Every Time We Fall in Love 8
" Molly said.
"That's just it," Alec said. "Harry never got angry, never called us out for all we've put him through over the years. We're family, but that's no excuse for not seeing until now all he has given up for us. If not for that, he might never have lost Molly."
"And he wouldn't have missed fifteen years with his daughter either," Drake said.
"He always made sure the three of us were able to go after our dreams. Now it's our turn to make sure he gets his." Suzanne smiled at her brothers. "And I'm pretty sure that those dreams include Amelia and Molly."
The drive to Alexandria Bay clearly wasn't long enough for Aldwin. The wolfhound had never seemed happier than to flop his big furry body across Amelia's lap for five hours straight. Harry had asked her if she was losing the feeling in her legs and needed Aldwin to move to the backseat, but she'd insisted that she and the dog were both right where they needed to be.
Harry knew exactly how Aldwin felt. Five hours with Amelia was an absolutely wonderful gift. They'd talked about everything from her friends to her classes at school to TV and movies--and also about her new family, full of Sullivans who lived all over the world. Alec, Suzanne, and Drake had each texted her during the drive to let her know they would definitely be at her show on Friday night, while her grandfather had called to confirm. From what Harry had been able to tell, it had been a good conversation. So good that as soon as they hung up, Amelia and William continued chatting via text messages.
At first, Harry had been struck by the similarities between Molly and their daughter--their voices, their expressions, their keen intelligence. But now that he'd spent more time with Amelia, he also saw the ways they were different, unique. Where Molly had always been on the soft-spoken side, Amelia didn't hold anything back. And where Molly rarely asked for anything, Amelia wasn't shy about expressing her wants and desires.
He guessed it was due to their different upbringings. Molly had showered Amelia with love and affection and attention every moment of her life. Whereas Molly's parents had never been there for her.
Harry knew exactly how that felt, how lonely and difficult it could be for a child to find their way without parental guidance. Though his mother had passed away when he was barely older than a toddler, he hadn't only lost her, he'd lost his father, as well, to grief. Harry had never known what it was to have a normal family. To have a mother or father to ask if he needed help with homework after school. To have a dad teach him to ride a bike or throw a ball. To have a parent attend parents' night at school.
He wanted to do all those things for Amelia. But even that didn't feel like it would be enough. He didn't want to simply swoop in and be her long-lost father, while Molly looked on from a distance.
Harry also wanted to be a team with Molly. In every way.
It was amazing how much could change in twenty-four hours. Just one day ago, he'd been a son, a brother, an academic. He'd been wondering where Molly was, what her life was like, whether he should reach out to her.
A day later, he was a father.
And Molly was back in his life.
He was grinning as Amelia pointed out the window. "Halfway up the block, that's our cottage."
The sun had nearly set as he parked at the curb. As soon as Amelia clipped on Aldwin's leash, the dog was ready to leap out of the car.
"I'm going to take him for a quick walk down to the corner," Amelia offered. "But don't go inside until I get back. I want to give you the tour myself."
"Okay, but watch out that he doesn't pull you off your feet. He doesn't know his own strength, especially if he sees a squirrel."
"I'll be fine." She smiled at him. "I'm pretty tough. Mom and I took karate lessons at the community center last summer. No one is going to mess with us."
He marveled at Amelia's confidence as the massive wolfhound actually walked at her heel in a way he never had with Harry. Even his kick-ass sister hadn't been this confident when she was fifteen.
Molly pulled into the driveway, and after she'd gotten out of the car, he said, "You've done an amazing job with Amelia."
"Thank you." Molly smiled. "You had a good ride here, I take it?"
"How could I not? Amelia is intelligent and compassionate and funny and kind. And I've never seen Aldwin so tame--or so besotted."
"She has that effect on animals. One look, one word from her, and they all fall at her feet." Molly laughed. "Most people tend to do the same. I've always said she must have been born under a very special star."
Harry wanted to tell Molly that she was that star, but he didn't want to scare her off. Not when he was going to be living in her house for the foreseeable future. And not when she still had every reason to be wary of him.
After all, he hadn't exactly apologized for the way he'd broken her heart all those years ago. Hadn't done anything to convince her that he had changed. Sure, he'd taken a leave of absence from his job and temporarily pulled up stakes to spend time with Amelia. But he was so high up the ladder at the university that his career wasn't at all at risk.
Amelia and Aldwin came running down the sidewalk, their long legs eating up the pavement. "I'm ready to give you the tour now," she said, her eyes shining. "This is our front garden. Mom put in the front path and flower beds, but I helped her lay the brick path."
"It looks great." The cottage was yellow, with bright blue trim around the windows. The garden out front echoed the design, the flowers a riot of color all around them.
Amelia headed for the front door, and the second she opened it, Aldwin bounded in. Only to come to a skidding halt in the tiny living room and kitchen.
"I apologize in advance for anything he breaks," Harry said, wondering exactly how three of them and a dog the size of a small horse were going to live here together. The cottage was as warm and welcoming and pretty a home as he'd ever been in. But it was also tiny.
"Aldwin's fine," Molly said, giving the dog a pat on his big head as she walked into the kitchen, then put her bag on the counter.
Amelia clearly wasn't the only one excited about having a dog. Growing up in boarding schools while her parents were in far-flung countries, Molly wouldn't have been able to have a pet. He suspected it hadn't been in the cards as a single mother either, not when she'd been so intent on giving every ounce of her attention to her daughter.
"This is our living room and kitchen," Amelia said. "That's Mom's schoolwork on the table." He had already noted the thick textbooks and notebook beside the laptop.
"We don't have an office, but this works just fine," Molly said. "I'll move it all out of the way for dinner."
"I want to make my specialty for Dad's homecoming feast," Amelia said.
Homecoming. That was exactly how it felt, though he'd never been here before.
"Amelia's pasta primavera is to die for," Molly told him.
"After the house tour," Amelia said, "I'll take you out in the garden so we can see what's ripe to go into the dish. I love cooking straight from the garden."
"You're going to love talking food with Alec." Harry couldn't wait for Amelia to spend more time around the rest of his family--he was so glad they would be here on Friday for her musical. "He's recently stepped away from his airplanes to open an organic restaurant in his wife's plant nursery."
"That's so cool," Amelia exclaimed. "Right now, I'm thinking I either want to be a chef or a veterinarian. I used to want to be a lawyer, and then an actor, and then a jewelry maker."
"All great jobs," he said, unable to stop grinning. "Fortunately, you've now got at least one aunt, uncle, or cousin to talk to about pretty much any career you can imagine. Even candy making, like my cousin Cassie in Maine."
"I didn't know you could make an entire career out of candy. She's my hero!" Amelia grabbed his hand to lead him down the hall. "Now for the rest of the tour. Here's my bedroom." Just like its resident, the room was colorful and bright and fun. And messy.
"You were supposed to clean this up before you went for your sleepover,
She sounded like every mother ever, Harry thought, his grin growing at how normal everything was. Just once, he would have loved for his father to comment on the state of his room. But William had never been around enough to notice anything like that.
Meanwhile, Aldwin was sniffing every shoe, every stuffed animal and pillow. Then he jumped up on Amelia's bed, walked in a circle, and settled himself down for a nap with his big head on his paws.
"Looks like he's found his spot already," Molly remarked.
"He thinks he's a fifteen-pound lapdog instead of a hundred-and-fifty-pound monster," Harry said. Knowing they were talking about him, Aldwin opened one eye. Amelia laughed. "When I first brought him home, I tried to keep him off the furniture, but it was no use."
"He must have been the cutest puppy," Molly said. "Cute but huge."
"I'm sure he was," Harry replied. "But I've only had him a short while."
"Where was he before that?" Amelia looked terribly concerned as she put her arms around the dog's shoulders and rested her cheek on his fur.
"The folks at the animal shelter said he was well taken care of. Unfortunately, his previous owner was having health problems and couldn't manage his walks anymore. When her children couldn't take him in, she had no choice but to give him up. The shelter brought him to the farmer's market, and once I saw him, I had to take him home."
"He's very lucky you found him," Molly said in a soft voice. "Someone who doesn't care if he's a little over the hill. If his best years are behind him."
"Mom!" Amelia put her hands over Aldwin's ears. "He's still in the prime of his life."
But Harry had a feeling she hadn't been talking just about the dog. Though his twentysomething teaching assistant had been flirting with her, Harry guessed she didn't feel anywhere near as young as she looked. If he had raised a daughter by himself, he figured he'd feel much the same way.
Amelia gave Aldwin a kiss on his muzzle, then led Harry into a room just big enough for a double bed and a pine armoire. "This is going to be your room. We'll share the hall bathroom, but I call dibs on it between seven and seven thirty in the morning."
He held up his hands. "Don't worry. When we were kids, Suzanne taught me to stay out of her way until she was out the door in the morning."
"You could always use Mom's bathroom, if you needed to," Amelia offered.
Molly didn't say anything to that, but Harry couldn't imagine she would be too happy about his coming into her bedroom in only his boxers.
Unless she would be happy about it...
It wasn't easy to push the seductive thought away as they continued to the end of the hallway, but despite the fact that he felt more attracted to her than ever, figuring out how they were going to co-parent Amelia came first. Everything else--including finding out whether Molly's lips still tasted as sweet as they did in his memories--had to come second.
"This is Mom's bedroom and bathroom."
Molly's room wasn't large either, but it was a lovely and comfortable space, with French doors that looked out on the back garden. The sun was down now, but he could imagine light flooding in at sunrise.
It was nearly impossible to push away all the other things he could easily imagine, like being curled around Molly in the pine bed with the floral cover, their hastily stripped clothes on the floor, their hands, their mouths, their bodies insatiable for each other. Or in the bathtub together, with soap suds streaming over her naked skin while she straddled him, and he--
It was even harder to push the thoughts, the visions away this time.
"Why don't you show Harry the backyard and pick some veggies?" Molly suggested. "It's already pretty late, so we should get dinner on."
Understanding that Molly wasn't comfortable with his being in her bedroom--Was that because she'd been envisioning the same sexy scenes?--Harry followed Amelia into the backyard.
The garden was a remarkable space, even in twilight. Fruits and vegetables overflowed the wooden planter boxes, with ornamental flowers and shrubs surrounding the garden.
A sense of peace came over Harry. Not only because he was here with his daughter, but also because there was something so perfectly right about the garden, the cottage, the sounds of dogs barking and owls hooting.
All his life, he'd wondered what it would be like to have a "normal" family life. Of course he loved his siblings and his father, but boomeranging between the penthouse apartment on New York City's East Side and the house at Summer Lake, depending on who was having the bigger crisis, had never felt right.
Amelia hadn't had a father, but she had this peaceful cottage and yard and town. And, most important of all, she had a mother who loved her with everything she was.
As far as he was concerned, that made her the luckiest girl in the whole wide world.
"Do you know your way around a garden?" she asked.
"Nowhere near as well as you obviously do. Why don't you show me what's ripe and how to best harvest it?"
Harry had been a teacher for nearly his entire adult life. And when he'd thought about becoming a parent, he'd always assumed he'd be the one imparting knowledge to his child. But as his daughter taught him how to pluck the zucchini, he realized that she was going to be the one to teach him the most important things of all.
Not only how to be a good father, but also how to live with joy in every moment.
Even, he thought as he looked over his shoulder and saw Molly standing at the kitchen window, when life was utterly complicated.
But still stunningly beautiful.
Tears pricked Molly's eyes as she watched Amelia and Harry in the garden. They were so good together, so comfortable with each other already.
As soon as he'd walked into her house, she'd been unable to see anything but him. He was big and broad, but that wasn't the reason he filled every one of her senses. His scent, the low rumble of his voice, the way he noticed everything around him--everything about Harry spoke to Molly, made her want, made her long for things she'd tried to make herself stop longing for years ago.
Now she was even less sure how this living arrangement was going to work. Not so much from a logistical standpoint--although there was the question of what exactly he was going to do all day while she was at work and Amelia was at school. No, it was more a question of how Molly was going to keep her emotions--and hormones--in check around him.
Because if she felt like a live wire after only twenty-four hours around Harry, then how was she going to deal with the steamy, shaky, desperate desire brewing inside of her after another full day had passed?
Both Amelia and Harry had an armful of produce as they walked into the kitchen, chatting and laughing. "Mom always cuts herself when she's on prep duty." Amelia put on an apron. "How are your knife-wielding skills, Dad?"
His eyes lit up, the way they did every time she called him Dad. "Though I'm better at swords, I actually know my way around a knife pretty well."
"He once won a throwing contest," Molly told her daughter, knowing she'd appreciate knowing a tidbit like that.
"Way." But then Molly tried to adopt a serious expression. "You should never throw a knife."
"Duh." Amelia rolled her eyes. She turned back to Harry. "So how did you end up throwing them?"
"I used to participate in medieval-themed competitions."
"Again, your father is being way too modest," Molly said. "Harry didn't just participate in the competitions. He won them. Jousting, archery, colf--which is the ancestor of golf. Even horseshoes."
"Horseshoes?" Amelia giggled. "You've got a lot of layers, Dad."
Grinning at her compliment, he said, "Your mom neglected to mention she was the queen of skittles."
"That's probably not a candy-eating contest, is it?"
"Nope." Molly laughed, glad to feel this relaxed with Harry in her kitchen when she'd been afraid she would feel anything but. "It's a really old ancestor of ten-pin bowling."
r /> "That makes sense," Amelia said to Harry, "because Mom is a killer bowler. They're always trying to get her to join the league. I thought she should do it just to wear a retro bowling shirt with her name embroidered on it."
Harry turned to look at her. "You would look cute in one of those bowling outfits with Molly written on it."
Feeling herself flush, Molly said, "While you guys cook, I'm going to get out of your way." She wanted to look up how to add Harry's name to Amelia's birth certificate. Plus, Amelia and Harry surely needed as much one-on-one time together as possible to really cement their bond. "Holler when dinner's ready."
"Wait," Amelia said. "Before you go, we should take a selfie of our first dinner together." She gestured for Molly to come stand close to Harry, then squeezed in between them. "Say cheese."
After taking several shots, each of which seemed to require Harry and Molly to stand closer and closer together, Amelia looked at the phone and grinned. "Perfect." She showed Harry. "Don't you agree?"
Harry nodded, smiling at Molly as he said, "I sure do."
And the thing was, though Molly was still trying to get around all the massive changes in her and Amelia's lives, whenever Harry smiled at her, everything really did feel perfect.
The look in his eyes--as though he knew exactly what she was thinking--had her scurrying out of the kitchen. Hopefully, half an hour of Internet searching would settle her nerves, and her hormones, by the time they all sat down to dinner together.
No such luck.
It was just that having Sunday night dinner with both Amelia and Harry was so far outside the realm of any dreams Molly had ever had that she could barely eat a bite. How could she when she couldn't stop marveling over all that had come to be?