Authors: Kemmie Michaels
Copyright © 2013 Kemmie Michaels
All rights reserved.
Published by Bruce Street Publications, LLC
This is a work of fiction and does not in any way advocate irresponsible behavior. This book contains content that is not suitable for readers 17 and under. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.
Names, characters, places, brands, products, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and ownership of any location names or products mentioned in this book. The author received no compensation for any mention of said trademarks.
Cover images licensed through Robin Ludwig Designs, Inc. and iStockPhoto
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Forever and first to my family. You all already know, but I'll say it anyway: I couldn't do any of this without you. Thank you for everything.
Thanks, JW, for the "fry fries" inspiration about twenty years ago.
Karen Muller, my original fan-girl, you have made me smile on unlikely days. You are a walking pile of awesome.
Anna C, you are invaluable and a constant smile in my editing process. It's a privilege to work with you. Thank you!
To Robin Ludwig Designs, Inc., you have taken the scraps of my cover-attempts and turned them into something fantastic. You are nothing short of a magician.
Holly C, you listened to my insecure ramblings more often than should have been necessary. I appreciate your guidance, conversation, and laughter.
Bloggers, bloggers, bloggers…
Can't say enough about your awesomeness. Thank you for all the time you spend helping independent authors. You are amazing people.
Thanks to a lunch break, Jenna had time to let her mind wander, and she couldn't stop thinking about the muscled-up, tattooed sweetheart who came into the children's clinic the day before with his sick daughter. That little angel was two and about the cutest thing ever. Jenna had seen little Sophie before but with her mother, who seemed
to be little else than a nasty, demanding woman. She was a total contrast to the loving father from yesterday's visit.
Jenna hoped for Sophie's sake that she spent more time with her father than with her mother. Every child deserved to be gazed upon with such loving eyes as Luke Baylor's had been.
What a good daddy
, she thought yet again. And even with all his focus on Sophie, Jenna swore he was eyeing her, too. But his attention wasn't really possible, was it?
His lack of a wedding band indicated he might be single, but the man had a body of rock-solid, sexy, tattooed muscle with a gorgeous face to match. Not only that, but he held his daughter with tender care. Surely someone like that was already taken, or would have offers from super-model women every day. He certainly wouldn't be interested in simple her.
But still, no matter how much Jenna tried to convince herself there was no possible way they made an instant connection, she distinctly remembered him looking at her. Maybe even
at her. From the first moment little Sophie reached for Jenna, his eyes burned into her. She was so flustered she could hardly do her job. The full-body chemical reaction caused by his presence coursed through her system unlike anything she'd experienced before. He had an intensity to him she couldn't fathom.
But one thing she knew for sure: he and Sophie's mom were not a couple. That much was obvious. He had no idea about Sophie's insurance status, and he referred to his involvement as "watching" her for the afternoon. Plus, a man like that would not put up with a harpy like Miranda Walsh. He wouldn't have to. Sadly, however, she was drop-dead gorgeous. Maybe he only wanted the eye-candy, and Jenna couldn't bring gorgeous to the table. She brought warmth, caring, love, and dedication to relationships, but definitely not gorgeous. Pleasant-looking was the best compliment she allowed herself.
Just then, Cassie entered the break room to get ready for her afternoon shift. She always saw Jenna's thoughts like they spelled her emotions in a cartoon bubble over her head, and today was no different.
"Ok, Jennalyn Roche. Where's your mind?" Cassie eyed her with practiced scrutiny. "And what's his name?"
"Geez! How do you do that? No, never mind, brain's right here. I've got nothing going on. But I know you do…how's Scottie the hottie?"
"Don't try to distract me, Jenna. I want to know who's got you all gooey. But Scott's good. He's fun to mess with. I sent him a text this morning daring him to mismatch his socks for work today. I have no idea if he'll do it, but it'll bother him either way. He either backs down, which he hates, or he knows his socks don't match all day. I'm so evil," Cassie said with an ornery smile.
"You've got it bad. I've never been able to distract you so easily before," Jenna grinned.
"Oh! You suck! But you're an idiot, too. You reminded me. So…how did you meet him? And when do
get to meet him?"
"Not telling and never."
"Why not?" Cassie asked, a little surprised by Jenna's tenacity. "Any hints?"
"It's nothing. Just a guy who came in yesterday with his daughter."
"See? I already know how you met him," Cassie said smugly.
Jenna rolled her eyes at her boisterous, bold friend, knowing she, herself, could never be so confident or blunt. So instead, Jenna shyly described for Cassie the entire encounter, brief as it was, including the possibly-imagined stare.
"Of course he was staring," Cassie said with an eye roll. "The only reason you think he wasn't is because of your ridiculously low opinion of your appearance. So when is he coming back?"
"I scheduled his daughter for a follow up next week to check her ears when she's healthy. She's been getting a lot of ear infections and they're thinking about doing tubes. So hopefully
brings her back and not her mom," Jenna said, then added with a guilty smile, "I scheduled the appointment during one of my shifts in case he's the one who comes in."
"Sneaky! I love it," Cassie grinned while high-fiving her friend. "Who's the little girl? Do I know her?"
"Not telling," Jenna smiled again.
"Because it's nothing. If he comes back in and stares again, I
clue you in. That's as good as it's going to get right now."
Cassie narrowed her eyes but conceded anyway. "I've never seen you so determined, Jennalyn. It's interesting. This is something. I can tell."
With one more eye-roll, Jenna left the break room with Cassie and went up to the front desk to reopen the office after the lunch break.
Luke was power-housing through the weight racks at the gym, but his mind remained at the check-in desk at Sophie's clinic. Instead of punishing himself with his usual muscle-shredding intensity, he lifted weights on the normal level of the other kick-boxing trainees. The only vision swirling in his brain today remained the angelic, soft face from yesterday. He didn't even know her name, but she got to him. Deep.
She had this
about her. His daughter knew it, too, even at age two. He'd never seen little Sophie reach for a stranger before, but one glance at the medical assistant in peach-colored scrubs and Sophie needed to be in her arms. Luke could relate. The beautiful angel behind the desk held Sophie so delicately and took care of her as if she were precious. Sophie's own mom didn't even hold her so lovingly. He acted like a jerk with all the staring, but he couldn't help himself. He thought she noticed, too.
Luke was already working through the situation in his mind to figure out how he could see her again. His plan came to him quickly. He could get Sophie from his crazy ex for the afternoon of her next appointment. Getting her shouldn't be too hard; Miranda never wanted to deal with such trivial things as their daughter's health.
. No wonder he only referred to her as
in his mind.
CB was such an idiot! Sophie was a precious gift. He never planned for or expected to be a dad, but the little blond girl should be cherished by both of her parents, not just him. CB even referred to her once as the stretch-mark monster. How a mother could say that about her child made no sense to him. She laughed off the comment like it was a joke, but Luke saw truth in her bitter eyes. On some level, she resented Sophie.
How ridiculous. She should only resent herself for getting knocked up by some random guy on leave from the Army. Luke didn't even know about Sophie until he got home almost two years later and CB wanted some free babysitting.
The news of a child about knocked him over when he heard Miranda announce he was a father. He didn't believe her until Sophie's eyes erased any doubt. Her bright green eyes were a dead-on match for his own. Even without the eyes, the little sweetie tugged at his heart in such a way he knew the truth in his core. He was the father of an absolutely perfect and beautiful little girl.
And because she was a toddler, Sophie had a belly-laugh which cured a little piece of him every time he heard it. And yesterday, that insightful little girl reached for the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Sophie more or less introduced the two of them with her perceptive understanding of the other blond in the room.
The brown-eyed medical assistant at the pediatric clinic had such a peaceful nature. Her eyes were so beautiful and warm. She was helpful and caring, even through something as mundane as paperwork. Luke didn't understand much about the insurance situation because Sophie's mom hadn't taken the time to clue him in. He wasn't even sure CB realized Sophie was sick until he called her to ask which doctor to visit when her fever spiked up too high.
Unfortunately, Luke was currently unable to do anything about Sophie's situation. He wanted to get her away from CB and keep her safe and happy all the time. But how could he? He remained an angry fuck-up without a real job or even his own place to live. After getting back from Afghanistan, he didn't re-up for the Army. He had no desire to go back and be reminded of the darkest, most vile moment of his life. But he came back to nothing but a lightly-padded bank account and his Harley.
His parents disowned him a long time ago for his teenage partying, and his only brother was still off playing war. So for the last several months, he'd been crashing on the couches of his buddies and working as a mechanic with an old friend, getting paid under the table. Sometimes he even slept in a back corner of the shop. Each aspect of his life combined did not add up to a stable, appropriate life for a little girl, but still might be better than life with CB. Either way, unless he pulled his shit together, Sophie would remain with Miranda.
And then the face of the woman from the clinic popped into his mind again. He smiled without meaning to as he moved over to the squat rack. His trainer came over to ask him why he was so distracted.
"Shut the hell up," Luke grumbled, frustrated. The last thing he wanted was for Marcus to ask him about the contents of his brain yet again, good or bad. He got tired of brushing off all the inquiries about what kept him so angry. He never wanted to talk about the nightmare that made him leave the Army. Marcus already knew about Sophie, though, so she served as his go-to response anytime Marcus too easily read his face. Smiles and frowns were explained away by Sophie's sweetness or her mother's pain-in-the-ass-ness.