Quinn turned away. At least something good would come of all this. Hope would have the children she deserved, if not the husband. Quinn had no delusions about what kind of father he’d be, given the chance.
Kyle twisted his head to look up at him, his eyes round and hopeful. “Daddy?”
Quinn gritted his teeth and shook his head. Kyle’s brow wrinkled in confusion. Hope closed the door to Mel’s room and brushed past him, smelling sweet and feminine.
“I put Kyle’s things in the cloud bedroom. I thought he’d like the kites.” Quinn followed her into a blue bedroom sponge-painted with fluffy clouds and brightly colored kites.
But putting Kyle to bed wasn’t as simple as dealing with Mel. After they’d changed him and put him in the crib, he rose to his feet and rattled the bars. “Ma-ma!” Tears glided down his cheeks in rivulets.
Quinn battled his own frayed nerves as he tried to soothe him. Kyle was so agitated his body generated heat like a miniature furnace. “Hey, it’s okay, buddy. Lie down. It’s time to go to sleep.”
“No. I want Mama.” Kyle shook his head miserably.
Quinn felt just as miserable. “He was like this last night, too. He cried for almost two hours before he fell asleep.”
“That’s understandable. He’s too young to comprehend that his parents are gone. He’s going to need a lot of reassurance and we’ll try to stick to his normal bedtime routine as much as possible.”
Being forced to confess that he didn’t know Kyle’s bedtime routine only made Quinn feel worse. How often had he visited his brother since Kyle’s birth? A handful of times?
Hope gave him an encouraging smile. “Don’t worry, Quinn. We can ask Melanie tomorrow. She’ll be able to tell us. Usually it’s a combination of a snack, a bath, a story or songs, a snuggle, that kind of thing. Sometimes they sleep with a special toy or a blanket. Children get very attached to their rituals and need them to settle down. Does Kyle have any special toys or a blanket he sleeps with? I didn’t find anything in his bag.”
Quinn searched his memory as Hope rubbed Kyle’s sturdy back. Strange how such an insignificant thing seemed of such importance when their lives were on the line. “I’m not sure. At one point he had a stuffed monkey he called Bobo or Babbu or something like that, but I don’t know if he still has it.”
Kyle drew a ragged, gulping breath.
“It’s okay, we’ll improvise.”
Quinn watched in gratitude as Hope opened the closet, revealing two rows of stuffed animals. Her face was animated as she told Kyle his crib was a zoo cage and that he could tend three animals in his cage for the night. Kyle’s damp blue eyes widened at the selection.
Hope’s light-hearted, sunny laugh when Kyle rejected a white snow monkey in favor of a pink pig made Quinn feel less as though the world was closing in around him. When Hope told Kyle to settle his animals down for the night and to be very careful not to step on them, the toddler happily lay down and arranged his animals around him. Hope covered them with a blanket.
“Quinn and I will be back in a few minutes, Kyle. Show your animals how to close their eyes.”
At Hope’s signal, Quinn tiptoed out of the room with her and held his breath, waiting for Kyle’s howl of protest at being left alone to begin. It didn’t.
Hope brushed her hands over her hips, a faint rosy hue highlighting her pale complexion. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to change out of these clothes. There’s a fourth bedroom at the end of the hall for you—just make yourself at home. Maybe we can meet downstairs in a few minutes. I imagine there are some things we need to discuss.”
Her apparent nervousness matched his own. “Sure. I’ll stow my gear in the room, but I’ll be sleeping downstairs as a first line of defense in case we have an intruder. I’ll have an alarm system for the house installed tomorrow.”
She opened her mouth as if to argue, but only a long sigh escaped. “Do whatever you think best.” Then she turned and walked away.
While Hope changed, Quinn did a perimeter check of the house to ensure all the doors and windows were locked, and made a mental list of locks he felt needed replacing. No one was going to be able to enter this house without making a lot of noise. He’d get Hope a digital cellular phone, too, in the event someone tried to cut the phone lines, and he’d install a dead bolt lock on her bedroom door. He tried to shake off the fear of leaving the kids and Hope unprotected, telling himself they’d be safer the second he left and made himself a visible target.
Hope came downstairs wearing a pale blue terry bathrobe, the prim bodice and rounded collar of a flower-sprigged flannel nightgown visible underneath. Quinn got the message. Hands off. “I checked on Kyle before I came down. He’s asleep. So, what do we do first?”
Quinn glanced at his watch. It was 10:47 p.m. He was supposed to call Tom at a particular pub at 11:00. “We call Tom to confirm the arrangements. He thought we could be married Monday. He’s booking a ceremony with a nondenominational minister. We just have to show up with a marriage license.”
Hope looked at him as if he was crazy, but her voice remained calm and even. She tried not to remember that once upon a time she’d wanted to be married by her father, who was a minister, in the church she’d been raised in. “Fine. You’ll need to accompany me to city hall to get the marriage license. They’ll need your signature. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to get the license without an appointment. Do you have a birth certificate or a passport with you?”
Quinn nodded, feeling awkward again. The fact that she knew what needed to be done to obtain a marriage license reminded him of her deceased fiancé and her lost dreams.
“We’ll need to pay the fee in cash. It could take an hour or so to get the license. Do you want to bring the children with us? I have a friend, Jolie, who pinch-hits for me here at the day care when necessary. I could ask her to look after the children.”
“I’d rather bring them with us. I don’t like letting them out of my sight.”
Her golden eyes softened. “Okay. I’ll bring lots of distracting toys.”
Quinn didn’t think Hope needed toys at all. She was a distraction herself. Her voice. Her hair. The soft curves of her body. And especially those eyes…. He reined in his thoughts. He’d be lucky if he lived long enough to say “I do.” And his promise to Tom that Hope wouldn’t get hurt included never touching her in the way a husband is meant to touch a wife.
It wouldn’t be fair to her if he did. She’d already mourned one man she’d intended to marry.
“Will you need Jolie to look after the kids you regularly care for?” Quinn frowned, considering the risks his presence posed to others. Maybe Jolie could look after Hope’s day-care kids at her own home until he was gone. It would be safer that way.
Hope dropped her gaze. “Actually, I’m not working next week. It’s a short work week leading up to Easter because of Good Friday, and most of my parents have Easter Monday off, too, so they’re taking vacation days to give themselves a ten-day break. Which gives me a ten-day break.”
Ten days. It should be enough time for the kids to fall in love with Hope. It had only taken an evening for Quinn to fall in love with her.
He tamped down firmly on that last thought. A trip down memory lane wouldn’t do СКАЧАТЬ