“Yeah, I’d wondered about that, too.” Cary reached out and touched my shoulder, a simple comforting touch. “But you know, memories are all that Victor has ever really had of Monica.”
I nodded. My dad had to have wondered more than once over the years if the love had always been one-sided. After that afternoon with my mom, maybe he realized that wasn’t true. That’d be a good memory to hold on to.
“So you’re thinking about staying there,” I said. “Mom told me she’d offered you that option.”
He gave me a smile tinged with melancholy. “I’m considering it, yes. Kinda makes it easier if your dad’s going to be there, too. I warned him it was likely there’d be a baby around now and then. I got the impression he might like that.”
Looking back into the house, I saw my dad making silly faces to amuse my baby cousin. He was the only one of his siblings to have just one child, and I was an adult.
I frowned as I watched Gideon walk to the front entrance. Where was he going with an apron tied around his denim-clad hips? He opened the front door and stood unmoving for a long minute. I realized someone must have knocked, but I couldn’t see because Gideon was blocking my view. Finally, he stepped aside.
Cary looked over to see where my attention was and scowled. “What’s he doing here?”
As Gideon’s brother walked in, I wondered the same thing. Then Ireland appeared behind him, holding a gift bag.
“What’s up with the gift?” Cary asked. “An unreturnable wedding present?”
“No.” I noticed the design on the bag, which was definitely too colorful and festive for a wedding. “It’s a birthday present.”
“Oh, shit,” Cary muttered. “I totally forgot about that.”
When Gideon closed the door without his mother making an appearance, I realized Elizabeth was a no-show on her firstborn’s birthday. A potent mix of sympathy and pain swamped me and caused my fists to clench.
What the fuck was wrong with that woman? Gideon hadn’t heard from his mother since confronting her in his office. Considering what the day was, I couldn’t believe she could be so thoughtless.
It made me realize I wasn’t the only one who’d lost a mother in the past few days.
Chris stood and went to his children, hugging Christopher while Ireland hugged my husband. She smiled up at him, offering the bag. He took it and turned, gesturing toward where I stood on the deck.
Fresh and lovely in a delicately printed sundress, Ireland joined us outside. “Wow, Eva. This place is choice.”
I hugged her. “You like it?”
“What’s not to like?” Ireland hugged Cary, and then her lovely face sobered. “I’m really sorry about your mom, Eva.”
The tears that were no longer very far away stung my eyes. “Thank you.”
“I can’t even imagine,” she said. “And I don’t even like my mom right now.”
Reaching out, I touched her arm. Regardless of how I felt about Elizabeth, I wouldn’t wish the regret I had on anyone, especially Ireland. “I hope you work out whatever it is. If I had my mom back, I’d take back a lot of the things I said and did.”
And because saying that aloud made me feel like crying, I excused myself quickly and headed toward the stairs, running down them to the beach, then out to the water. I stopped when my ankles were submerged, letting the sea breeze blow the tears away.
Closing my eyes, I willed the grief back into the box I’d put it in for the day. It was Gideon’s birthday, an occasion I wanted to celebrate because it’d seen him enter the world and, eventually, my life.
I jumped when warm muscular arms slipped around my waist, gathering me back against a familiar hard body.
Gideon set his chin on the crown of my head. I felt his chest expand and contract on a deep sigh when I wrapped my arms over his.
When I pulled myself together enough to speak, I said, “I’m surprised my nana let you escape.”
He gave a short laugh. “She says I remind her of your dad—well, she reminds me of you.”
Which made it apt, I supposed, that I’d been named after her. “Because I won’t let you out of my greedy clutches?”
“Because even though she scares me, I can’t seem to walk away.”
Touched, I turned my head and rested my cheek against his heart, listening to its strong and steady beat. “I didn’t know your brother and sister were coming.”
“I didn’t, either.”
“How do you feel about Christopher being here?”
I felt him shrug. “If he’s not acting like a dick, I don’t care.”
“Fair enough.” If his brother’s unexpected appearance didn’t trouble Gideon, I wouldn’t let it bother me.
“I’ve got some things to share with you,” he said. “About Christopher. But now’s not the time.”
I opened my mouth to contradict that, but caught myself. Gideon was right. We should have renewed our vows today, surrounded by friends and family. We should be celebrating his birthday and being so joyful there wasn’t any room for sorrows and regrets. Instead, the day was shadowed by sorrow we had to hide. Still, there was no point in adding any more unpleasantness.