GINA WILKINS

A Match for the Single Dad


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had been upstairs in the big building. He noted the tidy office spaces, the well-organized storage rooms filled with supplies and seasonal decorations and the sweeping view of the marina and the lake from big back windows. There was very little clutter and no dust that he could see; he’d bet Maggie was the one responsible for that. Cabin six had been immaculate when he and his family had settled in, and he’d once overheard two Sunday-morning resort guests agree that the motel was one of the cleanest lodgings they’d ever patronized. He suspected she supervised her staff closely but fairly. He already knew she didn’t shy away from hard work herself—just one more thing he found to admire about Maggie Bell.

      His daughters were still admiring their handiwork when he and Maggie rejoined them downstairs a few minutes later. “Isn’t it beautiful, Daddy?” Kix breathed, spinning in a circle in the gaily bedecked lobby.

      He smoothed the flyaway red hair she’d inherited from her mother’s family. “Yes, it is. Great job.”

      “We had fun.”

      “I’m sure you did. Maybe you should thank Maggie for letting you help.”

      “We’re the ones in their debt,” Linda replied with a smile, coming out of the store. “They worked very hard. And to show our appreciation …”

      She handed each of the girls a reusable green market bag emblazoned with the resort’s bell-shaped logo. “Here’s a souvenir water bottle for each of you. And Kix, because it’s your birthday I added a little something extra for you.”

      Kix squealed in pleasure when she drew a little stuffed toy from the bag. The smiling, six-inch stuffed raccoon wore a green resort-logo T-shirt. Garrett felt a moment of gratitude that his little girl was still young enough to appreciate a toy. His daughters were growing up much too fast.

      “I love him,” Kix said, hugging the raccoon. “I’m going to name him Belly after the resort. Thank you, Miss Linda.”

      Maggie’s mom hugged Kix, wished her happy birthday again, then moved back into the store to relieve her mother-in-law at the register.

      “That was very generous of her,” Garrett murmured to Maggie.

      Maggie smiled. “Mom loves kids. She’s already started spoiling my niece terribly.”

      He glanced at his watch. “We’d better head back to the cabin, girls. We have things to do there before the party.”

      This would be Kix’s second birthday party. He and his mother had hosted a group of her friends at a local pizza parlor Saturday afternoon. His head had hurt for an hour after that giggle-fest. It hadn’t helped that one of Kix’s friends had a single mom who’d stayed for the party and determinedly hit on him at every opportunity. He hadn’t let it go to his ego; she’d flirted just as enthusiastically with the good-looking waiter. Garrett thought she’d have left the restaurant with whichever one responded first to her overtures, her daughter’s presence notwithstanding. While he would never punish a child for her mother’s behavior, he had made a mental note never to let Kix visit that particular friend at the girl’s home. They could meet at his or his mother’s house instead.

      No one would be flirting with him at tonight’s party. Not that he’d mind so much this time, he thought, watching Maggie as she thanked the girls for their help and assured them she would see them later for cake. A guy could fantasize, right?

      Maggie thought about walking from her mobile home to the cabin for the birthday party, but she was a little tired from her busy day. She decided to take a golf cart again instead. There were always carts around for the family’s use.

      She’d showered and changed out of her work clothes for the party, dressing in slim jeans, heeled sandals and a drape-neck sleeveless red top. She wore her favorite earrings, tricolored metal dangles that her sister had given her. Climbing into the cart, she set her gift for the party on the seat beside her. She hoped Kix would like it.

      It was just before seven when she stopped in front of cabin six. She was a bit surprised to see a couple of extra cars in the driveway. Having heard about the prior party, she’d thought this one was just for the family. She carried the brightly wrapped gift to the door, which opened before she had a chance to knock. Kix must have been watching for her. “Hi, Maggie! Come in.”

      She couldn’t help laughing in response to the enthusiastic greeting—as if they hadn’t just parted a couple hours earlier. “Hi, Kix. Happy birthday yet again.”

      Kix giggled. “Thank you yet again.”

      Tugged inside by the girl, Maggie noted that a few balloons and streamers had been scattered around the main room and a cake with pink frosting and eleven as-yet unlit candles sat in the center of the bar. Esther sat in the armchair with the view of the lake while Paulette bustled around in the kitchen, chatting with another woman of about her own age. She spotted Garrett through the glass doors, standing outside on the deck talking to two other men. The lowering sun cast intriguing shadows across his face, and her heart fluttered in instinctive reaction.

      His eyes met hers through the glass and she saw him say something to his companions before reaching to open the door. The three men entered just as Paulette noticed Maggie’s presence. She hurried to greet her.

      “Kix, why didn’t you tell us Maggie’s here? Come on in, Maggie, and meet our guests. You know Reverend Bettencourt, of course. And this is my husband’s sister, Coralee, and her husband, Mickey Lovett. They’re here this evening to celebrate Kix’s birthday with us.”

      Maggie shook hands with the older couple, then exchanged warm greetings with Jay, all the while aware of Garrett standing nearby watching her.

      Paulette wanted to get the party started immediately. She snapped photos with a little digital camera when Garrett lit the candles and everyone gathered around the cake to sing the “Happy Birthday” song. Kix blew out the tiny flames with a big gust of breath, earning a round of applause. She responded with a giggle and a bow. “May I open my presents before we eat the cake?” she asked eagerly, waving toward a small, colorful pile of packages.

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