“What, like a fruitcake?” I didn’t get the down-home holiday vibe from this British grandmother of mine. In pictures, she looked as relaxed as the Queen of England at a coronation.
“Well, I suppose that would work since it is the holiday season, but no one really likes fruitcake anyway.” Kara scrunched up her nose. “She said to bring nothing, but we can have your driver stop somewhere on the way up. I wish I could bring some homemade cookies. But we’ll have to settle on something from one of these fancy stores around here.”
I had to hug her again, big like a bear around the middle. Homemade cookies. You could take the girl out of Montana, but the Montana would most stubbornly not get out of the girl. Good. I didn’t want it to.
“I like you in this teddy.” I caressed my hand along the silk, bringing my palm up to cup her breast. I didn’t know if it was possible, but her gorgeous breasts already seemed larger. Was it wishful thinking? Or had Christmas come early?
“I probably have to change and wear clothes,” she told me regretfully. “Your grandmother is 83. She might not approve of my showing up for lunch in sexy lingerie.”
“How do you know her exact age?” How long a conversation had they had earlier that day?
“The dossier.” Kara referred to the black leather-bound file the Kavanaughs’ attorney had given us on the family. My biological father’s family. My family.
“Sounds like you’ve memorized it.” I wasn’t teasing. Kara was so excited to meet my relatives I think she might have done just that. I was the former foster kid suddenly thrust into a large, wealthy family, so I guessed I should have been the one pouring over the pages. But the only thing I wanted to examine every inch of was Kara. I looked at the clock. Damn it, we had to leave in about ten minutes. Not nearly enough time to give her the attention that she deserved.
Resigned, I let her head to the closet. “I liked Fiji. You wore bikinis all the time.”
“Sometimes not even that.” She winked at me before turning her attention to selecting a conservative lunch outfit. It made me grumble again.
I paced, waiting for her in front of the fireplace. It was nice and big, a working one at that. I’d make sure the firewood got stocked for later. At some point this lunch had to end. And when it did, I’d take Kara back here and get a good fire roaring, inside the fireplace and inside Kara as she lay on the soft rug in front of it.
Far too many minutes later, Kara came out in far too many clothes. I thought I saw a turtleneck tucked in underneath a scarf and a great big coat. Frowning, I offered her my arm.
“I’m so proud of you for doing this, Declan.” Impulsively, she threw her arms around my neck. “I know it’s hard.” What, was she sobbing? I brought my arms around her and held her close. “It’s complicated, meeting your family.” She sank back down onto her feet, taking a finger to wipe her eyes. “But I think it’s really important. And good for you to meet them. For us to meet them. Because we’re starting a family of our own now.”
She started crying again and I wrapped her up in my arms, feeling kind of choked up myself. She needed to stop saying things reminding me how much I loved her. I’d spent years with my emotions turned almost completely off and this woman threw that all to hell. Of course, I loved her for that, too.
Kissing her on her hair, I wiped the tears away from her cheeks. “Come on, now. Let’s do this.”
She nodded. “I’m really excited.” She smiled up at me through tear-stained eyes.
“You really seem it,” I responded drily. I brought my hand to her lower back and we started toward the door. Until I stopped her.
“One more thing,” I added, turning to point at the fireplace. “When this is all over, I’m going to take you back here, make a roaring fire, and fuck you hard on that rug in front of it.”
She cleared her throat. “Wow.” She fanned herself. “Better make this a quick lunch!”
Our driver, Vladimir, took us up Manhattan to the Upper East Side. Along the way, Kara found a tin of cookies that suited her at a specialty shop. She held it on her lap and unconsciously drummed on the metal with her fingertips.
“I can’t believe your brother’s a rock star.”
“Half-brother,” I grumbled. “And he’s not going to be at lunch today.” Or at the holiday party Saturday, if luck went my way. If you believed the press about him, the guy was a real letch.
“I’ve seen him in the news lately. I’m trying to remember why?” Kara scratched her head. “Oh, yeah. He broke that nice girl’s heart.”
“Who?” I had to admit it, I’d gotten distracted by a text from an investor. He was expressing concern about a new acquisition. I needed to turn off my phone.
“The one who was on American Idol,” Kara continued, clearly on a new conversation path I hadn’t followed.
“Who are we talking about?”
“Mandy Monroe, that’s her name.”
“I’m not following.”
“Your brother’s ex-girlfriend!”
“Kara, come on now with that word ‘brother.’ You’re throwing it around fast and loose.”
“Brother,” she taunted me, sticking out her tongue. I gave her a warning look, licking my lips as I locked in on her tongue. I’d give her something to do with that tongue. She was good at using it just the way I liked.
The car stopped. “Here we are,” my driver announced.
Red-coated doormen stood underneath an elaborate awning at the Park Avenue address.
“Does she live in a hotel?” Kara asked me as one of them came to help her out of the car.
“No, the nicer places in the city have doormen.”
She whistled as she looked up at the building in all its restored post-war glory. Up in an elevator, we were greeted by another man in uniform as the door opened into a magnificent, high-ceilinged penthouse.
“Hi! I’m Kara.” Kara shook his gloved hand. I hoped she never stopped greeting the serving staff. I loved this woman.
An older woman approached wearing a worsted wool suit, clearly tailored for her slender frame. Kara had said she was 83, but her posture was as perfectly erect as a youthful ballet dancer. Her silver hair was swept into a classic bun neither severe nor untidy.
“Welcome,” she greeted us warmly, or at least as warmly as a wealthy, elderly British woman would allow. “Margaret Kavanaugh.” She extended her hand, the epitome of grace and excellent breeding.
“Oh, hi!” Kara leaned in and gave her a hug. I noted a look of surprise on Margaret’s face, but then it melted into a smile.
“Well, hello!” She took Kara by the shoulders. “Are you Kara, now?”
Kara laughed and introduced herself with the kind of vivacious ease she alone could bring. I, of course, stood stiff and gruff.
“Declan.” I stuck out my hand like a tin soldier. I wasn’t trying to be unfriendly, but this had to be one of the stranger meetings I’d ever attended.
“Hello.” I met her eyes and, I have to admit, I was struck by her. The cheekbones. Those were the cheekbones that looked back at me in the mirror every morning. Holy shit. This was my grandmother.
And she must have been struck as well, because I saw her eyes fill. Briefly. Then she cleared her throat and composed herself.
“I see so much of your father in you.” She took my hand, clasping it between both of hers. She felt thin but not frail. “I’m so very glad to meet you. I’m deeply grateful that you came today. And that you’ll be joining us on Saturday.”
Kara swept in with laughter and the tin of sweets and before I knew it the two of them were linking arms and discussing the best way to care for ferns.
Apparently they were a tricky indoor plant and required a good deal of talking to. Kara professed that what they most enjoyed was singing, and Margaret agreed that she’d give it a try.
“Do you ever watch Downton Abbey?” Kara exclaimed as the butler led us into another room with a table laid out for lunch. “You remind me so much of Maggie Smith!”
From anyone else, it might not have struck the right chord to say you bore a striking resemblance to an 80-something actress in a famously stiff and snobby role. But from Kara it sounded all compliment. Margaret laughed and promised she’d watch an episode. I had to admit, I saw some resemblance, too. I’d caught an episode or two when Kara had been watching it over the past few months. I could see the strand of pearls Margaret wore looking right at home on the actress in her role.
“So you’re British, Declan!” Kara exclaimed as we began our lunch. Literally, finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off along with a light watercress salad and what might have been a mushroom soup. Not my idea of a hearty meal, but I could always get a steak somewhere later on for dinner.
“May I offer my congratulations on your marriage.” Margaret beamed at the two of us with what honestly looked like familial pride. “My son would have loved meeting you both.” She paused, clearly overcome with emotion, but she didn’t break. I could tell, she was a tough one. Maybe I’d inherited that from her as well.
“Thank you so much!” Kara reached over a hand to hers and held it for a moment. “I am such a lucky woman. Declan is so amazing. You’re going to love him when you get to know him.” Looking at me as I sat there scowling and stiff, she added, “He can be a little gruff sometimes.”
“Oh, my dear, what man can’t?”
“I hear you.”
I cleared my throat and gruffly took a bite of a dry cucumber sandwich. I was glad they were hitting it off. Behind Margaret, I couldn’t help but notice a huge portrait of men and horses on the hunt. A flash of a fox gleamed from the corner of it.
I’d always identified with the fox, the one with the odds against him. The underdog who had to fight and claw for survival. Now, it turned out I was descended from the hunters. Looking at that giant painting, it had the look of an authentic, commissioned piece dating back a couple hundred years. Those were probably my great, great, great grandfathers.