Ambrose tried to walk towards the front door, but the scent led him astray.
His heart beat too hard.
His breathing was all too fast.
And he couldn’t stop trembling.
He saw her.
A woman sat alone at a table for four in the middle of the room. Her frizzy black hair was twined in a braid. She wore a cherry red tank top with black jeans and high-heeled black lace booties.
She was looking away from him, but he didn’t need to see her face.
He knew it was her.
His knees trembled.
He covered his mouth with his hands.
He stood still. Unable to move. Afraid to speak.
I should turn away.
I should go back to Barbara.
He uncovered his mouth.
It can’t be her.
It isn’t her.
If I turn away…
If I don’t go to her…
If I don’t see…
If I don’t know for sure, I’ll regret it. All of the what ifs will haunt me.
He walked forward. Towards her table.
Ambrose stopped behind her. “Elsie?”
She startled and looked up at him. “Ambrose.”
And his world turned upside down. He grabbed her chair to keep him anchored to the floor. “You’re alive. Elsie. You are Elsie, right? I’m not dreaming, am I?”
She frowned. “What do you want? Did your fey girlfriend dump you?”
“What? No. I…Elsie.” He smiled. “Elsie. You’re alive. I saw what Mark Caten did to your house. I thought…”
“Is there something you want?”
He came back to his senses. “You aren’t happy to see me. Why aren’t you happy? I thought—”
“You thought wrong. Everything you thought was wrong.”
He released her chair. “We both made a mistake. I acknowledge it. I lost control. I wanted to hurt you.”
“You tried to bite me.”
“You tried to stake me.” His words came out a lot sharper than he’d intended. He took a moment to collect himself. “If you ask me to come back to you—”
“That isn’t going to happen. I’m engaged.”
He exhaled sharply. “Engaged. Who?”
“Someone who would never hurt me.”
“We are in a public place, Ambrose. I do not want to make a scene.”
“Then, tell me who.”
“End of conversation.”
“If you don’t leave, I’ll break the legs off this table and stake you. Go! Get out of here or I swear—”
“Elsie?” Hildreth scowled. “What is he doing here?”
Ambrose looked at him and back at her. “No. Elsie, not him. Tell me it isn’t him.”
“I’m telling you to leave.”
“You can do better than…” He gave Hildreth a disparaging glance. “…this. You could have me.”
“I already gave you my answer. Take it and leave.”
Ambrose smirked. “Okay.” He swooped down and kissed her.
Her hands flared out in initial shock. As his kisses turned more eager and passionate, she relaxed. She latched her fingers into his hair and returned every kiss.
She released him and pulled away from him.
He stroked her face. “Elsie. Be mine.”
She slapped him.
He stumbled back. “What the…”
Hildreth stepped into Ambrose’s space. “If you don’t leave my fiancée alone, I will kill you.”
“Why wait? Let’s go outside and settle this like men.”
Hildreth punched his fist into his open palm. “I’m ready when you are.”
“Good. Bring it on, hunter. Let’s see if I can knock you out again.”
“Ha! You wish.”
“Stop it, both of you! Hildreth, sit down. Ambrose, just go. Get out of here.”
Both men said, “Why?” in unison.
“Because I don’t want my mother to be witness to this testosterone-based stupidity.”
“Fine.” Hildreth sat down.
Ambrose glowered at them both. “Fine.” He turned and strode back to Barbara.
But the booth was empty.
She wasn’t there.