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Every Time We Fall in Love 16


  "I know how much Amelia means to you and how much you want to respect her opinions," Molly said gently. "But I hate to see you beat yourself up like this."

  "If I'm beating myself up tonight, that's because it's long overdue. I can't take the easy way out anymore. I need to figure out why I do it, why I shut people out. Especially you. But God...it's not easy. My heart is actually beating harder right now than it does during the final minutes of a jousting tournament."

  She reached for his hands. "We've both been through so many changes already. And I swear I didn't ask you to join me in the garden because I expected an apology from you. In fact, it's just the opposite. I wanted to apologize to you for the way I behaved this morning."

  "You wanted to apologize to me?" Harry was sure he must have heard wrong.

  "I shouldn't have just kicked you out of my bedroom like that."

  "How could you have done anything else?"

  She blinked at him. "Wait, what do you mean? What are you saying?"

  "I'm saying that after everything we've been through, I was wrong to expect you to go forward into the future with me without doubts." He paused, trying to corral his thoughts into some semblance of order so that she would understand. "Almost sixteen years. That's how long I've been trying to figure out where it all went wrong. But it wasn't until dinner tonight when Amelia laid it all out for me that I think I finally understand."

  He wasn't used to opening himself up like this. Not even with Molly. Especially not with Molly, which was why he'd lost her. But he needed to do it anyway. To finally face down his demons and push past them by not shutting down.

  "When we broke up, I told myself it was the only way. That I couldn't drag you into my mess and you deserved more than I could give you. But the truth is--" A truth he'd never wanted to admit, not even to himself. "The truth is that I was afraid if I allowed any chink in my armor, the whole thing would fall apart and I would crumble to pieces. So I always thought I had to seem strong, tough, even when I was already crumbling inside."

  "Oh, Harry." She moved closer and pressed their linked hands to her chest. "It couldn't have been easy for you to be everyone's white knight. I wish I could have helped carry some of the load for you."

  "You already did, by being the one consistently bright thing in my life. But on that night at the lake with my father, when I wasn't able to be there with you on your birthday, when I started cracking apart, piece by piece, you finally saw the side of me that I didn't want to admit was there. That's when I knew I had to push you away, before you saw any deeper. Before you saw just how much of me was cracked and broken."

  "You were never broken or cracked, Harry." Molly's words were impassioned. "You've been through so much--losing your mother, trying to help your father, helping to raise your siblings, and now finding out about Amelia. No one expects you to be strong all the time. And yet, through it all, you've always been the most brave and wonderful man I've ever known."

  "You're the one who's strong. Brave. Wonderful." Harry's chest ached with everything he felt for her. "And now that you're back in my life, I don't want to let you go again. I want to do better. I need to do better. Otherwise, you'll keep thinking last night was a mistake. You'll keep thinking we're a mistake."

  At last, he realized he couldn't figure this out alone, the way he'd always tried to do. He needed Molly, and this time he wasn't going to let fear keep him from asking for her help.

  "What can I do to prove to you that we're worth a second chance?"

  *

  After everything that had happened during the last few days, Molly hadn't thought anything else could surprise her. But she was absolutely floored by what Harry had just said. By how he'd opened up to her, at long last--and by how much she wanted to risk opening herself up to him too.

  "Everything you just told me, the fact that you've let me see the vulnerable part of you--I can't tell you how much that means to me." She swallowed hard. "Especially because I held back too. In college, I didn't tell you how desperate I was for you to open up, to share all of yourself with me, to let me help. I'm glad I was a bright light for you then, but it wasn't enough. I should have helped you whether you asked for it or not, should have stepped in with your sister and brothers and father, even if you said you had it covered. But I was so stuck feeling like I was in last place because of my parents and how they were never there for me, that I slunk away with hurt feelings and my tail between my legs. I didn't learn true determination until later, after I had Amelia."

  "You were always determined, Molly."

  "Maybe in some ways. But when it came to my heart..." She hesitated. Stanley had been right--she needed to be honest with Harry, even if it might make her look and feel like a fool. "With my heart, I was just plain scared. Just like I was scared this morning when I said it was only attraction that brought us back together." With their linked hands still pressed to her chest, he must be able to feel how fast her heart was racing. "Even if it scares me, which it does, I want to be as brave as you just were and admit that it's more than that. So much more."

  "Will you help me get it right this time, Molly?" he asked. "Will you give us the chance to make the three of us the family we should have been all along?"

  "I think..." No, this wasn't about thinking. It was entirely about feeling, even though a part of her was still terrified that history would repeat itself, that she'd give her heart to Harry again, only to end up crushed and alone. "I want to be with you, Harry." He kissed her before she could continue, and the starry, breathless feeling made it nearly impossible to remember what she'd been about to say. "But we need to be honest with Amelia. I can't stand sneaking around behind her back the way we did last night. We need to tell her that we can't promise her anything, but that no matter what happens, we're both going to be there for her no matter what. Does that sound good to you?"

  "Dating you again?" Harry looked happier than she'd ever seen him. "It sounds like a dream come true." He pulled her all the way into his arms and kissed her again. "But there is something you should know before we go talk with Amelia."

  "What's that?" Just that quickly, her chest tightened again with the fear that lay barely below the surface.

  "She's already guessed."

  "She heard us last night?" Molly was horrified. Of course her daughter knew about the birds and the bees, but no one wanted to hear their parents going at it. Especially when they weren't even supposed to be a couple yet.

  "I don't think so," Harry said. "But she did make a comment to me at breakfast about how it's obvious that I still love you."

  Love.

  Barely breathing, she asked, "Do you?"

  "I do." He gazed into her eyes. "I love you, Molly. I always have. I always will."

  "I..." She didn't know what to say, what to think, how to feel. She'd guessed that Amelia might want the two of them to get back together, but she hadn't thought their daughter would make such a quick leap to love.

  He put a finger over her lips. "You don't have to say it back. Not until you're ready." He paused. "If you ever are."

  Molly swallowed hard, utterly overwhelmed. But she still needed to know something. "What did she say about me?"

  "That I need to give you time to wrap your head around everything." He nuzzled the nape of her neck, making her tingly all over. "Good thing I have a few ideas about making that time pass in a really, really fun way."

  Their conversation was such a serious one that he shouldn't have been able to make her laugh. But with Harry she'd never been able to control her heart.

  Even when there were no guarantees he wouldn't break it again.

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  Molly knocked on Amelia's half-closed bedroom door. She was lying on her stomach on her bed, doing her homework with her headphones on, while Aldwin sprawled across every last inch of available mattress space.

  When Amelia looked up, Molly said in a voice loud enough to carry over the music, "Can we come in? Harry and I have something we w
ant to talk about with you."

  "Sure." Amelia pulled her earbuds out. "What's up?"

  Before Molly could step inside the room, Harry reached for her hand. It felt so right--it always had--but that didn't mean she wasn't nervous about the step they were taking.

  Amelia's eyes grew big when they walked into the room hand in hand. "Are you guys...?"

  "Yes," Molly said. "We've agreed to start dating."

  "I knew it!"

  Molly was amazed by how simple Amelia made it sound. Probably because their daughter wasn't viewing their getting back together through a lens of fear about painful history repeating itself.

  Nonetheless, Molly wanted to make sure Amelia really was okay with it. She sat on the bed beside her daughter, but instead of letting go of Molly's hand, Harry pulled over the desk chair to sit on so that they could remain connected. When Molly took Amelia's hand, all three of them were linked together.

  "Are you sure this is okay with you?" Molly asked.

  "Why wouldn't it be?"

  "Well..."

  Even though she felt that she should be honest about how love didn't always work out, she couldn't bring herself to say it. Not when she so badly wanted everything to be perfect this time.

  "Molly and I are going to do everything we can to get it right this time," Harry said, stepping in right when she needed him. Just the way a true partner would. "But we're not perfect, and we might screw up along the way. Especially me. Even though I promise I'm not going to stop trying to be everything your mom needs me to be."

  "Just there, you're doing it again." Molly's emotions were too high for her to hold back as she turned to face Harry. "Trying to take all of the responsibility for whether our relationship works. It's up to both of us to make it work, up to both of us to keep trying even if we make some mistakes along the way."

  "Are you guys already fighting?" Amelia asked.

  Molly said, "Yes," at the exact moment that Harry said, "No."

  The last thing Molly expected was for Amelia to laugh. "Seriously, Mom, Harry is perfect for you. Not like any of those other guys you've dated." She made a face thinking of them. "Anyway, I totally approve."

  "I'm really glad to hear that," Molly said. "But if you change your mind at any point..."

  "I'm not a little kid anymore," Amelia reminded them. "Half my friends' parents are divorced. And even though I don't think that would happen to you guys if you got married--'cause of the whole perfect-together thing--I could handle it. So you should do you, Mom." She grinned at Harry. "You too, Dad."

  Molly hugged Amelia. "I love you, sweetie."

  Amelia lifted her free arm for Harry. "Get in here, Dad."

  Molly smiled as Harry joined the hug, saying, "You're the best, kid."

  After they pulled apart, Amelia said, "All this mushiness and hugging has made me totally lose my teenage street cred." She pretended to snarl. "Now get out."

  Molly and Harry were laughing as they closed her door behind them.

  "What do you say we drink that wine now?" he asked.

  Molly slid her hand into Harry's. "I'd like that." She smiled up at him. "Very, very much."

  *

  An hour later, they had polished off the bottle. Molly had never been much of a drinker, but after working so hard to fight her attraction to Harry since he'd come back into her life, it was so nice to let herself be close to him that she didn't want their evening together to end. Plus, she couldn't deny that the wine helped take the edge off her worries, at least in the short term.

  Frogs sang, crickets chirped, and the moon rose high in the sky as stars began to twinkle above them. The evening had grown cool, but Molly was perfectly warm with Harry's arms around her.

  In the wake of their earlier intense discussion, they talked about easier things, like Harry's positive impressions of the high school and town, and Molly's funny stories about people who had visited the castle.

  "Does this count as our first official date?" Molly asked.

  She had shifted so that she was leaning against Harry's chest. He was running his thumb over the inside of her palm, delicious little circles of sensation that were already enough to make her insides feel molten with lust.

  Harry continued to caress her skin as he said, "That depends."

  She looked at him over her shoulder. "On what?"

  "On whether or not I'm supposed to leave you with only a kiss good night on the first date. Because if that's the case..." He brought his hand to her cheek and stroked her lower lip, making her shiver with desire. "I'm going to blow it for sure."

  "As I recall," she said in a low voice made husky with need, "our first date way back when didn't end with just a kiss good night."

  "I had the best of intentions." His deep voice rumbled through her. "But I couldn't resist you." His eyes were full of heat as he said, "Just like I can't resist you now."

  And then he was kissing her, and it was the sweetest, most wonderful kiss. He tasted like wine, and desire, and Harry.

  She would never want to go back to eighteen again, not after she'd built such a great life for herself and Amelia. But as she and Harry kissed, for a few moments it was nice to feel young and sexy.

  "Come to bed with me, Harry." She got up and held out her hand.

  "I know I just said how much I want you, but I don't want you to think I'm expecting you to automatically share your bed with me. If you're not ready--"

  "I don't know if I'll ever be ready." She would never be anything but honest with him, even if it wasn't always easy to speak the truth. "But I'm tired of using that as an excuse." She took his hands in hers and pulled him up to stand with her. "We want each other. We care about each other. But we can't predict the future. The only guarantee we're going to get is that neither of us wants to hurt the other person--and that we're both going into our new relationship with good intentions."

  "Have I ever told you how beautiful your mind is?"

  She smiled, going on her tippy-toes to kiss him. "Tell me again in bed."

  *

  They didn't turn any lights on, letting the moonlight streaming in through her French doors provide the illumination.

  "Last night, you undressed me," she said. "Now it's my turn to undress you." She reached for his T-shirt and slowly drew it out of the waistband of his jeans. "And remember, we've got to stay really quiet so there's no chance of anyone overhearing us." She leaned forward to nip at his neck. "No matter how good it feels."

  Harry's low groan sent even more heat pooling low in her belly. As did his saying, "Just so you know, I'm already this close to ripping off your clothes and taking you right here on the floor."

  Sweet Lord...did he have any idea how much she wanted that? For him to lose control and take her fast and hard and breathless?

  Soon. She needed that to happen soon.

  But first, she needed to show Harry how much she adored every single inch of him.

  "Tomorrow night," she whispered, "Amelia will be sleeping over at her friend's house. Which means it will just be me and you." She ran her hands beneath his shirt, relishing the rippling muscles beneath her fingertips before she pulled up the fabric. He lifted his arms to help her get it over his head. She tossed it to the floor, then immediately leaned in to press one kiss and then another to his gorgeous bare chest. "We'll be able to do whatever we want. As loud as we want."

  A low curse left his lips, one that only inflamed her more. "You're going to torture me tonight, aren't you?"

  She answered him first with a smile...then by sinking to her knees.

  "If you call this torture--" She undid his belt, then began to open his jeans. "--then yes, that's exactly what I'm planning."

  He slid his hands into her hair. "Molly." Though low pitched, the word was hoarse. "You don't have to do this."

  "Of course I don't." She slowly pulled his zipper down, then pushed the denim to the floor. "But I want to do it." She cupped him through the thin fabric of his boxers. "I'm desperate to do it."
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  She felt him throb in her hand, growing bigger, harder, with every second that passed. And she was right there with him, her limbs shaky, her skin sensitive and aroused, even before she'd stripped him completely bare.

  A sensual smile curved her lips as she hooked her fingers into the waistband of his boxers, then slowly drew the fabric down. Slowly enough that Harry sucked in a breath, then held it, just as she was holding hers.

  It was like unwrapping the most beautiful gift. One made expressly for her pleasure.

  She pressed her lips against him, and his fingers tightened in her hair, her name on his lips. But soon, her soft, sweet kisses weren't enough. She needed to run her tongue over his length again and again, until he was begging, whispered pleas that went to the very core of her. Molten heat sizzling through her from the inside out. She craved his thrusts, wanted his power, relished breaking his control, even just this little bit.

  Suddenly, though, he was gone, stepping away to kick off his socks and shoes, then lifting her into his arms. "You have no idea how much I want you to love me like that. But tonight I need all of you, Molly. I need to look into your eyes and know you're mine."

  I am. I'm yours.

  The words were stolen from the tip of her tongue by his kiss.

  And then she was on her bed and he was stripping away her clothes, so fast that by the time his mouth covered hers again, she was naked. He rained kisses over her breasts, her stomach, her thighs, her calves. Then back up her body so that he could taste her the way she'd just tasted him. Slow, sweet licks of his tongue that made her tremble, shake, beg. And his hands most certainly weren't idle as he stroked her breasts with one, while playing over--then inside--her with the other.

  She had to turn and bury her face in her pillow to muffle the sounds. But she knew she must not have been doing a very good job when Harry moved back over her and covered her mouth with his.