I chuckled and picked up an envelope off of the desk. “I spend most of my downtime in here either working, watching TV, or playing video games. It’s a glorious life.”
Sliding some of the photographs out, I handed them to Stephanie. She inspected each one slowly and kept that breathtaking smile on her face the whole time. I looked over her shoulder so I could see them, too.
The pictures of Chris were adorable. His short, soft blonde hair stuck up as he slept in several and his dark blue eyes were intent in the ones of him awake. Liz had brought several different props and things to make it look like we were in a studio and not just my home.
“Look at that smile,” Steph said softly, holding up one for me to see. His eyes were closed and his hands were tucked under his cheek but a small smile pulled on his lips, as if he was dreaming about something wonderful.
“Yeah,” I replied, leaning a bit closer to inspect the photo. That’s when I caught a whiff of Stephanie. She always smelled amazing, like oranges and fresh laundry, two scents I’d come to associate with her. I was torn between the desire to lick her neck and bury my face in her hair. No wonder Chris fell asleep cuddled up against her.
Fuck, I was tired.
Shaking myself out of it, I managed to find another coherent thing to say while pointing to the frames on the coffee table. “It was probably just gas but the picture came out perfect. That’s my project for the week- to frame and hang some of these up.”
Stephanie stared at the photos and I stared at her. When she looked up and caught my gaze, she froze. About thirty seconds passed before she cleared her throat and handed me the photos.
“They came out great. He’s a gorgeous little baby.”
I put the pictures on the desk and nodded. “He’s amazing. When I first walked into that hospital, I just hoped that I had been wrong and he wasn’t my baby. I mean, I read the news report and the timeline made it obvious that he was. I still just clung to this hope that I was wrong or she had been cheating on me because I had no idea how to handle a baby.”
“And look at you now.” Stephanie sat down on the loveseat. I took the spot next to her and released a sarcastic laugh.
“Yeah, look at me. I still don’t know how to handle a baby, hence your presence here.”
She shook her head and uncapped her water. “Every parent has this moment, Jared. You are doing a great job.”
“God, I hope so.”
An embarrassed smile slid along her face. “I hope you don’t mind what I did with him earlier. It was pretty inappropriate of me to pull down my shirt but in the hospital, before we knew he had anyone else, he and I did a lot of skin-to-skin that newborns crave.”
“No, it was perfect.” I didn’t mind. If anything, I was jealous. I wasn’t sure if I was jealous that she was able to have that ability to soothe Chris or if I was jealous that Chris got to press up against her chest. I cleared my throat, my turn to be slightly embarrassed. “I googled ways to comfort an inconsolable baby earlier and it said that familiar smells can soothe them. I think you’re that for him, Steph. You’ve spent more time with my son than anyone.”
“I don’t know about that but I’m happy I could help anyway. You’re going to be his comfort soon enough.”
I hoped so but at the same time, the thought made me sad. It was obvious that Stephanie and Chris had some sort of connection and I didn’t want that to go away. If I was being honest, Chris wasn’t the only one who had a connection with her. I couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if I had asked her out weeks ago. Would we still be at a ‘just friends’ standstill because of the baby or would we be in a completely different position?
Silence settled over both of us and I closed my eyes. Being just friends would be much easier to come to terms with if the need to touch her wasn’t so damn overwhelming. Especially now, when we were just inches apart on the loveseat, my hands wanted to reach out to her.
“So, I know you’re in marketing thanks to the information I collected for your file but what do you do exactly?”
I turned my head so I could look at her. “I’m the director of the creative team here. It was a big step up from being a lackey in Michigan and I love it.”
“Isn’t thirty-one a little young to be a director?” She offered me a teasing smile and I smirked.
“Maybe. I would like to think that means I’m good at it.”
“I’m sure you are,” she agreed. “It’s nice that they’re letting you work from home, too.”
I nodded and looked up at the ceiling. “Well, I’m off-off this week to get adjusted and next week I’ll have to make myself presentable for lots of video calls. Hopefully Chris and I can come to an understanding about those.”
“Good luck. Babies aren’t that agreeable, though. If you’re ever in a bind and you need help, call. If I can, I will. My office is pretty close.”
“Thanks, Steph.” I just smiled again and we settled back into silence.
I felt so comfortable with that woman, maybe too comfortable. My eyes started to droop against my will and I felt Stephanie nudge me with her foot.
“You should sleep while you can.”
“I think you’re right,” I responded as a large yawn overtook my face. Stephanie stood from the loveseat and offered me her hand. I took it immediately and she broke our connection as soon as I was on my feet.
“Can I use your bathroom really quick?” she asked as we walked out to the hall and I nodded as I pointed to a door to the right.
I continued to the living room and propped myself up on the arm on the couch. With the condo blissfully silent, I could feel the exhaustion settling into my bones. I also knew that Chris would probably be up in an hour or two to eat and wanted to groan.
Stephanie emerged from the hallway with a smile, her sweater back on, and she grabbed her bag from where she’d placed it on the couch earlier. “Remember to try and stay calm because it keeps him calm. And I’ll still see you Thursday for the official visit, okay?”
“Okay.” I grinned and shoved my hands into the pockets of my pajama pants. “Thank you so much.”
“No need to thank me. You can call me anytime for anything.” She handed me something suddenly, and a pink tinge hit her cheeks when I realized what it was.
The brown shirt she’d been wearing under her sweater.
She shrugged with a slight eye roll, trying to belay her embarrassment. “Maybe he does remember me. At the very least, it could be worth a shot and can’t hurt, right?”
“Right.” I clutched the shirt in one hand and moved towards Stephanie. Without thinking about it, I wrapped my free arm around her in a tight hug. “Thank you.”
She returned my embrace lightly, as if she were uncomfortable, so I released her quickly and stepped back. To avoid letting the moment get awkward, I hurried to the intercom and pressed the call button.
“Good evening, Mr. Hart.”
“Hey, Angelo. Stephanie is on her way back down.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll bring her car around immediately.”
I thanked him and walked with Stephanie to the door. She smiled before stepping into the hallway.
I chuckled and nodded slightly. “Thanks. I’m going to need it. Goodnight, Steph.”
I stayed at the door as she waited for the elevator and when she got in, our eyes met. She held up her hand in a wave and I grinned at her as the doors closed. Once she was out of sight, I stepped back inside and locked up.
I was tired. It was the only explanation I had for why I lifted her shirt to my nose and inhaled a deep breath. It smelled just like her. The scent was enough to relax me and light my blood on fire at the same time.
Jesus. I needed to sleep.