Authors: Kathi Daley
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Katherine Daley
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This book is dedicated to
my valentine, the “real” Zak, my best friend and superhusband Ken, who has been taking care of all my needs, before I even know I have a need, for the past thirty-five years.
I also want to give a special shout-out to Squeaky, a little guy with a big heart who touched a lot of lives.
Special thanks to all my Facebook friends who share their opinions and encouragement, with a special thanks to Jade K. and Tamara M., an aunt-and-niece team who tried some of the recipes in the backs of the books and posted their results.
And, as always, thank you to my sister Christy for her encouragement and valuable feedback, Ricky for the webpage, and Randy Ladenheim-Gil for the editing.
“Zoe, are you okay?” My father
, Hank Donovan, asked as I stared into eyes as blue as my own with my mouth hanging open in shock. “I know this might seem sort of sudden.”
“Sudden?” I gasped. “Are you kidding me? You’ve known
this woman two months and we’re seriously sitting here discussing the possibility of you moving in with her?”
“It’s been three
months,” Dad corrected. “And I didn’t say I was going to do it. I just wanted you to know that she approached me with the idea and I’m considering it.”
I sat back, took a deep breath, and counted to ten.
My dad is normally a conservative and logical person. I knew that his involvement with my mother a few months ago, and her subsequent desertion for the second time in his life, had greatly affected him, but until this moment I really had no idea how much the status quo had been irreparably altered. I leaned forward in the restaurant booth we shared and placed my hand over his across the table. For the first time, I noticed that his dark hair was thinning a bit, and the scattering of gray was becoming more predominant. Although my dad was still an attractive and energetic man, he
turned forty-seven on his birthday last month, and it occurred to me that he might be experiencing the syndrome men his age seemed destined to encounter: the midlife crisis.
“I understand you might want to pursue a romantic relationship
, but I think it’s much too soon for you to consider such a big step. Perhaps you should slow things down, take a step back, and have another look at the situation. I’m sorry, but I really don’t think this is a good idea at all.”
Dad squeezed my hand and looked me directly in the eye. “
Zoe, you know I love you, but in case you’ve forgotten,
am the parent and
are the child. I’m not here to ask your permission, only to inform you of my situation. If and when I decide it’s time to move in with Blythe—or anyone else, for that matter—I can assure you that I’ll be making the decision on my own.”
Ouch. That really hu
rt. Dad and I had always been close, but somehow I felt like I was having lunch with a stranger. How had we gotten to this point? My mom had been out of the picture since just after I was born, and my dad had raised me alone. We’d always been the two musketeers and I thought that had been enough for him. He’d never really dated, seeming content with his lot in life, until my mom unexpectedly returned the previous summer and tilted Dad off his axis. I don’t know everything that occurred, but I do know that the encounter affected him in a profound way. He hadn’t been the same content and carefree man since she’d left just before Halloween.
I wanted to plead with
him to reconsider his relationship with the new woman in town, who I hated quite a lot, but just as I was about to launch into my briefly rehearsed tirade, the witch in question walked through the front door of the café and headed toward us. I pulled back my hand and leaned into the red vinyl cushion behind me, folding my arms across my chest like a petulant child.
,” I sneered, as my inner, eight-year-old brat reared her ugly head.
, dear, do sit up straight. You’re slouching. Not at all an attractive look for a young woman of your age.”
ignored the woman and slouched further into the booth to the point where I could barely see over the top of the table. Of course, given the fact that I am a mere five feet tall, I really didn’t have to squash down all that much to accomplish this feat.
“I’ve made you an appointment with my hairdresser in the valley. He’s absolutely the best. I just know you’ll be a beautiful woman if we can manage
a way to tame all those curls.”
“I like my curls,” I
I’m sure they’re perfectly lovely. For a child. You’re twenty-four, my dear. It’s time to start looking like an adult.”
“The curls stay
,” I insisted. Blythe had been commenting on my hair since the day I met her. The more she pushed for a change, the more determined I became to keep things the same.
we’ll see about that. Has your father told you our news?”
I clenched my fists and considered the
penalty for assault as Charlie, my half Tibetan terrier/half mystery dog, who was sitting quietly at my feet, began to growl. Charlie is very sensitive to my moods, and I was certain he sensed my level of distress.
Blythe looked under the table.
“Oh, Zoe, did you bring that filthy animal with you again? I’m sure you realize that a restaurant is no place for a dog.”
I’m quite certain my face turned red and steam began to pour out
of my ears at that point. It’s one thing to criticize me, but as far as I’m concerned,
messes with my dog.
“Charlie is a therapy dog,” my dad contributed. “He’s extremely well behaved
, and Zoe bathes him quite regularly. I don’t think anyone considers it a problem for him to be here.”
“You really shouldn’t coddle the child the way you do. She needs to learn manners and
.” I sat up. “I’m right here. Didn’t anyone ever tell you it was impolite to talk about people as if they weren’t there?”
, dear. I’m sure you’re right. I do apologize. Now, about that haircut . . . I thought we could add some highlights as well. All that brown detracts from your lovely complexion, and I’m certain a touch of blond will bring out the blue in your eyes.”
, Ms. Ravenwood,” our waitress, and my best friend, Ellie Davis interrupted, saving me from having to reply. If I know Ellie, and I do, I’m sure she’d witnessed our altercation and hurried over before muffins started to fly. For those of you who don’t know me, I tend to be extremely protective of my relationships and as a result am prone to unreasonable acts of jealousy and spontaneous displays of childishness. I hate to admit it, but it really doesn’t take a lot to set me off, and Blythe’s total power over my dad, coupled with her attempt to manipulate me, was about to catapult me into a food-throwing frenzy.
“Would you like to order something?”
, yes, dear. Don’t you look nice today? Is that a new haircut?”
; thank you for noticing.” Ellie smiled. She had cut her straight, waist-length brown hair to an attractive shoulder length a few days before. I had to admit the style suited her, as it tended to emphasize her thin face, porcelain complexion, and huge brown eyes.
, it’s simply adorable. You look so mature and sophisticated. The right haircut can make all the difference.” Blyth glanced at me, and I had to use every ounce of self-control to keep from sticking my tongue out at her.
“Can I get you something
?” Ellie slid me a warning look. She knows my feelings for the woman who is campaigning to be my evil stepmother are irrational at best.
“Perhaps a cup of tea.” Blythe graced Ellie with the most disgusting sugar
-and-nice smile I’d ever seen. “What variety would you recommend?”
“We have a nice peppermint spice,” Ellie
“What a wonderful suggestion. That sounds perfect.”
Okay, now I know Blythe is only being übernice to Ellie to get under my skin. I’m sure you can see it as well. And everyone thinks
the manipulative and irrational one.
“I really have to go.” I slid out of the booth as Ellie walked away. “We’ll
talk later,” I promised my dad. I turned to leave when a rather large man in a black silk shirt with brass buttons walked up behind me, completely blocking my way. Talk about being stuck in the seventies.
Adriana?” He looked directly at the demon sitting next to my father.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken
.” Blythe turned an unusual shade of red.
, right. You have a minute?”
“I’m afraid you have the wrong woman,” my dad spoke
The man glanced at Blythe and then
at my dad. He frowned and then shrugged. “Yeah, I guess I do. I’m sorry for the interruption.”
He turned and walked back
out of the front door.
“That was odd,
” I murmured. I couldn’t help but notice that Blythe looked extremely uncomfortable about the encounter.
, well, these things happen.” Blythe looked at my dad and smiled. “Perhaps we should be going. We don’t want to be late for the movie.”
It doesn’t start for two hours,” my dad pointed out.
I’ve decided to stop by my place to change.” Blythe slid out of the booth without waiting for my dad’s assent. She turned and walked toward the front door.
“I guess we’re leaving.” My dad
followed her out of the booth. “We’ll talk some more another time.”
“Count on it.”
After they left, Ellie came back to the table with Blythe’s tea. “They left?”
,” I answered in a voice snarkier than was really called for.
“I had to be nice to her,” Ellie defended. “It’s my job.”
I looked at my best friend in the whole world. The fact that Blythe and her relationship with my father had catapulted me out of my comfort zone really wasn’t her fault. To be honest, she’d been nothing but supportive of my feelings since the wicked stepwitch moved to town. “I know,” I admitted. “I’m just being Zoe.”
“I overheard a bit of your conversation with your dad. He’s
really thinking of moving in with her?” Ellie asked as she began clearing the table.
“He says he’s considering the idea,” I admitted
as Charlie and I followed her back to the kitchen. “Have you ever heard of such a ridiculous idea? He’s only known her a few months. I’m afraid he may have fallen into the midlife sinkhole.”
“Sinkhole?” Ellie laughed
as she began sorting the dishes for washing.
“Do you have a better explanation?”
“Your dad has been single his whole life. He’s devoted all his energy to you, but now you’ve grown up and have your own life. It’s natural that he’d be looking for a companion at this point. Besides, I think it was really hard on him when your mom showed up out of the blue and then left just as abruptly. If you want my advice, I’d give him a break. He’s always been there for you. Perhaps it’s time to return the favor. If Blythe makes him happy, maybe you should try harder to get along with her.”
Ellie was right. My dad
always been there for me, and Blythe
seem to make him happy. Truth be told, I probably would hate any woman my dad developed a serious relationship with, even if she weren’t the world’s most irritating woman. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been known to display irrational feelings of jealousy toward anyone who interferes in my closest relationships. Maybe it was time for me to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled child.
“Do you want to come over for dinner tonight?”
Ellie hesitated. “I’d love to have dinner with you, but I sort of made plans with Rob and some of the members of the group.”
b was a single father who’d started a group for single parents. They often did things socially, as well as trading babysitting and offering support.
“You aren’t a single parent,” I reminded
, but I find being with the group to be enjoyable, and they’ve totally accepted me as one of their own, in spite of the fact I’m short at least one child. It’s probably because of all the free babysitting I provide, but I’m having fun with them, and you’ve been otherwise occupied of late.”
I guess I hadn’t stopped to
consider the effect my relationship with my ex-enemy and current neighbor and boyfriend Zak Zimmerman might have on Ellie. Zak and I had been together every night since Christmas, until he left a few days ago for a business trip to the East Coast.
“We’re going bowling. You
’re welcome to come, if you want,” Ellie offered.
, but I think I’ll pass.”
“Is Zak still out of town?”
“Yeah. He said he would be back for the grand opening of Zoe’s Zoo on Thursday.” Zoe’s Zoo is the animal adoption and rehabilitation shelter that Zak bought for me after the county fired me as an animal control officer and closed the local facility. We’ve been waiting for operating permits for over two months. Unless something goes seriously wrong, it looks like we’re
set to open in a few short days.
. . .” Ellie searched for the right emotion, “concerned?”
“Zak didn’t ask me to watch Lambda.”
Lambda is Zak’s dog.