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"I'm desperate, you're my only hope. They're killing me over here. They don't listen to what I say, and they've completely trashed the place." Trey Evans looked around miserably at his once immaculate house. He didn't even recognize it. It had only been five hours but already his house was a complete mess. Trey thrived on order and control, and losing both at the same time was a nightmare for him. "I need you here now, please," he pleaded.
She didn't even try to veil the I-told-you-so amusement in her voice. "I thought you told me you planned for this. You said that you had everything under control. You had a backup plan in place just in case, remember? And, if I'm not mistaken, you also said that you didn't need my help."
"I did have a backup plan. I called an agency a few days ago. I interviewed three women yesterday afternoon."
"And?" she prompted.
"And unfortunately I got the distinct impression that they were more interested in taking care of me than the twins. I think they considered the interview more of an invitation to fill the position by my side permanently." She laughed out loud. "This isn't funny. Kelly, I need you over here now," he insisted more firmly.
"Trey, I told you the last three times you called, I can't do it. It's impossible."
"This is," Kelly Rhames, his assistant, said, seeing the flight attendant opening the breezeway to the waiting plane. "Trey, I'm boarding a flight in exactly one minute. I can't just tell everyone to stop, hold everything, while I pop over to your house."
"I'll get you a private jet to take you wherever youwant to go," he promised desperately.
"I can't," she said.
"Sure you can," he cooed, turning on the charm.
"Trey, this was your idea, remember, a three-week cruise in the Mediterranean. We've been looking forward to this for weeks. I'm not going to pass it up."
"I'm not asking you to pass it up. I wouldn't ask such a thing, you know me better than that. But I had no idea this was going to happen."
"You can run a multimillion-dollar company, and move millions around like Monopoly money, but when it comes to two toddlers, you panic."
"I'm not panicking."
"Yes, you are. You got yourself into this," Kelly said, more than a little amused by the situation.
"I know, I know. I thought it was going to be easy."
"You are kidding, right?" she asked rhetorically.
"You wouldn't believe what I've been going through this morning. There are toys everywhere. They don't listen to me and every surface in the house has messy, sticky fingerprints. And I have no idea how they got Cheerios in the DVD player." Kelly chuckled. "It's not funny. I need help," Trey said.
"You certainly do, but not from me."
"Okay fine, then find someone for me."
"You just can't order up a human being, particularly one with the credentials you need," his assistant said. "Besides, it's a holiday weekend, everybody's—"
"Kelly, I don't care what you have to do, or how much it costs, I need somebody over here now. I can't do this alone."
"Sorry, Trey, you're on your own."
"Am I gonna have to make this a direct order and put your job on the line?" he threatened sternly. "I'm serious." The conversation was over as far as he was concerned. End of discussion. He didn't want to hear excuses or promises or anything else. He was used to an immediate response, and he didn't like waiting for anything or anybody. All he wanted was results. And that's always what he got. Except…
Kelly chuckled, knowing, of course, that Trey was kidding. "You know that won't work with me or anyone else that knows you well. You may be the Iceman to the rest of the world, but not to those who really know you."
"Fine, Ms. Rhames," he began, "I'm making this a direct order. Your job is on the line here. I don't care what you have to do, no excuses, just do it."
Of course she ignored the empty threat. She'd been his personal assistant for too long to take him seriously. She turned, hearing the first boarding announcement, and saw her husband motion to her. "Trey, relax, you'll do fine. Few bachelors get the opportunity to test the waters like this. Just calm down and enjoy the ride. I gotta go. Take care. And before you ask, I'm not calling you and don't call me. See you when I get back." She hung up.
Trey was stunned. He stood there a few seconds with the phone still at his ear. He couldn't believe this. Saying no to him wasn't exactly a brilliant career strategy. Few people had even dared try something so risky. Kelly did it repeatedly.
But to her credit, she kept him in check. She reminded him of his principles, and was his very own Jiminy Cricket at times. How their relationship came to be what it was was beyond him. One day she just stood up for herself and talked back, even scolded him. Since then, she was in charge and it seemed he worked for her.
The phone rang. He answered. "All right, fine, I'll see what I can do, but no promises." She hung up again.
He smiled then nodded his head assuredly. If anyone would come through for him she would. He tossed his cell phone onto the sofa. Frustration shadowed his face as he looked down at the seemingly innocent twins grabbing on to his legs. If anything, he'd learned that the sweet sparkle in their eyes belied the mischievousness of their actions.
"What did you do? Better yet, what are you about to do?" he asked suspiciously. The question was rhetorical, of course. At sixteen months the twins spoke just enough to communicate their needs. They also seemed to have a language that only they understood. He was outnumbered, two to one. They had the advantage and they knew it.
"Whatever it is, don't even think about it," he warned. With playful expressions, they smiled back at him. They giggled then dashed off in two different directions. "Oh, no, you don't, not this time. I got you." He quickly scooped up his cousins and held them securely under his arms. They giggled and squirmed, trying to free themselves, but his grip was tight.
"What was I thinking?" he muttered, bemoaning his current situation. His head was pounding. He was jet-lagged, overworked and just plain exhausted. Maybe hanging out with his friends all night, then flying in at dawn, wasn't one of his better ideas. Of course, volunteering to watch the twins for a week was another huge blunder. He still had no idea what made him do it. Yes, he did.
"What, you think I can't do it?" Trey had bragged a month earlier after the monthly poker game with his family and friends. He looked around the table. It was obvious that no one took him seriously.
"Give up," Raymond teased, "you're not gonna win."
"Let's just say you'll never have to prove us wrong. The likelihood of your babysitting skills actually being tested is remote at best," Tony said as he fanned out the cards in his hand.
"What do you mean remote?" Trey asked. Faced with a challenge, he never backed down.
"Well," J.T began, "that would mean Madison, Tony, Mom, Dad, Kennedy, your mother, Mamma Lou, Juliet, Regina, Hope, Faith, Alyssa, Raymond, Randolph, Juwan, Colonel Wheeler, Dennis and about two hundred and fifty other people on the list were unavailable. But don't worry, you're babysitting just after a dog catcher in Arizona named Pete." They all laughed.
"Wait, wait," Trey complained, "how in the world is Raymond so high up on the list? He doesn't have kid skills, either."
"I do have a medical degree," Raymond informed him.
"Plastic surgeons aren't real doctors. They hand out cosmetics at counters," Trey said. Tony laughed. Raymond nearly fell over laughing. Juwan just shook his head as Randolph cleared his throat and looked away.
"I can't believe this, my own cousin's gonna hang me out like that, huh?"
"Come on, Trey, you're only concerned with business," J.T. said. They all nodded. "Taking care of toddlers—twins—is a full-time job. That means no distractions."
Trey eyed them indignantly. The fact that they had absolutely no faith in his babysitting skills was insulting. Never one to back down, he stepped up to the challenge.
It was the last hand, the most important one of the night. It was never for cash. Everyone anted up, tossing in a task they either needed done, or immensely disliked—painting the garage, cleaning windows, detailing cars, cleaning out the attic or, in this case, babysitting. Everyone folded except Trey and Tony. Tony won. When Madison found out days later, she was livid with both of them.
"Trey, are you sure you're ready for this?" Tony asked several weeks later.
"I still can't believe you wagered babysitting the twins in a poker game," Madison said sternly to her husband. "What exactly were you thinking?"
"I had a full house," Tony said. Madison looked at him menacingly. "Okay, okay, it was all in fun, Madi," Tony promised. "Who would've thought that we'd actually need a babysitter on such short notice." Madison shook her head. "Look, don't worry about it. You go, I'll stay here."
"No, we'll both stay," Madison said. Trey was her first cousin. She loved him dearly, but he was in no way responsible enough to care for her twins.
The actual trip wasn't scheduled for another two months. But when Madison found out that her sister Kennedy was pregnant, plus had a virus and had to go on immediate bed rest, she knew she needed to be there. Unfortunately, the twins weren't ready for the long trip yet.
"No—Madi, Tony, why should you?" Trey protested. "With Kennedy pregnant and on bed rest, you need to be there. They need you. With the museum show opening, Aunt Taylor is gonna need all the help she can get. They're looking forward to you being there, both of you. Go, take a break, enjoy. I'll take good care of the twins while you're away."
Madison looked worried. "I wish Hope could come down or Faith didn't have that nurse's seminar. And Juliet—"
"Juliet is eight months pregnant and counting. There's no way she can run behind the twins. Hope is pregnant and in the middle of a major fund-raiser at the Ray of Hope Foundation. Alyssa is still getting her grandmother settled at the Spirit Center in San Francisco. See, everyone's either away or unable to come. I'm here, ready and willing," Trey said.
"Trey, you have absolutely no idea what you're getting into," Madison added.
"Are you saying that I can't do it?" Trey challenged.
"This isn't a dare or a competition, Trey. The twins will wear you down. They're toddlers. There's no way you can handle them alone," Tony said. "What about hiring Mrs. Thatcher for the week."
Trey shook his head. "I can't believe you have so little faith in me."
"It has nothing to do with having faith in you," Madison said. "It has everything to do with not being used to having kids around the house. You're the only bachelor I know who keeps his home immaculate without a housekeeper. Kids are messy. Twins are doubly messy. Mrs. Thatcher is a godsend. We've used her on several occasions. I just hope she's available. Or we can even call Mamma Lou."
Trey instantly froze. The mere mention of the name gave him the shivers. "No need to call Mamma Lou," Trey said quickly, adding firmly, "I can do this, alone."
Tony smiled knowingly then shook his head. He remembered that reaction well. His grandmother was notorious. Bachelors feared her like the plague.
"What about work?" Madison interjected.
"True," Tony added, "you're not the kind of guy to just stay home and play Mr. Mom for a week."
"What, I can't take a few days off? I own the company, remember? I can pretty much do what I want. So, with that said, have a little faith. I can do this. It'll be my pleasure."
"Okay, fine," Tony relented. They looked at Madison.
"Okay, okay, but I'm giving Kelly Mrs. Thatcher's phone number, just in case."
The expression on their faces was all the motivation he needed. They had relented and finally changed their minds. He smiled victoriously. He had successfully convinced them that he could do it. Now the question was, could he?
A day later, he got Kelly to pick up a few things. He personally went to toy and furniture stores and spared no expense. He intended to do this right. Nearly cleaning them out, he purchased everything he ever imagined the twins might need or want.
When Madison and Tony saw the room he prepared, they were stunned. They made a few changes, but ultimately, he was on top of this game, as usual. He expected the week-long stay to be a breeze. He was wrong.
The twins squirmed and squealed in his arms. He sighed heavily. "It must have been low blood sugar or a temporary lapse of sanity," he muttered as he deposited them in a playpen set up in the dining room. Moments later he turned to the mess in the kitchen. "How could two little kids make such a huge mess?" he asked the empty kitchen.
When Tony and Madison dropped them off before dawn, they were peacefully asleep in their baby beds. He expected them to remain that way, at least for a while. But as soon as the door closed they woke up, and he'd been running around ever since—five hours, twenty-three minutes and a few odd seconds.
The cereal-covered kitchen floor crunched underfoot. Trey lifted his bare feet and grimaced. It had taken him half the morning just to get them dressed and fed. Most of the food was still on him, on them and all over the kitchen. He peeled the French toast he'd cooked off the floor and refrigerator then grabbed a broom.
It took thirty-three minutes to clean the kitchen although it usually only took fifteen. He looked at his watch. Tokyo would be opening in a few hours. He needed to review Friday's closing numbers to get a jumpstart on the market. It was a holiday here in the States but not in the rest of the world. Business was business and he never lost sight of that.
He went into the dining room and peered into the playpen. The twins were innocently playing with their toys. They looked up at him, then at each other. Trey squinted warily, sensing a possible coup in progress. He knelt down to eye level as they stood holding on to the mesh-padded sides. They smiled, and he couldn't help but chuckle.
His cousin, Madison, and her husband, Tony, had created two adorable children. With large brown eyes, fat cheeks and perfect pouty mouths, they looked more like cherubs than toddlers.