A/N: Quick update – unfortunately I can't promise that the next ones will be just as quick.
Also, to those people who have being suggesting that Harry needs to do something about his marital status…that will be addressed over the next few chapters.
Harry has made the mistake of promising Catherine that she can choose the restaurant for her birthday meal, and much to his disdain, she's chosen Pizza Hut. The four of them sit round a circular table, tucking into a large Hawaiian pizza. The cheese on the pizza is quite stringy though and Catherine struggles to separate it; ending up with cheese dangling from her mouth to below her chin. Graham finds this hilarious; giggling away to himself.
He provides some amusement too. Moments later, after taking a long drink, he lets out an enormous burp causing Catherine to laugh.
"Charming!" comments Harry. "And in front of a guest too!"
"Sowree Daddy," Graham says, unconvincingly.
"You know, in China, belching after a meal is considered a compliment to the chef," Ruth informs.
Catherine senses an opportunity, but Harry reads her like a book and clamps his hand over her mouth before her belch can escape. "We are not in China," he asserts. Ruth stifles a laugh.
"Can we have an ice cream factory?" Catherine asks when the pizza and garlic bread are finished.
"Ice cream!" concurs Graham
"Please?!" pleads Catherine with puppy dog eyes.
"Okay. As long as you don't eat so much that you make yourself sick," Harry agrees.
"We won't!" Catherine calls; already out of her seat and heading towards the ice cream station, Graham following excitedly behind.
"I'm going to be up all night with two sick children aren't I?"
"It's a distinct possibility," agrees Ruth. "They've had fun though."
"They have. I can't remember the last time I saw Catey smile this much."
"It's because it's her birthday."
Harry shakes his head gently. "It's because of you."
Ruth wants to ask him what he means, but can't quite find the words. By the time she does, Catherine and Graham have returned to the table, bowls piled high with ice-cream, sweets and sticky chocolate sauce.
After Harry has settled the bill, they make their way back to his house where Ruth had left her car earlier that morning. When they get in, Harry gets a sleepy Graham changed and tucks him into bed, before instructing Catherine to go and ready herself for bed. "Don't forget to wash your face and do your teeth."
"Will Ruth read me a story?" Catherine asks.
"Of course sweetheart," Ruth agrees.
"Once you're ready for bed," Harry says. Catherine obediently trots off upstairs to her room to get changed. Harry and Ruth sit on the sofa. "Thanks for coming to celebrate with us. I really appreciate it and Catherine does too." He puts his arms around her, his hands stroking gently up and down her back. He presses a kiss to her brow.
"It's not a problem…I had fun." She pauses for a moment before asking, "Harry…what did you mean before…in the restaurant…when you said Catherine's happiness was down to me? It can't be, I mean I've only known her for two weeks."
"Well, like I've said on numerous occasions, you have made quite an impression and it is good for her to have a female around. But I was actually referring to the effect that you've had on me. Since we've begun to explore a relationship, I've been more relaxed and I think that's rubbed off on them."
Ruth smiles, happy with his explanation and nestles against him, inhaling that unique scent that is Harry. "That's okay then. I was worried for a minute that Catherine's wellbeing depended wholly on me."
"As brilliant as you are, that would be a bit of a burden to put on you."
He kisses her head again.
"Mmm. Want to try that a little lower," she suggests.
"Just where exactly do you mean?" Harry asks in a teasing tone.
"Hmm, maybe…here?" She taps her lips lightly with her fingertips.
"Now there's an offer I can't refuse," he replies, his voice soft. The tips of fingers brush against the sides of her face, then he takes it in his hands, tilting it upwards before tenderly bringing his lips down to meet hers. She wraps her arms around him as the kiss deepens and lengthens. Eventually, the need for air and the sound of footfalls on the stairs cause them to pull apart.
Catherine reappears, dressed in her pyjamas and smelling of soap and toothpaste. "Can Ruth read to me now?"
Ruth stands up and holds out her hand. "Come on then, show me your room." All three of them head up to Catherine's bedroom, the stars that she had received that morning are glowing brightly on her ceiling.
"Do you like my stars, Ruth?"
"They're very pretty."
"They're from Graham," Catherine informs her as she chooses a book off the shelf.
"Aren't you lucky to have such a kind little brother?"
Catherine looks around and, seeing that Harry is busy checking on Graham in the room next door, whispers to Ruth. "I know Daddy bought them really. But that's okay cos Graham's only little." She puts a finger to her lips. "Ssssh, though. Don't tell Daddy and Graham that I know. It's a secret."
Ruth suppresses a chuckle at the little girls behaviour. "Don't worry. I won't say anything. So, what book are we reading?"
Catherine hands her a well-worn copy of The Railway Children and crawls under her covers. "We're on chapter seven," she advises.
Ruth sits on the edge of Catherine's bed, finds the right page and begins to read, "I hope you don't mind me telling you a good deal about Roberta. The fact is I am growing very fond of her. The more I observe of her, the more I love her. And I notice all sorts of things about her that I like. For instance…"
Harry stands in the doorway, watching Ruth, hypnotised by the sound of her voice. It relaxes him and he easily drifts away into a day dream, comparing the words she is speaking to his own view of Ruth; the more time he spends with her, the stronger he feels for her. The way she is with his children has cemented his love. It's not until she's standing in front of him that he realises she's stopped speaking.
"I barely got through two pages before she was fast asleep. You were miles away."
"Well, your voice is rather distracting." They step outside of Catherine's room and make their way downstairs.
"Would you like a drink?" he offers.
Ruth shakes her head. "No thanks. I really should be going; it's been a long day."
Harry nods and escorts her to the front door. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
"You will. Tell Catherine and Graham I'll see them soon…if that's alright?"
"That's more than alright," Harry smiles, placing a kiss on her lips. "Perhaps this weekend?"
"That would be nice." She stretches up and kisses him once more. "Goodnight."