Summer in New York (Book 1)

Read the Excerpt

Mothers are all slightly insane.”

The quote from a book she couldn’t quite remember popped into Kara Larsen’s head, riding the sound wave of a crash that rocked the floor beneath her feet. For a split second, she froze, waiting for her daughter’s cries. When none came, she leaped from the shower and darted across the hall to her daughter’s room, and found her precious bundle of energy surrounded by the toys from her toy box.

Every single one of them.

With a loud sigh, Kara clutched the door frame as the adrenalin surge left her knees weak and her heart galloping. With a silent prayer of gratitude that her daughter wasn’t hurt, she turned back for the bathroom but Nadia spotted her, held out her arms and said, “Ma.”

Uh oh.

Kara grinned and shook her head. “Not yet, Milk Dud. Mommy has to get dressed first.” And maybe, just maybe, swallow a few gulps of coffee.

“Ma!” Nadia struggled to her feet, toddled to the safety gate that kept her securely in her baby-proofed room and lifted wounded blue eyes to her mother’s.

“In a few minutes, my girl. In a few minutes.” Kara ran a hand over her daughter’s light brown curls and bent down to kiss those pudgy cheeks only to get clobbered by Nadia’s toy telephone. Kara only just managed to catch it before it careened into a framed portrait of her parents hanging on the opposite wall.

Catch. Catcher. “Right. Catcher in the Rye.” Kara snapped her fingers. That’s where that quote had come from. Nadia paused in her room-destroying efforts, enthralled by the sound of Kara’s fingers snapping. She pointed to her mother’s hand and held up her own, perplexed by her little fingers’ silence.

Uh oh, Kara thought. Nadia got impatient with her tiny body’s inability to do the things her mind wanted it to do. “Where’s your Teddy?” When Nadia turned and waddled toward her stuffed bear — who was currently laying face first under the crib — Kara said another prayer of gratitude to whoever had invented distraction as a parenting technique and beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom to dry off. She was running extremely late this morning and not for the first time, reminded herself to shower at night when her baby girl was asleep.

Mornings were not Nadia’s thing.

Then again, neither were nights. The baby had woken up twice last night for no apparent reason. She wasn’t sick, hungry, or wet and Kara dearly hoped it was a passing phase. She couldn’t function on so little sleep. If she didn’t get coffee in the next ten minutes, she was going to start throwing toys around, too. Oh, who was she kidding? She had no time for tantrums. She was due at a client’s downtown office at two o’clock, still had to get dressed, still had to dress Nadia, and still had to make that damn coffee. Then, it was off to a safety course at the fire house, followed by a quick dash into a department store to buy a gift.

“Ma!” Another toy crashed into the wall outside Nadia’s door.

“Bubble wrap,” Kara muttered. “Order the whole roll.” Over her shoulder she called out to the baby. “Let’s sing, Milk Dud! Sing with Mommy. Sweet Caroline. Bop, bop, bah.”

“Bah! Bah! Bah!”

“Good girl.” While her daughter sang, she dressed quickly in a pair of black slacks and a silk tank in bright turquoise and topped it with a soft white cardigan.

White was so not a good idea. She shrugged it off, folded it up and put it in her bag. She stuffed a long gold chain into her pocket and fastened tiny studs in her ears — Nadia liked to pull on her jewelry. In the mirror above her dresser, she faced her reflection and tried not to sigh about the bags under her eyes. She dotted on concealer, flicked her eyelashes with a bit of mascara, dabbed her lips with some gloss and grabbed for her shoes.

It was only when she bent over that she noticed the towel still wrapped around her hair. She grabbed a can of mousse, sprayed a dollop into her palms, and scrunched it through her wet hair.

“Not bad,” she said, but not to her reflection. No, she said it to the alarm clock. She’d managed to get dressed in under ten minutes. BN — Before Nadia — it used to take her an hour to get ready. Steve used to complain bitterly about that.

Steve. Her heart gave its customary twist whenever she thought of Nadia’s father but she quickly put that aside. There was no time in this morning’s routine for regrets. She’d cut her hair, streamlined her makeup routine, and changed her job. She’d done whatever she’d needed to do to make sure she had time for their daughter.

Her daughter.

And it still wasn’t enough. Her whole life had become one extended juggling act. In the eighteen months since Nadia’s birth, she’d already had two nannies. The first had quit when Nadia was seven months old and the second, soon after she’d started walking. Okay, yes, Nadia was a little on the, ah…energetic side. And yes, she was prone to outbursts of temper. And she didn’t care for naps. Or bedtime. But she was a bright, beautiful, perfect little girl who —

“Ma!” Another toy hit the wall — this time, her farm animals See N Say. It bounced and let out an off-key moo.

Kara smiled. Nadia was a bright, beautiful, perfect little girl who ruled her world with pudgy hands and sticky kisses. If that was insane, Kara wouldn’t trade a second of it.

Another glance at the clock had Kara frowning. Beth was late. She was supposed to have arrived fifteen minutes ago. On cue, the front door buzzer rang. Kara sighed in relief. Beth had a key; she didn’t need to let her in. Kara hurried back to Nadia’s room, stepped over the gate, and snatched her little bundle of energy into her arms. “What should we wear today, Milk Dud? A pretty dress?” Together, they peered through the tiny outfits in the closet. “This?”

Nadia shook her head, sending honey colored curls flying. “Dis!” She lunged for a purple outfit Aunt Elena had bought her and Kara laughed.

“Okay.” Kara took the hanger off the rod and carefully put Nadia on the changing table, peeled off her pajamas and soggy diaper, and started another chorus of Sweet Caroline.

“Bah, bah, bah!” Nadia picked up her favorite part, kicking and clapping her hands.

“Good morning!” Beth’s voice greeted them from the other side of the gate.

“Hi, Beth.”

“Beh!”

“Hi, Nadia.” Beth’s smile widened and gave Kara a sense of relief. Beth Chapman had come to them via recommendation from the previous nanny. A tall thin woman in her early twenties, Beth was attending college at night —  studying child psychology, which was certainly a plus in Kara’s eyes — and not currently dating anybody, which was another plus. Beth stepped over the gate, pulling her long dark hair into a ponytail elastic. “Bad night?” She asked Kara.

“Up a few times, but I don’t know why. No fever, no signs of a new tooth.”

“No rash?”

“Nothing.”

“I’ll call you if I spy any symptoms.”

Kara smiled, comforted. She tugged the purple capris pants over Nadia’s diaper, the bright pink top that matched over her daughter’s head. “Ooo, pretty Nadia.”

The baby clapped her hands.

Kara grabbed the baby brush and tried to tame her daughter’s curls, but Nadia’s hair wasn’t quite long enough to pull up into elastics. The best she could do was fasten a Velcro clip in it to keep a curl from blocking her bright blue eyes.

“Has she eaten?”

Kara winced. “She had a cup of milk when we woke up, but I haven’t had time for food.”

Beth nodded and held out her arms. “Okay. How about scrambled eggs?” The suggestion seemed to please Nadia, who let out an ear-drum shattering scream.

While Beth took Nadia to the apartment’s galley kitchen, Kara hurried around the apartment, tossing all the toys back in their toy box, disposing of the dirty diaper, and gathering her laptop and files. She grabbed her phone from its charging station and hastily checked her schedule.

“Okay, today’s a light day,” she began as Beth fastened Nadia into her high chair and spread some Cheerios on the tray. “CPR class at the fire station, then I’ll head to the office for two client meetings this afternoon. I’ll be home by four.”

“Oh, right,” Beth grinned. “Hot firefighters. Maybe one will get your temperature up?” With one hand, she cracked eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork.

Kara rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.” Like she had time for guys and dating and all the messy emotions that went along with that.

“Gah!” Nadia pounded her tray, sent Cheerios flying. Beth swirled butter into a frying pan while Kara picked up the cereal. When she tossed the handful of oats into the trash and caught sight of the oven clock, she calculated she’d have just enough time to stop for coffee and still make it to the fire station in time for class if she left this minute.

“Ma!” Nadia held up both arms and Kara melted. She leaned in for one of her daughter’s sticky kisses and tight hugs and shut her eyes. She would go without coffee.

“Bye-bye, Milk Dud. Be a good girl. Call me if you need anything, Beth.” Kara collected her bags and strode to the door.

“Hang on.” Beth paused in her egg scrambling to put a to-go cup in Kara’s hand. “Bought you a present.”

Kara stared at the cup and then flung her arms around the angel disguised as a nanny. “You are so getting a raise.”

 

 

It looked like a tiny coffin.

Reid Bennett swallowed down the sour ball that clogged his throat and tugged the infant CPR dummy’s case out of the locker with a muttered curse. He hated these classes. Hated having to teach them, hated practicing on the dummy.

There was something far too real in practicing CPR on a lifeless child-size body.

His mind shot to Erin and his stomach pitched and rolled but he managed to keep down the donut and cup of bad coffee he’d scarfed for breakfast on his way to the fire house. He killed the light, shut and locked the door. He squeezed his eyes shut, gave himself a minute to make sure all thoughts of Erin were firmly locked behind a door of their own where he couldn’t reach them.

“You ready, Reid?”

He whipped around, found Gene Brooks, his partner watching him carefully. “Yeah, let’s get this over with.”

“You look like crap. What’s wrong? You and Alison have a fight?”

Reid shrugged. Alison had kicked him to the curb a few nights back. If he were being honest with himself, he was relieved. “Alison’s history. You got any antacids or something? My stomach is rolling like a wave pool.”

Gene’s narrowed dark eyes and angled head told Reid he wasn’t buying the upset stomach crap, but he merely nodded and pulled out a roll of TUMS from his pocket. “Sure thing.”

“Thanks.” Reid popped two into his mouth, chewed the chalky tablets and handed back the roll.

“So what happened?”

Reid flicked a look at Gene. “What makes you think I have any idea?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Gene raised both hands. “I figured you ended it.”

He wasn’t sure if she ended it or he did. He’d thought they were hanging out, having fun, but suddenly, Alison had wanted more. The white dress, the baby carriage, the happily ever after.

All he wanted was… to forget.

“So how many signed up today?” He changed the subject.

Gene grinned. “Full house. We’ve got twelve.” He made sure his uniform shirt was tucked into his waistband and grabbed one of the two rolling dummy cases Reid had pulled from the storeroom. “Wait ‘til you see the triplets.”

Reid heard the note of interest in his partner’s voice. “What triplets?”

“Oh, not really triplets. Three ladies. All wearing dresses up to here,” Gene said with a hand just under his butt. “And plunging to there,” he finished with his hand hovering just above his belly button. “God, I love summer in the city.” He said with wink. “Women hoping to hook a firefighter.”

Reid’s lips twitched. Three more groupies. This could be fun. Perking up a bit, he nodded and craned his neck, trying to get a peek.

“Oh, hey, we’re meeting Friday night at seven, okay?” Gene held a door open, stepped aside for Reid to step through, but Reid stopped.

“Meeting who where?”

Gene looked at him sideways. “Hell, Bennett, you swore you weren’t gonna forget.”

Forget what?

Gene stepped closer, put a hand on Reid’s shoulder. “You. Me. Vickie and her visiting cousin.”

He shut his eyes and groaned. “Uh. Yeah. Vickie’s cousin. Atlanta. I remember.”

No, he hadn’t.

Gene laughed. “Don’t forget to bring a shirt, okay? Vickie’s cousin hates the uniform.”

Hates the uniform? Already, Reid wasn’t liking Vickie’s cousin much. He followed Gene’s lanky form to the conference room just off the apparatus floor. Chairs had already been set up for class, the coffee and Danish arranged at the back of the room. Participants filed in so he popped the latches on the small case, removed “Trevor,” the infant CPR dummy, and put it on the table at the front of the room. Gene did the same with “Travis,” the child form. Reid took the cap off his head, ran a hand over his buzzed hair and replaced the cap.

Gene’s eyebrows climbed. “Relax, Reid. It’s a CPR class. You’ve taught dozens of these things.”

Yeah. He had. And knew — better than anybody — just what happened when the training wasn’t enough. Again, his mind stubbornly turned to Erin and again, he stubbornly locked away those thoughts.

“Show time,” Gene murmured when the first parents arrived.

This session was mostly women. Three women came in at once, carrying Starbucks to-go cups, wearing matching sun dresses and eyeballing him like he was a slab of cake at the bakery. So these were Gene’s Triplets. Two blonds and a brunette with a mile of legs. Yep, this was going to be a good class.

A pregnant woman came in next, and his sour stomach kinked into a tight coil. She was with a guy — her husband, maybe? Quickly, the room filled up, the trio of friends chattering loudly. He turned his back, gave all the participants some time to settle, to get acquainted with each other, and tried fruitlessly not to think about the pregnant woman in the first row.

“Um,” a throat cleared and Reid tensed. “Excuse me, but are you the instructor?”

He turned, his mouth in a tight line, and met the direct gaze of a triplet — a brunette poured into a pink sun dress. She made no attempt to disguise her blatant scan of his body and it took all of Reid’s focus not to squirm. Jeez, he was wearing a paramedic’s uniform for God’s sake, not a thong. He waited for a beat, but there was nothing. No spark. No chemistry.

No interest.

“Yeah,” he all but shot the word at her and her face twisted into annoyance for a moment.

One of the blonds with her immediately detected her friend’s failure and stepped forward. “Well, when do you plan to get started?” She pressed him, tapping the watch on her wrist for emphasis. Her sun dress was a blue and white checked thing. It reminded Reece of the tablecloth his grandma used to put on the patio table.

“We got time yet.” He smiled at her. She was tall, almost as tall as he was. He glanced down and discovered why.

She’d worn six-inch spiked heels to a CPR class. He managed to stop the eye roll just in time.

The blond held out her hand. “I’m Candace. But you can call me Candy.”

God help him, if she said Candi with an I, he was going to lose it. Another eye roll threatened but he manned up and smiled wider. “Reid Bennett.”

Behind him, he could hear the rest of the class getting a bit restless. The sounds of Tsks of annoyance, huffs of indignation, and drumming fingers could be heard plain as day. He cleared his throat to call the class to order, but his attention was diverted by the distinctly disgusted look on the face of a beautiful blond in the back of the room. Her hair was a mess of waves that just skimmed her jaw. A pair of sunglasses perched on top of her head. In one hand, she had a cup of coffee and in the other, a cell phone. She wore pants and holy crap — flat shoes. It had been so long so he’d come across a woman who didn’t dress to impress and he had to admit, it was nice imagining what the curves under that outfit looked like.

She caught his gaze, held it. And smiled. His lips twitched in response. “Good morning. I’m Reid Bennett, paramedic. Please silence your cell phones.” That was a pet peeve of his… people interrupting his class to take calls, or worse, wasting half of it sending texts. “Today, we’re going to learn proper CPR techniques for infants–” he indicated one dummy. “And for older kids.” He put his hand over the other, gulping hard when his voice cracked.

“Hi, Reid,” the trio said in unison and laughed.

He paid them no attention. The stunning blond in the back rolled her eyes. And then to his surprise, she whipped a gold chain out of her pocket and slipped it around her neck. Suddenly, he wanted one thing — to learn this quirky blond woman’s name.

He continued on with his lesson, explaining the ABC’s of CPR, under what circumstances to perform it, and then launched into the differences in anatomy that made learning on different size dummies so important. Every time he glanced back, he noted the pretty blond paying careful attention and on at least one occasion, checking out his butt.

Finally, it was time for the demonstration. Reid stepped over to the infant dummy. “Okay. This is Trevor. We walk in, discover baby Trevor isn’t breathing. The first thing we should do is try to rouse him. Tap his feet and shout. Even a sleeping baby should show a startle reflex by this.”

Reid tapped Trevor’s feet. “Trevor! Wake up, Trevor!” He shouted. “If there’s no response, go through your ABC’s. Airway, Breathing, Compressions. Trevor is an infant under a year old. You’ll put one hand here and the other here,” he demonstrated with a hand on the dummy’s head and just under its chin. “This opens the airway. Look and listen. Do you see the chest rising and falling?”

“My chest is rising and falling,” Triplet Two stage-whispered to her cohorts.

Reid ignored her. “Do you hear or feel breath on your face? If not, you’ll move to Breathing. Give the baby two rescue breaths by covering his mouth and nose with your mouth and gently blowing in only enough air to make the chest rise.”

Reid blew two quick breaths into Trevor the dummy.

“Oo. Blowing can make other things rise,” Candy said.

Reid shot her a glare. Why couldn’t she be more like the woman in the back of the room? Still glaring, he continued. “Next, you’ll start compressions. You want to do about thirty compressions. Because Trevor’s so little, under a year old, you’re going to use two fingers, not your entire hand. You’ll put those two fingers right here, on the breast bone, just under his nipples.” Reid put his two fingers on the spot indicated. “Press down only about this far,” he demonstrated on the dummy’s chest. “Compress fast. It helps to think of the song Staying Alive and do compressions to that beat.”

This time, whatever one of the triplets said had all three of them dissolving into bawdy laughter. Reid snapped up straight, but before he could say anything, the blond in the back stood up. “Excuse me but some of us would actually like to learn how to save a child’s life today.”

Reid’s heart almost stopped. The woman was pretty enough as it was, but when she was all riled up like she was now, she was breathtaking.

“Oh, okay there, Buffy.” Candy sneered.

To Reid’s astonishment, the blond charged down the aisle with fire in her eyes. He managed to quickly step between the little spitfire and the three Weird Sisters before first blood was drawn. Gene came to his rescue. “Ladies, ladies, I have an idea. Since this class doesn’t seem to be what you expected, maybe you’d like to take a tour of the fire house with me, meet some of the crew?”

Predictably, all three of their eyes lit up at the prospect of fresh man meat. Gene grinned at Reid as he escorted the women out of the conference room. The pregnant woman fanned her face. “Thank God.”

“I’m sorry for that. Let’s start again.” Reid attempted to redirect everyone’s attention, but an eardrum-shattering scream pierced the air and for a moment, he thought they were under attack. Then, he discovered the source.

It was the tiny occupant of a baby stroller that had just been pushed into the room.

Reid’s spit dried up.

He stared at the baby’s round blue eyes and light brown curls, his vision fading and his throat constricting. Erin. His heart said. She’s gone, his brain reminded his heart a second before it twisted inside his chest. The pretty blond was suddenly in front of him and he nearly grabbed her to steady his cracked and splintered heart, but his arms were weighted with lead.

“Beth? What’s wrong?” She addressed the girl pushing the stroller. He was only dimly aware that the girl called Beth was upset. He heard bits and pieces of their conversation. “Tried to call you” and “My mother” and that was it before the two women hugged tightly and the girl was gone, leaving the baby in the stroller behind.

Reid shook his head. He heard words, but they just weren’t penetrating the scream in his mind. Slowly, he shook his head. “No kids. You need to leave. No kids.” His voice was a croak.

The baby’s mother looked up at him with enormous brown eyes filled with frustration. “Do you have any idea what kind of schedule juggling I had to do to be here today? She stays. I’ll remove her if she acts up.” When the baby grinned and leaned forward to snatch the teething biscuit her mother handed her, Reid’s heart twisted behind his ribs.

Okay. Okay, he had to do this. He spun on his heel and barked out an order. “Gather around Trevor. Each of you needs to demonstrate proper CPR technique to earn your certificate. Then, we’ll move on to…” he paused to gulp down the lump in his throat, glanced at the older dummy. “To Travis.”