Tired from everything: the drive, Hope's tantrums, and the events of the last few months, Emma left her little girl in the hands of the women that run the bed and breakfast so that she could step out for a drink and a few minutes to collect her thoughts.
She had not envisioned a dive bar as her only choice. The skin of her arms pulled as she leaned on the sticky surface of the well-worn mahogany bar.
"What can I get you, girlie?" The scruffy barkeep winked at Emma. She tried to supply a friendly smile, but melancholy and confusion won this round.
"Can I get top-shelf bourbon? I don't care which brand. And, can you leave the bottle? She dropped her credit card next to his hand. He eyed her carefully.
"You aren't from around here. Are you driving after?"
She shook her head. "No, I have a room at the b & b. I can stumble my way that far."
He scratched carefully at his beard before wandering over to his selection of bottles. He snagged a bottle and dropped a glass next to her elbow. "That's Four Roses single barrel, a personal favorite. The name's Leroy." He held out a calloused hand.
"Emma." She shook it solemnly.
He poured her three fingers of the amber liquid before pushing closer to her. He sat the bottle at her elbow. His brow furrowed. She could read the curiosity as the man barely looked at the few other patrons in the dingy establishment. "What brings you to our sleepy town if you don't mind my asking?"
'That's the question of the century.' The blonde thought. Her mind wandered back to the day her whole life imploded.
His eyes danced in the fading sunlight as their car raced down the interstate toward Florida. Kilian's job rarely allowed for him to be home, much less take a family vacation. They felt lucky to see him a week or two a month, even if it was not all at once. This trip seemed more like she won the lottery than a family trip.
"Kil, how long do you get to stay with us this time?"
"Don't start, Em. You know that with my job, I get pulled at a moment's notice. I can't tell you because I can't even guess when I will be needed."
She reached over the console and entwined their fingers. Although she hated the secrecy of his government job, one she knew next to nothing about, but she loved these moments with her husband and their daughter. She and Hope continued to belt out every single word singing off-key with the Cinderella soundtrack as time flew past.
"Hey. Blondie, you still with me?"
Shaking off the memory, Emma poured herself another and downed it quickly.
"Lady, that stuff is meant to be savored. If you're just gonna toss it back, let me get you some of the cheap stuff. It'll get you just as drunk with half the bill."
Her left hand traced over the scar that stretched across her jaw to her ear, a nervous habit she had not managed to shake since the accident. She poured again. This time she lifted the glass, taking a dainty sip. "Does that meet your expectations?"
"That's more like it." He scratched his chin again; then, his eyes darted behind her. He gave a quick wave and scurried away. "Let me know if you need anything else."
Without his reaction, the blonde knew she had arrived. Turning on the barstool, Emma leaned onto the hard surface, drink still in hand. Her eyes traced from the shiny black boots, black dress slacks to the buttoned-up overcoat until she stopped at the fiery red lips pursed in irritation.
"Good evening, Miss Swan. I wish you would have called to let me know you were coming. I could have prepared you a room."
She took another sip before turning to the side and patting the next stool in a formal offer for the woman to join her. Regal to the core, the brunette eyed the bartop with disdain but took the offered seat.
"I was not aware that you frequented such places."
Emma snorted out a laugh. "I bet Killian loved it here."
"I would appreciate it if you left my husband's name off of your lips."
"Look, lady, he was my husband too. I'm sure you've seen the marriage license. From what I can tell, you should know that my marriage to him was almost as long and just as legal as yours," the blonde bit out, shaking in a fury blinking back tears of rage.
Regina pulled her gloves off and tapped the hardwood in front of her. "Leroy, may I have a glass? She and I can share the bottle."
Side eyeing the brunette the whole time, the bartender brought a second glass setting it in front of the second woman. "Anything else for your highness?"
Regina released the full force of her glare on the man at his unnecessary sarcasm. "That will be all. Thank you, peasant."
He sucked his teeth and disappeared to help someone else.
"I see you have a real way with the locals." The careless smirk on thin lips held no malice.
Feeling the appraisal of emerald eyes on her skin, the mayor grabbed the bottle. "May I?"
She poured herself a double before refilling the blonde's empty tumbler. "Thank you for coming. I suppose I should have led with that." She made sure no one sat close enough to overhear their conversation. "I should not have said that to you."
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure we will both be saying things we shouldn't over the next few days or months even. I guess it all depends on how well this works." The soft tone of the blonde's voice surprised the mayor. The blonde stared pensively into her drink.
"I can't imagine that any of this is easy for you." An overwhelming sadness clung to olive skin.
"I don't think you have it any easier than I do. You do have a bigger house, and from what I can tell, you do have roots in this town."
Keen green eyes caught the quiver in the older woman's chin. "That's where you are mistaken. Yes, I have a large house. I have a son, and that is all. I'm the mayor which gives me power, but I inherited the job from my mother, the woman who almost bankrupted the town. I've gained their respect because I fixed the disaster she created. But, no, Mrs. Jones, I don't have friends to support me."
Emma swallowed. "I'm sorry. I had no idea. Kil never told me anything. Everything was a state secret with him. On the day of the crash, we had our first real fight where I realized that I might not know him like I thought I did." Her brow furrowed in consternation; whiskey had loosened her lips to the point she shared more than she intended.
Beautiful brown curls wavered with the nod of Regina's head. "I wish I could say that I did not have an inkling that something was off. But I did. He always spent half of the Christmas holidays here. For some reason, he could only take half his vacation time a year, and he refused to put Henry and me on his insurance. Instead, he insisted I should use what I was entitled to with my office. I cannot tell you why, but that never felt right. But, like you, I could not prove anything."
The unthinkable desire to comfort the older woman ran through the blonde's veins. She pushed it aside. Instead, she refilled their glasses. "I am not going to lie. I'm struggling. With all of it. But, we loved the same man."
Emma held her glass aloft, "To redefining family."
Regina lifted hers as well. And, with a brief nod downed the whole glass.
Green eyes bulged at the behavior. Casually, the blonde took another sip. "For better or worse, he's gone for good."
Leroy watched from across the room as both women's shoulders sagged simultaneously as the blonde spoke.
"Who's that with the mayor?" The man dropped his ball cap on the tabletop, but his eyes never left the women in question.
"I dunno." Leroy shrugged but wished he had a better answer.
"Do you suppose that's her?"
Both men's eyes flew wide in recognition. "Shit, I bet it is." Leroy's fingers flew over the keypad of his phone.
Six Months Ago
"Be careful with your I.V. It would hurt if we caught it on anything." The orderly helped her into the wheelchair. Her body felt loose and unwieldy.
Emma nodded her head, but between the painkillers and sedatives, the doctor had prescribed, she struggled to make sense of the world around her.
Understanding the importance of their destination, he pushed her into the elevator and reached to press the sub-basement button only to realize someone had already managed.
The blonde and the orderly both turned to the distressed woman in five-inch heels dressed like she was going to a board meeting. "Are you going to the morgue, as well?"
Staring off into space, the blonde nodded solemnly. "My husband died. We were in a car crash." The blonde's visage crumpled. "One minute, we were on our way to Disney, and the next I woke up in ICU. My daughter is still unconscious, and my husband, he's…" her voice trailed off into nothingness. Her thoughts spiraled to all the possibilities. Would she lose Hope too?
As the elevator doors opened, two detectives and a doctor greeted them.
A plump man in a cheap suit that desperately needed a shave stepped forward. "Mrs. Jones, my name is Detective Smith. I'm glad you could make the drive to meet us today."
"I prefer Mills. I never took my husband's name."
The two began walking down the corridor and stopped in front of a large window.
Glassy green eyes focussed on the doctor as the other detective cleared his throat. "Detective Emma Swan, I presume?" He ruffled the hair on his head. "God, I hate having to explain this to another detective."
In the background, she could hear the muffled confirmation given that the body on the other side of the glass was the woman's husband.
The second detective shifted nervously. "This situation is awkward, to say the least. You see…"
"WHAT?" The word shrieked from the brunette quite a distance in front of her. "That isn't possible."
"I'm afraid it is. Your husband had two wives. We've authenticated both your marriage licenses." Detective Smith said, looking chagrined. His eyes met Emma's almost apologetically.
"As I was saying before the interruption, it seems that the two of you are here to identify the same body. It's come to our attention that Mr. Killian Jones was married to both of you."
Words failed to appear to Emma. Using her good arm for leverage, she attempted to stand. She collapsed on the floor, unconscious.