The perfect match, p.32
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       The Perfect Match, p.32

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 32

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  How was it that Charlie was better off with those wretched grandparents instead of him? Maybe, Charlie would have a chance in life if the people he actually lived with liked him a bit more. Didn’t call him lazy or horrible in front of him.

  Tom needed a drink.

  The little rat-dog went off in hysterics when Tom came in, yapping without stop. Yark! Yark! Yark! “Spike! Enough,” he ordered. The dog ignored him.

  Where was Honor? Had she told him she had plans? Was she still cleaning her grandparents’ house? There was no note, and no message on his phone. He could call her, he supposed. Then again, what would he say? Where are you? Get back here, I’m in a bloody horrible mood and I’d really like not to be alone.

  Yark! Yark! Yarkyarkyark! The little dog skittered into the room, then commenced growling. “Really impressive,” he said, pouring two fingers of whiskey. “I’m bloody terrified. ”

  He sat there, trying to ignore the little ankle-biter, who now had his pants in her tiny teeth. “Come on now,” he said, reaching down and scooping up the dog. “Let’s be friends, what do you say?”

  Spike sank her teeth into his thumb. “Piss off, Ratty,” he said. He set her on the floor and went to the sink to rinse off the blood. Ridiculous little dog. He should get a proper mutt who’d hopefully teach her some manners.

  Picking the nasty little baggage up but keeping his hand on her neck so she couldn’t twist around and bite him again, he carried her upstairs, opened Honor’s bedroom door and set the dog on the bed, where the precious thing continued to snarl at him, sounding more like a rabid hedgehog than a real threat.

  It smelled nice in here. Lemony. Neat as a pin, and looking very much as he’d had it, thanks to her paranoia about being discovered. While some of her clothes were in Tom’s room, there wasn’t room enough for all of them. He opened a drawer to find out.

  Rather nice panties, he thought. Pink here, black-and-white polka dots there. Matching bras. Hello there. The woman who dressed like a modern-day Puritan had quite lovely knickers. Almost slutty, in fact, and wasn’t that a plus in the marital column?

  Yark! Yark!

  Ratty was back, gnawing on his ankle. “You know, Ratty, for a squirrel, you’re a right pain in the arse,” he said. “Enjoy your solitude. ”

  With that, he closed the door behind him, ignoring the scrabbling paws against the door. Back downstairs. No bleeding on the ankle, as the dog’s teeth appeared to have gone straight into the bone marrow instead.

  He finished his whiskey. Poured another one and drank half of that.

  The door opened, and in came his bride-to-be. “Darling,” he said. “Where’ve you been?”

  “We were shopping for a wedding dress. ”

  Bloody hell. “Do we really need to go all out?” he asked, turning to survey her. She looked. . . good. Irritatingly so.

  “We should talk about that. ” She was blushing. “It was pointed out to me that my family expects something a little bigger than just you and me and a justice of the peace. ”

  “Are you becoming a bridezilla, Honor?”

  “No. I’m just saying that I have a family to consider. And also, maybe it’d be more convincing if we had a real wedding. With a dress and flowers and all that. And by the way, the shopping wasn’t for me. It was for Mrs. Johnson. ” She paused. “But I made an appointment for myself. ” Her face grew even redder.

  “Shall we see if Pippa Middleton is free to be your bridesmaid, in case your sisters aren’t enough?”

  “Why are you in a mood?”

  “Your dog bit me. Twice. ”

  “Poor baby. ”

  “Thanks. ”

  “I meant her. Where is she, by the way?”

  “I ate her. ” She waited. “She’s in your room. ”

  “What? I told you she has to have run of the house. She’ll pee if she’s locked up. ”

  “She gets more appealing every minute, doesn’t she?”

  Honor went upstairs and returned with Ratty, who was pretending to be sweet and demure, her head tucked under Honor’s chin. “She’s a rescue, Tom. You can’t shut her away. It makes her anxious. ”

  “I just told you, she kept biting me. ”

  “She weighs five pounds. ”

  “And her teeth are like needles. ”

  “Man-up. ”

  He raised an eyebrow. She raised one, as well.

  The phone rang. Tom took another sip of his drink and stared at his bride-to-be. She looked good. Better than good. Flushed and pretty and a little irritable, too, her eyes flashing. He felt the start of a smile, and the irritating dog growled.

  The phone rang again, and Honor sighed and answered it. “Hello? Excuse me?” Her expression changed. “Oh! Hi, Mr. Barlow! How are you? It’s Honor. ”

  “Give it to me,” Tom said, holding his hand out. “I’ll take it. ”

  She didn’t obey, the cheeky thing. “Honor Holland? Your son’s fiancée?” she said. “Oh, he didn’t?” She leveled a glare at him. “Shoot, I’m sorry. I thought you knew. ”

  “Great,” Tom said. His father would be over the bloody moon about this. Rather a pathetic romantic, Dad was.

  “No, it was pretty sudden. . . . Oh, sure. He’s so, so wonderful. ”

  “Give me the phone,” Tom ordered again. Again, she didn’t listen. Was that still a part of wedding vows? Love, honor and obey?

  “What made me fall in love with him?” She rolled her eyes. “Gosh, that’s really hard to say. ”

  “Just tell him the truth,” Tom said, taking a step closer. “I’m great in the sack. Give me the phone, Honor. ”

  “It was probably his love of animals,” she said.

  “All right, that’s enough,” he said, pinning her against the counter and prying the phone from her hand. God, she smelled good. The dog snarled and bit his sleeve, but Tom stayed put, rather enjoying having Honor trapped against him. “Hello, Dad. ”

  “Son! You sly devil!” Hugh Barlow’s voice was filled with joy. “When did this all happen?”

  “Dad, I wanted to be the one to tell you, but Honor’s so delighted, she can’t keep the news to herself,” Tom said. “She’s crazy about me. ”

  “Oh, indeed,” Honor muttered.

  “Of course she is, my boy,” Hugh said. “What’s she like?”

  “She’s lovely,” Tom said, staring at his intended. “Bossy. Very affectionate. Always with the kissing and the grabbing and the like. ”

  She gave him the finger. He smiled in return, and a flush colored her face.

  “Wonderful,” Dad said. “When’s the happy day, then? I want to come see my boy get married. ”

  Tom sobered and took a step away, releasing Honor. “Not sure yet, Dad, but we were thinking a quick ceremony, just us two. ”

  “A big wedding,” she said loudly. “Very soon, Mr. B. ”

  “Just the two of us,” Tom repeated. “But then we can fly you over and have a lovely long visit. ” He shifted the phone away. “You’ll make my dad some blood pudding, won’t you, darling? It’s his favorite. ”

  “Whatever you kids want!” Dad said. “This is wonderful news, Tommy. Just great. ”

  Guilt rose up hard in Tom’s stomach. “Thanks. ”

  “I hope it’ll work out better this time for you. ”

  “Me, too. ”

  “Can I talk to her again?” Dad asked.

  “Sure. Honor, darling, Dad’s keen to get to know you. Dad, talk to you later, all right?” He passed the phone to Honor.

  “Hi again, Mr. Barlow,” she said. “Oh, okay. Hugh. ”

  Tom finished his drink, watching Honor as she smiled into the phone.

  This fraud they were committing. . . it wasn’t just on the government. It was on all these people, the Hollands and all Honor’s friends, and Charlie and the Kelloggs, and now Dad, too.

  And lyi
ng to his father had never been a strong suit.

  Honor hung up. “Nice guy,” she said.

  “Yes. ”

  “Do you have any other family?”

  “No. ”

  She put the dog down, and Ratty dashed off to investigate a noise from the street. “What happened to your mother?”

  “She left when I was little. ”

  Honor nodded, looking at the floor. “Sorry. ”

  “It’s not your fault, is it?” He certainly made it sound that way. “Thanks, I mean. Listen, I’ve got to correct papers. Are you hungry?”

  “No. My sisters and Mrs. J. and I went out after shopping. ”

  “Right. Listen, buy whatever dress you want. I don’t care. ” Ah, bollocks. That didn’t come out the way he meant. Hurt flashed across her eyes.

  But really, what did she expect? This was not a typical situation. He really didn’t care what she wore, or if they got married with her family there and whatnot.

  What he did care about was if she started to get caught up in all the wedding and happily-ever-after crap that women so loved. Had the world learned nothing from Charles and Diana? The only reason Tom had agreed to go along with this was because he couldn’t figure out another way to stay in the States, and because she was coming into this with her eyes wide open. She was a sensible person who didn’t seem prone to. . . whatever women were prone to.

  But he didn’t like where this seemed to be heading. First that kiss in the grandparents’ cellar earlier today. Now he was staring at her and wondering what she’d do if he kissed her again. And then banged her silly on the table there.

  “I’m off, then,” he said. “I left something at school yesterday. ”

  And that, friends, was a lie. But it did get him out of the house.

  * * *

  WHEN TOM CAME home, it was much later than he’d planned. But he’d taken the shuttle bus to school, because only bungholes drove after drinking whiskey, and Tom was a bunghole in some ways, but not that way. Drunk driving, driving while texting, walking while texting. . . it would not be the way he died. So he’d done some work on a demonstration he’d be showing the students about wind sheer and torque and made good use of his time at school. Might as well.

  Then, Droog had shown up, and he and Tom ended up getting a beer, and Tom told his boss the news that he was getting married.

  “Ah!” Droog cried. “You and Mees Holland have dee cleek! Yes! I thought I smelled something in dee air that fateful night. Congratulations, my friend!”

  “Right,” Tom answered. “Thanks, mate. Um, we’d love for you to come to the wedding, of course. ”

  Droog had offered a ride home, but Tom wasn’t sure the man’s car would make it and opted for the bus instead. He had, however, forgotten that the bus stopped running at ten, and found himself walking home. Five miles. Not too far. Just very bloody dark.

  The house was quiet, as one would expect at 1:00 a. m. He put his coat away and rubbed his eyes. Took a seat and turned on the television set. The remote control was rough from Ratty’s teeth marks. He’d have to remember to buy her some proper toys.

  Not much was on. Infomercials. Basketball, not his sport. Ah. A special on the homes of good Queen Bess. Might as well see how his tax dollars were being spent.

  “Hi. ”

  He looked up. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. ”

  “That’s okay. ”

  She sat down beside him, her hair rumpled. She wore flannel pajamas with polka dots on them and bunny slippers.

  Rather adorable.

  Without thinking, he put his arm around her. Said nothing, just looked at the telly. Tiny Evil jumped up with only a slight snarl and settled onto her owner’s lap, and Honor stroked the dog’s rough fur, earning a little moan of pleasure from the beast. Tom almost felt jealous.
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