A Father's Name
Author:Holly Jacobs

Chapter EIGHT

“THE MATTHEWS WANT to see you,” Tyler said without preamble Friday morning.

Jace’s grandparents had arrived on Wednesday as planned and Tucker hadn’t seen Jace since.

It had been a crappy couple of days.

She should be whizzing through her work without having to care for Jace; instead, she was putzing along, missing him. It felt odd to come into the shop first thing in the morning and stare at her sketch pad, trying to come up with some cool new design for Pisano Wholefoods Restaurant’s delivery van. They’d asked for something they could reproduce as part of a new logo. She loved the idea of taking her work beyond vehicles and really wanted to nail this one. But she couldn’t come up with a single idea.

Nada.

Zilch.

She wadded up the piece of paper she’d basically been doodling on and uttered the most articulate response she could come up with to Tyler’s proclamation. “Huh?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Matthews would like to see you. They remember you from Jason’s funeral. I’ve told them about you—about how much you’ve done for Jace,” he clarified.

“Of course you told them about me and Jace.” Oh, she could hear that conversation—Tyler raving about his benevolent employer who put herself out for Jace’s benefit with no mention of what was going on between him and her.

She pushed her sketch pad away with a bit more force than was necessary.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked, looking mystified.

“Men,” she assured him. “I’ve spent my entire adult life working with men, but I still can’t fathom how you all survive because the entire male species is clueless.”

“Gender, not species,” he corrected, grinning as if he thought he could jolly her out of her funk. He couldn’t. She simply stared at him. Well, it was more than a stare and more of a glare. “Seriously, Angelina, have I done something?”

“It’s more what you didn’t do than something you did do.” He still looked clueless so she spelled it out. “You told the Matthews all about me, and about how I’ve helped out with Jace, but I’m betting you didn’t mention you were sleeping with me or that we had more than an employer-employee relationship.”



“Of course I didn’t. I mean, it’s not like you’ve announced our…” He stumbled, as if searching for the appropriate word to describe what they had between them.

“Relationship, Tyler. It can be a relationship even if it’s only friends with benefits. A relationship doesn’t have to mean love and long-term commitments.”

“What is wrong with you?” he repeated.

“Nothing. Not a darned thing.”

He glanced down at her T-shirt. It was black, which matched her mood, and had a picture of a tire tread mark from one shoulder to the opposite hip with a motorcycle with teeth rather than a headlight and read, Tread Lightly, I Bite.

“Prophetic, or did you go change into it?” he asked, nodding at her chest.

“You’re not funny, Martinez.”

“So talk to me about what’s wrong,” Tyler said. “This mood isn’t simply about what I did or didn’t share with the Matthews. Tell me, Angel.”

“Oh, I should talk to you? Fine. Let’s trade stories. You tell me what was in that letter and I’ll reveal why I’m in a less than pleasant mood.” That shut him up, as she knew it would. She wasn’t sure why that stupid, crumpled up letter weighed on her, but it did. She told him she’d be patient and wait for him to be ready to tell her, but she lied. She wasn’t feeling patient about anything in regards to Tyler Martinez.



His silence stretched an uncomfortably long time. She finally said, “I guess we both have our secrets.”

“So, about the Matthews?” he asked, obviously giving up on the idea of trading secrets.

“Given my current mood, do you think inviting me over to meet the parents is a good idea?”

“They’re not my parents.” His response was quick. Too quick.

And because she was in a mood, she didn’t let the subject drop. She pushed. “They’re as close as you’ve got.”

“They’re Jason’s parents.”

“And they love you as if you were a son, too. You met the Kellers. They taught me that blood doesn’t make a family—love does. And I don’t even have to spend another minute with Jace’s grandparents to know they love you.”

“How can you know that?” he asked.

It was official—Tyler Martinez was the dumbest male in the history of men. And that was saying something. “Ty, it’s clear they love you because they’ve left Jace with you, haven’t they?”

“They didn’t have a choice.”

“You’re wrong, but then you’re wrong about an awful lot of things.” She sighed. “So when do they want to meet?”

“After work? We can cook out at my place.”

“All right. Do you need me to bring anything?”

“Simply yourself. I’m asking the guys, and Bart and your father, too. The Matthews appreciate how much you all have done and they’d like to tell you in person.”

“I don’t mind meeting with them, and I’ll even accept their appreciation gracefully, but know they’re not the reason any of us is helping with Jace. You are.”

“Yeah, I’m family, I know.” Rather than sound pleased at the notion, he sounded as testy as she felt.

“Yeah, you are, and the Matthews are family, too. If I know you, you’re freaked out about that as well.”

He leaned forward so he was eye-to-eye with her. “Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think.”

“Oh, yeah? Does the idea of the Matthews thinking of you as a son freak you out?”

He stood back up and didn’t answer.

“Ha. I knew I was right. And they’ve probably asked you to call them something less formal than Mr. and Mrs. Matthews. At the very least, by their first names, but I bet even if you’ve tried it, you’ve always reverted to Mr. and Mrs. Matthews. It’s a way of maintaining distance. Emotional distance,” she added, in case he didn’t get her drift.

“Okay, Freud. Thanks for the analytical help, but maybe we could put away your couch this evening and simply enjoy ourselves?”

He started to walk away, and because talking to him hadn’t made her feel less dark and dangerous—if anything it had only made her mood worse— Tucker called out, “Before I put away my therapist’s couch, maybe you should ask yourself why, when you’ve done your best to maintain some distance with the Matthews all these years, you can’t seem to manage it with me. I mean, you’ve talked about keeping things casual between us, but still insist on calling me Angelina, or Angel, rather than Tucker. That doesn’t seem like maintaining distance at all—no matter what you say.”

His spine was stiff, but he didn’t turn around. He kept on walking out the door, which he slammed shut.

Good. She hoped she upset him.

She’d been in a mood since the Matthews came to town and he hadn’t needed her for Jace.

No, if she were honest, she’d been in a mood since their last fight when she pushed and prodded him, hoping to prove to him he wasn’t his father.

He didn’t believe her.

She sat in her office, staring at the sketch book. Rather than thinking about her job, she started thinking about dinner. A picnic, that was casual. As for the Matthews—she didn’t have a clue what to wear that was dressy enough, without being too dressy. She knew this particular T-shirt wasn’t it.

She picked up her cell phone and texted Eli. SOS. Need help picking out outfit for a picnic @ Tyler’s aft wrk. Meeting the parents.

Half an hour later, probably during a break between classes, Eli texted back. Don’t sweat. Will be there soon.



Feeling better, Tucker bent down to her sketch book and got to work.

Her mood was brighter. After all, she didn’t have to cook tonight, she’d be seeing Jace, who she’d missed desperately, and Tyler was having her meet his surrogate parents.

All things considered, that wasn’t too bad.



TUCKER TUGGED THE HEM of her sundress and glared at her sandals.

Asking Eli for help had been a mistake. Eli asking Laura for help helping Tucker only compounded the mistake. Laura had swung by the Millcreek Mall before heading out to Whedon with a new outfit for Tucker.

Then the two of them had done vile things. Torturous things. Things that they insisted had to be done in order to wear sandals.

Tucker had seen the nail-polish and files, and had thought they’d planned on simply painting her nails. It wasn’t her favorite thing in the world, but she’d done it before.

But no. They’d done a pedicure. They’d clipped, filed and buffed, then painted her toenails.

She wiggled her toes as she got out of the car and cursed herself for asking for help.

She should have simply come in her T-shirt, jeans and workboots. She had the perfect T-shirt even. Lace is fine, but black T-shirts help hide the grease stains.



Yeah, she should have worn that one. But once she’d made the call and her friends had gone to all that trouble, she had no choice but wear the stupid dress.

No, not dress. Eli assured her that a dress would have been too fancy. A sundress was a step up from jeans and was very appropriate for a picnic.

What the hell had she been thinking asking her friends for help? Not that she needed to ask. She knew. She’d been thinking she wanted the Matthews to like her, and she’d worried that they wouldn’t be comfortable with their grandson spending so much time with a work-boot wearing, glorified mechanic with a paintbrush.

Lou spotted her first and was wise enough not to say anything. He simply smiled in such a way that she knew he’d noticed she’d spruced up. He nudged Joe, who also smiled. Being married had given Joe an inner-censor on what to say and more specifically, when to say nothing at all.

Then North turned around.

North did not not have an inner censor. And he was far enough away that Lou and Joe couldn’t serve as an outer censor for him as he whistled, long and low. “Wow, Boss, you clean up good. Why if I didn’t work for you, I’d date you.”

She slugged him in the arm. “You might ask me for a date, but I have taste…I’d say no. And there’s the little age difference thing.”

“Hey, I don’t mind that you’re old.”



She slugged him again.

He rubbed his arm. “Old, but man, you don’t hit like a girl, or like you’re old.”

She glared at him and he backed away, still rubbing his arm.

“Dork,” she muttered as she moved closer to the house.

Jace spotted her then. He didn’t care that she was wearing a sundress and sandals. He cried, “Uck,” as he squirmed out of Mrs. Matthews’s arms and ran to her in his toddley way.

“Hey, champ, I missed you,” Tucker said as she scooped him up and hugged him.

He babbled a mile a minute, and she agreed with whatever it was he was saying and walked over toward Mrs. Matthews.

“Mrs. Matthews.” She extended her free hand. She’d been introduced to the woman at Jason’s funeral, but doubted his mother had registered her amidst the other mourners. “I’m Tucker.”

“Tucker?”

She sighed. “There’s a chance Tyler said my name was Angelina.”

“Yes.” Mrs. Matthews nodded. “He called you Angel a few times, too.”

Tucker sighed. “I’d prefer Tucker, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll call you Tucker if you’ll call me Marge.” She dropped her voice and added, “My mother always insisted on calling me Margaret, but she was the only one. Well, my father would as well, but only when I was in trouble.”

Tucker laughed. “I’m sure that wasn’t that often.”

Mrs. Matthews—Marge—gave her a wicked grin. “Oh, you’d be surprised. I was known to kick up my heels in the day, but since this last surgery, I’m not kicking much of anything.” She nodded at the cane that was propped next to her. “I’m barely up and walking after the first surgery, and they’re planning the second for two months from now.”

“I’m sorry.” Tucker couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to have your mobility drawn up short like that.

“I’ll be fine—seeking sympathy wasn’t my intent. But I find it frustrating not to be able to do the things I used to do. Things I didn’t even think twice about. And I wanted to say thank you. I’ve already told everyone else from the shop, as well as your father and son.”

Tucker scanned the yard for them, but didn’t see them.

“They’re in the house with Bill and Tyler. You know, I’m not sure a mere thank you is enough for you.”

“It’s definitely enough, ma’am.”

“Is it Angelina?” she asked.

Tucker got Marge’s point and corrected her ma’am. “Marge. A thank you is more than enough, Marge. We all love Jace. And I keep telling Tyler, the garage is more than a place to work. It’s a family. He’s part of it now.”

“I’m sure that goes over well, Tucker,” Marge snorted.

Tucker laughed. “Yeah, about as good as you’d imagine.”

“Having dealt with Tyler all these years, it doesn’t take too much of an imagination.” Marge grew serious. “I wish there was something more I could do to thank you for taking care of both our boys. Not being able to step in and take Jace was so hard, but knowing that Tyler and Jace are surrounded by kindness helps.”

Mr. Matthews came out from the house and Marge waved him over. “Bill, this is Tyler’s Angelina, though rumor has it, she prefers being called Tucker.”

“Tucker, it’s so nice to meet you.” And with that proclamation, Mr. Matthews enveloped her in a huge bear hug. “My Marge has been beside herself worrying about our boys, but Ty’s been telling us all about you, it’s Angelina this and Angel that. You don’t know how good it is knowing he’s got friends who’ve stood by him. People who can see what an amazing man he is.” Mr. Matthews choked up.

“Bill,” Marge said, her eyes watery.

Tucker couldn’t figure out why they were both on the verge of tears, but she knew she was missing something. Something big. For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out how to ask.



Mr. Matthews continued. “All those so-called friends from the firm he worked with were quick to walk away from Tyler, like they stayed away when Jason was dealing with Mellie’s illness. Fair-weather friends aren’t worth the—”

“Bill,” Marge said, her voice stern. “That will be enough.”

“Sorry.” He tried to look contrite, but Tucker could see true anger in his eyes. He was furious at the people who’d let Tyler down. And she got that—so was she.

“It’s no problem,” she assured Marge. “I work with a shop full of men, Mr. Matthews. I doubt you could say anything that would shock me.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” Marge warned, her voice light as she very obviously tried to steer the conversation to less weighty matters. “Bill will take it as a personal challenge to try and come up with something to shock you.”

Tucker chuckled and allowed the conversation to flow into calmer waters, but she couldn’t help but wonder what she was missing.

Tyler Martinez was a man of secrets, but she felt some relief that even if he wouldn’t share those secrets with her, he obviously trusted the Matthews with them.

He didn’t think they were family, but now, more than ever, she was sure they were.



TYLER STOOD AT THE KITCHEN window and watched Angelina juggling Jace on one hip while captivating the Matthews.



He had no doubt they’d like her, and not only for what she’d done for Jace. There was something about Angelina that drew people to her, like butterflies circling a flower.

Thinking about butterflies made him remember her pink t-shirt and smile.

“Earth calling Tyler,” Bart called.

“Sorry, I was thinking.” He turned around and looked at Tucker’s son.

“You were thinking about Mom, yeah, I know.” Bart was so like his mother, if not in looks, then in attitude. Brash and to the point.

“I was thinking about other things.”

Bart laughed. “Not buying it. Whenever you think about her, you get that weird expression on your face. But hey, don’t be embarrassed, she gets the same sort of look when she’s thinking about you. And I won’t tell her you were staring out the window at her.”

“I was checking on Jace.” There, that was plausible.

Bart laughed harder. “Sure, you tell yourself whatever you need to, to get you through the day.”

“Are you two bringing those burgers out? Lou is starting to get that hungry look,” George said.

“I was teasing Tyler about Mom, Pops. Sorry.”

“You can tease him while we cook these burgers if you like,” George said amicably. “I’ll even help you.”

“Thanks, Pops.”

Tyler rolled his eyes. “Oh, yeah, thanks, but really, Bart doesn’t seem to need any help on that front. He seems to have teasing down to a science.” And Tyler couldn’t decide if he liked it because it made him feel like one of the gang, or if he didn’t because it was another indication of how close he was becoming with the entire Tucker clan.

George obviously didn’t have a problem deciding how he felt about Bart teasing Tyler. He laughed as he took the burgers out toward the grill.

“The Tuckers are a family as adept at teasing as they are at car repair,” Bart said in a way that led Tyler to believe this was a conversation the three Tuckers had been in before. “Yeah, with all these talents, it’s amazing we’re all single isn’t it?”

“Woman troubles?” Tyler asked.

Bart nodded. “You’d think being a friend would make being something easier. It doesn’t.”

Tyler felt like throwing up his hands and joining the chorus on that sentiment, but instead went for a safer, “People who don’t realize what a catch the Tuckers are, miss out.”

“Oh, people realize it about Mom. Guys are always trying to pin her down. Why, that Gary guy called again last night.”

“Who’s this?” Tyler asked, an uncomfortable possessive feeling roiling in his chest. He knew that he had no claims on Angelina. He kept telling her as much, but unfortunately, no one was telling him and every minute he was with her, he fell deeper and deeper.



“Some creep that Mom went out with a couple times. He’s not taking no for an answer very well.” Bart looked fierce. “She’s been telling him no for a couple months now. If he shows up at the house, I’ll be the one telling him no.” Bart grabbed the condiments and followed his grandfather outside. Tyler mulled over this man who wouldn’t take no from Angelina.

He wanted to find this guy and make sure he knew that Angelina was off limits. Not that he’d stand in her way when she was ready to move on to a man who deserved her. It was simply that this Gary guy obviously didn’t deserve her at all.

“What’s this Gary’s last name?” he asked when Bart returned.

“Johnson. Gary Johnson,” Bart told him. “But you don’t have to look so worried. Mom can handle him. She’s got experience.”

“There’s been other guys who won’t take no for an answer?”

“Guys like Mom,” Bart says. “Sometimes she doesn’t notice. She thinks they’re buddies. These guys tend to be guys she’s not interested in long. And some tend to be guys who don’t take no well.”

Tyler felt that old familiar rage build up in him like a long lost friend. He’d learned that kind of anger at his father’s hand. Most of the time he could control it, but he suspected it would be hard, if not impossible, to control it with a guy who bothered or hurt Angelina.



He might not be the kind of man she needed, but even he was better than a guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“You okay, Ty?” Bart asked.

Tyler pushed back the anger that was the only true legacy his father had left him and nodded. “Fine. I don’t like to see your mom have to deal with guys like that.”

“She’ll be okay. If he gets too pushy, we’re all here.”

“Good. I’ll keep an eye on her, too.”

Tyler tamped his anger as he cooked the burgers. It was easier than normal to bury it when the yard was filled with happy chatter. Jace raced from one person to the next, basking in their attention.

And in their love, Tyler realized. Every person at this picnic loved the kid.

Losing your parents at such a young age was hard, but Jace was surrounded by love. Not only his grandparents and Tyler, but everyone here. All the guys at the shop as well as the entire Tucker family. But especially Angelina. She lit up when Jace crawled on her lap, and so did Jace.

Tyler knew how the baby felt. He felt something inside him light up whenever she came into a room.

The Matthews seemed taken with her—with everyone from the garage—and as the evening wore down, they took Jace in for his bath, leaving Tyler to see everyone off.



Angelina was the last to go.

She stood out in the deepening evening and smiled. “I was right, you know.”

“About what?”

“Hmm, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing over another, I mean, I’m right so often. But this time, I was specifically talking about being right about the Matthews. They’re your family.”

“Angelina, don’t—”

“I know, I know.” She deepened her voice in a horrible attempt to impersonate him. “Don’t push, Angelina. Don’t prod. Don’t ask uncomfortable questions about certified letters, or God forbid, don’t talk about feelings. And don’t discuss relationships and family. Not with Lone-wolf Tyler Martinez.”

“Angel.” He wasn’t sure what he meant by that—by just her name. But she obviously figured it out because she stepped into his arms and kissed him.

“And don’t read too much into sex, Angel,” she whispered in her mock-Tyler voice between their kisses. “Soon, it will be over and you’ll find the man you’re meant to have. The man you deserve.” She paused. “That’s what you were thinking, isn’t it?”

“It’s like you have ESP,” he admitted.

She shook her head, sending her short curls flying. “No, it’s like you’re a broken record. I’ve learned where you skip.”

“Everything you said in my mock-voice was true.”

“Doesn’t make it right.”



“Angel…”

“You live in the past, Tyler.” Her voice was soft, and rather sad. “You worry that somehow your father’s cruelty and drinking problems are contagious. They’re not.”

“That’s not what studies say.”

She snorted. “Studies? They’re all wrong. At least about you. They speak in generalities, and Tyler Martinez is unique.”

She stood on tiptoe and kissed him chastely on his cheek. “I should go now. Your family’s inside waiting for you.”

“The Matthews leave on Sunday.” He meant to stop there, but instead found himself asking, “Maybe we could get together?”

“Are you asking me for a date? I mean, rumor has it I could do better.” She laughed as she repeated his words.

“Rumor’s right, in this instance. And better means someone better than that Johnson guy who’s been hassling you.”

Angelina nodded, her expression serious. “Okay, I’m going to admit that you’re right, Tyler.”

“Really? About what?” he asked suspiciously because beneath her serious expression he could spot a smile lurking.

“You’re right that I could do better. Oh, so much better, Tyler. But at this moment in time, I don’t want to. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than in your arms. So yes, I’d love to go out with you. Bet we can talk Bart into babysitting while I revel in your mediocrity for an evening?”

“How come even when you admit I’m right and I should feel like I won an argument, I still feel as if I’m a loser?”

“You are, but hey, when you take me on that date, we’ll see if you can get luckier. I mean, really lucky.”

Whatever cloud had darkened her mood earlier had blown over. If getting teased was the price he had to pay for pulling her out of her funk, he was willing to pay and play along. She hefted a mock-sigh. “Angel, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”

“The question isn’t what you’re going to do, it’s what you want to do. What do you want to do with me, Tyler?”

His mind raced with all the many and varied things he wanted to do with Angelina Tucker. Unfortunately, he had the Matthews inside, so his desires would have to wait. “Ask me that question again after our date.”

She laughed. “I will. Oh, you can bet I will.”



TUCKER WENT INTO the office on Sunday morning. She was too revved up about tonight’s date to sleep.

It was ridiculous, and she knew it.

She was a grown woman with a son who was leaving for college in a few weeks, and she was acting like a teenager.



She let herself into the building’s back door and started toward her office.

There was a light on.

She considered there might be someone trying to break in, but if she were a thief, she’d steal expensive garage equipment. There was nothing in her office worth stealing. So she opened her door, and found her father sitting at her desk, staring at her computer screen with his reading glasses perched at the end of his nose.

“Pops?”

He looked up from the screen. “You’re up early, Angel.”

“Uh, so are you.” She walked over to the desk and peeked at the computer monitor. “So what are you doing?”

“Checking the books,” her father said casually, as if coming into her office and double-checking her work was a normal, everyday occurrence.

“Why?”

Her father didn’t answer.

“Because you don’t trust me?”

His expression said he thought she was being ridiculous. “Trust you? Certainly, I trust you. I wouldn’t have stepped aside if I didn’t trust you, but…”

She didn’t need a psychology degree to know what this was about. “It’s that Tyler’s helping, right?”

“Right.”

“You don’t think I have enough business savvy to check his work?” She trusted him, on some deep level, despite all the evidence saying she shouldn’t. But despite that innate confidence in him, as a matter of good business principles, she double-checked his work. After all, the garage wasn’t only her livelihood. A lot of people relied on it.

Her father looked puzzled. “If you’re checking it, then why have him help?”

How to explain to her father what she hardly understood herself. “First off, you can see how much more efficient his system is. It’s all on the computer, Pops, and once everything’s up and running, it should really streamline the paperwork, and that works well for me, and for the business.”

She walked around the desk and sat down. “Secondly, I asked him to help because this is where he belongs. In an office. He’s a great mechanic, but he’s an even better businessman. He should be in an office, dealing with customers. Lou agrees. He’s had Tyler doing more and more of the customer interactions in the garage.” She paused.

Her father nodded and filled in, “And thirdly, you care about him.”

“Maybe,” was all she’d admit to her father, but in her heart she knew there was no maybe about it. She cared about Tyler Martinez. And her feelings were growing stronger daily.

“He’s not what I wanted for you,” her father admitted with a sigh.

“I don’t think I’d sweat it, Pops. I don’t think I’m what he wants—at least not long term. But hey, short term is better than not at all.”

“You’re worth more than settling, Angel.”

“And you’re biased, Pops. And unless you want me to start offering you advice with Marilyn, I’m thinking you should let me handle my personal relationship with Tyler.”

“He was convicted of a crime,” he said, as if it were news.

“Yeah? Well, I was a teen mother. That was part is what matters. I’m more than a teen mother now, and he’s more than his conviction. I don’t know why he did what he did, but Pops, I know Tyler. There was a reason. And someday, maybe, he’ll share it with me.”

Her father sighed. “So, if we’re not going to advise each other on our dating lives, then I think it’s time I broach the idea of a business partner again.”

“Pops, I’ve got things under control. You’ve looked at the books, and despite a precarious economy, we’re not only holding our own, we’re growing.”

“Your painting clientele is growing. That’s where you need to concentrate. Maybe it’s time Tucker’s Garage added to its name. Tucker’s Garage and Design. Or Tucker’s Garage and Bodywork. But no matter what it’s called, let me sell at least some of my share. Someone who would have a vested interest in the company. Someone who likes doing the business portion as much as you like doing the bodywork.”



“Pops, it’s way too early on a Sunday morning to start this fight. I’m not willing to bring some stranger into the garage as a partner. Even if I keep controlling interest. If you were to tell me Lou wanted to buy in…”

“He doesn’t,” her father said sadly. “I think he hates the business end of things more than you do. And he’s thinking of retiring in a few years.”

“And the other guys don’t have enough money to make that move. And let’s face it, Joe and North are young. I’d love to keep them with us for years, but there’s a chance they’ll move on. As for Tyler, you get nervous having him work on the accounts, I can’t imagine you wanting to sell your stake to him.”

Her father frowned. “So, we’re at an impasse.”

“Looks like.”

He shook his head. “We could fight some more about it.”

“We could, but managing your stress is part of the reason you’ve retired. I guess I look at it like this, Pops—you either trust me or you don’t.”

“I trust you,” he said quickly, without hesitation.

“Then you’re going to have to put this talk about a partner aside, because I won’t agree. Oh, you could try to force the issue—”

“I’ve never forced you to do anything.”

She’d known that and was glad of it. “Then we are definitely at that impasse.”

“So what do we do?” he asked.



“I suggest that we head over to my house and I’ll make some pancakes.”

“You’re going to feed me pancakes?” His surprise was evident. Since he’d been sick, she’d been very strict about his diet.

Tucker laughed. “Sure. I found this new recipe that uses whole grains and all kinds of other healthy things.”

“You wouldn’t mess with your grandmother’s pancake recipe, would you? Is nothing sacrosanct to you, daughter?”

She glanced over her shoulder at the computer before shutting her office door and continuing her pancake battle with her father. It was easier to argue about pancakes than to argue about potential partnerships or Tyler.

Her father wanted more for her than Tyler Martinez, a man who’d told her in no uncertain terms whatever they had wasn’t going to have a future. A man who was honest to the core.

And maybe that’s why his whole embezzlement charge bothered her so much, because Tyler was honest to the core.

And honest men didn’t steal money from their companies. They didn’t embezzle from clients and do whatever they had to in order to hide the crime.

And, Tyler had never said what he needed the money for. He lived a cushy lifestyle, but given his job, she didn’t think he lived beyond his means. He drove very nice cars, but he’d never owned more than one. He wore fancy, designer suits, but so did everyone else in his office, if what they wore to Jason’s funeral was any indication.

So, why embezzle?

Maybe that’s what she should ask him.

She wasn’t sure he’d tell her.

Tyler was honest…when he said something. But he seemed as happy not to say anything at all.

And that was getting old, very, very fast.