My thanks as always to my wonderful team of beta readers: Betty, Carol, Mom and my sweet Day.
If you want to comment, you can reach me at: email@example.com
An angry burst of epithets erupted from a nearby office, and Gina paused from filling her cup in the executive coffee room, looking inquisitively at her silver haired companion.
"Wow! It sounds like your boss is pretty upset, Libby. That's a first. I didn't think anyone but Nick could get under her skin like that."
Libby gave her colleague a wry look. "That's usually true, Gina. Bryn's always been a little fiery, but she's basically very fair. Nick's known how to push his sister's buttons since the day she was born, though, and since she joined the family business, he seems to take delight in doing so. Speaking of which, you'd better get back to your desk, because if it is Nick that she's upset with, you can bet Bryn will be calling him pronto. Between the two of us, maybe we can run interference and head off any fisticuffs."
"Will do." Gina finished pouring her coffee and set the pot back. "If worse comes to worst, we can always call Jack in to referee."
"Poor Jack. He must get so tired of running interference between his big brother and little sister." Libby sighed sympathetically and glanced at her watch. "Guess my break is over, too. Catch you later."
The two women parted company, as Gina headed down the hall to her desk outside of the CEO's office, and Libby returned to her boss' office, brushing imaginary crumbs off her crisp white blouse and immaculate navy blue skirt.
Stopping in the office doorway, she found Bryn staring angrily at the computer screen. A small, affectionate smile crossed Libby's face as she regarded the younger woman.
"What's up with the naughty words, Bryn? Did Nick lose the family business playing poker last Friday night, or was it something really serious ? like the Laughlin Clinics account tanked?"
"No, my brother's in the clear this time, but I am going to run over that useless, no-good nanny of mine with a tank!"
Libby groaned and stepped into the office, closing the door behind her. "Not again, Bryn. You've had just the worst luck with nannies! What's this, the fourth one you've had in three months? Poor little Gideon barely gets time to bond with anyone before you have to let them go."
"He's only six months old; all he's interested in bonding with is his bottle. Anyway, you were the one who suggested I have surveillance cameras installed. And after what I've seen, I'm damned glad I did!"
Libby came over to stand behind Bryn. Eyeing the monitor, she didn't find anything out of order in Bryn Marshall's bedroom. Music could be heard faintly in the background, and the baby appeared to be sleeping soundly in his crib. "I only suggested the nanny cams because you were so nervous about leaving Gideon with anyone. I didn't think it would mean you'd end up firing every unfortunate nanny the agency sends over."
"Unfortunate!" Bryn transferred her glare from the monitor to her executive assistant. "The first one they sent emptied my liquor cabinet, and I caught the second one going through my drawers."
"I know. I agree that neither of them deserved a second chance, but what was wrong with the third one?"
"She smelled funny."
Libby started to laugh. "You have got to be kidding."
Bryn shook her head. "No, I'm really not. I'd come home after work, and the whole place would reek of something I never did identify." She grimaced ruefully. "I think it was a combination of poor hygiene and garlic sausage, but when I started seriously considering buying gas masks for Gideon and me, I knew it was time to pull the plug."
"Okay, I can buy that...I guess. But I thought this new one was working out." Libby glanced again at the monitor where the baby had begun to fuss.
"So did I, until today." Bryn turned back to the monitor and began clicking through the screenshots of her upscale, West Vancouver condo. Videos of the dining and living rooms, kitchen, den, and guest room flipped by on the screen in rapid succession.
Libby frowned and shook her head. "Where is she?" The monitor settled on the nearly empty nursery, where a painter on a stepladder was stroking a brush along the edge of the ceiling.
"My question exactly, so I recalled footage from earlier this afternoon, and this is what I found." Bryn looked grim as she entered a command and the screen showed a young woman talking on the phone. The time code at the bottom of the screen read 1:21 p.m. She turned up the muted volume, and rolled her chair away so that Libby could get a clear view.
Libby's mouth dropped open as she listened to the nanny's end of the conversation.
"So, I'll meet you at Starbuck's in ten minutes, then? No, I'm not bringing the baby. The painter is here; she can keep an eye on him. Besides, he's sleeping soundly and won't wake up for another hour or two. We've got lots of time. Okay, love you, too."
The women watched as the nanny grabbed her coat and left, without even going upstairs to check on the baby first.
"Oh, my God!" Libby stared at the screen in shock. "She just left him." Stunned, she groped for an explanation. "Do you think she had already arranged with the painter to look after him?"
"I'm not paying the painter to look after him! I'm paying that useless tart to do her job, and that does not include leaving my son alone while she goes out to meet her boyfriend!" Bryn's hand had clenched so tightly around the mouse that Libby feared she would break it. "Besides, I checked the footage, and that stupid little twit never went near the painter. I thoroughly doubt she even knows that she's supposedly in charge of Gideon right now."
Libby glanced at the time in the corner of the screen. 3:06. "For crying out loud, she's been gone almost two hours!"
As if on cue, Gideon started wailing loudly. Bryn reached for the telephone and punched the speed dial for her home number. Both women watched anxiously as they heard the sound of the phone ringing in concert with the baby's cries. The phone stopped as the answering machine picked up, and Bryn swore.
"I'm going to have to run home..." Bryn's words were cut off as the painter walked out to the top landing, wiping her hands on a paint-stained rag. They watched as the tall, lean, dark-haired painter called down the stairs.
"Miss? Miss? I think the baby needs you." The painter looked around quizzically, then entered the master bedroom. Crossing to the crib, she reached inside and rubbed Gideon's tummy. "Hey, you, what's all the fuss about? And where did your nanny go, eh?"
When Gideon didn't stop crying, the painter carefully reached into the crib and lifted him out, cradling him tenderly on her shoulder as she rocked him. "Shhh, shhh. It's alright now. Everything's going to be okay."
Libby chuckled as she saw the painter wrinkle her nose.
"Whew! You're pretty stinky there, little man. Let's get you cleaned up, okay?" As the painter carried him to the changing table, she continued to murmur soothingly to him. "Yeah, I don't blame you a bit. Who could possibly be in a good mood with such smelly pants?"
Bryn gave a relieved sigh, and Libby patted her on the shoulder. "Good thing you hired a jack-of-all-trades there, Bryn."
Bryn dialed down the volume so she could talk with Libby. "Pure dumb luck, believe me. Considering it took me almost a year to even find a reputable contractor to take on the renovations I wanted, I would've accepted an ape who knew one end of a hammer from the other."
Libby watched the painter's actions approvingly. "Well, she's certainly no ape, and judging by the way she's handling Gideon, I suspect she's probably got kids of her own. What's her name?"
Bryn shrugged. "No idea. I've been waiting for a week, since they finished the last of the construction, and I wasn't exactly in the mood to exchange pleasantries with her when she finally arrived this morning."
"Oh, Bryn, you didn't go off on her, did you?" Libby frowned at her boss, who had the grace to look shamefaced. "You did, didn't you? For heaven's sake, Bryn! I've never seen you as short-tempered and as you've been since you came back from maternity leave. This just isn't like you."
"I know, and I felt terrible about it afterwards, but I was running late, and the nanny hadn't arrived, and Gideon still isn't sleeping through the night..."
"No excuse," Libby said sternly. "Your father, God rest his soul, created this company from nothing, but Bradley Tyler Marshall treated everyone - from janitors to junior executives - with dignity and respect, and he would expect nothing less from any of his children."
Bryn's mother had died when she was fourteen, and Bradley Marshall had often called on his longtime personal assistant and confidant to stand in for his late wife when it came to counseling his only daughter. As a result, Libby had developed a near maternal relationship with the younger woman. That might have made for a difficult passage when Bryn eventually became her boss, but both women handled the transition with grace. Their affectionate, irreverent relationship had survived and flourished, and Bryn was openly and generously appreciative of her indispensable executive assistant.
Libby had intended to retire seven years earlier when Bradley handed over control of the medical technology firm to his children. She had reached sixty, was recently widowed and had served nearly four decades with the company. But a personal plea and a substantial raise from her longtime boss kept her on as Bryn's executive assistant.
She had been pleasantly surprised to watch how quickly the one-time wild child mastered her position by absorbing Libby's experience and knowledge of the business. Within five years, Bryn had built the artificial joints division into the profit leader of BTM, and even Nick now acknowledged that she was a vital part of the firm.
Bradley's untimely and unexpected death sixteen months earlier had been the only thing that Libby had ever seen derail Bryn. Always her father's favourite, Bryn had seemed unable to deal with her profound grief, and with no notice, had fled to Europe immediately following his funeral.
She had come home a month later - quieter, more contemplative - and pregnant. Libby wryly remembered the day Bryn found out she was expecting; it had been a toss-up as to who was the more shocked - the executive or her assistant.
Much to everyone's amazement, Bryn had chosen to carry the child to term, though in her customary fashion, she had returned to work several weeks after delivery. And had been searching for a suitable nanny ever since.
"You're right, and I promise I'll apologize, Libby...honest. But right now I have to figure out what to do for another nanny, because I'm firing that useless bitch the moment I get home!"
Libby sighed. After what she had seen, she certainly didn't blame her boss, but she wasn't looking forward to Bryn's continuing search for the perfect nanny. She had lost track of how many candidates had been interviewed and rejected, often for no discernable reason other than that Bryn hadn't gotten the right "feeling" from the women. Having raised two sons of her own, Libby completely understood and even admired Bryn's caution, but she was becoming convinced that Gideon would be in high school before his mother found someone she trusted.
She was about to ask Bryn if she wanted her to put through a call to the nanny agency, when she noticed that her boss' attention was riveted to the monitor, where the painter was now carrying the baby down the stairs and out to the kitchen.
"Turn it up, Bryn."
Bryn did so, and both women were able to hear the painter talking to Gideon.
"So, little guy, I'm guessing you're probably hungry about now. Let's see what we can find. I sure hope your mommy left some milk, because I don't think the half a meatloaf sandwich I've got leftover from lunch would appeal to you." Opening the fridge, the painter sighed in relief. Snagging one of the bottles lined up neatly on the shelf, she put in on the counter. "I have no idea if this is breast milk or not, sweetie, but I hope so. After all, you know what all the studies say - your mommy's milk is much healthier for you, and we want you to grow up to be big and strong, don't we?"
Libby was amused to see Bryn blush, and she chuckled aloud as her boss muttered at the monitor where the painter was one-handedly filling a small pot with water.
"Twelve hour work days and breast feeding don't go together, so don't lay a guilt trip on me, damn it."
While the water heated, the painter continued to talk softly to the baby, and by the look on Gideon's face as he babbled back at her, he liked the sound of her voice. Just as the painter was testing the warmth of the milk, the sound of a slamming door could be heard and the truant nanny rushed into the kitchen.
"Shit! I meant to be back before he woke up. Here, give him to me!"
The nanny grabbed for the baby, but the painter appeared to hesitate for a moment before handing him over. Then with a shake of her head, she walked out of the room.
The nanny called after her, "Hey, don't rat me out, okay? I just lost track of time; it won't happen again."
With a vicious swipe of her finger, Bryn killed the sound on the monitor. "You're damned right it won't!"
"I'm guessing that you want me to get the nanny agency on the line," Libby offered.
"Yes! No, wait a minute. First, get me Keeler Construction."
Surprised, Libby left the office and put a call through to the construction company. After connecting her boss, she warred momentarily with her conscience, then let her curiosity overrule etiquette as she listened in on the conversation.
"Yes, Ms. Marshall, it's Pete Keeler here. Is there a problem?"
The man was clearly concerned, and Libby wasn't surprised. Bryn had blistered the lines to Keeler Construction several times during the extensive renovation process that had converted her elegant condo into a baby-friendly environment.
"No, there's no problem, Mr. Keeler, but I did have a question about the painter you sent over."
"Cam? I assure you, Ms. Marshall, she's one of my best."
"Oh, I'm sure she's fine. I just wondered...well, I didn't see her with the crews that had been working earlier."
"No, Cam was badly injured on a job early last year, and she's not really up to any heavy work anymore. If it was anyone else, I'da laid her off, but she's not only a terrific worker, she's my cousin, so I throw her all the light work I can. She's really conscientious; I've never had any complaints about her before."
"And you're certainly not getting one now, Mr. Keeler. In fact I wanted to compliment you on the quality of her work."
"Wow! Well, geez, Ms. Marshall, thanks. I'll let Cam know."
Libby almost snickered aloud at the surprise in the man's voice, and she was proud of Bryn for making the call.
"Has she worked for you long, Mr. Keeler?"
"Since high school, yeah. Must be almost seventeen years now." The man's voice saddened. "She got messed up pretty badly, though, and the doctors don't know if she'll ever return full-time. She's applied for retraining through Worker's Comp, and she's just waiting to hear on that. I only have jobs for her every now and then, and I know it's been a rough go for her."
"Does she have a family? Children?"
Keeler's voice grew curious. "Children? No, not of her own, but she's always had kids up the wazoo...you should pardon the expression, ma'am. What I meant is that she was the oldest, and she helped her mom raise half a dozen little ones. My own kids think the sun rises and sets on her head. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I just noticed when she came over this morning that my infant son was charmed by her."
"That's our Cam, all right! Not a baby born that could resist her." Libby heard the pride clearly evident in the man's voice.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Keeler. Please don't mention our conversation to Cam. I'd like to express my appreciation of her work to her in person."
"Not a problem, ma'am. And once she's finished the painting, I'll be out to go over everything with you and make sure you're fully satisfied with Keeler Construction. If you've got any issues, we'll work things out until you're satisfied."
"I know you stand behind your work, Mr. Keeler. It's the reason I was willing to wait until you could fit me in. I trusted the word of mouth on your results, and you've certainly lived up to your reputation thus far."
Libby quietly cut off the connection, and leaned back in her chair. What is Bryn up to? Before she had much time to analyze the possibilities, Bryn stood at the door of her office.
"Libby, would you please get the nanny agency for me, now? Oh, and Lib, if you're going to listen in on this one, you might want to stuff your ears with tissue first."
With a grin, Bryn disappeared back into her office, leaving Libby to shake her head as she looked up the agency's number. Couldn't put one past her when she was four, don't know why I thought I could do it now.
As it turned out, there was no need for her to listen in, because the volume of Bryn's voice quickly escalated to the point where half of the seventh floor could have heard her.
"...and you're lucky I don't sue you for sending someone so careless and irresponsible! You'd better believe I'll be putting out the word about the kind of incompetents you have on staff. You can just send me the final invoice and consider our business concluded."
The sound of a phone being slammed down was quickly followed by Bryn's appearance at her office door as she shrugged on a raincoat. "Lib, I'm going to work out of my home for a couple of days while I find another nanny for Gideon. Forward me anything you think I need to deal with, and let my brothers know where I can be reached, okay?"
"Okay, Bryn. Good luck!"
As Bryn strode out of the office, her briefcase in one hand and umbrella in the other, Libby spared a fleeting moment of sympathy for the wretched, soon to be ex-nanny. She had seen her boss take a strip off those who fell short of her expectations, and she wouldn't have been in the nanny's shoes for anything.
Cam had barely begun painting the baseboards in the nursery when she heard the phone ring again and the sound of the nanny's raised voice from the lower level. She half-wished she had remembered her iPod that morning, for she enjoyed the serenity of painting to music. Wouldn't have heard the baby then, though.
Finding it incomprehensible that the nanny had walked out on the child, Cam fretted about whether to tell the demanding Ms. Marshall. She hated to tell tales on anyone, but the baby's welfare was clearly the more important issue. She was still mulling it over when the ashen-faced nanny appeared at the door.
"I gotta go. My agency just called, and there's an emergency. Can you keep an eye on the kid?"
Before Cam could say a word, the nanny vanished, and as the painter went to the door, she saw the young woman practically running down the stairs and out the front door.
"Well, what the hell?" Cam stared after the nanny in amazement, then reminded herself that the baby was now in her care and she had better find out where he was. A quick check of the master bedroom showed he wasn't in his crib, so she hastened downstairs. When she spotted him in his playpen in the living room, she gave a sigh of relief. "Hey, sweetie, did you scare your nanny off?"
The baby's eyes were focused on the mobile of Pooh and Piglet, and Tigger and Eeyore and Roo turning slowly over his head. He seemed contented, so Cam knelt down on the floor next to the playpen to think things over.
Ms. Marshall had made it clear that morning that she expected the painting of the new nursery, bathroom and guest room to be completed by the time she returned from work. Cam could have told her that was impossible since she would be working with primer and several coats of different coloured paints, and needed time for things to dry, but she had dealt with clients like Ms. Marshall before. It was best to simply get on with the job and ignore her as much as possible. She would let her cousin Pete handle any complaints.
"That's why it's his name on the company, right, little man? But how am I supposed to work and look after you, too?" Cam watched the baby reach for the Eeyore that had just passed over his head. "Your mommy is going to be some pissed when she gets home." Rising to her feet, she told the baby, "Well, we're just going to have to do the best we can."
It took a couple of trips, but Cam soon had the baby set up in his playpen outside the master bedroom, where she could continue her work and still monitor him. The third time she checked on him, he was beginning to fuss, so she picked him up and sat on the top stair as she cuddled him.
He quickly quieted in her arms, and Cam smiled at him. "That's all you wanted, wasn't it? Just a little attention." The sound from the sub-level of the garage door opening made her grimace. "Uh, oh. I think your mommy is home. This is where the you-know-what hits the fan, little man. Wish me luck."
She heard the door to the sub-level open, and within moments, a stern looking woman was staring up at her from the base of the stairs. Before she could offer any explanation, Ms. Marshall snapped, "Where's the nanny?"
"I don't know, ma'am. She ran out of here about an hour ago. Told me there was some kind of emergency and asked if I'd keep an eye on the baby."
Cam was startled to see a look of grim amusement appear on the woman's face.
"That gutless coward. Didn't even stick around to face the music. Well, I guess that should come as no surprise."
Suddenly Ms. Marshall looked so tired that Cam couldn't help feeling sorry for her. Even more surprising, the executive seemed to be studying her closely, and she shifted the baby uneasily in her arms, wondering if she was going to be chewed out for being presumptuous. She was about to explain why she was sitting there holding the woman's child when she was supposed to be painting, when she was cut off.
"Would you mind bringing Gideon down here, Ms...?"
"Keeler, ma'am. Cam Keeler."
"Could you bring the baby down, Ms. Keeler?"
Cam did as she was asked, pleased when the woman immediately set down her briefcase and reached for her son. Cam approved of the way Ms. Marshall looked at her son, the obvious adoration softening the lean, austere angles of the executive's face. And when Gideon grabbed a handful of his mother's long, blonde hair, Ms. Marshall only laughed and gently disengaged the tiny fingers.
"Would you mind sitting and talking for a moment, Ms. Keeler?"
"Uh, well, I haven't finished all the painting yet, ma'am."
"It doesn't matter. I just need a few minutes of your time."
Following Ms. Marshall to the living room, Cam could only shake her head at the woman's inconsistencies. From the way she had been addressed only that morning, she would've thought that completing the painting was paramount. But as the woman sat in the rocking chair and cooed at her son, it was quickly apparent that the painting had been forgotten.
Cam perched gingerly on the edge of the couch, praying that she wouldn't accidentally transfer any paint to the leather surface and curious to find out what this puzzling encounter was all about.
"Ms. Keeler, would you tell me what happened here today?"
When Cam didn't answer immediately, Ms. Marshall gave her a weary smile. "I've spoken with the nanny agency, and Miss Anderson will not be returning. She has been dismissed for cause."
Cam was relieved that the nanny had apparently been fired for other reasons, so she recounted the afternoon's events with a clear conscience.
"I can't believe she would do that." Ms. Marshall rolled her eyes. "What am I saying? Of course I can believe it. I've had the worst luck with that agency." She looked at Cam speculatively. "Ms. Keeler, I spoke to your boss this afternoon."
Cam felt a rising current of annoyance. She hadn't even been there one day and the woman was complaining? "About?"
Ms. Marshall smiled at Cam's curt tone. "I was complimenting him on his employee."
Compliments? Cam blinked in surprise.Though she knew she did good work, clients rarely called the office to say so. And besides, how does she know? She hasn't even seen what I've done yet.
Her train of thought was cut off as Ms. Marshall spoke again.
"I know this might sound odd, but your cousin mentioned your injury and inability to return to full-time work, at least for the time being.
Cam closed her eyes. The long nightmare that had begun the previous spring still hadn't ended, and at the end of every long day, she felt every bit of the reconstruction the surgeons had performed on her back.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up painful memories." Cam waved off the woman's apology. "It's just...well, I know from what your cousin said that things have been a little tight for you since then."
A little tight? That's putting it mildly.
"And I thought I might have a solution that would serve both our needs. Look, you need work that won't break your back..."
Cam winced at the woman's inadvertent pun.
"...and I need a nanny that I can trust."
That's gotta be the craziest thing I've ever heard! "A nanny? Ma'am, I've never...I mean all I've ever done since high school is carpentry. I don't have any qualifications for being a nanny."
"Don't you? From what your cousin told me, you've been around children all your life. He said his kids think the sun rises and sets on you."
"Well, I like kids, and I get along with them great, but?"
"He also said you were heavily involved in raising your younger siblings."
"Sure, I was expected to help out..."
"Are you honest?"
Cam bristled at the question. "Damned right I am!"
"You're obviously competent with babies - Gideon appears to have been quite contented in your arms. Your cousin values you so highly as an employee that he's kept you on long after he would've let anyone else go. And I strongly suspect you have an excellent work ethic. All of those things mean far more to me than any formal qualifications. Ms. Keeler, what I propose is a four-month trial period. I'll double what I paid the last nanny, and throw in free room and board. If at the end of the four months either of us isn't pleased, we can walk away from our deal, no harm done. I know your cousin's only able to throw piecemeal work your way, and even if this turns out not to suit you, you'll have earned enough income to carry you through the winter. As for me, I'll at least get some breathing space to find someone decent to care for Gideon."
Having made her case, Ms. Marshall rocked quietly, allowing Cam time to consider.
I guess I could do this. I've certainly been around enough babies to know one end from the other. And God knows I could use the money to knock down that pile of bills. I know Jake and TJ would jump at the chance to sublet my place. They're always bitching about being so far from the university. I dunno, though...a nanny? Me?
Finally it was the thought of digging herself out of debt that swayed Cam's decision. With some reluctance, she nodded.
"Alright, Ms. Marshall. I'll give it a try."
"Excellent!" The woman leaned forward and held out her hand. Cam quickly rubbed her paint stained fingers on her coveralls, then shook her new employer's hand.
Libby finished tidying her desk, then stood up and stretched. "Friday, yes!" Most of the other staff had left by five, but Libby valued the quiet hours to catch up on her perpetual backlog. Bryn had long ago quit trying to get her to go home when the others did, finally yielding to Libby's pointed observation that she didn't leave when her brothers left, either.
Though Bryn had gotten much better about leaving at a more reasonable hour in the last couple of months, the lights in her office were still burning, Friday night or not. Grabbing her coat and purse, Libby crossed to Bryn's office and stood in the doorway. She was surprised to see her boss engrossed in watching her computer monitor where she could see Gideon and his nanny playing on the floor. The figures moved silently on the muted screen.
"Hey, are you still checking up on her? I thought you trusted Cam, Bryn."
Bryn swiveled and smiled at her assistant. "I do trust her, Lib. Honestly, these last three months, I swear my stress levels have plummeted to almost nothing, thanks to Cam."
Libby walked over to stand beside Bryn. The sound was off, but she could see Gideon laugh as Cam rolled him over and tickled his belly. "So, why are you still watching her?"
"I'm not watching her, I'm watching them both, and it's not because I don't trust Cam - it's because I just enjoy seeing how happy my son is. She's so good with him; I swear he thinks she walks on water. As long as Cam is holding him, I'm not sure Gideon even notices when I leave for work in the morning."
Concerned, Libby settled a hand on Bryn's shoulder. "You're not jealous, are you?"
Bryn patted Libby's hand. "You'd think I would be, wouldn't you? But for some reason, I'm not. It just feels so good knowing that I don't have to worry for a moment when I can't be with him. I'm trying to figure out how to keep Cam on until Gideon goes to high school."
Libby chuckled, remembering the traumas her own two boys had occasionally put her through. "You might want to keep her on right through high school and let her deal with the teen years. Trust me, overnight that little angel of yours will turn into a stranger with weird hair and even weirder clothes. And don't even get me started on the music he'll listen to!"
"No, not my Gideon. He's going to be a perfect gentleman, even at thirteen. We'll discuss philosophy over breakfast, the stock market over lunch, and geo-politics over dinner. He'll be a prodigy who'll graduate with his MBA and be ready to step into his mother's shoes at BTM by the time he's twenty-one, so I can retire early and travel the world."
"No teenage rebellion? With you as a mother? Dream on, Bryn!" Libby shook her head, but enjoyed the sound of Bryn's laughter. Though she might be the only one close enough to see it, her boss had relaxed noticeably since her nanny situation had been solved. Bryn was her old self again, and it was as it had been before the death of Bradley Marshall, and Bryn's unexpected pregnancy. "Hey, you want to go grab a bite to eat before you head home? I'll even share my wisdom on adolescent boys, so you can start getting prepared. Trust me when I say it's never too early."
Bryn shook her head, still smiling. "Thanks, Lib, but I think I'll head home. We're taking Gideon to Stanley Park tomorrow morning, and I'd like to make an early night of it."
"Okay. See you on Monday, then."
Bryn gave a wave, then swiveled back to face the monitor as the assistant left. Libby stopped at the door and glanced back. Bryn was leaning forward, a soft smile on her face as one finger traced the image of Cam and Gideon on the screen. Bemused, Libby quietly closed the door behind her and left the office.
Crossing the Lion's Gate Bridge, Bryn allowed her mind to drift to what she had told Libby earlier that evening. It was true that she enjoyed seeing how happy Gideon was, but she knew that wasn't the only reason she found herself checking the tapes more and more frequently throughout her work day. And it wasn't that she didn't trust Cam, either - the gentle, placid woman had proven herself thoroughly reliable in the three months that she had been caring for Gideon.
Though it still made her uncomfortable, Bryn recalled an incident from three days earlier when she had checked the surveillance cameras in mid-afternoon. Audio off, as usual, so as not to disturb any of the office staff, she noted that her son was napping peacefully in his crib, but then she hadn't immediately returned to her work. It was only when Libby forwarded a call to her that she realized she had been watching Cam work in the kitchen for ten minutes.
Startled, Bryn had plunged back into work, and not left the office until after ten p.m., knowing she would arrive home after both Gideon and Cam had retired for the evening. The following morning she had been unable to look Cam in the eyes, hastening from the condo with a quick kiss for Gideon and a mumbled explanation to his nanny about the pressing urgency of work.
That day, Bryn had forbidden herself to check the cameras, a resolution she managed to honour until her lunch hour, when she entertained herself by watching Cam feed Gideon strained food that he repeatedly and gleefully spit up.
With traffic at a crawl on the bridge, Bryn had plenty of time to contemplate why she found the surveillance footage so fascinating.
Because she's so fascinating.
Bryn shook her head and gave a chagrined laugh as she recalled how worried she had been about allowing a stranger to share her home. She had initially offered the free room and board in part as an additional incentive, but also because her schedule made maximum flexibility imperative. She didn't want to have to worry about getting home by a certain time in order to release the nanny from her duties, so she was willing to put up with the inconvenience of a live-in employee, though she hoped to find a better solution eventually.
Now, much to Bryn's amazement, she found herself going out socially far less often, just because she thoroughly enjoyed being with Gideon and Cam. Her condo, littered with toys and resounding with the music of Sesame Street and Walt Disney cartoons, had become a home. And Cam was a vital part of that.
"God, Bryn, what's happening to you? When did you become this woman who..." Bryn couldn't finish the question, even to herself, so she changed the inquiry. What do I find so fascinating about her?
Cam certainly wasn't like the people with whom Bryn was accustomed to keeping company. The nanny had no formal education beyond high school, and wouldn't know Verdi from Puccini or a Picasso from a Matisse. Yet Bryn had long ago lost track of the number of nights they had passed deep in conversation about the world around them, from the ethics of reinstating Todd Bertuzzi after his infamous sucker-punch, to the reformation of Canadian conservatism, to the unmistakable aversion Gideon had developed for cats and strained peas.
A chat several weeks earlier about B.C.'s Fraser Valley Bible Belt had led to the not unexpected disclosure that Cam was gay, and Bryn hastened to assure her nanny that was not an issue for her. Several of her long-time friends had been out since they were all in university together, and before Gideon's arrival, Bryn had spent countless hours with them in Vancouver's West End.
Despite the charms of those friends, however, Bryn was now reluctant to leave the warmth of her home for the intellectual and chemical stimulations that had once drawn her like magnets.
A fender-bender on the bridge just up ahead brought the crawl to a standstill, and Bryn shifted into park as she prepared to wait it out. Sighing, she dug her cellphone out of her purse and called home.
"Hi, Cam. I'm stuck on the Lion's Gate and nothing's moving. Could be a while before I get home."
"Not a problem. Gideon's been fed and he's about to have his bath. He'll be ready for his bedtime story by the time you get here."
Bryn smiled. She knew her son didn't understand many of the words, but she loved reading to him while he pawed at the brightly coloured pictures. "Okay. But don't keep him up if I'm delayed too long. You'll just have to fill in for me."
"Sorry, Bryn. Gideon has informed me that no one can read a story like his mommy, and he refuses to accept any cheap imitations."
"Cheap, eh? He obviously hadn't seen your paycheque!" Bryn was delighted by the laughter that greeted her quip. "Hey, have you eaten yet?"
"Nope, though Junior offered to share his pureed bananas."
"Want me to pick something up?"
"You can, but we have lots of leftovers in the fridge, too."
Again Cam's laugh echoed in Bryn's ears, and she loved that she didn't have to explain any further. Over the months, Friday had become their night for take-out, despite Cam's initial resistance to spending money "frivolously." "Indian, Thai or Chinese?"
"Your choice, Bryn. You know what I like."
"Alright. See you soon, then."
Bryn ended the call, her mind going over Cam's words. You know what I like. She did know what her nanny...her friend liked, and she found herself going the extra mile to provide those things. Despite her preference for chicken and fish, there was red meat in the freezer. Despite her aversion to sports, she brought home BTM's corporate seats to see the Canucks. She encouraged invitations to Cam's family to join them for Sunday dinners, and found, to her amazement, that she really enjoyed the plethora of lively Keeler relatives. She had even acquiesced to Cam's insistence that they also invite Bryn's relatives over, and much to her astonishment, she found herself developing a closer relationship with her own brothers and their families.
But it wasn't Cam's preferences in food, sports or dinner guests that came to mind as Bryn drifted off to sleep or woke before Gideon did. It was Cam's quiet disclosure of her romantic preferences that twined through her ungoverned thoughts and dreams.
Traffic began to inch forward, then to pick up speed, and Bryn concentrated on driving. Though she could practically make this trip with her eyes closed, she didn't want to have to analyze her self-revelations. It raised far too many unsettling implications, and she wasn't yet prepared to deal with those.
After a stop at a nearby Thai restaurant, Bryn was home within half an hour. Cam met her at the sub-level door, trading a bundle of sweet smelling baby for the spicy smelling food.
"Here, you go read Junior his story, and get him tucked in. I'll put these in the kitchen so we can warm them when you're ready to eat, and I'll bring his bottle up in a few minutes."
"Thanks, Cam. But you don't have to wait for me. Why don't you go ahead and eat before it gets cold."
Cam shook her head as she headed for the kitchen. "No, that's fine. I'd rather wait for you."
Undeniably pleased that Cam preferred to dine in her company, Bryn climbed the stairs. Once in her bedroom, she placed Gideon in the centre of the bed, keeping a close eye on him as she shucked off her work clothes in favour of old sweat pants and a pullover.
"No, no, Gideon. That's far enough." The baby had crawled too close to the bed's edge for comfort, and Bryn hastened to block his progress as she pulled on her socks. Gideon immediately turned and scrambled for the other side of the bed, and she tackled him, turning him on his back as she buried her face in his belly. His gleeful chortle entranced her, and Bryn rolled over on her side, snuggling him against her body. He decided that was a good spot and popped his thumb into his mouth as he wriggled closer.
Bryn softly sang him a lullaby as she stroked his back. Lost in the moment, it took her a few minutes to realize that Cam was leaning against the door, holding a baby bottle and watching them with a smile on her face.
Returning the smile, Bryn held out her hand. Cam crossed to the bed and handed her the bottle, which Gideon promptly claimed with a happy gurgle. Bryn kept her eyes on her son, fighting the urge to pull the other woman down beside them.
When Cam turned to leave, Bryn's gaze followed her until she moved out into the hallway, then she murmured to her son, "Oh, Gideon, this is not good, not good at all." So why does it feel so good, so right?
When the bottle finally dropped out of Gideon's hands, Bryn eased herself away, careful not to disturb her drowsing son. Deciding that he could go without his story tonight, she carried him to the nursery and laid him in the crib. Tucking the blanket around him, she stood watching as he fought sleep for a few moments until his eyes gave up the struggle and closed.
Bryn felt a current of desire shoot through her as she stood absentmindedly watching her son and wondering what Cam would've done if she had reached for her hand, inviting the nanny into her family and into her bed. The hunger for it almost overwhelmed her.
She crossed her arms on the edge of the crib, lowering her forehead to rest as she sought balance in the sound of her son's breathing. Finally, Bryn resolutely pushed the urgency away, and stood on unsteady legs. Turning on the baby monitor, she shut off the lamp and left the room, determined to display a normal mien but keenly aware she was going to have to deal with the situation soon.
Both women were quieter than usual as they ate dinner, and when Bryn offered a post-prandial drink, Cam accepted. They adjourned to the living room, settling on each end of the couch as they allowed the soporific sounds of the TV to mitigate any need for speech.
The comfortable silence went on so long that Bryn almost dropped her drink at the sound of Cam's voice.
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
Bryn felt like all her muscles had seized at once. I'm not ready for this! But she managed to nod her head. "Sure, go ahead."
"Who's Gideon's father?"
Like air going out of a balloon, the tension immediately ebbed and Bryn took a deep breath.
"I mean, I don't want to butt into something that's none of my business, but I have kinda wondered."
Bryn stood up and, with a small grin, extended her hand for Cam's empty glass. "Long story, and I think I could use another drink. Can I get you one, too?"
Wordlessly, Cam handed over her glass, only raising an eyebrow when Bryn brought it back filled almost to the brim. "It must be a long one."
Bryn nodded and settled back, pulling her feet up on the cushions as she twisted to face Cam.
Cam did likewise, snapping off the TV and tossing the remote control to the carpet.
"Where to begin," Bryn mused aloud. "Well, I guess with my father's death. It was such a shock - he'd always been in great health, at least as far as we all knew. He skied, and sailed, and even ran the Vancouver Half Marathon the year before he died. He and my stepmother were really enjoying his retirement, and they were always busy with one thing or another. So when he was struck with a massive heart attack and died before he hit the floor, I simply couldn't believe that he was gone."
She paused to take a deep swallow of her wine, and was almost undone by the compassion in Cam's eyes. Unsteadily, she continued.
"I'm not proud of my behaviour then, but I couldn't deal with going to Dad's company and working out of his old office every day. I had to get away. I took off for Europe, saw some old friends and spent a lot of time alone. A couple of weeks into my trip, I was in Paris; I'd gone to Montmartre. I love the Place du Tertre. It was one of the first places my father took me when he began to introduce me to foreign travel. I even get a kick out of all the artists who want to immortalize you in charcoal or paint. My father kept a portrait of me as a child that he'd had done in the Place du Tertre, so out of sentiment, I decided to get another one done. I chose one of the less intrusive artists, and we adjourned to his studio. Well, he called it his studio, but it was just a tiny, ill-lit room."
Bryn raised her glass to her cheek, seeking to cool the flush she could feel as the memory of that day rushed back. "We talked as he worked. He admired my French, but I know he was just being kind. Eventually, I found myself telling him about my father's death; I ended up sobbing. He opened a bottle of wine and got me calmed down..."
She broke off, and Cam helpfully filled in. "And one thing led to another?"
"Sort of, yes. I mean, I don't remember making a conscious decision about it, but it just...happened."
"With no protection?"
"Stupid, I know. I'd been on the pill for almost twenty years, but I'd left them behind when I'd fled after Dad's funeral. I certainly hadn't planned to have sex that day, least of all with a stranger and no condom!"
Cam gave Bryn's foot a comforting squeeze. "But it worked out all right, eh? You ended up with Gideon."
"And wasn't that a surprise! At 36, I figured the whole 'kids' thing wasn't in the cards for me, particularly as I'd never been in a long term relationship." Bryn was very aware that Cam's hand was still resting on her foot, and she held very still, hoping it would stay there. "But you know, as soon as I found out that I was pregnant, there was never any question about it even though Nick always said I couldn't even take care of a puppy. I could hardly wait for Gideon's arrival. My only regret was that Dad never lived to see him."
"I'm surprised you didn't name the baby after your dad." Cam's thumb had started a slow massage of the sole of Bryn's foot that was sending unmistakable signals to other parts of her body.
Trying to focus, Bryn took another deep swallow of her wine. "I would've, but Nick beat me to it fifteen years ago, and I thought two Bradley Tyler cousins might be confusing."
Bryn wondered if Cam had any idea of the effect she was having, but the nanny appeared to have gotten lost in thought. It was only when Cam hit a spot that made Bryn moan in pleasure that she appeared to become aware of what she was doing and pulled her hand away.
Covering up as best she could, Bryn brushed aside the first question that popped to mind - would you come to bed with me? - and posed the second.
"So, what about you, Cam? Do you think you'll have children some day?"
Cam shook her head. "I thought so once, but my partner got freaked out at the whole 'marriage, white picket fence, and babies' idea."
"Your partner?" The thought was like a bucket of cold water as Bryn wondered if that was where Cam went on the weekends she was away.
"My ex. The day after B.C. legalized gay marriage, she left without a word. Guess she figured there was too much danger I might pop the question, and she didn't want to have to deal with it."
"Damn, that's harsh, Cam. I'm so sorry." Though pleased to hear that the other woman was out of the picture, Bryn ached at the way Cam's broad shoulders slumped in dejection. "Did she ever explain herself?"
"Nope. She sent her best friend to pick up her stuff, and I haven't seen her since. She didn't even come see me in the hospital last year, and I know my family told her what had happened."
The pain of that rejection was still evident in Cam's voice. Wanting to distract the nanny, Bryn blurted, "How did it happen? the accident, I mean?" Then she blushed at the wry grin Cam gave her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
"It's alright." Cam rubbed her neck, and Bryn wondered if she still felt the pain there. She wanted to offer a neck massage, but an unexpected insecurity restrained her.
"Pete had run short of men on a project. He was getting close to deadline, so he had to hire a couple of young jerks who had very little experience. He put me in charge of watching them to make sure they didn't kill themselves." Cam gave a rueful laugh. "He should've put someone else in charge of making sure they didn't kill me. They were goofing around while we were framing, and when I went over to chew them out, one of them accidentally knocked me off the roof. Least I think it was an accident. It's all sort of a blur. Next thing I knew, I woke up flat on my back in a hospital, in a body brace with a halo screwed into my head."
"Oh, Cam, I'm so sorry!" Bryn's libido gave way to an urge to wrap Cam in comforting arms, but she did nothing.
"Things happen, right? It was the first time I got hurt on a site, and I sure made it a good one. Rehab was a bitch, and I'll never be 100% again, but on the bright side, if I hadn't taken that fall, I probably wouldn't have met you and Gideon."
"I'm not sure that's much compensation."
Cam met Bryn's gaze. "Trust me, it is."
Bryn literally didn't know how to respond - to either the words, or the look in Cam's eyes. Any fear that the feelings that were threatening to overwhelm her were one-sided was instantly dispelled, but instead of providing comfort, it propelled her off the couch.
"I'm pretty tired. I think I'll call it a night. See you in the morning, Cam."
Feeling every bit as awkward as she was sure she had sounded, Bryn made her way upstairs. Pausing on the landing, she looked back. Cam had curled up in her corner of the couch and was cradling her half-empty glass between her hands as she stared out at the night sky.
Torn between guilt and desire and fear and longing, Bryn watched for a long moment, then headed for her room and a restless sleep.
"I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, Gideon, but you really haven't been offering me much good advice, you know." Cam slid the toddler's pants up to his waist and began to fasten the snaps. "So, what am I going to do, little guy? I don't know if I'm coming or going with your mommy. One moment, I think maybe she feels the same way I do, then the next, she's running from me like a scared rabbit." She captured his flailing feet and worked them into the tiny running shoes. "I mean, I really don't want to blow this, as you well know, but I'm not sure what I should do or say next. Know what I mean, jellybean?"
Lifting Gideon off the changing table, Cam set him on the floor, smiling as he immediately crawled away. "Well, if you come up with anything, let me know, okay? Cuz just between you and me, Gid, your mama is driving me crazy! I haven't felt like this since... Hell, I've never felt like this."
Stooping over, Cam gathered up the overflowing basket of dirty clothes. "In the meantime, Monday means laundry, and you know what that means, Gideon. We've got work to do." Turning, she saw the toddler flat on his stomach, trying to reach a ball that had rolled under the chest of drawers. "Hey, you want some help there?"
Setting the basket aside, Cam dropped to her knees by the chest and batted the ball out from underneath with her hand. "There you go." As Gideon crawled after it, she noted the raggedy tailed stuffed kangaroo also lying underneath the chest, and tugged it out, too. "Now how did Po-po get under there? I saw your mommy put him in your crib at night. Geez, kid, you're going to pitch for the Jays someday, aren't you?"
Reaching up to put Po-po onto a long shelf crowded with stuffed animals, she caught a glimpse of Gideon crawling at top speed into the adjoining bathroom. "Whoa, you!" In her haste to catch up with the small traveler, Cam knocked several toys off, but she caught up to Gideon before he could start his game of pulling tissue off the roll and stuffing it in the toilet.
Sweeping him up in her arms, she admonished, "Oh, no you don't, buster! Last time it took me half an hour to clean up the mess you made." Cam laughed as Gideon squirmed and tried to get down. Returning to the nursery, she let him down, closed the bathroom door behind her, and surveyed the jumble of stuffies on the floor with a sigh.
Cam began picking up the toys and setting them back on the high shelf. The big neon pink rabbit that sat on the end had gotten twisted around. Bryn had confided that Gideon hated the toy, but she felt she had to include it with his other stuffies because his great-grandmother had given it to him.
As Cam pushed the rabbit back into place, she felt a hard mass inside the soft faux-fur. Curious, she picked it up and found it far too heavy for a mere toy.
"No. It couldn't be." Cam felt a sickening sensation settle into the pit of her stomach. "Could it?" No, Bryn, you didn't...
Cam carried the offending rabbit to the changing table and turned it upside down. Opening the zipper, she stared at the metal cylinder inside the toy. Half disbelieving what she was seeing, she tore the camera out and tossed it against the wall like it was a live snake.
"Oh, God! You don't trust me?" Shaken to the bone, Cam glanced over to where the toddler was now industriously unloading the dirty laundry onto the floor, but for the first time, his antics didn't elicit a smile. "Gideon, what has your mommy done?"
Picking the child up, Cam hurried downstairs and put Gideon in his playpen. Ignoring his complaints, she began a systematic search of the house. Within the hour, she had found hidden surveillance cameras in every room of the house on the main levels except the bathrooms. Fighting an overwhelming urge to vomit, she stumbled back to the living room and sank down on the couch, staring blindly at Gideon in his playpen.
How could she? I've never given her reason not to trust me! A terrible thought struck Cam. She would've heard to me pouring out my heart to Gideon. Has she been laughing at me all along? Oh, God, I've been so wrong-I've made such a fool of myself. How could I have thought she might feel the same way...
Finally, breaking through the inertia of shock and betrayal, Cam picked up the phone and dialed one of her cousins.
"Stephie? You're not working today, are you? Can you come over right away? I really need your help."
By the time her cousin arrived, Cam had packed up her belongings and put her suitcases in her old van, which was waiting in the driveway. Sitting in the rocking chair cuddling Gideon, she tried to memorize the scent and feel of the baby in her arms.
When the doorbell rang, Cam went to let her cousin in, fighting the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.
"Hi, Cam. What's up? You sounded pretty serious." Stephie stepped inside and stopped short at the sight of her cousin's face. "Hey, are you okay? Are you hurt?" A look of alarm crossed the young face. "Is it your back, Cam? Do you want me to call my dad to come take you to the hospital?"
"No, no, it's not my back, Stephie, but I do need to leave right away. Can you look after Gideon until Bryn gets home?"
"Yeah, of course I can, Cam, but are you sure you're okay? You look like someone dropped an anvil on your head."
Not my head...my heart. "I really can't talk about it right now." Cam kissed Gideon's forehead, hugged him tightly, and handed him to her cousin. The toddler protested and reached for Cam, but she backed away, the tears flowing faster. "I gotta go."
As Cam stumbled out the door toward her van, she heard her cousin call after her.
"Hey, what do I tell Bryn?"
Cam shook her head as she unlocked her car. "Tell her...I quit. She'll know why." Gideon's howls were the last thing she heard as she climbed into the van and drove away.
"That's the last of them, Bryn. What a day! And it's only Monday." Libby handed over the file with a shake of her head. "It hasn't been this busy since the day you announced the new generation cobalt and chromium hip implant."
"I know. I swear if I don't get a cup of coffee in the next five minutes, I'm going to drop."
Libby chuckled sympathetically. Bryn had looked tired even when she'd arrived that morning, and now, eight hours later, had the appearance of a cat dragging itself in after a long night's prowl. "I could use one, too. Be back in a moment with a couple of double-doubles."
On her way out of the coffee room, Libby heard a cry from her boss' office. Startled, she spilled one of the cups and yelped as hot coffee scorched her hand. Retreating to the coffee room, she set the cups down and grabbed a piece of paper towel, drying her hand as she hurried back to find out what was responsible for the disconcerting sound.
"Bryn! What's the matter?" Libby's mad rush came to an abrupt halt as she looked at her boss who was staring at her computer screen, her face twisted in anguish. "Bryn! Talk to me. Is Gideon alright?"
On the monitor, Gideon was crying as a young woman tried to comfort him. Libby didn't recognize her. "Who's that?"
"Cam's cousin, Stephie. She's babysat for us a few times."
"So where's Cam?"
"Gone." Bryn entered a command, and the picture switched to a close-up of Cam's puzzled face. Then the picture jerked wildly as the camera jolted, then came to a rest, reflecting an image of the nursery wall. Libby heard Cam's voice. Oh, God! You don't trust me? Gideon, what has your mommy done?
Bryn entered another command and the image changed to the front door opening and Cam handing Gideon to Stephie as they exchanged words. The final sound on that frame was Stephie calling after Cam. Hey, what do I tell Bryn?
Bryn turned off the monitor, and Libby's heart sank. "Oh no, Bryn. She discovered the cameras?"
"All of them; I checked." Bryn's voice was dull. "I'm never going to be able to explain this."
Libby tried to comfort her boss. "Now, not necessarily, Bryn. Cam's pretty level-headed. Once she cools down, she'll know you were just worried about Gideon's safety."
"Before, that might have been enough. Not now."
Shaking her head in confusion, Libby closed the office door and pulled up a chair. Taking Bryn's cold hands in her own, she said sternly, "Tell me what's going on. All of it."
"Cam will view this as a betrayal. I know her. If I ever stood a chance, it's gone now...gone..." Bryn's voice broke and her eyes filled with tears.
"What are you talking about, hon? A chance for what?" The light was beginning to dawn for Libby, but she needed Bryn to open up if she was going to offer any kind of help.
"Love. I love her, Lib."
Libby gave a small whistle. Given what she knew about Bryn's life, it wasn't a complete surprise, but her boss had always been casual about affairs of the heart, none of which had ever left her devastated. As gently as she could, she asked, "Were you lovers?"
Bryn shook her head. "I hadn't worked up the nerve, and I think Cam was waiting for me to take the initiative."
"So, she feels the same about you?"
"I think she did. Friday night…I think if I'd said anything, done anything... We were so close...but I got scared."
"Because Cam's a woman?"
Bryn gave a hollow laugh. "Because nothing with Cam would be casual. With her, it would be all or nothing."
"And you weren't ready to give your all to a relationship?"
"So I end up with nothing." Libby felt Bryn's hands tighten into fists. "I'm such an idiot!"
"Bryn, listen to me; it's not too late. Go talk to her. Tell her you had the cameras installed because you'd been having such problems with nannies. In fact, blame the whole idea on me. Tell her you just forgot about them and never looked at them again once you were sure she was good with Gideon."
Bryn shook her head and closed her eyes. "I can't lie to her, Lib. I won't lie to her. She deserves better than that."
Her heart aching, Libby slid her chair closer and put her arms around the distraught woman. "Oh, hon, I'm so, so sorry."
Bryn looked forlornly at her son, playing listlessly on the floor with his plastic blocks. "Twelve days, Gideon. She's been gone twelve days and not a word. I don't think she loves us anymore."
She turned her head to stare out the window at the steady drizzle. The grey skies suited her mood, and apparently her son's disposition, too. Unremitting gloom had settled over the household since Cam's abrupt departure, and miserable spring weather wasn't doing a thing to dispel it.
Sliding off the couch, Bryn settled beside Gideon, who promptly crawled into her lap and began sucking his thumb. "It's not like I haven't tried, sweetie. I've called and called, but she never picks up, and she hasn't returned a single message. I've even driven by her house, but her van's never there. I think she's avoiding us. No, not you; she's avoiding me, and I don't blame her. But don't think she doesn't love you, Gid. I saw the way she was with you. She thought the sun rose and set on your sweet little head."
She rubbed her cheek against his downy hair, musing sadly how its colour was much closer to Cam's dark brown locks than her own blonde mane. Then a thought occurred to her.
"She does love you, Gideon, and if I know anything about Cam, it's that she has to be missing you as much as we're missing her. No way could she fall out of love with you that fast." But is it fair to use that to manipulate her?
Just then Gideon gave a plaintive whimper, and Bryn's surging maternal instincts overcame her reservations. "Okay, sweetie, I've got one last idea. I can't guarantee it'll work, but at least we can say we tried, right?"
Bundling Gideon into a warm jacket, she grabbed her keys and headed downstairs to load him into the car. As the garage door opened, Bryn promised herself she wasn't going to return without some sort of satisfaction. She just hoped that like many small business men, Pete Keeler would be at his office on a Saturday morning.
The parking lot around the office of Keeler Construction was depressingly empty, but there was a red pick-up truck parked by the door, and lights were on inside. Bryn pulled in next to the truck and got Gideon out of the back seat. The door of the office was locked and the shade pulled down, but she knocked loudly.
Ignoring the shout from within, Bryn knocked even harder.
"Jesus, what part of...oh, Bryn." Pete Keeler looked at her in surprise as he held the door open.
"Can I come in?" Bryn brushed by the man without waiting for an answer.
"Uh, yeah, I guess." Pete closed the door and turned to regard his unexpected company. "Can I do something for you?"
"Yes, you can tell me where Cam is and how I can get hold of her." Bryn turned Gideon to face Pete, hoping the child's cherubic face would soften any resistance, but her heart sank as he shook his head. "Please, Pete. You and Myrna have sat at my table many times. You know me. You know I wouldn't ask if I weren't desperate."
"Shit, Bryn, I don't know exactly what happened between you two, but I do know Cam isn't interested in talking to you and I have to honour that."
Bryn sat down on the hard visitor's chair and rocked Gideon as her eyes filled with tears. Cam had obviously hardened her heart against them.
"Aw, don't do that." Pete grabbed a tissue and awkwardly held it out to her. "Look, I can't tell you where she is, but if maybe you have any other questions?" He looked at her hopefully.
"Is she alright?"
"I wouldn't exactly say that. But on the bright side, she has been accepted into the retraining program. She's going into architectural design. Says if she can't build the houses anymore, she can at least design them."
"That's great." Bryn was genuinely glad that Cam was getting back into the field she loved. "But...how is she?"
Pete sighed and scrubbed at his unshaven chin as he circled his desk to take a seat. "Lousy. She's been as miserable as a cranky old grizzly. She wasn't even this bad when that bitch, Whitley, dumped her. Hell, she was more cheerful the day after the accident in the hospital than she's been this last couple of weeks! You'd think her whole world just ended." He gave his visitor a shrewd look. "And maybe it did."
Hope struggling to survive, Bryn tried a new tack. "Pete, if you won't tell me how to reach Cam, would you at least give her a note from me?"
She gave him time to ponder that. If Cam's sense of honour was a family-wide trait, there was no guarantee that he would grant her even this concession. She sighed in relief when he finally favoured her with a wide grin.
"Ah, what the hell. Go ahead and give me the note. If Cam busts my ass over it, it won't be the first time."
Bryn jumped to her feet, handed her startled son to an equally surprised Pete, and grabbed for a pen and piece of paper.
She wrote feverishly, not pausing to censor herself, then folded the paper and traded it for Gideon. "Thank you, Pete!"
As Bryn started for the door, she heard him call after her, "I can't promise anything. Cam can be pretty damned pig-headed at times."
She smiled at him over her shoulder before leaving the office. For the first time in twelve days, Bryn felt a lightness and growing sense of optimism.
Many hours later, the optimism had faded and the gloom had re-established itself. Though Bryn had fed Gideon supper, she'd had no interest in eating anything herself. Surveying the mess her son had made, as he insisted on feeding himself, she sighed. It seemed like just yesterday she and Cam had joked about Gideon's energetic spoon technique.
"Come on, sweetie. Let's get you into the bathtub."
Stripping off his bib and wiping his hands, she gingerly extracted him from the highchair and held him at arm's length as she carried him upstairs to the bathroom he and Cam had shared. As she filled the tub, she undressed Gideon, his obvious pleasure in the upcoming bath eliciting a wan smile.
"Come on, my big boy. In you go." Bryn quickly took care of the actual bathing, so they could get to the part Gideon really enjoyed - playing with the hundred and one bath toys Cam had kept in a basket for him.
Sitting on the floor by the tub, Bryn idly flicked water at her son as she looked at the bottle of shampoo Cam had left behind. Wonder if I could use returning that as an excuse to see her? She sighed deeply. No, give it up. She clearly doesn't want anything to do with you.
Gideon started slapping his hands against the water, sending up small geysers as he laughed and kicked his feet.
Bryn wiped the water from her face and gave her son a raised eyebrow. "What? You think I need a bath, too?" Then she realized that Gideon was looking past her, and she turned her head.
Cam was standing in the doorway, watching them. Bryn caught her breath, staring in disbelief that she had really come. Then the stern look on the ex-nanny's face sank in, and her heart sank along with it.
Cam held out a piece of Keeler construction stationary. "I got your note." She looked down and read it aloud.
Don't punish Gideon for his mother's foolishness. Please, please, let me try to explain and beg your forgiveness. We love you, and we miss you so very much.
Gideon the Terribly Sad, and Bryn the Deeply Contrite.
Looking up from the paper, Cam regarded Bryn steadily, but without anger. "You're playing hardball."
Her voice shaky, Bryn demurred. "I'm not playing at all."
At that moment, Gideon, who had gone into paroxysms of delight at Cam's appearance, toppled over, sending water flying in all directions. Cam leapt forward as Bryn snatched her son out of the tub.
Grabbing a towel, Cam wrapped it around Gideon and gently took him from his mother's arms. "Why don't you go find something dry to wear; I'll get this little porpoise dressed for bed."
Cam disappeared through the door into the nursery, and Bryn stood staring after them. Her heart felt like it was beating double time, and it took all her focus to finally get her feet moving in the direction of her own room. Shucking her wet clothes and bra, she slipped into a worn pair of jeans and a soft blue shirt.
As she brushed her hair, Bryn realized that she had unconsciously chosen a shirt that Cam had once complimented her on. She said it made my eyes shine like the morning sky. Tossing the brush down, she gripped the edge of the vanity. Don't read anything into this. You don't know what she's thinking or feeling, so take it slow. She shook her head and gave an ironic laugh. Yeah, you've been too good at taking it slow. You're past due for a new strategy!
Padding from her room on bare feet, Bryn heard Cam call from the nursery, "Why don't you go warm his bottle and bring it up."
"Okay." Walking downstairs, Bryn wanted nothing more than to lose herself in memories of the past when things had been so easy between the women as they shared baby care duties. But as she warmed up Gideon's bottle, she cautioned herself against such fantasies. We've got some serious issues to talk about, and I refuse to be a coward this time. I'll take whatever she has to throw at me, and if I have to beg for another chance, then I'll bloody well beg!
Returning upstairs, Bryn heard the soft murmur of Cam's voice as she walked toward the nursery. Stopping in the doorway, she couldn't help basking in the sight of Cam rocking Gideon in her arms as the enchanted toddler smiled and garbled back at her.
That's what I want. She's what I want. Please, God, let me say the right thing so I don't lose this! So I don't lose her again and for good.
Without breaking eye contact with the child, Cam reached out her free hand and Bryn put the bottle in it, before sinking down onto the carpet to watch the small ritual. Once Gideon was contentedly sucking on his usual nightcap, Cam looked up and met Bryn's gaze. They regarded each other intently, the air heavy with things as yet unspoken.
Finally Bryn broke the noisy silence between them. "Have you eaten yet?"
"No, I wasn't hungry."
"Can I make you something?"
Cam shook her head. "No, thank you, but why don't you go pour us a drink, and I'll be down in a few minutes once I get Junior here settled."
"Alright." Bryn rose to her feet, and left her son to finish his contented reunion with the woman they both loved.
When Cam came downstairs, Bryn was waiting for her on the couch, a glass of wine in each hand. Wordlessly, she handed one over, watching as Cam made herself comfortable in her familiar position facing Bryn.
Cam spoke first. "You wanted to talk."
"Yes." What I want is absolution...and your love. "Cam, I...I hardly know where to begin. I originally had those cameras put in because I was so afraid of leaving Gideon with a stranger when I went back to work. And rightfully so, as it turned out."
"I figured that out, but what I don't understand is why you thought you had to keep watching me. All but one of the cameras I found were working, which means you had to have changed batteries fairly regularly. Did you really not trust me after getting to know me?"
Bryn could hear the hurt and anger in Cam's voice. "No! That's not it at all. Well, I mean at first I wanted to make sure you were good with Gideon, but within a week I knew I'd stumbled onto a real treasure. You were fabulous with him, better than I was."
"So why, then? Why act like the Gestapo or KGB? Do you have any idea how that feels?"
Ashamed, Bryn dropped her gaze to her wine glass, her voice barely audible. "That wasn't it. I wasn't checking up on you."
"Then what were you doing!"
"Falling in love with you." Bryn raised tear-filled eyes. "At first I would only check in every now and then, to make sure everything was alright, but it got so I just enjoyed watching you with Gideon so much that I couldn't stop. I felt like I was looking in on my family, like I was a part of it even when I was at work, and it made me happier than I'd been in a long, long time."
The startled look on Cam's face made it evident that she hadn't considered that possibility.
"I knew I should stop, but I'd tell myself that I wasn't doing any harm. It just lifted my spirits when I'd stop for a few moments in the middle of a busy day and remind myself what I got to go home to that night. If it helps, I never monitored your bedroom." Much as I considered it and much as I would've liked to watch you sleep.
"Mmm, that was the one camera that was inoperable." Cam gave Bryn a half-accusatory, half-amused grin. "But as I recall, it wasn't unusual for me to walk into the nursery after my morning shower to check on Gideon before I got dressed."
Bryn blushed furiously. She was happily familiar with that particular habit of Cam's. "Um, oh God, I don't know what to say other than I'm sorry." She closed her eyes in chagrin, only to open them when Cam chuckled.
"I guess if the tables were turned, I'd have enjoyed watching you, too."
The frank gaze that swept over her body sent a shiver through Bryn. With unsteady hands, she set her wine aside and moved closer to Cam.
"Am I forgiven, then?"
Cam sighed and leaned forward to put her glass beside the other one. Turning, she took Bryn's hands and squeezed them lightly. "Before I answer that, I need you to understand why it threw me so badly, why it felt like such a betrayal."
"I think I already know. I've thought about it so much since you left. I just wish I'd thought it all out before you found the cameras, because then I think I'd have understood why it was so wrong of me." Bryn leaned forward urgently, resting against their clasped hands. "You saw it as me breaking faith with you, just as Whitley deceived and betrayed you. You must've seen me as no better than the woman who broke your heart. It's no wonder that you hated me."
"Hated you? You couldn't be more wrong, Bryn." Cam raised their hands to her lips. "Did you not hear the things I said to Gideon? What drove me nuts was knowing that you had listened to me pouring my heart out to that little guy, telling him how much I'd fallen in love with his mother, so you knew how I felt. But even knowing I was crazy about you, you never said a word to me -never told me I was off-base, or that I was out of line, or even that you felt the same. Nothing, not one word! It was so unfair. I felt like I'd been drowning and you just stood by. That's what hurt so much!"
Puzzled, Bryn shook her head. "Cam, I don't know what you're talking about. I never heard you say anything like that to Gideon. God, if I had, if I'd known you really did care for me, I might've worked up the courage a long time ago to let you know how I felt. You have to realize that I rarely turned up the audio when I checked in. I mostly just used the video because I didn't want any busybodies walking by my office to know what I was doing."
Bryn could feel Cam searching her face, but she was fine with that, as she was telling the truth. "Really."
"Huh." Cam chewed her lip thoughtfully for a moment. "So...if you had overheard me, what would you have said?"
Bryn knew this was the moment she had been longing for. Putting everything she felt for this woman in her voice, she answered. "I'd have said I was the luckiest woman in the world. I'd have said nothing could ever make me happier than knowing that you loved me. I'd have said…I love you, too."
"Yeah?" The smile on Cam's face said it all.
The air was electric between them, but neither woman made any move toward the other. Finally Bryn broke the loaded silence.
Cam regarded her gravely. "I'm not sure how to answer that. I can look after Gideon for a little while, but I'm starting back to school in three weeks."
Bryn shook her head. "That's not what I meant. And besides, I solved the nanny problem."
"I talked Nick and Jack into starting up a daycare program at work. Our employees love it, and Gideon can hardly wait to go play with the other kids every day."
Cam nodded approvingly. "That's good news. Now you can look in on him in person whenever you want."
Bryn couldn't help an involuntary flinch, but she gamely pushed on. "And I do, at least a couple of times a day, but one thing is missing." She inched closer on the couch, as Cam regarded her with a slow, teasing smile.
"Oh, most definitely." Bryn was close enough to reach out to Cam, but with effort, she restrained herself. "One member of the family is absent, and we miss her so much. We need her back - I need her back, like I've never needed anyone or anything before."
The words ignited a carnal intensity in Cam's eyes that left Bryn trembling.
"Please, Cam. Please don't make me wait any longer."
Cam responded to the whispered plea by reaching out a hand and caressing Bryn's face. Then Bryn felt herself being eased back on the couch, as Cam gently stretched out over her, searching Bryn's face. "Are you sure? Is this what you want?"
Cam initiated a long series of lingering, searching, hungry kisses, but soon it wasn't enough for Bryn. Desperate for more, she tried to help when gentle fingers began to undo her shirt.
"Uh uh uh, patience, my love." Cam firmly pushed the importunate hands aside, parted the fabric, and bowed her head to feather kisses down Bryn's throat to her breasts. "After all, you have the advantage of me here. I haven't seen you naked yet, and I intend to take my time."
The murmured words blew like a hot breeze across her burning flesh, and Bryn tried to still the clamorous hunger within by pulling Cam's mouth to her hardened nipples.
But Cam refused to be hurried, exploring as leisurely as if they had been lovers for endless years. It was only when Bryn had been reduced to pleading whispers that she felt teeth close on a nipple, shaking gently as she cried out in relief. To her surprise, she felt Cam slip off her body and kneel beside the couch, never losing contact with her breast. But then a hand trailed down her belly and began to unzip her jeans.
Bryn lifted her hips, helping Cam push her pants down over her bare feet and toss them aside. Cam's hand slid between her legs, and she parted them eagerly, straining for her lover's touch.
"Cam, oh, Cam..."
A light teasing touch drove Bryn higher and higher, then, much to her distress, retreated. No, don't stop! Wild-eyed, she watched Cam stand up and reached to pull her back down. But Cam quickly threw off her clothes, then lowered herself beside Bryn.
As badly as she needed Cam and as much as she didn't want to stop, a small frisson of worry swept through Bryn. "Cam - darling, are you sure your back is up to this? We could go upstairs..."
"Shhh," Cam murmured, beginning to move her hand between Bryn's legs. "I'm fine, love. Maybe later I'll show you just how good my back is."
Bryn's short burst of laughter faded as she thrust feverishly against Cam's hand, her breath coming in short gasps as she tried to achieve the release she so desperately needed.
"Please, Cam, I need more..."
As Bryn wriggled higher, Cam slid down her body, bracing against the edge of the couch. Despite the restrictions of their makeshift bower, Bryn wouldn't have traded it for the finest bed when she felt Cam's tongue lash roughly over her clit.
This time there was no stopping the escalation of pleasure, and Bryn thrashed wildly as Cam's arms tightened powerfully around her thighs. A guttural scream tore from her throat as Cam stayed with her, drawing her climax out until she collapsed in exhaustion.
Bryn felt the softness of the cushions beneath her, and the heat of Cam's body as she stretched her body on Bryn's and nuzzled her sweat-soaked neck.
They were still for long moments as Bryn's breathing calmed, then Cam moved, her legs straddling Bryn's thigh as she let one foot drop to the floor. Bryn wiggled her hand between them, parting and stroking Cam as her lover moved slickly against her.
Their eyes locked, and Bryn gloried in the desire her lover's eyes reflected back to her. It was so easy to read Cam; it had been from the moment they met. And everything she saw in her lover's face promised this was a beginning of something incredible.
Bryn slid one hand down Cam's back as she rocked her lover faster and faster. Cam's wordless urging thrilled Bryn as they became a writhing conflation of flesh driving towards a single goal.
A sharp cry ripped into the air and plunged deep into Bryn's heart. Cam collapsed heavily; exalted, Bryn tightened her arms around her lover's heaving body.
Time seemed to stand still as the lovers lay entwined, until finally Cam turned her head and nibbled the nearest part of Bryn she could reach. Bryn laughed softly at the sensual sensation and dropped a kiss on the dark, sweat-dampened head nestled against her neck.
A wordless nod answered Bryn, and she lazily ran her fingernails down Cam's back. "Me, too. Thank you for giving me another chance."
A small laugh burbled against Bryn's neck. "I knew even when I ran out of here that I couldn't stay away for long, Bryn. Your letter just gave me the excuse I'd been looking for to come back."
That earned Cam a swift slap on the butt, and she rolled off Bryn, still chuckling. Standing, she pulled Bryn up with her. "I believe you said something about bed?"
"And I believe you said something about demonstrating how strong your back is?"
Cam drew Bryn against her body. "Oh, most definitely, my love."
But as they kissed, the sound of Gideon's cry echoed from the baby monitor. They looked at each other ruefully, then grabbed for their clothes.
Bryn was first into hers and called out as she began to climb the stairs, "Hold your horses, Gideon. We're coming!" She heard Cam's laughter close behind and rolled her eyes as she reached back for her lover's hand. "Hey, be good, you. We have an impressionable kid, you know."
"I know. I guess we'd better get used to interruptions, eh?"
They stopped for a moment in the doorway of the nursery. Bryn pulled Cam in close for a brief but definitely carnal kiss. "Better get used to this, too."
And as Gideon's vociferous complaints reminded them that their little prince awaited, Bryn followed Cam into the nursery with a deeply contented smile.