Unplanned love a love in.., p.10

Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel, page 10


Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel

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  “Thanks for the refill.” She reached for her mug as Enya walked back toward the kitchen, and brought her focus back to her tablet. She had to get outta this town pronto, before it messed even further with her mind.

  * * *

  “Here you are!”

  The chair next to Charli scraped on the tiled floor exactly ten minutes later, startling her out of her concentration. She resisted the urge to huff; couldn’t people understand she was busy and didn’t want to be disturbed? She looked up from her tablet just as Lauren plopped down on the chair, smiling brightly. Well, at least it was someone she liked.

  “Ellie said I might find you here. I’ve got a biiiig favor to ask and she said you’d be happy to help.”

  Charli frowned. She wasn’t sure she liked where this was going.

  “I don’t know if Ellie told you about it, but we have a spring festival every year. This year we’re a little behind with the preparations because most of us worked on the arrangements for Ellie and Adam’s wedding, and we forgot about the festival for a while. Ellie said you’re staying a bit longer, so I thought perhaps you could bring in your expertise with event organization and help us out?” She batted her eyelashes, propping her chin on her hands. “Please?”

  Although she wasn’t exactly used to organizing town festivals—scratch that, she’d never organized a festival—her genetic competitive side, the one that always pushed her to do better, to take on new challenges, and to face problems with her head held high, started stomping its hooves inside her brain, like an over-excited horse.

  “I’m not sure I’m the right person for it. I mean, I’m not exactly qualified for—”

  “Pfft, nonsense.” Lauren waved her hand in front of her face. “You did a great job with the wedding, and you did most of it from four hundred miles away. It’s not going to be a fancy event. We just need a little help with coordinating everything.”

  Charli shrugged, staring at her half-empty mug. Truth be told, she missed the thrill of being in charge, of making sure everything was as it should be, of coordinating supplier deliveries, of last-minute emergencies that needed fixing before an event. She’d never liked being idle. These last three weeks had been a welcome reprieve from stress and a well-deserved vacation, but her creativity was starting to itch. She could still look for a job while showing these small-town folks what she was made of.

  “How long do we have till the celebrations start?”

  Lauren beamed. “The parade is on March twenty-first, so barely a month. But Ellie said you’re the best and I’m sure you can pull it off.”

  Yes, she was the best—and she was going to prove to the whole world just how wrong Penelope had been when she gave that promotion to Lousy Pig.

  “Okay. Let me pull up a blank document on my tablet so I can jot down notes while you tell me everything I need to know about this festival.” She took a sip of her lukewarm drink and smiled when Lauren clapped her hands, looking very much like her niece. “See if we can get an extra muffin from Enya or your mom. I’ve a feeling we’re going to need it. I know I am.”

  Lauren nodded and shot out of her chair. The giddiness and adrenaline of starting a new project filled Charli, as ideas swirled in her mind.

  Fasten your seat belts, Spring Harbor. Charlotte Wingate is going to shake up this festival like you’ve never seen.

  Chapter 10

  Building had been in Kean’s blood ever since he could remember. Playing with Legos and with building blocks made from chunks of wood his grandpa discarded had been his favorite pastime as a kid. So he’d always enjoyed helping out with the festival or any other town event where building skills were required.

  This year, when Ellie informed him that Charli would be helping, he’d been tempted to find an excuse to bow out. If at first the reason might have been because she was a pain, now it was because he’d developed a kind of uncomfortable attraction he had no business feeling. For two weeks he’d managed to stay away from the sexy brunette, helping with whatever task would keep him from having any interactions with her, but when two weeks before the festival Sophie all but ordered to help paint the fairy trees, he hadn’t been able to say no—even though this would mean being around Charli for a whole afternoon.

  As soon as they’d reached the community center where half the town was helping with the props, Sophie had assigned him and Sammy, her quiet friend, the task of painting trees that would go on an Irish-themed float, while she and Charli would decorate the wings of butterflies and fairies.

  Sophie’s giggles at something Charli said brought his focus back to the tree he was supposed to paint. He hadn’t done much painting in the last twenty minutes, seeing as he’d been too busy throwing furtive glances at Charli when she wasn’t looking. He couldn’t stop himself. She was so beautiful today, he’d had a hard time tearing his eyes away from her. She wore a loose sweatshirt and a pair of jeans that hugged her shapely legs and her round bottom—that bottom that had haunted his nights with sexy dreams more than once lately—and her long, dark hair was in a messy braid that Sophie had helped style. His niece had developed an obsession with braids these days. She’d even braided his hair once, and it had been a painful experience when he’d had to untangle the locks afterward. As much as he loved his niece, he was glad she’d found Charli and her long hair to practice her braiding skills on.

  Charli looked up from her butterfly, a smile lingering on her glossy lips, and his mind blanked out. He didn’t know why he had this reaction to a woman who clearly couldn’t stand the sight of him, and who’d soon be leaving his town because she hated it. He’d seen her perusing job ads on the Internet and he knew once she found a job, she would leave. Probably even sooner. But that didn’t stop him from feeling some kind of rush flow through his body whenever she was near, whenever she smiled, or whenever she said something nasty to him. He was an idiot.

  Sophie climbed into his lap, effectively interrupting his daydreaming. “Uncle Kean, I fink you should paint the twee pink.”

  He laughed. “Pink? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pink tree. Have you, Sammy?”

  The boy looked up, his brown eyes staring at him as if willing Kean to find the answer there. He blinked then went back to his task as if he’d said it all.

  Sophie took Kean’s face in her hands and forced him to look at her. “It’s a faiwy twee, Uncle Kean, and faiwies are all kinds of colors!” There was no need for her to add she thought he was dumb for not knowing such an important fact—her tone said it all.

  “Shame on you for not knowing that fairies are all kinds of colors, Uncle Kean,” Charli teased, with a mischievous grin that was supposed to be annoying but was actually quite sexy.

  “Fine. We’ll paint the trees pink then.” He picked up his paintbrush and directed it at Sophie. “If anyone has something to say about it, we can always say it was Charli’s idea.”

  Charli glared at him. If looks could kill, this one would have sent him to an early grave. But, wow, was it hot.

  “I think we should stick to standard trees,” Charli told Sophie in an even tone. His niece’s face fell and she stuck out her bottom lip in her trademark pout. Charli paled and fumbled with the paintbrush in her hand. She was kind of cute. “But… um… we can paint some pink flowers and then stick them on the trees, so fairies can hide inside the flowers at night. Would that work?”

  “Yay!” Sophie clapped her hands. “I fink that’s a gweat idea, Auntie Charli. I’ll tell Mommy and Daddy.”

  She jumped off Kean’s lap and ran toward the exit door. He shot to his feet, ready to run after her before she went out. He’d been asked to babysit and he doubted his brother would be happy if his daughter ran out on her own. But he stopped when Adam and Ellie walked in hand in hand, looking as happy as two newlyweds should. Damn, the way his brother looked all lovey-dovey, as if he were still on his honeymoon, made him wonder if he’d ever get to experience something like that in his life.

  Sophie ran toward Adam and launched
herself at him. He picked her up and lifted her to his face, planting a big kiss on her cheek. He listened to her excited chattering, then put her back on the ground. As he and Ellie approached them, with Sophie tagging along, he smiled at Kean.

  “Well, it’s good to see the two of you can cooperate without pulling out guns,” Adam said with a smile.

  Charli cut a sideways glance at Kean and smirked. “I can’t really complain. He’s been the perfect Bob the Builder today.”

  “I like Bob the Builder,” Sophie piped up, making everyone laugh. Then she picked up her paintbrush and sat next to Sammy, inspecting his tree and offering suggestions on how to paint it. The boy looked at her without uttering a word, then let her take the brush, which she all but snatched out of his hand, so that she could paint the rest of the trunk. She was definitely going to give Adam grief when she grew up; she was already a bossy and feisty little thing. Kean didn’t want to think what she’d be like in ten years.

  Adam wrapped his arm around Ellie’s waist and pulled her into him. “Honey, we should probably go. I don’t think the paint fumes are good for you,” he whispered, but not low enough that Kean and Charli didn’t hear. Kean watched as Charli’s face transformed, first into a frown and then, as realization hit, her eyes widened, her jaw dropped and she let out a gasp.

  “Oh my God. Seriously?” She shot to her feet and flapped her hands in front of her as if she were fanning her face, while she jumped from one foot to the other, like an excited little girl who’d just received the best present ever. “You can’t already… Are you kidding me?”

  Adam’s face wrinkled in a guilty expression. Ellie shrugged as she looked at her husband and patted a reassuring hand on his arm.

  “Charli, calm down,” Ellie said, lowering her voice a bit. “We don’t want Sophie to know yet.”

  “So is this what I’m thinking it is? The paint fumes not being good for you? Are you… pregnant?” She whispered the word out of the corner of her mouth, as if it were a bad word she couldn’t say around kids.

  Ellie’s cheeks colored a pretty shade of pink and her smile was all the answer Charli and Kean needed.

  “No way,” he said, looking at Ellie first and then at his brother.

  Adam smiled sheepishly. “Please guys, let’s not make a big deal out of this. We haven’t told anyone yet.”

  “Omigod, omigod, omigod!” Charli squealed. Ellie laughed and put a hand on Charli’s mouth.

  “Please, keep it down. We don’t want anyone to know yet. You weren’t supposed to know either, but someone can’t keep his big mouth shut.” She looked at her husband with what was meant to be a glare but that, to Kean, looked very much like a woman in love staring at the object of her affection.

  Adam chuckled and scratched the back of his head. “Yeah, well, what can I say? I’m excited.”

  “I can’t believe you’ve kept this from me. I’m your best friend,” Charli said, her tone slightly offended.

  “We only just found out. Like, an hour ago. My period was a week late, so I took a pregnancy test out of curiosity. We actually agreed we wouldn’t tell anyone until I saw a doctor and got confirmation, but I obviously overestimated my husband’s ability to keep a secret.” Ellie smiled as Adam pulled her closer to him and wrapped his arms around her from behind. His hands rested protectively on her belly and she leaned into him. An unexpected and unwelcome feeling of envy crawled up Kean’s chest. His brother had been so lucky to find love twice. He already had an adorable daughter and now he was going to have more, while Kean was still looking for someone who’d want to spend her life with him.

  “Ah, whatever. I’m too excited to hold a grudge.” Charli wrapped her arms around Ellie, including Adam in the hug, seeing as he didn’t seem to want to let go of his wife. “This is awesome. I can’t believe you’re going to be a mother at last.”

  “Well, I already was a mother.” Ellie pulled back and looked at her stepdaughter, who was busy with her paintbrush.

  “So, when are you due?” Charli asked, forgetting she was supposed to keep her voice low.

  “End of November.”

  “Wait, that means… you got pregnant on your wedding night?”

  Ellie blushed again. “Most likely during our short honeymoon, I think. We didn’t want to use protection since we wanted to start a family.”

  “We just didn’t think it would happen so soon,” Adam added with a lovesick smile. It was clear he didn’t regret getting his wife pregnant so soon after their wedding. Adam was a family guy, always had been. He’d been a great dad to Sophie and he would be to all the kids he and Ellie would have. Because Kean was pretty sure his brother wouldn’t stop at two, if he had a say in it.

  “Come on, baby girl. Time to go home.”

  Sophie glanced up at her father for only one second, scrunched up her nose and finally shook her head. “I want to paint more butterflies, Daddy.”

  “You can do it tomorrow.” Adam offered her his hand as he bent at the waist to be at her level. “And we need to take Sammy home, too. His grammy is waiting for him.”

  Sophie stuck out her bottom lip in the dramatic way she was so good at. Her pouts might win her an Oscar if she decided to pursue an acting career. “But we need to prepare the flowers or the faiwies won’t have anywhere to sleep tonight.”

  “Fairies can sleep in the trees tonight. It’s not that cold, they’ll be all right.”

  She shook her head again. “No, Daddy. I want to paint them now.”

  His niece was as stubborn as her mother had been. His brother had his work cut out for him if she’d inherited half of her mother’s stubbornness.

  “I can drive her, if you want. I’ll have to drive Charli anyway.”

  Wait a minute. Why had he said that?

  “You will?” Charli frowned. “And when exactly did we agree upon that?”

  “Uh, I saw you walking here so… I guessed you’d need a ride—”

  “Well, I’m perfectly fine walking home by myself,” she said, her tone sour as if he’d just said something offensive.

  Gee, the woman snapped like a mouse trap. Feisty City Girl was back with a vengeance. It had seemed too good to be true.

  “Sorry, I forgot you’re armed.” His joke earned him one of her trademark death glares. Ellie chuckled, but her laughter died in her throat when Charli aimed a glare at her, too.

  “I think you should let Kean drive you, since he’ll be bringing Sophie home anyway.” Ellie used the soft tone she reserved for his niece when she wanted her to do something Sophie didn’t want to. It always worked. “Spring isn’t a dangerous town, but I’d feel better knowing you aren’t walking all by yourself.”

  Charli threw her hands up in the air and let out a huff. “Fine, okay. I’ll let him drive me home. There, you happy?” She turned to him and crossed her arms, pouting like a child. That stuck-out bottom lip made all kinds of crazy thoughts swirl in his head.

  He shrugged and looked away. “Whatever. I was just trying to be polite.”

  Infuriating her had become his favorite pastime and the only way he knew to make sure his mind stayed focused on clean thoughts. Because lately it seemed like his brain could conjure nothing but improper—actually, indecent—thoughts when it came to Charli. He should probably organize a guys’ night out in Gold Beach this weekend, meet new people, maybe even find a woman he could start dating. That should be enough to keep his mind off her.

  “Fine. You can stay here with Auntie Charli and Uncle Kean. But be a good girl, okay?” Adam ruffled Sophie’s hair and she rewarded him with her dimpled smile, nodding.

  “I’m always a good girl, Daddy.” The unspoken duh was loud and clear, and everyone laughed at her cheeky tone.

  “And you two”—Adam pointed his finger at Kean first and then at Charli—“behave. I don’t want to get a dispatch call for public disturbance. Nor do I want to bail you out—either of you.”

  Charli rolled her eyes. “Don’t look at me. It’s him you sho
uld worry about.”

  “Oh, shut up now. I’ve been nothing but nice to you today.”

  “Yeah, you said it. Today.” She pointed her paintbrush at him. “But the day isn’t over yet.”

  “Are you sure we should leave them alone?” Ellie frowned. Adam took her hand and pulled her toward him, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.

  “They’ll be fine.” He turned back and narrowed his eyes as he stared at Kean. He didn’t need to say the words of warning that flashed in neon letters in his eyes: don’t make me regret this.

  Yeah, well, if Charli didn’t go back to being an annoying pain in his side, he wouldn’t screw up. Hopefully.

  * * *

  Once they finished painting the decorations for their Irish float, Charli went to speak to Jocelyn, the owner of the flower shop who was one of the coordinators of the festival. She pulled out her notepad, ticked off some tasks and told Jocelyn what needed to be taken care of tomorrow. The woman nodded and thanked her for helping out, for what had to be the twentieth time since she’d agreed to assist. She had to give it to them: these small-town folks genuinely appreciated her help and were happy to follow her directions, looking up to her as if she were the president.

  When she went back to Kean, he had his niece on his shoulders, while Sophie’s shy friend hugged his stuffed purple dinosaur to his chest and looked up at them. To say the boy was quiet was an understatement, but it worked well for her. When she’d reached the community center and found out that not only would she have to be around Kean, but two kids instead of one, she’d realized her nightmare was coming to life. But then Sammy had turned out to be the kind of kid Charli could get along with: a silent, calm boy who seemed more than happy to sit in silence and paint, instead of screaming at the top of his lungs, stomping his feet, and kicking everyone in the shins. Sophie, on the other hand, had been excited enough for both of them, but she’d been pestering her uncle, so Charli had been safe for most of the time.

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