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Every Time We Fall in Love 12


  "He did. Most of them revolving around my mother and father." Every conversation they had today seemed to lead right back to them. "Amazingly, Alec and Dad have finally patched things up."

  "That's fantastic." But Molly suddenly looked a little nervous. Harry understood why as soon as she said, "What about you and your father? How are things between you two now?" She hastily added, "Better, I hope."

  "They were always fine." It was a knee-jerk reaction for Harry to act as though everything had always been okay. But it was pointless when Molly, of all people, knew better. "What I mean is that my father and I never had any ill will toward each other."

  "I know you didn't." He got the feeling she was picking each word with extreme care. "Although he did used to depend quite heavily on you." She paused, shaking her head. "Never mind, it's none of my business."

  But now that William was Amelia's grandfather, regardless of whether anything ever happened between Harry and Molly again, it was her business. "Things remained pretty rough for Dad for quite a while. Right up until Drake met Rosa, actually. Drake needed to take her somewhere she could escape from the press for a while, so he took her to the house at Summer Lake. I don't know if it was watching Drake fall in love for the first time, or if Rosa reminded Dad of my mother in some way...but Dad really pulled it together for them. Then again with Suzanne and Roman. And when he had a heart attack--" Molly gasped, and he quickly said, "Don't worry, he's doing great."

  "Thank God."

  "In the hospital while Dad was recovering, he and Alec were finally able to talk. Really talk for once. And, I think, to forgive."

  "That's huge."

  "It is," Harry agreed. "Like I said before, everyone in my family seems settled. Happy. Content." He had to laugh. "I should have guessed it would be my turn for a little drama."

  "Trust me, having a teenage daughter means you're in for way more than a little drama. Sometimes life with Amelia feels like twenty-four-seven drama. But despite the headaches, I wouldn't have it any other way."

  "I know I've only been in Amelia's life for two days, but I already feel that. As though I wouldn't change one single thing, wouldn't wish for even the truly painful moments to be erased, if having to make my way through them means I get to be her father now."

  "I truly am happy that Amelia found you." She looked into his eyes, her heart in hers. "I'm so glad you're part of our family now, Harry."

  Nothing could have stopped him from pulling Molly into his arms. Not the way she kept trying to fight their attraction, not the mistakes they'd both made in the past, not the other people in the room who might be watching. He simply needed to feel her heart beat against his.

  And when she hugged him back just as tightly, he hoped it was because she needed the same thing.

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  "Molly, I hear there's someone you want to introduce me to!"

  Stanley's voice boomed through the gift shop. But this time, instead of jumping away from Harry, Molly could barely make herself shift out of the circle of his arms. Every time he touched her, another part of her heart lit up that she'd thought would remain forever dark.

  She felt his hand stroke her hair, and then they separated. Only, as soon as they were apart, she wanted to reach for his hand again.

  Just because she knew better than to start another romantic relationship with Harry, that didn't mean they couldn't be friends, did it? In fact, wouldn't it be best for Amelia if they were?

  Pushing away the thought that being just friends with Harry was bound to be impossible, when it wasn't only her heart lighting up whenever he touched her, she turned to Stanley. "I'd like to introduce you to Harry Sullivan, Amelia's father. Harry, this is Stanley, my boss and my good friend."

  The two men shook hands, then Stanley said, "Greta filled me in on some of the details. Sounds like both of you have been thrown on a roller coaster right at the loop-de-loop."

  "That's exactly what it feels like," Molly agreed.

  "You could have called us, you know. We would have dropped everything to be there for you."

  "You and Greta are both so sweet to offer." She'd spent so long going it alone, that even after years as part of a generous community, it was still hard to remember she could ask people for help--and that they would come. "You won't be surprised to hear that Amelia is absolutely thrilled."

  "I'm sure she is, finding out her father isn't some deadbeat, after all." Stanley turned back to Harry. "Unless you're a deadbeat who scrubs up real good, that is. What do you do for a living?"

  "I teach history at Columbia. At least, I did until yesterday, when I took a leave of absence."

  "To come here and be with Amelia and Molly?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Any other children? Wife or girlfriend?"

  "No, sir, on both counts."

  Molly had never been in a situation like this, where her father vetted a potential suitor.

  Okay, so Stanley wasn't actually her father--and she and Harry weren't dating. But from where she was standing, it still felt the same. Embarrassing...and also really nice. Just to have someone care about her enough to look after her.

  At last, Stanley softened toward Harry. "You be sure to let Greta and me know if you need anything. We've always looked out for Molly and Amelia--at least, when they'll let us. We'll do the same for you."

  "Thank you." Harry looked at her and smiled. "Fortunately, the three of us seem to be doing a good job so far of working things out as they come up."

  "In that case," Stanley said, "maybe you can help convince Molly to take my offer."

  "Which offer is that?"

  "Stanley--"

  He plowed on despite Molly's attempt to stop him. "Our historical archivist has recently left to work in Europe. I've been after Molly to take the job, but she keeps turning me down."

  "Stanley," Molly said again, "we've already talked about this. You don't need to bring Harry into it."

  "I wouldn't need to bring him into it, if you would just see sense!" Stanley's voice boomed out, loudly enough that several customers looked over to see what the commotion was about. "You're great at managing the store, and you've been instrumental in helping us keep on top of the latest digital technologies. But we both know where your heart really lies. With history, not retail. And no one is more enthusiastic about the history of Boldt Castle than you are."

  Greta called from across the room, "Stanley, your next meeting started five minutes ago."

  "Darn it, the donors are going to get restless if I'm gone any longer. But I'm not letting you off the hook with this, Molly." He put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "I hope you won't either."

  As soon as Stanley walked away, Molly picked up her tablet and started counting coloring books. But when she kept losing count, she knew it was no use trying to concentrate. Not with Harry's gaze trained on her. And not when she knew exactly what he wanted to say.

  Before he could ask why she hadn't taken the job, she said, "It's more hours, and I'd need to travel to conferences throughout the year, which won't work because I need to be here for Amelia."

  "Does she know they've offered you the job?"

  "No. I asked Stanley and Greta not to mention it. I don't want her to think she's holding me back. I guarantee she'd be all over me to take the job if she knew about it."

  "Of course she would. Because she loves you, she wants you to be happy, and she knows it's exactly the right fit for you."

  "I've already told you why I can't do it! Who is going to be there for Amelia if I'm not?"

  "I am," he said simply. "I know you've had to be both mother and father to her for fifteen years, but I'm here now."

  "For how long?"

  For a moment, she held her breath, hoping he might say forever. But she knew better than that, knew that even if he did, it wouldn't necessarily mean anything. Just because people wanted to make promises like that, didn't mean it was always possible to keep them.

  "I won't leave Amelia. Not now that I've f
ound her." He moved closer and lowered his voice. "And I don't want to leave you again, Molly. I never wanted to leave you in college either. I'm so sorry that I did."

  Her chest felt so tight she could hardly breathe. "We've already talked about this. You did what you had to do."

  "And this time, I'm going to do what I want to do."

  She was caught in his eyes, in his words, already wrapped up in his spell. Right smack dab in the romantic dreams she'd once had. Dreams she knew better than to believe in.

  She decided it would be best to approach this from a wholly sensible standpoint. "What about your job? You worked hard to get where you are."

  "I'm not worried about my job. I have tenure, which means I can take some time to research and write. And if I want to get back into the classroom, I'm sure I can teach at a sister university nearby."

  Since sensible hadn't worked, she had to remind him, and herself, "We have to think about Amelia. You can't do anything--we can't do anything that could hurt her."

  "Do you really think my falling back in love with her mother will hurt her?"

  Molly opened her mouth to reply, but nothing came out. How could it, when she had no idea how to respond? No idea what to think, or how to feel, after hearing Harry say that he might be falling in love with her again.

  "How's inventory going over there?" Greta called from behind the register.

  Her friend must have noticed her fumbling from across the room and was trying to save her. But whether from Harry, or from herself, Molly honestly didn't know.

  "I'm guessing that's my cue to get back to work and give you a breather." But before he walked away, he leaned in close and said, "I meant every word, Molly. I'm not here for a vacation. And I'm not here to play at being a father. Now that I've found my daughter--and now that I've found you again--I'm here to stay."

  *

  Epiphanies, Harry now realized, were funny things. They didn't creep up on you, so much as bash you over the head with an emotional two-by-four.

  Manhattan had been his home for more than three decades. Less than twenty-four hours ago, he'd packed a bag so that he could be with his daughter in Alexandria Bay.

  Harry had never been the crazy Sullivan. He'd never been the impetuous one. And he'd certainly never been the one who wore his heart on his sleeve. Yet, already he knew that this was where he would be staying for good. He wouldn't regret giving up his job, if it came to that. He wouldn't regret leaving behind a successful career. He wouldn't regret leaving the nonstop activity of the city for the slow, quiet pace of a small town.

  The only thing he would regret was not being there one hundred percent for Amelia.

  And not giving every last piece of his heart to Molly.

  He'd made so many mistakes when it came to love. In college, he hadn't had enough faith in his relationship with Molly, hadn't believed they could stay the course.

  But Amelia had changed everything. Not only by ringing his doorbell and giving him the best news of his life, but by proving to him that Molly had the most steady, most faithful heart of anyone he'd ever known.

  Molly was his first love.

  Harry knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would be his last.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  Harry didn't get a chance to speak with Molly again until they were heading home on the ferry that afternoon. While he had continued doing inventory, she had been pulled in half a dozen directions, with someone from nearly every department coming at some point throughout the day to ask her for help with a wide variety of issues.

  Stanley hadn't been exaggerating when he'd said Molly was the expert on Boldt Castle. From the donors with whom she'd been asked to have lunch, to helping the onsite handyman, she could pinpoint the exact day in history when the tower construction had begun and knew exactly where to look for a rare hinge needed to re-hang an antique door.

  Since he'd been left to his own devices, Greta had asked Harry to have lunch with her at the onsite cafe. She was slightly subtler in her probing than her husband, but her intent was the same--to protect Molly and Amelia from anyone who might hurt them.

  Harry badly wanted to prove himself to Greta, but all he could do was answer her questions openly and honestly...even when his answers didn't necessarily reflect well on him. Particularly when he admitted that he'd been the one to end his relationship with Molly all those years ago.

  The ferry home was crowded with both employees and visitors. Though Molly had been working hard all day, and was now officially off the clock, she was still happy to answer questions about the castle on the trip. Harry felt the same way about his work--he'd study history even if no one paid him for it.

  They disembarked, then headed back to the high school to watch Amelia's first partial dress rehearsal for The Sound of Music. Amelia had texted them an hour ago to let them know it was open to the families of the performers and that she'd love it if they came.

  "I can't wait to see her as Louisa," Harry said.

  "The role is perfect for her--she's always had her nose in a book."

  "Just like you."

  "And you too."

  When she smiled at him, Harry was relieved that he hadn't scared her away by coming on so strong inside the castle shop. She wasn't exactly throwing herself into his arms...but she wasn't shutting him out either.

  From his studies of battle plans over the past decade, he knew that progress couldn't always be measured in clear wins. Often, not having to retreat was cause for celebration, because it meant you could return the next day with a better-honed strategy.

  As soon as they walked into the auditorium, Amelia called them over. "Mom, Dad!" Her hair was braided and pinned up, and she was wearing a dirndl that looked like it could very well have been made out of old curtains. "Remember, this is our first dress rehearsal, so we're probably going to suck."

  "No matter what you sound like," Harry replied, "I'm going to be impressed."

  "You're just like Mom. I can never get an honest critique out of her, no matter how hard I try."

  "I'm always honest," Molly protested. "It's just that you've been amazing in every show you've ever been in."

  "Even the one where I threw up halfway through my solo?"

  Molly laughed. "Okay, so that might not have been your finest moment. Even though I still think you pulled it off. Besides, hardly anyone noticed."

  "Everyone noticed!" Amelia turned to Harry. "Tons of people in the audience ended up barfing after I did."

  Molly was still laughing. "Not tons. Only one. Maybe two."

  "I've got to finish getting ready with the rest of the cast. See you after the show." And then she was gone, disappearing backstage.

  "It feels like your hair just blew back, doesn't it?" Molly joked. "Did we ever have energy like that?"

  "You definitely did. You'd go from back-to-back classes, to your part-time job in the dining hall, to my place where we'd study for hours...and then we'd stay up half the night making love."

  She looked around to see if anyone had heard him, though no one was standing close enough. Still, she said in a low voice, "You can't keep talking like that."

  On the contrary, Harry knew reminding her how good they'd been together was exactly what he had to do.

  "Especially when I'm sure our story has been spreading like wildfire and everyone is going to be watching us." She pointed at a row already half full of parents, kids, and teachers. "Come on, let's go sit down."

  She likely believed there was strength in numbers--or rather, that he wouldn't be able to keep bringing the two of them closer if they were surrounded by other people. But Harry wasn't so easily daunted. Not when he knew that becoming a part of Amelia's and Molly's lives also meant becoming a part of their community.

  He introduced himself to everyone within handshake distance, falling into easy conversation with several of the parents who had spent some time in the city before moving to Alexandria Bay. Molly, however, was noticeably silent, even going so far as to pull
out her phone. It was her version of a KEEP OUT sign.

  Soon, the lights went down. The orchestra began the overture's familiar melody.

  And Harry was spellbound.

  Amelia was brilliant in her role as the book-loving Von Trapp daughter. She was sweet and funny and sang like an angel.

  He didn't think that just because he was her father. From the audience's laughter and the looks on their faces, he could tell everyone agreed with him. He wanted them all to know she was his, but he couldn't exactly stand up and shout, That's my kid!

  Thirty minutes in, the director said, "Let's take five."

  The kids were just starting to walk off stage when someone yelled, "Look out!"

  The performers scattered just in time to miss being hit by the wooden backdrop of a bedroom falling over and crashing into the big bed everyone had been sitting on for My Favorite Things. This crash set off a chain reaction, with a set piece of a mountain falling next, and then another that was supposed to be the inside of the Von Trapp family home.

  "How are we going to get this fixed by opening night?" one of the stagehands wailed.

  As soon as she'd made sure no one was hurt, the director turned to the audience, looking remarkably calm amidst disaster. "Anyone out there good with a hammer?" Clearly, working with hormonal teenagers all day gave high school teachers a higher threshold for trouble than most other people.

  Harry didn't think twice before standing. Helping to fix the backdrops was the perfect way to get involved with Amelia's school. What's more, he actually did have good building skills. Not only had he helped his father build his home at Summer Lake, but he'd also stepped in to manage his father's construction crew several times throughout the years.

  "I've never worked on the set for a musical before," Harry said, "but I'm willing to give it a shot."

  "Then don't be a stranger." The director motioned for him to head up to the stage. "We need you to get working on these backdrops right away."

  "Harry." Molly put a hand on his arm. "It's really nice of you to offer, but you don't have to do this."

  "I want to do it."

  Just as he'd said in the gift shop, after a lifetime of doing the things he had to do, he was finally doing the things he wanted to do. Getting to be a part of his daughter's musical felt like a gift.