New York reunites Edward and Emma, only to unveil more devastating secrets that will put their love to the ultimate test.
Old Westbury, New York
I died, so you might live.
My fingers tighten their grip on the papers, almost tearing the corners. I turn my attention to the time-worn photo my biological mother left in the envelope with her letter to me.
Nobody wants a pregnant call girl, so by the time you were born, I was broke. Still, the couple of days I got to spend with you were the happiest days of my miserable life.
She looks blissful, holding my tiny body in her arms. I recognize my piercing blue eyes in her tear-filled ones.
Not gonna lie to you. It shocked me when I found out I was pregnant, but I couldn’t get myself to terminate it. You growing inside me made me feel like my body could do more than just pleasure random strangers. Many nights I would fall asleep caressing my growing belly, imagining I was living in a clean home waiting for your father to return from work. Obviously, that’s not my reality. I don’t even know which one of them is your father. My imagination was my only escape.
I grit my teeth in frustration, wanting so badly to hate her… Needing to…
Why I got pregnant and was shown this bit of grace, I don’t know. Or maybe it was the ultimate punishment for my sinful life. Because the day I gave you up, my soul got ripped out of my body. I’ve survived all kinds of pain, but nothing compares to the pain of leaving you at that place and returning to my shithole all alone. That first night without you… Can’t even describe it in words. And it did not get any easier with time. Today, I am alive, but not living. Just a plaything for whoever pays, waiting for this hell of a life to be over.
“Amber Greene.” My throat closes in on itself when I speak her name out loud.
Love isn’t meant for someone like me. But I got to know love when they placed you in my arms. Every time you would wrap your little fingers around my thumb, I wanted us to stay like that forever. But I don’t deserve you, my little angel, and you don’t deserve to live in this hell with me.
I stare at the smiling brunette in the photo. A young mother with so much hidden behind her innocent face.
This letter might never make it to you, but writing it feels like the right thing to do. In case you do read this, let me be the first to warn you, you’ll probably find out a lot of ugly things about me. Lord knows there’s plenty I’m not proud of. All that matters to me is that you know I am not heartless. I loved you more than anything. Still do.
My heart contracts in pain, and my eyes glaze with moisture.
I think of you daily and pray what I did gave you a chance at a more decent life than I could have ever given you.
“Oh, it’s more than decent. I hit the fucking jackpot, Amber, thank you very much,” I utter sarcastically, my voice quivering.
I slam the papers down on the coffee table with a loud bang, rubbing furiously at my face. Suddenly, it feels as though all the oxygen has been sucked out of my bedroom. Throwing the door to my terrace wide open, I rush outside. My hands grip the railing with all my might, hurt and blinding anger gnawing at my insides.
I head back in and storm out of my room, rushing furiously down the long hallway and the central staircase. Smacking the French doors open, I stomp towards the pool area.
“Sir?” My commotion catches Tom’s attention.
With a growl of fury, I turn over every side table and lounger in sight.
Tom rushes over to stop me, but I push him off.
“Fuck!” I cry out, collapsing onto the stone bench, my chest heaving violently as my eyes well up with unshed tears.
“Fucking letter,” I mutter under my breath, staring blankly at the calm pool water; barely aware of Tom straightening the furniture.
He walks over and sits beside me.
“Sir, it may not be my place, but I’ve watched you agonize over the matter of your adoption for months now, and—”
“Three pages Tom.” I hold up three trembling fingers. “That’s it. And now her pain, her hopes, her truth… Branded in my heart and in my mind. But she, the woman, is gone.”
I point with disdain in the house's direction. “It’s all their fault for hiding her from me.”
“If you continue feeling like the victim, you’ll only continue suffering.”
“Are you suggesting it’s my fault I feel the way I do about all this?!” I spit angrily.
Tom shakes his head. “It’s certainly not your fault your biological mother gave you up; and you learned of your adoption from the front cover of every magazine in the city instead of your adoptive parents. But it is your responsibility to figure out a way to make peace with it and move on. Nothing and no-one can do that for you.”
My brow furrows in contemplation.
“I’ll be out front if you need anything,” he informs me before heading back inside and leaving me with his words bouncing around my tired mind.
How?! How can I do what he’s advising?
Every time I think I am beginning to move on, something new reveals itself. First, it was the public news of my adoption. Then came the discovery of my biological mother being an addict who died from an overdose. And recently, upon my return from St. Austell, my father tells me they found an envelope amongst the few belongings she left behind. An envelope marked ‘To My Son’. And it wasn’t until this afternoon that I finally massed up enough courage to open it. I’ve been torn between the need to know more and the paralyzing fear of what I would learn.
The revelation of my adoption came at me fast and unexpected. What would start out as a normal day in my life turned into a nightmare, as news of me being adopted was suddenly made public by all major media outlets in New York. I still remember barging into my father’s office and throwing all the magazines Tom and I had collected onto his desk. When he confirmed the gossip, I panicked and lost my bearings. His confession stripped me of my identity.
I still had one more year of college to go at the time. And my attention was divided between finishing my schooling and completing the renovations of my hotel in Cornwall, England. St. Austell, to be precise.
It was the furthest place I could think of where few people knew me and I could hide out until I got my head straight. Luckily, my parents did not fight me on my decision to leave New York and sympathized with my desperate need for privacy. And somehow, while my soul was wallowing in what felt like the pits of hell, I stumbled upon the most beautiful angel. Funny how all along she believed I was saving her when, in fact, she was the one saving me. But then, in complete selfishness, I went and fucked it all up by withholding my truth from her. A truth she ended up learning in the worst ways from Sarah, my assistant at the Carlyon Bay Hotel. Sarah even gave her tabloid magazines with my ex-girlfriend Alexandria Davis’ lies splattered all over their covers. Alex’s rumours about us being engaged and expecting our first child spread like wildfire. Hot headlines that sell. So, of course, the media did everything in their power to back it all up with whatever photos and bits of information they have in their possession.
Yet another mess for me to resolve.
I lean forward, cradling my head in my hands. My mind is a chaotic jumble.
“I thought I might find you out here.” My father holds out one of the two tumblers he’s carrying towards me.
“Shit! I completely forgot about our conference call.” I accept the drink from him with no hesitation. “Did they agree to our terms? Will they finally be signing?” I ask, taking a big gulp of the smoky amber sedative.
My father doesn’t answer right away. He just stands there, watching me with sympathetic eyes.
“Walk with me, Son. I’m not here to discuss business.”
I sigh heavily before standing up and taking another sip of my drink. He pats my shoulder endearingly as we walk past the pool to the open expanse of manicured green grounds.
Victor Hughes may be the business mogul billionaire to the world, but to me, he’s been the kindest and most loving father. Which is why it burned so much more when I found out he wasn’t my biological father, like they led me to believe all of my twenty-five years.
“I hear you’ve finally gotten around to reading Amber’s letter,” he tells me, breaking the silence.
I let out a bitter chuckle. “You mean you heard me make a mess of the furniture at the pool earlier.”
“I heard,” he admits, sipping his drink. “I was just hoping the letter would bring you some peace. A sense of closure.”
“It’s conflicting. The loving mother who wrote that letter can’t possibly be the same heartless woman who gave away her newborn child.” The words claw at my insides as I speak them.
My father shakes his head. “That woman made the ultimate sacrifice, Edward. You must allow yourself to at least credit her that much. I know it’s all been very difficult to accept, but you can’t fault her for what she had the courage, and selflessness, to do.”
“Growing up, I was well aware of how good I had it. Some might even say my life was too good to be true. Well, guess what?” I point my tumbler at him. “Turns out it is. It was all a lie. All those years, the amazing parents I thought were mine, weren’t really—” My voice cracks, pain lodging itself in my throat.
“Stop.” My father reaches out and grips my shoulder, giving me a small shake. “Stop telling yourself this nonsense. Be the rational man I’ve always known you to be. Open that sharp mind of yours. All that has happened to you was born from love, unconditional love.”
I huff, averting my gaze.
“Seriously, Son,”—he shakes my shoulder again to get my attention back—“that woman you call heartless had to love you more than herself to go through with giving you up for adoption. And your mother and I… We were so absorbed in wanting to be the best parents for you. In our hearts and our minds, you’ve always been our son. Not telling you we adopted you wasn’t intentional. And it certainly wasn’t for selfish reasons like you think.”
I frown. “But I never said—”
“You don’t have to. I received a letter of my own today.” He lets out a loud sigh before taking a healthy gulp of his drink and continuing to walk.
“You did?” I follow him, intrigued.
“I’m sorry if I gave you the impression I don’t appreciate how hard this has been on you. Not saying that it was any easier on your mother and I, but I see how the messy, uncontrolled way in which it all unfolded affected you most.”
“Dad, don’t worry—”
“No, Son, it’s okay. You don’t have to be in control all the time.”
Funny, these exact words were spoken to me before by someone else…
“Listen to me. I don’t pretend to know exactly what you’ve been going through, but I can tell your sense of identity has taken a serious hit.”
I look down at my glass, my frown deepening.
“Exactly.” He puts his arm around my shoulder. “Son, from the moment we’re born into this life, all we’re really looking for is family. A sense of belonging to something much bigger than ourselves. Only trouble is, we never know when, or if, we’ll ever find it. I love your mother dearly, but you gave us the family we were starting to doubt we would ever have—”
He gets a little choked up and clears his throat before he continues telling me, “So, should you ever question your identity again, always remember this: You are the miracle that gave your mother and I the priceless gift of family.”
My heart crumbles under the weight of his words, and I wipe gingerly at my wet eyes.
“Look at me,” he requests firmly.
I take a steadying breath and look up at the man who, throughout my life, has been a constant source of unconditional love and security.
“Never question our love for you—my love for you,” he says. “You are my son, you hear me? Nothing will ever change that. Nothing.”
I throw my arms around my father, incapable of speech, my heart overflowing with raw emotion.
After taking a moment to compose ourselves, he reaches into the inner pocket of his blazer and pulls out an envelope.
He hands it over to me, saying, “You’ve never been insurance for my legacy, Son.”
“How…?” But then her name on the envelope catches my eye.
“I don’t know if she means anything to you, but her letter made me aware of a few things I would’ve never otherwise known needed addressing.”
“Dad, what I said about being nothing more than insurance for your—”
“It’s how you truly felt. And I’m glad this young lady told me.” He points at the letter in my hand. “She gave me the opportunity to let you know how wrong you are. And how sorry I am for inadvertently making you feel that way.”
I am incapable of forming any coherent response, completely taken back by his apology and this unexpected letter.
“It’s no secret that business keeps me quite occupied, Edward. But it never preoccupies me. You and your mother are my entire world. There’s nothing above you two.”
I exhale some of my pain and frustration, feeling lighter than I have felt in a long while.
“Thanks Dad,” I reply genuinely.
“Thank her, Son.” He nods towards the envelope in my hand.
As soon as I am back in my bedroom, I turn on the floor lamp and drop onto the couch, hastily unfolding her letter.
Her beautiful heart is interweaved into every elegantly crafted sentence. Every ounce of my being is crying out for her. I reach for my phone and immediately dial her number. But then a couple of rings later, I change my mind and hang up. I don’t even know what time it is in St. Austell right now.
I stare at her name across the small, bright screen. My grip tightens so much, my fingertips turn white. A savage need to hear her voice takes over me. So I dial her number again and wait with bated breath, doubting she’ll even pick up.
My head drops back and my eyes shut in gratitude at the sound of her sleepy ‘hello’.
“Emma,” I breathe.
St. Austell, Cornwall
You can only pretend to be strong because you are strong.
Edward said that to me once. And these days, I feel I have mastered the art of pretence. Not that it makes me feel strong. I’m just numb. Numb and busy with my new job. Determined to prove that even though Edward put a word in for me to get hired at Ellison and Buchanan, I have the passion and skills to carry me through a successful career in interior design.
Ever since the onslaught of hidden truths about the man I fell in love with and thought I knew well, my emotional compass has been shattered. The one true emotion I feel is heartache, all the rest I fake so I can get through my days with some semblance of normality. After Edward left St. Austell, it took seconds to erase him from my phone, but it’s been impossible to erase him from my mind… And heart. The ghost of him haunts every corner in this town. Everywhere I go, I am met with memories of our time together.
Everywhere but here, I realize as I wander the corridors of Glynn House with my boss George Bennett. The impressive high ceilings and tall sash windows give this house an airy feel. There are also several features from its past I’ve been spotting throughout. Like this plaster cast replica of a medal, directly above my head.
“This is the second one,” I say to George, pointing to the ceiling. “I saw a similar one in the other room as well.”
“Ah yes, these are plaster casts of Sir Vivian’s medals. He’s the Major-General who purchased and restored this manor back in 1833,” George explains.
I am in awe of this place that is brimming with history.
“If you think that’s impressive, wait till you see the prayer hall.” He guides me back into the dining room we had entered from.
“A prayer hall?!”
He nods and gestures towards the doorway to his left.
When I step into the hall where time seems to have stopped, my attention is instantly drawn to the stunning high ceiling and its central cupola.
“Incredible.” My eyes take in every intricate detail. “Timeless architecture around every corner. It’s pure magic.” I step further into this mesmerizing space.
“I knew it,” George starts, giving me a lopsided smile. “I knew this house would be in expert hands with you.”
I turn to look at him, confounded. “How do you mean?”
“You are standing in your first solo design project, Miss Kinsley,” he explains.