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Worth the Fall(9)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor

She pulled her daughter off the chair and stood her between them. Okay, she was a nice enough person, her looks didn’t repel people in general, but this was a man who definitely had more options than a pregnant woman and the preschool crowd.

All thought evaporated with the intense sensation of dropping off the highest point of a roller coaster.

Brain scramble. Had he asked a question? Yes. Name.

“Abby. It’s Abby. My name.”

His smile widened and she fumbled with the bottle of sunscreen, inwardly groaning at how stupid she sounded. She had little experience with men and zero with flirting. Not that she was trying to. Which was good, since saying her name was obviously more than she could handle.

“Hi, ladybug,” he said to Gracie.

“I’m not a wadybug!”

Matt looked shocked. “You’re not?”

“No, I’m a girl.” Gracie giggled, eating up the attention, while Abby covered her in lotion.

The man was observant. Her daughter did have on her red and black polka-dot suit with flaps of tulle in the front.

“Watch me!” Jack yelled.

They turned in time to hear the splash and see Jack come up looking immediately to Matt for approval.

“Good one.” Matt gave him a thumbs-up.

Charlie was next and he stood between them, his little hands on Matt’s knees as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

“All right, everyone’s free to get in.” Abby moved to the side of the pool and sat with her feet swishing slowly in the water.

Matt sat beside her but didn’t speak, and she wondered again what he was doing hanging with her.

“Oh, I really do want to pay for your girlfriend’s pants, so—”

“Not my girlfriend.”

“Well, anyway.” She hesitated after his gruffness. “I’m sure Charlie did ruin them. Can you find out how much I owe her?”

Gracie dog-paddled over from the steps and grabbed the wall between them. “I can hold my breff underwater.” She squinted up at Matt. “Want to see?”


Still holding on to the side, Gracie stuck the smallest bit of her face into the water for all of two seconds, then came up dripping and gasping for air.

“Amazing.” Matt clapped his hands. “I took care of the pants. Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay.” Abby drew out the word, starting to lose her patience. “Then could you please tell me how much? I’d rather not owe you either.”

“I took care of it.” His eyes tracked Gracie as she paddled back to the steps. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

Abby let out a long breath. “Why are you trying to frustrate me?”

His mouth cracked into a lopsided grin. “I’m not trying to frustrate you. I’m trying to relax.”

“Really?” She cocked her head. “You do realize you’re at the kiddy pool?”

“Yeah, I noticed.” He raised a hand toward her face and the arm he was leaning back on brushed against her shoulder. A chill ran through her at the contact, and she had a wild vision of him leaning in, kissing her. Instead he gently pushed her glasses back up her nose since they’d slid down.

Abby sat back, putting a finger to her glasses where he’d just touched them. For no reason at all she smiled. Ridiculous. She bent forward to dip her hands into the water and hide her red face. “You’re in the navy?”


Okay. Man of few words.

The girls swam over with their Barbies. Annie’s doll had hair issues and Gracie’s was naked.

“Her bavin suit is stuck.” Gracie handed him the doll and the suit, then grabbed on to the wall again.

“Ah, the challenges of clothing a doll with freakishly long arms and legs.” As he picked up the doll to inspect the problem, Gracie lost her grip on the side and sank into the water, which was half an inch too deep for her even on her tippy toes. Matt dropped the doll to rescue the girl, pulling her up easily and setting her in his lap.

He wiped the dripping hair from Gracie’s eyes, then set to work on Barbie’s clothes. Abby stared at the smooth, tan skin of his powerful forearms, his sleeves stretched around biceps she could maybe circle with two hands. His muscled arms wrapped protectively around her daughter, his eyes intent on a little girl’s toy.

“You can’t wook at her boobies!” Gracie screamed, loud enough so that everyone within twenty feet turned to see who was looking at whose boobies when they shouldn’t be.

Matt quickly covered the half-naked doll with his large hands and gave Abby a startled, guilty look.

“How am I going to fix her clothes if I can’t look at her?” Matt asked Gracie.