When I reach the living room, the bright sunlight streaming through the huge picture windows tells me it's late morning. Where is Pace? Where is my son?
I head toward the sound of laughter, and I find them in the kitchen. Max is covered in flour and smears of what looks like pancake batter around his mouth.
They are in their own world, laughing, babbling, and cooking together. Pace is heating a skillet on the cooktop and Max is playing with plastic takeout containers and rubber utensils on the floor. They've yet to notice me.
The clock on the microwave tells me it's already 10:30. I haven’t slept in this late in over a year. I feel well-rested and calm. Wow. It's crazy what a full night's sleep will do for you. Especially given that my arm is healing.
"Morning," I murmur.
"Hey sleepyhead, " Pace grins up at me with his adorable crooked smile, and my belly does a somersault.
I'd charged out here in a panic, looking for Max—who is totally fine—without giving a thought to my appearance. My curly hair gets crazy while I sleep, and I'm dressed in an old band T-shirt and my short shorts. The pajamas that Pace dressed me in after discovering me naked and sprawled on his bathroom floor. Oh dear God, memories of last night's embarrassment come rushing back to me, along with a healthy dose of shame.
Pace's eyes wander over my body lazily, like he's remembering it in its full sprawled-out glory.
"What are you guys doing?" I ask. It's obvious they're making pancakes, but I just need to get the attention off my bare legs and nipples that are trying to poke through the shirt.
"When I heard him stir this morning, I went in and got him, hoping we could let you sleep in a little. I figured that wasn't something you got to do very often."
He's right, of course. "How long have you guys been up?"
His lips pout in a thoughtful expression while he considers it. "Since 7:30, I think?"
"Oh, he needs a diaper change." I start toward Max.
"Already taken care of," Pace says pouring batter into the sizzling skillet. "I gave him some dry cereal too when he woke up. Wasn't sure how hungry he'd be."
I've never been rendered quite so useless… I don’t know what to do with myself, standing in his kitchen in my pajamas. It's disorienting.
"How does your arm feel?" Pace asks.
I hold it out and rotate it around. Other than the cast being annoying and itchy, it's fine. "It feels alright."
"Good," Pace says.
Max has only glanced up at me, hardly acknowledging my presence, and is content to play independently on the floor with the kitchen implements Pace has given him.
"Morning, bubs." I lean down and kiss his head.
He looks up and gives me a gummy grin. "Mumma…"
"I hope he hasn’t been too much trouble." My eyes cut to Pace's again.
He looks absolutely delectable in the morning, I decide. His short hair is messy and he's wearing gray athletic shorts and a white-tee. His long feet are bare and every part of him is casual and sexy.
"This little guy? He's a piece of cake," Pace says, pulling me from the visual inspection of his body I'd been indulging in.
My skin warms. "He's not always so easy." I have no idea why I'm trying to warn him away. But he needs to understand what he's stepping into.
"I don't mind, Kylie. I will take care of both of you." His tone is firm, and the expression in his eyes is so sincere, so intense that I know we're no longer just talking about sleepovers, complete with breakfast. His deeper meaning about wanting to take care of us both slams into me and makes my stomach tighten. "Pancakes will be ready in a few minutes," he adds.
"Anything I can do to help?"
"Nope. We got this."
"Okay, I think I'll just go change."
After breakfast, the day went on much the same. Pace was attentive and sweet, and Max seemed content—happy with the extra attention he was receiving from not one, but two caregivers.
I knew Pace would be going back to work tomorrow, but so far, neither of us had mentioned me leaving. He even went to the grocery store and stocked up, saying he wanted to make sure we had enough food for breakfasts and lunches. I could only assume he meant during the workweek when he was gone.
Being here alone during the day would be no different than being alone at my own house, but if I stayed here, at least I'd have help in the evenings, and that was when Max was at his most difficult.
I could still work via my laptop when Max was napping—whether I was here or at home. And there was something comforting about knowing I wouldn’t be alone at night.
As a single mother, living alone, I sometimes felt vulnerable, and I knew I would even more so with my right arm in a cast.
By dinnertime, I'm feeling eager to earn my keep and decide to treat Pace to my homemade marinara sauce. I make awesome pasta sauce. It's my super power. I tell myself it has nothing to do with impressing this man. It's just a luxury to have the time to actually prepare a nice meal, something more elegant than sandwiches, so I take full advantage. And with Max playing quietly in the living room while Pace watches him, I'm able to devote the time to chopping garlic and onions and simmering tomato sauce.
I hum quietly while I work, enjoying the moment of solitude and the occasional sounds of baby giggles and masculine laughter that drift in from the living room. Doing everything one-handed takes extra time, but that's fine with me.