Nate Hunter went to college for a business degree, but he prefers working as a bartender and enjoying his small-town, single life. Then a dying ex-girlfriend tracks him down to tell him he has a daughter he never knew existed.
Nate doesn’t know the first thing about being a father, but one look at Autumn and he’s a goner, so he agrees to take care of her until her aunt returns at Christmas.
When he asks no-nonsense librarian Maxine Abbott to move in with him and help take care of his daughter, she agrees – but only if he’ll pretend to be her boyfriend and get her mother off her back.
Their relationship of convenience works perfectly at first, until real feelings begin to chip away at their fake romance. Then Autumn’s aunt shows up early, and everything changes. Will Nate and Maxine’s budding love end in heartbreak before the last leaves fall?
Nate had pulled that move of taking Max onto his lap for the benefit of Bethany and her cameraman, but he wouldn’t lie: she felt good there. Like she belonged there. Everything, from the cute, tense way she wriggled at first, to the way she settled into him, had turned him on a hundredfold. If Gus had taken any longer with those shots, Max would have felt much more than Nate’s arm pressing against her.
He wiped one palm over his brow as he pulled into their driveway. Autumn had fallen asleep on the way home, and he glanced into the rearview mirror and smiled. “Look,” he mouthed.
Max turned and peeked into the back seat. “She’s out, huh?”
He nodded and took pains to unbuckle Autumn and put her over his shoulder without waking her. Her tiny body fit perfectly there, her cheek warm against his neck and one arm clutching his even in sleep. A rush of love moved through him, overwhelming and sudden. He’d proclaimed love a half dozen times in his life, but he’d never meant it. Not truly. Not down deep. He knew that now, and it scared the hell out of him. How could forty pounds of little girl make him feel like no one else in his life ever had?
Max held the door and followed them in, and his thoughts shifted. She was part of this, part of the way his life was changing in subtle but sure ways, and he didn’t know what it meant except that he wanted her. Badly. Her scent, her smile, the way she made everything into a series of lists to be checked off—it followed him through his days. Sometimes it kept him awake at night, thinking of her in the room above him and wondering what she wore to bed, how she slept.
He carried Autumn upstairs without turning on the lights. In her room, her eyes fluttered open. “Are we home?”
“Yes.” Home. He liked the way it sounded in her voice. He helped her out of her shirt and shoes and let her peel off her skirt by herself. Forget the bath. She could take one tomorrow. She climbed under the covers.
“Where’s Teddy?” she asked with a yawn.
Nate looked around. He couldn’t make out much in the dark, but if she didn’t have her faithful bear, she wouldn’t sleep. He grabbed something that looked like Teddy and handed it to her. If it wasn’t right, he hoped she wouldn’t notice in her overtired state. “Here you go.”
She was already breathing in soft snores. Good thing. He nestled the stuffed animal beside her under the covers and backed out the door.
“She’s still out?” Max said. She stood in the doorway between kitchen and living, holding a bottle of beer in each hand.
“Yeah.” He reached for both bottles and set them aside.
“What are you—”
But he didn’t let her finish. Instead, Nate slipped one arm around Max’s waist and pulled her into him. Ran one thumb over her bottom lip. Took a last quick moment to lose himself in those smart, soulful eyes. Then he bent and kissed her the way he should have the first night at the Elks Club. The way he’d wanted to earlier at the ice cream stand. The way she was meant to be kissed, up against the wall with his hands in her hair, until he left them both breathless.
A graduate of the University of Rochester and Case Western Reserve University, Allie currently lives in a small town in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York with her husband and their two furry felines. When she isn't teaching high school English, she likes to travel, lose herself in great music, or go for a long run and think about her next small town story.
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