LENGTH: 48,328 words | 162 pages
Preston Pruitt put aside his dreams of becoming a gourmet chef at a high-end restaurant to raise his daughter while her mother was on active duty in Afghanistan. Now Abby is a precocious eight-year-old in love with fairies and princesses, and Preston works at an unimaginative and monotonous job as a short order cook.
Abby has her quirks, and when she tries to wear a pair of costume wings for her school pictures, her father is called to help talk her out of them. That’s when Preston meets Cam Richards, a handsome photographer with his own studio in town. Between Cam’s quick smile and flirty manner, Preston is smitten and surprises himself by asking the guy out. Late night phone calls lead to dinner dates, and soon Preston is falling for Cam. It helps that Abby approves of her father’s new special friend.
With Cam’s encouragement, Preston gets the chance to interview for an executive chef position. Now that he has all the ingredients, will he finally fulfill his dream of becoming a top chef and find the perfect recipe for romance?
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Because the rest of Abby’s classmates had had their pictures taken earlier in the morning, they jumped down after the group shot and hurried offstage, eager to take their place in the lunch line forming along one wall of the cafeteria. Abby stayed behind, though, hurrying across the stage to take Preston’s hand in both of hers. “Don’t leave yet, Daddy,” she told him, leaning back so she could balance on her heels and tug on his fingers, trusting him to hold her. “Stay and eat lunch with me!”
“I have to get back to work, sweetie.” Preston wondered how he would ever be able to face his boss again after what he’d seen in the back office, though. Or Maureen! The woman hadn’t even blinked, damn. He shook his head, trying to get the image to go away.
Abby twined his arm around her like a dancer. “Then at least stay until I get my picture taken. Hey! Where are my wings?”
Real fear tinged her voice and she pulled away, frantic all of a sudden. Preston caught her arm before she could race off. “Don’t worry,” he told her, “I got them, they’re safe. I’ll take them back with me so nothing happens to them.”
“Whew!” She wiped her forehead with an exaggerated gesture. He had to bite his lip not to laugh. Leaning against him again, she buried her face against his stomach and sighed. “I don’t know why I can’t wear them for my own picture. The other kids might get upset because they don’t have their own wings in the class photo, but why would they care what I’m wearing in the one with just me? None of them are going to be in it, too.”
Preston wasn’t sure exactly what to say, but luckily he didn’t have to answer, because at that moment, the photographer’s assistant came up beside them. Through a weary smile, she asked, “All set?”
Abby nodded, hiding her face in Preston’s shirt. But when the assistant held out a hand to take Abby’s, his daughter ignored it. “Come on, honey,” she cajoled, the strain of the day evident in her voice.
Another long moment passed. Abby obviously wasn’t going to give in any time soon. With a sympathetic shrug, Preston took his daughter’s hand and told her, “Come on, Abadaba. They’re ready for your close-up.”
“Abadaba,” the assistant said with a nervous grin. “That’s cute.”
Abby gave her a withering glare. “Don’t call me that. My name is Abigail Louise.”
The assistant looked at Preston, shocked. “I’m sorry, I was…I didn’t mean --”
“It’s okay,” he assured her. “We’ve had a rough morning.”
The woman sighed. “Tell me about it.”
With Abby in tow, he followed her to another part of the stage, where curtains hid a backdrop, a chair, an expensive-looking camera on a tripod, and two large, bright studio lights, also on tripods. When Abby saw the lights, she giggled. “Those lamps have umbrellas on them,” she said. “It makes them look funny.”
“It makes them work better,” a man said behind them.
Preston turned and found himself face to face with the handsome photographer from the class photo shoot. Up close, those amber eyes looked like faceted topazes, reflecting the light as effectively as the umbrellas that had made Abby laugh. And Preston could see the man’s face wasn’t only freckled across the nose; no, the entire skin was covered in a fine dusting of tiny spots, each a tiny sun-kissed speckle barely a shade darker than the lighter skin beneath it. From a distance they almost blended in together to form one even tone, and only the larger, browner dots stood out. Like the smattering across the bridge between those jewel-like eyes, and that single, fascinating smidge on the lower lip ...
Aware that he was staring, Preston cleared his throat and switched Abby’s hand from his left to his right, then wiped his hand on his jeans before offering it to the photographer to shake. “Preston Pruitt,” he said, hoping his grip was as firm and confident as the other man’s. “I want to thank you for being so patient with my daughter.”
The photographer’s smile was disarming. “All in a day’s work. I’m Cam Richards. You’ve already met my assistant, Lacy.” Turning the full wattage of that sunshine grin onto Abby, he said, “Remind me what your name is again, little lady.”
Preston opened his mouth to answer; Abby didn’t usually speak to strangers, and after Lacy’s failed attempts at drawing her out, he was pretty sure she’d have nothing more to say to anyone else for the rest of the day. So he was more than a little surprised when he heard his daughter say in a small voice, “Abby.”
From behind the photographer, Lacy whistled. “Impressive. She must like you.”
Before he could stop himself, Preston asked, “What’s not to like?”
That smile again, lighting up those eyes, damn. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Mr. Pruitt,” the photographer joked. “Do you maybe want your picture taken, too, while we’re at it?”
Preston waved him off with a laugh. “My ugly mug? Nah. And it’s Preston. Mr. Pruitt makes me sound old. Do you go by Mr. Richards?”
“Call me Cam,” came the reply. “Now, Little Miss Abby, let me see that smile.”