Since all the Fitzgerald House sisters; Abby, Bess and Dolley, have found their happily-ever-afters, this story is about Cheryl and Nathan. Both characters have been in the series. Cheryl and her son Josh were introduced in SOUTHERN COMFORTS. Nathan joined his twin brother in A SAVANNAH CHRISTMAS WISH.
Nathan has always felt inferior to his perfect twin brother, Daniel. He believes he's flawed by his dyslexia. Even kids can read and follow directions better than he can. So he does everything he can to avoid kids. They know they're smarter than he is.
Everything changes when an ex-girlfriend drops off his four-year-old daughter, a daughter he never knew existing.
Who can resist a neighbor in need?
Nathan Forester doesn't know the first thing about kids. So when the daughter he never knew existed arrives on his doorstep, he needs help, fast! His unlikely ally is next-door neighbor and single mother Cheryl Henshaw. Nathan and Cheryl don't exactly see eye to eye, but neither can say no to a helping hand.Renovating Fitzgerald House is Nathan's chance to finally prove he's no longer the unreliable twin—and it seems possible with Cheryl by his side. Suddenly their practical arrangement has become something much more. Trust isn't easy, but they're stronger when they work together.
I had so much fun writing the kids. Josh is kind of a brat. But Issy is tough. She's been traumatized by event with her mother and doesn't speaks for weeks. It takes Nathan, Cheryl and Josh to break through to the little girl.
Read a little--
“Mom, I’d take care of it.” Josh’s pleading brown eyes were hard to deny. “I promise.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“We can move.” He tugged on her shorts. “All my friends live in houses. They all have dogs.”
“Not all your friends have dogs.”
Dogs were expensive. Where would she find the money to feed one?
Josh’s chin jutted out, reminding her of his father. When Brad had died in Afghanistan their lives had imploded. Now she and Josh lived in Savannah barely making it.
She wanted a better life for her son. That meant finding a better job, which meant training. Culinary school cost money.
Waiting to cross Bay Street, Cheryl switched the box she carried to her other hand and caught Josh’s arm. Mid-May and the temperature, along with tourist traffic, had soared. At Fitzgerald House, where she worked, all the rooms were full. She’d been lucky the day she’d found their ad for maid service. Now she cooked more than cleaned at the B and B.
Once she and Josh crossed Bay Street, he pulled away and ran to the River Street steps.
“Slow down! Hang on to the railing.” She sped up, not wanting to lose sight of his blond hair. “Josh!”
As she descended, the brackish scent of the river mingled with the aroma of onions and hot oil from nearby restaurants. Tourists clogged River Street checking out the shops and pubs.
Her heart pounded. Six months ago he’d rarely left her side. Her life had been easier when he’d still been afraid.
Up ahead, she spotted a flash of blond hair as Josh stumbled on River Street’s flagstones. When they got to the apartment, they would have a long talk about safety.
She broke into a run, jostling a man as he exited a bar. The scent of bourbon washed over her. “Excuse me.”
“Hey, pretty lady,” he called. “Slow down. I’ll buy you a drink.”
She caught Josh as he stared into the candy shop.
“Don’t run off.” She grabbed his hand, panting from her rush. “I couldn’t see you.”
“I’m not a baby.”
“You’re six.” And next week Josh would finish kindergarten. How had he grown so fast? “You know better than to run in this crowd.”
He pointed. “Can I get candy?”
“Not today.” Not after this behavior.
Scowling, Josh held her hand until they got to their warehouse apartment building.
She dug in her purse for her keys, longing to get inside. Her feet ached from standing and decorating two hundred cupcakes for this weekend’s wedding.
“How was school?” she asked.
“Okay. Tommy threw up.”
Juggling a bag, her purse and the box, she unlocked the door. “Can you take the bag?”
They headed down the hallway to their apartment.
“What’s in the box?” he asked.
“Can I have one now?”
She shook out the apartment key. “Once you finish your chores.”
“Let me help with that.” The bourbon man from the street snatched the bakery box away.
How did he get into the building? She grabbed for the box. “We’re fine.”
He held it above his head. “I’m just being neighborly.”
Josh glared. “You don’t live here.”
The guy laughed, his alcoholic stench washing over her.
She jammed her key into the lock, pushed open the door and held out her hand for the box. “Thank you.”
He leaned close. Too close. He was big. Almost as big as her brother-in-law, Levi.
She shuddered. When Brad had died two years ago, Levi had invited her and Josh to live with him. Moving in with Levi had been a big mistake.
“How ’bout I come in?” His words were slurred.
The odor of cigarettes and booze threw her back to her childhood. The lead weight of memories pinned her in place. She was afraid to move. Afraid to push past him for fear he’d hit her like Mama used to.
“Mom!” Josh yanked on her hand.
“Kid, go inside,” the guy said. “I wanna talk to your mom.”
She inched back, bumping into the wall. No escape. She wanted to duck and curl into a ball. Then when the blows came, they wouldn’t hurt as much as a punch in the belly.
“What’s your name?” He caged her to the wall with his arms.
“Leave.” Her voice was a whisper.
Josh kicked the man’s shin. “Get away from my mom.”
“Cut it out.” The guy pushed Josh into the door.
“Don’t touch my son.” She tried to shout, but the words were as weak as her knees.
“What’ssss your name?” His slur grew.
“Move.” She couldn’t get past him to the apartment.
He sniffed her neck. “You smell like cookies.”
Her skin crawled. Why couldn’t she move? Shout? Save her son?
A door at the end of the hallway opened with a metallic clang.
“Go away,” she said a little more loudly.
“I jus’ want your name.” The man thrust out a finger. “Ya don’t hafta be a bitch about it.”
Josh came at him with a flurry of tiny fists. “Don’t call my mom names.”
“What’s going on?” a deep voice called.
“Help.” She shoved at the drunk’s chest but he was too big for her to move. “Help.”
He shoved her shoulder. Hard.
She smacked into the wall, crumpling to her knees.
Josh kicked and punched. “Leave her alone!”
“Hey!” Boots thumped on the tile floor.
The drunk stumbled away.
Josh’s arms wrapped around her neck and she clung to him. “Mommy.”
“Are you okay?” her rescuer asked.
She stared at work boots and then up a pair of long legs.
Nathan Forester gazed down at her. He was the twin brother of Bess Fitzgerald’s fiancé and Bess was one of her bosses. Nathan had worked in this building off and on since last fall. Cheryl tried to avoid him as much as possible. He was so...large. But since they were connected through the Fitzgeralds, avoidance was impossible.
“We’re...fine.” A lie. Both she and Josh shook like they were standing in a walk-in freezer.
“Who was he?” Nathan peered down the hall.
“Some drunk.” Her voice squeaked.
Nathan held out his hand. His usual cocky grin was missing. A dirty white T-shirt tightened against the muscles in his chest and arms. Sheetrock dust covered his jeans. His ball cap was on backward, but thick blond hair curled on his neck. He was a modern-day James Dean without the cigarette. “Does that guy live here?”
“I don’t think so.” She put her hand in his and let him pull her to her feet. “He followed me.”
Nathan’s eyebrows arched. “You shouldn’t let strangers into the building.”
Had she? “Oh, God. I forgot to pull the door closed.”
A door clanged again and Gray Smythe, the building owner, came down the hall. “Something wrong?”
“Some creep hassled Cheryl. I yelled and he hatted.”
Gray studied Cheryl. “You okay?”
She nodded, afraid any words she spoke would come out a muddled mess.
“Mr. Gray.” Josh threw himself at Gray. “I kicked the guy and he ran away.”
Cheryl backed into the apartment. She’d almost mastered not cowering around Gray. She shouldn’t be afraid of him. He was very kind and married to her boss, Abby Fitzgerald.
“I don’t like this.” Gray carried Josh into the apartment and set him down. Nathan followed and shut the door. With two men filling the entryway, she couldn’t breathe.
“He was mean. He pushed me.” Josh hung his backpack on the hook. “Can I have a cupcake?”
She looked around. “I dropped the box in the hall.”
“I’ll get it.” Gray headed for the door.
“What if the man’s still in the building?” Cheryl wrapped her arms around her waist as she headed to her small kitchen.
“He left,” Nathan said. “But I suppose another idiot could let him back in.”
“Idiot?” she gasped.
“Sorry.” But he didn’t look sorry. “With all the bars and pubs on River Street, you need to pay attention.”
“I do,” she protested.
Nathan raised an eyebrow as Gray handed her the smashed box.
With shaking hands, she pulled a plate from the cupboard. Only this time her hands shook because of Nathan. Idiot? She would do anything to protect Josh.
But, just like in her childhood, she’d frozen. Why couldn’t she be brave?
In Nathan's life, finding out he has a four-year-old daughter is the biggest surprise he has ever had. What's the biggest surprise that ever happened in your life?
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