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“What did she have to say?”


The pencil tapping grew louder but she didn’t look at him. “I don’t remember. I was pretty groggy.”


This was the worst part of having a teenage daughter: not knowing when to push her to talk or when to ease off and wait until she was ready to talk. He’d given up predicting which approach worked better, because her responses were always mood dependent.


He slowly flipped through the magazine pages, not really seeing the text.


Sierra slammed her notebook down. “Do you know she didn’t ask me anything about how I liked living here? No questions about school, or if I have friends, or if I’m driving. Nothing. She went on and on about how fantastique Paris is. How fluent she’s becoming. How she spends the days soaking up culture and the nights hitting the hottest clubs and restaurants with Vince.” She pulled her knees up, wrapping her arms around her calves as she curled into a ball. “I hate her.”


Gavin moved to sit beside her, ignoring her closed off vibe, and gently rubbed her back. “You don’t mean that.”


“No, I don’t. It’s just…she’s so selfish.”


He bit back the comment like that’s news, and continued soothing her with the same soft touch he always used.


Several long moments passed before she spoke again. “And wanna know what I really hate? That I know sometimes I act just like her. No wonder I’m not making friends at school.”


Another prickly situation. Sierra became defensive when he offered suggestions or even tried to talk to her about her problem making friends. He didn’t understand why it’d always been so hard for her.


She shivered. “I don’t want to be like her. Ever.”


“You won’t be. I won’t let you be.”


She raised her head and looked at him. “Promise?”


“I promise. But understand that you might not like my methods of ensuring that won’t happen.”


“Someone’s gotta be the taskmaster hardass in our family.” She kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Dad.”


“No problem. So I came up with a surefire way for you to learn your anatomy terms.”


A horrified look crossed her face. “No. No way. Don’t even say it.”


He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Flashcards.”


“Dad!”


“I’m serious. Making a set of flashcards will help you.”


“I am not in third grade trying to memorize my multiplication tables,” she retorted.


“True.” He tugged on her hair. “But it worked. And it worked when you had to memorize all the state capitals. And it worked when you had to memorize musical terms. It’s a tried and true method.”


Sierra sighed. “Fine. But I don’t have any index cards. And I doubt the stores in Sundance are open.”


“They do roll up the sidewalks early.” He stood. “I’d bet Rielle has recipe cards. I’ll go ask her.”


Rielle scrambled away from the swinging door. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop. She’d been heading to her bedroom and stopped outside the door when she heard Sierra talking about her mom and hadn’t wanted to interrupt.


Gavin strode in, lost in thought. But his focus changed the instant he set eyes on her. “Just the woman I was looking for.”


“What can I do for you?”


“This first.” He crowded her, bent his head and kissed her in that sure and steady way of his. And just like every other time he’d kissed her, her stomach bottomed out.


How long before these randomly stolen kisses pushed them to the next level?


Almost as if he’d read her mind, his mouth drifted over her ear and he whispered, “Soon.”


“Like how soon? Because I’m not busy right now.” She sank her teeth into his earlobe.


Gavin groaned softly. “If my daughter wasn’t sitting in the other room, I’d take you up on that.” Another whisper-soft kiss across her ear. “I’ve started carrying a condom in my pocket, just in case.”


“Better put one in each pocket.” Rielle gently pushed him back. “Was there something you needed?”


“Ah. Yeah.” He scrubbed his hands over his face as if he was trying to remember. Good to see she wasn’t the only one sexually frustrated. “Oh. Right. Do you have extra blank recipe cards we can use?”


“I’m sure I do.” She grabbed her recipe file box from the pantry, rummaging through the mishmash of papers until she found an unopened pack of plain index cards. “Here you go.”


“Thanks. You’re a lifesaver.”


“Happy to help. If you don’t need anything else, I think I’ll head to bed.”


Gavin set his hands on her shoulders. “You mad at me?”


“No. I’m just…” Horny. Which is a totally foreign feeling. “Antsy.”


“Me too. But I don’t want to rush this, Rielle. With the construction guys around during the day I get interrupted, or you get interrupted by your customers, or Sierra is under foot and we’re hardly ever alone. Might sound corny, but I don’t want anyone around or any distractions the first time we’re together. I want it to be just you and me. Completely focused on each other.”


This man was too good to be true. But had he come up with those parameters because he could tell how skittish she was? How little experience she had?


He stroked the side of her cheek. “You okay with that?”


“Very okay.” She lightly pecked him on the mouth. “See you in the morning.”


Chapter Twelve


“So Vi suggested something to me yesterday and I immediately dismissed it.” Gavin refilled Rielle’s cup and Sierra’s before topping off his. The kid had kicked her addiction to Starbucks, but she was still a morning caffeine junkie. “But then I got to thinking about it and I realized it’s not a bad idea.”


“What was her suggestion?”


“That I have a family housewarming party.” He knocked back a slug of coffee. “Here.”


Rielle’s hands tightened around her mug. “When?”


“I think we should get it out of the way tomorrow night.”


“Tomorrow night?” Sierra repeated.


“Yeah, why? Is there something else going on?”


She paused. Opened her mouth. Closed it. Then shook her head.


“And get this—Vi believes I ought to invite all the McKays.”


“All the McKays?” Rielle repeated. “At one time?”


Sierra snickered.


“What’s so funny?”


“The look on Rielle’s face as she’s thinking about Ky, Anton and Hayden playing football in the living room.”


Gavin scowled at her. So much for his daughter backing his play.


“This is your house. If you want to have a party, have a party. But I will remove all my breakables out of the great room and any other areas the wild McKay clan might vandalize.”


Vandalize? That was a harsh assessment.


“Will this be a potluck?” Sierra asked.


“Hell if I know.” He looked hopefully at Rielle.


She threw up her hands. “No way. I don’t want any part of this party.”


“I’ll help you, Dad. I’m sure Vi will pitch in and bring food since it was her idea. We’ll just have munchies and drinks. Paper plates, plastic cups, easy stuff. Pick me up after school today and we’ll hit Wal-Mart in Spearfish.”


Why was Sierra being so helpful?


Stop looking for motives. You should be overjoyed she’s pitching in and wants to be around her family.


“Sounds like a plan.” He glanced at the clock. “Better get your stuff. It’s about time to leave.”


As soon as Sierra was out of the kitchen, he leaned closer to Rielle. “I’ll help you move anything you want out of the great room. And I’ll try to keep everyone in the kitchen and dining room.”


“That’s…thoughtful. Thank you. But if it’s all the same, I won’t stick around tomorrow night.”


Gavin laid his hand on the side of her face. “I’d like it if you’d stay. Not to keep the appetizers supplied, or pour drinks, or even to run herd on unruly McKay munchkins.”


“Then why?”


“Honestly? Because I’m related to the McKays, but you know them way better than I do. I’ll probably need you to prompt me on some names.” Such a lie. Why don’t you tell her the truth?


“So I’d be a crutch.”


His gaze fell to her mouth. The woman had the most enticing lips. He adjusted his hand and his thumb followed the swell of her lower lip. “Fuck. I want to take you to bed in the worst way.”


Rielle shivered delicately.


The sound of heavy equipment rattling up the drive broke the moment.


Gavin retreated. Or tried to. Rielle wrapped her fingers around his wrist, holding his hand in place.


“I asked you a question. If I stay for the party tomorrow night, will I just be a crutch for you?”


“No. You’d be a lifeline.”


Rielle offered him a shy smile and pressed a soft kiss to the base of his thumb before she released his hand. “Then I’ll stay.”


Sierra yelled, “Dad! Come on. I’m gonna be late.”


Gavin kissed Rielle hard. “Later.”


What the fuck had he been thinking, having a fucking party?


There were approximately ten billion people in his house and the majority of them were less than two feet tall. And yelling. Or crying. Or doing both.


In the kitchen, Vi sidled up with another veggie plate. “Scoot a cheek, son, so I can put these down.”


“Sorry. Have you seen my co-host?”


“Rielle?”


I wish. “No, Sierra.”


“Last time I saw her, she was looking for Keely.” Vi tugged him down and whispered, “Maybe you’d better track her down. Who knows what kind of wild ideas Keely is putting in her head. That girl was hell on bootheels from the time she was two years old.”

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