Susan Mallery

Full-Time Father

The sixth book in the Hometown Heartbreakers series, 1996

To my readers-

with heartfelt thanks for the support and

encouragement. You are the best part of writing.

Chapter One

“There’s a woman here to see you,” Kiki said, sticking her head into her boss’s office.

Parker Hamilton wasn’t really working, but he didn’t raise his gaze from the computer screen. The program wasn’t coming together. He couldn’t concentrate. Everyone had been telling him to slow down or he would burn out. He shifted in his chair and wondered if he could feel the heat of that even now. He would hate like hell if everyone had been right.

“I’m not interested, Kiki,” he said, still not looking at her. “Tell your friend she’s wasting her time.”

He didn’t hear his housekeeper move into the room, but he felt her presence. Sure enough his screen soon filled with her reflection. She was standing behind him, with her hands on her hips. The image wasn’t clear enough to see her face, but he knew her expression would be impatient. She’d been impatient with him a lot lately.

“You’ve got to stop staring at that little screen,” she said. “You’re going to go blind. Or worse. Your eyes will change shape until they’re square, like your monitor.”

He punched in the Save command, then spun in his chair until he was facing her. His housekeeper was probably in her early fifties, although she was very coy about her age. As usual, she was dressed in a jogging suit. She must own dozens. Parker had seen a rainbow of colors, all with matching athletic shoes. Today she was dressed in fuchsia. He didn’t know they made shoes in that color.

“How is having my eyes change shape worse than going blind?” he asked. Kiki had the most interesting, if illogical, mind.

“Don’t try to change the subject. You have a visitor.”

“You’re the one who brought up my eyes,” he reminded her. He flashed Kiki a smile. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I know you worry about me. But-” He glanced out the window, not really seeing the view of the Pacific Ocean, but instead looking in the black ugliness of the past. “I’m not interested.”

Kiki shook her head. Her short blond hair fluttered over her forehead before settling back in place. “You think I don’t know that? In the last couple of years I’ve paraded every single woman between twenty and thirty-five through here. Believe me, Parker, I’ve given up on you. This isn’t one of my friends. I think-” She paused thoughtfully, something she almost never did. “I think you’ll want to talk to her.”

With that Kiki left.

Parker rose from his chair and started after her. Irritation battled with curiosity. His housekeeper could easily deal with anyone trying to sell something. If it wasn’t one of her friends, then who?

He came down the stairs and across the large foyer. The house was large, too large, but he didn’t plan on moving. He’d made peace with his surroundings if not with himself.

The front door was open. A woman stood on the porch. She had her back to him as she stared at the wide lawn and the flowers edging the driveway. The back of the house butted up to the edge of the cliffs. Beyond the terrace there was only the drop to the ocean. All the yard was in the front.

He had a brief impression of shoulder-length dark hair, touched with a hint of red. A loose-fitting cream sweater fell to slender hips. Jeans covered her long legs. His gaze dropped lower, and he smiled slightly. Her athletic shoes were white. Apparently she didn’t share his housekeeper’s compulsion to have everything match.

“May I help you?” he asked.

She turned toward him. Recognition slammed into his gut. Her eyes were hazel and tilted up at the corner. Her generous mouth was straight, but he knew what it would look like smiling. He knew about the dimple in her right cheek and how her laughter sounded. Five years ago, hers had been the only laughter in this empty house.

Regret followed recognition. Regret for how he’d treated her and regret for how easy it had been to let her go. He’d been the worst kind of bastard. Not only had he broken her heart, but he’d used her to forget.

She stared up at him, her hazel eyes searching his as if he were a stranger. Five years was a long time-they were strangers. They’d always been strangers.

He took in her clothing a second time. She was dressed more conservatively than he remembered. He raised his gaze to her face. There was something different in her expression. A wariness. He grimaced. Why wouldn’t she be wary of him?

“Hello, Stacey,” he said quietly.

She looked startled, then shook her head. “Mr. Hamilton, I’m not Stacey Ridgeway. I’m her twin sister, Erin.” She held out her hand to him.

He took it without thinking. Her skin was smooth and cool. Instead of releasing her fingers, he held on, as if to keep her from bolting. Not Stacey? Was that possible? “You look just like her.”

“We were identical twins.” She glanced at the hand he was still holding. “Mr. Hamilton, we need to talk. May I come in?”

“Of course.” He let go of her, then moved back, pushing the door open wider.

She stepped inside and gave him a quick smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Her eyes. He stared at her. They were different. He hadn’t been imagining it. Twins. Had Stacey told him she was a twin? She might have. She’d talked a lot, but he’d never listened. The sound of her words had blocked out the pain and that had been enough. It hadn’t mattered what she’d been saying.

“This way,” he said, motioning to a set of open French doors on the far side of the living room. It was late June and the afternoon sun would be warm on the terrace. Fog rolled in that morning, but had long since burned away.

They crossed the hardwood floors, their athletic shoes barely squeaking on the polished wood. He tried to think of something to say. He hadn’t seen Stacy in five years. Had he given her a single thought after she’d left?

On the terrace he held out a chair for Erin and tried to remember that time. It was a blur. He knew he’d felt guilty about what had happened and what he’d said. He also admitted he’d felt relieved when she had left. He’d never thought to go after her, or check on her. Is that what her sister wanted? A piece of his hide for not giving a damn? Five years was a long time to carry a grudge.

Erin sat at the small table and folded her hands in her lap. He took the seat across from her and continued to study her face, trying to see the differences. It was a pointless exercise. He didn’t remember enough about Stacey.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m here,” she said.

He listened to the sound of her words, trying to figure out if their voices were the same. He thought they might be. “I wasn’t expecting you,” he admitted. “It’s been several years since I’ve seen Stacey.”

“Five,” she said, confirming his assumption.

She bit her lower lip, then drew in a quick breath. Gathering courage, he thought. But for what?

“Mr. Hamilton-”

“Parker, please.”

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