In the middle of the dining room stood the table. The youngest Beauchamp, six-year-old Heather, sat playing Barbie under the new dining table, one of the few uncrowded spots in the house filled to the rafters with family and friends. The morning light picked up the different shades of blue swimming up the center of the tabletop, a river of hope for a new home and a new beginning.
Maybe her fresh start, too.
“It wasn’t just me.” She caught a flash of Gabe through the living room window, then he disappeared beyond her sight line. “You better not let mom see you with that.”
Her dad popped a deep fried Oreo into his mouth, but not before his gaze traveled over the crowd—presumable for sight of her mom. “So you really think he’s going to stick to his word?” He didn’t mention Gabe by name, but he didn’t have to. “That young man made a lot of promises this morning about helping us get our clients back.”
“I think Gabe feels guilty for what he did.”
He snorted. “We’ve all done stupid things for the people we love.” Her dad shoveled another Oreo into his mouth, happily crunching it to oblivion.
Keisha delivered a quick kiss to the top of his gray hair and squeezed her way through the crowd to the front door. A handful of people braved the cold temperatures in exchange for some elbow room.
Gabe stood on the other end of the enclosed porch, his phone pressed up against one ear and a finger pressed against the other to block out noise.
Gabe sucked in a deep breath and tried to keep the edge out of his voice. After all, it wasn’t his mother’s fault he’d gone all comic-book-backstory-revenge crazy. No, that had been his own stupid overreaction.
“Mom, you’re right. I should have come to you first.” He sucked in a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping to alleviate the headache making mincemeat out of his brain. “But when I saw the police report, I freaked out.”
“I should say so, mijo. I couldn’t believe the story your cousin Carlos told me this morning.”
“He shouldn’t have said anything.” Not that he blamed Carlos. After being on the receiving end of his mom’s interrogations, he knew there was no getting out of it without spilling everything.
“If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and it’s one we should have had years ago.” Her softly accented voice shook. “I thought I was doing the right thing. Cesar adopted you before you were a year old. He has, for all intents and purposes, been your father.”
They were both silent as she took in gulps of air in an effort to stop the tears he knew were flowing down her round cheeks.
“I know.” He sighed in frustration at how he’d hurt his mom. God, this whole thing had turned into a mess. This would be the last time he’d trust his gut on something that didn’t involve spreadsheets and finical reports. “I just got so used to being right about everything that I couldn’t imagine being wrong about something so important.”
“You’re a smart boy, mijo. You’ll find your way. Your gut’s still good, you just had mental indigestion.”
He thought of last night with Keisha. The image of her tossing back her head in ecstasy flashed in his mind. The way she’d danced in her chair when she’d kicked his ass at cards in her tiny apartment during the snowstorm. He could still hear her gleeful giggle as she opened up the Aston Martin on the highway.
“What if you’re wrong?” Just asking the question shook him.
“A mother is never wrong when it comes to her child.”
He laughed. “Well, at least I know where I get my certainty from.”
“I’m ignoring that. Come home, mijo. This is a conversation we need to have in person, not over the phone.”
A colorful flash caught his attention. Keisha leaned against the house at the other end of the porch, watching him and obviously waiting for him to get off the phone. “I’ll be home by dinner.”
“Perfect. I’m making your favorite cheese and onion enchiladas.”
“See you then.” He hung up and forced the ache in his chest into the background. It was a long drive back to Harbor City. He’d have plenty of time to regret all he had to leave behind then.
The woman before him was everything he wanted in this world, but he couldn’t go off half-cocked again. He had to ignore his sixth sense urging him to wrap her up and make her his right now. He had to be patient and give her a chance to find her own way.
He could wait.
Staring at her, though, was like seeing everything he ever wanted in the world wrapped up in one beautiful person. An invisible hand squeezed his lungs until he stood gasping for oxygen. He had to get the fuck out of here before he ruined everything again.
Nervous energy had Keisha twitching as Gabe finished his conversation. Standing off to the side out of his eye-line, she felt like a stalker or like she was back in high school mooning over a crush.
Damn girl, grow a pair. You slept together, it’s not like you already picked out baby names.
Raising her chin and straightening her shoulders, she strutted across the porch with more confidence than she had in the reserve tank. “I was wondering where you disappeared to.”
Gabe shot her a half smile, the vein in his temple pulsing like a jackhammer, before his phone vibrated in his hand.
Keisha chuckled. “Don’t tell me the billionaire boy wonder has problems.”
“You know what they say. More money, more problems.” He grimaced and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Look, I hate to do this, but I have to get back to Harbor City.”
“Oh, really? You have to go?”
Wow, that didn’t sound desperate at all, K.
“Some meetings can’t be put off any longer. Sorry.” He brushed his lips across the middle of her forehead before giving her a bitter smile and heading down the driveway.
She lowered her head and pressed her lips tight before she could utter anything stupid. Keisha didn’t know what she expected, but dammit, why couldn’t it be more than this? She closed her arms around her clenching stomach, hoping the warmth would melt the disappointment freezing her from the inside out. Her chest tightened, but not before she inhaled Gabe’s sandalwood scent clinging to the wool coat.
“Hey!” She hustled across the driveway, sliding her arms out of his wool coat. “Don’t forget your coat.”
Gabe paused, his hand on the car’s door handle. He tilted his head down, almost fast enough to hide the grim lines crisscrossing his forehead and the hard set to his jaw.