Undercover Father

By: Mary Anne Wilson

PROLOGUE

Fort Worth, Texas

RAFE DAGGET LOOKED at the “perfect” woman across the table from him at one of the best and most intimate restaurants in the city. He wasn’t so sure she was perfect, or even close. But Dave Lang, his friend who had talked him into this blind date, had been adamant.

“She’s pretty, smart and she loves kids. She’s perfect, Rafe, just perfect.”

Rafe had tried to get out of the date, but Dave hadn’t given him a chance. “We all loved Gabriella, you know that, and there won’t be another woman like her, Rafe.” Dave’s slightly florid face had gone from intently concerned to being touched by a sad but knowing smile. “But, buddy, it’s time. It’s been two years. You need to get out and meet people. You have to move on with your life, for your sake and the sake of the twins.”

Rafe watched the woman talking to him, and part of him reluctantly agreed with Dave’s assessment. His blind date was pretty, in a girlish sort of way, with an upturned nose, dark eyes, full lips and red hair cut into a stylish feathery cap. But perfect? He doubted that. As much as he doubted Dave’s pronouncement that it was “time to move on.” Why did everyone believe that two years was the magic amount of time to get over a death that left rubble behind and a gaping hole in a life?

“I always thought four children would be perfect,” his blind date was saying earnestly, leaning toward him across the table, making intent eye contact with him. “Just perfect.”

Rafe reached for his water glass, breaking the contact when he realized how freely people tossed around the word perfect. On top of that, he couldn’t remember the woman’s name. Felicia, Fanny? He swallowed a good half of ice-cold liquid before he put the goblet back down on the white linen cloth.

“Two boys, two girls,” she rattled. “Two years apart.”

“Hmm,” he murmured, because he was thinking that the restaurant, with its dim lights and soft mood music, suddenly seemed claustrophobic. He’d been here before, in another life when the world had been right. Then it might have been perfect.

He drained the rest of his water as his nameless date leaned closer to him across the table. Now he didn’t know what she’d been saying and tried to pick up the threads of her conversation. She tapped her bare wrist. “And my biological clock is ticking. If I want to have children, I need to get started. Francine, I said to myself a few weeks ago, you’re thirty years old, and you’d better get on with things.”

Francine. That was it. And Francine was dead serious about what she was saying. “Absolutely,” he said, buying time while he tried to figure out how to end this date as quickly as possible.

“Absolutely,” she echoed with an emphatic shake of her head. “As soon as I know that I’m having a child, I’m going to apply at the Briar School. Fantastic school. Do you know they vet everyone who applies? Quite hard to get your child into it.”

Rafe casually glanced at his watch. They’d been at the restaurant for only half an hour, but it seemed like a lifetime. “A good school is important,” he murmured, just to say something.

She grinned a toothy smile, as if she’d won a jackpot, and reached over to tap the back of his hand. “From what David told me about you, I knew you’d understand, that we’d be on the same page.”

Understand what, and what page? Then she answered without him having to actually ask the question. “David said you are a terrific father to your two little boys, so I knew you’d be up on the schools. So, what school do they attend?”

He shrugged. “They aren’t in school yet.”

“But I thought David said they were around five?”

“They’re four. They’ll be five in a few months.”

“But at that age...” She shrugged, obviously bothered. “Surely they’re on the list?”

“They’re on the list for kindergarten in the fall,” he said. “And they’re pretty excited about it, at least Greg is. Gabe isn’t so sure he wants to go, but if his brother goes, he’ll tag along.”