Home > Ignite (Cloverleigh Farms #6)

Ignite (Cloverleigh Farms #6)
Author: Melanie Harlow

 

One

 

 

Dex

 

 

“Daddy,” a small voice whispered.

I lay completely still and kept my eyes closed. My alarm was set for six and hadn’t gone off yet, but my daughters had been up for at least twenty minutes. I’d heard them talking through the thin wall separating my bedroom from the one they shared in my crappy apartment. Now they were playing their favorite game, which was to stand next to me while I slept and talk shit about me.

“Daddy.” The voice was a little louder now, and I recognized it—my five-year-old, Luna. “We heard you snoring.”

I continued playing possum.

(And for the record, I don’t fucking snore.)

“Daddy always looks so funny when he sleeps.” Luna got the game started. “Don’t you think?”

“Yes.” That was Hallie, my eight-year-old. “He makes grumpy faces.”

“And weird breathing noises.”

“Yeah. And he’s so hairy.”

“Daddy’s not that hairy,” Luna whispered defensively. “Just some right there.”

Since the blankets were at my waist, I imagined her little finger pointing at my chest, although they often made fun of my hairy legs and scruffy jaw.

“Yeah, but have you ever seen his armpits?” Hallie asked. “They’re super hairy.”

Just to mess with them, I flopped one arm over my head, putting one armpit on display.

“Ew.” Luna giggled. “You’re right. Gross.”

“I’m never getting tattoos,” Hallie announced. The girls were both fascinated and horrified by the ink on my biceps.

“Me neither.”

“Why would anybody let someone draw on them with a needle?”

“I don’t know.”

“You could just use a permanent marker and it wouldn’t hurt.”

“That’s a good idea,” Luna said enthusiastically. “Let’s do it on each other later.”

I was about to sit up and inform them there would be no fucking tattoos given with permanent markers on my watch—I could already hear their mother yelling at me for it—when Hallie said, “Let’s poke him.”

One of them poked my ribs with a bony finger.

“Grrr.” I growled long and low and opened one eye. “Who poked the bear?”

“She did.” Standing beside my bed, they pointed at each other.

The hall light lit them from behind, illuminating their messy hair and summer nightgowns—Hallie’s had owls all over it and Luna’s had a unicorn on the front. I couldn’t see their feet, but I knew Luna’s were bare and Hallie had socks on because she hated being barefoot, even in summer.

“What do you want?” I grabbed the covers and pulled them over my head. “I’m hibernating.”

“Hibernation is for the winter, Daddy,” said Hallie. “It’s August right now. You’re just sleeping.”

“Am I?” I said from beneath the blanket.

“Well, you were.”

“You know why?” Coming out from beneath the covers, I reached over to the nightstand and tapped my phone screen. “Because it’s not even fucking five a.m., and that is what normal human beings do at this hour.”

“Mom says you’re not supposed to say that word around us,” Hallie reminded me.

“Mom’s not fucking here.” Remembering not to curse was a tough job after twelve years in the Navy, something my ex didn’t seem to appreciate.

“Can we get up now, Daddy?” Luna tugged the blankets impatiently.

“No. I didn’t even get up this early in boot camp.”

“But we can’t sleep.” Luna hopped onto my bed, climbed over me, and got under the covers.

“Why not?”

“We’re too excited about the new house.”

“Oh.” I was excited about today’s move too—I’d never liked this apartment. And despite being called the Luxury Harbor Complex, the place was neither luxurious nor anywhere close to the harbor.

But I hadn’t had much time or choice when I was looking for somewhere to live after Naomi asked me to move out two years ago. All I wanted was somewhere close to the elementary school, somewhere I could afford, and somewhere not too far from the fire station where I worked. As soon as I moved in, I’d started saving for a down payment.

The new place wasn’t big by any measure—it was a two-story, attached townhouse. But it was an end unit, much roomier and newer than the apartment, and the surroundings were way better. There was a grassy area for the girls to play out back, a park within walking distance, and a pool. We’d have two full bathrooms, a garage, and I wouldn’t be able to hear anyone else’s arguments, toilets, or televisions through the walls.

Was it enough to make up for the fact that they’d have to go back and forth between two places for the rest of their childhood? Or wonder why their mom and dad didn’t love each other anymore? Or erase from their memory all the fights they’d heard?

Probably not.

But it was somewhere we’d get a fresh start, a permanent place to call home, and a chance for me to prove I could be the kind of father I wanted to be.

That was enough for me.

“Listen, girls.” I yawned loudly. “Moving into the new house is exciting, but I promise it’s still going to be that way once the sun comes up, so let’s try to get a little more shut-eye.”

Hallie scrambled into the bed too, forcing me to move to the middle to accommodate them both. “Can we sleep in here?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

“Then I guess you can. But go turn off the hall light first.”

Hallie dutifully got out of bed, switched off the light, and hurried back under the covers.

“And you have to actually sleep, okay? No talking,” I ordered.

“Okay.”

Stretching out on my back, I closed my eyes, knowing the silence wouldn’t last. Sure enough, not ten seconds went by before Luna spoke up.

“Daddy, can we please ride in the truck today?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s no time. You guys can stay with Aunt Bree and your cousins while Uncle Justin and I get the big stuff moved in.”

“What about after the big stuff is moved in?” Luna asked hopefully.

“We’ll see. Go to sleep.”

It would have been easier to make the move when I didn’t have the girls, but the timing shook out this way, and I refused to give up any of my days with them. My work schedule—twenty-four hours on and three days off—and the custody arrangement meant that I only got them two days a week, and those two days were always shifting around.

Naomi was willing to be flexible, but since she had to arrange her client appointments at the salon based on my work schedule, I’d promised her I wouldn’t ask for changes once the calendar was set for the month—although that never stopped her from trying to see them during my days or nagging me about things she didn’t think I could handle, like Luna’s nut allergies or Hallie’s compulsive tendencies or any kind of scheduled appointments.

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