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…

Chapter 1

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.”

“You’re wel­come.” 

“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.