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“Then I’ll put it in a to-go cup. You can’t take off with my glass.”

I turn. “Uh … I just watched that lady walk out of here with a glass.”

“She’ll be back. Same time. Same order. Everyday.”

“I’ll bring it back tomorrow.”

“I doubt it.” He scoffs.

“I will. I promise.”

“You better or I’ll report it as stolen.”

I cough a laugh. “It’s a mason jar that probably costs less than a dollar.”

“The mason jars we use here were my grandmother’s. She used to make jam. So if you walk out the door with that, it’s like you’re taking part of my grandmother with you. Just…” he lets out a slow breath “…bring her back in one piece.”

I don’t know what to say. Rarely does a guy’s sentimentality surprise me, but that’s really sweet. “I’ll guard it with my life.”

The curly-haired lady rubs Swarley behind his ears. “Thanks for coming, buddy. Stop by again sometime.”

“Thanks for watching him.” I stir the drink with the straw.

Swarley plants his lazy ass down at my feet, shifting his body just enough to knock me off balance. I stumble back a few feet.

Crash!

The jar of juice splatters and shatters on the ground.

“Swarley! Oh my gosh! No … I’m so sorry. He bumped me and I couldn’t keep ahold of the glass because my other hand is ruined, and—”

“Hey, it’s fine. Really. It was an accident. No big deal. Just watch out for the glass.” She hunches down, hugging Swarley so he doesn’t move. “Jake, come here! Hurry.” Kissing the side of Swarley’s head, she baby talks to him. “Don’t want this handsome guy getting glass in his paws.”

His paws? I have green juice splattered all over my Tory Burch Reva Flats.

Jake gives me a hard look as he steps over the glass, picks up Swarley, and carries him away from the dangerous mess.

“I’m sooo sorry.”

She waves me off as we bend down to pick up the pieces. “It’s no big deal.”

“It’s a huge deal. I broke his grandmother’s jar into a million pieces.”

“What are you talking about?” She scoots the trash bin closer to us and tosses pieces into it.

“The jar belonged to his grandmother,” I grit between my teeth, afraid to talk about it too loudly. I’m sure he’s crushed by my carelessness. Swarley’s carelessness.

“Oh my god.” She laughs. “We get them from a distributor. A dime a dozen. Who said they belonged to Jake’s grandmother?”

I lift my gaze to meet his cocky grin as he sweeps the sidewalk. Standing, I close the distance between us, pointing a finger in his face. “Screw. You.”

Wetting his lips, he grins. “Now that sounds like something a preacher’s daughter would do.”

I want to punch out every perfectly aligned white tooth in his mouth. “Let’s go, Swarley.”

CHAPTER THREE

Please let my dad and Deedy be dressed.

Please let Deedy be older than me by at least a decade.

Please wake me up from this nightmare that’s become my life.

No such luck.

The nightmare plays on.

“Hey, Avery, can I get ya some lemonade before we start unloading the moving van? It’s fresh squeezed.”

Swarley makes friends with the maple tree and half of the shrubs along the front of the house while I force a smile—the one where I pretend it’s not at all shocking to see my dad lounging in a wooden rocker on the porch with Deedy on his lap.

Cute. Cozy. Barf!

“Lemonade would be great. Thank you.” Get off my dad’s lap!

“Coming right up.” She kisses my dad on the cheek and flutters into the house, leaving my dad with a twitterpated grin.

He sighs all dreamy and … just … no. This is not happening. “So what do you think, Ave?”

I climb the porch steps. “I think you’re crazy if you think I’m unloading anything. My hand is injured and my nails were recently manicured.”

He pats his knee.

I shake my head. His lap is all Deedied. I’m never sitting on it again. The top step will work just fine. “How old is she, Dad?”

“Does it matter?” He scratches the back of his head. “How old is your boyfriend? What’s his name? Tony?”

“We’re not exactly together. He had…” I frown because beneath all the anger is this horrific embarrassment laced with a world of insecurities “…honesty issues.”

“What did he lie to you about? The balance in his bank account.” He winks.

I roll my eyes. “Chocolate. He said he hated chocolate, but I found out he actually likes it a lot.”

A hearty chuckle rumbles from Dad’s chest. “And that’s a deal breaker for your relationship?”

I stare at my nails, thankful I got the gel coating since it could be awhile before I get them redone. “Sadly, yes. It was quite the deal breaker. But enough about my latest mistake, stop dodging my question. How old is Deedy?”

“I’m thirty-eight.” The screen door creeks as Deedy steps onto the porch, handing me a lemonade garnished with a strawberry and mint leaves.

I love pretty drinks, but this one already tastes sour, and I haven’t even taken a sip yet.

“Thank you.” My voice breaks with a bit of embarrassment.

“Yes, I’m young enough to be Tommy’s daughter, but love doesn’t care about age.”

Tommy? I shoot my dad a questioning look, but he’s too busy helping the Deedy get settled onto his lap again. Tommy is a five-year-old boy who wets himself the first day of school or maybe a clothing designer, but not a minister.

Dear Heavenly Father,

If I stop being a hypocrite and vow to never date anyone more than five years older or younger than myself, will you make this woman go away? If I promise to respect the boundaries of my generation, will you remind Tommy that he vowed to serve you and not his dwindling sex drive?

He’s running late with his midlife crisis. That’s the only logical explanation. Sorry, Dad, you missed that train. Now you have to show maturity or they’ll revoke your AARP membership, including your roadside assistance.

Deedy … it’s just disturbing on so many levels. She has my California blond hair, only shorter with an inverted-bob sweeping her chin. Blue eyes resemble mine, just not as light. In this small, aching pit in my stomach, I think of how she looks like my mom might have at thirty-eight had she lived that long.

The Deedy is too pretty, too young, and too …. I don’t know … all over my dad like a horny girl who just figured out how to rub herself off.

Gah! It hits me. They’re going to have sex. I cringe. Can he even get it up? My experience with older men is they do best with a pill. Eww … for the first time in my life, my mind has decided to make the comparison between the older men I’ve dated and my father.

It’s in my head! Make it stop. Will he do his thing missionary style? They have to, right? After all, he’s a minister and she’s been on mission trips. Will he go down on her? GAH! No. No! NO! Make it stop!

“Avery, are you feeling okay? You have a mortified look on your face.” Dad tears his unholy gaze from Deedy long enough to acknowledge I’m still here.

This trip was an epic mistake. I should have had my car checked at a garage in Illinois and headed straight back to Los Angeles. My days of being the apple of my father’s eye are over. He’s robbing the cradle, and Anthony likes chocolate. What is happening to the world?

“Yeah, just thinking about something that’s a little disturbing. I’m fine.”

“How was your walk?” He nuzzles Deedy’s neck.

“I stopped by a cafe, but it didn’t go so well. Swarley made me spill my green drink all over.”

“Oh!” Deedy’s back snaps to attention, eyes wide. “You stopped at Sage Leaf Cafe?”

“Yeah, we have one in L.A. I don’t go there often, just when I’m trying to impress someone in the hippie crowd.”

“It’s an all vegan restaurant.” She glances back at my dad. “The food is the best. Jake Matthews, the owner, is the nicest guy, and he’s—”

My brow furrows. “I don’t know if I’d agree with that assessment.”

“Oh, Avery, he’s incredible.” She winks. “And single.”

He was a dick to me. Of course he’s single.

“Then you should date him.” I shoot them a toothy grin.

Dad frowns. “Avery …”

“I’m joking.” I stand, taking a sip of the lemonade.

Deedy bites back her smile. I give her a little credit for not being offended. The look she shoots me says she knows my game. I know hers too—make the adult daughter look like a selfish, spoiled brat. Make the old man choose between the needy child and the best blowjob he’s ever had.

Dammit! Stupid mind.

My phone chimes. I dig it out of my Hermes bag. “Avery Montgomery.”

“This is Trace from Wellman’s garage. We’ve inspected your vehicle and found two major problems and several minor ones.”

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