My brain cataloged the few similarities between them. They each had thick, dark eyelashes, wide-set eyes, and full mouths. A gorgeous family, to be sure.
“Well, this must be the girl who stole my baby’s heart.”
“Mom,” Ben warned, his voice low.
She sighed and opened her arms. “Okay, I’ll play nice. I’m Dakota, Ben’s mom. Come here, then.”
I returned her hug, my head spinning with what she must think. Did she know about her darling son’s sex tape?
Ben took the collection of shopping bags from her arms, ever the good, doting son. This was a totally new side of him and it was fascinating to watch.
“Can I take you for a drink?” Ben asked, gazing at me steadily. “I’m not ready to let you disappear yet.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Oh, honey, it’s one drink. Your friend can even come.” Dakota motioned to Todd.
“Actually, this is too weird for me,” Todd spoke up. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to bail. Can you get a ride home?”
Gee thanks. I scowled at my date. The jackass was going to turn tail and run.
“Henry will take you anywhere you’d like to go,” Ben said.
I nodded to Todd, too numb to argue right now.
Soon we were seated at an elegant bar on the Upper East Side. I sat in between Ben and his mom. Dakota ordered a mineral water with a slice of lemon. I was guessing she was still maintaining her sobriety. Immediately falling back into old habits, I allowed Ben to order me a glass of wine. A deliciously light glass of Pinot Grigio.
“Have you eaten?” he asked, keeping his eyes on mine. I shook my head. I’d expected to have lunch with Todd, but that hadn’t happened. “A couple of menus, please,” Ben said to the bartender.
We ordered lunch and nibbled on grilled tuna and spring salad while making small talk. Ben’s mom was actually lovely and sweet. I didn’t know what I’d been expecting, but maybe age had calmed her. It was obvious that she loved her son deeply. Even if she hadn’t been the most maternal parent while he was growing up. She fussed over him, offering him food from her plate and chastising him for not eating enough. It was sweet.
“That ring would’ve looked beautiful on her.” Dakota shook her head, looking at my naked ring finger. “It’s a shame.”
Ring? My heart tripped in my chest. Ben hadn’t gotten me a ring . . . couldn’t have? Could he?
His jaw tensed and he briefly shook his head in an attempt to silence his mother. Rather than make eye contact with me, his gaze was cast downward into his glass of scotch. Frown lines creased his forehead as he swirled the amber-colored liquor, looking deep in thought.
I wanted to say something, to ask what she meant, but of course I couldn’t. The words dried up in my throat and I had to swallow a gulp of my wine to get my windpipe working again. I tried to take stock of how I even felt about this. It was what I’d wanted all along—a commitment from Ben. Just him and I. Knowing that he had considered proposing—making it official—made my heart palpitate unevenly. After everything we’d been through—Fiona’s desperate attempts at winning him over and his sex-tape scandal, I didn’t know if too much trust had been broken. But my heart didn’t think so. Whether or not I wanted to, I still loved him deeply. I knew a part of me always would. But forgiving him, moving past this . . . that would take time. And, honestly, I couldn’t see myself being that forgiving anytime soon.
Ben’s posture told me the conversation was done but when he waved to the bartender, signaling for the check, I knew things were final. I got up and excused myself for the bathroom. I needed a moment to gather my thoughts before facing him. My pink cheeks and splotchy chest were a dead giveaway of the emotions raging inside me. Half of me wanted to slap him; the other half wanted to throw myself into his arms and never let him go. It was still a question of which half would win.
Emmy’s pink flushed skin and accelerated pulse thrumming in her neck told me something about the ring excited her. And that fact roared through me. Did Emmy want my ring on her finger? Would she say yes if I asked? Would she throw herself into my arms? Believing there might be a chance to win her back made my heart kick up a notch. There was only one way to find out. And she was sitting here having a drink with me after all. Though she’d been on a date with some douche bag named Todd, she’d stayed with me. I was the one feeding her, making sure she’d get home safe and sound. Not that ass**le. He didn’t care about her, didn’t love her like I did. She was my everything, my reason for breathing, for getting up in the morning, hoping she’d call. If she hadn’t wanted to see me, she would have left. Emmy wasn’t too shy to refuse me. I knew that by now. I wouldn’t go down without a fight.
I could only hope that she’d change her mind, understand that the mistakes of my past were done. If she’d just let me talk to her, explain, it might help. But I wasn’t about to discuss my sexual past with my mother sitting right next to us. I needed just one more chance with her and I had to make it a good one.
The thought consumed me and I knew I needed time to process. Struggling to keep my game face in place, I requested the check. I needed time to f**king think. Sort this mess out. Probably talk to Bray. And I sure as shit needed to talk to my mom. She should not have said what she did.
The three of us wandered from the restaurant and were waiting on the sidewalk for Henry to arrive when my mom excused herself to use the restroom one last time.
I turned to face Emmy, resisting the urge to pull her body into mine to shield her from the cold. “Will you give me a chance to explain?”
She shrugged. “I’ve given you lots of chances.”
“I know. And I need just one more opportunity.”
Emmy bit her lip, thinking it over. “I had to find out at the same time as the rest of the world about my boyfriend starring in an adult film. I hated that.”
“I f**ked up. I know. I should have told you sooner, but honestly I’d forgotten all about that video. Hell, I didn’t even think it still existed.”
Her gaze wandered from mine and she blinked back tears. I wanted to go to her, to hold her, to comfort her, but I’d lost that right, so I stood there like a useless sack of crap, wishing things could be different.
“In the third grade I had a French tutor named Collette. I used to pretend I needed extra help on my spelling tests so she’d lean over my desk and I could look down her shirt.”