Open on Literotica

Ashton Hill Fools

Authors note: Hello everyone. Although set in the same town as another of my stories this story is about different people within the town, though you may see cameos from past characters. Thank you once again to Paul for being my second set of eyes. I hope you enjoy this tale. ~ellie.



Quinn sat dazed and confused. She looked uncomprehendingly at the debris that lay scattered around her. She blinked, looking up at the man beside her. He had a large gash on his face that dripped blood onto the front of his shirt. He was hurt and dirty, but he didn't seem to care as he tried to pull her from her chair. He was saying something, but it made no sense to her, and she shook her head, trying to pull away from him.

A second man, all in black and looking authoritative, replaced the first one and picked her up from where she sat, carrying her from the building. She struggled and shook her head as she was handed to a paramedic to be examined. She was given a face mask, and, as she breathed in the life-giving oxygen, the world began to come back into focus.

Like most correspondents, she went where the stories were, but on the odd occasion she got to pitch one herself and had been overjoyed when the network had let her shoot a special piece for Valentine's Day. She had been interviewing young couples whose families had been on opposite sides of the ongoing conflict in these border towns. It was dangerous, not only for them, but for her as well to meet in such a public place. However, she had never believed that an act of terror would occur here in such a highly populated suburban area.

Her brain finally registered that she couldn't see either of the young people she had been interviewing, and that she needed to find her phone and camera. She pulled the mask off her face and, before the paramedics could react, she darted back to the café in search of her equipment. The world would want to know about this now. She needed her phone desperately.

"Let me go!" she yelled. "I need my camera! My phone! How will I tell my friends I am alive? I'm a journalist, god dammit! Haven't you heard of freedom of the press?" There was a scream from close by, and, with her captors momentarily distracted, Quinn freed herself and darted into the building to where she had been sitting.

The bomb obviously had been activated from outside the building and had blown the windows in so that only the booth tables and benches which had been bolted to the floor remained in place. Quinn had been sitting with her back to the windows behind a column and seemed to have escaped the serious injuries that had been inflicted on the other patrons of the café. She needed to find her friends and finish the interview, if they would even talk to her after this.

As if by the same miracle that had protected her, she found her handbag and camera on the seat where she had been sitting. She snatched them up, and it was only then that she really looked around. The restaurant was a hive of activity as emergency workers searched the wreckage for the injured and dead. She took the protective cover off her camera and began to shoot rapidly. There was no time for eloquently staged shots of the debris.

A hand took her arm roughly, and she was dragged forcibly back out of the building and left once again with the medical teams. She continued to take in everything she could and searched her bag for her phone as she was manhandled by paramedics. Compared to the other patrons she thought she was fine, and her editor and producer would want this firsthand account.

A hand pressed into her side and began to tear at the shirt she was wearing. Only then did she look down and see the blood staining her side and hip. She didn't understand where it was coming from. She hurt, but that was only to be expected, it wasn't like she was dying. As if her brain finally acknowledged the injury, she felt her world spin on its axis, and she crumpled into the man inspecting her wounds.


Chapter 1

Six months later.

Quinn woke slowly and sat up. She'd arrived in the city late last night, and it took her a moment to get her bearings in the Hotel. Checking the time, she swung her legs off the bed and sat up in one smooth motion, stretching her arms above her head.

The constant travel had been wearing her thin before her injuries and the long-broken flights home. Her prolonged hospital stay had been gruelling, with all of the media hype around what had happened to her. She was glad to be having a break from work and her well-meaning colleagues, who continued to treat her like a broken doll rather than the hard-ass correspondent she had been. She was looking forward to a couple of weeks away from everything before going into the editing room with fresh eyes to edit her piece, which would include her own brush with death. She'd missed the deadline for Valentine's Day; but the piece was still valuable in regards to the conflict. She felt a pang of sadness as she thought about the young couple who had been torn apart yet again by injury and recriminations. She sincerely hoped they would find their way back to each other and the love they had felt.

She had become the golden girl at the network from the moment she had first called her editor, having had the presence of mind to document what was happening during the minutes after the car bombing that had taken several lives and caused her own injuries. She had been respected for her fieldwork before, but after that she was celebrated, and she had enjoyed her fifteen minutes of super fame. Now it was finally time to rest and let everything that had happened to her sink in so she could recover properly.

Once the shock had worn off she had realised just how badly injured she been from several large lacerations and a penetrating wound at her hip. She had been airlifted out of what had become a dangerous battle zone and, once safe again, had worked from her recovery bed, steadfastly refusing to turn her phone off or decline visits from her media team. Physically she had fully recovered, mentally she felt fine, but she knew that the memory of that day lurked in her subconscious and presented itself at the strangest of times. The flashbacks were the worst, and she shuddered, pushing them from her mind again. She was stronger than that. She was a tough, independent woman who could look after herself. She didn't need or want anyone else in her life who would, or could, help support her through this recovery.

Standing to walk into the bathroom, she disrobed and stared at herself in the mirror. The livid pink scars that told of just how injured she had been littered her right side, with the largest looking like a jagged red wheel. She sighed and went to shower. The cream she had from the dermatologist was working, for the most part, and the smaller wounds shouldn't scar permanently, but the larger ones were still tender to the touch. Her face showed only a few dimpled scars on the right side that were easily hidden with makeup.

Quinn dressed casually and checked out of the hotel, preparing for the two-hour drive from the city to Ashton Hill where she said she would meet her sister for a late lunch this afternoon. She hadn't seen her sister since she had broken her engagement and run away from Ashton Hill, leaving behind a heartbroken lover and a small child. Quinn had fought with Rheagan over her callous disregard for her child and the child's father as she chased the newest thing to catch her eye. As if being the wife of a billionaire wasn't enough for Rheagan, she had left her fiancé and their small hometown with a media producer she had met through trying to get in contact with Quinn by showing up at the network offices.

Quinn sighed. It had been years. She could hope that her sister had grown as a person and had called to tell her she had finally gotten her shit together. It wasn't likely, but she could hope. She could hope that a lifetime of resentments and recriminations could be brushed away. She could hope for a sisterly bond to build between them, but, after years of disappointment, she had little hope left. She had no idea what Rheagan had asked to meet her about, but it had sounded urgent, so she had agreed. There were worse places she could take her vacation than the hometown she had left so long ago and only returned to for her mother's funeral two years ago. Perhaps it was time to deal with her estate, which she'd left to Rheagan and made her, Quinn, the executor, as if Rheagan couldn't do it herself.

Rheagan was the spoilt and indulged child from her mother's second marriage. Quinn had always been the reason her mother had to give up her dreams and the life she wanted to be with a man who treated her badly and eventually left her and his daughter to make a new life with a new family in another state. While Quinn had never done anything her mother approved of or praised her for, Rheagan could do no wrong, despite being constantly in trouble, and her mother indulged the behaviour, offering a multitude of readymade excuses for anything she did. It was always somebody else's fault, and, more often than not, Quinn was made the scapegoat for not looking after her little sister better and protecting her from the temptations she couldn't seem to resist.

As soon as she had graduated, Quinn had left home, working part-time and taking student loans to put herself through a small college with reasonable fees. She was then blamed for abandoning Rheagan when she began to get into some serious trouble with her friends who partied too hard and lived life in the fast lane. Quinn believed Rheagan had finally settled down when she began a relationship with Grayson Ryde and had fallen pregnant. However, a few months after having the beautiful baby boy, and on the eve of her wedding, Rheagan had fled the responsibility of her life with Grayson and her son with a television producer and never looked back.

Rheagan had come home for two days when their mother had died, looking pale and gaunt, then she left just as quickly, leaving Quinn to handle everything, as usual. She'd said she was living in the United Arab Emirates, but, aside from that, she had said very little. That was two years ago, and the sisters had not spent any time alone together during that visit. Rheagan had given her instructions and details to the lawyer and had left again swiftly without a word to anyone.

Quinn had spoken briefly to Grayson at the funeral, which he was kind enough to attend, and she had fussed over her small nephew, who looked grave and serious. Rheagan had all but ignored them, as far as Quinn could see, and she felt bad for them both, but had done little to bridge the gap between the families herself, aside of apologising for her sister's behaviour, like she always did. Quinn continued to obsess about her irresponsible, selfish sister throughout the drive to her small hilltop hometown until she finally arrived at the small cosy café where they had agreed to meet.

"Hello," she greeted the waitress. "I am running a little late, I was supposed to meet a woman who looks a lot like me," she brushed her hair over her shoulders away from her face, knowing the family resemblance between herself and Rheagan was strong. They were both younger versions of their mother in looks.

"Yes, she was just over there in that booth, she must have gone to the bathroom," the waitress led her to a table and took her order for coffee. Quinn didn't want to order any food until she knew why Rheagan had asked to meet. She played with the menu and turned her head to smile at the baby in the aisle beside the booth. She looked so sweet sleeping peacefully there. Quinn liked children, but they weren't in her future at all. She studied the parents and wondered how the child got her colouring, both parents had lovely bronzed skin, and the little angel sleeping peacefully was pale and blonde, and Quinn would hazard a guess that she was also blued eyed, though that was unlikely with these parents.

The longer Quinn sat there, the worse her gut feeling that Rheagan was in trouble again became. She stared at the bathroom door, willing her sister to reappear, but, as the minutes ticked by, the door remained tightly closed. Then the couple beside her got up and moved to leave. It took her only a moment to realise that they had each obviously thought the other would get the pram holding the angel, so she called out to them.

"Wait! You've forgotten your baby!" she exclaimed.

"That's not our baby, the lady at your table came in with the baby," the woman said with a laugh.

Stunned by this information, Quinn sank down into her seat. Rheagan was irresponsible and selfish, but to have another child and... "No! No! No! No!" she whispered angrily. This had to be a horrible April fool's joke. She couldn't have abandoned yet another child without a backward glance. And did she expect that Quinn would just give up her life and her career to take on her selfish sister's responsibilities while she jetted off to the next exciting thing? That wasn't happening. She sat and fumed, staring at the bathroom door, willing her sister to reappear. For this had to be some colossal April Fool's Day prank, it had to be. 'Please let it be a prank!'

The waitress came over to ask if she would like more coffee, and Quinn asked her to check the restroom for Rheagan. When the waitress came back, she said it was empty and claimed to not have seen the woman leave the restaurant.

"I'm sorry," she said, "she must have left when I was waiting on a table," the waitress fidgeted nervously under Quinn's furious stare.

"I'm sorry, it's not your fault, I know," Quinn sighed. "Can you watch her for a moment? I just want to check outside, I'll leave my handbag, so you know I will be back for her if I can't find her mother."

"I guess," the waitress said dubiously.

The street was busy, and, despite her best efforts in her search, Quinn could find no trace of Rheagan, and she went back inside to think about her options and what to do with the baby. She had no experience with babies. She'd never even changed a nappy before. 'What did babies eat? Did the little baby even eat real food yet? Would she need formula and bottles and...' her head filled with a thousand impossible questions, and then a well-dressed woman stood in front of her saying Rheagan's name.

"Rheagan Myers?" the woman asked with a frown.

"No, Quinn Thomas. The one who always has to deal with the consequences of my sister's spoilt, shallow existence!" she spat angrily. "Don't tell me she owes you money or stole some family heirloom or something. Well, whatever you're looking for, I don't have it, the only thing I ever get from her is drama! Unless..." she eyed the woman speculatively. "I don't suppose you've come to claim your granddaughter?" Quinn asked hopefully.

"She's a little angel, and reminds me a great deal of my grandson, but, no, I haven't come to claim her. She's not yours, I take it?" The woman said, kindly taking a seat across from Quinn.

"Rheagan's," she shook her head. "I don't suppose you're in on some colossal April Fool's joke that she's pulling?" At the blank look and shake of the woman's head, Quinn sighed, "It's not the first child she's abandoned, I'm afraid."

"There's more?" the woman asked.

"Just one, but he is lucky enough to have an amazing father who looks after him like a prince. This poor girl has been left with an aunt who doesn't know the first thing about looking after a baby. I don't even know what she needs!" Quinn despaired.

"Well, she has a lovely big bag on the pram. Why don't you check that? And you never know, Rheagan may regret her decision and return for her," the woman said in calming tones, studying Quinn. "She just left you here with the baby?" She asked.

"When I arrived there was just the pram and baby, no Rheagan. I actually thought the baby belonged to another couple who were sitting there," she indicated a nearby table. She took the bag from beneath the pram, pulling it to the table and seeing the letter pinned to it. She snatched it up and practically tore it open and read.

"Hello, Quinn,

I can imagine what you are thinking right now, and you're probably right. I'm sorry. I have to go, and I can't take April with me. I know you think I am reckless and foolish, but I hope one day you can forgive me enough to tell her about her mother who wanted more for her than I could give.

If you need help, go and see Grayson. He is a good man, and April is Noah's half-sister, so he won't turn you away, even if he wanted to. Family is everything to him. Something I could never be to either of you. I'm sorry, Quinn. Believe me when I say I have to go, I have no choice this time, and I can't take April with me. You can do this. You can do anything you set your mind to. I trust you more than anyone to make sure my baby has a good home.


"Oh God, it's true, I kept hoping this was a huge prank for April Fool's Day! I kept hoping that she'd walk back in, but she won't, she's gone! What am I going to do? I live out of a suitcase and travel from hotel to hotel, I don't even have a home to take her to, let alone offer her one!" she pointed to the sleeping baby. Her mind strayed to her mother's cottage, but it had tenants in it at the moment on a long-term lease.

"Okay," the older woman said in a no-nonsense tone, "We are going to take this little angel to meet her brother and stay with the nanny tonight while you work out what it is you want to do. The Nanny can help you learn the basics while you are there."

"We? Brother? Nanny?" Quinn gaped at the woman.

"Yes, we, my name is Melody Ryde, and my son is Grayson. Noah is my grandson, and he and Grayson live with me in our family home," she said with a smile. "Now finish your coffee while I call the driver around to pick us up. Do you have a car that will need to be taken home?" she asked.

"Yes, my car, but I haven't booked in to stay anywhere in town yet," Quinn let herself be swept up by this no-nonsense woman and her take charge attitude.


Grayson skidded his car to a stop outside the big old sandstone house his family called home and swung his tall, lean frame out of the car and jogged up the stairs two at a time.

"Noah!" he shouted opening the door. "Noah!"

"Stop all that yelling, you'll wake the baby! Noah isn't even home from school yet!" his mother admonished him.

"You said it was an emergency and to come home immediately!" his voice was still raised. "What did you expect me to think? If this is some sort of sick April Fool's joke, I will not be a happy man!"

"I expected you to realise that your mother needed you more than work did for a change," she smiled gently and patted his cheek. "I do not play pranks on April Fool's Day, or any other time, come to that, so be happy and smile before you meet my guests, and do try to remember your manners and not to shout."

Quinn had heard it all and watched as the chagrined Grayson entered the lounge room and took in who was sitting there. He did a quick double take before smiling in a friendly way and walking further into the room.

"I'm sorry to intrude, Grayson, you're mother insisted," Quinn immediately spoke, feeling bad about his obvious distress after the phone call from his mother.

"What's going on, Mother?" he asked, smiling at the baby girl perched on Quinn's lap. "May I?" he asked, holding his hands out toward the little girl. "She reminds me of Noah at that age."

"That's because she's Noah's sister, or half-sister," Melody informed him.

"Rheagan's here?" he narrowed his eyes at his mother, and his voice became hard.

"No," she smiled and patted his arm. "Let me explain, and then we can decide what to do next."

"Fine!" he grumbled as he placed the baby on one hip and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Rheagan reached out to me about a week ago, wanting to see Noah. I knew you wouldn't approve without being there yourself, so I agreed to meet with her, myself, in the hopes that she wasn't silly enough to try and take him from school or anything like that," Melody said.

"Rheagan's a lot of things, mother, but she's not stupid, she wouldn't just take him without saying anything. The consequences would be far too great for her to risk her own personal comforts," he said.

"It doesn't matter, by the time I got there she was gone. I was right on time; but all I found was Quinn and another abandoned child," she said sadly. "Quinn seemed to be in a state of shock, so I offered her the use of our regular nanny for tonight and a place to stay. She has nothing for the baby, and no idea what she is going to do, and I thought Noah might like to know he had a sister before anything is decided about her future."

"You'd give her up?" Grayson asked, horrified at the idea of anyone giving up their child. Except this wasn't her child. It was a child none of them knew existed until today.

"Maybe, I don't know. I'm not in a position to look after a baby, I live out of a suitcase, I don't have a permanent home or anything remotely resembling what a child would need growing up. I've never changed a nappy or made a bottle of formula, I'm not a Suzie homemaker sort of girl!" she said in a rush of words, feeling frustrated and angry at being put in this position. The fact that she sat in the living room of Grayson Ryde, a man she'd admired for years, and had admitted that she was totally inept and out of her depth, was humiliating, especially as he seemed so at ease carrying April around using only one big strong arm.

"Where is Noah?" Grayson asked. "You said you had agreed to meet Rheagan with him." The panic that had gripped Grayson since his mother's initial phone call dissipated and he looked around wondering why he wasn't here.

"He's at school, I didn't actually take him with me," she said with a patient sigh. "I'm not stupid either, Darling," Melody smiled. "She looks like Noah did at that age," she indicated the baby in her son's arms.

Grayson looked down at the baby girl and had to admit his mother was right. There was no mistaking the resemblance to the mother of his child in the baby, nor in the woman who sat silently watching him from the sofa. The family traits were strong in the women of that family, and, as much as he didn't want to acknowledge it, he could feel a physical attraction for Quinn pull at his insides. From the moment he had set eyes on her his first thought was that he wanted her. He wanted her under him, on top of him, up against the nearest wall, his second thought which quickly followed was, 'No! Not again!'

Rheagan had been a stunning woman, but it had taken work, he knew, because he had paid for most of it. Quinn seemed effortlessly gorgeous. Her hair was a riot of blond and brown waves, and her eyes were the bright blue of an afternoon sky under perfectly arched eyebrows. 'This woman's beauty was all natural, and highly potent, dammit!' Grayson cursed and tried yet again to pull his eyes away from her. The logical and sane part of his brain screamed at him to send her away, to make sure that he protected not only himself but his son from anymore drama from Rheagan's family. The rest of him, led by a very neglected libido, wanted to rip her clothes off to look at what he could only assume was a most delectable body beneath them.

The silence stretched out as Grayson seemed lost in thought, and Quinn seemed to not know what to say, so she buried her face in his hands and tried to think about what she was going to do. She had to find Rheagan; that had to be the first thing she did. Well, after working out how to look after April. Oh God, how was she ever going to look after a baby? she almost cried at the enormity of the situation.

"I need to pick Noah up from school. Be nice to our guests," Melody patted Grayson's arm and looked at him seriously before lowering her voice. "Quinn is a victim here as well as that baby," she said seriously. "She needs our help."

"Yes, Mother," Grayson rolled his eyes and watched her go before turning back to Quinn. "Why don't you come into the kitchen, I'll make you a drink and you can tell me what happened."

"It's probably easier if I show you," Quinn stood and bent down to retrieve the letter from the baby bag beneath the stroller.

"How is she? Rheagan, I mean?" he asked as he jostled baby April, trying to distract himself from the thoughts he was starting to have about Quinn. Grayson watched her easy grace as she moved, taking in her attractiveness and the flex of the muscles in her legs as she squatted beside the stroller to retrieve whatever she wanted to show him.

"She wasn't there," Quinn said in a tired voice. "The waitress had seen her come in and go to the bathroom, but when we looked for her, she wasn't there. I thought the couple at the next table belonged to the baby until they left and I realised what had happened and began looking for her. If she'd changed her mind about meeting me, I didn't care, I was used to that, but to leave me with a baby!" She got to her feet and held out the letter Rheagan had left with the baby to Grayson.

He took it from her and walked back toward the kitchen, needing to put some distance between himself and Quinn. He read the letter carefully, furious that Rheagan could be so reckless with other people's lives. She was right about one thing, he did value family above all else, and this little girl was his son's half-sister.

"Coffee?" he asked.

"Tea?" she inquired hopefully.

"I can do that," he stepped forward and handed her the baby so he could make the drinks. He noted that she held the little girl nervously, as if she thought the baby might be fragile and break in her arms. She obviously had no experience with children. He understood now why his meddling mother had offered her help, and he wondered where the nanny was if Melody had gone to pick up Noah.

Quinn sat and watched Grayson from the kitchen table. The house was cosy and warm and not at all what she had expected from the wealthy businessman. He looked much the same as the last time she had seen him, tall, with broad shoulders and a stocky build that made him seem even more imposing than his formidable reputation would lead someone to believe. He was a good and kind man to those who knew him well, and even her lying, excuse making sister had acknowledged that fact in her letter. She sat the baby on her lap and tried to think of something to say to fill the silence, but her mind kept circling back to the fact that she had no idea what she was doing. Not with the baby; and not in this house with the handsome Grayson Ryde that made her think anything but maternal things.

"So what do you think you'll do?" he asked casually, hating the idea that she would consider giving up the child.

"I think I need to find Rheagan before I make any decisions," Quinn said carefully. She'd already admitted her lack of child-rearing ability, there was no point in belabouring the fact.

"I have a private investigator who found her once before. I'll get him to start looking. She can't have gone far in a couple of hours. If we're lucky she'll still be in town when he finds her," Grayson said, taking charge.

"When did this become a joint effort? I am quite capable of hiring an investigator. I'm not totally useless!" she said defensively, feeling way out of her depth, despite her words.

"This became a joint effort when you accepted my mother's invitation to come here and let us help you. Even Rheagan suggested you come to see me if you needed help. It's pretty obvious you need that help," he said pointedly. "Besides, my man has found her before and knows who and what to look for where Rheagan is concerned."

"Fine, but I want to meet with him, and I'll pay his fee!" she said belligerently, feeling like he was criticising her.

"Great, I'll get him over here this afternoon. The sooner we find Rheagan, the sooner we can all move on with our lives," he said abruptly, not understanding why she seemed angry with him. He's been nothing but charming, despite the fact that all he wanted to do was help her out her of the blouse she wore and discover the shape of her breasts, as well as the rest of her.

"Great," she echoed, and immediately felt bad, as the baby began to fuss on her lap, picking up on her frazzled nerves.

"Here, let me," he offered, putting a mug of tea on the table in front of her and holding out his hands.

"I'm quite capable, thank you," she said, coming to her feet and holding the little girl close as she rocked with her in her arms.

"Suit yourself," he leaned back against the kitchen island and picked up his phone to call the investigator.

Quinn settled April and sat back down to sip her tea and once again study the man whose house she sat in. He was arrogant and demanding, taking control of the situation, despite the fact that she was a grown woman who was more than capable of coping with this latest speed bump in her life. She was an accomplished correspondent for a major network, she had talked to world leaders and chiefs of hostile peoples, she could handle one small, sweet natured little girl.

She was about to tell Grayson as much when he finally ended his phone conversation with the investigator, but had to bite her tongue as the front door opened noisily and the sound of running feet echoed down the hallway.

"Dad! You're home early!" Noah said, practically slamming into Grayson's legs and smiling widely as he was lifted into the air to be hugged tightly against his father's chest.

"I am," he grinned as his son returned the hug, melting against his body. "I couldn't wait to hear all about your day."

"Well, first we had to practise writing our names," he pulled a face at his father. "My friend, Sebastian, thinks it's unfair that my name only has four letters and his has too many to count, but I don't, I think it's great! Then we made dinosaurs. Billy made Jamie cry. I fell down and scraped my knee, but I didn't even cry," Noah said proudly.

"I'd love to see your dinosaur, buddy. Where is it? Who is Billy, and why did he make Jamie cry? And I am very glad your knee is okay. As for your name, you just got lucky," he chuckled, and Noah wriggled out of his father's arms back to the floor to look for his dinosaur and turned, seeing Quinn and the baby on her lap, and looked at her curiously.

"Who are you?" he asked, forgetting his dinosaur momentarily.

"Noah, this is your Aunty Quinn. She is going to stay with us tonight," Grayson introduced his son.

"Pleased to meet you," Noah said formally, sticking out a small hand in her direction.

"I'm very pleased to see you again," she smiled at the little boy. "I met you when you were a lot smaller, You're father must be feeding you something good for you to have grown so much since I saw you last. You will be as tall as him soon!"

"I'm almost five, and I am starting real school soon, aren't I, Dad," Noah brought his father into the conversation, Grayson nodding in agreement.

"I see, that must be why you have to practise writing your name. Teachers like to make you write your name on everything at school," she said, being taken in by the little boy's enthusiasm.

"What's your baby's name?" he asked.

"This is April," she smiled.

"That's a girl's name!" Noah protested.

"April is a little girl," Quinn laughed lightly.

"Oh," Noah said, obviously disappointed in that information. "Didn't you want a little boy?" he asked curiously.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't asked what I wanted when April arrived," she said sadly.

"Maybe you could take her back and exchange her. Boys are the best, aren't they, Grandma," he appealed to Melody.

"Yes, but little girls are lovely too, just in a different way," Melody smiled indulgently. "I'm sure April and your Aunty Quinn are very happy to be girls, just like Grandma and Nanny Jo."

"I'm Jo, may I?" the nanny asked, holding her hands out for the little girl. "How old is she?" Jo asked, lifting her up and smiling. "It'll be nice to have a baby in the nursery again. This guy is getting so big now!"

"Honestly, I have no idea," Quinn admitted. "How am I supposed to know any of that or anything about this child?" she put her hands over her face again and squeezed her eyes shut.

"We'll work it out," Melody said softly. "Jo, why don't you take April and Quinn up to the nursery, and I'll get the spare room ready. Grayson can get Noah his snack this afternoon."

Once again Quinn let herself be bundled up by the powerhouse that was Melody Ryde and be taken to the nursery where they searched through the large bag from the pram. The documentation was all there at the bottom of the bag, including a birth certificate and immunisation card. The birth certificate listed the father as unknown, not that it should surprise Quinn, but she had hoped that if she couldn't find Rheagan the father might have wanted his daughter, just as Grayson had wanted his son. Another door closed on her, and once again she felt out of her depth.

"Today is April's birthday, she's one," Quinn sighed. "She's a little April Fool, poor thing."


A door slammed, booming through the upper corridor of the old house, and Quinn screamed. Her hands flew up to cover her head and she dove to the side, covering her ears and gasping for breath, her eyes squeezed shut as she mumbled to herself. It only took a few moments for her to gain control of herself, but it was a few moments too long, and she had to face the worried looks of the two men in the room as she sat up and pulled herself together.

"I'm sorry," she immediately apologised, realising she couldn't brush this off easily, but that she needed to try, not just for her own sake, but for April. Who wanted a nutcase with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder looking after an infant? "The boom, was it a door slamming?" she asked. "Whatever it was gave me such a big fright, I'm so sorry."

Grayson had moved immediately to sit beside her on the couch while the other man seemed to study her from where he sat on the other side of the coffee table. Roland Chapman was a private investigator, and he tilted his head as he considered his next words to her.

"The PTSD is from the car bomb incident?" Roland asked.

"Yes," she said with a sigh. "It's getting better though, that sort of thing rarely happens now." She said, taking a deep breath and straightening her shoulders. "How did you know?"

"I saw the news reports at the time. I know who you are, Miss Thomas," he said without pulling any punches. "You were lucky to walk away from that café, I'm surprised you aren't still recovering and recuperating from your injuries in a hospital somewhere. I understand they were quite extensive."

"I'm fine," she gave what she hoped was a confident smile. "Just a little jumpy now and then, and this has been a bit of a stressful day. The truth is that I was coming home to Ashton Hill to relax and recover and finally sort out my mother's estate and see if the current tenants were interested in buying her cottage, when Rheagan dumped her responsibilities on me. I hadn't even booked a place to stay yet when all of this happened." She spread her hands. "I need you to find her, please, Mr. Chapman."

"Melody told me you were staying here, at Ryders Ridge." Roland looked at Grayson and then back at Quinn.

"For tonight, but I will have to find somewhere else tomorrow and work out what to do with April, so the sooner you find her mother, the better," Quinn urged.

"Wait, you're that reporter! The one who got blown up in the café while interviewing insurgents?" Grayson asked incredulously. When Rheagan had talked about her sister, she had said she was working for a small local newspaper on puff pieces. Rheagan had only ever spoken disparagingly of her sister; it was a surprise, he realised now, that she had left her daughter with Quinn.

"So much for my fifteen minutes of fame," Quinn laughed. "That's one of the reasons I came home to rest. No one here would recognise me as that reporter or believe me if I told them."

"I believe you," Roland shrugged. "No one would blame you for being more than a little rattled after what you went through."

"What I went through?" she asked.

"It was pretty well documented, plus, a friend of mine was on the team that brought you home after the incident. He said you were pretty messed up," Roland said in his straight-forward way.

"No, by the time I made it back here I was well on the way to recovery," she lied. "Mostly it was all just cuts and bruises."

Grayson said nothing as he listened to Roland and Quinn talk. For Roland to say she was pretty messed up meant it was probably far worse than she would ever let on. No wonder she was cowering on the couch because of the echoing boom of a door slamming upstairs. At the moment he had wanted to gather her in his arms and protect her, but he had the feeling that was the last thing she would want. She seemed to value her independence more than the comfort of family, from what he knew. He considered his source of information about Quinn Thomas and realised that it wasn't the most reliable. He had to stop thinking about how much he wanted her and remember who she was. The last thing he needed was another manipulative woman like Rheagan turning his life upside down.

"So, about Rheagan," Grayson interrupted the conversation. "Did you find anything in the baby bag that could be helpful?" he asked Quinn.

"Birth certificate, no father listed, but she was born not too far away one year ago today. There's an immunisation record, but that's about all, aside of a few photos," she spread them out on the table.

"Do you mind if I take copies of these?" he asked, picking up a couple of photos.

"Not at all, take copies of whatever you need if you think it will help," she said. "Look, I haven't seen Rheagan for two years, it was tense at the time, and we parted on bad terms. I couldn't even tell you what she looked like now."

"Your last meeting was tense, and yet she left you her baby?" Roland quizzed her.

"My mother's funeral, and once again I had to do everything while she floated in and took all the credit and ignored her son," she cut off that thought, not daring to look at Grayson. "We had a fight about that, and a few other things. She left the next day. At the time she said she was living in the UAE, but she could have been living down the road, for all I knew."

Grayson frowned hearing her say she has fought with Rheagan over her treatment of Noah. He'd met Quinn only that one time, at the funeral, and she had been poised, unemotional and businesslike, her hair pulled back and knotted severely and her dress business-like. What he remembered from the brief meeting didn't gel with the woman sitting beside him now. She obviously cared about Noah though, he could tell from watching them together earlier.

He needed Roland to find Rheagan so he could move Quinn along. He'd promised his mother he would be helpful, but she was a pure temptation to him. Being attracted to his crazy ex's sister was a complication he didn't need in his life, no matter how much his body and the irrational, illogical part of his mind told him otherwise. He needed his safe, boring life where he could bring up Noah without any drama.

Roland stayed another half hour and then left, promising to stay in contact and let them know if he found anything of value in his search. Grayson walked him to the door, and Quinn held back a little, they were friends, and she had said all she needed to the man. She wanted to speak to Grayson though, so she waiting before heading back to the nursery to check on April.

"I'm sorry about this, I never meant to impose," she began as he came back into the room. "I was just in a state of shock when your mother swooped in to fix things. I promise I won't abuse your hospitality."
"No, you won't," Grayson said in hard tones, "Because I won't let you. My mother insisted we help you today, but that is it, one night, Quinn. Trust me, I have no intention of being played for a sucker by another Myers woman, so whatever you thought you could get out of me, it's not going to happen. Tomorrow you're gone!" He said adamantly, it was too dangerous to have her here, she made him feel things he had thought he wouldn't again... At least not for a woman like her.

Quinn wanted to explain that she was nothing like her sister, or mother, for that matter. She was a Thomas, not a Myers woman, but she understood how awful this must be for him. If her finance left her on the eve of her wedding to care for a baby while he ran off with another woman, she wouldn't be happy either in this situation.

"I'll be gone tomorrow," she agreed. She planned to make the most of this reprieve though, and started to turn toward the stairs up to the nursery to glean everything she could from Jo while she could.

"I need to go back to the office. I'll make sure everything my mother has on the list she has undoubtedly made for the baby is delivered. Do you need anything? Medication for your injuries, or whatever?" he hadn't shaken the knowledge of her trauma or the look on her face when the door slammed. What was she even doing in such a volatile area where she could be blown up? He decided to investigate that when he got back to work.

"I'm fine; I can get what I need tomorrow when we leave. One night, Grayson, I promise. April and I won't be a burden to you any longer than that. If your mother hadn't been there I doubt I would have even called you and disrupted your quiet life here for even one night," she said without rancour and walked away.

It didn't matter that the man was sex on legs, with his broad shoulders and chest, his stormy green eyes and his thick black hair just this side of messy looking. He was not her type. He was a family man who liked his conventional life with his son and mother, and, if she remembered correctly, two brothers and their families. The total opposite of what she was. She had no home and no family aside of the two small children upstairs and a wayward sister that had made her life complicated from her first breath. No, she wasn't a family woman, she had no real experience with it, and she knew at that moment that she couldn't keep April, even if they didn't find Rheagan. She had a career to get back to that didn't allow for the responsibilities that came with a child.

No, the sooner she got out of this house and sorted her own life out without the distraction of Grayson Ryde the better for everyone. She sighed, wondering if that was what was best for April. She walked the last flight of stairs with a heavy heart, wondering what the hell she was going to do.


Chapter 2

In one afternoon and evening, Quinn had fallen in love. She adored the sweet-natured baby girl and delighted in her conversations with Noah. She even felt a growing affection for Melody and Jo, but she had no illusions about Grayson's feeling towards her, and she had to agree, he was right, she wasn't suited to life in this safe, stable house and family.

Jo had left after an early dinner to go home to her family, promising to return at six the following morning. She had a family of her own who lived nearby, and she came in the mornings on the rare occasions that neither Melody nor Grayson were available for Noah. Her job mostly centred on the after-school time until dinner, which Grayson tried to be home for. She would, on occasion, stay later, if needed, but that was rare, as father and son enjoyed spending at least part of every evening together. She had been trying to retire for some time, but Grayson had refused to interview new nannies.

Unable to sleep, it was after midnight when Quinn tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen carrying the baby monitor that would alert her if April woke up during the night and fussed being in a strange bed in a strange house. She was after something to help her sleep, a glass of milk, or maybe even a glass of wine.

Her ponytail swung as she looked around in the darkness, small slivers of moonlight lit the windows and mapped her way through to the kitchen. She found the refrigerator and a glass and poured herself some milk before sitting at the kitchen table in the dark. She'd enjoyed having dinner with Noah and Melody and Jo. If she was honest, it was a relief not to have Grayson there to scowl at her and let her know she wasn't welcome in his home.

She'd used her tablet to research the close-knit family. The more she read about them, the more impressed she had become. The three brothers were a cohesive unit, and if you took on one brother, you could be guaranteed that you took on all three. She could see that their success and the success of their father and grandfather came from that strong family base, so unlike her own family. From a young age, she had learned to carve out pockets of solitude, mainly in the library where she could ignore her callous and manipulative little sister and the mother who blamed her for her sad, unfulfilled life.

Her thoughts continued to swing from the safe, calm family life that took place in this house, to her own life where her only real commitment was to her job and avoiding her sister, both commitments had been broken today. Sure, she was supposed to be resting, but she had planned to work on a few project ideas while she was recuperating. She certainly wasn't supposed to be facing instant motherhood, and she certainly wasn't supposed to be lusting after her sister's ex. Her search online had told her what an eligible bachelor he was, and she had been surprised Rheagan hadn't gone through with the wedding, she craved status and money, and her marriage to Grayson would have given her both.

Quinn didn't believe in fairy tales and romance, though, she was too much of a realist. She did believe in unadulterated lust and hormones that drew two people together to share blissful affairs, and huge endorphin fed highs. It was the life she led. It wasn't compatible with long-term relationships, though she did try from time to time when stationed somewhere for a few months. Her relationships were always temporary though, she knew it, and her partner knew it, there was no room for romance or people like Grayson Ryde, who would expect their partner to take on a traditional role of raising children and looking after the home. There would be no career for the future Mrs. Grayson Ryde, she would bet on it. Damn him, making her think about how long it had been since she even had so much as a fling. That had to be why she felt such a magnetic attraction to him whenever he was in the same room.

"Can't sleep?" Grayson asked, interrupting her thoughts as she sat in the dim moonlight.

Quinn squealed and immediately fell from her chair to the floor, knocking her now empty glass from the table to shatter on the tiles. Recovering quickly, quicker than she had this afternoon, as the glass broke she stood to apologise, but instead let out a groan as she felt glass pierce her heel. She sat heavily on a chair and picked up her heel to examine the wound as Grayson turned on a light and grabbed a towel from the kitchen. She blinked as the light came on and lifted her head to apologise for breaking the glass, but found herself speechless yet again. Grayson was no longer in a suit, but loose shorts, running shoes and nothing else, his big broad chest making her speechless.

"Sorry," he said contritely, walking toward her with the towel. "I didn't mean to scare you."

She watched him, all smooth tanned skin and muscle with a sprinkle of dark hair decorating his chest. He was pure masculinity, and she found it hard to breathe, let alone speak. He bent his head and winced at the sliver of glass still protruding from her heel.

"Can you pull it out?" he asked.

"I'm sorry about the glass, I'll replace it," Quinn said breathlessly, and quickly removed the sliver of glass, pressing her thumb over the wound, and went to get up to clean up the mess.

"Relax, it's just a glass, not a Picasso," he placed his hand on her arm, keeping her in her chair. "Be careful, there's glass everywhere. You sit, and I'll clean up. I'm wearing shoes, you're not," he pointed out the obvious, seeing her about to protest. He gathered a broom and dustpan from the utility room, and within minutes he had cleaned up and had grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge for himself.

"Did April go down easy?" he nodded at the baby monitor still sitting on the table.

"Not really, I had to rock her to sleep, and she's been a bit fussy. I expect that she's missing Rheagan," Quinn said, not meeting his eyes because she didn't want to see the hardness there whenever Rheagan's name came up.

"Have you decided what you're going to do yet?" He asked.

"I guess while I'm waiting for Roland to find her I should get some legal advice," she said carefully. "I don't know what my rights are legally to make any decision about April and her future. If I gave her up, would she end up in the foster care system?" she pulled a face. "Would I be able to put her up for adoption and choose a family that desperately wanted a beautiful baby like April?"

"You wouldn't consider keeping her?" Grayson asked.

"I don't know," she sighed. "It's a lot, you know? I'm more than a little overwhelmed. I know you probably make tough decisions every day that affect thousands of lives, but I don't. I need to process what's happened, where I am, what April needs, what I need..." she shook her head. "All I know is I have a month, two at the most before I am expected back at work. I have a job and a career that make the responsibility of caring for a baby impossible, no matter how cute and sweet and easy going she is. I just don't know if I am mummy material, not even for her. Let's face it, I had the worst role model growing up, I don't even know where to start."

"Seems you have more in common with your sister than a killer body and gorgeous hair. She didn't want the responsibility either," Grayson said in a flat voice, needing to find fault with her, to put some distance between what he knew about her and her family and how his body and brain were being affected by her proximity.

Quinn recoiled as if he had just slapped her. She wanted to argue with him, to rail at him that she was nothing like her spoilt, selfish and ultimately irresponsible sister. One look at his face though, told her that he wouldn't believe her. She had to try though, didn't she? Or be forever tainted by the same brush.

"I'm not my sister, Grayson," she said in a tired voice. "You've been nothing but judgemental and accusing all day, but you don't know me. You have no idea who I am and that my sister and I are poles apart."

Grayson held her gaze, saying nothing. He did know that he had investigated her on his own after he had returned to work. She was hard working, diligent, and managed to climb high in her career without the usual innuendo that followed a beautiful woman about how she got to the top of her profession. He couldn't find one article or document that disparaged this woman in any way. Not even her links to her sister had managed to touch her stellar career. He'd made a call to an executive he knew at the network she worked for and, again, got nothing but a glowing report.

Quinn hated that. He towered over her and she made to stand up, wobbling a little as she placed her towel wrapped foot on the floor. His hand shot out to steady her and felt almost a zap of electric current as he touched skin to skin. His eyes changed from hard dark stone to a stormy sea, and she swallowed hard as she realised he was as attracted to her as she was to him.

Grayson let out an unintelligible curse and yanked on her arm, pulling her against his half naked body and bent his head to kiss her. There was nothing soft and sweet about the kiss as he parted her lips with his tongue and thrust it into her mouth to tangle with her tongue as if daring her to give as good as she got.

Usually, nothing about people, or men, in general, surprised Quinn, but, as her hips slammed against Grayson's, she could feel his erection, and then his tongue was assaulting her mouth, and she reeled at the lack of finesse and obvious lust of the man kissing her. She responded in kind, twisting her tongue around his in a dance that was more aggressive than intimate, as if they were both battling their sanity.

His hand found the gap between her t-shirt and yoga pants and skimmed up her ribcage to cover her breast, his thumb swiping over her nipple, making her groan. He felt a jolt of sparkling electricity arc between them as she came up onto her toes, pressing her mound even harder against his erection, and he, too, groaned.

As if of their own volition, her hands explored him, starting with his chest and moving down to his hard-ridged stomach. He obviously worked out every day. A strange corner of her mind still worked and wondered if it was always at midnight that he exercised. Then her thoughts were torn away as he placed his other arm under her ass and lifted her from her toes, making her do the most natural thing at that moment and lift her legs to wrap them around his hips and press her pussy against the hard ridge of his cock. She wanted him in the worst way right then, right there, and she stopped battling the crazy need she felt, even though she knew it was so wrong. So wrong for him. For her. For Rheagan. For Noah and the baby even. She let herself get lost in the moment and enjoy the pure pleasure of it.

Suddenly everything stopped, and it took her a moment to realise he wasn't responding to her anymore. That she was sliding down his big frame and her feet were touching the floor once again. Had she done something wrong? Why had everything just stopped? Then she heard it, not understanding at first where it came from, but, as clarity restored itself, she snatched up the baby monitor and ran from the room.

"Fucking hell," she cursed under her breath. "I almost lost my freaking mind back there." How long had April been crying? Why hadn't she heard it before him? He must have some amazing control to have been aware of it and just been able to stop. She was embarrassed and humiliated that she had let it go so far, that she had been so out of her mind with lust that she hadn't heard April cry, he had. She truly wasn't mummy material if all it took was a kiss from a man like Grayson to make her forget her responsibilities, especially tonight, the first night April had been in her care. God, what must he think of her?

"I'm here," she crooned, picking April up from the cot. "I'm here, I'm sorry, little one. I know it's a strange place, but I'm here." She rocked the little girl and checked her nappy as Jo had shown her to. "It's a very good thing we're leaving tomorrow, little one. You're Aunty Quinn has no self-control around that man."


After a night short on sleep and long on aggravation, Grayson went through the morning routine of getting himself and his young son ready to leave the house, trying not to think about the fact that he had almost taken his ex's sister on the kitchen countertop. Even at his craziest with Rheagan, he had never lost control like that, and it unnerved him. He considered briefly what would have happened if the baby monitor hadn't been there, if April hadn't woken and cried, if he would have stopped himself from making what he knew would have been a dreadful mistake. "Not a chance in hell," he grumbled. He'd never felt so absolutely caught up in the pleasure of a woman like that before. The only bright side, if there was one, was that he hadn't thought of Rheagan once while he had been kissing Quinn. That would have been inexcusable, not just for him, but for her.

"Bloody Myers' women!" he cursed out loud. They come in like a wrecking ball and throw his whole life out of order, well, he wasn't going to let it happen this time. She was leaving today, and he wouldn't have to be in the position he was in last night again. He wasn't sure he could stand another night of tossing and turning, trying to find excuses why he shouldn't just go to her room and finish what they started. The sooner she left the better, as far as he was concerned, and then his life could resume its normal pattern, safe and calm and easy.

On those rare occasions where he considered what it would be like to have a partner and a mother for Noah, that's what he pictured, a safe calm, easy going woman who believed in traditional roles, someone who would love Noah as much as him and want to stay home and create a happy family environment. He wanted a calm lake, not a storm-swept sea. He most definitely did not need a turbulent sea like Quinn. No matter how attractive he found her, how much he wanted her, how much he'd give to know if her eyes changed colour from the calm blue to a stormy sky when in the throes of passion, to know if she was a moaner or a screamer. He pulled himself up again.

Quinn Thomas, not Myers, he reminded himself, was not the woman he was looking for; she was, in fact, the exact opposite of what he wanted in his life. She had no home, no roots, she was career orientated and cared little for her family or the small town she had grown up in. She left after graduating and come back only to bury her mother. And now, he considered, she was coming back here to recuperate and heal, of all the places in the world she could have gone, and no doubt been welcome, she chose to come home. His attitude softened slightly as he thought about that fact. Then he shook his head. No, the sooner she was out of his house and his life the better. He could make arrangements for Noah to get to know his little sister, regardless of her choice, he was sure. He could find her a good foster family right here in Ashton Hill if Quinn decided not to keep her. He could do a lot of things for the little girl, but he couldn't for Quinn. Even if he wanted to, he doubted she would let him.

"Dad!" Noah called from the doorway of his room. "Hurry up, Grandma is making pancakes for breakfast!"

"She's awake?" he asked, checking his watch. His mother was most definitely not a morning person.

"Yup, and she's got her lipstick on! Hurry, Dad!" Noah said excitedly and hurried off back downstairs.

'Great,' he thought, standing and grabbing his suit jacket before following his son to find out what was going on. This type of excitement from Noah was the last thing he needed this morning. He had a came-close-to-having-sex-but-didn't hangover, a headache from too much frustration over it, and a distinct lack of sleep, he didn't need any additional drama this morning.

As he came downstairs, he saw Quinn's bags packed and ready to go, and he breathed a sigh of relief. At least one thing was going right this morning. Then an odd feeling came over him, and he stiffened as he passed the bags, feeling oddly unsettled by the fact that she was so eager to leave. Yes, he wanted her to go, but she didn't have to run away at the crack of dawn, running away from him like she had last night. She wasn't running, his more reasonable side of his mind reminded him that he had been the one to tell her to go in unapologetic terms. The harder, colder part of him straightened his shoulders, it's what Myers women did, run away. Except she wasn't a Myers woman, as she had pointed out more than once, she was Quinn Thomas. He walked into the kitchen thinking he was losing his mind as he argued with himself.

He stood in the doorway to the kitchen. His mother not only had lipstick on, but looked ready to go out as she made pancakes for Noah, who was sitting at the table telling Quinn about the time they had gone out to Juliette Falls and found what Noah had decided were dinosaur eggs, but were, in fact, large granite boulders. Lastly, he looked at Quinn, 'God, she looks good,' he thought, 'no sign of a restless night there,' he grumbled to himself. She bounced April on her lap as she listened avidly to Noah's story.
"That must have been amazing," Quinn said. "You're so lucky to have a Daddy that does cool things like that with you," she enthused. "I wouldn't even know what a dinosaur egg looked like!" She laughed genuinely with a full-bodied sound that made the baby in her lap reach her arms up and wave them around and Noah giggle.

This was what he had always wanted for his son and his family. This idyllic moment of laughter and joy, food and the warmth of a kitchen, the smell of home cooking and a beautiful woman who loved his son as much as he did. Having this with Quinn, though, was totally out of the question, he lectured himself and dug his fingers into his thigh. This wasn't going to happen, not today, and not with her.

"We can show you, can't we, Dad?" Noah looked in his direction with the question making his presence known to the two women in the room.

"Sure, buddy, but I don't think Aunty Quinn is going to want to trek down through all that mud just for dinosaur eggs," he turned his penetrating gaze on Quinn. His chest had constricted as he watched the little scene play out.

"I'm sure I've trekked through worse places," she laughed again, and April squealed happily, turning toward the sound. Quinn looked away from him quickly, feeling the heat of seeing him after last night flush her cheeks. She cuddled April close, thankful when Melody spoke, interrupting the awkward moment.

"Grayson, you're here, good," Melody said as he stalked across the kitchen to the coffee machine, keeping his back to the source of his ill-feeling this morning. He needed to get his head on straight and pull himself together before he went to work.

"Is there a reason you are up and cooking us pancakes this morning, mother?" he asked in a surly tone, willing the coffee machine to work faster. He needed caffeine or a brain transplant, badly.

"Yes, as a matter-of-fact there is," she stated, sounding far too happy this morning, Grayson noted, and narrowed his eyes at her.

"No!" he said abruptly. "Whatever it is you're about to spring on me, mother, No!" He nailed her with a hard look.

"Sit down," Melody waved a spatula at him. "Then maybe you can remember your manners and say good morning to our guests!" She spoke to him like a naughty little boy.

"Good morning, Quinn," Grayson said, despite his stormy face. He carried his cup over to the table to sit with his son for breakfast and greeted April, "Good morning, Honey," he ruffled the small wisps of blonde hair that decorated her head. April gurgled at him happily. She really was a sweet baby, he thought. She smiled, revealing two little white teeth, and raised her chubby arms toward him.

"May I?" he asked before taking the child from Quinn and settling her on his hip where she immediately grabbed his tie and wrapped it around her fingers.

"You don't have to hold her. You're already dressed for work," Quinn said quickly, seeing April lift his tie toward her mouth.

"It's okay, I love kids," he shrugged. It was true, not once had he regretted having Noah. His son was his world, and he had raised him from infancy pretty much on his own. He'd have a house full of kids if he found the right woman. When they found Rheagan, he would give her a reality check she wouldn't forget. How could she abandon another child this way? He owed it to Noah as well as his half-sister to make her take responsibility in some way for the lives of these two amazing kids.

Melody joined them at the table, placing a huge platter of pancakes between them, and Grayson finally sat, tucking April into the crook of his arm.

"You're going to get Roland to find Rheagan, aren't you?" it was more of a statement than a question Melody made.

"I am, she can't get away with doing this again, it's..." he said shifting his gaze to his son. "It's not acceptable," he grumbled.

"Are you going to find my Mum?" Noah asked, a frown crossing his face. "She went away to find somewhere to be happy, but Dad and I are happy here. Aren't we, Dad?"

"We sure are," Grayson said. His explanation had always been that Rheagan was unhappy here in this town, so she went to find another one so she could be happy, like them. His son accepted this simple truth, and he had no reason to expand on it.

"No, Noah. I'm going to find her, and when I do I am going to tell her how tall and handsome and strong you are," Quinn smiled. "Maybe you could draw me a picture to show her. Your Dad is going to stay right here with you. I am the one who has to go and find her."

"Okay," he said in the easy way of small children, and Grayson breathed a sigh of relief that Quinn had not disillusioned his son in any way.

"I thought you were going to hire Roland to find her?" Melody frowned.

"I hired Roland to help me, it has nothing to do with Grayson now," Quinn said stiffly.

"Oh, he's very expensive; Grayson will pay his fee for you. I'm sure he wants to locate her just as much as you, for April's sake," Melody blinked in astonishment at Quinn's stiffness and frowned at her son. Something had happened between these two, and she had a fairly good idea what.

"My problem, my money," she said seriously. "I've already imposed too much on Grayson and your life. I should never have come here yesterday; I was just in a bit of shock and wasn't thinking straight. I'm much better today." She gave a radiant smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"No, Grayson will pay his fee, and you can pay him back by staying here and looking after Noah for Nanny Jo while she takes a long overdue holiday to visit her son in the city. Two weeks, a month at most," Melody said almost flippantly.

"Mum! What the hell!" Grayson almost swore in front of his son.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Ryde, I'm leaving today," Quinn said almost at the same time as Grayson's outburst.

"Call me Melody, darling," she said, and sent Grayson a serene look that belied the steely determination in her eyes. "No, you won't be leaving today. I couldn't, in good conscience, let you leave when you have nowhere to go to. That child needs a bed and bottles and more than what's in that carry-all. We have all the things she needs available in the nursery upstairs that aren't being used. You neither have the time to shop nor where-with-all. You two need to think about what's best for April. Like it or not she is part of this family, if only tenuously at the moment."

"Mother, I don't think you understand," Grayson growled. "Quinn knows nothing about kids or family. She's a free spirit, a jet-setter. She travels the world, she doesn't want to be tied to a job you forced on her."

"I understand perfectly that Jo has wanted to go and see her son and new grandbaby for months now and has been putting it off because of you. I, too, am planning a trip with Paul, as you know. The world can't stop for everyone else just because it doesn't suit you, Grayson, no matter how much we love you. This is the perfect solution for us all," she took a pancake from the platter and put it on her plate as if she didn't have a care in the world. She cut a piece off and popped it into her mouth while winking at Noah, who tried and failed to wink back.

"You're right, that doesn't work for me, mother!" he used his authoritative CEO voice that he couldn't ever recall using with his mother before.

"It doesn't work for me either," Quinn said, somewhat taken aback by the situation.

"Grayson, we've given you six months to find another nanny you can trust to look after Noah, now we have made a choice for you. Quinn is Noah's Aunt, and she is lovely, and she needs our help. The choice has been made for you because you didn't do anything with it when you had that choice," Melody still spoke cheerily, but Quinn could see the determination in her posture and the look she gave her son. "I called Quinn's boss to get a reference for you. An executive producer of something or other. I think his name was Keith, or something like that."

"You did what?" Grayson exclaimed.

"Oh God!" Quinn said, horrified.

"According to this Keith, Quinn is punctual and easy to work with. She writes and co-produces most of her pieces when not live action, and even then has a good grasp of it and the logistics involved. She's smart, talented and, best of all, utterly reliable," Melody finished.

"As for you," Melody turned her attention to Quinn, making her cringe and hide her face in embarrassment. "Where would you go, what would you do? You don't have any family in this town anymore, and you need to stay here until Roland's located Rheagan. This is the only place you should be right now, and it has the added bonus of getting to know your nephew a lot better, and, trust me, he is the most amazing young man you could ever hope to have as a nephew."

"She's your mother, Grayson, talk to her!" Quinn appealed to him, her jaw working as she tried to find something to argue with in Melody's well-constructed little speech, and just as she was about to argue about her independence and her mother's estate, there was a quiet knock on the back door of the kitchen.

"Mum, you can't ambush us like this." Grayson said more calmly than he felt.

"Just did," she shrugged, getting up to answer the door. "That will be Mary Delaney. I told her to come around the back when she got here. Try to remember your manners, Grayson," she gave him a look that brooked no argument and went to answer the door.

"Mary Delaney?" Quinn tilted her head. There was something she should know about Mary Delaney, and her eyes widened as she froze. Her mind reached back to that awful hospital under siege for two days, the gunfire and the soldiers, Australian soldiers, who had come to get her out of the war zone. Harrison Delaney, he'd recognised her, spoke to her about her friend, Annie, kept her sane and awake as the pain of being transported threatened to overwhelm her. More gunfire, Harrison's calm voice, and then nothing.

Grayson watched Quinn freeze and go deathly pale as if she could see something he couldn't in front of her that horrified her. As quick as the look had formed it disappeared when Noah tapped her arm and spoke to her, bringing her back to the here and now.

"Are you going to pick me up from school today, Aunty Quinn?" He asked earnestly, trying to make sense of what just happened.

"It looks that way," she smiled at the little boy and then gave Grayson a look that said 'she's your mother, you do something about the situation'.

"Mary, you remember Quinn, no doubt, but this is little April," Melody introduced Quinn and April.

"Yes, Quinn, it's so good to see you. Your recovery has been quite miraculous, from what I hear. How's the hip?" Mary asked. "We were all so worried about you. It's a shame you didn't come back for the festival, Harrison was home, and I am sure he would have liked to have seen you."

"You were? He was?" she came to her feet and spontaneously hugged Mary. "Harrison is a real hero, you must be so proud. I am not sure I would have made it out of there without him holding my hand and reminding me of home. Do you think he would mind if I gave him a call sometime?"

"He would love it, I am sure. It's probably better if we give him your number, he can be a bit hard to track down these days. Why don't you pop over and see Annie as well while you're home, she's as big as a house at the moment, and doesn't like to go out much," Mary Delaney said in her matronly way. She had been the local midwife and community nurse for as long as Quinn could remember.

"Annie, as big as a house?" Quinn gaped at the woman. The Annie she knew was always so slim and fit.

"She's having twins and having nightmares that they'll turn out like her brothers," Mary laughed, taking the baby from Grayson without asking as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "Aren't you a pretty little princess," she spoke to the baby girl. "Speaking of brothers," she looked up as Byron and Thorn walked in.

Quinn blinked as the two tall immaculately groomed and dressed men walked in. 'My God,' she thought, 'the Ryde brothers are sexy men.' Noah leapt to his feet, hurling himself against hard legs as he was boosted up and over broad shoulders to be tickled by each man. Grayson watched on indulgently before trying to regain some control and tell them to all sit down so Noah could finish his breakfast before he left for preschool.

"What are you two doing here?" Grayson grumbled. He needed his brothers here like he needed a hole drilled into his skull.

"Pancakes!" Thorn exclaimed, and slid into the seat beside Quinn and flashed her a grin as he began to fork pancakes onto his place. "You're Quinn, right? The bride of Satan's sister?" he asked with amusement.

"I'm Quinn, yes, and you're... Thorn?" she took a guess, noting that, although his eyes were wary, he wasn't directing any hostility at her personally.

"Yep, and that's Byron," he nodded at his brother, who, in turn, nodded at Quinn in greeting.

"Dude, you're looking a little rough this morning. Bad night?" Byron asked, gripping Grayson's shoulder as he sat down.

"You have no freaking idea," Grayson grumbled and glared at Quinn, who returned his blistering look with one of her own and eyed Melody as if to put the blame where it really should be. When she looked back, Byron was also giving her a hostile look that said 'hurt my brother, and I will end you'.

"So, we understand Rheagan has run away and left a baby in a basket on your doorstep," Thorn said, teasing his brother.

"No, actually, she left the baby with me, and I can handle this on my own, so, if you'll excuse me," Quinn rose from the table and went to pick up April out of Mary's hands.

"Why don't we go up to the nursery so I can give her a quick examination first. It doesn't hurt to be careful, now, does it," Mary said reasonably and still holding April.

"You finish your breakfast first at least, if you're determined to leave," Melody encouraged, giving her sons a hard look. "I'll show Mary the way."

Quinn wanted to argue, wanted to rage at the woman who was trying to manipulate her circumstance for heavens knows what reason, but sat and sighed heavily.

"Noah, come with Grandma and brush your teeth before school," she said, taking the little boy with her.

"So, what's the action plan here?" Byron asked, grabbing a few pancakes before Thorn finished them all.

"The plan was for Roland to look for Rheagan, and Quinn to get some solid legal advice and find a place of her own today," Grayson grumbled. "Mother has her own plans, however."

Quinn stayed silent, watching the exchange between the brothers. Her eyes took in the near-empty platter that had been piled high with pancakes and considered if Melody knew the brothers would be here this morning or if she had invited them herself.

"What's mother done?" Thorn asked, forking more pancake into his mouth, and Quinn could have sworn she saw the hint of a smile on his lips, which made her wonder what the hell was really going on here.

"She let Jo go off on vacation this morning to see her new grandchild right when she is planning on taking a trip with Paul," he pulled a disgusted face. "She's leaving me high and dry with no one to look after Noah! You both know what a crazy week or two this will be at work."

"Doesn't sound like mother to just up and leave without putting something else in place for Noah. She's been planning this trip for a while, you knew it was coming. The same with Jo, you knew you had to sort a new nanny, so why haven't you? Or, better yet, what solution did mother give you?"

Quinn knew at that moment that Melody had invited the brothers and told them exactly what was going on. There were no secrets in this family, and, despite the initial warning look she got from Byron, they didn't seem to hate her or blame her for anything Rheagan had done. It wouldn't matter what Melody or his brothers promised him, the fact was she knew Grayson would never let her stay, not that she wanted to. Her practical side knew that having a nursery all set up where she wouldn't have to worry about buying supplies or equipment would be amazing. So, too, would be the opportunity to spend time with her nephew and build a relationship with the little dynamo, but living in the same house as her sister's ex, a man who only has to walk into a room to have her libido singing, would be beyond idiotic, and Grayson knew it too. They were polar opposites. He was Mr. Traditional, and she was a free spirit who had never wanted to be tied down.

"Grayson! What was mother's plan?" Byron asked again, and Quinn looked up to see him staring at her, his jaw working as if he knew he needed to speak but didn't want to say the words.

"She suggested that Quinn stay here with the baby and fill in for Jo while she's away, just until I find someone more suitable." He ground out.

"Why isn't Quinn suitable?" Thorn asked, looking at Quinn. "She seems more than capable to me."

"I don't know her, she showed up here yesterday!" he spat.

"You wouldn't know anyone from an agency either," Thorn reasoned.

"They would have done background checks and made sure the nanny was suitable," Grayson argued. "Not someone who just landed on the doorstep having been made an instant mother and admitting she didn't even know how to change a nappy!"

"You do realise I'm sitting right here?" Quinn said acidly.

"You need a Nanny, Gray, unless you're planning on taking some time off work, you need her," Byron said calmly in the face of his brother's obvious annoyance.

"I am not leaving my son with a stranger!" He stated categorically.

"A new nanny would be a stranger too. What you're really saying is that you won't leave your son with me," Quinn accused.

"Yeah, I won't leave him with Rheagan's sister!" he agreed hotly as their eyes clashed across the table.

"Stop comparing me to my sister!" she raged.

"If it walks like a duck..." he let the saying hang.

"Dammit, Gray, stop being an asshole," Byron groaned, as Thorn shook his head disapprovingly.

"I'm not making assumptions here. Rheagan talked about her. She never went to college, preferring to travel the world and party instead. She told me about the countless family celebrations you missed because you couldn't be bothered coming home, how there was always something better to do than support your family, your sister, even for our wedding. You shy away from any commitment; you've quit countless jobs and ended relationships on a whim. You hold your freedom above all else, and I won't have you walk out and hurt that little boy like his mother did!" he raged. "That kid is my whole world, and I am not trusting him to the likes of you!"

Quinn was horrified at the lies that spilt out of his mouth, she had gone to college, she'd been loyal and faithful to her network since then, and she had never even been invited to a family celebration, let alone turned one down. Tears stung her eyes, but she got to her feet and looked him in the eye.

"You got all your information about me from Rheagan, yet here I am with her abandoned child, the second one she abandoned, trying to do the right thing. There's something wrong with that picture, don't you think?" she asked and turned, walking towards the doorway, then stopped and turned back to look at him. "At least your mother bothered to get a reference from a more reliable source. I'll be gone within the hour, I'm sure Melody has a car seat I can borrow for April."

"You fucking arrogant moron!" Thorn hissed in a sibilant whisper once he was sure she was gone and pulled a computer printout from his pocket that Melody had sent with her email this morning. "That girl worked part-time jobs to put herself through college and works for the same network she joined when she graduated! You just listed off Rheagan's bio, not hers, you wanker! And to top it all off, her mother's estate she said she came back to settle? She's the executor, but all of it, every last cent, goes to Rheagan, and you wonder why she never came home! She probably knew what Rheagan had said about her, she didn't seem shocked to hear it! Why would she try to see her nephew when his father thought that badly about her!" He shook his head disgustedly.
"You're off your game, big brother. The Mr. Perfect routine you had going on just crashed and burned," Byron commiserated with what an arrogant prick he had just been to Quinn. "She's not like her half-sister at all, though, so she may forgive you, one day. I wouldn't bank on it being today, though."

Grayson sat staring at the piece of paper wondering why he would have believed anything Rheagan had said, and regretted the way he had just treated Quinn. His brothers were right, he was an arrogant prick, shit! But that didn't mean he was ready to hand over the most important thing in his life to her care.


"Melody, you've been too kind, but I have to go, I can't stay here. I don't suppose you have a car seat I can borrow?" Quinn asked. "It's a long walk into town, and I really need to find my own place to stay and do some shopping and find a lawyer, and... well... the list is too long."

"Let me call the driver to take you," Melody said. "You can come back for your car once you know where you will be staying."

"If I can't find anywhere in town I'll stay at Vallentyne's Cabins. I'm quite capable of looking after myself and April. Do you have the car seat? I'd really rather take my own car," she said stiffly.

"I have one in my car," Mary said quickly. "And you can stay with me, the house is quite empty, and it's so nice to have company. Annie lives nearby, and she would be thrilled to see you. Why don't I take April home with me in the car seat, and you go into town and see Adam Marshall about some legal advice, and then you can meet me at my place. This little one will need a nap by the time I get her home, so no hurry." She said kindly as she saw Quinn trying to protest.

"That's all Grayson needs, to add child abandonment to my list of faults!" she snapped. "No, I want to take her with me. Can I borrow the car seat, please?" She asked again, ignoring Melody's horrified face.

"Yes, dear, but think about staying with me, I have a small nursery, nowhere near as glamorous as this, but it's functional, and I won't be home much, Annie is due any moment and is going to need my help with her boys, as well as the twins that are on their way."

Quinn closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Who was she kidding, she still didn't know the first thing about babies, and here was this highly qualified woman offering to help her. She'd have to be nuts not to jump at the invitation.

"It's a bit overwhelming, isn't it, instant motherhood?" Mary smiled softly. "Melody and I are only here to help, sweetheart. I know the boys can be a bit obtuse sometimes, but they mean well, in their own way."

"More than a little overwhelming," Quinn agreed. "I have so much to think about, so much to do, and I need to find a lawyer and find out my legal rights when it comes to April. I'm not even sure if I can keep her legally, let alone if I am capable of taking on the responsibility."

"Well, I always find that it's good to make a list, prioritise and tackle one thing at a time," Mary said gently. "Getting legal advice is a good idea," she smiled. "Taking the baby with you to see the lawyer is probably not the best idea if she is going to get tired and fussy soon."

"Thank you, Mary," Quinn took another deep breath. "I'd like your help, thank you. I'll follow you to your house. I'm already packed if you are ready to leave. I'd like to go as soon as possible, please, and I don't want to leave without April." She looked over her shoulder. She was hurt, seriously hurt, that Grayson could think that badly of her. He saw her as a carbon copy of her sister; he probably let himself believe he was kissing her last night too, a thought that made her feel sick now that it was in her head.

"Of course, dear," she smiled and picked up the baby. Quinn picked up the baby bag she had come with and nothing more, she was grateful she had packed her own belongings into her car early this morning before anyone else was awake. That was when she realised she would need a car seat and help to collapse the pram enough so that it fit in her car. She had thought the baby could have slept in that tonight if she ran out of time to shop today, there were bigger priorities, like milk and food, than a cot.

"Thank you for everything, Melody, I'm sure we'll meet one day again. Good luck in finding Grayson an appropriate nanny," she embraced the woman gently and took April from Mary, "Shall we go?" With her head held high, she walked downstairs and into the kitchen towards the back door that led to where both she and Mary had parked their cars.

"Wait," Grayson said when he saw her. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said those things."

"I'm sorry too, I would have liked to get to know Noah now that I know there isn't some court injunction or contract that Rheagan signed that gave away our rights to see him. Or, at least, I assume she lied about you as much as she lied about me," she said sadly. "Good luck in your search for a nanny, Grayson," she said coldly, and walked out of the back door, barely keeping her emotions in check.

"Are you taking me to school now, Dad?" Noah asked from the doorway to the kitchen after following everyone downstairs.

"I'm taking you today, buddy," Byron said, coming to his feet. "I want to see what you've been making." He scooped Noah up and walked away from the scene happening in the kitchen. If his brother knew what was good for him, he would start grovelling for forgiveness immediately.

"What did you do?" Melody was appalled by the hurt she had seen in Quinn's eyes, she hated to think that one of her boys could cause such pain to such a nice young woman who was in such a bad position.

Rather than take the time to swap the car seat from one vehicle to another, Quinn let Mary take April and followed her through the town to her home in Juliette Falls at the north end of Ashton Hill. The small reprieve allowed her to finally break down about how unfair it was to be saddled with a sister like Rheagan. She drove slowly as the tears misted her eyes, and she blinked them away to roll down her cheeks. She had to find her and make her face up to her responsibilities. This wasn't acceptable behaviour by anyone's standards.

She realised she didn't have Roland's business card and contact details. Shit! She would have to call Melody, if not Grayson, to get the information now. Maybe she could get the lawyer to do that, keep it professional and civil. She could afford it. Despite appearances, she had money. The network always paid her travel and accommodation expenses and gave her a food allowance, so her sizable salary rarely got touched over the years, and she had invested it well. She didn't need the Ryde wealth and power to get by, she could do just fine on her own. At least, once she got a handle on looking after the baby and found Rheagan and a lawyer and, and, and...

"You need to get a grip. You have faced much scarier challenges than this," Quinn told herself and pulled into the driveway of a sweet little house that backed onto the rainforest. She rubbed her neck; she was exhausted now that a large part of her anxiety had been removed. She got out of the car and smiled as Mary held April out to her, the baby's chubby little arms reaching for her.

"Aww, baby, I know," Quinn crooned as she followed Mary into the little house. "I'm exhausted too."

"Why don't I see if Adam Marshall will come and make a house call? You should rest, you've been through a lot. How is your hip?" Mary asked.

"I'll be fine," Quinn sighed. "A house call would be great, though, I don't really want to leave the baby."


Chapter 3

Grayson had never seen his mother so disappointed in him, and he had to admit he already felt like the worst sort of asshole for saying such hurtful and unfounded things to Quinn, who had been nothing but loving and warm to Noah during her overnight stay. It was better this way, he told himself, he could move on and forget about her. The only problem was that he couldn't get her out of his mind. Added to that, Noah had a half-sister he had the right to get to know. He knew he could have, and should have, handled the situation better.

He looked up as the door to his office opened, and Melody waltzed in and closed the door behind her. He waited and rubbed his temples, snatching a bottle of water from his desk and popping two aspiring as he prepared for another tirade like this morning. His mother rarely showed her temper, but she had one, and he knew he deserved to be on the receiving end today.

"Here is the best of the local girls, or the ones that are willing to relocate," she spread five folders on his desk. "Choose one," she ordered. "Paul has asked me to move in with him after our trip, and, as you have such little regard for my feelings or what I want, I am tempted to say yes. I'm leaving for my trip, Grayson, you can't put this off any longer and hope that I will stay or that Jo will come back and save you."

"What!" Grayson exclaimed.

"I'm tired, Grayson. I've been raising children for so long now that I need to just be a Grandmother, not a mother. You do your best, but your hours are getting longer and longer, you come home to eat, chat, and then leave again, and I am bathing, feeding, and putting your child to bed every day. I'm not Noah's mother, Grayson, I'm yours. I didn't mind when he was a baby, because you needed the help, just like Quinn needs the help now, and I gave you and her the perfect solution, one you threw away. So now you must choose, because tomorrow no one will be there to pick Noah up from school except you or one of these three ladies. I am leaving for my trip, and I don't know if I will come back to Ryder House if you no longer value me and my advice."

"Then it will be me who picks him up!" he growled. "I'll work something out until Jo comes back, I'll work from home in the afternoons! You go and have your trip with Paul, move in with him, live your own life!" he snapped. This was the last thing he needed right now. She, like everyone else, was letting him down in the worst way with the timing of this trip, despite the fact that she had warned him about it months ago.

"Oh, I'm sure you'll get a lot done," Melody clicked her tongue and shook her head. "Far be it from me to offer any suggestions. What would I know anyway? I'm just a silly old woman." She gathered up her folders and went to leave. "You could always just apologise to Quinn, she obviously adores Noah," she suggested.

"Fine, leave the folders, I'll make a decision today," he pinched the bridge of his nose. The absolute last thing he needed was to see Quinn Thomas again and feel the lustful need he had for her that drove his crazy thoughts and moment of abandon last night.

"Good boy," Melody patted his arm. "Thank you, I'll feel better leaving knowing Noah is well cared for. I'll still leave if you don't make a choice, but I'll feel better if you do." She said cheerily and blew him a kiss as she left.

Grayson looked at the folders on his desk, flipping the first one open and beginning to read. Forty-five minutes later he pushed the folders away. Even when he thought the worst of Quinn, she was a better option than any of these. How could they possibly be the best of the available candidates? Even if he wanted to apologise to Quinn, he didn't have her phone number to contact her, and he could hardly just drive around to Mary Delany's house and make her talk to him after this morning. Could he?

He picked up the phone and called Roland. He was the CEO of a multi-national company, he had to make hard decisions every day and admit when he got them wrong. He didn't have to like it, but he was big enough to admit it on those rare occasions. He had a short, sharp phone call where Roland, who seemed to know exactly what had happened, gave him even more grief than his brothers had before giving him the contact details for Quinn Thomas.

He stared at the number scribbled on his diary for several minutes, then picked up his phone again, and, to his surprise, she answered almost immediately.

"Grayson?" she queried tentatively.

"Yes, we need to talk," he said in a gruff business-like manner.

"I'm glad you called, I needed to ask you for Roland's contact details and didn't like to disturb you at work," she said, her voice still uncertain.

"Can you make it into my office? We can talk, and I can give you the information you need," he said, thinking that here, of all places, he would remain in control of his libido and the effect she had on him that made him say and do crazy things.

"April is sleeping, and Mary had to go and see her patients. I'm waiting for the lawyer to arrive, and I am not sure how long that will take," she hedged. If he thought she was just going to drop everything and dance to the beat of his drum after what he had said this morning, he was sadly mistaken.

"Fine, I'll come to you," he sighed. "How's one o'clock?" he asked. "I'll bring lunch for us. We need to talk," he repeated his opening line.

"I think we talked enough this morning, don't you?" she sighed. "I don't want to get into another scene, Grayson. I just want the contact information for Roland Chapman."

"I need to apologise, in person," he groaned. "You didn't deserve that, and you were right, the source of my information wasn't reliable."

"It won't change anything, Grayson," she said softly.

"I just want to talk. Have lunch with me, please?" Grayson asked in a conciliatory manner.

"Okay, one o'clock. I'll be here," Quinn said and hung up the phone.

His mother was picking up Noah today, she had said tomorrow he needed a plan B, well, he still wasn't sure about Quinn, but she seemed a darn sight better prospect than any of the strangers staring at him from the files his mother had left with him. He needed to sort out his work schedule. Even if Quinn did come back, he would need the rest of this week to work at home and be sure he could trust her with Noah.

He worked hard for the remainder of the morning, issuing instructions that sounded more like demands to his executive assistant and brothers. He was in a foul mood, mostly due to the fact that he couldn't get Quinn, the kiss they had shared, and what had almost happened between them last night out of his mind. His words this morning and her walking out on him, which he deserved, he admitted, faded into the background when he remembered the taste and feel of her and how much he had wanted her right there and then on the kitchen countertop.

He ordered lunch from Fancy's and picked it up on his way to Juliette Falls, a pretty neighbourhood at the opposite end of town from where he lived. His brother, Byron, was close friends with the sons of Mary Delaney, and he remembered having to travel up here often to pick up his brother as a teenager. Somehow Byron and his friends always found themselves in some sort of trouble, thankfully he had grown up since then and settled down.

He pulled up at the house, noting the car outside, and wondered if the lawyer was still inside with Quinn. He stepped out of the car and steeled his nerves to face her, his libido already racing ahead of him at the thought of seeing her again. This was a dangerous and volatile situation, and he wasn't sure it was the right decision for him or Noah, but he felt he had very few options available to him now, thanks to his mother.

"Hi," he said softly as she opened the door. God, she looked good. It took some willpower to refocus his thoughts and lift up the lunch he was carrying in a peace offering.

"Hi, come in. Adam and I were just finishing up," she said in business-like tones.

"Thanks, Adam, I'll get copies of everything to you and let you know how the investigation is going. Grayson will have Roland's contact details if you need them before I get everything to you," Quinn said.

"You're more than welcome. Not much happens in this town, so this is a little bit of excitement for me. Dad won't be liking retirement much now," he chuckled. "But he will be happy to know you are back, he didn't like the way your last meeting ended. Would it be okay if he advised on the case? Maybe sat in on one of our meetings?"

"Of course, he was very kind to me when dealing with my mum's estate," Quinn said easily. "It wasn't his fault, it was her will and her estate to do whatever she wished with. Let's just leave it at that," she eyed Grayson meaningfully.

"Yes, yes, you're right. Hello, Grayson, it's been a while," Adam greeted the other man.

"Thanks for helping her out, Adam, it's a tricky situation she's found herself in," Grayson said easily, looking and sounding totally comfortable with the situation.

"Indeed, I will call you to get the investigators details. Miss Thomas has been very clear about him reporting to her and the payment of his fees," Adam explained, letting Grayson know that his interference in the investigation would not be tolerated.

"I see," Grayson scowled at Quinn, but took Roland's business card from his pocket and handed it to Adam.

"Thank you, I'll be going now. If there is anything else you need, let me know. I believe the letter gives us enough to start a formal custody hearing, if that is what you want, Miss Thomas," Adam said in parting.

"I'll call you in a couple of days. Thank you again, Adam," Quinn waved and shut the door after him. "Let's go sit out on the back deck, it's lovely out there, and April can play on her blanket. She didn't get much of a nap in this morning, so she will need another one soon."

They took chairs adjacent to each other so they could both watch April. Quinn was close enough to touch, to smell, to kiss. Grayson groaned inwardly and tried to push the thoughts from his mind. He opened the two boxes and gave her the choice of gourmet sandwiches he'd ordered.

"So, why don't we try to not argue or kiss each other when we talk this time," she said with a sigh, choosing a turkey and cranberry club sandwich. He smiled as he almost choked, and colour rose up his neck as if she'd caught him out in what he was thinking.

"I was thinking the same thing," he assured her, recovering quickly. "I'm sorry; I handled everything this morning badly. I was rude and dismissive and judgemental," he began. "I don't like being ambushed, and I lashed out at the wrong person."

"You weren't the only one being ambushed," she said quietly. Grayson's words danced over her skin, and, as usual, when he was near her, she felt a jolt of pure electricity arcing between them. She sighed, she hated that when he looked at her, he only saw Rheagan. She lifted a hand to rub the back of her neck; she was so tense it was giving her a headache.

"God, I'm exhausted," he said in a large breath. "You must be too," he said, watching her and aching to touch her and rub the muscles her small delicate hand worked at in the back of her neck. "Did you get much sleep last night?"

"No, not much," she admitted.

"Me either," he agreed, nodding slightly as if they both knew why the other hadn't slept. The fact was that he still wanted to kiss her, to feel her pressed against him, to take her any way he could get her, but he pushed those feelings down. This wasn't the type of woman he wanted or needed to be involved with in that way. She was a free spirit, someone who would eventually leave to pursue her own life and dreams without a backward glance for him or his son.

"Byron pointed out that I acted badly this morning because I don't like change," he said into the silence.

"It's okay, I get it. You don't know me, and you don't want me looking after Noah. It's a big bad world out there, and I've seen a lot of that bad, so I can appreciate that you're a protective father," she gave him credit where it was due. She'd calmed down a lot since arriving here and meeting with the lawyer.

"Thanks, but it was just so easy with Mother there, and I've known Jo since I was a kid, she was our housekeeper," he tried to explain. "Jo has wanted to go and be with her son since the new baby arrived, and Mother... well, she's having her first romance in years, and I am spoiling it for her. Or so she says. She's threatening to move in with her boyfriend when she gets back from this trip, and then what would I do?"
"You'd find a nanny you could trust, she's out there somewhere, I'm sure," Quinn said softly, hating that he didn't trust her to look after her nephew, who she would really like to get to know now that she had met him properly.

"I... You..." he took a deep breath and tried again. "I was wrong, and you said you would like to get to know Noah now that you know I won't have you arrested, or whatever else Rheagan told you," he said disparagingly. "I think you should come back to Ryder House," he finally admitted.

"To look after Noah until you find a new Nanny?" she gaped at him.

"Maybe," he held up his hand when she tried to protest. "Just hear me out, okay? I need a Nanny, today, you need a place for you and April to stay and be safe. You're right, I don't know you, and when it comes to Noah, I am very slow to trust. Your sister..."

"Messed with your head," Quinn finished for him. "Welcome to the club, she's been messing with mine for my whole life. I can only imagine the other things she said about me."

"She didn't talk about you much, and that dribble that came out of my mouth this morning was basically it, except she thought you were jealous of her," he explained.

"As if," Quinn rolled her eyes heavenward. "You know she was flat out lying when she said I quit jobs and relationships on a whim, right? Yes, I missed a lot of family celebrations, but mostly because I wasn't invited. I put myself through college, not once, but twice, the second time, once I was working for the network I'm still with, to get a degree in world history specialising in politics. I'm not my sister, Grayson. I've never had a truly significant relationship to quit on a whim, or not because of my job."

Grayson sat staring at her in silence, he knew all this information from Roland's report that his brothers had shown him this morning, but hearing it from her own mouth was decidedly different, and he could feel the heat of shame climbing up his neck again.

"Oh, and just so you know, Rheagan convinced Mum that if she or any of the family tried to reach out and see Noah, that you'd have them arrested for breaching the contract she signed to give up her rights. She convinced Mum you had the power and money to do that, even though Mum was desperate to see him," 'As was I.' she thought, but she had barely made it home, whereas her mother had lived in the same town as her grandchild and never been able to see him.

"Shit, I would have allowed visitation. I offered it to Rheagan, but she turned it down. She didn't want anything to do with Noah or me!" he said angrily. He'd always known his ex-was a manipulative bitch, but this was beyond even his imagination. "I'm sorry, Quinn, maybe I should have reached out like I tried to do at the funeral, but... she pulled the rug out from under me and just kept tugging."

"You really loved Rheagan, didn't you?" Quinn said softly, finally turning to look him in the eyes, the strange mix of sadness, guilt and regret rolling into her belly as she took in his handsome features.

"I loved what I thought I was getting," he said gruffly.

"Which was?" Quinn prompted.

"My family. She said she wanted to be a wife and mother. My partner that I could come home to, my normality after a crazy day at work," he admitted.

"You associated Rheagan with normality?" Quinn almost laughed at the idea.

"Very briefly," Grayson grimaced and decided to get the conversation back on track before he looked even more pathetic and stupid to Quinn. "Getting back to why I am here. Come back, move into Ryder House while we sort out this Rheagan mess. I'll take a few days off work and help you with April, and you can show me that I can trust you with Noah. We can actually get to know the real people here instead of Rheagan's versions of us." He offered.

"And after that week?" she asked.

"I'll go back to work, and you can stay and look after Noah and April until we find Rheagan and sort out that mess, and I will continue to look for a proper full-time nanny that I can trust," he said. "I'll feed and house you and April and pay Roland's fees in return for you taking care of Noah while I'm at work."

"Feed and house April and me and I will play Roland's fees myself," she negotiated.

"He's expensive, Quinn," Grayson ran his fingers through his hair.

"I have money of my own, I am pretty good at my job, even though you didn't know who I was until Roland pointed it out to you," she sighed. "Also, once it's over I'd like to continue to have a relationship with Noah, he's my nephew, and I would like to have him in my life."

"I can make that happen," he agreed immediately. Quinn was Noah's family, after all. "What happens if you find Rheagan and she refuses to take April back?" he asked gently. She had refused to see her son for four long years, he couldn't see why it would be any different for a second abandoned child.

"I will make her take responsibility for this child. I am done cleaning up her messes for her. I am done apologising for her. It's time she grew up, and I am the one to make her face that fact," Quinn was adamant.

"I hope you're right, but you might want to start considering what your plan B will be, now that you've spoken to Adam and know your rights," Grayson advised. "Noah probably has rights too; April is his sister, after all. He'd like to get to know her, even if only for this short time. Can we start with a week?" he asked.

"Okay," Quinn agreed. Mary Delaney had been lovely to her, but she felt in the way here, and she knew Mary had put off most of her patients to her help this morning. Annie was expecting twins any day now, and Quinn just felt in the way in such a busy household.

"Great, I'll come help you with your stuff after work?" he offered.

"We don't have much, but I want to stay and thank Mary properly before coming back. So later tonight, before Noah goes to bed?" she negotiated again.

"Sure, whatever suits you," he agreed magnanimously. "Now I better get back to work before my brothers do something stupid, like selling our interests in Columbia," he chuckled. He stood to leave, pausing to pick up April and cuddle her. "She's pretty adorable," he smiled as April grabbed his tie and he wrested it back from her.

Quinn stood, walking him to the door, wishing she could ask the question that burned inside her. She stood in the door jamb as he stepped out toward his car, and she couldn't stop the words from bubbling forth.

"Grayson?" she called softly.

"Yeah?" he turned a curious gaze on her.

"That kiss last night," she paused and licked her lips, "Was it all about Rheagan? Did you think of her while kissing me?"

"No!" Grayson said with a half snort that turned into a chuckle. "Trust me, that was all you, Quinn Thomas," his eyes raked down her body and back to her mouth, and he breathed deeply. "Trust me when I say, that was all, every inch, of you." He got into his car before he walked back up to the door and kissed her again.

Quinn watched him drive away and closed the door, leaning her back against it and taking April in for her afternoon nap.

"Gosh, April, how am I supposed to resist him after that?" she asked the infant, who, not understanding the question, blew a raspberry at her.


Chapter 4

It had been three days since he had begun working from home, and for a Friday afternoon Grayson still had a mountain of work to get through. He was practically useless working from home, leaving his brothers to pick up the slack in his absence. He couldn't continue on like this, he needed to be back at his desk next week; not lusting after a woman he knew was not the type of woman he wanted or needed in his life.

After their first morning together, where his attempts to cook breakfast failed miserably, Quinn had taken over cooking for them cheerfully. She and Noah got along like a house on fire, and April seemed to be settling well. If it wasn't for the fact that he knew as soon as Rheagan had been found and April restored to her and Quinn would leave to travel the world again, he would have hired her on the spot as his nanny and housekeeper.

He opened the front door and frowned as he looked at one of his brother's friends. He was sure it was one of the Delaney brothers, but he couldn't work out which one.

"Hey, Grayson. You probably don't remember me, it's been a while, Harrison Delaney," the man introduced himself and put out his hand to be shaken. "Byron told me I could find Quinn here, Quinn Thomas,"

"Hi, Harrison, yes, you can find her here. Come on in," he invited in a friendly easy-going manner that belied his curiosity about why Harrison would be here at his house looking for Quinn. Not to mention a small amount of jealousy that another man had some interest in her whereabouts. He led Harrison through the house to the open plan kitchen and living area. Quinn stood looking out into the gardens, rocking April in her arms. Once again he felt a jolt at how effortlessly beautiful she was. She wore comfortable boots and leggings and an oversized knitted shirt that hung off one shoulder, her hair tumbling down her back.

"Quinn, someone to see you," Grayson said, making her turn to look at him and the visitor.

"Oh my God, Harrison!" Quinn gasped, clutching the little baby to her and not moving. She'd turned quite pale, and Grayson frowned, wondering if she had a history with the special forces officer. He stepped between them, facing Quinn in a protective stance.

"Everything okay?" he asked, taking the baby who held out her chubby little arms to him and noting that Quinn was shaking.

"What? Yes," she took a shaky breath. "Everything is good," she smiled crookedly. "I was going to call, but I didn't know what to say, I mean, thank you didn't seem enough, and everything else just seems trite," she said, quietly stepping around Grayson and moving to Harrison to hug him fiercely. "Thank you!" she said, knowing it wasn't enough.

"Well, you look better than the last time I saw you," he chuckled. "Wow, really amazing," he said as Quinn pulled away. "You'd never know you had such critical injuries."

"Smoke and mirrors," she laughed. "Plus, I was introduced to a great dermatologist who has this cream for scars..." she shook her head, "I'm sure you don't want to hear about that."

"Sure I do! It takes work to stay this pretty in my job," he chuckled again, and this time she laughed with him. He pulled the collar of his shirt out and showed her an old puckered scar on his shoulder. "I bet none of yours looks as bad as this."

"Oh, I don't know," Quinn grinned and lifted the hem of her long shirt on her right side revealing the jagged red wheel that seemed to be taking forever to heal.

"I didn't know the two of you were friends," Grayson said in a voice kept purposely light. He couldn't see what she was showing Harrison, but he immediately resented the automatic close bond between the two of them.

"It's a recent thing," Harrison said with a shrug before turning back to Quinn. "How many surgeries to repair that?" he asked, his eyes dropping to her hip again.

"Just one, I think it looked far worse than it was, but, then again, I had excellent care on the way home," she hugged him again. "Thank you, seriously. I don't know what else to say but thank you!"

"I didn't do anything but hold your hand," he chuckled, "but I can tell the guys who did help you that you gave me all the hugs," he grinned. "We'll take a photo before I go back, just so they know how much they missed out on," he winked flirtatiously.

"Honestly, I don't remember much, just you talking and keeping me sane and reminding me of home. I came back to relax and rest once the media died down, I wasn't sure why until I saw your mum and remembered what you did for me. I can't thank you enough!" she launched into another hug.

"If you keep doing that, I'm going to have to confess to my girlfriend about being with another woman," he chuckled.

"How about a beer? It's Friday," Grayson said, relaxing at the mention of a girlfriend.

"Great," Harrison smiled. "Carly and I had already planned to come back for the weekend and help Jack and Lara move. When Annie told me you were home, I thought I'd come and see how you were doing. You look great, Quinn, seriously great!" Even if he were single, he wouldn't have taken advantage of the gratitude she felt towards him for doing his job, but that didn't mean he couldn't appreciate how attractive she was or admire her as she walked ahead of him to the couches.

"I don't remember much," she admitted. "I didn't even remember you being there until I saw your mother again. The flashback was pretty brutal."

"Your minds way of protecting you, I've been told," he smiled softly. "Sometimes it's better not to remember," he warned her.

"Oh, I know the flashback's when a new memory comes back aren't fun," she shrugged. "I'm getting better all the time, loud noises only scare me when I'm already anxious or stressed, and seeing you walk in was a shock, but I handled it okay," she gave herself credit.

"Sounds like you've got it all together," he grinned. "I've seen grown men crumble under less."

"Harrison?" she asked softly. "Can you tell me what really happened? I only have the official report, and they don't really match with my memories, which makes it a little harder to sort it all out."

Grayson listened as they talked for over an hour. Harrison had been on a mission over the border when the town had been attacked. A series of six car bombs had devastated the town and insurgents were fighting on the streets. A British doctor at the hospital she had been taken to called for help and locked the western patients in one wing for fear of kidnappings and reprisals. He and his nurses had attempted to disguise their patients with bandages and local clothing. He'd managed to stabilise her condition, but surgery wasn't an option, and things looked grim. She remembered most of that herself, and added to the story where she could.

Harrison's team went in and got Quinn and two others out. The French and an American seal team aided in the evacuation of reporters and the injured caught up in the unexpected battle for the city. It was a joint effort from those who were close enough to make a difference. He explained how his team got them to a hospital ship in the gulf, and from there onto mainland in Europe once she was stable enough to travel and then home.

"You stayed with me the whole time?" she asked.

"Our tour was over, we were on our way home anyway," he said as if it was no big thing that he had stayed by her side. "You had a pretty good grip on my hand though, so I doubt I could have left anyway." Harrison chuckled, lightening the mood.

"Oh God!" Quinn put a hand on her cheek. "I have one job these days, and I almost forgot it. I'm sorry, Harrison, I have to go and pick up Noah from school. I hope we can catch up again. I owe you so much."

"Why don't you stay for dinner, Harry," Grayson invited. "You can call your girlfriend and invite her over, and I'll get Byron and Lilly to come. We can get takeout from Fancy's, if you like."

"That'd be great, except I think we have tentative plans with Jack and Lara. Raincheck?" he asked.

"Sure," Grayson said. "You're welcome anytime," Grayson spoke softly so as not to disturb the little girl who had fallen asleep on the couch beside him. He watched as Quinn got up to walk Harrison to the door. Each time he learned something new about her he was more impressed with the woman that she was, and he scowled. It was bad enough that he lusted after her for her perfect body, but now he was beginning to like her as a person. Genuinely like her. He knew the situation was getting dangerous for his sanity.

"Why don't we all go to pick up Noah, we can take the kids for something sugary from Carter's bakery, my afternoon is shot now anyway," he said gruffly.

"I guess. I thought you didn't like Noah to have sugary treats after school?" she questioned with a frown, watching him get up without disturbing the sleeping baby.

"You look exhausted, and I could use some fresh air," he said, studying her features. "Schools not that far, we could walk if we hustle," he suggested.

"Are you kidding me?" she laughed thinking of her hip. "Not that far for you maybe, but some of us have war wounds to consider!" Quinn said exaggeratedly.

"Come on, don't be a girl," he teased, dropping his eyes to her side and biting back the "Show me" retort he had ready on his lips. "I know a shortcut."

"It may have escaped your attention, but I am a girl," she pointed out.

"Trust me, that is one thing that has definitely not escaped my attention since meeting you," he practically groaned and let his eyes rake over her again. "You look good, but you could use some fresh air and sun too," he advised.

Quinn ran her fingers through her hair to distract herself from the way he was looking at her again. Did he even know the effect he had on her? Did he know that she replayed their kiss over and over in her mind in that quiet time before sleep took her at night? She brought her eyes up to meet his gaze and felt the zinging electricity arc between them again.

"When you play with your hair like that when you look at me the way you are now it takes every bit of willpower I have to not do exactly what you are asking for," he accused rather than admitting what he wanted outright.

"And just what am I asking?" Quinn tilted her head and bit her lip. "Bearing in mind I didn't say a word," she raised an eyebrow at him.

"You don't have to speak for me to know you were undressing me with your eyes. You want to see me naked, and more," he teasingly accused, now seeing the beginnings of a blush creeping up her neck.

"You want to see me naked too," Quinn shrugged, not bothering to deny the accusation or play games with this man. It was a bad idea, they both knew it.

"And do more," he breathed as if it was a relief to say. "A lot more," he jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels.

"This is insane, you realise. We both have enough to deal with without this sort of crazy... zinging... whatever it is between us happening. Don't we?" she appealed to his logical side.

"It seems not," he shrugged. He certainly hadn't been able to get her or the kiss out of his head, and he wanted those lips back on his so badly at that moment.

"We shouldn't be attracted to each other!" she railed at him.

"Yet we are," he shrugged, again pushing his hands deeper into his pockets to stop himself from reaching out to her.

"But we don't have to act on it!" she said adamantly.

"We did the other night," he pointed out.

"Momentary madness on both our parts. We thought I was leaving in the morning and we wouldn't have to deal with each other again. It can't, and won't happen again, Grayson," she said, proud of herself that her voice didn't waver. She couldn't trust that he didn't see her sister when he kissed her, even though he had assured her he didn't when she asked.

"Want to test that theory? Because I think once we start we won't be able to stop, baby monitor or not," he glanced at the sleeping baby.

"Why are you making this so difficult?" she asked. "And now you're making me late!" she accused.

"Go and get the carry all for April, I'll put her in the car and bring it around to the front for you. You won't be late to pick up my son," he assured her, letting the moment go and wondering how far it would have gone, and if they would have been late had she been willing to indulge in a second kiss. The woman was seriously messing with his head, and he needed this drive and fresh air even more than he had already stated. Being cooped up in the same house with her for the last three days had been insanely dangerous, and now he was facing the consequences of that.
"What is wrong with you?" Quinn berated herself as she flew upstairs and away from the temptation of Grayson Ryde. She had a little girl to look after and a career to get back to, she couldn't have a fling with Mr. Traditional, Mr. Stable, Mr. one-of-the-most-eligible-bachelors-in-the-country. He was as solid and stable as this house. He was Ashton Hill Royalty, for god's sake, and she was... what? She was transient, she ran from relationships and commitment, she ran from anything that tried to dip below her surface and see what was really there.

Quinn's attraction to Grayson scared her, but the fact that she liked him as a person, as well as admired his body, scared her even more. She lectured herself on how important it was to keep her distance from him, especially now, as she got into the car beside him and they set off to pick Noah up from school together.

"Okay, let's talk," she said into the silence. "Maybe if we get to know each other properly we will find that we don't actually like each other, and this... crazy attraction, or whatever it is, will disappear."

"Here's hoping," Grayson chuckled. "But I think we might be kidding ourselves that it's going to go away easily."

"Let's talk Rheagan then," Quinn said. "No danger of me wanting anything to do with you with her in the air around us."

"I can already see the steam coming out of your ears," Grayson chuckled.

"Rheagan is my half-sister, from my mum's second marriage. My Dad had left a few years before. Mum never told me why, and he never wanted anything to do with me, so when my step-Dad came along I thought it would be like it always was. He was a good man, worked hard and provided for us; life was bearable for a while there. He made me feel wanted and loved, not the child of a demon who had made her mother give up all her dreams of fame and fortune. While he was around nothing seemed so bad or so awful. He had a heart attack when I was ten and Rheagan was about five," Quinn began the story of Rheagan's life, including her own. A story she'd never told anyone before.

"That's when things started to spin out of control. Mum put all her grief and love into Rheagan from that point on. She could do no wrong, and, when she did wrong, it was always someone else's fault, mainly mine, because I hadn't been watching out for her or looking after her well enough. My mum created a monster in Rheagan, something she would never admit. I had to follow the rules, but Rheagan could do no wrong. By ten she was a brat, by thirteen she was uncontrollable. I started to withdraw, became a study freak in the back of the library, all worn out sweaters and smudged face from the dusty books no one else wanted to read, while Rheagan became the most popular girl in school, once Lara Collingwood graduated, that is," she laughed. "Rheagan hated Lara Collingwood for nothing more than the fact that she was pretty and popular and a year older. I was gone by the time that happened though, but I heard enough about it to not be surprised. I was in the city when Mum called me back, because at sixteen Rheagan had left home and moved in with her twenty-four-year-old boyfriend."

"Wait, what? She told me she was modelling in the city at sixteen and only went to school part-time, which was why she went to college later than her friends. I didn't suppose she was living with said boyfriend and doing those things," he said as if realising the truth.

"If it helps, I'm sure she believed everything she told you. She craved that sort of life, fame and fortune. I still can't believe she walked out on the wedding. You were her ticket to all she ever wanted, and she just left?" Quinn looked at him suspiciously as he pulled into the school carpark to wait.

"Don't look at me like that; I never laid a hand on her in anger. I gave her everything she asked for, even surgery to enhance her already prodigious beauty. It cheapened it in my eyes, but she was desperate to get it done, so I agreed. She lived a pampered life with me, trust me," Grayson defended himself.

"She always bought into her own lies. I think she honestly believed she loved you until something better, edgier, more dangerous caught her eye, possibly illegal..." Quinn said.

"They call people like that sociopaths," Grayson grumbled.

"Look at you with the big words, who would have thunk it," she laughed. "All I'm trying to say is, it wasn't anything you or Noah did, it was her. She wasn't the type to stick around."

"Are you, Quinn? Do you stick?" he asked, piecing her with a gaze that wanted the truth.

"I don't stick," she admitted. "It's why I can't take care of April. I have my job, my career. I'm on the road all the time, I just... I don't stick," she said, stopping herself from falling into the trap of admitting she'd never had anything to stick around for before.

"At least you're honest about it," Grayson said, stepping out of the car as the school bell rang and moving toward the preschool building. Quinn sat staring after him and waiting.

"Well, that seemed to have fixed that nasty zing, didn't it, April," she turned around to look at the sleeping baby, feeling torn about that fact.


Chapter 5

After a tense weekend of practically avoiding each other, Quinn and Grayson started a new week with Quinn filling in as a temporary nanny while Grayson went back to work where he could concentrate and catch up on everything he had let pile up. He dropped Noah off at school in the mornings, and she would be there to pick him up and bring him home. Grayson would arrive home in time to spend some time with Noah and have dinner with him before heading into his home office to work, again, leaving her to deal with the night time rituals before Grayson put his son to bed, and often did a late-night work out in the gym. Not because he needed the extra work out, but to help him burn off the frustration and energy that living with Quinn in such close proximity created in him.

"Honestly, Noah," Quinn shook her head as her phone started to sing for the third time that afternoon, as it had done every afternoon that week. "Here, you answer it, it is Daddy," she said, passing the boy the phone and hitting the accept button as he climbed into his car seat.

"Hi, Dad," Noah smiled widely into the phone, and Quinn listened, knowing all the questions being asked. "Yes, she was there when I came out... No, I didn't have to wait... Yes, Dad, and the teacher says we have to remember you that I need a gazillion cupcakes for tomorrow," Noah laughed when Grayson groaned so loudly that even Quinn could hear him.

Quinn had finished buckling April into her car seat and moved around to Noah's side of the car. She wiggled her fingers, indicating that she wanted the phone, and Noah passed it over without telling his father.

"It's me, there is no need to groan at your child, just get one of your minions at work to call the bakery and order some and drop them off at home, problem solved," she sighed.

"You really don't know anything about kids, do you? You can't buy cupcakes for preschool, you've got to make them with your kids. Hang on, I'll see if I got an email about it," he said, and Quinn tucked the phone under her chin as she buckled Noah into his booster seat. "The email came in last week, I ignored it because I thought Mother would handle it. Twenty-four cupcakes and an Easter bonnet for the parade for the Senior Citizen's visit," Grayson groaned again.

"Fine, we'll go shopping on the way home, and your new temporary nanny will make the cupcakes. What's an Easter bonnet?" she asked, making him groan even louder.

"I know you can cook. but can you even make cupcakes?" he asked.

"I think the better question is, can you? And where would you find the time to make them with your busy schedule?" she asked, knowing that he had an evening meeting and dinner with his family scheduled for tonight.

"I can't. And I don't have time, even if I could," Grayson admitted and silently cursed his mother again for leaving him in the lurch like this. "Text me a list of what you need and I'll pick it up before I come home."

"Don't be silly, I can have them made by then, and you and Noah can ice them together when you get home, so you will be following preschool orders to make them with your son. I'll call Annie about the Easter bonnet thing, one of her boys is in the same class," she said. "Don't worry about it; I have it all under control." She rolled her eyes heavenward as she heard him hesitate as if to argue with her.

"I don't want you dragging Noah around town shopping for ingredients," he said.

"It's a supermarket, Grayson, shopping is hardly an extreme sport," she sighed again loudly.

"Stop doing that!" he snapped.

"What?" Quinn was seriously confused.

"Sighing into the phone!" he growled in a deep husky voice. "I've been trying to resist temptation here, Quinn, but you're not making it easy for me with all that heavy breathing and sighing!" he growled, making Quinn blush and her body react to his deep husky voice.

"Heavy breathing?" she scoffed, even though she couldn't deny the sighing. "I can see where Noah gets his vivid imagination from," she said as if she could deny the fact that his husky voice hadn't affected her in the same way. "Grayson, I can't stand here in the school carpark having this conversation with you right now!"

"No, I suppose you can't," he said in a husky voice. "Personally, I'm glad I'm in my office and sitting behind a desk." He said, giving her imagination something to work with.

"You're not playing fair. You know this..." Quinn shut Noah's car door and walked around to the driver's side. "Flirting," she said in hushed tones, "Isn't a good idea."

"Fuck good ideas!" he said with more force than he'd meant to. "If we don't do something about this thing soon I'm going to combust!"

"You don't mean that," she said with a hint of sadness in her voice. "I need to go now. See you when you get home," she ended the call.

"Home," Grayson said, staring at his phone. Home, where she would be in the kitchen making cupcakes with his son and preparing a dinner for his family and fulfilling all of his needs, bar one, he groaned and ran his fingers through his short hair. They shouldn't take it any further, they were so wrong for each other, but, God, he wanted her in the worst way!

Grayson tried to concentrate on the work on his desk. They were rebranding the company. His father had died before he'd even been involved with Rheagan or considered having Noah. He'd been CEO for six years, sharing the company leadership with his brothers. It was time to put their own stamp on it, he had agreed, but that was before the arrival of Quinn Thomas in his life and his mother's pulling the rug out from under him. Now it seemed he didn't know what he was doing anymore. Not at home, not at work, and definitely not with his temporary nanny.


Quinn had a new respect for stay at home mothers. The kitchen looked like a disaster zone from any of the real-life battles she had covered. Noah was on a sugar high from licking the sides of the bowl. April needed her nappy changed and was grumbling, albeit quietly, and the only success, twenty-four cupcakes, stood cooling on a rack. On top of all of this, she still had to cook dinner for Grayson and his family.

'First things first,' she prioritised. She got Noah settled in front of the television with one of his favourite shows, then she picked up April and, dropping a kiss on her blonde curls, headed toward the stairs to take her to the nursery to change her. She'd barely made it to the first step when the door flung open and Thorn walked in holding the hand of a tall, beautiful, obviously pregnant woman.

"Hard day, Quinn?" he cocked an eyebrow at her, amusement in his eyes.

"You have no idea," she sagged and stepped back off the step to greet him properly.

"This is my wife, Lilly. I assume Grayson told you what was happening this afternoon," he gave her another head to toe look and grinned.

"Just that he had some work thing to do and that you would all be staying for dinner," Quinn replied in a tired voice.

"Don't let him tease you like that," Lilly stepped forward. "Let me take her, you look like you're about to drop from exhaustion."

"I was just on my way up to change her," Quinn hesitated.

"Oh, I'll do that for you. I come from a big family, trust me, I know my way around a change table," Lilly reached out her hands toward the baby.

"It's not going to be pleasant in there, I'm afraid," Quinn winced as she took the child.

"No problem, I'm sure I've handled worse. Besides, the rest of the gang have just pulled up," she said over her shoulder as she continued to walk up the stairs. The foyer of the large house seemed substantially smaller as Byron and his wife, Caroline, came in, followed by a harassed-looking woman with a clipboard who looked around.

"I take it Grayson is upstairs changing?" she snapped, as a man dressed all in black and two very stressed looking young women walked in behind her.

"That would be a no, he's not home yet," Quinn said at a total loss as she looked around at the room full of people.

"You," She pointed a pencil at Byron. "Show Emmanuel this magnificent library. That was the reason we had to come all the way out to the middle of nowhere today, and you," she poked a pointy finger into Thorn's chest as she advanced on him, "Get your brother here, now!"

"What am I? My brother's keeper?" Thorn asked.

"No, you are not," Grayson said, stepping through the door and taking in the people surrounding Quinn, who looked more than a little shell-shocked. "Hi," he said directly to her, ignoring the others in the foyer.

"Hi," she smiled lopsidedly and shrugged.

"You look like you had a fight with the flour," he commented, and she looked down at her shirt and grimaced as his mouth twisted into a smile.

"Cupcakes," she shrugged.

"Shit! I forgot," he grumbled. "Is there much left to do?"

"Lots," she didn't seem to be able to get past one-word answers as his eyes bored into her.

"We're on a schedule here, Grayson!" clipboard lady snapped. "You're already late, and I need you changed and in that goddamn library in five minutes!"

"Jeans and a white button-down shirt, right?" he asked, dropping his laptop bag on the foyer table and starting toward the stairs.

"Yes, hip, casual, no shoes," she turned at the sound of shouting from the library and moved toward the sound. Quinn turned back toward the kitchen, she couldn't let his brothers and their wives see it in a mess, but Grayson grabbed her arm, halting her.

"Let me go, I need to clean up the flour I had a fight with, as you so eloquently put it," she tried to pull her arm away, despite feeling the zinging electricity of his touch on her skin.

"Where's Noah?" he asked.

"Watching television," she said, and Grayson gave a quick glance to Thorn, who nodded and went in search of the little boy.

"Where's April?" he asked, his eyes having that same heated look they had when he walked in.

"Lilly took her to change her for me," she explained, thinking that he was questioning that she wasn't doing her job as his temporary nanny properly.

"Good, then you can spare me a few minutes of your time," he said in low tones and began pulling her up the stairs with him.

"I guess," she frowned, thinking she had embarrassed him by looking the way she did when his work colleagues and brothers arrived. She followed him into his bedroom, and she briefly took in the masculine space before his hands were around her waist, pulling her to him, and his mouth was on hers, kissing her.

Her mind went numb as she automatically kissed him back. She had thought about their one and only kiss, dreamed about it even, but it paled in comparison to the hungry need of this kiss. She let her hands roam over his broad shoulders and back as his hands scooted up her ribs to cup her breasts and brush his thumbs over her puckering nipples. Her hands floated down to his hips, her stretched out thumb very close to his obvious erection.

"That was all I thought about since we spoke this afternoon, I've been next to useless at the office!" he growled as he broke the kiss and rested his forehead on hers.

"I burned the first batch of cupcakes because I was daydreaming about you," she admitted in the face of his honesty.

"What was I doing in this daydream?" he grinned.

"This, pretty much," she whispered.

"We were doing a whole lot more in my head. This is tame compared," he gave a soft chuckle. "It's inconvenient, crazy, and we both have a million reasons not to do this," his fingers brushed her cheek, and one ran across her bottom lip. "But I don't care; I want you so badly I'm willing to take the risk."

"I know, and I'm willing to admit I want that too, but our reasons for not going there are sound. I want this more than you know, but..."

"But you're going to let me take you to bed, aren't you Quinn," he brushed his lips against hers again.

"I don't think I can fight this thing alone," she sighed. "If you're so sure it's worth the risk, then there have to be ground rules. I don't stick, Grayson, you know that. This has to be some adult no strings fun for two people who have a strong attraction to each other. Just sex, understand? I'm temporary."

"Relax, Quinn, that's all I'm asking for here," he said. "If I were looking for someone to share my life and not just their body, no offence, but you wouldn't be that woman. You're not what I'm looking for."

"Why? Because I'm the least traditional, likely to stay at home woman you know?" she teased, even though she felt a sting at his words.

"But you're by far the sexiest woman I've ever met, even covered in flour. I want you so badly I can't think straight, even at the office!" he groaned.

"One last rule," she said, trying to remain the rational one. "Outside of this room we act normal. Do the normal things we usually would and treat each other same way we always have."

"Normal? What's normal to you? Nothing about this has been normal for me," he questioned her.

"I look after the kids and the house and you... well, you do what you do," she said, not knowing what he did exactly. He was a businessman, and a very successful one, that was the extent of her knowledge.

"Doing you is pretty high on my list of priorities," he grinned. "But if I am not downstairs soon, Cilla will send Thorn or Byron up to get me, and I'm not sure either of them seeing us in bed is within your rules of engagement." His took his hands from her and stepped back, holding them up as if in surrender.

"We have really bad timing," she thought back to their first kiss being interrupted before they went too far then as well.

"We really do," he agreed and looked at his watch. "Which jeans and which shirt?" he asked, walking into his closet.

"Wow, you have more clothes than I do!" Quinn said, following him in and moving to a stack of designer jeans, picking up a pair and discarding them.

"You live out of a suitcase, everyone has more clothes than you," he laughed, undoing his tie and loosening the top buttons of his shirt. Quinn concentrated on the pile of jeans.

"These," she said as he flipped through the white shirts he owned. She held out an old pair of jeans faded from too many wash cycles and torn slightly over one knee. "Nothing is sexier than well-worn, well-fitting old jeans," she explained, turning to look at him. "Wow!" she breathed, realising he had stripped down to his boxers.

"I thought I'd thrown these out. Are you sure about this?" He asked.

"Trust me; I work with pretty men all the time. I know what sexy is," she said, leaving him in no doubt that she thought he was it. "Now shirt," she flicked through the few white shirts, pulling off a plain shirt with gold buttons as the point of difference. "This one, roll the sleeve to half way up your forearm, and don't wear that watch. Wear the one you had on Friday," she instructed.
"The vintage one with the leather band?" he frowned, not sure that he agreed with her.

"Please, just put some clothes on," she shook her head.

"Problem?" Grayson grinned, beyond happy to know he had the same effect on her that she had been having on him lately.

"It's just that you... I..." she swallowed loudly and allowed herself the temptation of running her fingertips over his chest and down his torso. "Now that we've agreed to ground rules, I could jump you right now!" she said boldly, not knowing where the words had come from.

"I'm hanging on here by a thread, Quinn!" he groaned.

"You're very pretty, Grayson, I'm happy to taste as well as touch," she looked him in the eye as her hand brushed over the evidence of his arousal, and she felt his cock almost jump out at her hand.

"You're playing with fire there!" he warned her. "Especially when you're the one who smells of chocolate and something divine," he breathed her in. He picked up her hands in his and took a step back. "I promise tonight I will make you scream in pleasure, but right now I need you to walk that seriously fantastic ass out of here so I can get things under control," he gestured to his groin.

Quinn nodded and drew a deep breath. She shouldn't and wouldn't feel guilty about making him late, he started this. It's nuts, she knew. She'd never had this sort of a 'fuck the consequences' attraction to anyone. Why him? Why now? He was Rheagan's ex, for god's sake, and the embodiment of everything she'd never wanted! She had the feeling that when she left him, and she knew the situation with April would be sorted out eventually and she would leave for her career, her heart would not be safe.


Grayson had sat through the interminable photo shoot thinking and moving as if on automatic pilot when directed by Cilla. Did the kids need a bath tonight, or could Noah shower with him in the morning? Just this once Noah could miss his nightly bedtime story. His siblings could go to Fancies for dinner instead of staying. Just this once he wanted to put his needs first, and his need was in the kitchen entertaining his siblings without him. Just this once he... his mind ran around in circles.

As soon as the kids were asleep he fully intended to make good on his promise and make Quinn scream in pleasure, call out his name and more as he investigated every nook and cranny of her oh so delicious body. He felt his cock stir and tried to keep his mind on the negatives. Yes, they were wildly attracted to each other, and he would taste her, fuck her and feed on her energy, but what he wouldn't do is get attached. They were on the same page about that. It was sex, pure and simple. A chemical reaction that once lit would burn brightly but just as quickly be over; and they would part with only a few scorch marks and the memory of that chemical reaction that was too hot and burned too brightly to last.

Chemistry was all they could have, he reminded himself when his thoughts went to how they would light that fuse later tonight. Quinn was a bold risk taker. She was complicated and intense. She wasn't the quiet calm person he'd considered he would eventually make a life with. She also wasn't plain or boring; his inner devil told him gleefully. He groaned in frustration as Emmanuel asked him to change position yet again.

When Emmanuel finally proclaimed he was finished, Grayson excused himself and jogged upstairs to his bathroom. He needed a minute of peace to get his head together before facing his family. They would read too much into the way he looked at Quinn, and her at him if they weren't careful. She wanted normal, and he agreed, but being normal when he was this horny was going to be a tough act to pull off, he admitted, if only to himself.

He splashed cold water on his face. He hadn't even seen Noah since getting home, and a pang of guilt sounded in his brain. He kept hold of that feeling as he jogged back downstairs and into the open plan kitchen and living area where his family and Quinn waited for him. His sister's in-law sat on the couches with April, drinking wine and chatting happily. Grayson walked over and kissed both of their heads in turn, and then, because he could, kissed April's curls as she tilted her happy face up to him and waved the bottle in her hands.

He then turned his attention to the kitchen where Noah sat precariously on the end of the bench with his big burly brothers either side of him rolling out the icing and cutting shapes with small plastic utensils. He ruffled his son's hair, taking a moment to connect with him, and Noah looked up, his face a mask of pure joy.

"This is the best fun ever, Dad! We're making dinosaur cupcakes!" he held up the piping bag full of green icing to show his father and pointed at the tray of brightly coloured cupcakes proudly.

"I thought we were making monsters!" Thorn chimed in.

"No, it's aliens!" Byron argued.

"Dinosaurs!" Noah said adamantly, as if both of his uncles were brainless fools, "They're so cool, Dad!"

"They look... like the coolest cupcakes I have ever seen," Grayson lied with a perfectly straight face. "How many more do you still have to decorate?"

"Just this one," Noah said petulantly, holding up the cupcake with the oozy green icing Noah had been piping onto it. "Quinn says she has to make some the girls will eat," he groused. "She's going to do them after dinner. But no pink or fairies or silly girl stuff, right?" he turned his attention to Quinn.

"I can do flowers, though, right?" she asked, sounding as if it had been a tough negotiation with the little boy.

"Just a few," he said reluctantly.

Grayson couldn't hide his smile as he went to the large refrigerator and grabbed out three beers. He opened two, placing them in front of his brothers, and took a bottle of wine over to top up his sister-in-law's glasses.

"Wine, Quinn?" he offered, coming to stand beside her and unable to help himself placing a hand on her waist, feeling the zing of the contact between them.

"No thank you, I'm good," she said, giving the word more than one meaning as she moved to take a bowl to the sink.

"Who's hungry?" Quinn asked, coming back to the countertop near Noah to inspect the final cupcake.

"Me!" Noah cried, waving the bag of icing around by its tail, flinging globs of green icing over the countertop and Quinn, who he'd turned towards. "We're having lasagna, Dad! Salad, no veggies," he grinned.

"Why don't I take you to wash up, buddy," Thorn said, taking the icing bag from Noah's hand, his eyes wide as Tate blinked in surprise. Instead of rushing off the bathroom in a panic about her appearance, she surprised the three men staring at her by scooping a glob of green icing from where it had landed on her chin and sucking it from her finger. Her eyes met Grayson's as she did this and his knees almost buckled at the teasing laughter they held.

"At least I taste extra sweet now," she murmured, still holding his gaze, and he groaned involuntarily.

"Something tells me this is going to be a quick dinner," Byron chuckled, and started helping Quinn clean up the mess.

"I'll take April up to the nursery," Grayson offered, "while you get this sorted." He'd almost told his brother to feel free to leave immediately and take the lasagna with him.


When he came back downstairs, the dinner was ready and on the table, thanks to some well thought out preparation by Quinn. She'd even managed some crusty garlic bread, and when they were all finally seated, she excused herself for a moment to go and clean up, claiming to be too sticky to enjoy the food and promising to eat something later, when Grayson scowled at her. After their confrontation the last time his brothers were here he didn't press her, and she apologised for being rude and not joining them, but pointed out that she was only the temporary hired help, after all, making him scowl even more in her direction.

Now she picked at the left-over salad and carefully placed flowers, bumble bees and ladybugs on the last of the cupcakes. She felt headachy and closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. She knew, just as Grayson did, that sex between them would be mind-blowing, and the tension that came with that knowledge threatened to undo her as she tidied up the equipment she had used. The dishwasher was stacked, the kitchen was once again clean and orderly, and all she had to do now was check on the children and say goodnight.

She tilted her head back, rolling her neck and looking up at the ceiling, imagining Grayson reading Noah a bedtime story just above that ceiling and trying to get him to come down off his sugar high, which he would undoubtedly blame her for. She was about to move the cupcakes she'd carefully crafted into an airtight container when her head snapped up at the sound of Grayson walking into the kitchen and toward her. He moved behind her, placing his hands on her hips, and kissed the edge of her jaw line below her ear.

"Those look great. Are you done?" he asked. He felt Quinn nod rather than say anything and pull the large container towards her to transfer the cakes. He saw the dismal creations of his brothers and son already sitting in the large container. "Are you going to fix the dinosaurs?" he asked.

"Nope, I'm not going to touch them. You saw how proud Noah was of them," she said. "That's what matters, isn't it?" She asked and turned her head to look at him. "Don't worry so much, they're bright and sugary, and the kids will inhale them."

"You're right," he said, and let her finish what she was doing. He went to the corner where a bar stood and he grabbed two tumblers and a bottle of scotch. He poured a good measure and placed it next to her on the counter.

"Thanks," she smiled. She needed the drink, the tension headache was getting worse, and she needed something to distract herself from the day and the evening, as well as tonight.

Usually, when faced with family dinners and domesticity of any kind, like this afternoon and this evening, she would have run as fast as she could in the opposite direction, but she had enjoyed being an integral part of this family. She had felt needed and accepted and valued. The feelings were strange to her, and she didn't know what to do with them or the odd emotions they, in turn, evoked, as she pictured being here with Grayson and Noah and April as part of a family unit, part of a normal life.

'Get a grip,' she berated herself, 'That's not who you are, you're a free spirit, a wanderer. You would be bored in an instant with a life like that.' Still, as Grayson pulled up a stool and sat beside her, she couldn't help but wonder, what if...

"How was the photo shoot? You said you were rebranding?" she asked.

"Long," he grumbled. "As was dinner. Why did you leave? You didn't have to, you're not exactly the hired help," he said, showing he still wasn't happy about that sarcastic line Quinn had delivered rather than eat dinner with them.

"I'm glad you took my advice and wore the watch," she said, trying to change the subject as she busily finished up what she was doing and cleaned the decorating plate and wire rack the cakes had sat on.

"It was my Dad's. It reminds me of how much I miss him. He was my touchstone, you know?" he looked at her and saw that it was a badly thought out question. "He was funny and so smart... so full of life. He was, in so many ways, the glue that held out family together. He was our dad, but more than that. He was a charismatic, fearless leader of a bunch of ragtag boys," Grayson said nostalgically.

"Then you had to take over the role?" Quinn asked. It seemed a lot to take on and a hard act to follow.

"Yeah, I guess, in some ways," he agreed, not sure why he was telling her all about this except that she'd asked.

"Are you happy with doing that? I mean, your brothers seem very capable of living their own lives," she questioned him, further enjoying this insight into his world.

"Dad would have expected it, and that's reason enough to pick up the gauntlet. While this family and the business mostly runs on discussion and democracy, the buck has to stop with someone, and that someone is me," he stated. "That doesn't mean every once in a while I feel like running away, but I couldn't, not really. My brothers do live their own lives, but they know I stand behind them, just like they stand behind me. They also know that I will fight for our family business with my dying breath."

"You think Thorn was right and someone is trying to mount a takeover bid?" she asked. She may not have been involved in the conversation, but she had followed it and Thorn's obvious anxiety over it.

"I don't know, maybe," he said and pulled his hand through his hair again. "As soon as Roland finds Rheagan I'll get him to look into it. He has the resources to dig deep and come up with some answers," he said in a tired voice.

Quinn realised she wasn't just interfering with his personal life, she was interfering with the family business as well by taking up Roland's valuable time. She gulped a mouthful of scotch as the tension band around her head tightened. It was time to do something about that, she acknowledged.

"Noah asleep?" she asked, and watched as he nodded, his eyes looking up into hers with heat that threatened to sear her.

"So's April," she nodded at the baby monitor.

Grayson stared at her eyes, blazing for several long moments before sliding from the stool and scooping her up into his arms.

"I probably need another shower, first," she tried to protest as he carried her toward the stairs.

"You can shower later, preferably with me, but I have waited too long for this, and you smell of chocolate and vanilla and some crazy sexy perfume I don't know that drives me insane. I can't wait anymore, not even for a quick shower. I need to touch and taste you properly, here," Grayson bent his head to kiss her forehead "And here," he brushed his lips over her mouth, "and everywhere else that I possibly can touch and taste!" he growled.

"But..." she tried to protest.

"No, Quinn. I need this, I need you now!" he raised his voice slightly in his demand. He'd made it as far as the couch before letting her slide back to her feet and reached down to pull her long-sleeved t-shirt off over her head. "So pretty," he murmured, cupping her breasts through the bra and brushing his thumbs over the swollen nipples.

He surprised her then by lifting his hands and running them into her hair to tangle there and tilt her face up to his, kissing her hard and deep and urgently. He practically devoured her, leaving her feeling like she wasn't just what he wanted right then, but that she was all he ever wanted, and it made her weak at the knees. She lifted her hands to the buttons of his shirt and undid it, her fingertips exploring each new patch of skin exposed until she could push the shirt open and hear his murmurs of appreciation and pleasure increase in the kiss. He was pure masculine strength and sexiness, and she wanted him as much as he wanted her. With her fingers dancing ever lower, she brushed them over the sizable erection tenting his jeans.

"God, Quinn!" he growled low and guttural against her mouth. He shrugged out of his open shirt and reached behind her to unhook her bra, letting it fall away and breaking the kiss momentarily to look at her. "So fucking pretty!" he groaned. His hands hooked into the waistband of her leggings and pushed them down, revealing tiny, practically see-through panties, and he groaned again. She struggled with the buckle of his belt, it was a tricky clasp she hadn't come across before, not that she had that much experience with undoing men's belts.

"Help me?" she practically whined as he put his hand between her legs, rubbing her through the lace of her panties. She laid her palm flat again his cock and looked up at him, her plea in her eyes.

"We have to slow down," he groaned, "if we don't I'm going to take you on this couch right here and now!" he groaned.

"And that would be a problem because?" she whispered breathlessly, placing a hot wet, open-mouthed kiss on his chest. "That's exactly what you should be doing. I want hot, fast, furious. Why are you waiting?" Her voice came out a soft whine again.

His hand dipped into his back pocket and pulled out a strip of three condoms. He ripped one off with his teeth and let the rest drop to the floor. He wasn't taking any chances, even if Quinn happened to be on birth control of some kind.

"You want to get your hands on me so badly," he said with amusement and dropped the packet into her hand.

"I would if you'd help me with your pants!" she said in frustration, and ripped open the foil packet.

"Feeling flustered, sweetheart?" he teased.

"Aren't you?" she shot back at him, knowing she wasn't in this alone.

Grayson grinned and flipped open his belt buckle with one hand while still holding a hand in her long thick hair and tilting her face up to be kissed. He pushed not only his jeans but his underwear off and kicked them before dragging her panties down her long slender legs, so they were both finally naked. When he released her hair and the kiss she looked down and related his own words back to him.

"Very pretty, Gray," she reached out to hold him, pulling the condom from the packet. She wanted him now.

"Pretty? Try another more manly adjective, please, before you regret that and my cock hides from the mean girl," he groaned, but amusement danced in his eyes.

"Impressive? Bold? Insanely delicious," her thumb circled the head of his cock, rubbing gently, thinking there wasn't much chance of this cock hiding from her over the word pretty.

"Those will work," he grinned and sat on the couch, pulling her to straddle his thighs. His hand moved between her legs, and once again she wrapped her hand around his girth. She didn't want to wait or slow down anymore. She wanted to be pushed, possessed, filled and taken to the limit. She wanted to belong to him and this family and this house, if only for this brief slice of time. She rolled the condom on him, running both her hands the length of his shaft, letting him know in no uncertain terms that she was ready, despite the delicious things his fingers were doing to her pussy.

"God, Quinn. It's our first time. We should be taking it slow," he groaned, but hooked his hands under her ass, lifting her above his cock, "But, fuck, I can't wait anymore, I need this, I need you!" he growled as she sank down onto his cock.

Quinn's focus narrowed to the feeling of him as he thrust inside her in one move as she sank down onto him. The world could have gone to hell in a hand basket, for all she cared at that moment, as she gasped and felt him stretch her and touch all of those long-neglected places within her. They moved together with his hands on her breasts teasing her nipples, their mouths fused together and their tongues doing an erotic dance where their tongues thrust in tempo with their fucking.

Breaking the kiss and resting his forehead against hers, he breathed heavily. She was perfection, better than his imagination had led him to believe. He wanted to fuck her into the middle of next week, starting in this room and moving through the grand old house.

"Cum for me, Sweetheart!" he growled out the command. "Let me feel you cum on me!"

Lightning electricity danced up and down her spine at his words, and she felt her body respond when he continued to urge her to greater highs as she rode him into the storm they had created between them, listening to his words.

"So fucking good, ride me, Quinn! Take me, yeah, just like that!" he thrust his hips up on every word, feeling her thighs begin to shake and her eyes glaze over as she reached for that ultimate high.

Quinn splintered into a million pieces, and from far away she could still hear Grayson's urgings, but they made little sense to her now. She understood the silent demands of his body, however, and she wanted to tell him that she couldn't, that she was done, but he shifted beneath her and touched places even deeper inside her, and she exploded a second time. Minutes, hours, days could have passed, for all she knew, when she finally came back to her senses, her face plastered against Grayson's sweaty chest and his arms around her.
"We managed to do it," he said in amusement as he stroked her hair back from her face.

"We certainly did, and then some," she agreed, tilting her head up to kiss his chin.

"The sex was absolutely amazing, don't get me wrong," he chuckled. "I mean, that we managed to have that sex without one of the kids waking up," he bent his head to kiss the top of hers.

"Oh, yeah," she said guiltily. She'd forgotten about the kids. She was definitely not Mummy material, no matter how much she might want to be when she was with him like this.

"Want to see if we can do it again while the going is good?" he asked, his voice full of amusement.

"Slow and sexy this time?" she smiled lazily.

"Slower maybe this time, but sexy absolutely every time," he murmured, his hands travelling over her body, making her glad her left side was showing to his gaze now that he was really looking at her.


Grayson stirred as his son climbed over the top of him and lay on his chest early the following morning. It took a moment, but his eyes popped open and he became instantly awake, remembering the naked woman who had been lying beside him when he fell into a deep exhausted sleep not so long ago. He turned his head, seeking her out, and was relieved initially to find her gone. After his initial panic that his son would see her here in his bed, he felt disappointed that she hadn't stayed, that she had slipped out his bed and his room without a word. That had been their deal though, just sex, nothing more.

He groaned and rolled off the bed letting Noah lie in the warm blankets while he had his shower and started their morning routine. He didn't know why he had expected her to be there when he woke. They had both known it was just about scratching their mutual itch. This wasn't the beginnings of a relationship forming, it was sex, mind-blowing, amazing sex, and even as he thought about it he wanted more. She was amazing, and he had explored every nook and cranny of her body last night. Her scars had shocked him at first, and he had fought not to let it show as he kissed each pink and purple indent on her skin. From what he could tell her injuries had been quite extensive, and he wondered how she had survived, not only the injuries but the entire experience.

Feeling the ache of tiredness behind his eyes, he did his best to keep up with Noah's excited chatter about school and the party, which his cupcakes would then be presented to the senior citizens. He was thankful that Quinn had held some back to decorate herself. They made their way downstairs for breakfast, and Grayson was surprised to see Quinn in the kitchen making breakfast, looking as if she had slept well and had woken refreshed while he felt drained and exhausted.

"Hi," she smiled in greeting. "Sleep well?"

"I did," he said, looking at her suspiciously. "How many coffees have you had this morning?" He grumbled as she passed him a cup.

"This is my first," she smiled and lifted her own cup to her lips. She felt amazingly good on a high of adrenaline and endorphins after being celibate for so long, but Grayson didn't need to know that, or the fact that she would probably crash when April went down for her nap.

"Are you ready for today, Noah?" she asked.

"Yup, I have the coolest cupcakes," he said happily, having climbed to the stool and opened the airtight container in which they sat, eyeing the prettier ones for the girls that Quinn had decorated. "The girl ones aren't so bad," he admitted grudgingly, seeing the bees and ladybugs she had used as decoration.

"Anything else you may have forgotten?" she asked as he replaced the lid. He seemed to think about her question and looked at his father for an answer.

"I don't know, buddy, what's happening at school today?" he asked, taking another large sip of his coffee.

Quinn smiled and moved away to check on the scrambled eggs she had in the pan and gather toast from the toaster so she could butter it.

"Have you two men got any plans for the Easter weekend?" she asked. "Planning an adventure to hunt for dinosaur eggs or footprints again?" she asked as she dished up the breakfast. "If you found just a dinosaur eggshell you could wear it as a very big hat," she grinned at Noah, whose eyes lit up. He slipped from his stool at the kitchen counter and ran outside.

"Noah, breakfast, now!" Grayson called him back.

"I'm coming back, Dad!" Noah yelled back as he pulled open the back door and disappeared through it. Grayson groaned and went to stand up, but Quinn stopped him with a look.

"He'll only be a minute, and be nice, he put a lot of work into his Easter bonnet yesterday afternoon. I finished it for him this morning," she said quietly. "Before you ask, it doesn't need fixing, it's what he wanted." She warned him.

"I'm not that bad," he complained about her warning and watched as his son came back in wearing a green top hat with a Dinosaur sitting on top of it, and a jungle like cacophony of leaves around the brim on which lay some badly painted large green eggs.

"Isn't it great, Dad?" Noah said, coming back to the kitchen bench. "Quinn said I didn't have to have bunnies and chickens if I didn't want to, as long as I had eggs. They're not as good as our dinosaur eggs, are they, Dad?" Noah continued to chatter, refusing to take his hat off while he ate his breakfast.

"Thank you," Grayson mouthed at Quinn as Noah continued to chatter excitedly about everything he was going to do that day. She smiled and nodded at him. She was happy that Noah seemed happy. Maybe now he would trust her more and stop calling her every day when she was picking up Noah to make sure she got there on time and picked him up without any problems.

"Time for you to get changed," Quinn stifled a yawn and picked up April from where she sat in the highchair. "Just leave the dishes in the sink, I'll do them later," she said as she went to leave the kitchen with the baby. "Have a great day, Noah!"

Grayson watched her go, once again feeling strangely disappointed. She had laid the ground rules around last night that they act normal outside the bedroom, but it was as if she was ignoring what happened between them last night, and for some reason that didn't sit well with him. He considered her attitude as Noah finished his breakfast, and then sent him up to brush his teeth before they left for school and work respectively.

"Is everything alright?" he asked, walking into the nursery where April sat on the floor playing with toys. "You're not regretting last night, are you?"

"No," she laughed softly. "This one woke up about five minutes after you fell asleep, so I'm just trying to wear her out a little bit so I can have an hour's nap this morning, if she will sleep. You might be used to sleepless nights, but I need at least an hour or two," she laughed. It wasn't the whole truth, but it should get him to stop looking at her with such worried eyes.

"Good, because I'd like to revisit some of the things we did last night and improve on them," he grinned. "See you tonight," he said, as Noah called him from the bottom of the stairs and he disappeared from the nursery to start his day.

Quinn sighed. She wanted to revisit some of what they had done last night too. Not that she had that much experience, but Grayson had rocked her world in a way no one else ever had. He seemed to shed his calm, business-like, reserved, family man persona with his clothes and morphed into a dirty-talking, demanding, creative and unrestrained lover. He was confident and uninhibited, but had surprised her with moments of tenderness and genuine concern for her as he explored the scars that marred her body. Oh yes, she wanted more of him and those lovely endorphins tonight.

Sex was one thing. However, playing happy families the next morning with their two gorgeous children over breakfast was not something she wanted to indulge in. She had that once before her father left. She could remember small snippets now and then of lazy Sunday's with her parents, of laughter over the dinner table of being loved. Then it was gone with her father, and her mother never let her forget that it was her father that had wanted her. That, given the choice, her mother would have pursued her education and dreams beyond this small town, rather than being a single mother to a child she had never wanted in the first place.

"The sooner we find your mummy the better, huh? I'm not cut out for this happy family life," she said to the little girl. Quinn sighed, she couldn't risk getting too attached to anyone here, she might like it too much, come to yearn for it and a family of her own, and that wasn't what she wanted. She picked up April and held her close. Grayson was a rock, and he would weather any storm that hit his family. She was a rolling stone who blew away when the storms got severe. She valued her independence above everything else. She could pack up and leave anywhere at any time she needed to. She couldn't have a baby, she didn't even have a permanent address, nor did she want one.

April wound her arms around Quinn's neck an into her hair, smiling up at her with love and trust in her pretty blue eyes. She knew she loved the little girl, but keeping her, with her career, was totally impractical. What was more impractical was giving up her career for April. She had money, she could afford to buy a place and put a roof over their heads, but the money would run out eventually, and then what would she do? She had no other skills, and reporters were only as good as their last story. How would they survive? No, she had to find Rheagan and make her see sense. She had to make her take responsibility for this beautiful baby.

"What do you think? Will we clean the kitchen before we have a nap?" she asked the little girl and got to her feet. "Then, when we're feeling better, we're going to call Roland and see if he has any clues where she went yet." Something, anything, even a hint is better than knowing nothing. As an investigative reporter, she could probably have tracked down her sister herself if she didn't have to look after April.

Maybe she could, she thought, as she made her way down to the kitchen and considered all the contacts she had in the city that she could call on. She cleared the kitchen quickly as April played in her high chair, mashing her banana into the tray as well as her face, making Quinn laugh and wonder how much she actually got in her mouth.

"What do you think, Baby? Will we have a little sleep before we start making calls?" Quinn asked the little girl as she cleaned her hands and face, as well as the high chair. April grumbled mildly, and Quinn nodded. "Yeah, I'm tired too, let's have a nap, then we can think about how to find mummy more clearly."


Quinn and Grayson lived an idyllic long weekend full of family events and long nights wrapped around each other. Each of them keeping their own thoughts about temporariness of their relationship and how, eventually, they both knew that Rheagan would be found and Quinn would leave. They were insatiable, and often snuck in small moments to steal kisses, touch and tease as their conversations, laced with innuendo, rose up over Noah's head.

On Sunday night, after a family dinner which she had cooked, Grayson had gone upstairs to check on the children while she cleaned up the last of the glassware and debris from the family gathering. Having finished off the kitchen, she smiled and turned off the lights, making her way toward the stairs. It would be so easy to get caught up in the fantasy of family life here. This house, his brothers and their wives, the warm friendship and bonds they all shared. It would be far too easy to believe she belonged with these people, but she didn't. She couldn't, and soon she would have to leave them all behind to resume her life.

She paused at the bottom of the stairs considering the bizarre situation she found herself in. She was becoming attached to these people, this house, to Grayson, himself, and she couldn't let that happen. Maybe they needed a night apart, maybe they needed some space. They had been joined by the electric jolts that consumed them ever since Thursday night, and, as the weekend progressed, that magnetic attraction only seemed to increase instead of lessening with familiarity. She walked past his room, where she could hear him in Noah's room, to the nursery to check on April.

Quinn saw Grayson appear at the door of the nursery and lean on the door jamb, looking so amazing. Having tasted the delights he offered, how was she supposed to resist him when he looked at her like that? It was just sex, she told herself for the umpteenth time. Just sex and endorphins, there was no relationship, no family, no children involved in their relationship, if they even had one beyond temporary Nanny and boss.

"What's wrong?" he asked as she walked close enough to hear his whispered question.

"I'm just a little tired," she said. "Maybe we should just go to our own rooms tonight," she whispered, sounding uncertain if that was what she really wanted. Grayson stared at her as if she had grown two heads.

He had felt the same pull of family and love today. They'd started with an Easter hunt before joining the picnic at the lake and eventually came home for dinner with the family. It was too much, he knew it and felt it, but he didn't think separating and severing the ties that had formed was the answer. He didn't want it to be the answer. He agreed that what they were engaged in was a risky affair, and no doubt would cause them both heartache, but he also wasn't prepared to lose her while she was living under the same roof as he was. He would have enjoyed taking her to bed and making slow passionate love to her until she cried out his name, but he knew if he was going to make the situation any better that he had to take the emotion out of today. He had to make it about the chemistry, the attraction, the electric zing that bounced around them whenever they were alone together.

He pulled her out of the nursery and pushed her back against the wall opposite the nursery with a take-charge attitude that had him putting some force into the move that stole her breath. She looked up at him, and he clamped his mouth down on hers before she could say anything else. This wasn't a romantic kiss; there was nothing tender or exploratory about it. He had never kissed her like that. Their kisses had always been aggressive and fuelled by their mutual lust, but this was something else. It seemed possessive, even predatory in nature as he devoured her mouth.

He slid a hand under ass and another around the back of her neck and lifted her. Her dress slipped up her legs as she gasped into the kiss and locked her legs around his hips, trying to gain some balance as he held her tightly in place. Her hands ran over his shoulders and ran down his back as she gave in to the chemistry, but he seemed unrelenting in the aggression of his kiss and the power of his hold on her body.

It was both exciting and frightening feeling the extreme intensity of what he was doing to her. She plunged her fingers into his thick hair and jerked his head back violently to try and stop his assault on her mouth and search his eyes. He looked at her confused and gasping for air as much as she was.

"Shit, Quinn," he panted. "What was that for?"

"Suh... sorry." Her chest was heaving. "I couldn't breathe!" It was the truth, and, seeing no menace in his eyes, she grabbed his face with two hands and the aggressive kissing continued, tongues wrestling, hands searching desperately for skin.

Finally, he cradled a hand around her jaw and pulled away, her lower lip snapping back into place when he reluctantly let it go. He stepped away from the wall supporting her back.

"Unbutton my shirt!" he growled breathlessly. She felt his ribs expand and contract with his ragged breath and looked at him uncertainly before squeezing her legs tighter and leaning back in his hands, trusting him to hold her. With shaking fingers, she slipped the first button through its little slit. She was still breathing heavily, the trace of his aftershave and the male scent rising from his skin making her need him, despite her earlier misgivings.

There was something in the way he held her and kissed her that she hadn't felt before. There was something about the strength of his hands and arms, the confident way he held her, that made her want to surrender control of what was happening to him. It was oddly thrilling, as well as disconcerting, as she fumbled with the next button.

Grayson had found her zipper and lowered it to the small of her back. A chill ran down her spine and goosebumps lit up her flesh. Frustrated and unable to concentrate on her task, she grabbed the material in her hands and pulled them apart, sending the remaining buttons arcing toward the floor.

"Impatient now?" He said in a husky voice and fixed her with an amused look, surprised at how she responded to his demands. He swung her body around and caught her legs in his arm. He carried her back downstairs to the library rather than his bedroom. He set her on her feet and shrugged the damaged shirt off his shoulders, balling it up and tossing it to the side.

"Strip!" he commanded, leaning back so he rested his ass against a massive billiards table and gripped the solid mahogany frame, the muscles in his upper arms flexing as he waited to see what she would do.

She stared back at him and blinked, not sure she had heard him correctly. She had been thinking about the way his bare chest looked and the size of the tent in the black, stretchy material underneath his partially unzipped jeans. Did he say...?

He raised his eyebrows and looked at her evenly, with barely a hint of a smile.

"The dress, Quinn. Take it off!" He commanded.

For the first time that weekend she saw it: the hard look in his eyes. There was no tenderness there, no soft look of a man who enjoyed watching her be part of his family and enjoy a day of fun and flirting. A flush of heat came over her suddenly, and she knew her face must be crimson. She didn't know what to do. No one had ever ordered her to undress before. Ask, yes, but order in such a commanding tone, no. This man she could handle, this man she could enjoy just for the sake of sex and the pleasure she knew he could give her. This man couldn't and wouldn't want her to stay and play happy families with him. Her hands trembled as she peeled off the dress and let the delicate, blue patterned material drop to her feet.

"There. Happy?" She wanted to be glib, to show him she wasn't affected so badly by his commanding tone, but, instead, the words came out sounding tight and forced.

Grayson pushed the faded denim of his jeans over his ass and crossed a leg over his thigh to pull the material over his foot. She saw his eyes drop to her crotch and was relieved that she had decided to wear some expensive underwear. She glanced down at the lacy panties and at the tell-tale damp patch that told of her arousal, despite the harshness of his treatment of her tonight.

"Take everything off," he said quietly. "Then get on your knees."

Quinn's head was spinning. Was he playing with her? Was he seeing how far he could push her? Did she want to be pushed like this? She watched him, noting that he was so collected, so confident and sure of himself, it seemed. She tried to bend gracefully as she slipped off the panties and worked the straps of her sandals, but was suddenly clumsy, not sure what game they were playing here, but not wanting to back down and ask for tenderness. In tenderness lay madness for her, the madness of wishing for things that were impossible for her.

She was consumed with the need for him, as always, when they were this close. She felt a heady mixture of excitement, embarrassment, lust, need, and something else... She didn't understand the control he was able to exercise over her. It wasn't that she felt threatened. There was just something in his calm air of command, his hard, emotionless eyes and his amazing body and the pleasure she knew he could give her.
Grayson came to stand behind her when she began to fumble with the catch on her bra. Hopeless, she thought. She was nervous, not knowing why. Naked from the waist down, she felt awkward, she had never stood as exposed as she was now to him. Yes, she'd been naked with him, of course she had, but they'd been pressed against each other, she hadn't been standing on display in a well-lit room where he could see every scar and fault on her body.

"Relax, Quinn." He soothed in a deep voice as his hands moved over hers. "Let me help you."

Relief and, oddly, gratitude coursed through her. She felt a tug and then a release of pressure on her back. She held the satin cups to her breasts and heard movement behind her. 'He's taking off his clothes without being under the same inspection as I was,' she thought. Her heart began to flutter, and she dropped the bra to the floor when she felt his hands caress her back and glide around to her breasts as he pressed up against her back.

A pang struck the pit of her stomach when two sets of fingers lifted her nipples and began to roll them. Grayson took his time with the sweet torture, nibbling her neck while his fingers stroked and plucked. She felt a current run from her hard, puckered nipples, through her stomach and into her pussy.

"On your knees now, Quinn," he said, his warm breath caressing her ear. She felt the heat of his cock on her back.

She turned around and looked at him under the bright lights of the room. He was the imposing embodiment of male sexuality, wide, sloping shoulders, narrow hips, carved muscles and an impressive cock she had gotten to know well over the last three days. She felt like a teenager again, wishing that her tits were larger and her ass rounder, knowing his eyes studied her and her imperfections.

With his hands on her shoulders, she sank to the carpet. The head of his swollen cock swayed in front of her, pointing directly at her face, producing a dull ache between her legs as she studied it.

He reached down, cupped her chin and stroked her cheek with a finger. His other hand brought his cock to her lips, which she parted, wanting to taste him and feel the hot flesh slide across her tongue.

She looked up at his handsome face and the cool gaze in his eyes. His expression gave nothing away. She bowed her head, took the cock in her hand and sucked the sweet, sticky precum that dripped from the tip. Her tongue circled the head, appreciating its shape and girth once again as she covered it with saliva. Lifting his shaft, she licked and kissed the sensitive place beneath the head, a sharp twitch in her hand registering his pleasure.

Taking her time gliding up and down his length, she heard him groan, and she revelled in her mastery of him, despite her inferior position. Finally, she dipped her head and slid her lips over the wide, mushroom-shaped head.

"Fold your hands behind your back now, Quinn!" Grayson commanded.

Her eyes shot upward. This request was not really a request, she realised. Slowly, she drew back her arms, lacing her fingers together. The position forced her shoulders back and pushed up her chest. Grayson combed her long, silky hair with one hand and bounced her soft breasts with the other. She felt the subservience he meant her to in this position for the first time.

"You need to remember our agreement and understand how it is between us." His voice was suddenly clear. "I'm not your boyfriend; we are not here to play happy families. Those were your rules, remember? You wanted it this way, no attachments, no promises. You broke the rules today, and then you tried to shut me out tonight. Well, that doesn't work for me, Quinn, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't work for you either." He put his hands on the back of her head and began to rock his hips as she sucked him.

"You can't have it both ways, Quinn, and if you need me to show you no mercy, no tenderness, no attachment during out evenings together, then I can do that, but let you shut me out, while you are living here in my home, that I can't do. Do you understand?" he demanded, knowing full well she couldn't answer him.

Quinn pulled back until just the head was lodged in her mouth and nodded her head, looking up at him. She understood exactly what he was doing, and surprisingly she was grateful. Not for the way he was treating her so much as the fact he had voiced her concerns, as well as his own. She began to suck him again.

"Take it deeper." He groaned and pushed his cock into her mouth and across the depression at the back of her tongue.

Quinn was beginning to lose herself. Her eyes welled with water, and a tear streaked her face. She fought the strong impulse to gag, desperately wanting to give him this pleasure. Her brain begged Grayson to push her. She was bursting with desire, wishing she could drive her fingers into her pussy or rub her clit, but she didn't dare disturb the scene he had instigated. Instead, her hands dug deeply into the crack of her ass.

Seeing her tears, Grayson slowly withdrew his cock from her mouth. He knelt down in front of her and wiped away her tears with his thumb, then he reached around her slender body to bring her hands to his lips. She was surprised when he gently kissed them.

"Lie down now, Quinn," Grayson commanded, but in a softer, albeit, huskier voice.

Grayson knelt upright between Quinn's legs, her feet resting on his hips. He spread her knees to take in the damp, glistening lips of her pussy. He wondered why it was that beautiful women became irresistible when the illusion of perfection was peeled away. Every freckle and scar, her slim hips and shapely legs, the faint blue veins beneath the pale skin of her smallish breasts, it all made his cock harden to explosive proportions.

He breathed her female smell, the animal smell of arousal, and saw that her eyes were locked on his rigid cock. The sweet, soft feminine woman he had spent the day with had disappeared. Looking at the sexy woman on the floor, he couldn't imagine wanting her more at that moment. Grayson growled in need and hooked his hands over her thighs, pulling her closer.

Quinn planted her feet on either side of him and raised her hips high, her shoulders sinking into the deep pile of the carpet. He ran a large hand along her flat belly and caressed her hip as he drew his cock through the wet folds of her pussy. Quinn let out a quiet low moan and rolled her hips, seeking to increase the contact, wanting more. The swollen head pushed aside the flesh of her lips as it stroked upward, grazing over her hard clit. She set her feet farther apart and opened herself wide, no modesty now; she rotated her hips, grinding against the underside of the hard cock.

"I need you inside me!" she almost whined in need.

"You're one hot bitch, aren't you?" He lifted the corner of his mouth into a sneer, rocking his pelvis in time with the rise and fall of her hips.

"And you're a fucking tease!" she challenged him in return. She gasped at his words, but let out a long groan when he squeezed her clit, making her cry out.

Grayson chuckled and dragged his cock down to her opening. Her wet folds cradled him as he stroked over the entrance to her velvety inner core. He held her hips and pressed forward, feeling the exquisite resistance of her tightness that he revelled in. He fought the impulse to thrust, instead of applying steady pressure as he sank into her. Quinn's muscles tensed and her back bent into a deep arc. She sighed as the head of his cock entered her, and only then did he drive his cock into her.

"Oh yes!" she whimpered. The angle of their bodies drove his cock into the upper ridged wall of her pussy before penetrating deep inside her. He pushed until he reached her limits, and then withdrew, feeling her body shudder with the movement. His cock moved in and out to the music of her pleasure filled sounds.

He pressed a hand on her lower belly. The other gripped her cheeks as he pounded her harder and faster. She uttered curses and moved up and down, changing the angle of his thrusts. Perspiration had broken across her body, and Grayson could feel her legs begin to quiver with her impending climax.

He gently pushed down on her hips and leaned over her as she lowered her ass onto the floor and let her legs fall open. Grayson planted his hands below her outstretched arms and lowered his mouth to hers while he raked her with long steady strokes.

"Oh, fuck yes," she half whispered against his lips, pulling her knees upward as the second series of small waves crashed over her.

Her hot breath rushed across his throat. He held his cock inside her, enjoying her tiny spasms. Grayson lifted his chest and hooked his arms behind her bent legs before replanting his hands on the floor. He leaned forward, folding her in half and pulling her ass upward. He looked down at her sweaty body in absolute appreciation.

He drove downward, forcing a grunt out of her lungs. His cock slammed in and out of her, seeking his own release. Her hands clawed at his rocklike arms, and the muscles in her legs stiffened an instant before strong contractions gripped his cock. Her eyes rolled in her head as her mind exploded with the mind-blowing orgasm he'd wanted to give her, and she looked amazing as she came, her face a picture of pleasure and pain as she stared up at him wide-eyed and barely breathing.

"God, Fuck me! Grayson!" she hissed in long, breathless tones.

Hearing her cry out his name was enough to push him over the edge, and he came with a roar and buried himself deeply within her.


"Hello?" Melody called through the house as she wandered through the house looking for Quinn. She had hoped that she could talk to her before going to confront her son after leaving him to sort out the issue of hiring a proper nanny. Melody had seen the initial awkward attraction between them, and had hoped that being forced together they would act on it. Her son had been alone for far too long, and Melody wanted to spend more time with Paul and be a grandmother rather than the mother figure for her grandson.

"Grandma!" Noah cried and ran through the house to greet her, launching himself at her and wrapping his arms around her legs. He dragged her into the kitchen where Quinn stood preparing his afternoon snack while starting dinner.

"Welcome back," Quinn smiled. "Did you have a good trip?" she asked with a smile, feeling a little disappointed that she wouldn't be needed as the temporary nanny now that Melody had returned. After her attempt to draw away from him over Easter, their sex life had only improved, and they had spent the last week exploring even more of each other than before. They were more careful about social outings and dinners with friends. Outside of the bedroom they were friends and made sure to keep each other at arm's length, but their insatiable desire for each other late at night had only grown.

"Oh, it was wonderful!" Melody gushed. "I've never been happier! How have things been going here? I am glad you decided to stay." She smiled and touched the golden curls on April's little head.

"You mean, you're glad Grayson and I haven't killed each other yet?" she laughed.

"Well, that too," she grinned impishly. "Noah, tell me everything that's happened while I have been gone," she winked at Quinn, who laughed as the little boy who had been waiting so politely to speak launched into a recount of everything that was important in his world, including cupcakes and dinosaurs and Easter eggs.

"Me, me, me!" Noah reached out his hand for Quinn's phone as it's familiar ringtone sounded, and she scooted it across the kitchen countertop to him after checking the screen.

"Hi, Dad!" he said happily. "Yes, she is, yes, just an apple, she's making it now, but, Dad, guess what?" Melody raised an eyebrow at Quinn, who rolled her eyes and shrugged. "Grandma's home! Okay... yup... Great! Bye, Dad!"

"He didn't want to talk to me today?" Quinn asked the little boy, not sure what to make of the one-sided conversation she had heard.

"He's coming home," Noah grinned. "He's excited that Grandma is home too!"

"Oh, dear," Melody said softly, bracing herself for the inevitable conversation with her son about abandoning him when he needed her.

"I should change the baby," Quinn smiled. "I'll let Noah catch you up on everything that's been happening while you've been gone." She passed him a peeled and cored apple and picked up April from where she had been sitting on a rug playing with toys.

Quinn's immediate disappointment at seeing Melody here grew. She knew that she was no longer needed to look after Noah, but she consoled herself, now she could head back to the city and start looking for Rheagan herself. She'd spoken to her producer twice this week, once about his contacts in the police department and the second time about a slight change in her role with the network. The Network executives didn't want to send her back out on assignment overseas, in light of her injuries and subsequent trauma, and planned to offer her a documentary style current affairs show that she could have a hand in writing and producing herself.

She'd earned the right to create something of her own that she could put her unique stamp on. It was a reporter's dream, but instead of embracing it she had felt like the network was clipping her wings and trying to ground her here in Australia. Keith had been enthusiastic and, assuming she would agree, hadn't asked her, but told her that, while she was on vacation, she could come up with some ideas for the pilot and that they would meet with the network executives in a few weeks when she returned to the city. 'It was as if it was a done deal,' she thought bitterly, and what choice did she have if they wouldn't send her back overseas as a correspondent?

She needed peace and solitude, even if just for one day. She needed to just stop and think about everything in her life and put it in perspective, Rheagan, Grayson, work, and... she sighed, her growing love for these two children and the strange little family they had here. Adding to her disappointment was the strange conversation she'd with Roland, who said he would be in Ashton Hill next Sunday but had nothing concrete that he would be happy to discuss over the phone. He needed to update her in person.

Maybe she and April could go for a picnic down by the lake tomorrow while the family caught up with Melody. She considered her options. Finding some peace and alone time wasn't as easy when there was a baby to consider, not that she minded, April was so sweet and easy to manage. She was still upstairs when she heard Grayson's car, and then the door bang open as he arrived home. Would he want her to leave immediately? she wondered. That was the plan before his mother had dropped her bombshell and left for her trip. She found herself torn about having to leave this house and the man who owned it.

She spent the next ten minutes deciding where she would go and what she would do now. In the city, there were only hotel rooms and strangers, which, for the first time in her life, didn't hold the same appeal it always had. She wanted more for April than a portable cot and a few toys that could be packed and transported easily. She couldn't stay here now, she knew that much, even if she wanted to. Melody was back now, and she was sure his mother would push Grayson to find a more permanent nanny to replace Jo. Maybe she could stay with Mary Delaney for a little while, she had offered once, and perhaps wouldn't mind the intrusion, if just for a little while. She had to at least stay until she saw Roland on Sunday, and the Delaney family had been so welcoming to her.

It was at that point that Quinn realised she had lost her mind. Two weeks, almost, of good sex... Great sex. she corrected, and she had lost her mind. She'd gotten too attached to this family and these children, no matter how hard she had tried not to be. She had to find Rheagan before she got in any deeper and it hurt too much to move on, because that was what she did. It was who she was, she wasn't a stayer, she was a traveller, a free spirit, a rolling stone who gathered no moss, no ties, no family connections.

She knew she couldn't avoid the moment any longer, and she gathered up the baby who wound her chubby little arms around her neck and happily pulled her long hair, giggling and making Quinn's heart ache. She went slowly back downstairs and into the kitchen and living area where Noah was sitting in front of the television and Grayson was talking in low tones with his mother. Not wanting to interrupt them, Quinn placed April on the floor and sat beside Noah to watch another thrilling episode of the Night Ninjas, a children's program that Noah loved at the moment.

Moments later Melody walked past her on her way upstairs, and Quinn looked to where Grayson gripped the kitchen counter in obvious frustration. She knew now was not the best time to talk to him, but if she needed to make other arrangements, the sooner she knew, the better. She stood and approached Grayson, and he looked up, the hardness in his eyes softening slightly at the sight of her.

His mind had been clouded by her all day. The things they had done and the things he still wanted to do to her and her perfect body. He felt himself harden at the thought of it again as she moved close enough for him to breathe in her perfume. God, it didn't matter how much of her he had, he still wanted more. She was a dangerous woman for him to be around when they both knew they had no future together.

"She's not staying," he said simply. "She's just here to collect some of her belongings. She's going to stay at Ashton Hall with Paul!" he said disgustedly, and Quinn felt a little guilt at the relief she felt that she wouldn't have to leave immediately. "She has invited us there on Sunday for lunch," he continued to fill her in on the details of what he had discussed with his mother.

"That sounds like fun for you and Noah," she smiled. She knew it would be a family affair, and she had no intention of crashing that party. Not after what happened over Easter. She wasn't family, and couldn't be family to these people. Her link to them as Noah's Aunt was tenuous, at best.

"The invitation was extended to you as well!" he scowled at her.

"Roland is coming Sunday to discuss Rheagan with me," she said, not wanting to argue with him and seeing his mood was stormy.

"Roland is like family, he will be going to the lunch as well," he stated, wiping away her reason to refuse the invitation.

"It sounds like a family thing, and I can talk to him after the lunch," Quinn said, still not prepared to put herself in even more danger of losing her mind and becoming too attached to these people and this place. She had few ties here now, coming home had been a mistake, except she couldn't call April a mistake, or even Noah, for that matter, she had fallen in love with them both.

"You are Noah's aunt, that makes you family, and regardless of whatever else is going on, that fact doesn't change," he looked at her with hard eyes. He took her by the wrist and pulled her into the open pantry where they could still hear the children. He pressed her body to his and kissed her, hot, hard and wet, and felt her body surrender to his. "Regardless of what is going on with us, Quinn. You're Noah's aunt, and you are part of this family. Your other family may have forced you out, but we are not like them. Regardless of whatever this is, and no matter how temporary it is between us, you will always be his aunt."

Quinn melted into yet another searing kiss. He had pulled no punches. He had made no overtures of love or a future together, he had just stated the fact that she was family, related by blood to his son. A fact she couldn't dispute. Having realised they disappeared, April began a soft cry, and Grayson groaned as Quinn disengaged from him and reappeared to walk over and scoop the little girl up from where Noah had been patting her hair gently with his eyes glued to the television.
"I'm here, baby. Did you think I'd disappeared?" she crooned. "I'm here."

Grayson watched her as she settled the little girl. She may think she wasn't mummy material, but in the last week she'd proved that she was, in more ways than one. The little girl burrowed her head into Quinn's shoulder and tangled her little fists in the long blonde and brown streaked hair that he loved so much. Her sister had been superficially beautiful, and it had been enhanced both surgically and cosmetically, but Quinn was effortlessly gorgeous, and so sexy. He wanted nothing more than to be the one to run his hands into her hair, or, better yet, throw her over his shoulder and take her to his bedroom right now.

The female genes were strong in their family, with both sisters having similar colouring, eyes, and thick wavy hair, but that was where the similarity ended, and he could appreciate Quinn in a totally different way to her sister. It was hard to even believe they were sisters, which got him over the hurdle that had been presented to him in the beginning when he first met her. The initial attraction had been purely physical, and he couldn't deny that he obviously had a type, but that attraction had only grown, and even the scars he had discovered that first night added to her beauty. He wanted her even more badly than he had then, and, as much as he tried to fight it, there was a connection there, an understanding and a meeting of minds.

To say he cared about her was possibly an understatement, but he wasn't ready to admit to more, because, as she had pointed out time and time again, she was only temporary. She wasn't the beautiful, serene traditional wife he had in mind to fill that space in his life. She knew it, and he knew it. Still, their chemistry was electric, and he wasn't about to give that up either, not yet, anyway. Besides, they still had to find Rheagan, and he highly doubted that once she abandoned it, she wouldn't want to take the baby back. For Quinn's sake, though, he planned to give Rheagan a hard dose of reality when they found her, which he had no doubt Roland would do, eventually.

"Stay for dinner, at least," Quinn said as Melody came back downstairs with a suitcase packed. "Noah has missed you, and, despite his grouchy mood, I know Grayson has too. You could invite Paul and Thorn and Byron. There's plenty of food in the house." She'd have to go grocery shopping again tomorrow, but that would give her a diversion from being stuck at home with Grayson all day and the electricity that bounced off him into her core.

"I couldn't do that to you at such short notice," Melody smiled at the invitation and turned to look at Grayson, he still didn't look happy. "I know he missed me and loves me, but my poor boy doesn't like change. Unfortunately, all things must change sometimes, and I have to admit I am enjoying this particular change in my life, I just wish he could be happy for me too."

"I can tell. You're glowing, but that might just be your fabulous tan," Quinn complimented.

"Tell you what, why don't we come for dinner tomorrow night, that will give you more time to prepare and invite the others, then you can come to us for lunch on Sunday," she smiled. "Grayson? Does that suit you?" Melody asked.

"Whatever works for Quinn, I won't be cooking," he shrugged and grabbed a beer from the fridge. "I'll be in my office," he grumbled. "I'm glad you are back, Mother, and I am happy for you and Paul," he said politely and kissed her cheek as he went past. Despite his formal words, Quinn could see the affection they had for each other, and wondered why Melody had left it so long to be with the man she obviously loved.

Quinn had walked Melody to the door and considered the invitation she had made. It occurred to her suddenly that tomorrow was the ANZAC Day holiday and the shops wouldn't be open. If she needed anything, she would have to go out this afternoon, and it was getting later by the minute. She walked through to Grayson's office, hating to disturb him.

"I have to go out to the store, because everything is going to be shut tomorrow. Do you need anything?" she asked. "We won't be long. I'll pick up something quick and easy for dinner while we're out. How does pizza sound?"

"We?" he asked.

"I'll take the kids with me, I'm the nanny, after all," she laughed.

"I'll watch them, I can't concentrate anyway," he shook his head. "You'll be quicker on your own." When she gave him a sceptical look, he continued. "I'm more than capable of watching the kids for an hour or two, Quinn. I've been looking after Noah for a while now on my own," he said, ignoring the fact that he'd had his mother and Jo to do most of the work, but he had been a hands-on father, regardless, when he was at home.

"If you're sure... But maybe I should take April anyway, she can be a bit whiny this time of the afternoon," she said with a frown.

"Just go," he shook his head. "I'll be fine, Noah and I can handle the baby," he stood and took April from her arms. "Do you need money?" he asked, reaching into his back pocket.

"No, I've got this," she said easily. "I'll be back as soon as possible."


Quinn was halfway through her shopping when she got the odd sensation she was being watched. She looked around and couldn't see anyone suspicious amongst the other last-minute shoppers, but, thinking ahead to the long weekend, she had begun what promised to be quite a large shopping spree and was taking far longer than she originally had thought.

She was enjoying being on her own, if only for an hour or two, but knew Grayson would be waiting for her return and probably in a panic that she had run away and left with him another child to care for, just like Rheagan. She moved a little faster at that thought and pulled her phone out of her bag, keeping it in her pocket where she would feel it buzz in case he called.

She couldn't shake the feeling of being watched, however, and she made it through the checkout and the manager asked one of the younger members of staff to help her to her car with the large load. 'Thank goodness for small town hospitality.' she thought. She would never get service like this in the city. She opened the boot for the young man to start loading her groceries and went to put her bag in the car before helping him with the last of it. A movement out of the corner of her eye made her look up; and two men in suits she didn't know approached her. Ignoring them, and having her uneasy feeling increase, she dialled Grayson's number, but before the call went through one of the men spoke, making her turn toward him.

"Rheagan Myers?" the man asked.

"No, Quinn Thomas," she said. "Let me guess, she ripped you off? Stole something precious from you? Left you holding the bag for something she did wrong? Whatever it is it's not my problem. I'm looking for her too."

"You look just like her," one of the men eyed her sceptically, so she dug out her license and held it up.

"See, Quinn Thomas, ask anyone. I grew up here," she sighed. "What did she do this time?"

"We just want to talk to her," the same man spoke again.

"Well, as you can see, I'm not her, and I have no idea where she is. I'm just another stupid person she used, then dumped. Trust me when I tell you that Rheagan Myers is not welcome in this town, not by anyone since her mother died. She has no reason to come back here," Quinn spoke quickly. There was no way she would endanger April or Noah by letting these men know she had abandoned both of her children here. She knew thugs when she saw them.

"It's not her," the second man said gruffly. "Rheagan's got bigger tits and no scars like that on her legs or face."

Quinn looked down, she hadn't worn her usual boots, but instead had slipped on some comfortable joggers. As for her breasts, they weren't that small, she thought, crossing her arms to cover them, her phone still in her hand.

"Look, fellas, if you find her let her know Quinn is looking for her, but, as you so ably pointed out, I'm not her," she said.

"Will that be all, Miss Thomas?" the young man said, closing her boot and wheeling the trolley up the other side of the car. The two men obviously hadn't seen him there loading her groceries.

"Yes, thanks so much for your help, I think I went a bit overboard for a holiday," she gave a crooked smile. "These gentlemen were just leaving, I'm sure," she said, when, to her surprise, a police car pulled into the carpark next to where she stood. Small towns, you had to love them. "Thank you very much," she shook her head.

"Hey, Quinn, everything alright?" the officer asked.

"I don't know," she looked at the two men. "Is everything alright?" she asked them.

"Sorry to have disturbed your evening, Miss Thomas. You look very much like a woman we would like to find," the first of the men said.

"You go on home, Quinn, I'm sure I can help these gentlemen find who they're looking for. It's my job, after all," he gave her a wink and walked toward the two men. Quinn got in the car and sped home, confident in the fact that the men who had been watching her as she shopped were being detained by the officer.

"Seems we're not the only ones looking for Rheagan," she said as she and Grayson carted the last of the groceries into the house.

"So, I heard," he said, obviously not happy about the fact. "You called me, remember?" he turned to look at her.

"I didn't think the call went through, I'm sorry about that, I would have said something otherwise," she went to find her phone, digging around in her bag.

"I called Clint, which was why he made his timely appearance," he explained with a sigh. "I don't want all this drama, especially for Noah. If they come here looking for you..." he left the sentence hanging. He was mad at her for being in danger, for possibly bringing that danger here to his home. Most of all he was mad at himself for caring so damn much and knowing she wouldn't want him to. He hated that he had felt next to useless listening to the conversation and calling Clint on his office phone to go and help her, because he couldn't have taken the children into that situation and couldn't leave them here alone.

"Oh, sure, of course," she sagged. "I should go." This was what always happened. She got dragged into Rheagan's world, and then, when things went pear-shaped, everyone blamed her. "I'll go pack our things," she said quietly.

"Wait! What?" Grayson asked, confused.

"I didn't want his drama either, and it's not my fault. I'll wear it because I don't have a choice, it would be nice to have choices for once. I don't, but you do. It's better if I go now, who knows who else will come looking for her here because she left her baby with me. I never would have brought this drama here myself, and I'm sorry if you think I would bring that sort of drama into your home," she said sadly. "You know, I didn't ask for April to be abandoned, I certainly didn't ask your mother to bring me here, and I was more than happy to stay with Mary Delaney. Being here in this house was never my choice, Grayson, so don't you dare look at me like it was me that knowingly put either of those precious little children in danger!"

"You don't have to go, not tonight. It's already dark outside," Grayson said, and stared at her, stunned by what she had said. When she fled upstairs in tears, he had been rooted to the spot. She was right, he knew she was right. He was being unfair, but he couldn't help it. He had to protect Noah from Rheagan and whatever trouble she was in now. That didn't mean he wanted Quinn to leave though. More than that, even, he wanted to avoid a scene with her in front of the children, so he took Noah into his office to build his new Lego project until she calmed down. He told himself she wouldn't leave because she was safe here with him, and refused to beg her to stay if she was determined to go.

Quinn was an expert at packing and leaving places in a hurry. Her whole career had depended on it. She grabbed what she needed for the baby and no more than that, as well as her one single bag, then went to pack the car. Grayson wasn't in the kitchen when she went through to her car. She didn't see him again as she made three separate trips, the last one with April in her arms. Then she got into her car and drove, not knowing where she was headed.

Quinn pulled up at the Ranch for petrol on her way out of town. Lance came out to help her. One of the many things she liked about small towns. They still believed in service with a smile.

"It's a bit late to be headed back to the city," Lance commented as he filled her tank.

"I guess, but I have things to do there that can't wait," she smiled engaging in the small talk. "Thanks for this, I didn't want to leave the baby to come in and pay."

"It's always slow at night," he shrugged. "I'll probably close soon." He recognised Quinn Thomas, but knew she was way out of his league. While that had never stopped him before, the baby in the car was a stumbling block he didn't even think even her hot body could get him over. Not to mention the fact that she was heading out of town, not driving into it.

"Thanks, Lance," Quinn smiled.

"You remember me?" he asked.

"Sure, you were always at the Delaney house when Annie and I were trying to study," she laughed.

"I guess that true, it's good having Jack home again, looks like he might stay this time," he nodded.

"I thought both the twins joined the army?" Quinn frowned. Harrison Delaney was her hero, but she had thought similarly of Jack.

"Jack's with Search and Rescue now," Lance said as if he was proud of his friend. "He still kicks serious ass on a daily basis."

"Thanks, Lance, I'll come and see you next time I come home," Quinn waved and drove off. 'Home,' she thought. It was hard to believe after so much time had passed that she still thought of Ashton Hill as home. Her heart lurched a bit as she thought, not of her mother's small cottage, but of Ryder House, the grand sandstone home she had shared for almost a month with Grayson and his son.

For someone who liked being alone, who felt constantly itchy when she was pinned to one spot for too long, she had been remarkably content there. That thought frightened her. What frightened her more was that, when she thought about going back to work and her world of airports and hotels, her heart rebelled. She loved her job, she couldn't imagine giving it up and relinquishing her independence and freedom, but the thought of what she had just given up by walking out of that house tonight, a home, threw her into a tailspin of warring emotions.

She hadn't wanted to leave until those men showed up looking for Rheagan. In fact, she had been so content that her only thoughts had been to find Rheagan, not about her itchy feet or the need to escape the domesticity that she had surrounded herself with there. Deep down in her heart, she knew why. She'd fallen in love with the baby girl gurgling happily in the backseat of her car, and Noah. She'd loved being their stand-in Mummy and looking after the large but cosy house. It was also very possible that she'd started to fall in love with her sister's ex, which was totally unacceptable.

"No," she told herself out loud in a confident voice. "You were just temporarily seduced by the lovely house and two gorgeous kids. Reality check, you are not what he wants, and domestic bliss is not what you want!" She sighed. "First things first, April. First, we need to find your Mummy, and I can do that better from the city. Roland found nothing he could tell me about, so let's fire him. As the saying goes... if you want a job done right then you need to do it yourself." April gurgled happily as if answering Quinn, making her smile. She really did love April, and handing her back to Rheagan would hurt, she knew, but it was for the best, just like leaving Grayson tonight was for the best. She had to go before she got any more attached to the strange life she had been leading there with that uber sexy man and their adorable children.

"You know what, April, I think Aunty Quinn forgot to pay her brain bill," she shook her head. Yes, leaving that fantasy behind was the best thing she could have done. So why was her stomach churning and tears threatening to spill from her eyes? She had to get off the crazy train and start thinking logically. Her phone rang, and she tapped the button on the steering wheel to answer it without thinking.

"Quinn, it's Roland. Are you home?" the deep voice demanded.

"Home?" she questioned, trying to gather her scattered thoughts and emotions.

"Did you go home to Ryder House after those guys accosted you?" he asked, sounding frustrated with her.

"Oh, yes, I did," she answered stiltedly.

"Good, stay there, I'll be there in the morning," he exhaled the words loudly.

"Roland, look, I've decided to find Rheagan on my own, so you don't have to worry about me anymore. I'm sorry to have wasted your time. Just send the bill to my email account, and I'll settle it by the end of the week. Thank you for trying to find her, but I've got this now." Quinn said.

"You can't be serious! You don't know what you're getting into!" Roland argued.

"Trust me, I've been dealing with this my whole life. I know exactly what I am getting into," she sighed heavily. "Goodbye, Roland." She ended the call before he could say anything else.

"That's one job done," Quinn said confidently. "Now we need to organise somewhere to stay tonight," she said and glanced in the rear vision mirror at April.


Grayson sat in his office helping Noah build a pirate ship from Lego's while Quinn packed her car and left. He hadn't asked her to go, he'd told her not to go, but when she had said she was leaving he hadn't done much to stop her, and he hated himself for letting her leave. He had known she would leave, eventually. She had warned him that she was only here on a temporary basis. He'd been guarding his heart and his child against this day which, thanks to Rheagan, had come sooner than either of them had thought. He had to let her go, didn't he?

It didn't matter that she was right and none of the mess she found herself in was her fault. Nothing was more important to him than Noah, and he wasn't about to let another woman take him down to the depths of madness that Rheagan had, no matter if he thought he could care for her more than what he was prepared to admit to anyone, even himself. No matter if his mind twisted and almost snapped thinking about her out there alone with some thugs looking for Rheagan. She was a big girl, she could look out for herself, she had made sure he knew that she didn't need him or any man looking after her. She was Miss Independent, and that was how she liked it.

His phone buzzed on his desk, and he ignored it. He didn't need anyone telling what an asshole he'd been letting Quinn leave, pushing her to leave by being so mad at her. He knew he had overreacted and hadn't been fair to her, but he'd had his reasons. She was only here temporarily anyway, it wasn't like she could ever have been part of his family or wanted to be permanently tied to him. But his own words that afternoon, when he had kissed her in the pantry, came back to him. She would always be Noah's Aunt, no matter what else happened. No, he reassured himself, he'd done the right thing in letting her go. She was as dangerous as her sister, and the attraction between them meant only trouble for him a second time around.

"Alright, Noah, bedtime," Grayson said an hour later, and picked up the pieces they still had remaining to finish the project off tomorrow.

"Where's Aunty Quinn?" Noah asked as Grayson carried him upstairs. "She likes to put me in my pyjama's. She says it's because they're cuddly and she loves my cuddles."

"She had to go," Grayson said. "So, you get extra Dad cuddle's tonight," Grayson explained.
"Is she coming back? I promised to show her the real dinosaur eggs," Noah asked, looking up into his father's face.

"She'll come back to visit, I'm sure, buddy," Grayson lied to his son.

"I'm gonna miss her," Noah said sadly.

"Me too, buddy, me too," Grayson found that he meant it. As much as he knew he made the right decision in not stopping her, he already missed her presence in this house. They'd made it halfway up the stairs when the front door banged open, and a frazzled looking Byron stood there.

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"Quinn?" Grayson frowned.

"Yes, Quinn! Where is she?" he asked again breathlessly, panic written over his face.

"Gone. She packed her things and left over an hour ago," Grayson said, not understanding what was going on.

"Call Roland, he's been trying to reach you! I'll go see if she stopped at the ranch on her way out of town, assuming she was heading for the city and not the coast!" he said and disappeared out of the door before Grayson could even formulate a question.

Caroline came in the door as Byron sped off, his tires kicking up the gravel driveway, and took over putting Noah to bed. She told Grayson to call Roland, or at least answer his phone when Roland called, then disappeared upstairs with the little boy. Grayson didn't know what was going on, but he knew it was nothing good. He'd done the right thing, he'd told himself. He couldn't have stopped her going if she was determined to go anyway, could he? Guilt clawed at him. If he hadn't been so mad at her and accused her of bringing drama into his life she might not have gone. Who was he kidding, she wouldn't have left if he hadn't have been so mad at her, if he'd been able to comfort her and talk to her reasonably. But, instead, he'd let her go without a fight, with the baby, at night to god knows where, and now something had gone wrong.

"Caroline!" He called after his sister-in-law. "What's going on?"

"All I know is, Quinn has fired Roland, something about some guys who were looking for Rheagan finding her. They're bad people apparently," she said, telling him just enough to make him realise he needed to call Roland.


Chapter 7

Quinn had gone to her producer's house and been welcomed with open arms by his wife and ushered inside. On hearing that she was in trouble and may have an exclusive news story for him, he had opened his house to her and promised to keep her whereabouts a secret until they got to the bottom of her sister's disappearance and why people were looking for her. They'd contacted a family friend who was happy to have a boarder in her house for a few weeks, and was overjoyed to act as a nanny, which allowed Quinn the time she needed to find her sister. Without having to check into a hotel where she could be found, or use a nanny agency, it also had the bonus of deterring anyone who might check to see if Quinn had turned to her friend and producer, Keith, when she came back to the city.

Going with the theory that Rheagan was a social climber, she contacted the editors of the social pages in various media outlets around the country and sent out a recent photo of Rheagan, asking if anyone knew who the woman was and where she could be found.

Rheagan, it turned out, had been married, or at least changed her name to Rhea Blue, she travelled widely, but had a home in one of the more cosmopolitan cities. After little more than a name and an occasional sighting, none of which were recent, Quinn began to try her contacts within the police force. Feeling as if she was getting nowhere fast, a sports reporter from her own network got back to her and said that they expected she and her current boyfriend would attend the polo final. It wasn't much, but it was something, and Quinn planned to be at that polo match too.

"It sounds like a porn stars name to me," Jocelyn stifled a laugh as she picked April up out of her high chair to clean her up and change her for bed.

"It does a bit, doesn't it," Keith smiled at the nanny and looked at Quinn with worried eyes. "You know, if we found out his much information, then the people looking for her will know where she will be as well," he warned.

"I know, but I have to find her, I can't move on with my life until I do," she sighed.

"I'm going to head home. Don't make any decisions tonight, okay?" he looked at her seriously. "If the people looking for her are as dangerous as we think, then I don't want you taking any risks."

"Trust me, I'm not a risk taker," Quinn said sadly. She'd had trouble sleeping, and the home and family she had run away from were never far from her mind. It was becoming all-consuming for her to find Rheagan so she could move on from everything that was holding back now. Grayson, Noah and April would become a wonderful memory to look back on and cherish as she travelled the country, if not the world, doing the job she loved.

"Jocelyn loves having you and the baby here. You know the letter alone would give you custody of that little girl. Rheagan doesn't strike me as the maternal type. If she left her once, why do you think she wouldn't just dump her again when she became inconvenient?" Keith asked. "You could make it work here, come back to work part-time to start with. The network executives love you. You could ask for almost anything, and they would try to make it happen, hell, I would try to make it happen for you."

"I need to see her, Keith, to talk to her. I need to know why she did this. That baby girl is so precious. How could any mother just walk away from her?" she asked.

"Yet you will if Rheagan takes her back," Keith pointed out.

"And it will hurt like hell, but Rheagan is her mother. That matters," Quinn said, although her belief in that had faltered lately, as April's burbling was beginning to take the shape of words, and the occasional "ma..." crossed her lips and made her heart ache to be the little girl's mother. It couldn't happen though, not with her job and lifestyle. She wasn't a boulder, like Grayson, she was a rolling stone.

"I beg to differ," Keith began, but stopped and picked up his phone, putting up a finger that indicated he'd just be one minute. Quinn mimed rocking a baby to let him know she was going to say goodnight to April and give him some privacy. He held up his hand to stop her from leaving, grabbed a pen from his pocket and scrawled a number on the inside of his forearm.

"Wait," he said, and googled the phone number and nodding before calling it back and asking for a doctor by name before passing her the phone.

"Quinn Thomas speaking?" she said, frowning at Keith.

"This is Doctor Moran at the Royal Hospital. We've had a patient come into emergency, and you're listed as the next of kin. I'm afraid Rheagan Myers' injuries are substantial, we'd like you to come into the hospital as soon as possible," he spoke quickly and succinctly, as if rushed off his feet.

"I'll come immediately!" Quinn gasped, staring wide-eyed at Keith as she handed the phone back to him.


"Roland," Grayson said as he answered his phone. It was the middle of the night, and Grayson snatched up a towel to mop up the sweat on his face. Exercising at this hour had become a habit now in an attempt to lessen his insomnia. "Did you find her?" He didn't feel the need to qualify who; his focus had been on finding Quinn and April since the night they had left and seemed to disappear off the face of the earth.

He'd spent the last week on a rollercoaster of emotion between anxiety and fear for her safety, self-loathing for not stopping her leave, denial that he couldn't have stopped her, and panic, because as each day passed he missed her more and knew for a fact that he loved her. Or at least he could love her if he could find her to talk to her.

"They're both at the Royal. How soon can you get here?" Roland said.

"Both? What?" he shouted into the phone.

"Rheagan's in a bad way but alive. Quinn was listed as next of kin," Roland said in an attempt to calm his friend down. "Drive carefully, brother," Roland hung up.

Grayson jogged up the stairs and stepped into the shower, considering what he needed to do and thanking God that his mother had returned to help him until he found Quinn and tried to convince her to return. In less than an hour he was in his car and heading towards the city, hoping beyond hope that now that Roland had found Quinn he wouldn't lose her again.

He'd never expected to feel this sort of love for anyone, least of all Quinn, but he had finally acknowledged, if only to himself, that he loved her. There were no angels singing, or the heavens parting to throw a lightning bolt down on him to herald the love he felt, he felt none of that, but when he thought about Quinn and everything they had shared it felt so right. Like his heart had found a warm spot to curl up in to love and be loved. The love he felt for her was like nothing he'd ever felt before. Was she perfect? No, definitely not, she carried more emotional baggage than real luggage. She was wary, cynical and insecure, but she wasn't mean or selfish or flighty, and never dramatic. Why had he accused her of that?

The day after she left he had begun to miss her. He missed the phone calls and text messages they shared during his long days at work. He missed how it felt when he came home at the end of a day to find her there; filling his home with warmth and laughter, good food, and the gentle, caring heart she shared so generously with the children. He missed the mind-blowing sex that always left him aching for more. He had started off not trusting her because of Rheagan, and he couldn't pinpoint when that changed to loving who she was, despite her sister, but it was true. He loved her.

So many people had disappointed her, the people who were supposed to love her best never had, and, as a result, she never stayed anywhere long enough to form bonds of caring or love with anyone else. He didn't blame her, knowing what he knew now, but he knew he had to find a way to make her believe that he loved her and wouldn't disappoint her. That he would love her and April and be there for the long haul. He believed she felt something for him too, this couldn't be one-sided, he just had to make her listen and trust him.

He didn't want the traditional wife he had always claimed, he wanted her, and he wanted her to be able to have it all. He had the money and skill to organise the shit out of anything, there was no way he couldn't organise around her career as well as his own. He wanted her to have it all, a home and family and her career. He didn't want her to have to choose like she had been doing, or at least thinking she had to do with both April and him. Her career didn't have to be the 'be all and end-all' of her life.

Grayson walked into the emergency department seeking out a familiar face and found Roland. He tried to slow his movements and the turmoil he felt inside so as not to appear as if he, too, needed help from the staff here. Roland nodded and stood up, leading the way past emergency to a small waiting room where a middle-aged man sat looking tired alongside two uniformed policemen.

"This is Quinn's ex-brother-in-law, Grayson Ryde, he'll take over if you want to go and get some sleep," Roland said to Keith as if they were friends. The man eyed him suspiciously, and Grayson wondered what Quinn had said about him, if anything.

"Go see if you can talk to her, she's not responding to anyone else," Keith sighed. "I think they've sent for a psych consultant, because she's shut down so completely."

Grayson didn't wait to hear anything further. He barged into the room, anxious for the woman he thought he could love for the rest of his life. Rheagan was unrecognizable, her features swollen and bruised out of proportion with tubes and tape marring the once pretty face, but Grayson only had eyes for Quinn. She sat staring at her sister as if willing her to wake up.

"Quinn," Grayson knelt in front of her chair and gathered her into his arms. She was limp and seemed to stare right through him. "Quinn, where's April? You have to keep it together for April," he whispered. "You can't shut down, Quinn, April needs you, I need you. Come back to me!" he said with a little desperation in his voice.

"April is with the nanny, she's safe. Safer than Rheagan. She'd dead, you know, Rheagan, she's already gone. It's just the machines now, making her breathe, they want me to say it's okay to turn them off," she said woodenly. There was no emotion in her voice or features. It was the first time Grayson had ever seen her eyes so flat and lifeless.

"Are you ready to do that?" Grayson asked, making her look at him, as if only just seeing him for the first time since he entered the room.

"Why are you here, Grayson? Go home and look after your son," she stood then as if to walk out of the room.

"I'm here for you," he said as if that fact was perfectly obvious. He reached out to touch Quinn's arm, but she jerked it away. "No one should have to go through something like this on their own. I may have cursed your sister many times over, but even she didn't deserve this."

"Why do you even care? You made it clear you don't need or want this sort of drama in your life," she asked in a flat dead voice. There was no accusation, no hurt, no anger; she was just stating the fact in a dull, emotionless way.

"I was wrong, let me help you, Quinn," he tried again to reach out to her and she side-stepped him. "Come home. Bring her home to Ashton Hill to rest with her mother, I can help you. Let me help you."

"Go home, Grayson," she said coldly, and left the room seeking out the doctors.

Grayson looked back at the bed. What the hell happened? He wondered. He wouldn't have even known it was Rheagan except for the still gorgeous thick hair that she shared with Quinn. Aside from that, he didn't recognise anything about her. He needed to find out what happened and if Quinn was in any danger. He went in search of Roland.

He wasn't sure how he had missed the two burly policemen when he entered the emergency ward. They stood now talking to Quinn as Keith and Roland hovered protectively behind her. They spoke seriously, and he could see her nodding with the same flat, dull-eyed stare.

After handing April to Quinn, Rheagan had returned to the city and gone to the police with evidence about her lover's illegal business dealings. The police had suspected he was involved in several illegal arms and drug deals, but could never get enough evidence to arrest and prosecute. That was until a disgruntled Rheagan who wanted her freedom back showed up and offered the evidence they needed in return for protection and anonymity.

A series of successful raids had been carried out from her evidence over the last two weeks, which is why there was a bounty on her head. She was being escorted to a new location by undercover officers when they became involved in a high-speed chase, and the accident happened. The roundup of suspects and evidence from the raid allowed the police leeway to arrest the rich and powerful lover, but he was found dead from an apparent suicide in his office.

The police believed that there would be no further danger to either Quinn or the child she cared for, and that after the autopsy and investigation were complete, she could take her sister's body and effects. They gave her the names of several people to contact and the address of her sister's apartment in the southern city, as well as the corporate body details.

"Let me help you, Quinn," Grayson said gently once the police officers had gone and the doctor had been called to turn off the machines. "I want to help you through this."

Quinn nodded, saying nothing. She was numb; it was all too much to take in. The sister she both loved and hated had been trying to do the right thing, not for altruistic reasons, but, still, the right thing, and now she was dead. How was she supposed to process that? Should she cry? Should she feel something, anything aside from relief that it was over? All the stupid, selfish drama Rheagan had subjected her to her whole life was over. The only family she had now were two small children. She needed to go home and hold April, she needed to see Noah, but that meant letting Grayson back into her life. She should feel something, but she just felt numb, so she let him guide her back into the room as the machines keeping her sister alive were switched off.


Quinn rested her head against the cool glass of the bay window in which she sat. Still too stunned to cry and still feeling numb. People moved around the house on tiptoe and talked in hushed whispers, even April seemed subdued as she played on the floor. As if knowing Quinn was looking at her, she looked up and gave her a grin, holding up the doll she was playing with.

April was her daughter now, her responsibility. She had to pull herself together and do what needed to be done for that little girl. She couldn't keep her, not with her career, and, if she did keep her, how would she support them without her career? A part of her wanted to scream and hurl curses at her selfish, narcissistic sister, but mostly she just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep and not have to think at all.

Is this what an emotional meltdown felt like? For the first time since she had left home at the age of seventeen she didn't know what to do or how to act. Should she run or should she stay? Should she talk to Grayson and let him help her, or just send him away and do what needed to be done for April? She felt panic grip her at the thought of being responsible for such a sweet baby. She couldn't keep her, could she? Her indecision terrified her more than even the thought of giving up her life as she knew it to try and look after the baby that was essentially now her daughter.

"Hey there, sweetheart," Grayson's low tones roused her from her dark thoughts, and she turned her head to look at him as he leaned his big shoulder into the frame of the door to the small sitting room. He was so solid, so protective, she knew she could lean on him and he would look after her and April, they brought out his White Knight instinct, and that was who he was at his core. What she saw in Grayson's steady green eyes was not love, but his need to watch over and protect those around him.

Quinn took a steadying breath and placed her hand on the window. She'd loved this man and left him, she was still physically powerfully attracted to him, and she fought the urge to throw herself against him and let him take all her pain away, if only for a little while. She needed to stand on her own two feet. She had hoped the distance from him over the last week would have given her some clarity, but it had only made this moment worse. She wasn't what he wanted, and she didn't know what she wanted anymore.

"How are you doing, sweetheart?" He asked, and she felt a big familiar hand brush over her hair and settled on her neck, and she closed her eyes as she felt him kiss her forehead. She fought the urge to wrap her arms around his waist and just rest in the comforting warmth of him for a moment. She was exhausted emotionally and physically, and she still hadn't shed a tear.

"I'm..." she shrugged, trying to find the right word, Sad? Gutted? Whipped? "I'm okay," she said softly.

"Really? I feel like someone put me through the wringer," he sat beside her and reached out to tilt her face up to his. He stroked a thumb across her cheekbone and tilted his head. Even like this, she was so beautiful.

Quinn felt the familiar charge of skin on skin she had always felt with Grayson, and she almost leaned toward him, wanting nothing more than to rest her head on his chest and give in to that feeling. Instead, she pulled away. She had to make smart choices now, it wasn't just about her anymore, and this man didn't and couldn't love her, not the way she wanted, and she couldn't be what he wanted either.
"The autopsy will take a few days, I need to go and sort out Rheagan's apartment," she said in a stilted voice. "It's a managed apartment, so I will just clean out her personal effects and let them rent it out until I decide what to do."

"When?" he asked.

"Tomorrow, I'll fly down first thing and come back tomorrow night. April will be fine with Jocelyn," she said, quickly knowing he was judging her.

"I'll come with you," he said.

"No, I need to go alone," she shut him down quickly. "There's no danger now."

"And after that? After you have sorted out what remains of Rheagan's life?" He asked.

"The network offered me a new job. The executives don't want to send me overseas again, not for a while anyway," Quinn said woodenly. "It will still involve travel here in Australia, but it will allow me more creative license and a larger say in its development."

"What about April? How are you going to manage her and this new job?" he asked with a frown.

There is was, Quinn thought, the reason they could never truly be together, he believed in traditional roles for mothers and wives, and traditional was something she wasn't. She didn't know how she was going to manage, she didn't know if she was going to keep April.

"No!" Grayson said into the silence. "You can't possibly be thinking about giving that adorable little girl up!" he exclaimed as if reading her mind.

"She doesn't come with a trust fund, Grayson. I have to work. If I give up my job to keep her because she can't handle all the travel and hours I put in, then how do I support her?" she said reasonably.

"Come home with me," he stated.

"What, so I could be your employee and look after Noah as well as April, so you didn't have to bother finding a real nanny?" she asked incredulously. "You want me to work for you as your Nanny and housekeeper? Are you completely nuts!"

"Yes, no, probably. But I am also completely in love with you, and I am trying to find a way to make you stay with me. Don't run, Quinn, don't leave. We can find a way to work it all out, I promise," he said. He hadn't planned to have this conversation the day after her sister died, but here it was spilling out of his mouth and him not being able to do a thing to stop it.

Quinn didn't believe him. How could she believe him? She wasn't what he needed and wanted. He needed a woman focused solely on him and Noah, and, while she loved him, she knew she wasn't that woman, and one day he would wake up and realise that he had mistaken his need to protect her and April for love, and she couldn't bear that.

"We agreed to keep it unemotional, Grayson. You told me outright that I'm not what you wanted. You need a domestic goddess, a stay at home mum, a compliant wife," she accused.

"I'm pretty sure I never used the word compliant," he argued and rubbed his temples, showing his frustration. He'd put himself out there for her, and she was trying to brush him off. Still, he wasn't ready to give up just yet. "You are what I want, Quinn, I knew it the moment you walked out of my house. You once said that I deserve to be happy, well, you make me happy," he reached for her, and she stood to put distance between then again. "Stop running, Quinn! Be brave, embrace the life I'm offering you, love me back!"

Quinn was confused by all the emotions swirling around her at that moment as she looked up into his face. God, she wanted to believe him. She wanted to launch herself at him and yell "Yes, Yes, Yes"! But she couldn't, he wasn't thinking straight. He'd just seen the mother of his child die and was trying to look after her. That wasn't love.

"Don't do this," she sighed. "Not now, don't do this now." She didn't want to have to choose between him and her career. Or her career and April right now when she had so much to deal with. "Go home, Grayson, just go home and mourn Rheagan, so I can deal with the mess she had left behind, as usual."

"Let me help you! I can help you with everything," he said, seeing her push him away again. He'd put too much pressure on her, and now she was running again. "Don't run, because that's what you always do when things get too much to handle. Don't run from me this time."

"It's for the best, Grayson," she said sadly.

"I thought you were different to Rheagan!" he spat.

"I am!" she raised her voice incredulously.

"You took what I offered when it suited you, and as soon as things got a little complicated, a little too emotional, you ran. Just like you're running now!" Grayson accused.

"It's not like that, Grayson!" she was stunned by his outburst.

"Sure feels the same to me," he turned his back on her and strode over to the door, leaning his hand on the doorframe but not turning around. "I'll leave you alone now, Quinn. Just remember you wanted this, not me."


Chapter 8

Quinn sat in the living room of the couple who Rheagan had selected and started the adoption process with through her lawyer. The lawyer had explained that while Rheagan had wanted to give Quinn the option of adopting her April Fool, she knew that Quinn may not want the responsibility of a child and wanted to give her a choice.

Once she got through this she could get on with her life, Quinn sighed inwardly, watching April shake her rattle at a Siamese cat who batted at it with a dark paw, making the baby laugh. This was what April needed, a stable home with two reasonably well-off parents who would adore her. Giving up April to them was the right thing to do, she could never give her the home and family that this couple could. They were an excellent choice, with good careers and extended family supports, they were even open to allowing Quinn to visit occasionally and remain in her life as her Aunt.

She'd accepted the job at the network, with a stunning salary and the capacity to make this show her own. It had to be great, beyond great, and successful, because she was giving up everything she loved for the show and her career. She had to not just make it work, but make it hugely successful to be worth the heartache she felt at sacrificing so much. She placed a hand on her twisting stomach and counted off the sacrifices again; April's first steps, her first real words, her first day of school, her graduation, her wedding, her life.

As her mind filled with each vision of the future, she could see not only April but Noah, and in the background Grayson. She stared from April to the couple as she tried to focus on what she had to do, not what she wanted to do, but had to do. It was the best for everyone that she do this and move on. Grayson had walked out of her life ten days ago and hadn't contacted her since. It was over, no matter how she felt now.

"Quinn?" It was Linda who spoke. "Are you okay?"

"What? Yes? I..." Quinn spoke, coming out of her reverie. April turned at the sound of her voice and crawled toward her, climbing up her legs and holding a chubby little hand up to her.

"," She grinned, showing her two little teeth.

"Oh God, I'm sorry, I can't do this! I'm so, so, sorry, I thought I could, but she's mine!" Quinn said, scooping April up and holding her close as she came to her feet, her heart racing.

"We knew. We could tell when you walked in that you loved her too much," the disappointment in Sam's voice fed a dagger into Quinn's heart. "We hoped we were wrong, but, we understand." He said graciously.

"I never meant to hurt you by coming here, I'm so sorry!" she repeated and picked up the carryall and practically ran out of the house to her car. "I hope you find a baby soon, I really do!"

"Goodbye, Quinn, and thank you for not dragging this out, it could have been much worse for both of us if you'd gone through the process and then changed your mind."

"I'm so sorry," she said again, and watched them close the door on her. "Well, baby, what do we do now? I'm open to suggestions."

Sitting there in the perfect little house, with the perfect couple who would be the perfect parents for April, had made Quinn want it all for the first time in her life. She had told herself she didn't need love in her life, but she was wrong. She needed April and Noah, and even Grayson, and that cobbled together family they had in Ryder House. She wanted to be that woman, the wife and mother and lover, she'd even settle for the nanny at this point if he could forgive her and trust her again. She just wanted to be with them and around them again.

Yes, it probably meant giving up her career, but maybe there were other things she could do. She could write, maybe one of the magazine's the network was affiliated with would let her have a column, she didn't know until she tried. Giving up her dream job would be hard, but April was worth it, and Jocelyn had been a miracle find. Still, if she walked away from April, and even Noah because she was too scared to try, she knew she would regret it for the rest of her life.

The problem now was that she'd messed up so badly where Grayson was concerned. Instead of accepting his declarations of love and planting her feet beside him, she'd done exactly what her sister had done to him. She rejected him by running away. She'd fulfilled all his worst fears about her, and she was ashamed to admit she was just like Rheagan in that way. At the very least she owed him a face to face apology. At the very best, and if fate was in a good mood, maybe they could talk, and just maybe she could find a way back into his arms.

She knew now that she had been completely wrong, she did need love and intimacy in her life. More to the point, she needed Grayson in her life. He made her a better version of herself, stronger, smarter, well, in some ways, and happier.

"What do you think, April? Should we go and see Grayson so I can apologise for being so foolish?" Quinn asked and looked in her rear vision mirror. The baby was fast asleep, and Quinn took that as a sign that she had made the mess, she would have to be the one to fix it. She went home to change and let Jocelyn know where she was going.


Grayson came back downstairs after settling Noah for the third time that night. He was furious that Quinn had left him with a confused little boy who missed her and didn't understand why she had just disappeared. Not that he had helped the situation at all when she'd left just over two weeks ago. He certainly hadn't got his point across either that night or when he had told her that he loved her. He hadn't told her that he wanted her exactly how she was, that he didn't expect her to sacrifice anything for him, and that they could work around their careers and their family. He didn't need her to give up a thing for him; he had just wanted her to stay. He had just wanted one woman he loved to choose him, and the rest they would work out.

He walked into his living room and looked around. God, he needed this like a hole in the head. His brothers had arrived while he had been upstairs with Noah, and they sat all looking up at him as Roland passed him a glass of his favourite scotch. This was going to be painful; he could tell as he looked at their expectant faces and took a swallow of his drink.

"Alright, we've left you alone to wallow, but enough is enough. What are you going to do about her?" Thorn asked.

"Nothing," Grayson said belligerently. "She left. End of story. That's all folks," he said in a hard voice that didn't carry the flippancy of his words far.

"You can growl all you want," Caroline said from her place beside Byron. "But you have to be as desperate as we are to know if she gave April up and if she took the job offer."

"She's keeping April," Roland said casually, making them all turn to look at him, but Grayson narrowed his eyes at his oldest friend.

"How do you know?" he asked. "If Quinn kept April, she would have had to sacrifice her career, and she loves her job." Dammit, she could have had it all if she had just stayed with him.

"All I know is that she is keeping April. Why do you care anyway, you let her go?" Roland accused.

"She left. I told her I loved her and she still left, okay!" Grayson ground out the words. "How do you know she kept the baby?"

"No great secret of investigation. I just called Quinn earlier tonight and asked," Roland shrugged. He'd known she was meeting the prospective parents this afternoon and he'd wanted to know how it went. "She's not Rheagan, you know, she hasn't just cut everyone off."

"I know," he growled. His mind wandered to Quinn, as it always did, and visions of her played on the big screen in his head. He loved her, and his life was so empty without her in it. He'd ranted and raved and been mad when Rheagan had left him, but he hadn't felt this deep soul ache like part of him was missing. He knew damn well that Quinn was nothing like Rheagan. Rheagan had never had the power to hurt him the way Quinn had.

"Grayson!" Caroline screamed and got up, bolting from the room.

"What?" he looked around in confusion. Everyone had seemed to move. Roland gripped his hand and Thorn was leaning over him, picking pieces of glass off his chest. He looked at his palm, and a large piece of glass stuck out from a jagged angle, and he didn't feel it at all, he mused. Blood dripped from his hand to his jeans and the floor beside his boot.

"I'm going to pull this out, and then I think we might need to get you to the emergency room," Roland counseled, gripping the piece of glass embedded in his hand.

"Are you okay? Does it hurt?" Caroline asked, coming back with towels to clean up the scotch and blood. She placed one softly in his hand and closed his fist around it.

"Not as much as my heart does," he admitted.

"First things first, let's get you some stitches, and then you can fix your heart," Byron said, pulling his brother to his feet. "Caroline will stay and look after Noah," he offered.

"I should go see Quinn first, she's probably anxious and confused. Keeping April is a big deal," Grayson said.

"You just crushed a crystal glass in your hand, you moron, stitches first!" Thorn said, taking charge. Grayson was the undisputed leader of their family, but occasionally, when the situation arose, Thorn would fight his bull-headedness and nearly always win.

"Is there any point in arguing?" he looked at his family.

"You can, but it's not going to change the outcome," Thorn told him cheerfully.

"Remind me to kick your ass tomorrow," Grayson grumbled.

"You and whose army, sweetheart?" Thorn chuckled.

"Fools!" Grayson muttered, snatching up his phone and wallet from the side table. "Fools everywhere in my house!"

"Yes, and you're our king," Thorn pushed him toward the door. "Hand first, girl tomorrow." His hand hurt as much as his heart did now, and his brothers were giving him crap. Life was truly unfair.


Quinn was full of indecision; it had been after eight when she'd finally talked herself into believing it was the right thing to do. Twice on the long drive back to Ashton Hill her courage had faltered, and she had turned back, only to turn around again and continue. April slept soundly, despite Jocelyn's misgivings about taking her out and driving with her this late at night, but Quinn didn't want to be separated from her little April Fool, even for one night now that she had made the decision to be her mother. The baby might also act as a buffer between her and Grayson in case he couldn't forgive her. Surely he wouldn't send her and the baby away in the middle of the night.

It was close to eleven when she pulled her car around the back of the house. It was dark and quiet, and she frowned, he was normally such a night owl that she was surprised not to see any lights on downstairs. She let herself in with the backdoor key she hadn't returned when she left and breathed in the familiarity of the house. The sleeping baby in her arms was a dead weight, so she went up to the nursery, settling April into the cot and taking the baby monitor. She went in to check on Noah and leaned over to kiss his head, breathing him in too. She went into Grayson's room fully intending to slip into bed beside him and avoid any unnecessary explanation, but his bed was empty. 'So much for that fantasy,' she thought.

She crept down to the room that had been hers and found Caroline asleep. If Caroline was here looking after Noah, then where was Grayson? Maybe she should have called or at least asked Roland when he had called earlier instead of letting her indecision dictate her movements until she arrived here. She wondered if he was working? Out clubbing? On a date? Her heart clenched, and she wondered if she had left it too late to try and reconcile her bad behaviour with Grayson. What if he came home with a woman? What would she do? What if he came home alone but didn't want to talk? What if he didn't love her anymore? She sat on the stairs, facing the door, going through a million and one what if's.

Her courage started to fail her again, and she was about to run upstairs to get April and go home when the door swung open, and Grayson walked in with Byron.

"You're here?" he asked as if not believing it was really Quinn sitting on the staircase.

"My God! What happened? Are you okay?" Quinn got up and moved forward seeing his bandaged hand.

"He crushed a scotch glass with his bare hand. The man has a temper," Byron rolled his eyes at his brother. "He did a good job of slicing his hand open, so he had a bunch of stitches. Here," he passed her a bottle of pills. "He'll need two of these in the morning. That is, if you're planning on being here in the morning. Are you?"

"I was intending on being here," she said, tentatively looking at Grayson who hadn't said a word after his initial shocked comment.

"Are you planning to stay this time?" Byron probed.

"If Grayson wants me to. He might not after the last time we saw each other," she said quietly showing her insecurity.

"Go find your wife!" Grayson growled at his brother, who turned an amused look on him.

"I thought I might make coffee for us all," Byron countered with a grin.

"Go!" Grayson growled, never taking his eyes off Quinn's face.

"Did you mean that?" he demanded.

"About staying? Yes," she said softly. "If you still want me here."

"I can't think of anything I want more," he murmured and kissed her. "We need to talk, but first," he hooked his arm under her ass and lifted her so she could straddle his hips and then carried her up the stairs. He kissed her deeply and possessively as he walked. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips. Sex had never been their problem. He shed his inhibitions and much of his calm demeanour with his clothes and possessed her with almost forced control that made her putty in his hands. He placed her on her feet beside the bed and stepped back, staring at her with a dangerous look in his eyes that made her worry that something was wrong.

"You left me," he stated as his hands unbuttoned his shirt. "You ran away, and I had thought better of you. Had wanted better from you," he stated in a hard tone as he shrugged his shirt off. "I told you I loved you and you ran anyway." It was an accusation, and Quinn knew it.

"I'm sorry. I owe you a better apology than that, I know. I was wrong, I've been such a fool," Quinn admitted, piecing together all the threads in her mind as she tried to return his stormy gaze. She took a step back as he advanced on her.

Her perfectly round breasts that fit just right in his palms were moving up and down under her white blouse, showing her nervousness. Through the low neckline, he could watch her cleavage rise and fall just below the expanse of her long pale neck. She tilted her head up and straightened herself under his slowly smouldering stare as if she knew what he was thinking. Her pulse pounded in her throat, and he smiled in a predatory way.
"You look nervous," he said.

"The way you're looking at me. You have every right to be mad, but..." she began, but he reached out to cup her chin, effectively silencing her.

"But you're sorry and now you have come back to me," he stated and pressed forward to kiss her roughly, making her legs weak. "Tell me you came back because you know you belong here with me. Tell me you belong to me." He murmured close to her ear. "Tell me you are mine!" he demanded.

"Gray, I..." she said tentatively, her voice showing her apprehension. Sex with him had always been hot and aggressive, and, yes, even controlling, but this seemed even more amped up than when they had been at the height of their insatiability for each other. Still, she felt her body responding to his demands. "I came back for you, and the kids, for this family. I want to be here, with you." She watched as he stripped off his pants and underwear and stood before her, beautifully naked. Her mouth watered and she went to reach for him. He grabbed her and turned her so that her back was to him and pressed up against her, contouring to her body.

"Quinn," he murmured in her ear. His tongue traced the lobe, flicking slowly at the innermost part. "When are you going to realise..." he bent her forward and pressed her over the edge of the bed, following her down and covering her with his body. He pressed her hands into the bed with his own. He knew full well what he was doing and allowed himself a small smile as all her anxieties gave way to need and desire. She squirmed and moaned, pressing back against his cock with the same need and desire he had for her at that moment. He reached under their bodies for her breasts. He cupped each one in hand, holding them firmly, then thrusting against her still covered ass, "Realise that you belong to me!"

She could feel his arousal pressing hard against her rounded ass. The feel of him hard and strong against her made her moan softly and squirm, wanting to feel more. She never would have believed that a man could treat her like this during sex, and she would get off on it, but she couldn't deny that her body sang under his hands and voice. His grip on her chest became harder. He reached for her nipples through the thin lace of her bra and pinched them into painful points. His legs covered her own and held her in place. She was bent to his contours and helpless against the hard arousal running back and forth against her ass cheeks. The intensity of the moment made her moan deeply. Yes, she was his.

It was all he needed. He took his hands and ripped her shirt open in a quick jerk, leaving her in the small white lace bra. She moved as he took her shirt off, but he pressed her back down to the bed with a hand on the small of her back. The other hand moved to flip her skirt up over her ass. He fingered her small lace panties, then slipped two fingers inside against the warm wet mound he was pressing into the edge of the bed.

Quinn heard him make a guttural sound somewhere between a growl and a groan. The sound he made was possessive and masculine when he discovered just how hot and wet she was. Her mind may have had second or third thoughts, but her body knew where she belonged. Spreading her legs apart, he inserted his first two fingers inside of her while his thumb rubbed at the swollen button of her clit. He took this time to undo her bra with his free hand, as his fingers began to pick up their pace, working purposely inside of her. She nearly lost her mind there and then as sensations ran through her body in response to him. He knew her so well. She found herself pressing against him. The nervous energy she had built up coming here and then waiting for him had turned into an electrical current of passion. He was slowly drawing her to the edge of her madness in her need to cum.

"Tell me," he said in a low murmur somewhere near her ear. She could feel his chest just inches off her back. His fingers continued their sweet torture on her body. His free hand was stroking the middle of her back.

Quinn made a sound like a gasp and a groan from the bed. She could only focus on the pleasure that was being brought up inside of her.

Grayson's hand became more determined working in and out of her body, his other hand gripping a hip and pulling her ass off the bed higher against his own hard cock. "Tell me, Quinn, that you're mine, now and forever." His thumb was pressing harder in small circles against her throbbing clit. His other hand moved to open her pussy wider as his arousal slid against the back of her ass. He knew she was close to climaxing. He felt her tighten on his fingers. He felt the exact moment her body began to tremble.

"The words Quinn. Say it!" he demanded more forcefully.

Quinn clutched at the bedspread and tried to focus. She opened her mouth to say yes and found herself on the verge of an intense climax instead. At the same moment, he removed his hands, placed them on her hips and held her there. She whined loudly, gasping at the denial. In her aroused state, she could barely put the words together, but managed to force out; "I'm yours."

The words were soft and panted, but it was all Grayson needed to hear before he let himself go. Quickly he lifted her hips and thrust himself completely into her wet pussy. When he found himself buried to the hilt, she let out a loud gasping cry that sang to him. He began his possession. Slowly and firmly he fucked her. Pulling out nearly completely, then thrusting hard and grinding inside.

"Open your eyes," he said as he picked up the pace. "I want you to take in every minute detail of this night." His thrusts were harder than ever before. Her feet bounced off the floor at each impact. "I want you to feel me like this each time you have doubts or itchy feet." The passionate assault continued, building in an intensity that took them both by surprise. Grayson bit at her shoulders; gripped at her hands and marked his possession of her with his words at each thrust of their bodies against the bed.

The words "you're mine" became a chant of pleasure as he fucked her hard and steady, the only interruption to the chant was Quinn's own cries. They were cries of passion and of a deep sense of knowing that he was right. She had left him, but she had craved his body. Her body and its passions were claimed solely by the man thrusting so forcefully inside of her.

As he rode his way to bliss, his hands searched beneath her for her clit again. Pinching it between his fingers, he thrust himself hard and deep, roaring as he came, and Quinn found her own release with him wedged deep inside her. He held her under him as she bucked and rocked in an earth-shattering climax. He held her there long after she had collapsed completely under his thighs.

Rolling himself to the side, he stared at her as he caught his breath. She watched him in return; dazed by their encounter for the moment. His jaw was still twitching. There was still anger in his eyes.

He pulled her completely on top of him. With his hands, he pressed her ass down to cover his still hard cock. He kissed her hard as he held her there, and then pulled her up by her hair to meet his eyes. They were hot with jealous passion and made her melt inside. "Don't ever try to leave me again!" he demanded in a husky voice.

"I know we said that we would only be friends, and I tried to not fall in love, but I couldn't help it. I know that I'm not beautiful, and I never expected you to return my feelings." Quinn said softly. "In the beginning, when we made it clear that we were only friends, I think I started loving you then, and couldn't admit it. I was so determined to keep my independence, my career, to never let anyone close enough to hurt me." Her voice dropped on the last words to a bare whisper. She shut her eyes as she made her confession, not wanting to see his intense stormy eyes search hers.

Grayson felt the knot in his chest ease as he heard Quinn's words. He couldn't take his eyes from her. She was even more beautiful than in his dreams of her. He shook his head as he heard her say she wasn't. She was wrong, so wrong. Silently, he glided his fingers over her scars, cheek, and neck, her side and her hip.

"To me, you are so beautiful, you are all I have ever wanted, and these," he traced the largest scar, "just make you more so," he said huskily, watching as she opened her eyes again to look at him. He brushed a loose strand of hair from her face and allowed his hand to linger in a tender caress. "Quinn, I've made many mistakes in my life, but never one as bad as letting you leave this house and me," he said, his eyes softening with mistiness. "I've missed you every minute since that night. You've haunted my dreams and my waking hours." He made his own confession and lifted her hand to his lips.

"I broke our agreement too, Quinn. I've wanted and probably loved you since the moment I met you." He kissed her and wrapped her in a tight embrace. The feel of her in his arms, her scent and the silky cascade of her hair on his skin washed away the pain of missing her and the aggression with which he still needed to possess her and make her promise to stay always. This is what he craved, more than food, more than air, more than life itself. His body was responding to her again, and he could feel himself hardening back to full mast as he deepened the kiss. His tongue was gentle this time as he probed her lips, and she readily granted it entrance to the sweetness of her mouth.

Quinn moaned softly at this gentle side of Grayson as his tongue caressed hers. She could feel her need and desire flare along with his, desires she'd only be able to ease while fantasising, alone in her bed. When Grayson finally broke the kiss, she was breathless.

Grayson crushed Quinn against him, hungrily kissing along her jaw and down the slim, creamy column of her throat. The scent of her filled his head, and he stroked his hands over her body. She was more than beautiful, she was perfect. The softly rounded curves of her body seeming to draw his hands to it. He slid his hands down her back, cupping the cheeks of her ass. His lips moved down from her throat to the twin mounds of her breasts. Her moans and gasps of pleasure made his desire grow even more, and when she trailed her nails over his bare chest, he responded with a low growl of pleasure.

She reached down and took his rock-hard cock in her hand, slowly stroking. She gasped as he moved her slightly so that his teeth lightly scratched the sensitive nipples of her breasts, sending shivers of enjoyment through her.

Grayson took the full, hardened nipple of one breast in his mouth. He traced his tongue over the sensitive surface, smiling as he felt Quinn catch her breath and then moan happily at his actions. When he felt her grasp his cock, the wave of sensations that raced through him caused him to lightly scrape his teeth against the warm globe that filled his mouth and bite it harder than he had meant to at first, making her cry out.

Unable to resist anymore, Grayson rolled Quinn off him to her back, following her progress so he hovered over her. Then his mouth traced a path from her throat to the small blond strip of curls that sat above her sex. He shifted so that he could plant soft kisses along the tender inner part of her thighs, slowly moving ever closer to her pussy. The scent of her arousal was intoxicating to him.

Quinn writhed as Grayson's lips and tongue teased her. The coolness of his lips against the hot flesh of her thighs made her shiver. When at last she felt the soft caresses of his tongue against her clit, she gasped and clawed at the sheets in delight. Slowly he increased the speed and pressure of his mouth over her clit and added his fingers to the wet mess that was her hot pussy. She felt her entire body tensing in anticipation of the orgasm she could feel building. Her breath came in shallow gasps, and she moaned in pleasure as wave after wave of exquisite sensation swept through her, building higher and higher. She called Grayson's name as her body shook in spasms of release.

Kneeling, Grayson lifted Quinn's legs to allow him easier access to her. He could see her muscles still contracting when he slid the head of his cock into her. He felt the soft, warm, wetness on the sensitive head of his cock and he closed his eyes, hissing with the pleasure it provided. Slowly he pushed into her until his full length was deep inside her.

Quinn had barely recovered from her orgasm when she felt Grayson thrust into her. She arched her back, allowing him full access to her as he buried himself in her completely. She closed her eyes, relishing how he filled her completely. She gasped again as he began to move, slowly, at first, but with increasing speed and force, and she again felt her body climbing toward an explosive climax. She arched upward, baring the smooth column of her neck to him and reached up to pull his mouth down to it.

Grayson could no longer contain his need, the gentleness with which he had been making love to her fell away, and he began to pound into her, taking her and possessing her, claiming her as his own for the second time that night. As he neared the need for his own release, he focused on Quinn's eyes with his own and heard her cry out for him again.

"Quinn!" he growled as he came again and collapsed onto her and lay there panting and holding her tightly.


Chapter 9

Grayson and Quinn had lain awake talking and making love a third time that night, with Quinn instigating the scene by scooting down his body and coaxing his cock back to life with her talented mouth and tongue. After the third rush of endorphins, she had collapsed, exhausted, from a huge high into a deep sleep.

He knew she wouldn't be leaving his bed tonight while he slept, or any other night from now on for that matter, and, concerned for the kids, he went and put on some boxer shorts and got one of his jerseys for Quinn. When he couldn't wake her, he sat her up and pulled it over her head, pulling it down her body. Climbing back into bed, he turned his head to watch her, as if to be sure she wouldn't disappear on him again. He fell into a light doze, content that everything was finally right in his world. He felt like he'd just closed his eyes when Noah wandered in and, as he usually did, climbed over Grayson and flopped onto the bed, snuggling up on the big pillows.

"Dad!" he whispered. "Aunty Quinn's in your bed!"

"Yeah, buddy, don't wake her up. Try to go back to sleep for a little while," Grayson said, cracking one eye open as he spoke to his son in hushed tones. "She'll be here in the morning, I promise." He didn't make promises to his son lightly, and Noah seemed to accept his words and burrowed into the pillows beside his father. Grayson placed a hand on his son's back and felt his breathing slow as he fell back to sleep. He closed his eyes once again and groaned minutes later as he rolled from the bed, taking the baby monitor with him as he went to get April. He changed her, fixed her a bottle, and went back to bed, cradling her in the crook of his arm as he closed his eyes again.

Quinn woke, slowly blinking her eyes. Her body ached, and she smiled, Grayson and sex all night long. She had no complaints, except maybe that she was here and he wasn't touching her. She rolled over to remedy that situation, her hand reaching out, but instead of landing on Grayson's hard muscled body, she encountered the small flannelette pyjamas of Noah. She immediately glanced down at her chest and saw she was wearing one of Grayson's jerseys and breathed a sigh of relief.

Confused, she lifted her head and leant up on her elbow to look across Noah to where Grayson lay on his back with April lying on his chest. April's face was tucked into the crook of his neck, and he wore a heavy stubble which contrasted with her fine fair hair. His large hand rested on her back protectively. Quinn rested her head on her hand and tried to work out how, sometime between falling asleep and now, both she and Grayson had found clothes and the bed they had made love in had been invaded by two little people.

"Welcome to family life," Grayson murmured without opening his eyes.

"When did they wake up?" she asked. "I didn't even hear them."

"Noah wandered in about five, and April woke up about six," he answered in a rough growly murmur.

"You should have woken me, I would have gone to April," she whispered.

"You didn't even stir when I poured you into my shirt," he gave a soft chuckle. "But I have a few idea's on how you can make it up to me," he forced his eyes open and turned to look at Quinn with a heated gaze.

Quinn blushed and opened her mouth to make a witty retort, but she had nothing, Grayson was six foot something of pure masculine power, and she could have believed at that moment that he truly did fuck her brains out last night. She smiled and blushed at the thought and the look he was giving her, as if he planned to do it again as soon as possible. She'd be a walking zombie if this continued.

She was about to get up and go to the bathroom and put some underwear on when April opened her eyes and smiled at her. She reached out her little arm and then began to crawl across the sleeping Noah to get to Quinn, who scooped her up and held her close.

"Good morning, baby," Quinn crooned and kissed the little girl who tangled her arms around her neck and into her thick hair, happily leaning into her chest as Quinn stroked her back. Quinn breathed in her baby smell, feeling a wash of love breaking over her.

"Where was my good morning baby and kiss?" Grayson grumbled. "I see how it is around here."

"Morning, Baby," she said with an exaggerated sigh, making her voice husky as she fixed him with a look that told him all he needed to know.

"Much better," he smiled. "I'm going to call Mother and tell her she's on kid duty today. Last night was amazing, but we really need to talk."

"Okay," she said, trying to hide the fear and insecurity that bubbled up from somewhere dark inside her. "Did you mean what you said last night?"

"Are you doubting me? After last night?" he asked, feeling his stomach drop. She was getting ready to run, and he knew he had to stop her.

"I'm scared," Quinn whispered, looking from him to the door. "Scared it will all evaporate, that you will wake up and realise that you've made another mistake. That you're confused about what you want and the compromise for me will eventually be too much."

"Quinn, I've barely slept because I have been thinking about our future. I've been working out the logistics of all the adoptions that need to take place, me to adopt April, you to adopt booth April and Noah. I wondered if Jocelyn would come here or if the women mother shortlisted from the agency would be available. I was thinking I could talk to mother about babysitting one night a week so we could actually have a date night. I also need to run to work this morning to pick up a few things we will need. Does that sound like I'm confused or doubting that this is the best thing for all of us, not just me?" Grayson pushed his hand through his hair and reached out to take her hand. "Believe me, I am not confused about what I want. What do you want, Quinn?"

"I came back because I wanted you, and them, and this," she admitted. "But, if I'm honest, I want it all. I love my career, and I want this new opportunity they're offering me, but if I have to make a choice, then this, this is what I want."

"You think I want a compliant stay at home mother for a wife, a wife who knows her place?" he asked, hating that she felt she had to make that choice.

"I know it's not feasible or realistic for me to still want a career," she shrugged. "You were pretty clear about what you wanted."

"I was wrong, Quinn. I thought that would make me happy, but it's you, Quinn, you make me happy. If you want to take the job, take it. I insist you take, it if that is what you honestly want to do," he said.
"I could do a lot of the work remotely, but I'd have to travel now and then. I could be away for up to a week every month, that's a lot of time," Quinn explained.

"Our relationship doesn't have to be about sacrifices. Think of it as a compromise and being organised, and I have enough money and know-how to organise the hell out of any situation. I never intended for you to give up your career when I told you I loved you and asked you to come home. We can work this out, our careers, the nanny's, the kids, the travel. Trust me," he said, picking her hand up and brushing his lips over her knuckles. "I don't expect you to sacrifice such a big part of who you are for me."

Clothes on, Grayson, calm, reserved, with an everything can be worked out attitude, she smiled to herself. She wanted to believe him so badly, but couldn't get the words out to say anything as she felt her eyes mist.

"You're not going to leave me again, are you, Quinn?" he asked seriously.

"No," she shook her head, and a tear ran down her cheek. "I'm so sorry, Grayson, so sorry for everything I put you through."

"I plan to spend a lot of time letting you make that up to me," he grinned. "and making my mistakes up to you. Why don't you go and shower, and then we can plan the rest of our lives over breakfast?" He took April from her arms. "Go quickly before your second biggest fan wakes up, and you have to listen to everything that happened over the last two weeks before your shower."

"I'm looking forward to that," she grinned and looked down at the still sleeping little boy. "I'm looking forward to all of it," she leaned over and kissed him. "Thank you, Grayson. Thank you for not giving up on me."


Chapter 10

Ten months later.

Two days before her wedding, Quinn signed for a package and walked back into the house to the kitchen. There was something familiar about the ribbon it was tied with. It was bright blue with a white scalloped edge, almost like the ones Rheagan had always worn in her hair when she went to school.

She sat at the kitchen counter and took a sip of her rapidly cooling coffee, wondering about it as she plucked a pair of scissors from the messy kitchen drawer. She snipped the ribbon and cut open the tough plastic express post envelope and slipped a box from it. Opening the lid, she found a small note folded in half.

"Hello Quinn,

In what world could you ever replace me? You were always a jealous bitch, but marrying my ex and bringing up my children? Have some self-respect and walk away before you regret it.


Horrified, she looked into the box and pulled out what looked like a flat board. She turned it over and dropped it as a picture of Grayson and Rheagan from their engagement party smiled back at her. Two other photos were in the box, Rheagan, with Noah as a baby, and Rheagan, with April as a baby. Each was framed and decorated with the same ribbon that had been tied around the parcel.

She sat there just staring at the photos and note. She should call Grayson, the police, Roland, someone. She should do something other than just sit there and stare at it. She should... what? Walk away because her dead sister told her to?

No, she couldn't and she wouldn't, and she wasn't as alone as she had always been before finding love. She picked up her phone and dialled Grayson and asked him to come home, assuring him that the kids were fine. She called Roland, who she knew was in town early for the buck's party and wedding and asked him to come over. Then she called the police and told Clint she had received a strange and threatening parcel and wondered if he could stop by on his rounds.

She closed her eyes and breathed. It was a year to the day since the last time her sister had sprung a surprise on her. "Happy April Fool's Day, Rheagan, but this isn't funny." she said to the ghost of her sister. This was just a sick and twisted prank, and she had probably just over reacted by calling Grayson and the others.

"I am not going to put up with your shit anymore, Rheagan!" Quinn yelled into the empty house, glad that Jocelyn had taken April to the park to give her some wedding planning time. "I'm better than you, stronger, and tougher and more loved than you will ever be by this family!" she looked down at the photos again and knew it was true. She didn't have to replace Rheagan, because her sister was never truly here.

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