The thought of Quinn naked, making love to her, brought a sharp stab of pain to her abdomen. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” she murmured, resisting his intrusion into her heart. Not tonight. Not ever again.
He stuck the toe of his boot in the door, preventing her from closing it in his face. “Please, Hope. Your brother-in-law, Tom Parrish, sent me. He thought you could help me out of a jam.”
Hope didn’t even know that her brother-in-law knew Quinn. Tom and her sister Faith hadn’t met until years after Quinn had gone back to the RCMP Fraud Squad in Toronto. “What does Tom have to do with this—?” She broke off as the piercing wail of a child’s cry split the air—a wail of fear that pierced Hope’s heart. A child. He had a child. After what he’d told her….
“Just a sec.” He leapt off the porch in a bound, calling over his shoulder, “That’s Kyle. Once he gets going, he’s sure to wake up Melanie.”
Not one child. Two. The man who’d broken her heart when he told he’d never be a family man had children. And, obviously, a wife.
Damn him. It was too much. She supposed now he wanted her to baby-sit. It was almost laughable.
As Quinn swooped down on the car like a hawk upon a mouse, Hope unlocked the front door and stepped onto the porch in her nylons, shivering as the cold from the planks bored into the soles of her feet.
Quinn’s imposing back was hunched over the open car door. She opened her mouth to call out to him that despite what Tom had told him, she was closed until after Easter, when he straightened and Hope saw the squirming legs of a restless toddler in pastel-green pajamas, and the pale oval of a tiny face, shaking in protest at being held in his father’s arms. Quinn’s expression matched that of his son’s: complete and total frustration, and Hope’s protest died on her lips. There’d been a shower earlier in the day. She hoped Quinn still had enough presence of mind to put a blanket around his son. And what did it matter if she baby-sat Quinn McClure’s children? He had said it was an emergency, and that Tom had sent him. She could at least hear him out.
“Ou-t!” A second cry from the car’s interior drifted toward Hope on a fresh gust. Hope saw a windmill of churning legs as Quinn firmly tucked Kyle under one arm and rounded the car to the other side, where he opened the door and reached into the car with his free arm to assist the unseen Melanie. Hope decided he could use a second pair of hands.
Running into the parlor, she stepped into her pumps, then swept the afghan off the couch. The screen door slapped behind her as she hurried down the porch steps, the wind tugging her long hair in all directions.
She slowed at the gravel drive, picking her way carefully in her pumps. Judging by the sound of things, Quinn wasn’t any closer to having his children under control.
“Where’s Mommy? I want Mommy! Now! My hair’s caught—and it hurts!” Hope heard the gasping windup of a sob in the making.
Quinn was patient, his voice strained, his body blocking Hope’s view of his daughter. “Mommy’s not here, Mel-Mel. But I am. Now hold still so I can get your hair untangled and get you out of this car seat. Who designs these things anyway— Kyle, ouch! Those are my ribs, pal. If you keep kicking like that, I’m going to drop you and you’ll get hurt.”
Melanie let loose a torrent of agonized howls as if to point out that she, unlike her brother, was in actual pain and must be dealt with immediately.
Afghan in hand, Hope offered to help.
Quinn backed out of the car and straightened, then sagged against the side of the vehicle, Kyle still trying to twist himself free from the restraint of his father’s forearm. Quinn’s relief was obvious. His expression held a tightly reined desperation that shook Hope to the core. “Maybe you could loosen Mel’s hair for me and I’ll take the kick-boxer inside. He sorely needs a diaper change. Then we can talk?”
“Mm-hmm.” Hope grasped one of Kyle’s sturdy little feet and dredged up her brightest smile, her nose wrinkling at the indelicate odor wafting from the toddler’s clothing. “Hi! You must be Kyle. I’ve got a rainbow blanket to warm you up. Have you ever been hugged by a rainbow?”
Blue-gray eyes, ringed with black lashes, widened beneath finely drawn wisps of brows. Hope experienced a pang of envy. Kyle’s hair was as dark as his father’s. Tousled curls framed his rounded brow where a boo-boo was healing. The toddler stilled almost instantly as she tucked the blanket firmly around his warm, compact body and the iron-hard band of Quinn’s arm. “There, nice and cozy now, aren’t you?”
“Thanks,” Quinn murmured. Hope felt her cheeks heat as his measuring gaze slid over her. It was not the sort of look she expected a father of two to brandish about—unless he was divorced?
Another howl from Melanie, this one, degrees more pitiful than the first, had Hope crawling into the toy-littered car, which smelled like new upholstery, male cologne, Kyle’s soiled diaper, and spilt apple juice, toward a three-year-old with chocolate-brown eyes and silky amber hair that fell in angel curls past the shoulders of her heart-dotted purple sweat suit. “My goodness, Melanie,” she intoned softly, giving the little girl a chance to get accustomed to her and her voice. “You poor lamb, looks like you’ve got your fleece all caught up in this funny-looking fence. My name’s Hope. Would it be all right with you if I untangle you?”
Melanie sniffled, and after a moment’s hesitation demanded, “What’s feece?”
“It’s a sheep’s hair.”
Melanie stretched a hand up to Hope’s face and stroked the hair at her temple, her touch soft and tentative. “Are you a fairy? Mommy says fairies wear flowers in their hair.”
Flowers? What was she talking about…? Oh, good heavens! Hope followed Melanie’s fingers, her face reddening when she found a spray of baby’s breath still lingering in her hair from the fiasco of her wedding. She pulled out the flowers and handed them to Melanie.
“No, I’m not a fairy,” she said lightly. “Just always a fiancée. But my friend the robin told me I’d be having a little lamb come for a visit tonight so I was saving it for you.”
“We’ll put it in your hair after we get you free.” Hope expertly manipulated the straps and the release button of the car seat, then made short work of the snarl that had caused all the ruckus and tucked the delicate white flowers behind Melanie’s left ear. “Lovely.”
“I’m always a fiancée, too.”
Hope rolled her eyes and lifted the little girl out of her car seat to help her on with the bubble-gum-pink jacket she found on the front passenger seat beside a smaller navy jacket with red and yellow stripes on the sleeves, and a diaper bag. A quick glance over her shoulder toward the house told her Quinn was letting himself in the front door.
Hope grabbed Kyle’s jacket and slipped the diaper bag over her shoulder, then reached for Melanie’s hand. “Come on. It’s much too cold to let a little lamb like you frolic in the fields. How about you come in the house for a snack while I talk to your daddy?”
To Hope’s surprise, Melanie’s eyes filled with tears. She wondered if the preschooler was afraid Quinn had left without telling her so.
“Your daddy’s in the house, lamb. With Kyle. And we’d better hurry because any second СКАЧАТЬ