Whispers of the Heart

By: Brenda Jackson

CHAPTER

ONE

“DAD, THE CATERER’S HERE. She’s coming up the walkway.” Paul Castlewood glanced up from the computer screen in his home office and looked into his daughter’s smiling face, so like his own. Her slanted dark eyes were the only feature she had inherited from his ex-wife.

He closed the document file and began shutting down his computer. “Thanks, honey. Please show Ms. Chapman in.”

Heather turned to leave. “And she’s not bad looking either, Dad,” she added. “Real pretty.”

Paul shook his head. It wouldn’t be the first time his daughter had tried to get him interested in a woman. He always found it amusing, because most literature he’d read said that when it came to single fathers, daughters were notorious for being territorial. Not true for his kid. She would marry him off in a heartbeat if she could.

But that wasn’t going to happen.

He’d been married once and it had left a bad taste in his mouth. Heather had been barely five when Emma had decided she no longer wanted a husband or a child and had packed up her things and left. Her actions should have come as no surprise. She hadn’t wanted a baby and had blamed him for her pregnancy.

Heather, who was now a few weeks shy of sixteen, had seen her mother only twice since she’d left, and sadly, the occasions had been the funerals of her maternal grandparents. Even eleven years later, Paul still couldn’t understand how a woman could turn her back on a man who loved her and a daughter who needed her.

It had taken him long enough to stop trying to figure Emma out, and to just accept things as they were and move on. It hadn’t been easy when juggling his job as a marketing analyst and that of a single father, but raising Heather on his own had been rewarding. His parents had helped out some in the early years, but since retiring six years ago they had become missionaries and spent most of their time in other countries.

He could hear the door open and the sound of his daughter’s voice as she greeted their visitor. Michelle Chapman had come highly recommended as the best caterer in Lake Falls, and he was eager to have her take on Heather’s birthday party.

He and Heather had moved from Atlanta to the quiet, historical Georgia town six months ago when the company he’d worked for had downsized, and he had accepted a nice buy-out settlement. Only a skip and a hop from Savannah, Lake Falls was everything he wanted. Even Heather hadn’t complained about the move from the big city to a small town. She had quickly made new friends and had remarked a number of times that what she enjoyed the most was that he was around more often now that he’d set up his own website-design company at home.

He stood and crossed the room to glance out the window. Moss-draped oak trees lined the pretty cobblestone-paved street. He had stumbled across Lake Falls, a town many referred to as “Little Savannah,” a couple of years ago when he had taken a detour off Interstate 95 during road construction. Like Savannah, the small, historic Southern town was the site of many famous Revolutionary and Civil War battles, and Lake Falls could also boast it was once the summer residence of noted novelist Louisa May Alcott.

The town was a step back into time. The old brick-and-stone homes had retained a lot of their original beauty and charm, and the local residents were so passionate about preserving these resplendent old buildings that an ordinance had been passed requiring city council approval for any new home construction in this section of town.

The house Paul had purchased, like the other homes on the street, had been built in the eighteenth century, with a wraparound porch and stately columns. He had fallen in love with it the moment the Realtor had shown it to him, and Paul considered it as one of the best investments he’d ever made.

As he walked out of the office, he could hear his daughter chatting excitedly with Ms. Chapman, something that didn’t surprise him given the purpose of the woman’s visit. Heather’s sweet-sixteen party would be held here in their home with some of her friends from school and church. Deciding it was time to rescue the caterer before his daughter talked her to death, he hurried toward the living room.

When he rounded the corner to the foyer, he stopped dead in his tracks. Heather had been right. Michelle Chapman was a looker, and he had definitely taken notice.

* * *

“MS. CHAPMAN, THIS IS my dad.”

Michelle turned and met the eyes of the man who was leaning against the doorjamb and staring straight at her. She caught her breath when she felt a surge of something she hadn’t felt in a long time. Physical attraction.

He was absolutely stunning. Tall—probably at least six foot two—and lean, with dark impressive eyes and caramel-colored skin, he was more handsome than any man had a right to be. He looked comfortable and at home in his bare feet, jeans and a T-shirt that accentuated his muscular physique.

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