by R.C. Bonitz, author of A LITTLE BIT OF BLACKMAIL, A LITTLE BIT OF BABY, and A BLANKET FOR HER HEART.
The pre-Christmas sale at Denby’s Toy Shop had attracted crowds of shoppers, but Mike was paying no attention.
The crowd parted briefly and he saw her, just for an instant. Searching, he spotted her again, at the far end of the aisle, talking to a flashy looking blonde. Dark hair, pretty as all get out; she seemed soft and self-contained, not out to impress. That was his heart’s opinion; the normally logical organ between his ears having suddenly shut down. He slipped through the crowd, heading in their direction.
“I like toy stores at Christmas time, with all the lights and decorations. Those great big “Sale” signs just don’t do it for me.” Kristi swept stray strands of long blonde hair from her eyes and grinned at her friend Beth.
“The crowds are just as big though. I suppose you like that?”
“Don’t be sarcastic. You are such a grouch today. What’s wrong?”
Beth sighed. “Jim walked out the other day.”
“You told him about Ben?”
“What else? You tell a man you have a child and that’s it, he’s gone.”
“He was a jerk. He’s what, the third guy to bail out on you?”
“I’m not counting. I usually tell them when we meet, but I held off with Jim, hoping he’d get to caring or something, so he’d be all right with it. If they’d only give Ben a chance they’d like him, you know?”
“It’s not Ben. It’s raising someone else’s child.”
“Sometimes I almost wish I’d kept Hank around.”
“Don’t even think that.”
“Is it me, Kristi? Am I doing something wrong?”
“No way. These guys just want one thing; and it isn’t responsibility.” Kristi gave her a hug and smiled. “At least you got married once.”
“Big success that was. Listen, if you’re going to buy Ben a Christmas present we better get going before all the good toys are gone.”
Kristi squeezed her arm. “I’m sorry, hon. What should I get the little guy?”
“Whatever you want.”
“Sure, but mom’s know best. Does he like trucks?”
“All little boys like trucks. He has a zillion of them.”
“Well, what else is good?” Kristi said.
“They like Lincoln Logs.”
Kristi swung around. The voice belonged to a guy, a tall and handsome guy wearing a mischievous grin. Beth stared. There was something about him, something special. Charm, or maybe that smile that lit up his eyes. Whatever it was made her insides tremble. She turned away. Kristi had caught it too; Beth could see that in the flirting look that broke out on her face. Dark haired, he was one hunk of a man, with drop dead sexy eyes and a dimple in his chin.
“What?” Kristi asked, and then went silent, just smiling sweetly at him.
“I said, little kids like Lincoln Logs.”
“Oh, sure, of course. Who are you?”
“I’m Kristi Morgan. Hi Mike.”
“Who’s your friend?”
Kristi turned, took Beth by the arm, and swung her back to face the man. “This is Beth. Beth Tompkins.”
Beth gave him a tiny wave. Why get excited- he’d just dump her over Ben. If he was even interested at all.
A fleeting look of confusion crossed his face and disappeared. He offered his hand. “Hi, Beth, nice to meet you.”
Beth met his eyes with a noncommittal stare but did not take the hand. That smile, the easy way he held himself; if he wasn’t a one-night stand type she’d be totally surprised. “Hi.”
His face faded to bland, all the sparkle lost somewhere. His glance held steady though. It stayed on Beth, studying her eyes. Not her curves, not her breasts, just her eyes. She shivered, wished her breasts were more his interest. She could get mad at him for that, could choose to be insulted if she wanted to. But this was worse. It was as if he could see into her heart, and her heart began to thud hard enough to shake her.
“Are you buying presents?” Kristi asked with a twinkling smile.
He released Beth’s eyes and turned back to Kristi. “Presents? Yes.”
“Not a toy for you?”
Mike laughed. “Not for me. If you’re asking whether I’m single, the answer is yes, I am now.”
“You’re divorced? Me too,” said Kristi.
That drew a groan from Beth, only in her head she hoped, but Mike Hartnett glanced in her direction with another smile. It was just a flash and then he was back to Kristi.
“Yeah. Three years ago.”
“It’s been two years for me. It’s ancient history now,” Kristi said.
“Can I buy you guys a drink or something?”
It was Kristi’s turn to grin. “That might be arranged.”
He glanced at his watch. “Happy hour soon.”
“Today? Why not, let’s do it.”
“Beth? Will you join us?” he asked.
“Can’t I twist your arm? I really wish you’d come.”
She stared. He seemed so earnest, almost pleading. A spurt of hope tickled her heart. Well, no sense in getting her hopes up for nothing- might as well lay it on the line. “I have to warn you. I have a four year old son.”
Mike broke into another smile. “Does he like Lincoln Logs?”
“What? I don’t know. I guess.”
His eyes sparkled, his smiled widened. “My daughter has a set.”
Beth’s breath caught. “You have a daughter?”
He nodded. “Yup. Now, can I buy you that drink?”
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