Read Until She Met Daniel Online

Authors: Callie Endicott

Until She Met Daniel

Opposites are irresistible!

If something feels right to Mandy Colson, she goes for it. That's why she never stays long in one place and why she's landed temporarily in sleepy Willow's Eve. That's also why she's got a
huge
problem with new city manager Daniel Whittier. Sizzling attraction aside, the gorgeous single dad is all about control and playing it safe—and Mandy isn't.

So why does everything change when their arguments turn into combustible kisses? Now, instead of moving on, Mandy's edging closer to Daniel…and falling deeper for a man who might not compromise, even for love.

“What a klutz I am.”

Daniel careered through her door a second later and saw her sprawled on the wood flooring.

“You okay?”

“Sure, just embarrassed by my two left feet.” Mandy groped around under her sore rear end and found the pen that had started her foot on its sideways journey, then held it up. “Here's the culprit. Let's have it arrested for unauthorized loitering.”

He reached down to grasp her arm and help her upright. Mandy swallowed as she stumbled against his muscular frame. Man, did she want to know how it felt to be held tight and get kissed really thoroughly for once in her life.

She stepped away and tried to smile, only to realize he was looking at her in a way that wasn't collegial. Suddenly he pulled her close and bent down to press his lips against hers. Energy popped and she snuggled into an embrace that was as good as she'd imagined.

Dear Reader
,

I like small towns and the quirky people you sometimes find in them. Those interesting folks are probably in big cities as well, but they tend to stand out more in smaller communities. Willow's Eve, its people and its problems are fictional. But the small-town feeling of community is something I've encountered in many places, and so I wanted to share the spirit of it in this fictional setting.

I hope you will enjoy the story of Willow's Eve and the hero and heroine who meet there. Both Daniel and Mandy come from large cities and are quite the opposite in their plans and the way they approach their lives and careers. Yet they fall in love and find that what they'd always thought were the best plans aren't always the ones that will bring them joy.

I hope you have fun reading
Until She Met Daniel.
I enjoy hearing from readers and can be contacted c/o Mills & Boon Books, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, ON M3B 3K9, Canada.

Callie Endicott

Until She Met Daniel

Callie Endicott

www.millsandboon.co.uk

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a kid,
CALLIE ENDICOTT
had her nose stuck in a novel so much it frequently got her into trouble. She majored in English in college to support her addiction to stories, but it wasn't enough. Out of desperation, she turned to writing, and now when she isn't walking on a beach or taking a mountain forest trail, she usually has her nose stuck to a computer screen. That is, when she isn't feeding her cat, scooping the litter box…and listening to Myna purr. Myna has a new friend, also four-footed, but she doesn't like Winston, since he's a rival. However, Winston and the guy in Callie's life are getting along fine.

Dedicated to all the good, quirky souls I've known through the years

PROLOGUE

M
ANDY
 
WAS
 
PRACTICALLY
 
giddy as she looked at the clock on the wall, thrilled that it was her last day at Saggitt Tech.

It wasn't the worst temp position she'd ever held, but doing inventory control for the company's move from Tucson to Phoenix couldn't compete with her last job—driving a tour bus around Pennsylvania's Amish country.

She grinned.

Now
that
had been a great five months. People on vacation were fun—people whose jobs were moving to another city...not so much.

An email notification popped up on her computer screen.

Please come see me. Bill.

She headed for Bill Rollins's new office. He was one of the company's up-and-coming executives and had worked closely with Mandy and the rest of the relocation team.

“Hey, Bill,” she said breezily. “What's up?”

He frowned. “I just got your farewell email to everybody, saying you were leaving at noon today.”

“Well,
yeah.
Saggitt has finished its move and the final inventory report is done, so I'm out of here. My car is all packed and I've done my exit interview with personnel.”

“I thought you were staying.”

Mandy blinked. “Bill, this was a temporary job.”

He tapped his pen on the desk. “But we discussed that administrative position over a month ago, when we were still in Tucson. Didn't you apply?”

She shook her head. “You mentioned the opening, but it wasn't for me.”

“I don't understand. It's a perfect match with your skills and education. And we get along so well...I hoped if you were in a different division, then we could, uh, socialize. Outside the office.”

Damn.

Bill was a nice guy, totally gorgeous. And dull as paste. She honestly didn't think she'd done a single thing to make him believe she was interested in more than a casual friendship. Still, she felt awful about his hurt expression. It might not be her fault he'd gotten the wrong idea, but it
felt
like her fault.

“Um, that's really nice, Bill,” she said and shuffled her feet, “but I only took the job with Saggitt because it was temporary. I get restless when I'm anyplace for very long.”

He stared. “We've been in Phoenix for only three weeks.”

“It's just the way I am.” She smiled weakly. “To be honest, my family doesn't understand me, either.”

“You've never mentioned your family.”

“We're not that close.” Her relationship with her parents was lousy at best, and she didn't get along any better with her twin brothers.

“Do you have a job somewhere else?” Bill asked.

“Nope. I'm just going to drive toward the Pacific Ocean and see what comes up. It's wonderful what happens when you aren't tied to a schedule.”

Bill rearranged the pencils in his pen holder. Now she felt even worse—it was one of his nervous habits. “Why didn't you send your email to everyone a few days earlier?”

To avoid scenes like this,
she thought, wishing she'd sent her farewell message at 11:59 a.m., and then raced for the door. Only that would have seemed rude.

“I...um, heard there's a tradition at Saggitt of doing a little party when someone leaves, and I wanted to save everybody the trouble.”

“Sneaky,” Patti Kessler sang out from the doorway. “But I'm too stubborn for that to work. I got your email and headed to the store for party food. Come on, Mandy, Bill, let's go to the lunchroom. Everybody is waiting for us.”

It was a welcome interruption and Mandy eagerly followed. A lot of women would be thrilled to date Bill Rollins. She just didn't happen to be one of them. As for staying in Phoenix, it was a nice city, but she was looking forward to cooler weather and tall evergreens. Some of the stories she'd heard about coastal redwood trees sounded fantastical, and she could hardly wait to see if they were true.

 

CHAPTER ONE

M
ANDY
 
PEEKED
 
THROUGH
 
the door of City Hall's “parlor.” Everything seemed in order, so she continued down the hallway to her office.

Mandy Colson

Senior Center Director

As always, the printed words on her office door made her smile. Who could have guessed she'd be hired to direct a program for seniors? Definitely not her. But she enjoyed it, though there wasn't anything unique or unusual about the work. The program was probably the same in almost every town in the country. They provided a hot lunch on weekdays, held exercise groups, sponsored special trips and educational programs—all sorts of things. It was Mandy's job to organize and oversee the programs, coordinate menus and purchasing, and do anything else that was needed. Sometimes she was like a juggler, keeping dozens of balls in the air, but that was part of the fun.

Today a group of women had gathered in the parlor for a sewing project. From what she'd overheard earlier, Dorothy Tanner and Margaret Hanson were already sparring—people in Willow's Eve said they'd been rivals since the day Dorothy had been born, dislodging Margaret's position as an indulged only child. Mandy suspected that deep down the sisters cared about each other, though a person might have to dig
extremely
deep to reveal it.

A soft knock sounded at the door frame and Mandy glanced up to see her next-door neighbor, Jane Cutman.

“Hi, Jane.” Mandy smiled.

“Good morning, dear. The coffee is running low and everyone wants you to make the fresh pot. Somebody else could do it, but they like yours best.”

“Sure thing.” Mandy jumped up and followed Jane into the parlor. The parlor was different from the senior centers she'd seen in the past, not that she'd seen that many of them. But mostly those spaces had been a little sterile. Here, the parlor was a pleasant room with comfy chairs and couches, a few small tables for puzzles or games, and a larger table for bigger projects or groups. It was an ideal social gathering place, which was probably the primary reason
for
a senior center.

She smiled at the women who were busily sewing and headed to the coffeemaker. The hot subject that morning was the new city manager, expected to arrive the following day.

“Except for Mandy,” said Dorothy, “it's been ages since we had anybody new living in Willow's Eve.”

“We've had babies,” Margaret interjected.

“Well, yes, naturally babies,” Dorothy returned. “I'm talking about new people who can converse with us on an intelligent basis without teething and learning to walk first. Tourists don't count. They just spend money, fly kites and eat seafood.”

Since her back was turned to them, Mandy let herself grin. Margaret loved trying to get the last word in, but her sister wasn't any wimp.

“And we've had some folks move here from Vicksville in the past year,” Margaret added.

“They haven't joined into the community,” Dorothy snapped back. Margaret must have been doing the one-upmanship thing all morning and Dorothy had lost her patience. “They still drive to Vicksville for church and rarely attend our community events. The city manager will be part of the town.”

Mandy had misgivings about the new city manager. Things could change when he arrived. She liked Willow's Eve the way it was. But at least she'd clarified that he wouldn't be her supervisor. The town's City Hall provided the space for the program—a large portion of the lower floor. But the program was independent since its funding came through a trust fund.

“You aren't still worried about him interfering with us, are you, luv?” Lou Ella Parsons asked.

“No,” Mandy said, “you've all cleared that up for me.”

Before she'd learned about the setup, Mandy had wondered what would happen. The center had employed her after the old city manager left, and she hadn't known if a new manager would agree with their hiring choice. When she'd finally mentioned it, the seniors assured her
they
were the ones who made those decisions. It had been good news. If and when she left Willow's Eve, it would be nicer to go because she'd decided on it, not because someone else told her to leave.

Dumping the old coffee grounds, Mandy put fresh ones into the maker and started it. The coffee donation can was half full, so she emptied it into an envelope to stick in the treasurer's mailbox.

“All done,” she announced. “It will take about five minutes to brew.”

“Thank you, dear,” Jane told her.

“Oh, yes,” Bernice Vicks added. She was a sweet woman who often tried to soften things and keep the peace if arguments arose. “I don't know what you do differently, but your coffee is especially good, though it isn't fair to drag you away from your desk to make it for us.”

Mandy's smile blew into full sail. “No worries,” she told them. She tucked back a lock of her long pale blond hair, which refused to stay put—she could
never
hope for the cool, dignified Grace Kelly look her father admired so much in her mother. “I'll see you all later.”

The women met on Mondays and Wednesdays to make items for their annual bazaar. From what Mandy understood, it was a big event, drawing customers from several local communities, and even a few from the San Francisco Bay area. Of course, it was mostly because the bazaar also offered a “Sally's Attic,” featuring collectibles, antiques and the work of local artists.

Mandy wished now she'd offered to help promote the bazaar through social media such as Twitter or Facebook, but when she'd first heard about the event, she hadn't been sure she'd be staying long enough at her job to make it worthwhile. Of course, now that she'd gotten some of the seniors more computer savvy, she could train them to take over if she decided it was time to move on to her next adventure.

Back in her office, Mandy continued working on the monthly newsletter. She really liked this section of the California coast, and the people were great. She had been expecting to look for a job in Vicksville because the town was bigger, but had stopped at the local variety store in Willow's Eve. That's when she'd spotted a help-wanted sign on the bulletin board, and on a whim, had walked down to City Hall and applied for the Senior Center director job.

Mandy hadn't expected them to hire her,
or
to take the job if it was offered, partly because Willow's Eve was a small enough town that housing might be hard to find. To her surprise, the hastily gathered hiring committee had talked to her for a while, made phone calls to check her references, then hired her on the spot. Housing hadn't proved a problem since they'd offered her the use of a small house that belonged to the town.

Overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, Mandy had accepted the job. She enjoyed doing new things, and living in a town the size of Willow's Eve would be a completely different experience. Later on, she had learned that they'd hired several local people who hadn't worked out.

However, Mandy wasn't planning to stay forever and she'd told them up front she was a wanderer.

The new city manager probably wouldn't be there for long, either—he'd signed only a one-year contract. But the job paid well and came with a free house. The town council had found someone from Southern California with terrific credentials—even better than expected. The community had a decent budget for a small town because of the local paper mill and the income from Fannie Snow's trust.

Fannie Snow was the town's biggest benefactress, and Mandy was intrigued by the stories about her. It was a little murky where she'd gotten her wealth—whispers abounded, despite her decades of respectability—but she'd done a bunch for Willow's Eve, both before and after her death.

The plaques on the shiny modern fire trucks at the station read “Lovingly donated by Fannie Snow...” the library was fabulous, all the churches had been endowed, and those were just a few of her gifts.

Mandy had asked, but no one seemed to know where Fannie had gotten her wealth. She couldn't have made it bootlegging during prohibition; she hadn't been
that
old. The second-oldest profession? Maybe, but it seemed a stretch considering the amount of money involved.

The alarm on Mandy's watch beeped, and she headed for the Senior Center's kitchen, putting her questions about Fannie's source of income aside.

“Do you cook?” the chair of the hiring committee had asked rather anxiously toward the end of her interview. “We need a program administrator who can prepare the senior lunch part of the time. Our last one, well...he nearly burned the place down, and he was just heating frozen mac and cheese. Have you ever fixed meals for a large number of people?”

“I can cook for groups, no problem,” Mandy had assured.

She'd worked in several cooking jobs over the years and had also helped her mother with faculty dinners, so she was comfortable preparing food in volume. That was one of the reasons the director's job suited her—there was so much variety. Then she'd added even
more
variety by volunteering in different projects for the community.

“Have a Danish,” Lou Ella Parsons urged as Mandy returned to the parlor two hours later. The lasagna was in the oven and everything else was ready. Volunteers would come to serve at noon, and then take meals to seniors who were sick or otherwise homebound—the town's own version of a meals-on-wheels program.

“You guys are trying to make me fat,” Mandy complained. Nevertheless, she took a pastry and poured herself a cup of coffee, though she preferred the brew she made in her own office. She'd quickly figured out that many of the seniors simply wanted company and a little attention.

“You need something solid on your bones,” Dorothy scolded. “The way you run around this building doing everything in sight, you burn up more calories than you eat.”

“She painted the restrooms last week,” Jane said.

“That was supposed to be a secret.” Mandy bit into the Danish and chased it down with coffee. “I didn't want to get blamed for the paint I dripped on the floor.”

Dorothy leaned forward. “We could have hired someone.”

“You did,” Mandy reminded her. “Three months ago and it still wasn't done. I kept bugging them, but the contractor always seemed to have another job that was more urgent.”

“You're amazing, Mandy. I can't understand why you aren't married.”

“I've already done the marriage route, and it isn't for me.” Mandy shuddered inside. It wasn't because her divorce had been ugly, or because the year she'd spent with Vince had been so awful; but he'd expected her to change. Her entire childhood had been about people pushing her to be something she wasn't, and after a year with a husband doing the same thing, she'd rebelled.

“Nonsense,” Dorothy scolded. “Just because it didn't work the first time doesn't mean you should give up on it.”

“Right,” Jane agreed. “Say, is the new city manager single?”

“I'm sure there's something against this kind of thing in the bylaws. It's a form of harassment,” Mandy complained, intending to keep the conversation lighthearted—she certainly didn't want it taken seriously.

At the other end of the table, Dorothy looked toward the door and her mouth dropped open, almost with an expression of alarm. “Uh, ladies...”

“You could do worse,” Lou Ella said, not seeming to hear. “I've seen a picture of Daniel Whittier. He's quite good-looking.”

“Oh, my,
yes.
” Jane pretended to fan herself.

A male voice suddenly broke through the chatter. “Excuse me.”

Mandy looked up and swallowed. An outrageously handsome man gazed at her. Dark wavy hair, blue eyes so intense they practically drilled into you...
wow.
She didn't see guys like this every day, or every year for that matter, and she noted a couple of the ladies began straightening up, poking at their hair and smoothing their clothing. This was a guy who awakened feminine instincts in both young and old. It was pricking at her as well, but she resisted.

“Can I help you?” Mandy asked.

“I'm Daniel Whittier. I was told the director for the Senior Center has the keys to my house. Can you point me in the right direction? I went to the director's office, but no one was there.”

“That's because I was in the kitchen,” Mandy said.

“Have a cuppa tea and a pastry, luv,” Lou Ella urged. She'd come from England as a young bride, and her British accent became stronger when she was flustered. “We've plenty, and you can relax after your trip.”

“That's kind of you,” he said, politely inclining his head. “But I should get my car unloaded. And I need to see my office to drop off a box of professional files.”

Mandy set her cup on the table and jumped out of her chair. “Uh, sure, but about your office, I—”


You're
the director?”

“Last time I checked. I'm Mandy Colson. I've been here only a few months myself.”

“Then thank you.”

What a way to get introduced to the new city manager, with the group gossiping about him. Mr. Whittier must have heard them, at least that last part about him being so good-looking. Dorothy's reaction had proved that much.

Mandy ran a hand through her hair. Not that
she
had contributed anything inappropriate to the conversation; she was scatterbrained, but not
that
scatterbrained. It was her sense of humor that landed her in trouble more than her impulsiveness. Well, that wasn't entirely true. Being impulsive got her into messes, too.

“I'll get them right now,” Mandy said, anxious to get away from the gazes of the women. She didn't want them to realize she found Daniel Whittier attractive. It was strange. He wasn't
that
much better looking than Bill Rollins in Phoenix, but Bill had never made her pulse skip.

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