A Long Way from Eden
by Jana Richards
eBook ISBN: 978-1-60174-057-1
Zane’s teenage daughter is pregnant. Meg’s son is the father. Because Zane grew up not knowing who his father was, he insists their children marry. Meg, forced by pregnancy into an abusive marriage, disagrees. Neither welcomes the attraction between them. When family secrets emerge, can they trust their love…and each other?
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“Hey Meg, there’s a good looking guy in booth six asking to see you.”
Meg stopped rolling out pie dough to stare at Jane. For a split second her old fears screamed at her to sprint out the back door of the restaurant and not look back. With an effort she forced herself to relax. She had nothing to fear. Not after all this time.
Would she ever feel completely safe?
“Why would some guy want to see me?” She struggled to make her voice sound casual.
“Maybe it’s the universe’s way of saying you need a man. When was the last time you had a date?”
Meg poured apple filling in her empty pie shells. “Tom and Joe are all the men I need.”
“They don’t count. Tom’s your son and Joe’s like your father.” Jane’s eyes shone with mischief. “I’m talking about an honest to goodness, getting naked between the sheets kind of man. Like the guy in booth six. He looks good in a suit, but I bet he’d look even better without it.”
“Jane! For Heaven’s sakes. The customers will hear you.” Meg pulled her away from the swinging doors leading into the restaurant. Jane had been like a baby sister to her for nearly seventeen years. Though Meg loved her dearly, sometimes she was incorrigible. She shook her head as she stared into the younger woman’s eager blue eyes.
Jane’s blonde curls bounced as she grabbed Meg by the hand and gave a tug. “Aren’t you even curious to see what the guy wants?”
Meg held firm. “Probably just wants to sell me insurance.”
“Well, whatever he’s selling, you should definitely buy.” Jane grinned, and pulled on her arm once more. “Come at least have a look.”
Meg sighed. “Okay, I’ll look, but only because you’re driving me crazy.”
She peered over the swinging doors and found she had a clear view of the man in booth six. He didn’t look familiar, so she relaxed. She studied his face, with its long straight nose and dark brows. Because he was scrutinizing the menu, she couldn’t determine the color of his eyes. A lock of dark brown hair fell over his forehead and he pushed it away with an impatient gesture.
She couldn’t deny Jane’s assessment. Something about the shape of his mouth, his strong, determined chin, even the restless tapping of his fingers against the table appealed to her. In another life she might have sat down across from him, smiled into his eyes and simply let nature take its course.
But this wasn’t another life, and she wasn’t looking for a man in the here and now. The pang of regret she felt surprised her. She hadn’t regretted the lack of a man in her life for a very long time.
Jane gave her a little nudge towards the doors. “Humor me and at least find out what he wants. I’ll even finish the pies.”
Meg glanced at the man just as he checked his watch. It was rude to keep him waiting, whoever he was. She took a fortifying breath, handed her apron to Jane and pushed through the doors.
She stopped a few feet from his booth. Had Jane mentioned his name? From this close, he appeared tougher than the regular run-of-the-mill businessman. A jagged scar ran across the back of his hand, while another began at his left temple and disappeared into his eyebrow.
She cleared her throat when he looked up, extending her hand to him. “I’m Meg Evans. You wanted to speak with me?”
He stood and took her hand in a brief shake, his mouth unsmiling and tense. “I’m Zane Martin.” He looked around. “Is there somewhere we can speak in private?”
Warning bells clamored in her head. “Anything you have to say to me, you can say right here.” There was no way she was going anywhere private with this guy. She slid into the seat across from his.
He sat again and laid his hands on the table, his palms flat against the smooth brown Formica. Frowning, he said, “Are you sure? What I have to say is very personal.”
“Look, Mr. Martin, I don’t know you. I have no idea what you could possibly want to say to me, but whatever it is, I’ll hear it right here.” She folded her arms across her chest.
He studied her for a minute, his look enigmatic. She returned his scrutiny, wondering how he’d received the scars. Despite their dangerous appearance, they didn’t take away from the attractiveness of the man.
He fidgeted for a few seconds, and then suddenly blurted out, “Your son got my daughter pregnant.”
Meg’s jaw dropped. Whatever she had been expecting him to say, that hadn’t been it. She blinked as the information seeped into her brain. She’d known Tom was dating a girl, though she’d never met her. But pregnant? No way. Tom would have said something.
“I–I don’t believe you.”
He gave a heavy sigh. “Trust me, I wouldn’t kid about this.”
She splayed her hands on the table in front of her, her thoughts jumbled. “Tom’s a university student. He doesn’t have time for this.”
“I can assure you he had enough time to knock up my daughter.”
Meg gasped. “How can you be so crass?”
He scowled. “How do you want me to be, lady? Any way you look at it, it’s a bad situation.”
She slumped against her seat. “Well, you’re not helping the situation by talking like that.”
He waved a hand to dismiss her comment. “That’s neither here nor there. I’m here to talk about getting these two kids married as soon as possible.”
She straightened at his words and shook her head. “Married? Not bloody likely.”
His eyebrows rose. “Now who’s being crass?” He leaned forward so that his gaze was level with hers. The scar on his face whitened, as his face turned an angry red. “Your son has to take responsibility for his actions.”
Meg leaned as far away from him as the bench seat would allow. “I’ll have to talk to Tom. If what you say is true, I’ll make sure he shoulders his share of the responsibility.” She aimed her finger at him. “But just you remember, your daughter has to be accountable for this situation as well.”
Zane nodded. “Of course. That’s why I’m insisting on a marriage right away.”
Meg stood and placed her palms flat on the table as she leaned down closer to his face, feeling some measure of power by standing over him. “Make no mistake, Mr. Martin. Whether Tom is responsible for this pregnancy or not, there will not be a marriage between our children.”
He stood as well and she had to straighten to look up into his tense face. “Look, Mrs. Evans, try to be reasonable.”
“It’s Ms. Evans, and I’m being very reasonable. Pregnancy is not a good enough reason for two people to get married.” When she realized people in nearby booths had stopped talking to listen to their heated conversation, she clamped her mouth shut. Heat crept up from her chest to her face and the skin prickled on her scalp. She lowered her voice. “This conversation is over.”
He grasped her arm when she tried to walk away. In that moment she had a clear sense of déjà vu, a memory of being grabbed in the same way. Her whole body tensed, preparing for the expected blow. When he pulled a business card from his breast pocket, she almost collapsed at his feet in relief.
Shaking her arm free, she snatched at the card with trembling fingers. He held on to the business card for a moment before releasing it. “Call me after you’ve talked to your son.”
With a slight nod, he dropped some change on the table and walked away. Meg clutched the card between rigid fingers, her eyes focused on his straight back and broad shoulders. She almost laughed out loud as she recalled Jane’s ludicrous suggestion about the man in booth six. She had no desire to see this man without his suit. In fact, she had no desire to ever see him again.
* * * *
As Zane walked out of Joe’s Diner, he could feel the eyes of the lovely Ms. Evans boring holes into the back of his head. She was lovely, even with her long dark hair pulled into a careless ponytail.
If he had gone to the restaurant with nothing other than food on his mind today, he might have pursued a lunch date with her. It had been too long since he’d had an interesting dinner companion. Yes, under different circumstances, he might have gone after her, just based on the unexplained attraction he had experienced when he’d first seen her. Maybe he was just a sucker for big brown eyes. Bambi eyes.
Unfortunately, Bambi had turned into a she-wolf bent on protecting her cub. He thought he’d suggested the only reasonable solution to their predicament. Not in his wildest imagination had he expected to come up against opposition to the idea of a marriage between their children. As far as he could see, it was the only answer.
He was still reeling from the shock of Erin’s and Tom’s news the previous evening. They had discussed Erin’s pregnancy for several hours and they had all agreed there was no alternative other than marriage.
Even so, Zane had sensed reluctance in Tom. That had been the catalyst for his visit this morning to Joe’s Diner, Tom’s mother’s place of employment. Although Meg Evans had balked at the idea of marriage between their children, Zane knew it would only be a matter of time before she came around to his way of thinking.
Pulling his cell phone from the clip on his belt, he punched in a familiar number. He leaned against his car while he waited for the phone to ring. It was answered almost immediately.
“Hi Ma. How are you doing?”
He pictured his mother’s puzzled expression as he waited for her response. He rarely called her twice in as many days.
“I’m just as fine as I was yesterday morning.” He heard rustling as she sat down. “So Zane, to what do I owe the pleasure of a call from my only child two days in a row?”
“I just wanted to tell you that I love you, Ma.” How was he going to break the news to her? It would rip her heart in two.
She gave a quiet laugh. “I know you do, son. So what’s happened since yesterday that you had to call your dear old ma?”
He didn’t know any other way to tell her, so he decided to just get it over with in a rush. “How do you feel about coming to Winnipeg for a wedding?”
“Zane! You’re getting married again? That’s wonderful! What’s her name? I want to meet her.”
He almost choked. His mom sounded so enthusiastic that he almost wished he were getting married again, just so he wouldn’t break her heart with his next words. He cut in on her excited response. “Uh, no Ma, not me. I’m not getting married.”
He could almost hear her deflating. “You’re not? Oh, I’m sorry to jump to conclusions, dear, but I really wish you’d find someone to spend the rest of your life with.”
“Look who’s talking. I don’t see you rushing out to buy a wedding dress.”
He heard her sniff of disdain. “You’re changing the subject, Zane.”
“I’m not the only unmarried one.”
“I refuse to get into this discussion. Now tell me the real reason you called.”
He chuckled. He knew he’d get a rise out of her. It served her right, bugging him about getting married when she never had. “Sorry, Ma. I couldn’t resist.”
She chuckled too. “All right, you’re forgiven. Now is someone getting married or not?”
He sighed when he realized he couldn’t put off the reason for his call any longer. “Yeah, Erin’s getting married.”
“Erin? Our little Erin? She’s not old enough to get married.”
“Ma, she’s eighteen.”
“Still too young.”
He couldn’t disagree with her, but that wasn’t the issue. “She’s pregnant.”
Her disappointment came through loud and clear over the miles. He could only surmise she was remembering back to when she too was unmarried and pregnant, just like her granddaughter.
At last she spoke. “Who’s the father?”
“His name is Tom Evans.”
“And how old is he?”
Zane rotated a shoulder to release the tension. “Around twenty, I think.”
“So you’ve met him?”
“Of course, I have Ma. What do you take me for? I like to meet the people my daughter hangs around with.” Unfortunately his vigilance hadn’t stopped Erin from becoming pregnant. Maybe he’d failed his daughter, but he’d be damned if he’d fail her child. He would not allow his grandchild to grow up thinking his father didn’t care about him.
With effort, he forced his old resentments to the back of his mind. Before he could do that, he knew he needed to apologize. “I’m sorry, Ma. I didn’t mean that to come out like it did.”
Her voice lowered and he could hear the tight emotion she tried to hide. “I know you didn’t, dear.”
“You did a great job raising me on your own. You’re the best mother a guy could ask for.”
“You can stop sucking up, Zane.”
“I know, but I am so–” He realized he was about to apologize again. “I just don’t want Erin’s kid to grow up with people thinking he’s less than good enough.”
He heard the catch in her voice as she spoke. “I’m sorry you had to grow up that way, son.”
“I know you are, Ma. But hey, I turned out all right didn’t I?”
She gave a forced laugh. “Yeah, you did.” He heard her take a deep breath. “This Tom Evans. Is…is he nice?”
Zane pictured Tom in his mind. He was a good looking kid, obviously taking after his mother. He forced his thoughts back to the conversation. “Yeah Ma, he’s nice.”
He’d first met Erin’s boyfriend about a month ago and had been impressed with Tom’s intelligence and dedication to his studies. He’d liked what he had seen of the boy. His daughter’s news the night before had dampened some of his enthusiasm for the young man, but he was willing to work on the relationship for Erin’s sake. After all, young Tom would be his son-in-law soon enough.
* * * *
Meg stumbled through the rest of her shift by operating on a kind of automatic pilot. Jane sent curious looks in her direction, obviously noticing her distraction. Luckily for Meg, the restaurant filled with the lunch crowd, leaving Jane no opportunity to quiz her. For that small mercy Meg was grateful.
When her shift ended, she fled, too upset to withstand Jane’s questions, however well-meaning they might be. Instead, she lied about having an appointment she was already late for. Thinking about it now as she waited for Tom in the kitchen of their apartment, she winced. Would the lies never end? She’d told so many over the past seventeen years that it was sometimes hard to remember what was fact and what was fiction.
She made herself a cup of her favorite herbal tea, letting the aroma calm her. She’d need to be calm to deal with Tom and the predicament he’d apparently managed to get into. Meg sighed as she sipped the hot liquid. She’d rarely had occasion to be disappointed with Tom. He was a wonderful son, loving and thoughtful, and he’d given her cause to be proud many times over the years. Every time she recalled the day he’d won a full scholarship to the engineering program at the university, her heart filled with pride. Life hadn’t been easy for them, but the love and support of the Evans family had made everything bearable. She gave herself a mental shake. Well, almost bearable.
She shuddered at the memory of the months they’d lived on social assistance. Never had she felt so inadequate as a person and as a mother. However, with those feelings had come a determination to carve out a better life for herself and her son. She had landed a job as a dishwasher at Joe’s Diner, and Joe and Maria Evans had taken her in, both as an employee and as a daughter. For that and for them, she would always be grateful.
Meg heard Tom’s key turn in the lock.
He entered, carrying an armful of books and looking tired and disheveled. When he saw her drinking tea at the kitchen table, he said, “Hi Mom. I didn’t expect to see you home so early. Is there anything to eat?” He dumped his books on a chair near the door and came to sit across from her.
He ran a hand through his hair, the gesture speaking of fatigue and stress. Final exams for his third year of engineering loomed ahead like black clouds on the horizon. He needed to maintain good marks to keep his scholarship. There was no way Meg could afford to send him to university without it.
And now Zane Martin was demanding that Tom marry his daughter. No wonder her son looked stressed. “I’ll make something to eat in a little while. There’s something I need to talk to you about first.”
His expression reminded her so much of his father that she had to turn away. Sometimes Tom’s resemblance to Paul was so eerily similar, her breath caught in her throat. She thanked God every day that was where the resemblance with his father ended.
Tom rubbed his face in a weary gesture. “There’s something I need to talk to you about, too.” He sighed. “I think you might know what it’s about. Has Zane Martin spoken to you?”
She took his hand. “He came to see me at the restaurant this morning. Why don’t you tell me your story and we’ll compare notes?”
“You’re not going to like what I have to say.”
Meg squeezed Tom’s fingers. “Probably not, but I’m not going to love you any less.”
Tom looked away but he didn’t remove his hand. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to be a father.”
“Oh.” Putting a hand to her tight chest, Meg shook her head. “It wasn’t any easier hearing it from you.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.” His voice cracked with emotion. “I don’t know how it happened.”
Meg experienced a flashback with his words. She had uttered a similar statement in her own circumstances, but she didn’t want to make the same mistake her parents had made with her. Even after twenty years, she could still hear the recriminations. Taking a deep breath, she tried to focus on the humor of his words. “Oh, I think you know how it happened.”
Tom grimaced and pulled his hand away. He looked up at the ceiling as if the water stain in the corner had some answers, then swung his gaze back to her. “You know what I mean, Mom.”
All traces of humor left her. “Yeah, I do.” She could barely choke out the words.
He ran his hand through his hair once more and lowered his gaze. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to love this kid and look after it the way you’ve loved me.”
Meg pushed back her chair and went around the table to hug her son. “Of course you will, honey.” She pushed back the dark hair from his forehead. “You’re a loving and caring person.”
He hugged her back. “You taught me well.” He buried his head in her shoulder but not before she saw the sheen of tears in his eyes.
Meg held him close, giving him a moment to compose himself. When he pulled out of her embrace, she went back to her chair. A tear slipped down her cheek and she wiped at it in surprise. “Sorry about that. I just haven’t come to grips with the idea of you being a father yet.” She forced a smile. “So, what are your plans?”
“Well, Erin’s dad wants us to get married.”
Meg tensed, but she pushed back her frustration with Zane Martin’s demands to focus on her son’s needs. “Is that what you want?”
He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I haven’t really known Erin very long.”
Tom’s words had her staring at him in disbelief. “Then what business did you have sleeping with her?”
He shrugged. “It just sort of happened.”
“It just sort of happened? I can’t believe you just said that.” She heard the shrillness in her voice. “Nothing just sort of happens. I thought I’d raised you better.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
Meg closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.” She shuddered. “I sounded just like my parents.”
Tom sent her a curious look. “Your parents?”
The situation with Tom and Erin vividly brought back the past, along with all the difficult emotions of that time. Of course Tom wouldn’t remember his biological grandparents. He’d only been two when he’d last had contact with them. Joe and Maria Evans were the only grandparents he knew. The rest of his history had been a mixture of fantasy and reality that Meg had created to satisfy his curious mind.
“I mean your biological grandparents, Tom. You know that I got pregnant with you when I was a teenager. My parents were pretty upset at first, but they came around after you were born.”
“Just before they died in that plane crash with my Dad and his folks.”
“Yeah.” The lies burned in her throat, making it difficult to speak. When would they ever end?
“I’m just so confused, Mom.”
Meg leaned forward. “Whatever you do, don’t let Erin and her dad force you into something you don’t want to do.”
“I want to do the right thing.”
“Oh honey, you can still be a father to your child without marrying Erin.”
Tom’s head came up and the look he sent her was full of pain and confusion. “But my dad married you when you got pregnant, right?”
Meg’s heart twisted in her chest. She’d given him only enough information about his father to satisfy his curiosity as he grew up. He’d asked a lot of questions as a young boy and she had concocted a story about how thrilled Paul was to be a father and how much he loved Tom. She’d invented a fairytale family for the three of them that ended when Paul, his parents and her parents died in a plane crash on the way to a fishing trip in northern Saskatchewan.
Lying didn’t come easy for Meg, but over the years she’d become a master. She hated herself for it, but she’d had to protect her son.
“That was different. Your Dad and I grew up together. We’d known each other and each other’s family all our lives. You barely know Erin. Can you honestly say you love her enough to stay with her the rest of your life? Because if you can’t, it’ll be even harder for your child when your marriage falls apart.”
Tom scrubbed at his face with his hands in a gesture of weariness. “No, I can’t honestly say that right now. But I don’t want my kid growing up without knowing his dad like I did.”
Meg swallowed a huge lump in her throat. She turned to stare at the philodendron across the room. When had she last watered it? Even though she tried to focus on something as mundane as the houseplant, she couldn’t stop thinking about her son’s questions. It was because of her that her son had grown up without his father.
Had she done the right thing?
“Your child won’t grow up that way because you won’t let him.” She clutched at the green checked tablecloth as she carefully weighed her words. “For now, just concentrate on being the best dad, and the best person, that you can be.”
Tom nodded once and released a pent up breath. “So you think I can be a good dad, even if I don’t marry Erin.”
Meg sighed in relief. “I know you can, honey. Maybe sometime in the future you and Erin will fall in love and be ready for marriage.” Taking a closer look at Tom, she realized her baby was almost all grown up. And now he had a baby of his own on the way. She blinked with her next thought. She was going to be a grandmother.
The ringing of the phone interrupted her revelation. Frowning, she got up, annoyed to have her thoughts of impending grandmotherhood cut short. Zane Martin answered her hello without a similar greeting.
“Is your son ready to marry my daughter?”
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