Renee Andrews Daddy Wanted (Love Inspired)

ISBN 13: 9780373879380

Daddy Wanted (Love Inspired)

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9780373879380: Daddy Wanted (Love Inspired)
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Overnight Mom  

Former wild child Savannah Bowers goes from being happily single to the guardian of three children after the sudden death of her best friend. Struggling with her new role, Savvy's not sure if Brodie Evans's offer to help is a welcome one. She has trouble forgiving her childhood friend's past mistakes, but she'll give him a chance for the sake of the kids. Which is why the attraction she begins to feel for him catches her off guard. And she can tell she's not the only one. If Brodie can prove he's changed his ways, he might just be  this instant family's perfect daddy.

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About the Author:

Renee Andrews spends a lot of time in the gym. No, she isn't working out. Her husband, a former All-American gymnast, coaches gymnastics. Renee is a kidney donor and actively supports organ donation. When she isn't writing, she enjoys traveling with her husband and bragging on their sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. For more info on her books or on living donors, visit her website at www.reneeandrews.com.

 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The wild child of Claremont, Alabama, had come home.

Raised brows and muted whispers accompanied Savvy Bowers as she crossed the town square that shaped the memories of her youth, as if the giant oaks and three-tiered fountain centering the place whispered the obvious...

She's back.

Savvy opened the door to Bowers Sporting Goods as an attractive white-haired lady started out. Like that of the others Savvy had passed on her walk to her grandparents' store, the woman's expression changed as she undoubtedly put a name with the face.

"Why, Savannah Bowers, it's been a long time, dear. And you're as pretty as you were in high school." She smiled, her green eyes holding nothing but compassion toward Savvy, a welcome change from the reception she'd received so far.

It only took a moment to recognize Ms. Martin. Her hair had transitioned from blond to snowy white, but other than that, the lady looked practically the same as she had fifteen years ago, when Savvy had graduated from high school, kicked the north Alabama dust from her heels and headed to Panama City Beach.

Ms. Martin's son had been in Savvy's class at school until the sixth grade, when Savvy had been held back a year and he and the rest of her friends had moved on to junior high. "It has been a while," she agreed.

"I heard about you coming back to town and how you're looking after Wendy Jackson's children. I was so sad to hear about her passing. They said she fell hiking at Jasper Falls?"

"She did." Savvy's throat thickened. She hardly recognized the name Wendy Jackson. Her friend had been Willow for as long as she could remember. Willow had despised her birth name almost as much as she'd despised the parents who gave it to her, probably the reason she'd left her children to Savvy.

"Such a shame," Ms. Martin said. "Thirty-two years old. So young."

A year younger than Savvy.

"Savvy? Hey!" her grandmother's cheery voice called from the back of the store.

Thankful for a reason to end this awkward conversation, Savvy turned. "Good to see you, Ms. Martin," she said, and then stepped inside the store.

Savvy liked Ms. Martin, but she wasn't ready to tackle a discussion about Willow's death or the fact that she was expected to raise her children. Dylan, at thirteen, was angry his mom was gone. Rose and Daisy, Willow's six-year-old twins, were confused and heartbroken. And Savvy didn't know how to handle any of it.

In the past week, she'd learned of Willow's death, found out she was responsible for three children and abruptly traded life at the beach for life in the town she'd firmly left behind. And this morning's meeting with Dylan's school principal, who informed Savvy that she believed it would be "in his best interest" if they "retained" him a year, had done nothing to lift Savvy's spirits. No child should be punished because his mother died. Savvy knew that better than anyone.

Jolaine Bowers closed the distance between them, embraced her and brushed a quick kiss against her cheek. "We thought you were coming in earlier. I'm afraid your granddaddy left to go check on things at the fishing hole."

Savvy inhaled the familiar sweet scent of her grandmother's favorite shampoo and remembered all of those hugs she'd distributed throughout her childhood. And her teens. When she told them she was moving back to Claremont, her grandparents had graciously told her she could work here again, the same way she had done in high school. She should've been here early this morning, but after Willow's kids had gotten on the bus and Savvy was alone for the first time since she'd arrived, she'd spent a good hour crying.

Then she'd reviewed the papers she'd gotten from the attorney, organized all the casseroles the church brought after the funeral and received that call asking if she could come to the school. "I should've phoned you," she said.

"Hey, it's fine. I know you've got a lot on your plate. Your granddaddy can see you tomorrow." She eased away from Savvy enough to display her trademark wink. "We're just so glad to have you back home and working at the store."

"Thanks," Savvy said, because saying she was glad to be back would be an outright lie.

Not wanting to get into any of that right now, Savvy started toward the checkout area to look for her grandfather's habitual to-do list. Finding it, she glanced at the top. "I'll get started on the new baseball inventory and—" The front page of a newspaper on the counter caused her words to lodge in her throat. She'd seen the same paper earlier today at Willow's place. Not today's paper—the date on it was March 5, from over a month ago. Willow had saved it, too.

Her grandmother hurried to see what held Savvy's attention. "It isn't fair, is it?"

"Isn't fair...?" Savvy asked, momentarily mesmerized by the photo of the handsome man centering the page.

"That men get better looking as they age." Jolaine tapped the picture. "I meant to mail that paper to you. I remembered how close you, Willow and Brodie were in high school and thought you'd like to see what he's up to now."

Savvy stared at the broad grin and deep dimples she remembered, but instead of his Claremont High baseball cap, he wore a Stockville College one. And her grandmother was right; Brodie looked even better now. Dark eyebrows drew attention to intense eyes framed with equally dark lashes. A straight nose, strong jaw, cleft chin. The photo was in black-and-white, but Savvy knew if it were in color, icy blue eyes would peer out from that thick fan of black lashes.

In high school, Savvy and Willow had put the guys they knew in one of two categories: boys and men. The classification had nothing to do with maturity and everything to do with appearance. Some guys had a boyish look as a teen, and the majority of them outgrew that as they got older. Others looked like men from the get-go. That was the type that attracted Savvy and Willow.

And that was Brodie. Strong. Masculine. Muscled well beyond his age. From the broadness of his shoulders in the photo and the fact that he had an athletic position as head coach of the Stockville College baseball team, she'd guess those muscles were still enough to make a girl's breathing hitch.

He'd had that effect on both Willow and Savvy, even if they'd agreed they'd never act on the attraction. A common understanding between all three of them—the "wild ones"—was that they would never risk their unique relationship by crossing the boundaries of friendship. They were too much alike, their histories too similar, and they needed each other as confidants. They'd never jeopardize that. Or so the trio had promised.

But then that had changed. Willow had never forgiven him for what he'd done, nor had Savvy. Yet for some reason, Willow had saved that article.

Under the photo, the caption read Hometown Hero Brodie Evans is Back.

Savvy had already perused the story, which briefly told of Brodie beginning as a star pitcher for Claremont High, his years at the University of Tennessee, his brief stint in the majors and his new role as head coach at Stockville Community College. Twenty miles away.

Not far enough.

"You can have that copy," her grandmother said, jarring her back to the present.

Sighing, Savvy took another glance at the article, folded the paper and held it toward Jolaine. "I saw it at Willow's, but thanks for thinking of me. Do you want to keep it?"

Her grandmother's mouth opened, and then she shrugged. "No, I don't guess so."

"Okay." Savvy plunked it in the nearest trash can, then started on the baseball inventory.

Brodie Evans trudged through the locker room at Stockville Community College and reluctantly entered his office. He prayed no one had tossed the envelope while he'd been away and, inspecting the top of his desk, feared the worst.

Willow's letter was nowhere to be seen.

"Coach Evans, it's good to have you back," Phillip Stone, Brodie's assistant coach, stepped into the office. He was twenty-three, fresh off his college baseball career, and he reminded Brodie of the guy he'd been ten years ago. Young. Athletic. Charming. Someone who had the world at his fingertips. But unlike Brodie, Phillip didn't appear the kind of guy who would leave his loved ones behind while he fought to achieve his goals. "You planning to be at tonight's workouts?" he asked.

Brodie had taken the head coaching job in January, only three months ago, and he hadn't planned to miss an entire week of workouts and practices, but his priorities had taken a tailspin when he learned his daughter had been in a wreck that had nearly taken her life. Thankfully, the doctors—and God—had pulled Marissa through, but nearly losing her had caused Brodie to realize the truth.

He had earned no place in her world.

"Coach?" Phillip repeated, then shook his head ruefully. "Aw, man, I'm sorry. I should've asked first. Everything okay with the family emergency?"

Family emergency. That was the only rationale Brodie could come up with to explain why he'd had to leave for spring break instead of sticking around for the team's extra practices. He'd never mentioned his daughter to the guy. Then again, that precious fifteen-year-old with his eyes technically wasn't "his daughter" anymore. Once they'd known Marissa would make it, his ex-wife, Cherie, had been quick to remind him that he'd terminated parental rights thirteen years ago.

"Coach...?" Phillip prodded.

"The emergency is over," Brodie lied. Truthfully, his life was one big crisis now. The only daddy Marissa knew was the one who'd raised her, the one who'd married Cherie over a decade ago. But that didn't negate the fact that she was Brodie's flesh and blood.

He had to show Cherie that he was worthy of a place in his daughter's world. And he'd made a promise to himself—and more important, to God—that he would rectify past mistakes.

"There was a letter," he said gruffly, "on my desk. I'm certain it was here." He lifted the stacks of upcoming schedules and camp information, pushed aside the play-books and still...nothing.

"A recruitment letter? I took that template and handed it over to Coach Yates while you were gone so he could follow up with those players you'd contacted."

"No, not the recruitment letter." Brodie scrubbed a hand down his face, felt the evidence of forgetting to shave this morning. "This one was..." He paused, not sure how much he wanted to divulge, and finally settled on "personal."

"Vern and his maintenance staff have been in several times cleaning up. I believe your new mail is in your slot." Phillip pointed to the incoming mail bin near the door.

Brodie hadn't thought to check the bin, stuffed full with a collection of equipment magazines, manila folders and assorted envelopes. He moved toward the container, grabbed the mass from inside and dropped the contents on his desk.

"Need help finding what you're looking for?" Phillip asked.

"No." Brodie tossed envelope after envelope until, at the bottom of the stack, he saw Willow's letter. He clutched it like a lifeline, or more accurately, like a mistake he desperately needed to fix. He'd wronged a friend and ended up losing two in the process. He'd never heard from Savvy after that night either, and he had no doubt why.

She knew what he'd done.

He stuffed the letter in his jacket pocket. "I won't make workouts tonight." Brodie glanced up to see Phillip frowning, undeniably confused at the lack of commitment shown by the college's new head coach. Brodie was committed to the Stockville baseball program, but if he wanted a relationship with Marissa, he had to grow up. Change. Become the father she deserved.

During the entire drive home from that Knoxville hospital, he'd begged God to show him how to do that. And God had put Willow's letter on his heart.

"I've got something I need to do, but then I'll be back with the team 24/7." He didn't know why he offered an explanation. He was the head coach, after all, and as such, he didn't have to justify himself to any of the assistant coaches. But Phillip Stone was a great coach and a good guy, too, and Brodie wasn't going to do good people wrong, not anymore.

Understanding dawned on the young man's face. "Unfinished business with the family emergency. I gotcha. Don't worry about the team, Coach. We'll have them ready for you tomorrow." Then he left Brodie's office and disappeared through the locker room.

Exhaling slowly, Brodie withdrew the letter from his jacket, opened it and read Willow's words again. She needed to talk to him. Her son was having a tough time in school, and she wanted Brodie to tutor him.

He hadn't even realized she still lived in Claremont, or that she knew he coached at Stockville. But she mentioned an article from the Claremont paper. There wasn't a lot of stuff that happened in or around Claremont, Alabama. A local boy who'd semi made it coming back to take the head coaching job at the nearest college was apparently front-page news. And evidently, the article also discussed the fact that he was part of a mentorship program with local community kids that involved tutoring and recreational activities.

So Willow asked if Brodie could tutor her boy, but Brodie didn't know how he would face her after the way he'd left her in Knoxville.

Closing his eyes, he prayed, God, please, forgive me for ignoring this for the past three weeks. Help me find the strength to see Willow again, and to apologize for being such a— The word that came to mind didn't belong in a prayer. Such a jerk back then. And, Lord, if it be Your will, let me fix my past mistakes. Let me have some small place in my daughter's life.

He opened his eyes, folded the letter and slid it back in the envelope. Willow needed his help. Three weeks ago, he'd avoided her, but now he wanted to make amends. And he'd start with words he'd never uttered before. But he'd say them today.

I'm sorry. And then... Forgive me.

To keep her mind off Willow, the children and Brodie Evans, Savvy delved into the boxes and itemized lists defining the new shipments her grandparents had received over the past week. She didn't stop for lunch or for breaks. And when her phone buzzed loudly in her jeans, she was so preoccupied, she almost fell off the tiny stool she used while sorting through the bins.

She slid it out of her pocket and answered, "Hello?"

"Savvy, hey, it's Mandy." Mandy Brantley had kept Willow's children until Savvy arrived in town yesterday afternoon, and she'd helped Savvy get them ready for bed last night before heading to her own home.

Savvy's pulse started racing, probably because the last time the other woman had called, she'd informed Savvy that her friend was dead and that Savvy was now responsible for her three children. "Mandy, is everything okay?"

"I believe so," she replied. "But I'm just wondering. Where are you?"

"I'm at the sporting-goods store," she said. "Remember, my job started today?" She was certain she'd told her about it last night.

"I remember," Mandy said, "but you're only working until the kids get...

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