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Every Time We Fall in Love 10


  She shouldn't let herself get used to this--not when she had no idea how long Harry would be staying. Especially if he was worried about her throwing herself at him every time he fell asleep. But her growling stomach still didn't want to listen to reason. Not when it smelled like a full fry-up was on offer--and she hadn't had one of those in forever. Even bone-deep embarrassment couldn't stand up to that kind of enticement.

  She took the world's quickest shower, tried to blow-dry her hair and do her makeup at the same time, threw on a sky blue top, black skinny jeans, and ballet flats, then made herself walk at a normal pace into the kitchen when she wanted to run.

  Just because of breakfast, of course.

  Not because Harry was there. Not because even a handful of hours apart had felt like too long.

  "Mom, can you believe Dad made all of this for us?" Amelia was already digging in. Aldwin lay at her feet, doing his usual silent prayer for bacon to fall into his mouth.

  "It looks great," Molly said. She turned to Harry, trying not to flush a dozen shades of red after their never-should-have-happened kiss. "It's really nice of you to make us breakfast. But you didn't have to do that." Especially when she knew how late he'd stayed up looking at photos. All of which, she noted, had been neatly put away in the bookcase.

  "I'm happy to pitch in any way I can." Though his words were light and easy, the intense, heated look in his eyes was anything but.

  Warmth flooded her, and she ducked her head to hide her reaction from both Harry and her daughter.

  "Thank you." Molly grabbed a plate and took a greedy amount of everything on offer. Not just bacon and eggs, but pancakes and toast too. She might not have been able to stomach much of anything the day before, but despite her mortification over last night's kiss, her hearty appetite had returned full force.

  "I can't wait for my friends to meet you, Dad." Amelia was glowing with happiness. "I've gotten a million comments from everyone since posting that pic at the ice cream shop yesterday."

  So had Molly. Her phone had been lighting up continuously since then with texts and emails and comments from friends and from people she barely knew, all of which she'd deliberately ignored. Once everyone met Harry live and in the drop-dead-gorgeous flesh, their curiosity was only going to grow.

  She put down her fork, her appetite leaving again as she thought about how difficult the next hour might be. This was her daughter's moment, and Molly didn't want to do anything to ruin it for her. She would just need to make sure she kept her discomfort over the situation from Amelia.

  "I've got to grab my backpack, and then we should go," Amelia said, then headed into her bedroom with Aldwin at her heels.

  Molly knew she and Harry were going to have to talk about the kiss in the light of day at some point, if only so that it didn't become the big elephant in the room whenever the three of them were together. But that would have to wait until Amelia was in class. First, she needed to prepare him for what to expect this morning.

  "When we get to Amelia's school, it might be a little overwhelming." She took her plate over to the dishwasher. "After all," she added with what she hoped looked like a natural smile, "it's not every day someone's long-lost father shows up out of the blue."

  "Whatever happens, I'm not worried about it." He brought over his own plate. "Are you?"

  She shook her head. "No."

  "Molly." He moved closer. "You don't have to say whatever you think the 'right thing' is. Not to me."

  All it took was one look into his eyes and she couldn't hold back the truth. "Yes, I'm totally freaked out over it."

  He brushed a lock of hair away from her cheek, making her breath catch. "Don't worry, I won't let anything bad happen. Not to Amelia or to you."

  She swallowed hard, wishing she could believe him.

  Wishing she could keep from falling for him all over again.

  Wishing she could remember how much it had hurt the first time he didn't want her.

  Wishing knowing how much more it would hurt the second time around would keep her from wanting to throw herself into his arms and kiss him senseless.

  "Mom, Dad, are you ready?"

  Molly jumped back, knocking her hip into the open dishwasher door. "I need to get my sweater from the bedroom."

  What she really needed was to take a cold shower. Even though it wouldn't keep her cool for very long around Harry.

  A few moments later, the three of them plus Aldwin were headed down the sidewalk, with Amelia giving Harry a verbal tour of town as they headed to the local doggy day care. "The boat launches and most of the restaurants are behind us. And that building--" Amelia pointed to their left. "--is the rec center where they have art classes."

  Molly's friend Janet came out of the doggy day care to greet Aldwin, scratching him behind the ears. "Oh, don't you look like a sweetheart?"

  "Janet, this is Harry. Harry, Janet will be taking care of Aldwin today while we're gone."

  "Thanks so much." Harry shook her hand. "He's a pretty easygoing guy, although you're going to want to watch out for that tail once it gets wagging, especially if there are any puppies or small dogs around. He doesn't know his own strength."

  Molly's heart melted a little bit more at how sweetly concerned Harry was about his dog.

  "Don't worry about a thing." Janet motioned for Aldwin to sit, then once he had, gave him a treat. "He's going to fit right in with the rest of the gang."

  They waved good-bye, then headed back down the street. Aldwin looked at Amelia's retreating back with sad eyes, but was soon distracted by a terrier that was being dropped off.

  "My school is up ahead," Amelia said, continuing her tour, "and the town library is behind that. When I was little, we used to spend a lot of time there, especially when it was raining. It's still one of my favorite places to go."

  "I've never been in a library I didn't like," Harry agreed.

  "What's the library like in New York City?"

  "Huge. But also small, if you know where to go. Next time we're there, I'll take you."

  "Awesome." They rounded the corner to the front of the high school, where Amelia's friends and many of their parents were waiting. "You guys have to come meet my dad!"

  A group of teenage girls descended on them, giggling and hair-flicking and wide-eyed.

  "Dad, this is Jenny and Samantha and Lana and Clara."

  As he shook everyone's hand, Molly could see that Amelia's friends were not only impressed with him, but a good number of them were practically swooning at his good looks as well. As were their mothers, who surrounded Molly while their girls chatted with Harry.

  "What a huge surprise this is," Clara's mother, Janna, said. "I couldn't believe it when I saw Amelia's post on my phone and realized she'd finally found her dad. How are you doing? If it were me, I'd be completely freaking out."

  Of course, I'm freaking out! I mean, look at him. I'm so far out of my depth here, you wouldn't believe it.

  All Molly said, however, was, "I'm really happy that Amelia and Harry found each other."

  "Oh yes," Janna agreed. "Harry looks like he's going to be an absolutely wonderful father."

  The other women all nodded, with Jenny's mom, Candice, saying to the others in a stage whisper, "I looked him up online and he's a brilliant academic. Single too."

  Molly worked to fight back a horrible twinge of jealousy at the thought of Harry actually dating someone in town.

  Lana's mother, Stacy, who looked like she'd put far more time than usual into her hair and makeup, asked, "How long will he be staying in town?"

  Before Molly could reply, Samantha's voice carried over from Amelia's group of friends. "I'm confused. How come you didn't know Harry was your dad before now? Didn't your mom tell you?"

  "She would have," Amelia replied, "but she had no idea there was even a chance that he could be my dad until I did one those DNA tests. We were all totally surprised."

  Everyone turned to look at Molly, all of them clearly thinking the
same thing--that the only way she could be surprised about Harry being Amelia's father was if she had been sleeping with more than one man at a time all those years ago.

  In that moment, whatever good reputation she had built within the school community felt like it instantly crumbled. Though she wasn't about to justify her actions as an eighteen-year-old college student to anyone here, she still wanted to sink into a hole in the ground and let it swallow her up.

  As though he could see straight inside her heart, Harry came to put his arm around Amelia's--and Molly's--waists. "I couldn't be happier to find out that Amelia is my daughter...and also to be back in Molly's life after all this time."

  "It really is the greatest thing that's ever happened!" Amelia agreed.

  Molly admired how matter-of-fact Amelia was, how resilient and positive. Instead of focusing on what she'd missed, she was solely focused on everything she'd gained. Namely, a new dad who clearly wanted to be there for her in any and every way that he could.

  Molly wanted so badly to follow her daughter's example--and Harry's too--and look only on the bright side. Allow herself to start fresh. But she didn't know how to forget the past.

  Or whether she even should.

  Not that she would be able to gloss over their past any time soon, when she had a feeling everyone in town was going to keep asking her about it until they all knew the full story.

  Harry's arm tightened around her waist, and when he smiled at her, for a moment everything seemed so much better.

  "If there's time before the first bell rings, Amelia, I'd love to meet your teachers."

  Molly barely held back her sigh of relief. They would see the other parents again at The Sound of Music that weekend, but between now and then she hoped some of the hysteria over her family situation would have died down.

  She thought Harry would let go of her when Amelia led them toward her English class, but he kept his arm around her, leaning close to whisper in her ear, "You're doing great."

  Though she appreciated his support, they both knew that she was barely hanging on. Here she thought she'd be the one to smooth over Harry's introduction to people in town, only to have Harry be the one taking care of her. Just the way he had always taken care of everyone around him.

  Soon, Harry was surrounded again, this time by Amelia's teachers, most of whom did a far better job of hiding their surprise at his out-of-the-blue appearance than the mothers had.

  Molly supposed teachers saw pretty much everything at one point or another. Then again, one of their students finding her father via an online DNA test--which Amelia was explaining to her science teacher at that very moment--might very well take the cake.

  *

  "I'm really sorry about that," Molly said as they left the high school campus and headed on foot to the Town Clerk's office. "For a moment there, I thought some of the moms were going to start stuffing their telephone numbers into your pockets. Everyone is actually really nice. They must all be so surprised by our news."

  "They were just being friendly."

  She laughed, one of his favorite sounds in the world. "Sounds like you have a different definition of friendly than I do. In any case, now that we've dealt with the schoolyard, I'll just have to deal with everyone at work asking a million questions about you."

  "Why don't I meet them in person today? That way, I can also see where you work."

  "Today?" She licked her lips. "Don't you have things to take care of for your own job?"

  "I checked email before breakfast, and Kelsin said he had everything under control for my classes. And until you or Amelia look at my book and give me feedback, the last thing I want to do is open the file and stare at a blinking cursor for hours. Which means I'm free to head over to Boldt Castle with you after we're done filing our paperwork for the new birth certificate. You can even put me to work so that I'm not hanging around, being in your way."

  "It's inventory day. I usually like my job, but inventory is literally the most boring thing a human being can do. For eight hours straight." Each sentence was another gauntlet laid down, all clearly intended to put him off coming with her. "You're going to hate it."

  "Maybe." He shrugged. "But I'd still like to see where you work and help out if I can."

  "I'd forgotten how stubborn you can be."

  He grinned. "Anything else you need me to remind you about?"

  She shook her head and stepped away from him so fast that she nearly stumbled. "No." She picked up the pace. "We'd better get a move on or the line at the Clerk's office is going to get really long."

  As she practically speed-walked beside him, he silently noted that she hadn't brought up last night's kiss. He truly had been half asleep when it happened. Just far enough outside of reality to believe he was still dreaming...and to let himself reach for her the way he'd wanted to since the moment he'd set eyes on her again.

  She'd been even sweeter than he remembered--and had seemed as hungry as he was to touch and be touched, to press close and relish their undeniable heat and hunger.

  Unfortunately, given the way she'd jumped out of his arms, she was probably hoping he'd forget it ever happened.

  Not a chance.

  Harry knew people thought he'd been blessed with above-average intelligence. But they were wrong. What he had in spades was the ability to focus, to concentrate on something until he had it figured out from every angle.

  Right now, he wasn't at all concerned with the classes he'd passed off to his teaching assistant, or the book he was supposed to be writing. Instead, every ounce of his focus was on forming a strong bond with his daughter.

  And finding out if the kiss he and Molly had shared might be the perfect beginning of a second chance at love.

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  Harry had figured they'd be stuck in Alexandria Bay's administrative building for most of the morning. Fortunately, taking care of official paperwork in a small town was radically different--and far more expeditious--than it was in New York City. In less than thirty minutes, they had filled out the Acknowledgment of Paternity form, submitted a copy of the original birth certificate along with the two DNA test results, and paid their fee, with the assurance that as long as everything checked out, the new birth certificate would soon be in the mail.

  They caught the next ferry to Boldt Castle, and yet again, Harry was bowled over by the beauty of the area. Not only from the large trees that surrounded the waterfront homes, and the impressive-looking castle toward which they were speeding, but also the quality of light reflecting off the water.

  But Molly's beauty outshone it all.

  Once upon a time, he would have told her that. But given how determined she seemed about keeping their relationship platonic, and despite the undeniable heat between them, he was afraid she would think it was only a cheesy pickup line.

  The next time they kissed, there wouldn't be any confusion. There had already been far too much of that.

  "I always thought my office was in a good location, but this--" He turned to take it all in, the lush foliage, the bright blue water, the boats, and the backdrop of the castle. "This is spectacular."

  "It really is." They disembarked, and Molly led him down the walkway toward the gift shop. "You'd think that after fifteen years the shine might have worn off, but it hasn't. I still have to pinch myself to believe I really work here. The only downside is that in an emergency it's harder to get to Amelia, although my boss has always been really flexible with my schedule. I can set up my hours around whichever after-school program or sports team she's on. And I've been lucky that so many people are happy to help on the mainland." She half laughed as she added, "You actually met some of them this morning. Like I said, they really are a great bunch. Just a little star struck by you."

  "No one's ever been star struck by me before. This must be how Smith and Ryan and Drake feel," he joked. His cousin Smith was a movie star. Ryan was a pro baseball player. And his brother Drake was a well-known painter. Harry didn't mention his f
ather, however, who was quite possibly the most famous of them all.

  "Are you kidding?" Molly asked. "Even when we were in college, people were constantly stumbling over themselves to impress you and get you to notice them."

  "That has nothing to do with me. That's because of my father and my family history."

  "No," she insisted. "You've always been brilliant and charismatic. It's because of who you are, Harry, not because of who you're related to."

  "That's nice of you to say, even if I'm still not sure I'll ever see it that way. Honestly, it's not always easy to figure out where my family ends and I begin." The sentiment was one he'd never revealed to anyone before.

  "Once I had Amelia," Molly said, "I finally understood how it feels to be so connected to another person. I mean, you and I were really close for a while in college. But I always knew that you would be okay without me because you had your whole huge family all over the world. Whereas with Amelia, she needed me in a way no one else ever had before. And I needed her just as much. Which is why, if I'm being totally honest, the idea of her growing up and making a life for herself, by herself, kind of freaks me out. Taking the DNA test, going off on the bus to see you--all that is part of her becoming her own person."

  "I know exactly what you mean. My brothers and sister needed me for so long that now that they're all happily settled, sometimes I find myself at loose ends." He held her gaze. "Seeing them all so in love makes me wonder about my own happily-ever-after."

  Her eyes widened, but she didn't look away. "There's no one in the city who..." She looked as though she was trying to find the right way to put it. Finally, she settled on, "Who makes you happy?"

  "No." He was very glad she wanted to know if he was free. "No one."

  "I'm sure--" Her breath seemed to catch in her throat. "I'm sure you'll find someone soon."

  He wanted to move closer, wanted to take her hand in his, wanted to say, I already have--it's you. "What about you? Is there anyone special in town who's going to beat me up for staying with you?"

  "No."

  Though it was nearly impossible, he didn't allow himself to touch her, or kiss her. He only said, "Good."

  When she jumped away as though he had kissed her, he knew they not only needed to talk about what had happened when she'd woken him up in the living room--he also needed her to know what it had meant to him.