As predicted, Thanksgiving had been a nightmare. As much as Emma had hoped and prayed to be saved from it all, she got sucked into the same family drama that had been going on for way too long. For a brief moment, she had considered inviting Lucas to join her, but then thought better of it. No need to let her family be the ones to scare him off; she wasn’t ready to lose him yet.
On the flipside, he hadn’t extended an invitation to join him and his family for the holiday either. While Emma tried not to let her feelings be hurt by it, she knew that where Lucas was concerned, she was going to have to wait and be patient. After all, a month ago he hadn’t even been willing to leave his home in the mountains for more than a day. At least now he was venturing out for nearly a full week at a time. It was progress.
Now as she was getting ready for work on Monday morning, she had to wonder if Lucas was going to be at the office. She had seen him just yesterday, but he had been contemplating going back to his place to check on things. He’d taken her out for lunch and they’d watched a movie on the television before ordering takeout, and he’d left at a fairly early hour.
She missed him already.
With a sigh of resignation, Emma knew that it was something she was going to have to get used to. Lucas hadn’t made any real promises to her except that he would try to overcome his issues with his past. So far he was doing that, but the pace was more of a struggle for her. Why couldn’t he just open up a little bit more and clue her in on where he saw them going?
Grabbing her keys and hoping to give the rental car back this week, she headed out the door with a smile on her face and a little hope in her heart.
“Lucas!” His mother beamed as he walked into the kitchen early Monday morning. “What a surprise! We thought you’d gone home last night.”
“I’ll probably end up back there today but Emma’s car is ready and I figured I’d take her up there to get it later today. Hopefully Dad won’t mind if she leaves a little early.”
“Oh, of course he won’t. After all, it’s his fault that her car had to be repaired. I guess there was more damage than they originally thought.”
“Why would you say that?” he asked.
“Well, it just seemed like it took a bit longer than expected. Three weeks is a long time for some minor bodywork.”
Lucas looked at his mother and laughed as he shook his head. “Mom, her car went down about ten feet into an embankment and straight into a tree. The entire front end was messed up. It wasn’t just bodywork that needed to be done but engine work as well. Plus, I wanted Bob to make sure it was in perfect running condition before Emma got it back. Apparently she doesn’t follow up on tune-ups and oil changes the way she should.”
“Hmm…” his mom said with a knowing smile.
“What? What was that sound about?” Somehow Lucas feared he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“It’s just that you’ve taken a lot of interest in Emma these last weeks, and now you’re going through all the trouble of getting her car fixed and getting it back to her. Seems to me that you’re going a little above and beyond here.”
“Above and beyond what, Mom?” he sighed.
“Don’t get snippy,” she quipped. “We both know it’s been a long time since you’ve done much of anything. For crying out loud, we practically have to drag you out of your precious mountain home to get you to come here once a month.”
She paid him no mind and went on. “All I’m saying is that I didn’t think it was possible to see you make such a turnaround. But I have to give your father credit; he certainly knew what he was doing in sending Emma up there.” Looking over at her son, she immediately realized what she had said and froze.
“What do you mean, Dad knew what he was doing?” Lucas asked cautiously. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s…it’s nothing. Your father always said that eventually you’d get tired of living such a solitary life and…”
“No, that’s not what you said, Mom. You said that Dad knew what he was doing in sending Emma up there. He sent her to my place on purpose? Is that it?”
Her shoulders slumped and tears began to well in her eyes. “It wasn’t like that, Lucas!”
“Then tell me what it was like! All this time it seemed a little odd that Dad was claiming to have a senior moment when he gave Emma the wrong address, but I let that go, and now you’re telling me it was intentional? Why? What did he hope to gain by this?”
His mother sighed in resignation. “Sit down, Lucas,” she began.
“I don’t want to sit! I want you to tell me what the hell is going on!” he demanded.
“You were becoming more and more isolated and withdrawn, Lucas! We all know that you’re not fully healed and to be honest, we all have wondered why you would want to stay injured!” His mother didn’t raise her voice or lose her temper often, but she was making up for it all right now. “It was only a matter of time before one of us hit our breaking point and confronted you but we also knew, as your parents, that we would most likely end up pushing you further away, and I refused to let that happen.”
“What does any of this have to do with Emma?”
“Your father noticed that the two of you seemed ‘interested’ in one another. It wasn’t something that was obvious to anyone else, but your father is a people watcher and he just picked up on some clues from the two of you. He said the only time he ever saw you smile was when Emma was in the room. He knew that you’d never do anything about it, especially not with an audience, so he just sort of created a situation to bring the two of you together.”
“In a blizzard? He was that inconsiderate to Emma that he risked her well-being over this?”
“You wouldn’t come home, Lucas! You were drifting further and further away!”
“Did she know?” he asked suddenly.
“What?” his mother asked nervously.
“Did she know? Was Emma aware that she was being sent up to my place to lure me out of hiding?”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Lucas,” she snapped.
“Then answer my question,” he said with a deadly calm that he certainly didn’t feel. “Did Emma know why she was being sent to my place?”
She shrugged. “I…I don’t think so.”
“But you’re not positive.” It wasn’t a question.
“You’ll have to talk to your father.”
Grabbing his keys from the kitchen counter he turned to walk away just as he said, “Believe me, I will.”
There was no other way to describe what he was feeling right now other than pure unadulterated rage. He’d been set up! By his own father! He knew his family was upset with him for moving so far away and for pulling back from them all, but to set him up like this was inexcusable!
And what about Emma? What was her role in all of this? He knew she’d had a crush on him before, but would that be enough of an enticement for her to become a willing part of his father’s plan? All this time he’d been falling for her—maybe it was all an act on her part.
“Dammit!” he cursed, slamming his hands on the steering wheel. He didn’t want to believe it was true; he wanted to believe that she was as unsuspecting in all of this as he was and that his father had set them both up.
His tires screeched as he pulled into his parking spot at the office. In record time he found himself standing, breathless, in his father’s outer office, staring at Emma.
“Lucas!” she said, taking in his disheveled appearance. His breath was ragged, his tie was askew, and his hair looked as if he’d been running his hands through it in frustration. “Are you okay?” She made to stand and walk to him but Lucas held a hand out to stop her.
“Is my father in?”
“No, he had a meeting in Concord this morning. He’ll be back by eleven. What’s going on?”
Lucas looked around and saw Rose and some of the other employees staring at him. “I need to speak to you in my office. Now.” He turned and walked away, not bothering to see if she would follow.
Emma mumbled a small “excuse me” to Rose before following Lucas to his office and shutting the door. He was pacing behind his desk, his entire body rigid with barely contained rage. “Lucas?”
“I’m going to ask you something, and I want an honest answer.”
“In your job with my father, have you ever mailed anything to my home?” He stood still finally and looked at Emma.
“Yes, I have. Rose and I both handle sending out the paperwork.”
“So then you’d know my home address.”
“Lucas, what is this about? You’re scaring me!” she pleaded.
“Just answer the question, Emma. Do you type up and print out the address labels with my home address?”
“Yes.” Her belly felt queasy and a sense of unease began to fill her. Emma wasn’t sure where this was all leading but she was certain that it wasn’t going to be good. “Yes, I’ve typed up your address before.”
“Didn’t it seem odd to you when my father sent you to deliver paperwork to him that he gave you my address?”
That’s what this was about? He was still harping on the weekend that she’d shown up at his house? What in the world? “To be honest, it didn’t occur to me that it was your address he was giving me. I was distracted with the task of getting up to the mountains before dark. I asked for an address to put into my GPS and he gave me one. I had no reason to question whose it was. For all I knew, you all lived on the same piece of property.”
He had to hand it to her, her explanation made some sense. Then he remembered part of their conversation from the previous weekend when they’d talked about her career at Montgomerys and how she’d gushed on how much she respected his father and would do anything for him.
“Is that all, Lucas?” she snapped, unwilling to stand for this ridiculous interrogation any longer.
“You told me that weekend that you would do anything for my father. That you respect him as your boss and that you felt that you owed him for giving you a chance here when you were under qualified for the position of his assistant. Was that true?”
“You know it is. I’m not a liar, Lucas.”
“That remains to be seen,” he said and walked around his desk toward her. Emma took an immediate step back but Lucas reached out and gently grabbed her arm to stop her. “Did you know that you were coming to my house that night? Were you willing to seduce me into coming to work at Montgomerys full time?”
“What?” she demanded. “Have you lost your mind? Seduce you? If you remember correctly, I crashed my car into a tree! How seductive is that?”
“That was truly an accident, but I find it hard to believe that all of this happened—you showing up at my place, getting snowed in together, and the physical relationship that followed—were all just a random series of coincidences.”
Emma yanked free of his grip. “I don’t give a damn what you believe, and I don’t know what brought this on, but I’ve had just about enough! I don’t have to explain myself to you over this situation anymore, Lucas! Your father asked me to deliver some papers to him; he gave me an address and I went. If there was anything misleading or whatever about that, then it’s on him, not me, and I am offended that you would accuse me of such things! I am damn good at my job and yes, I’m willing to do what needs to be done, but that does not include whoring myself out to the boss’s son to entice him back to work!”
Without another word, Emma stalked from his office, slamming the door behind her. From Lucas’s standpoint, it was a glorious exit, but she was just a little too defensive for his liking. He couldn’t be sure if she was telling the truth or not and until he talked to his father, he wouldn’t know for certain.
For a brief moment, panic set in. What if Emma was telling the truth? What if he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life and threw away the chance at a relationship with the woman he was certain he could fall in love with?
Emma was a complete wreck. Where had all of that just come from? What had happened between last night and this morning for Lucas to be so angry with her? Why was he accusing her of such horrible things? Carefully, she sat down at her desk and let out a shuddering breath.
“Are you okay?” Rose asked quietly from behind her.
Emma gave a weak smile. “I’m fine, thank you for asking, Rose.”
Rose returned the smile and walked away. Emma was thankful Rose didn’t pry, but wasn’t sure how it was going to be possible for her to work right now.
After several failed attempts at typing up a contract that William Montgomery had asked her to have ready for him, Emma finally asked Rose to handle it while she went to the ladies’ room to try and get herself under control. Her heart was still racing and actually hurt. How could Lucas think that she was with him because of his father? Hadn’t she showed him time and time again what he meant to her?
She splashed some cold water on her face and sat in one of the upholstered chairs that were in the executive washroom while she collected her thoughts. The only way she was going to get to the end of this was to confront Mr. Montgomery and see what was going on. She had wanted to keep her relationship with Lucas private, but apparently something was out in the open and there was no way Emma could sit back and let anyone think that she was for sale.
With a steadier disposition, Emma left the security of the washroom and headed back to her office, where she heard a heated argument going on in her boss’s office.
“You sent her up there to lure me to work, Dad! Admit it!” She heard Lucas shout.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Lucas. I didn’t know what else to do! You wouldn’t listen to me or your mother or your brothers so yes, I thought that maybe Emma might be able to convince you to come back to work!”
“Why would you think that Emma could succeed where all of you failed?”
“Because I saw the way you looked at her and the way she watched you, dammit! I was desperate and I used that to my advantage, but I will not have you talking to me like I’m some sort of criminal! I’m your father and you will talk to me with respect!”
“I’ll talk to you any way I damn well please,” Lucas snapped, his voice full of contempt. “You manipulated me for your own personal reasons. You didn’t care about the time that I needed to heal or what I wanted…”
“You weren’t healing! You stopped going to therapy and you passed on the other surgeries…”
“How the hell do you know about that?” Lucas demanded, his voice going deadly calm. Emma had to strain to hear him. “Did Emma tell you about that?”
“No, of course she didn’t. I make it my business to know everything, Lucas. Do you think I wouldn’t try to find out why my once friendly and outgoing son was suddenly hiding away from everyone? Why you wouldn’t be around anyone for more than a few hours a month?”
“So you talked to my doctors? That’s unethical of them and you!”
“No, I talked to your coach. He filled me in,” William said calmly. “Lucas, I never wanted things to come to this but I didn’t know what else to do! These last few weeks, having you home, have been wonderful. Your mother and I are just thrilled to see you actively participating in life again!”
“Did Emma know?”
“Did she know what?” William asked cautiously.
“Was Emma in on the plan to go up to my house and lure me home?”
William hesitated. “No, she was not in on any of it. I set her up and sent her up there blindly on the pretense of bringing me those papers.”
“I don’t believe you,” Lucas said honestly. “I can’t believe that as close as you and Emma are that you would set her up like that. What were you hoping would happen once she got there? There was a blizzard coming, for crying out loud!”
“I knew we were expecting some snow but I didn’t realize how much,” William said wearily. “I figured she’d get up there, it would be snowing enough that you wouldn’t want her out driving in it, and she’d be forced to stay the night.”
“To what end, Dad?”
“You’d have no choice but to talk to her, interact with her. I could see every time you were here that you wanted to, but you wouldn’t allow yourself. So I did what I could to make sure that you…”
“Slept with her?”
William winced and then looked ashamed. “You make it sound crude, Lucas. That wasn’t how I intended it.”
“Wasn’t it? You sent her up there to seduce me into coming home. Well, the joke’s on you, Dad, because I’ll be damned if I’ll let you or Emma manipulate me. From now on, I’ll work from home only. I’m done with this bullshit.”
“Don’t take this out on Emma, Lucas! She had nothing to do with it—it was all my doing!”
Lucas looked at his father and saw the distress on his face. “You don’t get it, do you? I’ve had people making my life decisions for two years now. The decision never to play football again wasn’t mine; the decision not to have any position in the NFL wasn’t mine. And you went and took away the decision on whether or not I wanted to work here with you or to have a relationship with Emma.”
“So you’ll walk away from your family and her just for spite?”
Lucas didn’t respond. He stormed from the office and didn’t even notice that Emma was standing beside the door, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Without conscious thought, Emma walked into William’s office. “Is it true?” she asked, her voice shaking.
William looked up at her with utter devastation on his face. “Which part?” he asked wearily.
“All of it,” she demanded softly. “You set me up to make Lucas move back home.”
All he could do was nod.
“I can’t work for you anymore,” Emma said, feeling more in control than she had moments ago. “You not only risked my life by sending me out into that storm on a fool’s errand, but you used me to fight a battle that wasn’t mine and you used my emotions against my will. I can’t work for someone like that.”
“Emma, let me explain…”
She held up her hands to stop him. “There’s nothing left you can say. I think you’ll understand if I don’t give two weeks’ notice.”
William knew at that point he’d lost.
“I’ll make sure Rose is up-to-date on what I was working on, and then I’ll be leaving.”
“You don’t have to quit, Emma. Take a few days to calm down and then we can talk.”
“It won’t make a difference. But I have one request, sir,” she said boldly.
William cringed at the title she’d always called him by. He hated the formality, he hated the stiffness in her spine, and the fact that he was responsible for putting it there. “Anything.”
“This conversation that we’re having? You are not to share it with Lucas. This is between you and me. He has enough issues with you right now and I don’t need to be any more a part of them than I already am.”
“I really wish you’d reconsider…”
Emma smiled sadly. “You know, I once told Lucas how much I respected you and felt like I owed you so much because you took a chance on me when you promoted me to be your assistant. But now? I can’t trust you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at you and not remember what it is that you cost me.”
“And what was that?” he asked quietly.
“The chance at a life with the man I love.” And then she was gone.