Before she could say another word, the front door swung open. Juggling three stuffed paper bags, Lillian Blake used her heel to close the door. She shook her head in an attempt to remove big, fat powdery snowflakes from her chestnut hair.
Gavin jumped to his feet, almost tripping over the coffee table as he dashed toward his mother who was about to drop every bag onto the tiled foyer floor. Snatching the bags from her arms, he popped a kiss on her cheek. “Hey, mom. It started snowing?”
Beaming, she swooshed her hand through his hair. “Yes. Pretty heavily, too.” On a sigh, she looked at Gavin, her eyes filled with love only a mother could hold. “My baby boy, I’ve missed ya. Next time you decide to take off on a two week vacation, could you think about calling the woman who brought you into this world?”
Chuckling, Gavin shook his head. “Mom, I’m twenty-eight, I own a thriving business, and my girlfriend’s sitting on the couch. You’re dropping my swoon-worthy factor by the second.”
Emily stood and made her way over to them. Also swishing her hand through his hair, she lifted a playful brow. “Ah, that swoon-worthy statement couldn’t be further from the truth.”
“No?” Gavin questioned incredulously, the gleam in his eyes predatory. “And how so?”
“Because any girl with a head on her shoulders knows a man earns swoon-worthy points by loving his mother,” Lillian answered with a sparkling smile. “Right, Emily?”
“My point exactly,” Emily agreed.
Gavin cocked his head to the side, a smirk twisting his face. “Well if that’s the case, just so you know, Emily, I did ask my dear mother to marry me once.”
“Yes, when he was three,” Lillian trilled, pulling her purse from her shoulder. Placing it on a glass entryway table, she gave Gavin an endearing smile and cupped his cheek. “I remember it like it was yesterday. He won a plastic engagement ring from one of those bubblegum machines, and right there in the grocery store, he dropped to one knee and proposed.”
Emily giggled, watching him turn the loveliest shade of crimson.
“Yep. The swoon-worthy factor just dropped a few hundred notches,” he confirmed, flashing an impish, schoolboy grin as he slipped into the kitchen. “I’m out of here, ladies.”
Lillian hooted out a laugh, gathering Emily into her arms for a warm embrace. “So how’ve you been?” She unpeeled a creamy white scarf swathing her neck and dropped it onto the table. After shimmying out of a heavy fur coat and hanging it in the closet, she turned to Emily. “It’s been a while and a lot has happened. I hope you’re doing well.”
Unsure how much she knew about what’d happened with her, Gavin, and Dillon, Emily simply nodded. “I’m doing much better, thank you. How’ve you been?”
“Good. I’ve been busy building up the organization. We’re trying to spread into New Jersey. It looks like it may happen, too,” she said happily, linking her arm through Emily’s. They started for the kitchen. “Let’s go see if our men are attempting to burn down the house.”
Once again feeling a warm, welcome flush through her limbs, Emily noticed just how opposite her and Gavin’s upbringings were. Where she lacked a father figure, Gavin was raised by a strong man who trusted good would prevail over any bad situation. Though Emily’s mother was there as much as possible, Lillian had stayed home with both boys until they entered high school. Sure, Lillian’s situation was different since she’d married an honest, caring man, but even in her darkest hours suffering through her battle with breast cancer, she never stopped trying to achieve a sense of normalcy in their home. Two very different colored lights at opposite sides of life’s spectrum. Now all Emily needed to believe was she and Gavin had been brought together for a reason. Hopefully that reason was what would be the main focus of conversation during dinner.
Once they entered the kitchen, both women were happy to see neither man was in the process of setting the house ablaze. Father and son had put the groceries away and started mixing, sizzling, and baking what smelled to be something delicious.
“Don’t ever let them think you can’t train them,” Lillian whispered, her smile as contagious as Gavin’s. “It’s actually quite easy.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Emily responded, completely unable to stifle a small giggle.
Turning with a frying pan in his hand, Gavin caught Emily’s gaze. He grinned and did some fancy flick with his wrist, popping what appeared to be pasta up from the pan the way a trained chef would. “Quite talented, right?” he asked, reaching for his bottle of cold brew on the counter. After downing a sip, he attempted to show off again only to flop half of the noodles onto the floor. Marinara sauce coated the kitchen from one end to the other.
Gavin looked up from the mess half-laughing and half-groaning while rolling his eyes. Needless to say, he was the only one groaning, because right along with Emily belting out a laugh, so did his parents. Several damp paper towels, some cleaning product, and a quick mop of the floor later, Mr. Show Off’s failed attempt was a thing of the past. Within a half hour, Lillian had everything under control.
The four sat down in the dining room for a hearty, home-cooked meal of house salad, breaded eggplant parmesan, Italian bread, and courtesy of Gavin, a tiny helping of pasta. Emily relaxed a bit, enjoying the conversation while she could. She knew their news would soon end it.
She learned Chad and Lillian met while attending Harvard Law School. Not quite your typical “love at first sight” story, but Emily found out where Gavin gained his tendency to relentlessly pursue what he wanted. Chad had chased Lillian for two semesters, insisting he was the man for her, until she eventually agreed to go out on one date with him. Emily inwardly laughed at how that apple didn’t fall far from the tree. To their surprise, Lillian found out she was pregnant with Colton the following year. They agreed she would leave school for the time being to stay home and raise Colton. A shotgun wedding, another baby, a mortgage, a dog, and Little League baseball practices later, Lillian never made her way back to law school. However, as Emily took in the story of their life together, there didn’t seem to be an ounce of regret in either of their eyes when they looked at one another. Instead, a lifetime of love and memories bled through every word, smile, and hoot of laughter.
After clearing the remnants of dinner from the table and waiting for his parents to bring dessert into the dining room, Gavin couldn’t help but hear Emily’s heel pat the hardwood floor in relentless, jerky taps. The sound echoed, pouncing off the walls like raindrops against a glass window. God, he hated that she was so nervous. It scorched his heart.
Before he could tell her everything was going to be fine, his parents breezed into the room, his father gripping a freshly brewed pot of coffee and his mother holding a homemade apple pie. With their seats reclaimed, Lillian sliced into the just out-of-the-oven dessert and served them each a slice. Staring at his father from across the table, Gavin could see he was nervous as well. His ashen, troubled expression told all. Gavin couldn’t even feign a smile as he slugged back the rest of his beer in one long gulp. Hell. His nerves were lighting up, but he knew he needed to strike up the damn conversation. However, his voice got tangled up in his racing thoughts, his words sticking to his tongue like molasses.