Home > Well Matched (Well Met #3)

Well Matched (Well Met #3)
Author: Jen DeLuca

 

One

 


   The card wasn’t addressed to me.

   I leaned an elbow on the bar and took a sip of my hard cider. It was happy hour at Jackson’s, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy at all. And this drink wasn’t changing anything. The card still lay there on the bar. It was still addressed to my daughter, Caitlin, and it was still from her father. The man who’d wanted nothing to do with her since the day she was born, or in any of the eighteen years after that. It was hard to believe that even after all this time, his handwriting could strike my heart the way it did. Back in the day, that handwriting had covered pages and pages of love letters. Little notes we’d leave each other on Post-its on the bathroom mirror or near the coffee maker.

   Then our birth control had failed, barely a year into our marriage. The marriage itself had failed not long after that. The last time I’d seen Robert’s handwriting had been when he’d signed the divorce agreement, terminating his parental rights. Rights that he’d freely, almost eagerly, given up.

   Why the hell was he writing to Caitlin now?

   Like poking at a bruise, I flipped the card open again.


Caitlin,


I know I haven’t been there for you. But I want you to know how very proud of you I am. Graduation from high school is an important milestone in anyone’s life. As you move on to greater things, I want you to know that if you ever need anything from me, all you have to do is ask.


With love from your father,

    Robert Daugherty

 

   I almost wanted to laugh. If you ever need anything from me . . . How about eighteen years of back child support? That would be a start. He couldn’t even stick a lousy twenty-dollar bill in the card.

   Our daughter had turned out great, no thanks to him. Caitlin was a smart, funny, respectful young woman and I couldn’t be more proud of her. But that had absolutely nothing to do with Robert, who in the end had been little more than a sperm donor. What the hell was he thinking, getting in touch now and trying to do a victory lap as a father? Fuck that. And fuck him.

   I stared at his name, wishing my eyes could burn a hole through this cheap card stock. I’d been April Daugherty once, for roughly one and a half of my forty years. And if we’d stayed married, my daughter would have been Caitlin Daugherty instead of Caitlin Parker. I thought, not for the first time, about those two hypothetical Daugherty women, and the life they might have had.

   Would Caitlin Daugherty have had an easier time of things? Would April D and Caitlin D have worried a little less about affording college, applied for fewer scholarships and grants? I’d sat up a lot of nights with Caitlin P, our laptops side by side at the dining room table, filling out forms late into the night. At the time it had felt very feminist, very “us against the world,” the way most of our lives together had been. But Caitlin Daugherty would have had a provider for a father. Maybe she would have had to fight a little less. Maybe—

   “What’re you drinking?”

   Oh. I glanced up and to my right, squinting at the guy in a gray business suit who’d taken up residence on the barstool next to mine. He didn’t look familiar, and Willow Creek, Maryland, was the kind of town where everyone at least looked familiar. He was probably on his way down to DC—he had that Beltway look about him. Salt-and-pepper hair with a nice expensive-looking cut, pale eyes, a decent smile. Of course, one strike against him was that he’d just hit on a strange woman at a bar.

   I gave him a friendly-but-not-too-friendly smile. “I’m good, thank you.” There. Pleasant enough, but not encouraging.

   He didn’t take the hint. “No, I mean it.” He moved his stool a little closer to mine, not quite in my personal space but close enough. I slipped the card back into the envelope and slid it onto my other side. He peered at my drink. “Whatcha got there, a beer? Probably a light beer, huh? I can go for that.” He beckoned at the bartender. I wasn’t a person who hung out at bars, but I came here enough that I knew her name was Nikki, and she knew I liked the cider on draft.

   “It’s not a beer,” I said.

   He wasn’t listening. “Another drink for the lady. Light beer. And I’ll have one too.” His take-charge voice was grating. Maybe he’d sound commanding in a government building in DC, but in a town like this he sounded like a dick.

   Nikki raised her eyebrows at me, and I shook my head, covering the top of my glass with the palm of my hand. “I’m good. But he can have whatever he wants.” I probably should have been flattered. Not bad for someone who’d recently hit forty, right? But I was itching to be left alone. I wanted to be back down that rabbit hole with my thoughts, not dodging advances from Mr. Wannabe Lobbyist over here.

   Nikki brought his drink and he held it up in my direction, expectant. What the hell. I raised mine too, and we clinked glasses in a half-hearted toast.

   “So tell me . . .” He leaned in even closer, and it took everything I had to not lean away. I had my best resting-bitch face on, but this guy wasn’t taking the hint. “This can’t be your typical Friday night. Hanging out all by yourself in a bar like this?”

   Engaging him in conversation was a bad idea, I knew, but he wouldn’t go away. “Nothing wrong with a bar like this.”

   “Well yeah, but surely there’s something else you’d rather be doing . . . ?” He raised an eyebrow suggestively, and I pressed my lips together. Jesus Christ, this guy was annoying.

   “Hey, April, there you are!” Another voice, deep and masculine, boomed from my left, but this time my irritation melted away. I knew this voice. Everyone in Jackson’s knew this voice. Mitch Malone was an institution—not only in the bar, but in the whole town. Beloved of the kids of Willow Creek High, where he taught gym and coached damn near everything, and beloved of most adults with a pulse who enjoyed the sight of him in a kilt every summer at the Willow Creek Renaissance Faire. Mitch was good friends with my younger sister, Emily, so by default he’d become a friend of mine too.

   “Mitch. Hey . . .” I’d barely turned my head in his direction before Mitch’s arm slid around my waist, tugging me half off the stool and against his side.

   “What the hell, babe? You didn’t order me a beer yet?” He followed up the question with a kiss that landed somewhere between my cheek and my temple, and I had absolutely no idea which to respond to first: the kiss, or being called “babe.” I looked up at Mitch with narrowed eyes, about to give him shit for at least one of those things, when his eyes caught mine and one lid dropped halfway in the ghost of a wink. Ah. Okay. I could play along.

   “I didn’t know when you were getting here, honey.” I punctuated that last word with my hand on his cheek, landing a little harder than was strictly necessary. It wasn’t a slap, but it was definitely a warning. Keep your hands where they are, mister. “Your beer could’ve gotten warm, and I know how much you hate that.”

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Sweet Temptation
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Den of Vipers
» Angry God (All Saints High #3)
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» Serpent & Dove(Serpent & Dove #1)
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» ENEMIES
» Credence
» Archangel's War