A Father’s Second
by Mindy Obenhaus

Chapter One

Perhaps love wasn’t a fairy tale.

Watching the bride and groom share their first dance, Celeste
Thompson was taken aback by the longing that filled her heart. She’d never been
one to entertain romantic notions. Yet she suddenly found herself wondering
what it would be like to be in love. To share your life with someone. To give
that person your whole heart.

Celeste froze, the long pearl-handled knife midway through another slice of
wedding cake. She could never trust her heart to anyone. She laid the piece of
raspberry-filled white cake on a plate. Precisely why she was the caterer, not
the bride.

As the romantic ballad came to an end, her eyes again roamed the crowded, dimly
lit reception hall in Ouray’s Community Center. From all appearances, Cash and
Taryn were the epitome of forever and always. Yet how could anyone promise
forever? People change. At least that was what her mother said. Countless
times. Usually followed by a less-than-flattering remark about Celeste’s
wayward father.

“Cake, please.”

Celeste glanced down to see small fingers gripping the edge of the lace-covered
table. A pair of large sapphire eyes framed by white-blond curls peered up at

A smile started in Celeste’s heart, spreading to her face. “Well, hello
there, sweet girl.” The child was adorable, her frilly lavender dress
making her look like a princess. “You must be the flower girl.”

The little girl nodded, her mischievous grin hinting that she might not be as
innocent as she appeared.

“Emma… ” A man with dark brown hair and Emma’s same blue eyes
sauntered toward them. His hands were tucked into the pockets of his tuxedo
slacks and his loosened bow tie dangled from beneath the unbuttoned collar of
his starched white shirt. Very GQ. Tall, dark… Of course, at five foot two,
everyone seemed tall to Celeste. One of many reasons high heels were her best

He stopped beside the child. “You’ve had enough cake, young lady.”
His baritone voice was firm. Unyielding.

Emma frowned. Her bottom lip pooched out as she crossed her arms over her
chest. “Cassidy had two pieces.”

“Your sister ate her dinner.” The man stared down at her, seemingly
unfazed by the pathetic look.

“No fair.” The little girl stomped her foot.

He held his hand out to the child. “Let’s go see if we can find some more
of that brisket. Then we’ll discuss cake.”

Emma’s lip quivered, her eyes welling with tears. Her face reddened and
contorted in ways Celeste had never witnessed firsthand. Nonetheless, she
recognized the markings of a tantrum. And, from the looks of things, this was
setting up to be a good one.

Perhaps she could find a way to change the subject. She opened her mouth, but
the man she presumed was Emma’s father held up a hand to cut her off.

“I’ve got this.”

Fine by her. After all, Emma was his daughter.

He dropped to one knee. “Emma, please. Not here.”

His plea was met with a loud wail.

Celeste bit back a laugh. Seemed the poor man had been through this before.

Pulling his daughter close, he begged her to stop crying. His tuxedo jacket was
doing a fair job of muffling Emma’s sobs, still…he glanced up at Celeste,
defeat and perhaps embarrassment marring his otherwise handsome features.

Surely there was something she could do.

Then again, Emma’s father had made it clear he didn’t need her help.

The child let out another cry. This time loud enough to be heard over the

People started staring.

Celeste couldn’t help herself. While she might not be an expert with kids,
she’d quelled many an executive tantrum in the boardroom. Perhaps those tactics
would come in handy now.

She wiped her hands on a napkin and rounded the table. Knelt beside the pair.
“Emma?” She touched the baby-fine curls.

Emma hiccupped then slowly turned her head until her red-rimmed eyes met Celeste’s.

“Have you ever had a birthday party?”

The child nodded against her daddy’s chest.

“And all your friends and family were there?” She looked at Emma’s
father, afraid he’d tell her to back off. Instead, he seemed to wait for his
daughter’s reaction.

Emma nodded again, this time lifting her head.

Celeste continued. “Now, suppose one of your friends got mad and started
crying at your party. How would that make you feel?”

The child’s eyes darted back and forth across the wooden floor. She wasn’t answering,
but she wasn’t crying anymore, either.

“Would that make you sad?” Celeste offered.

Emma nodded, gnawing on her thumb.

“Well, this is Cash and Taryn’s party. You wouldn’t want to make them sad,
would you?”

Emma shook her head, her eyes growing even bigger. “Tawyn’s my aunt.”

“I see.” She dared a glance at Emma’s father. He seemed to have
relaxed, though he didn’t necessarily look happy. “Well then…” Her
gaze shifted back to Emma. “You want to be a big girl for your aunt Taryn,

Emma’s smile returned. She nodded once more.

Celeste pushed to her feet.

So did the child’s father.

She took hold of Emma’s hands and spread her arms wide. “Look at your
pretty dress.” She let go of one hand and twirled the child with the
other. “That’s a dancing dress if I ever saw one.”

Emma giggled, and Celeste didn’t know if she’d ever heard a sweeter sound.

“Now—” stopping, she smiled down at Emma “—do you think you can
do what your daddy tells you?”

Emma nodded.

“Good girl. And then, maybe, if it’s okay with your mommy and daddy—”

“I don’t have a mommy.”

Celeste blinked, her cheeks growing warm at the child’s candor. “Oh. Well
then…” She swallowed, her gaze flitting briefly to Emma’s father. “If
it’s all right with your dad, I can send a piece of cake home with you for
later. How does that sound?”

“Yay!” The little girl just about bounced out of her white patent
leather shoes. She tugged her father’s hand. “Come on, Daddy. Let’s get
some more bisket.”

“Brisket, sweetheart.” As his overzealous daughter pulled him toward
the buffet table, he shot Celeste an irritated look. “Thanks for the help.
But I can take care of my daughter.”

Celeste bristled. She hadn’t expected his praise, but she hadn’t expected him
to be so rude, either. That’ll teach her to get involved.

Shrugging off the exchange, she watched the pair walk away. Emma obviously knew
she had her father wrapped around her little finger. But did she have any clue
how blessed she was to have a father who cared?

I don’t have a mommy.

Celeste ached for the child. And wasn’t there some mention of a sister?

She shook her head. A single dad with two daughters. No wonder the guy looked
defeated. He didn’t stand a chance.


She turned as Erin, one of her part-time servers, approached.

“We’re down to crumbs on the brisket.”

“No problem. I’ve got another tray in the kitchen.” Celeste pointed
to the cake. “You mind taking over?”

“Not at all.” Erin picked up the long knife as Celeste started toward
the swinging door. “Sausage is running low, too.”

Celeste waved a hand in acknowledgment and continued into the community
center’s small yet efficient commercial kitchen. The groom’s request for Texas
barbecue seemed to be a hit with the guests. Good thing Granny had taught her
the art of smoked meat. Building the catering side of Granny’s Kitchen was
important to her bottom line. As were those old hotel rooms over the

Donning her oven mitts, Celeste grabbed another foil-covered pan of meat from
the oven. The smoky aroma wafted around her as she carried it into the main
room. It had taken her all summer to decide how best to address the upstairs
units, but she’d finally decided to convert the cluster of six tiny rooms into
three large suites. All while remaining true to the building’s character and
Victorian architecture.

She set the pan into the chafer, thinking of all the beautiful millwork
throughout the upstairs space. The wide baseboards and detailed
moldings…quality like that was hard to find these days. She could only pray God
would lead her to the right contractor. One who didn’t cringe when she
mentioned the word salvaging.

After replenishing the sausage, she topped off the grated cheese and bacon bits
at the mashed potato bar, pleased that everything had turned out so well. Word of
mouth was a powerful thing, especially in a small town like Ouray.

A popular tune boomed from the DJ’s speakers and people flooded the dance
floor. Celeste paused to watch. Young and old, everyone appeared to be having
fun. Including two little blond-haired girls in lavender dresses. Emma held her
daddy’s hand, as did the other girl Celeste presumed was her sister.

Although she found Emma’s father to be a bit on the arrogant side, the adoring
look on his face as he twisted and twirled his two precious daughters around
the dance floor melted Celeste’s heart. His girls were obviously the center of
his universe. And though they were without their mother, Celeste got the
feeling that Emma’s dad was the kind of guy who would do whatever it took to be
both mother and father. He would never desert them, like Celeste’s father had.

A sad smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Those two were lucky girls

Gage Purcell escorted his daughters, Emma and Cas-sidy, off the dance floor. In
the year and half since his wife, Tracy, had left, Emma’s tantrums had grown
more and more frequent. Maybe it was a coping mechanism. Maybe she blamed him
for her mother’s absence. Whatever the case, he needed to find a way to make
them stop.

The fact that a total stranger could settle his daughter better than he could
had bugged him all night. Not that he wasn’t appreciative of the caterer’s
intervention. The last thing he’d want to do is ruin his sister’s special day.

He raked a hand through his hair, eager to call it a night. Dinner and dancing
had gone on far longer than he anticipated, though the latter had afforded him
some special moments with his daughters. But now that the bride and groom had
made their exit.

“Time for us to think about going, too, girls. It’s way past my
bedtime.” Gage wove his daughters between the round cloth-covered tables
to retrieve their sweaters.

“But you go to bed after us, Daddy.” Seven-year-old Cassidy peered up
at him with serious eyes.

“That is true. So it must be way, way, way past your bedtimes.”

“I’m not—” yawning, Emma leaned against a folding chair

He chuckled, knowing his youngest would likely crash before he even put his
truck into Drive. Kneeling beside her, he held up her pink sweater. “But
your old dad might fall asleep at any—” His eyes closed, he lowered his
head and pretended to snore.

Emma giggled. “Wake up.” Her tiny hand nudged his shoulder.
“Wake up!”

“What?” He jerked his head. “I must have dozed off.”

Emma shoved her arms into the sleeves of her sweater.

“You’re silly.”

Turning his attention to Cassidy, he held up the purple sweater.

His oldest complied immediately, a dreamy smile lighting her face. “I
loved this day.”

Standing, he donned his tuxedo jacket and stared down at his two beautiful girls.
Their usually straight blond hair had been curled and pulled back on each side
and their fingernails were painted the same pale purple as their dresses.
“I guess you did. You look like little princesses. And you got to hang
with the big girls.”

“That was the best part,” said Cassidy.

A twinge of guilt prodded Gage. With their mother out of the picture, the girls
didn’t get to do many girlie things, so he was glad Taryn had included them in
all the primping and pageantry that leads up to a wedding.

“Don’t forget the cake, Daddy.”

He should have known Emma wouldn’t forget. He could only hope the caterer

Taking his daughters by the hand, he started across the hardwood floor.

“Hey there, Gage.” His old friend Ted Beatty, a shift supervisor at
one of the mines outside town, walked alongside them.

Gage had been trying to get a job with a local mine since moving back to Ouray
last year. So far, though, not one nibble.

“Whatcha know, Ted?”

“Not much.” He stopped.

So did Gage. He eyed the man who was a little older than his thirty-one years.
A deep love of mining and its history had bonded the two from a young age.

“Any hiring going on?”

Ted shook his head, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Don’t give up,
though, buddy.” He gripped Gage’s shoulder. “Things could change at
any time.”

Easy for him to say. Ted had remained in Ouray, getting his foot in the door
early when the first gold mine had reopened. Gage, on the other hand, had gone
off to Colorado’s School of Mines for a degree in mining engineering. If only
he’d hung around. Maybe he’d be following his dream instead of biding his time
working construction.

“Daddy…what about the cake?” Emma squeezed his hand, bringing a smile
to Gage’s face.

His girls were the reason he gave up his dream job in Denver and moved back to
Ouray. He needed the support of his family. And he’d do it a thousand times
over, whatever it took to provide a stable, loving environment for them. He
only wished he could say the same for their mother.

He shifted his focus back to his friend. “We’re on a mission, but let me
know if you hear anything.”

“Sure thing, Gage.”

Emma skipped alongside him as they continued on to the kitchen. He hoped she
wasn’t getting a second wind. If that happened, they could be up all night.

He carefully pushed open the swinging door.

“Nana!” Both girls bolted toward a long stainless steel work table as
his mother, Bonnie Purcell, stooped to meet them with open arms.

Behind her, the caterer moved aside and busied herself at the sink. But not
before her deep brown eyes narrowed on him.

“Oh, my precious girls.” Mom embraced her granddaughters. “You
were so good today.” She released them, smoothing a hand over her
shimmering dress as she rose. “Gage, have you met Celeste?” His
mother’s gaze drifted between him and the caterer, that matchmaking twinkle in
her eye.

Man, Taryn hadn’t been married but a few hours and his mother had already set
her sights on him.

Well, she could try all she wanted, but Gage wasn’t going down that road again.
He was a failure at marriage and had no intention of setting himself or his
daughters up for another heartbreak.

“Not officially.” The caterer grabbed a towel from the counter. Chin
jutted into the air, she held out a freshly dried hand. “Celeste Thompson.
Nice to meet you.”

Recalling the irritation that had accompanied his parting words earlier in the
evening, he reluctantly accepted the gesture. “Likewise.”

Long, slender fingers gripped his with surprising strength.

“Celeste was telling me that she’s looking for a contractor to do some
renovations in the space above her restaurant.” Mom fingered Cassidy’s
soft curls, her attention returning to the caterer. “Gage has quite an eye
for detail.”

“Well, it just so happens that I’m a detail kind of girl. I’m very
particular about how things are done.” Her smile teetered between forced
and syrupy. “But, if you think you can handle it, you’re welcome to come
by and look things over.”

“Oh, don’t be silly.” Mom took hold of his daughters’ hands.
“Gage can handle just about anything.” She beamed at Celeste first,
then Gage. “Come on, girls. Let’s go say good-night to Papa.”

The trio stole through the door, leaving him alone with the caterer. Talk about

She stepped toward the counter and retrieved a disposable container.
“Here’s the cake I promised Emma. I included enough for you and her
sister, too.”

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, but accepted the package anyway.

“I’m sorry?”

“My other daughter is Cassidy. I’m sure she will appreciate the cake every
bit as much as Emma and me. Thank you. And…” He forced himself to meet her
gaze. “Thank you for helping me out earlier.”

“You’re welcome.” Her golden-blond hair was slicked back into a long
ponytail. Save for one wayward strand, which she promptly tucked behind her
ear. Her expression softened. “Look, I realize that was kind of an
uncomfortable situation with your mother.” She peered up at him with eyes
the deep, rich color of espresso. “If you’d like to drop by and check out
the project, great. However, I understand if you don’t have time.”

She was actually giving him an out?

He hadn’t expected that.

Unfortunately, his finances dictated he not turn down a job. “How about
Monday at two?”


A Father’s Second Chance
Mindy Obenhaus
Love Inspired

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