Montana sheriff Mike Cruise never pictured himself as a father. But with temporary custody of a toddler, he has to learn the ropes fast. Thankfully, his sweet new nanny, Malory Smythe, fits right in, and Mike begins to believe he can make this family thing work. Although he knows it can't last forever
After her cheating ex left her pregnant and alone, Malory could easily fall for a strong, protective man. But she can't risk repeating past mistakes with men, especially with a child on the way. When their makeshift family is threatened, will it drive Malory and Mike apart or will it bring them together for good?
Enjoy a special bonus short story from #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber, MY FUNNY VALENTINE
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The small girl looked up at Lieutenant Mike Cruise with unblinking blue eyes. One sticky hand clutched his badgethe gold six-pointed star that identified him as a sheriff in Hope, Montana. Her flaxen hair was still tousled from sleep, since she wouldn't let him comb it that morning, letting out a shriek as loud as a siren every time he came near her with a hairbrush.
He wasn't used to combing the silken curls of little girls. He was used to pushing himself to the brink on the weights at the gym, patrolling the streets of Hope and breaking up fights outside the local saloon. He was not used to thisa tiny person with more grit than he saw in the toughest ranch hand drinking away his paycheck.
"Katherine." Mike squatted down next to the little girl. "Can I have that, please?"
She shook her head, small pink lips pursed in disapproval.
"That isn't a toy, Katherine." He held out his hand, and the preschooler took a step back. "Please, give it to me."
Again, she shook her head, then wiped her nose down her sleeve, leaving a snail trail across her cheek.
Yuck. He still had to figure out how to get this child into a bathtub.
"Katherine " He reached to take the badge from her and she opened her mouth, her shrill wail mingling with the sound of the doorbell. He heaved a sigh and pushed himself to his feet, forfeiting his badge for the moment.
He needed a nanny. Today.
Katherine watched him distrustfully as he turned toward the front door, then stepped over a pot, a sieve, an empty plastic juice jug and a small teddy bearher favorite toys of the day. He could feel her gaze boring into the back of his T-shirt. Katherine hadn't warmed up to him and it had been two days alreadytwo very long days.
Mike opened the door. A young woman stood on the stoop, her sandy blond hair pulled away from her face in a ponytail. A smattering of freckles across her nose brought out the chocolate brown of her eyes, making her look a little more girl-next-door than he'd been expecting of a nanny. She wore a loose pink tunic-style top and a pair of blue jeans.
"Hi," Mike said. "Miss Smythe?"
"Call me Malory." She shook his hand firmly. "Do you have my résumé?"
"Yes, the agency emailed it." He stepped aside and gestured her in. She paused in the doorway and looked around the sitting room in silent appraisal, her gaze falling on little Katherine. She bent down to the girl's level.
"Hello, sweetie," she said quietly. "What's your name?"
Katherine didn't answer, big blue eyes fixed on Malory's face dubiously.
"This is Katherine," Mike said. "She's three."
"Katherine," she said with a nod. "That's a very big name for a very little girl. Can I call you Katy?"
A smile flickered at the corners of the toddler's lips and she sidled closer to Malory, holding up Mike's badge. Malory's eyes widened in admiration and she let out an exaggerated gasp.
"What do you have there?" Malory asked, pointing at the badge. "Can I see it?"
Katy held out the badge and Malory took it, then looked up at Mike, one brow raised.
"Thanks," he said sheepishly, accepting the badge from her. "I've been trying to get that back all morning."
"Thank you, Katy. That was nice of you," Malory said and stood up.
He sighed. She hadn't used any special trick. The little girl already seemed to like this woman better than she liked him.
"Why don't you come through to the kitchen and I'll get you a coffee while we talk," Mike suggested, and he led the way through the living room, past the fireplace. This room used to be his sanctuarybig-screen TV, a wall of bookshelves, a comfortable leather couch with a footrest where he watched the game with friends.
Now it was covered in Katy's playthings, snacks and half-finished juice boxes. The kitchen was spacious, and so far still in one piece. He gestured to a stool at the counter and headed for the coffeemaker. Katy followed them, her gaze still locked on Malory.
"I just got custody of Katherine" he paused, accepting the new name for the little girl "Katytwo days ago. She's my cousin's daughter."
"What happened to your cousin?" Malory asked.
"Prison." He shot her a tight smile. Crystal had been involved in a fatal holdup and she'd been the only one they could pin to the scene, so she'd gotten twenty years without parole. "So Katy has been left to me, the only family member who is stable enough to care for a child." The old uncertainty swam through his gut and he sighed. "I'm a cop, as you probably figured out." He put his badge down on the counter with a click. "And I need a nanny for her."