Authors: L M May
The Long Road Home
by L. M. May
“I want my mommy,” whimpered the small, dark haired boy wearing blue cotton overalls.
So do I, sweetie,
Gemma thought as she squeezed CJ's hand, her throat aching with suppressed emotion.
So do I.
She scooped him up into her arms, swallowing hard as he wrapped himself tightly around her.
CJ hadn't once looked at the settling mound of earth before them. Even on the day of the funeral – almost two weeks ago – he'd averted his gaze; instead he chose to stare at the three angels that overlooked the older parts of the cemetery, their weathered wings rising gracefully over a sea of marble and stone.
Squinting against the glare of the sun, Gemma's own gaze was drawn toward the green, leafy trees that framed the cemetery grounds, and the lone oak tree that towered above the others.
As a teenager she'd believed the stately old oak was bigger because it was infused with the strength of her father who was buried nearby.
It hadn't been long after that she'd buried her mother.
Neither Gemma or CJ had any idea that in a few short months this wouldn't be the first loved one that they – or the rest of the country – would be burying.
Gemma was still reeling from the news she'd received at the reading of the will; even from the grave her gregarious, strong-willed friend was causing trouble, opening a whole new world of hurt.
“A promise is a promise,” Gemma said softly, her voice breaking.
She just hadn't realized it would involve
Damn you, Caroline,
Gemma thought as a fresh wave of anger hit her.
Caroline had been desperate for a child, and Gemma was the first person to encourage her when she decided she wasn't going to wait any longer.
But Gemma always assumed she’d used a sperm bank; that was what Caroline had implied.
The birth certificate that was now in her possession said different.
Caroline had waited until the very end to ask Gemma to find CJ's father, and Gemma had promised she would do everything in her power to do so.
And now Gemma understood why Caroline hadn’t actually told her who CJ's father was. She'd stupidly assumed it was because she didn't know the man.
Setting young CJ on his feet, Gemma knelt down beside him and studied his face. It had been right there in front of her all along – she just hadn’t seen it. CJ had his father’s eyes, and Gemma imagined that if she had a photograph of Christopher at this age the similarities would be striking.
She could see the shades of the man CJ would become. Already he had the echo of his father's face; the strong square jaw line that he would grow into; the same dark hair and quirky smile.
“Let’s get you back to Grandma, CJ.” Gemma took the boy's warm hand in hers.
Not only that, CJ didn’t stand for Christopher James as she’d been led to believe, but for Christopher Junior. He had his father’s name; a tradition that went back several generations.
For someone who wanted to bring up a child on her own – without input from the father – Caroline sure had a strange way of doing things. It was just like Caroline to spring something like this on her. Caroline had always been sentimental. Well – whatever her reasons, it didn’t change the fact Gemma had made a promise, even if ill-informed. Caroline was six feet under and Gemma would never know her reasoning, or what the hell she’d been thinking.
Gemma had been puzzled when she was bequeathed CJ's birth certificate – until her eyes came to the name typed after father, and she immediately understood. It was the name of the man she once thought she'd spend the rest of her life with. She also knew what Caroline wasn’t saying; that if Christopher didn’t want to bring up his son then it would fall to her as CJ's godmother. Caroline's mother was getting far too old to be bringing up a boisterous four-year-old.
Hidden inside the folds of the birth certificate was a train ticket.
A watery smile broke across Gemma's face. Caroline had known she would put this particular meeting off as long as she could, but now – with a train ticket bearing tomorrow's date – Caroline had taken matters into her own hands. And deep down Gemma knew that the sooner she got this over with, the better.
“I understand, Don. But I need those papers.” Christopher's grip on the phone tightened as he paced in front of the window, glaring down at the busy street below.
As Don made his excuses Christopher took a deep breath, trying to contain his rising frustration.
That was when he saw her. At least he thought it was her.
her. He was sure of it.
“Christopher? You still there?”
He would recognize the sexy sway of those hips and the feline, graceful way that she moved anywhere.
“I’m sorry, I’ll have to call you back,” Christopher snapped, hoping he hadn't just blown the Johnston account as he slammed the phone down.
The woman crossed the street with a confident, determined stride, a large black bag slapping at her hip. Her sleek, dark hair was shorter than he remembered, cropped close to her neck. She was dressed casually in slim fitting jeans and a black sweater that hugged her curves.
From the recesses of his memory, unbidden, came her scent, seeming to fill the room. It had driven him crazy when he was a horny young teenager, and he'd been determined to have her. But it wasn’t until his final year of high school that they finally came together, despite the fact he’d relentlessly tried every trick he knew to get closer to her.
By then he'd sown his wild oats, and was ready to try a real relationship. She'd been his first love, and the only girl to break his heart, though admittedly it was his own doing. He couldn’t help but wonder what his life might be like now if he hadn’t messed up so badly.
As she approached the entrance to his building, Christopher pressed his forehead against the glass. He continued to stand there long after she'd moved out of sight, surprised at the profound effect she still had on him after all these years.
It had been twelve years since he'd come to the city to study law, confident their relationship could withstand the distance until Gemma finished her final year of school. And around five years since he'd last seen her.
Christopher's jaw tightened as he journeyed down memory lane. He'd been young and stupid. He hadn’t expected her to come to the city to surprise him, or that his dimwitted roommate would let her in so that she could find him in a compromising position with ... he drew a blank. He couldn’t even remember the name of the girl he’d been copping a feel from.
It was because of Gemma he'd accepted the invitation to represent his family at the school's anniversary dinner five years ago. The opportunity had been too much to resist. No other woman had affected him the way she had, and at that stage in his life he'd been starting to wonder if she was the reason he'd never been able to settle into anything more serious than a few dates while his law friends were moving on, getting married and having children.
It shouldn’t have come as a shock to see that she was with someone else, but it did; some animal instinct inside him had marked her as his, and he'd immediately bristled. It cut deeper than he thought it would when she turned cool, dismissive eyes on him, linking arms with a tall, brown haired man he'd never seen before.
It was probably lucky for Gemma that she'd caught him in the act, Christopher thought bitterly. He knew how much she wanted to have children. Something that could never happen with him.
A few months after the dinner he'd finally met someone. Someone he thought he could spend the rest of his life with.
Though what he felt for Melinda was never as deep as what he’d felt for Gemma, he tried telling himself that it was normal to compare everyone to the remembered passions of youth.
He'd wanted what everyone else had – someone to come home to at night, and children to carry on the family name.
They tried for over a year, and when Melinda didn’t get pregnant, she blamed him when she found out he’d had chicken pox as a teenager. Something his doctor had warned him was a possibility. The marriage quickly went downhill from there.
To say he was crushed would have been an understatement, but over time he’d come to accept the fact he would never be a father; instead he invested time in forging a strong bond with his young niece and nephew, like his own uncle had done with him.
Christopher took great pride in being a positive role model in their lives, his role growing more vital when his sister’s husband was killed in a car accident eight months ago.
He tried to get back home as often as he could, and he would be lying to himself if he denied that he hoped to run into Gemma.
Mr. Daley, your two o’clock appointment is here,”
Anne's brisk, no nonsense voice came through the intercom, interrupting his reverie.
Christopher pulled himself away from the window, wondering what had brought her to the city. He assumed she had some sort of law issue. His grandfather had built this firm from the ground up, and people back home were loyal to the Daley family.
He glanced down at his diary, Gemma’s image still fresh in his mind. It was a new client about a custody issue. He pressed the intercom button.
“Anne, please tell Mrs. Smith I’m running behind schedule and I’ll see her as soon as I can,” he said, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair.
He knew it was impulsive, but he wanted to see her. Opening the office door, he ran a quick hand through his hair to smooth it down, then strode purposefully down the corridor toward the elevators, wondering who she was here to see.
Most of the partners were still out to lunch, doing their Friday catch-up. A tradition his grandfather had started long ago, with most clearing their schedules for the rest of the day, anticipating a lazy afternoon of drinking.
Christopher had begged off. Early the next morning his cycling club was doing a hundred mile challenge. He needed to be clear-headed.
He would know that throaty voice anywhere.
He turned toward the waiting area, his breath catching in his throat. She'd hardly aged a day, and if anything, had only grown more beautiful. He stepped toward her, his gaze quickly sweeping down to take in her lithe figure. The new hairstyle suited her, feathering a delicate, heart shaped face, though he knew from experience she was anything but delicate. Appearances could be deceiving.
Aware that he was staring, Christopher tore his eyes away from soft, full lips, surprised all over again by the intensity of the deep green of her eyes when he met her gaze.
“Gemma? It really is you.” Christopher ignored the ping of the elevator as it reached his floor, noticing the guarded look in her eyes as she moved toward him. Her long, delicate fingers were twisting together, a sure sign that despite her calm appearance she was anything but.
Then it clicked when he realized she was the only person in the waiting room. “
Gemma looked a little sheepish as he grabbed the crook of her arm, guiding her toward his office.
“It’s good to see you,” Christopher said, getting lost in her smell, surprised by the unmistakable rush of desire that swept through him. Then he remembered why she was there; a custody issue. His jaw tightened as it sunk in.
Caught off guard, Gemma tried to ignore the feelings surfacing deep inside her at Christopher's touch, and the memories it evoked.
She knew she should explain about the fake name she’d given the receptionist when she made the appointment, but she was suddenly lost for words. She hadn’t been expecting such a warm welcome.
Christopher removed his hand from her elbow, putting some space between them as he motioned to the chair in front of his desk.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Christopher asked, his voice noticeably cooler.
“Water would be nice,” Gemma said, confused at the change in his tone as she watched him move toward the water dispenser.
Her eyes took on a life of their own, taking in the strength of his broad shoulders through the tailored white shirt. He was still in good shape. Her gaze traveled down his back, to his narrow waist, stopping to linger on a tight, well-defined butt.
She glanced up, flushing when she realized he’d caught her out, and she could swear there was a glint of amusement in his eyes. So he was still a cocky bastard, then.
Christopher sat down on the other side of the desk, reaching across to place the glass of water in front of her. “So,
what can I do for you?”
“Actually, it’s still Rockwell,” Gemma admitted. “I didn’t know if you would see me…” her voice trailed off as his dark, penetrating eyes met hers and she lost her train of thought.
Taking refuge in her bag, Gemma made a great show of searching for the envelope she’d put the birth certificate in. She hated that he could still unnerve her this way.
“I always have time for old friends,” Christopher said, his voice still cool.