The doors unlocked, so I moved before she could.
She was running around the car. Abruptly halting in front of me, she had to catch her breath. She tried to get between Nova and me, but I was already leaning in and starting to unbuckle my daughter.
“Let me. Please. I—just let me take her.”
I moved, placing two hands on her shoulders. I could feel her entire body shaking. “Emily.” I moved my face so I could see her eye to eye. She gulped. Her eyes were bugging, moving all over the place. “I’m not saying this to be insulting, but you are not capable of carrying my daughter right now. I am calm. You are not. Aspen is equally calm as well.”
“I am. I totally am.”
I was trying to steady this nanny just by my touch. “Quincey is coming. She won’t be long behind you, but until she does, I’m going to let Aspen carry Nova inside. You can stay with her at all times, but my sister will be holding my daughter. I’ll be bringing in all the bags. Okay?”
She looked ready to argue.
I was going to have to be firmer. “There’s no area to discuss this where the outcome is any different. I’m sorry, but I won’t allow you to touch my daughter in your current state. Hell, you probably shouldn’t have even been driving her. What I’m trying to say is that you need to settle first.”
Aspen stepped up. “Hey. How about we do this? You and I walk inside together, and Nate will bring Nova? We can all hang out until Quincey arrives with the rest of the stuff.” She flashed me a gentle smile, her eyes flashing as she took hold of the nanny and began to usher her backward and out of my hold. “There’s no hurry with the bags. We can carry them in later; all we need is Nova and a diaper bag.”
She was right.
Emily was letting herself get walked inside, but at the door, she cast another worried look over her shoulder.
I dipped my head down. “I got Nova. I’ll be right in.”
Turning, Nova had her penguin half stuffed into her mouth.
I chuckled, bending down and undoing the seat belts. Lifting my little girl in my arms, I welcomed her, and I smelled her little smell. Baby wipes. That shit should be sold as perfume. I juggled her up and down, just a little bit, and she started giggling, thrusting the penguin at my face.
“Hey, hey. What’s this? I thought we were friends?”
“Ayayayay mmmbubueeel penna.”
“Yep. I so agree.”
It wasn’t much longer before an SUV’s lights hit the house, and they pulled up next to Quincey’s car.
Aspen had shown Emily to the area of the house where Quincey would be living. She came back, moving to my side as I was bouncing Nova up and down in front of me.
“You know she can walk on her own, right?”
I flashed a grin at my sister. “I know, but then she’ll be running, and I’m a new-enough dad that I just want to hold her. She’s letting me hold her, so leave me alone. These days are not going to last.”
Aspen chuckled. “You’re already so wise, Ancient One.”
“Watch it.” But I was grinning, and so was she.
She got serious. “Val’s ex? Did you hear back from your PI?”
I grunted, getting real serious myself. “Too many strikes against him, he’s going away for a long time.”
“That’s something then.”
“Yeah.” It was, but for thirteen months he’d been near Nova when I hadn’t a clue.
I hated that shit, but there wasn’t anything to say, not anymore.
We moved back to watching Quincey and her friend, whom I had only heard about, move toward the house. Both seemed emotional. Quincey was blinking back tears. Her friend looked like she was holding back some, too, but they seemed a bit steadier than the nanny.
“They don’t look as bad as Emily.”
I grunted. “Duke Royas is going to have the police here within the hour.”
“You want me to get Logan?”
Mason had to return to Boston long ago for his practices, but we all decided Logan should stay, and it was for this phase. Duke was going to throw everything he had available at us, but we had Nova. And now we had Quincey.
“I think this is why Valerie did what she did.”
It was just coming to me now.
Aspen frowned at me. “What?”
I was watching Quincey and her friend starting to load up with bags before carrying them inside.
I stated, “She wanted me to get her away from him. She knew I’d move heaven and hell for Nova, but she wanted Quincey to stay with her. That’s why she left Nova to this aunt.”
Aspen sucked in her breath. “What a risk, though.”
“No.” No. It was ingenious, and something Valerie would do. Regret burned through me, but I let out a sigh. “Asp, I need you to entertain your niece for a while.”
“Finally! I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
After transferring Nova over to Aspen’s arms, I went and opened the door just as they were about to open it themselves.
Quincey and her friend blinked at me, startled.
I grinned. “You really thought we wouldn’t be watching for you?”
Quincey ducked her head, but I saw her cheeks were flushed. The friend was gawking at me. Chuckling, I moved and hit a buzzer by the door. A second later, Logan’s voice came over the intercom. “You rang, Your Highness?”
“They’re all here now.”
He was silent for a beat, then all business. “Coming down.”
Quincey and her friend took the bags farther into the house, then set them down. Quincey was eyeing Aspen, who was on the floor with Nova, but then she straightened and rounded right into me.
I caught her shoulders, feeling her tense as she gasped.
My hands curled around her. I couldn’t stop myself, but I was refraining from pulling her into my chest. Instead, my hand grazed down her arm, to her hand, and I took her keys from her. I ignored her friend’s little chuckle as I stepped back. “Make yourself comfortable.”
Hearing Logan’s footsteps coming down the hallway, I motioned as he came within eyesight. “We’ll carry everything in. Aspen can show you where you’ll be staying.”
Logan raised a hand. “Yo. Armed and ready for some fireworks.”
The friend groaned. “Again. They all look like that?”