Breathe Me Page 11

“Let me get you another one.” He grabbed my empty cup and shot up from the chair faster than I could protest. “Sweetened tea, right?” I barely gave him a nod before he sprinted through the doors, letting them swing back and forth in his wake.

I guessed I wasn’t the only nervous one. That fact alone made me relax a bit, slumping in my chair and sighing. He was definitely not the same guy I’d dated in college. I quite liked this version of him. Memories of our night together brought a smile to my face. I must’ve looked quite insane sitting there grinning like a fool.

“Here,” he said as he hurried back, placing a new icy drink in front of me. One small gesture and I was happy as can be. Maybe it was just the small things that mattered.

“Thanks.” I leaned back and waited for him to either tend to his machinery issues or chat some more. I really didn’t want him to go. Even sitting in uncomfortable silence was better than nothing. He was more addictive than caffeine.

“No problem. I’m glad you liked it. My own special tea blends.” He held his own in his other hand, slipping back down onto the chair. “Listen, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve got to ask you something.”

“Sure, what’s up?” I raised an eyebrow, hoping that whatever it was, it wasn’t something I couldn’t do.

“Can you babysit tomorrow? I know you’re off, and I’m usually off, but my store manager quit last night, had to up and move to Colorado to join some nudist colony or something crazy like that, so I have to man the store tomorrow. It’s short notice, I know, but my babysitter can’t do it, she’s busy with family this weekend.” It was his turn to shift and squirm in his chair, his foot tapping madly on the concrete.

“Um… sure. Okay.” I managed to not spit out my drink as I listened, already amused by the problems he had to deal with. No wonder he was always tired. I sat up, leaning my elbows on the table. “But I don’t know what he likes, what he eats. I rarely babysat when I was younger.”

“You’ll do fine. He likes you, that’s a huge plus. I’ll bring some of his favorite movies and games. He eats most anything, but I can bring food, too. I can’t thank you enough.”

I pasted a smile across my face. What had I just signed up for? “It’s nothing. I kinda like the kid.”

Sasha jumped up from the chair and surprised me with a tight hug. I let him linger, his cologne reaching my nostrils like pleasant aromatherapy. I was definitely more than relaxed now, and I didn’t want to let go.

“Do you want anything else? I can bring you a muffin or something else to drink.” He was kneeling, playing with my fingers as he waited for me to answer.

Yes, could I have a Sasha to go, please?

“Oh no, that’s okay. I’m good. Listen, I’m heading home, but text me any details. Work was a killer today, and I think I’ll just relax the rest of the night.”

He laced his fingers through mine before flicking his eyes up to meet my gaze. “Sounds good. I’ll see you later then.” With that, he leaned forward and let his lips brush against mine before hopping up and disappearing into the store.

My hand reached up, touching my warm lips and still feeling the hum of his kiss against them. Now that was a feeling I could definitely take more of. Sighing, I scooped up my purse and what was left of my drink and made my way out into the rush of people.

THE KEYS TAPPED against the ceramic mug I had set on a table near the door. I peered around my apartment. It didn’t quite feel like the same place I’d left that morning. Maybe it was just my exhaustion, maybe it was Sasha on my mind every moment of my day now. I couldn’t shake it, but something mysterious about him made me want to know more now. He’d never mentioned his kid before he unceremoniously showed up with him. What else could he be hiding? What lingered under those sky-blue eyes that seemed to hide more secrets than I did?

It was disturbing. I could usually read people really well, but Sasha? He was a puzzle that needed solving, but the infinite possibilities made my head spin. Nothing intrigued me more than a challenge, and he was definitely it. Besides, his sexy body sang to me to embrace it with every part of mine, and I was having a hard time staying away from that. It made me wondered how hard of a puzzle I was to solve.

I dropped my purse on the couch and kicked off my flats. My legs ached from running around the hospital all day, meeting patients being discharged and organizing home care. It wasn’t that it was hard work or that I hated it. I just wasn’t into the hospital life anymore, for it was tedious and almost thankless with long hours. It was time for something more, something bigger and better. Well, maybe not bigger or better, but definitely different.

The cushions felt heavenly as I sank back, letting them engulf me as I closed my eyes. What else would I do? Where would I go if I left my job? I had some savings that could be used to do what I liked for over a year, but it was risky. What if, at the end of the year, I wasn’t anywhere close to being where I needed to be? It was paralyzing, and I could see how easy it was for people to continue on in their dull, pointless jobs without ever fulfilling any dreams they might’ve had. Fear was an obnoxious thing which sucked the living breath out of your dreams.

What Sasha had said about not realizing my dreams and aspirations had struck a chord. I needed to get moving before time slipped away again. I had to figure out how to get what I really wanted before it was too late. After this was all over with Sasha, that would be my goal. The faster it was all over, the faster I could move on with my life.

But something told me my plans would never go the way I wanted. Be careful what you wish for, I thought, sighing.

Chapter Twelve


“HEY, CAM! CAN I call you that?” I kneeled before Cameron, hoping I hadn’t already offended him in record time. “I won’t call you Cam if you hate it.”

“That’s okay. That’s what Daddy calls me.” He flashed a bright smile and immediately ran inside my apartment.

“Well, guess he’s not that nervous about hanging out with you today.” Sasha held out a small Elmo backpack. Taking it, I lifted an eyebrow, hoping what was inside wasn’t anything I had to physically wrestle with. “Just a change of clothes and undies, just in case. Oh, and his favorite movies, Toy Story 1, 2, and 3. If you put them on an endless cycle, you’ll be right as rain all day!” He chuckled, looking nervous as his feet shuffled back and forth. “Cam, don’t break anything!”

I placed a hand on his chest, which made him stop moving as he peered back toward me. “It’s going to be just fine, believe me. I’m more nervous than you are, but I got this.” I winked and watched him visibly relax. “How hard can a five-year-old be? It’s not like he’s a baby in diapers.” I wrinkled my nose at the thought. “Thank goodness.”

He chuckled nervously. “Right. He can be hyperactive sometimes.”

“You don’t believe in that ADHD crap, do you?”

He scratched his head, shaking it and smiling. “No, I just try to be consistent with him. It’s a big change. He’s had the same sitter for two years. I’ll be looking for a new one soon, though. She’s heading off to finish her MBA out of state.”

“Oh, that sucks. Well, not for her, but for you, I mean.” I wanted to slap my forehead at how dumb I sounded. “I hope the search goes well.”

“Me, too.” His eyes were already scanning behind my shoulder, looking scared as he observed and listened for any damage.

“Okay, off to work for you.” I grinned and slowly started to shut the door to get the message across.

“Wait! If you need anything, anything at all, call my cell. I’ll answer right away.”

“Sure thing, Sasha.” I winked and closed the door, locking the deadbolt before he could change his mind. Boy, was he a Nervous Nancy. Seemed he was more scared of dropping his kid off with a stranger than Cam was of being left there. The thought made me wrinkle my nose; I wasn’t a stranger, was I? I guess, in a way, I was. But less so than a complete stranger, right?

Hearing Sasha hesitate on the other side of the door before his footsteps finally echoed down the stairwell, I leaned on the doorway, smiling widely and feeling happy that I had put him in his place. Now for the fun to start.

“Cam, honey. Are you hungry? What do you want to do first?”

The boy was jumping on my couch. It took all my strength to not gasp and throw an epic, raging scream at him. Okay. Now I knew why Sasha was just a bit nervous. I stood there, not believing my eyes, but took a deep breath in before I lost my top.


“I want ice cream.”

“Okay, but boys who jump on furniture aren’t supposed to have ice cream, God says.” I crossed my arms and drilled my eyes into his little blue ones. He stopped hopping and took in my unrelenting stare. It must’ve worked because he slipped down and seated himself properly. I brought his Elmo backpack, propping it on his end of the couch before sitting down next to him.

“So like I was saying, what shall we do first? Are you hungry?”

He shook his head, looking like he wanted to cry. “I just ate at Mick D’s with Daddy.” No wonder he smelled like French fries. Nice.

“Okay, then let’s get some ice cream! I’m in the mood for some myself. What do you say?”

His wet eyes brightened, and he hopped up onto the floor and clapped his hands. “Yippeee!”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his contagious energy, so I grabbed my flip flops and pulled my hair into a pony tail. If I’d had a quarter of his energy, I’d be Wonder Woman.

It was my weekend, and I didn’t want to hang at home all day, even if I had to be a babysitter. “Okay. Let’s go then, the park has a nice little ice cream stand we can hit up, but you have to promise to stay near me. I’m the one with the money to get the ice cream. Got it?” He nodded again and held out his hand. I stared down at his fat little fingers and slipped mine through them. It was warm and clammy but nice. God sure knew what he was doing when he made kids cute, that’s all I’m saying. Otherwise, I’m sure half of them wouldn’t have made it past their first birthdays. Darn it if I wasn’t a sucker for little kids.

We went out and walked down two blocks from my apartment to the nearest park. It wasn’t huge, but there were tons of people there already. Luckily, it wasn’t yet boiling hot, being just eleven in the morning, but I could tell the day was going to be a scorcher. He skipped the entire way, making me almost run to keep up with him. I could have used him for a workout every weekend, the way it got my heart racing and my chest burning running behind him.

He found the slides and stared greedily at the brightly colored, plastic contraptions. It was three levels high and had slides at each level. Some twisted into tunnels, some remained open and straight. Monkey bars, little steering wheels and a chain ladder hung from all sides of it. Playgrounds sure had come a long way from the wood and metal ones of my youth which used to burn my thighs in the midsummer heat. They now even had a huge tent-like structure built over them to keep the high noon sun from burning the little ones as they played. Next to it was a small water feature, spraying and splashing from showerheads and an array of decorative pipes above the kids. I didn’t know they had that there, and I wondered if he’d brought a swimsuit.

I decided it didn’t matter. He could get soaked and still had a pair of clothes to change into at home. But the way the day was heating up, he’d be dry before we even got there. I almost felt sorry for the trees and grass. Though they were quite green, it must take a million gallons of water to keep them that way. I already felt my shoulders burning. I pulled out the sunscreen and called Cameron over. He reluctantly returned to me but kept his eyes on the prize.

“Gotta wear sunblock. Don’t want to get all red and burned, do we?” He shook his head but fidgeted as I slathered him with the thick white goop. Finally, I had him take his shirt off and slathered his shoulders, back and belly. That way, if he did get all wet, he was set.

“Want the ice cream now or after you play?” I asked, smearing some onto my nose. I could feel the freckles growing as I spoke.

Cameron stared at the slides, and I knew he couldn’t resist. Man, slides were like crack to kids. “Can I get it after I play a little bit?” I nodded and he smiled, his tiny baby teeth flashing at me before he turned and ran his little knobby legs up the epoxy-coated, metal steps to the biggest slide.

After slathering some more on my skin I slipped the tube of sunblock back into my purse and gulped as I watched him make it to the top step. He waited behind one other kid who was about to hop into the twisting tube slide. It seemed so high, and even though all the sides were enclosed, it gave me a small heart attack watching him lingering near the edge.

Please don’t fall. That was all I needed.

I breathed in deeply, following him as he slipped into the tube and disappeared from sight. I watched the other end and saw him rolling out. Hopping up from the ground, he jumped with glee and ran around, squealing his delight. I let out the breath I’d been holding and continued to train my vision on him as he continued to hop up the stairs to try all the slides. I couldn’t relax as much as I’d wanted to, but as time went on, it became easier to let him have his fun.

I found an empty bench and slid down onto it, glad I’d brought a couple bottles of water in my purse. I downed a few gulps and felt my pocket vibrate. I was pretty sure I already knew who it would be. Glancing at the screen, I smiled and rolled my eyes just a tiny bit.

“IRS, how can I help you?” I answered, a tiny smirk on my lips as I settled back and found Cam at the top of big slide again, watching the kids in front of him as they dove into the tube. He’d better not try that head first, I thought.

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