“Why are you the only one left? Were you even looking for love when you met my daughter?”
“No.” Just as he would never be anything but honest with Kerry, he would never lie to her mother, either. “Love was the very last thing I was looking for.” He paused and smiled. “And the very best thing I’ve ever found, accidentally or otherwise.”
“I’ve always believed that nothing in this world is more beautiful than true love.” She held Adam’s gaze. “The two of you were beautiful when you were dancing together at the wedding. I’ve never seen Kerry look so happy.”
“I want her to be happy,” he said. His throat grew as tight as his chest had been ever since he’d made himself walk out of Kerry’s apartment three days ago. “Kerry’s happiness is all I want. Her happiness is everything I want.”
“This morning, before coming here to meet you, I was worried that you are a man who quite obviously always gets precisely what he wants. But now?” Aileen Dromoland smiled at him, a smile that told him more about her change of heart than any words ever could. “Now I’m glad.”
* * *
Kerry and her mother both arrived at the waterfront restaurant at the same time. They’d always been on track like that, and it was nice to know that some things never changed.
“You look wonderful, Mom,” she said as they were shown to their seats beneath a colorful awning.
“I’m so glad you could squeeze me in for lunch today, honey.”
“And I appreciate you saving me from lunch at my desk behind my computer,” Kerry said with a smile. One that nearly faltered as she watched a couple embrace. They couldn’t take their eyes—or hands—off each other. For a little while, that had been Kerry. With Adam.
“Have you heard from Colleen since she came back from Las Vegas?”
Her mother’s question knocked Kerry back to her seat on the deck over the water. “Yes, she emailed me the pictures of their ceremony.” Carefully, so that she wouldn’t set her mother off, Kerry added, “She looked happy.”
“She did.” Kerry was still reeling at her mother’s shocking agreement when her mother added, “Hopefully, a miracle of miracles will happen and it will last this time. But I actually didn’t come to lunch to talk about Colleen.”
Assuming her mother wanted to be caught up on the business, Kerry said, “Things have been so busy lately that I haven’t checked in with you nearly enough. But I can give you a quick rundown of our most recent weddings if you’d like.”
“There’s no need for that,” her mother said with a shake of her head. “You’ve always done far better than I ever did with the business. I don’t need to know how work is. I need to know how you are.”
Kerry tried not to let her mouth fall open at the way today’s lunch was going. Her mother had always been there for her, of course, but never in such an in-her-face way. “I’m...”
“You look like you’re not sleeping well.” Her mother’s hand came over hers, warm and comforting. “And even worse than that, you look sad.”
Kerry knew she should be coming up with excuses to allay her mother’s concerns. She could blame it on work, or maybe allergies, couldn’t she? But the truth was that all the sleep she hadn’t been getting since the night Adam had loved her one last time was making her brain slow, like mush.
“The last time I saw you, when you were dancing with Adam Sullivan, you looked so different. So happy. At least, until I showed up,” her mother said with a rueful smile. “I didn’t mean to ruin your beautiful moment.”
Kerry wanted to tell her mother that she hadn’t ruined anything. But that was a lie she couldn’t get past her lips. Instead, she told her what she was absolutely positive she wanted to hear. “Adam and I, we aren’t”—she could barely keep her voice from breaking before she got to the final word—“together.”
This was where her mother was supposed to sigh with relief. Instead, she frowned and said, “I’ve always gone by first impressions. A skill that I passed on to you. However, what’s taken me sixty-odd years to recognize is that sometimes those first impressions aren’t right. Sometimes you need to take a step back to take stock of what the actual situation is. Take your father, for example. He swept me off my feet. But the man he turned out to be after those first impressions had faded... Well, you know precisely how that turned out. I don’t always get it right, Kerry. Particularly, I’m afraid, when it comes to the man you were dating.”
“But Adam and I were never dating.”
Only, was that really true? Because even though they’d had an arrangement, hadn’t they repeatedly broken the rules they’d set for themselves?
“Well, maybe we...” Kerry was so tired from fighting her feelings that she nearly laid her head down on the table. “I don’t know what we were.” Her chest was clenched tight as she admitted, “I don’t know what we are.”
“Oh, honey.” Her mother’s arms came around her, holding her tight. “Maybe you should give yourself some room to find out.”
Kerry was officially beyond speechless now. “Wait.” She was sure she had this wrong. “Are you actually telling me to date Adam Sullivan, one of Seattle’s most notorious playboys?”
Her mother brushed the hair back from her face, just as she had when she was a little girl and it had come out of her ponytail. “I love both you and your sister, but the two of you have never been the same. You’ve always had a good head on your shoulders. Whether it’s business or love, I trust you, honey. And I’m proud of you. So for once, instead of promising me to be safe, I’m hoping you’ll make me a different promise. A promise to trust your instincts. And if you fall in love, to let yourself love with your whole heart.”
* * *
Adam left for the lake right after meeting with Kerry’s mother on Sunday. And since the moment he’d arrived, all he wanted to do was call Kerry, hear her voice, and tell her she should be standing on the beach with him, in his arms.
He wanted her back now. Yesterday. Tomorrow.
But he knew she needed time, needed space. The time and space to miss him. And to long for him the way he was longing for her, every second of every day.
Soon, he reminded himself for the zillionth time, she’d be here for three days of wedding romance, not to mention a dozen Sullivan happy-ever-afters all around them. But Adam had never waited for anything in his life, and it was killing him not to speed back to Seattle, charge into her office, throw her over his shoulder, and lock the two of them in one of their fancy hotel suites until she accepted what he already knew for sure—that they belonged together.
For the first time in days, he smiled, thinking of what her reaction to that would be. First cool as she would try to freeze him out, then hot as she would blast him for being so presumptuous. But he’d do anything to get her to consider taking him back.
He was glad that he’d had so much work to do building the gazebo for the past two days, though every nail he pounded, every board he cut, every swipe of the paintbrush made him think of how excited Kerry had been about this addition to the wedding plans. Adam had always been good at carpentry, but he’d never done work this good. He’d never wanted to please anyone more than he wanted to please Kerry, in any and every way that he could.