Drawing from his musings, he muttered a curse. Mary. He’d gone upstairs to fetch her gift without introducing her to his parents first.
Faster, he sped down the hallway.
“Ty, stop it! That doesn’t tickle—it hurts!”
Blossom’s singsong-y voice drifted from her room. Oddly, the door was shut. Usually it hung ajar with junk trailing into the hallway.
He threw open the door. “What’s going on in here?”
Shock lanced through him. He ground to a halt.
On the bed, Tyler clung to Blossom’s waist. They were on their knees facing each other. Blossom wore a new outfit he didn’t recall buying, skin-tight blue jeans with silver cord running up the sides. The shirt, nearly see-through gauze, bore a design of butterflies. Beneath the fabric her breasts strained as Tyler squeezed her ribs.
His hands. Her ribs. Her breasts.
Anthony’s breath stuttered. Blossom has breasts.
A few ridiculous and maudlin tears burned his eyes. Without warning, she’d leapt into another stage of development.
He wasn’t prepared for the change. A child raced ahead so quickly, how was a parent to keep up? Now she’d rushed ahead once again, with Tyler, who was tickling her on her bed with his hair thrown across his forehead and the shadowy evidence of a beard sprouting on his chin—
Tyler. With peach fuzz on his chin.
The maudlin tears gave way to a stronger emotion.
“Get off the bed!” He shoved the hatbox onto the dresser and stalked to the foot of the bed. “What do you think you’re doing?”
His daughter scurried across the comforter then stumbled to her feet. Tyler was faster. He shot to the center of the room.
Blossom needed all of three seconds to regain her cocksure attitude. “We’re goofing off,” she said. “What’s the big deal?”
Anthony cornered her. “Why don’t you goof off downstairs?”
“Why are you acting weird?” She squared off before him. “We always come upstairs. Why do you care?”
“New rules, kiddo. No boys in your bedroom. If Tyler stops over, he stays in the living room. Comprendo?”
“Ty isn’t a boy. He’s my buddy. Right, Ty?”
Anthony swung around. Tyler blanched.
He was a year older than Blossom and it showed. Something masculine crackled in the exchange—Anthony felt it. With sudden clarity he understood Tyler felt it, too.
“Sir, I’m sorry,” Tyler said. “I wasn’t aware of the rule. I’ll follow it.”
Sir. A kid I held as a baby just called me Sir. Anthony’s world shifted. The map he’d understood with some confidence was redrawn in the space of a heartbeat.
Ungrounded, he held Tyler in his sights. “Then we understand each other?”
“I won’t forget, sir. You have my word.”
Blossom flapped her arms. “Will someone tell me what’s going on?”
“No!” they shouted as one voice.
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