Every Time We Fall in Love 2

  As though Harry's family and friends had a sixth sense that something major was going down, all conversation stopped when he walked into the living room with Amelia between him and his father. Instinctively shifting to block her from sight, he said in a low voice, "Dad, could you ask Alec, Suzanne, and Drake to come into my study?"

  His father nodded, heading into the throng as Harry gestured for Amelia to come with him down the hall, away from the party. "I'm thinking it would be good for you to meet your aunt and uncles in a more private setting."

  "Okay." Her voice sounded small, unsure. "Thanks."

  Throughout, Aldwin remained by her side, her personal furry sentry. It was as though the instant she'd patted his head, she'd become his responsibility.

  Smart dog.

  There was so much Harry wanted to say to her, and to ask, as they walked together down the hallway. So many things he wanted to know about her childhood, where she'd grown up, what she was studying in school. He didn't know anything about her, not even the basics, like her favorite color, or food, or book, or movie.

  But first, he needed to ask her, "Does your mother know you're here?"

  Instead of answering, she stopped at the threshold of his study, a large, vaulted room in which every wall was covered in bookshelves. "Wow. This room looks like it should be in a castle." Leather-bound books held court in his personal library alongside hardcovers and paperbacks, fiction and nonfiction, academic tomes and books of maps. Rapt, she moved toward the nearest bookshelf, running her fingers along the large leather spines of medieval battle plan reproductions.

  It moved him deeply to see that his daughter was so interested in books, to know they had that in common. He hoped to find out about the dozens of other ways they might be similar--and also the ways they would be different. All the ways she was unique, brilliant, special.

  Suzanne, Alec, Drake, and their father soon walked into the room. Alec shot Harry a questioning look when he saw Amelia, but Harry knew there was no way his brother would ever be prepared for this.

  Amelia moved closer to Harry, and he wanted to put his arm around her to comfort her. But he didn't know if that would be okay, if there was some set amount of time that needed to pass before she felt like he was really her father, instead of a stranger she'd just met.

  "It's going to be okay," he told her in a low voice. "They're all your family."

  "Harry," Alec asked, voicing what every one of them was clearly wondering, "what's going on?"

  Harry couldn't stop himself from putting his arm around Amelia then. Thankfully, she leaned into him, rather than away, as he said, "Amelia is my daughter." He let that huge news land for a beat before he continued. "Molly Connal, my girlfriend from college, is her mother, and Amelia found out we're related using the same online DNA testing company I signed up for earlier this year."

  His siblings' eyes were all huge. Suzanne recovered first, rushing forward, then throwing her arms around Amelia. "I'm so happy to meet you! I'm Suzanne, and I swear this is one of the greatest days of my life, getting to meet my niece."

  Alec moved forward next and shook her hand, obviously trying not to overwhelm Amelia with another hug. Although he held on for several long moments. "It's great to meet you, Amelia. I'm Alec."

  "And I'm Drake." Harry's youngest brother went in for a hug. Though not quite as ebullient as Suzanne's, it was no less warm and welcoming.

  "I've seen your picture online!" Amelia blurted when he drew back. "You're with Rosalind Bouchard."

  Of course Amelia would know who Rosa was--a fifteen-year-old would have to be seriously out of the loop not to know about the most famous former reality TV star on the planet.

  "Rosa is my fiancee," Drake confirmed with a smile. "She's out in the living room. You'll meet her soon."

  Seeing his family welcome Amelia one by one, without panic or cynicism, helped loosen some of the knots inside Harry. Before she met anyone else, however, they needed to nail down a few details.

  "Why doesn't everyone sit down?" he said as he closed the study door. "So we can talk things through a bit."

  He appreciated Suzanne's leading Amelia over to the leather love seat, with the dog keeping pace beside them. Suzanne kept her arm around Amelia, obviously recognizing some girl power wouldn't go amiss at this point. But though his sister looked to be champing at the bit to fire off questions, she managed to rein herself in as they all looked to him.

  Leaning his hip against the edge of his desk--he couldn't sit, not when he was filled with this much adrenaline--Harry asked again, "Amelia, does your mother know you're here?"

  She scrunched up her face, guilt written all over it. "She thinks I'm sleeping over at my friend's house."

  A string of silent curses ran through Harry's head. Of course Molly wouldn't have sent Amelia to him after all these years, especially without warning. "You need to call her and tell her where you really are."

  "As long as I'm home by tomorrow at noon, she won't need to know."

  "She's your mother, and we aren't going to keep either the test results, or where you are, from her." He'd been a father for all of five minutes, and he was already lecturing his daughter. "I can call her," he said in a gentler tone, "if that will be easier."

  Amelia thought about it for a few seconds. "I don't know--that might be worse. I mean, since she never wanted to tell me about you, I'm thinking she wouldn't be too happy about talking to you on the phone."

  Her words were like a sledgehammer to his gut. Of course Molly wouldn't want to talk to him. Too bad for his ex that he didn't give a damn what she wanted. Yes, he'd hurt her way back when. But nothing he'd done could have been bad enough for her to keep his daughter from him.

  "Now that I've thought about it," Harry said, "I need to be the one to call her."

  "Right now?" Amelia looked seriously panicked. She might have snuck off to find her father, but he had a feeling it had been a rare bout of rule-breaking.

  "Soon." He pushed away from his desk and walked over to sit on the ottoman facing her, gently touching her hands with his. "Does she know you took the DNA test?"

  She shook her head. "But after I read her diary, I had to do it."

  "Molly has been writing about me in her diary?" After all these years, was she still thinking about him the way he'd never been able to stop thinking about her?

  "No. I found a box of her old diaries in the attic."

  Suzanne couldn't keep quiet any longer. "Your mom kept her old diaries lying around in the attic, even though you could easily have found them?"

  "They weren't exactly lying around," Amelia admitted. "I had to sort of hunt for them." She looked around at everyone as if to make her case. "I needed to know who my dad was. And since she refused to ever tell me, I had to take matters into my own hands." She licked her lips, looking nervous again. "That's why as soon as I read about how she and Harry dated, I fudged her consent to do the DNA test." Her mouth took on a stubborn tilt as she turned back to Harry. "After what I read, I needed to know for sure if you were my dad."

  "I can't believe Molly kept you a secret from me." Harry heard his voice as if from a distance. Despite his words, his tone was dangerously cool. Where anyone else would have been ranting, cursing, it was instinct for Harry to become more rational, not less. Losing himself in emotion had never helped anyone, and he couldn't start losing it now, even if that was the obvious route.

  "All my life," Amelia said, "I assumed my father must be no good. Otherwise, why would she have kept us apart? But I still needed to know who I am, where I came from. And now that I've met you..." Amelia looked as confused and as hurt as Harry felt. "I always thought I had the best mom in the world. But all these years, I could have had you as my dad." She looked at everyone in the room. "I could have had all of you as my family."

  Suzanne pulled Amelia close. "You have us now. And none of us are going anywhere, I promise."

  Amelia sniffled, then pulled back. "I always wanted an aunt." She turned to Alec
and Drake. "And uncles." She looked at William. "And a grandpa." And then, finally, to Harry. "And most of all, a dad." But before he could say that learning he had a daughter was the best thing that had ever happened to him, she added, "Are you sure you want to call my mom right now? I mean, I could just take the bus home and then we could come up with a plan later. Like, maybe you could show up in A Bay and accidentally bump into us on the street, and then when she sees it's you, she'll have to admit you're my dad. We could act like we'd only just met and be all surprised."

  "A Bay?" He'd barely heard Amelia's master plan, not after hearing where she'd come from. "You took a bus all the way from Alexandria Bay today?" His gut twisted tighter. "By yourself?" A deep seed of fear planted itself in the middle of the emotional storm raging inside him.

  "It was only forty-two bucks and five hours." She said it like teenage girls traveled that far alone with a bunch of strangers with no one to protect them all the time. "It wasn't a big deal."

  Were it not for Drake moving behind Harry to put a hand on his shoulder, he wasn't sure he would have been able to control his response, for once.

  "She's okay, Harry." Drake was stepping into Harry's shoes like a champ--taking on the role of keeping him from losing it the way Harry had so often helped his siblings and father. "Although," his brother said to Amelia, "how about we agree that should be the end of your solo bus trips for a while?"

  Still star struck by Drake due to his relationship with Rosa, Amelia automatically nodded. "Okay. Although I don't know how I'm going to get home if I don't take the bus. I can't afford a plane ticket."

  "I can fly you home on one of my planes," Alec offered.

  "You have your own planes?" Amelia's eyes were huge.

  "I'll be taking Amelia home myself," Harry ground out from between clenched teeth. Or, better yet, she'd stay with him instead of going back to Alexandria Bay. After all, Molly had had her first fifteen years to herself. He was due the next fifteen, at the very least.

  "If you're okay hanging out with Suzanne, Drake, Alec, and my dad for a few minutes," he said to Amelia in as normal a voice as he could muster, "it's time for me to call your mother. Why don't you give me her cell phone number?"

  "Okay," Amelia said, biting her lip again. "She had to go into work today, though. At Boldt Castle. I don't know if she'll pick up unless it's me."

  "Then I should call from your phone to make sure she does."

  Amelia's hand shook a little as she gave her cell to him, and Aldwin nestled in closer to her, putting his big head in her lap.

  Harry was halfway out the door when she said, "Harry?" He turned, wishing she'd said Dad, even though he knew he hadn't earned it yet. "Can you tell her that I'm sorry I did all of this behind her back?"

  His stomach twisted tight at the regret--and the love--in her voice. "Don't worry, Amelia. Everything is going to be okay."

  He'd move heaven and earth to make sure of that.


  Harry closed himself into his bedroom upstairs. Party guests were gathered outside the window in the backyard, but they were all a blur. Scrolling through Amelia's list of contacts, he found Mom and pressed the call button with a shaking hand.

  Molly picked up after one ring. "Amelia? Is everything okay, sweetie?"

  The shock of hearing her voice after so many years of hearing it only in his dreams made him momentarily speechless. "It's not Amelia. It's Harry. Harry Sullivan."

  Molly went so silent on the other end that he almost thought their connection had been severed. Obviously stunned, she asked, "How do you have Amelia's phone?"

  "She found me." He barely recognized his own voice, it was so strangled with repressed fury and frustration. "She's here in the city."

  Molly gasped. "Amelia is in the city?" Shock reverberated through every word.

  "She took a bus here. Five hours. All by herself." Just saying the words riled him up all over again. "Anything could have happened to her."

  "She took the bus to the city?" He could hear how shaken she was. "Is she okay?"

  "She's fine, thank God."

  "Put her on. I need to talk to my daughter."

  "Our daughter. And I'll put her on as soon as you and I are done." His gut was churning as he said, "Why the hell did you hide my daughter from me?" He could no longer pretend to keep his cool. "How could you do that to me? And to her?"

  "Wait...what are you saying?" She sounded completely confused, even more than she'd been when he'd told her who was calling. "How could you possibly think Amelia is your daughter?"

  "She read your old diary, Molly. She read what you wrote about me."

  "I did write about you and how we dated, but I never said you were her father. You're not. You can't be."

  He couldn't believe she was trying to deny it. "I have proof. She took a DNA test, and I showed up as matching fifty percent of her genetic markers."

  "You might have a piece of paper that says that, but it has to be wrong. Some kind of horrible joke someone is playing on her. She's never been bullied before, but maybe something has changed at school that I don't know about. Maybe she mentioned your name to someone after reading my diary and they thought it would be funny to mail her false test results."

  Whatever Harry had expected, it wasn't this. Not just an out-and-out denial, but Molly's utter refusal that he was Amelia's father. Worse still, she was somehow managing to plant doubts in his head, even though he was holding the DNA test result.

  "Finding out I have a teenage daughter is no joke."

  "Of course it isn't, but I'm telling you, it's not possible."

  "She's mine, Molly." Hadn't his father said Amelia had his eyes, his mouth? And hadn't she fit right in with his siblings, as though she'd always been a part of the family? Always been a Sullivan? "Mine."

  Molly made a frustrated sound into the phone. "I need to come get Amelia, and once I'm there, we'll figure out how she could have gotten her hands on this mistaken DNA test result."

  "It's no mistake," he insisted. "The timing of everything is exactly right--it's been fifteen years and nine months since we were last together."

  "No, we had already broken up when I got pregnant." She was just as insistent. "She's not yours."

  "We'll do another paternity test--and then you won't be able to deny the truth." Harry almost never raised his voice. He'd always been the calm one, the person everyone could count on to be reasonable. But now he was practically shouting into Amelia's phone.

  "Don't you dare do anything until I get there." Molly's shock shifted to a fierce protectiveness. "I get that you think I've kept Amelia from you her entire life. But I swear I haven't. And even if you don't believe me, when it comes to my daughter, I will protect her no matter what." Her voice was slightly softer as she added, "I'm sorry you aren't her father, Harry. But I really think it's best if we go over everything in person rather than on the phone so that there's no chance of your misunderstanding. And even more than that, I need to see my daughter and know that she's okay. Where do you live?"

  The thought of seeing Molly again, of her walking into his house, was so strange, he couldn't begin to imagine how it would feel.

  He gave her the address. Then she said, "I'll be there as fast as I can safely manage the drive. Now, could I please talk to my daughter?"

  The last thing he wanted was to let Molly off the hook. He wanted to force her to tell him everything right that second. But despite how upset he was, he also understood how desperate she must be to talk to Amelia--and to come here to see for herself that she was okay. And Amelia must be a bundle of nerves waiting to find out how their call was going.

  "I'll take the phone out to her now." As Harry walked down to his study, he could hear laughter coming from the room. He'd never appreciated his family more than he did right at this moment, when they were going out of their way to get over their own shock at meeting Amelia so that they could help settle her nerves. "She's with Alec, Suzanne, Drake and my father."

>  "You called everyone to come over as soon as Amelia showed up?"

  "They were already here. We're celebrating Drake's and Suzanne's engagements today. They'll both be getting married later this year."

  Despite the knots twisting him up at the doubts Molly had managed to plant inside him, he smiled at Amelia as he walked into the study. "Your mom is going to drive here tonight, so you'll be seeing her soon. Here she is."

  Amelia took the phone from him and walked over to the window for a little more privacy. "Mom--"

  Everyone in the room could hear Molly exclaim how glad she was that Amelia was okay, then say that she had scared her half to death by getting on that bus.

  Amelia's shoulders slumped. "I know I shouldn't have taken the bus so far by myself. I'm really sorry." Then her shoulders moved back slightly. "But I needed to know who my dad is! And he's great. They all are."

  Everyone in the room raised their eyebrows as Molly told Amelia that she'd explain everything once she got there, then all but hollered that she still should have told her what she was doing--and that she was grounded. Forever.

  Amelia slumped again. "I already said I wouldn't do it again--you don't need to ground me."

  Whatever Molly said next was at a lower volume, but Harry could just make out the words I love you so much from across the room.

  "Love you too, Mom. See you when you get here." Amelia slid the phone into her back pocket, then turned toward the group, obviously not realizing they had been able to hear their conversation. "She's pretty mad."

  Harry moved to her side. "She's just glad you're okay." He smiled at her, his heart fuller than it had ever been for the teenager who had instantly become the center of his world. "I am too."

  When she smiled back, regardless of the doubts Molly had put into his head, he opened his arms to Amelia...and was so damned glad when she walked into them and lay her head on his chest.

  "I'm so happy you found me, Amelia."

  "Me too."

  He held on for a long time. But it would never be long enough. He already knew that.

  When he reluctantly let her go, he tried to corral his spinning, spiraling thoughts into a straight line. She had to be hungry, thirsty, and wondering where she was going to be staying. "How about I show you your bedroom while your aunt, uncles, and grandfather clear out the party? And then we can get you something to eat and drink?"