GINA WILKINS

A Match for the Single Dad


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       “I never thought you were the type to play with fire, Maggie.”

      She chuckled softly, her heart racing now in response to that all-too-brief kiss. “I’ve been known to scorch my fingertips a few times.”

      His hands settled at her hips before she could move away. “My fingers are still feeling a little cold.”

      What the hell. She wrapped her arms around his neck, momentarily abandoning caution. “Then maybe we should heat them up.”

      “Maybe we should.” He settled his mouth against hers, their smiles meeting then melding into a kiss hot enough to scorch much more than her fingertips. She felt the heat surging all the way through her, simmering deep inside her. This buttoned-down, ex-military single dad definitely knew how to kiss.

      About the Author

      GINA WILKINS is a bestselling and award-winning author who has written more than seventy novels for Mills & Boon. She credits her successful career in romance to her long, happy marriage and her three “extraordinary” children.

      A lifelong resident of central Arkansas, Ms Wilkins sold her first book to Mills & Boon in 1988 and has been writing full-time since. She has appeared on the Walden-books, B. Dalton and USA TODAY bestseller lists. She is a three-time recipient of a Maggie Award for Excellence, sponsored by Georgia Romance Writers, and has won several awards from the reviewers of RT Book Reviews.

      A Match for the Single Dad

      Gina Wilkins

      

       www.millsandboon.co.uk

      For Patience Bloom, a dedicated editor, fellow romance fan and genuinely nice person.

       Chapter One

      “He’ll say no. Daddy always says no,” almost-eleven-year-old Kristina McHale said glumly. She was known to her family and friends as Kix, a nickname bestowed on her by her slightly older sister, Payton, who’d had trouble as a toddler saying her baby sister’s formal name.

      With the wisdom of her thirteen years, Payton waved a hand dismissively. “We can talk him into it. You know how he’s always nagging about ‘family time.’ Well, a week together in a cabin would count for that, right? Besides, that week includes both your birthday and the Fourth of July. How can he say no?”

      “He’ll find a way,” Kix predicted.

      Payton sighed in response to her sister’s pessimism. “We can at least ask. You ask. Give him the look. You know, puppy-dog eyes. I’ll act like I think it’s sort of a dumb idea, so he won’t figure out we’re conspirators.”

      “Con—cons—?”

      “Working together,” Payton explained impatiently.

      “Oh.” Kix practiced widening her already-big blue eyes. “You think this will help?”

      Eyeing her critically, Payton shrugged. “Couldn’t hurt. Lower your chin a little and maybe poke out your bottom lip. If you could make it kind of quiver a little, it would be even better.”

      “Like this?” Kix gave her sister a limpid look from beneath thick dark lashes, her rosy mouth pursed in a hint of a pout.

      “Not bad. I bet he’ll say yes. Once we have him at the resort for a whole week, we’ll make sure he spends time with her.”

      “How are we going to do that?”

      Payton sighed impatiently and pushed an auburn strand out of her face. “I can’t think of everything all at once, Kix. We just will, okay?”

      “Okay.”

      Pacing the length of her bedroom, Payton continued her scheming. “Once Dad spends more time with Maggie, surely he’ll get around to asking her out. I mean, we know he likes her because he always smiles when she’s around, right?”

      Sitting cross-legged on her sister’s bed, Kix nodded enthusiastically, her brighter-red hair tumbling into her freckled face. “He has to like her. He’d be crazy if he didn’t.”

      “Well, it is Dad,” Payton muttered, making Kix giggle. “Still, maybe he’ll finally do something right and ask her out. And maybe we’ll finally have someone on our side for a change who’ll tell Dad he has to stop treating us like dumb little girls. Maggie always looks so pretty. I bet she’d convince Dad and Grammy that we’re old enough for makeup and double-pierced ears and cool clothes. At least, I am.”

      “Hey!”

      “Well, you’re almost old enough,” Payton conceded. “And there are other things she could take your side about.”

      “Yeah, I guess.”

      “So we’re agreed? You’ll tell him tonight at dinner that you know where you want to spend your birthday week?”

      “Agreed.”

      They exchanged a complicated handshake to seal the deal.

      Early on a Sunday morning in June, Maggie Bell shifted on the wooden picnic table bench beneath the big pavilion at Bell Resort and Marina. The newly risen sun glittered on the rippling waters of southeast Texas’s Lake Livingston ahead, making the lake look like liquid silver streaked with veins of gold. Even this early, the air was already quite warm, though she was comfortable enough in her scoop-neck, cap-sleeve yellow T-shirt dress and wedge-heeled sandals.

      Seated around her at long wooden picnic tables and in folding chairs beneath the big pavilion at Bell Resort and Marina, a small crowd sang the chorus of “Amazing Grace,” most of them even in the same key. In a long-standing tradition at the resort owned by Maggie’s family, nondenominational sunrise worship services were held year-round for guests and any area residents who chose to participate. Attendance had always been good, but especially during the past few months. Specifically, since good-looking and personable Jasper Bettencourt had started leading the services.

      Golden-haired, blue-eyed, male-model handsome, always casually dressed in jeans and cotton shirts, Jasper, known to his friends as Jay, hardly fit the stereotype of a small-town minister. Longtime locals remembered him as a hell-raising teen from a dysfunctional family who had escaped the area more than fifteen years before. It had been quite a shock when he’d returned with a theology degree, founded a little nondenominational church and dedicated himself to community service and caring for the aging, former-pastor uncle who was his only living relative. He was a compelling speaker, a talented singer and a genuinely nice guy who drew people to him with his mix of humor, kindness and compassion. Each Sunday he led the sunrise service attendees in a few well-known hymns, accompanied on guitar by his friend Garrett McHale, before presenting a brief but always moving sermon.

      Seated in a folding chair beneath the pavilion with the morning’s printed program gripped loosely in her hands, Maggie sang the familiar song without needing to refer to the lyrics. She chose instead to watch the accompanist.

      Dressed in a green shirt and neatly pressed khakis, Garrett looked like the ex-Air Force officer he was. Tall and lean, he wore his brown hair in a crisp, short cut that emphasized the few gray strands at his temples. His posture was impeccable, his movements measured and efficient. His eyes were the same clear gray-blue as the early-morning sky. Garrett, too, had grown up in this area, leaving to join the military at about the same time his lifelong best buddy, Jay, had struck off for parts unknown. Garrett wasn’t as strikingly handsome as Jay, yet for some reason Maggie’s attention was always drawn to him. She wasn’t sure of his exact age, but she’d guess he was maybe ten or eleven years older than her own twenty-seven. The age difference didn’t bother her. The fact that he was a single dad to two girls just