It was the perfect double engagement party for Harry Sullivan’s brother, Drake, and his fiancée, Rosa—and Harry’s sister, Suzanne, and her fiancé, Roman. The adults were all happily chatting. The kids were running around laughing and playing. Harry’s dog, Aldwin, was keeping a careful watch on everyone’s plates in hopes that food would fall.
And all the while, Harry couldn’t stop thinking about Molly Connal.
They’d met as freshmen at Columbia University, and he’d immediately fallen head over heels for her. Not only because of her beauty, but also because her brain constantly astounded him. He couldn’t believe his luck when she’d felt the same way about him.
Molly had been the one constant bright light in his life—she was fun, brilliant, and sinfully sexy. Where life with his family had been a continual roller coaster, Molly had always been both gentle and easygoing. So much so that he’d taken her completely for granted, putting her last time and time again.
It didn’t help that Harry’s family had been going through one of its roughest spells the year he and Molly were dating. Harry and his siblings—Alec was the oldest, with Harry next, then Suzanne and Drake—were a very tight-knit group. The death of their mother when Drake was just a toddler had only brought them closer, especially when their father all but disappeared from their lives in his grief.
During Harry’s freshman year in college, Drake and Suzanne had been in high school and needed his guidance on everything from schoolwork to college applications. Alec had needed a sober wingman to keep him from getting into trouble at the bars he’d gone to far too often. But it was their father, still adrift in grief over losing their mother and his wife, who had needed Harry’s help most of all.
He would never forget the night he’d found his dad passed out on the floor of his lake house, his clothes unchanged for days, food- and sleep-deprived and reeking from too much booze. It had not only been the anniversary of Harry’s mother’s death—it had also been Molly’s birthday.
That night, Harry had known he had to set Molly free, even though it felt like cutting out the brightest, sweetest, warmest part of his heart. But she deserved better than a boyfriend who was rarely able to be there for her, even if he’d always done his best to make things up to her when he was around. After ending things with her, he’d made sure to stay away, no matter how tempted he’d been over the years to find her, to ask for a second chance.
But now—at long last—his family was in a good place. Alec was happily married and had recently transitioned from airplane mogul to chef at his wife Cordelia’s garden center. Suzanne had found love with her former bodyguard, Roman. Drake and Rosa had found love in the most unlikely of circumstances as well. And best of all, though their father had struggled for three decades with the loss of their mother, it now seemed that William was ready to fully live his life—and to be a real father again.
With Harry’s siblings’ personal and professional lives settled, he felt as though he could finally take a deep breath. And a clear-eyed look at his own life.
Since graduating with a PhD in medieval history, he’d poured his passion into teaching, research, and writing as a professor at Columbia University. On the other side of the spectrum, jousting gave him a physical outlet to turn to when burying himself in books didn’t cut it. And he hadn’t been a monk, of course.
But he’d never fallen in love again.
No other woman had ever come close to being as smart, as fun, or as sexy as Molly. Their connection had been so natural, so passionate, so damned good.
And he’d never stopped missing her.
After they’d broken up at the end of freshman year, Molly hadn’t returned to Columbia. Countless times, Harry had wanted to search for her, to ask her to come back and be with him again. But he’d never allowed himself to do it, not while the issues in his family hadn’t gone away.
Only, now that things had changed, what if he finally looked her up? What if he showed up on her doorstep out of the blue and told her that his biggest regret was breaking her heart? What if he asked her to give him a second chance?
Would she invite him inside and hear him out?
Or was she already married with a great husband and cute kids, having moved on with her life, even though he hadn’t?
Aldwin got up slowly and walked over to put his broad head beneath Harry’s hand while making a low, rumbly sound—the dog’s way of saying he needed to go outside to take care of business.
Harry had adopted Aldwin after seeing him on one of the animal-shelter buses that came to the nearby farmer’s market. Everyone had been crowding around the puppies, while Aldwin slept in his corner stall. No one else at the market seemed to want to bring home an oversized dog of indeterminate breed who was graying at the muzzle, but Harry had been thinking about getting a dog for a while. Someone to keep him company now that everyone he knew was busy being blissfully happy and in love. Besides, he was starting to gray a little around the jawline himself, so he figured they were a perfectly matched set.
Harry was just grabbing Aldwin’s leash to take him into the garden patch out front when the doorbell rang.
Anyone who knew Harry or his family would have heeded the note he’d taped to the door telling them to come on inside. Maybe it was a delivery. Or a kid going door to door selling chocolate for charity.
But as he clipped on Aldwin’s leash and they walked into the foyer, something told Harry it was going to be more than that. He hoped none of his family was going to be hit by an unexpected bombshell. Drake and Rosa had been through more than enough after illegally taken nude photos of her had been leaked to the press. Suzanne and Roman had also been through a rough time together while fighting a major threat to her digital security company. Alec and Cordelia had only just cemented their happily-ever-after. And their father needed to take it easy after his recent heart attack.
The very last thing Harry expected to find on his doorstep was a teenage girl.
She looked remarkably familiar. His heart actually skipped a beat when he realized he could have been looking at Molly back when they were students. The only significant difference was that this girl’s hair was a lighter shade.
Aldwin was the first to greet her, pushing his muzzle into her hand. “Oh, hi there.” She patted him on his neck, which was just what he was after. “Aren’t you sweet?”
The girl’s resemblance to Molly was already uncanny. But it was her voice that nearly knocked Harry over. There was no denying that she must be Molly’s daughter.
Immediately, he started calculating. After all, they’d broken up nearly sixteen years ago, and this girl looked to be around fifteen.
Was there any chance…?
“Are you Harrison Jack Sullivan?” she asked. Aldwin leaned against her leg, as though he felt she needed protection, and her hand lay on his ruff.
“Yes,” he replied, still barely able to believe the resemblance. And what might be possible. “I’m Harry.”
A flicker of a smile crossed the girl’s face before disappearing back into uncertainty. “Harry,” she said, as though she were trying on his name for size. “I like that more than Harrison. It’s not so stuffy.”
He would have laughed—teenagers had a knack for knocking you down a peg or two without even trying. But how could he laugh when he couldn’t stop wondering…?
He had to clear his throat. “And who are you?”
“Amelia.” She bit her lip, looking more nervous than ever as she said, “Amelia Connal. Molly Connal is my mother. I’m fifteen years old. I know you used to date my mom in college.” Her chin tipped up as she looked him right in the eyes. “And I think you’re my father.”
In mounted martial arts, Harry had the wind knocked out of him on a regular basis, and he’d taken dozens of fists to the gut over the years while goofing around with his brothers and cousins. But he’d never felt like this. Like he was fruitlessly gasping for oxygen. Like his entire world had just shifted on its axis.
Like nothing would ever be the same again.
“I have this.” She took a folded piece of paper from the pocket of her jeans. “It’s the results from a DNA kit I got online. See?” She handed it to him. “It says fifty percent of our DNA is a match.”
Harry’s hands shook as he took the paper from her. As a professor of medieval history with a particular interest in genealogy, he had been asked to write a paper on the recent explosion of DNA services that proposed not only to find out your genetic history, but also claimed to give you the chance to see into your past and discover your heritage. As part of his research for the project, he’d signed up for one of the most popular services, going so far as to check the box that would enable open sharing of his name and contact information with potential relatives. He’d enjoyed connecting with a few far-flung fourth and fifth cousins he hadn’t already known about, but he’d never thought he’d find a daughter.
Or rather, that she would find him.
The information on the page couldn’t be more clear:
Strength of Relationship between Amelia Connal and Harrison Jack Sullivan
And then one more word on the line just below that:
Harry couldn’t stop looking at the word, still couldn’t quite process what a part of him had known the moment he’d set eyes on Amelia.
Aldwin made a low sound in his throat, one that sounded remarkably like a warning, and only then did Harry realize he was still standing frozen, alternately gaping at the paper and then at Amelia.
At his daughter.
How could Molly have kept this secret from him for fifteen years? She was the last person he would ever have thought would keep a father from his child. She knew just how much family meant to him, that he would go to hell and back to keep them safe. Knew it better than nearly anyone else, in fact.
“I need to let Aldwin take care of his business,” he said, surprised by how normal his voice sounded when his lungs felt as though they were being squeezed in a vise. “And then you and I should head inside so that we can talk.”
She nodded, but when a burst of laughter came from inside his house, she frowned. “It sounds like there are a lot of people in there.”
He’d forgotten there was an engagement party going on. Now he cursed every last person inside. All he wanted was a safe, private space for him and Amelia to talk.
Harry’s life had sometimes felt like a string of momentous events—from losing his mother, to the fallout from his father checking out on his kids due to grief and guilt, to Harry needing to pick up the slack with his brothers and sister for so many years to keep his family together.
But nothing could have prepared Harry for this. For the moment when he looked at another person for the very first time and loved. Loved wholly and completely and unconditionally, without knowing anything more than that the teenage girl standing in front of him was his. And that from this moment forward, he would protect her with every last part of him.
Starting with keeping her from the prying gazes of everyone at the party.
But he couldn’t ask Amelia to walk down the street with him to go talk at a coffee shop. She deserved a hell of a lot better than that from the father who had been absent her entire life, the father she’d only just found. And they couldn’t go in through the back either, not when there were at least two dozen people on the deck and lawn.
“I’m hosting an engagement party for my sister Suzanne and her fiancé, and my brother Drake and his fiancée.”
The unspoken words your aunt and uncle hung between them, along with all the other things he wanted to say to her, the questions he wanted to ask. So many that his brain felt so overcrowded and tangled up that he couldn’t actually get anything straight.
“Maybe I should come back later.”
Amelia was already backing out of the garden, with Aldwin straining at his leash to stick to her like glue, when a familiar voice called, “There you are.” Harry’s father was standing on the front stoop. “I saw the door was open and wanted to make sure Aldwin hadn’t gotten out.” That was when William noticed Amelia. “Hello there.”
“Hi.” She stilled, one hand on the front gate latch.
“This is my father, William,” Harry said without taking his eyes off his daughter.
Would he ever tire of looking at her? Would he ever feel as though he’d had enough time with her after missing the first fifteen years of her life?
“Dad—” Harry finally turned to meet his father’s curious gaze. He needed his dad to know before anyone else, one parent to another. “I just found out that Amelia is my daughter.”