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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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It would be nice to be the one helping them for a change. He could never repay them completely, but it wouldn’t kill him to do this.

He looked at Millie, clad in the old shirt that she had claimed as a lab coat, her hair a halo of kinks he had never learned to tame, pushing her toy car back and forth. Maybe if they let this Brynn into the cabins, it could be good for Mills. A low-pressure way to learn how to deal with the people who would be coming and going all the time once he opened. A test case, as it were.

“This cousin,” he said to Taylor. “She’s not a diva, is she? Because even if I go full out, the place is going to be rough around the edges for a while. I won’t have time to cater to her.”

Taylor beamed. “Brynn’s idea of a good time is a cold beer and a hockey game on TV. I don’t think you have to worry about her.”

“Let’s do it,” Moxie proclaimed, and as if a switch had been flipped, everyone started talking again.

Hank let the voices rush over him and tried to suppress the feeling that Taylor’s assurances sounded a lot like something that would have been uttered by the captain of the
Titanic.

CHAPTER TWO

T
WO
WEEKS
LATER
, Hank stood in the middle of the Wolfe cabin and took in the changes with a critical eye. The missing bits in the fieldstone wall had been replaced, the wood floors were free of sawdust and thanks to a stretch of decent weather, he’d been able to open the windows long enough to clear all scents but a faint hint of fresh-cut wood. Taylor had added some throw rugs, ordered him to buy bed linens in some color he called red, but she insisted was cranberry, and hung curtains at the windows.

All in all, the place didn’t look bad. Kind of cozy, actually. And just in time.

Millie rushed in from her observation post on the porch. “She’s here!”

“Already?”
Crap.
Taylor had promised she’d be on hand for the move-in. Why did Brynn have to be the punctual cousin?

He reached for his phone, ready to tell Taylor to get it in gear, but Millie grabbed his hand. “Come on. We have to go see her.”

“Easy, Mills. Let’s not bowl her over in her first thirty seconds, okay?”

Millie huffed out her impatience with his adult ways. “Daddy. This is important. We have to make her like us. She’s our first guest. Our test...” Her nose wrinkled as she obviously struggled to remember his description.

“Our test subject? Is that what you’re trying to say, my little scientist?”

Her nod sent her glasses sliding down her nose. “Yes. Our first person. So we have to do a really great job with her, so come
on,
Daddy.” Tiny hands fastened on his behind and pushed. “Let’s go.”

“All right, all right. Take it easy.” It figured. The one time he would have welcomed some company there was none to be found. He would have to muddle through this on his own. The story of his life.

He shrugged on his jacket, took Millie’s hand and headed outside. A little blue hatchback sat at the end of the path he had cleared of snow. Yowzers, he hadn’t seen a car stuffed that full since he moved into his first university dorm.

“Hello.” He kept his voice hearty and brisk as he approached the car. “Welcome to Northwoods Cabins.”

The door creaked open. He spotted reassuringly serviceable boots—no heels, no suede—followed by long jean-clad legs. A head of dark hair followed. At last she emerged, giving him the full picture—one of those Icelandic sweaters the cross-country skiers loved, a hint of curves beneath the intricate design and a smile so dazzling it kind of knocked everything else out of his head.

“Hi!” Her voice was brisk also, a bit lower than he expected and friendly enough to ease Millie’s grip on his fingers. “I’m Brynn. I take it my cousin is late, as usual?”

“Sure looks that way.” He remembered his manners and stuck out his palm. “Hank North. This is my daughter, Millie.”

“Good to meet you.” Her hand closed over his. A flash of something—heat?—made him step quickly back, but she had already abandoned him to crouch in front of Millie.

“Hi. I’m Brynn. I know some people say you have to call adults by their last name, but Miss Catalano is just too long for anyone to say, so I’m good with Brynn. Or if your dad has a rule about that, I can be Miss Brynn, but that makes me feel like a teacher—” she glanced up at him, letting loose that smile once more “—so I hope we don’t have to use it.”

Taylor’s words about this woman coercing Russian hockey players to do her bidding took on a terrifying new significance. When she beamed that way, all warm and accepting and as if what she were asking was the most reasonable request ever made in the history of the world, well, it was easy to see how convincing she could be.

Millie pulled her thumb from her mouth. “Hi, Brynn.” From the way her eyes were shining, he was pretty sure that “Brynn” had become another way of saying “the most perfect person in the universe.”

“Let me guess.” Brynn smiled as she tipped her head to one side, studying Millie. “I think you must be in grade...three. Maybe even four.”

“Two.” Millie’s smile dimmed and her little shoulders hunched. Hank frowned. Was it his imagination, or did she do that every time anyone mentioned school lately?

“Only grade two?” Brynn placed a hand on her chest in mock astonishment. “I could have sworn you were older.”

That, at least, brought the light back to Millie’s eyes.

“So this is the place?” Brynn straightened and looked around. Hank braced himself as her gaze roamed over the snug cabin surrounded by winter-bare trees. She nodded and smiled once more.

“It looks adorable. I can’t wait to see the inside.” She moved toward the back of the car and popped the hatch. “By the way, Hank, Taylor told me you had to do some quick-time work to get ready for me. Thanks so much. I promise I won’t drive you crazy with special requests or anything now that I’m here. My goal in life is to be as low-maintenance as possible.”

She probably intended for her words to reassure, but instead they set off a warning bell. In Hank’s experience, when someone felt obliged to assure him they would never do something, he could expect the precise opposite.

Millie’s first subject might be more of a test than either of them had expected.

Brynn lifted a suitcase from the back. “Millie, could you lead me to my new home?”

They headed down the path, Millie chattering as if she had just been reunited with a long-lost friend, Brynn nodding and asking questions. He grabbed a box from the car and followed. He reached the cabin in time to see Millie grab Brynn’s hand and yank her to the center of the room.

“Mills,” he called, but he might as well have saved his breath.

“Okay. This is the living room, but it’s the kitchen, too, okay? Because see, it’s all one big room, but all the parts are in different corners. Aunt Taylor calls it open something.” Millie shook her head. “I don’t remember. But it sounds good. So here is your couch and here is your table, and here is where you can put your TV if you want one. Daddy says guests don’t get TVs. But you’re not a regular guest, so I think you will want one, because, you know, that’s the only way you can watch
MythBusters.

“Oh, I watch that on my computer,” Brynn said, and Millie froze in place.

“Really?” Her whisper was more reverent than anything he’d ever heard from her in church. “You watch
MythBusters?

“All the time. Did you see the one where they tried walking across banana peels? I laughed so hard.”

“I did! I loved that! And when they did the thing about the guys who escaped from—you know, that place, it was Alacrat—”

“You mean Alcatraz?”

Millie’s expression shifted from hero worship to complete and total adoration. It was time for him to step in.

“Uh, Brynn? If you get Millie going on this topic, you’re never going to have anything resembling a life, if you know what I mean.”

She waved his words away. “Oh, please. Like life would be worth living without
MythBusters?
” But she must have caught his underlying meaning, because she pointed to the freestanding island he’d installed the week before. “That looks like a great place to cook.”

“Yes. This is your kitchen.” Millie puffed up again and led the way, shrugging off her parka as she walked. Hank tensed when Brynn’s gaze lingered on the ragged fake lab coat—accessorized today with a ruler and a plastic thermometer peeking from the breast pocket—then let out a slow breath when her lips spread in an indulgent smile.

Shirttails flapping, Millie proceeded to open every drawer and cupboard, offering a running narrative of the things Brynn could either find within them or add to them. He sidled over to Brynn and nodded slightly in Millie’s direction.

“Don’t feel you have to encourage her, okay?”

“Not a problem. But you’re the dad. You call the shots.”

It was ridiculous, the way those simple words warmed him. Yeah, he was Millie’s father. Biology said so, and the divorce agreement made it clear that he was her primary caregiver. But just because it was on paper, it didn’t mean everyone agreed. This was a nice change from what usually happened, when folks would ask him for his opinion, then check with his mother when he wasn’t around.

“And now, this way!” Millie flew down the short hallway. Brynn hurried to follow, Hank tagging along with his hands in the pockets of his jeans, praying for Taylor to show up soon.

“There’s the bathroom. I guess you know what to do in there.”

“Millie!”

“Sorry, Daddy. Okay. This is the extra room. Aunt Taylor said you needed an office so we gave you this cabin ’cause it has an extra bedroom, but she helped us find a chair and table and stuff for you so you can work here. Do you like it?”

Brynn stepped into the room. He watched the way her gaze lingered on the furniture, the slight tilt to her lips as she took in the light from the window falling across the table. It seemed the lady liked what she saw.

Unexpected pride warmed him. He’d been more nervous about her reaction than he’d realized.

“See this?” Millie skipped to the wall where Taylor had instructed Hank to mount a giant whiteboard. “Aunt Taylor said you had to have this really bad. It was important. And it works, too. Me and Daddy played tic-tac-toe on it when he put it up there.”

“That was very responsible of you to test it. Did you try out all the stuff?”

Millie sighed. “I wanted to have a sleepover in your bed, but Daddy said that would be wrong.”

God, shoot him now.

“Well, that was very kind of you to offer to try it, and very...um...nice of your dad to protect my privacy.”

“Yeah, but it really is the best bed. Better than mine. Mine has a dumb old plain top, but yours has this curvy thing, like... Wait, let me show you.”

Again, she grabbed Brynn and yanked, this time with a force that pulled a little
yip
from Brynn’s mouth as she raced to keep up with the child.

“Millie, don’t kill Brynn on her first day here, okay?”

“Right.” Brynn’s voice was breathless but still tinged with laughter. “Let’s wait until I’ve had a night in this gorgeous— Oh, wow.”

They had reached the entry to the main bedroom, where Millie scampered ahead to display the beauty of the cherrywood sleigh bed with all the grace of a pint-size, bespectacled Vanna White.

“See?” She tapped the curve of the footboard. “Isn’t it so pretty?”

“It’s probably the most amazing bed I will ever sleep in.” Brynn smiled at Millie. “It must have been very hard to stay away from it. You get super bonus points for listening to your dad.”

“I’m a very good listener.”

“I bet you are. Now, I brought my favorite chair with me. Could you help me pick out the perfect place for it?”

“Oh, yes!” Without so much as a glance in his direction, Millie grabbed Brynn’s hand and took off down the hall. Voices and hints of laughter floated back to him. For a moment, he let himself enjoy it. He couldn’t remember the last time Millie had been so enthusiastic about something that didn’t involve a magnifying glass or some kind of chemical reaction. It was good to hear her giggling like a regular little kid. Not that he wanted her to be anyone other than herself, but still.

No, it looked like the biggest challenge facing him now wasn’t keeping Ms. Catalano happy, but keeping his daughter from falling head over heels for someone who was going to leave in a few short months.

* * *

B
RYNN
WASN

T
AT
ALL
surprised that Taylor was late to help with the move-in, arriving well after quiet Hank had hustled his adorable daughter back to their place. She’d been prepared for the tardiness. What did catch her off guard was the thermos of premixed margaritas that Taylor dropped on the counter as soon as she walked in.

“Rough weekend?”

Taylor shook her head. “Rough month, rough day, rough...whatever. Let’s just say, it’s gonna feel good to help you unpack and exert some brute force on some things for a while.”

“Not that I can’t sympathize, but you know, I kind of like my stuff. Maybe I’ll do the heavy lifting and you take care of the ‘getting drunk’ part.”

“Yay, teamwork.” Taylor raised a glass of pale green liquid and downed half of it in one swallow. Brynn took in the shaking of her cousin’s hands, the tightness of her movements, and decided that further questioning could wait until the alcohol had kicked in.

“Actually, Hank already dragged in the worst of it. I tried to convince him he didn’t have to, but he just shrugged and kept hauling. He even carried Old Faithful in all by himself. Is he always so silent and chivalrous?”

“Quiet, yes. But chivalrous?” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never thought of it, but yeah. I guess he is, in a way.”

Brynn had a feeling there was a story behind those words, but she wasn’t sure she should hear it. Not when she was going to spend the next few months living in close proximity to the man. Years of short-term jobs had taught her the importance of keeping the work ties loose.

Though when Hank had bent forward to grab a box from the far reaches of the hatchback, she couldn’t stop herself from noticing that the stretch of his jeans had highlighted one very fine hind end. One very fine, very single hind end—which happened to belong to a member of the family that now employed her.

Nope. She wasn’t asking anybody anything about Hank. Wasn’t going to wonder who else in the family had that thick chestnut hair, wasn’t going to ponder how he would look without that faint line of stubble along his jawline. Instead, she crooked her finger and led Taylor down the hall to the bedroom and the suitcases that awaited.

“That Millie’s a sweetie. Chattered nonstop. How long has she been on the science kick?”

“As long as I can— Oh, damn. You didn’t mention your thing about
MythBusters
to her, did you?”

“She brought it up first. I was just being friendly.”

“You’re never going to get rid of her.”

Brynn shrugged and removed a pile of sweaters from the suitcase. “No hardship there. She’s a cutie. It’s okay with me if she pops in once in a while.”

“Oh, Brynn...”

BOOK: Dating a Single Dad
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