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SOLDIER ON HER DOORSTEP
by Soraya Lane

Genre: Current Series Imprints, Harlequin Romance, Series

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Lisa found Alex leaning against the hood of the car when they returned for the second time. He’d long since packed the groceries into the back, after she’d met him at the vehicle with the bags, and he was now leaning with one foot against the front wheel arch and the other out front.

Lilly bounded up to him, then decided to give Boston, who was still inside the car, her attention instead. She’d coped well with the therapist. Now she was open as a spring flower, and Alex and Boston were helping to keep her like it. 

“I didn’t know if he was allowed out or not,” Alex said, gesturing to the cooped-up canine.

“No, he isn’t!” Even Lilly laughed at her mother’s appalled expression. “He has a track record of stealing sausages from the butcher, snatching sandwiches - all sorts of things,” Lisa explained.

Alex cracked a grin. It stopped her in her tracks. She’d seen him smile more than once now, plenty of times, but they were often sad smiles. Often haunted. This one was powerful. It showed off straight white teeth and set his eyes to crinkling. 

“That the real reason he travels shot-gun?” he asked.

“You’ve got me there.” She smiled.

Alex opened the door and Lilly scrambled in. “She get on okay?” he asked.

Lisa gave him a thumb’s up. “Big progress.” She crossed around the side of the car to jump behind the wheel. When she got in, it wasn’t as crowded as she’d expected. 

Lilly had crawled into Alex’s lap. 

Lisa’s hand shook as she tried to put the key in the ignition. She turned on the engine. Then looked at Alex. His eyes were pleading. Torn between terror and something she couldn’t identify. She was about to tell Lilly to get in her seat. About to take action. When Lilly’s head fell against Alex’s chest. 

It nearly broke her heart. 

She had always sat like that with William. Lisa had always found them in the car like that, waiting for her to emerge from a shop. 

And now she was sitting like it with Alex. 

It was the first time since he’d come into their lives that she’d seen him fill William’s boots. The idea of replacing William made her feel physically sick. But the ever-present thrum of attraction, of being drawn to Alex, quickly pushed away the nausea. 

She met his eyes again. He didn’t blink. Didn’t pull his eyes away. The brown of his irises seemed to soften as he looked back at her. She watched as one hand circled Lilly, keeping her tucked gently against him. Lisa could see the gentle rise and fall of his chest. He still hadn’t looked away. 

She swallowed. Tried to. But a lump of something wouldn’t pass. Lilly’s doctor’s words echoed in her mind, but she swept them away. 

Something had changed between them. In that moment the goalposts had moved. It had been building up, simmering below the surface. But right now something had changed. 

She knew it and he knew it. 

Alex wasn’t pulling away from her daughter - but then she hadn’t ever seen him truly pull away from Lilly before. They were like kindred spirits. The way they connected was - well, like nothing she could have imagined, believed, could happen. 

But he always pulled away from her. Always kept himself at a distance. Kept himself tucked away. 

Not now. 

Now Lisa could see with clarity that he felt it too. She’d been caught in his gaze too long. 

Lisa placed her hands on the wheel. Her palms were damp. She put the car in gear, looked over her shoulder, then pulled out onto the road. 

And then she saw her. 

William’s mother stood on the footpath. Watching them. 

She raised a hand to wave to her, and cringed as guilt crawled across her skin. Swept like insects tiptoeing across every inch of her body. Brought that nausea to the surface again. Made her wish she could just stamp on the attraction she felt for Alex and go back to pining for William. 

His mother raised her hand too. But Lisa could see the look on her face. It was pained and confused and upset. 

Lisa thumped her foot on the accelerator to get away. She couldn’t face her. Not now. 

She felt sick. Physically sick again. 

She’d done nothing wrong, so why did she feel so guilty?

And why did she feel like nothing was ever going to be the same ever again?

She glanced over at Alex, taking her eyes from the road for a nanosecond. Lilly was still tucked against him. Boston had his head resting against his leg. 

Could she really ever be with another man? William had been her one and only lover. The only man in her life. Her high-school sweetheart and best friend. The only man she’d ever wanted. 

Did thinking about Alex romantically make her a bad person? She hoped not. Because there was no chance she could ignore Alex. 

Not a chance. 

She knew that now. And she didn’t have the strength to fight it much longer. 

No matter how much it was tying her in knots.