When Caroline Taylor tells her friends that she's spotted the man she's going to marry, they make her a bet: She must get the gorgeous single dad to kiss her, just once.
But sometimes, destiny needs a helping hand. Caro thinks the best way to bond with Anthony Gilchrist is to strike up a conversation about their children — despite the fact that she doesn't actually have any kids of her own! The solution: she'll simply "borrow" her nephew for an afternoon in the park, the same park where Anthony takes his little boy.…
There he was. The man she was going to marry.
Caro hesitated by the entrance to the playground, hardly able to believe that Anthony — could that really be his name? — was exactly where he had been the day before.
Yesterday he had been over by the swings, today he was helping his little boy up the steps to the slide, but apart from that he was exactly the same. Same jacket, same child, same rugged good looks. Same gorgeous body.
Same smile that made her go weak at the knees.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" asked Kate, who had come with Bella to see if Caro really would go through with it.
"You said that all you needed was a child and you could get to know him easily," Bella reminded Caro of her confident assertion the day before. "He's a single father, you said. According to you, parks are classic meeting places for people with children, and it ought to be easy to take advantage of that if only you had the right props."
"It's true," insisted Caro. "Apparently they all get to bond over shared stories of parenthood. We were talking about doing an article about it in Glitz the other day. Ten Top Tips on Where to Find a Man…you know the kind of thing. The journalist reckoned that going into a playground with a child was like walking a dog — you've got something in common right from the start."
"I've heard that about dog walking before," said Kate gloomily. "It never worked for me. I only ever meet old men with Jack Russells."
Bella waved Kate's experiences aside. "Well, now you've got your child," she said to Caro, nodding down at the pushchair. "Didn't your sister mind you taking Jake off for the afternoon?"
"Are you kidding? She practically pushed us out of the door when I offered her a couple of hours to herself!" Wriggling her skirt around, Caro smoothed it down. "Do I look like a mummy?"
Bella looked at her friend. There was something vivid about Caro, with her bright face and her glossy, nut-colored hair and her sparkling brown eyes. In a blatant attempt to attract the unknown Anthony's interest, she wore a short red skirt that showed off her legs, and fabulous shoes with kitten heels and pointed toes and irresistible bows on the front.
"Not in those shoes," she said.
Caro was momentarily downcast, but she shrugged and took a firm grip of the pushchair. "Well, it's too late to change them now. Right, this is it. I'm off to meet my destiny." Shimmying her bottom, she grinned cockily over her shoulder as she headed for the entrance to the playground. "And to win my bet!"
Pushing Jake in what she hoped was a casual manner over toward the swings, Caro kept an eye on Anthony and his son.
Tom, Phoebe had said the little boy's name was. She had been sent into the playground yesterday after the lighthearted bet they had made to see whether the man of Caro's dreams was wearing a wedding ring or not.
"No ring," she had reported when she came back. "And he's called Anthony."
"Anthony?" Caro had echoed in disappointment. With those rugged looks and the dark rumpled hair and that smile guaranteed to set a female heart doing hand springs, he ought by rights to be called something heroic. Max, perhaps. Jack. Nick. A hard, masculine, macho name. How could her destiny be called Anthony? "Are you sure?"
"Well, that's what the little boy called him," Phoebe said. "He's obviously one of those trendy fathers who don't like being called Daddy. Sweet little boy, too. Tom, his name is. He looks just like him. There's no mistaking the relationship."
There wasn't. Caro could see it for herself now that she was closer. Tom was a miniature version of his father. He looked about three to her inexpert eye, and he was clambering self-importantly up the slide, while Anthony — how could someone so totally gorgeous be called something so bland? — kept a watchful eye on him.
Of course, it was good that he was such a devoted parent, but if he was that absorbed in his child, how was he going to notice her?
Fortunately, it wasn't long before Tom was off to clamber over the wooden train, and Anthony sat down on a nearby bench. Caro took her opportunity. Maneuvering the pushchair smartly into place before anyone else had the same idea, she dug around in the bag her sister had slung over the back of the pushchair and located Jake's mug.
"Do you mind if we sit here?" she asked Anthony, would-be careless, as if she had only just noticed that he was there.
He looked up at her briefly and she was struck by how blue his eyes were. The deep, dark blue of the ocean, and dark hair. Ooh, gorgeous.
"Not at all," he said.
And a lovely deep rich voice, with just a hint of something Celtic — Scottish? Irish? — to it. By rights he should have an unpronounceable name with lots of "b"s and "h"s and accents in odd places. Perhaps Phoebe had been wrong about Anthony, she thought hopefully.
She studied Anthony under her lashes as she offered Jake his drink. Anthony was sitting with his jacket hunched up around his shoulders against the chill wind, long legs stretched out in front of him.
Close up, he wasn't quite as good-looking as he had seemed from a distance, but he had a humorous, intelligent face with a lot of laughter lines fanning the edges of his eyes. Caro had always had a weakness for those.
It was a lived-in kind of face, she decided approvingly. He had dark brows, a big nose, and just a hint of stubble along the strong jaw that with those gorgeous blue eyes gave him a faintly piratical look.… Caro had to bite back a sigh of sheer pleasure. He might have been designed for her!
"I bet you anything I can get him to ask me out on a date," she had claimed grandly to her three housemates as she gazed longingly at him from the other side of the fence.
But a date hadn't been enough of a challenge for Phoebe, Kate and Bella. If Caro really wanted to show them what she could do, they had decided, she had to kiss him as well.
"And no mealy-mouthed peck on the cheek!" Kate had warned. "It's got to be a proper kiss."
Laughing, Caro had taken the bet. It had been a joke at first, as they capped each other's outrageous suggestions, but when the penalty for coming away with no date and no kiss had been set at cleaning the kitchen for the next month, she had all the incentive she needed.
And now here she was, sitting only inches away from him, and he was so solid and so real and so bone-meltingly attractive that the mere thought of kissing him dried the breath in her throat.
Just one kiss… That was the bet.
Could she do it?
To be continued...