By: Beverley Kendall

I walk around the car and to the walkway that leads to the front. Trent is standing in the doorway with Bree in his arms.

“What’d you forget your—” His question breaks off when Mitch appears behind me, his form casting a shadow in more ways than one.

“Mitch is here,” I announce with the same enthusiasm I’d use to read an obituary notice.

The second Bree sees me, she starts whimpering and holding her hands out to me. She must be tired.

Mentally abandoning my plans for the night, I heave a sigh of defeat as I walk to the front door and take her from Trent. Mitch, bag in hand, isn’t far behind. He uses the interruption to his advantage and follows me into the house and out from under the sun’s scorching rays.

It’s at this point I know I’ve lost all control of the situation.

In the air-conditioned entryway, we’re lined up like opposing teams on a scrimmage line, Trent beside me on one side and Mitch facing us on the other.

Oblivious to the turmoil going on around her and content in my arms, Bree grasps a hank of my hair and lays her head on my shoulder. Then she quietly observes the stranger in her midst, her mouth curved in a broad smile, as if welcoming him.

I want to tell her not to let his good looks and smooth charm fool her. I want to warn her about this stranger who comes bearing gifts.

Don’t trust him with anything of value, especially your heart, pumpkin. Mommy had to learn that the hard way.

Mitch’s eyes grow cold as his gaze briefly stops on Trent. I can’t believe he cares whether Trent and I are involved, which must mean all that frost has everything to do with the fact that Trent has a relationship with his daughter. Something he doesn’t have.

However, when his gaze lands on Bree everything in his expression changes. Softens. And I mean literally. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it, the way he’s looking at her. It’s like witnessing love at first sight.

It feels like a lifetime passes as Mitch stares at Bree. He looks mesmerized. Enchanted. In love. Then as if coming out of a daze, he gives his head a barely discernible shake and takes the toy from the bag.

He approaches tentatively, his eyes never once leaving my daughter’s face. She watches him and then her attention is caught by what he’s holding in his hand. Bribery at its most blatant. And it works because suddenly her head pops up off my shoulder like a jack-in-the-box, and a grin spreads across her face as she reaches eagerly for the stuffed toy.

It’s clear I’m going to need to have that stranger danger talk with her tonight.

“Hi, Brianna. This is for you,” Mitch says softly, coming close enough for her to take the puppy from him.

Once she and I—mostly me because the thing isn’t a lightweight—have a firm grip on her new toy, she peers up at me as if to say, Look what I got, Mommy. I drop a kiss on her forehead and say, “Can you say thank you to—” My gaze darts to Mitch when I realize I have no idea what to call him much less what Bree’s version of it would sound like. To call him anything close to Da-da when she’s meeting him for the first time would be a disservice to the title and real fathers everywhere. Those are stripes a man has to earn and he hasn’t even suited up for battle.

As if recognizing the awkwardness of the moment, Mitch interjects smoothly, “It was my pleasure.”

Beside me, Trent clears his throat. I turn my gaze to him.

“Do you want me to go?” he asks, as it’s pretty obvious I’m not going to need him tonight.

I nod and flash him a grateful smile. “Sorry to drag you over here for nothing.”

Trent shoots a quick look at Mitch before replying, “Hey, anytime I get to see my goddaughter is worth the trip. Right, Bree?” he says, leaning down to place a smacking kiss on her rosy cheek.

Bree responds with a string of baby babble. It may not be English but it’s clear she’s in agreement.

“Alright then, I’ll see you later. I’m on vacation until the end of the week so just call if you need me to babysit again,” Trent says, giving my upper arm an affectionate squeeze.

I hold my breath as he passes Mitch on his way out, and watch as they eye each other warily. No words are exchanged, just curt nods, which is initiated by my ex. Surprise surprise.

After Trent is gone, the place falls silent. There’s not even a peep out of Bree. Okay, he’s seen her so what’s he still doing here? I’m about to ask him that when he jerks his chin toward the family room. “Do you mind if we sit?”

“You said you only wanted to see her.” I speak quietly because at Bree’s age, tone and pitch are everything. Not that I expect us to get into a shouting match.

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