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Author: Leslie North




“Are you sure you don’t need me anymore today?”

The nanny’s innocent question almost made Maxwell laugh. He’d hired Kelsey two weeks ago, but the past fourteen days clearly hadn’t helped him adjust any better to the new role of Daddy he’d been handed.

“I swear, I can handle it from here,” Maxwell told the helpful but still clearly worried brunette who spent every morning and afternoon watching the triplets, who were currently sitting in a circle in the living room, taking turns screaming “Cat!”

“Even if it still looks like I have no idea what I’m doing—I am getting the hang of things.”

Kelsey laughed a little but didn’t look convinced. And hell, Maxwell wasn’t convinced either. After all, he’d gone from bachelor NFL superstar to single father of three without any warning.

It wasn’t every day that people had their lives completely upended like he’d had. But he liked to think he was handling it as best he could, with a nanny and plenty of googling about what two-year-olds were and weren’t supposed to eat.

“Well, just let me know if you’ll need me tomorrow,” Kelsey said, slinging her purse strap over her pale shoulder as she prepared to leave. “I’m okay coming in on my day off if you need something.” She went over to the triplets then, pressing a kiss to the top of their heads in turn. “Bye, Cameron. Bye, Shelley. Bye, Kevin.”

The kids spared only a moment from their game to wave goodbye to Kelsey. She offered Maxwell a small smile as she headed for the front door.

“Just let me know if you need anything in the meantime, okay?” She seared him with a serious look, which he appreciated, despite the undertones of maybe you can’t handle this. Kelsey’s agency had been recommended to him by a Sharks teammate who had lost his wife to cancer a few years back and needed grief-specialized nannies to fill in the gaps in childcare.

And while Maxwell hadn’t lost his wife, he had lost his stepsister. Kelsey had been doing a good job navigating the weird situation, that much was certain. She wasn’t poking fun at him for what he didn’t know, only offering gentle tips and plenty of reassurance that she could come back if needed.

“I appreciate that, but we’ll see you in two days,” Maxwell said, following her to the front door of his expansive, Mediterranean-style oasis.

What he needed right now wasn’t more nanny.

What he needed right now was a stiff drink and a beautiful woman to take his mind off things. But he knew neither of those would be in the cards for quite some time. Stiff drinks were to be avoided this close to the playoffs, and beautiful women…well, he could find plenty of those in the NFL fan club. But he’d entered a whole new level of cautious when it came to who entered his circle, with the triplets a part of his world now.

Which meant NFL fan club indulgences were temporarily postponed until his life got back to something resembling normal.

Except when will that be?

The question returned to him as he followed the shrieks and screeches of the toddlers back into the living room. His bachelor pad had been converted from a lush, leather-lined paradise into the equivalent of a daycare explosion. Wooden blocks lay scattered everywhere while Peppa Pig went unwatched in the background on his 77” flat-screen. A miniature kitchen sat in the corner, tiny plastic foods tossed everywhere from what Kelsey had affectionately called “a food fight” right before Maxwell got home from practice.

This was the whirlwind his life had become after the freak accident took his stepsister and her husband from this world. Their wills named Maxwell as the custodial guardian in the event that anything should happen to both parents.

And of course he’d visited the triplets plenty of times throughout their two years of life. He just hadn’t visited enough to truly get a taste of what raising them might be like.

“Okay, kids,” he boomed when he returned to the living room. Shelley had curled up in his recliner—his spot, until the kids had come along—while Cameron and Kevin banged on a small xylophone, their dark heads of hair nearly touching as they focused on the music. “We ready for a successful public outing or what?”

Nobody responded; all three continued exactly what they were doing.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Maxwell clapped his hands together, as though signaling to the two-year-olds that the time was now.

“Unka Mack!” Shelley clapped her hands together, her dark curls bouncing. Unka Mack was the closest she could get to saying Uncle Maxwell. The other two just called him Mack.

While Shelley repeated his name, Maxwell clapped along with her. But when he stopped clapping, a different pounding continued.

He twisted, listening closely. Thud thud thud.

The front door. He held up a finger to the triplets. “Nobody move. Unka Mack will be Unka back.” He smirked to himself as he jogged toward the front door. They were too young to groan—or appreciate—his bad dad jokes, which had started sidling out of him, unbidden, within the first week. Mark and James, his best buddies on the Sharks, both promised him this was a normal development in the parenting timeline. Maxwell just hadn’t thought it would hit so soon.

His footsteps squeaked over the recently shined marble of his foyer. He peered through the sidelight at the front door but couldn’t see who was there. He pulled the door open, half-expecting Kelsey looking for a forgotten item from her workday.

Instead, a gorgeous Black woman stood on his porch. A huge handbag dangled from the crook of her arm, and her black hair was swept off to one side of her heart-shaped face. She looked up at him with the biggest eyes he’d ever seen.

“Hi,” she started, maybe nervously. “Are you Maxwell?”

He blinked dumbly. He had no idea if he was Maxwell. All he could focus on was the way her shy smile revealed the golden-brown sheen of her cheeks. He blinked a few times, clutching the doorframe for support.

He’d wished for a gorgeous woman—he just hadn’t expected that request to be answered so promptly.

“Uh,” he began, swallowing hard as shards of clarity began clicking into place. “H-how did you get in here?”

Because that was the matter at hand. He lived in a gated drive; no one could enter without the key code or calling him first. No matter how gorgeous they were.

The beauty rolled her lips together, pressing a hand to her forehead. “I’m sorry if I barged—I spoke with the woman who just left, and she told me that it was fine to come up here since I’m looking to see the kids. I’m Gillian Collier—Wayne Collier’s cousin. He left me in charge of his estate.”

Realization thudded through him at the mention of the name Wayne Collier—his stepsister’s husband. The father of the triplets. He nodded, stepping aside as he gestured for her to come in. “Gillian. Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. Come in.”

His mind swirled as she stepped into the house, her wide, brown eyes sweeping across the foyer. “But call me Jill, please.”

“Of course. Jill. And yes,” he responded to her initial question, much too late, “I’m Maxwell. Call me Maxwell. Or Max. Or…Unka Mack. Take your pick.”

He wasn’t sure how he’d missed this addition to the extended family tree. He’d certainly never heard of a Gillian—or Jill—much less seen her hanging around the family events or reunions. An eyebrow lifted as she looked over at him.

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