Thursday, September 1, 2016

Reach for Beauty - 3


It's been a while since my last post but I've been running with this story and hope to have it done by year's end. This post takes place after Orin  and Honor have been formally introduced at the ball at his mother's house. This scene takes place there but later in the evening.

Orin nodded and smiled his way through the crowd. He ignored the men who called his name and bowed his way out of conversations with matchmaking mamas and their doe-eyed daughters. He needed out of this ballroom, needed to get away from the deafening noise and the suffocating smells of colognes and perfumes.

How people managed at these functions without throwing up or punching someone was beyond him.

The bank of doors at the other end of the room beckoned him, and he pushed through two of them with a grateful sigh. The nighttime breeze that welcomed him swept the smells and sounds of the ballroom behind him until the quiet snick of the doors closed him off from it. He paused, took a deep breath, and let it go slowly.

Soft feminine laughter from his right broke what would have been peaceful silence. Turning, he glared in the direction of the sound. The laughter got a little bit louder.

"I'm glad you find me amusing," he snapped. "Show yourself."

The gentle swishing of fabric preceded the small figure emerging from the shadows of his mother's flowering archways. The vibrant orange silk he so admired earlier appeared, inches at a time, until the intriguing woman who wore it stood before him. Hands hanging loosely at her sides, head cocked at a slight angle, she watched him with her mismatched eyes and a smile on her lips.

Irritation fled. An unknown, unfamiliar feeling filled his chest, and he rubbed his fingers over his heart as if to ease sensation away. He smiled before he knew what he was doing. "Lady Honor."

She dipped into a curtsy, the movement more smooth and graceful than any he'd seen all evening. When she straightened, she waved a hand toward the ballroom. "Too much, my lord?"

Hardly. His unsaid reply caught him by surprise. Where the hell had it come from?

He cleared his throat and nodded. "I've about had my quota for the night."

She chuckled. "Just the night? Not the year?"

He snorted. "My mother will ensure I don't reach that point." He gestured at a backless bench a few feet away. "Would you care to join me?"

She swept past him and sat on one end of the bench while he took the other. She didn't straighten her skirts, didn't fold her hands in her lap like other women would have. Instead, she rested her hands behind her and leaned back. He watched, fascinated, as she sighed and tilted her head back, gaze fixed on the stars above.

After a few moments, she looked at him. Any amusement from earlier was gone. In its place was an expression so different he wondered if the woman from earlier was nothing but a figment of his imagination. She watched him warily and he wondered why. Had he done something already to offend her? If so, what?

Orin frowned and looked away as he thought back to their brief encounter at the front door. He bowed, kissed the back of her hand, addressed her properly. Maybe it was because he was supposed to be inside playing the proper host?

"Did you come out here for something other than fresh air, my lord?"

His gaze snapped back in her direction. Her voice, so quiet and resigned, stunned him almost as much as a slap across the face would have. Did she really think he'd purposefully sought her out?

Anger began to build in his belly, a low boil that quickly grew to rolling. Who the hell did she think he was? Some kind of bastard who took advantage of--

"I'm sorry," she softly cut in. "The last time I was on a balcony alone with a man..." Her voice trailed off and she shook her head. No more words were needed but he didn't want to hear them. Not from her. Ever.

The reason for his fury changed, and he wondered who the man was that hurt her. Former husband? Lover? Friend? He jerked to his feet and stormed to the balustrade. He took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm his rage but to no avail. The churning of emotions inside of him surprised him; the desire to rain hell on the man who hurt such a beautiful woman nearly choked him.

"I'm sorry," she said again.

He spun and crossed his arms over his chest. He ached to hold her, wanted to fold her against him and whisper promises of safety for all time. Which was ludicrous! He didn't even know her outside of her name.

Clearly it was time to find a willing woman for just a night if he felt this protective and angry over a woman he just met.

"I shouldn't have said that." She stood. "If you'll excuse me, my lord."

She bowed her head then hurried for the doors.

"Said what?" he called after her. She skidded to a halt but didn't turn around. She stood tall, back ramrod straight, head held high. Orin stalked toward her, words slipping from his mouth before he could stop them. "The assumption that I had nefarious plans for you? Or hinted that a man hurt you in a similar setting?"

Her shoulders slumped and her head fell forward. In shame? Regret? He didn't know, neither did he care at the moment.

"I might be an ex-military man, Lady Honor, but I assure you I am not that kind of man." He stopped an arm's length from her. "I would never do that to a woman such as yourself."

Bitter laughter poured from her, the sharp sound making him wince. She turned. Fire flashed in her eyes as she fisted her hands on her hips. "And how would I know that? Because you're a Duke?"

She closed the space between them until she stood toe-to-toe with him, head tipping back so she could see him. Laughter threatened to erupt from him, a sound he didn't think she'd appreciate at the moment.

He knew he made the right choice when she poked him in the chest. "So was the other guy."

Orin knew not all men were the same. They might share commonalities in rank, jobs, wealth, power, but they were not all cut from the same cloth. Some knew how precious a woman could be, how treasured the gift of that woman's virginity was. Others didn't, or they refused to believe women were more than breeding machines and access to more power and wealth.

He was not that kind of man.

He stared into the upturned face of the only woman tonight who sparked an interest in him and wondered what the fool man before him didn't see. She was beautiful, stunning in a way that wasn't always seen in society. Dark hair, lightly tanned skin, freckles, small nose, full lips. Delicate eyebrows arched over thick lashes that framed those vibrant mismatched eyes of hers. One brown, one blue. Milky chocolate and icy glacier. Different, a bit frightening if he stared too long, but still beautiful.

Reaching up, he gently wrapped his hand around the finger touching him and raised her hand to his lips. Keeping his gaze on her, he brushed his lips over her soft skin. She inhaled sharply and tried to pull away. He tightened his grip and smiled over their joined hands. Her eyes narrowed; he chuckled and straightened but refused to let her go.

As odd as she might she was, and he had no doubt she did think that, Orin liked her. Physical appearance aside, there was something in her that called to the part of his soul that'd been locked away while he was at war. Death, weapons, and orders had been his life for almost three decades. Women had offered sporadic nights of comfort and relief from the stresses of war but those highs never lasted long.

"I meant no offense with my questions, my lady," he said and gently turned her toward the bench. "And I didn't mean to bring up bad memories." He pulled her forward, tugging a little harder when she resisted. "I promise I just want to sit with you, Lady Honor. Nothing more."

He stopped beside the bench. He wouldn't sit unless she did so first.

Indecision marched across her features. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, worrying it until he feared she'd make it bleed. She glanced from the bench to him and back again.

Orin let her go and took half a step back. He swept a hand toward their seat. "Please join me, my lady. I would be honored to spend a few moments with you, so long as we're not arguing."

She blinked at him, once, twice, then laughed. The tension between them melted as her laughter grew, the warm sound echoing in the night. "Since you asked so nicely and gave your word, I'd love to."

Orin watched her take her seat. The smile that could light up a darkened balcony stayed in place on her lips and her eyes danced with merriment as she watched him. That feeling, that unknown sensation, swept through him once again. It took his breath away, left him lightheaded and anxious for more of whatever this was from and with this woman.

He sat down, closer than before, and shared a wide smile with her. Her lips stretched into a wider grin before she turned and began talking about his mother's garden, making remarks about the plants she could see and the obscenely large fountain that gurgled down below. He didn't dare interrupt. Her voice soothed him so much better than Old Earth Whisky ever did. The part of him that was always on alert, always on the lookout for a potential threat, calmed and stilled.

Lady Honor spoke softly, her husky voice filling the space around them. He leaned back on his hands and closed his eyes. He tilted his head back and offered a silent pray to the Fates for these stolen minutes with Lady Honor. After almost thirty years of war, Orin finally knew what it meant to be at peace.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Reach for Beauty - 2



Orin Kavanaugh scowled at the silver haired woman who dared darken his study doorway. One delicately arched eyebrow rose. He narrowed his eyes in response.

She chuckled and moved further into his study. The cream colored door slid shut behind her with a quiet hiss. Orin wished more than anything he'd left with his brother. Being absent would have been the best way to avoid this woman and the inevitable conversation he knew was coming.

And it would come. Dowager Olivia Kavanaugh was nothing if not determined to remind her sons of their duty: marriage to an upstanding woman and at least one child, preferably a male, to bear the distinguished family name.

He did not want to have this conversation with her today. Or tomorrow. If the Fates were kind, they'd make it so opportunities to speak about this never happened.

If being the operative word.

Not that he'd ever question the Fates' decisions. They worked their magic, kept the universe in order, disrupting that order only when necessary. This was probably Their way of bringing chaos to his otherwise orderly world.

His mother sat in the chair opposite him. She smoothed her skirts--why women wore them in less than formal settings he never understood--then looked up and gave him a smug smile. The telltale gleam in her eyes warned him she did something he would not like one bit.

He tapped his fingers against the smooth redwood desktop and waited. And waited. And waited. His patience wore thin as minutes ticked by in silence. Unable to take one more second of her smug expression, he demanded, "What did you do?"

Olivia rolled her eyes. "What I should have done six months after your father passed away," she retorted. "I've sent invitations for a ball that will occur at the Dowager house this weekend. You and your brother will attend, so help me, and you will introduce yourselves to the unattached women in attendance."

Orin gaped at her. She did it. The scheming woman made good on her threat from one year ago and did it. She would see him and his twin married by their forty-fifth birthday.

"Close your mouth," she ordered. Irritation twisted her features. "A Duke does not stare with his mouth hanging open when he receives news that really isn't news."

He snapped his mouth shut and glared.

"And fix your expression. Did you not learn what is and is not becoming of a Duke when we sent you to school? Or did war make you forget?"

Rage rose fierce and quick, flooding his chest with heat that left him shaking. There were many topics of conversation he could forgive, forget, even ignore. But war and its effects was not one of them. He'd lost too many good men and women to war or PTSD to allow anyone, even his own mother, the chance to make light about it.

Her expression softened to one of guilt, and she looked away when he cleared his throat. He wanted to lash out at her, to lay bare before her the broken man that he was because of war. But he couldn't. As much as she might deserve it, she was still his mother.

He kept his voice low and struggled to keep the anger from seeping into his words. "In the future, madam, you will refrain from referencing a topic you know nothing about."

Silence, once again, reigned between them. Orin watched the fight leave her as her shoulders slumped and she kept her gaze on her lap. She nodded. It was closest he'd get to an apology so he accepted it without arguing.

Olivia cleared her throat. Her voice was soft when she spoke. "You know this is important, Orin. Your father didn't send for you and Niall to come home so you would both die as bachelors. He wanted you happy with a woman and children you love, a life filled with what he and I shared."

Orin knew that. It'd been expressed by his father when he lay dying from a virus that stole his energy, mobility, and life. Whether said by a dying man or a living woman, the request still made Orin uneasy. What woman would want a man who woke yelling a warning to a comrade who was no longer living? Or who couldn't sleep because of the dreams and spent hours drifting around the house in a daze?

"You can't fulfill his request if you stay cooped up in this house, beautiful though it may be," she continued. "You deserve to be happy, son. I want you to know and believe that like I do."

Orin swallowed hard and looked away. Happiness was something he once dreamed of. Twenty-six years of military service and two major wars stole that dream from him. He wasn't looking for happiness now. He just wanted peace.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reach for Beauty - 1



"You can't keep putting him off, Honor."
Oh God. Honor Beltane bit back a groan. Not even home one full day and her mother was going to start. This was why she didn't come home too often. Same conversation, different day.
"You know you'll never get a better offer."
Same lines, same reminders.
"And he's only going to ask for so long."
Here it comes...
"Do you want to spend the rest of your life alone?"
...and there it is.
God forbid a Beltane woman choose the path only "lesser" women chose because daughters of dukes did not do that. Nope, they married an appropriate man, gave birth to at least one boy, and held court in their drawing room until they breathed their last.
Except Honor. She didn't want that.
Lady Beltane slid into the chair opposite her, lips pressed into a thin disapproving line. The look was one she was very familiar with, having seen it one too many times to count in her twenty-nine years.
As a child, the look was for the mischief she often got into. Scaling fences to escape the day's lessons, climbing trees because her brothers said she couldn't, swimming in the pond in the middle of the Maze Garden in the dead of winter because her best friend dared her to. The list went on and on.
Refusing a peer's proposal would just be another sin added to the list.
"Do you not have anything to say?"
Honor stifled a sigh and shrugged. She glanced around the richly decorated drawing room her mother rarely left, noting she had, once again, replaced the heavy curtains with lighter ones in anticipation of the warmer months to come. Why she bothered, Honor would never know. It wasn't like she had anyone to impress.
She met her mother's narrow eyed gaze. Oh, right. She'd asked a question. "What do you want me to say, Mother? Nothing I've said before made a difference. Nothing you've said before has changed my mind."
Lady Beltane sighed. "You must marry, Honor. What would people say if you don't?"
Who cares? She wanted to ask out loud but that would mean another hour or so of lecture about duty before heart so she stayed quiet.
"Your father might be content to let you live out your days without a husband and children," Lady Beltane continued, "but I'm not. Your brothers, even Jeremy, have all married and your sisters-in-law are lovely additions to our family."
That, Honor knew, was a lie. Her mother was a lot of things--beautiful, polite, graceful, educated--but she was not pleased one bit by her sons' choices of wives. She despised each of her daughters-in-law with a passion, though Honor couldn't figure out why. Sarah, Penelope, and Lauren were exceptional women and too good for her rakehell brothers, a fact Honor teased each man about whenever she could.
"It's time you took your duty to this family seriously," Lady Beltane added. She pushed away from the table and stood, the finality of her tone settling over Honor like a cold blanket.
Oh God. Apprehension filled her as her mother strode to the door, back ramrod straight, head held high. This isn't good.
She stood. "What did you do, Mother?" she demanded.
Lady Beltane opened the door. "What I should have done when Lord Peter Wilson first proposed. An engagement ball has been scheduled for the last Friday of this month. You will accept his proposal and announce it at the ball."
Anger crawled through her veins. Honor curled her fingers into her palms. "You can't do that. I won't do it."
A cold smile slipped across Lady Beltane's face. "Then consider yourself disowned and penniless. That will be your future if you refuse."
"Mother, you can't expect me--"
"I can and I do, Honor," she said tightly. "You are the daughter of a Duke, one of the most powerful in our sector. You have wasted enough time prolonging the inevitable. You will do as expected. Fates help you if you don't."
Honor watched her mother leave, the door closing quietly behind her. Damn her! She refused to marry that arrogant prick who already made it clear he had no intention of giving up his mistress, gambling, or drinking after their nuptials.
"You're merely a means to appeasing my father, Lady Honor," the ass said one night after dinner. "I see no reason to abandon my life because society has certain expectations for our class. You provide me a legal heir, he stops bothering me, you have a home for the rest of your life, everyone's happy."
Except she wasn't, not with his indifferent proposal or his matter-of-fact view of what their marriage would look like and entail. Her protests were brushed aside, her threats of divorce laughed at.
"Oh, Lady Honor," Lord Peter said as he wiped away tears from laughing so hard. "Don't you know by now you will never have the freedom we men do? You are a woman, my dear, meant and bred for two things: to appear beautiful and to birth your husband a son." His mocking gaze swept over her. "You are hardly worth looking at, my lady, but your impeccable background makes wedding you worth bedding you. At least I know our son will be a lord worthy of the title." He tugged on the cuffs of his black dinner jacket. "Not to mention richer than either of our families when he comes of age."
Honor stomped to the window overlooking her mother's gardens. How she wanted to slap that smug look off his face. But she didn't. Hindsight was apparently better than she thought. If she had, she wouldn't be in this predicament.
She huffed and crossed her arms under her breasts. Well, there was no way she'd marry that pompous ass. She'd rather resign herself to life on The Fringes, penniless and, most likely, homeless, than tied to a man who'd rather bed someone other than his wife. No thanks.
She scowled at her reflection. She wasn't all that bad looking, was she? Neither tall nor fair haired nor flawless skinned, she always thought of herself as passably beautiful. Brown hair and freckled skin weren't a crime to have.
She sighed and rested her forehead against the glass. The two colored eyes might be though.
They'd been the bane of her existence since she hit puberty. Many thought her eyes fascinating when she was a child but those admirers quickly turned into scorners when she reached eleven and began to fill out. The names she'd been called, the ridicule she'd endured.
She was left mostly a pariah, a woman of class and wealth hovering on the edges of Society all because of her eyes. They kept suitors at bay and whispers of being Touched on the lips of too many gossipers.
Tears filled her eyes. She straightened and blinked them away. She was made of stronger stuff. She refused to let something as superficial as her looks dictate her future, just like she refused to let her mother decide whom she'd marry.
She smiled slightly and nodded. Engagement ball or not, she would not marry Lord Peter. If she was going to tie herself to someone, then it would damn well be a man her mother would never approve of.
She'd just have to find one.

Friday, January 22, 2016

White Ribbons & Silver Tinsel: Adam and Emmaline


Adam waited with bated breath for her answer. His heart silently begged for a yes while his brain urged for patience. Their happy ending--he refused to believe they would have anything less now--was twenty years waiting to happen. A few more minutes wouldn't hurt either of them, not after all they'd discussed and admitted.

He watched her face, the slow smile that curved her full lips, the fine lines that appeared at the corner of her eyes, the way they lit up as she leaned toward him. Warm breath whispered over his lips. She tipped her head to the side and brushed the tip of her nose over his cheek. He closed his eyes and sighed. Her nearness, the sweet scent of orange and mint, overwhelmed his senses and he was lost in the familiarity of Emmaline.

"Yes."

The softly spoken word penetrated the heavy fog of comfort blanketing him. He reared back, eyes wide open, and stared. "What'd you say?"

She chuckled. "I said yes."

Adam swallowed hard. Disbelief warred with excitement. This moment was too good to be true. He wanted to grab and hold onto it with both hands yet wanted some reassurance she was sincere. He studied her and knew she spoke from the heart. The softness in her features revealed nothing but truth. He almost sighed in relief but settled for a smile instead.

He nodded. "Okay then."

"You gonna kiss her or wait another ten years to do that?"

Red colored her cheeks as Emmaline choked on a laugh. Adam half-turned and eyed their son with faux irritation.

Brandon leaned against the entryway, a lazy grin on his face. "You didn't really think I'd stay outside the whole time, did you?" He snorted. "You should know better."

"You'd think I do," Adam drawled and rubbed Emmaline's back. "But I figured you'd have outgrown that annoying habit by now."

Brandon laughed and straightened. "Wishful thinking, Dad." He stepped closer, gaze fixed on his mom's face as his amusement gave way to concern. "But, seriously, are you okay now? Both of you?"

Adam turned to the woman in his arms. Her beautiful face flushed pink, amber eyes bright with silent laughter. She nodded and he knew. He cupped her cheek, let his thumb trail lightly over her soft skin.

"We're okay," he murmured.

He closed the space between him and the one woman he wanted, could ever want. She said his name, a whispered prayer that he answered with a touch of his lips to hers. Her swift intake of breath ended as he swept her into his arms, locked her against his body and poured every apology, every admission, every hope, every ounce of desire he had for her into his kiss.

She sighed when he pulled away, eyelids fluttering open when he kissed the tip of her nose. He gazed into her eyes, saw the determination in them and he prayed she saw the same in his. They weren't the people they were when they first met. They weren't even the same people from a decade ago. They were older, wiser, stronger.

Warmth filled his heart. Contentment seeped through his veins. He leaned forward and captured Emmaline's mouth with a soul-searing kiss. Whatever came next, they'd face it together, beat the odds, and come out on top. He pulled back and smiled.

He'd give her everything he had this time because she, more than anyone else, deserved nothing less.

The End

Friday, January 15, 2016

White Ribbons & Silver Tinsel: Adam and Emmaline


Sorry for the delay of this post. The end of December was hard even though it was joyous to welcome a new year. I was still grieving the loss of a loved one and needed time to let it happen. Then I was in a car accident last and couldn't post this because of injuries from it. But here it is. I hope you enjoy.

~~~

The silence between them was unbearable, but Emmaline refused to speak. Ten years she held her peace. Ten years she kept her anger and hurt bottled up. She said what she'd wait so long to do. The ball was in Adam's court. How he answered, what he said, would determine where they went. The part of her that was struggling to hold onto the past snorted and whispered, If anywhere at all.

She pushed the voice away. No matter what, she told herself firmly, they would go somewhere. Separate. Together. Didn't matter. But this would no longer be between them. This would no longer have a hold on her.

Adam raked a hand through his hair, eyes narrowed, lips pressed into a thin line. After what seemed like forever, he spoke, his voice low and hoarse. "I don't know if you can."

Disappointment welled in her chest, crushed what little hope she had of moving on. Tears filled her eyes. She swallowed the hurt clogging her throat and nodded. God help her, she'd get over him, really truly get over him. Though she had no idea how a forty-two year old woman could ever get over the one man she ever loved. But if this was his answer, who was she to--

"Whatever you're thinking, Emmie, stop." His firm voice cut through her despair and ignited her anger.

She glared at him. "Excuse me?" she seethed. "You're the one who--"

"I know but I wasn't done," he said and sighed. "I don't know if you can because you needed me to stand with you that day, for me to believe you more than her. I didn't. I believed a woman who's vindictive by nature and doesn't care two cents about anyone but herself. I knew that and chose her over you anyway. What kind of man does that to the woman he loves?"

A heartbeat of silence then humorless laughter filled the space between them. He shook his head. "You want to know something? It wasn't the file, the PI's neat little twenty-three page report, or the pictures he managed to find of you that had me turning my back on you. It was a question Katrina asked." His dark gaze, steady and unreadable, pierced her where she stood. "She asked, 'Why else would she insist on not sharing personal information when you first met?'"

The question slammed into her, forcing the breath she held from her lungs as she stumbled back until she hit the counter behind her. She thought back to their first date, to her insistence at not sharing too much about herself with him. It was caution, she told herself then. They didn't know each other beyond the restaurant. Her past was not something she felt comfortable sharing with him at all during their brief affair in the city. That changed when they met again and she introduced him to Brandon.

Their first meeting was filled with tears and barely suppressed rage, followed by an all-night meeting sorting through emotions and explanations before, finally, coming to an agreement that benefited everyone. Watching Adam with their son, listening to him whisper how much he loved that little boy, bolstered her courage to come clean to him. He needed and deserved to know everything about her. It was the only way they could have a future together as a family.

Except Katrina beat her to it. Dreams of forever turned to dust because she was one day too late.

A dizzying wave of emotions crashed through her. Emmaline blinked back the tears blurring her vision. "Adam, I--"

He shook his head again, expression softening. "Don't. You were never at fault."

She swallowed hard. "But she was right. I--"

"Protected yourself like anyone else would have," he cut in. "You were right to keep all of that to yourself. When I found out all of that stuff, I was pissed and hurt. I couldn't understand how or why you hid your past after everything we'd been through up to that point."

Adam sighed and slumped into one of the dining chairs. It groaned under his weight as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees letting his hands dangle between them. He looked up at her, his gaze heavy and pensive.

"But it wasn't about your past that day, Emmie," he said softly. "It was about my lack of trust in you. It took a long time to accept that you had your reasons for hiding your past, and an even longer time for me to admit my behavior that day was inexcusable. A man who says he loves a woman then lets himself be swayed by self-serving bitch isn't worthy of that woman's love."

He stood and strode towards her, stopped an arm's length away. She inhaled sharply when he reached out and traced the curve of her cheek with warm calloused fingers.

"If my faith in you was as steady and strong as I told myself it was, I should have gone to you right away." He inched closer, let his fingers drift to her shoulder where they stayed. He squeezed her shoulder lightly then pulled away. "I didn't because I wasn't thinking about you. I was thinking about me and how much I was hurting. I didn't care that you might be hurting too. For that, and for everything else, I'm sorry."

Tears filled her eyes as warmth flooded her heart. His apology was a start, a place for them to heal. But he wasn't the only one who needed to say those precious words. A tiny part of her brain rebelled, hissed that this mess was entirely his fault. But her heart quickly countered with firm reminders she wasn't completely guiltless. This rift might have begun with Adam, but its endurance was her fault as well as his.

Fingers shaking, Emmaline reached out and gently laced hers with his. Electricity shot up her arm. She looked up and met his wide-eyed, surprise filled gaze. She tugged and bit back a smile when he stumbled and let her hand go to catch himself on the counter behind her. The familiar scent of leather and oak surrounded her as she stood in the cage of his arms.

She whispered, "I'm sorry too."

He opened his mouth, probably to protest, but she pressed a finger to his lips and shook her head.

"You aren't the only one who's wrong. I could have come to you after Brandon turned eighteen so I could explain my parents and my life with my dad." She dropped her hand to her side. "I didn't because I blamed you. And I hated you."

Adam flinched and leaned back. The sudden distance left her feeling strangely empty so she reached for him, curved a hand around his waist, and the feeling disappeared.

"My pride let me hate you, Adam. I wanted you to come to me. I wanted you to beg my forgiveness, for you to feel as low as I did that day." She straightened, using her hold on him to pull away from the counter. "Hating you didn't do anything for me except make me hate you more. But it was all I had, and now I don't have anything to show for it except wasted years."

Emmaline hooked a finger in his belt loop and urged him closer. "I was wrong to hate you for so long, for not being open and honest with you when we met again, and for staying away when I didn't have to. For that, and everything else that has stood between us, I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"

He stared at her in silence then sighed, mouth curved into a crooked smile. "I already did. And it's me who should be asking you that. Will you forgive me, Emmaline, for being a coward and for hurting you? Will you give me a chance to make it up to you?"

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

White Ribbons & Silver Tinsel: Adam and Emmaline



Adam was nervous. Standing toe-to-toe with his stern-faced son didn't help assure him that coming to Elaine's was the right thing to do. It made it worse.

For a long while, Brandon watched him from his place just inside the doorway. Adam wondered if he was ever going to be let in. Brandon said softly, "I know you're here to make things right with her. I can't thank you enough for that. But," his voice grew firmer, stronger "if you hurt her again, I promise today will be the last day you ever see me. You'll no longer be my dad or considered my family. Are we clear?"

Adam swallowed hard and nodded. He knew his son well enough that he meant every word he said. Losing Brandon wasn't an option, so failing today wasn't an option either. He'd make this right with Emmaline, if he had to get down on his knees and beg her forgiveness. "We're clear."

He gave a curt nod. "Good. She's in the kitchen." He pointed to the arched entryway opposite the open front door. "I'll be in the garage with Sylvia."

He disappeared outside, leaving Adam alone in the foyer. Courage fled and anxiety took hold as he stared in the direction he was supposed to go. Taking a deep fortifying breath, he walked through the entryway and ground to a halt when he saw her. Her hands flitted nervously over the front of her shirt, hazel eyes wide, lower lip caught between her teeth. She was more beautiful than when he last saw her.

When they met twenty years ago, she was a few weeks from her twenty-second birthday, he was five months into being twenty-nine. She was the waitress at a steakhouse in San Francisco and he'd fallen headfirst into lust with her. Her infectious smile made the business meeting tolerable, her light laugh broke up the tedious negotiations he took part in that night. His cousins flew back to Griffin Hills while he stayed behind, hell bent on getting to know her.

It took two days for her to agree to go on a date with him. It took ten days after that to convince her to spend the night in his hotel room. And it took another ten for him to realize his heart was running the show and he was halfway in love with a woman who insisted on first names only and no personal questions asked.

Leaving had been so hard. He'd left a piece of heart behind when he kissed her goodbye in his hotel lobby then climbed into the backseat of a waiting cab. One last look out the window and the image of her wiping tears from her cheeks was forever burned in his mind. His chest burned and his body ached, a physical reaction to losing her.

He didn't think he'd ever fully recover.

Fate had other plans when she moved to Griffin Hills. His shock at seeing her again was shadowed by the discovery they had a son together. It was awkward at first. She said she was there because she tracked her mom to Griffin Hills and wanted to get to know her, that she hadn't come trying to find him. The anger he felt at not being told he was a father was marginally soothed by her reminder of what they agreed to years before. He was placated completely when she assured him she told their son about him, that he was never really absent from Brandon's life except physically.

The months that followed were some of the happiest of his life. They got to know one another again, went on dates, spent nights together, woke up to family breakfast in the little cottage she rented. But all of that happiness disappeared when his mother presented him with a thick folder filled with information about Emmaline.

He felt sick by what he read. Then angry. At her dad, her mom. At her. Then the whispers started, suggestions that she hadn't left that life behind. No evidence to support those ideas but his disgust at the life she lived before fueled his imagination. In the end, he made a decision he didn't know at the time would cost him everything: the love of his life, a real relationship with his son, and his own happiness.

He watched as Emmaline tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear. She looked away as her hand fell to her side. Her throat convulsed as she swallowed.

"Emmaline--" he started.

"Adam, I--" she looked up and said at the same time.

She gave him a slight smile then gestured for him to continue.

Shit. Where to start? Apologizing would probably be the best place. He stepped into the kitchen and shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'm sorry."

It wasn't what she was expecting, if the slight jerk of her shoulders and half-step back were anything to go by.

He plowed on, not giving her a chance to speak. "I'm sorry for being a coward, for letting Katrina get to me and convincing me you were this horrible person when I knew better. I'm sorry for taking Brandon from you, for telling you you weren't fit to be a mother, for telling you were no better than the--" he swallowed hard and forced the word from his mouth "--whore your dad made you be. I'm sorry for not defending you. For not trusting the love I had--have--for you and doing what I should have done."

He took a step towards her. "I'm sorry for the misery I've caused you, for making you believe I didn't love you after I'd convinced you I did." Another step. "I'm sorry for making you miss out on ten years of our son's life." One more step brought him less than a foot from her. She stared up at him, eyes bright with tears. He ached to touch her, to skim his fingers over her freckled skin and revel in its softness once again. But he didn't. He couldn't. He hadn't earned that right yet, but he would. God willing, he would.

Her voice shook when she whispered his name.

He closed his eyes as memories of other times when his name fell softly from her lips flooded his mind. Countless times in bed as he loved her with his body, lavished kisses over her skin, murmured promises as he took her to heaven and gently brought her back to earth. Music-less dances under the stars in her backyard or in her living room while Brandon slept on the couch or down the hall in his room. His name on her lips made him feel invincible, incredible, undeserving of her heart, trust, love.

He shook his head and opened his eyes. "I'm sorry for what Katrina did after you came back. You didn't deserve that, any of it. She's still convinced you're an awful person who's only after my money but I don't care. I can't. She had no right to share your past the way she did. I don't blame you for hating her, me, my family. We've treated you horribly."

He took a small step back, giving himself the space he needed to lay his heart before her. "I was an arrogant fool who listened to people instead of my heart. I can't change the past even though I wish I could. But I want to make this right. I want to earn your forgiveness, your trust again. And your love. I probably don't deserve a chance at any of those but my life hasn't been the same without you in it. I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you, I promise I will, but am I too late for us? Could there ever be an us again?"

It was a lot to ask without hearing what she had to say. He waited with bated breath, silently sending a prayer to heaven that she'd accept his apology and take him back. Her eyes cleared, narrowed, as her forehead furrowed. Time ticked by. Silence stretched uncomfortably between them.

Dread trickled down his spine when Emmaline straightened. A deep pink flush crept across her cheeks as her hands clenched into knuckle-whitening fists. She glared at him.

"You weren't an arrogant fool, Adam," she hissed. "You were an ass. I came here for my mom. I found her and you too. I didn't deny you your son. I didn't hold back this time when we--we, Adam--decided to see where our relationship could go. I gave you everything, including Brandon. I believed you when you said you wanted a future with me. I believed you when you told me you loved me. I had the world in my hands with you. Then you ripped it all away before coming to me with what you found out."

Her fury disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Her shoulders slumped and she gazed at the floor. She shook her head. Her voice was barely audible when she spoke again. "You took your mom's side over mine, Adam. That hurt more than anything." She lifted her chin to look him in the eye. "You want my forgiveness, a chance to start again. But how can we possibly start again when you betrayed me once? How am I supposed to trust you won't do it again?"

Thursday, December 24, 2015

White Ribbons & Silver Tinsel: Adam and Emmaline


Emmaline was sure she heard him wrong. "What?"
 
Brandon grimaced. "He's coming here. He might be on his way. I don't know."

So she hadn't misheard. Anticipation at seeing Adam bloomed in her chest; suspicion killed it. "Why is he coming here?"

"To talk to you. See you." He pursed his lips and stared at his hands for a moment.
 
She could almost see his internal struggle. Was Adam's reason for coming that bad? He met her gaze and continued before she could ask, his voice soft and hesitant.

"Katrina took it on herself to let people know--I don't know how many exactly--about your past. I confronted her this morning after Mr. Weatherby told me. Dad walked in on us arguing. I told him what happened and..."

Uncertainty flitted across his face before he looked away. He bit his bottom lip and drummed his fingers on the table. She frowned as the silence grew longer, louder, until it made her uncomfortable.

"Just say it," she demanded. "Whatever it is, just tell me."

At first, he said nothing, didn't acknowledge she'd spoken. Then his fingers stilled and he looked at her, features carefully guarded to reveal nothing. The fine hairs on her nape rose. She braced herself for what he would say.

"Dad asked me to leave. He said he'd take care of it."
 
He'd take care of it. The phrase echoed in her brain, igniting her anger. She laughed bitterly. "He'll take care of it. Yeah, sure he will."
 
She sneered at the idea of Adam taking care of anything concerning Katrina. He didn't know how to stand up to that conniving woman. He only knew how to give in to her, play the perfect son and give her what she wanted. God, how she ever fell for that man was beyond--

"I didn't believe him at first either," Brandon interjected. "He always did whatever she asked, demanded, or expected of him. That didn't change in the time you've been gone, Mom. But there was something in his expression when he said it. He looked..." He frowned. "He looked pissed without looking it, if that makes sense."

She snorted. "That doesn't mean he--"

He shook his head. "I know, but it wasn't just how he looked. It was also how he sounded. He reminded me of the calm that happens before a really bad storm. You know, when everything goes quiet and still. Then hell breaks loose and you find yourself watching a tornado rip apart buildings. That's what he was like when I left. And I've never seen him like that, ever."

Awe resonated in Brandon's voice and Emmaline's stomach tightened with...with... She refused to call it hope, even if that's what it was.

She bit her lip and studied her son. The pleading look in his eyes cracked her resolve to forever hate the man who chose to stand against her instead of beside her. The hate that took root that day had grown as the years passed. But it didn't kill the love she had for Adam. It tried, she tried, but it was still there, a tiny seedling that refused to die despite the weeds of hate growing up and around it.

Brandon took her hands and gave them a light squeeze. "I haven't forgotten that day, Mom. I haven't let him forget it either. I know you're angry and I don't blame you. I know your past shouldn't be an issue and I'm sorry Katrina made it one. But if you could have seen him, heard him, you'd know why I believe him now."

That emotion she refused to name exploded in her chest and left her breathless. She swallowed hard as she struggled to contain it without much success.

"I get it, Mom," Brandon said quietly. "I do. I know it's hard. I'm still trying to see him as someone other than that man. What he did is a start, for me at least. I'm hoping it's a start for you too."

Tears filled her eyes. Her resentment toward Adam was her shield, kept her heart closed to loving anyone else. Letting it go... It wasn't easy. Who in their right mind would want to deal with the pain betrayal could bring? Not her, not again.

"He went to bat for you, Mom. That's gotta mean something to you, right?"
 
More than she wanted to admit. She nodded. 
 
He sighed, the sound filled with relief. "Will you hear him out then? You don't have to like him afterwards. You can even tell him to go away and I'll make sure he leaves if you do. Will you do this one thing? For me? Please?"

Of all the things she imagined her son asking her for after all their years apart, Emmaline never figured this would be it. But he was right. And she was tired. Tired of fighting herself. Tired of fortifying a wall that held her captive for too long. Tired of...this. The years lost couldn't be regained. What happened next may or may not give her and Adam a second chance, but it would free her to live again.

More than anything, she wanted that.

She studied her son's hopeful expression. The answer was easy and came before she could stop it.

"Yes."