Highlander for the Holidays (41 page)

BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
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“Parenting is more of a hands-on, trial-by-fire sort of thing, Mr. Oceanus. And though several people have tried, no one’s been able to write a definitive book on childrearing because humans are not one-size-fits-all.”
Good Lord; there she went sounding like Eileen again.
He finally found a smile. “So I have your permission to ignore everything those books said, Mrs. Baldwin?”
Oh yeah, his eyes definitely turned a deep vivid green when he was amused. “Actually, you have my permission to throw them away. And please, call me Olivia.”
Up went one of his brows. “Forgive me; you led me to believe we were no longer on a first name basis.”
“My mistake . . . Mac.” She arched a brow right back at him. “Do you know where your son is right now?”
“Just downstream, crossing the brook on a fallen log.”
Olivia turned, trying to locate Henry. “Where? I don’t see him.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing I have very good eyesight as well as exceptional hearing. He’s just reached the end of his courage and is heading back toward us.”
“Speaking of good hearing, apparently your son has inherited yours. You’re going to have to watch what you say around him, Mac. He kept calling Mark a bastard.”
“Is that not the appropriate term?”
“Not for a six-year-old boy, it’s not.” When she saw the sparkle leave his eyes, Olivia wondered if she’d ever learn to read this man. “I don’t think you understand what Henry’s doing. When Trace first called me, he said that in the course of only a few months your son’s mother died and he came to live with you, even though the two of you had never met. Is that correct?”
Mac silently nodded.
“Well, coming to live with a complete stranger after suffering such a loss has been far more traumatic for Henry than for you,” she said softly. “And from what I’ve seen in the last half hour, your son is trying very hard to be what he thinks you want him to be. Henry’s like a sponge, soaking you up; emulating your mannerisms, your language, and how you treat people.” She smiled, gesturing at the road she’d been pacing. “Heck, he even walks like you.”
“Excuse me?”
Still unable to read his expression, Olivia widened her smile. “You have a rather direct stride, Mac. You want to see what it looks like sometime, just watch Henry.”
“Are you saying I should discourage him from emulating me?”
“No. That’s a good thing. It means Henry is looking to you as a role model.” She shoved her hands in the jacket pockets again. “You really should be talking to my motherin-law about this; Eileen’s the expert. I’m just trying to point out that when you call someone a bastard, even if he is one, Henry’s going to call him one, too. And if you beat up that bastard, even if he deserves it, Henry’s going to beat up any kid his young mind believes might deserve it. So I’m only suggesting that you be aware of what you say and do in front of him. All children are highly impressionable, but Henry’s even more so, because not only is he trying to figure out exactly where he fits in your life, he’s desperately trying to find his place in your heart.”
Mac unfolded his arms to shove his hands in his pants pockets, and turned to face the woods. “I have no business being anyone’s role model, especially not an impressionable young child’s.” He glanced over his shoulder at her, then back toward the brook. “I am the worst son a man could have, and there’s a very good chance I will be an even worse father.”
“You already are a wonderful father, Mac.”
“How can you possibly say that?” he asked without looking at her. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know how completely focused you are on Henry. And your insisting on coming to Inglenook early and then staying through the entire summer certainly proves how determined you are.” She started walking toward the main road when she heard the school bus approaching, but stopped and turned with a smile. “Parenting’s not about you versus Henry, Mac; it’s about you and Henry versus the world.”
 
 
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN NEARLY THREE MONTHS—SINCE A
mysterious, overly intelligent, pint-sized person had come to live with him—Mac felt a glimmer of hope that he might actually survive this. He hadn’t even made it to Inglenook yet and already he was seeing his son in a whole new light; the most surprising revelation being that Henry was soaking up everything he said and did like a sponge. Which, now that he thought about it, was frighteningly true; within days of their tumultuous meeting, Henry had started mimicking him to the point that Mac realized he could be looking in a thirty-year-old mirror from when
he
was six. But maybe the most insightful—and reassuring—thing Olivia had said was that he and Henry were on this journey together.
And that simple notion intrigued him as much as the woman who’d said it.
Which could be a problem. He was here to learn how to become a good father, and he really didn’t need the distraction of finding himself attracted to the teacher; no matter how beautiful she might be, or how warm and inviting her smile was, or how compassionate she was—to a fault. Damnation, he’d hadn’t known which had angered him more: that she would have been raped if he hadn’t happened along, or that she had in turn protected the bastard.
“It’s a good thing we were driving by when the lady was being attacked, wasn’t it, Father?” Henry said. “It’s too bad she wouldn’t allow you to kill the bastard, though, because I think he deserved it. Your letting him go might lead him to believe he can attack another woman and get away with it again.”
Mac looked down to find his son standing beside him, the child’s arms crossed over his chest and his feet planted to relax back on his hips as he watched Olivia walk across the main road in front of the stopped school bus. Sweet Prometheus, how could the boy possibly know his very thoughts?
Mac unfolded his arms and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Apparently ‘bastard’ is an inappropriate term for a six-year-old to use, Son. So maybe you should cease saying it until you’re older.”
“How much older?” Henry asked, also shoving his hands in his trouser pockets as he frowned up at Mac. “Can I say it when I’m ten? Or fifteen? Or do I have to wait until I’m your age?”
The boy always took everything so literally! “Maybe that’s a question you should ask Olivia.”
“And do I call her Olivia when I ask, or Madam?”
Mac dropped his head in defeat. “You might wish to ask her that, too. And, Henry, don’t mention to her daughter what happened today,” he said when he saw Olivia walking back across the road holding the hand of a girl who appeared to be a year or two older than Henry. “Olivia might not want her to know for fear of worrying her. Now go put your things behind your seat to make a place for her to sit,” he instructed, looking toward the main road as Henry ran to the truck.
The two women could have been twins but for their ages; the younger Baldwin had wavy brown hair that fell over her shoulders to frame an angelic face, an effortless smile, and an energized beauty that seemed to swirl around her like liquid sunshine—exactly like her mother. The young girl even took on Olivia’s same expression of concern when she spotted her mother’s swollen lip and puffy eyes. She then tugged on the unfamiliar jacket her mother was wearing over her own. Mac watched Olivia glance guiltily toward him as she started unzipping it, but her daughter stopped her by grabbing her hand and pushing up the sleeve, exposing a bruise on Olivia’s wrist that had darkened enough for Mac to see from where he was standing.
“Sophie looks just like her mother,” Henry said, having come back from his chore to once again stand with his hands in his trouser pockets.
“Sophie?” Mac repeated.
“Didn’t you hear Olivia tell me her daughter’s name is Sophie, and that she’s eight years old and in the second grade?” Henry glanced up at him then looked back at the women. “I don’t think I would have let the bast—that man drive away if I had caught him hurting Sophie.” He suddenly grinned menacingly. “I would have at least sent him home carrying his stones in his pocket.”
Mac broke out in a sweat. Henry wasn’t merely walking and talking like him; his son even
thought
like he did!
How could he have forgotten that people became who they lived with?
Especially impressionable young children.
There were a lot of things he’d forgotten, apparently, about the inherent nature of man; which, considering his line of work, could be hazardous. But indulging in the more pleasurable aspects of human desires for the greater part of his adult life, Mac realized he had obviously dismissed as unimportant many of the more mundane laws governing the universe.
Nothing like having a son to put everything into perspective.
Yes, for as much as he hadn’t wanted to travel even this short a distance from the ocean, bringing Henry to Inglenook just might prove to be one of the wisest decisions he’d made in several centuries.
BOOK: Highlander for the Holidays
13.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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