AN: This was previously called "Unexpected Surprises" and it's the sequel to "Life Goes On, Even Without a Mom." This prologue is a new addition to the story though. Please let me know what you think. Reviews are super helpful!
Connor looked blank, listless. Charlie sat next to her son, studying a stack of papers in her lap, ignoring the lull of sleep that airplanes so frequently brought on. She forced herself to read the words, again. Watching her only son break into pieces had nearly crushed her, but she didn't have time for that then.
Charlie would have preferred to have Thomas with her. But he had to work. And he could have gotten off, but they both decided it was best for him to stay home. He distracted her from the lawyer mode, and although she was a corporate lawyer, she wouldn't have let Connor go to this meeting alone.
"You should have let Dad come. I know you'd be less edgy if he were here." Connor's voice sounded hollow and lifeless. He'd been in shock since he got the letter two days ago.
"That's why he didn't come."
"Mom, this isn't one of your corporate take-overs."
"I'm aware of that Connor." She took a breath to soften the edge that naturally came to her voice when she fell into lawyer mode. "Baby, I can't sit at home and wait for you to tell me what happened. I'm here as much as your mother as I am as your attorney."
The rest of the flight was in silence. Charlie read the papers again until she thought she could recite them. They checked into a hotel and tried to rest. They had adjoining rooms, though neither of them used the connecting door once they got back from the dinner they didn't really eat. Neither of them slept well that night, and they were both antsy at breakfast in the restaurant in the hotel.
"How's this gonna work Mom? Do you know?"
"I'm not sure exactly. I imagine it'll be a reading of a will, but I'm not sure. Have you remembered her?"
"No. I have no idea. I mean, it's a weird name right? You'd think I'd remember. What if…"
"We'll address it all when we get there. We need to go." Charlie smiled sweetly at her son, but he didn't relax. "Con, this isn't something you have to do alone. This is a family matter."
He scoffed. "Yeah, apparently so."
They took a cab to the law offices of Hutton, Pierce, Leighton, and Johnstone. Connor paid the cabbie and Charlie wrapped her arm around his. They took the elevator to the fourth floor, and they both took a deep breath before opening the large glass door.
"Can I help you?" A pretty brunette receptionist sat behind a large frosted glass desk. She smiled at Connor in a way that normally would have stroked his large ego, but just then he wasn't in the mood for flirting with strangers.
"Bryant. We're here to meet with Sadie Laughlin." Charlie spoke with her professional voice, and it jerked Connor out of the fog he'd been in all morning.
"Just a moment." The receptionist called someone on the phone, then directed Charlie and Connor down the hall. Charlie led and Connor followed his mother like the confused little boy he felt like.
"Mr. Bryant? Mrs. Bryant? I'm Sadie Laughlin. Please, come in. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?"
"We're fine. Thank you." Charlie answered again. Connor'd barely spoken to anyone over the past three days.
"Okay then. Please, have a seat. Let's get started."
Charlie and Connor sat across from Sadie Laughlin, and she smiled at them sympathetically.
"First, let me express my sympathy for your loss." Sadie started. She was just being polite, but it sparked something in Connor and his eyes narrowed at her.
"My loss? I have no memory whatsoever of this woman. I don't know her. I don't understand this letter I got from your office, and I have no flipping clue what I'm doing here!"
"Connor. Calm down son. Ms Laughlin, I'm sorry, but we're just a little… confused. This woman who's died, Miss Henderson? How did you know to contact Connor?"
"Please, call me Sadie. Charleston Henderson has used our law firm for many years. We handle her business and personal needs. She went by Carrie." She paused to look at Connor, hoping for some recognition.
"Carrie Henderson." Connor muttered the words like he was trying to remember.
"Yes, Carrie Henderson. Okay…" Sadie took a deep breath and opened a file on her desk. "Carrie moved back to Jacksonville after a brief period of time in Durham, North Carolina. She dropped out of Duke after one semester, when she found out she was pregnant." She pulled a picture from the file and turned it as she set it in front of Charlie and Connor.
Connor picked up the picture and stared at it. The girl was beautiful, and vaguely familiar. But he couldn't exactly place her, and he said as much.
"Emma Grace was born July 19 of the following year." She set another picture down and Charlie gasped.
"Christ." Connor picked up the picture and stared into his own eyes. The deep blue eyes stood out from the creamy skin, black curly hair, and pixie-like features of her angelic face. He picked up the picture of Carrie and looked back and forth between the two. Sadie and Charlie sat quietly while Connor processed everything.
Charlie looked at the pictures shaking in her son's hands. Her eyes glanced at the picture of Carrie, but they kept going back to the picture of Emma Grace. Her granddaughter. She was breathtaking. Literally.
"Miss Laughlin… Sadie… I'm sorry. I don't remember her. I mean, she's familiar, but I mean…" He paused to do some math in his head. "That was 16 years ago. I was a freshman in college. I was… a jerk, and a playboy, and every other stereotype you can think of for a good looking guy with money and dimples."
"I understand." Sadie said simply. And she did. She understood completely. She'd been friends with Carrie Henderson, even before she started working at the law firm. They'd grown up together. Carrie had told her everything she knew about Connor Bryant. And that wasn't much. But it all pointed to his being exactly as he'd just described himself.
"I don't think this is really about your personality flaws when you were a teenager." Charlie defended. She'd seen something in Sadie's eyes, a judgment. And she didn't like it.
"Carrie was a teenager too. And she managed to finish college here, and start a very successful party-planning business. And while I've brought that up, the business will be left to her partner, James Marksley. Her portion of the business will be converted to shares in the profits, all of which will automatically be sent to a trust fund for Emma Grace."
Connor saw red instantly. "Are you insinuating that I'd go after my daughter's money? If you're even a half-decent attorney, and working here I'd have to suspect you are, you know I don't need her money. And while I've brought that up, let me state for the record, that I never would have left my Carrie to fend for herself. I never would have turned my back on my daughter."
Sadie believed him, and she felt bad for judging him so harshly. "I apologize. I meant no disrespect. Yes, I've done my homework. I know you have shares in Nanodyme Inc., as well as your own successful business. Anyway, Emma Grace is old enough to have a say-so in these matters, except that Carrie was very specific in her instructions. She was a planner through and through. There is no other family. Carrie's parents died several years ago, and she had no siblings. She never married. Her instructions were to liquidate her assets, but she didn't specify anything about the contents of their home."
"Where is she? Right now, where is Emma Grace?" Charlie hoped she kept the demand from her voice, but she wasn't sure.
"She's at home, with her neighbor. Mrs. Jenks is like a surrogate grandmother for her, and Em's resting comfortably with her."
"How did she die?" Connor asked quietly, his eyes still on the pictures in his hands. Charlie felt bad for not thinking to ask that herself.
"She was killed in a car accident. Her car went off a bridge and she drowned before anyone could get to her."
"That's awful!" Charlie gasped.
"How is she? How is my daughter?"
"I don't mean to be rude or insensitive, but I just… You haven't even questioned the paternity. If you don't mind my asking—why not?"
Connor stared blankly at her for a moment. Then he stood and hovered over her desk, crowding her personal space and forcing her to sit back in her chair. "Look at my eyes." She did. She briefly thought she could understand why Carrie had been so attracted to him. Then she saw the hurt and emptiness. "She has my eyes. My mother's eyes. My grandfather's eyes. And she has my smile. And my sister's pixie face. It seems the only thing she got from her mother is her hair, although she obviously got the curls from me. I'll do whatever test I need to do, but I've no doubt she's mine."
Connor plopped back down in his chair. He'd used all of his energy with that burst of speech, and he had nothing left.
"Carrie listed you as her father. You're listed on the birth certificate. If you don't question it, then there's nothing else required of you. On that matter, anyway."
They spent several hours working out the legalities of everything. When they returned to the hotel, Connor went to his room and collapsed on the bed. Exhausted beyond belief. Charlie went to her room and called Thomas, relaxing when she heard his worried voice. She needed to get back to him. But she needed her son to be okay first.