Her smile more than made the promise worth what it would cost me in sleep and anxiety. I’d stayed away from her for many reasons, but the main one was that I didn’t know what I could offer her of any value. I’d channeled everything into keeping Vidal Records afloat for her well into the future, taking care of her the only way I knew I wouldn’t screw up.
“You’ll have to help me out,” I told her honestly. “I don’t know how to be a brother. You will probably have to forgive me. Frequently.”
The smile left Ireland’s face, transforming her from a teenager to a young woman. “Well, it’s like being a friend,” she said somberly. “Except you have to remember birthdays and holidays, you have to forgive me for everything, and you should introduce me to all your hot, rich guy friends.”
My brow lifted. “Where’s the part about me picking on you and giving you a hard time?”
“You missed those years,” she shot back. “No do-overs.”
She meant to tease, but the words struck home. I had missed years and I couldn’t get them back.
“You get to pick on her boyfriends instead,” Eva said, “and give them a hard time.”
Our eyes met and I knew she understood exactly what I was thinking. My thumb stroked over her knuckles.
Behind her, the front door opened and my mother stepped out. She stood on the wide top step dressed in a white tunic and matching pants. Her long, dark hair hung loosely around her shoulders. From a distance, she looked so much like Ireland, more of a sister than a parent.
My grip on Eva’s hand tightened.
Ireland sighed and opened her door. “I wish you guys didn’t have to work tomorrow. I mean, what’s the point of being a gazillionaire if you can’t play hooky when you want?”
“If Eva worked with me,” I said, looking at my wife, “we could.”
She stuck her tongue out. “Don’t start.”
I lifted her hand to my mouth and kissed the back. “I haven’t stopped.”
Opening my door, I stepped out of the car and hit the hatch release. I rounded the back of the car to retrieve Ireland’s bag and found my arms full of her instead. She hugged me tightly, her slender arms wrapped around my waist. It took me a moment to unfreeze from my surprise, and then I hugged her back, my cheek coming to rest on the crown of her head.
“I love you,” she mumbled into my chest. “Thanks for having me over.”
My throat closed tight, preventing me from saying anything. She was gone as quickly as she’d come at me, her duffel in hand as she met Eva on the passenger side and hugged her, too.
Feeling as winded as if I’d been punched, I closed the hatch and watched as my mother met Ireland halfway across the blue-gray gravel drive. I was about to return to the wheel and leave, when she signaled at me to wait.
I glanced at Eva. “Get in the car, angel.”
She looked as if she might argue, and then she nodded and slid back into the front passenger seat and closed the door.
I waited until my mother came to me.
“Gideon.” She caught me by the biceps and lifted onto her tiptoes to press a kiss to my mouth. “Won’t you and Eva come in? You drove all this way.”
I took a step backward, breaking her hold. “And we have to drive back.”
Her gaze reflected her disappointment. “Just for a few minutes. Please. I’d like to apologize to both of you. I haven’t handled the news of your engagement well and I’m sorry about that. This should be a happy time for our family, and I’m afraid I’ve been too worried about losing my son to appreciate it.”
“Mom.” I caught her arm when she moved toward the passenger side. “Not now.”
“I didn’t mean all those things I said about Eva the other day. It was just a shock, seeing the ring your father gave me on another woman’s hand. You didn’t give the ring to Corinne, so I was surprised. You can understand that, can’t you?”
“You antagonized Eva.”
“Is that what she told you?” She paused. “I never meant to, but— Never mind. Your father was very protective, too. You’re so like him.”
I looked away, gazing absently at the trees beyond the drive. I never knew how to take comparisons to Geoffrey Cross. Were they meant as praise or a backhanded compliment? There was no telling with my mother.
“Gideon . . . please, I’m trying. I said some things to Eva I shouldn’t have, and she responded as any woman would under the circumstances. I just want to smooth things over.” She set her hand over my heart. “I’m happy for you, Gideon. And I’m so glad to see you and Ireland spending time together. I know it means so much to her.”
I pulled her hand away gently. “It means a lot to me, too. And Eva made it possible in ways I won’t explain. Which is just one of the reasons I won’t have her upset. Not now. She has to work in the morning.”
“Let’s make plans for lunch this week, then. Or dinner.”
“Will Chris be there?” Eva asked through the window before pushing the door open again and stepping out. She stood there, so small and bright against the dark hulking SUV, formidable in the way her shoulders were set.
My wife would fight the world for me. It was miraculous to know that. When no one else had fought for me, I’d somehow found the one soul who would.
My mother’s lips curved. “Of course. Chris and I are a team.”