Finn nodded. Tobias had been a devoted uncle to Maggie, even though a huge geographical distance separated them. He couldn’t count the number of times Tobias had pulled out photos and letters from Maggie. Finn always had the impression Tobias viewed Maggie as his honorary daughter.
“He sure did,” Finn acknowledged. “She’s going to do him proud by running Keepsakes and carrying on his legacy here in Love.”
Al jerked his head in the direction of Maggie and Oliver. “Who’s the guy standing with them?” Al let out a chuckle. “You can’t even turn your back in this town without someone trying to steal your lady.”
Finn quickly turned around. From this distance he couldn’t be certain, but it looked like Hank Jeffries had sidled up to Maggie in his absence. He had his palm up waiting for Oliver to give him a high five. Finn recognized his height and broad shoulders, as well as the red-and-black lumberjack coat he always wore. A feeling of irritation washed over him. Hank was a fireman. Ladies loved firemen, although for some inexplicable reason, Hank was still single and available. And according to the rumor mill, he was looking to settle down.
Finn clenched his teeth. Hank was well regarded and a genuinely nice guy. It wasn’t any of his business who courted Maggie or tried to make friends with Oliver. After all, hadn’t Oliver spilled the beans about wanting to find a father in Love? Hank would fit the bill just fine, he imagined. He was heroic and strong and he didn’t run away when things became too overwhelming.
Finn turned his back on the sight of Maggie, Hank and Oliver. The sudden appearance of Hank reminded him of his own unworthiness. He felt like a deflated balloon. Maggie and Hank made sense. He was the very definition of reliable. Steadfast. No doubt the whole town of Love would cheer them on.
“She’s not my lady,” he said in a curt voice to Al.
“Really? The two of you aren’t the latest couple from Jasper’s program?” Al asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
For some reason, Al’s question pricked at Finn. This whole evening had felt idyllic until reality had slapped him in the face. Hank’s sudden appearance had been a jolt to the system, serving to remind him in no uncertain terms of his own inadequacy. He wasn’t the type of man who could give Maggie and Oliver what they truly needed and deserved—stability.
“We’re not dating,” Finn snapped. “Maybe I should put a sticky note on my forehead saying we’re just friends.”
Al held up his hands. “Okay. I didn’t mean to get you all riled up. It’s just that you three look like a family. And Declan settled down last year. Figured you might want to follow his lead.”
He blew out a frustrated breath. “How many times do I have to tell everyone in this town? I’m not interested in Operation Love or getting married or starting a family. I don’t want to be a father or a husband. I’m doing perfectly fine all by myself.”
The moment the words tumbled off his tongue, Finn felt like a jerk. Al’s hurt expression spoke volumes. Once again, Finn O’Rourke had messed up.
As Finn turned around to leave, he met Maggie’s shocked gaze. She was standing directly behind him with wide eyes. He felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. There was no question about it. Maggie had overheard
He let out a ragged sigh. So much for their perfect evening.
Maggie’s cheeks felt flushed as she stood awkwardly in the entranceway to the tent. Maggie had never heard such anger in Finn’s voice. It had surprised her. For the most part, he always seemed so upbeat and content. And this evening had been so idyllic up to this point.
A thick tension hung in the air. She had no idea what to say to fill up the silence.
She’d been standing with Oliver when Hank Jeffries had come over and introduced himself to them. It had quickly become clear he had a romantic interest in her. Although he was handsome and friendly, Maggie had felt slightly uncomfortable. She’d been out of the dating game for quite some time. Even before she’d met Sam, Maggie had always felt awkward about dating. Clearly, nothing had changed.
On the pretext of asking Finn a question about the tree, Maggie had beat a fast path toward the tent. In the process, she’d stumbled upon a very revealing conversation.
Finn stood by silently, seemingly speechless.
“You must be Maggie.” The older man came toward her and stuck out his hand. “I’m Al Pendergast. This is my Christmas tree stand. You probably don’t remember me, but your uncle was a dear friend of mine. I met you once or twice when you were knee-high to a grasshopper.”
Maggie shook his hand and shot him a shaky smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you again. You’ve got some beautiful trees here. My son is delighted.”
“You sure know how to make an old man smile. I pride myself on top-quality Christmas trees.” Al grinned. “Why don’t we head back over to the trees and I’ll wrap it up for you?”
As they walked back toward Oliver and the tree, Maggie couldn’t help but notice Hank had disappeared. She felt a twinge of guilt about not being more receptive to him, but he’d caught her off guard. She probably didn’t have to worry about him asking her out. She’d acted like a skittish newborn colt.
Mr. Pendergast placed the tree in a machine that wrapped it up in netting. Finn easily picked up the tree and strapped it to the top of Maggie’s car.
“I’ll follow behind the two of you in my car,” Finn said. He’d barely said two words since she had surprised him in the tent. Maggie wasn’t sure if he was embarrassed or annoyed with her for overhearing him. Either way, it felt awkward.
“Can I go in Finn’s car?” Oliver asked, crossing his hands prayerfully in front of him.
Maggie tugged at his sleeve. “No, Oliver,” she said in a sharp voice. “You’re driving with me.”