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Worth the Fall(5)

By´╝ÜClaudia Connor

Her sleeveless top revealed narrow shoulders and sun-kissed skin. A short white skirt flowed around her knees, showing off sexy legs and strappy heels. But it was the way she swayed and spun, cradling the smallest boy to her chest, her cheek lying on his blond head, that held him fixated.

Jack galloped over, waving his arms wildly, and she threw her head back, the sound of her laughter stolen by the wind. He still didn’t know her name. And she was still alone.

The little boy wiggled out of her arms and she took the girls by the hand. They twirled on the ends of her fingers, admiring the way their silky sundresses flared. Matt imagined dancing with her, as he’d seen his brothers do with their wives. How her small body would feel in his arms, the children laughing and dancing around them.

“What are you staring at?” Kimmi sent him a narrow-eyed glare then stretched her skinny neck to peer over the balustrade. She shook her head and rolled her eyes when she didn’t see anything of interest.

And she wouldn’t. A mother dancing with her children wouldn’t be of interest to someone like her.

But it was to him.

When the torturous dinner finally ended, the foursome made their way down the wide stone steps, which deposited them on the brick patio.

The band played an upbeat country tune and Rob spun Brittney into his arms. Matt wouldn’t cave to Kimmi’s orders to join her on the dance floor. She finally gave up and went off in pursuit of a willing male, leaving him free to sit at the weathered outdoor bar alone.

He nursed his drink and searched the crowd until his eyes locked on their target. She sat at the top of three wide steps dividing the upper patio from the pool. His chest clenched along with other parts, watching the woman lick the last of her ice cream cone. The bourbon burned his throat as he tossed back the remainder.

Jack finished his ice cream sandwich and moved on to the wrapper, while both girls worked on orange Push-Ups, Matt’s personal favorite. The little one steadied himself with a hand on his mother’s shoulder, looking like he’d fallen face first into a puddle of chocolate.

It was a lucky man who had a woman like that, kids like that. His brothers did, but he’d made different choices. Different promises.

She rose from the steps and nodded to Jack, handing her wrapper to the youngest boy. The two boys raced toward the trash bin completely unaware of their collision course with a fast-moving country line dance.

In a flash, one corner of the dance floor turned into something resembling a freeway pileup. A short, plump woman took a two-step and plowed into Jack, who knocked into the toddler, who reached out his chocolate-covered fingers to break his fall. And he did. Then slid to the ground, wiping his ice-cream-smeared face as he went…all the way down Kimmi’s white pants.

Matt was already moving as diva number two twisted to examine the damage. He picked up the little boy, sprawled and whimpering on the brick.

“Oh. My. God. That little…” Kimmi sputtered, struggling to name what she was looking at, “baby ruined my pants. Where the hell is its mother?”

The boy hid his sticky face in Matt’s neck as his mother took a step forward.

Kimmi whirled on her. “Is that your frickin’ kid?”

The woman reached for her son, but the boy clung to him tightly.

“It was an accident. He didn’t—”

“He’s an accident! Jeez. Why don’t you practice a little birth—”

Matt stepped between the two women, facing off with Kimmi. “Stop talking.”

“I’ll be happy to pay for dry cleaning.”

Matt looked back at the boy’s mother as Kimmi continued her rant.

“Dry cleaning? That isn’t going to help. They’re ruined!” Kimmi’s voice rose to a full-blown screech. “Are you going to pay for five-hundred-dollar pants?”

“No. She isn’t,” Matt said between clenched teeth.

“Excuse me?” Kimmi gaped at Matt, then at the petite woman next to him. “Is this who you were staring at when you were eating dinner with me?” She jerked a finger at herself and wobbled.

Shit. The woman he had been staring at glanced from Kimmi to him, then back to Kimmi. He could see her making the connection, one that didn’t exist. It bothered him that she thought it did.

“Leave it alone,” he said, glaring at Kimmi, but she was too far gone on booze and bitchiness.

“Banging a married woman at the beach, Matthew? That’s so un–Boy Scout of you.”

“Stop. Talking.” Matt’s words were quiet but hard and he shot a meaningful look at Rob, who’d just joined them.

“Hey, that’s the kid who sprayed—”

Rob pulled Britney back with an arm around her waist, but Kimmi still wasn’t done.