“Mia,” Tara breathed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Mia got to her feet. “So… a computer?”
“Mine’s in the small office behind the laundry,” Tara said after a beat. “Second door to the right.”
When she was gone, Tara moved to the sink to stare down at the blackened mess of an omelet pan. “I burned breakfast,” she murmured. “Burned it black.”
Ford came up behind her. Like mother, like daughter, she was also sporting a don’t-touch vibe, but he walked right through it and slid his hands to her hips. “You okay?”
Surprising him, she turned and faced him. “She’s… ours.”
“I mean, did you get a good look at her? We did that. We made her,” she marveled.
“We did good.” He pulled her in close.
She swallowed hard, clearly fighting tears. “We did really good. God, it brings me back, you know?” She dropped her forehead to his chest. “Back to that time when it was all so messed up.”
“I know.” He felt the same. Tara had spent the last five months of her pregnancy in Seattle. When she’d gone into labor, she hadn’t wanted him there. He’d gone to the hospital anyway, though as far as he knew she’d never known he was there. He’d sat in the waiting room by himself staring at the walls, agonizing over the hell she was going through for all those hours, terrified for her.
Afterward, he’d spent more long hours just staring at their daughter through the nursery glass until they’d eventually carried her away to deliver her to her new parents.
To her new life.
“When I had her,” Tara said, voice muffled against him, “it was so much harder than I thought it’d be. The pain. The worry. I kept telling myself that it would be over soon, and then when it finally was, they asked if I wanted to hold her for a minute. I had told myself no, no way could I do it and give her up, but I did. I took her.” She paused, lost in the memory. “It was only for a second, but she was awake. She opened her eyes and looked right at me and I knew,” she whispered. “I knew she was going to be beautiful.” She pressed her lips together. “And for a minute, I didn’t think I could give her up.”
“Tara.” Ford pressed his forehead to hers and fought with the what-ifs.
“I’d made my decision, and I was okay with it,” she said, nodding as if to help convince herself. “It was just that when she looked at me… God, those eyes. She still has your eyes, Ford. And her eyes—your eyes—they’ve haunted me for seventeen years.”
“You’re shaking,” he murmured.
“No, that’s you.”
Well, hell. It was.
“You were so good with her today,” she said and sniffed. “You knew just what to say, and I… I froze.”
“You did fine. It was a shock.” Ford slid his fingers in her hair and tugged lightly until she lifted her face to his.
Her eyes shimmered, and she gave him a small smile that reached across the years and all the emotions, and grabbed him by the throat. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, he cupped her face and lowered his mouth to hers, just as Mia came back into the room.
After an interminable beat of silence, she said, “I don’t know whether to cheer or be grossed out.”
“Did you find the computer?” Tara asked, clearly trying to change the subject.
“Yes.” Mia turned to Ford. “You’re up in the voting so far, but not by much. Maybe you should help a few ladies across the street today if you get the chance.” She grabbed her plate of pie and paused, head cocked as she studied the both of them. “Were you two really just about to kiss again?”
Tara winced. “Only a little bit.”
“But you’re not together,” Mia clarified.
Tara winced again. “No.”
Mia studied them both. “I don’t have any siblings, do I?”
“For some unknown reason, success usually occurs in private, while failure occurs in full view.”
Tara introduced Mia to her aunts, and both Maddie and Chloe fawned all over her, loving her up. They’d all gone to dinner, but not before Tara had called and checked in with Mia’s parents, giving Tara some peace of mind that they were really okay with this.
With sharing their daughter.
Mia had warmed up to Maddie and Chloe easily, telling them all sorts of things about herself, like how she planned on being a lawyer because she had a talent for arguing.
“You come by that honestly, honey,” had been Maddie’s response as she’d patted Tara’s hand. They’d all laughed except Mia, who hadn’t looked as amused as everyone else to hear she took after Tara.
Later, after Mia had gone home and it was just Maddie, Chloe, and Tara sharing some wine on one of the marina docks, Tara admitted her fear—that she and Mia wouldn’t connect. Maddie assured Tara that Mia had only connected with Chloe and herself so quickly because they were aunts and not a birth mother, and therefore had the benefit of not carrying any emotional baggage into the relationship.
Tara was well aware of the emotional baggage. It was currently weighing her down so that she could barely breathe. So was the bone-deep, heart-wrenching yearning for more with Mia, instead of the awkwardness, unspoken questions, and tension.
It’ll happen, Maddie promised. Tara wanted that to be true more than she’d ever wanted anything.
The next day, she tried to lose herself in routine. She made a trip to the grocery store, something that usually, oddly, gave her peace, except not this time. This time she ran into Logan, and there in the ice cream aisle he introduced her to the circle of fans around him as his ex-and future wife. Annoyed, she corrected him and pushed her cart onward, running into several acquaintances who couldn’t wait to tell her which way they’d voted on Facebook. The poll seemed to be running about 60 percent in Ford’s favor, but Logan was charming the pants off Lucky Harbor and steadily gaining ground.
It was official. Her life was out of control. She had a daughter looking for a first chance, an ex-husband looking for a second chance, and Ford looking for…
She had no idea.
Shaking her head, Tara made her way back to the inn. When she got out of the car to unload, she was surprised when Mia came out to help. “Thanks,” Tara said with a heartfelt smile.
Mia returned it, though it didn’t quite meet her eyes. It never seemed to when it came to Tara.
Something else to work on, Tara thought: getting her daughter to let go of seventeen years of resentment and trust her. “Mia,” she said softly as they came face to face at the trunk of the car. “What can I do?”
Mia didn’t pretend to misunderstand as she reached to grab bags of food. “I don’t know. I just…” She shrugged. “I thought that this would be easier, that’s all. That I’d instantly feel this bonded connection with you, that…” The girl sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know.”
“Tell me how to help,” Tara said. “I want to help. I want the same thing you do.”
Mia nodded. “I guess maybe I still have questions.”
“Then ask. Anything,” Tara said, and hoped that was true.
Mia hefted six bags in her thin arms. She was stronger than she looked. “Anything?”
“Yes.” But Tara braced herself, hoping against hope that she’d start off light. Like maybe what was Tara’s favorite color and astrological sign? They could work their way up from there.
“Was getting rid of me easy?” Mia asked.
Tara gulped. “Uh—”
“Did you think about me? Do you,” Mia paused, “regret giving me up?”
So much for the light stuff first, Tara thought as her chest tightened. It hadn’t been easy to give Mia up, and Tara had thought of her baby often. But as for regret… no. She hadn’t regretted it, not at first.
That had come later.
But before she could find a way to articulate all this without hurting her daughter, Mia’s face closed, and she took another step back. “You know what? Never mind.” Turning away, she carried the grocery bags toward the inn’s back door.
“Mia. Mia, wait.”
Mia looked back, her face pinched. “My mom warned me this might happen.”
Her other mom. Her real mom. “Warned you what might happen?”
“That you might not be thrilled to find your biggest mistake on your doorstep. That you might be upset because my adoption was supposed to be a closed, confidential case.”
Tara stared at her, stunned. “Your mom said that? That you were my mistake?”
“She didn’t have to.”
“Mia, that’s not how I feel at all. And I’m not upset. I—” Tara broke off, at a complete loss. She was just coming to terms with this all herself, and she didn’t have a game plan to make Mia understand. This was so important, so very important, and Tara needed time and careful planning to make it all come out okay—
“I changed my mind, I don’t want to know.” Mia took a step toward the inn. “These bags are really heavy. I have to go in.”
But she was gone.
• • •
Weeks ago, Maddie had arranged for a “trial run” for the inn. She’d set up a raffle at the last music fest and had drawn a winner. The lucky couple’s prize—one free night at the inn.
They were due to arrive in the morning.
This left Maddie running through the place like a madwoman, checking on last-minute details and barking orders at Tara. In turn, Tara was going Post-it note crazy, leaving everyone little yellow stickies everywhere and on everything, outlining what Maddie needed done. Everyone was on hand, doing their bidding without complaint.
Okay, there was complaining, but Tara ignored it and continued writing notes. Eventually she realized that Maddie was no longer barking orders, that in fact she and Jax kept vanishing for long periods of time. “Where the hell do they keep going?” she asked Chloe, exasperated.
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