Tyler Morgan had only a moment to glance at the slim feminine figure perched on the ladder. She looked like a kid, and as he loped toward her, he wondered why in the world her parents had allowed her up there. He reached out to catch the ladder and before he knew it he wasn’t clutching rickety wood—he grabbed a softly curved waist. She hit his rangy body with a gasp. And then they were both sprawling backwards on the ground.
Tyler’s first sensation was that of soft dark hair tickling his nose and then the smell of lilacs. It took him about three seconds to realize the body flattened against his was definitely not that of a child.
“My goodness,” she sputtered and pushed herself away. “I’m so sorry.”
“No problem.” Tyler grinned up at the flushed face poised above him. She was embarrassed. Two red spots stained her cheeks. It made her all the more attractive, that and the fact that her eyes were violet like the lilacs he’d smelled. His breath stuck in his throat, but maybe it was just from the fall.
Maggie knelt in the grass beside him and tried to regain some composure. All chance of that was shattered when the beast who’d caused the whole incident insisted on licking Maggie’s face.
“Get lost.” Tyler sat up and shoved the Great Dane away. Ignoring him, MacArthur promptly dropped next to Maggie and leaned his massive head on her shoulder.
“He thinks he’s a lap dog.” Tyler apologized. “He’s really quite harmless, unless you’re up on a ladder, I guess. I’m really sorry for all this. I don’t usually let him run loose, but no one has lived over here in so long, I forgot to call him back.” He noticed her hands were trembling. “Are you okay?”
She wasn’t sure. Nothing seemed to be broken, but she could still feel herself falling through space, and she shuddered. “I’ll be fine.”
“Can’t you hire somebody to do this?” He looked up at the big old house. What was his new neighbor going to do with so much space?
“To be honest, I can’t afford it.”
“Why would you even want such a big place? If it’s just you—“
“It’s not,” Maggie said brusquely and got to her feet. Before she could say another word, a soft voice called, “Mommy?” She turned just in time to see Heather coming down the porch steps, carrying Smoky, her kitten, and MacArthur bounding toward her. When the girl saw the huge dog heading straight for her, she froze.
“Oh, no,” Maggie moaned and set off on a dead run.
“He won’t hurt them,” Tyler insisted. Nevertheless he was running right behind Maggie. “MacArthur, down!”
Responding to his master’s command, MacArthur plopped down not three feet away from Heather. As if he sensed the child’s fear, he made no attempt to touch her. Heather’s terrified gaze was glued to the giant dog’s big jowly face. Maggie moved slowly to her daughter’s side.
“It’s okay, honey. His name’s MacArthur, and he’s not mean. You don’t have to be afraid.” Maggie put her hands on Heather’s shoulders and gave them a reassuring squeeze. “Say hello.”
Heather shook her head vigorously and shrank back, clinging to the squirming kitten for dear life.
Tyler slipped his hand through MacArthur’s collar and dragged the gentle giant away. Once the dog was secure inside his fence, Tyler came back and crouched down next to the little girl.
“I’m sorry he scared you.” He noticed the child was the picture of her mother, except her long dark hair was a sharp contrast to her fair cheeks. Tentatively, he touched the gray kitten’s furry head. “MacArthur would never hurt you on purpose. He wouldn’t even hurt your little friend here, but I know he’s a big dog, and I’ll try to remember to keep him on the leash or in the fence.”
Heather looked up at her mother. “Will he?”
Maggie brushed her hand protectively over her daughter’s hair. Her eyes met Tyler’s. He looked like a man of his word, a man who could be trusted, but Maggie had vowed never to trust a man again. Still, for Heather’s sake, she would make an effort. “I think so.” Maggie’s voice held a quiet warning to Tyler not to go back on his word. “And just so you know, I plan on opening a day-care center here in a few weeks.”
After her neighbor left, Maggie decided to call it quits for the day. She just didn’t have the heart to go back up on that ladder again. The painting could wait till tomorrow.