The House Mate, p.1Part #3 of Roommates series by Kendall Ryan
The House Mate
Copyright © 2017 Kendall Ryan
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without written permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes only.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Table of Contents
About the Book
Other Titles in the Roommates Series
About the Author
Other Books by Kendall Ryan
About the Book
What’s sexier than a bad boy? A badass man who’s got his shit together.
Max Alexander is nearing thirty-five. He’s built a successful company and has conquered the professional world, but he’s never been lucky in love. Since he’s focused so much time on his business and raising his daughter, adulting has come at the expense of his personal life.
His social skills are shit, his patience is shot, and at times, his temper runs hot.
The last thing he has time for is the recently single, too-gorgeous-for-her-own-good young woman he hires to take care of his little girl. She’s a distraction he doesn’t need, and besides, there’s no way she’d be interested. But you know what they say about assumptions?
In thirty-four years, I hadn’t found a woman yet who could handle me.
My buddies teased me that I had the attention span of a gnat, and while that wasn’t true—I had a successful ten-year career in the US Army as a Ranger, and over the last few years I’d built my business into something I could be proud of—I let them go on thinking it. No, there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with my focus or level of commitment. Once I decided on something, I was all in.
It was just the idea of being tied down to the same woman day after day—well, let’s just say it didn’t hold a candle to my freedom. I liked things the way they were. I was free to come and go as I pleased, work long days when business called for it, and take off for a weekend away when the mood struck. I enjoyed my life just the way it was, and I had no plans to change that anytime soon.
“How long’s it been since you’ve been laid?” my good friend and employee Matt asked, grinning at me over the rim of his pint glass with a crooked smile.
My life was simple, and I cherished simple. I didn’t do complicated. Didn’t do messy relationships or complex emotions. I was the center of my world and that was just fine with me. I knew it was selfish, but that’s just the way things were.
Realizing Matt was actually waiting for me to reply, I muttered out a curse and took a sip of my own beer.
“You’ve been a crabby asshole at work lately,” he added for emphasis.
Christ, he has the discretion of a crackhead in need of a fix. “You do understand I’m your boss, correct?” I glared at him, but he merely flipped me the middle finger. The dick.
We were seated at the bar of our favorite local hangout after a long work week. The Fireside Lodge served the best cheeseburgers and the coldest beer in town, and we found ourselves parked right here most Fridays. I was almost surprised the owner hadn’t marked these stools as reserved with all the time we spent on them.
“Thank fuck someone had the balls to bring that up,” Zach muttered under his breath.
“You draw the short straw?” I asked Matt. They weren’t generally the type to pry into my personal life, but they never hesitated to point out my foul mood.
Despite their annoying probing, they were both pretty good guys. They’d worked for me since I started my construction business on a wing and a prayer three years ago. They stood by me, agreeing to work for less than they were worth until I could afford to pay them more. Now we all did pretty well, but then again, we worked our asses off, so it was all relative.
“Seriously, man. You could use a woman in your life,” Matt said, gazing down into his half-empty beer glass.
“Or at least in your bed,” Zach added.
My life? That was a big fat no-fucking-thank-you. But my bed? That wasn’t the worst idea they’d ever had. I tried to remember the last time I’d had the pleasure of a woman’s company. To be fair, it had been a little while, maybe a couple of months, and damn if I was going to admit it to them, but there was a chance they were right.
“I’ll take that under advisement,” I mumbled, trying not to stroke their egos too much.
“Good, ’cause there’s a cute little number giving you the eye over there,” Matt said, nudging my ribs with his elbow.
His gaze drifted over toward the pool tables in the back of the bar, and mine followed. A blonde with heavy eyeliner and dressed in a pair of cut-off shorts and a red tank top that was cut dangerously low to reveal the edges of a lacy push-up bra stood with her hip out, staring me down. She wasn’t exactly my type, but my dick didn’t care. He’d just heard the suggestion of sinking into warm, wet pussy tonight, and he was all in.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled my gaze away, just in time to see the men flanking me sharing a conspiratorial smile. Assholes.
Thirty minutes later, I had the blonde in the cab of my truck and was headed for my place.
When we arrived at my house a few minutes later, I squinted at the beat-up sedan parked in my driveway. That wasn’t there when I left this morning. I parked on the other side of the driveway and climbed out of the truck.
“Stay put for second,” I said to the blonde and she nodded, her glossy red lips parting in a smile.
I walked around to the driver’s side of the sedan just in time to watch a woman climb out of the car. Dark blond hair hung down, partially obscuring her face, but I’d recognize those bouncy curls anywhere.
“Jenn?” I asked, stopping in my tracks. We’d dated for a few months a couple of years ago, but I hadn’t seen her since.
Our awkward breakup was part of the reason I avoided relationships now. She’d been ready for something more: commitment, stability . . . matrimony. I wasn’t. The memory of our last conversation still stung. A fun three-month-long fling was snubbed out with a few curt words.
“Aren’t you ever going to want to settle down?” she’d asked.
I’d been cold. But at least I’d been honest.
“Hey, Max.” Her voice was emotionless and flat.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but if she was here out of the blue, it was probably for a reason.
“What’s going on? Is everything all right?” I shot a quick glance at my date for the evening through the windshield. Her smile had fallen, and she was watching us with rapt interest.
Jenn opened the door to the backseat and lifted out an infant car seat—with a sleeping baby inside.
What the fuck?
“Jenn?” My voice cracked.
“She’s yours.” Jenn set the infant carrier at my feet and took a step back.
I didn’t look down. Truthfully, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the baby because I was scared of what I might see. Could she really be mine? Did she look like me? That wasn’t possible—was it? I was still watching Jenn, still trying to figure out what in the fuck was happening.
Another uneasy look toward my truck revealed that the blonde’s eyes were glued to the scene in front of her, her lips parted in surprise.
“You can have a test done if you want, but she’s yours.” Jenn wiped a stray tear from her cheek and reached back inside the car for a duffel bag, which she set next to the carrier. “I’m sorry. I just can’t do this anymore.”
I heard her voice but couldn’t process her words. “What are you saying? What are you talking about?”
“I can’t handle it, Max. I thought I could, but it turns out I can’t. She’s yours, so you take her.” Jenn’s voice trembled as she bent and whispered something to the little girl who was still sound asleep. Then she climbed back into her car and started backing out of my driveway.
“Jenn!” I roared, waving my arms at her. She threw her car into drive and stepped on the gas so hard, her tires gave a little screech, and then she was gone.
Pulling a deep breath into my lungs wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped. It felt like there was a lead weight sitting on my chest. I felt frozen to this spot in my driveway, unsure what the next play was, or how I’d even found myself in this game.
The blonde climbed out of my truck and came to stand beside me, looking down at the baby who had slept through the entire thing.
“What an adorable little girl. Is she your niece or something?”
I looked down at the baby for the first time. Her tiny eyelids fluttered, and she stretched one footie-pajama-covered leg before letting it fall slack once again. I was hit by the sudden urge to get her inside the house, to take her in out of the cool night air.
“No. She’s mine.” I lifted the carrier and held it protectively in front of me. Mine. That word sent a small panic racing through me. “What am I going to do now?” I said more to myself than to her. Or maybe it was a question meant for the universe, because my life as I knew it just got flipped inside out.
Blondie shrugged. “I have to pee.”
The three of us headed inside, and I set the baby carrier on the living room floor and pointed out the hall bath.
Once she was done, she marched up to me and rose on her tiptoes to press a kiss to my cheek. “I guess tonight’s a no-go.”
I nodded. “Something like that.”
“I’ll grab an Uber. You better get her put to bed,” Blondie said, fishing her phone out of her tiny denim shorts.
I inwardly groaned. Sex had been the only thing on my mind five minutes ago, and now it wasn’t going to happen. Maybe not ever again. I groaned once more.
“There,” she said, punching some buttons on her phone. “I’ll be out of your hair in five minutes.”
Blondie kissed my cheek again and went to wait outside on the porch while I tried not to have a panic attack. What in the fuck was I supposed to do now?
I made a pillow fort on my bed, blocking all the edges, and then attempted to get the baby out of her car seat. That five-point harness was serious. She was sleeping, not skydiving, but whatever. When she was finally free, I lifted her out and laid her down in the center of the bed. I’d take the guest room. The sheets were dusty in there, and I didn’t want her sleeping on them. I didn’t know much of anything about babies, but I knew their skin and lungs were probably more sensitive than my man-hide was.
Once she was settled, I opened the duffel bag that Jenn had dropped off with her. Inside was a fuzzy pink blanket, some tiny clothes, a sippy cup, diapers, wipes, and a folded sheet of paper. I opened the note and looked down at Jenn’s neat handwriting.
I know this comes as a surprise. I’m sorry to just dump her on you like this, but I know you can handle it. I know you thought you couldn’t, or maybe you just didn’t want the responsibility, but you’re the strongest man I know. You’ll be better at this than I was. I’m sure of it.
Her name is Dylan. She just turned one, her birthday was Sunday. She takes a nap after lunch and she loves baths. Thank you.
I flipped the page over. That was it? There were no instructions? No manual, no nothing. I knew the running joke was that men didn’t read instructions, but believe me, these I would have at least glanced at.
The fact that Jenn had named her Dylan made something clench inside my chest. Bob Dylan was my favorite musician and Jenn knew that—she used to tease me about it. Said my taste in music was from another century. I realized that her choice in name was a way to pay homage to me. If she was willing to do that, then why keep the pregnancy from me? Why hide the fact that she was having my baby?
My gaze drifted back over to the baby . . . my daughter. That would take some getting used to.
I had no idea what I was going to do, but I hoped the morning would bring some clarity.
• • •
I heard the crunch of tires on my gravel driveway and looked out the front window. Thank God Tiffany’s here.
I was wired after three cups of coffee and had been pacing my living room for the past thirty minutes.
Tiffany had been my personal assistant for going on three years. She made sure all the bills got paid on time, the supplies were ordered for jobs, and most importantly, she kept me in line. She was a problem solver, and so even if this was supposed to be her day off, I needed her.
As usual, Tiffany let herself inside. “What’s going on?” she asked, toeing off her shoes at the front door. Working so closely together these last few years meant we were practically family. At least, that was how I viewed our relationship.
Before I could answer, her gaze landed on Dylan, who was sitting on my living room floor watching the Saturday morning cartoons just like I used to do as a kid. Only these weren’t the cartoons I remembered. They were too violent and had crude humor, so we’d have to work on finding something more suitable.
“Max?” Tiffany said, her voice rising like my name was a question.
“Yeah. I know. You better sit down.”
Her brows jumped and she lowered herself onto the couch, her gaze still on the little girl. “Is she . . . yours?”
Tiffany swallowed. “Jenn?”
She knew all about my failed attempt at a relationship. In fact, Tiffany had even played the role of a rebound at one point. After my breakup with Jenn, Tiffany had kissed me at our company Christmas party and had grabbed the front of my jeans, or rather, what was inside. And for the next ninety seconds, I’d let myself think with my dick—towing her into my office and kissing her back. But then I’d come to my senses. I’d let her down carefully, wanting to preserve our working relationship.
Rubbing a hand over the back of my neck, I sighed. “She dropped her off last night. Said she couldn’t do it anymore.”
Tiffany placed her hand over her chest. “Wow. I’m going to need something stronger than coffee this morning,” she joked.
I sat down on the couch beside her. “You know I’m not good about asking for help.”
“No, you’re not. But you’re going to need it.”
I nodded again.
“Whatever you need, Max. I’m here.”
I swallowed, scrubbing a hand over my face. My gaze wandered down to Dylan, who was still absorbed in the show. I’d changed her diaper when she woke up this morning, given her dry Cheerios and filled her sippy cup with milk. She’d watched me curiously while I drank my coffee, but she didn’t cry and didn’t ask for her mama, which was both a relief and made me sad. I didn’t know what I was doing, but so far, so good.
The truth was I felt bad for the baby after being abandoned by her mom, and I felt all kinds of guilty that I didn’t know about her in her first year of life.
“So you’re going to keep her . . . here.”
Tiffany smiled at me and patted the back of my hand. “Maybe it’s time for a fresh start, Max. Maybe this is the universe’s way of intervening. I really think this could be the beginning of something great.”
“I am?” She grinned at me.
“Yeah. Everything will work out, right? I’m going to hire a nanny. I’m willing to pay top dollar, but I want the best of the best. It’s the perfect solution. I can work from home sometimes so I’m around more, and Dylan won’t have to be shuffled from place to place.”
Her eyebrows pinched together. “Oh, okay. Yeah. That’s a good idea. The only thing is you’re going to need to pray that she can start ASAP. Most people want to give a two-week notice to their current employer.”
Tiffany was right. All I could do was hope that somewhere out there, the universe was at work putting all the pieces into play so my puzzle would fit together.
“You just need a fresh start. A do-over,” my best friend, Lara, said as she flopped onto the couch I’d been crashing on for the past week. She wrestled my blanket away from me before tossing a white paper bag from the drugstore into my lap.
“What’s all this?” I grumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“The start of your new and improved life.”
I rifled inside the bag and pulled out a box of purple hair dye, a bottle of bright pink nail polish, and about a dozen fashion magazines—all with headlines screaming things like the number of ways I could “Get Him to Beg for More.”
The House Mate by Kendall Ryan / Romance & Love / History & Fiction have rating 3.5 out of 5 / Based on28 votes