Fall from India Place Page 73

Dylan looked at me a little dubiously over his shoulder but turned back to his mum. “Okay,” he replied quietly.

The urge to cuddle him was great. He was so adorable. I had to remind myself, however, that he was a little boy and not a puppy. I doubted very much he wanted to be smothered with kisses and cuddles while I baby-talked to him.

“See you later, honey.” Leah kissed him on the forehead and gently nudged him toward Marco. “Take care of him.”

“Always do,” he replied.

She smiled, gave us one last look, and her eyes seemed to be laughing at us like she knew something we didn’t.

When she was gone I looked up at Marco and said, “I really do like her.”

“She’s good people.”

Still smiling, I looked down at Dylan, who was watching my interaction with his dad like a hawk. “I heard three-year-olds love the zoo. Do you fancy a day at the zoo, Dylan?”

“I’m nearly four,” he answered, holding up four fingers.

Must. Not. Cuddle.

Pushing past the overwhelming adorableness, I replied seriously, “Well, I’ve heard nearly-four-year-olds love the zoo, too.”

His brows drew together. “Will there be lions?”

“They have two lions, I think, and big cats.”

Dylan’s face closed down at that and he moved into his dad’s legs.

“They’re in an enclosure. A big cage. They can’t get at you.”

He still looked unconvinced.

“Your dad will be there with us. Do you think he’s going to let a lion get near you?”

It was the right thing to say. He looked up at his dad, contemplated how big he was compared to himself and slowly shook his head.

Marco grinned and smoothed a hand over his son’s hair affectionately. “You ready to go, then, buddy?”

He nodded and reached for his dad’s hand.

As we were walking out the door, Marco’s other hand in mine, I asked, “You won’t let the lions near me either, right?”

“It is tempting.”

“That was definitely the wrong answer.” I sighed in mock weariness. “No more searching for superhero boyfriends on the Internet. They always turn out to be duds who’ll quite happily let you get eaten by a lion.”

Marco hissed in a breath through his teeth. “You do roll the dice when you find a boyfriend on the Internet.”

“What about penguins? Surely you won’t let the penguins get me?”

“I don’t know – that might be fun to watch.”

I stopped on the stairwell and Marco and Dylan drew to a halt on the steps below me. “No penguin protection? What kind of superhero are you?”

“You’re weird,” Dylan said quietly to me.

Marco burst out laughing. “Buddy, you don’t know the half of it.”

Since Dylan grinned in response, I took the “weird” comment on the chin and went with it.

Dylan and I stared at each other across the table.

Marco had left me with him while he went up to order us some food from the zoo café. Everything had been fine while we wandered around the zoo with Marco present as a buffer. When Dylan had gotten close to the lion enclosure and one of the lions let out what I think was really just a yawn rather than a growl, I had easily reassured Dylan so he didn’t go skittering off in fear.

But alone? Even if it was only for a few minutes? I felt so much pressure for him to like me that my mind was suddenly blank. I couldn’t think of any topics of conversation that were appropriate for a child.

“You were scared of the snakes,” Dylan suddenly said, tilting his head to the side inquisitively.

He was not wrong.

I shuddered. I’d hurried away from the snakes as quickly as possible. “I don’t like snakes.”


That was actually a really difficult question to answer for a small child. “They scare me.”

He frowned. “Why?”

“Uh… because so many of them can bite you, and the bite can make you really, really sick.”

“All of them?”

“Well, no…”

“But you’re scared of all of them?”

“Yes.” I could see where this was going and I didn’t like it.


Yup, that’s where I thought it was going.

There really was no good explanation other than irrational fear, and I didn’t think an almost-four-year-old would understand irrationality as an answer. I didn’t want the kid to think I disliked things because they were different, because even at his age that kind of thinking might stick with him. In the end, I replied, “The hissing sound they make.”

Dylan stared at me a second and then nodded slowly. I gave an inner sigh of relief before quickly changing the subject.

“What was your favorite animal?”

“Giant panda,” he answered immediately.

I grinned and turned the tables on him. “Why?”

He shrugged. “Cool eyes. I wasn’t scared. It smiled.”

The panda hadn’t actually smiled, of course, but when she contemplated us I could have sworn there was something mischievous in her eyes. The fact that Dylan had picked up on that made me feel absurdly proud of him. “All good reasons.”

“D’ye live with my daddy now?”

And we were back in dangerous territory. I shook my head. “No. We just hang out a lot.”

“You’ll be there when I come to stay?”

“Sometimes. Is that okay with you?”

Dylan shrugged again. “Daddy laughs a lot, so okay.”

I felt elated by Dylan’s analysis of the situation and the blessing he had given me in his cute little-boy way.

Must. Not. Cuddle.

When Marco came back to the table with the food, I was grinning from ear to ear. He smiled in bewilderment at my expression as he sat down and made sure Dylan had his food and juice. “What’s going on with you?”

I shrugged. “I just love giant pandas.”

Marco’s brows drew together and he looked at Dylan as if he would explain. His son gave him a look as if to say, What? It makes sense to me, and I burst out laughing.

The last few months had been an utter roller coaster of emotions for me, and after having to go through the ugly past again, and then losing Jarrod, I hadn’t known if or when I’d ever be able to laugh that hard again.

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