He should have known then that this was how it would all play out. He should have been stronger. But that image of his little girl, arm draped over the sleeping, motionless, peaceful dog had been heart-melting. No, more like brain-melting. He had even joined the kids’ campaign by the time Fern got home. Her adamant no-dogs-allowed rule was quickly defeated by a four-to-one vote. Of course, they searched for the owner first, but no one responded to their posted signs and after a hefty bill from the dog’s first trip to the vet, Butterscotch became one of them.
They were a dog-family now, and Daryl had the five a.m. shift.
He grabbed a ball cap and covered his dark, graying hair as he slipped into a pair of flip-flops. Outside the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. As usual the streets were empty and Daryl stepped into the crosswalk, not waiting for the light to change. In the park, he waited for Butterscotch to sniff out the perfect place to do her business and then kept walking, giving the golden brown puppy and himself a little morning exercise. At his favorite local coffee shop he tied Butterscotch in front of the big window where he would be able to see her from inside.
“Good morning,” the barista said. Her cheery tone matched the bounce in her curly blonde hair.
She was new. Daryl came here often enough to be familiar with everyone on staff at Java Jax, and this one hundred watt smile was definitely unfamiliar to him. “Good morning,” he said, his voice a notch groggy.
“Awww, is that your dog out there?” She leaned over the counter for a better look at Butterscotch, flashing beaucoup cleavage at him.
Daryl averted his gaze, looking back at the dog, sweet-puppy brown eyes watching him through the window. “Yes, she is,” he said, returning to that vast dip between two voluptuous mounds of skin. Look up, he directed himself, look up.
He found the menu board and studied it, even though he knew exactly what he wanted. “I’ll have a twelve ounce mocha,” he said.
“You betcha,” the girl said, reaching for a cup. “I’d be happy to get that started for you. Such a sweet guy out walking his puppy in the morning.”
Was it just him or was this gal laying it on a little thick for this early morning hour? That vibrant smile and cheery tone felt out of place with the blue sky only mildly tinged with sunlight. He knew he was probably still half-asleep, but come on—the way she just flicked her hair at him and smiled, that was flirting, wasn’t it?
He purposefully lifted his left hand, scratching the whiskers he needed to shave before heading into the office and flashed his gold wedding band. That’s right, he wanted to say when the girl twinkled her pearly smile at him again, married and not looking. But that would make it awkward if she was just being friendly, which maybe she was. Maybe he didn’t know how to read the signs anymore, having been attached to his one and only for so long.
She did it again—that hair flipping smiley thing that was making him feel just a tad uncomfortable.
She turned away and opened a cabinet along the back wall. Bending at the waist her shorts rode up as high as her shirt plunged low. Did she just do that on purpose? Really? This was getting to be the most uncomfortable cup of coffee he’d ever bought.
“What’s your puppy’s name?” She turned around and slipped the protective sleeve she’d pulled from the cupboard over his cup.
“Butterscotch.” He stepped toward the cash register and pulled out his credit card. An unfamiliar flowery, vanilla scent wafted over the coffee beans as he came closer to the barista.
“Ohhhh, what a cute name,” she said, fluttering overdone eyelashes at him before punching in his order.
“My daughter picked it.” He handed over his card with his left hand. Hoping the power of his ring said it all for him—married, three kids, one dog, and no desire to add any complications whatsoever to his life. Ever.
She took his card and ran it through the machine. “Have a wonderful rest of your day,” she said, handing it back.
Daryl quickly stowed his credit card and grabbed his mocha, sparing her a half-smile.
She leaned over the counter again, bolstering up that cleavage once again.
He headed for the door.
“See you back again soon,” she called to his back and he couldn’t help the self-conscious wash that came over him as he pictured her eyes glued to his backside.
He untied Butterscotch and started walking home, a sliver of swagger to his step, knowing he still had it—attracting a young woman’s attention. But he already had his own sweetheart and when he got home the shower could wait. He wanted to climb back into bed and hold the one who picked him all those years ago to be her husband.
And tomorrow he was going to Starbucks!
Meg writes clean contemporary romance novels, featuring strong female characters. As a mom to two young girls, Meg is passionate about creating stories centered around female empowerment. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest where she still lives today with her husband, daughters, and crazy pets. She splits her time between homeschooling her girls and writing in the hours after she has put her husband and children to bed.