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Hip Check

Hip Check

Book Twelve of the New York Blades series

Esa Saari is a hockey player for the New York Blades with a bad boy rep both on and off the ice. But when he suddenly becomes the guardian of his eight-year-old niece, Nell, he knows his excessive lifestyle is about to get body checked.

So he hires a live-in nanny. Her name is Michelle Beck, and she gets along great with Nell. What surprises him, though, is that he instantly hits it off with her, too. Becoming romantically involved would be a bad idea, but he’s finding it impossible to ignore the intense chemistry between them.

Michelle, however, takes her job very seriously, and must decide whether to listen to her head or her heart. And Esa’s got to decide if he can give up his bad-boy image for the love of a good woman...

 

 “If you’ve never read any of Deirdre Martin’s New York Blades books, you are so missing out.”
—The Brazen Bookworm

 

 “Deirdre Martin knows how to write a beautiful single title romance.”
—Single Titles

 

 “Contemporary romance doesn’t get much better than this.”
—All About Romance

 

Excerpt

The next morning Esa struggled with impatience, trying to keep busy until 10am rolled around. He made oatmeal for Nell and himself, which she seemed to like. He showed her an article about The Blades in that morning's Sentinel, that said he was one of the keys if the team was to have any chance of winning The Cup. Nell nodded politely, but as soon as she finished her breakfast, she asked to be excused. Esa had no problem with her parking her butt on the couch and channel surfing. But she didn't. She took a shower, and went back to her room to read. Was that weird? He had a vague memory of Danika reading a lot when they were young, teasing him about being a tyhmä urheilija, a dumb jock. Maybe Nell had inherited his sister's bookworm gene. Or maybe she was scared of him. Or didn't like him. Or thought he was a tyhmä urheilija, even if she didn't know Finnish. The idea of any of them hurt.

Esa checked his watch for the hundredth time that morning. Michelle Beck was due in five minutes. He tidied up his apartment a bit; he didn't want her to think he was taking care of a little girl in some kind of pig sty. He'd have to remember to tell her that he had a housekeeping service already. At precisely 10am, the doorbell rang and he buzzed the nanny up to his apartment.

He opened the door to a petite woman with long black hair and green eyes with lashes that were, in his opinion, a little too mascara heavy. Not his type. He liked leggy blondes.

She extended a small hand to shake his. "Hi, I'm Michelle."

"Esa. Let me take your coat."

Michelle shucked her faded denim jacket and handed it to him. Her eyes were sweeping his apartment, making him feel a little self conscious. "Wow. Nice place."

"Thank you." Esa agreed: he did have a lovely home, but it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Danika, who'd told him that just because he was a cool NYC bachelor, that he didn't mean he had to inhabit a "soul-less lair of steel and glass." A whiz with catalogs and the net, she'd ordered him what looked like furnishings for real home, with Oriental carpets and potted plants and comfy furniture. The only incongruity in the room was his massive 65 inch wide screen TV. It stuck out like a sore thumb, but he didn't care. When all was said and done, this was still his lair.

Michelle smiled politely. "Where's Nell?"

The question surprised Esa. "In her room reading."

"Oh." Michelle seemed disappointed. "I was hoping I'd get to spend some time with her today, if you decide to hire me."

You are hired, Esa thought. He smiled graciously. "Yes, of course. I just thought you and I might talk a little first. Coffee?"

"That would be nice."

The small woman followed him into the kitchen. He'd let Danika take care of that, too. English something style. Or maybe it was French. Whatever it was called, it had a wide planked wooden floor, and in addition to the usual kitchen stuff, there was a wooden island in the middle of the room with a big rack of pots hanging above it. He always laughed at that touch since he never cooked anything that couldn't be made in a bowl in a microwave. White windowed cabinets lined the walls. He'd been told he had an amazing amount of counter space. Maybe so. He'd never noticed.

"This is amazing," Michelle marveled.

Esa flushed with pride. "Thanks."

She gestured at the hanging pots. "You like to cook?"

"Sometimes," he lied. He went to the fridge, pulling out a half empty bag of coffee. He also had two bottles of Finlandia chilling, and the virgin bottle of champagne he'd been hoping to pop last night. He had milk there, too, for Nell to drink and to put on her cereal. He'd done pretty well in the food department for Nell, he thought, getting a bunch of things he was sure kids liked to eat: macaroni and cheese, brownies, hotdogs, soda, cold cereal, chocolate chip cookies, and some breaded chicken bits. He should probably take her to McDonald's.

Coffee brewed, he and Michelle sat down at the kitchen table. Michelle pulled a neatly typed sheet of paper out of her big leather shoulder bag and pushed it across the table to him. It was a list of references.

"Sorry I couldn't get this to you sooner, but Theresa said you were crunched for time, and I didn't get your email address."

"No worries." He cursorily skimmed the paper and handed it back to her. " Very impressive."

"That's it?" Michelle looked slightly taken aback. "You're done?"

"You come highly recommended from Theresa Dante. That's enough for me. I need you to start tomorrow afternoon. I'll pay you whatever you want."

Michelle leaned forward as if she hadn't heard him correctly. "What?"

"I said I'll pay you whatever you want. To take care of Nell. You'll have your own room and bathroom. Locks on the door."

"Whoa, whoa, slow down a minute. "

"Why?"

"We've got to discuss terms first. It's very important that we're both clear on a number of things. And we need to see if Nell and I are a good fit."

Esa looked at her over the brim of her coffee cup as he took a sip. "Whatever terms you want. Also, I'm sure you and Nell will be a good fit. She's a very nice little girl."

Michelle looked concerned. "We're not talking about a puppy here. We're talking about the care and welfare of a child."

Esa felt ashamed. "Yes, of course." He drank down more coffee, hoping to wash away some of his impatience. "What is it you need to know?"

"You're supposed to be interviewing me, not the other way around."

"Right. Of course." Well, as you can see, you'll be working for an idiot. Esa aimed for a serious look. "I guess I'm wondering: why are you a nanny?"

Michelle's face lit up. "I love kids. Always have. I taught first grade for awhile, but it didn't give me the kind of one on one connections I wanted. Being a nanny lets me do that. It also pays better than teaching."

"Ah." As surreptitiously as he could, Esa checked his watch. He thought this "interview" would take all of ten minutes. Obviously it was going to run longer.

Michelle studied him. "You really have no idea what you're doing, do you?"

Esa hesitated. "Uh...no," he confessed. "Here's my problem: exhibition games begin in three weeks, and we're already hard at practice. Yesterday I had to bring Nell with me. I need someone in place now. I just..." he felt bad "…I just don't have the time to spend with her."

Esa wondered what Michelle was thinking right now. Probably that he was a selfish, inept prick. Which happened to be the ugly truth.

Michelle took a deep breath. "Here's the deal," she began, tenting her fingers on the table, which made her look very professional. "I get two days and nights off a week. My only job is taking care of Nell. That means I don't clean or do your laundry. I will cook for Nell but not for you."

Esa raised an eyebrow.

"You look surprised."

"I am."

"Why?" Michelle's voice was polite, but firm. "You're paying me to take care of your niece, not be your chef."

Esa felt a flick of irritation. She was a bossy little woman. She was going to be in his employ, not the other way around.

"What—exactly—will your responsibilities be as Nell's nanny?" Esa enquired.

"Like I said, I'll make her meals. I'll get her ready for school in the morning, I'll take her to school if that's necessary, and I'll pick her up after school. I'll help her with her homework. I'll pick up after her, though that's something I hope she's already doing on her own. I'll take her to any extracurricular activities or playdates she might have. I'll arrange for her to have play dates here. I'll discipline her as I see fit. I'll put her to bed at night. Basically, my promise to you is keep her healthy and safe so that she can thrive."

Her eyes pinned his. Perhaps it was his own ignorance on the issue, but Esa felt as if she were challenging him, waiting for him to dispute some aspects of her job. She needn't have worried.

"How much do you want?"

Michelle looked uncomfortable. "There's usually a ballpark—"

"How much do you want?" Esa repeated, trying not to sound desperate. "Look, you're doing an extraordinary thing, helping us out on such short notice. I want to show you my gratitude."

"Fifteen hundred dollars a week," Michelle said, quoting a price even higher than she was earning with the Karles. "Plus all of the expenses I incur caring for Nell."

"Done," Esa said, immediately feeling lighter. "Can start tomorrow afternoon?"

"I'd like to start right now," wishing she'd asked for even more. "Which room is Nell's?"

Michelle got up from the kitchen table, expecting Esa to do the same. But he didn't move. "Aren't you coming with me?"

Esa looked bewildered as he took another sip of coffee. "Why?"

Michelle looked down at the kitchen floor. She needed a moment to collect herself before answering his asinine question. Finally she raised her head to answer, "To introduce us? So you can observe whether Nell and I are a good fit?"

Michelle couldn't decide whether Esa was unruffled or uncaring when he mummured, "I'm sure the two of you will get along fine." He gave her a small smile and went back to reading the paper.

Run, Michelle's instincts told her. Don't take this job no matter how much he'll pay. Run far and fast. This guy's a selfish, unfeeling idiot. Which, unfortunately, was all the more reason to take the position. No little girl should have this putz as her primary caregiver.

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