Written with Regret (The Regret Duet #1)

We never spoke again.

Whatever. I had more important things to worry about. Like counting how many dirty-versus-wet diapers I changed each day. I had no fucking idea you had to count that shit. Pun intended. The nanny had taught me a lot while I was obsessively hovering over her, questioning her every move, complete with dictating her answers into my cell phone for future reference.

According to the agency, this drove her crazy, and she ended up quitting after nine days.

After that, I entertained the idea of hiring a live-in au pair. It would have been nice to have someone to teach Rosalee about another culture and maybe even another language—fine, also someone who lived with me and was available to help twenty-four-seven.

Until I considered how easy it would be for that woman to steal my child, fly her to a different country, and sell her into human trafficking.

Then I realized how easy it would have been for anyone I hired to steal my child, fly her to a different country, and sell her into human trafficking.

And then I realized that I was going to have to burn Ian’s house down so he was forced to move in with me because he was literally the only person in the world I trusted with her.

In the midst of my drowning in fatherhood, Ian decided we should use the Kaleidoscope profit to dabble in private investing. Given our history of growing a multimillion-dollar company—regardless of how controversial it had ended up being—from the ground up, we were quite good at recognizing a smart concept and strong work ethic when we saw them. But there were too many days I could barely keep my eyes open. It was then that Ian defined the title of “best friend.” He started coming over every Saturday night and would stay up all night long walking Rosalee around my apartment, feeding her and changing her. And more than once, I’d caught him singing to her. He was great with her. But it didn’t matter who had her. Rosalee was this little ball of never-ending pissed-off energy.

Around the three-month mark, I’d been convinced something was wrong with her. She’d fall asleep crying, wake up crying, cry because she wanted to go to sleep but couldn’t. Colic was what the pediatrician called it—the twentieth time I’d taken her into the office in so many days. I must have looked like hell, because she’d suggested I hire someone for more than just Saturday nights. I informed her about the human trafficking thing. She blinked a lot. Then she gave me the number of her personal nanny who had never once sold her children in twelve years of knowing her.

This was how we met Alejandra, the goddess of child rearing. She was in her early sixties, had three grown children of her own, and was interested in picking up extra hours when the good doctor didn’t need her to help pay for her daughter’s college tuition.

She was incredible from the start. Kind and knowledgeable, and she had no qualms about reading me the Riot Act the one time I’d left Rosalee on the changing table to grab a diaper on the other side of the room. Within a few weeks, Saint Alejandra had my girl on a daytime schedule, which caused her to start sleeping in six-hour stretches at night. It was the most glorious thing that had ever happened to me. Not long after that, Alejandra started cooking me meals that didn’t consist of coffee and takeout. She even left a few in the freezer every Friday for the weekend when she wasn’t there.

Rosalee was young, but I could tell she loved Alejandra too. And I was coming to the realization that I couldn’t live without her. The twenty hours a week she was working for me just weren’t enough. It made me a horrible person. And I genuinely felt bad—for about two seconds. But when Rosalee was six months old, I offered Alejandra a full-time position that tripled what the doctor was paying her and included healthcare, a retirement plan, and college tuition for her daughter. A few months later, when I finally broke down and bought a house in Leary, New Jersey, two miles away from Ian’s place, Alejandra also got a private guesthouse with paid utilities and a Lexus so she could commute back and forth to see her kids.

The peace of mind, knowing my baby was in good hands, was worth every fucking penny.

From then on, things got easier. Rosalee grew up, and as a father, I grew with her. In the blink of an eye, she went from being this little, helpless baby to a walking and talking tornado. I swear I must have purchased every baby gate in existence to keep her from sneaking into the bathrooms to play in the toilets. And then, a year later, when it was time to start potty training, I couldn’t force her into the bathroom. Not even Alejandra had a magical fix for those three months filled with random puddles of pee we’d discover around the house any time we were barefoot.

What my baby lacked in bladder control, she excelled at in other areas. Rosalee was smart, loved animals as long as they had fur, and could talk her way out of trouble with a well-thought-out argument that would put a few attorneys I knew to shame. She was sassy and sweet, loved cuddles, and cried like the world was ending when she had to get shots at the doctor. (Not the same doctor we stole Alejandra from. We were asked to leave her practice immediately after that. Still…totally worth it.)

Ian had been right when we were in the hospital. My past hadn’t dictated my ability to love another human being. Yes, my life had been hell, filled with more pain and chaos than others saw in a lifetime. But falling in love with Rosalee Hunt was the easiest thing I had ever done.

It was funny how life worked. I’d spent twenty-nine years without the first desire to be a dad. But with Rosalee, I couldn’t look at her without thinking of all the incredible, life-altering things I would have missed.

And her laugh, as she sat across from me, dressed in a ball gown and giggling like a maniac over a silly story I’d made up to get of out trouble for working on her birthday, was at the very top of that list.

Reaching into my pocket, I took out the little, black box and slid it her way. “Happy Birthday, Rosalee.”

She squealed, diving for the box. “Is it a ferret? Oh, Daddy, please let it be a ferret.”

Yeah. She called me Daddy. And yeah. I loved it.

The first time she’d babbled dada, I’d known I was in trouble.

The first time she’d called me daddy, I’d nearly hit my knees.

And the first time she’d said “I love you, Daddy,” I’d frozen, my chest so tight that I thought there was a solid chance I was having a heart attack. Once I’d felt comfortable that I didn’t need to call an ambulance, I’d immediately gone to the bathroom, gotten in the shower, and fought back manly fucking tears in private.

Well, until she had come looking for me, thrown the shower curtain back, and asked why she didn’t have a penis.

After that, I’d started locking the bathroom door.

I looked from her to the box and then back to her again. “How big do you think ferrets are?”

“I don’t know.”

“Exactly. Which is why you can’t have one.”

Her mouth fell open, ready to fire off an objection more mature than any four-year-old should be able to muster.

“Ever,” I added. “You know the rule. No pets until you are old enough to take care of them yourself…and I mean in your own apartment when you’re old enough to move out.”

“That’s not fair!”

“I know, right? Your dad is the worst.”

She glared.

I smiled and then took a bite of my muffin.

While I was chewing, she pried the box open and, in true Rosalee fashion, let out a dramatic gasp.

She loved it. I had known it the minute I’d picked it up from the jeweler that she would, but she had no idea how much I was going to love seeing her wear it.

Rosalee was as girlie as little girls came. She loved dresses, purses, nail polish, and all things lip gloss. But the one thing she loved more than anything else was jewelry. She didn’t have her ears pierced yet, but the child had a full assortment of clip-ons, bracelets, and necklaces. All of which were cheap costume jewelry she’d picked out herself.

But this… This was real. And for the way it made my chest tense, it was almost too real.

“It’s a necklace!” she exclaimed as though I hadn’t been the one to give her the gift.

I stood from my chair and walked around the table. “Do you remember me telling you how I named you after Grandma Rosalee because she was my mom and very special to me?”

She nodded eagerly.

“Well, I wanted you to have more than just her name.”

She gasped again. “This is Grandma Rosalee’s necklace?”

My gut wrenched, and I clenched my teeth, looking away to hide my anger.

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