Computer-tech millionaire Bowie Callahan is about the last person that schoolteacher Katrina Bailey wants to work for. As far as she can see, he’s arrogant, entitled and not up to the task of caring for his young half brother, Milo. But Kat is, especially if it brings her closer to her goal of adopting an orphaned little girl. And as her kindness and patience work wonders with Milo, she realizes there’s more to sexy, wary Bo than she’d ever realized.
Bo never imagined he’d be tasked with caring for a sibling he didn’t know existed. Then again, he never pictured himself impulsively kissing vibrant, compassionate Katrina in the moonlight. Now he’s ready to make her dream of family come true…and hoping there’s room in it for him, too…
Don’t miss the latest Haven Point Christmas romance, Coming Home for Christmas, available now!
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By RaeAnne Thayne
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2017 RaeAnne Thayne
All rights reserved.
"That's him at your six o'clock, over by the tomatoes. Brown hair, blue eyes, ripped. Don't look. Isn't he gorgeous?"
Katrina Bailey barely restrained from rolling her eyes at her best friend. "How am I supposed to know that, if you won't let me even sneak a peek at the man?" she asked Samantha Fremont.
Sam shrugged with another sidelong look in the man's direction. "Okay. You can look. Just make it subtle."
Mere months ago, all vital details about her best friend's latest crush might have been the most fascinating thing the two of them talked about all week. Right now, she found it tough to work up much interest in one more man in a long string of them, especially with everything else she had spinning in her life.
She wanted to ignore Sam's request and continue on with shopping for the things they needed to take to Wynona's shower — but friends didn't blow off their friends' obsessions. She loved Sam and had missed hanging out with her over the last nine months. It made her sad that their interests appeared to have diverged so dramatically, but it wouldn't hurt her to act like she cared about the cute newcomer to Haven Point.
Donning her best ninja spy skills — honed from years of doing this very thing, checking out hot guys without them noticing — she pretended to reach up to grab a can of peas off the shelf. She studied the label intently, all while shifting her gaze toward the other end of the aisle.
About ten feet away, she spotted two men. Considering she knew Darwin Twitchell well — and he was close to eighty years old and cranky as a badger with gout — the other guy had to be Bowie Callahan, the new director of research and development at the Caine Tech facility in town.
Years of habit couldn't be overcome by sheer force of will. That was the only reason her stomach muscles seemed to shiver and her toes curled against the leather of her sandals. Or so she told herself, anyway.
Okay. She got it. Sam was totally right. The man was indeed great-looking: tall, lean, tanned, with sculpted features and brown hair streaked with the sort of blond highlights that didn't come from a salon but from spending time outside.
Under other circumstances, she might have wanted to do more than look. In a different life, perhaps she would have made her way to his end of the aisle, pretended to fumble with an item on the shelf then dropped it right at his feet so they could "meet" while they both reached to pick it up.
She used to be such an idiot.
The old Katrina might not have been able to look away from such a gorgeous male specimen. But when he aimed a ferocious scowl downward, she shifted her gaze to find him frowning at a boy who looked to be about five or six, trying his best to put a box of sugary cereal into their cart and growing visibly upset when Bowie Callahan kept taking it out and putting it back on the shelf.
Katrina frowned. "You didn't say he had a kid. I thought you had a strict rule. No divorced dads."
"He doesn't have a kid!" Sam exclaimed.
"Then who's the little kid currently winding up for what looks like a world-class tantrum at his feet?"
Ignoring her own stricture about not staring, Sam whirled around. Her eyes widened with confusion. "I have no idea! I heard it straight from Eliza Caine that he's not married and doesn't have a family. He never said anything to me about a kid when I met him at a party at Snow Angel Cove or the other two times I've bumped into him around town this spring. I haven't seen him around for a few weeks. Maybe he has family visiting. Or maybe he's babysitting or something."
That was so patently ridiculous, Katrina had to bite her tongue. Really? Did Sam honestly believe the new director of research and development at Caine Tech would be offering babysitting services — in the middle of the day and on a Monday, no less?
She sincerely adored Samantha for a million different reasons, but sometimes her friend saw what she wanted to see.
This latest example of how their paths had diverged in recent months made her a little sad. Until a year ago, she and Sam had been — as her mom would say — two peas of the same pod. They shared the same taste in music, movies, clothes. They could spend hours poring over celebrity and fashion magazines, dishing about the latest gossip, shopping for bargains at thrift stores and yard sales.
And men. She didn't even want to think about how many hours of her life she had wasted with Sam, talking about whichever guy they were most interested in that day.
Samantha had been her best friend since they found each other in elementary school in that mysterious way like discovered like.
She still loved her dearly. Sam was kind and generous and funny, but Katrina's own priorities had shifted. After the events of the last year, Katrina was beginning to realize she barely resembled the somewhat shallow, flighty girl she had been before she grabbed her passport and hopped on a plane with Carter Ross.
That was a good thing, she supposed, but she felt a little pang of fear that while on the path to gaining a little maturity, she might end up losing her best friend.
"Babysitting. I suppose it's possible," she said in a noncommittal voice. If so, the guy was really lousy at it. The boy's face had reddened, and tears had started streaming down his features. By all appearances, he was approaching a meltdown, and Bowie Callahan's scowl had shifted to a look of helpless frustration.
"If you want, I can introduce you," Sam said, apparently oblivious to the drama.
Katrina purposely pushed their cart forward, in the opposite direction. "You know, it doesn't look like a good time. I'm sure I'll have a chance to meet him later. I'll be in Haven Point for a month. Between Wyn's wedding and Lake Haven Days, there should be plenty of time to socialize with our newest resident."
"Are you sure?" Sam asked, disappointment clouding her gaze.
"Yeah. Let's just finish shopping so I have time to go home and change before the shower."
Not that her mother's house really felt like home anymore. Yet another radical change in the last nine months.
"I guess you're right," Sam said, after another surreptitious look over Katrina's shoulder. "We waited too long anyway. Looks like he's moved to another aisle."
They found the items they needed and moved to the next aisle as well but didn't bump into Bowie again. Maybe he had taken the boy, whoever he was, out of the store so he could cope with his meltdown in private.
They were nearly finished shopping when Sam's phone rang with the ominous tone she used to identify her mother.
She pulled the device out of her purse and glared at it. "I wish I dared ignore her, but if I do, I'll hear about it for a week."
That was nothing, she thought. If Katrina ignored her mother's calls while she was in town for Wyn's wedding, Charlene would probably mount a search and rescue, which was kind of funny when she thought about it. Charlene hadn't been nearly as smothering when Kat had been living halfway around the world in primitive conditions for the last nine months. But if she dared show up late for dinner, sheer panic ensued.
"I'm at the grocery store with Kat," Samantha said, a crackly layer of irritation in her voice. "I texted you that's where I would be."
Her mother responded something Katrina couldn't hear, which made Sam roll her eyes. To others, Linda Fremont could be demanding and cranky, quick to criticize. Oddly, she had always treated Katrina with tolerance and even a measure of kindness.
"Do you absolutely need it tonight?" Samantha asked, pausing a moment to listen to her mother's answer with obvious impatience written all over her features. "Fine. Yes. I can run over. I only wish you had mentioned this earlier, when I was just hanging around for three hours doing nothing, waiting for someone to show up at the shop. I'll grab it."
She shut off her phone and shoved it back into her little dangly Coach purse that she'd bought for a steal at the Salvation Army in Boise. "I need to stop in next door at the drugstore to pick up one of my mom's prescriptions. Sorry. I know we're in a rush."
"No problem. I'll finish the shopping and check out, then we can meet each other at your car when we're done."
"Hey, I just had a great idea," Sam exclaimed. "After the shower tonight, we should totally head up to Shelter Springs and grab a drink at the Painted Moose!"
Katrina tried not to groan. The last thing she wanted to do amid her lingering jet lag was visit the local bar scene, listening to the same songs, flirting with the same losers, trying to laugh at their same old, tired jokes.
"Let's play it by ear. We might be having so much fun at the shower that we won't want to leave. Plus it's Monday night, and I doubt there will be much going on at the PM."
She didn't have the heart to tell Sam she wasn't the same girl who loved nothing more than dancing with a bunch of half-drunk cowboys — or that she had a feeling she would never be that girl again. Priorities had a way of shifting when a person wasn't looking.
Sam stuck her bottom lip out in an exaggerated pout. "Don't be such a party pooper! We've only got a month together, and I've missed you so much!"
Great. Like she needed more guilt in her life.
"Let's play it by ear. Go grab your mom's prescription, I'll check out and we'll head over to Julia's place. We can figure out our after-party plans, well, after the party."
She could tell by Sam's pout that she would have a hard time escaping a late night with her. Maybe she could talk her into just hanging out by the lakeshore and talking.
"Okay. I guess we'd better hurry if we want to have time to make our salad."
Sam hurried toward the front doors, and Katrina turned back to her list. Only the items from the vegetable aisle, then she would be done. She headed in that direction and spotted a flustered Bowie Callahan trying to keep the boy with him from eating grapes from the display.
"Stop it, Milo. I told you, you can eat as many as you want after we buy them."
This only seemed to make the boy more frustrated. She could see by his behavior and his repetitive mannerisms that he quite possibly had some sort of developmental issues. Autism, she would guess at a glance — though that could be a gross generalization, and she was not an expert anyway.
Whatever the case, Callahan seemed wholly unprepared to deal with it. He hadn't taken the boy out of the store, obviously, to give him a break from the overstimulation. In fact, things seemed to have progressed from bad to worse.
Milo — cute name — reached for another grape despite the warning, and Bowie grabbed his hand and sternly looked down into his face. "I said, stop it. We'll have grapes after we pay for them."
The boy didn't like that. He wrenched his hand away and threw himself to the ground. "No! No! No!" he chanted.
"That's enough," Bowie Callahan snapped, loudly enough that other shoppers turned around to stare, which made the man flush.
She could see Milo was gearing up for a nuclear meltdown — and while she reminded herself it was none of her business, she couldn't escape a certain sense of professional obligation to step in.
She wanted to ignore it, to turn into the next aisle, finish her shopping and escape the store as quickly as she could. She could come up with a dozen excuses about why that was the best course of action. Samantha would be waiting for her. She didn't know the man or his frustrated kid. She had plenty of troubles of her own to worry about.
None of that held much weight when compared with the sight of a child who clearly had some special needs in great distress — and an adult who just as clearly didn't know what to do in the situation.
She felt an unexpected pang of sympathy for Bowie Callahan, probably because her mother had told her so many stories about how mortified Charlene would be when Katrina would have a seizure in a public place. All the staring, the pointing, the whispers.
The boy continued to chant "no" and began smacking his palm against his forehead in rhythm with each exclamation. A couple of older women she didn't know — tourists, probably — looked askance at the boy, and one muttered something to the other about how some children needed a swat on the behind.
She wanted to tell the old biddies to mind their own business but held her tongue, since she was about to ignore her own advice.
After another minute passed, when Bowie Callahan did nothing but gaze down at the boy with helpless frustration, Katrina knew she had to act. What other choice did she have? She pushed her cart closer. The man briefly met her gaze with a wariness that she chose to ignore. Instead, she plopped onto the ground next to the distressed boy.
In her experience with children of all ages and abilities, they reacted better to someone willing to lower to their level. She wasn't sure if he even noticed she was there, since he didn't stop chanting or smacking his palm against his head.
"Hi there." She spoke in a calm, conversational tone, as if she were chatting with one of her friends at Wynona's shower later in the evening. "What's your name?"
Milo — whose name she knew perfectly well from hearing Bowie use it — barely took a breath. "No! No! No! No!"
"Mine is Katrina," she went on. "Some people call me Kat. You know. Kitty-cat. Meow. Meow."
His voice hitched a little, and he lowered his hand but continued chanting, though he didn't sound quite as distressed. "No. No. No."
"Let me guess," she said. "Is your name Batman?"
He frowned. "No. No. No."
"Is it ... Anakin Skywalker?"
She picked the name, assuming by his Star Wars T-shirt it would be familiar to him. He shook his head. "No."
"What about Harry Potter?
This time, he looked intrigued at the question or perhaps at her stupidity. He shook his head.
"How about Milo?"
Big blue eyes widened with shock. "No," he said, though his tone gave the word the opposite meaning.
"Milo. Hi there. I like your name. I've never met anybody named Milo. Do you know anybody else named Kat?"
He shook his head.
"Neither do I," she admitted "But I have a cat. Her name is Marshmallow, because she's all white. Do you like marshmallows? The kind you eat, I mean."
He nodded and she smiled. "I do, too. Especially in hot cocoa."
He pantomimed petting a cat and pointed at her.
"You'd like to pet her? She would like that. She lives with my mom now and loves to have anyone pay attention to her. Do you have a cat or a dog, Milo?"
The boy's forehead furrowed, and he shook his head, glaring up at the man beside him, who looked stonily down at both of them.
Apparently that was a touchy subject.
Did the boy talk? She had heard him say only "no" so far. It wasn't uncommon for children on the autism spectrum and with other developmental delays to have much better receptive language skills than expressive skill, and he obviously understood and could get his response across fairly well without words.
"I see lots of delicious things in your cart — including cherries. Those are my favorite. Yum. I must have missed those. Where did you find them?" He pointed to another area of the produce section, where a gorgeous display of cherries gleamed under the fluorescent lights.
She pretended she didn't see them. Though the boy's tantrum had been averted for now, she didn't think it would hurt anything if she distracted him a little longer. "Do you think you could show me?"
It was a technique she frequently employed with her students who might be struggling, whether that was socially, emotionally or academically. She found that if she enlisted their help — either to assist her or to help out another student — they could often be distracted enough that they forgot whatever had upset them.
Milo craned his neck to look up at Bowie Callahan for permission. The man looked down at both of them, a baffled look on his features, but after a moment he shrugged and reached a hand down to help her off the floor.
She didn't need assistance, but it would probably seem rude to ignore him. She placed her hand in his and found it warm and solid and much more calloused than a computer nerd should have. She tried not to pay attention to the little shock of electricity between them or the tug at her nerves.
Excerpted from Serenity Harbor by RaeAnne Thayne. Copyright © 2017 RaeAnne Thayne. Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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