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

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

Braids were something I still couldn’t grasp. Even though I applied equal tightness to each layer, maintaining a steady pattern, it always came out fucked up.

Crooked. Partially unbound.

But I tried.

I tied the elastic around the bottom and kissed her cheek. “I survived.”

“Barely.”

I shook my head. “I think you’re going to be a comedian when you grow up.”

“No, Daddy. I’m going to be an animal doctor—you know this.” She turned around and faced me, wiggling her body until her back was against the pillows. The moment she was settled, she pointed to her right. “Now, their turn since you won’t be here to kiss them good night.”

The stuffed animals.

All twelve of them, taking up an entire side of her bed, which had to be arranged in a specific order and pecked or she wouldn’t go to sleep.

A task, like her hair, that had become one of my favorite parts of the day.

I reached across her to line them up, making sure they were balanced and upright, just how she liked them. I finished by placing the lion in front of the pack and asked, “How’s it look, boss?”

“The hippo doesn’t go in back. I tell you that every night. She needs to be in the front by the giraffe.”

“Right, right.” I moved the hippo to the side, straightening the pink skirt we’d bought for the animal, and then adjusted the pink tie that hung from the giraffe’s neck. “How’s that?”

“Muuuch better. Now, kiss each one good night.”

“Each one?”

“Daaaddy, they’ll have bad dreams if we don’t kiss them and say I love you.”

“Whatever you say. You’re the boss.” I quickly pecked the animals and stopped when I reached my baby’s forehead, where I left my lips as I said, “Are you going to be a good girl for Hannah when she watches you tonight?”

“Of course, silly.”

The words that came out of this four-year-old’s mouth constantly made me chuckle.

“I’m the silly one?” I tickled her belly. “I think you hold that title, Miss Eve.”

She snorted. “I’m always a good girl, Daddy.”

“You are. Most of the time.” I tucked a loose strand behind her ear. “You know, I’m going to be with Uncle D and Uncle Jenner tonight.”

Dominick and Jenner weren’t just my older brothers and best friends; they were like second fathers to my daughter.

She crossed her arms and pouted. “Tell them I’m mad at them.”

“Mad?” I smiled. “Why?”

“Uncle D promised me pancakes, and I’m waiting. That was, like, foreeever ago.”

“I just made you pancakes yesterday for breakfast.”

“Not your kinda pancakes, Daddy. The kind Uncle D gets me with gobs of chocolate and whip—” She slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oops. I wasn’t ’posed to tell you that part.”

She thought she was hiding the biggest secret, that I couldn’t tell she was hyped up on sugar and covered in chocolate whenever Dominick brought her home.

“I’ll let Uncle D know that you’re extremely disappointed in him and that he owes you big.” I pushed more loose strands off her forehead. “What about Uncle Jenner? What should I tell him?”

She grinned, her eyes widening, licking her bottom lip. “I want him to take me to the house on the giant mountain, so we can eat all the s’mores outside by the big fire.”

“You want to go to his house in Utah, huh?”

Jenner had recently purchased a home in Park City, and it had become one of Everly’s most desired places to visit. Mine too. There was nothing like escaping to the mountains, getting to ski on some fresh powder, and unplugging from our busy life in LA.

“Yes, silly.”

“I see someone has a new favorite word.” I hugged her against my chest. “I’m afraid of the teenage version of you. It’s a good thing I have quite a few years before we get there. I need to prep myself.”

“Daddy, I’m going to be so sassy.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

We were quiet for a few moments, something unusual for my spunky daughter, and I broke the silence to say, “My little negotiator, I know there’s still a few hours left before you have to go to bed, but in the meantime, let’s not convince Hannah to let you stay up extra late or let you watch something I wouldn’t approve of, okay?”

“Or have a popcorn fight in your bed like last time?”

I leaned back to show her my face. “There most definitely won’t be any of that, do you hear me?” I paused. “I think I’m still finding kernels in there.”

She giggled. “But it was sooo much fun.”

“I’m sure.” As I moved her against me again, I inhaled the scent from the top of her head, the same smell she’d had since she was born. Even though she now chose her own shampoo and I no longer rubbed her chunky limbs with lotion, her scent, to me, hadn’t changed. I missed that baby whose body was the length of my forearm, but I was proud of the girl she was turning into.

“I’m going to be home late tonight, so I won’t see you until the morning.”

“Is Hannah having a sleepover?”

I hugged her tightly, kissing her nest of hair. “She is. Are you going to let her sleep in the guest room?”

“No way. Cousin Hannah sleeps with me. That’s the rule.”

It was a good thing my princess now had a queen after quickly transitioning from a toddler bed, or the small mattress wouldn’t have held Hannah and all of Everly’s animals.

“Just try not to kick her tonight. Last time, she almost went home with a black eye.”

She covered her mouth with her hand. “That was the lion’s fault, Daddy. He’s ’posed to protect her. I can’t help I get all wild when I sleep.”

I loosened my grip, resting her against the bed, and flattened my palm on her stomach, her large blue eyes gazing back at me. “My beautiful baby girl.”

“Baby?” she huffed. “But I’m a big girl.”

“Eve, you’ll always be my baby. Even when you go off to college and get married someday—”

“Echhh.”

“Good. That’s the sound I want to hear every time I mention boys—boys who need to stay far, far away from my daughter.” I held her cheek, giving her five kisses in a row. Not six. Not four. Five was our number. “I won’t be here to say this, so have the sweetest dreams.”

“Don’t forget to tell Uncle D, I’m maaad.”

I winked at her. “I won’t.”

I pushed myself off her bed, surprised to see Hannah in the doorway.

“Hannah!” Everly yelled from behind me.

“What’s up, my little bestie?” Hannah said to her, waving. “I have a present for you downstairs, but I need to talk to your dad for a minute, so I’ll bring it up when I’m done. Cool?”

“Cool!” Everly squealed. “Yay!”

I turned toward Eve when I reached the doorway. “I love you.”

“More than all the stars in the sky, Daddy.”

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