Home > The Single Dad (The Dalton Brothers #3)

The Single Dad (The Dalton Brothers #3)
Author: Marni Mann


Prologue

 

 

Ford

 

 

I was woken by the sound of an alarm. It took me a few moments to shake the sleep from my head until I realized it was coming from my front gate—a notification that someone was at the call box, trying to get in. The only time the alarm ever went off in the middle of the night was if I invited a woman over. Her presence anticipated, my hands stripping off her clothes the moment she walked through my door, my lips devouring every inch of her skin before she reached my bedroom.

But it was three in the morning, and I hadn’t invited anyone over.

I sat up, turning on the bedside light, and grabbed the tablet from my nightstand, the screen showing a woman, wrapped in a dark coat, standing in front of my call box.

I enlarged the camera feed, zooming in on her face.

She was vaguely familiar, not enough that I could recall her name.

“Hello?” I said into the speaker. “Can I help you?”

“Ford … I need to talk to you.”

I wasn’t surprised she knew my name. She was pressing the button on the metal box on the side of my gate, attempting to gain my attention, so I would hope she knew who I was.

It was the urgency in her voice that startled me.

I ran my hand over my hair. The gel I had put in right before meeting my brothers for drinks caused the strands to be hard, cemented in place. “What do you need to talk to me about?”

“You … me.” She paused. “It’s important.” Another beat passed and then, “Please, open the gate.”

I shook my head even though she couldn’t see me.

Our law firm’s private plane was flying me to Minneapolis in just a few hours to meet with a client. I needed sleep.

“Can you come back? Let’s say, Saturday afternoon at a normal time, and we can—”

“No, Ford, I can’t. Please. I’m begging you. We need to talk now.”

Goddamn it.

I sighed, “I’ll meet you outside.”

I pressed the button that would allow her in and forced myself out of bed, throwing on a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, walking through my house toward the front. I flipped on the outside light and opened the door. The woman was standing a few feet from the steps with a face I still only semi-recognized, a body that couldn’t be seen in the baggy clothes and long, unbuttoned coat. There was a bag that hung from her shoulder and a strange, misplaced bundle of blankets in her arms.

“I’m sorry, you are?”

“Rebecca.”

Rebecca. Rebecca.

My eyes squinted as I took in her stare. “You’re the bartender at—”

“Yes.”

The night we’d had together was starting to come back to me.

Was it six months ago? Ten months? A year even? I couldn’t recall.

But the more I gazed at her, more from the evening we’d spent together began to unfold in my head.

As I’d been sitting at the bar, alone, it had begun as a simple flirtation. That led to us speaking the entire night, and I followed her into the back room once the last patron left. The moment the door was locked, I held her against the wall, slamming my lips against hers.

I’d fingered her while she drove us to my place.

I’d spread her across my kitchen island the minute we got inside.

Even if the whiskey had made the details of that night a bit vague, I could still recount the major parts.

“Why are you here, Rebecca?”

She glanced down at her arms, holding the weightless blankets in an odd way. “I don’t know how to tell you this … but she’s yours.”

“She?” I walked to the end of the small porch, my bare feet balancing on the edge. “What are you talking about?”

She moved closer, holding the blankets toward me, adjusting her position so she could open one and show me what was inside.

It wasn’t a bundle.

It was a baby.

She.

I put my hands up in the air. “Whoa, whoa.” I swallowed, my saliva suddenly tasting like acid. “There’s no way.”

“No way?” she mocked. “You mean, exactly forty weeks ago, you didn’t have sex with me without a condom, not bothering to ask if I was on birth control? By the way, I wasn’t.”

Forty weeks.

That was a fucking eternity ago.

But did I really not use a condom?

I always used one.

Fucking always.

Had the whiskey made me careless?

It … was possible.

“I …”

“I realize you probably sleep with so many women that you can’t keep them all straight.” Her voice softened. “But that’s not the case with me, Ford. There was only you.” She looked down again. “And now, because of that night, we created her.” As she moved once more, now only a foot separated us, even less as she extended her arms across the open space. “Meet your daughter. She was born three days ago.” She lowered the blanket, showing me the baby’s round face, eyes closed with long, dark lashes that fluttered against her cheeks, like she was dreaming.

What?

I’m a fucking …

Father?

A feeling catapulted through my stomach.

A feeling I hadn’t been prepared for, a feeling that sucked all the breath out of my body.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Our eyes locked as she said, “Because, at first, I had no intention of keeping her.” A war of emotion was raging inside her eyes. “I made the appointment. I went to the clinic.” She took a long, deep inhale. “And I couldn’t do it.” She glanced down, but not at her daughter. She looked at the ground instead. “I just … couldn’t.”

My hands shook; my knees didn’t want to hold me up. “That was months ago, I assume. Yet you waited until now to show up. Why? I don’t fucking get it.” I took in the baby’s face, those chunky cheeks and plump, heart-shaped lips. “Why didn’t you tell me the second you found out you were pregnant, Rebecca? Why didn’t you tell me once you went to the doctor and had it confirmed? You’ve had forty weeks”—I sucked in some air—“forty goddamn weeks—and you’re here now? After?”

Does she want money? Is that why she showed up out of nowhere?

Is it something else?

My thoughts weren’t straight.

My head a cloudy mess of questions.

My chest a steady, relentless ache.

Rebecca pressed the baby against my stomach.

I immediately reacted, cupping my arms beneath her, taking the weight of this small, precious bundle, holding her so carefully that I didn’t wake her.

Rebecca took a step back and said, “The truth is, I never intended to tell you about her. I was just going to give her up for adoption, and you would have never even known she was born.”

I held the baby tighter, tilting her toward my chest. “What made you change your mind?”

“The social worker. I didn’t trust her and decided I wanted better for the baby.” She nodded toward my arms. “She wrapped her arms around our daughter, and I took her back.” Her eyes were getting misty. “It wasn’t right.”

“I don’t understand.” My head shook as I tried to process what I was hearing. “What are you saying?”

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