Only an emergency could bring on-call pediatrician Kaitlyn Foster to Adam Preston's house. But the man who opens the doorwith a crying infant on his shoulderis a world away from the globe-trotting bachelor whose kisses still burn in her memory. And he's in desperate need of her baby expertise!
Adam can't believe the Mommy Club volunteer is the gorgeous blonde who's been haunting his fantasies for almost a year. The baby doc couldn't have come at a better time. The environmental scientist is used to traveling to remote corners of the world, not acting as stand-in father to his two-month-old niece. But Kaitlyn's already working her magic on both of them. Is Adam finally ready to put down roots with the woman who's carved a permanent place in his heart?
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Why had she been on call for The Mommy Club today?
Kaitlyn Foster couldn't imagine Adam Preston in this situation to begin with. His own words from a year ago played in her ears. I'm out of the country more than I'm in it.
So why could she hear a baby crying on the other side of the door?
He didn't know she was the one coming to help.
Could there be two Adam Prestons in Fawn Grove, California? Hope sprung eternal. Maybe she wouldn't be humiliated from the top of her blond head down to her white sandals.
The baby's crying seemed to reach even higher decibels. Would he even hear the doorbell?
She pressed the button and held it down.
When Adam opened the doorand it was Adam Kaitlyn found a very different Adam Preston this September morning than the debonair world traveler she'd met and almost made love with last year. This Adam's thick dark brown hair was mussed, and worry lines creased his forehead. His polo shirt looked as if it had seen a baby hiccup or two. The baby on his shoulder, who was wailing at the top of her lungs, shook the image of the expensive-suited bachelor, whose kisses had almost convinced her to sleep with a man she didn't know!
"Kaitlyn?" His intense green eyes were trying to absorb the fact she was standing at his door.
The Mommy Club was an organization that helped parents in need. "I was on call today" She attempted to explain, but gave up and reached for the infant, who looked to be about two months old.
But instead of letting her take the baby, he took a step away. "I never imagined you worked with The Mommy Club." He patted the baby's back as if that would quiet her.
"A woman of many talents," she joked, then wished she hadn't. Adam really knew little about her except the fact she was a pediatrician. She knew little about him except for the fact that he didn't date the same woman twice. After all, she had looked him up on Google. And found more than she'd wanted to know.
Adam had a sister who needed his help. What else could he do but give it?
He backed away from the beautiful doctor who'd made his blood race from the moment he'd met her almost a year ago. At a wine tasting, no less. Over the past year, he'd thought about her. But he'd been in a remote part of Africa without internet without any connection to home except for a brief few days of R & R in Cape Town. But emailing her hadn't seemed quite right. He sighed.
He'd emailed Tina instead, and she hadn't even told him she was pregnant.
Erica kept screaming and he cemented his focus on his niece instead of the pediatrician, who looked like a model.
Kaitlyn gave him a quick once-over, from his disheveled hair and beard stubble to his worn sneakers. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been wearing a tux, at least part of the time. "Would you like me to take her?" she asked.
The pink shirt Erica wore must have been a giveaway. She sure didn't have much hair.
Although Erica had shaken up his world, had spit up on him and generally frazzled him, he was nevertheless protective. The thought of handing her over made him uncomfortable. Kaitlyn must have seen that. "You did call for help, right? May I come in?"
The Mommy Club gave all kinds of helpa doctor on call, babysitting recommendations, financial assistance. He didn't need the financial assistance and he wasn't sure exactly what help he did need.
Injured pride set in. "I did call. But I didn't expect a doctor. Your
She let the "you" comment pass and glanced around again.
He understood exactly what she sawa monumental mess. Tina had dropped the baby into his arms yesterday with a diaper bag. While he was still in shock, his sister had returned to her car and carried in a giant package of diapers, two boxes of powdered formula and a pile of one-piece outfits that he'd practically gone through already.
So dirty baby clothes were strewn from here to there. Bottles he'd washed over and over again to make sure they were clean were stationed on every tabletop. Dish towels that were spread across the sofa and chair had mopped up spills when he'd tried to burp the baby.
"Forget you know me," Kaitlyn said. "Let me see if I can quiet her. After all, I do have experience handling babies." Somehow she made herself heard over Erica's din and held out her hands.
Reluctantly he transferred the baby. But in the transfer, his hands brushed Kaitlyn's midriff and memories of the night they'd lingered in one of the winery's offices played much too vividly. Including the moment she'd bolted.
Maybe it was Kaitlyn's gentle smile. Maybe it was the way she held his niece so tenderly. Maybe it was simply the fact Kaitlyn Foster was a woman. But Erica's crying decreased a decibel.
Adam felt a kick in his gut. In a matter of minutes, with the doc walking and cooing, totally concentrating on the little being in her arms, Erica's cries died to whimpers.
Adam didn't know whether to swear or cheer! "How did you do that? She's been crying practically nonstop since my sister brought her here."
"It's a pediatrician's magic touch," Kaitlyn joked. She'd joked and bantered with him that night at the winery, and he remembered thinking afterward he'd liked her sense of humor.
He glanced at Erica again and saw how much more contented she seemed. "Don't all docs learn the magic touch in med school?"
"Not exactly." She studied Erica's tiny face and ran her hand down over her little body in an assessing way. "When did she eat last?"
"About an hour ago. But she wouldn't take much." He didn't know exactly how much babies were supposed to eat. He hadn't even had time to look it up on his phone. He just wished his sister had given him more information before she'd walked out.
"And before that?"
"Probably an hour before that. When she cries, I don't know what else to do. I feed her."
"Just like a new parent."
"Oh, no! I'm not a new parent."
Kaitlyn eyed him piercingly with that quick denial. "When was she changed last?"
"After I tried to feed her," he answered a bit tersely, feeling as if Kaitlyn was interrogating him.
All at once, he realized exactly what Kaitlyn was doing. With a scientific eyehe had one, tooshe was sizing up the circumstances to see if they jibed with what he'd told The Mommy Club representative. She was looking over Erica as any physician would to determine if there was a medical condition underlying the crying or something else.
Kaitlyn kept walking, seeming to take in everything again. Not simply the room and his appearance, but the overall mood, too.
He was straight with her. "I called The Mommy Club because I'm acquainted with Jase."
"He introduced us," Kaitlyn reminded him, though he needed no reminder. Although Jase Cramer was now the general manager of Raintree Winery, he was also a photojournalist Adam had met on his work travels.
"I'd read his series about The Mommy Club online this summer while I had some R & R in Cape Town and could access a computer. I called the contact number today because I didn't want to bring in anyone official."
Kaitlyn's gaze met his and the room went soundless. Even Erica was silent.
"Do you have a crib or bassinet?" Kaitlyn asked.
"Her car seat is all I have to use for a bed. I was afraid she'd fall if I put her anywhere else."
A bit of a smile turned up Kaitlyn's lips, right before she sank down on the couch, holding Erica as if she was used to holding a baby. The sight made his gut tighten. That was simply because he hadn't eaten for a while, he told himself reasonably.
"Why don't you tell me why you're taking care of a baby?"
"That sounds like a social worker asking. I just wanted a little help with laundry and feeding and"
She cut in. "You wanted a nanny?"
"Maybe. I just don't know how long my sister, Tina, will be gone, and I've never taken care of a baby before," he explained with exasperation.
As an environmental geologist, he was used to managing crews and research labs all over the world. He was not used to coaxing a baby to sleep.
"I'm not a social worker, Adam, but The Mommy Club is a responsible organization. We assess needs before we try to satisfy them."
Her gaze met his again, and he felt unsettled in a man-woman way. Awareness. That's what it was. And he was fairly certain she felt it, too. Or else she wouldn't have responded to him the way she had when he'd kissed her. If he was honest with himself, the question of why she'd stopped him before they'd both found satisfaction had plagued him for the past year.
"Adam? Tell me how Erica ended up in your care."
There was no way around it. He'd have to give her at least some of the story.
"I have a sister a stepsister. I don't see her much now. I may have told you when we met." He trailed off, then continued. "Most of the year I'm on a job site in a foreign country. Tina and I were close once, but" He stopped. Kaitlyn didn't need that much background. "Anyway, I just returned from Africa a week ago. That's when I found out Tina had had a baby."
"How was your sister coping a week ago?" Kaitlyn obviously wanted to get to the heart of the matter.
"She seemed frazzled. She lives in Sacramento, and we'd made plans to get together. If only I'd realized what was going on with her"
Kaitlyn jumped right in. "What would have been different? Would you have given up your job and come home?"
Tough questions. Would he have done that? Or would he have tried to get her help some other way?
Erica stirred again and gave a little cry. After Kaitlyn readjusted the baby in her arms, she quieted.
"Would you like some coffee?" Adam asked, wanting to take charge again in some way. Besides, he needed the caffeine. Staying awake was all-important with a baby around.
"Coffee would be great," Kaitlyn admitted with a smile that sparked a longing inside Adam. One he didn't understand. Then she added, "I'd like to hear more about Tina."
Fine. She wanted the whole storyhe'd give it to her.
Although Kaitlyn made home visits with The Mommy Club occasionally, she did not become personally involved for lots of very good reasons. She hadn't confided any of her background to Adam. The chemistry between them had just seemed to trump everything else. The night they'd met she hadn't quite been herself and had acted in a way that was out of character for her. Way out of character.
As Adam prepared coffee, she took another good look at the condo. Yep, a baby had taken over his world. But underneath that surface mess, she saw a bachelor pad. Chrome and glass and shiny black leather sent the message that a cleaning service might see the inside of Adam's living room more often than he did. She noticed the lack of photographs.
Peeking into the kitchen, her tummy did a little somersault when she stared at his broad shoulders, his dark brown mussed hair, his tall lean frame.
Erica stirred again. With a baby in her arms, Kaitlyn was transported back to a time when her own dreams were still a possibility. She slid her finger along the infant's cheek. The little girl was almost asleep. To put her down or let her nap in her arms?
Adam solved that dilemma. As he entered the living room with two mugs in hand, he said, "Maybe she'll sleep in her car seat now," in a low voice, as if afraid to bring Erica's crying to life again.
The fact that his sister had brought the baby in in her car seat was at least a sign she had Erica's welfare at heart. "Let's give it a try. We can set it right here on the floor as we talk."
His frown told her talking wasn't high on his priority list. Because sharing made him uncomfortable? Or because he had something to hide?
Adam set her mug on the glass table beside the sofa. "Do you need milk or sugar? I'm not sure I have sugar"
"Black is fine. Caffeine is a daily necessity. I'm a doctor, remember?"
"Oh, I remember," he said as he crossed to the kitchen.
When he returned, he set the car seat on the floor between them. Kaitlyn easily transferred Erica to it then let her finger trail down the infant's cheek once more.
"Babies can burrow a tunnel straight into your heart, and you don't even know they've done it," she murmured. Her practice had taught her that.
The silence in the living room with Erica quiet and their conversation at a standstill brought her gaze to Adam's.
His serious green eyes seemed to see too much, but then he said, "I wouldn't know. This is the first I've been around one."
A bit flustered, she quickly picked up her coffee mug. The brew was almost blackthe way she liked it.
"Weren't you around your sister when she was a baby?" He'd given her a lead in to his background, so she took it.
"As I said, Tina's my stepsister, and you're going to poke around until you learn all about us, aren't you?" He certainly wasn't happy about it.
"Why does that bother you?"
"Because I like to keep my private life private."
"So do I."
He must have seen the truth behind that declaration because his defensively tense broad shoulders relaxed. "This is just your job," he reminded himself.
"I like to think of it as a vocation." She stared down at Erica, remembering her own pregnancy and the baby she lost. Giving herself a mental shake, she said, "Tell me when Tina came into your life."
A myriad of memories seemed to pass through Adam Preston's eyes, and she realized this was a man who could feel if he'd let himself.
He took a few swallows of coffee as if to fortify himself. "This isn't easy," he told Kaitlyn.
"Isn't easy, because it's painful to remember?" she guessed.
"Not painful. It was just a rough time. Tina and I never talk about it."
Erica began to wake up, and he said, "Maybe this should wait."
"I can't give you any help if this waits. Do you have a bottle? Let's try to feed her. Maybe this time she'll eat."
"And if she doesn't?"
"Then we'll figure out the next best thing to do." Scooping Erica from her car seat, Kaitlyn stood, and Adam moved close to her. So close her gaze went to his lips and she swallowed hard.
"I'll take her," he said, and that surprised Kaitlyn.
"Are you sure?"
"I fed her all through the night, and tried this morning. I've got to succeed at something about this."
So Adam Preston wasn't a man who accepted failure. She recognized the same quality in herself. He'd either seen too much of it in his life, or not enough.
The exchange of the baby was awkward. His hand slid close to Kaitlyn's breast. If she could have thought of it as merely a clinical move, it wouldn't have bothered her at all. But everything about this situation seemed personal.
It's not personal, she chastised herself.
Adam slid his arm around the baby. But when he brought Erica close, his shoulder rubbed Kaitlyn's. At that point, their gazes met.
The room developed a certain buzz, but then Kaitlyn hadn't had any breakfast this morning. A half cup of dark, rich coffee, with lots of caffeine streaming through her veins would be enough to make her feel a little unnerved.
After the baby successfully found Adam's arms again, he brought her up to his face and cooed to her. None of this was contrived. Adam must have figured out Erica liked that last night.
"So you want me to warm the bottle?" Kaitlyn asked, feeling disconcerted. How could a bachelor who serial dated be good at holding a baby? "She seems pretty satisfied right now."
"You don't mind?"