“Sorry, bro. Oz and I are meeting with the minister in ten minutes.”
Elliot’s stomach twisted. “But… I don’t know anything about kids. What am I going to do with him?”
Cher laughed. “He’s just a kid, Elliot, not a rabid wolf. Give him a snack and put a movie on for him or something. He’ll be fine.”
“He’s a little…on the precocious side. Really smart. Just talk to him. If you get him going on something he likes, he can talk forever.”
“Oh, stop.” Cher sighed. “Talk about cars. He likes cars.”
“Cars, huh? Okay. But what—”
“Oh, the minister is here. I’ve got to run. If the doctor isn’t worried, I’m sure Lena will be up soon. Play with him. He’s a good kid. Talk to you later!”
The phone clicked off before Elliot could argue more. “Shit,” he muttered.
He turned around to find Tyler sitting on the floor in front of the mini-fridge, surrounded by all the contents.
“Tyler! What are you doing?” He’d taken his eyes off him for one minute. How did he get into so much so fast?
“You said a bad word,” Tyler said, clutching a mini-bottle of champagne in each hand.
“Ah! Give me those.” Elliot lunged for him, but Tyler dropped the bottles and moved on to a mini-bottle of vodka.
Shit. Lena was going to kill him. He’d been alone with Tyler for sixty seconds, and the kid was juggling booze.
“I’m hungry,” Tyler said.
What the hell do kids eat? He glanced at the pile of food on the floor. “Here,” Elliot said, tossing him a bag of chips.
Tyler tore into them with a look of pure ecstasy on his face. Elliot took advantage of the reprieve to gather up the remaining anti-kid snacks and drinks to hide them in a high cupboard. When he turned back around, only the back half of Tyler was visible. The other half was buried in the entertainment center.
“Whoa, little dude, what are you doing?”
“Can we play?” he asked, pulling out an Xbox controller.
Relief flooded through Elliot. Finally, something he knew how to do.
Tyler’s face lit up like Elliot was his new best friend. “Yay!”
“What do you want to play?”
Elliott pulled out a stack of games, shuffling through them and discarding them just as quickly. He always made sure he had a hotel room that came fully stocked with some entertainment, but he’d never had to worry about having kid-friendly stuff before. The only game he had that wasn’t rated M was Minecraft. And that was probably a bit advanced for Tyler.
“How old are you, kid?”
“Six and a half.”
Elliot raised an eyebrow. He would have guessed younger. Then again, he’d never been close enough to an almost seven-year-old, so what did he know?
“You want to play this one?”
“Sure! All my friends play that one.” Tyler bounced up and down on the couch.
“Okay, okay. Settle down. Here, go grab yourself some of those snacks while I get everything hooked up.”
“Yippee!” Tyler scurried down and snatched up an armload of chips, cookies, and soda and plopped back down on the couch.
He’d consumed half of it by the time Elliot had everything ready to go. Wow. And Elliot thought he could eat. This kid could chow him under the table.
“That good?” he asked as Tyler shoved a barbeque chip he’d dipped in a jar of Nutella into his mouth.
“Super yummy. Wanna try?” he asked, holding out another interesting specimen.
“Um, no thanks. Do you even know what that stuff is?”
Tyler shrugged and jammed it into his mouth. “No, but Mommy says it has good protein and vitmins.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I know lots of stuff.”
Tyler nodded, sending his blond curls flopping all over and a shower of crumbs onto the couch. “Yup. Especially about sharks. I know lots about them.”
“Yeah? Sharks are pretty cool.”
“Yeah! Have you seen Jaws?”
Elliot raised an eyebrow. “Yes. Have you?”
“Yeah. But don’t tell my mommy. I’m not ’posed to watch stuff like that. I saw it when Uncle Oz fell asleep watching me.”
“Ah. Okay. I won’t say a word.”
“Do you have music?”
Wow. The kid was barely taking a breath. “Yeah,” Elliot said. “I’ve got some in here. You want to listen?”
“You got Johnny Cash?”
That one had Elliot’s eyes widening again. “You like Johnny Cash?”
“Oh yeah, he’s the best. But Mommy says I can’t play him for a while ’cause she gots a headache. So maybe we shouldn’t listen to him right now, since she doesn’t feel good.”
“That might be a good idea.”
“She likes the face song, though.”
“The face song?”
“The one where he sings about seeing her face. Mommy likes that one. But she says when you hear it, you have ta dance with a girl. I dance with her in the kitchen sometimes.”
It had been just five minutes and exhaustion already pulled at Elliot. Where the hell did all the energy come from? Another hour and he’d probably be down with a migraine from the sheer volume of words coming out of the kid’s mouth, but Tyler was kind of a crack-up. And Elliot could envision the beautiful woman currently lying in his bed dancing around the kitchen with her son. It was an appealing picture.
“You do? Well that’s very nice of you,” Elliot said.
“Yeah. Mommy says I should be a gentleman.”
“Well, she’s right. A gentleman is a good thing to be.”
“Yeah.” He put his head to the side, his little nose scrunched up. “But I don’t wanna dance with other girls. Just Mommy.”
Elliot laughed. “It can be fun dancing with girls.”
Tyler grimaced like someone was trying to force feed him lima beans. “Do you dance with girls?”
“Every chance I get,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.
Tyler made a gagging face. “Girls are gross.”
Elliot thought about the woman sleeping in his bed. “You won’t always think so.”
“I just dance with Mommy, if she wants.”
“Well, I’m sure your mommy loves dancing with you.”
“Yeah. Hey, do you have a car? Does it go fast?”
Elliot opened his mouth to answer, but Tyler kept talking. “I’m going to get a real fast car when I’m bigger. There’s a couple of us at home that are going to race when we get cars. Only, one kid backed out of the race so far. He fell off his bike when we raced those, so his mom won’t let him race anymore.”
Elliot’s ribs were beginning to hurt from the laughter threatening to erupt. If he let it out, he was never going to stop, and he didn’t want to hurt the kid’s feelings or anything. “You’re going to race, huh?”
“Yeah, I set that up already. Don’t tell Mommy that, either.”
Elliot nodded with exaggerated solemnity. “Deal. Hey,” he said quickly, before Tyler could start off on another tangent, “why don’t we play the game?”
“Oooh, yeah, I wanna play!”
Elliot handed him the controller. “Okay, little man. Let’s get our game on.”
Lena woke in a strange bed, buried deep in pillows with a cool breeze from the air conditioner blowing over her. She sat up slowly, a horrific headache pounding away at her skull.
All her aches and pains were eclipsed by a rush of panic. She swung her feet out of the bed, pausing when she heard Tyler’s laughter ringing through the room. She jumped up and hurried through the open double doors into a spacious living room. The hotel suite was decked out like a luxury apartment. In fact, it was bigger than the apartment where she’d lived before she and Tyler had moved in with her brother.