Spellbound Falls (Spellbound Falls Series #1)by Janet Chapman
New York Times bestselling author Janet Chapman takes us to charming Spellbound Falls, where strange things have started happening ever since Maximilian Oceanus came to town…
Maximilian Oceanus arrives in Spellbound Falls just in time to save Olivia Baldwin from an overly aggressive suitor, only to find himself attracted to the/p>/b>/i>… See more details below
New York Times bestselling author Janet Chapman takes us to charming Spellbound Falls, where strange things have started happening ever since Maximilian Oceanus came to town…
Maximilian Oceanus arrives in Spellbound Falls just in time to save Olivia Baldwin from an overly aggressive suitor, only to find himself attracted to the beautiful, if rather aloof, widow. And although Mac has come to Inglenook to get a handle on fatherhood, his newly discovered six-year-old son has set his sights on finding his father a wife.
Olivia, however, is busy getting Inglenook ready for its new season, so she doesn’t have time to deal with her growing attraction to the dangerously seductive Mac. Besides, weird stuff seems to happen all around him. Take the fact that her seatbelt keeps getting stuck in his presence, or locks magically open for him without keys, and that he seems to have a talent for sensing things. Never mind the three lost albatrosses walking down the road in the middle of the night. Since when are there albatrosses in Maine?
But despite Olivia’s resistance to falling under the sexy man’s spell, Olivia is having trouble fighting her longing. Because she knows Mac is just the man to unlock the powerful passion deep within her….
Read an Excerpt
Apparently Mark Briar wasn’t used to anyone telling him no, be it the girlfriend who’d just sent him a Dear John letter or some lonely widow he was magnanimously offering sexual favors to. Hearing the aggressive edge creeping into his voice, Olivia wondered what terrible sin she’d committed to be finding herself stuck in the front seat of a tired little pickup with the employee from hell. Not only did Mark keep trying to point out what she’d be missing if she didn’t come to the bunkhouse tonight, it appeared that her repeatedly gentle but firm refusals were making him angry.
Well, and the Dear John letter he’d crumpled into a ball and thrown at her feet after reading the more interesting parts to her. Added to that, his driving had gone from reckless to downright scary. What had she been thinking when she’d asked if they could use his pickup to go after the heater? If she’d taken ten minutes to pull the rear seat out of her van, she’d be in only half the mess she was in now; she might still be dealing with an angry young man, but at least the pine trees wouldn’t be speeding by in a blur.
Olivia decided that when they met the school bus, she and Sophie were walking the last three miles to Inglenook. “Look, Mark,” she said calmly, even as she checked the buckle on her seat belt, “it’s not that I’m not flattered by your offer, but I have a very firm rule about fraternizing with my employees.”
“Employee. You have one. So it’s not like anyone can complain the boss is playing favorites or anything.”
“When camp’s in session I have fifteen people on the payroll: seven who live at Inglenook—you, the cook, and several counselors—and eight locals who show up every day at the crack of dawn,” she said, getting a bit angry herself.
His eyes narrowed menacingly. “What about the campers? You got any rules about fraternizing with them?” He snorted. “Or is that how you fill up your single-father sessions year after year?”
Olivia counted to ten to keep from smacking the belligerent snot, wanting worse than anything to get out of this damn truck. “Ohmigod!” she shouted, pointing out the windshield. “Quick, pull off the road!”
Mark hit the brakes in surprise, then veered into a small gravel pit before bringing the truck to a sliding stop and shutting off the engine. “What did you see?” he asked, looking around.
Olivia immediately undid her seat belt and got out. “A moose just crossed the road in front of us,” she said, pointing toward the trees when he also got out. “And where there’s one, there’s usually more. Hitting an animal that size would total your truck.”
“I didn’t see anything.” His complexion darkened, his anger returning as suddenly as it had left. “You just made that up,” he said, storming around the front of the truck. “What in hell is it with you women, anyway? You think you can just dump me like yesterday’s trash to go after some rich guy just because he’s got a career and drives a Porsche?”
“Hey, wait a minute.” Olivia started walking backward. “I’m not your girlfriend; I’m your boss.”
“Not anymore, you’re not, because I quit.”
Well, that took care of that little problem. Now she just had to deal with being in the middle of nowhere with this idiot. Growing somewhat alarmed when he continued advancing, Olivia weighed her chances of making a run for it over convincing him she was considering coming to the bunkhouse tonight.
“Wait,” she said, holding up her hand to stop him. “I . . . um, you have to give me time to consider your offer, Mark. I mean, I’m not opposed to getting together with you,” she said, matching him step for step when he didn’t stop. “It’s just that you caught me off guard earlier.”
He finally stopped and looked around the small gravel pit, then back at her, his eyes growing suspicious again. “So what say we get a little practice in right now, to help you decide?”
Was he for real?
Okay, maybe running would be wiser. Olivia bolted for the woods, figuring Mark would probably beat her in an open footrace down the road. Beside, maybe she could find a stick and beat some sense into the idiot.
Only he caught her before she made it ten feet. She shouted in surprise when he grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, and then yelped in pain when she stumbled to her knees and he landed on top of her.
For the love of God, this couldn’t be happening. He was just a kid!
But his grip was as strong as a man’s. Olivia tried shoving him away, but he stuck to her like glue; his fingers biting into her arms as he rolled her over to face him. The air left her lungs in a painful whoosh when he landed on top of her again, and she cried out when his mouth slammed against hers.
Okay, it was time to panic; they were in the middle of nowhere, she couldn’t seem to get control of the situation, and the idiot was flat-out attacking her! Olivia kicked at his legs and squirmed to push him off as she fought to breathe. Trying to jerk her hands free only ended up wrenching her wrist in his unbreakable grip, but she did manage to twist away from his punishing mouth.
“Mark! Stop this!” she cried. “You need to stop!”
“What in hell kind of camp doesn’t have girls?”
Olivia stopped struggling. Talking was good. If she could keep him talking, then maybe he’d calm down. “Th-there will be girls your age in town once college lets out,” she said, panting raggedly as his weight crushed her into the gravel.
“That’s more than two months away!”
Olivia shouted in outrage as she turned away from his descending mouth and put all her strength into bucking him off even as she drove her fist into his ribs. He reared up, his own shout ending on a strangled yelp as his weight suddenly lifted off her. Olivia rolled away, then stumbled to her feet, scrambling around Mark’s truck—only to run straight into another vehicle.
She stumbled back to her feet just as she heard Mark shout again and started running toward him when she saw a stranger drive his fist into Mark’s stomach. The boy hadn’t even doubled over when the man’s fist slammed into his jaw, tossing him into the air to land on the ground on his back, out cold.
“No!” Olivia cried, grabbing the stranger’s arm to stop him from going after Mark again. “Don’t hurt him anymore!”
The man shrugged her off and turned toward her, the dangerous look in his sharp green eyes making her take a step back. “Forgive me,” he said gutturally. “I was under the impression the bastard was attacking you.” He gestured toward Mark even as he gave a slight bow. “I will leave you to your little game, then,” he said, turning away and striding to his truck.
Olivia ran after him. “No, don’t leave! He was attacking me.”
He stopped so suddenly she bumped into him and would have fallen if he hadn’t grabbed her shoulders. And that’s when Olivia’s knees buckled, the magnitude of what had nearly happened turning her into a quivering blob of jelly.
Her rescuer swept her off her feet before she reached the ground. He carried her to a small mound of dirt at the entrance to the gravel pit and set her down, then shrugged out of his jacket and settled it over her trembling shoulders. But when he crouched down in front of her and started to reach toward her throbbing cheek, Olivia buried her face in her hands and burst into sobs.
“It’s okay. You’re safe now.”
“I can’t believe he a-attacked me. He . . . he’s just a kid.” She straightened to pull his jacket tightly around her as she took gulping breaths. “Oh God, I can’t breathe!”
“You’re safe now, madam.” He cupped her jaw in his broad hand, his penetrating gaze inspecting her face before coming to rest on her eyes. “You have my word: The bastard won’t ever hurt you again.”
Olivia leaned away from his touch and glanced toward Mark, trying to slow her breathing in an attempt to calm her racing heart. But finding that the two vehicles were blocking her view, she looked back at her rescuer. “He’s only a dumb kid, but I couldn’t stop him. H-he just exploded. I tried to be gentle but firm, but I . . . he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
She swiped at a tear running down her cheek. “I never should have hired him. If I’d listened to my gut and sent him packing the day he arrived, this wouldn’t have happened.” She wiped her eyes again, hoping a good dose of outrage would stop her from feeling like she’d just spent ten minutes in the spin cycle of a washing machine. “But not one other applicant looked as promising. Except that girl in Wyoming. She didn’t have any counselor experience, but I bet she wouldn’t have insisted I have sex with her—unless she’s gay.” Olivia covered her gasp with her hand. “Ohmigod, I can’t shut up!”
“Henry, come here,” her rescuer called over his shoulder.
The rear passenger door of the pearl-white SUV opened and a young boy got out. Olivia immediately tried to stand up, not wanting the child to see her like this, but the gentleman set his large hand on her shoulder. “Come here, son. This lady has just had a fright, Henry, and she needs comforting,” he said, gesturing at Olivia. “Sit here and hold Miss . . . what’s your name?” he asked, giving her a gentle smile.
She didn’t know if it was his smile that did it, or the fact that she needed to pull herself together for the sake of the child, but Olivia took a shuddering breath and released her death grip on his jacket. “My name’s Olivia,” she told the boy—only to gasp. “You’re Henry! And Mr. Oceanus,” she cried, looking at the man. “You’re arriving today!” She hid her face in her hands again, utterly humiliated. “Ohmigod, this is terrible. You shouldn’t see me like this.”
But when a small arm settled over her shoulders—the young hand at the end of that arm gently patting her—Olivia quietly started sobbing again.
That is, until she realized Mr. Oceanus was no longer crouched in front of her.
Olivia shot out from under Henry’s comforting arm. “No, you can’t hurt him!” she shouted, rounding the vehicles in time to see Mr. Oceanus hauling Mark to his feet.
“He’s just a dumb kid.”
“Go sit in my truck, Olivia. I merely intend to have a little discussion with him.”
“Not in front of your son, you’re not,” she said, grabbing his arm. “Is this the sort of man you want Henry to see you as?”
Still holding Mark by the scruff of his neck, Maximilian Oceanus turned his lethal green eyes on her. “If you mean do I want him to see me as the sort of man who won’t let a bastard get away with brutalizing a woman, then yes.”
“And just what are you teaching him by beating up a defenseless kid?”
“I would hope I’m teaching the boy that he has a duty to rescue a woman who’s being attacked.”
“But you did that already,” she said, keeping her voice low so Henry wouldn’t hear them. Good Lord, Trace Huntsman hadn’t been kidding when he’d told Olivia that his friend didn’t have a clue how to deal with his newly discovered son. “Henry saw you rescuing me, but it’s equally important that he also sees you acting in a civilized manner toward my assailant.”
He arched a brow. “Would you prefer I let Henry watch you make this bastard wish he’d never been born?”
“I’m not going to beat up Mark!” Only Olivia wondered if that wasn’t amusement making his eyes so vividly green now. “Look, Mr. Oceanus, this—”
“I prefer you call me Mac. And if by acting civilized in front of my son you are suggesting I do nothing, then I suggest you and Henry go for a little walk. You have my word: I will wait until you’re out of sight to have my little discussion.”
That had to be amusement, because he couldn’t possibly be serious.
Mark finally stirred, letting out a dazed groan as he started to struggle against the iron fist holding him upright by the throat. And even though Olivia knew firsthand how strong Mark was, her rescuer didn’t even acknowledge the boy’s struggles other than to send Mark into a fit of choking coughs by tightening his fingers.
“Please let him go, Mac,” she pleaded, her shoulders slumping as she pulled his jacket tightly around her. “I—I just want to meet my daughter’s bus at the turnoff and go home before I fall down.”
The sudden concern in his eyes disappeared the moment he looked back at Mark. “If I catch you within fifty miles of Spellbound Falls after sunset today, I will kill you. Understand?” he said ever so softly. He twisted the boy to face her. “But first you will apologize.”
His eyes nearly popping out of his beet-red face, Mark made a strangled sound and tried to nod. “I . . . I’m sorry,” he choked out.
Mac released him so suddenly that Mark fell into a listless heap on the ground, and Olivia didn’t even have time to gasp before her rescuer lifted her into his arms.
“Henry, open the front door of our truck,” he said, striding to the SUV and setting her inside. He reached in his pants pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. “Your lip is bleeding,” he said, handing it to her. “Where is the turnoff you spoke of? You said you wish to meet your daughter.”
She took the handkerchief from him and shakily dabbed at her mouth. “It . . . it’s another couple of miles up the road.”
He nodded and closed the door, then opened the door behind her. “Get in and buckle up, son,” he said, closing the door once Henry climbed in.
But instead of walking around to the driver’s side, he strode back around Mark’s truck. Olivia started to go after him, but the door wouldn’t open even after she pushed all the buttons on the handle. She was just about to start pounding on the buttons when a small, surprisingly firm hand clasped her shoulder.
“Father will be civilized,” Henry said, giving her a nod when she turned to him. “I believe he’s just making sure the bastard understood his instructions.”
“You heard what we were saying?”
“I have very good hearing.” He patted her shoulder. “You can get over your fright now, Olivia; Father won’t let that bastard hurt you again.”
She twisted around in her seat. “Henry, you can’t keep calling him a bastard; it’s a very bad word.”
His eyes—as deeply green as those of the man who’d sired him—hardened in an almost mirror image of his father’s. “Is it not appropriate to use a bad word when referring to a bad person?”
Good Lord, he even talked like his father!
But Trace Huntsman, a military buddy of Olivia’s late husband who lived several hours away down on the coast, had told her that Henry had come to live with Mac only a few months ago, after the child’s mother had died. And that up until then the two had never met, as Mac hadn’t even known Henry existed.
“How come you call him Father instead of Dad?” Olivia asked.
Henry’s tiny brows knitted into a frown. “Because that’s what he is. He calls me son and I call him Father.” His frown deepened even as his face reddened. “And please forgive me, for I believe I’m supposed to call you madam, not Olivia. My mama would be quite upset with me if she knew I was calling a lady by her Christian name.”
Olivia smiled warmly. “And what’s your mama’s name?”
“Cordelia. But when Father speaks of her, he calls her Delia. My last name used to be Penhope, but now it’s Oceanus.” He went back to frowning again. “Only Father is also thinking of changing my first name. I suggested we might change it to Jack or even Jake, only he said those names aren’t noble enough.”
“But what’s wrong with Henry?”
The boy shrugged. “Father says Henry is too English.”
“It’s too—” Olivia spun toward the sound of a truck door slamming and saw Mark push down the locks before blindly fumbling with the ignition as he watched Mac through the windshield—who was standing a few paces away, his arms folded over his chest, staring back at him. The pickup started and the tires spun on the loose gravel as Mark sped onto the road without even checking for oncoming traffic.
“See, I told you Father would be civilized,” Henry said, giving her shoulder one last pat before he hopped in his seat and fastened his seat belt. “He didn’t kill the bastard even if he did deserve to die.”
Despite meeting Mac and Henry less than thirty minutes ago, Olivia had a feeling they were going to be a tad more of a bother than merely setting two more places at the table. For as precocious and direct as Henry was, his father was even scarier. Maximilian Oceanus was an undeniably large, imposing figure; the sort of man who not only would stand out in a crowd but likely command it. He had to be at least six feet four inches tall, his shoulders filled a good deal of the front seat of his full-sized SUV, and he had picked her up—twice—as effortlessly as if he’d been handling a child. But it was when he looked directly at her with those intense green eyes of his that Olivia felt her world tilt off center. Kind of like when a person stood in a receding wave on a flat sandy beach and had the illusion of being sucked out to sea even while standing perfectly still.
She never should have let Eileen talk her into breaking her rule of no private parenting sessions. She should have at least recognized what she was getting herself into when Mac had summarily dismissed her repeatedly gentle but firm refusals to let him come to Inglenook three weeks early—much the same way Mark had dismissed them this afternoon. Only whereas Mark had attacked her, Mac had gotten his way using good old-fashioned bribery. Did anyone listen to her? Honest to God, she needed to throw gentle out the window and put a lot more emphasis on firm—preferably while she was holding a baseball bat.
Which meant she should probably start working out and take up running again, considering how easily Mark had overpowered her, and sign up for one of Inglenook’s meditation classes, considering her emotional breakdown afterward. She was still shaking uncontrollably and fighting back tears, which was why she’d jumped out of the truck the moment they reached the turnoff, before she humiliated herself again.
Only Henry had shot out of the truck right behind her. At first it was obvious he’d felt duty bound to continue comforting her, but once Olivia had assured him she was feeling much better, the boy had taken off to explore the nearby woods instead.
That is, after he’d dutifully run back and asked his father’s permission.
Mac had also gotten out of the truck but had merely leaned against the front fender, his feet crossed at the ankles and his arms folded on his chest, apparently content to let his son deal with the welling tears he’d seen in her eyes. She was still wearing his leather jacket, and should probably give it back since he was standing in the cool March breeze in only his shirt, but the warm security of its weight surrounding her simply felt too wonderful to relinquish.
She buried her hands in its roomy pockets with a heavy sigh. Now what was she supposed to do? Without Mark, there was no way she could get Inglenook fully functional in three weeks. And even though her father-in-law would insist on helping, Olivia would have to insist—likely while holding that baseball bat—that she wasn’t letting John put his recently replaced knee at risk. Her mother-in-law wouldn’t be much help, either, as Eileen already had a full plate, what with trying to finish her dissertation while developing several new programs for this summer’s sessions, finding and then training a couple of interns to implement those programs, and working with their cook on a new all-organic menu for this year.
Dammit, what in hell did she know about plumbing in a water heater?
Assuming the heater wasn’t sitting in the ditch between here and home, or still in the back of Mark’s truck on its way out of town before sunset. Olivia slowly started walking back toward the main road but picked up her pace when she realized she couldn’t see Henry anywhere. “Henry?” she called out, scanning the woods on both sides of the road. “Henry, where did you go?”
“He’s fine, Olivia,” Mac said, straightening away from the fender. “He climbed down to the brook and is throwing rocks.”
“There are some deep pools in that brook,” she said, trying to pierce the dense woods. “And there’s still snow in places. He could slip and fall in, or wander off and get lost. Little boys have a tendency to follow anything that catches their interest without realizing how far they’re going.”
“He may get wet, but he won’t drown,” Mac said. He pointed downstream of the bridge that sat a hundred yards up from the entrance of the turnoff. “And I will call him back if he wanders too far. Is it not my son’s job to explore the world around him, and my job merely to keep him safe while he does?” He frowned. “At least that’s what I’ve surmised from the books I’ve been reading.”
Olivia couldn’t help but smile. “You’ve been reading books on parenting?”
Instead of returning her smile, his frown deepened. “At least a dozen—only I’ve discovered a good many of them contradict each other, and one or two had some rather disturbing notions about discipline.”
“Parenting is more of a hands-on, trial-by-fire sort of thing, Mr. Oceanus. And though several people have tried, no one’s been able to write a definitive book on child rearing because humans are not one size fits all.”
Good Lord; there she went sounding like Eileen again.
He finally found a smile. “So I have your permission to ignore everything those books said, Mrs. Baldwin?”
Oh yeah, his eyes definitely turned a deep vivid green when he was amused. “Actually, you have my permission to throw them away. And please, call me Olivia.”
Up went one of his brows. “Forgive me; you led me to believe we were no longer on a first-name basis.”
“My mistake . . . Mac.” She arched a brow right back at him. “Do you know where your son is right now?”
“Just downstream, crossing the brook on a fallen log.”
Olivia turned, trying to locate Henry. “Where? I don’t see him.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing I have very good eyesight as well as exceptional hearing. He’s just reached the end of his courage and is heading back toward us.”
“Speaking of good hearing, apparently your son has inherited yours. You’re going to have to watch what you say around him, Mac. He kept calling Mark a bastard.”
“Is that not the appropriate term?”
“Not for a six-year-old boy, it’s not.” When she saw the sparkle leave his eyes, Olivia wondered if she’d ever learn to read this man. “I don’t think you understand what Henry’s doing. When Trace first called me, he said that in the course of only a few months your son’s mother died and he came to live with you, even though the two of you had never met. Is that correct?”
Mac silently nodded.
“Well, coming to live with a complete stranger after suffering such a loss has been far more traumatic for Henry than for you,” she said softly. “And from what I’ve seen in the last half hour, your son is trying very hard to be what he thinks you want him to be. Henry’s like a sponge soaking you up: emulating your mannerisms, your language, and how you treat people.” She smiled, gesturing at the road she’d been pacing. “Heck, he even walks like you.”
Still unable to read his expression, Olivia widened her smile. “You have a rather direct stride, Mac. You want to see what it looks like sometime, just watch Henry.”
“Are you saying I should discourage him from emulating me?”
“No. That’s a good thing. It means Henry is looking to you as a role model.” She shoved her hands in the jacket pockets again. “You really should be talking to my mother-in-law about this; Eileen’s the expert. I’m just trying to point out that when you call someone a bastard, even if he is one, Henry’s going to call him one, too. And if you beat up that bastard, even if he deserves it, Henry’s going to beat up any kid his young mind believes might deserve it. So I’m only suggesting that you be aware of what you say and do in front of him. All children are highly impressionable, but Henry’s even more so, because not only is he trying to figure out exactly where he fits in your life, he’s desperately trying to find his place in your heart.”
Mac unfolded his arms to shove his hands into his pants pockets and turned to face the woods. “I have no business being anyone’s role model, especially not an impressionable young child’s.” He glanced over his shoulder at her, then back toward the brook. “I am the worst son a man could have, and there’s a very good chance I will be an even worse father.”
“You already are a wonderful father, Mac.”
“How can you possibly say that?” he asked without looking at her. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know how completely focused you are on Henry. And your insisting on coming to Inglenook early and then staying through the entire summer certainly proves how determined you are.” She started walking toward the main road when she heard the school bus approaching, but stopped and turned with a smile. “Parenting’s not about you versus Henry, Mac; it’s about you and Henry versus the world.”
For the first time in nearly three months—since a mysterious, overly intelligent, pint-sized person had come to live with him—Mac felt a glimmer of hope that he might actually survive this. He hadn’t even made it to Inglenook yet and already he was seeing his son in a whole new light, the most surprising revelation being that Henry was soaking up everything he said and did like a sponge. Which, now that he thought about it, was frighteningly true; within days of their tumultuous meeting, Henry had started mimicking him to the point that Mac realized he could be looking in a thirty-year-old mirror from when he was six. But maybe the most insightful—and reassuring—thing Olivia had said was that he and Henry were on this journey together.
And that simple notion intrigued him as much as the woman who’d said it did.
Which could be a problem. He was here to learn how to become a good father, and he really didn’t need the distraction of finding himself attracted to the teacher, no matter how beautiful she might be, or how warm and inviting her smile was, or how compassionate she was to a fault. Damnation, he’d didn’t know which had angered him more: that she would have been raped if he hadn’t happened along, or that she had in turn protected the bastard.
“It’s a good thing we were driving by when the lady was being attacked, wasn’t it, Father?” Henry said. “It’s too bad she wouldn’t allow you to kill the bastard, though, because I think he deserved it. Your letting him go might lead him to believe he can attack another woman and get away with it again.”
Mac looked down to find his son standing beside him, the child’s arms crossed over his chest and his feet planted to relax back on his hips as he watched Olivia walk across the main road in front of the stopped school bus. Sweet Prometheus, how could the boy possibly know his very thoughts?
Mac unfolded his arms and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Apparentlybastard is an inappropriate term for a six-year-old to use, son. So maybe you should cease saying it until you’re older.”
“How much older?” Henry asked, also shoving his hands into his trouser pockets as he frowned up at Mac. “Can I say it when I’m ten? Or fifteen? Or do I have to wait until I’m your age?”
The boy always took everything so literally! And if Henry asked one question he asked a hundred; every day, morning until night, one right after another. The problem was, Mac didn’t have a clue how to answer him half the time. How in hell was he supposed to know how old a person should be to use certain words? As far as he was concerned, if the term fit it was permissible at any age.
“Maybe that’s a question you should ask Olivia.”
“And do I call her Olivia when I ask, or madam?”
Mac dropped his head in defeat. “You might wish to ask her that, too. And Henry, don’t mention to her daughter what happened today,” he said when he saw Olivia walking back across the road holding the hand of a girl who appeared to be a year or two older than Henry. “Olivia might not want her to know for fear of worrying her. Now go put your things behind your seat to make a place for her to sit,” he instructed, looking toward the main road as Henry ran to the truck.
The two women could have been twins but for their ages, the younger Baldwin having wavy brown hair that fell over her shoulders to frame an angelic face, an effortless smile, and an energized beauty that seemed to swirl around her like liquid sunshine—exactly like her mother.
Mac shuddered, thanking the gods he’d sired a son, knowing damn well he would have worried himself into an early grave if he’d had a daughter.
The young girl even took on Olivia’s same expression of concern when she spotted her mother’s swollen lip and puffy eyes. She stopped to ask a question once they reached the dirt road and the school bus started off again, and Mac saw Olivia’s smile widen as she made a gesture, obviously concocting some tale to explain her injury. Only it appeared the young girl wasn’t sure if she believed her, judging by her frown. She then tugged on the unfamiliar jacket her mother was wearing over her own and asked another question.
Mac watched Olivia glance guiltily toward him as she started unzipping it. But her daughter stopped her by grabbing her hand and pushing up the sleeve, exposing a bruise on Olivia’s wrist that had darkened enough for Mac to see from where he was standing.
“Sophie looks just like her mother,” Henry said, having come back from his chore to once again stand with his hands in his trouser pockets.
“Sophie?” Mac repeated, unable to remember Olivia mentioning her daughter by name. Probably because he’d been too angry that he’d been forced to release the bastard who’d brutalized her.
“Didn’t you hear Olivia tell me her daughter’s name is Sophie, and that she’s eight years old and in the second grade?” Henry glanced up at him then looked back at the women. “Even from here I can see they have the same colored eyes as each other, just like you and I do. Olivia’s eyes remind me of cinnamon, which is my favorite spice, and I bet Sophie’s are the same.” He suddenly frowned. “I don’t think I would have let the bast—that man drive away if I had caught him hurting Sophie.” He suddenly grinned menacingly. “I would have at least sent him home carrying his stones in his pocket.”
Mac broke out in a sweat. Henry wasn’t merely walking and talking like him; his son even thought like he did!
How could he have forgotten that people became who they lived with?
Especially impressionable young children.
There were a lot of things he’d forgotten, apparently, about the inherent nature of man—which, considering his line of work, could be hazardous. But indulging in the more pleasurable aspects of human desires for the greater part of his adult life, Mac realized he had obviously dismissed as unimportant many of the more mundane laws governing the universe.
Nothing like having a son to put everything into perspective.
Yes, for as much as he hadn’t wanted to travel even this short a distance from the ocean, bringing Henry to Inglenook just might prove to be one of the wisest decisions he’d made in several centuries.
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