It was only supposed to be a vacation for one. A single mom taking a ‘parentmoon’ for rest, reflection, and sunshine after her son’s wedding was called off. Then the father of the bride showed up . . . in L.B. Dunbar’s newest romance, and you can read the first chapter right here.
Eleven Months Later
“Jo.” My name is a soft caress wrapped up in a rough Southern drawl.
“Dallas?” From my seat on a raised patio, I’ve been watching him exit a boat-taxi, walk the length of the dock extended into the ocean, and approach this house. Even from a distance, his body is distinctive.
Dallas Cole is too good-looking at the ripe age of forty something. His eyes are a piercing blue that rival the late afternoon sky, although I can’t see them behind the dark aviator sunglasses perched on his nose. He is also insufferable and has the most annoying Southern twang.
And by annoying, I mean, panty-melting, clit-pinching, pulse between your thighs, drawl.
Plus, he’s the father of my son’s fiancée. Or should I say former bride-to-be?
I still don’t know what happened. Worse even, I don’t know why Dallas is here.
“What are you doing here?” he questions, collapsing into the wooden deck chair beside me.
The seats almost take you to the ground, cupping your backside and tilting your body back at a forty-five-degree angle. Not anticipating how low the chair sat, I nearly tumbled out of it with my first attempt to sit and burst into laughter. My first laugh in days. The raised cement patio where we sit extends the length of the A-frame cottage of sorts at our back. This place is part of a beautiful resort in Belize. The rustle of palm trees and a stunning ocean view are my only neighbors. At least, they were until Dallas showed up.
I don’t know how I got here.
One minute I had plans for a vacation in Arizona, and the next Michael asked me to trade places with him. My twenty-seven-year-old son was set to marry the woman of his dreams and vacation on this island after their wedding ceremony.
Only, days before the happy occasion, the wedding was called off.
I don’t know what happened. Personally, I’m heartbroken for both Michael and Keli, and frustrated that I don’t have any answers. I can only imagine how my son and once future daughter-in-law feel. Michael refused to talk. Instead, he begged me to take his honeymoon ticket to this peaceful place, while he took my airline ticket to Arizona.
Due to some fluky transfer window with the airlines and a discounted flight scheduled to leave immediately, I’m here a few days before the actual wedding ceremony should have occurred.
In the multitude of bridal magazines and online articles I’d read, the bride can go through an emotional slump after the ceremony. After the glitter and glitz of a golden celebration, the wedding blues can settle in. While I don’t recall this form of post-stress after my own wedding more than twenty-seven years ago, I anticipated a letdown after the current festivities and took it upon myself to organize a little honeymoon of my own in Arizona to wind down after the wedding.
I dubbed my future time away a parentmoon.
But now, as mother of the groom, I suddenly find the father of the bride casually sitting beside me on my vacation.
“What are you doing here?” I counter.
Dallas rolls his head against the hard back of the chair and tugs down his glasses to the tip of his nose, eyeing me over the wire frames. “I own the place.”
Awkwardly, I sit up straighter, conscious of the tank top and cut-off jean shorts I’ve chosen to wear. Stomach a little fuller over the years. Arms a lot flabbier than they used to be. While Mr. Too-Good-Looking has biceps on display under a short-sleeved linen shirt, unbuttoned a few too many buttons at his chest, and exposing a patch of chrome and ink colored hair against firm pecs.
Somehow in Michael’s explanation that Keli’s father had gifted them their honeymoon, I’d missed the memo that Dallas actually owned the free-standing cottage on the beach.
The resort has a central two-story building, like a fancy motel, complete with a covered outdoor dining area, small store, and indoor-outdoor bar. A series of outbuildings each contain two condos stacked on top of one another. Finally, there are three cottages on the northern edge of the property, one of which, apparently, Dallas owns.
He slowly smiles as my mouth hangs open and my eyes widen.
“But I thought . . .” I’d assumed the A-framed cottage belonged to the resort.
“This is my private getaway.” Dallas turns his face away from me, hitches his aviators back into place, and tips back his head, allowing the late afternoon sunlight to accentuate his perpetually tan skin and the sharp slope of his nose. He’s a study in duplicity—rugged meets wealth. On one hand, he looks tough, like he belongs in a motorcycle club or working out on the range. On the other hand, he’s stupid rich, owning wind farms in Texas, where mammoth-sized windmills harness the abundant natural resource for energy.
“Michael didn’t tell me.”
At the mention of my son, Dallas scoffs.
“What does that sound mean?”
“Your son broke my daughter’s heart.” Not sparing me a glance, his voice travels to the heavens above us.
From the moment I met Dallas, he’s hardly looked at me. After our initial meeting and his sudden disappearance that night, he rarely glances in my direction despite the countless video conferences and occasional dinners over the past year, planning the wedding that didn’t happen. He actively avoids looking at me. I’ve convinced myself I’d imagined those moments he focused on my mouth at that first dinner.
My mama-bear claws come out defensive and sharp at the reference to Michael. “Excuse me, but your daughter could have broken my son’s heart.”
The truth was, though . . .we didn’t know the truth.
“Did Keli say something to you?” I soften the question before holding my breath.
Three days ago, Michael announced to me that the wedding was off. He didn’t say who called it off or even why.
While Dallas remains silent, my thoughts race back to the distress on Michael’s face. The edge to his no longer boyish cheeks reminded me of his father. A dimple, which is another distinction he shares with his dad, had disappeared; erased like his happiness.
I need to get away, he’d said after I hugged him, wishing a hug could heal the wound of a broken heart. Tears had no place in our conversation. Not from him, the stoic, solid man he’d become. Not from me, because I was too stunned to think straight.
Then he’d begged me to swap airline tickets with him, fearing Keli would continue as planned to their honeymoon destination.
What would I do if I saw her? How was I supposed to face the woman who ripped my son’s heart in half? Or had Michael torn out hers? I just didn’t know, and the frustration made me want to shake my man-child son for answers.
Michael’s response to my concern had been quick and direct. Take care of her.
His answer told me one thing. My son still loved Dallas’s daughter.
Hell, I loved Keli. She was the daughter I never had. Despite my initial thoughts, which stereotyped her as a Southern belle, spoiled and princess-like, Keli was sweet and modestly confident. She’d latched onto me like the mother she hadn’t had in her own life.
“It’s always the man’s fault, darlin’.” Dallas’s voice draws me back to the present, mockery mingling with his Southern twang.
“You would know, I’m sure,” I huff, alluding to his womanizing ways.
He’d left the engagement announcement dinner for his only child to scuttle off with a random woman. And after all this time, I don’t know why it still bothers me. I know his history. He’s free to be with whomever he pleases.
Dallas smirks, curling his pouty lips, but not negating my response.
New concerns take over. If Dallas owns the house, and he’s suddenly present, I don’t have anywhere to stay. Glancing in the general direction of the resort, panic sets in. I can’t afford a night at this place, let alone ten.
“I guess I’ll need to find another place to stay.” I’m simply speaking out loud, spewing a plan as items come to me. I’ll also have to rebook my airline ticket for a flight home. Preferably tomorrow.
Shaking my head, I sigh. How did I get into this mess? Why did I let Michael talk me into a trade?
Dallas rolls his head against his chair once more. Without seeing those sapphire eyes of his, I sense him looking directly at me.
“You don’t have to leave.”
“I can’t stay.” My incredulous tone drops as I tip up my chin, implying words I don’t say. I can’t stay with him.
He lifts his head, forehead furrowing while I still can’t see his eyes. “What’s with the attitude?” If I knew him better, I’d say I hurt his feelings, but I doubt emotions come into play with this man. The only person he seems to care about is his daughter. He spared his child nothing.
We had the Palmer House in downtown Chicago reserved for the reception. We made a huge financial donation to Old St. Pat’s to secure the iconic Catholic church for the ceremony. Three-hundred people, of whom I probably knew five, had RSVPed to attend the wedding.
And by we, I mean, Keli’s father. He was generously covering every dollar and desire of his little girl.
“No attitude.” My face heats to match my snarky retort, almost confirming I definitely have an attitude toward Dallas, who is still looking in my direction. His eyes hidden behind those reflecting lenses give me a glance at my appearance. Wind-blown honey-blond hair. Wide brown eyes. Pouty lips.
I turn away from his gaze.
“Still have that pretty pink flush to your skin.” His voice deepens. The sound mocking.
He’s so full of . . . “I know your type,” I quip.
“Don’t know nothin’ about me, darlin’. But I’d like to know more about you.”
The suggestiveness has my skin prickling in a way it shouldn’t. Shivers run over my flesh despite the heat of the afternoon. Refreshing, enticing, thrilling ripples. However, a man like Dallas Cole would never be interested in me and I wouldn’t be interested in him.
“I am not sleeping with you,” I blurt before considering the suggestion in my declaration. The beach house only has one bedroom with one bed. “I mean . . . we aren’t sharing a bedroom . . . or a bed.”
However, the image of Dallas and I in that bed has those ripples turning into tidal waves, rushing over my already-heated skin and crashing in one place. Between my legs. I can’t remember the last time I shared a bed with a man. Craig. Even when we were still sleeping in ours, we only took up space. We weren’t actually using the mattress together.
When my imagination collides with logic, I weakly offer, “I’ll find other sleeping arrangements.”
Dallas pinches the stems of his aviators and lowers them once more to the tip of his nose. His gaze roams over my body. “No one said anything about sleeping, darlin’.” His voice is even more evocative.
Talk about things that won’t happen. First the wedding. Now, me getting physical with this man has shot to the top of the list.
“This is probably your fault,” I stammer. The accusation is unwarranted, but I want to blame someone. I want to understand what happened to our kids. Two beautiful adult children who were perfect for one another. Why did everything fall apart?
Dallas shifts so quickly his knees knock into my chair. “How is this my fault?”
“It’s always the man’s fault,” I mock, repeating his sentiment from moments ago.
Additionally, I’m speaking from my own jilted heart. Craig was the one who destroyed our marriage and disappointed Michael often. I was the one left to pick up the pieces, holding us together.
Dallas abruptly stands and I crane my neck to look up at his imposing form. His barrel chest and solid arms would make my mouth water if my heart rate ratcheting up with irritation wasn’t making my tongue feel like sand. Deep down, my gut tells me the separation of Michael and Keli has nothing to do with anyone other than Michael and Keli, but I’m not rational lately.
As Dallas stands before me, I’m eye level with a part of him I have no business being curious about. In one blink, I lower my gaze to his thick thighs. A muscle twitches in the right one. A breeze blows forcing my short hair across my face, like an intimate caress. Pulling my attention from Dallas’s powerful stance, I swipe the wisp behind my ear, brushing away thoughts of what it would feel like to touch those solid legs or have Dallas tenderly stroke my cheek.
“You would think that,” he snaps, tossing my man-fault assumption back at me. Again, a trickle of fear that I’d hurt his feelings twirls in my brain.
Dallas turns to the sliding glass door behind us, letting himself into the house without a glance back at me.
However, I can’t seem to stop myself from checking out his backside in a pair of low-slung olive-green shorts, accentuating the firmness of his butt.
Dallas Cole has a very fine ass.
And the only time I see it is when he can’t seem to get away from me fast enough.