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?"