And although Mum had raised ten of us quite capably, I registered I was due for a sizable heap of shit when I asked her—for the first time—to watch the baby so we could go out. We’d always taken the baby with us, but this was . . . well, this was entirely different.

“Mum,” I started as she walked back around her desk to sit down. “I was hoping to take Sara out this coming Friday. Would you mind heading over and watching Annabel?”

I groaned. Fuck. This was the second time a woman had said this to me in less than twenty-four hours. “Forgot what?”

“I leave for Leeds tomorrow, dove. I’m going to stay with Karen for three weeks.”

“No, you’ve got to pack and we don’t have any sort of plan in place. I get the sense we’ll both need this to be a military operation.”

“You’re mental. I’ve been telling you for weeks: just take the wife out and have some dinner, for crying out loud. By the time you and Niall and Rebecca came along, we were letting the dog watch you for a night out.”

I looked down at Annabel still asleep in the carrier and replied to Will, “It’s called an Ergo.”

He followed me into my office and sat on my couch. “It looks like you went tandem skydiving and forgot to unlatch.”

Bennett walked up behind him. “You look like a marsupial.”

“It’s called baby wearing, you twats.” I laughed, and then whispered to the baby, “Is that right? Are you my little joey?” I looked up at my mates and only then did I do the mental calculation. “Bennett, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Will and I had a meeting with Gross and Barrett at eight. Did you forget?”

“Bloody hell will you lot cut me some slack! I’ve not slept in four fucking months!”

They both stared at me, wide-eyed, for several silent seconds.

As carefully as I could, I unhooked the carrier behind my neck and let it fall so I could lay Anna down on the couch beside Will. She startled—both arms and both legs flying out in a spasm—but then immediately fell back asleep.

For his part, Will looked like I’d just put a giant hollow eggshell near him. His hands were clasped in his lap and his eyes were trained on the baby as if she might suddenly roll and explode. He’d been around Anna nearly every weekend since she’d been born and still looked at her like breathing too heavily near her might cause her to shatter.

“Since when are you an idiot around children?” I asked.

“I love kids,” he said, looking up at me. “But she’s just so little.”

“Look,” I said, sitting down in a chair near my desk. “I need to ask a favor. I want to take Sare out for dinner this Friday—”

Bennett interrupted: “You’re finally going to let someone watch Anna?”

Scowling, I explained, “It’s a lot easier said than done, right? Anyway, Mum is leaving for Leeds tomorrow so she can’t watch her this weekend. Can one of you . . . ?”

They both stared at me with terrified eyes.

“Aw come on, it’s not that hard. We’d only go out for a few hours. You and your better half give her a couple of bottles, change a couple of diapers, she sleeps, we get home.”

“We can’t,” Bennett said, wincing in apology. “Chloe and I are headed up to the Hudson Valley.”

“This weekend?” Will asked, nodding several times in quick succession as if to talk himself into it. “I could probably do it.”

“I’ve never changed a diaper. Or fed a baby. Hanna jokes that the only girl I’ve ever failed to charm is Liv’s daughter, Aspen.” Shrugging, he added, “But I’m sure it’s instinct, right?” He ticked the rules off on his fingers: “Don’t scald Anna in the bath, don’t leave the milk in the microwave too long.” He paused and seemed to continue to draft a mental list. “Oh, and don’t drop her.”

I imagined walking out of the office right now and leaving Annabel in Will’s hands for even a minute; my stomach flipped over and I wanted to vomit. “Couldn’t you bring Hanna?”

“She’s got some visiting-faculty dinners this weekend.”

Rubbing my hand across my chin, I asked, “You know . . . maybe you could come over and have dinner with us tonight to watch and learn?”

He nodded, but swallowed heavily. To be fair, I knew what I was asking was a big deal. It was one thing to hang out with us when we had Annabel, and quite another to imagine being alone with this tiny little girl.

“Can’t you just take it to the restaurant with you?” Bennett asked.

“That sort of defeats the purpose. Also, Annabel isn’t an ‘it.’ ”

Will and I replied in unison, “Yeah, you did.”

Scrubbing my face, I muttered, “Fuck it. Just come over for dinner and we’ll have some beers.”