Her older brothers' childhood chant echoed in Maggie Flynn's memory as she reached the last leg of her run and headed toward her office in the Whitefish, Montana, recreation center. As the April sun slipped beneath the western horizon, she slowed, and with a smile, remembered that Jake, a Navy Seal, and Joe, a Border Patrol officer, had never let her off the hook. All or nothing—that was their motto. Her mother had died when Maggie was five, and as the only female in the household, Maggie naturally became the quintessential tomboy. Luckily, she liked it that way. Her truck sat by itself in the rec center lot. Although her five-mile run had been invigorating, a hot shower and a cup of cocoa sounded appealing right then. Nearing her vehicle, she spotted a stray dog that she'd noticed hanging around yesterday. She'd seen him from her office window, but by the time she got outside to help him, the dog was gone. But now he was back, and she had the chance to help the poor creature. It edged toward her then nudged her knee with its nose. She knelt beside the bedraggled golden retriever and stroked its matted fur. On the dog collar hanging loosely from his neck, she could just make out an address on the tag. "You hungry, fella?" She stood and opened the cab door to her truck. "Hop in and we'll get you home." Maggie was familiar with the address, which was on the same street as her friend Weezer McCann's house. Within minutes she'd pulled up to a modest A-frame set back from the road among a grove of pines and spruces. Wrapping her arm around the dog, she nuzzled him and then climbed out, beckoning him to follow. No sooner was he on the ground than he ran ahead of her, tail wagging vigorously. "Looks like you're home, buddy." Walking onto the deck, she knocked on the door. From within, she could hear a television announcer calling a baseball game. She knocked again. Almost immediately the door opened and the dog burst into the room, playfully knocking over a sandy-haired boy who engulfed him in a hug. "Sundance! You're home." When the boy stood up, an astonished grin spread over his face. "Coach Flynn, it's you!" Recognizing the boy as one of her after-school program charges, she grinned. "Oh, hi, Henry." Henry Wright was a ten-year-old who lived with his divorced father—Henry was small for his age and needed lots of encouragement, but he was a good kid. "Thanks for bringing Sundance home." He glanced toward the small kitchen. "Hey, I'm making some of those slice-and-bake cookies. Come have one. As a thank-you, you know." His eagerness made refusal impossible…and she had a soft spot for the kid. "Okay, but just for a minute." Passing through the living room, she was struck by the numbers of books and magazines spilling out of the bookcase and stacked beside a pair of well-worn recliners. Henry led her into the kitchen, where Sundance bolted toward the dog dishes, filled with food and water. On the counter were several crisp sugar cookies. "Here's a napkin. Help yourself." He looked embarrassed. "Could you, like, wait here a minute? I gotta get my dad." Slowly munching on the cookie, Maggie glanced around the room. Spartan, but serviceable. "Dad, Dad, c'mon. Sundance is back. And you'll never guess who found him. Coach Flynn!" A tall, broad-shouldered man came to stand in the doorway, dressed in faded jeans and an untucked tan chamois shirt, his feet shod in moccasins. Maggie could hardly take him in. Brown curly hair, a light stubble of beard, piercing green eyes framed by laugh wrinkles. Cookie halfway to her mouth and uncharacteristically breathless, she admonished herself, Get a grip. He's just another man…. Henry's father grinned a killer grin and crossed the room, hand extended. "You're the Coach Flynn my son can't stop talking about? Somehow I had pictured you differently." He clasped her small hand in his, warming her to the tips of her toes. "As a man?" He grinned sheepishly. "Yes, sorry." His eyes lingered on hers before he dropped her hand and said, "Thanks for bringing Sundance home. By the way, I'm Eric Wright." He asked her to stay for coffee, but Maggie remained only long enough to finish her cookie and beat a retreat. The invitation had been innocent, but driving home, she still felt Eric Wright's presence, like a warm blanket, a feeling she couldn't explain and enjoyed far too much. But a man in her life? At this point? Not happening. "I think she liked my cookies, don't you, Dad?" Eric glanced up from the manuscript he was editing. Henry sat curled in the smaller recliner, Sundance snoozing at his feet. The hopefulness in his son's voice tore at Eric's heart. It took so little to please him. There was no mistaking who the she was—there hadn't been a female in this house in a long time. "Yes, son. I noticed Coach Flynn ate two." "She's way cool, Dad. She knows how to do just about everything." Hero—or heroine—worship was apparent in Henry's expression. Eric laid aside the manuscript, his concentration shot. It was natural that his son would respond to Coach Flynn's interest in him. On the surface, Henry had seemed to adapt to being motherless, but Eric knew that deep down the boy longed to be like other kids whose mothers doted on them. "She has dogs, too. They're named Thelma and Louise and sometimes she brings them to the rec center. So I figure when she found Sundance, she could tell he was lonesome." Thelma and Louise? Eric recalled the movie by that name and wondered if Coach Flynn admired the wildly independent spirit of the women in it. "Dad, I betcha she'd wanna come over if you asked. You could fix your barbecue stuff." "Son, I'm glad you like her, but I'm sure she has lots of friends without us." Eric tried to ignore the disappointed sigh Henry heaved as he picked up his library book and muttered, "Whatever." Whatever, indeed. The last thing Henry needed was another disappointment in his young life. Laying his head back and closing his eyes, Eric saw once again the heartbroken look on his four-year-old son's face when he'd had to tell him his mother wasn't coming back, hating having to repeat those words again and again until his son stopped asking, finally believing. Trisha had never wanted children. She had thrived on their adventures when they roamed the world, he as a successful travel magazine reporter and she as a photographer. When she'd discovered she was pregnant, she was upset. Parenthood hadn't been part of their plan, but Eric had been excited about the prospect. Maybe he'd pushed Trisha too hard, assuming in time she'd be as happy as he was. Eric opened his eyes, barely withholding a sardonic snort. Dumb him. If anything, Trisha only grew more unhappy as time went on. He'd tried everything to make life better for her and their family. Nothing had worked, and any love he'd had for her died with her abandonment of the tiny boy. And of him. The best thing Eric had done following the divorce was move to Whitefish, where the small-town atmosphere provided roots for his son. His neighbor Weezer McCann across the street had become a surrogate grandmother to Henry, and Eric's friend Chad Larraby had found him this house and been supportive through their relocation to Montana. He and Henry didn't need anyone rocking their boat. Best buddies, they were getting along fine. And yet…Eric couldn't help noticing the wistful gaze his son cast on women who paid attention to him, from grocery clerks to teachers. But if Henry wanted a mother, Eric was going to have to disappoint him. He'd been married once, and the resulting pain was enough to last a lifetime. His own loneliness was a small price to pay for peace. "Dad?" Henry scooted around in his chair to face Eric. "You liked her, didn't you?" A loaded question, for sure. "Yes, Henry, Coach Flynn was very nice." Eric groaned internally. If he was brutally honest, she was more than nice. She'd been in the house for just a few short moments, but she'd filled it with energy and life; and when she'd left, it was as if she'd taken something important with her. And against all logic, he couldn't stop picturing her twinkling brown eyes.