Page 24 of Virgin Next Door

Cupping her face, he groaned. “Please, don’t cry. You know I don’t do well when you cry. How about we make a deal? We’re good with deals, right?”

“I’m listening,” Katie said, sniffling.

“We go to dinner, and we don’t leave each other alone. Louisa’s mother scares me. Like on a big scale. She’s terrifying.”

“So I’ll be doing you a favor?”

“A big one. I huge one.”

“And you won’t organize a playdate like this one again?”

“I promise. I swear, I will never leave you stranded like this again,” he said.

Katie pursed her lips, seeming to think it over. “Deal.”

“Good.”

She took his hand and they left the house. He locked the door, wishing he could have had some emergency that meant he didn’t have to go on any playdate. Next time, he was going to run all playdates through Ann. She would know what to do.

“I know we said we’d meet at the diner, but I figured it was on my way, so why not pick you up?”

“Certainly,” he said.

After opening the passenger door for Katie, he helped her inside, buckling her into place and kissing her on the head.

Louisa was on her phone typing away frantically.

“Leave them on their cell phones. They’ll be fine,” Louisa’s mom said.

“I don’t let Katie have a cell phone.” Right this second, he was really pleased. “Do I, kiddo?”

“Nope.” Katie smiled at him. “He doesn’t think they’re necessary.”

“You’re lame,” Louisa said.

“Or, she will have a great deal of talking skills.”

“I was hoping we could talk,” Louisa’s mom said.

He knew what she wanted.

“Katie, sweetie, spell unfortunately.” He smiled at the woman beside him and mouthed, “Sorry.”

Katie, his loving daughter, played along, and before long, Louisa, joined in, and they both were spelling out words.

This was something his parents did with him, and well, his mother was the one who had removed the phone he’d gotten for Katie. His mother who said they were the devil and all kids needed to learn basic skills before being drawn to a device.

He never argued with his mother, and that cell phone was probably still in the confiscation box she liked to keep in the kitchen cupboard.

How times have changed.

They drove into town, and Louisa’s mom was clearly not happy.

When she parked—and she was an awful driver—he climbed out and helped Katie down, who was chuckling.

They entered the diner, and of course it was busy. It was the dinnertime rush. There was a booth available, as Louisa’s mom had booked a table in advance. A nice little trick as he didn’t know one could do that. He made a note to do the same for him, Katie, and Ann.

He waited as Katie and Louisa shuffled into the booth, then of course the mother, who refused to go in before his daughter, and he joined the table.

Louisa and Katie immediately grabbed the menus. His little spelling game seemed to have broken the ice between the two girls. Grabbing a menu, he slid it open.

Louisa’s mom put her painted nails on his arm. “You know, all Louisa talks about is Katie. I knew I had to bring them together.”

“I’m sure you did.”

He wasn’t going to point out how much she was lying. There was simply no reason to.

“Actually, I think she likes you as well. I know it’s a little forward,” she said. “She has been looking for a father figure ever since her dad left us last year. His secretary. He was that kind of man. The kind to keep his wife at home slaving over him, and fiddle with his younger bit on the side.”

This wasn’t the topic he wanted to get at. “That must suck.”

“Oh, it does, believe me. I am a woman scorned. I don’t get men. How they can just use us until we’re all worn out, and then move onto the newer model?” She sighed.

He rolled his eyes. “You’re fine. The man was a fool.”

He was playing his part well and Katie kept glancing up at him. He was a big man and knew how to keep his shit together.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to remain calm, which wasn’t working, because he didn’t want Louisa’s mom touching him.

The waitress came to their table, and he was happy for the distraction.

In the city, he would have taken this woman up on her offer, used her, and discarded her. But he wasn’t playing by those rules anymore. Nope, they were all different now. His little girl was near him, and this woman was the mother of her friend. This move was all about Katie, and he wasn’t going to spoil it.

With their food ordered, he sat back and watched as Katie began to color with the crayons the waitress had left along with a card. Seeing her like this, he felt at peace, like everything he was doing had a purpose. His little girl was everything to him.

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