Every Time We Fall in Love 11

  "Last night when we kissed, I might have thought I was dreaming at first. But that's only because I have wanted to kiss you nearly every moment since I set eyes on you again."

  "Harry..." He thought he could read longing, and desire, in her eyes. Too soon, though, they were shrouded by doubt. "I thought we both agreed that last night was a mistake. And it shouldn't happen again."

  "Just because I didn't stop you from running away doesn't mean I agreed."

  Her shoulders went back, her chin up. "I didn't run."

  He couldn't keep his mouth from quirking up slightly at the corner. She was even more beautiful when she was facing off against him.

  "Okay, maybe you didn't actually break into a run. But you were definitely intent on getting away from me--and making sure there'd be no more kisses." Back in college, he wouldn't have pushed her on any of this. But back then, he hadn't known just how much it would hurt to lose her. Now that he did, he wouldn't hold back on the difficult questions. "Why?"

  "Amelia's happiness is the only thing that matters. And whatever we do..." Molly paused, licking her lips, which only brought more of Harry's attention to them and how badly he wanted to kiss her again. "I don't want either of us to do anything to change that."

  "I agree that nothing is more important than Amelia." But before he could say that he wasn't at all sure that also meant keeping his distance from Molly, given the fact that Amelia seemed perfectly happy to throw the two of them together, a tall woman with white-blond hair and a flowing dress flung open a back door that looked like it led into the gift shop.

  "There you are, Molly! And you have someone with you." The woman gave him a serious once-over that told him she was most definitely taking his measure.

  "Sorry I'm late," Molly said. "Did you and Stanley get my text this morning letting you know I'd be a little late?"

  "We did, and you're here sooner than I thought." Turning to Harry, she held out a hand. "I'm Greta. And Molly has told me absolutely nothing about you. Although I did see a picture Amelia posted with a rather surprising hashtag attached to it."

  He grinned, liking her immensely. She reminded him of his Aunt Mary--lovely and strong, with a ready smile and a quick handshake. "I'm Harry Sullivan. Amelia's father."

  As Molly filled Greta in, Harry could see that they were very close. Where Molly had seemed slightly embarrassed by the revelations in front of everyone at Amelia's school, she was matter-of-fact with Greta.

  "I wanted to call you and Stanley to let you know in person, rather than having you find out over social media," Molly said, "but there hasn't been time."

  "I'll say there hasn't!" The next thing Harry knew, Greta was hugging him. As soon as she let him go, she said, "I know how much Stanley wants to meet you. As soon as his morning donor meeting is finished, he'll come by." She waved over the other staff members. "Everyone, Molly has someone she would like all of you to meet."

  "She's a force of nature," Molly said with a fond shake of her head as Greta rounded everyone up.

  "One who obviously cares very much for you and Amelia."

  "Over the years, Greta and Stanley became the parents--and the grandparents--that my real parents never seemed to want to be." Amelia had told him in the car on their drive from the city that she'd seen her grandparents only a handful of times over the years, and only for a few hours at each visit. "I owe them more than I can ever repay."

  "Everything Greta and her husband have done for you, they've done because they love you both."

  Over the next several minutes, Harry met people from all wings of the castle--the store, the ticket booth, the ferry staff, the groundskeepers. All of whom clearly adored Molly.

  She might not have grown up with a big family, but she'd found one here.

  Finally, everyone went back to their posts, the doors opened, and the first visitors of the day walked in, looking for coffee and souvenirs.

  "Are you sure you don't want to take the ferry back?" Molly asked him. "You should be writing your soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize winning book, not helping me with inventory."

  Didn't she know? He would do anything to be near her.

  Perhaps he should have been surprised that it hadn't taken him long to get to that place. But he'd fallen in love with Molly once, so falling for her all over again now that she was even stronger, wiser, and more beautiful than she'd been at eighteen, made perfect sense to him. What's more, she was a hell of a mother. To Harry, that counted for pretty much everything.

  "At this point," he replied, "all I've got are thirty thousand words strung together that don't say much of anything. Believe me, I'd much rather help you with inventory."

  "If you meant it about having Amelia look at your draft, I know she'll be thrilled."

  "Of course I meant it. And I want you too, Molly."

  Her eyes grew big, her pupils dilating. Just the way they had after their kiss last night.

  He could have clarified his statement by making it clear that he was talking about her help with the book. Deliberately, he didn't.

  Because he wasn't.

  The only way they were going to find out if they could make things work a second time was if they didn't fight it every step of the way. Last night's kiss had already proven that their attraction had gotten only hotter since they'd last been together. Hopefully, constant little reminders of how good they were together would provide even more proof.

  "Tell me," he said, once she'd handed him a tablet with a digital spreadsheet and instructions to begin counting Boldt Castle snow globes, "how did you pick Alexandria Bay when you left New York City?" Thinking about the asshole who had threatened to make her get rid of her baby--Harry's baby--made his hand clench on the side of the tablet.

  "I don't know if you remember, but the book you helped me take down the first day we met was about Boldt Castle."

  "All I remember is you. Standing in the middle of the stacks. You were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen." Again, he didn't hold back as he added, "You still are."

  Though she tried to hide the flushing of her skin with the fall of her hair, he still noticed.

  "Anyway," she continued as though he hadn't just sent her heart racing, which he very much hoped he had, "the story of how Boldt Castle came to be always spoke to me. So when I had to find somewhere to go, I figured this was a good place to start looking. I took the same bus ride that Amelia did on Saturday, albeit in the opposite direction. Greta is the one who interviewed me that first day. I started work the next morning and never left."

  Because Harry was a history professor, people often thought that meant he knew everything about, well, everything. Which was far from true. Even, he was slightly embarrassed to admit, when it came to his own state.

  "Tell me the story of Boldt Castle."

  Her eyes lit up, the way they always had in college when they were discussing history. "George C. Boldt was the owner of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He wanted to build a castle here on Heart Island, not to show off how wealthy he was, but as a grand display of love for his wife, Louise."

  No wonder Molly had been so intrigued by the castle. While Harry had always focused on logistics and maps and plans, she had been far more interested in the famous love stories through time. What's more, telling him this story was the first time she'd completely relaxed around him. Harry hoped it was the beginning of her letting down her guard for good.

  "Construction began in 1900," she continued. "Three hundred workers built the six-story, 120-room castle. As I'm sure you must already know based on your knowledge of the medieval period, it was patterned after buildings of the sixteenth century, when classical details were applied to the towered, medieval forms. Integral to the design are its tunnels, the powerhouse, the Italian gardens, a drawbridge, a tower, and a dovecote."

  "It's very impressive. But wasn't it shut down for several decades?"

  "Longer than that. In January of 1904, Boldt sent a telegram to the island, instructing the workers to stop construction imme
diately." Her face fell, even though she was recounting someone else's tragedy, rather than her own. "His wife had died suddenly, and he was utterly brokenhearted. He never returned to the island."

  "My father didn't build my mother a castle," Harry found himself saying, "but he would have if he could. She was his everything. And when she died..." He shook his head. "Well, this is the part everyone knows--he never painted again." Harry rarely spoke about his parents' history to anyone. He figured they could get all they needed from the Internet. Even with Molly, he'd rarely divulged much of their history. But the parallels were too strong for him to keep quiet. "This castle was essentially Boldt's final painting for his wife, wasn't it?"

  "It was." Molly's voice was soft and full of empathy. "I'm sorry, Harry, for what you and your siblings and your father went through."

  His gut twisted, and he worked to push the emotion down, the way he always had. "It all happened a long time ago."

  "So did this. But it's still important."

  When she looked as though she wanted to say more, he asked, "What happened next? How did the castle become a historic site?"

  His attempt to divert her attention back to the castle, away from his family, had no finesse. Thankfully, however, she didn't press him further on his parents, but simply answered his question.

  "For seventy-three years, the castle and the other structures stood at the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, and snow. And especially vandals. This was a heck of a place to bring a date for a little one-on-one time back in the day, if you know what I mean."

  He laughed, the tightness in his chest from talking about his parents loosening. "Let me guess the favorite place to go." He pointed out the window. "The tower."

  "Wow, you're good."

  He grinned. "I was just thinking about where I would have taken you."

  Again, she flushed, her skin going beautifully rosy. Only the fact that they were still in the gift shop, her co-workers surrounding them, kept him from kissing her this time.

  "As I was saying, in 1977 the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired the property and has been rehabilitating and restoring the Heart Island structures ever since."

  "It really is a hell of a story. I know we're chained to our inventory tablets today, but I'm hoping you'll be able to give me a tour sometime soon."

  "Of course I will. You're especially going to love the historical archives. We've done a lot to organize and fill them out over the past few years."

  Amelia had told him that Molly did volunteer work in the archives. Why wasn't she running them? Just because she hadn't yet finished her undergraduate degree didn't mean she wasn't already hugely qualified for the position. The way she'd told him the origin story had captivated him.

  "Have you ever thought of writing a book about the castle?"

  She looked at him as if he were crazy. "Who would want to read a book about Boldt Castle written by a non-historian?"

  "I would."

  "I'm sure prospective publishers would be impressed to know I've got one guaranteed sale," she said in a self-deprecating tone.

  He couldn't help but notice, however, what she hadn't said.

  "You have an idea, don't you?"

  "After fifteen years of working here, who wouldn't have ideas?"

  "Plenty of people. What is it?"

  "Tell me about your family," she said instead. "It's been so long since I've last seen them, and it sounds like they're all doing so well."

  "I'll be happy to tell you. After you answer my question."

  "Everyone thinks you're so mild-mannered," she muttered. "If only they knew the truth."

  He grinned, knowing he had her. At least, on this front. "I'll be here for a full day of inventory, so..."

  She made a sound of frustration, one so adorable he nearly laughed out loud.

  "Okay, okay. You can stop with the full-court press. I do have an idea, but it isn't straight history. It's historical fiction. Based on the facts and the real-life people, but more of an in-depth look into their emotions and lives, rather than the nuts and bolts of getting this place built and then later restoring it. There's just so much richly layered history to jump from, especially the beautiful love letters we have in the archives."

  "You need to write your book, Molly."

  "Thank you for the vote of encouragement. Now, tell me about your family. There was an exhibition of Drake's paintings here a few years ago. I could hardly believe the scrawny high school kid I knew had created something so amazing."

  Harry was extremely proud of his siblings, but he wanted to talk more about her book idea, wanted to suggest that they could help each other. She could read through his draft and notes, and he could do the same for her.

  All of which assumed he'd be staying in Alexandria Bay.

  He'd always loved New York City. But living here, surrounded by so much water, didn't sound bad at all. Especially if it meant he could be close to both Amelia and Molly.

  But he knew better than to push her too hard, too fast. Not yet, anyway.

  Finally answering her question, Harry said with a laugh, "Drake definitely isn't scrawny anymore. Of the four of us, he's the biggest. And so damned talented, I can hardly believe I'm related to him sometimes."

  "You said he recently got engaged. What is his fiancee like?"

  Clearly, she didn't follow the online gossip sites. Then again, when would she have the time, between work, raising her daughter, and getting her degree? "Rosa was on a reality TV show for several years. She got caught in a bad spot with some pictures that were illegally taken and leaked to the press."

  Molly frowned. "I remember Amelia and her friends talking about that. I felt really bad for her--and I couldn't help but think how furious I would be if she were my daughter. I didn't realize she was dating Drake, though."

  "She wasn't, at least not when it happened. She met Drake right after the pictures went public. He helped her in any way he could. And she helped him too, with his painter's block."

  "That couldn't have been fun for him."

  "I don't imagine it was, although he wasn't exactly forthcoming about it to any of us."

  "It can be hard to ask for help. Even from the people closest to you."

  Her words echoed his sister's closely enough that it gave Harry pause. "Suzanne is just as brilliant as we all knew she was. She founded a digital security company. You probably use her products--they're the industry standard for computers and phones."

  "You must be so proud, Harry. Especially after all you did to make sure nothing fell through the cracks for your sister and brother in high school."

  Very few people knew what Harry's life had been like back then. That he'd been mother and father, tutor and coach.

  "They're worth it."

  "Of course they are." She looked up from the shelf of wooden boats she was counting. "You said Suzanne is also engaged?"

  He nodded. "Roman was her security guard--the guy Drake, Alec, and I had to hire when her company was facing some major threats that she didn't seem to be taking seriously enough."

  "Is she all right?"

  "She's great, thankfully."

  "Thank God. I'm guessing she was none too thrilled when you hired a bodyguard to protect her...and that you and your brothers were even less thrilled when their relationship turned into romance."

  "Right on all counts. Especially for Alec." Harry grimaced. "To be honest, he's still getting his head around their relationship."

  "What about you?"

  "Roman is a great guy. No one will ever be good enough for my sister, but he comes pretty darn close."

  "If you're that protective about your sister, you're totally going to freak out about your daughter."

  Panic seized him. As a new father, there was so much to think about. Honestly, this felt like one of the most daunting of them all. "Amelia isn't already dating, is she?"

  "Not yet. But she probably will soon. And I'm--" She stopped to correct herself. "We are going to have to figur
e out a way to deal with it."

  "We could forbid her to date until college."

  "Forbidding her to do anything is a one-way ticket to trouble. You obviously have a lot to learn about teenagers." Molly immediately looked stricken. "Sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out like that. Not when I know how badly you would have wanted to be with her all these years."

  He put his hand over hers, where she was holding a stuffed river otter. "Like I said last night, we can't go back and change the past. What happened happened. And sometimes you, or I, or Amelia, or a friend or family member, or even a stranger, is going to say something that makes it hurt all over again. Maybe even a lot of times."

  "I just don't know how to stop wishing things could have been different."

  "I've been wishing for that my entire life," he found himself saying.

  A silence fell between them. Not an uncomfortable one, exactly. More pensive, on both their parts.

  "Now on to Alec," he finally said. "His story is one you're going to find hard to believe. Although after everything you, Amelia, and I have just been through, maybe you won't."

  "Did he unknowingly father a daughter too?" Molly looked like she was holding her breath waiting for his answer.

  "No. At least I don't think so. But his business partner had a daughter, one he gave up for adoption right after she was born. No one knew about Cordelia, not even Alec. Unfortunately, when Gordon had a heart attack and the paramedics were unable to save him, Alec learned that Cordelia had inherited half of the company from the birth father she'd never met."

  "Before the past couple of days, I probably would have said your story sounds like something you couldn't make up if you tried. Now I'm starting to wonder if things like this happen more than I ever thought they did."

  "Probably," he agreed. "Fortunately, Alec and Cordelia's story has a happy ending. So happy, in fact, that now they're married."

  "Alec is married?" Molly shook her head. "You already said that he's given up big business to be a chef, which is surprising enough. But of everything you told me, hearing that he's married really is the most difficult one to wrap my head around. He was always such a ladies' man. And so..."

  She obviously didn't want to finish her sentence, so Harry did it for her. "Troubled?"

  "Well, yes. He seemed to have so many demons."