MAKE A WISH, a second-chance, single dad romance from New York Times Bestselling Author, Helena Hunting, is available now!
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Can a second chance at love be everything they wished for?
With her signature charm and sense of humor, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Helena Hunting creates a novel about love, family, and second chances in Make a Wish…
Ever have a defining life moment you wish you could do over? Harley Spark has one. The time she almost kissed the widowed father of the toddler she nannied for. It was so bad they moved across the state and she never saw them again.
Fast forward seven years and she’s totally over it. At least she thinks she is. Until Gavin Rhodes and his adorable now nine-year-old daughter, Peyton, reappear at a princess-themed birthday party hosted by Spark House, Harley’s family’s event hotel. Despite trying to avoid the awkwardness of the situation, she can’t help but notice how unbearably sexy he looks in a tutu. Add to that a spontaneous hives breakout, and it’s clear she’s not even remotely over the mortification of her egregious error all those years ago.
Except Gavin seems oblivious to her inner turmoil. So much so that he suggests they get together for lunch. For Peyton’s sake, of course. It’s the perfect opportunity to heal old wounds. Or it could just reopen them. This is one of those times Harley wishes she could see the future…
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“…full of feels and fiery chemistry… as heart-warming as it was heart-wrenching.” ~Danielle, Red Cheeks Reads
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A FUTURE TOO DISTANT TO REALIZE
My eyes snap open at the despondent cry lighting up the baby monitor. It’s the third time Peyton has woken tonight. She’s teething and she has a cold, the combination of the two making her restless and uncomfortable.
I lie there for a few seconds, waiting to see if the cry is isolated or she’s actually awake and needs comfort. A few seconds later another cry filters through the baby monitor, and then again, more insistent this time. I toss my covers off and my feet hit the cold floor. I grab my housecoat and shrug into it as I rush down the hall, wanting to get to her before the cries reach their highest pitch and wake her father as well.
Gavin’s been burning the candle at both ends, work taking up more of his time than he’d like, and with Peyton not sleeping particularly well this week, he’s been tired. If I can save him another broken night’s sleep, I can also save myself from having to drive something to his office because he’s forgotten it on the kitchen table.
He steps into the hallway just as I reach Peyton’s room. He’s wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a thin white T-shirt, his lean, toned body throwing shadows on the wall and floor.
He blinks blearily at me and runs a hand through his sleep-messed hair. “I can handle this.” His voice is gruff and thick with exhaustion.
“You have to be up in two hours. She’s teething and cranky. I can take care of it.”
He glances at the door and then at me, teeth tugging at the skin of his bottom lip before he blows out a breath. “She’s been up three times already.”
I pat him on the arm. “I know. And you have to function tomorrow. I can take a nap when she does. I’ve got this. Go back to bed.”
“Thanks, Harley.” He gives me a weary smile and turns around, disappearing into his bedroom.
As I rush into Peyton’s bedroom, she’s standing in her crib with her arms outstretched, stiff and shaking. When she sees me, her wailing hits the high notes and she stomps her little feet.
“I’m right here, sweetie. You must be so uncomfortable.” I pick her up out of her crib and she snuggles into my neck, sniffling and crying. Her cheeks are red and her fingers go straight into her mouth. At eighteen months, we’re in the thick of another round of teething, and this time it’s her canines, which are proving to be particularly uncomfortable. And I thought the molar stage was rough.
I carry her over to the rocking chair and cuddle her, singing lullabies until she finally falls asleep again. I don’t know how long she’ll be down before she wakes up again, so once I have her settled in her crib, I make a trip to the kitchen to grab a teething ring from the freezer.
I stop when I reach the threshold. Gavin is sitting at the island with a glass in front of him. It’s mostly dark, the only illumination comes from the light above the stove. His broad back expands and contracts on a sigh, and he drops his head, fingers pushing through his thick, dark hair. He laces them behind his neck and makes a despondent sound.
I don’t know whether I should leave him and let him have a moment of peace, or offer him comfort.
This week has been difficult for him. Peyton just turned a year and a half, and with each milestone, it’s another reminder of how long it has been since his wife died. Add in the sleepless nights, the long work hours, his parents still both working full-time and unable to offer much in the way of babysitting support, and his in-laws in Boulder, it’s no wonder he’s struggling.
I overheard him on the phone with his mother-in-law before he took it off speaker phone. She doesn’t feel it’s appropriate that I’m the woman practically raising her granddaughter. I’m too young to be taking care of Peyton. I spend too much time with them as a family. It didn’t sit right with her that I was solely responsible for Peyton while Gavin was at work. I might be twenty, but I have always loved working with children. I took the babysitting course as soon as I turned eleven and started sitting for family and friends right away. While other teenagers went out with friends on weekends, I spent them taking care of little kids while their parents went on dates or out with friends. And with over half a child development degree under my belt, I’m more than qualified to be a nanny. Besides, I’ve been through more than a lot of people my age, lost more and survived.
My feet make the decision before my head can weigh in, and my heart is already in agreement with my actions as I cross the kitchen and head for Gavin.
I purposely step on the board that creaks, and Gavin’s head shoots up. My heart clenches at his expression. Shock, dismay, and embarrassment pass through his eyes, but the pain I see reflected back at me is what stops me from changing course. I bridge the gap between us and settle a hand on his shoulder. “What can I do to help?”
He scrubs a hand over his tired face. “You’re already doing too much.” His chocolate eyes lift to meet mine. “I’m putting too much on you.”
I shake my head. “You’re not.”
“I am. You’re only taking Sundays off. You should be going out on weekends with your friends, going to house parties, doing what college kids do.”
I don’t understand where this is coming from, or why all of a sudden Gavin is worried about my social life. “I’m more into Disney movies, arts and crafts, baking cupcakes, and making popcorn than I am going to house parties.”
“I just mean you deserve to have a life. I need to cut back my hours. I need to be here more.” His voice is low and gruff. “I should be here for Peyton. It’s not fair for me to keep piling it all on you. You’re too young to be handling all of this.”
“I would tell you if it was too much. And you are here for Peyton. You’re always home for dinner, and you make sure you’re here for bedtime. Sure, you work extra hours once she’s in bed, but that’s not unusual. Especially since you’re helping run a family business. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s all anyone can ask for.”
“But is it enough?” He shakes his head. “I feel like I’m in purgatory, Harley. I feel like I’m stuck in the past, and all I want to do is be able to move forward but I can’t. I don’t know how to do this on my own.”
“But you don’t have to do it on your own, Gavin. You have your family and you have me.”
“I don’t know how to let go of this guilt.” His face crumples and he scrubs a hand over it.
“The guilt over what? What do you feel guilty about?” We don’t usually talk like this. Mostly he asks about Peyton, how her day was, and the milestones she’s reaching. At dinner he’ll sometimes ask about my courses, but it’s all surface conversation. I know it’s been a struggle for him to move past the loss of his wife. While she’s never a topic of conversation, she’s memorialized everywhere in this house.
He shakes his head. “I can’t . . . I just want it to stop hurting all the time.”
I settle my hand on top of his and squeeze. “I’m here. You can talk to me. I understand what it means to lose someone you love. I know the hurt doesn’t go away. We manage, we adapt, we develop armor, but we don’t stop missing them and we don’t stop loving them.”
“Is there no peace?” His expression breaks my heart.
I don’t know how to help him with anything other than the offer of comfort. So I do something I normally never would when it comes to one of my charges and their parents. I wrap my arms around his shoulders and hug him.
He stiffens for a moment, and I’m about to release him and apologize for overstepping, until he folds his arms around me and pulls me tightly against him. The sound he makes holds so much torment.
“It’s okay, Gavin. I’m here. I know it’s hard.” We’ve always kept it professional between us. Sure, I may be living under the same roof, but my job is to care for the sweet little angel that is sleeping down the hall. But tonight is different.
In this moment, I feel like I’m more than the nanny. Right now, it’s as though I’ve become part of this family.
I understand what he’s going through. Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to lose your partner before you’ve even had a chance to really and truly start your life together. But I know what it’s like to lose both of my parents. They died when I was twelve, leaving me and my older sisters, Avery and London, orphaned. Our grandmother stepped in to raise us, but those Mom-and-Dad-shaped holes in my heart can never be filled. There will always be two empty spaces in my chest where they used to be.
Slowly he loosens his hold on me. “I need to get a grip,” he mutters, voice thick with emotion.
Goose bumps rise along my skin when his fingertips skim my arm as he drops his hand.
“We all have difficult days. I’m always here. Whenever you need me.” My heart is beating so hard, it feels like it could crack my rib cage. I can’t seem to find it in me to step back, to break this connection. The longing to feel needed like this clouds my judgment. The intimacy of the moment making it difficult to separate my desire to comfort from other, new feelings I don’t know what to do with.
I lean in until I can feel his sharp exhale against my lips. My stomach flips and my muscles clench in anticipation.
But whatever spell I’m under breaks before I connect.
Gavin’s hands wrap around my shoulders and he pushes me back, not forceful but firmly. “Harley, no.”
Peyton’s shrill cry is a bucket of ice water over my head and a welcome distraction from my complete horror and mortification. I rush down the hall to Peyton’s room and scoop her up like a shield. Panic takes over, fear and guilt swirl in my gut and make it tough to swallow. What did I do? How could I be so stupid?
“I’ve got it, Harley. You can go back to bed.” Gavin holds out his arms, his expression flat and remote.
I can’t say no. He’s my boss. He’s her father. I’m just the nanny.
And I almost kissed him. I would have, if he hadn’t stopped me. He’d been in need of comfort, and I’d taken advantage of that weak moment. Shame and disbelief make me want to disappear, to sink into the ground, to hide from my own mistake.
Uncomfortable, awkward silence follows as I pass her over, but Peyton’s cries grow louder, maybe because she senses the disquiet between us.
“Go to bed, Harley.” Gavin’s voice is tight and clipped.
I move around him, unable to meet his gaze now. I feel numb, as if my emotions have been dipped in liquid nitrogen. Frozen. And one flick will shatter me.
As I step into the hall, Peyton screams, arms stretched out to me. “Momma! Mummy!”
I pause, a sick feeling rolling through my stomach and creeping up my throat, and turn to see Gavin’s reaction. She’s said it before, at the park I sometimes take her to with a few other nannies in the area, but it’s never happened in front of Gavin before. I usually just shake my head and say, “No, not Momma, it’s Harley” to her because she doesn’t know the difference. To her, it’s just words she hears the other kids say.
But his eyes flash with ire, and he gives me a hard, cold look that makes me want to disappear all over again.
“That’s Harley, not your mommy. Daddy’s got you.” He shuts the door with a quiet click, and I stand there, my heart in my throat.
I go back to my room, tears of embarrassment and guilt falling. I don’t know what to do. How to fix this. I spend the rest of the night pacing the floor, trying to figure out how I’m going to apologize. That I didn’t mean to overstep. That I have no idea what came over me. That it will never happen again.
A few days later, just when I’m ready to tell him how sorry I am, Gavin tells me they’re moving to Boulder to be closer to his in-laws.
And when they do, I don’t hear from Gavin or Peyton ever again.
About Helena Hunting:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.
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