Emergency Engagement (Love Emergency)

By: Samanthe Beck


Chapter Three

“Don’t what?”

If his neighbor suspected he had brain damage before, she looked damn near certain of it now. He needed to talk fast or she’d be in the lobby letting the cat out of the bag before he made it back from getting his head examined.

“Don’t set them straight.”

Her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open. Her expression suggested she’d revised his status from brain damaged to insane. And maybe he was out of his mind at the moment, but the sight of one’s mother dissolving into grateful tears and praising Jesus impacted a guy. It also offered up a painful reminder that he wasn’t the only one who’d suffered over the last three years. His parents had, too, and along with the reminder came a shameful realization—he’d withdrawn so far into his own self-protective cave he’d inadvertently added to their pain, and heaped on an unhealthy dose of plain old worry. About him. Had the stress contributed to his mom’s recent cancer diagnosis? Guilt gnawed at his gut. It certainly hadn’t done her any favors. He’d been given an opportunity to alleviate that worry so his parents could shift their energy and focus to his mom’s well-being. No, it wasn’t honest, or strictly ethical, but it felt right.

“I know I sound crazy, but I promise I’m not. Just hear me out.”

She crossed her arms, chewed her lower lip, and shot a glance at the door. He estimated he had about two seconds before she bolted. Usually he went to great lengths to avoid talking about the past. The conversation left him raw all over again, but right now showing his ugliest scars served a purpose.

“Three years ago, almost to the day, I lost my wife and baby daughter in a car accident.”

That snapped her attention back to him. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry.”

And she was. He could see the emotion swimming in her eyes, feel it in the light touch of her hand on his.

An awkward silence stretched. Three years and he still didn’t know what to do with people’s sympathy. “Thanks,” he finally managed. “The months following the accident were”—he grappled for a word to describe the hopelessness, the rage, and the unbearable pain of loss—“hell. For all of us.”

“Of course they were.” Her soft voice barely exceeded a whisper. No platitudes, no advice, just acceptance of the truth of the statement. She squeezed his hand as she said the words, and he fought the strangest urge to wrap his arms around her and hold on.

“Things leveled out after a while. I adjusted to my new reality.” He forced a smile to soften the bitterness in his voice. “A little more time passed and my parents—particularly my mom—started dropping little hints whenever we’d talk. Hints like the Hamiltons’ nice, single niece recently moved to Atlanta and could probably use a tour guide, or the McKays’ middle daughter finally divorced her no-good husband and accepted a teaching job at Emory, and that’s not so far from you, is it?”

Her lips twisted into the off-center smile that always captivated his cock.

“Sounds familiar?”

She nodded. “Vaguely.” Her grimace almost made him laugh. “They want us to be happy, but in your case, the natural instinct to meddle is compounded because—”

“Because they want to know I’m okay. Yeah, I get that now. They need assurances I’m not so trapped in the pain of the past that I’m closed off to the future. Their compulsion to be certain I’m squared away might have reached a new urgency because my mom was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.”

“Jesus, Beau. Is it serious? I mean, of course it’s serious, but—”

“We’re hoping for the best. She caught the lump early and it’s stage one, so…” Nothing more to say there until they knew more. “They don’t need to waste their energy worrying about me, and I didn’t understand how worried they were until this afternoon. When your father referred to me as his future son-in-law, my mother cried tears of happiness, and an invisible weight rolled off my dad. I don’t want to take that away from them.”

“That’s very sweet and noble of you, but we can’t lie to ease their minds.”

“Sure we can.”

She opened her mouth to rebut, but he forged ahead. “Not forever, just a few weeks. The holidays are a difficult time for us. I assumed they always would be, but now I—we—have a chance to restore some hope and joy to the season for my parents.” Unfair of him to emphasize how his parents’ happiness now rested on her narrow shoulders, but circumstances had manipulated them into this position, and not even the annoying needles of guilt over his tactics changed his mind.

She bit her lip again. He waited.

“You’re only delaying their inevitable disappointment and making it more acute. Don’t you think they’ll take the news much harder if they spend the next month emotionally invested in our happily ever after? Plus, I don’t know about your parents, but mine will be beyond pissed when they learn we lied to them.”

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