An all-new story in Lexi Blake’s Masters and Mercenaries series is out this week, and you can read an excerpt right here.
“Am I your latest stray, Boomer?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you take in all the sad-sack creatures of the world and you help them heal and then you let them go. Is that what you want to do with me?” She stared at him across the space that separated them, and he kind of wished he wasn’t wearing an apron that said Kiss the Cook.
“No. If you ever give me a chance, I won’t want to let you go.”
She was still for a moment. “I’ve got a daughter.”
“I’m well aware.” He sometimes missed things, but not that one.
“I have a lot of problems.”
“Who doesn’t?” It seemed to him that she was giving him a bunch of ways out. Ways he wasn’t about to take but he would let her offer.
“I haven’t dated since before Lou was born, and my marriage was quite abusive in its own way.”
He’d picked up on that. She’d never talked about her husband with tenderness. He’d spent time with women who’d lost their first husbands. Phoebe Murdoch and Avery O’Donnell were happy in their second marriages, but they still spoke of their first husbands with love. Not so with Daph. “I haven’t dated in a while, and we can take things at your pace. Or not at all. I was just telling Lou that you dating me or not dating me doesn’t change the fact that we’re friends and neighbors.”
Daphne’s eyes went wide. “You were talking to Lou about me?”
Damn it. He should have eased her into the fact that Lou had figured the problem out before either of them had. He had to be honest with her. “She asked a question, and I’m not going to lie to her. Lou is one of those kids who needs to be able to trust her own instincts. I don’t think I would be doing her a lot of good if I lied. She’s real smart, and she knows when things are going wrong. She knows when things are going right. I think she wants to be a part of…”
He didn’t finish the sentence because she was suddenly in his space, going up on her toes and pressing her lips to his.
His hands found her waist, and he leaned into her, letting her control this first kiss. Her lips were warm on his, arms going around his waist and hugging him tight.
She moved away as quickly as she’d moved in. “All right. So we let Lou know we’re…exploring our options?”
He felt a slow smile cross his face. “You want to go out with me?”
“Yeah. I do,” she said, her lips turning up in a smile. “But you should know Lou has to come first.”
“Yes, of course she does. She should always come first.”
She stared up at him. “You seem too good to be true.”
He shook his head. “I’m not. I’m not smart enough for either of you. I miss cues all the time. I screw up. Despite a whole lot of training, I still get my ass kicked from time to time. But I try, Daph. I’ll always try to do my best by you and Lou.”
She pressed up again and kissed him, a gentle brush of her lips against his. “Far too good to be true.”
“Are you done with the kissing stuff?” Lou was standing by the bar, the dogs and cat there with her, all staring in curiosity.
Daphne stepped back. “For now.”
“Eww,” Lou said, but she was smiling. “I’m hungry. What’s for dessert?”
“Dinner first.” He knew how to handle a hungry kid. First food and then the sweet stuff.
“It smells delicious,” Daphne said. “And I brought snickerdoodles. You can have them after dinner and homework.”
“So we’re staying? Like eating here?” Lou asked.
She asked because mostly up until now he’d send something home with them. They’d eaten together if it was game night or other people were around, but tonight would be the first time it was the three of them alone.
“Yeah, we’re staying for a while.” Daphne looked around the kitchen. “So Mr. Cook, tell me where the plates are, and I’ll get this table set.”
He pointed her to the right cabinet and relaxed.
He had a shot.