Never Met a Stranger

Never Met a Stranger by J.M. Snyder
English professor Gavin Dozier hasn’t had much luck when it comes to love. When his last boyfriend cheated on him, he was driven to experiment with women. Sex with Marian, though, had its own dangers, and before he knew it, he was a father. Now estranged, the only thing Gavin and Marian have in common is their daughter Evie, a precocious seven-year-old who stays with Gavin every other weekend.

While out with her daddy, Evie meets the heavily-tattooed Brody Phelps, a sketch artist with serious talent who still dresses like a brooding punk rocker, even though he’s in his thirties. Brody is instantly attracted to the sexy college professor, but knows Gavin is out of his league -- the man has a kid, which probably means he isn’t gay, and besides, Brody never even graduated from high school. Guys like Gavin don’t go for guys like him.

But when Evie leaves Gavin’s cell phone behind, Brody has the perfect excuse to meet up with them again. To his surprise they hit it off, and when he asks Gavin out, the professor accepts.

Even though Evie brought them together, will her demanding personality pull them apart? Is Gavin ready to trust his heart to someone else again? Can Brody overcome his own fears of inadequacy and let Gavin in? And what will Marian have to say when the father of her child starts dating again?

51,280 words | 194 pages | BUY AT JMS BOOKS :: UNIVERSAL BOOK LINK :: AMAZON


Turning to a clean page in his sketchbook, Brody starts drawing Evie with quick, short strokes of his pencil. She leans over, fascinated, as the outlines of her face appear on the paper. It doesn’t take much for her to recognize herself -- the moment he’s finished with the eyes, she squeals in delight. “That’s me!”

With a grin, Brody keeps working. The pencil moves almost by itself, his hand simply holding it as lines stream from the lead to form the basic structure of the girl before him. He glances up at her to assess the next area he’ll draw, then his gaze returns to the page to bring her doppelganger to life. When he looks up again, Evie strikes a pose: back straight, head cocked, smile firmly in place, as if he’s taking her picture and not drawing it.

“You can relax,” he tells her, sketching without pause. “I’m not drawing how you really look but how I see you in my mind.”

“Draw me like this,” she says, propping one hand on her hip and tilting her head in the opposite direction, her eyes rolled back. Then she switches sides, opening her mouth in a surprised O with her eyes wide. “Or like this. Or this!”

From somewhere behind them, a man calls out, “Evie?” An undercurrent of fear laces his voice, and he raises it when he says her name a second time. Then, sharply, relieved but annoyed, “Evie!”

Sitting up on her knees on the stool, Evie waves frantically. “Daddy! Here I am! Come look at my drawing!”

Brody throws a look over his shoulder and sees Evie’s father -- about his age, handsome in a romantic, Harlequin book cover sort of way. The man has fair hair like Brody’s, but his is obviously natural, not dyed. It falls back from his angular, pretty-boy face in waves. As he approaches the counter where Brody and Evie are sitting, there’s a second or two where Brody envisions him striding slowly, eyes smoldering, the hint of a smile toying around his full lips, as a sultry soundtrack plays in the background.

That’s the problem with being artistic, Brody’s found. His mind sees things that don’t exist, and now the damn image of this guy sashaying through the restaurant is going to stick with him until he draws it down. That’s the only way to get the mental pictures out of his head, put them on paper instead. When he’s finished Evie’s portrait, though, then he has the birds he wants to finish up…

“Hey, little lady,” the guy says as he nears the counter. “What are you doing over here?”

Brody hunches his shoulders -- he knows what’s coming. The look that says, What the hell are you doing with my daughter? The frown, the hand grabbing her arm a little too tightly, the tug to get her away from him. Come on, Evie, he might as well say. I don’t want you hanging around freaks like him.

But there’s none of that, surprise surprise. “Daddy, look!” Evie waves the picture of the Angry Birds in front of her father’s face. “Brody drew it for me! Look!”

Brody stays focused on the portrait he’s working on, but he steals little glances of Evie’s father from the corner of his eye. Close up, the man is really attractive in a commercialized way Brody has always hated to admit he likes. Smooth skin, flawless complexion, nice definition to his arms and hands -- not muscular, but not scrawny, either. Wholesome. Handsome.

And so totally out of my league.