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F O R E V E R, W I T H Y O U
(THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 3)
S O P H I E L O V E
A lifelong fan of the romance genre, Sophie Love is thrilled to release her debut romance series, which begins with FOR NOW AND FOREVER (THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 1)
Sophie would love to hear from you, so please visit www.sophieloveauthor.com to email her, to join the mailing list, to receive free ebooks, to hear the latest news, and to stay in touch!
Copyright © 2016 by Sophie Love. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright EpicStockMedia, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY SOPHIE LOVE
THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR
FOR NOW AND FOREVER (Book #1)
FOREVER AND FOR ALWAYS (Book #2)
FOREVER, WITH YOU (Book #3)
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
Emily looked down at the beautiful girl sleeping peacefully in Daniel’s bed. Her blond hair was splayed across the white pillow. Her features were unmistakably Daniel’s. She looked angelic.
It was dark outside, the only light in the room a moonbeam creeping through the curtains, turning the room a muted blue. Emily had lost track of the time but judging by the exhaustion she felt deep in her bones it was close to dawn.
She heard the door creak open and glanced over her shoulder to see Daniel standing in the crack, warm light from the carriage house’s fireplace illuminating his silhouette. Just the sight of him made her heart skip a beat. He was like a mirage, like a soldier returned home from war.
“She’s still sleeping?” he whispered.
Emily nodded. Even though he was back and standing in front of her after a six-week absence, Emily still couldn’t quite believe it, couldn’t fully let her guard down. It was as though she were anticipating the moment he announced that he was leaving once more, that he was sweeping Chantelle out of her life just as swiftly as he’d brought her into it.
They left the room together, closing the door quietly in order not to wake the sleeping child.
“It must have been a long drive from Tennessee,” Emily said, hearing how stilted her voice was, how unnatural she suddenly felt in Daniel’s company. “You must be exhausted.”
“I think we all are,” Daniel replied, acknowledging in one statement the ordeal he had put her through.
As they sat together at the table, Daniel looked at Emily intently, an earnest expression in his eyes.
“Emily,” he began, his voice cracking immediately, “I don’t know how to say this, how to get the words out. You know I struggle with that sort of thing.”
He smiled weakly. Emily returned the smile but felt her heart hammering with anguish. Was it coming? Was he announcing his and Chantelle’s departure? Had he just come back to her to tell her to her face that it was over? She felt tears begin to swim in her eyes. Daniel reached across the table and patted her hand. The gesture was all it took to make the tears she was trying to hold back flood from her eyes, down her cheeks, and plop onto the table top.
“I am so sorry,” Daniel said. “It’s not enough, I know, but it’s all I’ve got, Emily. I am so sorry about what I put you through. About running off like that.”
Emily stammered, surprised that the words she’d been braced for hadn’t come.
“But you did the right thing,” she said. “You went to your daughter. You accepted your responsibility. I wouldn’t have expected any different.”
Now it was Daniel’s turn to look confused, as though the words he was expecting from her had not been uttered. “But I left you,” he said.
“I know,” Emily replied, feeling a stab of pain in her heart that hurt as keenly as it had the moment he’d first left. “And it hurt, I won’t lie. But what you did, that makes you a good man in my eyes.” Finally, she could see through her tears. “You rose to the occasion. You became a father. Do you really think I would hold that against you?”
“I… I don’t know,” Daniel said with a gasp.
He was wearing an expression Emily had never seen on his face before. It was a look of utter relief. She realized then that he had been expecting her to be mad at him, to unleash a torrent of anger at him. But Emily had never been mad, she had just been terrified that there would be no way the two of them could forge a life together now that Daniel had a daughter to care for.
Now it was Emily’s turn to comfort him, to make it clear that he need not carry any guilt over his actions. She squeezed his hand.
“I’m happy,” she said, smiling in spite of the tear tracks on her cheeks. “I’m more than happy, I’m overjoyed. I never thought this could be a possibility. That you would bring her home with you. Daniel, I couldn’t be any happier at this moment.”
Daniel’s face burst into a grin. He stood from the table in a rush and swooped Emily off her seat and into his arms. He kissed her face, her neck, as though trying to kiss away the tears he’d caused to fall. Emily felt her whole body relax, all the tension melting away from her. Her body had lain dormant for the last six weeks, and now here was Daniel awakening all those parts of her that had been left fallow. She kissed him back, wantonly, with intensifying passion. He was her Daniel, with the same woodsy smell of forest and fresh air, with his rough hands running over her body, with her fingers twisting into his messy hair. He tasted of Daniel, of mint and tea, a taste that worked like Pavlov’s bell in arousing Emily.
When he pulled out of the kiss, Emily felt the enormous absence.
“We can’t,” he said quietly. “Not here. Not with Chantelle sleeping.”
Emily nodded, though her lips were tingling with desire. Daniel was right. They needed to be sensible, to be grown-ups. They had a responsibility now to do the best for the girl. She would have to come first, always.
“Can you hold me?” Emily said.
Daniel gazed at her, and she recognized the look of adoration in his eyes. She had missed that look so much, and yet it seemed like the six weeks away from her had strengthened it more. Emily had never been looked at in that way, and it made her heart skip a beat.
She stood, taking Daniel’s hand, and led him to the couch. Together they sank down onto it, the touch of the green velvet reminding Emily at once of the time they’d made love here beside the fireplace. As Daniel wrapped his arms around her she felt as content as she had that night, listening to his heartbeat, breathing in his scent. There was nowhere else she would want to be right now than here, with Daniel, her Daniel.
“I missed you,” she heard Daniel say. “So much.”
Somehow, with them snuggling in this position, without eye contact, Emily found it easier to discuss her feelings. “If you missed me so much, you could have called.”
She heard Daniel sigh.
“It was so intense what was going on there I couldn’t cope with the thought of you giving up on me. If I had called you, you might have confirmed my worst fears, you know? The only way I got through that whole ordeal was by holding onto the hope that you’d still be here for me when I returned.”
Emily swallowed. It hurt to hear him speak this way, but his honesty was so welcome. She knew this whole thing had been incredibly difficult for him and that she would need to be patient. But at the same time, she had gone through an ordeal as well. Six long weeks without word, waiting and wondering what might happen when Daniel returned, or if he would return at all. It hadn’t even occurred to her that he’d bring his daughter home with him. Now she had to begin to imagine in what ways their lives—and their relationship— would change now that they had a child to care for. They were both standing on new, unsteady ground.
“It sounds like you didn’t have much faith in me,” Emily said quietly.
Daniel fell silent. Then his hand began to stroke her hair. “I know,” he said. “I should have trusted you more.”
Emily sighed deeply. For now that was all she needed to hear; affirmation that it was his lack of trust in her that had turned a difficult situation into something far harder than it needed to be.
“What was it like?” Emily asked, curious, but also in an attempt to get Daniel to open up, to help him not suffer in silence. “Your time in Tennessee, I mean.”
Daniel took a deep breath. “I was staying in a motel. I’d visit Chantelle every day, just to try to shield her, just to be a warm, friendly face. They were living with Sheila’s uncle. There was literally nothing there for a child.” His voice became strained. “Chantelle mainly kept out of the way. She’d learned not to bother either of them.”
Emily’s heart clenched. “Did Chantelle see them using drugs?”
“I don’t think so,” came Daniel’s reply. “Sheila’s living a life of complete disarray but she’s not a monster. She cares about Chantelle, I can tell. But not enough to go to rehab.”
“You tried to get her to go?”
Emily heard Daniel suck air between his teeth.
“Every single day,” he said wearily. “I said I’d pay. I said I’d find them a place so they didn’t have to live with the uncle anymore.” In Daniel’s voice, Emily heard his heartbreak, his hopelessness at the wretched state of his daughter’s life. It sounded unbearable. “But you can’t force someone to change if they’re not ready. Eventually, Sheila accepted that Chantelle would be better off with me.”
“Why didn’t she tell you she was pregnant?” Emily asked.
Daniel laughed sadly. “She thought I would be a bad father.”
Emily couldn’t imagine the sort of man Daniel must have once been to make someone think such a thing. To her, Daniel would be the perfect father. She knew he’d had a bad-boy streak, a rebellious few youthful years, but she was certain that couldn’t have been the real reason Sheila had hidden her pregnancy from him, or kept the existence of their daughter a secret. It was an excuse, a lie uttered by a drug user that shifted blame away from their own failures.
“You don’t believe that, do you?” Emily asked.
She felt Daniel’s hand begin stroking her head again. “I don’t know how I would have behaved six years ago when she was born. Or even when Sheila was pregnant. I wasn’t exactly the committed type. I might have run.”
Emily twisted then so that she was facing Daniel, and wrapped her arms around his neck. “No, you wouldn’t have,” she implored him. “You would have become a father to that little girl just like you’re doing now. You would have been a good man, done the right thing.”
Daniel kissed her gently. “Thank you for saying that,” he said, though his tone betrayed his uncertainty.
Emily snuggled back into him, her grip tightening. She didn’t want to see him like this, in pain, filled with self-doubt. He seemed on edge, Emily thought, and wondered if he was struggling with the readjustment of being home, of suddenly being a father. Daniel must have been so focused on Chantelle that he had neglected to pay attention to his own emotions, and it was only now, in the warm, cozy, safe carriage house, that he was able to give himself the space to feel.
“I’m here for you,” she said, gently stroking his chest with her hand. “Always.”
Daniel sighed deeply. “Thank you. That’s all I can say.”
Emily knew it came from his heart. Thank you was certainly enough for her for now. She sunk against him and listened to the sound of his breathing slowing as he fell into a slumber. Shortly after, she felt sleep take hold of her too.
They were awoken abruptly by the sound of Chantelle stirring in bed in the room next door. Emily and Daniel leapt up from the couch, disoriented by the sudden brightness in the room. In the fireplace, embers still smoldered.
A moment later, the bedroom door opened a sliver.
“Chantelle?” Daniel said. “You can come out. Don’t be shy.”
The door slowly opened fully. Chantelle stood there, wearing one of Daniel’s oversized shirts, her blond hair tangled across her face. Though she didn’t share Daniel’s dark hair or olive skin, their resemblance was irrefutable. Especially their eyes. They both had the same shade of piercing blue irises.
“Good morning,” Emily said, realizing how stiff she was from the few hours of sleep she and Daniel had had on the couch. “Do you want me to make you some breakfast?”
Chantelle scratched her chin and looked shyly at Daniel. He nodded his encouragement, signaling to her that it was okay to use her voice here, that she wouldn’t be shouted down or called a nuisance in this place.
“Uh-huh,” Chantelle said in a timid voice.
“What do you like?” Emily asked. “I could do pancakes, toast, eggs. Or do you prefer cereal?”
Chantelle’s eyes widened with astonishment and Emily realized with a painful pang that she’d probably never been given a choice before. Perhaps she hadn’t even been given breakfast.
“I’d like pancakes,” Emily said. “What about you, Chantelle?”
“Pancakes,” she repeated.
“Hey, you know what?” Emily added. “We could go up to the big house and have breakfast there. I have blueberries in my fridge so I could put those in the pancakes. What do you think, Chantelle? Would you like to see the big house?”
This time Chantelle began nodding with excitement. Daniel looked relieved that Emily had taken the lead this morning. Emily could tell how bemused he was by the whole thing just by his facial expressions.
“Hey,” she suggested softly, trying not to tread on his toes. “Why don’t you go help Chantelle get dressed?”
He nodded hurriedly, as though slightly embarrassed that it hadn’t even crossed his mind to do so, then led the little girl in a stilted manner to the bedroom to change. Emily watched them go, noting how uncomfortable Daniel seemed by this simple task of fatherhood. She wondered whether part of the difficulties he’d experienced while in Tennessee had also been in the adjustment to the role of a father, whether he’d been so preoccupied with the practical matters—housing, schooling, feeding—that he’d not yet had a chance to focus on the fact he now had to be a dad.
Once everyone was ready, they left the carriage house and went up the gravel drive toward the B&B. Chantelle kicked the little stones along the driveway, laughing at the noises she could make with her shoes. The whole way she clung to Daniel’s hand, though there was nothing comfortable about the gesture in either of them. Daniel seemed stiff and awkward, like he was desperately trying not to do anything wrong or break the fragile creature now entrusted into his care. Chantelle, on the other hand, looked desperate, as though she never wanted to lose hold of Daniel, as if doing so would cause her enormous grief.
Emily wasn’t entirely sure what the best course of action was. Hesitantly, she took the little girl’s other hand in hers and was pleased and relieved to find that Chantelle didn’t flinch or pull away. Daniel, too, seemed much more comfortable with Emily’s involvement and looked more natural. In turn, Chantelle’s clutching on his arm loosened.
Hand in hand, the three of them walked up the porch steps to the front door, and Emily led them inside.
Chantelle hovered on the doorstep, as though unsure whether she belonged in such a place. She looked back to Daniel for encouragement. He smiled gently and nodded. Hesitantly, Chantelle stepped inside and Emily felt her heart hitch with emotion. She fought back tears.
Immediately, Emily got the sense that Chantelle was astonished by the house she was now standing in. She glanced all around her, at the large, wide staircase with its polished banisters and cream carpeting, at the chandelier and the huge antique reception desk that had been purchased from Rico’s. She even seemed amazed by the artwork and photographs in the hallway. The only thing Emily could compare it to was a child stepping into Santa’s house for the first time.
Emily showed her into the living room and Chantelle made a small gasping noise at the sight of the piano.
“You can play it if you want,” Emily encouraged her.
Chantelle didn’t need telling twice. She went straight to the antique piano, which sat in the alcove of the bay window, and began plunking keys.
Emily smiled at Daniel. “I wonder if we have a budding musician on our hands.”
Daniel watched Chantelle almost with a look of curiosity, like he couldn’t quite believe she existed. Emily wondered whether he’d had any contact with children before her at all. She herself had babysat Ben’s nieces on countless occasions so at least had some semblance of knowledge. Daniel, on the other hand, looked entirely out of his depth.
Just then, Chantelle stopped playing. The noise of her discordant playing had alerted the dogs that someone had returned home, and they’d begun to bark from the utility room.
“Do you like dogs?” Emily asked Chantelle, deciding she’d need to take the lead on this.
Chantelle nodded enthusiastically.
“I have two,” Emily continued. “Rain is the puppy and Mogsy is his mom. Do you want to meet them?”
Chantelle’s grin widened.
As Emily led her into the corridor, she felt Daniel’s hand on her arm.
“Is that a good idea?” he asked in a hushed whisper as they headed toward the kitchen. “They won’t scare her? Bite her?”
“Of course not,” Emily reassured him.
“But you hear about dogs mauling kids all the time,” he muttered.
Emily rolled her eyes. “This is Mogsy and Rain, remember? They’re the silliest, dopiest dogs in the world.”
They’d reached the kitchen and Emily gestured for Chantelle to head toward the utility room. The second she opened the door the dogs were jumping up and yapping away at them. Daniel looked beyond tense as Rain ran in circles around Chantelle while Mogsy pawed at her sweater and tried to lick her. But Chantelle was having the time of her life. She dissolved into a fit of giggles.
Daniel’s eyes widened in surprise. Emily knew instinctively that this was the first time he’d heard Chantelle express so much happiness.
“I think they like you,” Emily said to Chantelle with a smile. “We can take them outside to play if you’d like.”
Chantelle looked up at her with her huge blue eyes. She looked as happy as a kid on Christmas Day.
“Really?” she stammered. “Can I?”
Emily nodded. “Sure.” She handed Chantelle some dog toys. “I’ll watch you all from the window.”
She opened up the back door that led to the backyard and the dogs bounded out. Chantelle hovered a moment as though reticent to step out alone, to make her first small step of independence. But finally she found her confidence, stepped outside, and threw a ball for the dogs to fetch.
When Emily walked back into the kitchen, Daniel was putting on a fresh pot of coffee.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently.
Daniel nodded. “I’m not used to this. My overwhelming concern is that no harm comes to her. I just want to wrap her up in cotton wool.”
“Of course you do,” Emily replied. “But you need to let her have some independence.”
Daniel sighed. “How come you’re such a natural at this?”
Emily shrugged. “I don’t think I am. I’m just playing it by ear. She’s perfectly safe out there as long as we keep an eye on her.”
She leaned against the kitchen sink and looked out the large window to the backyard, where Chantelle was running around, the dogs chasing her with excitement. But as Emily watched, she was suddenly struck by how similar Chantelle looked to Charlotte at that age. The similarities were uncanny, almost eerie. The sight triggered another one of Emily’s lost memories to resurface. She’d had many of these spontaneously recovered memories since moving to the house in Sunset Harbor, and though the way they popped into her mind so abruptly startled her, she cherished each and every one. They were like puzzle pieces, each one helping her to piece together an image of her dad and the life they’d shared before his disappearance.
In this memory, Emily remembered having a horrible fever, perhaps even the flu. It was just the three of them again because Mom hadn’t wanted to come to Sunset Harbor for the long weekend break, and so her father was doing his best to care for her. She remembered that one of Dad’s friends had brought their dogs over and that Charlotte was allowed to play with them, but Emily was too ill and had to stay inside. She’d been so upset about missing out on the dogs that her dad had held her up to the window—the kitchen window she was now gazing out of—in order to watch.
Emily drew back from the window and gasped. She discovered that her cheeks were wet, that she’d been crying as she’d watched Chantelle morph into Charlotte. Not for the first time, Emily had a strong sensation that Charlotte’s spirit was communicating with her, that she was somehow living within Chantelle and giving Emily a sign.
Just then, Daniel came up to her from behind and wrapped his arms around her. He was a welcome distraction, so she sunk her head back until it was resting on his chest.
“What’s wrong?” he asked gently, his voice soothing.
He must have seen the tears falling from her eyes. Emily shook her head. She didn’t want to tell Daniel about her flashback, or how she felt like Charlotte’s spirit was in Chantelle; she didn’t know how he would take it.
“Just a memory,” she said.
Daniel held her tightly, rocking her from side to side. How he handled Emily in these strange moments seemed so different from how he handled Chantelle. He was on familiar ground with Emily, and she could tell how much more confident he was with her in comparison to his daughter. She’d leaned on him so many times. Now it was her turn to give him someone to lean on.
“It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?” she said, finally, turning to face him.
Daniel nodded, his expression anguished. “I don’t even know where to begin. I need to enroll her at school for starters. The next semester starts on Wednesday. Then I’ve got to work out sleeping arrangements.”
“You’ll ruin your back if you keep sleeping on that fold-out couch,” Emily agreed. Then she was hit with a moment of inspiration. “Move in here.”
Daniel faltered for a moment. “You don’t mean that. You’ve got so much going on there’s no way you can accommodate us.”
“I want you to,” Emily insisted. “I want Chantelle to have space and her own room.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Daniel said, still resisting.
“And you don’t have to be alone. I’m here for you. It makes so much more sense than to have you both squashed up in the carriage house.” She held onto him tightly.
“But you can’t afford to give up one of the guest rooms, can you?”
Emily smiled. “Remember when we talked about turning the carriage house into its own vacation suite, separate from the B&B? Well, wouldn’t now be the perfect time? Chantelle can have the room next to the master bedroom so she’ll be close to us. She can have her own key so that it’s safe. Then you can renovate the carriage house in time for Thanksgiving. I’m sure it will be a great draw for customers.”
Daniel gave Emily a worried expression. She wasn’t sure where his reticence was coming from. Was the idea of living with her so horrible that he’d prefer to make do in the cramped carriage house instead?
But finally he nodded. “You’re right. The carriage house isn’t suitable for a kid.”
“You’ll move in?” Emily said, her eyebrows rising with excitement.
Daniel smiled. “We’ll move in.”
Emily threw her arms around him and felt his arms tightening against her.
“But I swear to find a way to make money so I can support us,” Daniel said.
“We’ll think about that another time,” Emily said. She was too overwhelmed with joy to think about such details. All that mattered in that moment was that Daniel was going to move in with her, that they had a child to love and care for. They were going to be a family and Emily couldn’t be happier.
Then she felt his warm breath as he whispered in her ear. “Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you.”
“So how would you like this to be your bedroom?” Emily asked.
She was standing with Chantelle in the doorway of one of the loveliest rooms in the whole B&B. Daniel hovered behind them.
Emily watched as Chantelle’s expression turned to astonishment. Then Chantelle dropped Emily’s hand and paced slowly into the room, treading carefully as though she didn’t want to break or disturb anything. She went over to the large bed with its clean, crimson bedding and touched it with her fingertips, ever so lightly. Then she walked to the window and looked out over the gardens and out at the ocean twinkling over the tree tops. Emily and Daniel watched with bated breath as the little girl padded quietly around the room, gently picking up the lamp before setting it back down, then peering into the empty wardrobes.
“What do you think?” Emily asked. “We can paint the walls if you don’t want them white. Change the curtains. Put some of your pictures up on the wall.”
Chantelle turned. “I love it just the way it is. I can really have a bedroom?”
Emily felt Daniel stiffen beside her. She knew immediately what he was thinking: that Chantelle, at six years old, had never had her own bedroom before; that the life she had lived up until this moment had been fraught with hardship and tainted by neglect.
“You really can,” Emily said, smiling kindly. “Why don’t we unpack your stuff? Then it will really start to feel like your room.”
Chantelle nodded and they all went together to collect her things from the carriage house. But once there, Emily was shocked to discover that Chantelle had just one measly backpack.
“Where’s all her stuff?” she asked Daniel covertly as they headed back to the house.
“That’s all there was,” Daniel replied. “She had next to nothing at Sheila’s uncle’s house. I questioned Sheila and she said it had all been left behind when they got evicted.”
Emily tutted under her breath. It broke her heart to think about all the terrible things Chantelle had gone through in her short life. More than anything in the world, she wanted to make sure that the little girl now felt safe, that she had a chance to flourish and put the past behind her. Emily hoped that with love, patience, and stability, Chantelle would be able to recover from the awful start to her life.
Up in Chantelle’s new room, Emily hung the few items of clothing she owned onto hangers in the wardrobe. She had just two pairs of jeans, five shirts, and three sweaters. She didn’t even have enough socks to last a full week.
Chantelle helped unpack her underwear into one of the dresser drawers. “I’m so happy I have parents now,” Chantelle said.
Emily went and sat on the corner of the bed, eager to encourage Chantelle to open up. “I’m happy to have a lovely little girl like you to hang out with.”
Chantelle blushed. “Do you really want to hang out with me?”
“Of course!” Emily said, a little taken aback. “I can’t wait to take you down to the beach, to go out on the boat with you, to play board games and ball games together.”
“My mom never wanted to play with me,” Chantelle said, her voice small and meek.
Emily felt her heart breaking. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, trying not to let the pain in her heart be audible in her voice. “Well, you’ll be able to play all sorts of things now. What do you like to do?”
Chantelle just shrugged, and it occurred to Emily that her upbringing had been so stifling she couldn’t even think of fun things to do.
“Where did Daddy go?” she asked.
Emily looked over her shoulder and saw that Daniel had disappeared. She, too, was concerned.
“He probably just went to get more coffee,” Emily replied. “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t we go into the attic to get some stuffed bears for your bedroom?”
She had carefully packed and stored all of her and Charlotte’s old toys from the room that had been boarded up after Charlotte’s death. Chantelle was a similar age to them when the room got closed off so plenty of the toys would be suitable for her.
Chantelle’s face lit up. “You have teddy bears in the attic?”
Emily nodded. “And dolls. They’re all up there having a picnic but I’m pretty sure they’d want another guest. Come on, I’ll show you the way.”
Emily took the little girl up to the third floor and then along the corridor. She pulled down the attic ladder. Chantelle looked up timidly.
“Want me to go first?” Emily asked. “Make sure there aren’t any spiders?”
Chantelle shook her head. “Nope. I’m not scared of spiders.” She sounded proud of herself.
They went up to the attic together and Emily showed her the box of old toys. “You can have anything you want out of there,” she said.
“Will Daddy come and play?” Chantelle asked.
Emily also wanted Daniel around. She wasn’t sure where he’d disappeared to, or why he’d gone. “Let me go ask him. You’ll be okay up here for a bit, right, since you’re not scared of spiders?”
Chantelle nodded and Emily left the little girl playing. She went down through the third and second floors looking for Daniel, then down to the ground floor. She found him in the kitchen standing by the coffee pot motionless.
“Are you okay?” Emily asked.
Daniel startled and then turned. “I’m sorry. I came down for coffee and just got completely overwhelmed by everything.” He looked at Emily and frowned. “I don’t know how to do this. To be a dad. I’m in way over my head.”
Emily walked up to him and lightly rubbed his arm. “We’ll figure it out together.”
“Just hearing her talk kills me. I wish I could have been there for her. Protected her from Sheila.”
Emily wrapped her arms around Daniel. “You can’t look back and worry about the past. All we can do now is make sure we do everything in our power to help her. It’s going to be great, I promise. You’re going to be a great dad.”
She could still feel some resistance in Daniel. She desperately wanted him to soften, to accept her embrace and be comforted from it, but something was stopping him.
“She’s already starting to ask questions,” he said. “She asked me why I never sent her birthday cards. I didn’t know what to say. I mean what can you possibly say to a six-year-old that they can understand?”
“I think we just have to be honest,” Emily said. “Secrets never help anyone.”
She thought of the poignancy of her words. Her father had kept secrets his entire life. Emily had only uncovered the tip of the iceberg since coming here.
Just then, Chantelle rushed into the kitchen. She was holding a large stuffed panda bear in her arms. He was almost as big as she was.
“Look, Daddy! Look!” she said, running up to Daniel.
Emily was shocked. She hadn’t seen the bear while tidying up Charlotte’s old bedroom. It must have been in the attic already. He’d been Charlotte’s favorite. She’d called him Andy the Pandy. Seeing him now sent a shard of pain racing through her body. She wondered how Chantelle had found him amongst all the boxes.
“What’s your bear’s name?” Daniel asked Chantelle, bending down so they were face to face.
“Andy Pandy,” Chantelle said with a grin.
Emily gripped the work surface with shock. Once again, she felt strongly that it was another sign from Charlotte, a reminder not to forget about her, that she was looking down on them from above.
“Hey, I have an idea,” Daniel said, breaking through her reverie. “Do you think Andy would like to go to a parade?”
“Yeah!” Chantelle cried.
Daniel looked up at Emily. “What do you think? Shall we all go to the Labor Day parade? Our first family outing?”
Referring to them as a family snapped Emily out of her stupor.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I’d like that a lot.”
The main street was lined with people, some waving flags, others holding balloons. As with most national holiday events, Sunset Harbor was going all out to celebrate Labor Day. The town was decorated beautifully, with bunting and lights strung between lampposts and trees, streamers tied to fences, and a small carnival.
As they walked along the busy streets, Emily held on tightly to Chantelle’s hand, sensing that the little girl was overwhelmed. But every time she looked down there was a grin on Chantelle’s face. It filled Emily’s heart with joy to know she was happy. But it also filled her with much more; a sense of peace, of contentment. She’d wanted children of her own for a while, but she hadn’t realized quite how much enjoyment she’d really get from spending time with Chantelle.
Emily couldn’t help but notice that Daniel, on the other hand, seemed tense. In the busy crowds he seemed on edge, like a hawk sensing danger on every street corner. He’d certainly taken naturally to his role of protector, but he seemed to be lacking somewhat on the bonding front. Emily hoped it was just teething problems, that he would relax as time went on and learn to enjoy parenthood as much as she was. He needed to learn how to be a dad, not just a father.
Through the crowds Emily spotted her Sunset Harbor friend Cynthia Jones from the bookstore. As always, Cynthia had dressed up for the occasion in a sparkly blue skirt, sparkly red shirt, and sparkly white cowboy hat. The whole ensemble clashed horribly with her dyed orange hair.
Seeing Cynthia made Emily feel anguished for the first time in a while. Just a few weeks ago she’d called on the older woman for advice after she and Daniel had discovered that Chantelle existed. Now here she was walking down the road hand in hand with Daniel and his surprise kid, acting like a happy family. Emily couldn’t help but fear her judgment.
But when Cynthia caught sight of them all, she grinned widely and waved. Emily could see approval in her eyes.
“Chantelle, let me introduce you to a friend of mine,” Emily said.
She and Daniel took Chantelle over to where Cynthia was standing. The older woman embraced Emily immediately.
“I knew it would all work out in the end,” she whispered into Emily’s ear as she hugged her tightly.
Emily squeezed back. Cynthia had given her so much support and friendship since she’d arrived in Sunset Harbor eight months ago, and she felt a rush of gratitude in that moment.
“This is Chantelle,” Emily said finally after their embrace ceased.
Cynthia knelt down so she was eye level with the little girl. “I’m so happy to meet you, Chantelle. I think you’re going to really enjoy Sunset Harbor.”
Chantelle became shy and clung to Emily’s leg. Emily couldn’t help herself from stroking the girl’s soft blond hair, feeling an overwhelming maternal sensation inside of her. Again she was struck by how quickly and instantaneous her love for Chantelle was. And she noted how the feeling seemed to be mutual. Chantelle had gone from clinging to Daniel last night to clinging to Emily this afternoon.
Just then a young, thin man with tousled mousy hair approached them.
“Owen,” Cynthia said to him, “you remember Emily, don’t you? From the B&B?”
“Of course,” Emily said, holding her hand out to shake. “You came to tune my piano.”
Owen nodded in agreement. He seemed like a shy man. “How is everything going there now? If I recall, you were in some kind of hurry to get everything fixed up.”
“I was,” Emily replied. “Fixing up twenty rooms in twenty-four hours is not an experience I want to repeat any time soon! But thank you for your help tuning the piano. It sounds fantastic now.”
Owen smiled. “I’m glad to hear it. It was actually quite a pleasure working on an antique piano like that. I’d love to get the opportunity to play it again some day.”
“You’re welcome to come anytime,” Emily said. “Having a resident piano player in the B&B is a future goal of mine. I just don’t have the money at the moment to pay for it.”
“Well,” Owen said, smiling his kind, shy smile, “how about I come and play for free? The exposure would be very useful for me and you’d be doing me a favor.”
Emily was thrilled. “That would be fantastic!”
They exchanged phone numbers and she waved goodbye to Owen. Emily was delighted to have a piano player for the inn.
“Come on, Chantelle,” Emily said, buoyed by her meeting with Owen. “Let’s go to the carnival.”
Taking the lead of the family, Emily directed them to the tents where there were traditional games, a coconut shy, and a shooting range.
“Why don’t you see if you can win Chantelle a toy?” Emily suggested to Daniel.
He gave a sort of lost, helpless look, almost as though he were embarrassed that he hadn’t thought of doing that himself.
“Sure,” he said, smiling in a somewhat forced way. “Just watch this.”
Emily patted Chantelle’s shoulders as they watched Daniel pay the man at the booth and take aim with the pellet gun. Then with three perfect shots he hit the target. Chantelle jumped up and down and started clapping.
“Go on,” Emily encouraged her. “Go and choose a prize.”
Chantelle rushed over to the booth and chose the biggest fluffy teddy bear.
“Why don’t you thank Daddy?” Emily prompted.