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Drumming his thumbs against the steering wheel, Nick sang quietly to himself as he fought the hypnotising motion of the windscreen wipers. It had begun to rain as they left Brooklyn and had not let up at all in the time it took to reach the Sound. Hannah had fallen into a restless sleep as darkness fell, waking frequently and turning to check on Jack. Now, as the cottage came into sight, Nick breathed a quiet sigh of relief. He had half expected Hannah to panic and order him to take her home at some point during the trip. Stopping parallel to the front porch, he switched the engine off and reached across to tap her on the shoulder.
"Hannah, we're here," he said quietly.
Lifting her head from the window, Hannah flinched as a pain shot through her neck.
"You okay?" Nick asked.
"Yeah. Just a crick in my neck," she replied.
Behind them, Jack coughed and began to cry. Nick pulled the keys from the ignition and handed them to Hannah before opening his door.
"The key's on there," he said, stepping out. "You unlock and switch on some lights. I'll bring Jack."
Closing her door behind her, Hannah stood for a moment and listened to the sound of waves lapping on the sand. She glanced over her shoulder at Nick and Jack before walking up the familiar steps and pushing the front door key into the lock. Surprised by the warmth inside the house, she reached for the light switch beside the door. Holding Jack in his arms, Nick joined her in the doorway and surveyed the living room. The fire had been lit and had burned down to a pile of glowing embers, ready to be stoked. A portable crib stood in the centre of the room, blankets draped over the side and a small stuffed toy cow sitting on the pillow. Hannah turned to look at him.
"I didn't want him to miss his moo cow," he said sheepishly.
Hannah smiled as she reached for Jack.
"I packed his moo cow," she replied as Jack scrambled into her arms. "But thank you."
"You're welcome," Nick replied, running a hand through his hair and looking around the room. "I guess I'll go and get the bags."
Stepping back onto the porch, Nick closed the door behind him and breathed in deeply, beginning to wonder if his Long Island Sound weekend had been such a good idea. She was going to make him sleep on the sofa - she had told him so and he had agreed. But now, standing in the cold night air while she waited for him inside, the sofa was the last place he wanted to spend the night. Seeing her asleep in the car, standing in the living room, smiling at him... She was making him crazy and she didn't have a clue. Running a hand over his face, Nick tilted his head to look up at the night sky. The rain had stopped but the clouds remained, broken in places by patches of star-speckled blackness. Sinking down onto the top step, Nick looked out towards the water. She was making him crazy. Jack was making him crazy - he couldn't get enough of his blonde, blue-eyed boy. He'd seen the pain in Hannah's eyes when he told her he wanted the DNA test but he'd tried to ignore it. There had been Cassie to consider and, though it made him sick to the stomach to think about it now, he hadn't wanted to deal with the inconvenience of a son. He'd tried to justify it all to himself a million times but, when all was said and done, he'd been terrified of the very real possibility Jack could be his and how his life would be changed. When the results arrived by post and the possibility became a reality, he had run the gamut of negative feelings - paralysing fear, anger, sadness and panic... And then, as he lay staring up at his ceiling, something had changed. Even now, sitting on the steps of the cottage he had never expected to visit with Hannah again, he wondered if it had been guilt that washed over him that night. He didn't want it to have been guilt but, in the end, did it matter? Something had made him book the flight to New York, walk block after block in the rain and arrive, soaked to the skin, on her doorstep. Guilt or not, he was grateful for whatever it was.
The door behind him opened and light spilled out onto the porch, Hannah's shadow cast over the unpainted boards.
"I thought you were getting the bags?" she asked from the doorway.
"I am," Nick replied, getting to his feet. "I was just taking a break."
"From what, you lazy bum?" Hannah laughed, slapping him playfully.
Nick caught her hand, spinning her around and pinning it behind her back.
"You trying to start something, Parker?" he asked. "You better be sure you can finish it."
Hannah twisted and Nick tightened his grip on her wrist. He could smell her perfume, faint after a full day on her skin, as he bent his head towards her neck. God, he could almost feel her skin against his lips he was so close - any closer without touching her and he would go insane.
She wasn't moving. Sure, he was holding her pretty tight but she wasn't even trying.
Nick wasn't sure if her name had left his mouth or if he was beginning to confuse the endless repetitions in his head with the spoken word.
Relaxing his grip on her wrist as she turned towards him, Nick swallowed. Hannah looked at him silently for a moment before she stepped back.
"I should check on Jack..." she said quietly, moving towards the door.
Nick sighed as the door closed softly behind her. Stepping off the porch, he opened the rear door of the Explorer and began to unload the bags.