you?"
Abby had to have the bluest eyes in Texas, he decided as she stared up at him expectantly. They were the color of the blue bonnets that grew wild in the spring, and Brad couldn't help but wonder why he'd never before noticed how vibrant and expressive they were.
"Well, Mr. Price?" The diaper successfully changed, she picked up Sunnie and stood to face him. "Your niece and I are waiting."
He cleared his throat as he tried to remember what she had said. But the sight of her holding Sunnie, tenderly pressing her lips to the baby's soft cheek, was one Brad didn't think he would ever forget, and he couldn't for the life of him think of one single reason why he found it so compelling.
"Uh well let's see."
What the hell was wrong with him? Why all of a sudden was he having trouble concentrating? And why did his lapse of attention have to happen in front of
He never had problems focusing on a conversation. Why then, couldn't he think of anything but how perfectly shaped Abby's lips were and how soft they would feel on his skin?
"Get it snug. Fasten with Velcro. Avoid pinching tender skin," he finally managed with no small effort. "Got it." He gave himself a mental pat on the back for at least remembering that much.
"It took you that long to remember something this simple?" she asked, giving him an accusatory look. "Lucky guess."
"Yup." He shrugged. "But it doesn't matter. The important thing is that I got it right."
She shook her head. "You have to do better than that, Bradford. You can't just guess. You have to learn how to do these things for her." Abby slowly swayed side to side the way he'd seen many women do when they held a baby. "You're her daddy now. You've got to step up to the plate and hit a home run on this. Sunnie is depending on you to know exactly what you're doing and to do it when it needs to be done."
Abby was right. At times he found the responsibility of adopting his late brother's child and raising her as his own to be overwhelming. "Let me assure you, I'll do whatever it takes to see that Sunnie has the best of everything, including the care she needs," he said, irritated that she thought he would do anything less. "I think you know me well enough to realize that I never do anything halfway. When I commit to something, I'll see it through or die trying."
Staring at him a moment, she finally nodded. "Be sure that you do."
They both fell silent when Sunnie laid her little head on Abby's shoulder. It was obvious she was about to go to sleep.
As he watched, Abby closed her eyes and cuddled the baby close. "Don't ever lose sight of how blessed you are to have her in your life, Brad."
"Never." Something about her heartfelt statement and the fact that she had used the preferred variation of his name caught him off guard and without thinking he reached up to lightly run the back of his knuckles along her smooth cheek. "You're going to be a great mom someday, Abigail Langley."
When she opened her eyes, he wasn't prepared for the haunted look that clouded Abby's crystalline gaze. "I'm so sorry, Abby." He could have kicked himself for being so insensitive. It had barely been a year since her husband, Richard, passed away and Brad knew for a fact that they had being trying to start a family when the man died. "I'm sure that one day you'll have a family of your own."
She shook her head. "I wish that were true, but um " She paused to take a deep breath. " I'm afraid children aren't in my future."
The resigned tone in her voice had him nodding. "Of course they are. There will be plenty of time for you to have kids. You're only thirty-two, the same as me, and even if you don't meet another man you want to spend the rest of your life with, there are a lot of women choosing single motherhood these days."
She was silent a moment before she spoke again. "It's more complicated than meeting someone or choosing to be a single mother."
"Maybe it seems that way now, but I'm sure later on you'll feel differently," he insisted.
When she looked up at him, a single tear slowly slid down her smooth cheek. "It won't make a difference no matter how much time passes."
He couldn't understand her abject resignation.
"What's wrong, Abby?"
She stared at him for several long seconds before she answered. "I'm not able to have children."
It was the last thing he expected her to say, and it made him feel like a complete jerk for pressing the issue. "I'm really sorry, Abby. I wasn't aware " His voice trailed off. What could he say that wouldn't make matters worse?