The perfect match, p.34
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       The Perfect Match, p.34

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 34

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Hmmph. What do I need with counter space?”

  “Imagine baking Christmas cookies in here,” Honor said. “So much easier than doing it all on the kitchen table. ”

  “Have you ever had a bad cookie in my house?” Goggy asked.

  Honor put her arm around her. “Never. You make the best everything, and don’t tell Mrs. Johnson I said that, or she’ll kill me. I’m just saying it’d be nice for you to have a place like this, new and clean and efficient. You deserve it. ”

  “Well,” Goggy said, mollified. “That’s a nice thought, sweetheart. ”

  Progress indeed.

  After Rushing Creek, they drove into town to talk to Laura Boothby about the flowers for the ball. “I was thinking ivory centerpieces with black velvet ribbons tied around the vases,” she said, turning the pages of Laura’s photo album.

  “Beautiful,” Laura said. “Great idea. ”

  “But it’s the Black and White Ball,” Goggy protested. “Not the Black and Ivory Ball. ”

  “Right, but this will just be a little contrast. Remember when Lyons Den hosted two years ago? And they had pink flowers?”

  “I thought that was tacky,” Goggy said.

  “Oh, no, it was wonderful,” Laura said. “Jeremy has the best taste. And he’s such a good doctor!”

  “You don’t have to tell me,” Goggy said. “He’s practically my grandson. And those hands? So gentle. ”

  Which reminded Honor. . . she and Tom would need a blood test. Not that one was required, but she wanted one, anyway. Just to make sure there were no red flags for baby-making.

  “Honor, while you’re here, would you like to look at wedding bouquets?” Laura asked craftily.

  “Um, no, that’s okay. Not yet, anyway. ”

  “Oh, come on. Just a little peek. ”

  And somehow, an hour passed. First, visions of a wedding dress. Now, poring over pictures of roses and lilies and hydrangeas. Like a regular bride. . . which, of course, she wasn’t.

  But she was falling for him. She knew that. How could she not? First, the smile. The accent. The tattoos, which she’d never really liked before and now heartily adored.

  And then there was his unflagging love of Charlie, who didn’t give Tom so much as a crumb of affection, and for whom Tom was rewriting his life.

  And then there was the kissing. That one night of moon-and-back sex, when Honor had acted like a stranger and felt right at home. One amazing night that seemed to be playing in a constant loop in her head, making her break off in midsentence weeks after the fact.

  Hot diggety.

  It was probably being around all this love. . . Dad and Mrs. Johnson snuggled up on the couch, arguing amiably about who should win Top Chef. Faith and Levi, who seemed like two magnets when they were in the same room, always near each other, always touching somehow. Even Pru and Carl, with their goofy grins and rock-solid knowledge that the other was simply there, still dependably in love.

  She and Tom were a business arrangement. They were both getting something out of this. He would have his green card, and she was saving face.

  Yes. People were now looking at Honor with new respect these days. Tom Barlow, the hottie Brit with the killer smile, had chosen quiet, reliable, boring Honor Holland.

  What Honor knew, and shouldn’t forget, was that Tom Barlow was only with her because of his unofficial stepson.

  Otherwise, there was no way she’d get a guy like that.

  “Honor?”

  She looked up abruptly. “Sorry, Goggy. What were you saying?”

  “I think these are nice. I’ve always loved carnations. ”

  “Very pretty. I’ll think about it. Thanks, ladies. Goggy, we should go. I have to hit up some businesses for raffle donations. ”

  They went to O’Rourke’s, where Colleen once again complimented her on “shagging and bagging Tom”; to Lorelei’s Sunrise Bakery, where the eternally cheerful baker offered to make their wedding cake for free in thanks for all the business Blue Heron had given them; to Mel’s Candy Shoppe, where Mr. Stoakes told her she could eat as much candy as she wanted, now that she was off the market. To Hart’s Jewelers, where Tom had apparently bought her ring, as she was welcomed in and fussed over like a soldier returning from war.

  “You really like it, then?” Mrs. Hart asked.

  “I love it,” Honor said honestly. Every time she looked at the ring (which was often), she seemed to notice something new.

  “He’s adorable. Well done, dear,” Mrs. Hart said, beaming.

  “I fixed them up,” Goggy announced. “I knew it was Meant to Be. They’re perfect for each other. A perfect match. A grandmother knows about these things. We have a certain sense about us—”

  “Okay, Goggy, we should go,” Honor said. “Thanks for the donation, Mrs. Hart. ”

  “See you soon!” the jeweler said. “For your wedding bands!”

  “Right! Yes. Thanks again. ”

  “I’m hungry,” Goggy said. “Let’s eat. Is it too early for dinner?” She glanced at the man’s watch she wore. “Nope. Four-thirty. That works for me. ”

  “One more stop, okay? The gym said they’d offer a six-month membership. ”

  “Why do people go to gyms?” Goggy asked.

  “I have no idea,” Honor answered. “But people do. ”

  And Tom’s car was in the parking lot. Today was the self-defense class. Coincidence? Probably not.

  They went into Cabrera’s Gym, Goggy clutching her purse in both hands like she was about to encounter a gang of thugs in desperate need of coupons. It was dark (the less you saw, Honor supposed, the less grossed out you’d be). Music boomed over the loudspeakers. “Can I help you?” said a young man behind the desk.

  “Is Carlos here?” Honor said.

  “He’s over there with the kids. ” The man pointed, and Honor peered ahead.

  There they were—Charlie, Helena, Abby and quite a few other kids. The class seemed to have mushroomed.

  Tom was there, as well. He wore black boxing shorts and a faded blue T-shirt that said Gulfstream. The bottom of the Union Jack was just visible, and his hair was sweaty. She could see the chain of his Saint Christopher’s medal where it disappeared into his shirt, and the memory of that medal, hot against her own chest, made Down Under clench in a strong, hot surge.

  She swallowed.

  “Hallo, darling! And hallo, Honor. ” He came over to Goggy, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Kids, for those of you who don’t know, this is Honor Holland, my fiancée, and her lovely grandmother, Mrs. Holland. ”

  “Call me Elizabeth,” Goggy murmured, batting her sparse eyelashes.

  “Hi, Auntie,” Abby said.

  “Hi, Honor,” Charlie echoed.

  Well, well. Charlie spoke to her. Voluntarily and everything.

  “Honor, I didn’t know you were engaged to Tom here! Congratulations!” Carlos said.

  “Mmm-hmm,” Honor said faintly, dragging her eyes off Tom’s mouth.

  “You want a gift certificate for the thing? The ball, right? I’ll go take care of that. Back in a flash. ” Carlos smiled and trotted off to his office.

  “Darling, will you help me here?” Tom asked, putting his arm around her shoulders. The smell of soap and sweat made her knees nearly buckle. Would it be wrong to lick his neck in front of the kids? Yes. Probably. Maybe not.

  “Right, kids, so here’s my lovely Honor, and as I was saying, boxing’s a sport for everyone, isn’t it, love?”

  “It so is,” she said.

  “Honor herself adores it, though you can’t tell from the look of her. But we’ve seen Rocky at least twenty times, isn’t that right, love?” He grinned at her, and her knees did buckle then, but she managed to stay upright.

  “Oh, yes. At least. And Cinderella Man. ”

  “Right. ” He gave her a squee
ze. “Don’t forget Warrior. ”

  “And Raging Bull. ”

  He leaned in close, his mouth almost touching her ear. “You have no idea how randy you’re making me by knowing all these films,” he whispered, and her breath was suddenly ragged. He turned back to the kids. “And Honor here weighs about how much, love?”

  “Nice try,” she said.

  “Less than I do, at any rate. But if she knew where to hit—”

  “The groin,” she said. “Go right for the nuts, girls. Sorry, boys, but it’s true. ” Goggy nodded in agreement.

  Tom turned and looked at her. “Darling! I didn’t know you had a violent streak. Yes, the groin is an excellent target. But say you can’t do that. You still have a lot of options. If Honor knew where and how to hit, she could level me. Couldn’t you, sweetheart?”

  “Yes. I could. ” Gray eyes. So. . . unfair, somehow, the gentle color of a rainy sky on a winter morning, and wasn’t someone feeling romantic? That mouth of his. She could do a lot with that mouth. Or rather, he could.

  What are we waiting for? the eggs asked.

  How about “not an audience of children”? Honor mentally answered.

  Don’t get testy with us, the eggs said. We’re just trying to get a little action here.

  “Into the ring with you, then,” Tom said.

  What? Her stomach lurched. “Oh, I don’t think so. I’m not dressed for it. ” Indeed. A pencil skirt and blouse, the sturdy-heeled pumps that Faith had deemed “not too nunnish” on their last lunch date.

  “She’s not, is she?” Tom left her side, unbalancing her a bit, as she seemed to have leaned up against him. It was cold without him there. He bounded up the two stairs to the ring. “But that’s the point. You have to know you could defend yourself whenever you needed to, no matter what you were wearing. Come on, Honor, let’s show the kiddies how it’s done. ”

  Honor glanced at the teenagers, who waited expectantly. “Go for it,” Abby said.

  “Yes, honey, do it,” Goggy said. “I want to see this. ”

  Hesitantly, she climbed the steps. “How do I get in here?” she murmured to Tom, who held the ropes for her. It looked very complicated.

  “Just scoot in. ”

  “Right. ” She started with one foot, then the other, holding her skirt down. Tripped (of course), only to have Tom grab her arm.

  “There you are. ” A slight smile flashed across his face.

  “Hey, Honor! Look at you!”

  Oh, fungus. A damning flush started prickling across her chest. “Hi, Brogan. ”

  Her former. . . person. . . walked over, gym bag slung over his shoulder, the easy grace of a natural athlete evident. “And Tom, isn’t it?” Brogan asked. “The lucky guy! We’ve met before. At Hugo’s?”

  “Of course,” Tom said, reaching over the ropes to shake his hand. “Nice to see you again. Honor and I are just demonstrating a move for the kids. ”

  “Fantastic. I’m just in time. ” Brogan set his bag down and folded his arms, winking at her.

  After the little showdown in the cask room with Dana, Brogan had sent Honor an email, full of hearty congratulations and a few possible dates for dinner. Unsurprisingly, Honor hadn’t had any free time. Not that she’d looked. But now, seeing Brogan’s smiling face, she couldn’t help missing him. As a friend.

  Yes. For the first time, his presence didn’t make her quiver. She smiled back at him, relieved.

  “You ready, darling?” Tom asked.

  She jerked her eyes to his face. His face was grim. “Ready for what?”

  “To demonstrate a punch. ”

  “Not really,” she said. “Can someone else do this?”

  “You’ll be brilliant. Kiddies, an uppercut starts here,” he said, holding his hands next to his temple. “You don’t scoop up so much as bend your knees and turn, like so—” he swiveled, bringing his shoulder down “—and hit with your whole body. ” He demonstrated, touching her chin with his fist, his eyes on the assembled kids. “Bend your knees, turn so that it’s not just your arm doing the work, it’s the entire body, and extend that fist with the whole of you right behind it. ” He went through the move again, slow motion. “Your turn, Honor. ”
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