Three days after Lachlan stormed out of her life, Holly sat an intimate little table by the window of Lucie’s, the small coffee shop across the street from Bella Donna Fashions, waiting for Kimberley Jacoby. She checked her cellphone anxiously. Kimberley had sent her an urgent text message half an hour ago to meet at Lucie’s at noon, saying that they had something important to discuss. Holly had been too anxious to wait until noon to see what was so important. So, she’d left the boutique in Faith’s very capable hands twenty-nine minutes ago, not wanting to miss whatever it was Kimberley needed to talk about. Although she did have a pretty good idea what it was.
Now here she was, sitting alone at a table, staring at the digital clock on her phone and then repeatedly checking the counter and front door while she sipped a large double vanilla caramel iced latte, with chocolate whipped cream and a shot of peppermint. This was why she loved coming to Lucie’s. Lucie Miller, the owner and manager of Lucie’s, wasn’t a stranger to the more, adventurous combinations for coffee. Lucie’s customers loved the crazy things she came up with, and her competitors couldn’t seem to keep up.
When Holly first opened her clothing store across the street from Lucie’s, she’d been hesitant to try the strange and wacky drinks served here. But one taste of the latte in her hand right now, and she was hooked. Now she came here twice a day. For her morning coffee, and for a lunch pick-me-up. And occasionally, on a weekend, she would make the trip to Lucie’s just for her latte.
Holly turned at the chipper voice to her left. Kimberley was practically bounding toward the table, a tall coffee cup in her hand. Her strawberry blond curls waves swayed around her shoulders with each step she took. On her nose was perched a pair of black glasses with a light pink lace design on the rectangle frames.
Kim pulled out the chair opposite Holly. “Oh please, only my parents called me Kimberley. Call me Kim. Or Kimmie.” She said as she sat. She pried the black plastic lid off the cup and pulled a sugar packet from her pocket. “I hope you know why I wanted to talk to you.”
Holly looked down at the clear plastic cup on the table between her hands, brushing her fingertip along the condensation on the side. “I assume you want to talk about Lachlan.” She shook her head. “Kim, he’s the last thing I want to talk about.”
Kim poured the contents of the sugar packet into her coffee, replacing the lid. She took a sip and grimaced.
“You didn’t stir the sugar in.” Holly pointed out.
“I thought it would dissolve. I never drink coffee.” Kim said. She stood. “I’ll be right back.”
Holly hid a cheeky smile. She quickly schooled her features before Kim sat back down at the table, a red plastic stirring stick in her hand. “So, why did you want to talk to me about Lachlan?”
Kim pried the lid back off her coffee cup, and dropped the red stick in the black liquid, swirling it around. “Lachlan wants your forgiveness.”
“Hear me out. He’s not a bad guy. He would never take advantage of a woman.” Kim said, earnestly. “That’s not who he is.”
Holly took another swallow of the cold liquid through the bright red drinking straw. “If he’s not that kind of man, why did he screw around with another woman the same day he left me?”
Kim froze. “How did you find out?”
“The gossip chain.” Holly said simply. “How else?”
“No man in the world is more remorseful by actions like that than Lachlan is.” Kim said. “And he has a bruise on his kidneys to add to the regret he already feels.”
Holly scoffed. “If he regrets it, then why hasn’t he tried to explain himself?”
Kim sighed. “He wanted to give you some space, because he knew he acted like a complete ass.”
“Well, he’s definitely given me plenty of space. Plenty of space to think that our relationship might not be as perfect as I thought it was.” Holly said, sarcastically.
Kim took a drink from her coffee. “I know my brother isn’t perfect. He puts up a front of being a block of granite. But under that façade, he’s got a heart of gold.” She rested her hand on top of Holly’s hand, on the tabletop. “Give him another chance. He might surprise you. In a good way.” She added.
Holly looked away. “I don’t really know if I want to give him another chance.”
Kim inhaled. “I’m saying this both as a friend, and a little sister: Lachlan is many things, but a quitter isn’t one of them. He’s not going to go away easily.”
“He told me point blank that he shouldn’t have agreed to this marriage.” Holly said plainly.
“And he told me that he wanted to marry you.” Kim replied.
Holly inhaled. “He wants to marry me?” She wasn’t sure if she should believe that statement. She looked down at her cup.
Kim nodded. “I know it’s hard to believe.” She replied over the top of her cup. “Look, I love my brother. And I know he can be an idiot. But he cares about you.” She pinned Holly with a piercing stare.
Holly looked around the café, trying to avoid Kim’s gaze. “If Lachlan wants to make this work, he needs to say those things to me.”
“Is that the only way you’ll believe it?” Kim asked.
Holly nodded, her expression stony. “Yes. That’s the only way I’ll believe it.” She pulled out her phone, checking the time. “I have to get back to Bella Donna. It was nice talking to you, Kim. Let Lachlan know that if he wants my forgiveness, he needs to talk to me himself.”
Kim stood and followed Holly to the door. “I’ll let Lachlan know.” She pulled open the plate-glass door emblazoned with the café logo.
Holly adjusted the strap of her cross-body purse and followed Kim out onto the street. “Tell him that he needs to talk to me soon.”
“Got it.” Kim said, pulling Holly in for a hug. “I’ll kick his ass across L.A. myself if I have to. Just promise me you’ll give him a chance.”
Holly smirked. “Thanks, Kim. I will.”
“You’re welcome, Holl.” Kim replied. “I’ll see you later.” She waved, then turned and strolled down the street, disappearing around the corner.
Holly stepped up to the curb, looking both ways before she walked to the other side and to the door of Bella Donna Fashions. She flitted through the doors and looked around the large room that made up the sales floor of her pride and joy. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Holly walked down the tiled main aisle of the room, waving at customers who greeted her and straightening various products here and there.
She wasn’t going to forgive Lachlan easily for leaving her and immediately going into another woman’s arms. He would have to work for her forgiveness.
It would take time.
Lots of it.
Lachlan had to do it now. He had to put his ring on Holly’s finger. Make her see that he was in favor of marrying her. That he did care about her. That he was a changed man.
He pushed through the door of L.A.’s finest jewelry store and found his way to the case that held the engagement rings. A tall, skinny man hovered nearby. “Mr. Jacoby. What can I help you find today?”
“Hello Hector.” Lachlan rested his palms on top of one of the cases. “I’m looking for a spectacular ring for a spectacular woman.”
“Wonderful. Am I right to assume that you’ve finally found a woman to settle down with?” Hector smiled.
“I severely home so.” Lachlan said proudly.
He looked down, through the polished glass, running his gaze across the shining bands, diamonds, emeralds, and various other stones. He saw a large, oblong emerald, set in a thick gold band, white, bar diamonds on all four sides. “I’d like to see that one.” He pointed at the ring through the glass.
Hector unlocked the case, withdrew the ring, and passed it to Lachlan. “That ring is our most popular. But every time people look at it, they end up deciding on a different ring.”
“Any particular reason why?” Lachlan turned the ring over in his hand, looking at it from every angle.
“We’re not really sure. But I have a feeling that it didn’t sell because it was meant for someone special.”
Lachlan smiled at him. “I don’t think there’s a ring better than this one.”
Hector looked skeptical. “Are you sure you don’t want to look at another ring?”
Lachlan couldn’t take his eyes off the ring. “Nope. This is the one.”
“Alright. Do you have your woman’s ring size?”
Lachlan pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket. “I’m sure this is right. Her father gave me this number before he passed.”
Hector held out his hand for the paper, unfolded it, and looked at the number. “We can have this sized in a few days.”
“That’s fantastic.” Lachlan passed the ring back to Hector, pulling out his wallet with his other hand. “I can’t wait to see it on Holly’s finger.”
“She’ll love it.” Hector agreed.
“I hope so.” Lachlan smiled to himself.
A week after her coffee date with Kim, Holly was standing over a freshly made bowl of oatmeal, sprinkling a teaspoon of brown sugar over the dish, when her cellphone rang on the counter at her elbow. She glanced at the digital clock on the stove. It wasn’t even seven in the morning on a Sunday. The boutique was closed. Her employees all had the day off. Switching the spoon to her other hand, she craned her neck and looked at the phone.
She had seconds to decide before the call went to voicemail. Answer and see what he wanted. Or ignore and give him the cold shoulder.
He was probably calling to grovel. As his sister said he would. But was a phone call enough? He’d really screwed up. Sure, Holly didn’t have any other screw-ups of his to compare this one to. If she took a chance on him now, she was opening herself up to future screw-ups.
Did she want that?
Sure, she cared about Lachlan. He’d been an amazing boyfriend. Attentive, sweet, charming. And that necklace he’d commissioned just for her. She’s never gotten something so beautiful from anyone besides her father. She thought back to the necklace. Which was draped around the neck of one of the mannequins in her sewing room.
Her cellphone was on the fifth ring, the last one before it went to voicemail. She snatched up the phone and pressed the green button. “What.”
“Well. Nice to hear a friendly voice.” Lachlan’s deep voice responded.
“It’s six –” She glanced at the clock again. “Forty-three in the morning. Of course, I’m not going to be friendly. What do you want?” She demanded.
Holly snorted a laugh. “Why on Earth should I come outside?” She said pointedly, lacing her voice with a touch of venom.
“I have something to say.” He replied.
Holly already had a clue of what he wanted to say to her. And she’d promised Kim that she’d give him a chance. She looked longingly at the bowl. “Fine.” She snapped, then stabbed the end button and left her phone and untouched oatmeal on the counter.
Marching through her house to the front door, she flipped the deadbolt and pulled the door open. She was greeted by a broad chest encased in a black suit jacket and a snowy white dress shirt open at the neck, exposing a V of tanned upper chest and neck. She swallowed as her gaze traveled upward to the face attached to the torso. Lachlan was looking down at her.
“Hi.” He said, simply.
“Hi.” She replied, folding her arms across her chest. “I assume you’re here to grovel.”
“Among other things.” He shuffled his feet.
Holly looked up and down the street, her neighbors weren’t nosy per se. But she really didn’t want them to see Lachlan Jacoby on her doorstep begging for her forgiveness. She was pretty sure that they’d already seen him storming out of her house a week and a half ago. There was no way she was going to stand on her doorstep as though that hadn’t happened. “Get inside before my neighbors start flapping their gums.” She grabbed the sleeve of his suit jacket and dragged him into the entryway.
“No need to be forceful.” Lachlan said gently.
Holly shot daggers at him with her eyes. “I’ll be forceful if I want to be. Now make your groveling quick. You’re pulling me away from a bowl of oatmeal.”
Lachlan took a deep breath. “I’ve-been-doing-a-lot-of-thinking-and-I-came-to-ask-for-you-to-forgive-me-and-marry-me.” He said in a blur.
Holly would have been less shocked if he’d pulled a gun on her. “Say that again? Slower.”
“I’m asking your forgiveness and for your hand in marriage.” He said again.
Holly stared at him. She knew she was supposed to marry him. But a lot of things were missing from that proposal. Like, a gesture that got her attention. And a ring. But the first matter that needed to be addressed was that he’d asked for her forgiveness.
She looked into his eyes and saw every remorseful and sincere emotion in the book displayed in the blue-green depths. Holly began to feel herself getting lost in the depths of Lachlan’s eyes. Again. She turned away. Taking a breath, Holly steeled herself. “Why did you do it?”
“I don’t know. But I regretted it the second it was over. I couldn’t hurt you, Holly. Because hurting you would mean hurting someone I cared about.”
Holly looked sharply up at him when he said ‘cared’. “You said ‘cared’. Not care.”
“No, Holl. I do care about you. And I would never hurt you. Which is why I’m proposing to you.”
“I beg to differ. If I married you, and you cheated on me again, it would hurt me even more than the last time.” Holly said with a bite in her voice. She inhaled. “So, I accept your apology.” She held up her hand when Lachlan opened his mouth. “But I cannot accept your marriage proposal.”
Lachlan’s smile fell like a ton of bricks. “I told you I’ve changed.”
“And that change reverted as soon as I was out of the picture. I won’t marry you until I know for sure that you won’t stray.” Holly said bluntly. “I need the assurance that if I marry you, I will be your one and only. Not just another conquest.”
She watched his Adam’s Apple move as he swallowed. He took her delicate hands in his larger ones. “I promise I’ll make up for all of the pain I’ve caused you.”
“And until then, I won’t accept your proposal.” She felt the warmth of his hands encasing the chill of her own. Much like it had on the day of her father’s funeral. Holly looked down at their hands, then back at Lachlan’s face. She pulled her hands from his grasp, trying to rid herself of the contact.
“Do you think we could start over? Just be a couple again.” Lachlan asked.
Holly blinked. She couldn’t have heard him right. He was asking if she wanted to be a couple again after two events had just happened. One: He’d just popped the question. And two: she’d just forgiven him for straying the first time they’d been a couple. She opened her mouth to say a firm and definitive “no”, then hesitated. She sighed. “I need time to process everything. I’ll let you know.”
Lachlan nodded. “Okay. I’ll let you get back to your breakfast. Have a good day, Holly.” He turned on his heel and strode across the porch, down the stairs, and to his car parked on the curb.
Holly watched him climb into his car, closing the door when he disappeared. What had she done? She stood with her back to the door for a few minutes, staring at the textured ceiling. She picked out the image in the pattern that looked like George Washington’s head she’d found three years ago when she’d been dusting the chandelier.
Her stomach rumbled. She pushed herself away from the door and trudged to the kitchen, picked up the bowl of oatmeal, and slipped it in the microwave. As the food heated, Holly leaned against the counter and her mind wandered. She had no idea what her next move was. And she didn’t know how long she had to figure it out.