“We don’t want her to think Love is a snoozefest,” Declan added. “How about the Christmas cookie exchange or the Deer Run Lake skating party?”
Finn snapped his fingers. “And what about the choral group who sings carols door-to-door?” Finn wanted Maggie and Oliver to experience the best of Love. The happier they were, the more likely they would stay in Love long-term. He felt a bit badly about not encouraging Maggie to participate more in town events. He had been so eager to finish work on the shop so he could collect his inheritance and buy into O’Rourke Charters. He’d lost sight of the fact that Maggie needed to be exposed to a wide range of things in Love.
“Ooh,” Hazel exclaimed. “I just found out there’s a holiday mixer for Operation Love participants. Maggie’s been invited even though she hasn’t officially signed up yet for the program. There’s still a female shortage in this town, so nobody minds bending the rules and allowing her to attend.” Hazel jabbed Jasper in the side. “Something tells me the men of Love will be vying for Maggie. She’s a good-looking woman.”
“Sure is,” Jasper said with enthusiasm. “I don’t want to be indiscreet, but a few men have already asked about her.” Jasper wiggled his eyebrows. “That holiday mixer would be great for Maggie to meet some eligible men.” He rubbed his hands together. “Another Operation Love success story in the making.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Hazel said, her lips pursed.
“What are you talking about?” Jasper asked. He puffed his chest out. “I’m an expert on the program and matchmaking in general. You should know that Maggie Richards will be the perfect partner for some fella in this town.”
Finn felt himself grinding his teeth. He counted to ten slowly in his head. All this talk of Maggie and Operation Love was irritating. Finn didn’t like the way Hazel was eyeballing him either. She was studying him like he was a biology exam.
“Let’s leave these young ’uns alone so they can look at the menu. Come help me in the kitchen,” Hazel said to Jasper in a blustery voice as she pulled her husband away from the table.
Finn felt himself tensing up. The idea of men fighting over Maggie wasn’t a pleasant one. And even though Jasper wasn’t giving up any names, Finn wanted to know who was asking about Maggie. There were a few men in Love who shouldn’t even think about approaching Maggie. He could think of at least five off the top of his head.
Humph! They didn’t even know her. Her likes and dislikes. Her favorite color. How she liked to spend her downtime. Did they even know she had a son?
“What’s wrong? You look bent out of shape.”
“Nothing. I just don’t like the idea of some of these guys swarming over Maggie like bees to honey,” he muttered.
Declan looked at Finn from over his menu. “Why not? If she finds the man of her dreams, won’t it be a good thing?”
Finn clenched his jaw. A good thing? Yes. Maggie deserved to find happiness, but he couldn’t deny the unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. She was a single mother and a widow who had lived through tragedy. She put on a brave front, but she was vulnerable in many ways. If Finn had anything to say about it, he wasn’t going to let Maggie pair up with just anybody. The guy needed to be as solid as a rock.
Sophie appeared with two glasses of ice water and placed them down on the table. “I’ll be back in a jiffy to take your order.”
Finn looked down at the menu, studiously avoiding his brother’s gaze. After what seemed like an eternity, he looked across at Declan, who was still staring at him. Finn let out an exaggerated sigh. “Just say it. I know you want to tell me something, hence the Darth Vader stare.”
Declan’s lips twitched at the Star Wars mention. “I know you’re into Maggie. You can’t fool me, Finn.” The look on Declan’s face spoke volumes. Sometimes his brother could be like a dog with a bone. He wasn’t going to back down on this topic.
“Of course I like her. She’s beautiful. And super sweet. You should see her with Oliver.” He shook his head. “She’s wonderful. But honestly, I’m not looking to romance her. I don’t do serious. And I’m certainly not looking for a ready-made family.” He let out a harsh laugh. “Seriously? Can you see me with a wife and a kid?”
Declan wasn’t laughing. He narrowed his gaze and studied Finn. “Honestly, I can easily picture it, Finn. You’re a good, honest man. You’ve made some missteps in the past, but who hasn’t? You’ve really stepped up in the last year and come into your own. I think it’s time you stopped beating yourself up about it.”
Finn felt a huge lump in his throat. Declan’s vote of confidence meant the world to him. But there were things his younger brother didn’t know. He had no clue about Finn’s role in their mother’s death and the gradual dissolution of their family unit. Finn’s worst fear was Declan finding out and casting Finn out of his life for good. Without Declan and Annie, Finn wouldn’t have a family. He would be completely alone.
As Sophie came back to the table to take their order, Finn could barely concentrate on ordering his meal. Fear had grabbed hold of him.
All of these years he’d managed to keep his guilty secret from Declan. A shudder went down his back at the prospect of Declan finding out the truth about him being responsible for the accident that had killed their mother and the brutal aftermath—his father leaving the family and Killian’s death some years later. Finn had lost most of the people in his life he held dear. He didn’t think he would able to bear it if he lost Declan too.
As Maggie peered around the thick brown paper still covering the storefront window she saw the gently falling snow. It looked so beautiful and serene. It truly resembled one of those idyllic images from a calendar. From this vantage point she could see the Moose Café, as well as other shops on Jarvis Street. She was counting down the days until they could rip down the paper and Keepsakes could join the other businesses in their holiday cheer.
Maggie couldn’t remember a time in her life when she had worked so hard toward a goal. With the exception of her first few weeks as a mother to a newborn and the shocking circumstances of Sam’s death, getting Keepsakes ready for business had become the most difficult endeavor in her life.
On the bright side, the shop was taking shape, and she could see all of the possibilities laid out before her. She had put aside items that she wanted to showcase in the front windows as a holiday display.
Day by day her friendship with Finn was strengthening. They were beginning to fall into old, familiar rhythms. He made her laugh with his corny jokes and she delighted him with tales of Oliver’s antics. They chuckled over their childhood escapades and the fanciful dreams of their youth. It was nice to be friends with a man without romance messing things up. Although Finn was appealing on so many levels, Maggie couldn’t see herself romantically involved with anyone. Sam had done enough damage to her heart to last a lifetime.
“You wanted to be a crime fighter,” Finn had reminded her earlier that morning. “I vividly recall you talking about wearing a red cape and riding to the rescue.”
“You wanted to be a pilot by day,” Maggie recounted with a chuckle. “And a pizza maker by night.”
“Sounds reasonable to me. Flying and pizza. Two of the finest things in life.” Finn shook his head. “Such goals we had.”