Chapter 10

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The bronzed glow from the fire offered a heated halo around the guests in the living room while shadows danced on the fringes of the darkness, wiggling in the drafty tugs of air.

Between the stories told while huddled around the fireplace, Liam's phone dinged through the dark. He lifted it from his pocket, read the message, then went back to holding Emerson's hand, this time clasping a bit tighter.

Evelyn and Genevieve were busy grilling Hannah about cafes and bars in Florence, of which Hannah hadn't visited a single one while she'd been there, and Grace, Lorelei, and Caroline reviewed everything from the highlights of the latest town council meeting to Lorelei and Stephen's upcoming honeymoon plans.

Murmured conversations, a hissing fire, and Emerson by his side were exactly what he needed. He'd read the update from his brother on his phone and the anxiety had clawed at him, fingers digging into his fear, threatening to rip it wide open. And there wasn't a damn thing he could do to fix anything, and that was maddening.

He tried to refocus on the moment, the cheerful chats, the warmth, but that claw was clenching his throat.

Fidgety and needing some cool air, Liam lifted Emerson's hand to his mouth for a quick kiss then stood. "I'm going to bring up more wood for the fire from the dungeon. Help yourself to more brandy."

"Need any help?" She offered.

He shook his head. "I'll be right back." Liam walked away from the circle of cozy conversation and entered the blackness by himself, using only the light of his phone to lead the way.

"The dungeon's a scary, scary place. Even scarier with the power out." Lorelei told Emerson. "It's no joke down there."

"An actual dungeon? I thought he was kidding. My son would go crazy to see a real life dungeon."

"You have a son? Stephen, my husband, and I want to have kids soon. Oh, a son! What's it like?"

Emerson wondered what Archer was doing right then, wished she could nestle her face against his, hear him gripe and giggle as she kissed him noisily.

"Archer is my everything. He looks at me like I'm his everything, like I have all the answers, like I can fix anything, and some days he looks at me like I'm the Joker to his Batman." She chuckled through the fast feeling of nostalgia that crept up. "He's into superheroes lately, which, of course, means I am too."

"Aww," the Getty sisters all chimed in a chorus, as they were prone to doing.

"That's it. I want one. Son or daughter, I don't care," Lorelei stated. "When Stephen gets back, that's what we're doing. Who can wait for a honeymoon?"

Grace cleared her throat before the conversation turned to sex. She had some things she wanted to learn about this woman, Emerson, if she was going to be in Liam's life.

"I have an idea," she said, taking over conversations of the court. "My father was a mathematician and we had this game we'd play whenever we had a new person join one of our famous dinner parties. It's called x plus y equals u."

"Math is not my friend," Emerson readily admitted.

"Then you'll like this. It's combining unknowns to get to know you. So 'x' is what you give us, top-level general things about yourself to get started, then we combine that with 'y,' which is each of us asking you a question, and then the sum of those things equals who 'u' are. Okay, five things about yourself—quick bits, honey. Go."

Emerson pushed away some stray strands of unruly hair that'd fallen in her face. Her back to the fire, literally and figuratively, the flames lit the edges of her hair making her look like a fiery queen.

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