The Father of Her Sons

ISBN: 978-1335408150

The Father of Her Sons

November 2021
She thought she knew everything she needed to know about him…

How do you make up for four years of lost time?

No last names. No promises to meet again. No way for Payton Dahl to find the man who’s the father of her twin boys. Until fate reunites them four years later. Easton Wright now wants to be part of his sons’ lives—with the woman he fell hard for during those seven days and nights of bliss. Payton doesn’t want her sons to grow up fatherless like she did, but can she risk trusting Easton when she’s been burned in the past?

Wild Rose Sisters

Book 1: The Father of Her Sons
Book 2: First Comes Baby...  (March 2022)

Book 3: Title TBA (November 2022)

 

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What Readers are Saying

“By far the most captivating book I’ve read by this author. I was instantly hooked into the story and couldn’t put it down until I finished it. As a new series, I found it very easy to get to know the characters and I’m excited to see where the next book goes…”

5 stars, Dyan Carness, Goodreads reviewer

“…The Father of Her Sons by Christine Rimmer is the first book in her Wild Rose Sisters series. This is a heartwarming second chance romance, secret baby story. The storyline tells a tale of two people who fall in love, lose each other and struggle to get things right enough for a Happily Ever After. I enjoyed how cute the four-year-old twin boys are in the story. The book highlights the value of family and friendship. This is a good beginning to the series.”

4 stars, Margie Hager, BookBub reviewer

“Payton Dahl has no plans on getting involved with anyone ever. One night she meets a man named Easton, no last names were exchanged. They flirt with each other while she is working in a lounge. The attraction and chemistry is off the charts, so they decide to have a week long fling. At the end they will go their separate ways. A few weeks later Payton realizes she is pregnant and has no way to find Easton. Fast forward 5yrs fate has a way of throwing two people together when they least expect it. Throw in old insecurities, a mom who let's her emotions get the best of her and 2 precocious twin boys and you have a wonderful story.”

5 stars, Cassie Bacon, Goodreads reviewer

“This was a romantic holiday read. Easton and Peyton have a lot to work out after not seeing each other in over four years. Payton has to tell him he’s the father of twin boys. I loved Easton, he was so patient and he truly loved Peyton. Peyton was more guarded, harder to show her feelings because of her past. I love how their relationship grew and how their love for their boys brings them all together. This was a warm and romantic read for Christmas.”

5 stars, Therese Sacchi, Goodreads reviewer

“I loved Payton and Easton's story. Payton is a very independent woman who has planned to never marry. Easton is a divorced, single man who falls hard for Payton. Loved the story from start to finish. Wonderful characters and so true to life.

5 stars, Karen Geurts, Goodreads reviewer

Chapter One

It all started with a little innocent flirting.

And okay, yes. Payton Dahl had given up flirting. Flirting too easily led to fooling around. Fooling around often became romance and right now in her life, she had no time at all for romantic entanglements—not even brief ones, which were pretty much the only kind she’d ever known. She spent her nights tending bar and her days either helping at the family farm or huddled over her laptop.

For more than nine months, from January well into October, Payton had stuck with her plan to avoid men altogether. Yes, she’d been tempted more than once by a sexy smile or a smoldering pair of bedroom eyes. She’d kept her eyes on the prize, though. She’d said no to temptation. Payton had stories inside her head. She intended to get them written down. That required discipline and for months, she’d exercised strict self-control.

But then, on a Wednesday night in mid-October, a whole new level of temptation came calling, one that had irresistible written all over him.

That particular Wednesday night, the Larch Tree Lounge at the Heartwood Inn was deader than a frozen doorknob. In one of the booths, a very tired looking middle-aged couple argued in whispers without much enthusiasm. Cletus Carnigan, a nightly fixture in the lounge, sat slumped at one end of the bar gazing mournfully into his Logsdon Lager.

As usual, it promised to be a very long night—until a tall, broad-shouldered stranger with tousled dark blond hair and cheekbones sharp as knives in his stunning, angular face took the stool at the opposite end of the bar from Cletus.

No flirting, Payton sternly reminded herself. Pasting on her most professional smile, she marched down the bar to greet the smoking-hot newcomer. “Welcome to the Larch Tree Lounge. What can I get you?”

He ordered Redbreast Irish Whiskey, an admirable choice—both good quality and excellent value for the money. “And something to eat,” he added. “What’s good?”

“Right off the bat with the loaded question,” she muttered under her breath.

He narrowed his gorgeous blue eyes at her. “Is there a problem?”

“Sort of.” Unfortunately, not much was good at the Larch Tree Lounge. And while Payton despised lying to her customers, telling a guest that the food sucked wouldn’t do, either. She settled for evasion. “What are you in the mood for?”

He studied her face at length. She stared right back at him for way too long while hummingbirds flitted around in her belly and an electric current went snapping and popping beneath the surface of her skin. Finally, he folded his lean hands on the bar, canted toward her and spoke confidentially. “It’s all bad. Is that what you’re telling me?”

So much for evasion. What now? She didn’t want to lie about the food, but she didn’t want to get fired, either. Her best option at this point? Maybe a recommendation. The burgers were passable. “How about a burger?”

He was hiding a grin. She could see it kind of pulling at one corner of that fine mouth of his. “An honest woman.”

Not exactly. An honest woman would admit that the food sucked. She plucked a menu from the stand on her side of the bar and held it out to him. “Need a minute to decide?”

He let out a chuckle heavily laced with irony. “The burger’s fine. Fries?”

“Will do.” She propped the menu in the stand again.

“Wait,” he said, before she could turn for the kitchen. “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to cook my dinner?”

“Because I am.”

“A multitasker, huh?”

She gave him a modest little smile as she swept out a hand to include the couple in the booth and Cletus staring into his beer. “As you can see, it’s a slow night. On slow nights, the cook goes home at seven—but don’t worry. I know how to work the grill and the deep fryer.” She shouldn’t wink at him. Winking was straight-up flirting. No excuse for it.

She did it anyway.

“Thank you.” He raised his whiskey glass to her, his gaze shifting for half a second to the name tag pinned above her left breast. “Payton.”

“My pleasure.”

In the kitchen, Payton found the inn’s manager, Midge Shanahan, lurking on the far side of the narrow doorway from the bar, like a spider in her web.

Midge said nothing at first. Payton breezed by her, washed her hands, took a patty from the fridge and dropped it on the grill. She tossed a generous serving of fries into the fryer basket and set up a burger plate. As Payton worked, Midge crossed her skinny arms over her narrow chest and kept quiet.

Unfortunately, Midge Shanahan never stayed quiet for long.

“You are not paid to get cozy with the customers.” Midge spoke the words in a near whisper, heavy on the venom. “I saw you out there just now.” Payton gave Mr. Hottie an extra slice of tomato, then granted Midge a nod and a cool smile. “What?” demanded Midge. “Cat got that smart tongue of yours?”

The first few times Midge had started in on her for no reason, Payton had played it sweet, bewildered and innocent—because she really had done nothing wrong. For a while after that, she’d tried defending herself. Once she’d even threatened to quit. But she hadn’t quit. And in time she’d figured out that Midge had no plans to fire her. Midge Shanahan was just a wall of ugly sound. She never took action to back up the vitriol.

Nowadays, when Midge jumped her ass, Payton only smiled politely and went on working. She’d learned over time that Midge gave up the attack more quickly if she got no pushback.

“It’s very quiet tonight,” Midge remarked after a lovely thirty seconds of silence.

“Yes, it is.” Payton flipped Hottie’s burger.

“You think you can manage the lounge without me?” Midge asked in a grudging tone. She was supposed to pinch-hit as the cook if things picked up later in the evening. That rarely happened, though, and almost never on a weeknight. As a rule, Tuesday through Thursday, around 8:00 p.m., Midge would disappear into her little apartment off the lobby and only emerge again if someone rang the bell out front in search of a room.

“Of course I can manage, Midge.”

“Well.” Midge gave a small, disdainful sniff, as though she smelled something bad. “All right, then. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Yes, she would. Unfortunately. Payton worked Tuesday through Saturday. “Night, Midge.” She lowered the fry basket into the fryer as Midge disappeared through the door that led to the lobby.

Back in the lounge a few minutes later, Payton served the blue-eyed hottie his burger and poured him a second Irish whiskey. The weary couple left.

Cletus drank his beer in one long gulp and plunked it down. “Payton. ‘Nother, please.”

She served him, cleaned up after the couple and tackled some side work that would need doing before she left at the end of the night.

Mr. Hottie finished his burger. She cleared off his plate for him, taking special care not to meet his eyes. Those eyes lured her to places she’d sworn not to go—at least not until she’d completed the final book in her epic fantasy series.

“Payton?” That voice. She felt it like a quick brush of rough velvet across her skin.

Against her better judgment, she looked up from the bar towel in her hand and straight into those dangerous eyes. “Hmm?”

“Were you trying not to look at me?”

She gave it up with a shrug. “Yeah.”

“Why?”

“Does it matter? I’m looking at you now.”

His gaze shifted—from her eyes to her mouth and back to her eyes again. “You are so incredibly appealing.”

What a line the guy had. She shouldn’t believe him. She didn’t believe him. But she felt flattered all the same. Any guy might call her beautiful when making his move. But appealing. It had a sweet note of sincerity to it, as though he’d sat there and thought about it before choosing that word specifically for her.

And there was more. He added, as though reading her mind, “I shouldn’t be flirting with you.”

She had to stifle a chuckle. “No, you should not.”

“But I can’t seem to stop myself. You should probably just ignore me.”

She hummed low in her throat again. “I was ignoring you—or trying to, anyway.”

“Why?”

“Let’s just say I have big plans and they don’t include getting sidetracked by a man.”

Oh, the way he looked at her. Like he wanted to eat her right up. “Plans like what?”

“Plans like finishing my blockbuster fantasy trilogy.”

“You’re a writer.” He said it without a trace of irony—and that made him all the more attractive to her. As rule, she never mentioned her writing goals to customers at the lounge. Why set herself up for derision? Nobody wanted to hear about the bartender’s big dreams. They wanted fast service, a friendly smile and a sympathetic ear when they were feeling down.

She gave him a firm nod. “I am a writer, yes—or at least I am when I’m not serving drinks, flipping burgers or pitching in at the family farm…”

“A very busy writer is what you’re saying.”

“That is exactly what I’m saying.”

“I get that. And I have no intention of sidetracking you in any way.”

She frowned at him. “I have two questions.”

“Ask them.”

“First name?”

“Easton.”

She liked his name. It had a manly, straightforward, both-feet-on-the-ground sound to it. “So, Easton, are you married?”

He didn’t look away when she asked that one. She considered that a good sign. “I’m divorced. Very recently divorced. I got the final papers a few days ago.”

“My condolences.”

“Thank you.” He took a slow sip of his whiskey. “It’s an old story. We were college sweethearts. We grew apart. It took a few years, but we finally had to accept that we wanted different things. And how about you, Payton—married or otherwise committed?”

“Nope. On both counts.”

The outer door opened, ushering in a gust of cold October air along with two women Payton had never seen before. They took the booth the weary couple had vacated.

“Excuse me,” she said, and went to wait on them.

The two women ordered cosmos, mozzarella sticks and artichoke dip. Payton gave them their drinks, prepared their snacks and served them. The whole time she felt edgy, her skin prickly with reluctant awareness. She tried not to glance Easton’s way, but then did it anyway. Twice. Both times, he was watching her. And both times he grinned, a wry twist of those gorgeous lips, as if to say, What can I tell you? I like looking at you

“Another whiskey?” she asked him after she’d left the two ladies munching mozzarella sticks, enjoying their drinks.

“Better not.” He asked for the check, added a huge tip, charged it to room 203 and scrawled an illegible signature.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. Huge tips were few and far between in the lounge.

“You’re welcome.”

Down the bar, Cletus sighed dramatically. He was a sweet guy whose wife had left him recently. She went on down to him. “You doing okay, Cletus?”

“‘Nother?” He glanced up at her hopefully. When she held her ground and crossed her arms, he let out another hard sigh. “I been here four hours, had four drinks. A man’s body can process one drink per hour. And I am not driving, Payton. Fergus is picking me up at midnight.” Fergus was his older brother. She felt a warm tug of relief that the family was looking out for him.

“It’s your liver.” She poured him another one—after which she tried her best not to wander back on down the bar to the irresistible, just-divorced man she needed to avoid more contact with. Why didn’t he leave? He’d paid his bill. She’d cleared the bar in front of him.

He sent her a glance at the same time as she just happened to look his way.

And that did it. Her resistance simply melted. She liked him. When he looked at her, she felt energized. Inspired. Like a story that begged to be written, he called to her without saying a word.

She zipped down the bar so fast, she was lucky the memory-foam soles of her clunky work shoes didn’t catch fire.

“I think I need one more whiskey.” He rubbed his sculpted jaw in a rueful way. “Otherwise, I’ll have no excuse not to head on back to my room…”

She gave him his drink. They started talking. He said he was in town on business. Payton pondered that. Heartwood was a farming community. Was he thinking of buying a farm? Before she could ask, he said, “It’s beautiful here,” scanning her face as he spoke, wearing a look that said she was beautiful.

She thought about how long it had been since she’d felt like this, light as a ball of cottonwood fluff blown on a summer breeze.

Yeah. Way too long. Maybe never—not quite like this, anyway.

“What?” he asked softly.

Before she could decide whether or not to confess that he pushed all her buttons in the best kind of way, one of the cosmo drinkers signaled for another round and three guys who worked construction for a local builder came in.

As Payton mixed drinks and whipped out sliders and sweet potato fries, she thought how she shouldn’t. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. She really, really should not be thinking what she was thinking.

But Easton rang all her bells—rang them so loud she could think of nothing else but how sweet it might be to spend a little private time with him.

And didn’t she deserve a bit of fun now and then? She’d spent the last nine and a half months driving herself without letup, slogging staunchly through each dead boring night here, putting in her time on the farm in the mornings and then, finally, working the main goal—to get words on the page. Since January, she’d kept her focus strictly on what mattered, pouring all her energy into her own personal dream of making a living from the stories that filled her head.

It’s just, he’s so hot, wheedled her internal teenager. He’s hot and he likes me and I like him so much!

She knew she was in really big trouble when she started mentally agreeing with that teenager, aka her weaker self—the one who loved a good time more than she should, the one who still longed to stay up all night playing guitar and singing backup for the Millhouse Madmen, four guys she’d grown up with who came home now and then from Portland, where they waited tables for a living and occasionally snared a gig as a cover band.

He’s so pretty, whined the party girl within. It could be perfect. No strings. One night, that’s all. No more, I promise

Fergus showed up and Cletus reluctantly followed him out. The two women went home and the construction guys asked for the check.

By one, the place had emptied out. Just Payton and Easton, easy conversation and a heaping helping of delicious sexual tension. They talked and laughed uninterrupted for the next forty-five minutes.

Easton said he worked for his family’s company, but he never said the name of that company or what the company did—and she didn’t ask. It became like a game, with both of them taking care to give away no details of their separate lives. They joked about it, agreed that they didn’t need last names or unnecessary details. They were enjoying each other’s company on a dreary October night and that was enough for both of them.

As closing time approached, he said, “Payton, I can’t remember when I’ve had such a good time.”

Oh, me neither! she squealed internally. She felt so good, like a little girl again, about seven years old with a giant bag of Skittles she didn’t have to share with her sisters. She laughed. “No better way to spend your Wednesday night than chatting up the bartender at the Larch Tree Lounge.”

“That’s right—as long as the bartender is you.” He stared in her eyes and then he shifted his gaze downward to her mouth. And then he did it all over again, that focused stare going back and forth—her eyes, her mouth, her eyes, her mouth…

Her lips kind of tingled. They’d been doing that a lot the past few hours, making her want to rub them, making her wonder what it might be like to kiss him—wondering that had slowly turned to yearning and, in the past hour or so, started feeling something like obsession.

She longed to kiss him. She could almost feel the press of his lips to hers. She wanted it so bad.

“Yeah.” She sounded breathless and she didn’t even care that he had to know he’d made her that way. “The hours crawl by around here, as a rule. Not tonight, though.”

And then, that burning gaze on her mouth again, he said what they were both thinking. “I wish it didn’t have to end.”

Oh, yeah. There it was. The invitation. It hung in the air between them, a question phrased as a statement.

Let it go. Just agree with him. You had your fun, indulged yourself in some lovely flirting with a hot side of teasing. Now be a good girl like you promised you would and tell the man good-night…

He waited. Their eyes held. Neither of them seemed to be breathing.

She felt she hovered on the edge of a dangerous cliff.

And then she surrendered. She let herself fall. “If you’ll give me fifteen minutes, it doesn’t have to end.”