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Authors: Lori Handeland

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BOOK: Out of Her League
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The twins were too young to remember their dad, but sometimes Evie
caught Adam looking at the pic
ture of Ray he kept on his bedside table. She

d tried to talk to him about his father, but Adam refused to discuss the subject. He was a quiet boy, a good boy. Sometimes, thoug
h, she wondered how much he rec
ollected of his father, and how much like Ray he really was inside. Such thoughts scared her to death.

 

 

Joe
stared
at
the
picture of Karen on his daugh
ter

s night table. Her pale blond hair had been cut by a master, who

d made the strands fall about her flawless face to the best advantage. Karen had been beautiful, intelligent, seemingly perfect in every way—until you looked into her eyes. Even in the picture, Joe saw the coldness that came straight from his ex-wife

s heart.

He should have seen the same coldness when he looked into Evie Vaughn

s eyes. A woman who was out for her career at the expense of everyone and everything should reflect that selfishness in her eyes. Yet Joe thought he saw warmth, and caring, and a hint of the same attraction that had grabbed him the moment he realized she was a woman and not a child.

Toni walked into the room wearing a T-shirt that sported a sleeping cat. She

d braided her long, blond hair—a color that Joe always thought of as corn-husk blond, though he knew his daughter would not appreciate the comparison—and she appeared younger than her sixteen years. Joe swallowed the uncommon lump of emotion in his throat. God, he
loved her, and he had missed so many years of her life.

“‘
Night, Joe.

“‘
Night, sweetheart.

Joe kissed the top of her head and crossed to the door.
“See you in the morn
ing.

He turned out the light and left the room.

Tucking in a teenager was pushing it, but Joe couldn

t help himself
. He had so little time left be
fore she was all grown up. He

d take advantage of every gift she allowed him.

Joe sat in the living room and absently flipped through the television channels with the remote con
trol, not really seeing the programs or caring what they were. He left the television tuned to a rerun of
I Love Lucy
and let his mind wander once more.

He couldn

t blame Karen for everything that had gone wrong with their marriage. He

d been attracted by her ambition and drive. Those two traits were as much a part of him as breathing, and he admired them in others. So why had he come to detest Karen for the same traits that had interested him in the first place?

Maybe because he saw in her neglect of Toni a reflection of his own behavior. But one thing he could not forgive Karen for was her never-ending criticism of their daughter. Karen had constantly harped on the girl. Toni never dressed right, walked right, spoke right, ate right or looked right. As a result, Toni now tried too hard to please everyone, rarely considering her own happiness.

Toni

s aptitude for baseball appeared to give her
confidence, and though Joe would have liked to keep his daughter as
far away from Coach Mom as pos
sible, he couldn

t ta
ke from Toni this first step to
ward self-assurance. Since he would be coaching Danny Vaughn

s T-ball team, he

d just keep an eye on the boy

s mother and make sure she understood how to deal with young girls. He would not let his daughter be ruined further by a woman concerned with perfection to the exclusion of all else.

Joe clicked off the
television, listening as the si
lence settled around him. He hadn

t lived in such a quiet place since he

d left home. At night, the sounds of the neighborhood disappeared, one by one, until only an occasional barking dog broke the silence. Oak Grove, Iowa, was peaceful—just the sort of place he and Toni needed. Joe had lived too long on the road with too many people and too much noise. He was tired of it all.

But at least on the road he

d never had a chance to become lonely. Someone was always available for a game of cards, a d
rink in the bar, an hour of con
versation. Now he had only Toni.

He needed to start dating again. There had to be some single wo
men in Oak Grove—stable, depend
able women who could help him make a home and understand his daughter.

His dream was outdated, even chauvinistic, but he couldn

t help himself. His childhood had been the stuff of a Mark Twain novel: long summer days playing with his brothers, fishing on the Mississippi, camping beneath the stars, followed by cold winter
nights studying in the kitchen, endless pillow fights, squabbles and wrestling matches.

Joe smiled. He missed those days. He wanted to experience days like those again—from a father

s side of the fence. And he would. He just needed to stay on course, focus on his goal and rush over every obstacle. Kind of like football.

So what if he continued to see Evie Vaughn

s face every time he closed his eyes. He could handle that.

No problem.

 

 

The
day
after
school
let out for the summer, Evie held a picnic for the members of her Big League team. The backyard filled with teenage boys, and the twins ran circles around small groups, pestering Adam and his friends.

Evie watched from the kitchen while she made another pitcher
of pink lemonade. She loved sum
mer—the warmth, the freedom, the opportunity to shape diverse young people into a team. The self-confidence her players developed while on her team was one of the best gifts of Big League ball.

The doorbell rang, and Evie dried her hands on a dish towel before she went to answer. She stopped at the sight of Joe Scalotta, resplendent in a royal-blue T-shirt and stonewashed jeans, standing on the other side of the screen, his huge hand cupped over Toni

s shoulder.


Hi,

Joe said, his voice cool and remote.

When should I pick her up?

Evie pushed open the screen, smiling at Toni and
motioning her inside.

Everyone

s out back,

she told the girl.

Why don
’t you join them?”

Toni nodded and went through the living room into the kitchen. The back door slammed as the girl left the house.

Evie fixed her attention on the father.

I

m not exactly sure when we

ll be done. If they

re having fun and they

re not too crazy, they can stay all day. I

ll have Adam drive Toni home, if you

d like.

Joe frowned and stepped forward. Evie, who was still holding the screen door partway open, took a hurried step back as he came inside. Biting her lip, she forced herself to stand still. What was it about the man that appealed to her? His size? His looks? His seemingly endless array of colorful T-shirts? Or maybe the cold eyes that made her feel hot all over?


Adam. That

s your son?


Yes. He

s seventeen—very responsible, I assure you.


Yeah, aren

t they all. I remember seventeen quite well, thank you. I

ll pick Toni up myself. Just have her call me when she wants to come home.


Fine.

Evie tamped down her irritation at Joe

s implication. He was just protecting his daughter. She

d react the same way if Toni were her child.

Laughter drifted to them on the breeze, and they both focused on the sound.


Seems they

re having a good time already,

Joe ventured, returning his gaze to Evie

s face.

Evie tried not to shift with discomfort under his perusal. Suddenly she was all too aware of her lack
of makeup and short cap of hair, cut close to her head to shear preparation time every morning. She gritted her teeth to keep from looking down at what she wore. If she remembered right, she

d put on her most comfortable pair of cutoff shorts and a loose cotton shirt, favorites because of their age and well-washed softness. Her toes curled against the ceramic tile of the entryway; her shoes resided on the back porch.

An analysis of the reason she gave two hoots how she looked to Joe Scalotta was interrupted by the whirlwind arrival of Benji, who came skidding through the kitchen doorway and slammed to a halt against the back of Evie

s legs.

She stumbled forward, and Joe grabbed her by the shoulders. His big hands felt scaldingly hot as they molded the thin material of her shirt against her skin. Catching her breath, she glanced into his eyes. She saw the same heat there, and she hurriedly regained her footing, then
pulled away before she did some
thing extremely stupid.

Joe ignored her to smile at her son.

Hey, there, Danny. You ready for T-ball practice next week?

Benji squinted all the way up the mountain of man, his eyes widening when they reached Joe

s face.

Who

s he?


This is Mr. Scalotta. Toni

s dad.

Obviously puzzled, Joe looked from Benji to Evie.

He

s the one who asked me to be his coach. Now he doesn

t remember me?


That was Danny.


I know.

Joe pointed at Benji.

Danny.
”‘


I

m Benji,

the boy shouted.
“Why does every
body get us mixed up, Mom? You never do.

Evie smiled. Benji and Danny were not above tricking people about their identities. Joe Scalotta would have his hands full coaching the two of them in T-ball.

I don

t get you mixed up because I

m your mother and I know everything. Now, go back outside. I

ll be there in a minute.

Benji raced off, whatever he

d wanted in the first place forgotten, and Evie turned back to meet Joe

s rueful smile.


Twins,

he said.


Bingo. Want to back out of being their coach now?


Not a chance. I

m looking forward to it.


Why?

Evie couldn

t understand what would entice a man like Joe Scalotta to spend his summer with a herd of seven-year-olds.


I like kids. Always have. But I

ve never had the opportunity to get involved with them before. And this way I

ll be able to keep my eye on things.

Evie got the feeling he was warning her with that cryptic statement—but about what, she had no idea. Before she could ask, he opened the screen door and stepped outside.

Evie watched him go, admiring the way he walked—light on his feet despite his size, as if he knew where he was going, now and for always. It had been far too long since she

d seen such a good
-
looking man, and she couldn
’t help but indulge her
self for a moment.

BOOK: Out of Her League
11.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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