The perfect match, p.35
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       The Perfect Match, p.35

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 35

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  What looked like a fluid, easy motion was a lot harder when Honor tried it. It was hard not to feel self-conscious and awkward while everyone, including two-thirds of all the men she’d slept with, were watching. If there was anything less sexy than trying to channel Muhammad Ali while wearing a skirt and not-too-nunnish shoes, she didn’t know what it was.

  “That’s it,” Tom said. “Practice a bit, Honor. Kids, you, as well. ” He left her in the corner, bobbing like an idiot, and walked over to the other side of the ring to watch the kids’ form. “Hands up, don’t forget, you don’t want to leave yourself open. Mrs. Holland—Elizabeth, rather—don’t just stand there! Get moving, darling. ” Goggy giggled and cooed and put her hands up and began punching the air quite vigorously. Good Lord.

  “This punch is brilliant if you’re in close quarters,” Tom continued, “because it’s tight and brutal. ” He demonstrated the move again. “So if someone’s got you against a wall or whatnot, this is your punch, and it’s a knockout if you do it right. That’s it, Molly, you’ve got it. Good job, Charlie. A little more pivot, Abby. Brilliant. ”

  He had a way with kids, that was certain. And they seemed to like him, too. Even Charlie looked a little more cheerful than usual, which wasn’t saying a lot, but still. The boy was supposed to come for dinner tonight. Hopefully, he’d speak.

  “Looking good, On,” Brogan said, grinning up at her. She rolled her eyes. “No, really. You remind me of Iron Mike. ”

  “Thank you. He and I are very close. ”

  “He’s a good guy. I photographed him a few years ago out in Vegas. ” He paused. “How’ve you been?”

  “Good. Busy. You know. Just. . . wedding stuff. ”

  “I know. Dana’s gone crazy with it. And, uh, we’re kind of in a rush now. ” His expression was sheepish. “Want to get it done before the baby. ”

  “Right. ” Tom was showing Helena how to turn her arm, and Helena was eating it up.

  “Anyway. It’s good to see you. ”

  “You, too. Um, do you box?” she asked, rather than have to stand here alone, punching air.

  “A little. Here and there. You know me. ”

  Yes. He loved all things athletic, from rock climbing to rowing to football to sailing. Rather tiring to a person whose idea of outdoor activity was taking her book outside to read.

  “All right, Honor?” Tom said, walking to her corner.

  “For what?” she asked.

  “To hit me, darling. ” The kids laughed. Brogan, too.

  “Oh, uh, no. No, thanks. I don’t want to hit you. ”

  He towed back to the center of the ring. “Sorry,” he said in a low voice. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your chat with Brandon. ”

  “Brogan. ”

  “Right. ” His eyes were flat and neutral.

  “We weren’t chatting,” she said. “We were just. . . It was nothing. ”

  “Of course it was nothing. Since you’re so in love with me and all. ” He turned to the kids. “Pay attention, kids. Honor, hands up. ”

  “I’m not going to hit you. ” Just the idea made her feel a little sick. “No, thanks. ”

  “Sure you are. I can take it. ”

  “No, really. I’m not comfortable doing this. ”

  “Exactly! Kids, did you hear that? She’s not comfortable fighting. And she does have a point. Most girls don’t grow up scrabbling in the schoolyard, do they? Maybe they’ve been conditioned not to hurt anyone, and yeah, it can go against the grain, which is all the more reason to learn this. ”

  Honor didn’t feel so good. Tom was right; her mother used to have a fit if they so much as wrestled. The one time fighting might’ve come in handy—aside from the catfight, of course—she’d been frozen in shock.

  Crap. Not the time to remember that. Her heart seemed to thud in fits and starts, and there was a roaring in her ears.

  “Come on now,” Tom said. “It’s a good lesson for them. ” He raised the eyebrow with the scar running through it. “And you can look adorable in front of your boyfriend. ”

  “He’s not—”

  “Ready, then?” He put his hands on her shoulders and turned toward the kids. “So say I’ve grabbed the incredibly beautiful Honor here. ” He wrapped her in an abrupt hug, pinning her arms at her sides, and adrenaline spurted into her limbs. Her breath left in a gasp. Was it hot in here? “And then I shove her against a wall. No way out. ” He pushed her gently against the corner post and leaned in. “Give me your money, or are you alone, sweetheart—you all get the idea, right?”

  Why was she so nervous? Her legs were shaking, and gray spots were floating in front of her.

  “She can’t get away, she’s totally helpless, she’s just a soft little female, or so I think. Okay, love, on the count of three, a right uppercut, bend your knees, turn that gorgeous—”

  Her left fist appeared out of nowhere, slamming into his eye. Tom staggered back, one hand covering his eye. The kids gasped, hands flying over their mouths. Honor’s hand—her nonviolent hand—was over her mouth as well.

  “Oh, my God, she hit him!” said one girl. “That’s so mean!”

  “Are you all right?” he asked her. She tried to answer and couldn’t find her voice, nodded instead.

  He was bleeding. Blood was pouring down his face. It seemed her engagement ring had cut him under the eye. Goggy clucked in concern and handed Tom a tissue, which instantly bloomed with red.

  “I guess I was wrong about the soft helpless bit, yeah?” His voice was tight.

  Her knuckles started to throb. Carlos Mendez was suddenly in the ring with a towel, and blood was dripping onto the mat. Brogan, too, came through the ropes. “You okay?” he asked, putting a warm hand on her shoulder.

  “I’m so sorry,” she said to Tom, her voice thin and shaky.

  “I’m fine, gang,” he said to the kids. “Honor here proved a good point. You’re all quite strong enough if the situation demands it, yeah? Her engagement ring caught me. Nothing to worry about. Shows the importance of blocking, doesn’t it. ”

  “You’re gonna need stiches, bro,” Carlos said.

  Tom glanced at her, his eye already beginning to swell. “Feel like a run to hospital?” he asked. “Kids, class is over for today. Good job all around. Abby, would you mind driving Charlie home?”

  * * *

  “LOOK, I TOLD you I didn’t want to do it,” Honor snapped.

  “And clearly you were sincere,” Tom snapped back, lifting the gauze the nurse had given him when they came in. “Quite the hotshot, aren’t you?”

  “Yes! I am! The thing is, you were right,” she said, looking away. “Most women don’t fight for fun. I didn’t want to do it, I was nervous. I told you not to make me do it, but you wouldn’t listen. ”

  “Blame the victim, that’s it. Does ‘on the count of three’ mean nothing to you, darling, or was there another reason for that punch?”

  “I was nervous! I’m sorry, okay? I’m really, really sorry. ”

  He gave her a one-eyed glare, the flesh around his eye puffy and red. “You’re welcome to make it up to me, darling. I can think of about ten things you can do for starters. ”

  “Don’t be a jerk,” she said, even as a hot, tight nervousness grabbed her insides.

  “Hello, hello!” The door to the exam room opened, and a tiny Asian girl came in, roughly five foot nothing, ninety pounds and perhaps twelve years old. Honor instantly felt like an Amazon. Not in the good way. “I’m Dr. Chu, and what have we here?”

  “A bit of a cut,” Tom said. “My girlfriend has a mean streak. ”

  “There was a slight accident,” Honor ground out.

  “Dude, that’s awful!” the doctor said. “Bummer. ”

  “How old are you?” Honor asked.

  “Um, twenty-three?” she answered. “I started college when I was, like, sixtee
n. A complete trip. But I’m totally a real doctor. Well, sort of. I’m an intern? And I’ve never done stitches before, so I’m totally psyched. ”

  “Great,” said Tom. “I have absolute faith in you. ”

  “Cool!” she said, turning on the water. “Washing hands, check. Pleasant demeanor, supercheck. So what happened, Mr. , um, Barlow?”

  “My fiancée punched me,” he said.

  “OMG! That’s horrible!” She turned to Honor. “Are you his mother?”

  “No!” Kill us now, said the eggs. “I’m the fiancée. ”

  Tom grinned. If she’d felt sorry about hitting him, it was fading. Fast.

  “Really? Mr. Barlow, do you mind if she stays?”

  Tom pondered the question. Honor sighed. “You’ll protect me, won’t you?” he asked, smiling at the tiny doctor.

  “Totally! Yeah! Plus, I can always call Security?”

  “Then I feel safe. ” He cocked his good eyebrow at Honor as Dr. Chu pulled on exam gloves. “So sixteen when you started college, eh? I bet you’re really smart. ”

  “Not to toot my own horn? But I did graduate first in my class at Stanford. ”

  “Congratulations,” he said. “That’s incredible. ”

  “Thanks! So let me get to work here. Um, she punched you? Is that all? Like, how did you get this cut?”

  “From her engagement ring. ”

  “Wow. So ironic,” Dr. Chu said.

  “You’re telling me. ”

  The two shared an adorable smile.

  “He was teaching a boxing class and asked me to hit him,” Honor said. Dr. Chu didn’t so much as flicker a glance in her direction, too busy lifting the gauze off Tom’s eye.

  “Awesome! That’s some cut! Plus I think you’re gonna have a black eye! Kind of sexy, hopefully?”

  “Whatever you say, Doctor. ” His crooked tooth flashed, making him look like an incredibly appealing, adult version of the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist.

  “Awesome! So, like, let me get stitching, okay?”

  It was clearly the best day of Dr. Chu’s brief life. “Suture kit, check. Sterilizing the field, check! This is fun. ”

  “I love a woman who loves her job,” Tom said.

  “I totally love it! And what do you do, Mr. Barlow?”

  “I’m a professor of mechanical engineering. ”

  “That rocks! Okay, this is gonna sting. So sorry about that. Sympathetic attitude, check. ”

  “Very sympathetic indeed. ”

  “Supercheck, then!” Dr. Chu giggled, then raised a needle of painkiller to inject under the cut.

  Guilt wasn’t an emotion Honor was used to.

  Honor looked at her hand. It was slightly swollen, which she supposed she deserved. It was also the first time she’d ever hit someone in her entire life.

  Well, no. She’d smacked Dana, hadn’t she? She was building quite the reputation.

  “Do you have a regular doctor?” Dr. Chu asked. “He or she can take out your stitches in about a week. Or I can totally do it! You just have to come back here. I can give you my number if you want to see when I’m on duty. ”

  Tom glanced at Honor. “You can go to Jeremy,” she said. “He’s a family friend. ”

  “I’ll do that, then,” Tom said.

  “Sure! Just look at these gorgeous sutures, right? Listen, it was so nice meeting you!” Dr. Chu said. “I’m just gonna ask my attending one thing, okay? I doubt we need X-rays, but I want to be supersure. ”

  “Thank you,” Tom said.
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