Authors: Alexandra O'Hurley
Tags: #Romance, #Healing Hearts 1
Her mother leaned back in her chair, a ghastly look on her face. “Is that what you think? Olivia Anne, I’m not saying that at all. That isn’t what I meant. I love you for who you are.”
Olivia felt her eyebrow rise, even though she tried hard to avoid the gesture.
“You sit up in your room writing or out in the garden reading and that’s it. You go nowhere, you have no friends, and you do nothing unless it’s with your father and me. It’s as if you’re a turtle afraid to come out of its shell. I worry about you.”
“I’m a writer, Mom. It’s what I do.” She took another bite of soup after spitting out a soft, “And … I have friends.”
“You mean those people on the Internet? Those are not real friends. And what about boys?”
“Oh, please, Mother, not this again. I’m a grown adult. I wouldn’t date a
, but a man. And my personal life is just that. Personal.”
“Personal? More like nonexistent. I’m not getting any younger, nor is your father. I would like to see you start a life before I die. Some grandchildren would be nice too.”
grandchildren. Both of your perfect children popped a couple out for you.” Olivia’s mind went to her older twin brother and sister. She’d lived in their shadows for much too long.
“I will not respond to that, as you are as perfect as Anthony and Amelia are in my mind.” Her mother’s glare softened after a moment. “Emily and Trevor graduate high school next year and Yardley started Harvard this fall. My grandchildren are now all young adults. I want babies in the house again. I’m almost seventy. I don’t have much longer.”
“Don’t guilt me into doing something I don’t want to do. It’s an antiquated idea that a woman must get married and give birth. I want a career before I worry about all that. You come from another generation, Mom.”
“Antiquated? You want to know what’s antiquated? Your fear of living. This isn’t a life you have; it’s an existence. I’m tired of sitting back and watching you waste what should be the best years of your life, all because of that fall.”
Her mother’s words struck a nerve, but Olivia couldn’t admit it. “I’m not sure a fear can be considered antiquated.”
“Will you stop correcting me and listen? If you don’t get your head out of the sand, you’re going to wake up one day and you’ll be fifty, unmarried, with no family, sitting in a dark room typing away on that computer of yours. Your father and I won’t be around to protect you and … that frightens me.”
“I don’t need a man to protect me. I can do it myself.”
“You can barely get out the front door.”
“I leave. On occasion.”
Her mother’s mouth twisted into a gnarled line, and her glare could have set Olivia on fire had her mother willed it. “I shouldn’t have coddled you. After the fall, I waited on your hand and foot, scared that something else would befall my baby. I’ve done this to you. It’s my fault. Yet I
“And how do you determine to do that?”
“Do you know who gave me the pamphlet?” A wicked gleam came into her mother’s eyes. “I’ll give you one guess.”
Olivia clenched her teeth as the realization sunk in. It had to be Liam.
“He’ll be here tomorrow evening for supper. I expect you to be downstairs in one of your nicer dresses, not those old jeans and ratty sweaters you wear around here. I also expect you to be on your best behavior with our guest.”
“Great.” She wondered if her mother sensed even one third of the sarcasm she’d injected in the word. Liam was the last person she needed to see because she wasn’t sure she could tell that man no.
Her mother smiled the smile she saved for her charity luncheons, surrounded by the rich and affected. “Perfect, darling. Now finish your soup before it gets cold.”
* * * *
Olivia stood before the full-length mirror in her bedroom wearing the fifth dress she’d tried on. None of them wanted to fit correctly. She hadn’t a reason to dress up for some time, the last time she’d worn a dress had to have been five years or more. No, that was a lie. She’d worn one under her graduation gown at her college graduation four years before. She began digging for that particular dress from the back of her closet, hoping she could still squeeze into it.
Luckily, she could. Well, sort of. The black silk was formfitting and showed off everything, but as it seemed to be the only dress she could fit into, it would have to do. And by fit, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but she had all of her body encased and the zipper pulled. Breathing wasn’t necessary all the time, right? Olivia recalled that she’d left her graduation gown on the entire day to hide her body and the way it looked in the dress. Too bad she couldn’t do that again tonight.
She yanked a cardigan from the closest hanger and covered her body a bit. Another glance in the mirror and she saw the knitted garment only made her look even bigger. She sighed and closed her eyes, the shimmer of tears wanting to slip.
Why did it have to be Liam?
She’d had a crush on Liam Palmer since before her fall. He’d been her knight in shining armor when he’d called for help when she’d fallen. His parents had stayed with hers through the ordeal and he’d sat at her bedside, trying to cheer her up once she’d finally awoken. He’d made many visits after that fateful day, checking on her as she’d lain in her cast atop her bed. Liam had been one of the only visitors she’d had other than her family during the nightmare and she’d looked forward to every single one.
Once he’d gone off to college and med school, she hadn’t seen him again. Not until her graduation four years ago.
Olivia saw the notebook he’d given her at the party sitting on her desk now. She’d never written a word in it, the gift too precious to use. Moving to it, she saw the light flickering off the carved face, the illumination bouncing off the colored inset. She lifted it, holding it to her chest. Now she was expected to be downstairs, in a dress no less, and entertain the man who had never really released her heart from his grasp. It wasn’t his fault. Other than being a friendly boy who’d made her giggle and smile, he’d never given her any reason to believe there could be more between them. It had been a wishful fantasy in her own mind and she was to blame for not being able to let her childhood dreams go.
Unease filled her as she looked into the mirror. She knew she wasn’t the type of girl people considered beautiful. Curls the color of hay fell in clumps around her shoulders, vacant, blue-gray eyes stared back at her. Her curving stomach was still visible through the sweater she wore.
Due to that accident so long ago, she couldn’t be as active as others and her body curved more than her peers who she saw running around the country club in little tennis outfits when she went with her parents. She didn’t fit the standards of beauty. Too bad culture didn’t praise a brain more than a body.
Ultimately, she’d allowed her past to tie her down when she should shrug it off and move on. She may have been coddled, but she’d allowed her parents to coddle her, too. At any point, she could have stood up on her own and made her way in the world. It was just hard to leave the soft cocoon her parents had made for her, especially as she reached for her dream of being published. She needed to step outside their warm embrace; she knew she did. It was time for her to forge a life for herself and prove she could make it on her own.
The surgery would make all that so much easier, but fear still held her back.
“Olivia!” Her mother’s voice drifted from downstairs. Another long sigh and Olivia made her way down the stairs and into the foyer. She heard the deep, rich voice coming from her father’s study before she arrived, and by that, she knew Liam was there. A knot twisted in her stomach as she closed in on the space.
The twinkling of feminine laughter brought her to a stop outside the archway. She stepped to the edge of the frame, hidden in the darkened recesses of the hallway, and gazed around the corner.
A beautiful blonde woman stood before her parents, a glass of wine in her hands, laughing at her father. He’d probably told one of his off-color jokes that he didn’t seem to understand were in poor taste, the ones she’d begged him to stop telling. The fact the woman had apparently found it funny was a strike against her. Liam’s arm at her waist was the second. The final nail in the coffin came when she looked up at Liam with glittering eyes and smiled at him.
Jealousy blasted through Olivia’s chest. She knew she had no right to feel it, but she felt it nonetheless. How many years had she wanted to be in the woman’s place, near him and his embrace, her fingers allowed to stroke his chest as the woman was now doing?
“Oh, Mr. Owens, you’re
funny! Liam never told me what I was in store for this evening. I need to watch out for you.” Her voice was soft and feminine.
“Oh, Jenny, call me Stan. I have a bunch of stories about old Liam here. I’ve known his parents since before he was born.” The smile on Olivia’s father’s face was proof that this Jenny was wrapping him around her finger.
Olivia stood for a few more moments in the darkened hall watching Liam with the woman. She was trim, outfitted fashionably, and glittered with golden and diamond jewelry. The woman was the antithesis of Olivia, and there was no way she could sit through an evening watching her coo over Liam. Olivia’s heart clenched, pain making her want to flee. She looked down at herself, in her tight dress and bulky sweater, and knew she couldn’t compete.
Olivia walked backward to the steps as quietly as she could, the need to avoid the whole situation overwhelming her. She paused at the first one, knowing she had to face this conversation eventually. There was no running from it.
“Olivia?” Her mother’s softly spoken question came as she was warring with herself to move. Turning, she caught her mother’s reproachful stare. “You’ll not escape this night, young lady. This is too important a decision for you not the weigh your options about the surgery.”
“You didn’t tell me we’d have another guest.” Olivia lowered her head to whisper, “You know I don’t like strangers.”
“It’s just a friend of Liam’s. Jenny won’t bite.” Her mother looked over her shoulder into the study and apparently gazed at Jenny. “Isn’t that right, Jenny?”
Olivia felt as though she wanted to shrivel up and disappear in that moment. She was no longer five years old, but her mother refused to treat her as an adult. Olivia felt the intense wave of independence strike through her in that moment and she knew she was standing at a crossroads, just not the one her mother was pushing her toward.
It was time to make a stand. She needed to learn how to depend on herself and get her family’s respect. And perhaps grow a stronger backbone.
Or have a surgery to give her one.
“Hey, Babycakes. Come on in and let’s talk,” Liam said as he strolled out into the foyer, his gaze insistent on hers.
Was the night of humiliation ever going to be over? “I told you to stop calling me that four years ago.”
Liam’s face reddened a touch, giving him a nicely reprimanded look. “I apologize,
, but after calling you a name for twenty plus years, it’s hard to stop.”
His smile stretched wide, showing his perfect white teeth. Her body thrummed with need as her gaze lingered over him, but her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Jenny’s laughter.
Olivia stared at Liam a second longer and knew she had to come down the stairs and face the night ahead; the sooner, the better. She watched as her feet moved down the last treads, feeling as if they were disembodied and moving of their own accord, her mind still screaming to escape.
Instead, she found herself before the beautiful Jenny, raising her hand to shake the lovely woman’s proffered palm as she entered the room.
“I’ve heard so much about you, Olivia. It’s a pleasure to finally meet.” A flawless row of straight white teeth was all Olivia could see.
“I’d say the same, but since this is the first I’ve ever heard of you, I can’t.” As soon as the words were out of Olivia’s mouth, she wanted to reel them back in. It wasn’t this woman’s fault she was uncomfortable. She really needed to work on her social graces.
“Olivia!” her mother barked.
“Oh, it’s all right, Mrs. Owens. I know that Liam works so much that he rarely gets out from under his rock to talk to people.” Jenny’s bubbly smile never faltered, nor did it register any blow from Olivia’s words. Either the blonde was daft or Olivia’s words just didn’t put a dent in the woman’s armor. Perhaps she was just better at hiding the response she felt when attacked. Olivia needed to take lessons from her. “I love your dress. I had the same one a few years ago and it was a favorite of mine.”
Olivia wrapped the sweater tighter, wishing she could be as elegant as the woman before her. “Thank you.”
“Do you need a drink, Olivia?”
Olivia was taken aback by Liam’s question as she watched him lift the bottle of wine in his hand. No one had ever offered her an alcoholic drink in her own home before, because her parents still seemed to see her as five. But then again, she’d never given them much reason to treat her any differently. Her gaze flew to the glass of wine hanging in Jenny’s elegant fingers.
“Sure I’d love some wine.” Olivia cut her mother off before she embarrassed her once more. Olivia was of age; she could have a glass or two if she chose. Her gaze drifted her mother’s shocked face. Liam handed her a glass of the red liquid and she glanced at the glass for a moment, realizing the last time she’d had wine was at her graduation party and she hadn’t particularly liked it. She brought the rim to her lips and took a sip, trying to smile through the bitterness that ran down her throat.
“I believe your mother told you why I’m here tonight?” Liam took a drink after the question, his insistent gaze heavy on her. Her heartbeat escalated a smidgeon, his hooded stare making her breathless.
“She did.” Olivia took another sip, not prepared to go into battle just yet.
“I’d like to schedule an appointment for you so we can discuss your options.” Liam wouldn’t let it go, of course, and once she said no, he might be upset with her. That was something she didn’t want to face. She took another sip to stretch out the time, avoiding his stare.