Chapter 1 – Man Handle



Andy ran out of the secure area of the airport with the biggest grin, his little backpack bobbing as he went. “Dad!” he shouted.

Dad followed at a more sedate pace, smiling at the eager reunion.

I leaned down and scooped Andy up into my arms. “Hey, bud. Did you have fun? See Mickey?”

He nodded enthusiastically, then pointed to the hat on his head, the one with the big black ears. “I did. And Pluto and Goofy.”


“We ate chicken nuggets shaped like Mickey, rode on an old train, a monotrain and a big boat.”

“A monotrain?”

“Monorail,” my dad corrected.

“Yeah, that thing. It was really cool. There were fireworks and a parade and the haunted house which made Grumpy really scared but I held his hand in the spooky elevator and–”

I expected the excited recount, but he didn’t even take a breath. “Wow. All that? Did Grumpy throw up on the teacup ride?”

“I didn’t.” Dad said with a puffed chest, but then looked a little sheepish. “Barely.

I turned. “Come on, let’s go see if your suitcase is here yet.”

Andy wiggled in my hold and I put him down. “Not yet. We need to wait.”

I frowned down at him. “Wait?”

“Yeah, we have to wait for her. She was sitting next to us and she’s very nice.” He came close, put his hands around his mouth and whispered. “She’s pretty, too.”

“You made a friend on the plane?”

I looked to Dad for guidance and he rolled his eyes, although he still smiled, which meant he was being indulgent.

“Yeah. Not just a friend. More than a friend.” Andy turned and looked down the hallway from the secure side of the airport. “There. That’s her!”

I looked up and… if I were a cartoon character, my eyeballs would pop out of my head. They’d turn into hearts and little birdies would be chirping.

Andy’s new friend wasn’t a kid. She was all woman and holy shit, she was beautiful. Not girl-next-door pretty, but stunning. Everything about her was perfect. From the top of her carefully styled dark hair to her heeled boots. Dark eyes, a pert nose, high cheekbones, full lips. She was… breathtaking. Dressed casually in black pants, a white blouse and jean jacket didn’t hide that she was soft and curvy. A hot pink scarf of the softest and fluffiest yarn was around her neck. Silver earrings dangled. She screamed high maintenance and definitely not a Hunter Valley local.

She just got off a plane, you dumbass!

“Miss Georgia!” Andy called and waved his little hand as if he was seeing Minnie Mouse in the theme park parade.

The woman’s face lit up at the sight of Andy and she went right over to him, wheeling her pale pink carry-on. Holy hell, that smile. I wanted that aimed at me.

“There’s my friend,” she said, her voice soft and kind. “I knew I couldn’t get lost if you were here.”

He nodded, completely under her thrall. I could relate.

“The circle thing for the suitcases is over there.” He pointed in the direction of baggage claim.

I couldn’t stop staring, taking in every inch of her.

Dad cleared his throat.

I stared some more.

“Mac,” he whispered. “Close your mouth.”

I shook myself out of the female-induced haze I was in and snapped my mouth shut. Licked my lip because it was possible I drooled.

He chuckled as Andy and the woman he called Georgia approached.

“Dad, she sat beside me on the plane. She likes ginger ale and gave me her bag of peanuts.”

I nodded and took in Georgia up close. Responding to medical emergencies, I could size someone up quickly. My expert eye said she was in her thirties. Five-nine. A hundred sixty pounds. She wasn’t a skinny little thing, but that worked for me. My friends were finding their women and they were all tiny. Skinny. To me, who was definitely rough around the edges, breakable.

I wanted a curvy woman I could hold onto. Sink into. Grab. Man handle.

Georgia? She didn’t seem breakable and I definitely wanted to get my hands on her.

She wore makeup, but it was applied subtly. Her mouth was a soft, kissable pink and shiny. Her dark lashes were long and… fuck, I could smell her perfume. Something soft and flowery and feminine.

She didn’t look like the kind of woman who perspired or changed her own oil or hiked up a mountain or got her hands dirty. From her pale pink nail polish to her glossy curls tumbling artfully over her shoulders, she screamed high maintenance.

What was I? Low maintenance. Hell, I was no maintenance. I had on my sturdy leather boots, which I wore when on shift or running errands, jeans and black t-shirt. For once, the house had been quiet and today I’d lounged on the couch and watched a basketball game on TV, although I fell asleep sometime during the second period.

Because of that surprise nap, I’d rushed out of the house to get to the airport. I sure as fuck wasn’t prepared to meet a gorgeous woman. Hell, when was I?

I was a single dad. The Hunter Valley fire chief who lived as much at the station as I did at home. There was always grease or dirt under my nails. I had calluses on my palms. The disposal needed to be replaced in the kitchen. I should’ve gone to the dentist six months ago. My hair was an inch past needing a trim. I skipped shaving this morning. And yesterday morning.

I wanted to run home, get cleaned up–if I had any clean clothes to change into because I only got one load into the washer this weekend–comb my hair and track down some flowers and come back and hand them to her. Then bend her over the hood of my car in short-term parking and muss her all up and scream my name.


I shook my head, realized I was staring even more, then offered her a smile. “Hey. I’m Mac, Andy’s dad.” And the guy who was having very filthy thoughts about you.

“Georgia Lee Gantry.”

Her hand was small in mine. Tiny. Soft. Warm. And I didn’t want to let go.

“Thanks for sharing your peanuts with Andy,” I replied.

She laughed, soft and light. Had I mentioned she appeared soft all over? Or what I could see. I wanted to strip off all those ironed and freshly laundered clothes and see if the rest of her was, too.

I’d bet two months of engine washing that she had on pretty lingerie that matched. Yellow lace. No. Lavender satin.

Fuck, me. Cool satin against those full tits and spankable ass?

“Dad?” Andy asked again.

I looked down at him. When she tugged her hand, I realized I was still holding it. I let go, ran my hand over my unruly hair.

I cleared my throat. “What, bud?”

“I was right. Sometimes it takes a while. And you were right. She doesn’t come down the chimney, she comes on a plane.”

“Yes, she came on your plane from Denver,” I told him.

Andy shook his head and gave me an eye roll that I had a feeling was only going to get perfected as he got older. “Georgia’s it, Dad.”

“It?” I asked. Me, Dad and Georgia eyed him. “Yeah. My new mom!”









Vanessa Vale