I shake my head. “I don’t want to eat. I want to look through the files now.”
Liam sighs and motions to Derek. “The pictures. Show her the pictures.”
My brow furrows. “Pictures?”
Derek reaches down into the box he’d brought with him, retrieves a black three-ring binder, and sets it in front of me. “It’s every picture we could pull of anyone who ever crossed your path. Maybe you will find your man in there.”
I stare at the binder that holds the past I’ve tried to force into a dark corner in my mind these past six years, steeling myself for what I will see, still wholly unprepared when I flip it open. It’s like a physical blow when I see my mother staring back at me, her lovely blue eyes bright, her long blonde hair like silk around her pretty face. But the blow is nothing compared to her screams for help echoing in my mind.
I squeeze my eyes shut, fighting the burning sensation that does nothing to help me or my mother. Liam rolls his chair closer, his hand on my leg, his food as forgotten as mine. “Tell me about her,” he says softly.
I have to swallow twice before I whisper, “I can’t. Not now.” I swallow again. I think I might be sick.
“If you aren’t up to this--”
“I am.” I look at him, straightening my spine. “I have to be.” I flip another page. Liam squeezes my leg and I cover his hand with mine, welcoming the strength he is to me.
Two hours later, I haven’t found the image of the man, and I’ve looked at every photo twice. I flip back to the beginning to start again and Liam shuts the notebook. “Don’t do that to yourself again. Clearly, he’s not in there, but a whole lot of pain is.”
Again, he’s right. I think I’ll tell Dr. Murphy I’ve diagnosed myself on Monday. It’s not Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a broken heart. “You have to eat, baby,” Liam continues. “You haven’t touched your sandwich.”
“I might have something here,” Derek interjects, keying something into his computer and then glancing up at us. “Being the real estate guy that I am, I know that cities with Jasmine Heights’ modest population of twenty thousand that are booming, as it is, tend to have a primary investor who’s making it happen. Turns out I was right. Not only does one man own most of the primary real estate, but he is a substantial investor in, get this,” he pauses for effect, “the hospital that shows no record of you ever being there.”
Of course it doesn’t. To the world outside this room, I’m dead. “Who?” I ask and I don’t sound urgent. The truth is, looking at those photos was like taking a knife and slicing me open. I’m bleeding inside and barely holding it together.
“His name is Sheridan Scott,” Derek supplies. “Sound familiar?”
“No. But that doesn’t always mean it won’t later after I’ve had time to think.”
Derek turns his computer to face Liam and I. “What about now?”
“No,” I say, disappointment filling me as I stare at the image of a good looking sixty-something-year-old man in a suit, his dark hair peppered with gray. “He’s way too old. My mother was in her forties. I guess the man to be her age or younger. Tall, and dark, and good looking.”
Liam moves his computer to sit in front of me and pulls up another photo for me to study. I frown. “Why are you showing me Alex?”
“You’ve seen his photo?”
“I googled him way back in Denver when you told me about him.”
His shoulders visibly relax. “I just wanted--”
“To build trust.” I give the other men my back and cup his cheeks, not caring about the audience. “You have it.” I press my lips to his, drinking in the connection to the one person in this world I can trust, and the idea eases the hurt created in me by the photos just enough to make it bearable. He, like our child, gives me the light in the darkness to fight this battle. I have to keep fighting.
Saturday morning is bittersweet. It begins with me in the shower with Liam and we almost forget the idea is to use soap and shampoo. Afterward, still craving that casual feeling of hanging around the house we’d had the day before, I convince Liam to dress in a navy Yankees sweatsuit I find in his drawer and I choose a pale pink one of my own, minus the sports logo. We head to the kitchen together to meet up with Tellar and Derek to do more research, but for a few more moments, I am still all about Liam, the father of my child, and I’m amazed how, no matter what he wears, he owns the space around him. And yes, me, too.
“The chef is in the house,” Tellar announces and Liam and I claim seats at the table and he moves around the kitchen like he owns it, and despite his cheery tone, his shoulder holster and gun dent my mood.
Liam leans in and kisses me. “I need to make a couple of business calls.” He eyes Tellar. “I expect the chef to be in when I get back.”
Tellar mock salutes him. “At your command, sir. Yes, sir.”
Laughter bubbles from my lips and I murmur a greeting to Derek. For a moment, I have the oddest sense of being in a happy bubble that could burst at any moment, and I don’t want it to. Tellar sets a cup in front of me and fills it. “Decaf per the boss’s orders. And how about an omelet? Or eggs sunny-side up? Name your egg.”
“Scrambled eggs well-done, please.” I lift the cup. “And thank you.”
Derek and I chat for a few minutes about his sister who’s a high-end real estate agent, and by the time I finish my eggs, Liam returns. Tellar whips him up an omelet and I listen as Derek and Liam talk about the Denver project Derek is still trying to salvage, the one Liam was supposed to design. Listening to them, I become aware of the bond between these two men that is far more brotherly than simple friendship. And I get why Derek is here. He, and Tellar too, despite being on payroll, are the closest thing to family Liam has. Except for me and the baby.