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before, from Limited Too to Abercrombie, and now Bloomingdale’s. His daughter, he realized, had her mother’s genes. She gravitated from store to store, “oohing” and “aahing” over each item, but unlike her mother, she didn’t ask for everything she saw. Although she let him replace the Abercrombie flip-flops Fred had chewed up, she didn’t request anything else.

That puzzled him.

They ended up in Bloomingdale’s. The escalator down to the girls’ department let them off in bedding, where a huge sign proclaimed Summer White Sale. He suddenly remembered what he was missing at home. “I need some new towels. Mind if we take a detour?”

She shook her head. “Nope.”

They weaved through the displays of sheets and duvets toward the towels, when he realized Holly had stopped in front of a bed made up with a bold pink-purple-and-white pattern.

“What did you find?” he asked.

“Check these out!” Her blue eyes lit up as she pointed to the bed display and matching throw pillows. “My best friend, Robin, has something like this at home. It’s so cool, don’t you think?”

“I sure do. For a girl.” He ruffled the top of her head.

As he spoke, Derek realized that from the day Holly had come to stay with him, she’d used old linen from his father’s house without complaint. It had never dawned on Derek that she might like something new, or to make the room she was living in her own.

“Would you like these for your room here?” he asked.

She turned toward him, her eyes huge. “Really? I can have them?”

He nodded, wanting her to be happy. This bedding seemed to do the trick.

“You’re sure? I mean, we don’t know how long I’m going to be here. And Mom will never let me use them at home since they don’t match my room.” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s probably a lot of money.” She trailed off, obviously disappointed in the conclusion she’d reached.

She was probably right. He hadn’t looked at the price, but whatever the cost, for Holly he’d suck it up. “What’s that sign say?” He pointed to the billboard in the center of the department.

She tucked her long blond hair behind her ear, squinted and read the words. “Sale. But…”

“But nothing. If you’re worried about me spending money, I can afford these. I promise.” Derek wasn’t broke.

He’d just lost a lot in the stock market and had given up most of his assets in the divorce, wanting to spare his daughter the pain of more fighting.

If he’d split his money with his ex, he might never have given the curse a second thought. But he’d willingly given her more than she deserved because he felt responsible for things not working out. Then he’d invested a chunk of his money in a company that was supposed to be a sure thing. Instead, he’d lost nearly everything, depleted the bulk of his assets and decided then and there that the curse was in full force. Even if he hadn’t married Holly’s mother for love.

He’d married Marlene for the little blond reason standing in front of him now. He’d gotten his ex-wife pregnant their second year in college. Like father, like son, Hank had told him, lecturing him over not learning from the past. His father had a point. He’d been careless. But Derek thought it would go differently. His father had been desperately in love with Derek’s mother. Derek didn’t feel that way about Marlene.

It hadn’t mattered. Marlene didn’t believe in abortion, not that he’d have asked it of her. So Derek had stepped up and done the right thing. His father had tried to do the same thing with Vivian, Derek’s mother, but her family had intervened. They’d sent her to a home for unwed mothers, intending to make her give the baby up for adoption. Hank and his brothers had confronted them, paid them a hefty amount of money and taken Derek home. Vivian’s family moved away and to this day, Derek’s mother refused to acknowledge him as her son.

He could never do that to his child. So he’d married Marlene. It made sense, he’d thought at the time. They had fun together and he cared for her. Once he realized she carried his child, he came to see logic in their union. In Marlene, he saw a way to circumvent the curse. They could share a life, a family and a future without risk, because he wasn’t head over heels in love with her.

Their disaster of a marriage and wrenching divorce had proved Derek wrong. It seemed that just being a male Corwin was enough to set the curse in motion.

“Dad?” Holly tugged on his arm.

“Sorry, I was thinking about something.” He cleared his throat. “Why don’t you go find where they have these set up?”

She nodded and began to dart through the short stations and finally waved to him. “Found them!”

“Coming!” His life was different these days, he mused, watching his daughter practically hop up and down in excitement, waiting for him to join her.

He had less money but more time on his hands, which worked well since Holly would be staying with him for the summer.

He kept enough in savings to feel comfortable, but like the other men in his family, he now stopped short of building up wealth that could easily be lost. Life seemed simpler that way even if he did miss the adrenaline rush of taking risks and watching them pay off.

“Look for a package that says queen size,” he told Holly. “And then the pillow cases will probably say king or regular. We want regular.”

“I can’t believe you’re getting me these. I really can’t,” she said as she knelt down and began sorting through the sealed sheet sets.

A sharp pain sliced through his chest. “Hey, Holly? Why wouldn’t I want to buy these for you?”

She glanced up at him. “Promise you won’t be mad?”

He nodded. He couldn’t remember ever being truly angry at her. Then again, he’d worked so many hours a week, he hadn’t been home enough to get mad about anything. And during the past two years, he hadn’t had Holly for more than a short weekend or two, if he was lucky. He’d threatened to fight his ex over custody, but she always had a rational reason why Holly couldn’t come visit. A sleepover at a friend’s, a birthday party she couldn’t miss. It was as if Marlene was punishing him for not being there for her.

Only recently, after she’d gotten engaged to John Bartman, did she soften toward Derek. She’d fallen in love, and John treated her the way Derek should have. She’d finally declared a truce. That had given Derek more access to his daughter and he was grateful.

He smiled at Holly, who rose to face him.

“I promise I won’t get angry.”

Holly drew a deep breath. “Mom used to say that you hated giving her child support, that you considered spending your hard-earned money on me a waste.” She bit her bottom lip with her teeth and her eyes filled with tears.

The knife in his chest twisted deeper. While he wasn’t surprised Marlene had been so bitter, it infuriated him that she’d lie to his daughter about something so serious.

“Did Mom ever not buy you things you wanted or needed?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No! And she hasn’t said that in a really long time. But she did once and I couldn’t ever forget it.” Holly sniffed.

“I don’t have any tissues. Want to use this, instead?” Derek grinned and held out his sleeve.

She giggled. “Dad!”

He laughed. “Listen to me.” He took her small hand in his, overwhelmed by the connection between them. “I promise you I’m not angry,” he told her, squeezing her palm tighter in his. “I made a lot of mistakes with your mom. I’m upset that I made her so unhappy that she felt that way.” He struggled for the right words so it didn’t seem as if he was bashing her mother.

He and Marlene had come a long way.

“Let me make a few things clear to you right now. Number one, I love you. I didn’t walk out on you. Your mother and I agreed that me leaving was for the best. Your mom was angry at me for a lot of grown-up reasons, but that’s over now. I’m happy for her and John. Are you?”

Holly nodded. “He’s not bad. And Mom seems a lot happier now so that’s good.”

Derek exhaled, relieved she understood. Divorce wasn’t easy on kids. “So how about you and I start over? No assumptions, no misunderstandings. If you want something, ask. I reserve the right to say no if I think it’s bad for

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