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Authors: Marie Ferrarella

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BOOK: What the Single Dad Wants...
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The next moment, as he opened the door on his side and tried to get out, all other thoughts vacated his head. There was nothing to focus on
getting out of the car.

Or not getting out of the car, as the case was turning out.

“How are they?” Isabelle asked, concerned.

The second she'd pulled up into the driveway and set the parking brake, she'd leaped out of the vehicle and quickly rounded the nonexistent hood to come to his side. He'd already opened the passenger door. Isabelle opened it wider.

And then she remained standing there, looking at Brandon's lower half as he attempted, unsuccessfully, to unfold himself and get out. It became painfully obvious that he was having difficulties after his second attempt failed.

“Numb,” he answered honestly. “But I think there's hope.”

Brandon had always subscribed to the glass half-full school of thought. Nothing could be gained by anticipating the worst. If it was meant to happen, it would happen. No sense in ushering it in prematurely and giving it a seat at the table.

Bracing one hand on the inside of the passenger door, the other against the headrest, Brandon finally managed to attain his freedom from the imprisoning sports car. Once out, he did his best to push himself up into a standing position. It was far from easy. His legs really had gone numb, and now there was that incredibly an
noying feeling of a myriad of ants sashaying back and forth along the backs of his thighs and calves.

He still didn't feel his feet.

Standing, although a bit unsteadily, he made eye contact with Isabelle. “But the prognosis is good,” he said just before he took a step forward.

The next moment, his right knee buckled, and he found himself sinking. He would have gone down all the way had Isabelle not instinctively sprang into action. She instantly placed her body in the way, angling her shoulder so that it was solidly beneath his. She caught the full brunt of his weight.

For a second, Isabelle sank down a little, her knees temporarily weakened because of the added weight. But then, with one arm wrapped firmly around his midsection, and relying on sheer determination—and the exercises she did religiously whenever she found the time—she managed to hold Brandon in place.

Brandon was clearly surprised. She weighed far less than he did. How, then, did she manage to support his weight and not buckle under? She really was rather an amazing woman, he thought as admiration flooded through him.

“You weren't kidding, were you? You really are strong, especially for such a little thing,” he couldn't help commenting.

Had her shoulders been free, she would have shrugged off the compliment. “It's all in the technique,” she told him. Concerned about the condition of his legs, she added, “We'll just stand here for a while until you feel up to walking inside.”

“Until then I guess we could practice singing some old beer drinking songs,” he deadpanned, leaning into her.

She stared, confused. He looked so serious, she couldn't tell if he was kidding or not. “What?”

“Just a joke,” he assured her. “With my arm draped like that over your shoulders, it reminded me of my slightly beer-hazy days in college where the reward for getting through a week of studies was to go to the local pub, swap stories and drink. The drinks got progressively taller, the stories got progressively shorter and then, in the end, we'd all stumble back to the dorms, the less plastered holding up the more plastered.”

At the time, it had seemed like the fun thing to do. Now, looking back, he wondered why he'd wasted the time and the money. He hoped to God that Victoria would prove to be more mature than he had been when it was her turn to go to college.

Hell, he thought, she was more mature
than he had been then.

“Sounds like a lovely time,” Isabelle commented dryly.

“It was then. In hindsight, though, maybe not so much.” He looked at her. He'd done more than his share of talking. It was time to find out something about her. “What was your college experience like?”

“Lots of studying. No stories. No beer.”

She felt almost envious of Brandon's experiences because she'd had none to speak of, no fond memories to look back on. There had been just goals to reach and parents to impress. Succeeding in the former didn't really make up for failing in the latter.

“Sounds like something I'm hoping Victoria experiences,” he told her honestly. And then, the next moment, he interrupted himself as his face lit up. “Wait, I think I feel something,” he announced. Looking down
at his feet, he proclaimed with a grin. “Yes, definitely something. I feel my feet.”

Very slowly, like a man testing the waters, Brandon removed his arm from her shoulders.

His weight gone, Isabelle instantly straightened up. She did her damnedest not to look as if she even noticed the contact between them was terminated. Or that she missed it.

Chapter Six

an't you do anything to speed this up?” Anastasia asked impatiently.

It was several days later. Isabelle and her less-than-patient patient were in the room that Brandon had equipped to serve as his private indoor gym. Open and airy, with a massage table on one side and mirrors running along the length of two of the walls, reflecting a number of different exercise machines, it was the perfect location for Anastasia's therapy, Isabelle thought. The mirrored walls would allow the actress to see for herself what she was doing wrong—and improve upon what she was doing right.

At the moment, the movie icon felt it was a great deal of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.

“You're doing very well,” Isabelle assured her in the calm, upbeat voice that was her stock-in-trade when she worked with restless clients.

“Are you sure this is how this therapy stuff is supposed to go?” the woman questioned with more than a touch of frustration in her voice. “I thought I'd be lying on a table, having you knead the muscles around the affected area to get them back into shape.”

“That's not therapy, that's a massage,” Isabelle pointed out, her smile never leaving her lips. “Speaking of which, let's get you up on the table,” she directed.

“For a massage?” Anastasia asked, brightening.

“No, to rotate the leg that was operated on, see if we can't stretch those muscles of yours a little,” Isabelle told her.

Because she didn't want the actress pulling anything, Isabelle discreetly moved a single-step step stool into place, getting Anastasia to use that in order to help her get on the table.

With effort, Anastasia lowered herself onto the table, then looked at her.

“Okay, now what?”

“Now, you lie down,” Isabelle said, gently taking hold of the woman's leg and lifting it upward, “and we do this.”

Anastasia's eyes widened, unprepared for the salvo of pain that shot through her. The anguished cry escaped the woman's lips before she could think to stop it—not that she would have. “Aren't you supposed to make a wish first before snapping the bone?”

“That's only with a wishbone and there'll be no bone snapping today,” Isabelle promised. “Just a couple more times,” she coaxed, rotating the leg even more slowly. “You're doing fine.”

is a matter of opinion,” Anastasia grumbled.

Unfazed, Isabelle continued smiling and slowly rotating the woman's leg from side to side to encompass
what she felt were its essential limits for now. “Don't worry, this'll seem like nothing to you soon.”

Anastasia wanted something more definite than that. “When?” she demanded.

“When your body gets a little stronger.” Stopping, Isabelle lowered the woman's leg and leaned back. They both relaxed. “This is a slow process, Anastasia, and you're already making more progress than most patients in your age bracket.”

Somewhat pleased, Anastasia still saw fit to challenge her. “Is that your polite way of saying that I'm old?”

“No, that's my way of using the data that's been compiled about the response rate of various different groups of people as a reference point. This way, as your physical therapist, I know more or less what to expect by way of normal progress—and what to shoot for.”

Anastasia looked unconvinced. She sniffed slightly. “That's very diplomatic.”

Isabelle wasn't about to be baited. Her father used to do that, trying to trap her into admissions she had no desire of making. He felt it was his way of showing off his superiority. She'd learned how to make the most of evasive maneuvers.

“It's just the truth. Now, do you want to rest or continue a little longer?”

“I want to rest,” Anastasia declared. But even as she said so, the actress propped herself up on her elbows, braced for anything. “But I'll continue a little longer.” And then she glanced toward the doorway and raised her voice. “Preferably without an audience.”

was something she thought she'd never hear from the actress, Isabelle thought as she turned around to see who the woman was talking to.


Three days into her stay and the sight of the handsome author still caused her heart to flutter like a butterfly caught in an updraft.

How long was it going to take for her to get used to having him pop up like that? She had a feeling she knew the answer to that, and it was
one that worked in her favor.

“Don't worry, I'm not staying,” Brandon told his mother as he popped into the room. He nodded a greeting coupled with a smile at Isabelle before shifting back to his mother. “Just wanted to tell you that I'll be out for a while. Do you need anything before I go? Pillows fluffed, foot massaged, a cup of coffee…?” he teased, his voice trailing off.

“I'm sure Isabelle will indulge me if I find I want something. Where are you off to?” Anastasia suddenly narrowed her eyes as a possible answer occurred to her. “You're not seeing that dreadful Wanda person again, are you?”

“No, I'm not,” Brandon replied patiently. “And go easy on her. She was just a reporter, doing an interview. My last book is being reissued in paperback next week, remember? Publicity never hurts, no matter how big you think you are.”

Isabelle had read that interview by Wanda Miller. Brandon had come off very well, but then, he always did. It was to his credit that he gave himself no airs, did not think of himself as being too big to fail. He made it a point to always cooperate with the press, and they apparently loved him for it.

Anastasia seemed to stop listening halfway through her son's reply. Instead, she shook her head, a look of incredulousness entering her famous eyes. “Just a
reporter—ha! How is it you got to be thirty-two years old and still have no clue about women?”

For a fleeting moment, his eyes connected with Isabelle's, and then he shifted to his mother. “I guess that some mysteries are just meant to remain that way.”

The actress's sigh was deep and despairing. “You need a keeper,” Anastasia pronounced.

Brandon grinned good-naturedly. He took no offense. He was used to his mother's broad strokes, whether with a brush on a canvas, or verbally. “I have you and Victoria—what more do I need?”

Anastasia gave a gentle snort, as if withdrawing from the field of battle for the moment. “You still haven't said where you're going,” his mother reminded him.

“No, I didn't,” he agreed just before he began to walk out of the gym.


Only Anastasia Del Vecchio could have infused so many emotions and nuances into the two syllables of his name, Isabelle thought, utterly impressed. The single utterance spoke volumes without saying any more than just his name.

Brandon paused in the doorway. “I'm scouting out locations for my next book,” he told her.

By nature Brandon was a very visual person. He found that he needed to see something, to be part of it, before he could adequately describe it and hope to do it justice. Once it was there, in his memory banks, he could take off from that point and weave a location of his own. But he needed a starting point.

“I've always been partial to the area near Laguna Beach,” his mother told him. “It reminds me of this little hotel on the Riviera where your father and I honeymooned. Before I discovered he was a scoundrel.”
She heaved a heartfelt sigh. And then, as if she'd suddenly been struck with this most original thought, she suggested, “Why don't you have Isabelle go with you? She can be your sounding board.”

“I don't need a sounding board for a location, Mother,” he told her patiently, then reconsidered his words. “But I could use the company.” He turned toward Isa belle. “How about it? Are you up for a little aimless driving?”

If he was being honest with himself, he wasn't just in search of a location. He was looking for a plot to go with that location and really hoped that the one—when he found something that moved him—would wind up triggering the other.

It wouldn't be the first time.

Just what was happening here? Confused, Isabelle looked at the older woman. “I thought you said you wanted to push on.”

Anastasia started to get down from the table, then hesitated, trying to decide which foot to put down first, the one that belonged to her brand-new hip, or the one where it was business as usual. After a beat, she held off on her decision.

“I changed my mind,” Anastasia announced with a touch of haughtiness. Softening, she addressed the puzzled look on Isabelle's face. “It's what I do.”

“Yes, I know. Oh, so well,” Brandon couldn't resist adding.

“That'll be enough out of you,” his mother declared with an air of finality. She left no room for even the slightest argument. That done, the woman turned her attention to her physical therapist.

“Go, get some fresh air. Renew your ‘juices,' or whatever it is that you call them,” Anastasia ordered, waving
her hand toward the doorway. “You're of no use to me if you're exhausted when we start out.”

Isabelle wasn't sure what the actress was talking about. She had certainly never approached their sessions together with anything but bright enthusiasm and energy. It was one of her work principles to always be upbeat and positive with a client and to never allow them to become discouraged or, worse, to allow herself to behave in a discouraged manner around them. She was getting paid to help, not to whine.

“Brandon,” she called, summoning him as she held out her hand in a gesture that was nothing short of regal. “Be a good boy and help your mother off the table.”

“Now there's a line I hope no one ever overhears,” he quipped to Isabelle. Coming to his mother's side with sure, strong hands, he bracketed her body on either side. The next moment, he was scooping her off the tale as if Anastasia weighed perhaps fifty pounds.

Upright and on her feet again, Anastasia slowly released her grip on the back of Brandon's neck. “Thank you, dear. Now run along, both of you. I have some lines to run.”

He looked at her suspiciously. His mother was a notoriously social creature who rarely did anything alone. “By yourself?”

“No,” Victoria said, coming into the room to see if her grandmother was ready yet. “Gemma asked me to cue her.”

Brandon pretended not to care for the idea. “You're just trying to brainwash my very levelheaded daughter and secretly turn her into an actress wannabe. Isn't one in the family enough?”

Anastasia merely shook her head, as if pitying someone who was so suspicious. The truth was, if her
granddaughter wanted to follow in her footsteps, she would have happily moved heaven and earth to make it happen.

“I haven't the vaguest idea what you're babbling about, dear,” she told Brandon. “I have always been
than enough for my audiences and Victoria's just helping me out by cuing me. Now go, shoo. You're distracting me. Both of you.”

Using the hand-carved cane that Brandon had gifted her with just before she came home from the hospital, Anastasia took small baby steps toward her granddaughter. Draping one arm a bit more heavily than she would have liked to over the girl's slender, sturdy shoulders she asked, “Ready to run through those lines with me?”

Victoria had a smile that lit up a room. Anastasia liked to say the girl got it from her. “Absolutely, Gemma.”

“Well, I'm set for the afternoon,” Anastasia pronounced. She looked at her son and Isabelle. “Now, go, both of you.” As they began to leave, Anastasia raised her voice and called out after Brandon, “Maybe she can help you with your writer's block.”

Stunned, Isabelle looked at him. This was something new. Brandon Slade was regarded as exceedingly prolific and never at a loss for either ideas or words. “You have writer's block?”

“I do
have writer's block.” The strongly voiced denial was aimed at his mother, not Isabelle. His tone softened as he walked out of the gym and addressed her. “It just hasn't come all together for me yet,” he allowed evasively. “Doesn't mean that it won't,” he added quickly.

Isabelle nodded. There was no reason to believe that it wouldn't. “And you're hoping if you see the right locale, the story will start falling into place for you.”

“Exactly.” There was gratitude in Brandon's eyes when he looked at her just as they reached the front door. “You understand.”

“I do a lot of that in my line of work. Understanding,” she clarified when he continued regarding her, looking just the slightest bit baffled. “I understand what they're going through. I understand the frustration when their progress isn't going as fast as they would like it to. And I understand why they resort to procrastination when they should be pushing forward.” He opened the front door, waiting for her to walk out first. But she remained standing where she was. “Listen, you don't need me to tag along. I understand that you agreed just to humor your mother—”

“Then maybe you're not as ‘understanding' as you think,” he contradicted. “I really would like the company,” he assured her, adding, “and you could give me another take on the location.”

She doubted he needed anyone else's input. At least, not hers. “Isn't writing really the ultimate intimate experience? You dig into yourself to get the story, the emotions, the specific characteristics of your people—”

“All true,” he agreed. But she was overlooking something. “The bottom line is that I do it to entertain my readers and to bring in a few thousand more. In other words, the general public.” Very gently, he ushered her out the door and closed it behind him. “You could be my public—unless you have something else to do,” he interjected. It occurred to him that he just might have taken too much for granted by assuming Isabelle would be willing to drop everything to hop into the car with him and take off.

BOOK: What the Single Dad Wants...
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