Unacceptable. The word floats around in my mind on a continuous loop. Things went a little haywire after I caught Pam scrolling for jobs. I wanted to talk to her about it right then, but the ferry wasn’t the right place. Not in front of all those people when I felt so angry.
Once we arrived back on the mainland, Pam and Rex hurried home after Pam made some excuse about needing to check Rex’s blood sugar after eating the cookies from Ellie’s. The little rascal apparently pretended to be asleep and snuck an extra one while Pam looked on that blasted website.
A surge of anger attempts to rattle me again. I shake myself free of it and approach Pam’s house.
I gave her an hour to take care of Rex, but now I need answers. Her small house is tucked in a narrow lane alongside others in identical styles but painted in varying shades of the same sad brown.
The street is quiet, as are the neighbors. I tug at my t-shirt collar and raise my hand to knock.
The door swings open, and Rex barges out. “You came.” He leaps at me, tangling his arms around my legs. “I told Mommy you said you’d see me later.”
I can’t help it. I scoop him into my arms and let him snuggle closer. “I always keep my promises.” I lift my gaze from Rex and find Pam standing inside the open doorway.
Her face is a mixture of panic and pain. “Rex. How many times have I told you not to open the door?” She palms her face and groans. “I even put up a child-proof lock, but he’s figured it out.”
Ah, the master mischief is at it again. This kid is going to keep everyone on their toes. I can’t imagine what his teachers are going to say when he starts school. My heart clenches. I want to be there to see him off on his first day. And I want to be there to see him graduate high school. College. Heck, I’d offer him a spot at the company right now.
Pam continues muttering, not the least bit concerned with my sudden revelation. “Where did I leave that warranty? I’m going to call the company.” She spins on her heel.
I eye Rex, who shrugs his little shoulders.
“Want to watch a movie?” He kicks me in the stomach, his bare toes doing no damage but warming me even more to the kid.
I lower him to the peeling laminate. “Maybe in a bit. I need to talk to your mom.”
“Oh.” His lower lip sticks out in a pout while he scuffs his toes against a crack. He shoots a look at Pam.
“Why don’t you start your movie, and I’ll join you in a bit?” I keep my eyes on him. I feel Pam’s attention divert from where she’s rummaging in a drawer. It comes over to me and rests like a weight on my chest.
Rex scampers off, skipping down the hall until he disappears into what must be his room.
Pam flutters her hands, and I’m overwhelmed with the need to comfort her.
I close the distance and take her hands in mine. “What happened?”
I shake my head. “Not with Rex. Why are you looking for another job? If it was our kiss—if I offended you by kissing you, then I’m sorry that I misread the situation.” I barge ahead. I need to get everything out in the open before she kicks me out. No. I won’t leave without seeing Rex again. I promised. “What started out as a fake relationship quickly turned real. For me.”
Pam takes a quick breath and squeezes my hands. “It wasn’t that.”
“Then what?” I lead her toward the scratched and dented kitchen table and pull out a chair for her.
She settles into it and winces while looking around. “This.” A wave of her hand seems to be her way of explaining.
I arch a brow. “What about this?” I mimic her action. “I’m not a mind reader, Pam. I can handle the truth, but the last thing we need between us is more subtlety. I don’t want to guess at what you’re thinking.” I take her hand again and sit in the chair across from her.
She groans and lowers her head to the table. She taps her forehead on the worn wood twice, then lifts her eyes to mine. “Look at my house, Dalton. Look at how I live and think about how you live. We’re different in every way. Your mother sees that.”
“What does Mother have to do with this?” A cold knowing chills my blood. I’m doing my best not to assume, but there’s a look in Pam’s eyes that tells me I’m right.
Pam traces the veins that run across the back of my hand. Her touch is soft. Gentle. Just like her. Her voice is barely more than a whisper when she says, “I saw her on Nantucket. She told me . . .” Pam hesitates, takes a deep breath, then powers through. Her words come out in quick bursts. “She told me about the woman you were involved with. The single mom with a daughter. She told me how you fell for the daughter and then realized you didn’t love the mother. I can’t afford to lose my job when you figure out that you don’t love me.”
My thoughts screech to a halt. It’s a ten-car pileup in my brain. What? I hold up my free hand in a stop gesture.
Pam’s shoulders rise and fall in rapid breaths.
“My mother told you all that?” I close my eyes before Pam can answer. “Of course she did.” I clench my hand into a fist, then flex it to ease the tight feeling. “She told you a lie, Pam.”
“Really?” Pam’s voice is a mixture between disbelief and hope.
It tears me up inside to hear her so insecure about my feelings. Maybe I can express them in a way that will leave her without a doubt. “I have never loved anyone but you.” It’s so easy to say that I’m surprised I didn’t admit it sooner.
She blinks, and her jaw drops. “I live in a house that could fit inside your kitchen.” Pam protests.
“And yet when you try to leave your job when you have the opportunity to ‘take advantage’ of me.” I make air quotes and grin. “You’re down to earth. You’re smart and funny. Not snobbish at all. And you’re not after my money. What’s not to love about you?”
For the first time, I think Pam sees herself the same way I do. She nibbles on her lower lip and takes another look around the run-down house. It’s obvious I caught her unpacking. I recognize clothes she wore on Nantucket strewn across the back of a chair. Rex’s socks lay in a heap beside a pile of sand.
“You sure you don’t just love me because of Rex?”
“Absolutely positive.” I take her hands and tug her closer. “Your son is a little tyrant that I fell in love with completely separate from you.” I want to marry her and adopt Rex. I’m moving too fast, so I slam a lid on my thoughts and keep to the business at hand.
Her eyes sparkle as she laughs. “He’s a handful.”
“So’s his mother.” I inch closer. “And since we’re being all honest here, I’ll admit that I’m desperate to kiss you right now.”
She puts a hand on my chest. “Wait.”
This is it. She’s going to turn me down. I steel myself not to react. If she doesn’t feel the same way, I’ll walk away. But if there’s any hope whatsoever, I’m sticking around until I convince her to give me a chance.
Pam tips her chin toward her chest. Her fingers flex over my chest. “I love you, too.”
I’ve never moved so fast in my life. I’m out of my chair and by her side in seconds. I pull Pam close and kiss her until we’re both breathless. Everything about this feels right. Pam in my arms is the most natural thing I can imagine. I can see Rex as my son, with maybe more sons and/or daughters down the road. I reel in my thoughts again before they fast-track me to scaring Pam into running for the hills. I’m a man who knows what he wants. But I won’t risk losing her.
Tiny footsteps thud from the hallway. Rex runs into the kitchen and launches himself into my lap. He slings an arm around my neck and the other around Pam. “You’re gonna be my new daddy.” He smacks a kiss to my cheek and squeezes me and Pam until all our cheeks are smushed together.
Well, maybe I won’t have to wait very long.
Pam blushes a pretty pink and pats Rex’s back. “What makes you say that?”
“Cuz you kissed.” He makes smacking noises with his mouth. “You said mommies and daddies kiss. So that makes him” –he pats my cheek– “my daddy.”
Pam opens her mouth.
I’m assuming she’s about to argue, so I hike an eyebrow and give her hand a squeeze.
Her eyes widen.
I could use this to my advantage, but there’s no way I’m using Rex to coerce Pam into marriage. Then I’d be no better than those glamor girls who chase me for my money.
Doesn’t mean I’m above emploring her with my eyes and letting her see that marriage is next, and I hope she agrees.