Happily This Christmas (Happily Inc #6) by Susan Mallery



            “We all appreciate having your patrol car parked in the driveway.”

            “I’m glad.” He grabbed another cookie. “My adult daughter is married to a deployed Marine. Her mom has three boys at home, and it’s getting to be a bit much for Joylyn, who’s due in about eight weeks, so right around Christmas. Alisha, Joylyn’s mother, thought it would be a good idea for Joylyn to stay with me until Christmas or until Chandler, Joylyn’s husband, comes home, whichever happens first.”

            “I’m glad she’s going to be with family during the holidays.”

            “Me, too.” The smile faded. “Joylyn and I went through a rough patch when she was about fifteen. We used to be close, and then one day she didn’t want her dad around. I’m hoping to use her time with me to reconnect.” One shoulder rose and lowered. “To that end, I want the house to be comfortable for her.”

            “Cozy?” she asked, her voice teasing.

            His smile returned, which made her unexpectedly happy. “That would be it. I don’t know anything about decorating or, you know, plants, and I don’t cook. Her being pregnant adds stakes to the game for sure. That’s why I want your help. I’ve seen your graphic work around town, and it’s always exactly right for whatever business it is. The colors, the tone, all of it. You’re a real professional. You have excellent taste and style, and I was hoping to get your advice about what I should have around.” He waved his hand. “Maybe some more dishes and throw pillows and stuff.”

            That was a lot of information to process, she thought, slightly off balance from the unexpected compliment. She always worked hard to please her clients, and she was happy to know her work was appreciated, but it was strange to consider that Garrick would look at a sign in a window and think of her. Did he think of her in other ways or was that her hoping a little too much?

            Regardless, she liked that he cared about his kid and that he wanted to make his house nice for her. She also felt bad about assuming the worst about him, so even if she hadn’t been inclined to help—which she was—that would have pushed her over the edge.

            “I’ll give you whatever advice you’d like,” she told him. “But my style might not be hers. That could be a problem.”

            “No, you and Joylyn have a lot in common design-wise. You have a good eye for space and color, and she would like what you do.”

            His words made her feel a little floaty, which was silly. She was in some serious trouble here—she hadn’t been this flaky even in high school. If she wasn’t careful, she was going to start flipping her hair and saying “like” in every sentence.

            “If you’re all right with me adding fringe to every surface in your house, then I’m in,” she told him.

            He chuckled. “Fringe would be a look.”

            “But not a good one?” she teased.

            “I’m not a fringe kind of guy.”

            “Good to know. Tell me about Joylyn.”

            Something sad flashed through his eyes. “I don’t see her much anymore. In fact, I haven’t seen her since the wedding. Like I said, we used to be tight.” One corner of his mouth turned up. “She was my best girl.”

            “I’m sorry that changed.”

            “Me, too.” He was silent for a second, then drew in a breath. “As I said, she’s married to Chandler, who is currently deployed. Alisha says he’ll be back before the baby’s born because first babies are always late.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe my little girl is going to be a mother. It all happened so fast.”