Marrying the Nanny

BOOK 1 in the Raven's Cove Trilogy

When infant Storm is orphaned, nanny Emma Wright, on a work visa and still reeling from a painful divorce, yearns to adopt her but must relinquish Storm to her three adult half-brothers. They remind her of a pack of wolves–protective, but not prepared to care for a baby. Alpha male Reid is especially aloof and intimidating.

Like his younger brothers, Reid Fraser left the Westcoast village of Raven’s Cove at eighteen and never looked back. Now a successful corporate consultant who rescues failing businesses—which is what this fly-in fishing resort has become, Reid must rally his brothers to save Storm’s inheritance, but he and his estranged brothers barely get along. They can’t deal with an infant, too. They need the nanny.

As Emma coaches Reid through midnight feedings and teething, they try to ignore the sexual pull between them. Then they learn Storm may have family who could take her from them. Reid proposes a marriage of convenience, but will it be enough to keep this fractured family together?

Watch for:
Book 2: Forgiving Her First Love, Jul 16, 2024
Book 3: Oct 1, 2024

Marrying the Nanny

BOOK 1 in the Raven's Cove Trilogy
Heartfelt Small Town Romance

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Marrying the Nanny

is BOOK 1 in the Raven's Cove Trilogy
The full series reading order is as follows:
The email said the government is taking her.
— Reid, Marrying the Nanny

All three of these books were hard to write for different reasons.

This first one was a challenge because the setting had to be invented–although I based it on a real place, I took liberal literary license. I also had to establish the three brothers’ distinct personalities and develop all of their relationships to both Emma and their baby sister, Storm.

It was fun–so fun–to write about these three men who are pretty useless around a baby, but it was particularly fun to see uptight, controlling Reid learn that babies operate by their own rules. He’s such a good man and he’s so emotionally stunted. My favorite kind of hero!

And Emma was a treat from the minute she walked onto the page. Her self-esteem has been left the toilet thanks to her ex-husband and her family’s disregard, but in Raven’s Cove, with Storm and these three men (and her new friend, Sophie!) she is finding herself again. She is regrowing her spine and rediscovering her libido and learning that she absolutely deserves to be loved by someone really great.

Reid is that man.

If you love their story and want more Reid and Emma, sign up for the Bonus Epilogue.

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Marrying the Nanny

Excerpt

Chapter One

Emma Wright was used to being ignored and preferred it, but it was hard to go unnoticed while escorting the aptly named “Storm.”

Storm exercised her healthy lungs, earning them hostile glares as they were shown through the litigious hallways of Who’s-It and What’s-His-Nuts. The receptionist left them in a small boardroom, giving an eyeroll that Emma caught through the window as the woman closed the door.

How dare the bellows of a fussy baby disturb the paralegals doing important probate work for dead people? Emma was only responsible for the survival of this tiny live human, but whatever.

With a grateful sigh, Emma let the nappy bag slide off her shoulder, then unstrapped Storm from the car seat clipped to the pram. She snuggled Storm against her shoulder, trying to placate her with the flannel of her blankie against her cheek. She used a soft voice and put a gentle bounce in her step, but Storm remained a knotted bundle of fury. Her little body quivered in rage, and each of her rasping wails could have stripped the paint off the walls.

Emma’s heart locked up with helplessness. Until Wilf and Tiffany’s departure five days ago, Storm had been cuter than a bug’s bum, alert and full of smiles, offering angelic blinks of her big blue eyes framed in downy blond lashes. She was getting the hang of sitting up and was quick to grab anything and shove it into her toothless mouth.

Anything but a dummy, of course. The fact she wouldn’t take a pacifier was proving highly inconvenient, especially now that things had taken such a dark turn. For both of them.

Emma paced anxiously to the window and rubbed Storm’s back, swaying her hips and promising everything would be okay.

Storm wouldn’t be lied to. She tangled a few of Emma’s stray hairs in her clenched fist, causing a sting that brought tears to Emma’s eyes.

“You’re right, you’re right,” Emma soothed, prying her hair loose and smoothing it back toward her ponytail. She lifted her gaze to the bleak day, so different from the fine blues and greens she would have seen back home.

It was the first of April. Her anniversary.

Or would have been.

That’s what you get for marrying on April Fool’s Day. Angry humiliation washed over her afresh, but Storm didn’t allow her to wallow in self-pity. She paused to catch her breath, lifting her head to give Emma a forsaken frown.

“I know, love.” Emma tightened her arms around her and whispered into her hair. “Do you see the plane? It’s taking off.”

Storm looked out the window for about one second, then drooped her head against Emma’s neck and began to sob again, heavy as a sack of wet laundry.

Emma didn’t blame her. Storm had lost her parents in one of those small planes two days ago. She wasn’t old enough to understand it, but Emma was certain that, deep down, Storm knew they weren’t coming back.

That’s why Emma was fine with holding this stone’s worth of wretchedness even though her arms ached and her ears rang.

Maybe she was even clinging to the baby for the same reason Storm clung so tightly to her. Trepidation had dug its claws into Emma’s vitals the moment she had heard the news. Now she’d been summoned out of Raven’s Cove. Where would she go if not back there with Storm?

Where would Storm go? A foster home?

Emma’s heart juddered as she searched the rain-washed streets, not encouraged by the sturdy brick façades, wrought-iron gates, and cheery hanging baskets struggling to push out early blooms. Storm belonged with her. Surely she could convince them of that, whoever “they” were.

She would stay in Canada if that’s what it took. Happily. In many ways, BC reminded her of home, especially here in Victoria with its stamp of English colonialism. The city was perched on the bottom of Vancouver Island, not unlike her hometown of Nelson on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island.

She didn’t mind that she was in upside-down world here, where the sea was slate, not turquoise, and the trees were needle sharp instead of lush and frondy.

Where she had a baby and no husband instead of a husband and no baby.

For how long, though?

The door opened.

Emma turned and tried to find a weak smile for the middle-aged man who entered.

Storm stopped crying, tears on her cheeks, while she studied the new arrival. Not who she wanted. She dropped her head onto Emma’s shoulder hard enough for the tonk to reverberate through Emma’s collarbone.

“Oh, Storm.” Emma almost started crying herself. She rubbed her thumb on Storm’s brow where she thought they’d connected while Storm bellowed in fresh pain.

“Dennis Listle.” The man introduced himself with a pained smile. “Wilf’s lawyer.”

Emma knew that tense look. Control that baby.

What could she do? Storm had been forcibly weaned and wanted her mama. She had spent the morning being stuffed into boats and cars and planes, none of which she’d enjoyed, and could probably sense Emma’s distress. Now everything around her was different. Of course she was inconsolable. Emma was barely holding it together herself.

“Emma Wright. The au pair.” She switched Storm to her other arm so she could shake his hand.

“This is Harpreet Mahil,” Dennis said as a plump woman hurried in behind him, “with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.”

“We spoke on the phone.” Harpreet’s hand was warm and firm. She peeked at Storm’s squinched-up face and murmured something in Punjabi, crinkling her brow in rueful sympathy.

“She’s due for her nap. She should settle soon.” Emma hoped it wasn’t a lie.

“Poor thing. Thank you for bringing her.”

“Of course.” Emma had been both relieved and agonized when Harpreet had told her what to do. Bring Storm to Victoria. The will would be read in the presence of Storm’s brothers and Storm’s future decided.

I’ll keep her, Emma kept wanting to assert, but she probably wasn’t allowed to be in Canada now that her employer had died. Would she be paid her final wages? Not that she cared about the money, but if she didn’t have a job, she would have to use what was left in her savings to fly back to a place where she had no place.

Don’t make me give her up.

From the moment she had taken Storm into her arms ten weeks ago, she had felt an overwhelming surge of maternal love. Not what au pairs were supposed to feel, but Tiffany had been so harried and relieved at Emma’s arrival.

New mothers were overwhelmed, Emma knew that. Tiffany had had a lot on the go and had been a high-strung personality, eager to prove herself in a dozen different ways.

Emma related to that. She had been exactly as driven until she’d hit the proverbial wall and her life had shattered into a million pieces. Her priorities had simplified since then.

She had judged Tiffany for not having reached this same level of enlightenment, which wasn’t fair. Tiffany had shown a lot of love toward Storm and a lot of anxiety about leaving for Las Vegas. She hadn’t been a bad mother. She had simply taken for granted that she was one.

Be thankful you can have babies, Emma had wanted to tell her.

She had felt very defensive on Storm’s behalf, too, handed off to a nanny so her mother could work and elope. Emma had always felt like a bother to her own family, something more tolerated than loved. She had instinctively wanted to protect Storm’s nascent self-esteem. She couldn’t imagine giving her up now, especially when Storm had been orphaned. She’s mine. Let her be mine.

But Emma had to wait in a cold sweat for her fate to be decided along with this helpless baby’s.

Dennis and Harpreet had moved to the head of the table. Dennis offered water. Emma declined. She had a bladder the size of a thimble at the best of times. When she was nervous, it was worse.

She watched them pour ice water and sip. The only sound was Storm registering her unhappiness.

“Is she hungry?” Dennis asked, because clearly Emma was too thick to have tried that.

“She ate a little while ago. I think it’s the formula.”

In the first days after Wilf and Tiffany had left, Emma had presumed Storm was crying because she missed her mother. She took to the bottle with eagerness, so it wasn’t hunger. Emma’s one and only friend in Raven’s Cove, Sophie, a single mom, had suggested the formula could be upsetting her stomach.

“I’ll look for the kind for sensitive tummies while I’m here,” Emma said, acting as if her keeping Storm was a given.

If she knew Storm as well as she thought she did, Storm was working up to fill her nappy. After that historic event, she would drop into a hard sleep.

The pair shifted their attention past her and adopted a welcoming expression. The first of Wilf’s sons had arrived.

Wilf had been quite the philanderer. Tiffany had been wife number three and mother number four. Wilf had said to Emma of Tiffany, She must have been poking holes in the condoms because I didn’t want more kids. Or wives. They’re too expensive.

Wilf’s promiscuity had made him a little too much like her ex, but Emma had liked him anyway. He’d been full of stories both outrageous and self-deprecating and he’d been very tender with his daughter, which was the real test of character in her opinion.

He hadn’t talked much about his sons, though. She was curious to see if they had his personality along with his looks.

She was highly invested in judging them in general. One of these men would take his baby sister. She needed to know Storm would be in good hands, but she also needed to ingratiate herself so she could stay on as Storm’s caregiver.

She pasted a smile on her face for twenty-seven-year-old Trystan, Wilf’s youngest. Emma recognized him from his wilderness survival show. He wore black jeans and a snug black T-shirt over a well-honed physique. His straight black hair was in a ponytail, and his beard was an unshaven scruff, the way it often looked by the end of an episode, after he’d been in the bush a few weeks. His eyes were such a dark brown they might be black, but he met her gaze so briefly she couldn’t be sure.

Dennis greeted him, seeming star-struck as he invited Trystan to the end of the table. Maybe Trystan was being polite to the adults, not realizing he had bypassed his sister. Not everyone saw babies as people, she reminded herself, trying not to hate him.

Trystan was taller in person than he seemed on TV. Wilf had been a big man with a larger-than-life personality, and Trystan definitely had his father’s sparkle of stardom, but he seemed to withhold it as he shook hands with everyone.

“Emma is the nanny,” Dennis provided, forcing Trystan to look her way.

“G’day.” Emma tried to appear calm while Storm remained unceasing in her complaint that life was a dreadful trial not to be endured.

“Emma is willing to stay on to help whoever takes guardianship. That will need to be decided today,” Dennis said.

“Guardianship.” Trystan’s brows lifted, creasing furrows of astonishment across his forehead. “I thought we were reading the will and discussing the service.”

He shot his attention to Emma. His expression reminded her of the episode where he had whispered into the camera, Those howls are wolves. They’re getting closer.

He slammed a look at the baby, choked out a noise of disbelief, and moved to the window, turning his back on everyone, including his baby sister.

Emma reminded herself he had just lost his father, but, Really?

Another man came in. Logan. The middle one. His tan gave him away. He lived in Florida, where he designed yachts and, judging by his social media accounts, hung out on them with pro athletes and supermodels.

Logan’s height and build and profile were Wilf’s, same as Trystan’s, but where Trystan’s hair was long and black, Logan’s was cut into a rakish style, dark brown with glints of sun-bleached gold. He wore bone-colored trousers, a white shirt without a tie, and a linen jacket. His stubble was trimmed and sculpted to accentuate his painfully handsome features.

His blue gaze bounced into hers, briefly touched Storm’s persistent attempt to escape her own body, then flicked to his brother.

“Trys.”

Trystan turned and folded his arms. “Logan.”

Logan waited one pulse beat as though expecting more. “How’s your mom?”

“Fine. Yours?”

“Fine.” Logan walked past Emma down the side of the table opposite from his brother.

It wasn’t animosity or hostility. It was more as if they were a pair of distant acquaintances meeting on the street who thought they had to acknowledge one another, but didn’t have anything to say. No hug of shared grief, no hint that they’d grown up together and were dealing with an end point to that childhood.

Dennis and Harpreet rose to shake hands with him. Logan revealed Wilf’s innate charm as he gave each of them a friendly smile.

“I’m Storm’s social worker,” Harpreet said. “Emma is her au pair.”

Logan nodded briefly toward Emma, then pulled out a chair. He sat with a fluid movement, drew out his phone, and commenced with ignoring the room.

Emma blinked in astonishment. Seriously? This is your orphaned sister.

Although, to be fair, Emma was about ready to hand Storm to a passerby and ignore her, too. Why wouldn’t she quiet? She tried the pacifier again, and Storm spat the dummy. Literally.

Logan sent her a quizzical glance. “An au pair is a nanny, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” She tried a warm smile as she bent to retrieve the pacifier, encouraging him to engage.

Logan made a dismissive noise that was an indictment of her qualifications.

You try, she bit back saying.

Exasperated as she was, however, she would take the privilege of holding this cranky baby as long as she could. What if they gave Storm to a stranger? The thought had been torturing her every minute since she’d heard the terrible news.

Maybe the eldest brother—

Oh. Hello.

Reid Fraser entered and swept the room in a glance that seemed to gather the various threads of energy into an iron fist and squeeze. Everyone looked to him without him saying a word. Emma was conscious of catching her breath and holding it.

He wore a suit tailored to the same dynamic frame his brothers possessed. Despite the polish, his clean shave, and his scrupulously trimmed dark brown hair, his features were rugged and untamed. Imposing.

He didn’t look like a warm, paternal man. He looked like the rough-faced brick wall one battered themselves against to no avail. This was the hard-ass side of Wilf that Emma had only seen once, when Tiffany had said one of the laborers had made an off-color remark. Wilf had “had a word with him” and the guy hadn’t been seen since.

“Twenty minutes late, right on time,” Logan drawled, setting down his phone and making no mention of the fact he had arrived only moments ago himself.

“Reid.” Trystan moved from the window to take a chair at the table.

“Trys. Logan.”

This was a somber occasion, but their polite stiffness was downright peculiar.

Dennis walked around the table to greet Reid. The lawyer seemed extra obsequious as he shook Reid’s hand.

“George is running late. Harpreet is with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Emma is Storm’s nanny. Do you want to sit?” Dennis asked Emma with a perplexed crinkle in his brow.

“I’ll stand.” Emma smiled and took up a more aggressive sway and jiggle, sway and jiggle. Please stop, Storm. We’re making zero friends.

“Does she need to be here?” One corner of Reid’s mouth dug in with dismay.

Wow. She stopped swaying, dumbfounded.

“Perhaps you’d like to wait in the foyer?” Dennis asked brightly, then his smile dimmed with concern as he realized that would inflict Storm on the rest of his colleagues.

Reid took a step back, preparing to open the door for her. So freaking chivalrous.

Emma was a pleaser. She was patient to a fault. She too often stenciled Welcome on her chest and invited people to wipe their wellies.

But she had her limits. She had been in a state of panic and dread for two solid days. Her deepest fear, that she was the only person left who cared one solid damn about Storm, was proving true. Did he realize how callous he sounded?

“I would love to wait in the foyer.” Snatching up the nappy bag from the floor, she plopped it onto boardroom table, then offered Storm to Mr. Freaking Fancy Suit. “You’ll take her, I presume, seeing as she’s one of you?”

Reid’s hard stare nearly pinned back her ears, it was so loud with warning against challenging his authority.

She was blowing her chance to keep Storm, she knew that. Her heart shrank inside her chest, but she pushed back on him anyway. She held his death-ray glower while she stubbornly held out the bleating baby, daring him to reject his tiny, helpless sibling. To shuffle her off to some room where he wouldn’t have to suffer her.

“I think—” Harpreet started to say, but with impeccable timing, Storm’s little digestive tract kicked in.

The gurgle was loud enough to belong to a seasoned freight driver with a crook stomach. An olive-colored stain appeared on Storm’s onesie and a sickly perfume released into the air.

 

Chapter Two

“Was that her?” Logan let out a robust laugh exactly like their father’s, right down to it being sparked by something completely juvenile.

The laugh sent a preternatural chill down Reid Fraser’s spine, penetrating the shield of to do’s he was using to deflect any emotions he might otherwise have to withstand. His scalp tingled and a cold prickle raced across his shoulders and down his chest, lifting a clammy sweat beneath the rain-damp wool of his suit.

He didn’t allow himself to dwell on the fact he would never hear Wilf laugh like that again. Hell, he’d barely been speaking to his father so he probably wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

He swallowed away the hollow scrape in his throat and kept his focus on the task at hand—read the will and plan the service. The ministry was taking responsibility for the baby so he didn’t understand why she was here.

Or why the nanny was offering her like a human sacrifice.

He ignored the wet fart and held the woman’s green-eyed glare. Aside from those moss-colored eyes, she was as plain as a post with her brown hair pulled back from her round, pale face. She had thin lips, brows with a steep, judgmental arch, and an uptilted nose that disparaged the hell out of him.

He wasn’t insecure enough to need approval so he wasn’t affected by her lack of it.

“Shouldn’t you take her somewhere to change her?” Dennis’s tone fell between humor and discomfort, his body still half bent on his way to taking his seat.

“Is there a changing table in your toilet? Maybe the desk in your office?” Emma suggested in a snippy tone.

No,” Dennis asserted strongly.

“Here, then.” Emma snugged the baby onto her shoulder with one arm and yanked a folded pad from her bag. She flipped it flat on the table, then set a clean diaper and a tub of wet wipes beside it. The baby went onto the mat.

No,” Reid said in the tone that halted engineers and marketing executives and union reps and bean counters.

“You want to do it? That’d be great ’cause I haven’t had a minute to myself since your father and Tiffany left Raven’s Cove.” She sounded Australian. Maybe South African. “If you’re ready to take her, I’ll book into a hotel and catch up on my beauty sleep.”

Kiwi, he decided, as her anger accentuated the vowels. Kitch up on moy beauty slip.

“Emma has agreed to stay on as Storm’s au pair,” Harpreet said, voice pitched to a defusing tone. “Perhaps we should start with custody arrangements?”

Reid snapped a look at her. “The email said the government is taking her.”

“We ensure her needs are met, yes, but I don’t physically take her into my home. Someone else has to do that. We’re here to decide who that someone is.” Harpreet sounded reasonable, but her message was outrageous.

He looked with disbelief at the baby.

The kid rolled onto her tummy and stuck her toes into the ends of her pink pajamas. The green stain spread farther up her back. She had finally quit bawling and looked down the table at the startled faces, then dropped her head to chew her fist, moaning snottily around it.

That noise was also like nails on a chalkboard, grating inside Reid’s ears.

“Am I going for coffee?” Emma asked him, one hand on the baby to keep her from rolling off both mat and table.

It was a bluff. Otherwise, she would be out the door, not standing here with her chin thrust out in belligerence.

Reid always called a bluff, especially when he was in his natural environment—a boardroom. This was where he prevailed. He did his best work when he had a half dozen pairs of eyes watching to see if he’d flinch.

But his mind was still reeling. Custody? Really?

“Your sister’s name is Storm, by the way,” Emma prodded.

She was trying to instill him with a sense of obligation, but emotional blackmail didn’t work on him. He’d been inoculated back when he’d been filling his own pants.

“Be sure to restock the formula and nappies,” she goaded. “The spit-up towel is there.”

Lay it on thick, sweetheart. He refused to blink, even though— Dear God what had that child eaten?

He never backed down from a power struggle. He waited for her to break, confident he wouldn’t have to risk letting that excrement machine near this bespoke Italian suit.

“For Christ’s sake,” Logan muttered. “Point taken, lady. Neutralize that aroma. My eyes are watering.”

“Wow.” She shot Logan an infuriated look and moved in front of Reid. Her surprisingly round and very cute ass was suddenly right in front of his fly.

He flicked the switch on that and moved to the side. It was hardly the time for fantasies, but the Neanderthal in him hit save to revisit the image later.

“Don’t express concern for her all at once.” Emma’s accent gave her sarcasm a musical lilt. “You’ll frighten the poor wee thing.” She began unsnapping the baby’s clothes to reveal a striped undershirt that snapped in the crotch and was stained by the blowout.

“This is a trying time for everyone,” Harpreet said in a tone that attempted to soothe riled nerves. “I’m sure you’re all in shock. I didn’t know your father, but it sounds as though he’ll be deeply missed.”

Was that how it sounded? Reid took a few more steps to remove himself from the noxious fumes. He didn’t like giving up the power position at the head of the table. Was it symbolic his dad’s latest kid had taken it by taking a crap?

It was par for the course that Wilf Fraser’s last act was a migraine-inducing custody mess. How had Reid not seen this coming?

“I agree with Harpreet,” Dennis said. “Once guardianship is decided, Storm and Emma can excuse themselves from the rest of the meeting.”

Emma was busy stripping the baby with deft movements. She dragged a blanket across the kid’s pale torso to keep her warm. The baby grabbed handfuls of it and shoved it in her mouth. Her chubby legs kicked every which way and she tried to roll again.

Emma caught her, grabbing her ankles in one hand and lifting her bottom so only the baby’s shoulders touched the table, like a chicken being plucked. Emma ran one wet wipe after another over and around, into crevices and halfway up the kid’s stained back, discarding everything into the plastic bag she had set out to catch it all.

Oil spills didn’t need that much cleanup. There was no way Reid was getting involved.

At least the baby was making happier noises, these ones nonsense gurgles that made Emma’s face soften with affection. She was almost cute when she wasn’t throwing daggers from those green eyes of hers.

When no one responded to Dennis’s remark, Emma glanced up and saw that everyone was watching her. “Taking notes?”

She wiped her hands on yet another wet wipe while the freshly diapered baby flipped onto her stomach again. This time the kid made a noise that sounded a lot like a chortle at their expense.

Enough. Reid took control by yanking out the chair next to Trystan’s. He directed Dennis to, “Explain what you mean by ‘custody.’” Maybe it wasn’t as life-leveling as it sounded.

Dennis looked to Harpreet. Harpreet offered an empathetic smile.

“When a child is orphaned, the ministry has two questions.” She held up fingers bedecked with rings. “Is there a capable and willing guardian and is there a means of support for the child? My role is to ensure Storm has a safe and caring upbringing. She also has a public trustee who will ensure her financial and legal rights are observed. Currently she is a ward of the government, but one of you can apply to become her guardian.”

She looked with optimism to each of them.

Reid knew his expression was exactly as stony and averse as Logan’s and Trystan’s. He made sure it was. Kids were way too much responsibility. That’s why he didn’t plan on having any. Ever.

“No specific provisions have been made for Storm’s guardianship,” Dennis said, opening the folder before him. “Your father and Tiffany were intending to come through here on their way home from Las Vegas after they were officially married.”

“They didn’t get married,” Trystan pointed out. “How does that affect things?”

“It doesn’t. They were living together and had a child so they’re observed to be common-law spouses.” Dennis glanced down. “Tiffany didn’t have a will. We were going to prepare one for her while she was here. We were saving the discussion of particulars for that meeting. I have no indication of the changes Wilf had in mind or what Tiffany’s desires were. We can only go by Wilf’s wishes as expressed in the will that was updated after his divorce from Glenda.”

Dennis looked to Logan, Glenda’s son, then to Reid and Trystan.

“At the time of that will”—Dennis star-fished his hand over the pages before him—“you were all adults. Custody arrangements were moot. If there had been something written into this for any of you, that might have provided direction on his wishes for Storm, but I don’t have anything like that to guide us today.”

“Tiffany didn’t name anyone?” Reid asked.

“She has a sister,” Emma provided.

She was rolling the baby the way Glenda used to knead bread dough, back and forth on the mat. Soft, pudgy limbs had already gone into a T-shirt with snaps down the front. Now a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved pullover went over it. The baby kept pulling at her fuzzy pink socks, trying to remove them.

“I don’t know her name or how to reach her. She might not even know—” Emma met Reid’s gaze, brow crinkled with consternation.

It was another slamming acknowledgment that his father was dead, cracking against his shell so he had to look away to keep it from penetrating. He ignored the ache that seemed to fracture all the way into his chest.

“I’m not sure how close they were,” Emma continued in a husky voice. “Tiffany said her sister was supposed to come help with Storm. It sounded like she canceled at the last minute and that’s why they hired me. Tiffany didn’t talk about her much and got really tense when she did.”

“Have you tried to find her?” Logan looked between Harpreet and Dennis.

Harpreet’s smile became a pained line. “I’ve reached out to various channels, but haven’t received much. Cloe is quite a bit younger than Tiffany. She lived with their mother in Los Angeles until their mother passed from a drug overdose. Cloe went into care but aged out within a year. That was six years ago. The family that fostered her hasn’t heard from her since. Her online presence is stale and she failed to file a tax return the last two years. Without a fixed address and steady employment, I don’t think she’s the best option for Storm.”

So there was no one. Reid absorbed that as he watched Emma use a blanket to wrap the baby like a burrito.

Trystan abruptly rose. He snatched up the plastic bag of diaper and wet wipes that Emma had discarded, dropped it into a wastebasket. He set the wastebasket outside the door, closed the door and cracked the window on his way back to his seat.

“So fastidious,” Logan remarked.

“Neither of you fussbudgets would touch it.”

Emma gave an affronted sniff as she used one hand to ball up the soiled clothes and tucked them with the pad back into her oversize bag. She moved the bag to the floor and sank into a chair with a sigh, the bundled baby in her arms.

The kid was blessedly, finally, silent. Her chin stretched with a hearty yawn.

“Perhaps if we put some minds at ease with regard to support,” Dennis said and glanced at his watch. “George will be here any minute with the financial statements, but we can discuss disposition.”

He opened his folder, then glanced up again.

“I should clarify that, given Tiffany did not survive thirty days after the death of her spouse, she inherits nothing. That simplifies things a little. We can act on Wilf’s wishes as expressed in this will even though it makes no mention of her or Storm.”

Dennis read in silence a moment then summarized, “Wilf’s estate consists of various properties that are together known as Raven’s Cove. Reid, you’re identified as executor. If you’re unwilling or unable, Logan and then Trystan. There are some stipulations regarding Miriam. That’s your mother, Reid?”

Reid nodded.

“She currently receives support payments, but is entitled to half the profit when Raven’s Cove is sold. Canadian tax law views the transfer of property to heirs as a sale,” Dennis explained. “Taxes will be paid from the estate on capital gains, and Miriam’s settlement will be calculated on the net. I’m sure you could work out continued installments if you wished.” He smiled at Reid.

Reid knew for a fact his mother wanted a check for the full amount and it had better be a fat one.

“A settlement was paid to Glenda when she divorced Wilf.” Dennis directed that to Logan. “So she has no claim on the resort?”

“She signed a prenup when she married him,” Logan agreed with a stiff nod.

Glenda had got a raw deal, considering she hadn’t known she would be raising three boys, two of whom she hadn’t birthed. Reid made a mental note to acknowledge that with a suitable amount once the dust had settled.

“My understanding is that your mother”—Dennis looked to Trystan—“was never married or lived with Wilf. There’s no mention of her here.”

Trystan nodded distantly.

Pauline had also been taken advantage of, being young and naïve when Wilf had his affair with her. They would have to calculate a just settlement for her, too.

“After Miriam’s portion is paid out, the estate will be split equally between, quote, ‘my three sons and future issue.’ That’s standard language to account for additional children who come along unexpectedly. Like Storm.” He looked up with a smile of achievement.

When no one seemed impressed, Dennis sobered.

“Once it moves through probate, you will be free to continue running the resort as is, sell it, or buy each other out.”

Reid bit back a snort. He and his brothers were doing well enough financially, but they didn’t have the cash to buy each other out. Even if they did, he would bet his last dollar that Logan and Trystan had about as much desire to go back to Raven’s Cove as he did.

Wilf had bought the business thirty years ago on a madcap whim. It wasn’t even land. That was leased from the Heiltsuk Nation. No, all Wilf really owned was a handful of buildings and businesses smack in the middle of the Great Bear Rainforest, where there were strict limits on logging, hunting, and development.

That meant Wilf had had few options when he had realized the cost to live and run a business in such a remote location was exorbitant. Wilf had begun offering sport fishing tours twenty years ago to supplement the coffers. The resort’s fortunes were seasonal and fickle, but Reid expected the government to appraise it as a luxury resort and take a sizable bite.

“The bottom line,” Dennis summed up, “is that you are each entitled to one-quarter of half the value of the estate. This answers Harpreet’s question as to whether there is a means of support for Storm.”

Logan’s pithy “Are we sure there’s only four of us?” was an exact echo of the suspicion floating in the back of Reid’s head. The quiet “Heh” from Trystan told him Trys was wondering the same thing.

“Until proven otherwise, Wilf has four children, yes,” Dennis confirmed.

“So we push it through probate, sell it, and the baby’s portion pays for her guardian.” Simple. Reid looked to Emma.

She brightened, but Harpreet spoke up.

“The ministry prefers to place minors with family. Emma is on a working holiday visa. If one of you doesn’t take responsibility for her, Storm will be placed in foster care. That system is overburdened, and the ministry will pursue her portion of your father’s estate to offset the cost of her care.”

Of course it would.

“Offering her for adoption is also something to consider.” Harpreet glanced around the table as she floated that.

Emma’s jaw went slack. She tightened her arms around the baby and glared outrage at each of them, saving her longest, most contemptuous stare for Reid.

Why him? Because he was the eldest? He didn’t need her censure, thanks. Gears in his chest were already locking into resistance against adoption and foster care. They were equally impractical. Not to mention that Wilf, who wasn’t even laid to rest yet, would haul his waterlogged carcass out of the morgue and beat Reid with a stick if he let the government take one penny of his money that he didn’t have to give up.

Reid was aware of something deeper at play, though. Something he didn’t want to examine too closely. He wasn’t a sentimental man. The collection of people he referred to as “family” were not the flourishing, abstract, supportive clan other people spoke of with affection and nostalgia. They were a list of names to whom he felt varying levels of obligation.

Even so, much as he had no use for the romantic version of family, he couldn’t turn his back on any name on the list. If his infant sister needed a home, he would ensure a sound roof was provided—and that it contained someone better equipped to look after a baby than he was.

His gaze clashed into Logan’s.

“Don’t look at me.” Logan recoiled. “After that performance?” He thumbed to where the wardrobe change had happened. “Hell no.”

They both looked to Trystan.

“Hard no,” Trystan said firmly.

“Where’s your mother?” Reid asked, earning Trystan’s flat stare.

“You think I’d ask her to take his kid? No. She’s in Bella Coola anyway, married to Roy Harkin.”

“The trawler? I thought he had a wife and kids.”

“His wife passed a few years ago. He and Mom got together last year.”

“Huh. Good for them.” Reid looked to Logan.

“I won’t tell Mom you didn’t think of her first, when you went looking for someone to take on more of Dad’s ‘issues.’”

“I was at her wedding. I know she’s also remarried and looking after her new husband’s ‘issues.’” Had that really been the last time he’d seen these two? Glenda’s wedding four years ago?

“What else you got?” Logan didn’t stoop to saying it, but it was almost worse that he didn’t suggest, I guess that leaves your mom.

Reid looked blindly to the abstract painting above Logan’s left shoulder, gut tensed as though bracing for a kick. His fault, he supposed. He shouldn’t have brought up mothers, but he’d been thinking maybe if Pauline was willing to supervise Emma… Hell, he didn’t know what he’d been thinking beyond the fact that he was still shouldering responsibility for the mess his father had made of his first marriage. Surely he could delegate cleanup to someone else for a change?

“Does she know?” Logan asked, voice pitched with a low reluctance to pry.

Reid was long past resenting that Logan’s birth and Glenda’s affair with Wilf had ended his mother’s marriage. He was even past the envy that had once consumed him that Logan had a stable, loving mom while his own was a source of frustration and helplessness. Logan’s tone grated, though. It felt like pity. He wanted to mutter, We’re fine, but they were never fine.

“She heard about it on the news like everyone else,” Reid said with dismay.

Trystan swore under his breath. “I tried, man.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Trystan’s great-uncle had heard about the downed plane via the marine radio channels. He had transmitted the news to Pauline, who had sent Trystan’s rescue crew in with a helicopter to pull him out midshoot from Alaska.

At least he’d been in North America. It could have been Bora Bora the way that man got around.

Trystan had texted Logan and Reid even as the authorities were getting hold of them, but the small plane sitting on the water off the northern tip of Vancouver Island had made all the national news channels. The logo on the wing had been easily discernible to anyone who had ever lived in Raven’s Cove.

Reid hadn’t been given the chance to break it to his mother gently, not that making that call would have been any easier than receiving her hysterical one.

He shrugged off his impotent anger, not wanting to get into his mother’s reaction. She was bipolar and resisted medication. Her reaction to her ex-husband’s death was all over the map. Reid had arrived early this morning and sat with her for a few hours, listening while she processed because there was literally nothing else he could do for her.

For a man who lived to get results, that sort of spinning in emotional ruts was complete torture, but there was a chicken and egg aspect to it. He probably lived for getting results because he’d spent his childhood spinning in ruts.

He rubbed his brow, neither angry over his mother’s illness nor ashamed of the firm boundaries he’d established when it came to how he responded to her. He only asked, “Either of you married?”

Emma’s “Wow” came out a lot louder than his brothers’ simultaneous “No.”

Reid narrowed his eyes on her, finding her both mousy and superior. He wasn’t sure how to take that, which bothered him so he fell back on sarcasm.

“Careful. You’ll wake the baby.”

“First of all, sexist. Your plan is to hand off your little sister to whichever uterus one of you happens to be related to? I see now why none of you is showing a milligram of interest in her. You don’t even know if your own brothers are married.”

She was judging again. It was starting to get under his skin. He’d given up yearnings to be normal years ago. Longings like that were madness when his reality was so harsh and impossible to change. Rather than bemoan his estrangement from his family, he owned it.

“I didn’t know my father was getting married until he died on his way to the wedding.” Reid ignored the clench in his chest as he spoke the words aloud. Did it bother him that his father had died before they could talk things out? He was trying hard to convince himself it didn’t. What could Wilf have said that would ever make Reid okay with the choices he’d made? With the way he had treated his mom? Nothing.

“I didn’t know, either,” Trystan said with a grim frown.

“Your mom didn’t tell you they were getting married?” Logan sounded surprised.

“When I talk to Mom, we don’t talk about him.” Trystan spoke with a detachment Reid understood and embraced.

“You talk to my mom, though. You knew he had a kid?” Logan looked between them.

“Glenda checks in sometimes. I knew there was a baby.” Trystan cut a confounded frown toward the infant.

“Mom heard they’d had a girl,” Reid said. “She mentioned it when I was here at Christmas.”

“None of you were talking to your father?” Emma sent incredulous looks to each of them.

Reid watched Logan’s expression close up. He sensed Trystan stiffen beside him while his own chest solidified into a thick, unbreakable mass. He refused to feel guilty about the cold war. Wilf had reaped what he had sown.

Emma looked to Harpreet, shaking her head in disbelief. “They don’t want her.”

Put like that, it made them sound like soulless pricks, but Wilf hadn’t won any Father of the Year awards. Context was everything.

Harpreet frowned with concern as she glanced from man to man.

As she started to speak, there was a knock at the door. The man who entered was wiry and fit. He wore a mint-green polo shirt and tan pants, had spiky hair and a thin goatee.

“Hi. George Lam. Wilf’s accountant. Sorry I’m late. Construction on the highway.” He made the rounds to shake everyone’s hand, then took a seat and began digging papers out of his briefcase.

“We’ve been talking custody.” Dennis caught him up with a nod to the baby. “Given Storm is entitled to a share in the estate, it sounds as though whatever the men get for the sale of Raven’s Cove would provide for Emma to stay on and assist with caregiving. Does that help at all with the guardianship issue? Because Emma seems very attached.”

George held up his hand. “The value of Raven’s Cove should be clarified. It’s not as easy as selling and using the baby’s portion to support her.”

Of course it wasn’t. A pall of bitter, outraged humor settled into the pit of Reid’s gut. He braced himself as George handed out stapled pages.

“Last quarter’s financials for Raven’s Cove.” George’s pained smile was the kind that asked you nicely to drop your shorts and bend over, but still expected you to do it. “Wilf took a sizable loan for upgrades last year, mortgaging heavily against the equity. Tiffany encouraged him to shift from rustic fishing trips to a more upscale clientele. Executive packages and ecotourism.”

Biting back a blue streak of dread-filled curses, Reid flipped to the summary. The fine details of how and why weren’t as important as the big ol’ smear of red ink across the balance sheet.

“How did this happen?” Reid demanded.

“He took all the operating capital out of the marina,” Logan said with disbelief, flicking pages. “That’s insane.”

“These income projections are bull.” Trystan threw down his packet in a flutter of disgust. “No one is paying twenty grand for a week of whale watching. Not on leaky tubs that smell of diesel and fish guts. Not when they can get the whole family to an all-inclusive in Mexico for half that.”

“Were there some bad years?” Reid set down his pages as though they were radioactive. “How is it possible the lodge and fishing tours are running at such a loss?” Reid sent George his darkest, nut-pinching glare, letting him know where he felt the responsibility for such a disaster resided.

“Shorter fishing seasons and tighter limits have had an impact. That’s climate change and collapsing salmon runs. It’s also the reason for the shift to high-end clientele. Other loans were consolidated and”—again, George offered the smile that promised he was lubing up, but it was still going to sting like hell—“I believe he gave money to each of you? For school, and in your case”—he nodded at Trystan—“the production company you started.”

The chain came off Reid’s mental bicycle.

“That was ten years ago,” Trystan said with disbelief.

“He went into hock for that?” Shock blanked Logan’s face.

“And for Glenda’s divorce settlement.” George’s shrug asked if they thought the money had been left by the tooth fairy. “There were other big investments. The airstrip, an overhaul of the water treatment plant, more amenities in the village. Now this expansion.”

“A minute ago, it was an upgrade.” Trystan snatched up the pages again. “So it’s not a coat of paint and reshingling a few roofs?”

“New guide boats and a luxury lodging with six first-class units and a fine-dining restaurant,” George provided.

Fine dining,” Logan repeated. “Who the hell is paying for fancy dinners— No.  How is anyone going out for dinner on an island that has ferry service twice a week in the middle of the night?”

“The initial business plan was more modest,” George said. “Things changed on the fly. I didn’t realize how far he’d overextended himself until we began pulling numbers for this meeting. The loan was never approved for this much.”

“Fifteen thousand to rebrand.” Trystan leafed through pages. “How does a website cost forty thousand dollars? I made my own for a couple hundred bucks. That plane he was flying? New two months ago. Did he even know how to fly it?”

“Please tell me it was insured?” Reid asked George, trying to ignore the churn in his stomach.

“I’ll check.” George picked up his pen to make a note.

“None of these upgrades are complete?” Logan was gray beneath his tan.

“No. And you’ll need to refinance before work can continue—which you’ll want to arrange quickly if you want to open on time for this season.”

Logan swore and ran his hand down his face, but it didn’t remove his flabbergasted expression.

Trystan swallowed loud enough Reid heard it.

Reid was ready to vomit. He didn’t want to believe any of this. He hadn’t come in here thinking to cash in on his father’s death, but he hadn’t expected to be at such a loss—pun intended. This was a strange feeling. He generally knew what to do in a given situation. He assessed quickly and set down the trail of breadcrumbs that got his clients out of whatever mess they’d created for themselves. That’s why they paid him the big bucks.

Reid ran the most esteemed, expensive corporate consulting firm in Western Canada. How had he got to the top so fast? By working his ass off, sure, but also by coming out of school not owing a penny.

He had earned his business degree without being sure what sort of business he would run, knowing only that he wanted to inhabit the corporate world, where he could print money for a living if he made the right choices. Since he excelled at telling people what to do, consulting had been a natural fit.

Thanks to his father, he had had a leg up, right out of the gate.

Had Reid viewed it as his father trying to buy his love or forgiveness and deliberately withheld both? Maybe. He’d been eighteen and angry. His father might have been making support payments, but Reid had known as he left Raven’s Cove that responsibility for his mother would forever fall on his own shoulders, not his father’s. He’d taken the “inheritance” Wilf offered as his due.

If Wilf had cratered his bottom line to give that to Reid, that had been Wilf’s choice. The ability to remain objective about other people’s bad decisions was Reid’s signature edge. He never took responsibility for how others conducted themselves, and he wasn’t swayed by a sob story, either.

Like one where an orphaned baby’s inheritance, if she ever saw a penny of it, would be spent on her upbringing, not on giving her the foundation for the successful adulthood that her three older brothers enjoyed.

He bit back a string of curses and scraped his hand down his melting face, gaze catching on Emma’s frown of concern as she made a tiny adjustment to the way the blanket framed the baby’s sleeping face.

Reid wondered exactly what kind of shape Raven’s Cove was in. Vultures would swoop in and pick anything apart. From an emotional standpoint, Reid honestly didn’t care what happened to the place. He had lived there under duress and hadn’t been back in the fourteen years since he’d left.

But he didn’t steal. He sure as hell didn’t steal from a baby. He might not have much of a heart, but he understood duty, especially to family.

Emma caught him staring. Her cheeks went pink with self-consciousness. Or contempt. He refused to wonder which. He took the bull and the other bull by the horns.

“We have to see what we’re up against,” he said to his brothers. “Figure out how to make it profitable again so someone will buy it for what it’s actually worth.”

“How long will that take?” Logan grumbled.

“I don’t know. That’s why we have to see it.” Reid twisted to glance out the window. The sky was low and gray. Spring on the coast. There was a reason he made Calgary his home. The days were almost always sunny, even when the temperature was well below freezing. “Fishing season starts in a month. Surely Dad expected the work to be done by then.”

“I have a show to finish,” Trystan said.

“I have drawings due,” Logan said.

“We all have jobs.” Reid didn’t have room for pity. “You came here for at least a week, right? To stay for the service?”

“Hey, if running up the coast and finishing whatever Dad started isn’t any inconvenience to you, then have at it. Take charge, captain. God knows you will anyway,” Logan muttered.

“I don’t like it, either. Is spitting and hair-pulling going to help?” Reid shot back.

“Are we going to have to ante up from our own pockets to finish the renos?” Trystan glanced at George and reached for the pages again.

“That would be the most expedient option. I think you’re best to assess it yourself and decide how much you’re willing to invest or whether you’d rather cut your losses.”

Losses? Reid thought of his mom and mentally rearranged his portfolio, calculating how much he could invest to bring things back into the black.

His brothers were doing well enough in their chosen careers to throw a few bucks at the project. He’d taken the time to look up that much over the years, mostly out of a puerile need to compete, but it was true that none of them could afford much time away from their careers if they wanted to remain as comfortable as they were.

“What about Storm?” Emma asked, eyes wide with apprehension.

Christ. The baby.

His brothers had tagged Reid correctly when it came to taking the lead. As a child, he’d been subjected to nothing but chaos. Once he learned that captains got to steer the ship, he’d made a habit of taking command. It was a control thing that usually worked in his favor.

In this case, however, taking responsibility involved a serious danger of being stuck with the hot potato when the music stopped.

“We’re three adults,” Reid pointed out. “If we take joint custody, there will always be a tiebreaker when we disagree.” Which was inevitable.

“I vote Reid takes her.” Logan lifted a finger.

“Second.” Trys turned his head. “You’re losing your edge.”

“How can you make jokes about something this serious?” Emma’s voice trembled. Her eyes were shiny, her lashes matted. “She’s a baby.”

Reid bit back a sigh, not convinced Emma would be a good fit in the long run if she couldn’t laugh in the face of whatever unholy mess Wilf had made because, God knows, that man had known how to make one.

“It’s all or none, boys,” he said to his brothers. “Unless you have a better idea, we’re flying to Raven’s Cove, making a plan to get it ready for the season, and making a decision on what happens to…”

Was he really supposed to call her his sister?

Marrying the Nanny

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