GINA WILKINS

A Match for the Single Dad


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visits to the resort, but there’d been no sight of Maggie.

      “Maggie is working now,” he told his daughters firmly. “Remember you both promised not to bother her.”

      Kix frowned in dissatisfaction. “She owns the resort. Can’t she take off when she wants to?”

      “Her family owns the resort, and Maggie takes her responsibilities seriously,” he chided. “Just as you can’t ditch school whenever you want, Maggie can’t just stop her work.”

      “Let’s go for a walk down by the water,” Garrett’s mother suggested. “I think I saw some ducks.”

      Kix was already moving toward the door. “They’re geese, Grammy. Canada geese. There’s a whole flock of them who live here.”

      “It’s a gaggle, not a flock,” Payton corrected her, heading more slowly toward the back door.

      “Y’all go on for your walk, I’m going to sit here and rest awhile,” Garrett’s grandmother announced, lowering herself into an armchair. “Garrett, honey, hand me my yarn bag, please. Payton, sweetie, be a lamb and fetch Meemaw a bottle of that strawberry-flavored water we brought along.”

      Because the chair looked comfortable and faced a nice view of the lake, Garrett figured his grandmother had found her roost for the duration of the vacation. She would be perfectly content to sit right there and be waited on hand and foot for the next five and a half days, though he and his mother would nag her into getting at least a minimum of exercise, as her doctors recommended.

      “Are you coming with us on our walk, Daddy?” Kix asked from the back door.

      “I’m going out to make sure we got everything from the car. I’ll catch up with you in a little while.”

      “Tie your shoelaces, Kix,” he heard his mother say before the door closed behind the trio. “You’ll trip over them if they’re loose.”

      A green utility golf cart emblazoned with the resort logo pulled into the driveway behind Garrett’s vehicle just as he was checking the door locks. He smiled when he saw Maggie at the wheel. Her thick, sun-streaked brown hair, a little tousled from the drive in the open cart, fell loose to her shoulders, framing her pretty face. She wore a short-sleeved lavender top with a deep scoop neck that just flirted with a tasteful hint of cleavage. Jeans and brown leather wedge-heeled sandals completed her casual outfit. She seemed to favor wedge heels, and he had to admit they did great things for her long legs. As she slid out of the cart, Garrett wondered how she managed to look so sleek and put-together even in casual clothing suitable for her work.

      “Hi, Garrett. Are you all settled in?” she asked, leaning against the front of the cart. “Is there anything you need?”

      He’d heard some say that Maggie’s older sister, Hannah, was the beauty of the Bell family with her dark hair and emerald eyes and near-perfect features. He’d met Hannah a couple of times and agreed that she was lovely. But there was something about Maggie, with her clear hazel eyes and not-quite-so-perfect face, her pleasant smiles and friendly manner. She radiated competence and efficiency, projecting a quiet calmness in the middle of occasional chaos. With his own life so often in uproar, he appreciated the serenity that seemed to surround Maggie.

      She was too young for him, of course—at least a decade younger—though he had to remind himself of that fact often when he was with her. Of course he was attracted to her—what red-blooded single man wouldn’t be?—but he had no intention of doing anything about it. He doubted that a woman her age would be interested in an older man with his heavy responsibilities. Especially a man who’d been divorced by his wife because she found him too boring to make their relationship worth the effort required.

      He didn’t think of himself as boring, but he could understand how his enhanced sense of duty—to his family, his job, his country—made him less appealing to someone who thrived on spontaneity and self-indulgence. Not that Maggie seemed to be that type, but being young, pretty and single, she was certainly free to live on impulse if she wanted. Unlike himself.

      “We don’t need anything, but thanks for asking.” He patted the closed tailgate of his SUV. “I’m pretty sure my family would have brought along everything they own if I hadn’t set limits. You wouldn’t believe how full this thing was, especially considering we’re less than fifteen miles from home.”

      She laughed. “I never mastered the art of packing light. My dad used to fuss whenever we loaded the car to go anywhere.”

      Leaning back against his vehicle, he crossed his arms casually over his chest. “So where do resort owners go for vacation?”

      She smiled ruefully. “Mostly we went to visit family in Shreveport and Tulsa. A few times we drove down to Galveston to stay in a beach cabin, and once we went to the mountains in Colorado. With a family-owned business, it isn’t easy to get away for vacations. We had to trade off weeks with my uncle’s family, usually during off-season here at the resort.”

      During the past months, Garrett had learned that the Bell Resort and Marina had been founded by Maggie’s grandparents, Carl and Dixie Bell, on land previously owned by Carl’s parents. Carl and Dixie’s sons, Carl Jr. and Bryan, along with their wives, Sarah and Linda, had worked alongside their parents to build the resort into a successful vacation destination. Each member of the family had taken on a particular area of operation according to his or her personal interests. Carl Jr. ran the marina, his wife worked the grill, Bryan was responsible for grounds and maintenance and Linda ran the convenience store. Full-time and part-time employees were hired from outside to work the check-in desk, man the front gate and assist in other areas as needed.

      Carl Jr.—nicknamed C.J.—and Sarah had three children, Steven, Shelby and Lori. Steven had worked for the resort until recently, when he’d left to fulfill his lifelong dream and train as a firefighter. Lori had quit college and eloped with a musician early in the summer, to the shock of her entire family. Of those siblings, only Shelby, a C.P.A. and business manager for the resort, was still fully committed to the family business, along with her new husband, Aaron Walker, who’d taken on Steven’s responsibilities helping Bryan keep up the grounds and supervise part-time seasonal workers hired to assist them.

      Bryan and Linda’s two daughters, Hannah and Maggie, still worked for the resort, though Hannah, who handled marketing, now telecommuted from the home in Dallas she shared with her husband, Aaron Walker’s twin brother, Andrew, and their baby daughter. From what Garrett had deduced, Maggie was in charge of hiring and supervising the housekeeping staff for the cabins and the sixteen-unit motel on the grounds.

      It was all very efficient, as far as he could tell. The family seemed to get along quite well, considering they lived and worked in such close quarters—Lori’s rebellion notwithstanding. Yet he wondered if Maggie ever felt the urge to try her hand at a different career, like Steven, or take off on a reckless adventure, like Lori. No one understood better than he the constraints of family obligation, even when those shackles were donned willingly.

      “Be sure and let us know if there’s anything at all you need during your stay with us,” Maggie said, every inch the gracious hostess.

      She tossed back a lock of hair that a playful breeze swept into her face and Garrett felt his chest tighten. She really was attractive. He’d bet her thick, shoulder-length, gold-streaked brown hair felt as soft as it looked. Not to mention her silky, peach-dusted skin….

      He cleared his throat. Hard. He’d neglected his social life badly during the past year, since he’d left the Air Force and become responsible for his girls. He really should find time to date again—though that would involve actually meeting someone he wanted to go out with. Present company excluded, of course.

      She pulled a card from her pocket and extended it to him. “This is my cell phone number if you need to contact me. I’m not aware of any maintenance issues with your cabin, but if you have any problems, just give me a call and I’ll send someone immediately.”

      Their fingers brushed when he accepted the card. He blamed static in the air for the resulting ripple of awareness, though there hadn’t actually been a shock.

      “Thanks,” he said, drawing his hand away to tuck the card in his back jeans pocket.