Considering Kate Page 24

"We don't get along—never have."

"But you hired him."

"He's a good plumber."

He slid his hand out from under hers, reached for his glass. "Brody."

"Yeah, I hired him. It was a mistake. It's tolerable when the other guys are around, but when it's just the two of us like it was today, it's asking for trouble. I'm a screwup, always was, always will be. The job's not being done right, my life isn't being done right, I'm chasing around after a fancy woman instead of seeing to my own."

"Now I'm a fancy woman?"

Brody pressed his fingers to his eyes. "I'm sorry. That was stupid, and typical. Once I start on him, I can't seem to stop."

"It's all right. I don't mind being a fancy woman." She stabbed a bite of steak. Her temper was on slow burn, but a rant wasn't what Brody needed right now. "He's probably as miserable and frustrated about what happened as you are. He doesn't know how to talk to you any more than you know how to talk to him. But that's not your fault. I hope you can make it up with him, in your own way."

"He doesn't see me."

Her heart broke for him. "Honey, that's not your fault, either. I wanted my parents to be proud of me, maybe wanted it too much, so I worked, sometimes brutally hard, to be sure they would. That wasn't their fault."

"My family's not like yours."

"Few are. But you're wrong. You and Jack—the family you've made—it's a lot like mine. Maybe, Brody, your father sees that, and wonders why he never made that connection with his own son."

"I was a screwup."

"No, you weren't. You were a work-in-progress."

"Really rough work. I couldn't wait to get through—to get through high school, to get through my eighteenth birthday. To get through so I could get out. That's what I did, on my eighteenth birthday. I packed up and headed down to D.C. Had about five hundred dollars, no job, no nothing. But I was out of there."

"And you made it work."

"I lived by the skin of my teeth for three years. Working construction, blowing my pay on beer and…

fancy women," he said with a sudden grin. "Then I was twenty-one, broke, careless, stupid. And I met Connie. I was on the crew doing some work on her parents' guest house. I hit on her, and much to my surprise we started seeing each other."

"Why to your surprise?"

"She was a college girl—conservative daughter of a conservative family. She had money and class, education, style. I was the next step up from a bum."

She studied him. Strong face, she thought. Strong hands. Strong mind. "Obviously she didn't think so."

"No, she didn't. She was the first person who ever told me I had potential. Who ever believed in me. She made me believe in myself, made me want to, so I could be what she saw when she looked at me. I stopped screwing up, and I started to grow up. You don't want to hear this."

"Yes, I do." To keep him talking, she topped off his wine. "Did she help you start your business?"

"That came later." He'd never talked about this with anyone, Brody realized. Not his parents, not his friends, not even Jack. "I was good with my hands, and I had a good eye for building. I had a strong back. I'd just never put them all to use at the same time. Then I figured out I liked myself a whole lot better when I did."

"Of course, because then you respected yourself."

"Yeah." Nail on the head, he thought. Did she ever miss? "Still, I was skilled labor, not a doctor or a lawyer or a business exec. Her parents objected to me—strongly."

She toyed with her potatoes, much more interested in what he told her than in the meal. "Then they were short-sighted. Connie wasn't."

"It wasn't easy for her to buck them, but she did. She was going to Georgetown, studying law. I was working full days and going to school at night, taking business classes. We started making plans. Couple of years down the road, we'd get married. She'd stay in school till she passed the bar, then I'd start my own business. Then she got pregnant."

He studied his wineglass, turned it around and around, but didn't lift it to drink. "We both wanted the baby. She more than me at first, because the whole thing didn't seem real to me. We got married. She kept up with her studies, and I took some extra jobs. Her parents were furious. This was what she got for throwing herself away on somebody like me. They cut her off, and that twisted her up pretty bad." She could imagine it very well, because, she thought, she'd always had just the opposite in terms of a family that was there for her. "They didn't deserve her."

Brody lifted his eyes, met Kate's. "Damn right they didn't. The rougher it got, the more we dug in. We made it work. She made it work. A thousand times I panicked, and some of those thousand times I saw myself walking away. She'd go back to her parents, and everyone would be better off."

"But you didn't. You stuck."

"She loved me," he said simply. "The day Jack was born, I was in the delivery room, wanting to be pretty much anywhere else in the world. But she wanted me there, it was really important to her. So I pretended I wanted to be there, too. All I could think was get this over with, get this the hell over with because it's too hard. Nobody should have to do this. Then… there was Jack. This little, squirmy person. Everything changed. Everything clicked. I never knew you could love like that, in an instant, in a heartbeat, so it was everything. Every damn thing. I wanted, had to be, whatever he needed me to be. They made a man out of me, right there, in that moment. Connie and Jack made me." Tears were flooding her cheeks, continued to spill over. She couldn't stop them, and didn't try.

"I'm sorry." He lifted his hands, let them fall again. "I don't know what got into me."

"No." She shook her head, could say nothing else quite yet. You stupid idiot, she thought. You've gone and made me fall in love with you. Now what? "That was lovely," she managed to say. "Just give me a minute." She got to her feet, and dashed off to the bathroom to compose herself. As an alternative to banging his head on the table, Brody got up and paced. He'd come to the same conclusion as Kate—he was an idiot—but for different reasons. He'd taken her very nice gesture of a casual meal at home, one he imagined was supposed to be at least marginally romantic, and he'd turned it into a marathon on his troubles and his past.

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