Authors: Sami Lee
A Man Like Mike
A Man Like Mike
Corporate professional Eve O’Brien needs a crash course in parenting when her dearest friend Jacinta and her husband die, naming her sole guardian of their baby son Bailey. As if bright orange goo on her business shirts and terminal exhaustion aren’t enough to deal with, Bailey’s uncle shows up, insisting on being part of his nephew’s life. Roguishly handsome with a devil-may-care attitude, Mike Wilcox is always first with a quip or a flirtatious smile. When he breezily suggests he move in with her temporarily, Eve sees no way to refuse, as the cottage in which she lives was left to Mike by his late brother.
On the surface, Mike seems like the perfect housemate. He’s a successful chef, so Eve’s diet goes from fast food to five star overnight, and he effortlessly takes on daytime care of his nephew, while working at a local restaurant in the evenings. But he wears muscle- hugging T-shirts and makes the cottage seem like a home, things that appeal to Eve more than she cares to admit.
A lonely, neglected child, Eve has learned to rely only on herself, but having Mike around soon makes her want to believe things can be different. How can she trust a man who’s lived life by the seat of his pants to stick around for the long haul?
Sami Lee has been, in order: a secretary, sales assistant, bartender, waitress, student, tutor, human resource manager and administration officer, but at heart she’s always been a writer. She lives on the outskirts of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia with her husband and two stupendous daughters, where she spends her days juggling family life with work and writing, and frittering away far too much time on social media. Sami is multi-published in contemporary erotic romance, and is now enjoying writing sweet, romantic stories for Escape Publishing.
Many thanks to Kate Cuthbert for helping me start along this new path.
This book is for my daughters
who are so patient with me as I learn how to be a mother
I love you more than you’ll ever know
Thank you for letting me share your lives
It is also for my mother
who taught me so many things I needed to know
before I knew I needed to know them
You shouldn’t have to skim too much of this one, Mum
“You’re freaking out, Eve. I can see it in your eyes.”
“I’m not freaking out.” Eve O’Brien caught sight of her best friend’s sceptical look and sighed. “Okay, I’m freaking out. Do you really have to do it, Jace? I mean, why
“Because it’ll be fun,” Jacinta Drysdale-Wilcox stated, as Eve should have known she would. How many times as they were growing up had she used those very words to justify doing something wild and irresponsible? More times than Eve could count without taking off her shoes. “More people die in road accidents than from parachuting out of planes.”
“Because there are more people on the roads, Jacinta. Driving is kind of a necessity these days. Skydiving is not.”
“Once in a while you should do something that’s just not necessary Eve. Next time you should come with me.”
Eve gave an incredulous laugh. “Not a chance.”
Jacinta smiled, her perfectly even teeth a bright flash in her olive face, and tossed her long mane of raven hair over her shoulder in her imperious manner. Most people bent to Jacinta’s will when she drilled them with that regal stare. “I talked Derek into it.”
“You have far more persuasive methods at your disposal where your husband is concerned.”
“True. But I used to be able to talk you into things, too.”
“Not this time. I think you’re crazy.”
“Is it crazy to want to do something for myself? Eve, you don’t know what it’s like, having a new baby.” The mirth seeped out of her expression. “Sometimes it’s so hard.”
Jacinta glanced across at where her son Bailey was sitting in the middle of the living room floor, testing his new tooth out on one of his mother’s designer label leather belts “Don’t get me wrong. I love that little man, more than I ever thought it was possible to love anything in this world, but there’s a part of you that is lost when everything in your life is suddenly about someone else’s needs. I feel like I’m losing the part of me that loves to take these kinds of risks … and I don’t want to lose it.”
Jacinta’s eyes were a mesmeric blue when they turned earnest, and Eve felt herself giving in to defeat at her dearest friend’s hands yet again. Not that she had ever held any true hope of talking her out of skydiving as a twenty-eighth birthday celebration, just as she had never talked Jacinta out of anything she had ever wanted to do. Where Eve was wary and cautious, Jacinta was open and courageous. Where Eve knuckled down and worked hard to achieve goals, Jacinta saw what she wanted and took it without the necessity for all that pesky effort.
She supposed she could have resented the way things fell into place for Jacinta, the way she made life fit her design while Eve had never been that good at fitting in anywhere. Yet she didn’t. Eve had always felt that her life was so much more colourful for Jacinta’s presence in it. Emotions like resentment or envy were simply out of the question. Ever since she met Jacinta at school when she was eight years old, when Jacinta had defended her from the mean girls who saw her flaming red hair and pale complexion as easy targets for a teasing, Eve had been in awe of the other girl.
In twenty years that sense of wonder had never diminished.
“Okay, okay. I don’t suppose I can stop you. You’re not going to make me go watch are you?”
“I sure am. I need you to bring Bailey so he can wave at me as I land on the beach. He can do that, you know, and he’s not yet ten months old. I think he’s going to be smart as a whip, like his dad.”
“You’d better hope he’s like Derek. If he’s anything like you he’ll be stubborn and wilful, spoiled and reckless—”
“… Adventurous and fun, daring and full of life,” Jacinta finished for her as she went to lift her son into her arms. Cuddling him close, she blew raspberries on his soft little neck until Bailey laughed with undiluted joy and wriggled to get free. “That’s what I want him to know about me, Eve, and why I’m not going to stop doing things like jumping out of airplanes. Got it?”
Jacinta turned and handed her son to Eve. He went willingly, familiar already with the slender curve of her hip that had often provided temporary purchase for his strong chubby legs when his mother was otherwise occupied. Turning his big blue eyes up to Eve, Bailey gave her his adorable four-toothed grin and reached out to wipe fingers wet with drool across her chin.
“Way to ruin the make-up,” Eve told him with mock scolding. Then she asked, “Do you know yet that your mum is nuts?”
“I’m sure he’ll pick up on that pretty quickly.” Jacinta said. “And if not, I figure you’ll always be around to tell him.”
As she watched Bailey play with his toy trucks on the sun-warmed grass in the back yard of the refurbished house she was still learning to call home, Eve marvelled at his boundless energy. It was no mystery where Bailey got his verve. Jacinta had always been the life of the party wherever she went, the brightest star in every room.
A shining beacon that had too swiftly been extinguished.
A lone tear seeped from the corner of Eve’s eye. She swiped at it hurriedly, having learned in the past month that Bailey sensed it the moment she gave in to sorrow, and responded in kind. Although only a little over eleven months old, he was acutely watchful, as though somewhere in his little mind he worried that Eve, too, would disappear as suddenly and tragically as his parents had.
He studied her now, his baby blues unnervingly circumspect. “It’s okay B.” Eve assured him, stroking a hand over his downy soft dark hair. “Eve’s here.”
She hoped the pronouncement didn’t sound as faltering to Bailey’s ears as it did to her own. Once again, the anxiety gripped her, rushing up from the pit of her stomach to clog her throat. Would she ever be suitably proficient at the task Jacinta had asked of her? Why did the twists and turns of fate have to be so cruel? And why on earth had Jacinta entrusted
with this awesome responsibility?
“Pupupupup.” Bailey raised his favourite yellow cement loader in the air as though brandishing an Oscar. “Bababa.”
“What a lovely truck you have,” Eve told him, forcing lightness into her voice.
Take it moment by moment
Don’t let it overwhelm you or you’ll collapse
. She picked up one of Bailey’s other toys. “Would you like to play with the red one?”
“Dada,” Bailey repeated, ignoring the proffered truck as his eyes drifted past her shoulder.
Feeling the sadness that was never far from the surface bubble up again, Eve told him, “No, darling, not Dada.” It would not be his daddy coming to see him. Never again. How could a baby ever understand that?
Bailey pointed, insistent. “Dada!”
A long shadow blanketed the sandpit. Startled, Eve turned to see the figure of a man silhouetted against a backdrop of blinding sunshine, his broad shoulders and imposing height familiar in a way that stopped her heart. She let out a yelp and scooted backward, scooping Bailey into her arms as she went.
“Whoa, Eve.” The man raised his hand in an appeasing gesture. “I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s Mike.”
“Mike?” Relief quickly replaced fear. “You scared the whatsits out of me! For a minute I actually thought you were…”
“You thought I was what?” Mike Wilcox prompted when her words trailed off.
Oh, for a moment I actually thought you were Bailey’s dad, your brother come back from the dead
. Even in her own mind it sounded nuts, so Eve merely shook her head to indicate it was nothing and released her tight hold on Bailey. He immediately scrambled off her lap and stood on wobbly feet, tottering forward to get a better look at his Uncle Mike.
Crouching down, Mike said, “Hey there, little guy. Long time no see, huh?” Now that he was on her level, Eve could see the surprise in Mike’s green eyes as he glanced at her. “He’s walking now?”
“He just started this week,” Eve said, the knowledge of a major ‘first’ in their son’s life that Jacinta and Derek had missed clutching at her heart. She was also reminded how long it had been since she’d last seen Mike … five weeks ago at the funeral of his brother and her best friend.
Her mind’s eye remembered how Mike had looked that day. Dark circles had rested like smudges beneath eyes that were devoid of their usual sparkle. Lips used to smiling had instead formed a grim, sculpted line. Beneath a sombre black suit, his shoulders had sat rigid and tense as his brother’s coffin was lowered into the earth.
He had caught her eye at one point, outside the church. There had been a wealth of grief in his expression, yet he had offered her a sad, almost imperceptible, nod of acknowledgement.
That was all it had taken. Eve had crumbled in on herself, the tears she’d been holding so staunchly inside bursting from her like water from a crack in a dam wall. She had fumbled blindly for physical support, finding the rough, sun-baked bricks of the church before he came and gathered her silently into his arms. Mike. A man she had met only once before, at Jacinta and Derek’s wedding where she had been maid of honour and he best man—a man with whom she had shared fairly amicable conversation but only small talk, a man with whom she had little in common, and who owed her no solace. But it was Mike who had been her tower of strength that day. He held her while she sobbed, rubbed circles over her back while she pressed her face into his shoulder. Despite his own grief, he had consoled her through hers.