Read Playing for Keeps Online

Authors: Jamie Hill

Playing for Keeps






Jamie Hill



ISBN: 978-1-77145-095-9





Books We Love

, Alberta, T1X 1C2 




Copyright  201
3 by Jamie Hill



Cover art by
Michelle Lee Copyright 2013



All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.



Previously published individually as Hide and Seek and Run to Me





Part One: Hide and Seek





Sometimes the cow said
instead of
. Madison Stewart, tense with her charges at the Sunny Days Childcare Center, took the 'Farmer Says' talking toy into the break room and pulled the handle fast, several times in a row. When she did it quickly enough, the toy became confused and the cow quacked. The silly action never failed to bring a smile to Maddie's face. If she didn't feel in control of the five little people running around in the next room, she at least controlled something.

addie took a few deep breaths and headed back into the playroom. Almost lunch time, then the kids would nap.
The quietest part of the day.
She headed to the art table where the children pounded clay into a myriad of shapes.

he shrill voice of the center director sidetracked her. "Oh, Miss Stewart? Your new child is here."

Frances Bergman spoke to everyone as if they were three years old. Some people thought it was a voice used
only with children at the daycare, but Maddie could assure them it wasn't. Her boss spoke that way all the time.
Grating on a good day.

Hello." Maddie pasted a smile on her face as she approached Frances and the cute little blond-haired girl. She squatted as gracefully as she could in a sundress and got eye to eye with the child. "I'm Miss Stewart. What's your name?"

girl hesitated before announcing, "Sophie Cooper."

Maddie smiled at her.
"I'm very happy to meet you, Sophie. We're playing with clay at the art table, and we have one empty chair. Would you like to play with us?"

Sophie hesitated again, then nodded slowly. She took a step
toward Maddie, but quickly changed her mind and ran behind Frances, burying her face in the leg of a pair of blue jeans Maddie hadn't seen standing there. From her squatting position, Maddie gazed up the jeans slowly, beginning at a pair of slightly scuffed cowboy boots, a mile or so of long legs, ending at a denim work shirt. She stood and came face to face with the clearest blue eyes she'd ever seen, set in a very handsome face.

This is, Mr. Cooper," Frances introduced.

managed, barely, not to drool.

He smiled and extended his hand.
"Miss Stewart," he drawled in a purely Oklahoma twang, and they shook. "Sophie's pretty outgoing once she gets used to things."

, still focused on keeping her chin dry, forced herself to form words. "I…uh… I'm… sure we'll get along just fine."
Stop sounding like an idiot
. "The first day is always a little tough." She watched him pick up his daughter and give her a hug. The way he comforted her so tenderly touched Maddie. She found her eyes straying back to his face, and the bright blue eyes framed by dark eyebrows. His thin beard was dark. He probably hadn't shaved for two or three days. Maddie liked the scruffy look. His dark hair was brushed back neatly, still wet, as if fresh from a shower. The thought of that set off a whole new barrage of images in Maddie's mind.

Miss Stewart," Frances brought her back to reality. "Why don't you take Sophie to the art table? Mr. Cooper and I will watch for a few minutes before he goes." She nodded toward the two-way mirror on the wall, which enabled parents to observe their children without being seen.

looked at Sophie's father, still comforting his child. "I know it's hard, but sometimes you just have to go. She'll be fine, I promise."

He nodded, and handed a bag to Maddie.
"Here are her things."

Great." Maddie stole a glance at his left hand to see if there was a ring.
Her heart leaped, but she tamped the excitement down.
Some men don't like to wear rings
. She'd have to investigate further.

She took the bag and motioned to a wall of shelves.
"I'll put her name on a cubby over there. The items on top stay here, the things on the bottom go home every day." She took the child by the hand, and noticed her father cringe when Sophie began to cry quietly. "Come on Sophie. We're going to have fun, you'll see." They went to the art table, as the director led Mr. Cooper out.

Maddie didn
't know how long they stood behind the mirror watching, but Sophie stopped crying in a matter of minutes. The girl happily pounded on a lump of clay while Maddie went to label a cubby and put her things away.

The little girl had a
nother moment of panic at naptime, but she eventually fell asleep. After a snack, Sophie was playing on the large playground when her father returned. Maddie watched the children from the sidewalk with her back to the building, and was startled when he spoke.

She seems to be having fun now."

Maddie turned to face him
and tried to maintain composure. "Hi. Yeah, she's had a great day. I left a note for you in her cubby with her sweater." She looked him over quickly and thought he looked better after working all day than he did that morning. His hair didn't look so dark anymore, more of a dirty blond when it was loose and not brushed back so severely.

He stepped
closer to her, and they both looked out over the children. "You were really great with her this morning. Thank you." His voice was husky, the drawl just as pronounced.

Nervous tingles prodded
Maddie's stomach and she didn't think she could face him without blushing, so she continued to stare at the playground. "She's a great kid." Glancing sideways, she checked again for a ring on his hand before choosing her words carefully. "You and her mother have done a wonderful job with her."

Thanks," was all he said.

pang of disappointment jolted her. She hoped to hear Sophie's mother was no longer in the picture, but no such comment seemed forthcoming.

Sophie noticed her father and waved to him.
"Daddy, look!" She climbed a tall slide and zoomed down it.

Good job, munchkin!" he called, grinning. They watched her run around the slide and proceed to go down again. "Now she won't want to leave," he muttered good-naturedly.

I'll get her, Mr. Cooper." Maddie walked around him and out to the playground. "That's great, Sophie. Daddy's ready to go now. Why don't you take him in and show him your cubby and the pictures you made today?"

I want to slide!" Sophie insisted, her hair flying as she raced down again.

We'll come outside tomorrow. It's time to go home now." She caught the child at the bottom of the slide and took her by the hand. They walked to the building, where Sophie hurled herself at her father for a hug.

I missed you." He grabbed her up in his arms and nuzzled the side of her face. "Did you have fun?"

Yes!" Sophie giggled. "We played with clay and colored and ate ham sandwiches and I cried at naptime but then I fell asleep and we had graham crackers and played outside!"

Great!" He nuzzled her one more time, then smiled at Maddie. "Guess I don't need to read the note."

Maddie forced herself to make eye contact with him and smiled back.
"That was pretty much it in a nutshell. Please take the stuff on the bottom shelf of her cubby, and don't forget to sign her out on the clipboard by the door, Mr. Cooper."

It's Rob. Mr. Cooper is my father, and I'm not ready to be him."

Maddie nodded
and watched as father and daughter headed into the building. She heard Rob say, "Let's get home, munchkin. I told your mother we'd call her after work." He glanced back, as if to see if Maddie was listening and added, "We'll call her at her home, in Oklahoma City.
Where she lives.

Maddie perked up
, but knew from the heat burning her cheeks, she'd blushed furiously.

Rob winked at her before going inside.

She turned back to the rest of the children, picturing her face  the same bright red color as her hair.

When the last child was gone, Maddie had about thirty minutes of cleaning to do before
leaving. It was a quiet time, and she appreciated the chance to unwind before going home. She said goodbye to her co-workers in the other classrooms, and walked the three blocks to the little duplex she rented. It was a pleasant trip when the weather was mild. But June in Oklahoma would eventually turn to blistering heat, and she'd soon be driving with the air conditioner on full blast. Maddie enjoyed the walk while she could.

She had nervous energy to spare. Ever since coming face to face with those mile-high legs and their owner th
at morning, cocoons had formed in her stomach which now began to hatch into fully formed butterflies. She hadn't let her mind wander all day, he was a parent, after all, and probably married. But her nosing around at the end of the day proved that theory wrong, and she thought she detected something in the way he looked at her.
And there was that wink

a deadly wink from his killer blue eyes

She took the mail from the little white mailbox on her porch, and unlocked
the front door. Stuffy inside the closed up house, Maddie opened the windows and let the fresh air in. After a cursory glance—
bill, bill, credit card offer, pizza flyer—
she dropped the mail on the kitchen table and headed into her bedroom. The brisk walk had made her sweaty, so she peeled out of her clothes and stepped under a lukewarm shower. It felt good to rinse off the day. Maddie's skin tingled as she ran the soap over her body.

Snap out of it!" she muttered and finished the shower quickly. A man winked at her and she was already fantasizing about him. Granted, he was an amazing looking man. Definitely the best she'd seen in the little town of Meridan, Oklahoma, for a long, long time, if ever. She hadn't been in a serious relationship for over three years, just a slow parade of passer-bys, some with potential, some with personality, and some, she quickly discovered, with neither.

Maddie dried off and glanced at the small heart tattooed on the front of her shoulder. It seemed like a lifetime ago she
'd had the inking done. An entirely different Madison Stewart stopped at that tattoo parlor on a whim, and impulsively chosen the design. It was the beginning of the person she was today, and Maddie was glad she did it. She liked who she'd become.

She studied her face in the mirror. Thankfully, the dusting of freckles
across her nose was light, and not the overbearing mass some fair skinned, natural redheads were blessed with. She felt comfortable wearing little or no makeup.

She kept her long hair pulled back into a French braid most days. It was a stylish look and it suited her. When left to its own devices, her thick
, wavy mane tended to overpower her, like Carrot Top, the entertainer. It wasn't a particularly good look for him or her, so the braid seemed the wisest choice. Maddie debated letting her hair down for the evening, but decided to do a little gardening and left the braid intact.

While she dressed, t
he phone rang and Maddie jumped. For a brief second she wondered if it was Rob.
He barely knows my name, let alone my phone number.
Scoffing at herself for being so stupid, she picked up the receiver and hit the talk button. "Hello."

A nasally voice replied
, "Hi, Mad. So, did I miss anything today?"

Maddie smiled at her friend and co-worker
Rosa's congested voice. "Wow, you sound awful. How do you feel?"

As good as I sound. When I called Frances," she said the name in the exaggerated tone they reserved for their boss, "she told me if I miss one more day, I'd better have a note from my doctor."

Maddie chuckled.
Rosa was sick
a lot
. She ate too much, drank to excess, smoked like a chimney and generally didn't take very good care of herself. "But you're really sick this time! Get the doctor's note and stay home."

coughed. "I might. Did I miss anything worth mentioning?"

Well," Maddie hesitated, then decided to tell her. "I've got a new girl in my room. She's three."

Joy of joys. How is the little heathen?"

Not a heathen, actually, quite cute. With a really nice looking daddy. Really nice," she added for emphasis.

Ooh, we don't see that many daddies, especially nice looking ones. Did you see mommy?"

No, mommy, apparently, lives in Oklahoma City."

Ring?" Rosa asked in single woman shorthand.

Nope." Maddie chuckled again.

Well, looks like I'm feeling better after all. I'll be there tomorrow, tissues in hand." Rosa sneezed.

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