The perfect match, p.16
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       The Perfect Match, p.16

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 16

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  Bullshit. Someone had roughed up his little boy. Again, he had to force his hands to relax. “Want to stay at my place tonight?” he asked, trying to keep his voice casual.

  “Okay. ” Charlie looked out his window, his face away from Tom. “Don’t tell my grandparents the party was so. . . whatever. They’ll freak. ”

  “Right. I’ll call them when we get home and let them know you’re with me. ”

  When they got to Tom’s, Charlie headed straight upstairs. “Do you need anything?” Tom asked.

  “No. ”

  “Make sure you clean that cut, all right? There’s hydrogen peroxide in the cabinet. ” He nodded toward the loo.

  “Okay. ” Much to his surprise, Charlie turned and almost managed to make eye contact. “Thanks,” he mumbled to the region of Tom’s collarbone.

  Despite the black eye makeup and piercings, Charlie’s face was still that of a little boy, his skin unroughened by beard, his jawline still soft, reminding Tom of the kid who’d never run out of things to talk about at bedtime.

  “You’re welcome,” he said, then cleared his throat. “Any time. ”

  Then Charlie closed the door, and Tom felt a rush of love so deep and fast and helpless that it felt like he’d been punched in the chest.

  What kind of a gobshite picked on a kid who still didn’t weigh a hundred pounds? And just who would Charlie have called tonight if Tom went back to England?

  No matter what it took, he was staying.

 

 

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  AT 4:45 ON Friday afternoon, Honor was contemplating another cruise through eCommitment or OnYourOwn. com and wondering if four was too many times to see the latest Bond movie. But Dad and Mrs. Johnson had an in-house date, since Mrs. J. thought it was too soon to go out in public, so Honor wanted to make herself scarce. Because, my God! What if an in-house date meant she had to overhear something? Then she and Spike would have to kill themselves.

  However, once again making the trek to the theater and power-eating popcorn and Sour Patch Kids (the ugly face of addiction. . . or the ugly hips, as the case may be) held little appeal, even if she could look at Bond, James Bond, for two hours. Plus, the low-bellied clouds looked like they were about to birth some snow. The lake was black from here, and the grapevines were dark and twisted. The air was raw with cold.

  Maybe she’d just stay here and work, despite her pledge to be different. The Black and White Ball wasn’t far off, and it was Honor’s pet project of all the charity events Blue Heron participated in or hosted. The ball raised money for the parks and recreation services in town. In years past, the ball proceeds had funded a new playground, replacing the rusting equipment Honor herself had played on, a skateboard park and the municipal pool.

  This year, the funds would go toward making a hiking and bike trail through some of Ellis Farm. Everyone could use it, of course, not just kids, but it was special to Honor’s heart. Manningsport, while as beautiful a town as America made, had pockets of need. Kids who grew up in the squat brick houses at the edge of town, or the trailer park, didn’t have what Honor had growing up—woods and fields to romp in. Orchards and sledding hills, a shallow pond for skating. In her mind’s eye, she envisioned buying a small herd of Scottish cattle for the 4-H program, a flock of chickens, maybe a few rescued horses. The land would be for those kids, so that they could enjoy the riches of the area, get away from their televisions and Nintendos and feel the connection to the land the way she did.

  The ball would be held in the Barn at Blue Heron, the space that Faith had converted last fall—once a crumbling stone barn, now a stunning, bright space overlooking the rest of the vineyard. Her sister had quite a talent. And red hair. And the cutie cop.

  Okay, none of that. She ran her hand over her own hair. She had good hair now, too. The rude Brit had been right: it had been a little sister-wife.

  So yes. While Jessica Dunn and Ned were doing just fine, the Black and White Ball was Honor’s. And lists needed to be made. Or remade. Or color-coded.

  Just then, her phone rang, making Spike leap up from her beauty rest and bark four times. Honor lunged for the phone before Jessica could answer it. “Honor Holland,” she said, using her smooth, Blue Heron voice.

  “It’s your father speaking,” Dad said. “Reminding you that you have a life and need to leave the office. ”

  “Dad, no one leaves work at five. ”

  “Get out. Go to O’Rourke’s with one of your friends. ”

  Honor winced. Unluckily, no one in town had died since the catfight. . . no one had even been arrested or had sex in a public place (except maybe Pru and Carl, though they hadn’t been caught). In other words, she was still the hot gossip. O’Rourke’s was out.

  “And, um, don’t be home before ten,” Dad added, his voice sheepish.

  “Why? Wait, scratch that, I don’t want to know. ” Honor sighed. “Okay. Maybe I’ll swing by Pru’s and stay over. ”

  “Oh, honey, that’d be great. ”

  “Dad, please. ”

  “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just. . . well, you do what you want, Petunia. Just give me a call if you do decide to come home. Let the phone ring twice. That’ll be our code. ”

  “Got it. Code, as in don’t you dare be doing anything in the living room that would cause emotional scars for your spinster daughter. ”

  “You’re not a spinster. Go out. Have fun. Meet some young people. ”

  “I hate young people. ” She paused. “Can I at least come home to change and feed my dog?”

  “Of course. Just, um, make it quick, okay? Oops, I have to go. Mrs. Johnson’s glaring at me. Love you!”

  “You should probably start calling her by her first name,” Honor said, but her father had already hung up. She sighed. It’d be nice to be able to tell her sisters about this (it might be fatal to Jack), but Mrs. Johnson had made her swear not to tell yet.

  Honor scooped up Spike and kissed the dog’s little head, getting a joyful snuzzle in return. “Let’s run away, just us two,” she said. Spike wagged in agreement.

  Young people and friends. Outside of her relatives, no one leaped to mind. Maybe Jack would want to watch Top Ten Tumors, a show dear to both their hearts. She could go to Rushing Creek and talk about artificial hips, or she could go to her grandparents’ house and do the same thing. Maybe get rid of some of their stuff. Help Goggy clean out the pantry, which held canned goods from the 1980s.

  A knock came on her door frame. “Hey. Sorry to interrupt,” Jessica Dunn said. “I took a whack at the press release for the tourism magazine. ”

  “Great! Let’s take a look. ” Delegation, delegation. It was supposed to be a good thing.

  Jessica handed her the paper. “I also posted a picture of the cask room on Facebook and Twitter and asked everyone what wine was in their fridge. And I made a list of some potential blog topics for you, too. Oh, and here’s your calendar for next week. ”

  “Thanks,” Honor said, her heart sinking a little.

  Jessica had worked here for two weeks now, and Honor was a little intimidated by how terrifyingly efficient she was. Didn’t smile much, did everything from empty the trash to bring Honor coffee to write copy (pretty damn well, too).

  Jess stood there a minute as Honor read what she’d done. It was friendly, informative and seemed to be missing all of one comma. Honor looked up. Jess was frowning.

  Honor knew this was her first job outside of waitressing; the girl (woman) had acknowledged that on her first day. So far, she’d been quiet, hardworking and a little tense, almost as if she was worried she’d be fired. It was kind of endearing. Faith had mentioned that she’d always been a little scared of Jessica Dunn; Honor didn’t see why.

  “This is great,” she said. “I almost can’t remember what I did before you came. ” You worked sixteen hours a day, the eg
gs told her.

  Jessica smiled a little. “Thank you. ”

  “Hey, Jess, do you want to get a drink? Since it’s time to go?”

  “Shoot, I can’t. I have to work. I’m on at Hugo’s. ”

  “Right. ” Crap. “Another time, I hope. ”

  “I’d really like to. I just. . . I still need the other job. Student loans, you know?”

  “No, no, it’s fine. ” Maybe she shouldn’t have asked. Maybe that was inappropriate. Maybe Jessica didn’t want to have a drink with her boss.

  “I could do Tuesday,” Jess offered.

  The relief was a little pathetic. “Great. Sure, Tuesday, then. ”

  Just then the phone rang; they both lunged, but Honor won again. “Blue Heron, Honor Holland speaking. ”

  “Hey, On, it’s Brogan. ”

  She felt the blood drain to her feet. Since the catfight (cringe), she hadn’t actually spoken to him, aside from a few very superficial and cheery emails. “Hi there, Brogan!” she said. Her voice sounded weird. “How are you?” Better.

  “I’m good, I’m good. How about yourself?”

  “I’m really great. So good. Truly. I’m excellent!” Oh, Lordy. Jess gave her a sympathetic look and slipped away to her desk. “So, what’s up?”

  Brogan paused. “You think you could meet me for dinner tonight? Or a drink?” he asked. Honor grimaced hugely. “Just you and me,” he added.

  I’d rather swallow a live eel, Brogan. “Oh, shoot, hang on a second, I have another call,” she lied. She pushed the hold button. “Jess? You still there?”

  Her assistant reappeared. “Yes?”

  “I’m sure you heard about my brawl a few weeks ago. ” Jessica nodded. “Brogan wants to get together for drinks. ”

  “Yick. ” Jess pulled a face.

  “Thank you. Do you think I should go?”

  “Have you seen him since the fight?”

  “Nope. Do I have to go?”

  Jessica leaned in the doorway, then shrugged. “Yeah, you kind of do. Sorry. You don’t want him to think you’re sulking. ”

  “That’s what I thought, too. Crap. Thanks. ”

  “Come to Hugo’s. I’ll spit in his drink for you. ”

  “Really?”

  “No. But I’ll want to. ” Jessica smiled.

  “I appreciate that. ” Honor pushed the button back. “Sorry, Brogan,” she said. “Sure, I can meet you for a bit. How’s Hugo’s?” Jess gave her the thumbs-up and disappeared again.

  Brogan let out a breath. “Oh, that’s fantastic. Can you be there in an hour?” His voice still made her stomach pull.

  “Okay. Um, Brogan, I can only stay for a little while,” she added. God forbid they were together long enough for him to. . . get to her again. “I, um, I’m meeting someone. Later. After I see you. It’s a date. I mean, I’ll have a date later tonight. I do have a date. ”

  Spike stared at her, hypnotized by the lies.

  “Awesome,” Brogan said happily.

  “Yes, yes. Okay, I have to go. I’ll see you at six o’clock at Hugo’s. Great. Bye. Take care. ”

  She hung up and let her head fall backward. Her armpits were damp with sweat. Plus, the clouds were releasing their burden, and fat snowflakes filled the air. Beautiful, except it was March. Just when you thought spring was really going to come through, Mother Nature bitch-slapped you with a storm.

  Spike scrabbled at her leg, and Honor lifted her into her lap. “You get to stay home,” she told the dog. “And you better TiVo Top Ten Tumors for me. ”

  * * *

  AND SO IT was that an hour and twenty-three minutes later, Honor was fake-laughing at Hugo’s, sitting across from the only man she’d ever loved, slightly sweaty, stomach churning with acid and vodka from the perfectly chilled, slightly sweet Saint Germaine martini Jessica had brought her.
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