James stared at the dollhouse, although in fact it was less a dollhouse than a princess’s castle, complete with pink turrets and a silver door. It even had a working drawbridge. “This is why you’re working two jobs?”
“Mia saw it last month when I brought her here for a trip. You should have seen her face, James. It lit up like the tree at the Rockefeller Center. I swear they could have seen her eyes sparkling from space. I could hardly drag her away. It was love at first sight.”
James turned to look at her. He knew all about love at first sight.
It had happened to him the day Matt had introduced him to Roxy. They’d worked side by side right through the bloom of spring, the long, hot New York summer, the crisp russet days of fall that had tumbled into the sharp bite of winter.
He knew her now, and the more he knew the more he loved.
And it was because he knew her that he knew she wasn’t ready to hear how he felt.
He knew about her abusive father.
He knew about Eddie, Mia’s father.
And he knew Roxy was determined to make it on her own. She needed to make it on her own.
“Kids often want things, Roxy—”
“I know, but I’ve never been able to buy her anything special before. Last Christmas I couldn’t make the rent and buy gifts, so I paid the rent because it was the responsible thing to do, right?” She often asked questions like that. Is this the right thing? Is this the best choice for Mia? Is this what a good mother would do?
“It was the responsible thing.”
“And I told myself that although I wasn’t giving her a gift, I was giving her a home. And before you say anything, I know a little girl who wasn’t even two probably didn’t know or care about the lack of gifts. But I wanted this year to be different. Eddie is finally gone from our lives. We’re making a fresh start and it’s all down to me. I’m on my own with this.”
He wanted to tell her that she wasn’t on her own, but he knew how badly she needed to know she could do this.
“You’re doing a great job, Roxy.”
“I know.” She squared her shoulders. “And that’s why I wanted to buy her this dollhouse. It’s symbolic. That’s my word of the day, by the way.”
This time he didn’t bother holding back the smile. Every day she learned and used a new word. Yesterday had been aberration and she’d used it once an hour. Everything had been an aberration, from the weather to the crowds on the subway. The day before had been transparent. It had made him think of lingerie, which was something he never wanted to think about around Roxy.
James shifted his gaze from her face to the dollhouse. “How is it symbolic?”
“It’s symbolic of our new life together. Our first real home. Last year my life was total cr— A total mess,” she corrected herself quickly. “This year, I’m able to buy my daughter a special gift. That’s progress, don’t you think?”
Progress would be him kissing her.
He was starting to think it was time he made some progress.
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