Day 11 and our final day of our Father’s Day Week celebration in honor of the wonderful men we love and read about is an EXCLUSIVE from the Take This Regret series by A.L. Jackson!
The smell of the sea filled the air, the coolest breeze slipped along the surface of the water. It billowed as it caressed our faces and whipped at the tall, proud sails. Our little sailboat sliced forward through the calm waters of San Diego Bay.
I lifted my face to the intense blue of the warm spring sky.
Had there ever been a time in my life when I felt so alive?
Instinctively, my attention sought out my girls.
Both stood with their backs to me, Elizabeth with the long length of her blonde hair whipping around her from where she held onto the railing, watching out over the beauty of our city. Lizzie was right beside her, wearing a life vest, the locks of her black hair equally as unruly as her mother’s.
An uncontained smile took over my face just as assuredly as my love for them had taken over my heart.
I couldn’t help it. I was happy. Imperceptively, I shook my head. No, I was wrong. I wasn’t just happy. This was a joy that penetrated deep into my core. One that consumed, powerful enough to erase the loneliness that had been my only partner for far too many years.
Lizzie glanced over her shoulder. A grin split her precious face. “Daddy, do you see all the big boats?”
Large military boats and submarines shone their strength where they were moored, and a cruise ship waited proud in the harbor.
“They are amazing, aren’t they, sweetheart?” I asked above the hum of the wind.
But it was these two who were amazing. I still couldn’t believe that I’d woken to this surprise, something so special to me. How many times had Lizzie and I stood on the balcony of my loft, counting sailboats, making up stories of our own adventures, of what we would do and what we would see? This morning I’d been pulled from sleep by sweet little hands and a gentle voice in my ear, a song of praise. “Daddy, wake up. It’s your special day and I got a big surprise for you.” A card was produced from behind her back. I’d opened the handmade card that was filled with the distinct evidence of my daughter’s love, scribbled in pinks and hearts, every indent priceless to me.
“Happy Father’s Day,” she’d squealed, rocking back on her heels as she searched for approval.
Lizzie wanted to celebrate me.
But in my heart, I knew this day was to celebrate them.
“This is the best gift I’ve ever gotten, Lizzie.” I’d smiled my promise at her, all the while knowing that the true gift stood in front of me—family—my daughter and the woman I couldn’t wait to make my wife.
I’d only had to glance at Elizabeth to see whose idea it’d been for the voucher inside.
God, the woman knew me so well.
And I loved her with it all.
Two hours before, we’d boarded the chartered sailboat. Sailing had always been a love of mine, found in the days of my youth, though I hadn’t done it in so many years.
Once before I’d taken Elizabeth, on her twentieth birthday, had set us out to sea at dusk. I’d made love to her on the deck beneath the stars, when the world had seemed as if it was only ours.
Those were the good old days. The naïve ones.
These were the perfect days.
Lizzie turned, holding onto the railing as she carefully made her way down the deck toward me. She was all smiles and sweet. Emotion pushed at my chest, filled me whole because this little girl owned my soul. “Are you getting hungry yet, Daddy? Because I sure am.” Blue eyes blinked their concern.
“I’m starving,” I said.
If possible, her grin widened. “I thought so. Breakfast was hours ago,” she drew out. “I’m gonna go get our lunch and we can have a picnic right out here!” Her voice lifted in excitement.
She started down the stairs into the cabin.
“Be careful, sweetheart. Those stairs might be slippery.”
Lizzie was turning into such a little mother, always the first to take care of those around her. There was something about it that thrilled me, left me in awe of the precious little girl my daughter was growing up to be.
I had little to do with it, I knew, the voice and the heart and kindness found all in the woman who was watching me now with an affection I could never hope to deserve.
Slowly she made her way over to me, wisps of her hair kissing her face as she approached. She tugged it away, tucked it behind her ear as she neared.
My pulse accelerated.
Would she always have this effect on me? One that shot through my veins, lit and sped, pulsed and pooled?
Damn, I hoped so.
She didn’t stop until her hands were on my shoulders and her forehead rested against mine, our breaths a tangle in the wind. “Happy Father’s Day, Christian,” she murmured.
I tilted my face up and whispered against her lips. “Happy doesn’t begin to describe it.”
Brown eyes closed softly, knowingly, and a soft puff of air escaped her nose. “Yeah,” she agreed.
We both turned as Lizzie struggled up the steps, maneuvering a large wicker basket up the companionway.
Elizabeth shifted to my side.
“You need help, sweetheart?” I offered.
“Daddy…” Blue eyes widened at me, Lizzie shaking her head as if I were completely clueless. “It’s your day. You’re not allowed to do any work.”
Snuffed out the laughter died in my throat, and I glanced up at Elizabeth to return her grin. “What in the world was I thinking?” I couldn’t help but tease.
Lizzie spread a blanket out on the smooth wood, laid out her offering of sandwiches and chips and sodas.
“Did you know Lizzie made all this herself?” Elizabeth prodded as she nudged my arm.
Everything softened as I looked down on my little girl. “Did you really, sweetheart?”
Redness flooded her chubby cheeks and a smile lit at her mouth. “Of course, Daddy.”
“Well, then I’m sure this will be the best meal I’ve ever eaten.” I climbed down, sat with my legs crisscrossed as Lizzie unwrapped my sandwich and gave it to me, handed one to her mother, then opened one for herself.
“Come here, sweetheart.” I pulled her onto my lap.
Lizzie took a bite of her sandwich, tilted her head back to smile up at me as she chewed.
Warmth overflowed that void where loneliness had once lived. Something about my little girl’s expression reminded me so much of that first day I’d spent with her and Elizabeth on the beach close to a year ago. Though at that time, my heart had been filled with so much loss and uncertainty.
My gaze traveled to Elizabeth.
Now she was mine.
I looked back down at my daughter, dropped a kiss to her forehead. “I love you, sweet girl.”
“I love you more.”
“Oh no you don’t, I love you more.”
“Nuh-uh,” she protested.
This was Lizzie’s favorite game. One she would never win.
We ate our lunches, talked through the casual ease that had settled over our lives. One we finished, Lizzie stood at the railing and counted the sailboats, deemed ours the best.
I had to agree only because of the girls riding it.
Beside me, Elizabeth stretched out her long legs in front of her, rested her hands beside her as she lifted her face to the sun.
My gaze landed on her, her eyes closed and her expression free, her heart no longer bound by its chains.
And I loved more than I’d ever believed my heart had the capacity to.
The sun had set by the time we returned the boat to its slip. Lizzie yawned, and I didn’t hesitate to pull my baby girl into my arms. It took only seconds for the car to lull to sleep, and in the easy silence I held Elizabeth’s hand. I parked in the driveway and climbed out to gather my daughter back into my arms. She stirred and whispered, the sound tugging at the place inside me that had to have been created just in men who were lucky enough to have fathered a daughter. I carried her inside and into her room, tucked her into bed, softly kissed her on the forehead, left her door resting just on the jamb.
Quieting my feet, I crept into our bedroom and softly latched the door behind me. I leaned my shoulder up against the wall as I took Elizabeth in.
Emotion thickened in my throat.
Elizabeth still could bring me to my knees.
She stood at the vanity in the bathroom, head tipped to the side as she ran a brush through the length of her hair. Her eyes were closed as if she were lost in thought, a gentle smile hinting at just one side of her luscious mouth. A black, spaghetti strapped satin nightie dropped just to her thighs, showing off those long legs that I was more than ready to get lost in.
Swallowing hard, I edged up behind her, wrapped my arms around her waist as I drew her back against my chest.
Warm brown eyes popped open, and Elizabeth smiled at me through the mirror, rocked back in a little tease as she covered my hands with hers.
I squeezed her a little closer, nuzzled her below her ear.
Chills slipped down her neck.
“I still can’t believe you arranged all of this today, Elizabeth. You know how much that means to me, right? That you know me so well?” My words thickened with intensity. “That you remember all of these little things that were important to me, even after everything I did to you?”
Turning in my arms, she smiled softly up at me, placed a tender hand to my chest, right over my wildly thrumming heart. “Of course I know you, Christian.” Her voice dropped low. “I know you inside and out, and I’ll never forget you.”
My hands found her hips, drew her flush to me. Heat surged. Always. There would never be a day when I would tire of feeling her skin on mine, never a day when our desire would dim. My hand slipped up her back, fingertips digging into the divots of her spine as I slowly dragged them up.
Elizabeth moaned. She buried her hands in my hair as she tugged me closer.
Trust resonated in her touch, in the expression that flushed like a delicate rose across her face.
Trust had become what I cherished most.
“I love you, Christian. Thank you for being here, for giving Lizzie a reason to celebrate this day.”
I looked into the warmth of her brown eyes. Father’s Days had once been a thing of pain for me, a morning that I’d always awoken with my chest pinned to the ground by the most unbearable weight.
Warm brown eyes stared up at me. Telling.
They once had been a day of pain for her, too.
“Kiss me,” she whispered urgently.
She didn’t need to ask me twice.
I captured her mouth, the kiss possessive because she was mine. Elizabeth nipped at me, welcomed my tongue and my love and this affection that would never fade.
This love would never let us go.
With my chest tight, I pulled away for a breath, rested my forehead against hers. “I love you with my life, Elizabeth. It is yours.”
Fingers spread, traveled my chest to the side of my neck, burned like fire. Then she pulled back and smiled. “Our life.”
Book .5 – Lost To You
Book 1 – Take This Regret