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Wild Card (Alaska Wild Nights Book 4) by Tiffinie Helmer (1)

Prologue

“This can’t be good,” Avery Dawson said, setting down two beers in front of Jack Wilde, Heartbreak’s notorious matchmaking father, and Vance Hunter, retired state trooper and celebrated true crime author. “What are you two up to?”

“Now, why is it, Dawson, every time you see me in the Pump House these days, you think I’m up to something?” Jack asked, his tone innocent enough, but he couldn’t do anything about the crafty twinkle in his eyes that he knew gave him away.

“Because you’re always up to something.” Avery glanced from Jack to Vance. “You aren’t seriously thinking of setting up Zoe with Trip, are you?”

Vance shifted on his seat, looking guilty, the leather of the booth squeaking under him. “You have to admit. Those kids would make a great pair.”

“Zoe’s only nineteen,” Dawson said, giving him an incredulous stare.

“She’s almost twenty,” Jack tried to justify. “I was nineteen when I married my lovely Nicola and she’d just turned eighteen. Love isn’t constrained by age. And besides, my Wild Card has always been older than her years.” His expression darkened, remembering why. Losing her mother at the young age of nine forced her to grow up way too soon. His children had seen such heartache, watching their mother fade away day by day, suffering each and every one of those days, until it was more a relief when her spirit had flown into the ether. He missed her every minute since she’d been forced to leave him.

“This might be your hardest challenge yet,” Avery said. “Trip looks at Zoe like a little sister. Then there’s the fact that he’s best friends with Ryder and Dare. No man worth his salt would dare poach on the younger sister of his best friends.”

Luke Waterman swiveled around in the neighboring booth. “Wait a doggone minute. You can’t hook Zoe up with Trip, she’s dating my boy.” Luke slid his considerable frame from the booth and planted himself next to Avery, towering over Avery’s height of six-two. “If you’re playing matchmaker—and I have to commend you, Jack, with what you’ve pulled off with Sorene, Cat, and Kennadee is the stuff of legends—who ever thought Kennadee would settle down, am I right?” He elbowed Avery. “But I have hope Derek will drag that little girl of yours to the altar. He’s completely smitten with her.”

Jack frowned. “Zoe and Derek are dating?” This was the first he’d heard of it. He thought they were just friends.

“On and off. I don’t want to say anything bad about your girl, there, but she does tend to string men along.”

“That she does,” Jack agreed. Another reason he needed to find a man worthy of her. Hopefully, if she fell in love, love would help her focus on what was really important to her, rather than giving into her impulsiveness at every turn.

“Hey,” Vance broke in. “Trip is the ideal man for Zoe, not Derek. Derek’s still a boy.”

“You did not just say that,” Luke said, narrowing his eyes.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Vance said quickly. Luke had a reputation of bashing heads to get his point across. “Just that, haven’t Zoe and Derek been more like friends most of their lives?”

“Sure have,” Luke said. “They’re the same age, have a ton of things in common. Why, I heard that Derek is even helping Zoe on her little project.”

That little project had been a bone of contention with Jack. Zoe had taken over Sorene’s and Cat’s bedrooms, even going so far as installing locks on the doors to keep the curious members of the Wilde Clan out, which meant most of them, until she was ready to reveal what she was up to.

“Jack, here, just said that love isn’t constrained by age,” Luke continued, “which I totally agree with. Been married to the missus since we were twenty-one, and still going strong with thirty years under our belt. I’ve got a brood of five kids to prove it. How many do you have, Vance?”

“Hey, that’s not fair. The amount of kids a man has doesn’t have any bearing on his marriage. Right, Jack?”

“Well…” Jack began, hoping to smooth over the conversation, but then he was the father of seven, beating Luke’s five, and Vance had been married twice and divorced twice with only Trip to show for the unions.

“Jack,” Avery said. “You, my future father-in-law, have a problem.”

Didn’t he know it. Two suitors vying for Zoe. Oh, boy. He knew she’d be a challenge, but he’d never considered this.

“There’s no problem here,” Vance blustered. “Trip is the right man for Zoe.”

Luke puffed his chest out like a penguin. “We’ll just have to see about that. My money is on my boy beating out yours.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Vance said.

Jack brought his beer up to his mouth and drank deeply. Figuring out the right suitor for his Wild Card’s heart was going to be the trickiest poker hand he’d ever played.

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