Hiring Patrick Shaughnessy to landscape her new inn was strictly a business arrangement. Until April Ross got to know the war-scarred single father...and his irrepressible little girl. Patrick made it clear he wasn't looking for romance. Neither was April. But could she make him see that some risks were worth taking?
The lively, widowed blonde might be the most tempting woman Patrick had ever known, but the returning vet knew a happy ending wasn't in the cards. Still, that was before April started working her magic on his daughter...and on him. Maybe this Christmas was a time for new beginnings--if Patrick had the courage to go with the powerful feelings April had awakened in him....
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A weeper by nature, April Ross was the type to keep tissues at hand in case a coffee commercial took her by surprise. And, granted, the past several weeks had been an emotional roller coaster ride of reunions and massive renovations and reassessments of what she wanted from life. But to find herself nearly in tears--April dug in the only real designer purse she'd ever owned for one of those tissues and blew her little ice cube of a nose--over a bunch of plants?
Especially since she'd been the one who'd said, "What's the big deal? You go to a nursery, you pick out some trees, hire a couple dudes to stick 'em in the ground, done."
No wonder her cousins had rolled their eyes at her.
Now, huddled inside her thick cardigan against the bay wind shunting through the garden center, she turned on the heel of her riding boot and marched past a mess of pumpkins to the checkout area, where the bundled-up, gray-bearded black man behind the register released a soft chuckle.
"Somebody looks a little overwhelmed," he said in the relaxed Maryland shore drawl that immediately evoked memories of those childhood summers. "Not to mention half-frozen. So first off, step closer to the heater--go on, I'll wait--then tell me how I can help. I reckon I know pretty much everything about whatever's in stock. You got questions, you just go ahead and ask."
April's eyes welled again, both at his kindness and the lovely heat waves rippling from the nearby metal obelisk. "What I've got," she said as she removed her gloves, stretching her cramped fingers toward the heat, "is three acres of dirt and renovation mess that needs landscaping. By the middle of December, when my first guests arrive."
The man's eyebrows rose. "You the gal who's fixing up the Rinehart place?"
"That would be me." April tucked her wind-ravaged hair behind her ear, then extended her slightly warmer hand. "April Ross."
"Sam Howell. It's a real pleasure, young lady." Sam shook her hand, then crossed his arms high on his plaid-jacketed chest. "Three acres, you say--"
A child's excited squeal cut through their conversation. Grinning, Sam hustled from behind the counter a moment before a tiny, dark-haired blur slammed into him. After a fierce hug, the little girl backed up, all pink-cheeked adorableness in bright blue tights and a puffy purple jacket, and April's breath left her lungs.
"Daddy said I could pick out a punkin for Halloween!" she said, then planted a mittened hand against the front of the counter to awkwardly lift one glittery-sneakered foot. "An' I got new shoes! See?"
"Those are some rockin' shoes, Miss Lili. Your daddy pick 'em out for you?"
"Nope," she said with a vigorous head shake. "I choosed 'em all by myself. Mommy'll like 'em, huh?"
"Oh. Yeah. I'm sure she will...."
She turned her baby-toothed grin on April before letting her foot drop, twisting it this way and that to admire it. "Daddy says they're my princess shoes."
April laughed. "They certainly are," she said, as a toe-curling chuckle behind her sent the breath she'd barely pulled back into her lungs whooshing out all over again. Especially when the man--tallish, nicely shouldered, his face partially obscured by one of those silly hats with flaps covering his cheeks--scooped up his daughter and pretended to munch on her shoulder, making Lili giggle and sending April into a free fall.
Shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot.
Automatically her left thumb went to her...
A Gift for All Seasons
By: Karen Templeton