"When?" Blake asked.

"Later," she said firmly. "But if things do work out, I assume no one would object to his being a part of our family?"

"I like Kyle," Nichole said. "He tells me stories." Blake and Lindsay nodded.

"Don't worry, Mom. Kyle thinks you're hot," her son told her.

She stared at him. "How do you know that?"

Blake blushed. "It's a guy thing, Mom. You're just gonna have to trust me on this."

Great. What other guy things had they been talking about? She shook her head and decided she didn't want to know.

She rose to her feet and tightened the belt of her robe. "So we're in agreement. Later today, I'll go talk to Kyle and explain things. I have to warn you, though, he might not want to get involved again. It wouldn't have anything to do with you children, though. It would be about me and Kyle. So no one should get upset with him. Okay?"

They nodded. She started out of the room. She heard whispering behind her, but when she turned to look at her children, they were staring at her. Smiling. She got a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach. Smiling, whispering children was not a good sign.

Kyle hosed off the Camaro. His car didn't really need washing, but he was tired of staying inside. He couldn't avoid Sandy forever. So what if she came by? He would smile and be neighborly. It was all she'd ever wanted from him. She'd made that clear from the beginning. He was the one who'd crossed the line.

He hadn't slept at all the previous night, but he wasn't tired. He wasn't anything except hurting bad. His chest tightened every few seconds to remind him his heart had been ripped out. As if he would forget. He'd hoped-

He shook his head. Hell, he'd been a fool. Yeah, he'd hoped Sandy would come running after him last night and tell him he was right. That she had been hiding and she was tired of it. That she was ready to admit she loved him and wanted to be with him always. But she hadn't. And all this morning, there had been nothing. She hadn't changed her mind. It wasn't going to happen. He supposed he only had himself to blame.

Maybe he should move. Waiting around hoping to catch a glimpse of her was a stupid way to spend his day off. He should go do something fun. The problem was, he couldn't think of anything. He had it bad if he would rather stand around missing her than be with someone else.

He heard the front door of her house close. He glanced up and saw Lindsay strolling toward him. He set the hose down and reached for the chamois.

"How's it going?" he asked as she got closer.

"Okay. I came to apologize," she said, shuffling her feet and looking embarrassed. "I was pretty stupid yesterday. I'm sorry you had to go through that with me."

He walked over and put his arm around her. "No harm done. Your mom told you the charges were dropped, right?"

"Yeah. She said you wanted me to go through everything. I wouldn't have wanted to, but I understand what you were trying to do. I got the message, Kyle. I'm not going to make that mistake again."

"Good." He tried to smile at her and failed miserably, then turned back to his car. Jeez, it even hurt to look at Lindsay. Mostly because she reminded him of Sandy. She might have her father's coloring, but certain of her actions-the way she pushed her hair off her face, or the way she walked-came from her mother.

Lindsay glanced over her shoulder at the house. "Um, my mom didn't sleep very good last night. Did you guys have a fight over me?"

"Not exactly. It started out being about you, but it was really about a lot of other things."

"Oh." She shoved her hands into her shorts' pockets. "I'm sorry, Kyle. I didn't mean to upset things."

"You didn't." He touched her cheek. "Your mom and I have had some problems from the start. You didn't have anything to do with them. We just have different ways of looking at things."

"But that doesn't mean you can't get along. Unless you don't really, you know, love her."

His gaze narrowed. "Why are you asking me that?"

She blushed. "I didn't mean to pry. I just thought if you cared, you could work it out."

Sound advice, only he wasn't the one with the problem. Sandy had thrown him out and said she didn't want to have him in her life. He'd been willing to marry her. That was the hell of it. He was still willing to marry her.

"Loving someone isn't always enough. I know that sounds strange, but it's true."

Lindsay brightened. "So you do love her?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Great!"

"Why all these questions?"

"Oh, no reason. No reason at all." But her smile was a little too wide and she couldn't hide the sparkle in her eye.

"What have you got planned, young lady?"

"Nothing." She raised herself on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. "You're the greatest, Kyle. I know you're not my dad, and I'll always miss him, but I'm sure glad you're around." She started to walk away, then glanced back at him. "Moms can make mistakes, too, you know. Sometimes they even figure it out, but then they have to apologize and they don't do that real well."

He froze in place. "What does that mean?"

"You'll have to wait and see." She took off running toward the house.

Kyle wanted to race after her and demand she tell him what was going on. But by the time his stunned brain got the message to his feet, she'd already disappeared inside.

Moms can make mistakes, too, you know. Did that mean what he thought it meant, or was this just another case of wishful thinking? Had Sandy realized he meant what he said? Did she believe that he loved her?

Before he could figure out the answer, Blake came walking around from the rear of his house. "I was at Robby's," the boy said. "I'm going to try out for pitcher next year."

"Great," Kyle said, still thinking about what Lindsay had told him.

"We had a family meeting today," Blake said. "We talked about you, but Lindsay says I'm not supposed to say anything."

"What?" Kyle stared at the boy. "What aren't you supposed to say?"

Blake shrugged, then grinned. "But I wouldn't mind if you married my mom."

Like his sister, he went running off. Kyle stared after him. Hope blossomed inside, like a dormant seed brought to life. He told himself he was a fool, and that he was heading for another fall. But he didn't care. If Sandy had called a family meeting and discussed him, then she couldn't want him completely out of their lives. Unless the meeting had been to tell the children that. But if that were the case, why would the kids seem so happy?

He tossed the chamois down and started toward her house. He was going to get some answers. When he got closer, he realized Nichole was playing with her doll on the porch, in the shade of a crepe myrtle tree.

"Hi, Kyle," she said as he approached.

"Hi, yourself. Where's your mom?"

"She's in the shower." Nichole giggled. "We painted our fingers. Look!" She held up her hand. The nails had been painted bright pink.

"They're very pretty," he said, trying to hide his impatience. If Sandy was in the shower, he couldn't just go barging in, although the thought of her naked and dripping wet was quite appealing. If nothing else, he wouldn't mind having the upper hand with her for once. "Could you tell your mom that I-" That he what? He thought about waiting until Sandy was finished, then remembered what Lindsay had said. That Sandy wanted to apologize, but that it might be difficult for her. He should give her the time she needed. Better for both of them if she came to him. Not only would he know for sure that she really wanted him, but his ego could use a little TLC after the way she'd run him off. Nichole waited patiently.

"Don't tell her anything," he said. "I'll tell her myself, when I see her."

"Okay." Nichole returned her attention to her doll, that glanced up at him. "Lindsay says you're going to be our new daddy and I'm glad."

"She said that?"

"This morning. After our meeting. They're not going to do stars anymore, but I want to."

"Huh?"

He heard a sound from inside the house. Now more than ever he wanted to confront Sandy. Yet he knew it would be better if everything happened on her terms. He would have to practice patience.

"I gotta run, Nichole. See you soon."

"Bye."

He hurried back to his place and collected the bucket and chamois. After storing everything and coiling the hose neatly, he went inside and started pacing. How much longer?

By two that afternoon, he was ready to go crazy. What if the kids had been wrong? Was he wishing for a dream? Was Sandy only a fantasy, someone he would always want but never be in a relationship with? The waiting was getting to him. If he walked the living room one more time, he was going to wear a path through the rug.

"Enough of this," he growled, and grabbed his motorcycle helmet from the hall. A drive would clear his mind. He would leave a note on the door, in case Sandy came by.

He wrote it quickly, then crossed the kitchen floor and jerked open the back door. Sandy stood there, with her hand raised, ready to knock.

"Kyle," she said, surprised. "Hi."

He swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. God, she was beautiful. She'd put on a white gauzy dress with narrow straps and a full skirt. Her legs were bare, as were her arms. She wore makeup, which was unusual. So was the way her hands kept twisting together over and over again. Sandy was nervous.

In his gut, the pain he'd felt since she'd thrown him out last night faded. The band around his chest loosened and his heart rate increased.

"Were you going somewhere?" she asked, pointing at the helmet.

"What? Oh, no." He placed it on the counter, then stepped outside next to her. "I was thinking about taking a ride, but it can wait. What's up?"

He didn't want to hope, but he couldn't help himself. She was here. She'd obviously planned what to wear, maybe even what to say. The air around them grew still, as if even the plants and animals wanted to listen.

"I've been thinking," she said slowly. "First, I want to apologize for last night. I didn't want to listen to what you were saying, mostly because I knew you were right. I have been afraid emotionally, and I've been using my ideals of the perfect man to keep people from getting too close."

"People?" he asked.

"Men." She swallowed, then looked up at him. "You, specifically." Her eyes were wide and expressive. He could see her concern, her apprehension, and something else. Something wonderfully warm and welcoming. Something that, had he been less cautious, he might have labeled as love.

"You were right about Lindsay," she said. "About everything, really. All the children, me. I did have these preconceived ideas about your life and what you wanted in a woman. I couldn't believe you were interested in someone like me. I'm not special."

The hope inside grew until he couldn't deny it. He'd never been able to deny her anything. "You're perfect," he said, touching her cheek.

She turned her head into his caress and smiled. "Far from perfect, Kyle. You were right about Thomas-I could have done better in my marriage. I'm bossy and opinionated. I tend to jump to conclusions. My feelings scare me and I hide behind my specific ways of doing things. I make rules because I believe rules make my world safe. But they don't. They keep me from what is really important. I care about you."

She paused and drew in a breath. He dropped his hand back to his side. And waited.

"This is harder than I thought," she admitted. "You were much easier to talk to when I practiced in front of my bedroom mirror."

"It's not so bad," he said. "Just start at the beginning. Tell me that you love me."

She took a step toward him. Her skirt brushed against his jeans. He could hear the whisper of fabric. She reached for both his hands and held them tight. Their gazes locked.

"I love you," she whispered.

"Tell me you want to be with me always."

"I want to be with you." She smiled. "Forever."

Now it was his turn to get nervous. He brought her right hand to his mouth and kissed her palm. Her breathing increased slightly as she swayed toward him.

"Tell me-" He cleared his throat. "Tell me that you want to marry me."

"Will you marry me?" she asked.

"Yes." He swept her up in his arms. "Oh, Sandy, today, tomorrow, whenever you say."

She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Tomorrow sounds lovely."

"I love you," he said.

"I'll never get tired of hearing that," she told him. "Can you forgive me for being a fool?"

"Of course. I should have handled the situation with Lindsay better," he said. "You had every right to be mad at me."

"No, I didn't. You were the one who was right. I reacted like a fool. I was scared about how I felt about you. I wanted you to be irresponsible so I wouldn't have to love you, but you kept doing the right thing."

"I'm glad," he murmured, bending his head toward her. "I've waited over half my life for this."

"You don't have to wait any longer," she promised. "I'm here. For always."

"Is he ever gonna kiss her?" Blake asked.

"It doesn't look like it," Lindsay answered. "I didn't know grown-ups talked this much."

Kyle turned slightly and saw three faces peering up at them from the bushes next to his house.

Sandy giggled. "They must have followed me."

"Figures," he said. "We might as well give them what they want."

"Please," she said, reaching toward him.

As he brought his mouth to hers, he squeezed her tightly against him. Sandy felt right in his arms. As if she'd always belonged there.

"When can I tell them I want a baby sister?" Nichole asked.

"Not now," Lindsay said. "Hush. They're finally kissing. This is the good part."


SUSAN MALLERY

Изображение к книге Father in Training
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Изображение к книге Father in Training