my phone. But for someone your age out at night with a couple of teenage boys you just met, I’d say you need a discreet chaperone.”
Payton rolled her eyes and fell backward on her bed. “Geez. I can’t believe this.”
Kix frowned at Maggie, who got the distinct feeling that she had just failed a test of some sort. But then the younger girl’s expression cleared. “You’re just trying to make Payton feel better about what Dad said, aren’t you? So she won’t be so mad at him.”
“The burgers are ready,” Paulette called from the foot of the stairs. “You girls ready to eat?”
Paulette seemed to consider Maggie one of the girls, even though she was fourteen years older than Payton. Maybe it was hearing Maggie grouped with her and Kix that made Payton forgive her for agreeing even in part with their dad. “Dad does make really good burgers,” she conceded, climbing to her feet again.
Maggie smiled at her. “Then let’s go get them while they’re hot, shall we?”
After a leisurely dinner, Garrett walked Maggie out to the cart. “I’m glad you could join us. The whole family enjoyed having you.”
She pulled her keys out of her pocket. “I had a nice time, too.”
“The front-desk clerk told me when we checked in that it’s going to be crazy busy around here this week.”
Maggie chuckled. “For the rest of the summer, actually, but especially after Wednesday. A lot of people take a long weekend at the lake for the Fourth of July.”
“I understand there’s quite a celebration being planned here this weekend.”
She nodded. “A fireworks show Thursday evening. A concert in the pavilion Friday evening. Carnival rides and inflatable bouncers in the pavilion area Saturday, with free cotton candy for the kids.”
“That’s a full schedule.”
“Now that we’ve hired Rosie to take over reservations and check-ins, Hannah’s had more time to develop marketing programs. She decided we should expand our traditional Independence Day celebrations. She’s advertised it on social media and our webpage and with some flyers posted in local stores. We’re charging a small admission fee for nonguests to help with the expenses and keep down the crowds a bit. We hope the effort will pay off in future business for the marina and the diner as well as the lodgings and campgrounds. I’ve been a little late getting to the holiday decorations, but I’ll take care of that tomorrow.”
“The weekend sounds like fun. I know the girls will get a kick out of it all.”
“I hope so.” She turned to him when they reached the golf cart. “Thank you for inviting me for dinner, Garrett. I enjoyed it very much.”
“Payton seems to be in a much better mood now.”
Was that really the only reason he’d wanted her to have dinner with them? To entertain his daughters? But then again, why else? She reminded herself that she wasn’t looking to get personally involved with this overtaxed single dad, anyway.
“Well, good night,” she said, putting a hand on top of the cart in preparation for climbing behind the wheel. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the birthday party, if not before.”
She thought his gaze focused momentarily on her lips. Had they been parting after another type of outing—say, the type of date she would never have with him—the evening might well have ended with a kiss. She found her thoughts wandering into forbidden territory as she looked at his firm mouth and imagined how it would feel covering her own. Abruptly clearing her throat, she almost leaped into the golf cart.
“Good night, Garrett,” she blurted again.
She barely gave him a chance to reply before she was buzzing away.
Maggie was so busy Tuesday she didn’t have a chance to eat lunch until after two that afternoon. In addition to her usual responsibilities supervising the cleaning staff, the extra holiday-week business added quite a bit of work. She was training two new employees that week. One was an older, experienced maid; the other, a young woman named Darby Burns, had never worked in housekeeping but seemed very eager to learn.
Later, Maggie spent a couple hours inventorying and ordering supplies. She’d even hung some bunting at the motel. There was no lobby for the sixteen-unit lakeside inn—all the rooms opened to the outside, with a covered breezeway separating the two wings—so she had draped bunting on the concrete walls, adding a cheery pop of red, white and blue for guests on their way to their rooms or the ice maker and vending machines in the breezeway.
Finally taking a break, she left the motel and walked briskly to the main administrative building. Pushing through the double doors, she stepped into the big foyer, her nose twitching in response to the delicious scents of grilled sandwiches and simmering soup-of-the-day wafting from the diner.
The box of decorations and a stepladder still waited for her in the corner behind the desk, but she would resume decorating after she ate. In addition to what she and her staff had done at the motel that morning, her dad and Aaron and their small crew had been working outside, preparing the grounds for the fireworks show, concert and carnival. Her dad would fret all week about any potential damage to his immaculate landscaping.
She turned right to enter the diner. Few people were eating lunch this late in the afternoon, though three older couples probably staying in the RV grounds were chatting over soup at a large back-corner table. Two tanned, middle-aged men in Western boots and hats and faded denim sat at one end of the bar drinking coffee, probably just in from fishing.
Sarah Bell smiled from behind the counter when Maggie entered. “What can I get for you, hon?”
Sliding onto a bar stool at the other end of the counter from the fishing cowboys, Maggie replied, “I’m starving. I’ll take whatever is fast.”
“Chicken corn chowder today.”
Moments later, her aunt set a steaming bowl of soup and a square of jalapeño corn bread in front of her. Maggie dug in gratefully. She had eaten about half of her meal when she heard her name squealed from the doorway in a familiar soprano.
“It’s Maggie. Hi, Maggie!”
Swiveling on her stool, Maggie saw Garrett’s entire family entering the diner. Kix was followed by her sister, grandmother and great-grandmother. Garrett brought up the rear.
Wearing denim shorts and a pink T-shirt with pink flip-flops, her bright red hair barely confined to loosening braids, Kix dashed to Maggie’s side. “We went swimming this morning and then we had lunch and then we went for a ride in the boat and it was fun and then I said I wanted to come to the diner and Daddy said okay but I can’t have a milk shake because we’re having cake and ice cream at my party tonight and that’s too much ice cream in one day. But he said I can have a soda and maybe I can get a milk shake some other day while we’re here.”
Maggie was accustomed enough by now to Kix’s breathless, stream-of-consciousness style of conversation to follow along fairly easily. She reached out to give the girl a hug. “Happy birthday, Kix.”
Kix nearly strangled her with her enthusiastic return embrace. “Thanks, Maggie. It’s been the best birthday ever! I’m eleven now. Almost a teenager!”
Garrett gave a heartfelt groan.
“I’m sure my aunt Sarah can arrange for you to have a soda. I recommend the cherry Italian soda. It’s my favorite,” Maggie said with a smile, gently disentangling herself from Kix’s arms.
Sarah agreed cheerily. “Have a seat and I’ll fix you right up.”
Garrett and the girls had been into the diner during summer swimming and boating visits, but this was the first time the older members of his family had joined them at the resort. Maggie wasn’t sure how much that had to do with the long-standing rivalry between her grandmother and Garrett’s.
On Maggie’s recommendation, everyone requested cherry sodas except Garrett, who ordered coffee. They settled