Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

THREE MINUTES INTO DESSERT, Serena MacDonald Stewart was checking the time on her mobile phone, concocting a quick escape. Half past eight. She'd already devoted two hours to the date that would never end. Could she pull off an emergency text message from her babysitter without tipping her hand?

"Is there a problem at home?"

Serena jerked her head up guiltily and gave an inward sigh at the disappointed expression on her date's face. "No, no problem." She returned her phone to the seat beside her and vowed to keep her mind on the man who had taken her out to this very expensive—and very long—dinner.

"It's hard leaving them behind, isn't it?" he said. "Is this your first date since—?"

"Since Edward died? No, it isn't. But it doesn't seem to get any easier."

The patient understanding playing across his handsome features made her feel even worse. She'd met Daniel Cameron on a committee for the school that her daughter and his youngest son attended. He'd struck her as kind and thoughtful, and she'd not had the heart to turn him down when he'd asked her out to dinner. At least he was easy to look at: dark hair, green eyes, nice build for a man she figured was pushing fifty.

But there was absolutely no spark. Nothing. She couldn't muster one single flicker of interest.

Daniel leaned forward, lowering his voice. "I have to tell you, I haven't dated much since my divorce either. I know you're probably not supposed to bring up these things, but we both understand how it is."

Maybe not, considering she had no idea where he was going with this.

"At this point, I think we're simply trying to find someone we like and respect. You must be looking for a father for your children, especially with

Max so young. Certainly, my children could use a better role model than their mother, especially considering my work keeps me so busy."

Oh no. Now she knew where he was going with this. She'd heard it too many times. '"I didn't ask you out because I thought we had something in common and find you attractive. I'm really looking for a mother for my children before it's too late and I mess things up on my own."'

Serena cleared her throat and made a show of glancing at her mobile again. "I really hate to cut this short, but my babysitter has to be home by half nine. Do you think we could—?"

"Oh, of course. Yes. I didn't realize it had gotten so late." He signaled the server for their bill. "I don't suppose you have plans for next weekend?"

"Actually, I thought I might take Max and Em to Edinburgh. There's a Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery."

He cracked a smile, which faded as soon as he realized she wasn't having a laugh. "You're really taking an eight-year-old and a three-year-old to an art museum?"

"Of course. You have to start these things early. Max simply needs to learn to keep his hands to himself, but Em's got a good eye for technique already. I think it would be an enriching experience. That's part of why we appreciate the art program at Highlands Academy so much."

"Certainly." Now he looked as uncomfortable as she felt.

Serena put two and two together. "You were part of the petition to cut the arts and music program in favor of more academics." Surely he knew she'd been lobbying against that very petition with the private-school board for the past month.
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