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How could you know he would have been cool sharing his food with Noah? Most people wouldn’t have done that.

No one except Tyler, who hadn’t thought about sharing germs with her son. They sat in silence as Noah finished his ice cream.

Finally, when they were walking out of the zoo, Tyler said, “If you want to skip the party and get Noah home, I understand.”

“No, he’s fine, really. See, his face already looks better.” She swallowed hard, dread settling in the pit of her stomach. “Unless you’d rather just take us home.”

“If you’re good with it, then so am I.”

The words weren’t said with a lot of enthusiasm, but Dani didn’t know what else to say.

Chapter Twenty-One

TYLER, DANI, AND Noah stood on the porch of his parents’ house, already an hour late to the party after the ice cream kerfuffle, and without knocking, he opened the door and ushered them in.

“We’re here.” He actually hadn’t mentioned bringing Dani and Noah, mostly because he’d wanted to see the shock on his mom’s face. He knew it wouldn’t be a problem—usually he brought one or more of the guys with him for company on the drive, and his mom had always been a more-the-merrier type.

However, he wished that things weren’t so tense and weird between Dani and him. The drive south they’d said very little, and he’d turned on Disney children’s radio for Noah, so there hadn’t been anything for him to sing along to for a distraction.

So many niggles of self-doubt chewed through his brain right now. He should have known better than to give Noah a bite of his ice cream, so why had he done it? Just because the kid had looked so sad and dejected, and he’d felt bad? No matter how much he cared about Dani and Noah, he wasn’t the kid’s dad. Which meant he had no business making any decisions about his well-being without asking Dani first.

“Who’s we?” his dad called gruffly.

As they rounded the corner into the family room, his dad looked over at them and did a wide-eyed double take. The big burly man climbed to his feet and came over, clapping Tyler in a tight hug. Several back slaps were exchanged before Gareth Best pulled back and grinned at Dani and Noah, holding his hand out.

“Hey there, I’m Gareth Best, this knucklehead’s dad.”

“Dad, this is Dani Hill and her son, Noah,” Tyler said.

Dani took his dad’s hand with a smile, balancing Noah on the opposite hip. “It’s very nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Really? Well, to be honest, sweetheart, you are a welcome surprise.” His dad held his hand up to Noah. “How are you, kiddo? Can you give me a high five?”

Noah hesitated, ducking his head shyly, but with a little coaxing from Dani, he slapped Gareth’s hand.

“All right!”

“Where is everyone?” Tyler asked. The house was unusually quiet except for the sound of the TV.

“Everyone is out back except your brother, who is playing video games with Chris and those hooligan nephews of mine.”

Tyler laughed at his dad’s description of his cousins; he always called the twins, Kent and Kyle, hooligans because of their love of practical jokes. The twins were both twenty-one, and his aunt swore they would be the death of her.

“Why are you hiding out in here?” Tyler asked.

“Because your sister, mother, and the rest of the hens are clucking away out back. Your uncles abandoned me to go get more ice, and I was feeling a bit outnumbered.”

“Well, we’ll head out and say hi,” Tyler said.

“You watch your mother and make sure she doesn’t try to steal that child. Three of you were enough for me!”

To Tyler’s relief, Dani laughed at his dad’s joke.

“Just so you know, my dad has three sisters and my mom has two, so there are going to be a lot of people asking you questions. If you need a safe word for when you need rescuing, we could probably use something like ‘Mickey.’ ”

For the first time since the strawberry fiasco, she placed her hand in his. “Tyler, I’ll be fine, I promise. Besides, you’ve met my mom. If I can handle her, I can handle anyone.”

Tyler kept ahold of her hand as he opened the sliding back door. It was a nice sunny day, just around sixty but not a cloud in the sky. As they stepped out, the women surrounding several outdoor tables turned toward them.

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