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Authors: Kris Fletcher - Comeback Cove 01 - Dating a Single Dad

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BOOK: Dating a Single Dad
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“Not yet.”

Brynn pointed the pen at Taylor. “This would be a lot easier if you didn’t look exactly the way you did the time you dragged me down to the graveyard to howl at the old folks walking by. I swear I couldn’t sit down for hours after your mom got through with us.”

“Oh, relax. I’m trusting you with my heart for the next four months. You can give me a day.”

When she put it that way—when she grinned the way she used to, the way, Brynn realized with a shock, she hadn’t grinned in months—there was no way to refuse her. Not that Brynn had ever been able to walk away from a family member in need.

She would never wish calamity on her loved ones, but when, life being what it was, it happened—well, it was kind of nice to know that she was the one they trusted to make things better. The one they needed.

“Okay, kiddo. It’s a deal. You work on your nefarious plot and I’ll search the internet for love potions.” She put her pen to the paper. “Operation Sleeping Beauty is officially under way.”

* * *

H
ANK
N
ORTH
LOOKED
around the conference room that overflowed with family members—some laughing, some eating, all of them talking and moving and offering up their opinions—and wondered why he bothered wearing earplugs while working with power tools. There wasn’t a chain saw on the planet that could compete with a roomful of Norths.

“For the love of God, people.” His grandmother Moxie, usually the only one who could corral this group, sat at the head of the table with proverbial steam coming out of her ears. At the other end, his dad glanced at Moxie, but continued gesturing with a doughnut while arguing with Carter and Cash about the Leafs’ lousy attempt at defense during the previous night’s hockey game. Hank’s mom was singing a song about cows with Hank’s daughter, Millie. A laptop beside Taylor sat open in readiness for Ian’s Skype call. In short, it was a typical North family gathering—loud, out-of-control and likely to erupt into a complete snort-fest at any moment.

Taylor, though, seemed to be sitting this one out. Usually she would be chatting up Moxie or singing with Millie, but this time she sat in the corner beside Dad with her arms crossed and a funny kind of smile on her face—almost as if she were laughing at some private joke.

Well, at least she was being quiet about it.

Hank pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the time. Ian was due to call in fifteen minutes, and the family had yet to iron out any of the items on Moxie’s list. This wasn’t gonna be pretty.

A loud
smack
cut through the hubbub, silencing everyone in midsentence—midlyric, in Millie’s case—and caused everyone to swivel their heads to where Moxie stood glaring. The shoe in her hand and a dirt mark on the table were all the evidence needed of the source of the noise.

“Now, listen.” Moxie pointed the loafer at each of them in turn. “We have a festival coming up in four months and none of you are taking this seriously. For pity’s sake, people, we know how to work together. Why are you making this so difficult?”

The silence following her statement would have been encouraging if not for the way Cash nudged Carter and snickered.

“Boys!”

Oh, hell. Now they were in for it. Moxie was about two steps away from a full-fledged snark attack. Hank pushed his chair back a bit, ready to hustle Millie out of the room if needed. She insisted that she was old enough to be part of the meetings now that she had turned seven, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for her to see her uncles quivering in fear when Moxie unleashed the Furies.

“You two,” Moxie began, only to be interrupted by Taylor pushing up from her chair.

“I’m sorry. Could I have everyone’s attention for a minute?”

Well,
that
got people to shut up. Family lore had it that Carter had interrupted Moxie once, back when he was a kid. Millie had asked him about it a couple of years ago. Hank had never known it was possible for a grown man’s voice to go that high.

Maybe this meeting was going to be worth the drive into town after all.

Taylor turned the laptop to better face the table before drawing a deep breath and giving everyone a nervous smile. Dad cleared his throat and glanced meaningfully at Moxie, who seemed to be gathering thunderclouds in preparation for hurling. Taylor blinked.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have interrupted, but I have an idea that I think could help us. Moxie, could I present it to these folks before Ian signs on and we have to focus on him?”

Ah. Well done. An apology, a reminder of the absent fiancé and the promise of help. Taylor might yet be allowed to live.

Moxie narrowed her eyes. Millie reached for the edge of the baggy white shirt she wore over her jeans and sweater, rubbing the fabric in between the fingers of one hand. Her free thumb popped into her mouth, prompting a nudge from Grandma and a stifled sigh on Hank’s part. Taylor rested one hand on the laptop. Her left hand, he noticed, angled so the big family diamond was winking right at Moxie.

Damn. He never knew Taylor had it in her.

At last, Moxie nodded.

“Thanks.” Taylor smiled. “Everyone, I think it’s no secret that we’re in trouble. We want to do this festival. It’s the perfect way to thank everyone in Comeback Cove for one hundred years of business. But we’re all so busy with our own jobs, running the dairy, and going to school—” she smiled at Millie, who glowed and let the thumb slip from her mouth “—and getting those cabins ready for tourist season, and, well, I think the festival isn’t getting the attention it deserves.”

Ma nodded. She had said almost the same thing to Hank just last week.

“I admit, I’m not sure why this is so much harder for us than running the dairy. Maybe because everyone has been doing that for so long that we all know our roles, but now...” Taylor shrugged and checked the clock. “Anyway. Here’s my point.”

“Amen,” muttered Cash. Carter elbowed him hard.

Taylor continued as if there had been no interruption. “I think we need help with the festival—someone who can make it her top priority and ride herd on us. Someone who is organized and efficient and capable of keeping a bunch of very opinionated people in line.”

Silence descended once more. The other adults in the room looked at Taylor in various degrees of bewilderment, surprise and admiration. Millie had given up on the adult talk and was singing softly to the car that had come with her drive-thru dinner.

Hank tipped his chair back and struggled to keep from laughing out loud as the impact of Taylor’s words sank in. He loved his family, he really did, but they weren’t accustomed to being told they were messing up. Which, in essence, was what Taylor had just said in her ever-so-diplomatic way.

Moxie spoke first. “Are you telling me, missy, that we need an outsider to take charge of our family dairy’s celebration?”

“Yes.”

Good for Taylor. She didn’t even blink.

“Sounds like you have someone already in mind.” Carter’s words were tight and clipped.

“As a matter of fact, I do. My cousin Brynn. Here’s her résumé.” Taylor pulled papers from a folder and passed them to Dad, who took one before handing them to Carter.

Cash whistled. Dad sent him the “shut up” look.

“Taylor. It’s an interesting proposal, and I see why you think we need someone to rein us in, but this is how we work. Everything will come together. We don’t need—”

“I like it.”

Hank let his chair drop to the ground at Moxie’s pronouncement. Judging from the way assorted North jaws were sagging all around him, he wasn’t the only one taken by surprise.

His mother leaned forward and stared at Moxie. “Mom? Did I hear that right? You, of all people, want to turn this over to someone not family?”

“Hell to the yes.” Moxie pulled her shoe off the table at last and tossed it on the carpet with a muffled thud. “Taylor’s right, Janice. We all have too much on our plates already. This festival needs to be special. One hundred years in business is something to celebrate, and it should be done right. The way we’re carrying on, we’re going to come to the weekend of the festival and it’ll be just us standing in the park because Cash forgot to advertise it and Carter didn’t get the insurance. And Mr. Silent over there will spend the whole time playing invisible, then sign Millie up for a soccer game so he doesn’t have to think about it at all.”

Hank’s cheeks burned. Pegged again.

“I’ll give you that.” Ma tapped her pencil against the legal pad in front of her. “But Taylor—your cousin?”

Cash rolled his eyes. “Ma. Come on. Don’t tell us you’re worried about nepotism.”

“Of course not! But I...well...this is a very unique project. Taylor, I know you wouldn’t recommend her unless you believed her capable, but the fact is, family can... Let’s say, you can be surprised by their actions at times.”

Oh, hell. That was directed at him, he was sure of it. Ma still wasn’t happy about his decision to leave the dairy last year. He shifted in his seat and let his hand settle on Millie’s wild mane of hair—a steadying reminder of why he had made his choice.

“You don’t need to worry about Brynn. She’s the most organized person on the planet. And as you can see from her résumé, she has a wide variety of experiences to bring to Northstar.”

“She doesn’t stay in one place very long, does she?” Ma squinted at the paper.

“Brynn loves pushing herself. She prefers to take on special projects, short-term positions, maternity-leave replacements—jobs that will let her try new skills in new places. She also knows how to keep people in line, which I think is what we need most.”

“There’s a challenge if I ever heard one,” Cash muttered.

Taylor’s smile was the kind that a cat might offer up to a mouse in the seconds before pouncing. “I wouldn’t advise it, Cash. I think I might have mentioned my cousin the hockey player, right? The one who was in the NHL and who now lives here in Comeback Cove?”

Hank sat up straighter. The twins exchanged glances—Cash’s worried, Carter’s intrigued.

“You mean that guy who bought Camp Overlook?” Moxie asked.

“That’s her brother,” Taylor said. “I have personally seen her guilt, convince and persuade him
and
his teammates into doing what she needed them to do. Even the guys who spoke only Russian or Finnish couldn’t get around her.”

More looks were exchanged. Chairs shifted. Papers rustled.

“We wouldn’t need her for as long as most of her projects,” Moxie said. “We’re talking three, maybe four months. Is that enough to make it worth her while?”

Taylor glanced at the laptop. Her smile wavered slightly before she met Moxie’s gaze.

“The one thing Brynn loves more than a new adventure is her family. Half the reason she takes those short-term jobs is because it gives her more flexibility to help them when needed. Working here would be a new experience and let her be close to both me and her brother. Who, I might mention, would be extremely willing to lend extra support to the festival with Brynn at the helm.”

“So you’re saying we’d get someone who could whip these sorry asses into shape, take the bulk of the work off our hands and bring in a bona fide celebrity to fancy up the celebration.” Moxie folded her hands and sat back. “How much will she cost us?”

“She’s not cheap. But I had a thought. Since it’s so short-term, maybe we could offer her a reasonable salary and sweeten the deal by providing housing.”

For the first time since taking the floor, Taylor looked straight at Hank. It took him a second to grasp her meaning. But as every face in the room turned toward him, the lump of dread building in his gut told him he had interpreted her words correctly.

“The hell I will.”

Cash snorted. “And it finally speaks.”

“Cash, leave your brother alone.” Ma drummed her fingers on the table. “You’re right, Taylor. It would make sense to provide housing. But wouldn’t she want to stay with you?”

Millie sent her car zooming across the table. “Daddy says Auntie Taylor’s place is so small, you have to go outside to wipe your—”

“That’s enough, Mills.” Time for another talk about boundaries. Judging from the look on his mother’s face, Hank was going to be on the receiving end of one himself.

As soon as the laughter had died down, Dad piped up. “It’s up to you, Hank.”

No way. Hank had spent his entire life playing catch-up—as a sibling, a husband, a father. This time he wasn’t going to be rushed into something on someone else’s timetable. He was already pushing himself to get the cabins in shape before tourist season kicked in. The last thing he needed was to have to drop everything else to prepare for Wonder Woman.

“I’m not open yet.”

“You’re not charging her,” Taylor pointed out. “It’s not like you have to be officially open and ready to roll.”

“They all need painting. Most have holes in the roofs, and I’m only halfway through replacing the windows.”

“For crying out loud, Hankie,” Carter said. “You don’t need to have all ten cabins ready. Pick the one that’s in the best shape and get it spiffed up. You’ll probably have a couple of weeks, right, Taylor?”

She nodded. “And I can help. Either with the painting or with...um...making sure you have the time to get it done.” She glanced at Millie, who had returned to driving her car in circles.

“You know,” he said mildly, “half the reason I bought the cabins was to have
more
time with certain people who are pretending to not listen. Not less.”

Moxie rolled her eyes. “Oh, for the love of biscuits. We’re talking two weeks. You live and breathe the child as it is. It’ll do her good to have some space, maybe hang out with Taylor for a bit.”

He wanted to tell Moxie she was off her rocker, but he couldn’t. Because he knew too well that families could become claustrophobic. He didn’t want to do that to her.

And even though he wanted—
needed
—a little distance between him and his family, the fact was, he did owe them. That was the other reason he had left the dairy and bought the cabins—to stop being a burden on them. To stand on his own two feet. There was no way in hell he would have made it through the years since Millie’s birth and his divorce without his family, but it was time to turn that around.

BOOK: Dating a Single Dad
3.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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