Wife and Mother Wanted Nicola Marsh Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Brody Elliott is a single dad, struggling to bring up his young daughter, Molly. Brody blames himself for the loss of Molly's mother, and is determined to protect his little girl from heartbreak again. So when Molly befriends their pretty and lively new neighbor, Carissa Lewis, Brody is immediately wary.Braving Brody's hostility, Carissa instantly bonds with Molly. Brody's doing his best, but it's obvious his little girl needs a mother–and Molly wants Carissa for the job! If only challenging, infuriating and gorgeous Brody was willing to let go of his past and give in to their reluctant attraction, maybe Carissa could be his, too…. She shouldn’t flirt with him. She really shouldn’t. But a little demon was prodding her with its pitchfork. “I don’t have much to do. Maybe you still want to play?” Carissa asked, leaning against the wrought-iron table in a provocative pose. “Uh, no, thanks,” Brody muttered, looking delightfully flustered, and she bit back a grin, enjoying this more than she should. He had loosened up a lot over the past month. However, that didn’t mean she couldn’t have a little fun at his expense. “You’re running scared,” she said, taking a step toward him. “Scared of what?” He backed away. “This.” She took another step and poked him in the chest, expecting him to make a run for the house at the brief physical contact. However, he didn’t move a muscle, his dark gaze unreadable, and her pulse accelerated madly. “And this.” She ran a finger down his cheek, enjoying the rasp of stubble against her fingertip. He grabbed her hand and lowered it, regret mixed with desire in his eyes. “I’m not scared. I’m just wary,” he said. Nicola Marsh has always had a passion for writing and reading. As a youngster, she devoured books when she should have been sleeping, and later kept a diary, which could be an epic in itself! These days, when she’s not enjoying life with her husband and son in her home city of Melbourne, she’s at her computer, creating the romances she loves in her dream job. Visit Nicola’s Web site at www.nicolamarsh.com (http://www.nicolamarsh.com) for the latest news of her books. Found: His Family #1836 Wife and Mother Wanted Nicola Marsh www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) To the Sirens, for their friendship, support and cyber hugs CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE (#u4f22abd2-0b40-5891-b2ac-dc4a17514a00) CHAPTER TWO (#u2487a82c-99ea-5d8b-b84a-4432b2737790) CHAPTER THREE (#u55845e18-274b-5448-a7bc-42555d3df9be) CHAPTER FOUR (#u69e9bb9e-fd7a-50df-9091-1ceb760293c4) CHAPTER FIVE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SIX (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER EIGHT (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER NINE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ELEVEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER TWELVE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER THIRTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER FOURTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER FIFTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SIXTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER SEVENTEEN (#litres_trial_promo) EPILOGUE (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ONE ‘I DON’T believe this!’ Carissa Lewis collapsed into a garden chair and resisted the urge to throw her mobile phone into the nearby pond. Though she wouldn’t risk it. The way her luck was running today she’d probably decapitate Fred, her favourite ceramic frog. Instead, she took a deep breath, gritted her teeth and lowered her voice. ‘Peter, how could you do this to me? To the children? We were counting on you.’ Her boyfriend of eight months—eight far too long months—said, ‘Yeah, well, you shouldn’t ask so much of people. Personally, I’ve had a gutful.’ She shook her head, wondering if the late nights she’d been keeping in preparation for the annual Easter pageant had melted her brain. How could asking Peter to play the Easter Bunny for the local kids in town be asking too much? The guy didn’t have a heart—a fact she’d slowly realised over the course of their lukewarm relationship but hadn’t got around to doing anything about. So she had a thing for ‘comfortable’ boyfriends—guys who didn’t challenge her, or demand anything of her, or set off any fireworks in her vicinity. So what? She liked it that way. Comfortable was good, and the antithesis of her totally uncomfortable childhood, when she would have given anything for someone to depend on. She tried a different tack. ‘Peter, this is important to me. Please, won’t you reconsider?’ ‘Sorry, Carissa. I want out. Of everything.’ Her heart stilled for all of two seconds before the adrenaline kicked in again. ‘Are you dumping me? Why, you weak, spineless, no-good—’ The dial tone hummed in her ear and she let out a frustrated yell, leapt to her feet and jumped up and down on the spot, like a two-year-old having a doozy of a tantrum. ‘What are you staring at?’ she said to Fred, finding his wide froggy grin smug rather than endearing at that moment. ‘Where am I going to find an Easter Bunny now?’ It had to be the time of year. Things always went wrong at Easter. Her parents had died at Easter when she was three, she’d been adopted out a year later to the family from hell, and she always seemed to hang onto some loser like Peter to avoid being alone with her memories around this time. Yep, Easter stank—and it looked as if this year was no exception. ‘My daddy says to look under the nearest bush,’ a small, high-pitched voice said from somewhere over her new neighbour’s fence. ‘Though everyone knows it’s way too early for the Easter Bunny to arrive. He’s practising his hopping ready for next week.’ Carissa looked up and spied a splash of red in the towering eucalypt’s lower branches, the bright material ending above a set of scraped knees covered in a patchwork of Mickey Mouse sticking plasters. ‘Mmm, you could be right,’ Carissa said, hoping the pint-sized person to whom those legs belonged knew her way around trees. She’d hate for the little girl to take a tumble. She’d heard about her new neighbours, who had barely moved in a week ago. A single father with a girl of about six. Though she’d been meaning to welcome them to the neighborhood, she hadn’t got around to it yet. Or maybe it had something to do with the brief glimpse she’d caught of the father as he’d unloaded his car. Long, lean legs and a firm, cute butt in faded denim as he’d bent over his car boot had had her taking a second look—a long second look, which had almost culminated in her steering her car onto the lawn rather than up her driveway. And, though she’d barely caught a glimpse of his face when he’d looked up to see what the commotion was about as she’d grazed a rubbish bin while over-correcting, that one illicit ogle at his posterior had sent her welcome committee plans up in smoke. She’d been way too embarrassed to face him after he’d witnessed her parking skills. ‘What’s your name, sweetheart?’ Carissa asked, hoping to talk the little girl out of the tree and put a face to the stubby legs. ‘Mine’s Carissa.’ ‘Molly Jane Elliott.’ The little voice pronounced it like a title bestowed by the Queen. ‘But you can call me Molly.’ Smiling, Carissa wandered over to the fence and peered into the tree’s lower branches, still unable to catch sight of the friendly little girl. ‘Pleased to meet you, Molly. Would you like to come down and meet Fred? He’s my favourite frog, but I have loads of others.’ Molly hesitated for all of two seconds before scrambling down in a flash of legs and arms, landing in a none-too-gracious heap at the bottom of the tree. ‘You okay, sweetie?’ Molly nodded and raised her head. ‘Yeah, that’s how I always land. I get a Mickey Mouse every time.’ She pointed to her knees and grinned, displaying a darling gap where a front tooth should be. However, Carissa didn’t glance at Molly’s knees. Instead, she stared at the girl’s face in shock, seeing a startling resemblance to herself at that age: messy blonde curls, wary blue eyes and a defiant expression that warned Don’t mess with me. I may look little, but I’ve seen plenty. ‘You look kinda funny, Carissa.’ Molly had an adorable lisp, courtesy of the missing front tooth, and combined with her attitude, it had Carissa almost scrambling over the fence in her haste to pick up the pint-sized dynamo and cradle her in her arms. ‘That’s because I can’t find the Easter Bunny, remember?’ Nice save, Lewis. That was all she needed—for Molly to go running to her dad and tell him about their nutcase neighbour, who stared at his daughter as if she wanted one of her very own. Which was totally true, of course. She’d give anything to have a family of her own: loving husband, delightful kids, white picket fence, the works. Unfortunately, all she had was the fence, and that had taken a week of blisters and a cricked neck while she put the darn thing up and painted it herself. Though one thing was for sure. When she had a family of her own they would love each other, support each other and be the exact opposite of what she’d faced growing up. ‘Oh, yeah.’ Molly stood up and dusted off a red cotton pinafore that had seen better days. ‘But you said you had some frogs for me to see?’ ‘I sure do. Though maybe you should ask your dad before coming over to play?’ Molly shook her head, blonde curls bouncing around her chubby face, defiance in her blue eyes. ‘Uh-uh. He’ll just make me go inside, like he always does.’ Great. Now what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t encourage the child to leave her back yard without permission, but she didn’t want to disappoint Molly either. She’d had enough of that emotion growing up, and there was something about this child that begged her not to dish out more of the same. As if on cue, a loud voice bellowed from the rear of the rundown house next door. ‘Molly Jane. Time for lunch. Inside. Now.’ No please. No coaxing. No gentle words of love. Yeah, she knew exactly what that felt like and it still hurt twenty years later. ‘Don’t want to.’ Molly yelled back, and folded her arms and stamped her foot while Carissa bit back a grin. Oh, yeah, looking at Molly was like taking a step back in time and seeing a mirror image of herself at that age. And her heart went out to the little girl all over again. The town gossips had said Molly’s father was a single dad, and she’d assumed that meant he was divorced. From Molly’s scruffy appearance and rebellious attitude, it looked as if the girl hadn’t had her mother’s influence in quite a while. Was that why Mr Elliott had moved out here? To get away from an ex? In that case, he was selfish. Because anyone could see this little girl needed a woman’s touch. And if he’d deprived her of her mother, well…a guy like that needed someone to talk sense into him. And she knew just the person—with enough firsthand knowledge of what it was like to grow up without a loving mother—to do it. ‘Molly! I said now!’ Trying not to grimace at the man’s impatient tone, Carissa said, ‘Molly, why don’t you go have your lunch and I’ll talk to your dad? Maybe you can come over later?’ Some of the tension eased out of Molly’s shoulders. ‘Really?’ Carissa smiled and nodded, hoping she could talk the ogre into letting his daughter come and spend some time with a stranger. Not that she intended to be a stranger for long. ‘Really. Now, run along.’ Molly sent her a brief, beatific smile before racing across the yard to her back door. ‘Dad! Dad! Carissa wants to talk to you. She’s got loads of frogs and everything! And she’s looking for the Easter Bunny. And she said I can come over and play with her after my lunch. What’s for lunch? Will it take long? I wanna play.’ Molly’s words spilled out in a rush and Carissa saw a man’s shadow bend down to the little girl before she ran inside. Then the man straightened and stepped out of the doorway. Oh, boy. Carissa’s breath hitched as she caught her first fronton glimpse of the ogre. Tall, lean, fighting machine sprang to mind as the man exited the doorway and loped across the back yard towards her. Tension radiated from him in waves, as if he had a surplus of energy coiled tight within, and his body language—folded arms, perpetual frown and compressed lips—read I’m in a bad mood, so lay off. Never mind that the folded arms displayed a great set of biceps at the edge of his short-sleeved black T-shirt, or that the colour of the T-shirt heightened his dark, brooding good looks. This guy had ‘bad attitude’ written all over him, and she’d dealt with his kind before. ‘Mr Elliott. I’m Carissa Lewis—your neighbour.’ He halted about two feet in front of her and the rest of what she’d been about to say died on her lips as she struggled not to gawk. If she’d thought he looked impressive strolling across the lawn, it had nothing on the man close up. Sure, the frown was still there, and the lips had thinned further into disapproval, but those eyes! Dark brown, the colour of melted chocolate—the same colour she happily drooled over every night when she dipped ripe strawberries into the mix of milk and bitter chocolate in her fondue pot, her latest eclectic buy. Their unique colour was accentuated by the longest set of eyelashes she’d ever seen on a guy, giving him a sexy look at odds with the crinkle between his brows—the one that looked like a permanent fixture. ‘The name’s Brody,’ he all but barked. ‘You shouldn’t get my daughter’s hopes up like that—saying she can come over and play.’ Hating that he had her on the back foot already, she said, ‘I said that she should discuss it with you first, but I’d love to have her over.’ ‘I don’t know you.’ His frown deepened, doing little to detract from his good looks. Though she had no intention of getting involved with a guy for a long time, after her latest disaster in the dating stakes, if someone came along who looked like this—well, she’d have a hard time not taking a second glance and thinking about it twice. Perhaps if she went for guys who weren’t so safe, guys who were gorgeous and had danger written all over them, she’d have more luck? This is real life, honey, not fantasy land. And if anyone should know, she should. Losing her parents in a freak accident had landed her in an orphanage at the age of three, from where her two sisters had each been adopted out, leaving her to spend a year alone, battling bullies, starvation and a mouse infestation that left her shuddering at the thought of the little critters to this day. When she’d finally been adopted herself a year later, she’d taken one look at her new parents and all but launched herself into their arms. However, if the orphanage had been a bad dream, living with the Lovells had been a nightmare. For all their fancy clothes and refined manners, Ron and Betty Lovell had been cold, callous people who shouldn’t have been allowed to parent any child. Ron had been an abusive drunk, and Betty a woman who would do anything to keep up the perfect family fa?ade—including ignoring the verbal and psychological abuse that Carissa had been subjected to from the minute she’d set foot in their home. Yeah, that had been her real world. Paint it any way and it still looked the same: miserable and depressing, a childhood filled with enough bad memories to last a lifetime. And, also seeing the vulnerable look beneath the defiance she’d glimpsed on Molly’s face, she would do anything to prevent the little girl she’d just met going through half of what she had. ‘Listen, Brody. I’m an upstanding citizen. I pay my taxes, I run my own business, and anyone in this town can vouch for how much I love kids. Heard of Fey For Fun?’ He shook his head. ‘I haven’t been here long, and I’ve had my hands full settling the house and getting school organised for Molly.’ At least she couldn’t fault him for that. ‘I run a fairy shop. Kids love it.’ And she did too. It was her one little slice of magic in this all-round dreary world. Whether it be stocking the shelves with fairy dust or elves’ gold, the latest in pink tulle tutus or silver-spangled wings, she relished every part of her job. And when it came to dressing up herself, for the local kids’ fairy parties, well…she absolutely, positively had the best job in the world! ‘Fairy shop?’ His brows relaxed out of their frown to shoot skyward instead. He made it sound as if she ran a brothel. ‘The best this side of Sydney,’ she said, not knowing why she needed to justify the success of her business to this man. Besides, he looked like the type of guy who would scoff at anything make-believe. ‘Fairies, huh?’ For a moment she thought she glimpsed a softening around the corners of his mouth. However, the movement was gone in a flash, and she knew she must have imagined it. She sighed and glanced at her watch. ‘And wizards and elves and Santas and Easter Bunnies. You know—all the stuff a guy like you wouldn’t believe in. Speaking of which, I need to find an Easter Bunny urgently, so if you’ll excuse me?’ ‘A guy like me?’ ‘Uh, you don’t strike me as the type to go in for magic stuff, that’s all,’ she finished lamely, her attention captured by the spark of interest in his dark eyes. ‘Is that right?’ She nodded, desperately trying to hide her surprise. If the flash of interest in his eyes had shocked her, it had nothing on the hint of a smile that played around his mouth. The guy could actually crack a smile? ‘Well, in that case, I guess it’s useless me trying to help you find this missing Easter Bunny?’ ‘He’s not missing. He pulled out at the last minute and has left me in the lurch—not to mention thirty of the local kids.’ She tried to ignore the sad feeling that suddenly swamped her, muttering, ‘The rat,’ under her breath at the same time. Though her sadness had nothing to do with Peter exiting her life, but was for the fact that the kids looked forward to the Easter pageant as much as she did and she hated to let them down. ‘By the expression on your face, it looks like that particular bunny is stewed the next time you see him.’ And then it happened. Brody Elliott smiled and the effect was breathtaking—like the sun coming out from behind thunderous clouds, illuminating everything within its sphere and warming her in the same way, right down to her soul. Trying to recover her wits, she said, ‘I won’t be seeing him. Not if he knows what’s good for him.’ His smile dimmed and he glanced away, looking uncomfortable. Jeez, this guy really needed to loosen up. If smiling made him feel bad, he needed to practise more often. ‘Sounds like you’re in a bind.’ His gaze returned to hers and he frowned again, the angry indentation between his brows slipping into place with ease. While nothing short of disastrous plastic surgery could mar his good looks, he appeared so much friendlier when he wasn’t glowering at the world. ‘Yeah. Though it’s the kids I feel for. They’ll be terribly disappointed if the Easter Bunny doesn’t show tomorrow.’ And nobody could relate to how they’d feel better than her. The nuns at the orphanage had talked up Santa’s impending visit for an entire month before Christmas, and though she’d been barely old enough to grasp the whole concept she’d looked forward to his arrival with the fervent passion of a child who had nothing else to look forward to. Of course the man in the red suit with his treasure trove of presents had never arrived, and she still remembered the acute emptiness that had made her sob her little heart out. ‘Anyway, enough of my troubles. It’s not like you’re going to volunteer to help me out or anything.’ Okay, so she was being more than a tad cheeky—but, hey, she was desperate, and if laying down a challenge to her grumpy neighbour in the hope that he would run with it could get her out of a fix, she’d do it. His frown deepened as he fixed her with a surly stare. ‘You’re right. Seems like you’ve got me all figured out. So, on that note, I’ve got a lunch date with my daughter.’ Molly! She’d almost forgotten the whole reason behind this conversation, what with meeting the ogre—the very ogle-worthy ogre. ‘Speaking of Molly, I’d love it if she came over to play. She seems like a lovely little girl, and I’ve got loads of stuff she can check out in my garden—plus lots of stock from the shop.’ He shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. Now, if you don’t mind, I really must go in.’ She did mind! What was with this guy? Didn’t he know when to loosen up? When to let his daughter have a little fun? Granted, he didn’t know her, but anyone in town could vouch for her. And, just like that, an answer to the placate-the-dad-help-the-daughter problem popped into her head. ‘Okay, I won’t keep you, but why don’t you bring Molly along to the Easter pageant? All the local kids will be there, and you can witness my kid-friendly skills first-hand. It’s at my shop in the main street, eleven o’clock tomorrow morning. It will give Molly a chance to meet and mingle with some new friends.’ And it might give you a reason to chuckle. Though, seeing the intense frown which deepened at her words, she doubted it. ‘I don’t know. I’m probably busy tomorrow.’ For Pete’s sake—Ouch! Poor choice of P word. Would she ever get through to him? ‘Eleven o’clock. Fey For Fun. Molly will love it.’ She wanted to add be there or be square, but didn’t think he’d appreciate a bit of high-school frivolity. In fact, she had a feeling her brooding new neighbour wouldn’t go in for frivolous at all. ‘Now I need to find me an Easter Bunny. See you tomorrow.’ She sent him an airy wave and walked away, biting back a grin at the final glower he sent her way. So Brody Elliott was a grumpy grouch? She’d handled worse—like her adoptive father—and come away unscathed. She just hoped he’d do the right thing by Molly. Though she’d only just met the little girl, it looked as if Molly could do with some TLC—and she’d happily volunteer to inject some fun into her life. Now all she had to do was hope big, bad Brody would come to the party. Literally. CHAPTER TWO ‘DAD! Wow, look at all the fairies and stuff. Isn’t this shop the coolest?’ Molly bounced through the front door of Fey For Fun and Brody followed reluctantly, wondering what on earth had prompted him to do this. He had enough to worry about without wasting time with a bunch of kids he’d never met. Maybe he should be using the time to figure out how to raise his own child rather than secretly enjoying the brief taste of freedom from responsibility that the day would bring. Glancing at his surroundings, he took in the filmy pink gauze draped around the shop, the silver stars spangling on a midnight ceiling and the staggering array of fairies, elves, goblins, wizards, frogs and princesses in every shape, texture and size. If he’d been a kid he wouldn’t have wanted to leave this place. As a grown-up, he was intrigued by the enigmatic woman who ran it—and already berating himself for it. His meeting with Carissa Lewis yesterday had been brief, and he’d been his usual prickly self, yet something about her had piqued his interest and he’d found himself spending far too many hours last night thinking about his nosy neighbour. He didn’t have the time or inclination to waste on another woman. Molly was the only female in his life these days, and he intended keeping it that way. He sighed and looked at Molly, who flitted from one item to another in the shop, her face alight with delight. His precious daughter was a bundle of energy and a constant source of amazement, consternation and worry in his otherwise drab life, and he loved her to bits. He knew he fell short as a parent, and his constant guilt at causing the death of her mother was a burden that manifested itself in many ways—most of them directed at his beautiful daughter. He’d turned into a taciturn grump, and as much as he’d like to change his ways he couldn’t. Guilt did that to a man—a terrible, all-consuming guilt that ripped at his soul on a daily basis, draining him till he had nothing left to give, no matter how much he wanted to. Poor Molly. He sure as hell wouldn’t win any Father of the Year contests. Now, to complicate matters, that interfering woman next door had practically challenged him to turn up here today and he’d jumped at it. How stupid could he be? Real stupid, if his gut reaction was any indication as he caught a glimpse of his neighbour through a rear window, smiling and chatting with a group of kids as they sat on giant toadstools. Carissa Lewis had a smile that could light up a room and, combined with the soft blonde curls framing her heart-shaped face, the guileless blue eyes and a cheeky dimple that could tempt a saint, she had him focussing on a woman in a way he hadn’t in a long time. He’d initially been annoyed that she’d befriended Molly. His daughter had suffered enough loss in her brief life without growing attached to a woman who obviously could only offer a day’s entertainment. However, when he’d confronted Carissa, he’d been totally unprepared for his own reaction to the woman. Awareness had flooded his body for the first time in years, making him more terse than usual. But instead of being scared off, as his abrupt manner made most people, she’d stood up to him with something akin to challenge in her fathomless blue eyes, and he’d been prompted to do all sorts of uncharacteristic things—like take her up on it. And here he was. And though that seemed stupid to him right now, it had nothing on the stupidest decision of them all—the one where he’d pulled over a speeding driver all those years ago and let the kid go with a warning, only to stare into that cocky face just months later, when the jerk had been charged with vehicular manslaughter for killing Jackie, his wife, in a head-on collision while speeding again. Yeah, that topped the list of dumbest things he’d ever done—and he’d been paying for it every day since. ‘Come on, Dad. I wanna meet the Easter Bunny, and Carissa’s calling us.’ His head snapped up as a loud tapping on the rear window brought him back to the present, and he ruffled Molly’s hair. ‘Sure thing, munchkin. Let’s go meet this bunny.’ However, as he led Molly into the quaint cottage garden at the back of the shop, and saw Carissa’s expression as she took a call on her mobile, all his old cop instincts screamed that there was something wrong. ‘There’s Jessie,’ Molly squealed. ‘She’s in my class at school. Can I go play with her, Dad?’ ‘Go ahead, munchkin,’ he said, his gaze riveted to the storm of emotions clouding Carissa’s expressive face. He shouldn’t get involved. He didn’t want to get involved. But it looked as if the matter might be taken out of his hands as Carissa hung up and turned to him with a stricken look on her face. ‘You came,’ she said, not looking particularly thrilled. ‘Yeah, it sounded like something Molly would like. Everything okay?’ To his amazement, Carissa shook her head, collapsed into the nearest chair, and looked as if she’d burst into tears at any second. Oh-oh. Tears to him were like Kryptonite to Superman. He just couldn’t go there. ‘My stand-in bunny just pulled out. Old Mr Hill has a twisted bowel, or some such thing and won’t be here. Can you believe it? Those poor kids.’ She gazed out through the back window, looking so forlorn he wanted to pat her on the back and tell her everything would be okay. ‘Yeah, I guess they’ll be pretty disappointed.’ He knew Molly would be, and he hated that. His daughter had been let down enough in her lifetime. ‘Disappointed? They’ll be distraught!’ She jumped out of her chair and stalked to the window, staring out at the kids. ‘If only there was something I could do…’ And in that instant, as she whirled to face him with a maniacal gleam in her wide blue eyes, he knew that she’d hatched some crazy scheme and that, somehow, it involved him. ‘You!’ She jumped up and down on the spot like Molly did when she was really excited about something. ‘You can do it! You’re big enough for the bunny suit, you’re here—it’s the perfect solution.’ ‘No way.’ He held up his hands to ward her off and backed up a few steps, wondering briefly if it was too late to make a run for it. ‘Come on.’ She latched onto his arm and dragged him towards the back room, leaving him little option but to follow. ‘We don’t have much time. The natives are getting restless. And you wouldn’t want to be responsible for disappointing all those cute little children now, would you?’ Damn, she was good. How could he say no when she put it like that? He couldn’t disappoint Molly. He wouldn’t. And, by the clever glint in Carissa’s eyes, she’d known just the right buttons to push. His gaze skimmed over her, the simple outfit of white flowing trousers and pink fitted top accentuating her piquant beauty in its simplicity. On any other woman the combination would have looked plain. On her it looked stunning. ‘Hey!’ Carissa snapped her fingers in front of his face. ‘You better pay closer attention when you’re with the kids, otherwise they’ll whip those choccie eggs out of your basket in no time at all.’ ‘Look, about the kids—’ ‘Come on. We haven’t got long to get you dressed and into the garden at the back of the shop for the egg hunt.’ She opened a door to a back room and all but shoved him aside. He should have blurted out any old excuse. He should have slammed the door shut, locked it and bolted through the sole window. Instead, at the first touch of her hand on his arm, all thought of abandoning her fled and he found himself staring at the giant pink and white bunny costume hanging on the back of the door and wondering what it was about this woman that made him want to jump through hoops. ‘Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it,’ she said, unzipping the plastic covering over the suit and handing him a cotton tail. ‘Here—I’m sure you can do the honours with this.’ ‘Just leave it,’ he snapped, the thought of her placing that cute little tail anywhere in the vicinity of his tail sending his blood pressure soaring. Shame on you, Brody Elliott. Mind your manners. He blinked in surprise at the echo of his wife’s phrase. During their brief marriage he’d often felt like a gauche boy being chastised by the lady of the house, and any love he’d had for his society wife had soon waned while his love for Molly, the reason they’d married in the first place, had grown daily. Everyone had been right. Jackie had made him pay for getting her pregnant—even though he’d used protection, and even though he’d done the right thing by her. Their marriage had been based on guilt right from the start. His guilt. Guilt at ruining Jackie’s life, according to her snobby family. Guilt at robbing her of a life on easy street if she’d married the right man from her socio-economic sphere. Guilt at how much he’d blamed her for the loss of his freedom. And, for the last four years, the gut-wrenching guilt that her death might have been prevented if he’d done things differently. ‘Hey, if you don’t want to do this I’ll understand,’ Carissa said, the concern in her eyes reaching out and enveloping him in a warm embrace, no matter how unwelcome. Damn it! As a cop, he’d been a master of the poker face. In fact it had been one of the skills that had kept him at the top of his game. However, like everything else in his life, he’d let his job slide, and it looked as if his skills had followed suit. Slipping his poor excuse for a poker face into place, he said, ‘I’m ready. Just leave me to it.’ Searching his face, she appeared satisfied and nodded. ‘I’ll wait for you outside. Just hop on out when you’re ready.’ And as he watched her walk out, struggling to keep his eyes averted from the way her butt moved beneath the soft white cotton of her pants and failing miserably, he wondered for the hundredth time in the last hour if he’d lost his mind. Carissa was proud of her ability to read people. She’d mastered the skill from an early age, learning to blend into the background in the hope that she’d avoid drawing attention to herself and earning a harsh word or a cruel putdown from Ron in the process. Being able to blend in allowed her the freedom to observe people, to look, listen and pick up on non-verbal cues. And now, as she watched Brody cavorting with the children as if he’d been born to the role of Easter Bunny, she had no idea what to make of her new neighbour. ‘Looks like your bunny is doing a good job with the kids,’ Tahnee, her younger sister, said, plopping into a garden chair next to her. ‘I didn’t know Pete had it in him.’ ‘It’s not Peter.’ Carissa wrinkled her nose as if she’d just smelt something nasty. In this case, eau de dumped. Tahnee’s astute gaze fixed on her in an instant. ‘Trouble in paradise?’ ‘Being with Peter was never paradise,’ Carissa muttered, knowing she’d hung around their dead-end relationship for eight months for one reason and one reason only. Familiarity. And in her case it had definitely bred contempt. ‘Yay!’ Tahnee clapped her hands and bounced in her seat. ‘Sayonara to the loser. I knew he wasn’t worthy of you.’ ‘Why didn’t you say something earlier?’ Tahnee rolled her eyes, the exact shade of blue as her own, and once again Carissa was struck by the likeness between the three Lewis girls. She thanked God that they’d found each other after all these years. In fact she would never have set up shop here in Stockton if it hadn’t been for Tahnee. When they’d been reunited, she’d been so thrilled to finally have a loving family again that she’d moved to the small town two hours north of Sydney just to be closer to her sister, who had lived here for years. ‘Because I don’t interfere in my sister’s relationships, much as I’d like to.’ ‘Speaking of which, have you heard from Kristen? Mick has spirited her away for a week in Perth before she heads back to Singapore and I haven’t heard from her.’ ‘Another loser,’ Tahnee snorted. ‘Miserly Mick, that is. I bet Kristen’s the one springing for the holiday, not the other way around. That guy has long pockets and short arms when it comes to spending money.’ Carissa chuckled, but happened to agree with her sister. ‘As long as she’s happy.’ ‘Mark my words—Kristen will be joining us in happy singledom in a few weeks if I’m not mistaken. Spending more than a few hours with that creep will open her eyes quick-smart.’ ‘We’ll see,’ Carissa murmured, her attention suddenly diverted by the amazing sight of the Easter Bunny grappling with Timmy Fields, a gorgeous little blond boy who’d lost both parents recently and had had her silently crying for him in empathy. ‘Hey, Timmy. Take it easy on the Easter Bunny. You might pull his ears off.’ Though maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea. It might get Brooding Brody to listen to her for all of two seconds. He’d barely spoken more than a few words to her since they’d met, and she still hadn’t convinced him to let Molly spend some time with her. That little girl needed some attention, and she was just the woman to give it to her. From her dishevelled appearance to her defiant attitude, Molly craved affection—and if her father spoke to her like he did to everyone else, Lord help her! ‘So who’s in the bunny costume?’ Tahnee unwrapped a chocolate Easter egg and popped it in her mouth. ‘Mmm…heaven. Actually, I should’ve known it wasn’t Pete. This bunny is way too tall and broad-shouldered to be Puny Pete.’ ‘Meet Brody Elliott—my new neighbour.’ Tahnee sat up so quickly she almost tipped out of her chair. ‘The Brody Elliott?’ ‘Uh-huh. Heard of him?’ ‘Heard of him?’ Tahnee’s voice rose and Carissa shushed her. ‘Sis, where have you been hiding? Don’t you listen to the Stockton grapevine?’ ‘I don’t usually have the time.’ ‘Your loss.’ Okay. So maybe she could make an exception in this case. ‘So tell me about the Brody Elliott, anyway.’ Tahnee leaned closer and dropped her voice to an almost-whisper, no mean feat for her loud, brash sibling. ‘He’s an ex-cop, lived in Sydney his whole life. Has a real bad-boy reputation. Knocks up some society chick, marries her, has a child he adores. Then the wife dies, about four years ago, when the girl is a toddler, and he’s raised her on his own since. Carries a huge chip on his shoulder—like he blames the world for his problems.’ Carissa shook her head and stared wide-eyed at her sister, knowing that if the rumour mills were true what she’d just heard about Brody went a long way to explaining his grumpy manner. It sounded as if he’d had a rough time and then some. ‘Where did you hear all that?’ ‘Daisy Smythe is the dead wife’s aunt. That’s one of the reasons he’s come to live here—so that his daughter can get some female influence in her life. Old Daisy told Pat at the pharmacy, and I overheard the whole thing.’ ‘You mean you eavesdropped?’ Tahnee had the grace to blush. ‘Well, it wasn’t like the old duck was talking in whispers or anything.’ ‘You’re unbelievable!’ ‘So, how did you get big bad Brody to be your bunny? Tell all.’ Carissa remembered the look on Molly’s cute face when they’d first met, and Brody’s subsequent glower. She could hardly believe the taciturn man had found it in his heart to help her out at short notice—let alone throw himself wholeheartedly into the task, as indicated by his current wrestling match with half a dozen of the cherubs. She shrugged, not wanting to add fuel to Tahnee’s thirst for news. ‘Looks like the guy has a soft spot for kids. He saw how much I needed help when old Dave Hill dropped out, and he put his hand up. With a little helpful twisting of it behind his back from yours truly, of course.’ Tahnee chuckled. ‘So the guy really has a soft spot?’ Carissa understood her sister’s scepticism if what Tahnee had learned from Daisy was true. And, from what she’d observed first-hand in his general demeanour, the guy didn’t exactly strike a welcoming chord with everyone he met. In fact, he looked about as friendly as Scrooge. Not that she put much stock in anything old Daisy said. Daisy Smythe, a strait-laced spinster who’d lived in Stockton her entire life and shunned anyone she considered ‘foreign’—even those who came from Sydney, a scant two hours away—was notorious for her shallow views. And this was the woman Brody had chosen to be the female influence in his daughter’s life? Poor Molly. ‘He seems nice enough,’ Carissa said, trying to forget exactly how nice Brody was—particularly some of his impressive physical attributes. ‘Wish I could see him without that costume on.’ Tahnee popped another egg into her mouth and delicately licked chocolate from her fingertips like a kitten lapping up the last of its cream. ‘I like bad-boy types.’ ‘He has a daughter to raise. I doubt Brody would be up for a fling—especially in a small town like this.’ ‘Ooh.’ Tahnee’s eyes narrowed as she fixed her perceptive gaze on Carissa. ‘You sound mighty sure of what the man in question wants. Is there something you’re not telling me? Like you’ve got dibs on him? Little wonder Pete is out of the picture.’ ‘For your information Peter dumped me, not the other way around. And I haven’t got dibs on anyone.’ Her interest in Brody Elliott stemmed from a desire to make his daughter’s life easier, not some ill-placed lust for him. ‘He’s my neighbour. I’m just helping him get acquainted with the town.’ Tahnee’s grin spoke volumes. ‘Riiight. Thousands wouldn’t believe you, Sis, but I will.’ She stood in one lithe movement and Carissa lamented that her two gorgeous sisters had got all the height genes in the Lewis family. She barely made it past five foot—and that was in heels! ‘Anyway, I better dash. I have a deadline to meet and my editor waits for no one. See you later.’ Tahnee kissed her cheek and strolled from the garden, a tall, slim blonde in hipster jeans and matching denim jacket. Yeah, her sister was beautiful, all right, and if she ever set her sights on Brody he’d be toast. Glancing at her watch, she realised the last hour had flown. Brody had done such a good job entertaining the children she’d hardly had to do anything—including calling on her back-up plan of distributing mass amounts of choccie eggs if the bunny had been too moody to play. Thankfully the bunny had been one hop ahead of her all the time, and it had been a pleasure seeing him bring joy to so many little faces. She loved this motley bunch of kids, ranging in age from four to nine, all locals whose parents patronised her shop on a regular basis looking for gifts. She’d been hired to organise fairy parties for all the little girls in town over the last few years, and knew almost every kid in Stockton personally—which was why she went the extra yard at Easter and Christmas, organising the pageant and Santa’s cave for the darlings. Clapping her hands, she called the children to her. ‘Okay, it’s time for the Easter Bunny to go. What do we say to the bunny?’ ‘Thank you, Easter Bunny. Come again next year,’ thirty voices rang out in unison, in the peculiar monotone they’d rehearsed a few hours ago. Brody waved to the kids and hopped towards the back door of the shop. She smiled at him, wondering if he could see her through the peepholes in the rabbit’s mouth. In response, he turned, wiggled his cute little cotton tail butt at her and hopped into the shop, shutting the door behind him. Well, well, well. Maybe there was more to Brooding Brody than he let on? CHAPTER THREE ‘YOU didn’t have to do this.’ Brody took one look at the table Carissa had set for dinner and wanted to bolt home. It looked too cosy, too inviting, and far too scary for his peace of mind. He didn’t do dinners. He didn’t do dates. And this meal she’d cooked as thanks for him helping her out with the bunny thing looked like a frightening combination of both. She turned from the stove, brandishing a wooden spoon filled with rich bolognaise sauce in one hand and a fairy-covered pot holder in the other. ‘I know, but I wanted to. It’s the least I can do after the show you put on for the kids yesterday.’ He managed to look affronted for all of two seconds. ‘That wasn’t a show.’ Far from it. He’d enjoyed himself more than he had in ages—acting like a goofball with the kids, enjoying their rough-house tactics. He never played like that with Molly, was too scared he’d hurt her. She was all he had left in this world and he’d do his best to protect her—after doing such a lousy job with her mum. ‘No?’ She tasted the sauce and smiled the self-satisfied smirk of a cook who knew she was good and is proud of it. And, despite his wariness of this whole situation, his mouth watered at the spicy aromas wafting through the small kitchen: a rich combination of garlic, tomatoes, oregano and basil infused the air, and he wondered if he’d ever smelt anything so tempting. Or seen anything so tempting, as he watched Carissa turn back to the stove, the simple movement causing the short black skirt she wore to flip around her knees in a provocative swish. She was barefoot, her shapely calves beckoning him to feel their contours and keep heading north to the hidden delights underneath that flirty skirt. He swore silently and thrust his hands in his pockets, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute. What the hell was he doing here? He needed to escape. Fast. ‘The bunny act was nothing and this really isn’t necessary. So, thanks anyway, but I need to check on Molly.’ He sidled towards the door, unprepared for the flash of anger in her eyes as she swung around to face him. ‘I thought you said Molly is with Daisy?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘And didn’t you also say she adores her great-aunt?’ He nodded, feeling like a fool. What harm could a simple meal do? He could eat and run. Besides, Molly had raved about the great time she’d had at Daisy’s yesterday afternoon, and had been more than eager to spend a few hours with her this evening. Thankfully, old Daisy had become an ally of his since he’d moved to town, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out the old lady’s softened stance had a lot to do with Molly. The way he looked at it, the severe spinster would be a good influence on Molly, giving her some female stability in her topsy-turvy little world. The world he’d turned topsy-turvy through his own stupidity at letting that brash young driver off the hook. He’d seen something of himself in that guy—confident, cocky, with the gift of the gab—and he’d taken the soft option. Pity the soft option had turned out to be the hardest one for his motherless daughter. As for dinner—he could do this. As long as his long-dormant libido didn’t get any crazy ideas. In four years he hadn’t looked sideways at a woman, and now that he finally felt settled for the first time in ages maybe his imagination had just been hot-wired into action? Though it probably had more to do with the surprising woman wearing a fitted ‘I Luv Chocolate’ T-shirt, a short skirt and no shoes than anything else. ‘It’s settled, then. You uncork the wine; I’ll serve up.’ She thrust a corkscrew into his hands before he could change his mind and all but pushed him into a seat at the table. ‘Hope you like Shiraz. I’ve been saving this.’ ‘Don’t open it on my account.’ ‘I love a good red, so go ahead.’ Carissa almost bit her tongue in frustration. She was trying to be nice here, to repay Brody for helping her out yesterday, but it wasn’t working. Dinner with her moody neighbour had been a bad idea. He obviously didn’t want to be here, and she hated having to watch her ‘p’s and ‘q’s, being careful not to stir up her neighbour’s latent temper. Racking her brain for some small, innocuous comment to break the awkward silence that enveloped them, she said, ‘Tell me about your job.’ ‘I’m not working at the moment.’ He poured the wine into glasses and handed one to her, his frown a clear indication that he didn’t want to discuss his employment status further. Undeterred, she ploughed on, determined to get him to lighten up, to give her some glimpse of the man behind the terse fa?ade. She knew he’d had a hard time, and there was something about Brody Elliott that had her wanting to hug him, pat his back and make it all better. ‘I heard you were a cop before you came to Stockton?’ ‘Who told you that?’ ‘You know what small towns are like. Everyone knows everyone else’s business.’ Laying his wine down on the table after taking a healthy swig, he folded his arms and leaned forward. ‘Yeah, well, I just wish they’d butt out of mine. Being a cop is in the past, and I’d like to keep it that way. What else are they saying about me?’ Bringing over the pasta and sauce, she suddenly wished she hadn’t gone down this track. Perhaps she was rushing things? Pushing him for private information too soon? He’d probably clam up for good, and then she’d never get anything out of him. ‘That you’re a widower.’ ‘Well, that’s certainly true. Jackie died four years ago.’ Not surprised that he didn’t volunteer more information, she bustled about the kitchen before she pried any further—like asking how it had happened—laying the meal on the table and ushering him to sit before she joined him. ‘It must’ve been awfully hard for you and Molly.’ He nodded and offered her the salad while he broke off a chunk of garlic bread. ‘Molly wasn’t quite two. One of her favourite words at that time was “Mum” and she walked around for months afterwards saying “Mum gone”. It was heartbreaking.’ He stuffed the bread in his mouth and she wasn’t sure if she’d heard correctly when he muttered, ‘Still is.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ she said—for the loss he’d suffered and for the pain that obviously still hung over him like a dark shroud. He must have loved his wife very much, and if anyone could understand the long-term effects of grief she could. There wasn’t a day that went by when she didn’t think about her parents and what her life would have been like if they’d lived. ‘I know how Molly feels. I lost both my parents when I was three. I was devastated.’ A flare of interest sparked in his eyes as he fixed that all-seeing gaze on her. ‘What happened?’ ‘Dad was a geologist and loved travelling the world. Mum accompanied him on a trip to the Alps—probably for a break from the three of us. They died in an avalanche.’ ‘I’m sorry too,’ he murmured, his genuine sympathy bringing an unexpected lump to her throat. She’d had years to come to terms with her grief—long years when she’d cried herself to sleep every night while huddled beneath the blankets, trying to stifle her sobs from her angry adoptive father—yet here she was, about to blubber in front of a virtual stranger who’d offered a kind word. ‘You said three of us?’ he asked. ‘I have two sisters. Tahnee’s the youngest and Kristen’s the oldest. They split us up at the orphanage. Tahnee and Kristen got adopted out first; I spent a year in that hellhole. We found each other about six years ago.’ ‘My God,’ he said, taking hold of her hand across the table. ‘How awful.’ It had to have been a purely instinctive gesture, but the minute his hand enveloped hers she couldn’t think straight. His touch elicited a response she couldn’t comprehend. But it was far too early to feel anything other than respect for this man—respect for a single father doing the best he could in raising his daughter. She slid her hand from his on the pretext of dishing up a plate of spaghetti bolognaise and managed a weak smile. ‘Listen to us—a real pair of agony aunts.’ She handed him a plate, being careful to avoid touching him again. Otherwise he’d probably end up wearing hot pasta on his crotch. ‘Here—try this. It’s my favourite recipe.’ Casting a quizzical look her way, he took the plate she offered. ‘Thanks. It smells delicious.’ And, with that, they dug into their meal, only pausing to make the odd casual remark like ‘Pass the Parmesan, please’ or ‘More dressing on your salad?’ She would have liked more conversation but, as meals went, it wasn’t the worst she’d had with a man. In fact, there was something strangely comforting about a guy who didn’t feel obliged to babble about his business or sporting prowess all through dinner—who seemed happy to eat in companionable silence without spouting off. ‘Thanks for the meal. I’ll help you clean up, and then I think it’s time I left.’ He stood up from the table so quickly his chair teetered on two wooden legs before slamming back on the floor. ‘What’s your hurry? We haven’t had dessert yet.’ He patted his stomach, drawing her attention to the hard planes evident beneath the white cotton T-shirt and putting a new slant on dessert in her mind. ‘I’ll pass on dessert, but thanks for a magnificent meal. Now, do you want to wash or dry?’ ‘Leave it. I’ll use the dishwasher,’ she said, turning away before he saw the wistful expression on her face. She didn’t want him to leave. She wanted him to stay and share dessert—perhaps talk some more, maybe even laugh a little? They were neighbours, and it wouldn’t hurt for them to be on friendly terms. Who knew? He might even lighten up and let her spend some time with Molly. Though, by the surly expression that had returned to his face, she doubted it. ‘Here—I made extra for you and Molly to have tomorrow.’ She held out a plastic container, surprised by the resentment that flashed across his face. ‘Thanks, but we’re fine. I can cook, you know.’ ‘I never said you couldn’t.’ The food grew heavy in her hand and her outstretched arm drooped. ‘I just thought Molly might like some of this.’ ‘Molly is fine.’ Anger shot through her body, surprising her with its intensity. Carissa rarely lost her temper, viewing anger as a wasted emotion for the gutless—like her adoptive father, who had wielded it every chance he got. However, Brody’s defensive act annoyed her. So the guy had a chip on his shoulder the size of Ayers Rock? There was no need for everyone around him to suffer because of it. ‘I didn’t say she wasn’t.’ ‘Whatever. I better go.’ God, he was touchy! She hadn’t seen him around his daughter, but if this was how he spoke to Molly it went a long way to explaining the wary look in the little girl’s eyes she’d glimpsed the other day, when they’d first met. ‘Uh-huh.’ Their gazes locked—his angry, hers challenging. She’d stare him down if it killed her, the big grump. ‘Look, thanks again for dinner. I’ll let myself out.’ He headed for the door, almost wrenching the knob off in his hurry to leave. ‘Brody, any time Molly wants to play over here is fine by me. Just send her over,’ Carissa said to his rapidly departing back. If she could do anything to bring a spark to the little girl’s world, she would. From what she could see Molly spent far too much time alone in her back yard, perched in that giant eucalypt, wearing a glum expression on her cheeky face. At first appearance Molly seemed a lonely girl who needed attention, and if anyone knew how that felt she did. Ron and Betty had ignored her from the minute she’d set foot in their impressive house, and though she’d wanted for nothing materially, emotionally she’d craved affection. She’d been a model daughter—yearning for a kind word, a gentle caress from her new parents. And what had she got for her trouble? Harsh putdowns and scathing verbal attacks that gave her nightmares to this day. Molly probably couldn’t remember too much of her mother, but loneliness was an emotion that could strike at any age, and Carissa wanted to do something to help alleviate the little girl’s pain. If the occasional play session could brighten Molly’s day, she’d stand up to big bad Brody every day of the week to get her way. Brody turned to face her. ‘Why the interest in my daughter?’ His fierce gaze didn’t scare her. Not much, that was. ‘I love children, and Molly’s new in town.’ She shrugged, as if his response didn’t mean much, when in fact she hoped he’d have the sense to take her honest answer at face value and give her a chance to get to know Molly. ‘I guess I thought she could use some friends.’ His frown lessened for about two seconds before he said, ‘We’ll see,’ and walked out the door. ‘We’ll see.’ She imitated his terse reply under her breath, shaking her head and trying not to break plates as she shoved them into the dishwasher. CHAPTER FOUR ‘DADDY, is it okay if I make hot cross buns with Carissa? She has to make a whole heap for Easter, and she needs my help. She has flour and sugar and a special big mixing bowl and everything. Can I? Please, Daddy? Please?’ Brody rubbed the spot between his eyes, the one which permanently ached these days, and looked down at his daughter, hopping from one foot to the other. Her blue eyes sparkled, but a dirty smudge streaked down the side of her face, one plait had come undone, her dress was buttoned up wrong and a buckle on her Mary-Janes had come loose. Hell, she looked like Orphan Annie—and a neglected Orphan Annie at that. Molly deserved so much more than he could give, but right now he could barely face each day, let alone find an abundance of attention to spill over to his daughter at the end of it. He was tired—so damn tired. Tired of the long, endless days, tired of having no focus and, worst of all, tired of the never-ending guilt because he’d deprived his precious little girl of her mother. Despite the passing years, it didn’t get any easier. Nothing sparked his interest any more, and if it weren’t for Molly he probably would’ve become a beach bum by now—living like a hermit in the far north tropics, not seeing another soul for years on end. However, he couldn’t run away. He had responsibilities, and the main one was currently staring up at him with those brilliant blue eyes so like her mother’s. ‘Okay, but don’t be too long. You need to have a bath before dinner.’ ‘But Carissa said we could eat the buns for dinner.’ Molly pouted, another action reminiscent of Jackie, who had made an art form out of the gesture in an attempt to get her own way. He sighed, deciding to give in this once. He’d gone out of his way to avoid his nosy neighbour since she’d cooked him that thank-you dinner a few days ago, not in the mood to make polite small talk with someone he had no intention of seeing any more than necessary. However, Carissa seemed like a woman with a steady head on her shoulders, and from what he’d seen she was good with kids. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to let Molly befriend her. After all, why let Molly suffer because of his anti-social personality? ‘Sure thing, munchkin. You can eat the buns for dinner.’ ‘Yay! Daddy, you’re the best!’ Molly flung herself at him and he scooped her up, snuggling into her as she wrapped her arms around his neck, his heart filled with love but his head wishing he could be a better father—the type of father she deserved. ‘But not too many, okay? Otherwise you might get a tummy ache.’ Molly’s eyes widened and she wrinkled up her nose, obviously remembering her last attack of the gripes. She’d moaned for what seemed like hours, and he’d felt totally and utterly helpless, waiting for the paracetamol to kick in. So what was new? He usually felt helpless around her anyway. ‘I promise to only eat two.’ She held up her fingers and counted. ‘One. Two. See? Only this many won’t give me a tummy ache, will it?’ Chuckling, he dropped a kiss on her nose. ‘Two will be just fine. I’ll come and get you from Carissa’s in an hour, so be good.’ Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925202&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.