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The Guardian's Heart


by Michel Prince

The Guardian's Heart

Nominated for Book of the Year 2013 By LASR

Case Thomas is always in control whether it’s on the basketball court, the lab where he works, or in his love life. He thinks he has everything all figured out. All that changes when his parents pass away during his last year of college and Case is thrown into fatherhood when he becomes temporary guardian to two adorable twin toddlers. Weeks later, exhausted and running out of time, Case must decide if he's ready to become a father to these children, or give them up and move on with what's left of his life. Then he meets Gabbie Vaulst.

Gabbie is amazing with the kids, owns her own business, and has all the right curves in all the right places. She can tell Case is attracted to her, but does he really love her or is he just settling for a surrogate Mom who can wrangle his new kids? Knowing that she's falling in love with him, she chooses to push him away until his world straightens out. Can Case prove to Gabbie, and himself, that his feelings are real? Or, is this sudden family too much for both of them to handle?

The odds, as well as members of their past who've come out of the woodwork, are against them, but when kids are involved, all bets are off.


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Release Date: June 21, 2016
Genre: Contemporary | Interracial Romance

White Satin Romance


Excerpt

Chapter One

 

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

Dr. Seuss

 

Gabbie heard the sound of plastic packages falling in the row behind her. A frustrated groan started to escalate, which peaked her interest. Curiosity, being her downfall every time, made her wander into the next aisle to see a frustrated guy juggling diapers, as a small child, no more than three, used the dropped bundles as building blocks.

Normally she let the chips fall where they may, but this young guy was obviously not a father—or if he was, he was in way over his head. He looked the same age as her with his shoulder length dreads pulled back with a binder, and thick-framed dark glasses. With his striking light caramel color skin and a goatee that was starting to turn into a beard, the man stood at least six-two. What seemed to catch Gabbie’s attention the most was his firm build under a University of North Dakota T-shirt and sweatpants.

Gabbie bit at her bottom lip thinking, if he looks this hot in couch potato clothes, what will he look like dressed up?

Or better yet, undressed.

The little boy at his feet came up to his knee, with round cheeks and was a little darker than he was. The boy had a slight Afro and, when he looked up at her, she saw the deepest mahogany eyes she’d seen in her life.

The man’s frustration grew; he tossed a package of Pampers toward her and she caught it with one hand. Thank goodness for all those years behind the plate in softball, she thought.

“You know the no-shopping-cart-theory doesn't work when you have a toddler.”

“Huh,” he replied absently, “I didn't see you there,” he apologized.

“You've obviously never worked in retail and had to clean this crap up.” Gabbie bent down on one knee in front of the little boy. “Hey you, what's your name?”

“We're fine, really,” the man said right as the little boy cleared the bottom shelf of its merchandise. “Charlie, no,” he yelped.

“Charlie, huh? You made a mess, Charlie, and you need to help me clean it up. What if someone did that with your toys?”

Charlie’s big eyes, with the longest soft lashes she’d ever seen, looked at her trying to get out of the work. Gabbie scrunched her face in disapproval and Charlie started to put the diapers back on the shelf with his chubby hands, one bundle at a time. Gabbie placed a few on the shelf, but let Charlie do most of the work since he’d made the mess.

“How'd you do that?” the flustered man asked.

“He's a good boy. He's just testing your limits. Uncle? Or does his mom take him shopping?” Gabbie fished for information. God she hoped he wasn't married.

“He's my...I don't know...I'm his guardian.”

“That sounds ominous,” she replied.

Gabbie restocked the last bundle on the shelf then picked up Charlie, placed him in her virtually empty cart, and buckled him in. Charlie protested at first, but one raised eyebrow from Gabbie stopped him cold. She then grabbed size four Huggies and tossed them in the basket.

“What else do you need, Guardian?”

“I don’t even know. Look, he's my brother. My parents were killed in a car wreck two weeks ago. I had one diaper left and...” The man shook his head in despair.

“I’m so sorry. I work with kids every day. Hey, at least he’s a boy and not a girl. You’d have to deal with hair and all that stuff.”

“Girl? Oh shit, Claire.” The man ran frantically up and down the aisles crying out her name.

Gabbie frequented this Walgreens more than she wanted to admit. Something about the crappy As-Seen-On-TV aisle drew her in every time. She headed straight towards the toys and found a little girl that looked the same age as Charlie with definite dad hair pulled up into two lopsided ponytails. She sat with a smashed open package of Oreos as her chubby fingers thumbed through a picture book.

“You must be Claire,” Gabbie said as she looked at the little girl with chocolate crumbs around her mouth. True to two-year-old form she smiled at Gabbie and held a half-eaten cookie up for her. “Thank you, but you can keep it.”

“Oh my god, Claire you can’t run off like that,” the man said as he tore down the aisle and picked her up, to which she squealed in protest. “Come on lil’ bit.”

“Claire, be nice to your brother,” Gabbie said in a calm voice.

To that, Claire looked at Charlie and passed him the half-eaten cookie, which he took with gusto.

“Thank you for finding her,” the man said, dropping the remains of the cookie package in the basket. “You must be ready to call DHS on me.”

“No, not yet. I don’t even know your name.”

“I’m sorry, Case, Case Thomas,” he said, hugging Claire closer to his chest and extending his right hand, which Gabbie shook. His hand was soft, but had worn calluses.

“Gabbie Vaulst. You know what, how about a few happy meals on me. There’s a McDonalds with a Playland about three blocks from here.”

“No, you’ve done enough.”

“I insist, Guardian, and we need to get you some diapers too I suspect,” she said to Claire.

“Right, but teach me how to choose what kind?”

“That’s simple,” she said, pushing back to the baby aisle with Case right on her hip. “First, don’t get your diapers in a drug store; they don’t have big enough packages. Boys get racecars or sports equipment. Girls tend to have princesses or little animals on them. Other than that look at the weight and figure out if they’ve out grown the last size you got.”

“You have kids.”

“Me? No. I run a daycare with my friends. As for size, well you gotta know their weight, but I’m pretty good at that since I’m always lifting kids. You know they’re pretty quiet. How old are they?”

“They turned two last Christmas and no they’re not quiet, are you, Double Trouble?” Case teased as he nuzzled against Claire’s ear. Gabbie was touched.

Charlie blew some spit bubbles at them and Claire giggled at her brother. When Gabbie picked up a package of diapers for Claire, she fell backwards in Case’s left arm, as she squealed, “No baby.”

“Wait, were you guys getting potty trained?” she asked the kids. “You go to the potty?”

Charlie smiled and clapped his now chocolate crumb covered hands. “Potty, potty oooosss…”

“Diapers are for nigh-nigh only. You two are a big boy and girl aren’t you?” Gabbie smiled at the two cherub-faced kids who both seemed delighted a stranger could tell how big they were.

“I have to potty train them now,” Case said with utter fear running across his face.

“It looks like they were in the middle of training. You might want some Cheerios for Charlie.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause boys like something to shoot at.” She smiled at Case and added two packages of pull-ups to the cart.

“You know, I really could use a Happy Meal,” Case said, then sighed. “I may be dumb, but I ain’t stupid.” His eyes locked on hers and she caught her breath. “You may save me from myself.”

* * * *

At McDonalds, Gabbie laid out the food for the two toddlers after securing them in booster seats. Case looked as if she had performed a minor miracle. After cutting up their chicken nuggets, Gabbie looked at Case and smiled.

“It’ll get easier. I’m sorry about your parents. You don’t have any other siblings do you?”

“No, we’re all oopses. I was the prom conception and they were what happened after my parents spent about ten years in failed infertility treatments. I was a freshman at UND when my mom got pregnant. So I don’t really know them. I thought about transferring down here when they were born, but I was on scholarship and if I could secure a spot on a team, I’d have had to red shirt a year.”

“What did ya play?”

“Basketball. I just came home at Christmas because I was interning at 3M. No, I am interning at 3M,” Case corrected himself. “I’ve got six weeks left in the semester. I’m on a small leave, but I gotta go back soon or I won’t be able to graduate in May.”

“How long has it been?”

“Two weeks.”

“Oh right, you said that. They’re still alive. You must be doing something right,” Gabbie said, looking at the twins.

Gabbie winced when she realized she just commented about life and death.

“I can’t even get through the estate or probate or whatever because these two don’t give me a second. I don’t want to give them up…”

“Then don’t,” Gabbie cut him off.

“They need a mother and a father and someone who isn’t trying to finish their senior year.”

“You’ve got six weeks left in college. They need someone for life. Look at them. They got your nose and your eyes,” Gabbie said as she looked across the table at Case.

Behind his rectangular frames, an amazing set of dark mahogany eyes were framed in the same soft lashes as his little brother. Exhaustion encompassed Case’s whole being, yet Gabbie couldn’t help but be turned on by the relaxed, gentle tone his deep voice had finally settled into.

“You’ll be fine. Give ‘em a few more weeks. I promise it’ll get better.”

Gabbie reached her hand across the table and felt the warmth of his hand under hers. For a moment, their eyes caught and Gabbie could feel a rush surging through her body. She quickly pulled her hand back, from fear of the connection that might have only been one sided.

Case quickly looked at the kids and started to wipe up the ketchup that was being turned into a finger painting project.

“Guys, please, one second of peace.”

“No Ace,” Charlie said to his big brother.

“No Ace,” Claire repeated. “Arlie may mess.”

“That is true, Claire,” Gabbie said stopping Case from cleaning. “Charlie should help with the mess.”

To that, Charlie’s bottom lip popped out as he grumbled at Gabbie.

“They’re too little to understand.”

“Now that, you have wrong. They are in the stage of learning proper behavior. And Charlie made a mess, so Charlie should clean it up, with a little help from Gabbie, Claire and Case. Right, Charlie?”

“Yup, Ace, Care and Bee.”

“So that’s why you talk to them like adults?”

“I’m not having deep discussions about the state of the world, just the state of their world. You talk baby talk, you’ll get babies. You don’t treat them as equals, but you also don’t treat them as imbeciles.” She turned back to the kids. “Either way, Charlie and Claire, if you want to go in the tubes this has to be cleaned up first.”

Case was too tall to go into the Playland, but Gabbie crawled through the tubes and went down the slides. When she was at the top of the play structure, she looked down and caught Case looking at her. At first, she thought he had been looking for the kids, until she noticed the kids were on their way down the slide, but he kept staring at her.

* * * *

Case left the garage door open so Gabbie could follow him. She had surprised him with her sweet selflessness. He had felt so alone until that evening. His parents had always been there for him when he needed them. Now his life had been divided into before and after his parents’ death.

Before, there was guilt built up inside him from the jealousy he’d felt when the twins were born. Having always wanted siblings growing up, he didn’t understand his feelings at first. The devotion his parents had shown to him over the years had him trying to prove his independence. The second his parents’ attention went to the helpless Charlie and Claire, he reverted and felt that he needed his parents more than ever. He started calling all hours, until his mother finally told him he was grown now and she’ll always love him but right now the twins needed her.

The anger he felt from not having his parents traveling the nation to watch him play ball made him stop calling. Then when he got his internship, he found an apartment only a few miles from their house in Woodbury, Minnesota and never even called to tell them he was in town.

After, when he got the phone call from a secretary in the emergency room trying to locate him, he felt a loss in his chest he thought he would never recover from.

As he saw the little pudgy faces of his brother and sister in the care of a babysitter sitting on the couch, he broke down and cried.

“I’ll get Charlie if you get Claire,” Gabbie offered as she opened the passenger side door of his parents’ silver Volvo Xc90.

Case had been glad his parents had paid off the car last year so he didn’t have to try to squeeze the kids into the back seat of his CLK1 he got as a graduation gift. Two doors seemed impractical now even though he really missed his old Mercedes parked in the other stall of the garage, left empty since his father’s BMW was totaled.

As they entered the house, Case noticed Gabbie had a permanent sparkle in her cool gray eyes surrounded by black eyelashes. Her jet-black hair had been pulled back into a ponytail, except a few strands that outlined the right side of her face. It was all he could do to hold back. He wanted to brush the loose strands back, feel the soft skin of her cheek and press his lips against hers. When he looked at Gabbie all sorts of things triggered in his mind. It seemed as if a lifetime had passed since he last thought about a woman.

He could tell she was one of those girls that wore her clothes a size or two too big because some asshole had told her that her body wasn’t shaped right. Case could make out the curves of a woman underneath the layers of protection she wore, and stripped away the layers in his mind.

Gabbie held Charlie in her arms and turned toward him.

“Where’s your bathtub?”

A jolt shot straight to his hips and he stepped closer to her. The old Case came rushing forward in the pursuit of a woman he had come to desire. Then Claire, whose favorite time was bath time, knocked him back to reality.

“Baf, baf, baf,” she screeched and wiggled to get down his body to the floor and took off to the bathroom.

“I take it she likes bath time?” Gabbie asked with the most brilliant smile.

“That’d be an understatement. Would you be willing to play with Charlie while I give her, her bath?”

“You don’t bathe them together?”

“He’s a boy, she’s a girl.”

“And they’re two not twelve. Don’t make more work for yourself.”

Case felt like Gabbie had just smacked him upside his head with a duh. The past week he dreaded bath time, with Claire drenching him as she splashed around as if she was the female Michael Phelps. All the while, Charlie was jumping on his back wanting a ride. Then he tried to put Charlie in the water and he might as well have had a Great Dane the way Charlie thrashed.

“You said at dinner you had papers to sign, but couldn’t find a minute in the day. I’ll take care of bath time and get them ready for bed. You’ll have about a half hour, forty-five minutes.”

Just the thought of a half hour without having to entertain or stop the twins from killing themselves rushed adrenaline through Case, as if he had been set free. He didn’t know why this woman had taken pity on him and he didn’t know how he could repay her.

Gabbie kept the twins occupied while Case found the manila envelope his parents’ attorney had given him. With the Wolves game playing in the background, he dumped the papers on the table. Inside had been life insurance papers he needed to file—also, the trust funds his parents had set up for him and the twins, of which he was the executor of until they hit eighteen. It was supposed to help him pay for living expenses for both of them.

Finally, he retrieved the guardianship papers. He had to decide if he was going to adopt his brother and sister and become their father, stay their legal guardian, or sign away all rights to them. He was just starting out and couldn’t even find diapers for them without his hand being held. How could he take on the responsibility of two lives when he could barely manage his?

At least the house was paid for and after he signed three more lines, it would be his to raise the kids in or sell. He finished signing all the financial papers and, placing the three custody choices in front of him, bent his head in prayer.

Why couldn’t he just have a simple sign telling him what to do?

Behind him, he heard little patters on the floor and Charlie crawled up on his right side and Claire on his left. They were in their footy pajamas smelling of Johnson and Johnson with their tight, curly, black hair still damp from the bath.

“Nigh nigh, Ace,” they both said giving him a kiss on each cheek.

“Nigh nigh, monsters,” he said holding their warm, little bodies close to him. They both had their chubby arms wrapped around his neck and, for the first time since his parents had died, something felt right.

“Okay, little ones,” he heard Gabbie say. “I got Please, Baby, Please, so let’s get going before I’m too tired to read to you.”

Case turned around to see Gabbie. Her T-shirt and sweatpants had splatters of water on them, but she wasn’t soaked like he usually was after a bath, and her hair still had some bubbles on the side he assumed came from Claire. As the kitchen light cut across her face he couldn’t imagine a more beautiful woman. Her hair was disheveled and she looked like she’d just finished a step class at the gym, but the pink flush in her cheeks was enough to make him wonder what had changed in just thirty minutes.

Charlie and Claire climbed down and he heard them patter away down to Gabbie’s open hands. With one on each side, they walked peacefully to their room and the only thing Case could remember was Gabbie’s ass as she walked away.

What the hell was the matter with him?

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