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Crissy Phillips believed in chocolate as a cure for heartache, exercise as a cure for everything else and second chances…for everyone but herself. Which was why she'd been standing outside the Kumquat Diner for the past fifteen minutes, instead of going inside for her meeting. Going inside was too much like forgiving herself and Crissy wasn't ready to do that just yet.
She knew all the arguments. She'd been young. She'd made the best choice she could at the time. If a friend of hers were in the same position, Crissy would cheerfully tell her to get over it and move on. Why was it always so much easier to give advice to other people, than to herself? Why did everyone else's life look so easily fixable, while elements of her own seemed an unfathomable mess? Why was she talking to herself in the middle of a diner parking lot?
She took a single step toward the front door of the diner, then stopped.
Just do it, she told herself. Do it, do it, do it. When the chanting didn't work, she tossed her head and felt the light brush of her newly clipped hair on the back of her neck. She'd spent over two hundred dollars on red and gold highlights and an impossibly up–to–theminute cut that actually suited her face. Didn't she want to flaunt her new and improved self?
She hated being indecisive and insecure. She was a successful businesswoman, a takecharge person. She made decisions easily and except for being an absolute failure when it came to her knitting class, she kicked butt wherever she went.
Not literally, of course.
It was one meeting. How scary could that be? She really needed to—
The front door of the diner openedand a tall, good–looking guy stepped out. He had reddishbrown hair, surprisingly close to her own untouched color, and eyes that belonged on a billboard on Sunset Strip, the color of moss after rain, framed by big, thick lashes. Crissy didn't consider herself a very sentimental person, but she was thinking an ode or two to those eyes might very well be in order.
"Hi," he said with a smile. "Are you the one I've been waiting for?"
It was an opening line that deserved a movie score, she thought as she grinned. "You forgot 'all my life." For that question to really work, you need the tag line."
His smile widened, then he glanced at his watch. "More like for the past ten minutes. Are you Crissy?"
She hadn't had to meet the devil head–on. he'd come to find her. Although Josh Daniels wasn't really the devil. He was a kind man who'd offered to help, at his brother's suggestion. Actually, the word "facilitate" had been tossed around, but Crissy could never use that word in a sentence without fighting a fit of giggling.
"Hi, Josh," she said. "Nice to meet you." He raised his eyebrows. "I'm not sure nice covers it.You've been standing out here, trying to decide if you should come in for the past ten minutes. So is it me or the circumstances that have you dancing in the parking lot?"
"I wasn't dancing," she said primly, trying to ignore the fact that he'd obviously seen her and guessed she was slightly ambivalent about their meeting. "I was getting in touch with my inner…"
"Self?" he offered.
While weak, it worked. "Right," she said.
"Are you in touch now?" he asked.
As much as she was going to be. "I'm fine."
"Good." He pulled open the door. "I got us a booth. It has a great view of the parking lot. You'll like it. Come on, this won't be so bad."
As she'd requested the meeting, she had little choice except to follow him into the brightly lit interior. He led the way to a booth in the back which, unfortunately, did offer a clear view of the parking lot.
"So you witnessed my mental moment," she said as she slid onto the bench seat. "How comforting. Having exposed myself at my worst, I have only one direction to go."
He settled across from her. "If that's your worst, you're a lot better off than most people." He leaned back and studied her. "Let's admit the situation is unusual and awkward. So we'll take it slow. Talk about regular stuff for a while. How does that sound?"
"Good," she admitted. "You're being really nice about all of this."
"I'm a really nice guy. Incredibly intelligent and gifted…but let's not talk about me."
She grinned. "How refreshing to meet a man who knows his place in the universe."
The waitress appeared with two menus. Both Crissy and Josh ordered coffee. When they were alone, Crissy said, "Thanks for agreeing to meet with me. Pete and Abbey have always been so open and inviting. I just never felt right about…"
She stopped and pressed her lips together. No. She was going to tell the truth, even though it wasn't pretty and didn't reflect well on her.
"Until recently, Brandon has been more theory to me than the actual child I gave up for adoption," she admitted. "Every time Abbey sent me a note or called, I never knew what to say. It was easier to stay away."
The waitress returned with two mugs of coffee, then left.
"I'm not here to make trouble," Crissy added.
"I just thought it might be nice if I could meet him or something."
She wondered if Josh would make a crack about her turning thirty and finally hearing the first not–so–subtle ticks of her biological clock, or if he would be defensive. Instead he simply regarded her thoughtfully with his soulful green eyes, saying nothing.
"What are you thinking?" she asked after a few minutes of silence.
"That you've spent a lot of time beating yourself up about giving up a baby for adoption. You were what—seventeen?"
When she got pregnant, but eighteen when he was born. "I'd finished high school," she said, not sure if she was explaining or trying to manipulate him into yelling at her.
Because he was right. She did beat herself up a lot. She'd taken the easy way out—she'd chosen to have the life she'd planned instead of raising her child herself. No matter how she rearranged the facts, she couldn't seem to make herself the honorable party.
Josh continued to study her. "Abbey can't have kids. She told you, right?"
Crissy nodded. "The first time we met. She'd had an accident when she was younger and the result was she couldn't have children. She and Pete started looking into adoption as soon as they got married. My parents knew their lawyer and on their first anniversary, we met to talk about them taking Brandon."
She didn't remember much about that meeting except Pete and Abbey had both been incredibly nice and understanding. She'd instantly felt comfortable with the young couple and knew they were the ones. But she hadn't been willing to be a part of their family, no matter how many invitations they issued. She couldn't allow herself—it was her punishment.
"Here's how I look at it," Josh said. "Pete and Abbey both want tons of kids. You gave them their first. Why would I think that was anything but totally cool?"
Despite the rush of emotion she had flowing through her body at the moment, she smiled. "Totally cool?"
He grinned. "You can pick another phrase if you want."
"No, that one works." She reached for her napkin and began to pleat it. "Okay, here's another question. Why are they being so nice about this? It's been nearly thirteen years. After all this time, I finally want to meet Brandon. Aren't they scared I'm going to do something horrible? Like take him back or try to become the most important person in his life?"
"No, but they don't know that."
He sipped his coffee. "Yeah, they do."
Because they were nice, Crissy thought, again remembering that first meeting with the couple. While she appreciated nice, in these circumstances, she wasn't sure she trusted it.
"I want to meet Brandon." She said the words for the first time in her life. She'd e–mailed them to Abbey, but she'd never actually said them aloud before. "I want to get to know him. But not in an intense way. Something easy and casual."
"That can be arranged."
"I'm not prepared to tell him who I am," Crissy continued. That decision was a whole lot more about Brandon than her. While he knew he was adopted and had a birth mother somewhere in the world, knowing and meeting were two different propositions. He was only a kid. They should get to know each other before getting into issues.
"Abbey told me how you felt and why. We all agree with your logic." He leaned toward her.
"Crissy, it's okay. Pete and Abbey have been hoping you'd want to get to know Brandon. They feel having his birth mother in his life will give him a connection with his heritage."
"His heritage? Great. Now I feel like a building."
Josh chuckled. It was a low, warm sound that eased her tension.