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She held up the silk garment for his inspection. “Are you happy now?”

He had the gall to grin. “I thought you tossed those out.”

She balled them up, dropped them onto the bed, then moved around him and away from his overwhelming magnetism. “I thought I’d gotten rid of them. I discovered I was mistaken when I started packing my clothes.”

He sported a totally cynical look. “I didn’t think you’d throw them away. They’ve always been your favorite.”

She tightened the sash on her robe. “They were
your
favorite, not mine.”

“I won’t argue that, but I liked taking them off you, too.”

Darned if that didn’t make her quiver all over. “I’ve warned you about this kind of talk, Kevin.”

“Sorry. I’m just being honest.”

Leah pointed toward the door. “Please leave before I…” The power of his gaze stole the last remaining shred of coherency from her brain.

“Before you what?” he asked.

Before she did something that qualified as too stupid to live. “Please go so I can get dressed and then go check on my child. Be sure to close the door behind you.”

He shrugged. “Fine, I’ll meet you in the hall and we’ll check on
our
child together.”

After he left, Leah collapsed back on the bed and blew out a long breath. If she didn’t get her head and hormones on straight, she’d find herself in the same predicament with a man she’d often found too hard to resist. This time, she
would
resist him, even if it meant avoiding him whenever possible. Unfortunately, he wasn’t easy to ignore.

 

I
F HE DIDN’T
keep his mouth shut and his hands to himself, Kevin was in danger of driving Leah away before she even had a chance to settle in. He’d have to remind himself frequently that she’d agreed to the arrangement for the sake of convenience, and that she had a boyfriend. He didn’t like it, but he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Or he wouldn’t. At one time, he might have tried, but not now. Not if he wanted to prove to Leah that he still had a scrap of honor left.

Yet all his good intentions began to wane when Leah came out of the bedroom wearing a white T-shirt and an old pair of faded jeans with a strategic rip at the thigh.

A series of chants went off in his brain. He had to be strong. He had to ignore the urge to run his finger along that tear. He had to forget backing up her against the wall and…

“Is she still asleep?” she asked as soon as she reached him.

“I haven’t heard a word out of her, but we can confirm that together.”

Kevin pushed open the partially ajar door, allowing a stream of light from the hallway to spill into the room, illuminating the crib. With Leah by his side, they quietly made their way to the crib to find Carly lying motionless, her eyes fluttering slightly beneath closed lids.

Leah placed two fingers against her own lips then pressed them to the baby’s cheek. He wanted to say,
Look what we’ve made, Leah
, but remained quiet until they left the room and reentered the hall.

Kevin wasn’t ready to tell her good night, and that led to him spontaneously asking, “Do you want some wine?” although he fully expected a refusal.

“That sounds good,” Leah answered, surprising the hell out of him. “As long as it’s just one glass. I do have to work in the morning.”

Silently they made their way into the kitchen, where Kevin retrieved a bottle of chardonnay—Leah’s favorite—from the refrigerator. He popped the cork, poured two glasses and offered her one. “Let’s take it onto the deck.”

She frowned. “What if Carly wakes up?”

He pulled the monitor from his back pocket. “This has enough range to carry outside. We’ll be able to hear her.”

“Okay, I guess. As long as I can get to her quickly if she needs me.”

Kevin could already tell Leah was going to err on the side of being overprotective, much like his own mother. But since Carly was Leah’s first, he could understand her attitude to a point and opted to cut her some slack. He had to admit, he wasn’t innocent when it came to worrying about his daughter. But he wasn’t going to smother her, either.

When they walked onto the deck, Kevin pulled out a chair for Leah at the patio table and took the seat opposite her. The night was clear and relatively quiet with the exception of a chorus of locusts and the occasional passing car.

They both remained silent for a time before Leah said, “I love the smell of freshly mown grass. I love summer, period.”

“I remember.” And he did. Many times she’d mentioned she would take hot weather over cold any day. “We used to talk a lot about your fondness for the beach. We talked about a lot of things.”

She released a humorless laugh. “Oh, sure. Aside from the weather, most of our conversations consisted of what sports superstar you’d interviewed and I’d issue a few complaints about my schedule, then we’d go to bed.”

A direct attempt to depersonalize their former relationship, Kevin realized. “That’s not true. We used to have lengthy conversations over dinner.”


Then
we’d go to your apartment and go to bed. In fact, during the eight months we were involved, I don’t remember one time when we were together when we didn’t make love.”

Yeah, and what a chore that had been. Not. “And your point?”

“I’m just saying we never developed a solid friendship.”

“You’re wrong, Leah. I valued your friendship almost as much as I appreciated you as a lover.”

She pushed her glass aside and slid one hand through her damp hair. “I beg to differ. I still don’t know everything about you, Kevin, and what I do know I practically had to drag out of you. Specifically your problems with Kieran.”

That much was true, but then he hadn’t wanted Leah to know all the questionable aspects of his past. “I did eventually tell you the details of why the relationship broke down.”

“I know. He’d never liked the way you’ve lived your life and you didn’t appreciate his tendency to judge you. But you haven’t told me how and why you’ve settled your differences.”

Now would be a good time to reveal the truth, but he couldn’t force himself to do it. He didn’t want to face her wrath over his dishonesty while they were rebuilding a relationship. A friendly relationship. “We reconnected about six months ago, not long after he met Erica, his fiancée.” A good segue into a subject change. “By the way, Kieran’s going to be a
dad, too. Erica has an eleven-year-old daughter named Stormy. According to Kieran, that name fits her personality.”

Leah smiled. “Nothing like jumping into fatherhood with a preteen female.”

“A preteen female who was born with a heart condition,” Kevin added. “But Stormy’s okay now. In fact, she’s one heck of a good softball player. And that reminds me of something. I’ll be right back.”

Kevin pushed away from the table and sprinted through the double doors and into the den housing his trophies. He opened one cabinet, retrieved the gift for his daughter, and returned to Leah.

He reclaimed his seat and laid the glove on the table. “I want Carly to have this. It’s signed by a member of the U.S. Olympic softball team.”

Leah picked up the mitt and inspected it. “Don’t you think it’s a little premature to be planning her softball career? She’s still five years away from T-ball.”

Kevin shook his head. “She’s going to be too good to play T-ball. I’ll have her ready to join the big girls’ team by the time she’s four. I’m thinking first base.”

Another span of silence passed before she sighed.

“What is it?” he asked, curious about her mood and worried she might completely close down and close him out.

“I was thinking how lucky we are that Carly’s healthy.”

He wished he hadn’t brought up his soon-to-be niece’s condition. “Like I told you, Stormy’s doing great.”

“I’m glad she is, but I’m referring to all the kids I’ve treated who aren’t okay.”

He’d never seen her quite so pensive about her work. Maybe becoming a mother had something to do with that. “At least you’re capable of helping those kids.”

“Not all of them, Kevin. You’d be surprised at how many children have serious and oftentimes life-threatening diagnoses. Some are even the same age as Carly. It’s not fair.”

Now he wished he had whisky instead of wine. He didn’t like medical talk in the least, but he felt compelled to listen to her since she needed to talk. Needed a friend. “No, it’s not fair at all, but that’s the way life goes. It can be a real crapshoot, whether we like it or not.”

“But I really hate…” He words faded away along with her gaze.

“Hate what, Leah?”

She leaned forward and rimmed the edge of the glass with a fingertip. “You can’t even imagine that moment after you discover a child might not survive an illness that you’ve diagnosed.”

He didn’t have to imagine it; he’d been in that moment as a patient on the receiving end of bad news. “I hate that you have to go through that, sweetheart.” Her gaze snapped to his over the endearment, but he ignored it and continued. “I realize it’s not easy for you. And anytime you have to face it while you’re here, talk to me about it.”

Her smile was tentative, but at least it was still a smile. “You’re really serious about being friends?”

“I am.”

“I guess only time will tell how well you handle that.”

He planned to handle it well, no matter what it took. “Do you want a little more wine?”

She picked up her glass then stood. “Friends don’t let friends drink too much when they have to work in the morning.”

Kevin pushed his chair back and came to his feet. “You’re right, and I’ll take care of Carly when she wakes up again.”

“We’ll see who gets there first.”

Then Leah did something Kevin hadn’t come close to expecting. She walked right up to him, put her arms around his waist, kissed his cheek and said, “Thanks for listening, and thanks for everything.”

Kevin couldn’t help but believe that Leah was bent on testing him. And if she held on for any length of time, he’d probably fail. Mercifully, she stepped back, looking a little embarrassed and maybe even surprised that he hadn’t put any moves on her. Truth was, he’d wanted more than just a friendly hug. More than just a polite thanks. He wanted her. Badly.

When he had enough presence of mind to speak, Kevin replied, “You’re welcome. I’m glad you decided to move in.”

“You know something? I’m glad too. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Yeah, she would, and he’d go to bed alone wondering what would have happened if he had taken the
chance and kissed her. She probably would’ve slugged him first, and then asked questions later.

He gave himself a mental back-pat for controlling himself and meeting the challenge…this time.

CHAPTER SIX

W
HEN THE ALARM
shrilled like a sonic boom in Leah’s ears, she rolled to her side and fumbled for the off button. And when she focused well enough to see the time, she shot out of bed like a missile.

After grabbing her robe from the club chair in the corner, she shrugged it on and headed straight for the nursery and found only an empty crib and no sign of Kevin or Carly. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee sent her toward the kitchen where she came upon a scene right out of a home movie. Kevin was seated at the dinette wearing a pair of navy-blue pajama bottoms, sans shirt, his hair mussed and his jaw shaded with a layer of whiskers. He had his bare feet propped on a chair and their daughter leaning back against his chest, his right arm wrapped securely around her middle and a newspaper clutched in his left hand.

Fortunately for Kevin, the sight served to temper some of Leah’s irritation over not being woken to tend to her daughter. “Good morning, you two.”

He glanced up at her and said, “Mornin’” in a raspy voice that Leah could listen to all day if she
dared. That voice and his bare chest were almost too much for her to endure so early in the day, or anytime, for that matter. She should never have hugged him last night. That little faux pas had led to a few inadvisable thoughts that had kept her from readily falling asleep.

“It seems the monitor isn’t working,” she said, her tone hinting at displeasure directed at both him and herself.

“It works if you turn it on.”

Her dismay increased. “Why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t on?”

Kevin turned the page without looking at her. “Because you needed to sleep.”

“I needed to be able to hear my child when she woke up.”

He planted a kiss on the crown of Carly’s head. “Oh, she woke up all right. Twice in fact. But we managed just fine. I gave her a bottle the first time, and the second time, about an hour ago, we came in here to see what’s up in the world of sports.”

When Carly kicked at the paper, Kevin smiled at her and said, “I know what you mean, baby girl. He’s not worth the size of that contract. His ERA isn’t that great, and he won’t help the team all that much if they make it to the playoffs. And that’s a big if.”

Both Carly and Kevin seemed totally disinterested in Leah, which only heightened her exasperation. “Kevin, could you put the paper down a minute and talk to me?”

He afforded her only a passing glance. “Sure, but
why don’t you have some coffee? It might improve your mood.”

“My mood is fine.” She advanced to the table, kissed Carly’s cheek and almost did the same to Kevin. It was as if some past instinct to do that very thing had been seared into her psyche.

It’s morning and Kevin needs a kiss
.

Before she could act on the urge, Leah made her way to the coffeemaker and poured some of the brew into a mug set out on the counter. As usual, she nixed cream and sugar, a habit she’d acquired during medical school.

She leaned back against the counter and watched father and daughter bonding as Kevin listed the baseball all-star selections. And Carly, as if she knew what he was saying, looked completely engrossed.

“You should’ve woken me up,” Leah said, feeling somewhat more coherent and a bit less angry over Kevin usurping her duties. After all, he meant well, and she couldn’t remember a time when she’d slept all night, uninterrupted.

Kevin set the paper aside and shifted Carly to his shoulder. “Like I said, you needed to sleep, and I handled everything fine. Her diaper’s on straight and her belly’s full. I even refused to let her watch cable when she begged me.” He followed the comment with a rapid-fire grin.

“Very cute.” And so was Kevin.
Very
cute.

Leah glanced at the clock on the kitchen stove and realized how little time she had to get ready for work.
“Since it’s getting late, I’d appreciate it if you’d watch her while I get dressed.”

“Not a problem at all. We still need to cover the west-coast standings.”

“I also need to pack her bag for day care.”

“Done.”

Leah’s mouth fell open before she snapped it shut again. “How would you know what she needs?”

He nodded toward the yellow bag set out on the counter. “I found your list. Bottles, diapers, wipes and two extra outfits. Feel free to check it out.”

She was having enough trouble checking him out, particularly his noteworthy chest and that little brushstroke of hair at his sternum, well-known territory that she’d explored willingly at one time, and often. “I trust you, as long as you followed the list.”

After Carly started to fuss, Kevin rose from the chair and began to walk around the room. “Do you trust me enough to pick her up early so I can take her to my parents’ house?”

That would entail putting Carly in the car with Kevin, and although he’d always been a good driver, he did like to speed at times. “Do you promise to drive safely and slowly?”

“I’ll be sure not to drag race on the Interstate.”

“I’m being serious, Kevin.”

“No kidding,” he muttered.

Agreeing to his request also meant leaving their child completely in his care. Then again, his mother had raised six kids and knew what she was doing. At least he’d have
reinforcements if he encountered any problems with the baby. “What time are you suggesting you pick her up?”

He paused his pacing. “Around three. I want to beat rush-hour traffic.”

“And you’ll be back when?”

He took his former place at the table, turned Carly back around and bounced her gently on his lap. “I’ll be home around six at the latest, maybe earlier, depending how it goes with the folks.”

“Do you honestly expect trouble?”

“Not really. I figure once they see her, they aren’t going to be angry at me for not saying something sooner.”

“Fine. I’m sure you’ll both have a great time.”

Since Leah had hospital rounds this evening, he could very well beat her home. For some strange reason, she was a little miffed that he hadn’t asked her to join them. Perhaps even a little hurt.

As if he’d read her mind, Kevin added, “I’d ask you to stop by, but I think it’s better if I kind of ease them into the whole idea of me being a father.”

“That’s okay. I’m not family.” At one time she’d hoped to be. “But I would like to meet them before I move.”

Kevin’s demeanor suddenly went from pleasant to serious. “I’m sure that can be arranged.”

“We’ll talk about it later. Right now I need to hurry. I’ll put out some clothes for Carly if you don’t mind getting her dressed.”

“I don’t mind, and I’m capable of picking out her clothes myself.”

Now he sounded just plain crabby. “I’m sorry. This is going to take some getting used to, you playing Dad.”

“I’m not playing, Leah. I am her dad.”

How well she knew that. Just seeing Carly in his arms served as a constant reminder. “Yes, you are.” She felt the need to dole out a little benevolence. “And you’re doing a good job so far.”

He appeared genuinely pleased by the compliment. “Thanks. Let’s hope my parents feel the same.”

 

K
EVIN HAD
a solid grip on the safety seat containing a snoozing baby and a strong feeling he should have called first. But he was already standing on the porch of his childhood home, prepared to introduce the newest grandchild to the—he hoped—proud grandparents.

After he rang the bell, the heavy sound of footsteps provided Kevin with some relief. His dad was about to answer the summons and his legendary sense of humor could help to diffuse the situation. Kevin predicted that his mother was going to be exceedingly ticked off over the fact he hadn’t told her about the baby before now.

The door creaked opened, revealing Dermot O’Brien, the hulking, sandy-haired Irish patriarch who’d spent most of Kevin’s formative years entertaining his friends, girls and guys alike.

“Well, I’ll be,” he said. “Our wayward son has come to visit.” When Dermot noticed Carly, he centered his gaze on Kevin, but he didn’t appear to be all that shocked. “Now if you would be tryin’ to leave that wee
one on our doorstep, I’m sorry, boyo. I’ve already raised six of them and I’m too old to raise more.”

“Nope, Dad. She’s a keeper, and that’s what I intend to do. Keep her.”

Kevin expected to see the cogs of confusion turning in his dad’s head but that, remarkably, didn’t happen. “I’m thinkin’ you have quite a bit of explaining to do to your ma,” he said as he stepped aside.

“You could say that,” Kevin murmured as he walked into the modest den, still decorated much the same as it had been when he’d left home some seventeen years ago, right down to the same floral sofa and chair.

After setting the car seat on the couch, he faced his father and asked, “Where is Mom?”

“Fixing a bit of supper.” Dermot turned toward the kitchen and bellowed, “Lucy, my love, your boy is here.”

“Which boy?”

“Kevin.”

“Wonderful! I’ll be right there.”

A split second later, Lucine O’Brien came rushing out of the kitchen, her salt-and-pepper dark hair pulled back in a low bun. She wiped her hands on her apron and drew Kevin into a mama-bear hug that belied her small stature. “It’s so good to see you, dear. I’m making that chicken dish you’ve always loved. Can you stay for dinner?”

After he pulled the explanation train into revelation central, she might withdraw the invite. “Is it the chicken with the noodles?”

“Yes, it is. I’ve also made peach cobbler.”

Oddly, she still hadn’t noticed the baby. “Sounds great, Mom.”

When his dad cleared his throat, his mom asked, “Did you need something, Dermot?”

“No, my love. I just thought you should know that your boy brought you a gift, although it’s not original. I gave you the same thing six times.”

Lucy frowned. “What are you talking about, old man?”

His dad nodded toward Carly, who was awake and looking around the room. Kevin walked to the baby, unhooked the harness, lifted her up and turned her around in his arms. “Mom, Dad, this is Carly, my daughter.”

If Kevin had had a toy basketball handy, he could have dropped a three-pointer into his mother’s mouth. “I don’t understand, Kevin.”

Which meant she understood what he was saying, just not why he hadn’t said it sooner. “I didn’t know about her until recently.”

Without saying a word, Lucy took Carly into her arms and looked at her with awe. “I’ve hoped for so long that you would settle down, Kevin. I knew in my heart it would happen, but I never dreamed you would have a child.”

His transformation had begun the minute he’d received a possible death sentence. The baby had only cemented his resolve to straighten out his life. “I never thought I’d have a child, either, but she’s mine.”

Lucy tore her gaze from Carly and landed it on Kevin. “Who’s the mother?”

He’d expected the question and had tried to come up
with a reasonable explanation. “Her name’s Leah Cordero. She’s a pediatrician. You’d like her.”

Lucy suddenly handed the baby over to Dermot. “Kevin, I could use your help getting a platter down from the cabinet.”

His mother didn’t need his help. She wanted to get him alone so she could grill him. Kevin looked at his dad, who’d taken a seat in his favorite lounger and was holding Carly up above his head while making ridiculous faces at her.

“Be careful with her, Dermot,” his mother scolded. “You’re going to hurt her.”

“I’ve done this before, Lucine.”

And this was exactly the problem Kevin had with his mom—her tendency to be overprotective to a fault. “She’s fine, Mother. She’s not going to break.”

Without responding, Lucy walked away. And Kevin, like the dutiful son, trailed after her even knowing he probably wasn’t going to care for what she had to say.

When she donned her concerned face the minute they reached the kitchen, Kevin leaned back against the counter and waited for the lecture. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Are you going to marry this Leah?”

“No, Mom. She’s going to be leaving at the end of August and setting up her practice in Mississippi.”

“And you’re going to just let her walk away with your child?”

He didn’t like it any more than she did. “I’ll see Carly when I can.”

Lucy shook her head. “Do you realize the importance of raising a child in a two-parent home?”

“I don’t have a choice, Mom. Leah’s seeing another man.” No matter how many times he’d said that, he still wanted to choke on the words.

She began lining up a series of vegetables on the counter. “Even worse, another man raising your daughter. What do you know about him?”

Not much. “Leah has good judgment. I’m just going to have to trust her. And she’s going to have to learn to trust me with Carly.”

“Well, at least she believes you can take care of the baby, otherwise you wouldn’t be here with her.”

“Actually, I’m planning on taking care of her all day while Leah’s at work, at least until she moves.” As soon as he’d convinced Leah he could deal with an infant.

Lucy’s expression brightened. “Wonderful, dear. I’ll clear my schedule and help you. We’ll have such fun.”

“I don’t need any help, Mother.” When her elation faded, Kevin added, “It’s important to me to do this by myself.”

His mother looked unconvinced. “You’ve barely recovered from your illness, Kevin. It would be no trouble for me to help you.”

He could understand why she might think him incapable of caring for an infant, even though she would never come right out and say it. “It’s been six months since the procedure, Mom. I appreciate your offer, but I can manage taking care of Carly.”

Lucy laid a hand on his arm. “You have no idea what it’s like, Kevin, taking care of a baby. There’s so much to worry about.”

“You’re right. I’m going to worry about Carly, but I’m not going to suffocate her. I want her to grow up strong and independent.”

He could tell from the mist forming in her eyes that he’d wounded her with his careless words.

Kevin came up behind her and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“I always cry when I’m chopping onions.”

“You’re cutting up a tomato.”

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