BEHIND THE COVER
AN EXCERPT FROM OWNED
Nick nudged at the bassinette at his foot that held baby Axl. Not Rose, Axl William Adams Scotsman, the charge of Chloe and his former bandmate Snake. At least Axl was asleep, which meant he couldn’t call Nick “Da” for the moment.
Creepy as fuck. And a little bit cute, but still creepy.
“I’m not pouting.” Yeah, it kind of sucked he was certain Lila was referring to his pouting and not the babies. “Much.”
“Yes, you are, and may I remind you that Axl was a last minute addition? You could’ve told Chloe no.”
“It’s just a couple hours so she can go to a movie. No big deal.” Or it wouldn’t be, if he stopped bitching. “She already pays for a sitter so she can go to work every day. You know she has no family left.”
“I do. I also know you’re sweet on that kid and won’t admit it.”
Nick glanced up, prepared to have to defend himself against claims of Axl adoration when he caught the gleam in Lila’s eyes as she juggled bottle and squirming baby. Toddler now, as evidenced by the fact that when Dylan launched himself off her lap, he shambled like a drunk across the room to seize Spot, the cat.
And the cat’s tail.
Spot hissed and hightailed it under the couch, and Dylan immediately fell on his overall-clad butt and started to laugh.
At least someone was amused by Lila’s cat.
Nick glanced at Axl, who was slurping contentedly on his bottle with his eyes half closed. Dylan tended to run around like a lunatic and other than the occasional glance, Axl seemed to pay him no mind.
“He’s not a bad baby,” Nick said finally. “As babies go.”
“No, he isn’t.”
“Anyway, you were the one who told Chloe we could take care of both of them. You don’t even like Chloe.”
“That’s not true.” But her eyebrows pinched together, meaning hell yes, it was so true.
Not that Nick fully blamed her, considering how Chloe had inadvertently caused some early strife in their relationship, though that fault belonged strictly with Lila’s PI-hiring stepson. Nick had never raised the subject of Michael’s inappropriate interest with Lila, because she would’ve raised a similar line of inquiry about Chloe—who Nick had, in fact, banged one single time way back in the dark ages of high school. It simply wasn’t worth the trouble.
Relationships were all about picking one’s battles. Since Michael didn’t seem to be harboring feelings in Lila’s direction now—or was smart enough to hide it when Nick could kick his ass—there was no point in dredging up old issues.
“Okay, let’s say you do like Chloe, which you do not, but let’s pretend. You still were the nice one who said she could drop off her baby and go watch some chick flick.”
“She’s a young mother. She deserves time to herself now and then. Besides, he’s so cute.” Lila scooped up Axl and dislodged the bottle from between his lips, therefore disrupting the baby harmony. He let out a howl that made Dylan’s eyes go wide as he again toddled to his feet.
“Had to do that, didn’t you?” Nick muttered, grabbing the remote. There was only one thing that would settle down the troops.
He surfed to the kids’ channel and some cartoon show about trains was on. Good enough. Dylan promptly fell back to his butt, in a near catatonic state as he stared unblinkingly at the TV.
On Lila’s lap, Axl continued to fuss.
Nick sighed. “Give him to me.”
Lila lifted a brow. “You think you can soothe this child better than I can?”
“I know it.” He didn’t want to sound smug, but some truths were self-evident. “The boy is a born rock and roller. I have ways of making him calm down you can’t imagine.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh, it’s so.” Nick made a gimme gesture with his hands. “Hand over the kid.”
She rose from the armchair and carted Axl over to Nick, placing him in Nick’s arms as gently as she might lay down a feather. But Axl was already bumping his butt and flailing his hands, because he knew what was coming next.
“Okay, okay, hang on. Gotta get you in position.” Nick picked him up and set him in a semi-sitting up, semi reclining pose against the pillow at the other end of the couch. Lila made a noise, already moving forward to guard him so he didn’t take a header off the side of the sofa.
Nick pretended to strum an imaginary guitar. That was all it took.
Axl squealed and pushed at Lila’s hands, his attention riveted as Nick launched into a rocking rendition of “Birthday” by the Beatles, complete with air guitar. Lila just stared.
Even the cartoon-catatonic Dylan inched closer to watch, his big blue eyes growing wider with every passing second. Clearly, he recognized what Nick was doing, since Dylan’s own father toted around a guitar as if it was an additional appendage.
When Nick finished, Dylan clapped his hands and Axl gave a toothless grin and bounced up and down. Nick recognized what he wanted.
More, more, more.
“You’re relentless, kid.” Shaking his head, Nick launched into another song that he’d discovered through trial and error that Axl enjoyed. “Fight for Your Right” by the Beastie Boys made Axl’s eyes wheel in his head and Dylan toddle forward to bang his chubby hands on the edge of the cushions.
When Nick finished, he glanced at Lila. She had her fist pressed to her mouth and appeared to be in physical distress.
“They like it,” he said uncertainly, wondering if he’d violated some essential child-rearing tenet without even knowing it.
No pleasure gained from rock music until at least kindergarten, unless you want the kid to end up in a band with a Mohawk and a joint clamped between his lips by the age of sixteen.
she’s screaming at men’s college basketball games on TV, playing her music too loud or causing trouble. Sometimes simultaneously.