Fall from India Place Page 39

The biggest surprise of the evening, though, wasn’t Braden’s laid-back attitude – it was Marco’s way with the kids. Beth and Luke loved him and he had a never-ending well of patience with them. Although thrown a little by these surprises, I felt like the night had gone well… until things escalated out of my control. Joss and Braden returned late that evening when the kids were already in bed, and Joss did the unbelievable – she invited Marco to Sunday lunch the next day.

My expression must have been one of horror because both Marco and Braden burst out laughing.

Of course Marco said yes to lunch.

To my increasing dismay my whole family took to him. I didn’t know whether to be happy or devastated. I knew my mum and the girls thought he was fantastic – they pulled me into the kitchen to go on and on about his sense of humor, his easy, quiet way with the kids, the way he listened to everything I said as if it was the most important thing he’d ever heard… and of course they teased me mercilessly about how great-looking he was.

As if I didn’t know that already!

The guys’ reaction to Marco was possibly worse, because they were always so hard to please when it came to the boyfriends of their female relatives. They seemed to like Marco’s quiet confidence, respected his careful answers, and enjoyed his dry humor.

I was f**ked.

Even Cole liked him, and Marco was definitely much more reserved with Cole than with the others.

The only person who was somewhat aloof was my dad. He was generally a lot more laid-back than the other men in my life, and his reaction would have taken me aback if it weren’t for the fact that Dad was the only one who knew the truth. I watched as Dad studied Marco, and I knew him well enough to know that he was trying to gauge whether Marco was worthy of that second chance he’d advised I should give him. If anyone else noticed Dad’s unusual behavior, I was certain they put it down to overprotectiveness.

The only really awkward moment during the visit was after lunch when Beth came to stand beside Marco’s armchair. She tilted her head to the side, inspecting him curiously as Marco smiled back at her in amusement. And then everyone heard her ask loudly, “Are you Hannah’s boyfriend?”

Hannah wanted a black hole to suddenly open up in the middle of the sitting room and swallow her whole.

Worse, Marco’s reply was, “Nope. She won’t let me be.”

Beth had immediately turned her cute look of consternation on me. “That’s really rude, Hannah.”

And that was so adorably funny even I laughed through the blazing heat in my cheeks.

A little while later Joss and Ellie got up to make coffee and tea and I ignored Marco’s gaze, as I shot out of the sitting room after them into the kitchen. “What the hell are you all playing at?” I asked quietly. “What happened to Braden’s and Adam’s overprotectiveness? What happened to all of your overprotectiveness?”

Joss shrugged. “We like Marco. He seems like a solid guy.”

I didn’t even know what to say to that.

I looked at my sister. Ellie frowned at my expression of disbelief. “Hannah, we all just appreciate how much effort he’s putting in with you. We want you to be happy. It’s obvious to everyone you two are more than friends. I mean, we’ve hardly seen you for three weeks and when we do all you talk about is what you and Marco have been up to.”

“Friends, my ass,” Joss grunted, stirring sugar into someone’s coffee. “The sexual tension between you two is off the charts.” Her grin turned smug. “Reminds me of me and Mr. Carmichael.”

“No details.” Ellie held up a hand, her eyes pleading.

“I wasn’t going to,” Joss assured her, but we knew where her mind had wandered by the still smug smile curling her mouth and by the heat in her eyes.

I sighed, leaning back against my mother’s kitchen counter. “I thought I could at least rely on my family to help keep things platonic between me and Marco. But you’re practically spoon-feeding me to him.”

Ellie snorted, a long, drawn-out, sarcastic snort. “Be serious, Hannah. You spend nearly every waking moment with him. If anyone is helping him with you, sweetheart, it’s you.”

Gazing at him sleeping on my couch, I was overwhelmed with my feelings for him. Feelings deep in my gut, throbbing in my chest, and tingling at the ends of my fingertips. The past week, after Sunday lunch, I’d seen Marco once for dinner, but work had kept us busy and at the weekend he once again had a mysterious family commitment. I came to the not-very-hard-to-deduce conclusion that this family thing occurred on alternate weekends.

It was difficult not to push him on that subject.

But I didn’t. Mostly because of the aforementioned hypocrisy.

So… we hadn’t seen each other for a few days. The whole missing-him thing had gotten worse. That’s why when I opened my door that night and saw him there I was flooded by my emotions. Whatever the mysterious disappearance was about at the weekend, Marco proved to me that he missed me as much as I missed him, because there he was on my doorstep the night after. He couldn’t even wait a day to see me.

I told him I had essays to mark but that didn’t deter him. We ate dinner and then Marco camped out on my couch and let me get on with my work.

My resolve had weakened.

I could feel it.

He just had to push me and…

I dropped my gaze from his handsome, sleeping face and resolutely attempted to concentrate on my work. The next essay I picked up was Jarrod’s, which made ignoring Marco even harder. But I did it, because Jarrod deserved my focus.

His revised personal essay moved me. For all Jarrod’s seeming laziness with the other teachers and obvious issues with the father who had abandoned him, he had found strength that not many boys his age had by looking after his little brother, Harvey, and helping to raise him. For Jarrod, the aim of his essay was to show his growth in getting over childish fears and becoming a young adult. But the reader easily discerned from the multitude of situations he posed to us that Jarrod overcame his own fears in order to make Harvey feel safe, in order to help Harvey not be afraid.

It wasn’t easy for someone with Jarrod’s pride to put all that on paper, and he’d made me promise that only I and the examiner would read the essay.

It was a shame that I’d made that promise. I wanted to shove the paper in Rutherford’s face and demand that he see that the boy he thought so little of wasn’t a boy at all. He was a boy in age, but he’d been forced to become a man in spirit in order to give his brother the emotional support he himself had never had.

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