"I will never regret my love for you, Thomas." And then she pushed back her chair and made herself say, "Good-bye."
"My mother gave me a New York City paper the following year," Jean said softly. "Your father had passed away."
Henry was stunned by everything his mother had just told him. He knew he'd have to ask her to repeat it. Another day, when it wasn't all such a big shock.
"I never really understood what it was to have a father or lose one," he said. Not until he'd become one himself. Not until he'd realized that the very last thing he ever wanted to do was fail his children. And then anger, that previously rare emotion that he'd been feeling more and more lately, flooded in again. "The people he worked for stole everything from us!"
"Well," his mother said slowly, as was her way, "not everything. I still had you. You had me. There were siblings and cousins and grandparents and Susan and Liam and Wesley." She looked out the window, and her eyes lit up. "Speaking of Liam, he's here now."
As soon as Henry's son stepped inside, Jean gave him a hug. "What a lovely surprise."
Liam's eyes were warm as he looked down at his grandmother. "Sorry I haven't been over sooner."
She waved away his apology. "You never need to worry about me."
Liam looked over her shoulder. "Dad, I didn't know you'd be here."
"Just helping fix the kitchen sink."
Jean walked over and took the wrench from his grip. "I've got it. Why don't you two go take some father-son time together."
Knowing it was an order, rather than a suggestion, Henry stood. But before he left, he pulled his mother into a hug, holding her more tightly than he ever had before.
"Thank you for telling me," he said for her ears only.
"I know we can't go back and fix the past," she said, "but I haven't given up hope that we have the power to fix the things that are broken now."
His mother had been everything to him as a child, and she was still the best person he knew, along with his sons. She'd had no choice but to give up her true love. But she was right that he did have a choice about his own. Susan--his Susie--was still there. It was simply the love they needed help to find.
But first, he'd start with doing his damned level best to fix things with his eldest son.
Liam and his father were climbing a steep, rocky section on their way to Echo Cliff. Rather than walking single file up a narrow trail, they were side by side, using their hands and feet to get up the rocks. The snow had melted almost all the way to the top by now, and icy water was streaming down the trail.
They'd been hiking in silence for quite a while, but although Henry was one of the most easygoing people Liam had ever known, it didn't feel like a comfortable silence.
How could it be when there was so much unsaid between them?
Liam had been close to his father until his teens, and he knew Christie was right, that his father wanted to be closer to him again. But had she guessed just how badly Liam also wanted to be closer to his father again?
Deciding it was time to break the silence, at least where he could, Liam said, "I'm glad you were free for a hike today. Even if I'm pretty sure Grandma threw us both out of her cottage a little while ago."
"She definitely did." A smile landed on his father's face while they shared a moment of appreciation for the quietly indomitable Jean Kane. His smile fell away as he cleared his throat. "Your mother told me why Wesley left."
Frustration bit at Liam. "He should have talked to me. I'm his brother. He should have known he could trust me. With anything."
"You're not responsible for his pain, for his secrets." Henry's voice was ragged. "If anyone should have seen his turmoil, should have guessed what he needed to get off his chest, it was me. His father. You and Wesley have always been the most important people in the world to me. You know that, don't you?"
For all the distance he'd put between them these past years, Liam did know it. "You've been a great dad."
He could practically see his father's brain working, knew the question that had to be coming next: So then why did you pull away from me so long ago?
Needing to do something, anything, to head that question off at the pass, Liam said, "You must also know that Christie and I are seeing each other." He left off while I'm in town, because he didn't want his father to think that Christie was in any way cheapened by agreeing to a short-term affair with him.
"I'm glad," Henry said. "Christie is a truly lovely woman."
Liam realized he hadn't expected anything less from his father than complete and immediate support. His father had always been there for him.
It was Liam who had turned away because he'd felt he had no other choice.
As the hill grew steeper, the rocks became more slippery. Much like the way their conversation was going.
"Not everyone is going to take the news of us dating as well as you," Liam told his father between breaths.
Henry nodded. "True. But Christie is worth surviving a little gossip for, isn't she?"
Of course she was. "I'm not worried about myself. I'm worried about her. I don't want her to be hurt. By anyone."
His father smiled then, his whole heart behind it. "You're in love with her."
Liam went still on the rocks. He'd been stunned when his mother had mentioned love--and this double whammy from his father wasn't any easier to swallow. "I like her."
Like was an emotion he could recognize. Like was an emotion he could accept. Like would never cause anyone to cry. Like would never tear anyone apart.
When his father didn't reply, Liam reminded him, "I've only known her a week." Less than that, actually, if he counted up the days.
"I knew your mother for one night," Henry said. "That was all it took."
This was exactly the kind of conversation Liam shouldn't be having with his father. Not when it rode far too close to the secret that he'd been keeping for twenty years. Still, he couldn't stop himself from saying, "Love at first sight doesn't always work."
The words were barely out of his mouth when his father began to slip on the r
ocks he was standing on. Liam quickly scrambled across to grab him before he fell.
But as they hiked the rest of the way in silence, Liam knew his father didn't have anything to thank him for. Not one damn thing.
Christie was working hard on her knitting sample for the store when someone knocked on her door at six p.m. In the middle of a complicated section of the pattern, she called, "Come in."
When she finally looked up, Liam's dark good looks took her breath away just as they always did. But it was more than her lungs that were affected. Her heart was too. Hoping. Wishing. Longing.
For something he'd already told her, flat out, that he couldn't give.
But then when his eyes moved over her, the pleasure reflected in them had warmth filling her. No man had ever looked at her like this, as though she was so beautiful he could hardly believe his eyes.
His gaze moved to the yarn in her hands. "I never asked what you're making." His voice was a little husky, reminding her of the way he'd sounded when they were making love and he'd called her sweetheart.
A flush moved across her cheeks. "Something from a new book Lakeside Stitch and Knit recently got in. With Sarah still away on her honeymoon, Denise needed an extra pair of hands."
He picked up the soft pink cashmere. Watching his large hands gently stroke the delicate fibers, the same hands that had brought her more pleasure that she'd known was even possible, she practically shook with wanting him.
"Is it a dress?"
"Not exactly." She tried to take a breath, but it got all caught up in her throat. "It's a book of lingerie. This is going to be a slip. To wear under a dress."
He lifted his gaze from the yarn. "Will you wear it for me when you're done with it? No dress. Just the slip."
On the verge of melting into a puddle on the carpet, she couldn't speak. All she could do was nod. And then he was kissing her--thank God, because she'd never needed a kiss more. Dropping the needles, she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders and pulled him closer.
But the sound of the needles hitting the floor had him pulling back from her. "Dinner," he said, as if to remind them both of their original plan. "I'm taking you to dinner."
"I have food in the fridge." She knew she sounded desperate, but she wanted him too much to care.