Still clasping Pru's hand, Jack looked into her eyes. "You sure you're ready to
With tears in her eyes, Prudence nodded. "Very. In fact, I've often dreamed about
He smiled, "You mean when you weren't hating me?"
She retorted, "Well, there were times when I was bloody well ready to castrate you.
But.... then there were others when all I could see was your eyes when I looked
at Annie. How could I hate you for giving her to me, Jamie?"
"I gave you plenty of reasons, but... thank God you found it in your heart to forgive
me," he replied. "Uh.... and not castrate me."
Annie reached the top step of the patio and approached the duo.
Prudence gestured toward the chair beside her. "Have a seat, Sweetie."
Annie sat beside her mother. "What's up, Mom? Have you and Jack thought of an idea
for the next show?"
"No," Pru answered. Then taking a deep breath, she reached for Jack's hand again.
"We have something to tell you."
Annie's smile broadened. "If it's about you two being in love, I already know that."
Jack chuckled. "Uh.... well, there's a little more to it than that."
Prudence picked up the story from there. "Jack and I have known each other for a
Annie giggled, "I KNEW he was talking about you at dinner!"
Her brow creased. "You did?"
Annie explained, "Come on, Mom. I'd have to be blind not to see how you look at each
other. And when Jack gave all of those reasons why he was in love with you? It
was SO romantic."
Prudence glanced at Jack, speechless.
Annie continued, "So, what did you want to tell me?"
Jack began, "You're right, Annie. It is your Mom who I was in love with 25 years
ago. I walked out on her. Like I said, I was stupid and immature, and I've regretted
my behavior ever since. But.... well, I'd like to think I've changed.... that I've
become a better man. Someone your mother could be proud of."
"I AM proud of you, Jamie," Prudence uttered softly.
Annie was puzzled. "Jamie?"
She turned to her daughter. "It was my pet nickname for Jack. Jameson."
"Oh." Annie nodded. "That's sweet."
Prudence added, "I can't let him take all of the blame for what happened. I was difficult
to live with, especially toward the end."
Annie joked, "Then it wasn't your cooking? So, how did you meet?"
Jack supplied, "We were living in London. I was working on the great American novel.
I met your mother in a coffee shop."
Prudence interjected, "I literally bumped into him and began telling him how to remove
a coffee stain by making a cleaning paste out of powdered laundry detergent, distilled
white vinegar and cold water."
"That's not quite how I pictured it," Annie stated.
Pru was surprised. "You've pictured our meeting?"
"Of course, Mother," she defended. "Once I figured out that Jack and you had once
been an item, my imagination took over."
Prudence tilted her head quizzically. "What else did you imagine?"
Annie revealed, "I imagined that your mother disapproved, just like you did of my
relationship with Trevor."
Jack turned up his nose. "Trevor? Who's he?"
"The git she lived with in London," Prudence identified.
"Mother!" Annie defended. "He was a full professor, and we were in love."
Jack could tell that both women were losing their tempers. "Hey, how about if I fix
Prudence frowned, "That's it, Jack. Bolt again!"
He defended, "I'm not bolting. I just don't want you two to fight. This isn't how
we wanted to tell Annie."
Prudence stood up, her jaw tense.
Annie glared, "Now who's bolting, Mother?"
"Annie." His tone was soft. "Pru, please sit down."
Prudence sighed and swallowed hard. "I guess I'm being my mother again."
Annie agreed, "Totally."
Pru turned to face Jack. "I'm sorry for what I said, Jamie.... about you bolting."
He nodded in understanding. "Why don't we come to the point with Annie?"
Prudence nodded in agreement. "Annie.... I'm sorry for saying nasty things about
your love. The truth is, I've been in that same position. Jack and I were in love.
And you're right. Mother disapproved."
"I was the git," Jack mused.
Pru reached for his hand, and he gladly gave it. "Sweetie, I've kept a secret from
Jack.... and from you all of these years."
"A secret?" She could not imagine.
Jack spoke up, "She kept it from me because I didn't deserve to know."
"Now you have me totally intrigued," the young woman smiled. "So, what is this deep,
Prudence steeled herself for her daughter's reaction. "Jack is your father."
Annie's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. "What?"
Jack nodded. "It's true."
Annie's eyes narrowed. "Mother, how could you have kept this from me?"
Prudence defended, "Looking back, I know it was wrong and selfish of me. I.... I
didn't tell Jack because he'd broken my heart, and I didn't want him to have any
part of you. I didn't tell you because.... I didn't want you to think there was
a father out there who might not want you."
The young woman was stunned. "Did Dad know?"
"Howard knew he wasn't your father," she confessed. "But, he loved you, Sweetie."
Annie stood abruptly. "Don't call me 'Sweetie.'"
With that, she rushed into the house.
Prudence sighed, "Well, I botched that. Didn't I?"
Jack caressed her cheek. "If she's the woman I think she is, she'll come around."
"I should go to her," Prudence considered.
"Let me." He rose to his feet. "It's about time I start being her Dad."
Prudence smiled, and he kissed her sweetly.
Jack found Annie in the living room, curled up on the couch, crying.
With his hands in his jean pockets, he approached timidly. "Mind if I join you?"
She shrugged and began to wipe the tears from her cheeks as she slid over to make
room for him.
Jack offered a handkerchief, and Annie accepted.
She sighed, "I guess you and I are in the same boat, victims of Prudence McIntyre's
He sat beside her. "I'm so sorry that I was never there for you, Annie, to pick you
up when you cried, to tuck you in with bedtime stories or tell you how much I love
She swallowed hard, moved by his words. "I would have liked that a lot."
He cupped his palm to her cheek. "You're beautiful, just like your mother. She's
so lucky to have seen you take your first step, say your first word."
"She cheated you out of that," Annie accused.
"No," he returned. "I cheated myself. I'm the one who left. I said before that
I was stupid, but.... I was more than that. I was afraid."
"Afraid of Mom?" she questioned.
"Afraid of commitment," he clarified. "Young men think they have to see the world,
climb the highest mountain before they even think of settling down. I gave away
the best things that ever happened to me."
"How did you end up working for Mister?" she wondered.
He took a deep breath. "Your grandmother had said I'd never amount to anything.
I wasn't good enough for her daughter. I guess that lit a fire under me. I set
out to prove her wrong. I traveled for a while, then went to work for an ad agency
back in The States. I worked my way up from there. I thought if I threw myself into becoming
successful, I could forget about Prudence and prove her mother wrong."
"But you didn't forget her," Annie assumed.
"Not for a minute," he smiled. "You know how she is. A force of nature. All that
bluster and bravado on the outside, but underneath...."
"Tender and caring," she completed his sentence.
He reached for her hand. "I missed so much, Annie. I don't want to miss any more."
Annie reflected. "I.... I think I always knew that Dad... Mom's husband, wasn't really
my father. He was always nice and polite, but..."
"I've heard there's a special bond between a father and his little girl," he grinned.
"Maybe that's why my father.... Howard was never home," she speculated.
Jack offered, "I'd like to be a father to you. I.... I know I don't deserve a daughter
as wonderful as you, but... if you'll have me, I'd like to try."
Annie melted. "I think I'd like that."
He embraced her. "Before we go tell your Mom, I'd like to ask you something."
"What?" she wondered.
He swallowed hard at the lump in his throat. "I'd like to make us a family. Annie,
could I have your permission to ask your mother to marry me?"
Annie teased, "It's about time."
Prudence paced near the deck table, uncertain if she should interrupt the father-daughter
conversation between Jack and Annie. With folded arms, she gazed down toward the
swimming pool, suddenly reminded of her first kiss with Jack in 25 years.
Shaking her head, she smiled. How much her life had changed in a matter of a few
days. At that moment, she heard Jack and Annie approach, both smiling like the Cheshire
Without a word, Annie reached her mother and pulled her into a warm embrace.
Tears filled Pru's eyes. "I'm so sorry."
Annie pulled back. "And I'm sorry for what I said to you, Mom. If I had been in
your shoes, I probably would have done the same thing."
Prudence asserted, "I don't EVER want you to be in my shoes. I want you to be able
to confide in me."
Jack stood back, allowing them to have their moment. When Prudence looked his way,
he smiled. She reached for his hand, and he came to them.
Prudence smiled. "Well, what now, my dears?"
Annie spoke up. "I'm going to fix dinner for us."
"Not me," Jack related. "I have a few errands to take care of, but how about I join
you two for breakfast?"
Pru frowned, "Jamie, it's our first evening as a family. Can't you...."
"I promise we'll have every night from tomorrow on," he pledged. "But I really do
have important business to tend to."
Annie kissed his cheek. "We'll see you in the morning then."
She left her parents alone.
Prudence folded her arms again, tensing at the thought of Jack's departure.
He sensed her angst. "I know I haven't give you much reason to trust my promises,
but I've changed."
She forced a smile. "I know you have. I suppose I'll just have to manage my disappointment."
He lifted her hands to his lips and kissed them. "I'll never let you down again,
Pru. I love you."
She fought back a tear. "I haven't heard you say that in a long time."
He grinned. "You're gonna hear it a lot from now on. Forgive me for tonight?"
"I suppose so." She kissed him. "What did you say to Annie to win her over?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow over breakfast," he answered. "Nine o'clock sharp."
Jack whistled as he stood by the kitchen stove cracking eggshells.
Annie joined him. "Everything ready?"
"I think so." He spoke low.
She related. "Mom will be down for breakfast any minute."
"Good." He wiped his hands on the At Home with Prudence apron he was wearing. "Coffee's
ready. Table's set. Veggies and dollops are all in place."
Annie grinned. "Nigel and I will make ourselves scarce."
"About you and Nigel," he paused.
"Good friends," she stated. "For now, anyway."
With a look reminiscent of her mother's, she kissed his cheek. "I'll see you later....
The moment Annie departed, Prudence entered the kitchen. "Where's our daughter going
in such a rush?"
He shrugged. "Said she had something to do with Nigel."
"Probably preparing for the next show," Prudence assumed.
She approached him and slid her arms around his waist. "Good morning."
He kissed her. "Good morning. I hope you're hungry."
"Famished," she exclaimed dramatically.
He went to the table and pulled out a chair, inviting her to sit.
Prudence smiled and obeyed. "Do I get a newspaper?"
"In a minute," he answered, sliding the omelet onto her plate.
She queried, "Are you joining me?"
"Of course," he said as he prepared his own plate.
Side by side, they began their breakfast.
Prudence observed, "I think I like starting my mornings with you."
He winked, "Good."
"So, what are your plans today?" she questioned before taking a bite of her meal.
"I thought we might stay here today," Jack noted. "We have a lot to discuss."
"Yes, I suppose we do," she agreed. "You didn't tell me what you said to Annie when
you two had your private chat yesterday."
Jack revealed, "I just said what's in my heart."
Pru placed her hand atop his. "What IS in your heart, Jamie?"
"You." He leaned closer to kiss her. "And Annie."
"Good answer," she mused.
He glanced toward the countertop. "Oh, your paper."
"Open to the crossword?" she asked.
He handed it to her. "Well, you might have to find it. I didn't have time."
"Too busy preparing our breakfast, which is fantastic, by the way," she commended.
"Thanks." He watched intently as she found the crossword page and folded it back.
"Let's see." She glanced down at 1 Across. "Nickname for Shakespeare."
"Easy one." He took a sip of coffee.
"WILL." She filled in the blanks. "Next one, Female sheep."
Jack laughed. "This sounds too easy."
"Doesn't it?" she chuckled as she filled in "EWE. The next is Eat, drink and be___
MERRY." Prudence paused. "Jack, what's going on here?"
He kept a straight face. "We're eating breakfast. Why?"
"This puzzle," she discerned. "It's not at all challenging."
"Well, see for yourself." He gestured to the top of the page. "It's the Times."
She shook her head and sighed. "Daft editor, no doubt."
"No doubt," he agreed.
"Right." Her eyes jumped to the next set of spaces. "Part of song lyric Do, re___"
Her brow creased. "This is ridiculous. ME."
He suggested, "Maybe it's one of those themes where you have to put the words together
to form a quote."
She gazed at the puzzle again. "WILL.... EWE.... MERRY.... ME?"
Suddenly, her eyes widened as her head quickly pivoted to him. "Jamie?"
"Will you marry me?" he repeated.
Her heart skipped a beat. "Are you mad?"
"Madly in love," he amended.
"But...." She was clearly flustered.
Jack declared, "Pru, I want to spend the rest of my life loving you, waking up next
to you... and teaching you how to make an omelet."
She retorted, "That could take a lifetime."
"So, how about it?" He stood up, drawing her into his arms. "Will you have me?"
"Yes," She whispered.
"Good." He reached into his apron pocket. "Then I didn't waste my money."
He held her hand up and slid a glittering diamond ring onto her finger.
"Jamie!" Her eyes gleamed with love. "It's beautiful."
"Glad you like it," he nodded. "That's why I missed dinner with Annie and you last
night. I had an ad agency friend work up the newspaper while I went shopping for
"And what made you think I'd say yes?" she added flirtatiously.
"This." He leaned in to kiss her.
Her hand caressed the back of his neck as their contact deepened.
She pulled back, breathless from their encounter. "I neglected to tell you something
He questioned, "What's that?"
Her heart filled. "I love you, too."
Jack smiled. "Looks like my great American novel finally has a perfect ending, Prudence."
My thanks to L.D. for the inspiration and encouragement.
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