Finally by R.L. Mathewson Book Chapter One


One Week Later…

She should probably be concerned that someone was in her bed, Charlie thought as she rolled over and found herself smiling when she spotted her new BFF sitting on the bed next to her, wearing the cutest pair of tighty-whities that she’d ever seen, with a large bowl of Fruit Loops on his lap as he watched SpongeBob Square Pants.

“I made breakfast,” Dustin said around a mouthful of Fruit Loops.

“You did?” Charlie asked, biting back a yawn as she sat up next to him.

“You were out of toast,” he said, gesturing to the tray on the bed in front of him.

“I see,” Charlie said, taking in the large bowl of Fruit Loops, the glass filled to the rim with chocolate milk, fruit snacks, a Hostess Cupcake, and the mess covering the tray and felt her lips twitch.

“That looks delicious. Thank you,” she said, helping herself to the other bowl of cereal and settled in next to him to watch SpongeBob.

“You’re welcome,” Dustin said as she glanced at her alarm clock and noted the time.

“Why are you up so early?” Charlie asked as she reached over and turned her alarm off before it could go off.

“Meeting with my teacher,” Dustin said, shrugging it off as he placed his bowl down and reached for the Hostess Cupcake and broke it in half.

“That sounds like fun,” Charlie said as she accepted her half of the cupcake and took a bite.

“She doesn’t like me,” Dustin mumbled, making her frown.

“Why do you say that?” she asked, finishing the cupcake.

Shrugging, Dustin said, “Because I can’t read,” only to follow that up with, “Why is your bed in the living room?” before she could say anything.

“Because a bed is more comfortable than a couch,” Charlie said, deciding not to mention that she’d decided to use the bedroom as an office so that she could get her unnamed business up and running part-time to make sure that this was going to work before she risked everything.

“It really is,” Dustin readily agreed with a nod as he reached for the glass of chocolate milk only to make a bigger mess.

“Here,” she said, smiling as she carefully pulled the tray closer so that he could lean over and take a sip.

“Thank you,” he said, wiping his mouth on the back of his arm before returning his attention to his bowl of Fruit Loops as something occurred to her.

“How did you get in here?” Charlie asked, already deciding that she’d leave the door unlocked from now on since there really was nothing like being served breakfast in bed by an incredibly handsome man.

“The key,” Dustin said around a mouthful of cereal.

“That would do it,” she said, nodding solemnly as Abbi walked in and climbed onto the bed with a yawn as she sat down on the bed next to her twin brother.

“Daddy’s looking for you,” Abbi mumbled sleepily as she reached over and helped herself to a spoonful of her brother’s Fruit Loops.

“I’m with my lady,” Dustin said, making her lips twitch.

“We’re not supposed to be in here,” Abbi said, confirming Charlie’s suspicions.

Over the past five years, Devin had been going out of his way to avoid her, barely acknowledging her existence and forgetting who she was when he did, and now…

Now he wouldn’t stop glaring at her.

It started when he’d told her that the apartment was hers as he’d handed her the rental agreement to sign. She’d considered pointing out that she hadn’t seen the apartment yet, but that glare had her quickly deciding that it would be in her best interest to sign the agreement before he changed his mind and she knew that he wanted to change his mind. She could see it on his face every time he looked at her, which unfortunately for her, was something that he’d been doing a lot more over the past week.

Yesterday when she showed up with a moving truck and Ben by her side, she’d expected him to tell her that he’d changed his mind. What she hadn’t expected was for Devin to meet them at the door with a glare. Okay, so maybe after a week of glaring she’d expected it, but she hadn’t expected him to shift his glare to Ben as he told her to go have a seat while he took over unloading the truck. Once he had her things moved inside, he’d sent her one last glare and left, locking the door that connected the in-law apartment to the rest of the house behind him and then…

That was it.

She hadn’t seen or heard from him since. She’d assumed that she could expect him to avoid her at home like he did at work. It would probably make this easier, Charlie thought as she found herself watching her boss/landlord walk into her apartment wearing a pair of black boxers and another glare. She took another bite of cereal as she ran her eyes over him, taking him in from his messy short black hair all the way down to his legs, noting all those tan muscles in between and couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t dress like this for work. It would certainly help boost employee morale, Charlie decided with a wistful sigh.

“What are you guys doing in here? I thought I asked you to leave Charlie alone,” Devin said, only to be met with blank stares.

“Why are you in here?” Dustin asked, blinking up at his father.

Eyes narrowing, Devin said, “I was looking for you.”

“You didn’t knock,” Abbi pointed out, making Charlie bite her lip to stop herself from smiling.

“You’re supposed to knock,” Dustin said with a sad shake of his head as he picked up his glass of chocolate milk and carefully took a sip.

“And did you knock?” Devin asked, reaching over to run his fingers through his son’s messy hair.

“I’m having breakfast with my lady,” Dustin explained with an adorable smile.

There was a sigh and then, “I’m sorry if they bothered you,” Devin said as he plucked Abbi off the bed and set her down on her feet before reaching for Dustin.

“They were no bother,” Charlie promised even as she decided that it would probably be a good idea to pick up more Hostess Cupcakes and chocolate milk for her new BFF.

*-*-*-*

“What did we talk about, guys?” Devin asked, leaning back against the wall painted with a large smiling sun as he glanced down at his phone and went over the orders that needed to go out today.

“Many things, Daddy,” Abbi said, nodding solemnly as she leaned back against him, making his lips twitch.

“That’s true,” Devin said, only to frown when he noticed all the online orders that were waiting for him.

Not that he was complaining, far from it.

When he’d started this business five years ago, he honestly hadn’t expected to be doing this well. His only goal had been to be able to make enough money so that he could take care of his children. Up until that point, he’d been working full-time as a police officer and pulling in shifts on the side as an EMT. He’d never planned on quitting, but then again, he’d also never planned on becoming a single father at twenty-two.

After Heather told him that she was pregnant, Devin realized that he was going to have to make some difficult decisions. He’d loved what he did, the pay had been good, benefits had been great, and it would have allowed him to take care of his children, but he’d wanted more. He wanted to watch his children grow up and be there for all the big moments and that meant starting over.

He gave up his apartment and moved back in with his parents to save money, took every shift that he could get his hands on, worked for his Uncle Jared on his days off, and saved every penny while he tried to figure out what he was going to do. He’d considered going to work for his uncle full-time, knowing that his uncle would allow him to have more control over his schedule so that he could spend time with his children, but…

It wouldn’t have been enough.

He needed something that would allow him to make his own hours. He’d never planned on going into woodworking, but he’d realized pretty quickly that it was his only option. So, late at night after he came home and the only thing that he wanted to do was take a hot shower and pass out, he’d go into his father’s old workshop and work until he was too fucking exhausted to see straight before he finally allowed himself to pass out for the night. Then he would get up the next day and do it all over again. He’d managed to sell a few custom pieces, did some cabinetry work, but it wasn’t going to be enough.

His Uncle Mark asked him if he wanted to help him out with Bradford Furniture. His uncle was looking to retire and needed help until it was time for his youngest son to take over. Since it allowed him to spend time with his children, Devin jumped at the chance. By the time that his children were born, he’d had enough money put away so that he could rent a small two-bedroom house with a large garage that he was able to turn into his workshop. His uncle sent him the orders that he needed filled and sometimes he’d send him something that needed to be fixed, which was how Devin came up with the idea for Bradford Creations.

A customer came across an old chest that one of his great-grandfathers had built. It had some damage, a bit of wear and tear, but the problem was that they couldn’t seem to get it open. His uncle sent it to him to see if he could restore it, which he did. It wasn’t until he was putting the finishing touches on the old chest that he found the small latch that opened a secret compartment at the bottom.

He’d been amazed at how well it had been hidden and the craftsmanship. That had led him to take a closer look at some of the furniture that had been passed down through the family over the years. He’d found several hidden compartments, each one more intricate than the last. He’d spent weeks studying them, trying to figure out how they worked, and how they’d managed to work them into the design without giving anything away.

That had led him to trying to work hidden compartments into some of his designs. He’d quickly realized that wouldn’t work since the compartments had been easy to find. He’d decided to have another look at some of the stuff that had been passed down through the family. He took a few bureaus and chests apart so that he could get a better idea of how they’d managed to pull it off and after a few months of trial and error, he’d finally figured it out.

He’d started playing with ideas, chests, bureaus, beds, bookshelves, cabinets until he ran out of space in that tiny two-bedroom house. His uncle started featuring some of his work on Bradford Furniture’s website and not long after that, Devin found himself the proud owner of an old fire station and in desperate need of someone to handle all the online stuff and marketing.

That’s where Charlie came in.

Even as he hired her, he knew that it was a mistake, but thankfully it wasn’t one that he regretted. Whatever she did in that back office had made Bradford Creations incredibly successful. He had orders coming in from all over the world, people willing to pay top price to get their hands on his designs, and more work than he could handle, and it was all because of the small woman that he’d been avoiding for the last five years.

Curious, he decided to see what his son’s new best friend had been up to. He pulled up Bradford Creation’s website and couldn’t help but notice that she’d been very busy lately. She kept his blog up to date, made sure to feature his latest designs, answered questions, and was very active on social media, keeping all two-hundred and fifty thousand followers engaged, and…

He needed to stop thinking about her, Devin reminded himself as he turned off his phone and slid it back in his pocket. That lasted for all of thirty seconds before he found himself thinking about how fucking adorable she’d looked this morning, sitting on her bed in her smiley face pajamas with a bowl of Fruit Loops on her lap, smiling at something Dustin said, and-

He really needed to have another talk with the kids about leaving her alone.

“Daddy?” Abbi said, dragging his attention down to find her staring up at him through innocent baby blue eyes.

“Yes, baby girl?” Devin asked as he crouched down so that he could talk to her.

“You remember that we love you, right?” she asked with the sweetest smile that he’d ever seen, making him narrow his eyes on her before he shifted his attention to find his son watching him with a devious smile that immediately turned innocent.

“Yes,” Devin said cautiously as he shifted his attention back to his daughter. “Why?”

“No reason?” Abbi said, sounding really fucking hopeful.

“What did you do?” Devin asked even as he kissed her forehead simply because he couldn’t help himself. She was his baby girl…no matter how much she terrified him.

“Why do you think we did something bad, Daddy?” Abbi asked, blinking at him and-

“Oh, thank god, you’re here,” a woman said, drawing his attention to find their teacher standing in the doorway looking really fucking relieved and found himself frowning because he didn’t remember her having gray hair when he met her last month.

Then again, something told him that his children might have something to do with that, especially when Abbi said, “Just remember that we love you, Daddy,” with a nod that Dustin matched as he added, “A lot.”