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Worth the Fall(3)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor

“Well, I want to see him too. I’m gonna dig him out.” She popped up and the crown of her head caught Matt right in the mouth.

“Ow!” Gracie rubbed her head, then gave him a wide dimpled smile. “I’m okay.” And she skittered off to find her creature.


“It’s fine.” Matt straightened and the woman raised her hand toward his face, stopping midway and lowering it before making contact. But not before Matt caught the gleam of a gold band on her left ring finger. Hadn’t the kid just said his dad was dead?

A white-blond, cherub-faced toddler stopped at her side, his arms raised. Matt tried hard not to stare at her breasts as she bent to pick him up. Yeah. His lip was fine.

She propped the boy on her hip, and he twisted a strand of her hair around his sandy finger. And that sand sprinkled over her smooth, sun-kissed chest, and…Damn.

The little boy tucked his head under her chin, his soft baby hair ruffling over his forehead in the breeze. Time seemed to stop along with Matt’s brain. They stood awkwardly for a beat before a squabble broke out around the crumbling sand structure.

She shifted her feet and adjusted the weight of the boy. “Guess I better go.”

Matt glanced at the castle builders. He wouldn’t mind helping.

“Bye,” she said.

Okay. Maybe not.

She took a step, then smiled at him over her shoulder. “Thanks for playing with Jack.”

“No problem. Nice to meet you.” He watched her walk away. All toned legs, tiny ankles, and an ass he was not looking at.

He stood there another minute, waiting on…he had no idea what, before heading back in the direction he’d come. That little girl was a doll, with her blowing curls and preschool chatter. And the mom, well…he needed to keep walking. And then it hit him.

He hadn’t met her at all. Hadn’t even asked her name. What an idiot. His brothers would laugh their asses off. He picked up the pace until he was jogging.

It shouldn’t matter whether he knew her name or not. It didn’t. Just because he hadn’t seen a man around didn’t mean there wasn’t one. Except…if she was here alone and pregnant with four kids, then…Then what?

Crazy. Patsy Cline sang in Abby’s head. I’m crazy for…bringing four children to the beach? Definitely. Could people tell by looking at her? Hopefully not. She prided herself on keeping it together.

This week at the beach would prove a definite challenge, but she was used to that. And she’d prepared for this vacation for months, researching resorts with child-friendly beaches, pools, and activities. Even when her friend had been forced to bail on her, she’d been determined not to disappoint the kids.

“Mommy, my mouf is crunchy.” Gracie pushed her blowing hair out of her face and tapped her teeth together.

Abby looked down at the small PB&J triangle in her three-year-old’s sandy hand. “Uh-oh. Rinse your hand in the bucket and I’ll get you a new one.”

She fished out another sandwich and sprinkled a few chips onto her daughter’s plate. Before Gracie ate even one, the wind picked them up and sent them tumbling across the sand, where they were immediately attacked by seagulls. Charlie then attacked the birds like the wild two-year-old he was, kicking sand all over as he went.

“I think we should eat at the pool,” Annie said.

Abby agreed with her sensible six-year-old. A picnic on the beach might be a great idea in theory, though the authors of Varied Dining Experiences for Children had obviously never tried peanut butter and jelly in the sand.

She sighed. Why fight it? No need to make things harder than they had to be, and the poolside grill was one of the reasons she’d chosen this resort. One week of chicken fingers and fries wouldn’t kill them.

Shade? An ice-cold drink? Swimming without Mother Nature trying to drown you? Abby stared out at the churning foam of death. It had taken all of two seconds to realize her children would not be getting into that water no matter how many flotation devices were tied to their bodies. More than twenty years later, she could still taste the salt water in her mouth, still feel the panic of being pulled under and tossed like a rag in a washing machine.

“Come on, guys. Let’s go.” Abby gathered their things and trudged through the sand as fast as possible with a sweaty two-year-old lump plastered to her side. They’d eat lunch, spend a few hours at the pool, then plenty of time to rest before dinner.

“Hot, hot, hot.” Her daughters chanted and ran past her on their tiptoes. Jack made it to the boardwalk first, dropped his football, and snatched up the hose. The ball bounced down the steps, and an unbidden image of a man came to mind: