It’s perfect. And so is Oz, in his own way.

Pushing my fears aside, I get to work, knowing that dwelling on it doesn’t change a thing.

Chapter Twenty-Nine


* * *

Oz arrives at my desk before noon, and I hear Skyler on the other side of the wall humming the Jaws theme music.

“Dun dun. Dun dun. Duh duh duh duh.”

Oz raises an eyebrow at me, and I shrug. I put my hand in his and he leads me out of our department and onto the elevator.

“You’re nervous?” he asks, lifting our joined hands and kissing my wrist.

My pulse is fluttering there, and that’s how he knows.

“A little,” I confess, giving him a smile. “I’ve never done this before.”

He rubs my knuckles against his short stubble and looks at me with those beautiful sapphires of his. “Me either, baby.”

It’s then that it occurs to me he might be nervous, too. I know his mother is important to him, and he probably wants us to get along. He’s never felt this way about anyone but me before, so he’s obviously never brought another woman to lunch to meet her. Having this knowledge is kind of empowering, and it’s as if my focus has turned from myself to Oz. I can do this for him. I can make this first meeting as hard or as easy as I want it to be, and for Oz I will put his own fears to rest.

“I hope she likes me,” I say, and this time I put some determination into my voice. Thinking about this being a big moment for the both of us goes a long way to calm my nerves.

“She’ll love you.”

His words are final as the elevator goes to the bottom floor and the doors open. Oz leads me through the lobby, but instead of exiting the building, he turns me by the security desk and I realize we’re headed to the garden. My garden.

Oz opens the door for me and I walk through, remembering my first time in this space. The weather is beautiful today, and the shade from the wisteria flowers helps to keep the garden cool. Oz takes my hand and leads me down the stone path until we wind around to the open grassy area.

I look up to see a beautiful older woman sitting on the bench. A table, like the one laid out when I was here before, is placed in front of her with two chairs opposite.

She stands as soon as she sees us and takes a step around the table. She’s wearing a soft yellow pantsuit with brown wedges. I can even see the tips of her pink toenail polish peeking out of the peep toes. Her hair is to her shoulders and a beautiful salt-and-pepper. Her smile is easy, and she has the most beautiful dark green eyes.

She walks toward us, opening her arms, and I’m shocked when she comes straight to me and takes me in her arms.

“Mallory, it’s so wonderful to finally meet you.”

Her mothering embrace seeps into me, and for half a second I feel like I could burst into tears. All of my emotions are on the surface, and it’s as if I’ve been thrown back into my childhood and I need someone to hold me.

Her arms are strong, but her hold is gentle. After a moment, I embrace her back. It’s a little like the first time I met Oz. Like I’ve been waiting my whole life to get to this moment.

“Mom, this is Mallory. Mallory, this is my mother, Vivien Osbourne.”

She pulls back and extends her arms while still holding on to me. She looks me up and down, and I swear I see something like a tear in her eyes.

“Well, aren’t you beautiful,” she says, making my stomach warm.

“Thank you, Mrs. Osbourne.”

“Vivien,” she corrects me, and then leans in a little to whisper. “Or Mom.” She gives me a wink and then one last squeeze on my arms before she releases me and gives Oz a kiss on the cheek.

“Shall we?” Oz motions to the table.

We all sit down, Vivien taking a seat on the bench, and Oz and I across from her. He takes my hand right away and suddenly I feel completely relaxed.

There’s a spread of food before us; each of us has a salad, then there’s a small tray of sandwiches and a plate of fruit and cheeses. Vivien goes about serving me a plate of food, and then makes Oz one before filling her own.

I take a drink of my tea and brace myself for the questions.

“Mallory,” Vivien says, “I know everything there is to know about you, except why in God’s good name you’d choose to stay with my son.”

The laugh bursts from my lips before I can hold it back, and Oz stiffens beside me. Vivien rolls her eyes at her son.