“Welcome, Brynne. It’s lovely to meet you,” she said, moving forward, her eyes making a swift assessment. “Hannah Greymont, mum of your small captor there, and big sis of a man I never imagined would put me in this situation. There are plenty of surprises from him yet, I have realized.”
I laughed at what she said, liking her honesty immediately as we shook hands warmly. “Same to you, Hannah. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time. Ethan speaks so affectionately of you. I met your father. He’s quite the charmer, as I am sure you know.”
“Yes indeed. That would be my dad.” She handed me a mug of coffee and pointed toward the table where the cream and sugar were sitting. “E told me about your coffee habit.” She grinned and winked at Zara.
“Thank you.” I breathed in a lungful of the delicious smell and gave my own wink to Zara. “Your daughter informed me that Ethan drinks Mexican beer now, and it’s entirely all my fault.”
She opened her mouth in mock horror at Zara. “She did not!”
“My brother is nearly unrecognizable, Brynne. How on earth did you do it, and where is he, by the way?”
I started doctoring my coffee with sugar and cream. “Well, I can say in all honesty that I have absolutely no idea. Ethan is quite . . . ah . . . single minded much of the time. Except for right now.” I laughed. “He’s pretty out of it, and I left him sleeping. Long drive last night and the evening ended . . . weirdly.” I looked over at Zara, who was soaking up every word of our conversation, and figured less said was better. Little ears can be very big, and I really did not know these people, despite how charming they were being toward me right now.
“Yeah, I heard about that when he rang me.” She shrugged and shook her head. “Crazy people out there for sure. As for E’s single-mindedness, that’s nothing new. He’s always been that way. Bossy, stubborn—very annoying as a boy.”
I just smiled and leaned against the counter opposite from where she appeared to be making bread. So, Hannah was a cook.
“The house—it’s amazing. I was just on the phone to my roommate gushing about the Mallerton that’s hanging on your stairs.”
“You found Sir Jeremy Greymont and his Georgina. Freddy’s ancestors . . . and you’re correct, Mallerton was the artist.”
I nodded at her and took a sip of coffee. “I study art conservancy at University of London.”
“I know. Ethan’s told us all about you,” Hannah paused before adding, “much to our surprise.”
I tilted my head in question and accepted the challenge head-on. “Surprised that he told you about me?”
She nodded slowly with a slight smirk. “Oh, yes. My brother has never talked about a girl, or ever brought anyone to my house for the weekend. This is all,” she gestured with her hands, “very different for Ethan.”
“Hmmm, well it’s pretty different for me too. From the first time I met him, he was very difficult to turn down.” I took another sip. “Impossible, really.”
She grinned at me. “Well, I’m glad for him, and glad to finally meet you, Brynne. I’m sensing there is more to come for you two?”
Hannah worded it as a question, and I had to give her props for being so intuitive, but I absolutely was not going to share the crazy lunatic proposal of marriage Ethan had dropped on me during the night. No way. We still needed a good long discussion about that little suggestion. I shrugged instead. “Ethan is very . . . confident about what he wants. He’s never had any trouble telling me. I think I have more trouble hearing stuff than he has with saying it. Your brother can be as blunt as a wooden plank.”
She laughed at my assessment. “I know that too. ‘Subtlety’ is not in his lexicon.”
“You can say that again—” My eyes caught a picture on a cabinet shelf. A mother with two children—a girl and a boy. I wonder . . . I stepped closer and got a good long look at what I was sure was Ethan and Hannah with their young and beautiful mother, sitting on a stone wall looking almost posed, but possibly just serendipity in capturing a perfect moment. “This is the two of you with your mother?”
“It is,” Hannah said softly. “Taken shortly before she was gone.”
The moment felt odd to me. I was so curious as I soaked up the image of a four-year-old Ethan and the woman who had given him life, but I didn’t want to be rude and bring up sad memories. Still, my curiosity kept me from looking away. Mrs. Blackstone was unbelievably beautiful in an aristocratic way, elegant yet with warmth in her smile. Her hair was up and she had on a very fitted burgundy coat dress and tall black boots. She had amazing style for the period. I didn’t want to stop looking. In the photograph Ethan was leaning back against her body, snuggled into her arm, his hand on her lap. Hannah sat beside her on the other side, her head tilted in toward her mom’s shoulder. It was a sweet, loving moment captured in time. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but I didn’t dare. To do so felt gauche and intrusive. “She was lovely. I can see a close resemblance between the two of you.” And Hannah did indeed look like the woman in the picture, but it was baby Ethan I wanted to stare at for a long, long time. His rounded, innocent face and little body in short pants and a white sweater made me want to wrap my arms around him.
“Thank you. I love to hear people say that to me. I never get tired of hearing it.”
“You both look like her,” I said, still staring at the photograph, wishing I could hold it in my hand but I was far too unsure to risk asking.
“Our dad gave us each a copy of that picture.” Hannah looked at me questioningly. “You’ve never seen it before?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not out on display at his flat. I never saw it when I went to his office either time.”
I got a pang when I mentioned his office; the last time I’d set foot in the place had not ended well for us. I’d gotten angry and left him, unwilling to listen to anything he had to say to me. Including “I love you.” I could remember the look on his stricken face from just outside the elevator as the doors closed between us. Painful, unpleasant memories. Ethan had not asked me to stop in since we’d gotten back together and I’d not offered to come by either. It was weird. Like the two of us being in his office was something a little too raw to sift through at the moment. Ah, well, maybe in time we’d get back to finding a comfort zone with the offices of Blackstone Security International, Ltd.