Sam parked in front of Paige’s home. The drive from the restaurant had been a quiet one. Paige’s attempts to draw Jess into the conversation had resulted in the briefest of responses. As for the attempts he’d made… Well, Jess hadn’t entirely ignored him, but she’d put even less effort into her responses. No doubt she was worn out. The swift change from dynamo to drowsy wasn’t a surprise. Kids seemed to run on an on/off switch.
“I enjoyed our evening,” Paige said, breaking into his thoughts. “Though it wasn’t what you expected for a first date, was it?”
“I never know what to expect when it comes to you, and that’s what makes you so exciting.”
Her eyebrows shot upward. “Exciting, me? Hardly.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I’m just plain Paige.”
He released his seat belt and shifted slightly. A quick glance to the back revealed that Jess had fallen asleep. Even so, he lowered his voice. “You have the face of an angel and a joy for life that doesn’t stop. I haven’t known a dull moment in all the times we’ve spent together. Everything about you makes me want to know more.”
Her lips parted, and those gorgeous brown eyes gazed into his. “Wow.”
Sam chuckled. “Seems I’ve left you speechless.”
Her chin tilted upward, her luscious mouth just inches away. “So, that’s your secret power?”
“No, baby.” Sam cupped the nape of her neck in his palm. “This is.”
His lips touched hers, igniting a spark so unique, it had no comparison in his life.
The winning touchdown at his final high-school game. His first collar as a law-enforcement officer. All the kisses from every woman he’d ever dated. Everything paled beside what should have been a simple good-night kiss. But this kiss meant more than all those experiences combined. This kiss was the next step toward the life he yearned to have.
Paige slid closer, her fingertips touching his face. Her lips parted, accepting his gentle invitation.
He breathed her in, savoring her sigh just before he deepened the kiss. Her fingers slid through his hair to the nape of his neck, and it took every ounce of restraint he possessed not to take things further.
He eased away, ending the kiss sooner than he wanted. A girl next door didn’t neck in the front seat of a truck in a quiet residential neighborhood, especially not with a child in the back seat.
A child showing signs of waking up.
“Are we home?” Jess asked, her voice thick and drowsy.
A small gasp escaped through Paige’s lips, and she twisted her head toward the back of the truck. “Sure are. Ready to get out?”
Sam swallowed his disappointment and reached for the door handle. By the time he rounded the truck, Paige was helping Jess to the ground.
“I’ll get the car seat out while you unlock the door,” he said.
Heading toward the front walk, Jess whirled around. “It’s a booster, not a car seat.”
Sam bit back a laugh. “Excuse me. I’m new to this sort of stuff.”
“Mr. Nick knows the difference.” She whirled around and stomped to the front door.
“Sure put me in my place.” He pushed the car door shut and strolled up the front walk to where Paige waited.
“Sam, I’m sorry. She’s tired—”
“It’s okay.” He set the booster inside the door. “How did Nick get so high on her list this quick?”
“They bonded over dinner last night. Plus, he spent time with her while I talked with Danny about the custody case. To top it all off, he’s engaged to ‘Miss Dana’ and calls her Sprite.”
Sam winced. “Ouch, tough competition.”
She punched his arm. “I’m sure you can win her over.”
A gentle snore sounded from the couch. They both turned to see Jess curled on the cushions.
“Want me to carry her to her room?” He lowered his tone to avoid waking her.
“I can manage.”
Paige walked to the door and rested one hand on the latch. His cue to leave.
“I enjoyed tonight more than I’ve enjoyed anything in a long time.” He paused, hand on the doorframe. “Love to do it again.”
Head tilted, she smiled up at him. “I’d like that too.”
He looked around the room a final time. His gaze lingered a second longer on the sleeping child, then several more on the woman in front of him. “Make sure you lock up behind me.”
She burst out laughing, then tipped him a salute. “Yes, sir, Sheriff, and thank you very much. Never would have thought of that.”
He returned the salute. “Here to serve and protect.” Seeing Jess was beginning to stir, he stepped outside. “What’s up for tomorrow?”
“Painting Jess’s room. I’ll probably stop by the restaurant around noon to check in.” Paige shrugged. “And give the paint fumes time to clear out.”
“I might stop in and say hello. Maybe we could plan something in the evening.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “Let me see how things go. Jess and I both might need an early night.”
One more kiss wouldn’t be out of line. Before he could put that plan into action, Paige made the move. Hands on his shoulders for balance, she lifted onto her toes. With her still several inches short of their lips meeting, Sam lowered his head.
She kept the kiss light and quick, barely more than a peck. Not the kiss he wanted, but one he cherished as a signal that Paige was ready to move forward.
“Good night, Sam. I had a nice time.”
The door closed behind him. He waited until he heard the lock being turned, then walked to his truck. Seconds later, the front of the house darkened. He sat for a moment, considering Paige’s last words.
Nice. A bland word for what had been the best evening he’d had in a long time. But it wasn’t a condemnation from Paige. “Nice” meant something else to her. She might be the girl next door, but from his point of view, temptation and chaos lived on the other side of that door.
A chuckle broke loose as he started the ignition. Nope, not a thing wrong with nice.
Dianna Wilkes is an award-winning contemporary romance author, known for the Providence Island mystery series. Reading has always been an important part of her life. “I learned to read when I was four years old,” she said. “Writing my own stories seemed a natural progression.”Dianna holds a B.A. in Visual Communication and a M.Ed. in Instructional Technology. She worked as an Education Consultant for a medical technology company before leaving the corporate world to write full time. Despite all that nerdy stuff, she loves creating stories of romance and mystery with touches of humor.When she isn’t writing, Dianna is deep in researching various twigs and branches on her family tree or fulfilling entries on her travel bucket list.