GINA WILKINS

A Match for the Single Dad


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      “So, I’ll see you around.”

      “Yeah, about that. We’re having a birthday cake for Kix at about seven tomorrow evening. She’d love it if you joined us.”

      Though they’d met most of the Bell family in passing, the girls were particularly attached to Maggie because of the tennis classes she’d taught them. Neither of his daughters seemed to have a particular affinity for the sport, but they’d certainly taken to their instructor. Couldn’t say he blamed them for that.

      “I’d be happy to join you for cake,” Maggie said with a bright smile. “Can I bring anything?”

      “Trust me, we have more than enough. For that matter, you can bring your whole family and there would still be enough.”

      She laughed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Enjoy your evening.”

      “I’ll certainly try,” he murmured, watching her buzz away in the cart, her hair waving lightly around her shoulders. He suspected that image would linger in his mind for a few hours tonight.

       Chapter Two

      Carrying a large box of red, white and blue decorations she’d retrieved from an upstairs storage room, Maggie descended the stairs carefully into the lobby of the main building later Monday afternoon. She could have used the small elevator they’d installed last year for her grandparents, but it was such a habit to take the stairs that she’d started down without considering how much the box limited her vision. She was almost to the bottom when she missed a step with her foot. Had her reflexes not been quicker, she might well have taken a tumble.

      Someone took the box from her hands from below. She blinked in surprise when she saw Garrett standing there, frowning. Even his stern expression looked too darned appealing for her peace of mind, never mind what his rare full smiles did to her.

      “You very nearly fell,” he chided, bringing her attention back to the moment.

      “Guess I got in a hurry,” she replied, “but I caught myself.”

      “I was prepared to catch you if you didn’t.”

      A sudden image of herself cradled in Garrett’s strong arms made her momentarily regret her own quick reflexes.

      “Where do you want this?”

      Ordering herself to stop being so foolish, she motioned toward the reception desk to her left. “Just set it in the corner behind the desk. We’re decorating tomorrow for the holiday weekend and I was just bringing down some of the supplies.”

      Nodding to Rosie Aguilar, who manned the reception desk most weekdays since Maggie’s sister had married and moved to Dallas, Garrett set the big box in a back corner. “Do you have any more to bring down? I can help.”

      “Thanks, but no. That’s the only one for now.” She glanced around the lobby, expecting to see members of his family. Though a few guests mingled in the large open room that was decorated with lush greenery, shiny trophy fish mounted on wooden plaques and displays of antique fishing lures, she saw no sign of Garrett’s daughters.

      The reception desk lay straight ahead of the big double-entry doors. To the right upon entering was the Chimes Grill, done in red-and-chrome vintage diner style, and to the left the convenience store stocked with basic groceries, some prepared foods and fishing and camping supplies. Maggie’s aunt Sarah ran the grill, whereas the store was her mom’s domain. Neither was particularly busy on this Monday afternoon, though a few early dinner guests were seated in the diner. The back of the main building housed the marina that was her uncle C.J.’s domain, which included a bait shop, marine gas pump, fishing pier, boat slips and fish-cleaning station.

      “Where are the girls?”

      “Back at the cabin,” Garrett replied. “We were getting things ready to grill hamburgers for dinner when I realized that we forgot to bring the buns I bought specifically for this trip. Apparently, they’re sitting on the kitchen counter back at my house. I figured it would be easier to come into the store to buy some more rather than to drive back home. I’d just walked in when I saw you almost take the header down the stairs.”

      She waved a hand toward the glass walls of the convenience store. “We happen to stock a good supply of hamburger and hot dog buns. Mom will help you with whatever you need.”

      He shook his head in self-recrimination. “Can’t believe I forgot the buns I bought. It got a little hectic when we were leaving, with both girls wanting to bring a ridiculous amount of stuff, so I ended up leaving behind something we actually needed.”

      She smiled. “At least it was something easily replaced.”

      “Yeah.” His gaze seemed to linger for a moment on her mouth. And then he raised his eyes to hers. “If you don’t already have plans for dinner, maybe you’d like to join us? The girls would love having you. Kix has been asking about you all day.”

      She hesitated a moment, reminding herself that she would be seeing the girls for birthday cake the next evening, which should probably be enough interaction with them—but then she heard words pop out of her mouth. “That sounds like fun, if you’re sure there’s enough.”

      Garrett laughed, such a nice sound that she wished she could hear it more often. “Trust me, there will be plenty. My mom doesn’t believe in cooking just a small amount of anything.”

      “Then sure, why not? My book club canceled this evening’s meeting, so I’m available. What time?”

      “Come now if you’re finished for the day,” he suggested. “My grandmother likes to eat early, so I’ll start cooking the burgers as soon as I’m back at the cabin. Won’t take long to have them ready.”

      “I’ll put away a few things and meet you in the store.”

      Garrett was paying for bags of sesame-seed hamburger buns when she rejoined him. She plucked ajar of organic squash pickles off a shelf to take along, showing it to her mother, who nodded and made a note of the purchase. The pickles were made and distributed by a local grower and were a popular item in the resort store. It was the least Maggie could contribute to the meal, since she didn’t have time to make anything.

      Garrett had walked from the cabin, but Maggie drove him back in one of the ubiquitous green resort golf carts. “So … book club, huh?” he asked on the way.

      She grinned. “Well, it’s more girlfriends-getting-together-to-drink-wine-eat-ridiculously-high-calorie-desserts-and-dish-gossip club, but we think ‘book club’ sounds more intellectual.”

      Garrett laughed. “Good call.”

      “Yeah, we thought so.”

      “What else do you do when you aren’t working?”

      “I try to make it to the gym a few times a week for Zumba classes, and go out to clubs with friends sometimes on weekends for karaoke or dancing. Single life. You know.”

      He grimaced wryly. “I hardly remember single life. Married too young, spent most of my life in the military, now a full-time dad. You know.”

      She couldn’t say she knew his life any more than he did hers. Another reminder of how little they had in common, she told herself somberly.

      “I should probably warn you that Payton’s mad at me,” Garrett mentioned as she parked in the driveway of cabin six. “She was barely speaking to me when I left. Maybe I had an ulterior motive inviting you to join us for dinner. She’ll be on her best behavior for you.”

      Maggie smiled sympathetically. “What did you do to get in trouble with her?”

      “She met a couple of teenage brothers hanging around the tennis and basketball court this afternoon. She said their name was Ferguson—Trevor and Drake Ferguson. They started talking while I was shooting hoops with Kix. They invited her to meet them down at the lake tonight to ‘look at the stars.’” He made ironic quotation marks with his fingers as he spoke the phrase. “Needless to say, I told her she wasn’t meeting a couple of strange boys by herself at night. She hasn’t spoken to me since, other than to mutter