Authors: Alexandra O'Hurley
Tags: #Romance, #Healing Hearts 1
“I’m not telling you to give up on your dreams, Olivia Anne. I’m just asking that you have a backup plan. I worry for you. Your father and I—”
“Won’t be around much longer. Yeah, I get it, Mom, I do. I can take care of myself. Maybe it’s time I prove it.”
“Meaning what?” Her mother paused, her hands resting in the suds.
“I don’t know. I suppose it’s time I became more responsible.” Olivia’s mind raced as she considered her options.
The first thing she considered was leaving the comfort and safety of her parent’s home. The thought had crossed her mind so many times over the years. Her parents treated her like a child, but that was of course because she remained under their wing. If she moved from under it, perhaps she could learn to rely on herself more and earn their respect. Yet, the thought was daunting, to say the least. She’d never been on her own. Ever. “Maybe I should move out.”
Her mother was quiet for a moment and then turned back to the sticky serving platter her tart had been on. She worked hard on the plate for several silent moments before her lips pursed and she turned to Olivia once more. “And who will pay the bills?”
“There’s still money in my college fund. I never used it all since I was considering graduate school.”
“And when that runs out?”
“My freelance writing jobs bring in some money. I’ve been saving most of it over the past couple of years and I can take on more writing jobs. Then perhaps that book deal will come and I won’t have to worry any longer.”
“Ahh, Olivia.” Her mother paused and sighed. “Get your head out of the clouds. You need a job. A real job. One that will give you security if this writing thing never really takes off. You’ve got to realize this hobby of yours may never turn into a career.”
Mom, it isn’t a hobby. This is my career.”
doesn’t pay the bills. Perhaps getting a job once your surgery is over will give you a sense of responsibility and open your eyes.”
“I haven’t agreed to the surgery.”
Her mother pulled her hands from the water. She dried her wrinkled fingers as she faced Olivia. “Sweetheart, this is your chance, a chance for a better life. I don’t understand why you’re fighting this.”
“Good, because I don’t understand why you feel the need to push me into doing something I’m apprehensive about. There’s a chance I’ll be worse after it. I can’t stand the thought. ” Olivia dropped the dish towel and bit back a sob. “Am I so embarrassing you aren’t considering the consequences?”
Her mother stood straighter at those words, and her voice shook as she spoke. “Embarrassed? Why would I be embarrassed? There is nothing wrong with you, absolutely nothing. You are an incredible, intelligent, beautiful woman who just needs to find her way. Is it so wrong for me to want the best for you? To know you will be okay when we’re gone?”
Tears glittered in her mother’s eyes and she felt guilt for putting them there. Olivia felt the sting of her own tears and she fought to contain them. She needed to show her mother she was stronger than anyone seemed to realize. “I will be fine, surgery or not. I can make it on my own. If I have to find a job to make it, I will find a job. I stayed at home so I could write and get a head start, which I thought you were both fine with, but maybe it’s time I show you I’ll be okay. Then you can stop worrying about whether or not I’ll make it after you … go.”
She raised her hand to stop her mother. “No, I need to prove to you that I can stand on my own two feet.” Hell, she needed to prove it to herself as well. Doubts flooded the back of her mind but it was time to step out of her parent’s shadow and be the woman she wanted to be.
“You don’t need to prove anything.”
“Yes. Yes I do.” Olivia hung the towel over the edge of the sink and kissed her mother’s cheek before walking away. “It’s past time I stood on my own two feet.”
* * * *
Olivia carried another box of coats to the adjoining room off the main hall of the country club, her back aching slightly as she moved. The coats weren’t all that heavy, it was just the colder weather was hell on her body. It was a shame they didn’t live somewhere warmer. Maybe she needed to move to Jamaica and live life as an expat on some glimmering beach, writing as she watched the waves roll in, a fruity beverage at her side. It would, of course, have a paper umbrella in it and be brought to her by a sexy, scantily clad cabana boy. She smiled inwardly at her silliness.
Too bad she didn’t have the funds to make that dream happen. She’d reviewed her finances and saw she had enough to live frugally for several months if she could find a place that fit her budget. If she picked up a few more writing jobs, she could stretch it out a bit more, but if she didn’t get news on her novel in nine months to a year, it would mean she needed “a real job,” as her mother put it.
Olivia dropped the box into the smaller room where they were going to divide the coats and then turned back to go and grab another.
Besides her finances, Liam had also been on her mind. Dinner had been an eye-opening affair. She had tried to push his lusty glances and flirtation from her mind, telling herself it was the product of her overactive imagination. Yet she hadn’t been able to ignore the fact Jenny had seemed to feel threatened. She’d never truly know what the woman had been thinking but it would explain why Jenny had let her claws out a bit.
Jenny shouldn’t have reacted that way. Heroes didn’t leave their gorgeous girlfriends for the mousy girls from their past.
And there was no reason to let her mind wander into what could be. Liam was with Jenny, and no matter how much she’d always wanted him, she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their relationship. Not even if she thought Jenny was a little fake. Liam apparently liked her, so she had no right to interfere. She would have to avoid him, which wasn’t going to be easy since he was going to be there to volunteer his time.
As if her thoughts had conjured them, Jenny and Liam strolled through the doors to the grand hall. Liam’s gaze immediately slammed into hers and heat filled her body. She resisted the urge to move closer, to bask in the warmth and scent of him. Olivia wanted that kiss now as much as she had the night he’d offered it to her, her body tingling all over at the thought of him touching her again. Her idea of staying away from him went straight out the window with one heated glance.
Her gaze moved to Jenny, whose face was twisted into a frown as she looked over Olivia. Jenny was wearing designer clothes, her hair and makeup perfect. Olivia was in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, her long hair pulled into a ponytail. They couldn’t be more different. Jenny grasped Liam and began tugging him over toward a group of other volunteers. Olivia chuckled to herself as she saw Liam resisting her hold a bit.
Olivia walked to the next box and lifted it. Liam rushed closer and grasped it before she could. “Hi there. Where do you need this?”
She flushed and watched him a moment before pointing to the door of the coatroom. “Over there. We’re moving the coats so we can spread them out on the tables.”
Olivia’s mother found them and walked over. “Liam! Jenny! I’m so happy you came. We sure could use the help. Liam, once you’ve moved that box, I have a chore I need your muscle for, if you don’t mind. Jenny, if you want to help Olivia separate the coats into children and adult sizes, that would be great.”
Olivia hid her face as she grimaced. She could think of nothing better than to spend her Saturday with Jenny. Perhaps a hole in the head.
“Sure, Mrs. Owens. That sounds like fun,” Jenny said brightly, her perk just too perky for that early in the morning.
Olivia grabbed the last box of coats and followed Liam into the coatroom, Jenny tailing behind them, empty-handed. Liam dropped the box on the floor and turned to the both of them. “You girls play nice in here.” His gaze went to Jenny before turning to Olivia. “I’m going to go help Maria.”
Once he was gone, the tension in the room turned up a notch. Neither of them spoke as they perused one another. It was apparent Jenny didn’t like her any more than she liked Jenny.
“So, where do we begin? I’d like to hurry this up so I can go out and meet some of the other club members.”
Olivia looked at the two sets of long tables lining the room. “You can go on out if you want. I can handle this.”
“What? So you can tell your mother I left you? I think not. That’s no way to get into the club.”
Olivia was stunned for a moment as she saw Jenny for exactly what she was: a social climber. This wasn’t the kind of woman she’d thought Liam would choose, but then again, it was hard to see any woman with Liam. “Adults on the right, kids on the left? I’ll start with this box and you grab another? Sound like a plan?”
They started working in silence, the tension only growing by the minute. Olivia felt the insane need to start talking again, asking the woman questions, but the only questions she could think of were ones that centered on Liam, and she knew those questions would only feed Jenny’s obvious distaste for her. How had the two met? How long had they dated? Were they serious?
Are they serious?
Olivia paused a moment as she considered the thought of Jenny becoming Mrs. Liam Palmer. Jealousy swept through her, and she knew she had no right to feel the emotion. She had no claim to Liam, never had.
“I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
Olivia froze, Jenny’s heavy declaration hanging in the air. She dropped a coat to the pile, her back to the woman as she pulled another from the box. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I think you do.”
Olivia turned around and faced Jenny. The woman had her arms crossed over her bosom, one hip jutting out as she stood defensively, staring Olivia down. “I think you’re seeing things.”
“You realize his attention is only misplaced blame, right? He feels bad for you because of your fall. His pity has morphed into this insane notion that he has feelings for you.”
At first Olivia was taken aback by the words. Did he have feelings for her?
? What was Jenny talking about?
Olivia stared at Jenny, not sure what to say in response. A small smile began to turn up the edges of Jenny’s lips and Olivia wondered if she was missing something she should know.
It was apparent Jenny sought to wound Olivia. She wanted to walk away, but she refused to let the woman think she’d won. But was she being a masochist standing there, egging her on for more information? “And why do you say that?”
“He and I have been dating for well over a year. It’s become quite serious between us, and I’m sure he was going to propose at any moment, prior to this little bump in the road.” Jenny stopped speaking, her gaze raking over Olivia. “I can’t see why he’d want
over me, pity or not.”
Olivia’s mouth dropped at the woman’s gall. She had a few curves and was a bit on the shy side, but she wasn’t a leper, either. “You’re so sure he wouldn’t want me?”
“He’s a doctor. There’s a certain expectation for him in the community. He’s part of the elite. He’ll take part in charities and fund-raisers and the like, especially once he opens his own practice. He’s a member of this club, a man of substance. He needs a beautiful, cultured, social butterfly on his arm, a woman who can entertain and charm those around her. He needs someone to elevate him. I don’t see you as any of that.”
Olivia swung her head toward the door and saw Liam standing there. Embarrassment flooded her at the thought he’d possibly been there and heard Jenny’s words. She didn’t want to interfere in his relationship with Jenny, no matter how mismatched she thought they were. Liam was an adult and could make his own choices, good, bad, or in between. Being caught in an argument where her supposed flaws were listed for him to hear had been embarrassing, to say the least.
Olivia turned to Jenny, who was as red as Olivia felt. Her jaw was also clenched, as if she had more vile things to say, but was holding them back due to Liam.
“Maria has asked me to deliver a few boxes to the food bank that couldn’t fit on the truck. I think you need to come with me, Jenny.” As he spoke the words, his gaze never left Olivia’s. “Head out to the car and I’ll be along in a moment.”
Jenny pivoted and headed for the door. She paused beside him and gave him a look before glaring at Olivia over her shoulder. Once the woman was gone, Olivia took a deep breath and fought the tide of emotion running through her.
“She’s wrong. You know that, right?”
The words were everything she’d told herself over the years, so why did they hurt so much? “Is she?”
Liam stepped into the room and closed the door. He walked a few steps until he was closer to her. “You’re intelligent, warm, and … beautiful.”
Tears glittered in her eyes as he uttered the last word. Was he only saying it to make her feel better? “Jenny’s waiting for you.”
“Don’t let her win. You’re stronger than that.” Liam pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. Then he released her and walked out the door.
She watched the door for several moments, her body and mind not knowing what to do next. Jenny’s words had been jarring, but so had Liam’s. Funny how Jenny’s negativity had been easier to hear.
* * * *
“I can’t believe you. That was really harsh.”
Jenny looked straight ahead, no emotion on her face. She didn’t respond, and for a moment, Liam wondered if she’d even heard him. “Jenny?”
“I heard what you said, but I only spoke the truth, harsh or not. You’ve fallen into this whole crazy pity thing with this girl and somehow it’s morphing into something much more emotional than it needs to be.”
Whole crazy pity thing?
“What’re you talking about?”
“I saw the way you looked at her at dinner. I noticed the sly glances coming from both sides of the table. The girl obviously has a crush on you, and if I were to guess, I’d say it’s been active a long time. Now you’re feeding it and you’re giving her the wrong impression.”
Liam hadn’t realized he’d been so obvious in his interest in Olivia. But Jenny was wrong. Yes, he felt guilty as hell for what had happened years ago, but that wasn’t what drew him to her. Outside of her discomfort and limp, he felt no compulsion to interfere in her life. Seeing her for the woman she had become was a shock to his system, a shock he couldn’t turn off. Thoughts of Olivia had filled his mind since dinner. He couldn’t wait to see her again.