Riding the Waves
The second book in the Single Dads Club series will be available from the 24th of August. Read the first chapter now…
Sitting in the beer garden of the Anchor Inn with his two best friends, Damian couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Friday evening. He had a baby sleeping peacefully in the crook of his arm and a pint in the other hand. Even better, the baby wasn’t his, so when he left in an hour he’d pass sweet little Alice back and go home for a full night’s sleep.
“I feel as though I’ll never get a good night’s sleep again,” Leo said beside him, continuing his rant about his daughter’s tendency to keep him awake all night.
“I thought she’d started sleeping better,” Hugh remarked across the picnic table.
“We had a few decent nights, then she started teething.” Leo yawned widely. “Why didn’t you tell me how difficult being a single parent is?”
“I can tell you why Hugh didn’t mention it,” Damian said, then looked to the end of the table where Hugh’s eleven-year-old daughter sat with her eyes sweeping back and forth over the pages of the thick novel in her hands. “Emmy’s never given him a moment’s trouble in her life. She slept like a champ from day one, eats whatever you put in front of her, she decided to forego toddler tantrums—”
“They’re childish,” Emmy said, without looking up from her book and despite the fact she hadn’t shown any hint that she’d been listening to the conversation.
Damian raised an eyebrow at Hugh. “You got lucky.”
“I agree,” Emmy said, one corner of her mouth quirking to a shadow of a grin.
“I won’t deny that,” Hugh said. “But having things relatively easy doesn’t make it easy. I had a fair few sleepless nights and there have definitely been tantrums over the years.”
Emmy eyed him with contempt before going back to her book.
Damian pushed his sunglasses up onto his head as the late afternoon sun headed for the horizon. Gently, he rocked Alice back and forth. “I’m fairly sure I warned you about the nightmare that is being a single parent.”
The look that Hugh and Leo exchanged didn’t go unnoticed.
“You also have it pretty easy, by the way,” Damian went on, ignoring them. “Imagine doing all this with two babies.”
Again, his friends exchanged a look, but neither said anything as they both took long swigs of their drinks.
“What?” Damian demanded. “If you’ve got something to say, just say it.”
“They don’t think you’re really a single parent.” Emmy rolled her eyes and set her book down in her lap. “The longest you ever look after Billy and Marty is a couple of weeks. You have fun with them and then their mum takes them back. It’s not the same as having a kid all the time.”
“Thank you for your honesty,” he said to Emmy, then glared at his friends. Hugh and Leo only looked amused.
“When do the brats arrive?” Emmy asked.
“Sunday,” he said tersely. It probably wasn’t worth pulling her up on the whole “brat” thing. He liked to think it was affectionate.
“Do you reckon you’ll manage six weeks of them?” Leo asked. “I’d put my money on it being three weeks before you call Amy and beg her to come and take them.”
“Two and a half,” Emmy said at the same time that Hugh offered three and a half.
“Thanks for your confidence,” Damian said blithely. “There’s no way I’d call Amy to pick them up.” Partly because he was excited to have his boys for a longer stretch and partly because he’d never give Amy the satisfaction. She already thought he was useless.
“Maybe you won’t need her to pick them up, but you’ll be tearing your hair out.”
Damian raised his glass at Leo’s comment. “Now that I can agree with you on.”
“Agree about what?” a monotone voice asked as a shadow fell over him. Scarlett lived above the local cafe and babysat for a few families in the area, alongside being part owner of a small publishing house with two other local women. Her hair fell around her face as she bent to look at Alice.
“That my children are angels,” Damian told her.
“Not what I heard,” she said. “Emmy says they’re brats.”
“She means it affectionately.” Damian glared at Emmy. “Don’t you?”
Shrugging, Emmy put the book aside and scooted along the bench to make space for Scarlett while looking up at her as though she were some kind of goddess. “Hi.”
“Hello.” Scarlett didn’t sit but picked up the book to inspect it. “It’s good, isn’t it?”
“So good.” Emmy beamed. “Thanks for recommending it.”
“Do you want a drink?” Hugh asked Scarlet when she hovered awkwardly.
“No. I’m not staying long. I just needed to talk to Damian about the brats.”
“They’re not brats!” he said forcefully.
Scarlett looked mildly confused. “I meant it affectionately.”
“You may need to work on your tone,” he told her.
“Okay. I will. Anyway, I know we agreed you’d pay me for looking after them at the end of every week, but I decided I’d rather have half the money upfront and half at the end of the holidays. I emailed you an invoice and a basic working agreement an hour ago. I don’t know if you saw it.”
“I haven’t, but thanks.” Getting Scarlett to help with the boys for the summer had seemed like a good idea previously, but he was wondering if he might end up regretting it.
“I should also tell you I decided the price we originally agreed on wasn’t enough, so I’ve increased the hourly rate.”
He squeezed his eyes closed and shook his head. “Why?”
“Because the boys arrive on Monday. It’s too late for you to find someone else to look after them, so it puts me in a good position to negotiate.”
While Hugh and Leo stifled their laughter, Emmy was quite open in her amusement.
“I thought we’d already agreed on a fair price,” Damian said to Scarlett.
“It seemed okay before our washing machine broke,” Scarlett said. “Now I need to earn a bit more over the summer.”
“You can’t really say no to that,” Leo said, looking highly amused.
“I’ve also got a meeting on Monday morning,” Scarlett said. “So I’ll only be able to come and meet the brats for an hour. You said you wouldn’t really need me on that first morning anyway.”
He definitely wasn’t about to palm the boys off on someone else the first day they were with him and hadn’t actually anticipated Scarlett being around at all on Monday.
As it was, he only needed her to watch them three mornings a week when he was out giving surf lessons. The rest of the time they’d be in surf school themselves or Damian would be available for them. He had good staff at his surf business, which freed him up to spend the summer with his boys.
“That’s fine,” he said to Scarlett, who was looking at him expectantly.
“Good. That’s all I needed to talk to you about.”
“You could have called me,” Damian said.
“I don’t like calling people. Besides, you’re easy to find on a Friday evening.”
“Should we be offended by that?” Damian asked.
“Probably,” Scarlett said, then looked to Emmy. “You can come to my place for a bit if you’re bored here.”
“Yes, please.” Emmy twisted to face her dad. “Can I?”
“Yeah. I’ll pick you up on the way home.” He checked his watch. “Half an hour.”
They watched the two of them leave, then Leo rested his elbow on the table and propped his head on his hand. “Scarlett’s extorting you, you know?”
“It’s starting to feel like it.” Damian pulled his phone out to find the email from Scarlett. His eyes bulged as he read how much money she wanted for the first instalment. “Definitely seems like extortion,” he said, holding his phone out to show his friends. They nodded in response and Hugh winced at the sum.
“What did she put in the contract?” Leo asked.
Damian opened the attached file and scanned the document. “Just the hours she’ll work and …” He squinted at the screen. “This is actually pretty good. She’s listed all the things she’ll do with them: fun and educational craft activities; indoor and outdoor sports activities to promote fitness, coordination and social skills; she’ll provide healthy and nutritional snacks … the list goes on. It sounds like it might be worth the money.”
Hugh frowned. “It also sounds a lot like the kids’ programme at the community centre over in Totnes. Emmy’s signed up for it. We have the flyer hanging on our fridge.”
“Do you think she’s just signed the boys up for that?” Damian asked, fairly sure he knew the answer. Scarlett’s husband, Fraser, worked at the community centre, so it all added up.
“It sounds like something Scarlett would do,” Leo said. “That way she can still write her books and do her usual work while also getting paid by you. To be fair, it’s pretty ingenious.”
Hugh smiled lightly. “If she has got them a place in the kids’ club, the boys will love it. Emmy always has a great time.”
“So long as I don’t get a bill from the community centre on top of paying Scarlett for babysitting.”
“It’s a free programme,” Hugh told him. “They run on donations.”
“That’s definitely Scarlett’s plan then, isn’t it?” Damian rolled his eyes. “I suppose you’re right; the boys will enjoy it. It’ll be nice for them to be with Emmy too.”
“You must be looking forward to the boys arriving?” Hugh said, stretching his neck and angling his face to the sun.
“Can’t wait.” Damian took a swig of his pint. “Here’s a weird thing though… when I spoke to Amy I mentioned I was teaching on Sunday afternoon when they were planning on arriving, so she said they’d come and meet me at the beach if I wasn’t home yet.”
“Why’s that weird?” Hugh asked.
“Because she never comes to the beach. Not once since we broke up. If she comes to Hope Cove, she comes to the house.” He stroked his thumb over the sole of Alice’s bare foot. “I always had the impression it was intentional … that she refused to go to the beach.”
Hugh’s eyebrows drew together. “Why?”
“Because that’s where we met. The place is full of memories.” He blew out a breath. “Most of our good memories are from Thurley beach and hanging out around the surf shack.”
“So you think she didn’t want to revisit that before … but now that she’s split up with Anthony …?”
“That’s what I’m thinking.”
“It kind of assumes you think she still has feelings for you,” Leo said with a hint of a smirk.
Damian pursed his lips. “I think she’s probably scared of her feelings for me. I don’t think she ever stopped being physically attracted to me.”
“Some might say you sound a bit cocky,” Hugh said.
Damian grinned. “She also didn’t outright say no when I asked if she wanted to stay at my place before she drives home on Monday. I probably shouldn’t have invited her to stay.”
“Because you’ll try something with her?” Leo asked.
“The only thing that stopped me from trying something with her for the past six years was the fact that she was married. Now she’s single, everything is complicated.”
“Or arguably pretty straightforward,” Hugh countered.
Damian gave his friend a look. “She still can’t stand me and still thinks I’m a useless lump.”
“Ah yes … she fancies you, but she also hates you. I forgot that bit.”
“Hopefully she’s made other arrangements for Sunday night. If she’s hanging around my place in her skimpy pyjamas, there’s zero chance I won’t try to stick my tongue down her throat.”
“I suppose that would complicate things slightly,” Leo said.
If there was one thing Damian couldn’t stand, it was drama. He’d do whatever it took to keep his life as uncomplicated as possible.
Then again, if there was someone worth complicating things for, it was Amy.