A Girl's Guide to Moving On (New Beginnings #2)(11) by Debbie Macomber

I cocked my head to one side and eyed him steadily, as if to remind him he had put his trust in me and needed to keep it there.

Rocco must have read me, because he quickly changed the subject. “I bet you’re hungry.”

“Starving,” Kaylene said. “Are you going to treat us to dinner?”

Rocco looked to me. “Care to join us?”

I hesitated. The offer was tempting, but I’d left Owen with Leanne and I hated to take advantage of her.

“Come with us,” Kaylene said, her eyes wide and appealing.

“Let me make a call first.” I felt guilty even asking, but Leanne was fine with keeping Owen.

“Go. Enjoy,” my mother-in-law insisted. “Owen and I will cook together. He loves helping me in the kitchen, you know.”

I did. My preschooler was a budding chef.

Both Kaylene and Rocco looked toward me as I disconnected. “No problem.”

“Great.”

Rocco let Kaylene choose and she wanted pizza. Not the best choice for me, calorie-wise, but I wasn’t going to complain. Besides, it’d been months since I’d last indulged myself with something other than frozen pizza.

We headed out in separate cars and met up at the restaurant, which was only a few blocks away. I couldn’t help wondering what Jake would think if he saw me with Rocco. No two men could be any more different.

Rocco looked as if he’d walked out of the Alaskan woods. He had the physique of a lumberjack and the tattoos of a biker. By contrast, Jake was a suave businessman who dressed like he’d stepped off the pages of GQ. The contrast had me smiling.

I met up with them at the pizza parlor. By the time I got inside, they were sitting in a booth. Within minutes we ordered. A meat lover’s pizza for Rocco and a veggie pizza for Kaylene and me to share. Rocco asked for a beer and I had a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

“Dad, one of the kids from my school is here. Give me some quarters, okay?”

Rocco dug in his pockets for spare change and gave what he had to his daughter. Within minutes Kaylene disappeared into the arcade. I felt a little weird sitting in the booth with Rocco like the two of us were on a date.

“Kaylene said it went well and that you were super-cool.”

“She’s a great kid, Rocco. You’re doing a good job with her.”

“I try. She doesn’t make it easy.”

“No teen does.”

Our drinks were delivered and I took a sip of wine. It was crisp, cold, and refreshing. I leaned back against the booth and looked down at the wine.

“She can be difficult,” Rocco said, continuing our conversation. “That girl finds the stupidest stuff to argue about. I want her to be smart and strong, but I’m not a good example, and her mother, God knows, wasn’t, either.”

“You’re a man, Rocco, and Kaylene’s a teenager. What do you expect? Give her time.”

“The thing is, I gave my parents hell, so I expect my daughter will do the same to me.” He drank down a third of his beer and set the mug aside. “So what’s your story?” he asked.

“My story?”

“I take it you’re divorced.”

I lowered my head. “Soon to be. We’ve been nitpicking over the details for the last two years. I got word on Saturday that Jake has agreed to the settlement offer. We’re ready to sign the final papers.”

“The day you backed into the ditch.”

“Yeah.” My fingers curled around the wineglass stem. “I was so sure I’d made the right decision to leave Jake. In the beginning I was strong. I mean, it hurt like crazy, but I refused to stay in a marriage when my husband’s brains and sense of honor shifted below his belt.”

“He cheated? On you? Is the man blind?”

His words were good for my ego. Rather than go through the gory details, something I preferred not to discuss, I turned the question around to him. “What about you? What’s your story?”

“It isn’t pretty,” he said, focusing on his beer. “I knocked a woman up one night when I was too drunk and horny to care about using the proper protection.”

Rocco was nothing if not blunt. “Kaylene was the result?” I asked, seeing what he meant when he said it wasn’t pretty.

“I didn’t believe the baby was mine until Kaylene was tested. It shook me up, being a father and all. It wasn’t the way I saw myself. Up until then I’d pretty much done as I wanted, but this kid was a responsibility I couldn’t ignore. Her mother wasn’t much of a mother, and so I took her as much as Tina would let me. By the time Kaylene was three, she was living with me about seventy-five percent of the time. I worked for old man Potter, and we got along good. Then Tina got herself killed in a car crash, so Kaylene came to me full-time.”

“Potter sold you the business?”

“No, I couldn’t afford it. He never had a family, so when he got cancer, I helped him as much as I could, taking him in for treatments and doctor appointments. I lived with him for a while there toward the end, caring for him. When he passed, he left the company to me. That’s the reason I never changed the name.” He took another big swallow of his beer. “Told you my life wasn’t pretty.”

I appreciated his honesty. “You’re a good father and a good person.”

He shrugged. “I try. Don’t think Kaylene will sing my praises, though. I don’t want her making the same mistakes her mother and I made.”

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