Suddenly Engaged (A Lake Haven Novel Book 3)(9)

By: Julia London

Ruby didn’t have a grandma to fill in. She didn’t have a father. She did have a grandpa in Florida who could never hear her on the phone and kept shouting “What?” when Ruby tried to tell him something. Frankly, the only thing Kyra’s daughter had was a mother who was constantly running behind the eight ball, and today she needed that pasta.

“I wish you would find a better alternative than pasta and some store-bought sauce that is full of empty calories,” Megan said. But she was pulling a large container off of a gleaming chrome service table as she spoke, so Kyra kept her mouth shut. “I mean, pasta as a treat once a week or so is okay, but . . .” She shrugged. “At least it’s not mac and cheese out of a box.”

Please. If it wasn’t for mac and cheese out of a box, Ruby would be dead by now.

Megan spooned a serving into a to-go container and handed it to Kyra with a smile of superiority, as if she pitied her poor, irresponsible coworker. “Child nutrition is a personal passion of mine.”

Whatever. “Great cause,” Kyra said, nodding. “Thanks, Megan.”

“Hey, maybe we can get the girls together sometime,” Megan said brightly. “You could come over for dinner. Chet and I would really like that.”

Kyra could well imagine a night at Chet and Megan Bonner’s house—a lot of talk about how Megan’s kids went to dance class or art class while Ruby did something inappropriate, like eat with her fingers. “Sure, maybe,” she said, already backing up to the door. “Thanks again—you’re a lifesaver.” She whirled around and went through the swinging doors before she got any more mom advice and was forced to punch someone in the throat.

At five to six, Kyra drove her sport utility vehicle onto the rutted drive of her cottage. Fern Miller had been very clear about her expectations in babysitting Ruby, and Kyra couldn’t afford to screw it up. She grabbed her purse, her bulky book bag with her workbooks for the real estate license she was working toward, the basket of laundry she’d done at eight o’clock this morning at the Spin and Swim Washeteria near the pier, and her favorite sandals, which she tucked up under one arm. The laundry basket was piled too high for her to balance the bag of pasta on it, and she thought perhaps she ought to make two trips . . . but Kyra didn’t want to make two trips. Her feet were killing her, she was tired, she was hungry—so she slipped the handles of the bag between her teeth, wincing at the thought of how many germs were probably on that bag.

She backed out of the seat, hoisted everything into her arms, and turned toward the door of her cottage. She glanced back over her shoulder so she could shut the car door with a bump of her butt.

“Excuse me.”

A man’s voice startled Kyra so badly that she jerked around and dropped the bag of pasta. She tried to catch it, but it bounced off the laundry and landed on the drive, upside down. So did her book bag, which she ended up dropping when she tried to catch the pasta. Her books landed on top of the to-go bag with a thunk.

Before she could do anything but stare in horror over her laundry basket, a dog suddenly appeared, depositing his slimy, overchewed tennis ball next to her feet so he could eagerly nose under her books for the pasta.

“Hey!” Kyra cried at the same moment the man said, “Otto!” and grabbed the dog’s collar, jerking him backward and away from the bag.

Kyra lifted her gaze to the man. It was her neighbor, Dax, otherwise known as the guy she’d decided might possibly be an ax murderer.

He picked up the bag, glanced inside, and handed it to Kyra. “Looks like the lid came off. Sorry,” he said gruffly. “Ah . . . what do you want me to do with it?”

“Here,” she said impatiently, waving the only two fingers she could spare at him from the side of her laundry basket.

He looked as if he disagreed with her solution but slid the plastic onto her two fingers, then bent down to pick up her book bag as well as the two workbooks and notebook that had spilled out. He balanced the book bag on top of her laundry, then tried to tuck the books in around it, but her basket was stuffed. “Just . . . just put them on the hood of my car,” she suggested irritably.

The dog, realizing he would get no food, lunged for his tennis ball, then decided to give his coat a good shake. Up until that point, Kyra hadn’t realized the dog’s coat was wet. “No!” she said, moving backward. But it was too late—she glanced down at her arm, now covered in the spray of dog and lake water.

“Otto, sit!” her neighbor loudly commanded as he slid the books onto the hood of her car.