"He--" She flushed as she licked her lips. "I--"
"Well, that's a hell yeah if I've ever heard one!" Sarah exclaimed. "I've staked out a quiet corner so that you can tell me everything."
Christie said hello to everyone in the knitting group, then grabbed a glass of wine and sat beside Sarah in the only private spot in the crowded group of knitters. As Christie pulled out her knitting, they all--thankfully--turned back to their gossip and laughter.
"Oooh," Sarah said as she reached out to slide the yarn of the almost finished slip between her fingers. "This is so sexy. Mom told me you were working on the pattern for the shop. But I think you should keep it."
"I couldn't." Christie shouldn't hate the thought of parting with the cashmere slip. After all, she'd known all along that she was making it to hang in the store as a sample next to the pattern book. Still, she hadn't forgotten the way Liam had looked at it--and her--when he said, Will you wear it for me when you're done with it? No dress. Just the slip.
"We both know you want to," Sarah said with a wicked glint in her eyes. "Now, just to make sure I've got it all straight, I got married on Saturday, and then you and Liam started kissing on..."
"Thursday." She'd never forget their first kiss...or any of the kisses that had come after. "But we should talk about your honeymoon."
"Later. So you kissed on Thursday, and then you..." She scanned Christie's face for clues. "That same night, huh?"
All Christie could do was nod. And say, "I love him."
Sarah reached for her hand. "You would never have slept with him if you didn't." Christie tried to blink back the rush of moisture in her eyes as Sarah added, "And I know that Wesley is going to be happy for you. For both of you."
Only a true friend would understand, without being told, just how much hearing that meant to Christie. More than anything, she wanted to confide in Sarah, to ask for advice on how to help Liam.
Keeping Wesley's secret had been hard, but at least she knew that he would eventually resolve his situation. Liam, however, would always be broken, as long as he held on to his mother's secret. As long as he carried the burden of keeping his parents' marriage together on his strong shoulders. And he would never really trust a woman, never really let himself love anyone, until the day came when he could let go of the secret.
But she'd promised him she'd never speak of it to anyone. So she simply said, "He can't love me back. Even before that first kiss, he warned me. But I would have loved him anyway."
She waited for her friend to tell her to run. To get the heck out of a relationship that wasn't going anywhere. But Sarah's expression was one of complete understanding.
"Even if Calvin couldn't have loved me back, I've never been able to stop myself from loving him." Sarah instinctively put her hands over her slightly rounded stomach. "I wouldn't want to, even if we never got to have our forever together." With that, she gently put the needles back in Christie's hands. "I really think you should finish this tonight."
"I'm not sure my head is in the right place. I'd hate to mess it up right at the end."
"How about this--while you work on those final rows, I'll tell you all about the Bahamas."
Sarah knew how much Christie longed to travel, that she could listen to travel stories all night long. And as her friend began her delicious tales about sun and sand and tropical adventure, Christie made one stitch and then another, until she finally realized she had relaxed for the first time in hours.
A short while later, she bound off the last stitch and looked up to find Sarah smiling at her. "It's beautiful."
Christie ran her hands over the delicate web of fiber. "It really is."
But a moment later, when a voice called out, "Susan, it's so nice to see you," Christie felt her entire body go tense. She steeled herself to stay calm as she looked over at Liam's mother, who had just walked into the store.
Sarah's gaze went from Christie to Susan. "Christie? Are you okay?"
She shook her head, tried to say something, but no words would come out.
"Come help me with some boxes in the back room." Sarah tugged her to her feet. Once they were away from the group, she asked, "Did something happen between you and Susan? Did she say something to you about dating Liam?"
"No." Thank God that was the honest answer. "But I still need to leave."
Seconds later, she slipped out the back door into the rain that had just started to come down and ran across the street. Back to the inn.
Back to Liam.
Susan wasn't a huge knitter, but she'd come to the Monday night knitting group enough over the years to know that there was usually comfort to be found there.
All day, she'd felt as though her skin was too tight, as though something inside of her was about to explode. To burst into a thousand little, messy pieces.
It didn't make sense. Apart from Wesley's continued absence, things were actually better than they'd been in a while. She and Henry were both making an effort to be kinder to each other, to appreciate each other. The night before, they'd even gone out to sit on the end of their dock to watch the stars. His hand had moved across to hold hers. And she'd let him.
What's more, Christie was bringing her closer to her son. Now that she was involved with the Tapping of the Maples Festival, Susan had a reason to go by the inn at least once a day. It was such a pleasure to see so much of Liam. They weren't saying anything important, but she hoped that would come eventually.
So then why did she have such a deep premonition of doom? And why did her secret--her lies--feel like it was looming bigger than ever?
Susan let Helen and Dorothy, two women she'd always thought were a hoot, settle her onto the couch with fat needles and thick, soft green yarn that reminded her of the budding leaves on the trees.
"We haven't seen you in months," Dorothy said. "Since the end of summer, isn't that right?"
Susan knew Christie was here every Monday night, and that had been part of the reason she hadn't been in since last fall. But she figured there was no longer a reason to stay away. "Henry and I have been fixing up our house," she said by way of explanation.
Helen raised her eyebrows. "Working on the house with my late husband made me want to take a hammer to his head. My hat is off to you, Susan."
It should have made her feel better to know that most husbands and wives didn't get along all of the time. It should have pleased her to note that people saw a loving partnership when they looked at her marriage. Instead, she felt as though it was just one more lie added to all of the others she'd been telling for so long.
She looked around the store. "Isn't Christie usually here on Monday nights?"
Sarah handed her a glass of wine. "She just finished her project and decided to leave early."
"I'm sorry I missed her." Trying to push away the dark, heavy feeling inside her chest, Susan asked Sarah, "How was your honeymoon? You're positively glowing."
Susan smiled in all the right places, making appropriate comments when necessary, and even knitted a few rows of a simple baby blanket pattern Helen got her started on. Unfortunately, coming to Lakeside Stitch and Knit tonight didn't make her feel any better. On the contrary, she felt more tense--and scared--than ever before.
Caught between her love for the husband she couldn't bear to lose and her love for the son with whom she would never have a real, loving relationship if she didn't confess, Susan felt as though her heart were tearing to pieces. And she was afraid that no amount of trying to knit the threads back together would ever make it whole again.
Christie hadn't planned to wear the slip tonight. But when she finally got back to her suite, stripped off her wet clothes and hung them to dry in the bathroom, the pull was too strong to resist. She'd just try the slip on this once to find out what it felt like against her skin, and then she'd put it away.
In any case, she needed to calm down before going to Liam tonight. Seeing his mother had yanked up all of
her anger, all of her fury at what he'd been through over the years. Because of what Susan had made him promise. For all that he tried to act like he wasn't tapped into his emotions, she knew he was. So if he pulled her into his arms tonight and looked at her with those dark, heated eyes while she was so out of control, she was afraid of what he'd see.
Not only the desire to strike out at his mother on his behalf.
But also the love that she couldn't control.
He already knew she loved him, but since he couldn't love her back, she knew better than to smother him with it.
With trembling fingers, she picked up the cashmere slip and put it over her arms and head. The knitted fabric was so soft it took her breath away. As did the thought that Liam would love to see her in this...and she would love to wear it for him.
Like magic, there was a knock at the door.
Her heart was pounding hard and fast as she walked over. She'd opened it for Liam so many times in the past week. But this time everything was different.
His eyes held hers for a long moment, as though he was drinking her in after a long, long absence--even though it had been only a couple of hours. And when he whispered her name--Christie--it didn't simply sound like her name.
Tonight it sounded like the one thing she hadn't been able to stop hoping for, no matter how many times she tried...