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Matchmaking a Single Dad by Angela Denise (Highland Hills 2) Book

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Matchmaking a Single Dad by Angela Denise (Highland Hills 2) Read Book Online And Download

Overview: They’re all wrong for each other…but sometimes two wrongs do make a right.


Cole

The only woman I need in my life is my eight-year-old daughter, Jane. As a widowed brewery owner, I don’t have the time or inclination for anything more serious than a one night stand. Running the brewery is a big job, and being a parent is a bigger one, especially since my in-laws keep trying to prove I’m an unfit guardian.


But there’s no denying Holly Mayberry drives me crazy with her sassy mouth and attitude. I’ve known her most of my life, but I’ve always done a good job of evading her. Until now. She’s teaching Jane’s after-school computer program, and fate keeps throwing us together.


Holly and I are like oil and water, no good for each other. I need to stop thinking about her, so I agree to beta test a new dating app—one that Holly designed, although she’s the last person I’d tell.


My match and I can only DM each other for thirty days. No photos. No real names. No personal information until the end.


If I wanted more with a woman, Cherry Bomb checks all the boxes…so why can’t I stop thinking about Holly?


Matchmaking a Single Dad by Angela Denise (Highland Hills 2) Book Read Online And Download Epub Digital Ebooks Buy Store Website Provide You.
Matchmaking a Single Dad by Angela Denise (Highland Hills 2) Book





Matchmaking a Single Dad by Angela Denise (Highland Hills 2) Book Read Online Chapter One


Cole

“Mr. Garrison, thank you for coming in.”


The stiff voice of my daughter’s middle-aged principal matches the woman’s posture, and both grate on my nerves. I’ve spent plenty of time in principals’ offices. I got to know them well in every school I attended from preschool to high school. Turns out my eight-year-old daughter is following in my footsteps.


“It’s not like I had a choice,” I grumble.


Did I say that out loud? Oh fuck. The look on her face tells me I did.


Mrs. Knucklehorn narrows her eyes into a glare so dark I feel like I should pour a circle of salt around myself and pull out a crucifix. Too bad I don’t have either.


“Sorry,” I say, rubbing my eyes, then looking back up at her. Yes, up. She has elementary-sized chairs in front of her desk. “I’m not 100% on my game today.”


“One could argue that your daughter is 150% on her game this year.” Her eyes bore into mine. “Her undisciplined game.”


I nearly tell her that 150% is mathematically impossible, but I bite my tongue. I’m already on thin ice with the not having a choice statement.


God, I’m tired of dealing with this woman, but then again, I’m sure this is no picnic for her either.


“Jane seems to be having trouble finding her footing this year.” I read that phrase on one of the many websites I’ve scoured over the past few months. Jane has always been a free-spirited child, but third grade seems to have drawn out the worst in her. She’s been argumentative with her teacher, whom she claims not only has favorites but also teaches incorrect information. (From what she’s told me, she’s not wrong.) She’s also had clashes with several girls in her class. Mrs. Knucklehorn rests her elbows on her desk and steeples her fingers, resting her chin on her fingertips. I can only imagine the nicknames the students have for her with a name like that. My brothers and I would have had a field day.


“I know being a single father must be a challenge,” she says with a condescending air.


“I’m sure it’s no different for single mothers,” I state with a slight edge. I suspect I know where this is going, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.


She cocks her head to the side and gives me a patronizing smile. “True. But most single mothers have some kind of support system in place. You, Mr. Garrison, have none.”


That pisses me off. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I have a support system. I have two brothers as well as the people I work with, not to mention her babysitter.”


“Employees are not a support system, Mr. Garrison. They are paid staff. As for your brothers, one doesn’t even live in town, and the other is as single as you are, correct?”


The fact that she knows so much is creepy, but then again, we do live in a small town. “I don’t see how that’s any of your bus—”


“You don’t have a significant other either, and Jane’s mother is deceased.”


My shoulders stiffen. “My personal life has nothing to do with Jane’s behavior when she’s at school.”


She lowers her hands onto the desk. “Jane’s home life has everything to do with her behavior at school.”


“I’m not discussing our home life with you, Mrs. Knuckledr—I mean Knucklehorn.” Jesus, I almost called her Knuckledragger. I’m running on three hours of sleep after spending half the night trying to figure out what was wrong with the walk-in refrigerator at my brewery. I need to keep it together. “Jane is clothed and fed and loved. She does her homework and has good grades. There’s nothing else for you to know.”


“She’s extremely disruptive, Mr. Garrison. She constantly barrages her teacher with questions. You and I have had multiple meetings to discuss her inability to follow basic instructions, and then today she shoved a student off the top riser in music class.”


Shit. Jane’s never been violent before. “Why did she shove a student off the riser?”


She blinks hard. “What?”


“What was Jane’s excuse for pushing the student off the riser?”


“There is no excuse, Mr. Garrison,” she snaps, shuddering with indignation. “I can see why she’s misbehaving if you think there’s an acceptable excuse for harming a classmate.”


I resist the urge to sigh. “I never said she was justified, Mrs. Knuckle…” I give it up, because Knuckledragger is about to pop out again, and now that it’s stuck in my brain, I don’t trust myself to say her name at all.


I take a breath. “Ma’am, I’m not insinuating that her reason was acceptable. I’m merely stating that she didn’t spontaneously push her classmate. Something instigated it.”


She grabs a tissue and dabs it under her nose. “Now you’re victim blaming.”


This is going nowhere. I force a smile. “Obviously, this is a miscommunication. I do not, in any way, shape, or form, condone violence. But I know my daughter. If she really shoved a student, she was provoked. It doesn’t justify it, but it explains it.”


Her voice rises. “If she shoved a student? There are witnesses.”


I’ll just bet there are. “Who did she shove? Who are the witnesses?”


She lifts her chin. “I’m not allowed to release the names of the other children involved. Confidentiality and all.”


What a farce. We both know Jane’s going to tell me as soon as I drag it out of her.


“I would like to see my daughter.”


“She’s in the nurse’s office.”


I move to the edge of the plastic seat. “Why is my daughter in the nurse's office?”


“She had a bloody nose, but I’m sure she’s fine now.”


“A bloody nose?” Now it’s my turn to raise my voice. “How did my daughter get a bloody nose?”


“We’re not entirely sure, but you’re straying off-topic, Mr. Garrison.”


“Oh, no,” I say, shaking my head. “It seems to me we are very much on topic. You have no idea why my daughter allegedly pushed—”


“There is no allegedly!”


“—another student off a riser, and now you’re telling me she has a bloody nose? Did that happen before or after the incident?”


“I haven’t interviewed all the students involved yet.”


“But you had no trouble calling me here to crucify my daughter,” I say, my voice tight.


“Crucify is a strong word, Mr. Garrison,” she says, clucking her tongue. She starts to say something but cuts herself off. Setting her clasped hands on her desk, she takes a deep breath, then finally says, “I feel it’s only fair to inform you that there have been inquiries.”


“What the—” I bite off the fuck I was about to say. “What does that mean?”


“Jane’s grandparents have requested to be notified when Jane has incidents at school.”


My blood runs cold. “And did you notify the Labelles about this incident?”


“Of course not,” she says, but she doesn’t sound as indignant as when I’d asked for the names of the students involved in the riser incident. “I told them I cannot legally release information about a student without the express consent of the child’s parents.”


“I do not consent,” I say emphatically. “You are not to speak to those people about my daughter.” Millie’s parents are toxic with a capital T and an arsenic-laced X. She walked away from them for good when she was nineteen. The only reason I let the Labelles see Jane on a limited basis is because they’ve threatened to sue me for full custody if I don’t. “They are to come nowhere near Jane. Is that clear?”


Her gaze turns icy. “Crystal.”


My head is swimming with this new information. Millie’s parents are rich. Not as rich as my friend Rory Byrne, a multi-billionaire businessman who somehow escaped being an asshole, but they have the biggest house in Heber County. For a while, there were rumors that they were broke, but they seem to be dropping plenty of money lately. If they decide to seek custody of my daughter, something they’ve threatened, they definitely have better financial resources for a legal fight than I do.


Last summer, Rory got me consultations with several family attorneys. All three told me I would likely retain custody, but I might have to give the Labelles more visitation than they currently get. And while the judge might take Millie’s estrangement from them into consideration, the Labelles could hire a lawyer tricky enough to possibly convince the judge that they’ve changed, even if I know it’s bullshit. My stomach turns sour, and I feel like I’m going to throw up.


“Is that all, Mrs. Knucklehead?” Oh fuck.


Her eyes narrow into slits. “We haven’t discussed the matter of Jane’s punishment.”


“Until all of the students involved are questioned, there will be no punishment,” I state firmly.


“But—”


I stand. “I’m going to the nurse’s office. Contact me when you know the full story.” Then I turn on my heels and head out of the office into the outer waiting room.


One of the school secretaries shoots me a disapproving glare. My reputation as an incompetent father has been fully gelled with her, but the other, a much younger woman, bats her eyelashes. I’m fairly certain she’d love an opportunity at becoming my next wife, but she’ll bat all her eyelashes off before I marry again. A fling? Sure, a guy has needs. But no girlfriends. Definitely no wife. I have plenty to deal with, from the brewery to my wayward daughter and the ever-present threat from the Labelles. I don’t have the time or attention to give to a woman.


Which is why I was an idiot to agree to beta test Rory’s new Matchmake Me app. His company developed it with a local matchmaking business, run by his now-fiancée and her sister, a woman who seems to delight in pissing me off, and now they’re testing it on five hundred people around the county. In a weak moment involving more than a couple of beers, I committed to thirty days of talking to women through messaging on the app. No photos. No real names. We can only meet after we’ve messaged back and forth for thirty days.


What a nightmare.


My phone vibrates in my pocket, and when I pull it out, I see a notification from the app. The gimmick is that the app gives you a real matchmaker experience, complete with an AI matchmaker named Judith who apparently doesn’t take kindly to being ignored.


Judith: Your match sent her first message two days ago. First impressions are big, Hot Rod. I just wanted to remind you that you two are a 97% match. That’s rare. Your next highest match is only a 62%, and she says she doesn’t like bars. We both know why that would be a problem. Respond to Cherrybomb now?


Well, fuck me.


I’d ignored the message last Friday telling me about my match. Hell, is a 97% match even possible, especially in such a small pool? Honestly, I’d promptly forgotten about it, but then Judith sent me a notification on Sunday telling me I’d gotten a message from my match. I nearly opened it but deleted the notification instead.


Something about messaging a stranger felt wrong. Impersonal.


And now the stupid app is stalking me.


I really don’t have time for this, and I can’t believe I let Rory talk me into it. The Matchmake Me mystery woman will just have to wait. Possibly forever.


I’ve picked up Jane from the nurse’s office before, so I know where to go. I march down the hall and stop in the doorway. Jane is wearing a dark gray T-shirt and a pair of jeans, sitting in a chair with a wad of paper towels pressed against her nose. Her legs are crossed at the ankles, showing the soles of her Skechers. They look worn, and I make a mental note to look for a new pair. She’s scowling at the floor as though it was the one to bloody her nose.


“Hey, Cole,” the nurse says softly when she looks up from her desk. “I think you know that we don’t usually send kids home from school for bloody noses, but in this situation…” Her voice trails off like I’m supposed to know what she’s inferring, which means she has more information than Mrs. Knuckleberry gave me.


Jane’s eyes lift to mine, then instantly fall again as her cheeks flush.


Shit. She’s guilty.


But I want to hear the whole story before I lay down the law. Jane’s tough—I suppose that’s a consequence of being raised by a single father with a heavy influence from one of her single uncles—but she’s also kind. I can’t believe she would push someone unprovoked.


“You ready to go, Jane?” I ask, my voice gruffer than I intended, but I can’t deny I’m disappointed in her.


She nods, still keeping her gaze down. She picks up her backpack and walks toward me in the doorway. We walk down the hall together in silence until we go outside. When we’re next to the passenger door of my pickup, I stop her and pull her into a hug.


“You okay?” I ask, holding her tightly against me.


She nods against my belly and clings to me for a moment like she did when she was a toddler. I’d pick her up, and she’d wrap her arms around my neck and hang on tightly enough that I could let go and she wouldn’t drop. She’s holding on to me like that now, as though she thinks I’m going to let go.


I tighten my hold.


“What happened, J?”


Her body stiffens, and her hold around my waist loosens. “I don’t want to talk about it.”


It’s on the tip of my tongue to tell her too bad, she is going to talk about it, but instead, I surprise us both and say, “Let’s go get some cocoa at Christmas All Year Coffee.”


She steps back and looks up at me, wrinkling her nose. “That place is for babies.”


I lift a brow but bite back that it’s a coffee shop mostly filled with people she would consider old, aka thirty and up. “So you don’t want cocoa?”


“I want to go to Tea of Fortune.”


“The tea shop?” I say it like she’s suggested we walk through poison ivy.


“Yeah.” Excitement fills her eyes. “They tell your fortunes there, Dad.”


“I know, J,” I say with a sigh. “We were there last summer.” We came for a watch party and skipped the tea.


I really shouldn’t be rewarding her if she pushed a girl off a riser, but something is going on with my daughter, and this might get her to talk. “Okay. Let’s go.”


“Really?”


“Yep.” I open the passenger door. “Get in.”


She’s subdued on the short drive downtown and doesn’t say a word as we walk in and sit at a table. She glances around the cheerful dining room, trying to smother a smile. I know what that look means—she’s smart enough to know she’s in trouble and is trying not to push her luck. One of the owners, Tina, walks over with a couple of menus.


“Well, look who walked into my tea shop,” she says brightly. “And you broke Jane out of school to do it. I know for a fact school doesn’t let out for another forty-five minutes.”


Jane’s grin spreads from ear to ear.


I pin my daughter with a stern look, and her smile fades slightly.


“Do you have any tea that loosens a person’s tongue?” I ask Tina.


Her mouth opens as though she’s about to answer, then she looks back and forth between us. “We don’t have any truth serum tea,” she says, “but peppermint tea is known to ease stress. We also have some little cakes that go well with it. They’re supposed to clear your chi.”


“Yeah, okay,” I say carefully, “but do they taste good?”


Tina laughs. “Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. I’m done with my experimentation phase.”


She turns and heads back to the kitchen, and I turn my attention to Jane. She’s suddenly formed a fascination with a sugar dispenser in the middle of the table.


“So…,” I say. “How’d you get a bloody nose?” That seems like the easiest place to begin. She starts to speak, and I lift a finger. “And I don’t want to talk about it is not an acceptable answer.”


She hesitates, then looks up at me. “I figured we’d wait for the tea before we got into all of that.”


I fold my hands on the table. “I have a feeling it’s gonna take a while, so why don’t you get a head start?”


Pursing her lips, she gets an indignant look. “It wasn’t my fault, Dad.”


“I never said it was, Jane. All I want is the full story.”


She lowers her gaze to my chest. “Michelle punched me in the nose.”


Michelle McFarland. Jane’s been having issues with her all year. “Is she the one who fell off the riser?”


Her eyes widen in surprise.


“Yeah, I know someone fell off the riser in music. Everything else about the situation is still under investigation. Was it Michelle?”


“No, it was Natalie Sylvester.”


“And how did Natalie get from the riser to the floor?”


Tina hustles to the table with a tray holding a teapot, teacups, and several tiny cakes. She sets it on the table. “When you’re done, flag me, and I’ll read your tea leaves.” Then she gives me an apologetic look and takes off. Given the tension at our table, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see we’re not here for a tea party…even though we’re drinking tea and eating tiny cakes.


Fuck me. We are having a tea party.


The teacups are empty, so I pour tea into them, place one directly in front of Jane, and pick up the other. “To sharing things with your dad.”


Excitement dances in her eyes, but she tries to smother it. It has to be hard facing my inquisition in a place she obviously really wants to be. Occasionally, I have moments of brilliance.


“Go ahead,” I say. “I’ll give you a few minutes to enjoy your tea and cakes before you finish your story.”


Jane loves the tea and cakes. I’m not a fan of tea that’s not poured over ice and doused with sugar, but I decide it’s not a hardship to drink it. And while I feel like a fart in a perfume store eating the tiny cakes, I still down a few.


Finally, I decide Jane’s had a long enough reprieve and seek out her gaze. “How did Natalie get from the riser to the floor?” I’m as careful with my wording as I was before. I’m not going to accuse her of pushing the other girl, but I’m also not going to let her off by calling it a fall in case she did shove her.


She takes a tiny nibble of the last cake. “I pushed her.”


Dammit. “Why did you push her?”


She shrugs. “I don’t know.”


“I’m going to need more than that, Janie,” I say with a sigh. “We could be here all day if I have to drag the details out of you piece by piece.”


She doesn’t look too upset by this threat, but she tells me the story anyway. “Michelle said something mean, and I told her to take it back. Then Natalie called Betsy trailer trash, and I told her to take it back. When she didn’t, I gave her a shove, and she fell off.”


Betsy is a new girl. Her family just moved to Highland Hills two months ago, and she’s had a rough time with the transition. While I’m proud of Jane for standing up for her new friend, violence isn’t the answer.


“It was just a tiny shove.” She holds up her thumb and forefinger to show a sliver of a crack. “Natalie was being a drama queen.”


“So how did Michelle end up punching you in the nose?”


“I shoved her too, and she swung her arms around trying to keep her balance and smacked me in the face.”


“What did Michelle say that pissed you off?”


Her gaze darts to her teacup. “I forgot.”


“Why did Natalie call Betsy trailer trash?”


She gives me a look that suggests I’m an idiot. “Because she lives in a trailer.”


I nod. It’s not a full explanation, but it will do for now. “Natalie wasn’t nice, but neither were you.”


Indignation stains her cheeks red. “She wouldn’t take it back, Dad!”


“Then tell a teacher, J. You can’t go shoving people around when they disappoint you or piss you off.”


Defiance fills her eyes. “You shove people around at Ziggy’s when they get too drunk or start a fight.”


“That’s different,” I say, getting irritated. “Those people are behaving badly, and I’m removing them from the brewery so they don’t hurt the other customers.”


“And I was removing Natalie, who was behaving badly and hurting Betsy.”


Well, fuck. She has a point.


“Ready to have your tea leaves read?” Tina asks as she stops by our table.


I’m equally grateful for and frustrated by her appearance.


“Can you really tell our future?” Jane asks eagerly.


“Well…” Tina hedges. “A very small portion of it.” She takes Jane’s mostly empty cup, turns it upside down, twists it on the saucer, and then picks it back up and stares at the bottom. Her brows pinch together in concentration, or at least a show of it.


“What does it say?” Jane asks, practically bouncing in her seat.


Tina tilts her head to the side. “Well…it says you have some changes coming in your life.”


It feels like an arrow has pierced my heart, until I remind myself this is a load of cockamamie bullshit. Tina makes this crap up as she goes along. Still, I can see that her prediction hasn’t made Jane all that happy either.


Shit. Have the Labelles said anything about seeking custody to Jane? I’ve asked her a few times since the subject first came up earlier this year, and she said the most they’d done was make off-handed suggestions that she might enjoy living with them all the time and seeing me on my days off, to which she’d said, “Nah, I’m good.” But something is off because she’s taking Tina’s fortune to heart, and not in a good way.


“Change can be a good thing,” Tina says. “Like meeting your new best friend. Getting a new…What are you into? Kids your age are always into some sh—something.”


Jane shrugs.


“You have to be into something,” she prods, then flicks her eyes to me.


“Sports,” I say. “She likes soccer, softball, basketball—”


“I don’t like basketball anymore,” Jane snaps. “I quit. Remember?”


“Yeah,” I say without comment, because I have no idea why she quit basketball, and she refused to explain her rationale.


Tina squats next to the table. “Don’t be scared of change, Jane. Change brought me to Highland Hills to open Tea of Fortune last year. Change got me that big galoot over there.” She nods toward her fiancé Zach, who’s charming a table of older women. “See? Change can bring good things into your life.”


Or bad. Like your wife dying of a brain aneurysm when your daughter is seven months old. Or being forced to raise a baby on your own while dealing with the town gossips and your wife’s conniving parents. Not all change is good. Was that what Jane was thinking just now, or am I projecting?


Why is it so hard to get her to share her thoughts? Aren’t girls supposed to word-vomit their feelings?


Jane lifts her eyes to mine, and the corners of her mouth lift slightly. “Yeah. Change can be good.”


“Well, well, well,” Tina says in a bright voice, and it’s only then I realize she’s now holding my cup. “I think I may have figured out the source of that change.”


“What are you talking about?” I try to reach for the cup, but she pulls it out of my reach. “I see a heart, which can only mean one thing. You’re about to meet your next great love, Cole Garrison.”


My mouth drops open. “What the fuck?” Then I remember Jane’s here, and I promised myself just last week that I’d stop swearing so much in front of her. “I mean, what the hell?” Still a swear, moron. “I mean, what the…” I growl to myself to keep from uttering another curse word. “What are you talking about?”


Tina shows Jane the cup first, then me. “See? A heart.”


“You call that a heart?” I ask with a laugh. The leaves are loosely clumped to resemble a valentine-shaped heart, not an anatomical one.


“It’s a heart, Dad,” Jane says dryly after she grabs the cup and looks. I can’t help noting the hopeful look in her eyes.


Shit.


“I already have the greatest love of my life,” I say, reaching my hand over to place it on top of my daughter’s. “You.”


She scowls, and Tina frowns. It suddenly feels like I’m disappointing everyone in my life—a sharp reminder that I’m definitely disappointing Millie. I need to step it up. I need to be a better father. I need to make Jane my sole focus and not waste a single thought on the heart in my teacup or the message waiting on my phone from that ridiculous app.


I need to find ways to occupy Jane’s time and mind. She gave up basketball, so what can she do? Then it hits me. Just last week, Rory told me about a technology club that Byrne Systems is sponsoring at the school. He said he set it up in the hopes of getting young girls to consider STEM careers. Jane is smart as a whip, just like her mother, so who knows? Maybe this will help her find her destiny. Maybe this is the change Tina saw in her cup.


Fuck, like I believe that Tina could read something from that mess of wet tea leaves.


Rory told me it meets twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If we leave now, we should make it back to school in time.


Fuck. Now I’m buying this fortune-telling bullshit.


“Enough of this nonsense,” I say, lifting my ass off the seat to pull out my wallet. I slap twenty dollars on the table. “Come on, Jane. We’re going to be late.”


“Late for what?” she asks in confusion.


“Your future.”



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