Authors: Alexandra O'Hurley
Tags: #Romance, #Healing Hearts 1
define it but she was sure she was wrong about the intent. He’d looked as if he’d wanted her.
She wasn’t a virgin, although she could barely count the one horrid experience she’d been through as having had sex.
Yet she understood longing when she saw it. The raw emotion was innate and had fired her own blood, pushing her to respond. She’d reached out to him, tried to stoke the passion she’d seen in his gaze, but pulled back. His desire for her was impossible, a figment of her overactive imagination, punctuated with the fact he had someone in his life already. Just because he’d paid a little attention to her did not mean he wanted her.
He had a girlfriend that seemed utterly perfect. Jenny returned alone and sat silently, her eyes on her plate.
“There you are, Liam. We were about to start dinner without you.” Her father smiled at Liam from the head of the table, fork and knife in hand.
“Sorry, Stan, I had to check in with my service to make sure there had been no calls. It’s been a quiet night.”
Olivia couldn’t stifle the chuckle that burst from her throat.
It had been far from quiet tonight. Her blood still roared in her ears from their conversation in the study. Her heart beat so loudly, she wondered if anyone else at the table could hear it.
When she looked up from her plate, she felt two sets of eyes on her. Liam’s still held a bit of the lust he’d shown in the other room. Jenny’s stare was quite different. Olivia was sure there was spite in her gaze.
Olivia shook her head. She was obviously seeing things. This wasn’t how the classic romances went. Childhood crushes didn’t suddenly choose to desire chubby girls and their perfect girlfriends didn’t get angry over it. She almost laughed again but managed to quell the sensation as their housekeeper brought out the plates and placed one before her.
Tension filled the air as all began to eat. Silence fell over the five of them and it made Olivia edgy. The clinking of silver on china was the only sound that echoed through the space. Her chatty mother, the grande dame of social graces, was even quiet for once, the one time Olivia wanted her to talk and fill the void. Olivia felt the heat of Liam’s glance as he ate and she didn’t want to feel the attention. Afraid her overactive imagination was creating something in her mind that wasn’t really there, she focused on the plate before her.
She felt the need to fill that silence that enveloped the room, which was completely unlike her. Blending into the background was more her style, but if all eyes were on whomever she could sucker into talking, then it would take the focus off her. It sounded good in theory. Olivia’s gaze fell on Jenny for some reason, an intense need to know who she was and her connection to Liam. Jenny apparently knew all about her, so it was high time she knew who Jenny was.
“So, Jenny … where are you from?”
Jenny paused, a minute look of surprise rolled over her face before a smile hid the emotion. “I grew up just outside Charlottesville, but moved here a few years ago.”
“Did you attend UVA? Is that what brought you here?”
“No.” Jenny gave her an odd look. Olivia took a bite of her food and chewed for a moment, wondering why Jenny hadn’t taken the chance to tell them more about herself.
“So what is it you do?”
Olivia had caught Jenny just as she was placing her fork in her mouth, which was completely bad form, but Olivia’s mouth had just opened and the question tumbled out without thought. Jenny raised a narrow finger as she chewed and swallowed her food, all eyes on her to speak.
“I work in marketing.” Jenny smiled at her and began to raise her fork once more.
“That sounds exciting. What does that entail?” Olivia was curious. Perhaps she could pick her brain a bit while she was here; the information could help her create a new character.
Jenny lowered her fork and smiled at her once more, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “I work for a clothing retailer, promoting their business.”
“I’ve never met anyone who worked in that profession. How does one promote a clothing retailer?”
Jenny sighed and sat back in her chair, eyeing Olivia, haughtiness filling her shoulders. “I set up displays and help with advertising.”
“Displays? Those sound like fun. What kind of displays?”
“I dress the mannequins and set up the theme for the windows.”
“Is that the same as being a window dresser?”
Jenny set her lips in a firm line, and she lowered her fork once more, her shoulders rising even higher in outward ire. “I suppose I
be called a window dresser, but there’s much more that I do for them. This is just a stepping stone to moving up in the fashion market.”
Olivia had meant no disrespect. “I think being a window dresser would be a creative job, one I would enjoy. If I had the knack for putting clothes together, that is.”
Jenny had the look of a clotheshorse. She was impeccably styled from head to toe, something Olivia wished she could do herself, but every time she let her mother drag her out shopping, it was a battle to find anything she felt flattered her. So jeans and sweaters, purchased online, made life much simpler.
As Jenny’s gaze roamed over her face, her demeanor softened some, but there was still a prickle of anger in Jenny’s response. “Maybe we can go shopping someday. I love giving people makeovers.”
Jenny paused in the bite she took, but then began to chew quickly. “That hairstyle is a bit outdated, and so’s the dress. You could stand an update. Everyone needs a change here and there, and with the right clothes and styling, you could turn over a new leaf. We could do it after your surgery and give you a brand-new start.”
“That sounds lovely, Jenny. I’d love to see the transformation.” Her mother was all smiles, probably assuming her daughter was making a new friend, one that didn’t live in her computer.
Olivia was floored that her mother hadn’t objected to Jenny’s rudeness. Everyone continued to eat as if what Jenny had said was perfectly acceptable. And if Olivia responded in kind, she would be the one reprimanded.
“So, Jenny, how did you hear about my surgery? Did you and Liam sit around and have a conversation about it?”
Liam blanched, dropping his fork to the table. “No. I did step across the line by enlisting your mother to help me, but I haven’t discussed anything with Jenny.”
“Olivia, I apologize. I brought it up when Liam arrived without thinking. I shouldn’t have,” her mother added from her side.
“I don’t really think this is the place to discuss any of this.”
“You’re exactly right, Olivia, which is why I’d love for you to come to my office.”
“I don’t know how much I like you all ganging up on me, and I’m a bit offended that it seems to be a foregone conclusion at this point. I haven’t agreed to anything.” Olivia took a bite and looked down at her plate, feeling her mother’s disappointment roll over her.
“You will. I know you will, Olivia. Once you see the light.” Her mother sighed and lowered her fork and knife to the plate. “Everyone, save room for dessert. I made my fresh apple tart this morning after my trip up to Carter Mountain.”
Olivia sneaked a glance as she took another bite, astonished at how sure her mother was in her decision. Aggravation crept over her as she took another bite of food, bitterness threatening to swallow her whole.
Why did everyone seem to think she needed fixing?
Of course there were changes she wanted to make in her life, but she wouldn’t be forced into making them. Her medical decisions were not up for public vote. Olivia grasped the stem of her wineglass and drained the rest. The alcohol made the world a little fuzzier. Fuzzy was good.
“What is it you do, Olivia?” Jenny’s squeaking little voice crept into her silent solitude, making her focus on the people around her once more.
“I’m a writer.”
“Ah. What do you write?”
“I have a novel I’ve finished that I’ve sent out to a few publishers and I’m working on the follow-up.”
Jenny drug her fork over her plate, her eyebrow rising. “Oh, any bites?”
“Not yet but I’m hoping any day now.”
“Good thing you have your parents to support your endeavor and you don’t have to be a starving artist.”
The smile that crossed Jenny’s lips made Olivia nearly snap the stem of her wineglass in anger. So, Olivia wasn’t a tiny size two, nor was she starving. “My parents are very good to me.”
“Jenny, stop it,” Liam snapped and then stared at Olivia. There seemed to be a note of apology in his gaze. “I think it’s wonderful that Mr. and Mrs. Owens have allowed Olivia to reach for her dream.”
Olivia’s chest tightened at his defense of her. He smiled at her as he drank another sip of his wine and then began to talk to Olivia’s father about the Cavaliers. Her father was a big supporter of his alma mater’s football team and went to many home games each year. Olivia’s gaze drifted to Liam as she finished her meal, watching the casual grace he had about him. She wished she could feel that comfortable in her own skin.
Her gaze wandered to Jenny, who had apparently witnessed her staring at Liam. The ire in Jenny’s stare was a bit unsettling. Olivia focused on her plate as she hoped the night would soon be over.
As a lull in the football talk sounded, Jenny jumped in to fill the gap. “Mrs. Owens, Liam tells me you head many of the charity events the country club holds each year.”
“Ah, yes. They keep me busy when Stan’s golfing all the time. And I so enjoy helping our community. We’ve been so blessed that it would be criminal not to give back.”
“I’ve wanted to become more active in charity work myself, but unfortunately, I’m not a member of the club. I’ve been once with Liam and everyone there seems so lovely.”
“Volunteering your time would go a long way toward the board offering you an invite. We’ve been having a canned food and coat drive and need to organize the donations and deliver them this Saturday. It’s a huge job, and we could use all the help we could get. Perhaps you’d like to assist?”
“That would be wonderful, Mrs. Owens. Thank you for the opportunity to give back.” Jenny’s saccharine voice was like nails on chalkboard. Olivia bit her tongue to avoid a sarcastic comment to fly from her lips.
Olivia watched the exchange, the little fraud across from her laying it on thick. Jenny was getting under her skin and quick.
“Liam, we could use your help, too. I haven’t seen you at the club in forever. What are you doing Saturday?”
Liam choked down the wine he’d been drinking, his stare going to Olivia. “I don’t spend much time at the club other than to use the pool and weight room. My parents got me my membership, but it wasn’t something I really wanted.”
“But does that mean you don’t want to help the needy? It would be nice for us to do this …
,” Jenny added the last word as her gaze shifted to Olivia’s.
Olivia suddenly realized Jenny felt threatened. She watched as Jenny’s hand snaked out to cover one of Liam’s. He gave Jenny’s hand a quick squeeze and then pulled from her grasp, taking another bite from his plate, chewing slowly as it appeared his mental cogs were moving about.
Liam looked to Olivia once more. “What about you? Are you going to be there, Olivia?”
Olivia felt all eyes on her. What did it matter if she was there or not? “I … had some edits I wanted to work on.”
Liam’s stare was intense. “I’ll go …
Olivia smothered a gasp, but her eyes widened. The lust was still in his gaze as he watched her. She felt her face flush with heat, even more so when his stare moved to her lips. Was he thinking of the long-delayed kiss? Why had she refused him?
“Your mother tells me you stay indoors too much. You’re a young woman; you need to get out more. So, I’ll go if you do.”
She turned to look at her mother and then she caught sight of Jenny’s raised eyebrow and slight frown before looking back to Liam. He’d backed her into a corner.
“How can I refuse?”
“Olivia, what got into you tonight?”
Olivia stood drying dishes beside her mother. Their housekeeper had left once dinner was served, and this was a ritual that mother and daughter did each evening, often discussing things better left out of her father’s ears. She paused a moment, trying to figure out what she’d done this time.
“What do you mean?”
“The alcohol? The twenty questions?”
Her mother handed her a wineglass, and she began to towel it dry. “I
over twenty-one. Am I not allowed to have a glass or two of wine?”
“Of course, but you don’t like wine.”
“I do now.” Her mother handed her another glass, the light over the sink hitting the cut crystal and spreading a sparkle of light across her body. “And I was interested in Jenny. She would make a great character in my novel.”
“Your novel. Always with your novel.”
Here we go again.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You live in this little fantasy world surrounded by fictional characters who don’t exist. I want you to go out and live for yourself.”
“In other words, grow up and get out?” Olivia bit out the retort before her brain had time to catch up with her mouth. Her parents were wonderful to her, and her mother didn’t deserve her bad attitude, even if her mother had let Jenny pounce all over Olivia tonight.
“I never said you weren’t grown. You just need to live a little and that doesn’t mean you need to go anywhere. I’m glad you spoke up tonight at dinner; it was a step in the right direction. You need to make friends and think about your future.”
thinking about my future. Upstairs on my computer lies my future.”
“You’ve sent your book out and been rejected. You have to consider the possibility that it won’t happen for you, dear. There are other ways for you to use your degree. You could become a teacher. That would be a fine profession.”
“I don’t want to teach kids. I want to be a writer. I
a writer. I’ve gotten three rejections. That’s not many. A lot of famous authors have received tons of rejections before they finally found a publisher. They never gave up, nor will I.”