"Technically, yes. And maple syrup comes from maple tree farms."
In her excitement, Christie couldn't stop herself from reaching out and squeezing Susan's hand. "Thank you for finding this." Now she and Liam could go back to the council with real firepower to ask them to pull the petition.
Liam walked into the room then, and Christie felt Susan's hand go still beneath hers. Slowly, Christie moved hers away.
"Liam, honey," his mother said. "Join us."
"Actually," Christie said, pushing back her chair, "I need to take over for Alice at the front desk. You can take my seat, Liam."
She was careful not to look at him, or touch him, knowing she was sure to give herself away. Liam might not be able to see that she was falling head over heels for him, but a woman would know it. His mother, especially. And Christie didn't think Susan would be at all happy about it.
Christie quickly said, "Thank you again, Susan," then left the room.
"What was Christie thanking you for?" And why had the woman whose bed he'd just left been holding his mother's hand? It was the last thing he'd expected to see.
"I think I've found a way around the festival petition."
Even though he'd been hot on the trail of loopholes, when his mother explained, he wasn't surprised by how smart her plan was. It was a stroke of luck, for sure, but one that might not have come about if not for Susan's knowledge of the Adirondack Park's history.
"It was nice of you to help her."
"I was thinking the same thing about you," she said softly. "You like her, don't you?"
"Everyone likes Christie. The guests. The locals. Even babies stop crying when she picks them up."
His mother's eyes softened. "I can't wait for the day I can hold your children." And then she shifted in her seat, looking more uncomfortable than usual. "I saw you kissing her last night."
Liam felt every muscle in his body go still. Just as he'd told Christie this morning, he hadn't been planning to hide their relationship. But he'd assumed it was their secret to tell. "How could you have seen us?"
"I came by the inn hoping to see you. To talk about--" She paused. "Things. I'd just got out of my car when I realized I wasn't alone in the parking lot."
"And you just stood there and watched us?"
"You said you saw us kiss."
"I did. But it wasn't like that, I swear to you, Liam."
He pushed back his chair to go, but she reached across the table and grabbed both of his hands. "Please, let me explain."
He'd heard enough of her explanations for one lifetime. He should have left, shouldn't have felt the least bit guilty about it. But she was his mother. And he couldn't walk out on her, no matter how badly he wanted to, especially with Christie's voice in his head.
You make sure everyone is afraid of you. That they don't get close to you. Like how you barely say a word to your mother, even though she's so hurt every time you push her away. Your father too.
"Go ahead," he finally said. "Explain."
"You and Christie were sharing such a private moment. And even though I have to admit I don't know how I feel about the two of you having a relationship--"
"It's none of your business."
"That's what I'm trying to say. I couldn't interrupt you, couldn't possibly have let you know I was there." Her gaze grew wistful. "I know what it's like to fall in love, Liam."
Fall in love?
No. She was wrong.
She had to be.
He'd come down here to talk to his mother about Wesley, not to discuss his first kiss with Christie. A kiss that had turned into a night--and a morning--of the most incredible lovemaking he'd ever known. With the sweetest woman he'd ever had the privilege of kissing. But he definitely hadn't planned on talking about love.
Pushing the word away, he suddenly realized what his mother's spying meant. "If you saw us kiss, then you heard about Wesley too, didn't you?"
She took a shaky breath. "My poor baby. I wish he didn't feel that he had to run."
"He didn't think any of us could handle the truth. And he's right, isn't he? Our family has never been able to handle the truth."
He'd said too much. He'd already stayed too long at Summer Lake, at the inn--and things were only going to get more complicated with his parents and Christie if he didn't shove off soon. Liam slid his hands free of his mother's grip. "There are a lot of people checking out this morning. I should see if they need more help at reception."
Susan's mouth was completely dry--so dry she could hardly swallow. She picked up her teacup, but her hands were shaking so hard that she could barely lift it from the saucer without spilling tea all over the table.
Liam had never spoken to her like that before. Never been quite so direct. Our family has never been able to handle the truth.
Fear and guilt rose up inside her in equal measure.
He hadn't given away her secret to Christie last night in the parking lot when the young woman had flat out asked him why he had such a fractured relationship with his mother. Susan should have felt safe, knowing that if he wouldn't tell Christie--the woman who clearly held his heart--he wouldn't tell anyone. But she didn't feel safe.
Not even close.
She'd come to the inn this morning to begin the process of making amends. Christie was easier to approach, of course, which was why Susan had started with her. They didn't have a long history, and the truth was, the young woman really was inherently likable.
There was no point in lying to herself anymore. Just as Henry had said, it had been clear right from the start that while Wesley and Christie obviously enjoyed each other's company a great deal, they were no love match. There were no sparks. Nothing that could possibly hold a family together through the ups and downs of life.
And Susan knew firsthand about those ups and downs. The thrill of saying I do beneath the rose arbor outside the inn. Discovering she was pregnant with each of her sons and then giving birth to them, two years apart. The joy she'd felt when she held each of her children for the very first time, when she'd looked into their eyes and known only love, a love so intense that she'd been stunned by the force of it.
But the flip side to all that joy had come when she'd lost her brother, and grief had propelled her into making a terrible mistake with a virtual str
anger--and then another, even bigger one, with her son.
For two decades, she'd survived the fear, the guilt, but this morning she was suffocating under the weight of both.
Perhaps Christie would allow her to make amends for her chilly behavior over the past months, especially if her suggestion for saving the festival actually made a difference. But would Liam ever forgive her for making him carry the burden of her secret all these years?
And then there was Henry. Her husband had held her for the first time in a long time last night by the fire.
But she'd felt him warring with himself the entire time.
Henry was glad he lived close enough to Jean to help out when she needed it. Sure, she could have fixed her own kitchen sink--could have done it twice as fast as he could in her heyday, as a matter of fact--but working with his hands always helped settle him. And he'd been twisted up in knots for what felt like forever.
"How is Susan doing?" his mother asked as she brought him a glass of lemonade.
He took a long drink, then said, "She's worried about Wesley."
"Has there been any word from him?"
"No." And now that Henry had more of an idea about why Wesley had left, he actually understood why his son had done it. Summer Lake was a wonderful town. Small, nurturing, comfortable, and not at all prejudiced or bigoted. But sometimes, a man needed to figure out some things for himself, away from the people who were so sure they already knew who he was.
Lord knew, there had been plenty of times when Henry wouldn't have minded disappearing himself.
The one person he'd never had to hide from, fortunately, was his own mother. Jean Kane wasn't a woman who pushed. Since he appreciated the care his mother had always taken with him, he wanted to set her mind at ease about Wesley. "He'll come back when he's ready." Henry would let his son tell his grandmother his own truth at his own pace.
"Yes, I expect he will," his mother agreed. "This is home. For all of us."
Her comment had him asking, "Has Liam said anything to you about staying in Summer Lake?"
"Announcements aren't his style." She laughed. "Then again, neither is falling in love, and he's doing a grand job of that."
Henry almost dropped the wrench he was holding. "He's in love?"
"Liam looks at Christie the way you once looked at Susan."