GINA WILKINS

A Match for the Single Dad


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about how I keep treating her like a baby.”

      Maggie didn’t know all the guests registered at the resort at any particular time, of course, but she was passingly familiar with most of the occupants of the motel and cabins. Especially repeat visitors. “I know the family. Wayne and Melanie Alexander and her sons, Trevor and Drake Ferguson. They’re in cabin two, over by the motel. They’ve stayed with us several times before and they like being close to the pool. As I recall, Trevor is maybe fourteen, Drake a couple years younger, a little younger than Payton, I think.”

      Garrett nodded to acknowledge her identification. “Payton thought knowing the boys’ names would be all I required to approve of her hanging out with them unsupervised. She was wrong.”

      “The boys have always seemed reasonably well-behaved, but they aren’t supervised very closely. I don’t blame you for not wanting her to wander down to the lake with them alone at night.”

      “Not going to happen. No matter how much she pouts. So maybe having you there tonight will ease the sting some.”

      “In that case, I’ll do my best to cheer her up.”

      “Hope you have better luck with it than I do.”

      She smoothed a hand over her breeze-tossed hair. “I have an advantage. I wasn’t the one who told her no.”

      He gave a little snort that might have been a laugh and climbed out of the cart with the hamburger buns.

      “You are aware, I suppose, that Payton is a very pretty girl?” she asked as she accompanied him toward the porch. “You’re in for a lot of this sort of thing in the future.”

      He nodded, his expression resigned. “She looks a lot like her mother.”

      So his late ex-wife had been a beauty. She couldn’t help wondering what had gone wrong in the marriage, even though it was absolutely none of her business.

      They entered the cabin together and Kix squeaked when she saw Maggie. “Are you going to have hamburgers with us, Maggie?” she asked, dashing to her side.

      “Your dad invited me. I hope that’s okay with everyone.”

      “You’re very welcome, Maggie,” Garrett’s mother assured her with a warm smile from the kitchen counter, where she was slicing tomatoes.

      “That grandmother of yours isn’t coming, is she?” Esther demanded. She sat in a chair facing the view of the lake, surrounded by books, a knitting bag and a teacup, her walker nearby. It looked as though she had claimed that spot permanently for her own.

      “Mother,” Paulette scolded, even as Garrett growled, “Meemaw.”

      “My grandmother isn’t coming,” Maggie replied lightly. “Just me.”

      “Good,” Esther muttered.

      Garrett sighed heavily in exasperation with his grandmother’s rudeness, but didn’t bother to argue any further with her, saying merely, “I’ll start the grill.”

      “The patties are ready to go on as soon as the grill is hot enough,” his mother informed him.

      “Is there anything I can do to help?” Maggie asked.

      Paulette shook her head. “Everything’s almost ready. Why don’t you chat with the girls? They always enjoy visiting with you.”

      “I love your top, Maggie.” Payton studied the casual blouse closely. “That scoop neckline is very flattering.”

      “Thank you.” Maggie had noticed that Payton was increasingly into fashion these days, always taking time to examine and comment on Maggie’s outfits.

      “Come upstairs and we’ll show you where we sleep,” Kix suggested eagerly. “We have a view of the lake from our window and it’s really pretty.”

      “Maggie knows the cabin, Kix,” Payton said with a shake of her head. “She owns it.”

      “My family owns it,” Maggie corrected, “but it’s been a while since I looked at the lake from that window.” Actually, she’d inspected the cabin thoroughly hours before they’d settled in, but she saw no need to mention that. “Lead the way, Kix.”

      Kix dashed up the stairs and Maggie followed. Payton trailed them more slowly.

      The loft had definitely been invaded by young girls, Maggie noted with a smile. Rather than the resort-furnished plain white sheets and coverlets, the two twin beds sported pink-and-green polka-dot sheets on one bed and yellow-and-green stripes on the other. From what she knew of their grandmother, she figured Paulette had been the one who’d insisted on bringing their own sheets rather than using the ones provided for guests. A shabby stuffed yellow bear sat on the polka-dot bed, which she figured must belong to Kix. Paperback books and teen magazines were strewn across the other bed. One of the drawers in the built-in dresser had been closed on the leg of a pair of ladybug-print pajamas.

      “Look how pretty the shadows look on the lake now that the sun’s getting lower,” Kix said from the window.

      Payton groaned. “Geez, Kix, she lives here. She sees the lake all the time.”

      “But I never get tired of it,” Maggie replied, moving to admire the view. Dotted with boats and crisscrossed with rippling wakes, the lake glittered jewel-blue in the still bright, late-day sun.

      Payton scowled. “Wish I could see the moon on the water with my new friends later. I met some really nice guys who are going down to the lake later to, you know, just throw rocks in the water and look at the stars and talk and stuff, and Dad acted like I asked if I could go to a bar or something.”

      “They got into another one of their fights,” Kix confided. “Payton yells sometimes, but Daddy never does. He just says, ‘That’s final’ in a really quiet voice. And you know from the way he says it that he’s not going to change his mind no matter how much you beg or argue, but sometimes we do anyway, I guess, ‘cause we hope maybe just once he’ll listen. Like, Payton keeps asking for a red leather jacket like the one you wore last winter. She says she wants one like it for this next school year, but Dad keeps saying red leather isn’t practical for school. And I want to stay up an hour later to watch TV because all—well, some—of my friends stay up until ten o’clock, but I have to go to bed at nine, which is a bedtime for babies. And I’ve asked him maybe a million times for a kitten, but all he’ll say is ‘we’ll see.’”

      “And you’re his favorite.” Payton tossed her head with a scowl. “He tells you yes a lot more than he does me.” Payton whirled toward Maggie then. “I’m thirteen years old and he watches me like I’m a little kid. Like Kix.”

      “Hey!”

      “All I wanted to do,” Payton went on, ignoring her sister’s indignant protest, “was to meet up with some friends. But just because they’re boys, he said no. I mean, geez, what does he think is going to happen? He’s here at the resort, their parents are here, a zillion other people are here, it’s not like we’re going to get into trouble. They’re nice guys, Maggie. Trevor and Drake Ferguson. Do you know them?”

      Maggie repeated what she’d said earlier to Garrett. “I’ve met them a few times when they’ve stayed here before. They seem like good kids.”

      “I know, right? Dad can be such a—”

      “Payton!” Kix interrupted urgently, giving her sister a little shove.

      For a moment it looked as though Payton might snarl at her sister, but her expression turned suddenly thoughtful. “Oh. Yeah, guess I shouldn’t be talking about him that way. Family and all.”

      “Daddy’s not really mean,” Kix assured Maggie. “He’s just overprotective. Grammy says that makes him a good father, but she’s overprotective, too.”

      “I bet you’d have let me hang out with friends at the lake tonight if it were up to you, wouldn’t you, Maggie?” Payton asked.

      “Of course.”

      The teen nodded in satisfaction. “I knew it.”

      “As long as I was there, too,” Maggie added. “I’d stay back out of the way. Maybe check email and stuff