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Every Time We Fall in Love
Every Time We Fall in Love 4
The years fell away as she stared at him, momentarily unable to speak, or think, or breathe.
"Come inside." While she felt like an open book, gaping at him on his doorstep, she couldn't read a thing in his tone, his expression.
She followed him into the foyer. "Is Amelia still awake?"
"She went to bed around eleven, after my family finally cleared out." His voice softened, warmed, when he spoke of Amelia, and even his lips began to curve up into a smile.
Seeing that--knowing that--made everything inside Molly's chest clench tight. If only he was Amelia's father...
"I need to see her, even though she's already asleep," she said in as steady a voice as she could manage, given that her emotions felt more high-strung than they had ever been. And that was saying something, considering what a mess she'd been in those early postpartum months as a single mother trying to take care of a baby while living on a shoestring.
Harry led her through the foyer, past the living room and kitchen, then up a wide set of stairs. His voice pitched low, he said, "She's in here."
Carefully easing open the bedroom door, Molly crept into where her daughter was fast asleep in a plush-looking bed. An enormous wolfhound mix was lying across the foot of the mattress. Of course Harry would have a dog like this--the perfect academic's companion.
From the moment Harry had phoned to say Amelia was here, though he'd assured Molly that her daughter was fine, she hadn't been able to stop the worst-case scenarios from playing inside her head. So many horrible things could have happened to Amelia on a solo bus trip from Alexandria Bay to the city.
Only now that Molly saw Amelia safe and sound, even smiling a little in her sleep, could she finally release the breath she'd been holding.
The dog watched Molly carefully as she bent to press a kiss to Amelia's cheek. "Love you, sweet girl."
Her daughter shifted, but didn't wake up. The dog stared at Molly, unblinking, for several seconds then, when he deemed she wasn't a threat, laid his muzzle on Amelia's feet.
Without thinking, Molly turned to smile with relief at Harry. When he didn't smile back, she remembered she had a heck of a lot of explaining to do.
And that he wasn't going to want to hear any of it.
After tiptoeing out of the room and shutting the door, Molly felt as though she were heading to the gallows, rather than simply following Harry downstairs.
"That's Aldwin, with Amelia," Harry said. "He hasn't left her side since the moment she arrived."
Beyond nervous, Molly found herself babbling, "His name is perfect for him--he already seems like her old friend."
Harry stopped on the stairs. "You know that Aldwin means old friend?"
Too late, she realized what she'd just given away. "I tried to keep up my studies after college. And I always found the medieval period particularly fascinating." Which was true. It was also true that the main reason she'd dug deeper into medieval history was because it was a secret link to Harry.
"If you still drink peppermint tea," he said once they were in the kitchen, "I can make you a cup."
It was funny--and by funny she meant not at all funny--how something like remembering the kind of tea she used to drink when they were together could mean so much. But she couldn't do this, couldn't just sit and make polite conversation when nothing added up.
"Harry, I'm sorry, but you can't be Amelia's father."
"Yes, I am." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to her. "It's all there in black and white."
Unfolding it, she saw the information printed on letterhead from an online ancestry DNA test company. The company was claiming that Harry shared fifty percent of Amelia's DNA.
Molly honestly wasn't sure how Amelia had come to get this, or how anyone could think playing such a horrible prank on her daughter could ever be funny.
She put the paper on the granite kitchen counter, steeling herself for the story she was about to tell. One she wasn't proud of, but wouldn't take back for anything. Not when Amelia had come to be hers because of it.
"First of all," she said, "when you and I were together, we were always used protection."
"Protection can fail."
"I know it can," she said, "but it didn't. Not with us."
"It must have."
"It didn't." She was as certain as he was. More so, because she actually had the facts. "The night we broke up, I got my period. It was the worst one of my life, with such severe cramps I couldn't even get out of bed."
"Please, let me get this out. All of it, so that you'll finally understand." Her head was pounding like she had a hangover, though she hadn't had a drink, and her mouth was bone dry. "Two weeks after we broke up, fourteen days after my period started, I went to a party, got drunk, and...I slept with a stranger."
With another Columbia student who had looked like Harry. A poor man's version, anyway. He'd been so attentive that night, giving her everything she craved, making her feel as though she was the only person who mattered. At least, until the deed was done and he'd kicked her out to do an early-morning walk of shame back to her dorm in her dress and heels.
She made herself look Harry square in the eyes. "I was too drunk to remember to use protection, and two weeks later when my next period was late, I did a pregnancy test. All the dates line up perfectly for her birthday."
She expected Harry to look devastated. Especially given that over the phone, he'd seemed hell-bent on being Amelia's father. Now that she'd laid out the full truth for him, why didn't he look like his whole world had just caved in?
Finally, he spoke. "Aunt Mary didn't realize she was pregnant with the twins for the same reason."
"Your Aunt Mary?" It had been a heck of an evening, but though Molly knew she was nowhere near at her best, she should still be able to follow his train of thought. "Why are you bringing her up now?"
"Because she went through the same thing you did. Not," he clarified, "the getting drunk and sleeping with a stranger part. But I definitely remember hearing Aunt Mary say that she'd gotten her period, or what she thought was her period--and then finding out not long afterward that she had already been pregnant with Sophie and her twin sister, Lori." He let his words land--along with the utter, breath-stealing shock that came with them--before adding, "She said it doesn't happen all the time, but that it isn't totally unheard of either."
Molly felt herself reeling, both physically and emotionally. It wasn't until Harry's hands curled around hers to hold her steady that she realized she had been about to drop.
"But..." She swallowed hard as she thought about the implications of what Harry was saying. "Everyone was so sure--the nurses, my doctor. I never thought in a million years she could be yours, not even all those times I wished she could have been. Instead of his."
"You wished Amelia was mine?"
But Molly couldn't think straight, couldn't worry about what she'd just admitted to Harry, when everything she'd believed to be true was suddenly in question.
"I..." He led her over to one of the kitchen stools, and when he let go of her hands, she dropped her head into them. "I don't know what to think right now." Her words were slightly muffled by her hands, but her voice was still clear enough. "I heard what you just said, and I know you wouldn't lie to me about your aunt." Molly lifted her head and looked at Harry, at the man she'd once loved with everything she was. The man she'd been so heartbroken to lose. The man she'd never thought she'd see again. "What if it's true? What if I was already pregnant when I went to that party? What if Amelia really is yours?" She felt both bleak--and desperately hopeful--all at the same time. "That means her father would have wanted her after all."
"Did you tell him?" Harry asked. "The other guy, the one you thought got you pregnant?"
"Of course I did. I would never willingly have kept her from her father, or her father from her."
Harry had to believe her. He had to see that she would ne
ver have done something like this to him on purpose, and certainly not as retribution for breaking her heart. "Everything fit just right, from getting my period after our breakup, and then having unprotected sex with him exactly when I thought I would have been ovulating. Even the doctor I went to confirmed that must be my date of conception. So I went to the guy's residence hall and found him. He barely remembered me. Didn't even know my name. I felt like such an idiot. Such a cliche, the heartbroken college freshman getting drunk, ending up in some stranger's bed, then finding out she's pregnant. But I couldn't keep the truth from him."
"What did he do?"
"He told me to get rid of it. Or else. It turned out that he came from an important family, and he had been in this situation before. His family had paid the other girl to have an abortion, but I couldn't do that, couldn't let them pressure me. I had to get away from him and go somewhere they wouldn't find me--wouldn't find Amelia. He didn't know my last name, so I figured if I went far enough, we would be in the clear."
"Who is he?" Harry growled out the words.
"It doesn't matter." And if the DNA test was right, it really didn't.
A moment later, he reached for one of the cloth napkins in a bowl on the island and pressed it to her cheek.
"Harry? What are you doing?"
She lifted a hand to her face, and her fingers came away wet. She'd been so overwhelmed by going back in time and recounting some of the hardest days of her life, on top of the mind-blowing thought that Amelia might actually be Harry's, that she hadn't even realized she was crying.
Suddenly unable to hold back the torrent of emotion inside of her a single second more, she reached for the cloth, putting it over her face as the waterfalls came.
The very last thing she'd wanted to do was fall apart in front of him, but it didn't seem she had a choice. Her body, her brain, her heart, simply couldn't do anything else.
From the moment Harry had opened his front door to Molly--and especially now that he'd heard her side of the story and knew she couldn't possibly be trying to pull one over on him--it felt as though a fire were burning throughout his entire body. Every vein, every cell overheated. Because despite the emotions roiling through him over the story she'd just told him, he couldn't help but notice that she was even more beautiful now than she'd been at eighteen, her curves more pronounced, her features fuller, her eyes a deeper blue. And he found himself breathing her in, that tantalizing scent he'd never forgotten.
If only he hadn't pushed Molly away in college--if only he hadn't been so convinced he couldn't be enough for her when his family was pulling him in so many different directions--none of this would have happened. Not only losing Molly, but also missing out on the first fifteen years of his daughter's life.
Harry's chest ached with the realization of what he'd lost. What all of them had lost. Thank God Amelia had done the DNA test, then been brave enough to come and find him. Just as her mother had been brave enough to leave Columbia University when she became pregnant, before some rich punk and his family could pressure her into giving up her baby.
He couldn't stop himself from putting his hands over hers again, not when it felt so right. As right as it had been in college when he'd been so sure she was the one for him. Back when he'd believed that he and Molly would have the fairy tale. That there would never be the darkness or sorrow or anger that had been in his parents' marriage. That they would never hurt each other in the deepest ways two people could.
"Please." Her sobs tore at his already shredded heart. "Don't cry. We'll figure this out. All of it."
As she made an effort to stop, her chest hitched once, then twice, then again. Finally, she ran the napkin over her face, the fabric crumpled in her hand. "I didn't mean to do that, to fall apart in your kitchen. I just keep thinking about all the things that could have happened to Amelia today without me there to look out for her, without my even knowing where she was."
Drake had been Harry's voice of reason in the study this afternoon. Now it was Harry's turn to say, "You can't let yourself go to all those worst-case places inside your head. She's okay."
"But is she really? She made it here unscathed, thank God, but she grew up without a dad. All because it never occurred to me that you could possibly be her father. I swear, if I had thought there was even the barest chance, I would have come to you and said something."
"If only I'd been there for you instead of breaking things off--"
"You were burning the candle at all ends," she said, cutting off his attempts to verbally rewind time. "You were working through to sunrise most nights just to try to keep up with your classwork. The absolute last thing you needed was a needy girlfriend getting in your way. Not when you already had too much on your plate. Not when you were barely keeping everyone together. Your family would have fallen apart without you, Harry. If not for you, I don't think they would have been here at your house today celebrating together. And I would never have forgiven myself if that happened--if your family had fallen to pieces because I was in your life. Not when I knew how it would break you to lose them."
"Don't you know it broke me to lose you, Molly?" He hadn't planned to say any of this, but he couldn't stop the emotional words from coming. "Only to find out that I didn't just lose the love of my life, I almost lost out on ever knowing my daughter. All because I had my priorities wrong."
"I loved that you love your family so much." He was amazed that, even now, she didn't seem to blame him, nor would she let him blame himself. "That family means everything to you. I've never known anyone like you--who puts their family first, no matter the cost to themselves. Especially when my parents are the opposite. When I became a mother, I realized how much I had learned from you. So many times when I felt confused and overwhelmed, I asked myself, What would Harry do right now? You love your family without conditions, without boundaries, without ego. Exactly the way I love Amelia. And I will never apologize for that."
He wished it could be so simple to absolve himself of guilt over the far-reaching consequences of his actions. Consequences he could never have imagined, not in his wildest dreams.
"We need to do a second DNA test. First thing tomorrow, so that we can be one hundred percent certain that I am Amelia's father."
"I agree," Molly said. But then she frowned. "For years, I've been trying to figure out when I should tell her about her father--about the man I thought was her father. But I never wanted to say anything that might make her doubt how much I wanted her, or how much I love her."
"She would never doubt those things, Molly. Even after only one evening with her, I can say that with absolute certainty. You're the center of her world, and she knows she's the center of yours. Nothing you say to her about your past is going to change that."
"But what if she looks at me differently after I tell her that I had unprotected, drunk sex with a stranger when I was only a few years older than she is now?"
Harry's chest tightened, not only at the thought of Molly in such a vulnerable position with someone who hadn't cared about her--but also from envisioning his daughter ever being in a similar position.
"If anyone dares treat her like that, I'll destroy him." Harry had to force himself to unclench his fists. "But you're underestimating her if you think hearing your story is going to make her look at you differently."
"I hope so," she said in a soft voice. "But what about you?"
"Everything is different now." And he had a feeling it wasn't going to be easy to unpack his feelings over both his and Molly's roles in what had happened. But he knew one thing with absolute certainty. "No matter what happened in college, you've done a remarkable job raising Amelia."
The last thing he expected was for her face to crumple again.
"Once the DNA test comes back tomorrow, once we know for sure that she's yours," she said, "I'm going to do absolutely everything I can to make sure you and Amelia can start t
o know each other and create your own special moments, your own memories. So that she can have the father I know she's longed for her entire life. And for you..." She reached for his hand, without seeming to realize she'd done it. "For you to get to know the most wonderful girl in the entire world. Even if it means quitting my job and moving here so that you can be together."
He knew he should be jumping at her offer, probably even making her put it in writing so that his lawyer could take it to a family-court judge as proof of her intentions, just in case. But it had been a hell of a long day for both of them, long enough that he wasn't at all sure they were capable of thinking straight. Because as much as he wanted Amelia here in the city with him from this moment forward, he also knew the last thing any fifteen-year-old wanted was to be uprooted from her friends and school and life.
Finding her father out of the blue was change enough.
"We'll figure out everything tomorrow," he promised as he took their mugs and put them in the sink. "Let's go to bed."
He didn't realize how the words sounded until two spots of pink appeared on her cheeks.
"I wasn't sure if you'd want me to stay here."
"Of course I do. You're Amelia's mother. Where else would you go?" This wasn't easy for either of them, but they needed to find a way to make it work. Whatever it took. "I've made up the room across from Amelia's for you."
"I think I could just lay my head right here on this island and fall asleep," she said, obviously trying to cover for her reaction. "But your guest bed would be a lot more comfortable."
The very last thing in the world either of them should be thinking about was sharing a bed. It figured, then, that he couldn't stop thinking about it as she got her overnight bag out of her car, then followed him up the stairs.
"Good night, Molly."
Even exhausted and wrung out by a day that had been crazier than any other, Molly was still the most radiantly beautiful woman he'd ever seen as she said, "Good night, Harry."
Harry was too wound up to sleep. So just as he'd done his whole life when he needed to escape his thoughts and emotions, he decided to work. He should have finished the draft of the book he was writing about medieval knights six months ago, but he'd hit a wall halfway through and hadn't been able to find his way forward. While he wasn't pleased to be struggling with his work, perhaps focusing on battle strategy tonight would help settle him into a more rational space.