“You like Shay better?”

Why I should feel guilty admitting that was beyond me. “I do.”

My son grinned as if he knew something I didn’t. “I thought so.”

Seeing that Mark had never met Britt, I was curious how he’d determined my feelings. “And you know this how?” I asked.

“Dad, seriously?” He shook his head from side to side as though I had no clue about human nature. “When you got ready tonight, it looked like you were going to attend a funeral.”

That wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounded. Not that I was willing to admit it. “Did not.”

“Did too.”

Chuckling softly, I had to agree my son had read me like a text message. I hadn’t been interested in seeing Britt again. She was the one who’d contacted me about the symphony tickets. Caught off guard, I couldn’t think of a way to refuse and not offend her. That wasn’t a mistake I planned to repeat. After our first date, I’d known the two of us didn’t click.

“You talk to Shay recently?” Mark asked.

“We text.”

“You tell her it isn’t working with Britt?”

“No.” I wouldn’t, especially since she hadn’t mentioned anything about her dates with Devon.

“Why not? You two need to talk.”

“She’s dating another guy, and every time I text about us getting together, she’s busy.” I hadn’t mentioned this to Mark and Sarah.

Mark’s eyes widened with surprise. “Are you kidding me? This is a joke, right? What happened?”

“Ah…”

Holding up his hand, Mark stopped me from explaining. He looked at me with what can only be described as impatience that bordered on disgust. “Listen, Dad, you like Shay. Sarah and I like Shay. If you let some other guy step in and steal her, then you deserve to lose her.”

It was again a sad commentary when I was listening to advice on romance from my son, who was barely in his teens. “When did you get so smart about women and relationships?” I asked him.

Mark shrugged. “That’s just common sense.”

“We decided not to date exclusively, to explore other relationships.” I regretted mentioning anything about this to my son. It wasn’t only Britt I had to contend with. Word had leaked out that I was starting to date. Single women and their advocates were all over me. Not a day had passed without a friend or church member wanting to make an introduction. At this rate, I could go out with a different woman every night for the next two weeks.

“Shay suggested this?”

“We both thought it was a good idea.” It seemed less of one with each passing day.

Mark muttered under his breath, “I’m surprised at you, Dad.”

“I…” I didn’t know what to say.

Mark shook his head as if becoming aware his father was a total loser. “Whatever.”

His support for Shay took me by surprise. As far as I could tell, he hadn’t shown strong feelings toward her one way or the other. Sarah, on the other hand, had taken to her like a hummingbird to sugar water. “You like Shay that much?”

“Yeah,” he said and shrugged. “She’s okay. I like her better than anyone else I’ve met from church.”

“Such a recommendation,” I returned, grinning.

“I’m a kid and I don’t know that much about women, but Shay is nice and she thinks about other people.”

“Yes, she does.” I’d watched her interact with others, including Richard, and was taken with her empathy. She was strong—stronger than she realized. When Kevin talked to me about the possibility of hiring Shay, he’d mentioned how she’d become a leader with the women in her class. It was clear that Sadie, Frankie, and the others at The Corner Café had become her advocates as well. She didn’t judge people and was generous to a fault.

As the week went on, all the phone calls with offers to set me up with single women of family and friends only became worse. There was a constant barrage of suggestions and offers of introductions. On Wednesday evening, minutes before I left for the church to talk with the choir director before practice, the doorbell rang.

For one hopeful moment I thought it might be Shay.

It wasn’t.

Instead, a woman dressed in jeans and a plaid jacket and wearing a hard hat stood in front of me, holding a casserole dish with two pot holders. She smiled brightly. I swear I’d never seen her before in my life. She looked like she might work on the Seattle wharf.

“May I help you?” I asked.

“I brought you my special chicken-and-rice dish.” She edged past me and made her way into the kitchen. After she set it down on the counter, she looked around the kitchen and shook her head disapprovingly.

“And you are?” I asked, following close behind her.

“Dee Miller. I believe my aunt Sally mentioned me.”

For the life of me I couldn’t remember anyone named Sally. “I don’t think so.”

She walked over to the stove and peered at the outlet and made a comment that my kitchen was below code, whatever that meant. “Sure you have to remember,” she argued. “Aunt Sally told you what a great cook I am. She told me about your conversation and so I thought I’d bring you dinner so you could judge my skills for yourself.”

“I appreciate—”

She cut me off. “I don’t mean to be blunt or come on too strong here, but the fact is I’m thirty-five, as healthy as an ox, and I’m ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“For marriage,” she answered, as if it should be obvious. “Aunt Sally explained the competition is going to be steep, and I thought I’d take the initiative and introduce myself before another woman snatches you up.”

I opened and closed my mouth, too stunned to find words. By now both Mark and Sarah had come to stand at my side. They seemed as shell-shocked as I was.

Dee glanced down and smiled at them. “I’ve never been married. I’m educated, have all my own teeth, and work as a construction electrician. I have no objection to kids.”

Sarah scooted closer to me.

“Thanks for the casserole, but…”

“It’s my specialty.”

As best I could, I eased her out of the kitchen and toward the front door. “I was just about to head over to the church.”

“I’ll go with you.”

Mark looked at me and rolled his eyes as if to say I was getting exactly what I deserved.

“Dee, listen, I’d rather you didn’t follow me to church. I can’t remember ever talking to anyone named Sally, and while I appreciate the thought, I’m not comfortable feeding my children dinner made by someone I don’t know.”

She stiffened and frowned at me. “Are you saying you’re not interested?”

“To be blunt, yes.” Normally I’d be a bit more polite, but I could tell this woman would need to hear it straight with no chance for miscommunication.

She accepted my rejection with little more than a shrug. “You can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“No, you can’t. I appreciate the thought, but I think it would be best if you took your chicken and rice home to share with your aunt Sally.” Whoever she might be, I added silently.

Dee collected her dish and was gone. Closing the door behind her, I sighed with relief.

Sarah raced to my side and hugged my waist. “Daddy, please call Shay.”

She didn’t need to ask me twice. I was finished with this little experiment.

As soon as the kids were down for the night and I was fairly certain Shay was home from her classes, I called.

“Drew?” she answered almost right away.

“Hey,” I said, sighing with relief just hearing her voice. It was as if I’d been trapped in a cave with no communication from the outside world when she answered her phone.

“You okay?”

“No, actually, I’m not.” I had yet to figure out what I’d been thinking to suggest this crazy idea.

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” I said, but didn’t elaborate. “How’d your dinner date go with that other guy?”

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