Feeling the cut of that image in my mind, I round the island to join Emma by the sink where the coffee pot sets. Emma moves to my side, watching me fill a cup, while Savage just won’t freaking allow me a moment of space. He joins us and grabs a mug.
“The mother thing doesn’t add up,” he says.
I turn away from him and the pot that is now in his hand, stepping to the island behind us. Emma follows me. “Mother thing?” Emma asks, claiming a spot at the endcap, right next to me, her delicate brow furrowed.
“I told Savage her history,” I say. “He’s going to find out where she is.”
“Oh.” She blinks. “I have to say, I thought I’d have to work harder for that one. That was unexpected.”
“Hunter’s dead,” I say tightly, flashing back to burying my brother too soon after burying my father. Remembering the miserable rainy funeral. “Also unexpected.”
She nods, understanding in her eyes. She gets it, and, somehow, in the short time we’ve known each other, she gets me. I don’t have to tell her that I need answers and that despite my initial resistance to my mother’s involvement, I’m willing to go down whatever rabbit hole necessary to find them.
Savage rounds the island, and takes up a space, directly across from me. “Back to your mother. Why do you think the person in the red coat was her?”
“I don’t remember ever saying that I do.”
“I do,” Emma adds. “I think it was her or I did at the time.”
Savage’s gaze jerks to mine. “Why?”
“It was the red dress,” Emma says. “It seemed like a way for her to tell me who she was.”
“It was a coat,” Savage corrects. “And because the person wore a red coat does not make her Jax’s long lost mother.”
“Someone wanted me or Jax, or both of us, to think it was,” Emma argues, her cheeks flushing red with her argument. “And who knows the grounds better than his mother?”
“Probably a lot of people since she’s been gone twenty years,” he shoots back. “Talk to me about the note that was left for you. Where and how did it get to you?”
“It was left for me when I was in the bathroom.”
“And we know who was in the castle,” Savage continues. “Jax’s mother was not there.”
“Randall was,” Emma reminds us, “though I can’t believe this was him. Not when he pointed a finger at Chance. And aside from that, I don’t want to lose focus on Jax’s mother just yet.”
“It wasn’t his mother,” Savage says.
“She would know a lot of the long-term staff,” Emma argues. “She could have had someone leave the note. Maybe she even knows a secret passage. Maybe she decided to show herself when she saw me on the beach alone but Jax showed up.” She eyes me. “You started calling for me. She ran away.”
“Well, that certainly fits,” I say dryly. “My mother was a master of running from her children.”
“You’re still her son,” Savage argues. “What’s her motivation to go to Emma and not you?” He grabs a pastry box, brought over by the kitchen staff, sitting on the edge of the counter, opens it and smirks with approval. But he keeps talking. Savage is good at the whole talking thing. “And didn’t the note accuse you of killing your brother?” He snatches a pastry from the box and pauses with it in flight to his mouth. “Seems like an un-motherly thing to do.” He takes a bite.
“She left him when he was a child,” Emma argues, her tone defensive, protective. “We just told you that. She’s as unmotherly as they come.”
“She’s still his mother,” Savage snaps. “I’ll say that ten times over and repeat it again. Because that matters. She wouldn’t go to you, an outsider and a member of the family that might well have killed her son, to accuse her other son of murder. Not buying that shit and the swampland that comes with it.”
“Maybe she was defending her dead son,” Emma pushes. “And she assumes Jax hates her.”
Savage smirks. “And she’d tell you that her living son might be the killer? No. Still not buying that and the swampland you’re selling, sweetheart.” He licks cherry filling from his finger and then pretty much inhales the rest of the pastry, before he adds, “Feels like there’s an agenda here we don’t know. They, meaning whoever the fuck is behind tonight, went hunting for a certain reaction from Emma tonight. The question is,” he continues, “did they get it?” He holds up a finger. “More so. What will they do if they didn’t?”
Savage is right. Tonight, was nothing but a promise of more to come. I lean on the island and meet Savage’s stare.
“Strike or be struck,” I say. “Right now, we aren’t playing the game. It’s playing with us. We need to change that starting now.”