13

It took a few minutes for everyone to get settled. Francesca found herself on the sofa between Brenna and Grandma Tessa. Her mother sat next to Grammy M on one loveseat, while Katie and Zach shared another. Only Lorenzo and his son stood alone.

They glared at each other from across the living room. Tension filled the air, nearly crackling with intensity. Francesca wondered how long they had been avoiding this particular topic-how many years had they needed to clear the air. She and her sisters had always known there were secrets, but they had assumed they were silly, inconsequential bits of information that might be interesting, but would never impact their lives. They’d been wrong.

Still glaring at his father, Marco spoke first. “You girls know that your mother and I dated in high school.”

All three of them nodded. Francesca watched her father turn his gaze from Grandpa Lorenzo to his daughters. He smiled at each of them. She saw the love in his eyes, and the unspoken promise that they would survive whatever he had to say. Some of her tension eased slightly.

“We were young and very much in love.” He shifted his attention to his wife, who gave him a warm and tender smile, despite the tears in her eyes.

“What you don’t know is that our families were opposed to our relationship.”

Francesca straightened. She glanced at Brenna, then at Katie. Her sisters seemed as shocked as she felt. She turned to Grammy M for confirmation.

“You didn’t approve of Dad?” she asked.

Grammy M twisted her hands together. “It was a long time ago, darlin’. Things were different.”

Grandma Tessa shrugged. “We wanted a good Italian girl for our Marco.”

“But that was in the 1970s. Did people really care about those things back then?” Brenna asked.

Her mother gave her a sad smile. “More than you can believe. Your father and I had a lot of family pressure to stop seeing each other. We were both fighting with our parents. In the end, we agreed to keep the peace, but continued to see each other in secret.”

Grandpa Lorenzo opened his mouth to say something, but his son cut him off.

“I’m telling this story,” Marco said curtly.

Grandpa Lorenzo hesitated, then nodded.

Brenna shifted closer and took Francesca’s hand in her own. Francesca tried to give her sister a reassuring smile, but had a feeling it didn’t come out very well.

“Your mother was only sixteen when we found out she was pregnant.”

“He proposed right away,” her mother said, picking up the story. “We’d planned to get married anyway, but this moved up our timetable. Unfortunately the news didn’t please either of our parents.”

Francesca couldn’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. Two teenagers surrounded by disapproval. They must have been terrified.

“We sent her away,” Grammy M said softly, tears filling her blue eyes. “Lord forgive us.”

Grandma Tessa nodded, withdrew her ever-present rosary from her pocket, and kissed it lightly.

Colleen sighed. “I was sent to a school for unwed mothers before I could run away with your father. No one knew where I was. They thought-” She cleared her throat. “We all thought…”

Grammy M stared at her daughter. “You’ll not be takin’ the blame for what others made you do.” She turned to her granddaughters. “My Connor, God rest his soul, Tessa, Lorenzo, and myself decided it would be best if they were givin’ up the wee one for adoption. Colleen and Marco were just babies themselves. But they were stubborn and they fought us. In the end we won, though.”

She didn’t sound especially happy about that.

Francesca looked at her mother. “You had a boy?” she asked.

“Yes. I never saw him. They said it would be easier if I didn’t.” Her mother swallowed as tears returned to her eyes. “I’m not sure anything could have been harder. They took him away and I came home.” She turned her attention to her husband. “Marco was waiting for me. Our parents insisted we stop seeing each other, but we didn’t listen. When I turned eighteen, we married.”

Marco crossed to his wife and took her hand. “That’s all,” he said quietly. “Now you girls know what happened.”

Francesca wondered who was going to tell Mia, but decided that could be determined later. Next to her, Brenna caught her breath.

“So he’s out there somewhere, with no idea who is he or what’s waiting for him here?”

Francesca swung to face her sister. Brenna’s expression was stark and empty. Her twin’s pain slammed into her as if it were her own. Francesca wanted to point out that a male heir couldn’t possibly matter at this late date, that Grandpa Lorenzo would never give the winery to a virtual stranger, regardless of his connection by blood, but she knew she was wrong. It was more than possible.

“God punished us,” Grandma Tessa said. “We shouldn’t have insisted she give up the baby.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Grandpa Lorenzo snapped. “We’re not being punished.” But he didn’t sound as sure as he could be.

Francesca couldn’t absorb all she’d been told. How could events from thirty years before have such an impact on their lives? And yet in a matter of minutes-with only a few words of information-everything was different.

“Has anyone contacted him?” she asked.

“We never thought there was a need,” Grandpa Lorenzo said.

Francesca stared at him. “This isn’t about need, it’s about family. You have a grandson out there. We have a brother. My parents have a son. Does that matter to you?”

“We weren’t sure,” Colleen said quietly. “We didn’t want to interfere with his life. We didn’t know if he would be interested in hearing from us.”

We didn’t know if he would forgive us.

Her mother didn’t speak the words, but then she didn’t have to. Everyone heard them.

Katie clutched Zach’s hand. “Why didn’t you tell us before?” she asked.

Their father shrugged. “There was never a good time.”

Katie started to protest, then stopped. Francesca wondered if she was thinking about the secrets each of them kept from the family. Katie had had secrets about her broken engagement all those years ago. Francesca had never confessed the truth about the state of her marriage to Todd, and Brenna… Francesca studied her twin. What secrets did Brenna keep?

“We need some time to absorb all this,” Francesca said. “I think we should let the subject drop for a couple of days and talk about it again at Sunday brunch.”

Katie nodded. “I agree. This is no longer just your issue. We all have a stake in what happens now.”

Grandpa Lorenzo glared at her. “Be quiet,” he ordered. “You are not the head of this family.”

“You’re right, Grandpa,” Brenna said. “You’re the head of the family, and in this matter you’ve done a real lousy job.”

Grandpa Lorenzo sputtered, but before he could say anything, Brenna stood. Francesca rose as well, followed by Katie. The three sisters moved to stand next to each other.

“We decide together,” Francesca said, facing her parents. “Agreed?”

“Yes,” her father said. “We’ll talk on Sunday. We’ll decide as a family.”

Katie led them out of the living room. By silent agreement they didn’t talk until they were upstairs in the old bedroom Francesca and Brenna had shared. The room Brenna had returned to when her marriage had ended. They sat on the two beds and stared at one another.

“Happy Fourth of July,” Brenna said grimly.

Francesca touched her arm. “Are you okay?”

“Not even close. You?”

“In shock.”

“Me, too,” Katie said. She flopped back on the bed. “Why on earth didn’t they say something ages ago?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Brenna said.

“You’re upset,” Francesca said, eyeing her twin.

Brenna shook her head. “What I am is screwed. It was bad enough to find out that Grandpa Lorenzo was thinking of selling the winery. I figured I might still have a shot because he wouldn’t want strangers on the land. But if there’s an heir floating around out there somewhere, I don’t have a prayer.”

Francesca wanted to offer some words of comfort, but she didn’t know what to say. Everything had changed, and she had a bad feeling their lives would never return to normal again.

It was a perfect summer’s day, but Francesca couldn’t summon the enthusiasm even to open the drapes. Instead she curled up on the sofa, her legs pulled to her chest, her forehead resting on her knees.

How had everything changed so completely in such a short period of time? One minute she’d been well on her way to achieving her goals while dating a terrific guy who not only made her see stars in bed, but who wasn’t interested in marriage or forever. The next she was pregnant, unsure how to tell Sam, and suddenly had a long-lost brother who could inherit the winery and break her sister’s heart.

There were also all the subtleties that went along with the new circumstances. Things like the logistics of being pregnant and having a child, how to tell her family, how to tell Sam. What to tell Sam. That her parents had lied to her and her sisters for years, that Mia had to be told, and that while she didn’t want anything like a commitment or a permanent relationship with Sam, she couldn’t help wishing he were with her right now. She could use a good hug.

She sighed softly and shook her head. No point in wishing for the moon, she told herself. It was a perfectly good Saturday afternoon. He was probably taking Kelly sailing or to the beach or for a drive along the coast. Or pulling his hair out because Kelly was driving him crazy. Whatever the circumstances, he wouldn’t be thinking about his sometime bed partner, except in the context of being grateful that he hadn’t committed to her or her insane family.

This line of thought wasn’t making her feel any better. “So think about something else,” she told herself.

Like what? That she hadn’t had any symptoms of her pregnancy, but that didn’t make it any less real? That she had to get to a doctor and start taking vitamins or something? And didn’t she need to be drinking lots of milk to get her calcium?

A knock on the door interrupted her musings. She straightened and rose. It was Brenna, she told herself as she walked to the door. No doubt her sister wanted to talk about what had happened with-

It was Sam.

Francesca stared at him. He smiled.

“I thought you might need a friend,” he said.

He looked good. Too good. Shorts, a T-shirt, and slightly mussed hair. Staring at him made her throat get all sore and her eyes burn. She had a bad feeling she was thirty seconds from bursting into tears.

She stepped back to let him in.

“You okay?” he asked.

She nodded and swallowed. “Thanks for coming by. That was really nice.”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened last night at the party. I wanted to make sure you’d survived the bombshell.”

She motioned to the sofa, then crossed to the window, where she opened the blinds and let the morning sun spill into the small room.

“I’m still processing information,” she admitted as she sat next to Sam and angled toward him. “I can’t believe I have a brother, that he’s been alive for all these years and my parents never mentioned it.”

His mouth twisted. “I know all about parental secrets,” he muttered.

She wanted to protest that her parents hadn’t acted at all like his mother, but she supposed there were some similarities.

She told him what her parents had shared with her. “I guess that once they gave him up for adoption, they tried to move on.” She shrugged. “But honestly, I can’t decide if not telling us about him was for our good or theirs.”

“I hate the lies,” Sam said.

Francesca shivered. She was currently sitting on a really big secret of her own. She would tell Sam-she not only had to, she wanted to. It was a matter of timing. She wanted things to be more stable with Kelly, and honestly, she wanted a little more time with Sam. She knew that as soon as she came clean, nothing was ever going to be the same.

Was it so wrong to want a few more days of him liking her?

Before she could answer, he slid toward her and pulled her close. She snuggled against his warm body and let herself relax.

“I didn’t mean to run out on you last night,” he said. “I figured you needed family time, not guests.”

“It was fine. We sort of all abandoned the party to have it out with our parents. Thank goodness my mom always has a staff in charge of events like that. We know our guests got fed and that someone started the fireworks.” She glanced at him. “The ones in the sky, not the verbal ones.”

“Kelly and I went down to the pier to watch the fireworks,” he said. “She stayed pretty normal the whole time, which was nice. I think hearing your family argue shocked her.”

“If she brings it up, you might want to tell her that we’re just like everyone else. We get mad and we get over it. My grandfather likes to throw people out of the family for weeks at a time. Eventually all is forgiven and life returns to normal. At least as normal as we get.”

Sam kissed the top of her head. “I wish there was something I could do.”

“I appreciate that. But to quote someone we both know, you didn’t sign up for this kind of trouble.”

He looked at her. “Francesca, you’ve been the only life raft I’ve had to cling to these days. If you hadn’t been around when Kelly showed up, I don’t know what would have happened.”

His words made her smile. “Thanks.”

“That’s my point. So now it’s my turn. I want to help. I might not know much about raising kids or extended families, but I’m in security. I have access to some interesting databases. I’m sure I could find your brother.”

She drew back so she could stare at him. “You know how to do that?”

He grinned. “I’m the best.”

“And modest.” She considered the offer. “Let me check with my parents, before I tell you for sure, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t want to get in touch with him. Now that he’s not a secret, he should be a part of the family.” She touched his cheek. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

He shrugged. “You don’t have to.” His tawny gaze locked with hers. “You know what? I think we’ve changed the rules.”

She swallowed. He couldn’t have guessed about her pregnancy, could he? “In what way?”

“Our uncomplicated, monogamous, sex-only relationship has evolved into a friendship.”

Oh. “I know.”

“You okay with that?”

“Yes.” Right up until he went ballistic when he found out about the baby.

“Me, too.” He leaned forward and brushed his mouth against hers. “More than okay.”

She felt the exact moment the tender kiss became passionate. Heat flared and his hug tightened slightly. Low in her belly, muscles tensed.

Despite the trauma, the questions, the knowledge that she was going to have to come clean, she couldn’t help responding to Sam’s closeness, his touch. There was a whisper of guilt, but she pushed it away with the promise that she would tell the truth in a few days. Just a few days of him still liking her, wanting her, and everything being the same between them.

“Francesca,” he breathed as he slid his hand down her back to her hip, then up to her breast. “Am I pushing you with this?”

His question filled her with warmth. Not the heat of passion but the comforting protection of tender concern.

Instead of answering directly, she covered his hand with hers and squeezed. His fingers closed around her breast.

“My bed is smaller than yours,” she murmured. “That means we’re going to have to be a lot closer. I hope you don’t mind.”

He sighed heavily, then pressed his mouth to her neck. “The sacrifices I make to satisfy you.”

“Every one of them is appreciated.”

He licked and kissed his way down to her collarbone. She arched her head back, giving him room, encouraging his attentions. At the same time he cupped her breasts and rubbed his thumbs against her sensitive, tight nipples.

The contact was exquisite. Fire roared through her, melting her from the inside out. Her panties were already damp, her body swollen. She wanted and needed with a fierceness that matched the first time they’d been together. Somehow she would have thought that intensity would fade some with time, but it hadn’t.

When he tugged at the hem of her T-shirt, she helped him. She was the one who unfastened her bra and pulled it off. Sam dipped his head and drew her sensitive nipples into his mouth.

The sensual tugging made her catch her breath. She clutched at his head.

“Don’t stop,” she gasped as her body clenched in pleasure.

Even as he continued to caress her breasts, he dropped his hands to her hips and urged her to straddle him. She moved over him, then settled her dampness against his thick erection.

Even through the layers of his clothing, she felt the pulsing need of his arousal. He wanted her as much as she wanted him. His rapid breathing told her, as did the urgency in his hands as he squeezed her and drew her closer. Suddenly he pulled away.

“Condom,” he gasped.

Her first thought was that they didn’t need to bother. Her second was there were other reasons to be protected. Her third was that she didn’t want to have that conversation right now.

Fortunately their decision to become lovers had propelled her to the drugstore, where she’d bought a box of protection. Just in case Sam ever visited.

“Get naked,” she said as she stood and hurried into her bedroom. She found the box in her nightstand and tore it open. Clutching a condom in her hand, she returned to the living room, where she found a very undressed Sam sprawled on her sofa.

She slowed as she took in the broad chest, flat belly, and impressive erection. Pausing only to slip out of her shorts and briefs, she tossed him the package, then waited until he had sheathed himself before straddling him again.

They resumed their positions, his mouth on her breast, her hands on his shoulders, his hands on her hips. But this time when she lowered herself, he slipped inside of her.

Her body shivered in pleasure, as the familiar stretching, tensing, filling brought her to the edge. That, combined with the gentle tugging of his mouth on her nipples, made her want to scream. It was too much and she never wanted any of it to stop.

“Oh, Sam,” she breathed as she raised and lowered herself. She wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to hang on to control. It would just be too embarrassing to come this quickly.

But she couldn’t stop herself. Everything felt too good.

The hands on her hips urged her to go faster and faster still. Friction increased, as did tension. And then she would have done anything, said anything, because when her body convulsed into perfect release she could only ride him, crying out his name until he stiffened and lost himself in his own orgasm.

The waves of pleasure slowed, receded, then faded. She leaned back, just as he looked at her. Neither of them smiled, neither of them spoke. The connection between them lingered, growing in the silence until she wanted to crawl inside of Sam and be as much a part of him as his heart or his blood.

She didn’t know what the feelings meant, and they scared the crap out of her. Still, when he rubbed his thumb against her mouth and asked if she would like to spend the day with him and Kelly, she could only nod mutely and hold him close.

Kelly sat in the front seat of the truck and glanced at Francesca from under her lashes. Francesca had been quiet all morning. While she always claimed not to be a morning person, she’d never been this out of it before.

“Are you, um, okay?” she asked at last.

Francesca glanced at her and offered a sad smile. “Sorry. I have a lot on my mind.”

Kelly thought about the angry conversation she’d overheard at the Fourth of July party nearly a week before.

“Is your family fighting?” She shifted uncomfortably. “I wasn’t trying to spy or anything, I just-” She sighed. “You know. We sort of heard.”

Francesca nodded. “I’m guessing everyone heard. Things got a little loud.” Her grip on the steering wheel tightened. “We’re okay now, but things were a little shaky for a couple of days.”

Kelly wanted to ask more, but knew it wasn’t polite. Normally being polite wasn’t a high priority, but she liked Francesca and was really trying.

“My folks started dating while they were still in high school,” Francesca said. “Neither set of parents approved.”

“Why?” Kelly asked. “Everybody in your family loves each other.”

“That’s what I thought. Apparently things were different before. Back then they faced a lot of disapproval. They refused to break up and started dating secretly. Then my mom got pregnant.”

Kelly caught her breath. “Wow. Her mom and dad must have been really mad.”

Francesca smiled. “I doubt they were happy. They ended up sending my mom away to a special place for pregnant girls. After she had her baby, he was given up for adoption. That was thirty years ago. We’ve been talking about the situation, and we’ve decided we’re going to try to find him and bring him back into the family. Your dad offered to help with that. Apparently security experts can also find people.”

Kelly was less impressed by her father’s abilities than what Francesca’s parents had done. “They gave their baby away?” She knew people did that sort of thing. Of course they did. But she’d never known anyone who was adopted or anyone who’d let their baby be taken away. The thought of it made her feel cold inside.

“From what my mom said, they didn’t have a choice. It’s sad for everyone.”

Kelly didn’t like to think about being abandoned. She wasn’t sure she’d ever spent one whole day feeling safe and wanted. Not with her mom and not now with her dad.

They pulled up in front of the ballet school. When Francesca turned into the parking lot, Kelly touched her arm. “You don’t have to stay. I’m going home with Cindy. Dad said it was okay.”

Francesca hesitated, then shrugged. “Okay. Have fun.”

“I will.”

Francesca watched Kelly as she headed for the side entrance. Despite being only twelve, the girl moved with a grace that made Francesca envious. When Kelly waved and disappeared into the building, Francesca backed out of the parking lot, then headed home.

Once there she flipped through her dissertation. Her mind raced with thoughts of her long-lost brother, the paper she should be working on, and her pregnancy. Nearly another week had passed. At some point she was going to have to come clean with Sam. And she would. Very soon. Just as soon as she figured out what to say.

She finally settled down to work about eleven. At three-thirty the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Is Kelly with you?” Sam asked abruptly.

“No, she’s-”

He cut her off with a strangled growl. “If she’s not with you and she’s not home, where the hell is she?”

Francesca arrived at Sam’s place less than twenty minutes later. She walked into the house and found him pacing the length of the entryway.

“I haven’t heard from her,” he said, obviously furious and worried in equal measures. “Who is this Cindy person and why didn’t you get a phone number?”

Francesca wasn’t willing to take the fall on this one. “She said you had told her it was fine. I assumed you had.”

Sam had pulled off his suit jacket and tie and rolled up his sleeves. Even without all the trappings of success, he still looked powerful and angry.

“She told you I said it was okay and you believed her?” he asked, sounding incredulous. “We’re talking about a kid who thinks nothing of lying to get her own way.”

Francesca refused to be intimidated by his size or his temper. “When has she lied? To the best of my knowledge, Kelly is completely upfront about her wants and desires. Are you saying this morning she didn’t ask you about going to Cindy’s and you didn’t say it was all right?”

He opened his mouth, then closed it. Rage faded from his eyes.

She put her hands on her hips. Now it was her turn to glare. “What?”

He turned away and walked into the kitchen. “I was reading the paper this morning,” he mumbled.

She followed him. “So?” Then the pieces clicked into place. “Oh. You were reading and not listening. In fact, you can’t remember one thing your daughter may or may not have said. So for all you know she did tell you about going to Cindy’s. You might have even agreed.”

“Couldn’t you at least have gotten a phone number?” he asked, turning to face her.

“Couldn’t you have at least listened for thirty seconds?”

“I listened.”

“Obviously not. Kelly is your child and your responsibility.”

“You think I don’t know that?” he yelled. “I can’t take a breath without thinking about it. I didn’t ask for this responsibility, but I’m doing the best I can. Everything about my life is different, with no warning, no explanation.”

Francesca tried not to panic. Sam hadn’t actually come out and said he didn’t want his child, but he’d skated close to it. Close enough to make her press a protective hand over her stomach. This was not good.

Just then the front door opened. “I’m home,” Kelly called. “Francesca, you’re here. Did Sam call and ask you to-”

Kelly walked into the kitchen and looked from Sam to Francesca and back. “What?” she asked, suddenly looking wary.

“Did you ask permission to go to Cindy’s this morning?” Sam demanded.

Francesca winced at his harsh, accusing tone.

Kelly took a step back. “Of course I did and you said it was fine. I even wrote down her telephone number.”

Sam blinked. “You did what?”

Kelly stalked over to the pad by the phone and pulled off the top sheet. She carried it back to her father and slapped it down on the counter next to him.

“Well, hell,” Sam muttered. “I guess I overreacted.”

Kelly’s gaze narrowed. “Why are you all mad? I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I know,” Sam said. “I came home early and when you weren’t here, I got worried. When I called Francesca, she said you were at a friend’s, and I didn’t remember us talking about it.”

Kelly took a step back. “You weren’t listening to me?” she asked, sounding both insulted and hurt. “Was I too boring?”

“Of course not. I was-”

She cut him off with a shake of her head. “You were reading your damn paper.”

“Don’t you swear, young lady.”

“Why not? You don’t listen. I thought you were different!” she yelled. “I thought you weren’t like her. But you are. You’re a lousy parent. You’re horrible. I hate you!”

Sam stepped toward her. “Kelly, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I never meant to.”

“You didn’t hurt my feelings. I don’t care anything about you. No, that’s not true. I’m sorry you’re my father. I wish you weren’t. I wish I’d never come here.”

She ran out of the room. Francesca hesitated, not sure if she should go after her.

Sam leaned against the counter and rubbed his eyes. “That would be my parental screwup for the day. Why can’t I get control of this situation? I can manage everything else in my life. Why not Kelly?”

“If you talked to her-” she began.

“I don’t want to talk to her.” Sam walked to the refrigerator and took out a can of soda. “I don’t want to have to deal with any of this. I want things like they were before she ever showed up.”

He offered her the can. Francesca could barely breathe, but she managed to shake her head. Her throat was tight, her heart heavy. She’d known Sam was still adjusting to having Kelly around, but she’d thought he was coming to care about his daughter.

“Unless you need me to stick around,” she murmured, “I should be going.”

“I’m sorry I called in a panic,” he said.

“You were worried. That’s okay.”

He walked her to the door. Francesca said a quick goodbye and hurried to her truck. She had to get away before she gave into the need to burst into tears. She’d been a fool, because in her heart of hearts, she’d actually hoped Sam might be happy about the baby. Now she knew he would consider the child nothing but an inconvenience and her little more than a liar who had tricked him into a situation he didn’t want.

Sam waited an hour before heading up to Kelly’s room. She didn’t answer when he knocked, but the door wasn’t locked. He considered that a good sign.

When he stepped inside, she was stretched out on the bed, her back to the door. He crossed the room and sat on the edge of the mattress.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have listened.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Sure it does.” He studied her red curls and the curve of her back. When she was going toe-to-toe with him, she seemed so grown-up, but here, curled up on her bed, she was small and defenseless. A child. His child.

He wanted to be in control, but Kelly was her own person. Maybe the best he could hope for was an alliance between them.

He smiled as he remembered plenty of fights with Gabriel. No doubt he’d been just as stubborn and difficult when he’d been growing up.

“What was it you called me before?” he asked. “A pinhead?”

She turned to face him. Her eyes were swollen and red, her face damp from her tears. The sight of her pain stabbed him right in the gut.

“A butthead,” she whispered.

“Hmm. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. How about if you call me a pinhead, I promise to listen, and we’re even?”

Kelly stared at him without speaking.

He leaned toward her and lightly touched the back of her hand. “I’m really sorry. You followed the rules. You asked for permission, you left a phone number, you even told Francesca. I was wrong.”

“You want to buy me a DVD player to make up for what you did?” she asked with a sniff.

“No. But I know a great rib restaurant that has a pretty cool video game room in back. I’ll front you five bucks’ worth of quarters.”

“It’s not a DVD player.”

“I’m aware of that.”

She sat up. “Thanks for apologizing.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Are these Chicago-style ribs?”

He groaned. “They’re ribs. Meat, bone, barbecue sauce. Just ribs.”

Kelly sighed. “You don’t have to have a hissy fit just because you don’t know what kind they are.”

He growled. She giggled, then smiled. Without thinking, he held open his arms. Kelly stared at him as if he’d turned into a rat. But just as he was about to lower his arms, she moved close.

He hugged her, and for the first time since she’d shown up on his doorstep, he felt how small she was. Thin and frail. But full of life. His daughter, he thought with pride. His child.

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