Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 39

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Her breath caught in her throat. She knew what she needed to do, knew the lie she needed to tell, that everything was fine. But Christie couldn't do it. Couldn't do anything but look Liam's mother square in the eyes. "Yes, I am."

Susan looked terribly fragile as she nodded her acceptance of the truth. "I'm sorry. So very sorry for the way I've behaved. I've never treated you as well as I should. I was too protective of Wesley. And then Liam. I wouldn't let myself see you for who you really are because I was afraid you were going to hurt my sons."

Christie barely kept her mouth from falling open. This was what Susan was apologizing for? For being somewhat cold and unwelcoming to her?

Blood rushed in her ears, louder this time, and her hands formed tight fists by her sides. She needed to turn away, needed to do a much better job of backing down. But, damn it, Liam had borne the pain of his mother's deep betrayal for twenty years already.

One more second was one too long.

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to." Her words were flat and so much colder than Susan's had ever been to her.

Susan went perfectly still. "What are you talking about?"

"Liam. And the secret he's been keeping from his father. The one you're making him keep."

Christie wasn't glad to see his mother turn a nasty shade of greenish white. She wasn't doing this because she wanted to see Susan put in her place. It was simply instinct to protect the man she loved from the one person who'd hurt him the most. Not just once, but again and again with her continued demand for his silence.

Susan didn't pretend she didn't know what Christie was talking about. She didn't defend herself either. Instead, she stood there looking completely broken, tears cascading down her cheeks.

The sight of tears had always made Christie fold. But this time, she was immune to Susan's tears, even to the woman saying, "I was such a mess. My brother had died, and I wasn't thinking. I should never have had the affair."

Christie shook her head, even though she wanted to put her hands on Susan and shake her instead. "But you did." That was all it took for everything Christie had told herself she needed to keep inside--to hold on to Liam's trust--to break through the dam and come spilling out. "And when he caught you in the act, instead of being brave and owning up to your mistake, you asked a child to be your partner in crime. For a crime he didn't have any part of. You hurt him so badly, Susan. You changed him by teaching him all the wrong things about relationships. About women. And he's paid for your mistake his entire adult life." She all but bared her teeth at the crying woman. "You're not going to let him pay any longer."

"Oh God." Susan's hands were over her mouth, and she was sobbing so hard that it was hard to understand her. "The accident afterward was all my fault. That's why he has that scar."

"The scar on the outside doesn't matter. That one has healed. But you could never stand to see it, could you? Not when it reminded you of everything you did wrong." There was no point in holding back now. Not that she could have, even if she'd wanted to--Liam meant too much to her to not do everything she possibly could to help heal what was broken. "He loved you. God help him, he still does, despite what you did. But the secret you made him keep from the father he loves ripped a hole inside of him that's never even come close to closing."

"He won't talk to me."

"Of course not," Christie said bluntly. "Why would he when every conversation is lined with betrayal? With secrets. With lies."

"Oh God," Susan said again.

"But if that's ever going to change, you're going to have to try again and keep trying." Christie paused, let her fists unclench. Her fingernails had been digging into her palms. "Start now." She could feel her own tears coming. "Love your son. Please just love your son."

"I do love him. I've always loved him."

"Then go find him. If the only thing you can say right now is I love you, that's a hundred times better than continuing to say nothing at all."

"How have I been so wrong for so long?" Susan sobbed. "About everything?"

Christie had messed up plenty in the past. But she was starting to see that it wasn't the past that should be holding any of them back. It was the future they should be looking forward to. And every single beautiful moment in the present that they should be cherishing.

Just as she'd cherished every moment with Liam. Every smile. Every kiss. Every time he held her in his arms. Every time he'd told her he believed in her, even when she forgot to believe in herself.

"I know you've lost so many years," Christie said in a voice that came out barely above a whisper around the huge lump in her throat. "Don't lose any more. Please try. Please just keep telling him how much you love him. Even if he doesn't want to listen, even if he pushes you away, he needs to know that you're sorry. And that you don't need him to keep your secret anymore."

"I was going to tell Henry today. I swear I was."

Christie didn't know what was going to happen between Liam's parents. Of course, she hoped they'd work through their issues, but--"Your son needs you first."

Susan took a breath, one that shook her entire frame. "I know." And then she turned and ran toward the inn, to find her son, the man who needed her love now just as much as he'd needed it when he was fourteen.

Liam was more important to Christie than any festival. He was more important to her than her job at the inn. If it meant helping him move forward with his family, she was willing to risk losing him, was willing to risk her job and any future she could have had in Summer Lake.

All her life, she'd thought she was such an open book. But now she realized that she'd always been holding something back. Until Liam had cracked open the final part of her shell, so she could love more purely, more wholly than she ever had before. At least this time around when she had to start over somewhere new, she'd know that she hadn't held back any part of her heart.

Which was why she had just risked it all, risked the job, the town, the friends she loved.

For love.

Liam deserved true happiness, the kind that would come only when he and his mother were honest with each other. It might not happen today, but at least the painful silence he'd kept for two decades would end.

Still, for all Christie's clear-cut reasons for what she'd done, and despite how much she believed in each one, she could feel her own heart breaking, one painful beat at a time. Because she knew Liam. Knew without a doubt that by being unable to keep her promise and his secret, the man she loved was already gone. Even if he didn't know it yet.

But he would as soon as his mother found him.

And as Christie stood on the edge of the sugar bush with people laughing all around her and small children playing tag, she knew it wouldn't matter that she'd broken her promise to Liam out of love.

He'd stop loving her anyway.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

"Liam, honey, we need to talk."

He looked up at his mother from the registration counter, where he was putting away the file on a new guest that had just checked in. And in an instant, he knew.

Christie had broken her promise.

He'd told himself he

could trust her. That if there was a woman on earth whom he could hand his heart, his fears, over to, it was Christie.

But he'd been wrong.

"We don't need to do this," he said.

He had been playing this game with his mother for long enough to know that his only chance to get out of the big emotional scene she clearly wanted to have in order to assuage her own guilt was to nip it in the bud. To act like it didn't matter to him. Because it didn't, damn it. He was over something that happened when he was fourteen years old.

She stopped, faltering as she came toward him. She shook her head, opened her mouth, but nothing came out. And he thought maybe, just maybe, he was safe. But then she put her head in her hands, and he saw the frailty of her shoulders. Shoulders that were shaking from fear. From sorrow.

He shouldn't feel pity for her. Shouldn't feel anything at all. But Christie had changed him. He'd let his heart lead him for the first time in nearly twenty years. And now he couldn't figure out how to close down the pathways to his heart this fast.

His mother lifted her head, looked directly at him, holding his gaze with such focus he couldn't pull his away. "I love you." Her mouth wobbled, and fresh tears came. "I love you so much, Liam. I always have. From the first moment I held you in my arms when you were a baby. When I watched you grow up into such an incredible child and into a young man."

She took a step toward him, and he couldn't contain the urge to flinch.

Seeing it, she almost crumbled to the ground, catching herself on the side of a chair a split second before he moved to help her. "Sit down, Susan." He tucked a pillow behind her shoulders, made sure she was steady before he stepped away, putting much-needed distance between them.

"I remember the first time you called me that instead of Mom," she whispered. "You were in the hospital after the car crash, and they told me you were awake. All night long, I'd prayed for the chance to rewind time, to take back what I'd done, to make it so you wouldn't see what you'd seen. But when I saw you lying there with bandages over part of your face, I knew none of those prayers were ever going to be answered. Your father was there. You called him Dad, just like you always had. And then you said Susan instead of Mom." Her breath hitched in her chest. "And I knew you would never forgive me." She reached out and grabbed his hands, holding them so tightly he couldn't let go. "I knew what I did was wrong. Every minute of every single day I've known it, but I was so scared. Scared of losing everything. But I lost everything anyway, didn't I? You. Your father's love. And any self-respect I might have had." Into his continued silence came, "I ruined your life, Liam. I'm so sorry."


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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