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.