A Match for the Single Dad (Harlequin Special Edition Series #2272) [NOOK Book]

Overview

Two Little Matchmakers

Suddenly single dad Garrett McHale is out of his depth! With a busy job as a pilot, he's also raising two daughters by himself. Finding love is beyond his control—until his girls decide their daddy needs a wife! And they know the perfect woman to fill the position….

Resort manager Maggie Bell thinks the McHale girls are adorable—and sure, she's ...

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A Match for the Single Dad (Harlequin Special Edition Series #2272)

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Overview

Two Little Matchmakers

Suddenly single dad Garrett McHale is out of his depth! With a busy job as a pilot, he's also raising two daughters by himself. Finding love is beyond his control—until his girls decide their daddy needs a wife! And they know the perfect woman to fill the position….

Resort manager Maggie Bell thinks the McHale girls are adorable—and sure, she's noticed their sexy single father a time or two. And yes, sparks fly as Maggie and Garrett begin to spend more time together, until Maggie begins to get an up-close-and-personal look at family life—and the realities of parenting two mischievous little girls. Besides, it doesn't seem likely that stubborn Garrett is willing to risk his heart for love again. His daughters, however, have other ideas….

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460315514
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 7/1/2013
  • Series: Harlequin Special Edition Series , #2272
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 188,514
  • File size: 262 KB

Meet the Author


Author of more than 100 novels, Gina Wilkins loves exploring complex interpersonal relationships and the universal search for "a safe place to call home." Her books have appeared on numerous bestseller lists, and she was a nominee for a lifetime achievement award from Romantic Times magazine. A lifelong resident of Arkansas, she credits her writing career to a nagging imagination, a book-loving mother, an encouraging husband and three "extraordinary" offspring.

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Read an Excerpt

"He'll say no. Daddy always says no," almost-eleven-year-old Kristina McHale said glumly. She was known to her family and friends as Kix, a nickname bestowed on her by her slightly older sister, Payton, who'd had trouble as a toddler saying her baby sister's formal name.

With the wisdom of her thirteen years, Payton waved a hand dismissively. "We can talk him into it. You know how he's always nagging about 'family time.' Well, a week together in a cabin would count for that, right? Besides, that week includes both your birthday and the Fourth of July. How can he say no?"

"He'll find a way," Kix predicted.

Payton sighed in response to her sister's pessimism. "We can at least ask. You ask. Give him the look. You know, puppy-dog eyes. I'll act like I think it's sort of a dumb idea, so he won't figure out we're conspirators."

"Con—cons—?"

"Working together," Payton explained impatiently.

"Oh." Kix practiced widening her already-big blue eyes. "You think this will help?"

Eyeing her critically, Payton shrugged. "Couldn't hurt. Lower your chin a little and maybe poke out your bottom lip. If you could make it kind of quiver a little, it would be even better."

"Like this?" Kix gave her sister a limpid look from beneath thick dark lashes, her rosy mouth pursed in a hint of a pout.

"Not bad. I bet he'll say yes. Once we have him at the resort for a whole week, we'll make sure he spends time with her."

"How are we going to do that?"

Payton sighed impatiently and pushed an auburn strand out of her face. "I can't think of everything all at once, Kix. We just will, okay?"

"Okay."

Pacing the length of her bedroom, Payton continued her scheming. "Once Dad spends more time with Maggie, surely he'll get around to asking her out. I mean, we know he likes her because he always smiles when she's around, right?"

Sitting cross-legged on her sister's bed, Kix nodded enthusiastically, her brighter-red hair tumbling into her freckled face. "He has to like her. He'd be crazy if he didn't."

"Well, it is Dad," Payton muttered, making Kix giggle. "Still, maybe he'll finally do something right and ask her out. And maybe we'll finally have someone on our side for a change who'll tell Dad he has to stop treating us like dumb little girls. Maggie always looks so pretty. I bet she'd convince Dad and Grammy that we're old enough for makeup and double-pierced ears and cool clothes. At least, I am."

"Hey!"

"Well, you're almost old enough," Payton conceded. "And there are other things she could take your side about."

"Yeah, I guess."

"So we're agreed? You'll tell him tonight at dinner that you know where you want to spend your birthday week?"

"Agreed."

They exchanged a complicated handshake to seal the deal.

Early on a Sunday morning in June, Maggie Bell shifted on the wooden picnic table bench beneath the big pavilion at Bell Resort and Marina. The newly risen sun glittered on the rippling waters of southeast Texas's Lake Livingston ahead, making the lake look like liquid silver streaked with veins of gold. Even this early, the air was already quite warm, though she was comfortable enough in her scoop-neck, cap-sleeve yellow T-shirt dress and wedge-heeled sandals.

Seated around her at long wooden picnic tables and in folding chairs beneath the big pavilion at Bell Resort and Marina, a small crowd sang the chorus of "Amazing Grace," most of them even in the same key. In a longstanding tradition at the resort owned by Maggie's family, nondenominational sunrise worship services were held year-round for guests and any area residents who chose to participate. Attendance had always been good, but especially during the past few months. Specifically, since good-looking and personable Jasper Bettencourt had started leading the services.

Golden-haired, blue-eyed, male-model handsome, always casually dressed in jeans and cotton shirts, Jasper, known to his friends as Jay, hardly fit the stereotype of a small-town minister. Longtime locals remembered him as a hell-raising teen from a dysfunctional family who had escaped the area more than fifteen years before. It had been quite a shock when he'd returned with a theology degree, founded a little nondenominational church and dedicated himself to community service and caring for the aging, former-pastor uncle who was his only living relative. He was a compelling speaker, a talented singer and a genuinely nice guy who drew people to him with his mix of humor, kindness and compassion. Each Sunday he led the sunrise service attendees in a few well-known hymns, accompanied on guitar by his friend Garrett McHale, before presenting a brief but always moving sermon.

Seated in a folding chair beneath the pavilion with the morning's printed program gripped loosely in her hands, Maggie sang the familiar song without needing to refer to the lyrics. She chose instead to watch the accompanist.

Dressed in a green shirt and neatly pressed khakis, Garrett looked like the ex-Air Force officer he was. Tall and lean, he wore his brown hair in a crisp, short cut that emphasized the few gray strands at his temples. His posture was impeccable, his movements measured and efficient. His eyes were the same clear gray-blue as the early-morning sky. Garrett, too, had grown up in this area, leaving to join the military at about the same time his lifelong best buddy, Jay, had struck off for parts unknown. Garrett wasn't as strikingly handsome as Jay, yet for some reason Maggie's attention was always drawn to him. She wasn't sure of his exact age, but she'd guess he was maybe ten or eleven years older than her own twenty-seven. The age difference didn't bother her. The fact that he was a single dad to two girls just heading into their teens was a different matter altogether.

She glanced at the auburn-haired thirteen-year-old at her left, then at the almost-eleven-year-old redhead on her right. Garrett's daughters, Payton and Kix, always sat near her during services. A few months ago, she'd filled in part-time for a few weeks at the local country club for a tennis instructor recuperating from emergency surgery. She'd gotten to know Payton and Kix in the kids' class. She was hardly a tennis pro, but the club owner was a family friend who'd been in a bind and who knew Maggie had played competitively during high school and college. Somehow, Maggie had allowed herself to be persuaded to fill in.

At about the same time Maggie had taught his daughters, Garrett had started joining his friend Jay for Sunday sunrise services, bringing Maggie and his girls together even more often. She was fond of both Payton and Kix, but they were a handful. She couldn't imagine being responsible for their full-time care and well-being.

Jay closed the meeting with a prayer and an open invitation to the little church in town where he would hold services later that morning. He made himself available to shake hands and speak with guests afterward while Garrett packed away his acoustic guitar. Payton and Kix started chattering the moment the service ended, telling her about their activities since they'd seen her last Sunday, talking over each other in attempts to claim her full attention.

"…and I love your red leather sandals with the cork wedge heels so much, but Dad won't let me even look at heels yet because he says they aren't practical for someone my age."

"…and my friend Kimmy got her own smartphone, but Daddy says no way can I have one."

"…and there was a really great party at Nikea's house, but of course Dad wouldn't let me go just because most of the kids were older than me…"

"…and I wanted to play video games with my friend but Grammy made me clean my room, and it could have waited until later, but she."

Laughing, Maggie held up both hands. "Girls, girls! I can only listen to one of you at a time."

They started again without noticeable success in being patient, but Maggie managed to follow along for the most part. A litany of complaints about their father was not-so-well buried in their babbling. She had already observed that he ran a fairly strict household, though it was obvious—to her, at least—that he was crazy about his girls. She suspected he was simply overwhelmed at times. His only assistance in raising them came from his mother and grandmother, who shared a house on the same block as the one in which Garrett lived with his daughters. From what little she had seen of the family, it seemed as though Garrett was almost as responsible for the older women as he was for his daughters.

This was a man encumbered by serious baggage.

Guitar case in hand, he approached with a faint smile. Why did she find the slight curve of his firm lips so much more appealing than Jay's bright, beaming grins? She liked Jay very much, but there was just something about Garrett….

"Good morning, Maggie," he said in his deep voice that never failed to elicit a shiver of reaction from her.

She liked to believe she'd become an expert at hiding that response behind a breezy smile. "Good morning, Garrett. The music was especially nice today."

"I just play some chords," he said with a little shrug. "Jay chooses the songs. But I'm glad you enjoyed it."

"I was just going to tell her about my birthday plans, Daddy," Kix said, bouncing up and down on her white sandals. "I'm so excited!"

Maggie smiled indulgently at the littlest McHale sister. As she almost always did, Kix wore her favorite pink, which clashed cheerfully with her flame-red hair but looked just right, somehow, on the adorable girl. "Sounds intriguing. What's the plan, Kix?"

"We're coming here," Kix almost shouted in reply. "For a whole week! Isn't that sweet?"

"Not quite a week," her father corrected. "Monday afternoon through Sunday service."

Kix waved off those details as unimportant. "Daddy rented a cabin and we're coming a week from tomorrow. My birthday is that Tuesday and we're going to have a party in the cabin—and you can come! And Grammy and Meemaw are coming, too. And we're going swimming and fishing and hiking and boating and Daddy's going to take the whole week off work and we'll make s'mores and—"

"Kix," her father interrupted firmly, "take a breath."

"I hadn't heard you were coming," Maggie said in the brief ensuing lull. She wondered why the information shook her a little. After all, she saw Garrett—er, the McHale family—every Sunday, so why did the thought of him—er, them—being here every day for almost a week throw off her usual equilibrium?

"Kix just sprang this request on me last week," Garrett admitted. "I was actually surprised a cabin was available on such short notice, especially considering it's the Fourth of July week. I told Kix I couldn't promise anything, but fortunately for us there was a late cancellation, so we were able to grab the reservation."

"I'm glad we could accommodate you," Maggie said automatically, then glanced at Kix. "So you wanted to spend your birthday week here, so close to home?"

"I wanted to go to the beach." Payton looked and sounded utterly bored. "Like Padre Island or somewhere cool. But no, Kix had to come here where we come every single Sunday. Lame, huh?"

"But, Payton— Ouch!"

"Payton, did you just punch your sister?" Garrett demanded sternly.

"No, Daddy," Kix assured him, innocently wide-eyed as she not-so-surreptitiously rubbed her arm. "She just sort of bumped into me."

"There's a bunch of geese swimming by the pier," Payton said quickly. "Can I take Kix down to look at them?"

He hesitated a moment, then nodded. "Don't get too close to the water. And we can't stay long. I have things to do today."

"You can talk to Maggie while we look at the geese," Payton told him before turning to dash toward the lake with her sister.

Something in the teen's voice made Maggie blink a couple of times. Surely Payton wasn't trying her hand at matchmaking? But Garrett didn't react, so she told herself she must have misunderstood. After all, why would Payton want yet another adult in her already oversuper-vised—according to her, at least—life?

"How have you been, Maggie?" he asked politely when they were alone.

"Fine, thank you," she replied, equally cordial. "And you?"

He shrugged. "Busy. But fine."

She knew that in addition to taking care of his daughters, his mother and his grandmother, Garrett taught flying lessons and piloted charter flights out of the small local airport. During the past few months, Payton and Kix had told her he'd left the military, in which he'd most recently served as a flight instructor at Laugh-lin Air Force Base, after the unexpected death a little more than a year ago of their mother, his ex-wife. He had moved back to this area to be closer to his mother and grandmother.

Garrett and the girls' mother had divorced when Kix was only a baby. They had shared custody afterward, though the girls had lived primarily with their mother. Their home with her had been in San Antonio, a three-hour drive from the base, so they'd seen their father on alternate weekends and holidays for the most part, which had meant a huge adjustment for all of them when he'd become solely responsible for them.

In listening to the girls chatter about their lives, Maggie had gotten the impression that they had loved their mother but had spent as much time with nannies and babysitters as with her. "She was gone a lot," Payton had said simply. "She was a lawyer, so she worked long hours and she had lots of professional clubs and parties and stuff she had to go to most evenings. She liked to hang out with her friends on weekends, because she said she worked so hard during the week that she needed down time."

Time away from her children, Maggie had interpreted in a knee-jerk reaction of disapproval she'd tried to suppress. She told herself she had no right to judge a woman she'd never even met based on perhaps-exaggerated stories from two children.

"Maybe you need a vacation as much as the girls do," she suggested to Garrett. "We'll try to make sure you have a good time while you're here."

She spoke, of course, as a representative of the resort. No personal messages intended.

"Thank you," he said.

She cleared her throat silently. Darn, but this man made her teeth tingle. How very inconvenient of him.

"So, um, your grandmother is coming with you for the week?" she asked with a lift of her eyebrows.

His smile turned rueful. "She is. She doesn't want to be left out, even though she has given me an earful about how she'll be spending six days in enemy territory."

Maggie couldn't help laughing. Her grandmother, Dixie Bell, and his, Esther Lincoln, were lifelong rivals who saw each other as mortal enemies. It had begun back when they were in junior high competing for the attentions of the same boys, though Esther was a year ahead in school. The rivalry had continued when they participated in county-fair cooking contests after they'd married, competing for blue ribbons and each bitterly accusing the other of underhandedness.

"I'm sure Mimi will be a gracious host," she said, mentally crossing her fingers. "They probably won't see each other much, anyway. Mimi's usually in the offices or the store."

"I've already told Meemaw that she has to be polite while she's here," Garrett replied with a chuckle.

She found it incredibly appealing to hear this serious-natured, somewhat stern-looking ex-military officer talk about his "Meemaw." But then, she found entirely too much appealing about Garrett.

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