The perfect match, p.18
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       The Perfect Match, p.18

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 18

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  They both watched him leave. “Smug bastard, I thought,” Tom said.

  “Thanks. ” She was suddenly aware that his arm, heavy and warm, was still around her shoulders. “I’m so sorry,” she said, stepping back. “It was a rock-and-a-hard-place moment. ”

  “Absolutely. I owe you for being such a prat when we met before. ” He took a sip of his whiskey. “Care for a drink?”

  Honor started to shake her head automatically, but caught herself. Different. Doing different things, being different. That was the color-coded plan.

  “I’d love one. ” She looked at Jessica. “I’ll have a Grey Goose. Straight up, please. ” Jess obliged, and Honor took the drink and drained it.

  “That bad, is it?” Tom asked.

  “No, not at all. Why do you ask?”

  That was some kiss.

  “Why don’t you guys grab a table?” Jessica suggested. She pointed them to a table in the corner of the bar, over by the fireplace.

  They went over, the warmth of the fire at Honor’s back, snow falling heavily out the window. Now that she had a moment, she took in her companion—a green river man’s shirt, the top three buttons undone, giving her a glimpse of a silver chain. Dark jeans and sturdy leather shoes.

  He looked utterly. . . male.

  Jess brought her some seltzer water, which was her drink of choice at work. Sweet of her to remember. “Do you want another Grey Goose, Honor?” she asked. “Or anything to eat?”

  “No, no. I’m all set. ”

  “I thought you were starving,” Tom said.

  “Nope. Just one of the many lies I told tonight. ”

  He smiled, and Jessica patted her shoulder before sliding away.

  “Nice girl,” Tom said.

  “She is. She works for me,” Honor said. “At the vineyard. ”

  “Blue Heron, isn’t it?”

  “Mmm-hmm. ” The adrenaline rush was fading, leaving her feeling a little limp. “You should come on a tour sometime. ”

  “Maybe I will. ”

  “Every day at three, then four times a day after May 1. ”

  Tom Barlow smiled a fast, sweet, crooked grin, and Down Under tightened in response.

  No. She wasn’t the type. She didn’t pick men up in bars, not that he was interested. What had he said that night? You’re not ugly. Talk about damning with faint praise. Nope. Not gonna get involved with a man looking to commit marital fraud.

  That had been some kiss.

  Do something about it, the eggs said. They were now sporting bifocals and quite irritable. Can you please get a move on here? We’re going to bed when Dancing with the Stars is over.

  Tom took another sip of his drink and looked at her. “Tell me again what you do, Honor. I was too busy being an idiot to ask the night we were set up. ”

  Work. She could always talk about work. “I’m the director of operations for our vineyard. Media, sales, staffing, distribution. My dad and brother make the wine, my older sister handles the farming, my nephew helps out everywhere and runs the tasting room in the season. And my grandparents are semiretired. Can’t forget them. ”

  “Sounds idyllic. ” He seemed to mean it.

  “The farm’s been in the family for eight generations. We’re all part of it in some way. ”

  “What’s it like, working with your family?” he asked.

  “Oh, it’s wonderful, except when it’s horrible. ” He grinned again, that flashing, unexpectedly sweet smile, and again, Honor felt a little jolt of lust. His smile changed his face from rather somber to utterly adorable, like a mischievous little kid, and wow, yes. It worked.

  “I always thought it’d be lovely to come from a big family,” he said.

  “It has its moments. ”

  Maybe it was because he’d already seen her at her worst, or had already essentially rejected her, or simply because he’d been nice and pretended to be her boyfriend. Maybe it was the snow and the quiet of the evening; Jessica was reading a book at the bar, and all the other patrons had left. Maybe it was the Grey Goose on an empty stomach. Whatever the case, Honor felt herself relaxing. The armor (if there was armor, and she was pretty sure Levi was wrong on that front) was nowhere to be found.

  Do something different.

  “How about you, Tom? Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

  “Sorry to say, I’m an only child. My dad lives in Manchester. ”

  “Go United. ”

  He winked and flashed that smile again. “I think I just fell in love with you. ”

  Had she found him irritating? She couldn’t seem to remember why. “Don’t take it personally,” she said. “It’s my cocktail party brain. ”

  “Say again?”

  “My cocktail party brain,” she said. “I can make small talk about anything. ”

  “Anything?”

  “Mmm-hmm. ”

  His eyes narrowed, a smile playing at his full, gorgeous lips. “Is that right? Tell me something about developments in medicine. ”

  “There’s a new drug that stops the progression of Alzheimer’s. FDA approval expected within three months. ”

  “Is there? Of course, you can make stuff up, I’ll be none the wiser. Music trivia?”

  “Ray Charles had twelve children. ”

  “Did he? Fancy that. All right, let’s get to my side of the pond. Royal family?”

  “Philip and Elizabeth, Margaret, Harry, Andrew, Kate, William, Beatrice, Pippa. . . you’ll have to be more specific. ”

  “Divorces in the royal family, then. ”

  “Everyone except the old folks and the kids. ”

  He laughed. “True enough. American foreign policy?”

  “Speak softly and carry a big missile. ”

  “Mechanical engineering. ”

  She opened her mouth, then shut it. “I give. I don’t know anything about that. ”

  “I’m a mechanical engineer. ”

  “I thought you taught math. ”

  “No. Do you know what a mechanical engineer does?”

  “Um. . . You can fix a lot of stuff?”

  His smile grew. Oh, sigh, said the eggs. Think of what we could do with his DNA. “Yes,” he said, “That’s it exactly. ”

  “You understand how things are built,” she said. It sounded vaguely dirty.

  “Yes. ”

  “You know how to. . . get things going. ”

  His eyes dropped to her mouth. “Mmm-hmm. ”

  “You’re good with your hands. ”

  He leaned forward. “Are you flirting with me, Miss Holland?” he asked, his voice low.

  Oh, crap. Well, she’d been trying to. Where was Colleen O’Rourke when you needed her? She practically had a master’s degree in men. Honor straightened up and put her hands in her lap. “No. ”

  “You don’t need to stop,” he said mildly. “It was quite nice. ” He leaned back in his chair. “For the record, a mechanical engineer is responsible for how just about anything is built. We make sure any type of structure or vehicle or roadway is strong, safe and will stay together. ”

  Strong, safe, stay together.

  Meow.

  Flirt with him. Do it! the eggs demanded.

  It was now impossible to flirt. She racked her brain for flirtiness. Tried to channel Colleen. Nope. Nothing. She shifted, her leg bumping his. We can work with that, said the eggs. Almost there.

  Shut up, Honor said. We’re not getting pregnant tonight, okay? Just go back to Dancing with the Stars.

  “I saw you at the college that day,” she said. “You seem to have a lot of female students. ”

  “The Barbarian Horde, I call them, most of whom will flunk out before midterms. Speaking of that, how was your date with Droog?”

  “Oh, he seems very nice. ”

  “Did he swab down the table before sitting?”

/>   She smiled. “Yes. ”

  “He does that everywhere. Good chap, though. ” He paused. “Will you see him again?”

  All of a sudden, Honor could hear her heart beating. “No. ”

  They didn’t say anything else for a minute. The fire hissed and snapped, and the snow was piling up, a lot more than the dusting the forecasters had predicted. It would be smart to head home, as conditions on the Hill tended to be worse than here in the Village, thanks to the difference in elevation.

  She didn’t move.

  “So you and Prince Charming are still chums?” Tom asked. “Even though he chose your friend?”

  She felt the start of a slow burn in her cheeks.

  “Sorry,” Tom said. “None of my business. ”

  “No, it’s fine,” she said. “Brogan and I have known each other since elementary school. Slept together on and off for years. ” Probably more than Tom Barlow wanted to know. “He wanted to tell me that he’s going to be a father. ”

  “Are you joking?” She shook her head. “Bloody hell. ” Tom rubbed a hand across the back of his neck. “And what does Brogan Cain do for a living?”

  “He’s a sports photographer. Baseball, football, basketball. ”

  “I know what sports are, darling. ” He took a sip of his drink. “Brogan Cain,” he said thoughtfully. “I hope they pick out a really shitty name for the kid. Candy Cain. Sugar Cain. Rain. Wayne. Jane. Hickory. ”

  Honor smiled faintly. It was still almost too great a shock to process—Dana and Brogan, and now Baby Cain on the way. She’d like to laugh about it. It just didn’t seem probable.

  “I hope your friend gets really fat,” Tom continued. “No glow for her. Heartburn. Acne. Swollen feet. A full-blown, Jessica Simpson Pop-Tarts and ice cream kind of fat. ”

  It seemed like she was laughing, after all. “That’s cute. Jessicker Simpson. ”

  “I did not say that. ” He raised an eyebrow, the one with the scar running through it.

  “You did. It was cute. You have a nice accent. ”

  “I haven’t any accent all, darling. It’s the English language, remember? And I’m English. You’re the one mucking things up, you ungrateful Yank. ”

  Tom Barlow was growing on her.

  And that had been quite a kiss.

  “How’s your green card situation?” she asked.

  “It’s fine. All set. ” He looked out the window. “Sorry again for my behavior that night, by the way. It was a very odd meeting. ”

  “Don’t worry about it. ” His mood seemed to have changed. “So you just moved to Manningsport, but you’ve lived in America for a while?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Why’d you move?” she asked.

  He paused. “A job,” he said, and she sensed there was more to the story. Something tragic, Goggy had said.

  “It’s a nice town,” she said. “You won’t be lonely for long. ” And where had that come from?

  Tom frowned. “Why do you think I’m lonely?”

  She hesitated. Why had she said that, really? Somewhere in his eyes, behind the easy flirting he seemed so good at, she sensed a little bit of. . . sadness.

  “You were here alone until I forced you to talk to me. ”

  “Doesn’t that make you lonely as well, then?”

  “Nope. I’m just being nice. It’s good for tourism. ”

  “A shame. Think of the things two lonely people could get up to. ”

  Good thing she was sitting, because her knees went hot and loose all of a sudden. Why are you not unbuckling his belt at this very moment? the eggs demanded, scowling over their bifocals.

  “I’m not really the type,” she said, her voice a little unsteady.

  “Pity. ”

  Her internal organs seemed to be melting.

 
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