He gave me a smile tinged with melancholy. “I’m considering it, yes. Kinda makes it easier if your dad’s going to be there, too. I warned him it was likely there’d be a baby around now and then. I got the impression he might like that.”
Looking back into the house, I saw my dad making silly faces to amuse my baby cousin. He was the only one of his siblings to have just one child, and I was an adult.
I frowned as I watched Gideon walk to the front entrance. Where was he going with an apron tied around his denim-clad hips? He opened the front door and stood unmoving for a long minute. I realized someone must have knocked, but I couldn’t see because Gideon was blocking my view. Finally, he stepped aside.
Cary looked over to see where my attention was and scowled. “What’s he doing here?”
As Gideon’s brother walked in, I wondered the same thing. Then Ireland appeared behind him, holding a gift bag.
“What’s up with the gift?” Cary asked. “An unreturnable wedding present?”
“No.” I noticed the design on the bag, which was definitely too colorful and festive for a wedding. “It’s a birthday present.”
“Oh, shit,” Cary muttered. “I totally forgot about that.”
When Gideon closed the door without his mother making an appearance, I realized Elizabeth was a no-show on her firstborn’s birthday. A potent mix of sympathy and pain swamped me and caused my fists to clench.
What the fuck was wrong with that woman? Gideon hadn’t heard from his mother since confronting her in his office. Considering what the day was, I couldn’t believe she could be so thoughtless.
It made me realize I wasn’t the only one who’d lost a mother in the past few days.
Chris stood and went to his children, hugging Christopher while Ireland hugged my husband. She smiled up at him, offering the bag. He took it and turned, gesturing toward where I stood on the deck.
Fresh and lovely in a delicately printed sundress, Ireland joined us outside. “Wow, Eva. This place is choice.”
I hugged her. “You like it?”
“What’s not to like?” Ireland hugged Cary, and then her lovely face sobered. “I’m really sorry about your mom, Eva.”
The tears that were no longer very far away stung my eyes. “Thank you.”
“I can’t even imagine,” she said. “And I don’t even like my mom right now.”
Reaching out, I touched her arm. Regardless of how I felt about Elizabeth, I wouldn’t wish the regret I had on anyone, especially Ireland. “I hope you work out whatever it is. If I had my mom back, I’d take back a lot of the things I said and did.”
And because saying that aloud made me feel like crying, I excused myself quickly and headed toward the stairs, running down them to the beach, then out to the water. I stopped when my ankles were submerged, letting the sea breeze blow the tears away.
Closing my eyes, I willed the grief back into the box I’d put it in for the day. It was Gideon’s birthday, an occasion I wanted to celebrate because it’d seen him enter the world and, eventually, my life.
I jumped when warm muscular arms slipped around my waist, gathering me back against a familiar hard body.
Gideon set his chin on the crown of my head. I felt his chest expand and contract on a deep sigh when I wrapped my arms over his.
When I pulled myself together enough to speak, I said, “I’m surprised my nana let you escape.”
He gave a short laugh. “She says I remind her of your dad—well, she reminds me of you.”
Which made it apt, I supposed, that I’d been named after her. “Because I won’t let you out of my greedy clutches?”
“Because even though she scares me, I can’t seem to walk away.”
Touched, I turned my head and rested my cheek against his heart, listening to its strong and steady beat. “I didn’t know your brother and sister were coming.”
“I didn’t, either.”
“How do you feel about Christopher being here?”
I felt him shrug. “If he’s not acting like a dick, I don’t care.”
“Fair enough.” If his brother’s unexpected appearance didn’t trouble Gideon, I wouldn’t let it bother me.
“I’ve got some things to share with you,” he said. “About Christopher. But now’s not the time.”
I opened my mouth to contradict that, but caught myself. Gideon was right. We should have renewed our vows today, surrounded by friends and family. We should be celebrating his birthday and being so joyful there wasn’t any room for sorrows and regrets. Instead, the day was shadowed by sorrow we had to hide. Still, there was no point in adding any more unpleasantness.
“I have something for you,” I told him.
“Umm … I’m tempted, angel, but we have too many people here.”
It took me a beat to understand he was teasing me. “Oh my God. You fiend.”
I reached into my pocket and wrapped my fingers around his gift, which was safely shielded by a black velvet drawstring bag. It had a nice gift box, too, but I’d elected to carry the present in my pocket, hoping to be spontaneous and give it to him when the moment was right. I didn’t want to give it to him along with his other presents.
Turning to face him as I pulled the gift out, I offered it on both open palms. “Happy birthday, ace.”
His gaze lifted from my hands to my face. There was a brightness to his eyes I saw only when I gave him something. It always made me want to give him more, give him everything. My husband so deserved to be happy. It was my life’s mission to make sure he always was.
Gideon took the pouch and untied the drawstring.
“I just want you to know,” I began, trying to cover my nervousness, “that it’s crazy difficult buying a gift for someone who has everything, including a good chunk of the island of Manhattan.”
“I wasn’t expecting anything, but I always love what you give me.”
I blew out my breath. “Well, you may not want to use it, which is totally fine. I mean, don’t feel obligated to—”
The platinum Vacheron Constantin pocket watch slid out into his waiting palm, the polished case twinkling when the sunlight hit it. Biting my lower lip, I waited for him to open it and look inside.
Gideon read the engraved words aloud. “Yours for all time, Eva.”
“It can hold a little picture over the inscription. I’d planned for that to be a photo from the renewal ceremony, but …” I cleared my throat when he looked at me with such love, it made everything flutter inside me. “It’s old school, I know. I just thought, since you wear vests, that it might be something you could use. Although I know you wear a watch on your wrist, so probably not. But—”
He kissed me, shutting me up. “I’ll treasure this. Thank you.”
“Oh.” I licked my lips, tasting him. “I’m glad. There’s a fob that goes with it, in the box.”
Placing the pocket watch carefully into its pouch, he tucked it into his pocket. “I have something for you, too.”
“Keep it clean,” I teased him back. “We’ve got an audience.”
Gideon looked over his shoulder and saw how many of our family members had stepped outside onto the deck. The caterer had stocked the outside kitchen with beverages and easy finger foods, and people were starting to poke through it all while the pork for the posole cooked in the oven.
He held out his fist, then opened it to show me the gorgeous wedding band in his palm. Large round diamonds in a channel setting circled the entire band, shooting multi-hued sparks.
My fingers covered my mouth, my eyes watering all over again. The salt-flavored breeze danced around us, carrying the plaintive cries of seagulls soaring over the waves. The rhythmic surge of the tide against the shore lapped over my feet, anchoring me in the moment.
I reached for the ring with trembling fingers.
Gideon’s hand closed up and he grinned. “Not yet.”
“What?” I pushed at his shoulder. “Don’t tease me!”
“Ah, but I always deliver,” he purred.
I glared at him. The wicked smirk faded.
His fingers brushed over my cheek. “I’m so proud to be your husband,” he said solemnly. “It’s my greatest accomplishment to have been found worthy of that honor in your eyes.”
“Oh, Gideon.” How he dazzled me. I was so overwhelmed by him, so filled by his love. “I’m the lucky one.”
“You’ve changed my life, Eva. And you did the impossible: you transformed me. I like who I am now. I never thought that would happen.”
“You were always wonderful,” I said fervently. “I loved you when I saw you. I love you more now.”
“There aren’t words to tell you what you mean to me.” He opened his hand again. “But I hope that when you see this ring on your hand, you’ll remember that you shine as brightly as diamonds in my life and you’re infinitely more precious.”
Pushing onto my toes, fighting the sinking of the wet sand, I sought out his mouth and nearly sobbed with joy when he kissed me. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”