“D-a-a-a-d,” Ruby shrieks from upstairs.
It’s a sound that once used to cause all the hair to stand up on my arms and on more than one occasion caused me to go tearing after the call of my youngest daughter thinking she was being murdered by an intruder. I’ve since come to recognize that particular shrill cry as one of excitement and wonder, and I can’t help but grin over what Ruby is possibly into now. At almost five years old, she refuses to accept the concept of a well-mannered, indoor voice and goes balls to the wall in everything she does.
“Is the house on fire, Rubes?” I call out.
Her little voice shouts back to me in a squawk. “No.”
“Have aliens landed?” I keep my voice just loud enough to carry up the stairs but still decibels below her own.
“No,” she yells, and there . . . right there . . . that’s a little giggle from her.
“Did Timmy fall down the well?”
“No, Dad . . . but you have to come here,” she yells, and, to give her credit, it’s toned down just a bit. When I don’t answer her right away, she calls down in a sweet voice that makes my heart pitter-patter. “Please, Dad.”
Brilliant, little brat. Throwing in some manners to throw me off my game.
“I’ll be right there,” I tell her as I finish the last of Violet’s braid and manage to efficiently bind it with a hair elastic. Leaning over, I place a kiss on her head. “All done, dreamy dwarf.”
Violet leans her head back and gives me an upside-down grin. I love the sprinkle of freckles on her nose and it compels me to kiss her again.
“Do me a favor,” I tell her as I turn toward the living room. “Get the cereal and milk out for me while I go see what your sister needs?”
I don’t bother waiting to see what she does, because Violet has become my metaphorical right hand over the last few months. While she still loves for me to braid her hair and help with her homework, she’s also relished taking on a bit of a caretaker role since the girls moved in with me permanently this past summer.
They’ve been here almost six months and I actually feel like I know what the hell I’m doing now. It wasn’t always like that, and thank God for Kate’s help or I would have gone insane in those first few months of becoming a single parent of two little girls. Kate patiently helped me establish a routine and taught me how to braid hair, distinguish excited shrieks from cries of pain, and most important . . . how to conduct the perfect princess tea party.
I skirt my way through the living room, bending over to pick up one of Ruby’s dolls from the floor, and bound up the stairs taking two at a time. I find Ruby in the bathroom that she and Violet share, bent over the toilet and peering at something.
She shares the same dark hair and gray eyes as Violet, except her locks spring out everywhere in a mass of tiny curls. I have no idea where that came from, but assume it’s a rogue strand of ancestral DNA from either me or my soon-to-be ex-wife, Hensley. Both of us, as well as Violet, have fairly straight hair, so Ruby is definitely dipping into the family gene pool with her wild curls, but damn . . . they totally fit with her personality.
“What’s up?” I ask as I walk over to the toilet.
She straightens up, shoots me a grin, and points. “Look . . . a spider.”
I cautiously take a step forward and lean over, grimacing as I look into the bowl.
And holy shit . . . a spider the size of a T-rex is floating on the surface, all eight legs spread out, bent and poised to look as if it’s ready to leap out and attach itself to my face. I suppress a full spinal shudder and reach a tentative hand toward the handle to flush it.
Two things happen almost simultaneously that take at least three years off my life.
The spider somehow manages to skitter across the water, the beast so large it actually creates waves, and Ruby shrieks at me, “No! Don’t kill it, Dad!”
It is with a major blow to my pride—as a man, as a dad, as a six-foot, six-inch professional hockey player nicknamed the Brick because I’m as big and tough as a brick wall—that I jump backward at least two feet from the monster-infested toilet and banshee-crying sprite, causing my hip to slam into the corner of the sink.
“Shit,” I curse loudly, and Ruby’s eyes go round, followed by her lips.
“Oh, Dad . . . that’s a bad word.”
I smile at her as I rub my hip. That’s definitely going to leave a bruise. “Sorry, Rubes. I’ll put a dollar in the swear jar.”
She merely nods her acceptance of my apology and turns worried eyes back to the toilet.
“You have to save it,” she implores.
Yeah . . . that’s not going to happen. Not now. Not ever.
“Sure, baby,” I tell her as I take her by the shoulder and turn her toward the bathroom door. I swear the spider glares at me with a million red, evil eyes. “Go on down and get breakfast. Violet’s fixing your cereal. I’ll get the spider out.”
“Okay,” Ruby says as she pulls away from me, but continues to give me instructions. “But let it out the front door and I’ll bring it some food later.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I assure her as she disappears down the stairs. When I hear her feet hit the bottom landing, I turn toward the toilet, intent on a quick flush to put me out of my misery.
Except when I look in the bowl, the fucking thing is gone.
I’ll just go ahead and admit it. Spiders scare the living hell out of me. I have no clue why, and while I would battle the biggest, baddest monster to the death for my daughters, I’d much rather flush a little spider down the toilet.
I immediately scramble backward out of the bathroom, grabbing the doorknob and shutting it quickly behind me. My heart is racing a million miles an hour, the thought of that furry hell beast now loose in my house.
Just one more thing on the list of things I still need to do today.
Get the girls dressed and ready for school.
Take the girls to school.
Clean up the spilled laundry detergent.
Finish the laundry.
Arm myself with a can of hairspray and a lighter to torch the rogue spider in the bathroom.
Pick up my dry cleaning.
Pick up the girls from Kate and Zack’s house.
Story time and cuddling.
Go to bed because I’ll be exhausted.
Easy as fucking pie, and I’ll get up and do it all over again the next day with a smile on my face. I’m finding life as a single parent isn’t as daunting as I thought it would be and I’ve finally found my groove.
But Ryker Evans is my new hockey-playing book boyfriend.
Oh my goodness, this guy’s got it all–he’s an amazing single father, a kick-butt hockey goalie, and a true team player. He knows what to do at a princess tea party and how to braid hair, and his goalie helmet has his little girls’ names painted on it in holographic hearts. Add to that the fact that he is not at all intimidated by the league’s first female GM; in fact, he’s behind her 100%.
Unfortunately, he is afraid of spiders. I guess we all must have our flaws…
Gray Brannon is a kick-butt heroine in her own right. A former Olympic gold-and silver-medal winning goalie, she’s going to use her degree in statistics and genius-level IQ to help propel the Cold Fury to the playoffs this year. #88, the backup-goalie-turned-starter she brought to the team last season, will hopefully be a huge part of it.
She just had no idea at the time what a huge part he’d play in her life…
I loved Ryker and Gray together–the girl genius who’d never had a real relationship before and the single dad who is built for monogamy–oh, and there’s hockey. Not to mention just about every scene with Ryker and his daughters Ruby and Violet in it made me go all squishy inside. And then, as if their story wasn’t enough on its own, we also get to witness Zack’s attempts to ask Kate to marry him–the poor guy, his failures are spic. Thank goodness he’s got his little boy Ben running backup.
Though even that scene takes a backseat to Gray’s big-time public declaration…
Sawyer Bennett’s written another winner here–dare we hope there’s going to be a book 5? 🙂
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
USA Today and New York Times Best-Selling Author, Sawyer Bennett is a snarky southern woman and reformed trial lawyer who decided to finally start putting on paper all of the stories that were floating in her head. Her husband works for a Fortune 100 company which lets him fly all over the world while she stays at home with their daughter and three big, furry dogs who hog the bed. Sawyer would like to report she doesn’t have many weaknesses but can be bribed with a nominal amount of milk chocolate. Sawyer is the author of several contemporary romances including the popular Off Series, the Legal Affairs Series and the Last Call Series. She will be releasing her fourth book in the Cold Fury Hockey Series with Random House Loveswept, September 2015.