“That is exactly my situation, Ms. McCoy. No friends or relatives available. My parents were here a couple of weeks ago, but they’re back in New Mexico now, my sister lives in Seattle, and none of other my friends would be, uh, suitable.”
He means his girlfriends, Ann thought, pursing her mouth and sandbagging her protective walls. She knew his type. Probably had a regular harem breathlessly awaiting his nightly arrival.
“Anyway, I have to be out of town on business three days next week, and I don’t have anyone I can leave Aidan with. Could he stay with you?”
Stilling a sudden rush of panic, she managed to control her voice enough to make a reasonable reply. “Surely he would be more comfortable staying with one of his friends.”
Most of the children who boarded with her had fathers who were over-fed, middle-aged, and boring. Neil Graham was the exact opposite—athletically built, in her age range, and far too interesting. She didn’t want to get involved in anything even remotely connected with him. His very existence posed a danger to her.
He cocked an impatient eyebrow at her. “Get real, Ms. McCoy. Aidan has problems socializing. He doesn’t have any friends and, at the rate he’s going, he never will.”
She nodded. That was true, of course. Aidan was a loner, just like she was.
His voice softened, became cajoling. His hazel eyes were seducing her to his purpose. “If you would take him home with you on Thursday of next week, I would pick him up on Saturday, after four.”
Ann knew she should say no. Neil Graham was just too . . . too masculine.
But then there was Aidan, sweet Aidan who followed her around like a lost lamb who’d finally found Bo Peep. She could turn down the father, but she couldn’t turn down the son. Her shoulders drooped.
God help her. She really had no choice.
“I’ll need a medical release, a list of his doctors and any medications, and emergency contact information.” Her voice was as crisp and dry as she could make it.
“Done. I came prepared.” He slipped two folded pages out of his pocket of his jacket and handed them to her. “I don’t know your usual rate, but would this be enough?” He laid four hundred dollar bills on her desk.
Ann shook her head. “That’s too much.”
“Keep it, Ms. McCoy. My son is very important to me.” He rose from his chair. “Oh, one more thing. I’ll be calling Aidan every evening at seven sharp. He has his own cell phone. Is that all right with you?”
“Yes, of course.” So many of the parents didn’t bother. Despite herself, Neil Graham went up a notch in her estimation.
“And I’ll need your address.” He produced a small spiral notebook and handed her a fat fountain pen with what looked like a garnet mounted on the clip.
She stiffened. “Why?”
He smiled at her again, as if amused at her suspicious reaction. “So I know where to pick him up on Saturday. Why else?”
Ann bent her head over the notebook to hide her embarrassment. He’d thrown her off balance and her paranoia was starting to show. She grabbed the pen and scribbled down her address. “It’s just a few blocks from school.” She tried to sound nonchalant. “I usually walk.”
She always walked. It had been three years since they owned a car.
“And your phone number?” He nodded toward the notebook. At her hesitation, he smiled and, in dulcet tones, added, “in case I have a change in plans.”
Catching her lower lip in her teeth, Ann wrote down her number. She didn’t know why she was being such a ninny. She’d given the same information to other parents when they’d left their children with her. What was it about this man that frightened her so? That excited and interested her so? She closed the spiral and returned it to him.
“Thank you, Ms. McCoy,” he said, flashing his dimple. “I’ll go tell Aidan now. I’m not sure he would have gone home with me if you had turned me down.”
He stood up and left the room quickly, Ann noted, as if afraid she might change her mind if he stayed a minute longer.
She sat at the desk with her hands on her hot cheeks for several moments to calm her frayed nerves, then stood and looked around the room--her classroom, her kingdom, her refuge. She felt safe surrounded by the evidence of her students’ creative endeavors: cardboard castles, tissue paper piñatas, origami birds and animals, drawings of houses and flowers and night monsters and multi-colored spaceships. And now her refuge had been invaded by a tall man with dark mahogany hair and an easy smile.
What had she gotten herself into?