Considering Kate Page 45

"I love it." She crouched down as Mike woke and gamboled over to greet her. "And I just signed two more students. Now, if I could just find a couple of handsome men who'd like to go out and celebrate, it would really round things off."

"We'll go!"

"Jack. It's a school night."

"I was thinking about an early dinner," Kate improvised as Jack's face fell. "Burgers and fries at Chez McDee."

"She means McDonald's," Jack explained, then fell on his father's back, hugging fiercely. "Please, can we?"

Cornered again, Brody thought. "Pretty tough for a guy to turn down a fancy meal like that."

"He means yes." Jack swung over to Kate and hugged her legs. "Can we go now?"

"I got some things to finish up here." Brody pushed his hair back. And just looked at her. He'd been doing that quite a bit, Kate thought, since they'd come back from New York. Looking at her—and looking at her differently somehow.

Differently enough to have frogs leaping in her belly again.

"An hour okay with you?" he asked.

"Perfect. Do you mind if I steal your helper here? I want to go tell my mother. We can give Mike a little exercise on the way."

"Yeah, sure. Jack? No wheedling."

"He means I can't ask for toys. I'll get Mike's leash. Dad, can I—" He broke off then ran over to whisper in Brody's ear.

"Yeah, go ahead."

"We'll be back in an hour."

"Great." Brody waited until they'd chased Mike downstairs, then sat back on his heels. He was going to have to make some decisions. And soon. It was bad enough he was stuck on Kate, but Jack was crazy about her.

A man could risk a few bumps and bruises on his own heart, but he couldn't risk his child's. The only thing to do was to sit down and have a talk with Kate. It was time they spelled out what was going on between them.

More, he was going to have to have a talk with Jack. He had to know what the boy was thinking, what he was feeling.

Jack first, Brody decided. Could be, could very well be, his son looked at Kate as nothing more than a friend and would be upset at the idea of her being a more permanent, more important part of their lives. It had been the two of them as long as Jack could remember.

He looked over with a little jolt as a movement caught the corner of his eye.

"You turn that noise down," Bob O'Connell said, "you wouldn't get taken by surprise."

"I like music on the job." But Brody rose, shut off the radio. "Something you need?" They hadn't spoken since the scene in the Kimball kitchen. Both men eyed each other warily.

"I got something to say," Bob stated.

"Then say it."

"I did my best by you. It ain't right for you to say different, when I did my best by you. Maybe I was hard on you, but you had a wild streak and you needed hard. I had a family to support, and I did it the only way I knew how. Maybe you think I didn't spend enough time with you—" Bob broke off, jammed his hands into his pockets. "Maybe I didn't. I don't have the knack for it, not the way you do with your boy. Fact is, you weren't the same pleasure to be around Jack is. He's a credit to you. Maybe I should've said so before, but I'm saying so now."

Brody said nothing for a long moment, adjusting to the shock even as his father glared at him. "You know, I'm pretty sure that's about the longest speech you ever aimed in my direction." Bob's face hardened. "I'm done with it," he said and turned.

"Dad." Brody set his drill aside. "I appreciate it." Bob let out a breath, the way a man might as the trapdoor opened under his feet. "Well." He turned back, fought with the words in his head. "Might as well finish it off then. Probably I shouldn't have jumped on you the other day, not in front of your boy and your… the Kimball girl. Your mother lit into me over it."

Brody could only stare. "Mom?"

"Yeah." With a look of frustrated disgust, Bob kicked lightly at the doorjamb. "She don't do it often, but when she does, she can peel the skin off your ass. Hardly speaking to me yet. Says I embarrassed her."

"I got the same line from Kate—she did some peeling of her own."

"Didn't much care having her claw at me the way she did. But I gotta say, she's got spine. Keep you straight."

"It's my job to keep myself straight."

Bob nodded. The weight that had been pressing on his chest for days eased. "Guess I figure you've been doing your job there. You do good work. For a carpenter."

For the first time in a long while, Brody was able to smile at his father and mean it. "You do good work. For a plumber."

"Didn't have any problem firing me."

"You pissed me off."

"Hell, boy, you fire every man who pisses you off, how are you going to put a crew together? How's the hand?"

Brody lifted it, flexed his fingers. "Good enough."

"Since you've got no permanent damage, maybe you can use that hand to dial the phone. Call your ma and let her know we cleared the air some. She might not take my word on it, given her current state of mind."

"I'll do that. I know I was a disappointment to you."

"Now, hold on—"

"I was," Brody continued. "Maybe I was a disappointment to myself, too. But I think I made up for it. I did it for Connie, and for Jack. For myself, too. And I did it, partly anyway, for you. So I could show you I was worth something."

"You showed me." Bob wasn't good at taking first steps, but he took this one. He crossed the room, held out his hand. "I guess I'm proud of how you turned out."

"Thanks." He took his father's hand in a firm grip. "I've a kitchen remodel coming up. Needs some plumbing work. Interested?"

Bob's lips twitched. "Could be."

Chapter Twelve

While father and son were closing a gap, Kate strolled with the third generation of O'Connell male.

"I didn't wheedle, right?"

"Wheedle?" She sent him a shocked stare. "Why Handsome Jack, Mama and I had to practically force that plane on you. We had tobeg you to accept it."

Jack grinned up at her. "You'll tell Dad?"

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