The Surprise Holiday Dad(10)

By: Jacqueline Diamond

Beside Wade, Adrienne stiffened. So much for waiting for the right moment, he thought, and prepared to meet the son he’d missed for all these years.

* * *

A BEAM OF sunlight lit Reggie’s face as the little guy registered what Patty had said. Adrienne’s chest squeezed. How would he react? Even if things went well today, she dreaded to think how devastated he’d be if, eventually, Wade let him down.

The man had a muscular, self-contained presence that under other circumstances she’d have found attractive. Not today. He’d come where he wasn’t invited and had the nerve to criticize her. Had he waited until Reggie’s actual birthday, she’d have laid the groundwork.

Well, there was no going back after Patty’s blunt declaration. Her friend—who’d married hospital embryologist Alec Denny and become stepmother to seven-year-old Fiona—had a kind heart but rough edges.

Reggie trotted toward them and then stopped in confusion. He blinked at Wade as if the man had stepped out of a TV set. “Is he really my dad?” he asked Adrienne.

“Yes.” How was she going to handle this? Wade’s untimely arrival had forced her hand. “It’s...a birthday surprise.” Boy, does that sound lame.

“Hi, Reggie,” the man said. “Happy birthday.”

“Uh, hi.” The little boy reached out and patted his father’s arm gingerly, as if Wade were a crouching lion, both fascinating and scary.

“Hugs!” Patty called, cheering them on. It occurred to Adrienne that since she hadn’t told her friend about Wade in advance, Patty must have known him in her former job at the police department.

A smile illuminated Wade’s rugged face. Bending down, he closed his arms around his son. After a moment’s uncertainty, Reggie’s arms encircled his neck. On the sidelines, Harper snapped a picture of the tableau.

“How about going inside so we can talk in private?” Wade said.

Reggie looked up uncertainly. “Is that okay, Aunt Addie?”

Refusing might bring on an awkward dispute. “Just for a minute. I’ll make sure you don’t miss anything important out here.”

With a deep breath, the boy she loved with every fiber of her being took the big man’s hand and went indoors with him. Reg was so small, so powerless. Don’t let him become a pawn in this guy’s ego trip.

While Peter steered everyone’s attention to a game, Harper joined Adrienne on the patio. “Is he being a complete jerk?”

She wasn’t sure how to respond. The man was tearing her world apart, and she hated him for it. But she’d seen his tenderness and the glint of moisture in his gray eyes as he’d embraced his son.

“Not a complete jerk,” she responded at last.

“Let us know what we can do,” Harper said loyally.

“I will.” Adrienne thanked heaven for her friends.

* * *

SITTING ON A couch in the den to be near Reggie’s height, Wade searched for the right way to begin. He settled on, “Did your aunt tell you anything about me?”

The little guy shook his head.

Waded wished they could skip this difficult conversation and cut to the fun part, where he taught his son to surf or play Frisbee or trounce an opponent at Ping-Pong. The guy stuff, instead of all these emotions.

It struck him, though, that this conversation might stand out forever in his son’s memory—the key moment when Reggie found out the truth about his dad. Turning points like this stayed with a person. One holiday when Wade served charity meals to the homeless, he’d sat down later with an eighty-year-old man who’d reminisced about the day his father came home from the war, describing with heartfelt clarity the details of an event seventy years in the past.

Let’s start with the important part. “I love you,” Wade said. “I’ve always loved you.”

“Mom told me you didn’t care.” The boy’s tongue traced a gap in his teeth where a new one was growing. “That you left us.”

“She forced me to leave.” Much as he disliked maligning the dead, Vicki didn’t deserve to get off easy.

Reggie considered this. “How?”

“Your mom had security guards throw me out of the hospital. She told them I was violent, but I never did anything like that.” Wade’s anger rose at the memory. “She lied about me and tried—well, threatened—to have me arrested. I’m a police officer. I’d have been fired from the police department.”

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