the way you look tonight - Page 61

Mary shook her head. “No. I didn’t know.”

“You were too beautiful for the nice boys in town to have the nerve to approach you, but I saw the way the dangerous ones watched you. I was terrified that you would be swept off your feet, but not by a good man like your father. He often told me you had a good head on your shoulders, but he didn’t know what it was like to be a young girl, especially one who wanted so much, who longed for everything life could give her. All I wanted was for you to find true love and have a family that would give you as much joy as you and your father gave me. But when you came home that day to tell us you had been discovered by an agent and that he wanted you to go to New York City with him—”

“All of your fears came true.”

“With every awful word I hurled at you, it was as if I was watching myself from a distance, knowing the tighter I tried to hold on to you, the further you were going to slip away.”

“I’m sorry,” Mary said, “so sorry we both hurt each other so badly.”

Lucia gently wiped away the tears falling down Mary’s cheeks. “Go to the closet and bring me the red box on the top shelf.” The box was the size of a large hat and was quite heavy. “Look inside.”

Inside the box was a photo album her mother had put together of photos from Mary’s childhood. She smiled as she looked at the photo on the cover—herself as a chubby-cheeked baby. Her first thought was that Jack would love to see it.

“You and your Jack will have beautiful children. Smart, lively, passionate girls and boys that will fill your arms and hearts with endless joy.”

As they went through the pictures one by one, Mary watched herself grow from baby, to toddler, to school-age girl with skinned knees, to lanky teenager, to young woman. The last few pages of the photo album were empty, and her heart clenched yet again as she closed the leather-bound book.

“I never stopped collecting pictures of my baby,” her mother said as she lifted a thick divider from inside the box and revealed hundreds of glossy magazine covers and photo spreads.

Mary was beyond amazed to find a print from her very first photo shoot. “Where did you get these?”

“Your agent, Randy, mailed these to us. At first, I think it was to reassure us that you had come to no harm with him. But when your father wrote to tell him how much we appreciated it, he mailed us a new package every week.”

“I can’t believe he never told me.” Then again, if he had, wasn’t it possible that she might have insisted he stop, simply because she’d nursed her anger and hurts for so long that she couldn’t see beyond them?

“I should have come back long before now, Mama.” Just as Jack had told her, family was what was important. Both she and her mother had done what they felt they had to do, and both of them had made the mistake of being stubborn or holding a grudge about decisions they’d made while simply being true to themselves. “I never meant to stay away this long.”

Again, her mother wiped away Mary’s tears, even though she was crying, too. “You’re home now.” Lucia suddenly smiled through her tears, as happy as Mary could ever remember seeing her. “I’ve been thinking about your wedding,” she began, and this time Mary knew better than to try to get her mother to save her breath and rest.

Lucia Ferrer had been waiting for more than a decade for this wedding, and Mary knew her excitement and joy over the celebration would heal her illness faster than any pills or hours of bed rest possibly could.

Chapter Twenty-Three

The moon had fully risen in the winter sky by the time everyone in the house settled down to sleep. Mary had waited impatiently for her father to finally tire and join her mother in the master bedroom.

It had been less than a month since she’d met Jack in downtown San Francisco, but there was no question in Mary’s mind that she was utterly, completely addicted to him. She’d enjoyed her solo walk through town and the time she’d spent reconnecting with her mother, but though it had only been a matter of hours since Jack had been holding her close on the airplane and in the taxi, it felt like forever. And if she wasn’t mistaken, from the way he’d been looking at her in the living room when her father had insisted on one more round of cards, he was just as addicted to being with her.

That evening, she’d told him and her father about her conversation with her mother, about seeing the pictures her parents had collected of her over the years. Her father had teared up with the same tears of joy she’d been crying herself all day. Jack’s eyes, and his hand over hers, had been full of so much love for her that she could still hardly think what she could have done right in her life to find him.

Now, Mary stepped out of the cooling bath, dried off, then wrapped herself in the soft silk robe she’d packed in her bag. Feeling like a naughty teenager, instead of heading for her own bedroom, she tiptoed down the hall, through the kitchen and living room until she reached the guest room on the far side of the house. Her heart pounded hard with delicious anticipation as she put her hand on the doorknob.

Making sure to open the door quietly so that the hinges didn’t creak and give her away, she almost forgot to close the door as she stared in wonder at the beautiful man waiting for her on the bed, the sheets at his hips leaving his chest gloriously bare. Jack was smiling at her, but desire was simmering just beneath the surface.

“I thought my father was never going to let you go to bed. All this time I believed my mother was the one desperate for me to marry. Now I realize my father was quite possibly even more desperate for a son-in-law.”