The perfect match, p.27
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       The Perfect Match, p.27

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 27

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  For seven days now, she and Tom had spent evenings together. Mostly silent evenings. She came home from work, he came home from work. They exchanged the politest of pleasantries. They took turns making dinner. She would have a glass of wine. Tom would have a beer. . . or a glass of whiskey. Sometimes more than one (she tried not to count). They’d eat. Conversation was sparse; Tom seemed tense, and Honor definitely was. Then they’d go hide in opposite corners, Honor working on the details for the Black and White Ball, Tom correcting papers or making up lesson plans.

  Household chores were shared, and Honor was pleased to find that Tom was tidy, even if he made his bed crookedly (hers looked like a magazine photo, thank you very much). He rinsed the sink out after shaving and owned a vacuum cleaner.

  They watched a movie one night, but each of them appeared to be the polite type who didn’t talk during movies, so it hadn’t exactly been a bonding experience. “Good film” had been Tom’s comment, and Honor had agreed with “Yes. It was. ”

  On Tuesday, Charlie came over, and Tom had been manically cheerful, ignoring the fact that Charlie didn’t answer questions, eat dinner or make eye contact. “How’s school going?” Honor asked. He grunted in response. “Do you have Mrs. Parrish for English?” He sighed and nodded once. “She was my teacher, too. ” Charlie dragged his eyes to her face as if to say, And why would I care? “Does she still smell like menthol?” A shrug.

  “Charlie. Answer, mate,” Tom said.

  “Yes. Mrs. Parrish still smells. ”

  “How about some grape pie?” she offered. She’d baked it in honor of this painful evening, hoping it would go better than it had thus far.

  “He hasn’t finished his dinner,” said Tom.

  She looked at the kid. “Well, it’s a special occasion. Your first dinner with us. So maybe we can bend the rules, Tom. ”

  He hesitated. “All right. Would you like some pie, Charlie?”

  He shrugged. But, Honor was pleased to note, he also ate three pieces. In silence, mind you, but still. When Tom got back from driving him home, he went for a run. A long run.

  So communication didn’t seem to be their strong suit.

  Things were strained, to say the least. On the one hand, this was a business arrangement, more or less, so the typical romantic pressure off. On the other, she had already slept with the guy, and late at night, as she listened to the unfamiliar sounds of Manningsport Village and the occasional car passing, Honor wondered if she’d been stupid to tell Tom they should stay apart. Maybe sex would’ve made this seem a little more natural.

  But then again, if things didn’t work out, sex might have just complicated the already unusual situation.

  Didn’t keep her from stealing looks at him, that was for sure. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem similarly affected. . . or if he was, he covered it well.

  On Thursday evening, Faith called, asking her if the two of them could have dinner. Honor said yes, albeit reluctantly. Feigning the role of smitten bride-to-be—or any role, really—wasn’t going to be easy, especially given the fact that Faith was an actual smitten bride. Faith offered to drive and asked to meet at Cabrera’s Boxing Gym first, because Levi had a “thing,” and so Honor walked the three blocks, Spike’s cute little black-and-tan head popping out of Honor’s purse, alert for danger.

  Honor had never been to Cabrera’s, which was unusual, as she’d been in every other business in Manningsport. It was a circle of Dante’s Inferno, as far as she was concerned—cold, dark and poorly lit, with all sorts of smacking, thudding, punitive sounds coming from various areas. There was Faith, easy to spot in her yellow dress, staring into a dimly lit ring.

  Honor went over, pausing as she passed a teenager sitting on a metal chair. It was Charlie Kellogg, dressed in gray sweatpants and a T-shirt with a picture of a horned goat on it. Maybe he was in a club that met after school or something. He was clutching a phone, earbuds firmly in place.

  “Hi, Charlie,” she said.

  He glanced at her, but didn’t answer.

  “Nice to see you again,” Honor murmured, moving over to her sister.

  Faith’s eyes were glued on the two men in the ring; apparently, Levi’s thing was to be ogled by his wife as he boxed with someone. Really not Honor’s cup of tea, two sweaty men bludgeoning each other, but whoever it was seemed to be giving Levi a pretty good time of it. The other guy was tattooed on both shoulders, muscled, glistening with sweat, and you know, maybe there was something to be said for boxing, after all. Both men wore helmets, but she could see Levi smile as he jabbed (or whatever). The other boxer answered with a left-right-left combination, and Levi staggered back, then recovered, saying something unintelligible to the other guy.

  “Who’s putting the smackdown on Levi?” Honor whispered.

  Faith gave her a strange look. “Your fiancé,” she answered.

  Honor jerked in surprise. “Oh, sure. It’s just with the helmets, and the funky lighting, it looked a little. . . like, uh, Gerard. Gerard Chartier. From the firehouse. ”

  Gerard was six foot five and rather resembled Mr. Clean. Tom was a good five inches shorter, maybe a hundred pounds lighter and had a Union Jack tattooed on his shoulder. Might’ve been a clue. Then again, the one time she’d seen him without his shirt, he’d been on top of her (oh, happy memory), and she’d been too busy shoving her tongue in his mouth to examine him for identifying marks.

  The bell rang, and both men hit each other’s gloves and exited the ring. Levi wrapped his squealy wife in his arms and kissed her, and then Tom leaned in and kissed Honor, as one would expect a young(ish) couple to do.

  It was a quick kiss, but it took Honor by surprise, anyway, sending an electric pulse through her so hard and fast that she swore the lights flickered. That mouth of his, so. . . excellent, and the masculine smell of sweat and soap. His hair was spiked from his exertion, and his abs were sinfully magnificent, and a bead of sweat sliced down toward his—

  “Hallo, darling. Here to cheer me on as I beat up your relatives?” He seemed completely unaffected, and Honor tried to snap out of it, dragging her eyes off his torso to his face.

  “Well, technically, Levi’s not related to me, but, uh, what was the question?”

  “What are you doing here, sweetheart?”

  “I’m meeting Faith. Um, you looked good, uh, Pooky. ”

  “Oh, man. That’s not really what you call him, is it?”

  Honor turned as her niece appeared at her side, Helena Meering, her best friend, in tow. “Hey, sweetheart,” she said.

  “Hi, Auntie,” Abby said, then turned to Levi, her hands on her hips. “Are you already done? I thought you were supposed to teach us to protect ourselves, Levi. That’s why we’re here. ”

  Right. Prudence had mentioned that she wanted Abby to know a little self-defense before entering the world of dating.

  “You’re an hour late,” Levi said, cocking an eyebrow. “I told you four o’clock. It’s now 5:07. ”

  “You look incredibly hot, Chief Cooper,” Helena said.

  “Inappropriate, young lady. ”

  “And so do you, mister,” the girl added, ogling Tom, who was taking off his boxing gloves. With his teeth. She had a point.

  “That’s Dr. Barlow to you,” Levi said. He paused. “Hey, Tom, I don’t suppose you’d be interested in doing a self-defense class with me, would you?”

  “OMG, do it,” Helena said. “There’d be, like, a hundred girls signed up in minutes. ”

  From several yards away, Charlie sat up straighter and took out one earbud.

  Tom glanced at Honor. She gave a little nod in Charlie’s direction, and Tom looked over. A hint of a smile flashed in his eyes, and that tingle of electricity sliced through Honor again. “Sure, I’ll help out,” he said. “I’d love to. ”

  “You’re British?” Helena squealed. “Hi. I’m Helena. I’ll
be eighteen in seven more months. ”

  “He’s taken, okay?” Abby said. “Remember? He’s gonna be my uncle. He and Honor are engaged. ”

  Helena turned to Honor, her mouth hanging open most unattractively. “You? Seriously?”

  Irritating. “Yes, Helena. We. . . we’re getting married. ” Man. Hard to say that out loud, especially with an officer of the law watching. Her legs felt sweaty. From the corner of her eye, she saw Charlie approach.

  “Tom Barlow. A pleasure,” Tom said. “And this is my unofficial stepson, Charlie Kellogg,” Tom said. “He’s a bit of a boxer, as well. ”

  “Cool,” Helena said.

  “Hey, Charlie,” Abby said.

  “Hey, Abby,” he returned. A flush crept up his still-boyish cheeks.

  “All right, we’re off,” Faith said, kissing Levi once more. “I plan on getting all the juicy details on you, Tom, so consider yourself forewarned. ”

  “Thanks for the heads-up,” he said. He put a heavy arm around Honor. “Don’t tell her all my secrets, darling. ”

  Heat flared in Honor’s face, making her blotchy, no doubt. Tom was much better at this. . . this faking than she was. “Right,” she said, her voice too loud. “Okay. Off we go. ”

  And for the next few hours, she lied. To her younger sister.

  Well, not lied, not exactly. She just didn’t tell her the full truth. Yes, it had been fast. Yes, his accent was adorable. Yes, he was quite attractive, wasn’t he? Yes, yes, yes.

  The secret wriggled around inside her. But while she and Faith had been getting closer since the youngest Holland had come back home, Honor couldn’t ask her sister to keep something from her police chief husband. She couldn’t tell Pru, either, as Pru tended to blurt out information like a bleating goat. Jack, forget about it. She might’ve considered Jessica Dunn, but Honor was Jess’s boss, and it didn’t seem fair to put her in a position where she’d have to conceal fraud.

  Not so long ago, she would’ve told Dana. It was an odd thought.

  * * *

  ON WEDNESDAY EVENING, Blue Heron hosted Kites and Flights, one of the off-season events designed to keep people coming to the vineyard all year-round. It was a singles event; a couple of weeks ago, Honor had seen some people flying kites and came up with the idea—kite flying, then a flight of wine in the cask room afterward.

  As she finalized some tasting notes, she remembered what Tom had said—what if she met someone while she was with him? Someone single and age-appropriate and straight, someone employed. This imaginary man would be good-looking, but not too pretty, and he’d be smart and well read and. . . and. . . he’d talk to her, as Tom did precious little of that. No. Only when they were in public did he turn on the charm.

  Her imagination (and eggs) had told her that she and Tom would move in together and start growing closer immediately. They’d laugh and have a good time. The chemistry would be undeniable. Before long, it’d be the real thing.

  Yeah. Not yet. Not even close.

  Spike licked her thumb, and Honor stroked her head with one finger. The dog had come a long way from when Honor had first met her. “Look at you,” she said. “Love has changed you, am I right? It’s time to go herd the singletons. Are you ready?”

  If there was a more perfect afternoon for kite-flying, Honor couldn’t imagine it. The early April sky was achingly, perfectly blue, the sun was warm—it was fifty-two degrees, in fact, though she knew quite well it would snow again before spring decided to stay. A brisk breeze gusted from the west, and the sweet smell of the vineyard permeated the air as she walked up to Rose Ridge, where the single kite flyers milled around.

  It was a pretty sight, the bright kites and clothes. At least six heads of gray hair and three baldies caught the light. . . . Why did singles events always attract the elderly? Hey. Glass houses, okay? the eggs said. Oh, gosh, Pops was here, too. . . hopefully not flirting too much, or Goggy might beat him with a stick later on. But there were a few younger people, too. Lorelei from the bakery, Julie from the library. The perfect man she’d just been imagining was missing. He always was.
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