Angus opened the door. Eva was out and running up the steps before I put my tablet away. Monica opened the front door just as her daughter hit the top landing.
Surprised by my wife’s enthusiasm, considering she barely tolerated her mother most of the time, I stared after her curiously.
Cary laughed as he gathered his things and shoved them into a small messenger bag. “One whiff. That’s all it takes.”
“Monica usually bakes these crazy good cookies with peanut butter cups. Eva’s making sure she stashes some before I get in there and eat ’em all.”
Making a mental note to get that recipe, I looked back toward the two women on the porch, catching them exchanging air kisses before they both turned to look my way. At that moment, with Monica dressed in capris and a casual shirt, the similarities between them were striking.
Cary hopped out and took the steps two at a time, barreling directly into Monica’s open-armed embrace and lifting her off her feet. Their laughter rang out through the gathering dusk.
I heard Angus speak to me from where he stood by the open door. “You can’t spend the weekend in the limo, lad.”
Amused, I left my tablet on the seat and stepped out.
He grinned. “It’ll be good for you to have family.”
I set my hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I already have one.”
For years, Angus had been all I’d had. And he’d been enough.
“Come on, slowpoke!” Eva came back to me, grabbing my hand and dragging me up the steps after her.
“Gideon.” Monica’s smile was wide and warm.
“Monica.” I held out my hand and was startled to be hugged tightly instead.
“I’d tell you to call me Mom,” she said, pulling back. “But I’m afraid I’d feel old.”
Awkwardness morphed into a prickling that ran down my spine. It struck me then that I’d miscalculated to a wide degree.
Marriage to Eva made her mine. It also made me hers, and connected me to her loved ones in a very personal way.
Monica and I had known each other for a while, our paths crossing occasionally because of the various children’s charities we both supported. We’d established particular parameters for our interactions, just as every association followed known protocols.
Abruptly, that was all blown to hell.
I found myself glancing back at Angus, at a loss. Apparently my predicament was entertaining, since he gave me a wink and left me to my own devices. He rounded the trunk to greet Benjamin Clancy, who waited by the driver’s-side door of the limo.
“The garage is over there,” Monica said, pointing at the two-story building across the road that was a small replica of the main house. “Clancy will make sure your driver gets settled and your bags are brought in.”
Eva tugged on my hand and led me inside. Cary had guessed right. I was inundated with the smell of buttery vanilla. Not candles. Cookies. The homey and comforting scent made me itch to turn around and step back outside.
I wasn’t prepared. I’d come as a guest, Eva’s plus-one. To be a son-in-law, a true member of the family, was a possibility I hadn’t anticipated.
“I love this house,” Eva said, taking me through the archway that framed the opening to the living room.
I saw what I expected. An upscale beach house with white-slipcovered seating and nautical-themed accessories.
“Don’t you love the espresso hardwood floors?” she asked. “I would’ve gone with bleached oak, but that’s so predictable, right? And the green, orange, and yellow accent colors over the usual blue? Makes me want to go rogue when we get back to the Outer Banks.”
She had no idea how much I wanted to get back there now. There at least I’d have more than a second to myself before I had to deal with a houseful of brand-new relatives.
The expansive living area flowed directly into the open kitchen, where Stanton, Martin, Lacey, and Cary all gathered around a large kitchen island with seating for six. The entire space shared the view of the water afforded by a row of sliding glass panels that opened onto a wide veranda.
“Hey!” Eva protested. “You better save me some cookies!”
Stanton grinned and approached us. Dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, he looked like a younger version of the man I knew from our dealings in New York. He’d shed the corporate vibe along with his suit, and I felt like I faced a stranger.
“Eva.” Stanton kissed Eva’s cheek, then turned to me. “Gideon.”
Accustomed to being addressed by my last name, I wasn’t braced for the hug that followed.
“Congratulations,” he said, giving me a firm pat on the back before releasing me.