The perfect match, p.37
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       The Perfect Match, p.37

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 37

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Records show that your marriage license has been filed,” she continued, “and a few days ago, someone called our office anonymously and said that you two barely know each other. ”

  Now who in the bloody hell would do that? Honor’s father, perhaps? The man had yet to look Tom in the eye. Droog, perhaps jealous that Honor hadn’t chosen him instead of Tom? Probably not him; he was good bloke.

  “Well, it was fast,” Tom said. “I’ll give you that. But we’re getting married because we love each other. Right, darling?”

  “We love each other,” she parroted, her voice squeaking. He squeezed her hand again, and she gave him a panicky look.

  “Glad to hear it,” Bethany said briskly. Again, her eyes scanned him up and down. “Be that as it may, you’re aware that marital fraud constitutes a fine of up to a quarter million dollars and a ten-year jail sentence. ”

  Honor swallowed with a dry click, and her little dog whined, wagging her tail and scrabbling to get at Bethany. So far, the only person Ratty seemed to hate was Tom.

  “Lots of times, the U. S. citizen will do it to help out a friend,” the woman continued, extending a finger to Spike, which the dog promptly licked. “Are you a sweet baby? You are? Are you? You’re so cute! Yes, you are! What’s your name? Huh? What’s your cute little name?”

  “Spike,” Honor breathed.

  “Oh, I love that. Yes, I do! I love it! Anyway, Ms. Holland, helping out a friend doesn’t make marital fraud any less illegal. ”

  “This isn’t one of those situations,” Honor said. Her hand was clammy.

  “Great. Then I’m sure you two won’t mind if I separate you and ask you some questions. ”

  “Of course not,” Tom said. “Do we, Honor?”

  “Nope,” she squeaked.

  Bethany smiled tightly. “Good. Mind if I see your upstairs before we get started?”

  “Not at all. ” Tom stood up and smiled, offering his hand to the woman. She took it, her face coloring slightly.

  “This is a cute house,” she said.

  “We like it,” he said.

  Thank God Honor had brought some things in, because the place was looking vastly improved from when Tom had been here alone. Pictures hung on the wall, the sofa had pillows, there were matching towels in the loo. It looked, in other words, like a real home, not just a temporary place to crash.

  “How long have you two been together?” Bethany asked. “Spike, you said her name was? Spike, how long have Mommy and Daddy been together, huh, cute baby? Hmm?”

  Dear God. “A couple of months,” Tom said. “One of those instant-attraction situations. ”

  “Right,” Honor croaked.

  “Spike! Is this your ball? Is this your ball? Go get it!” Bethany tossed the ball. It rolled under the chair. “I’ll get it for you, babykins! Yes! I will!”

  As the woman got down to retrieve Babykins’s ball, Tom turned to Honor and gave her a quick kiss. “Get a grip,” he whispered against her mouth.

  “Okay,” she whispered back, but her eyes were darting everywhere. He kissed her again, more slowly, cupping her head in his hands, her hair soft and feathery. She smelled so clean and simple, so good. After a second, her hand went to his chest, and her mouth softened.

  They might have to pretend to be madly in love, but he didn’t have to pretend that kissing her was incredible. She had this way of melting into him, his brittle little bride, and seemed. . . helpless when he kissed her. Soft and sweet and a little surprised.

  “And the upstairs?” Bethany asked. “Come on, Spikey! Upstairs!”

  “Right this way,” Tom said, stepping back from Honor. Spike barked once, in love with Bethany Woods.

  Thank God Honor was a bit anal retentive about neatness, because the bed in Charlie’s room was perfectly made, and not so much as a slipper or a pair of earrings gave away the fact that she slept in here every night. Smart girl. She’d anticipated this. He owed her one. More than one, that was certain.

  “Who does model airplanes?” Bethany asked, surveying the half-finished Stearman on the bureau.

  “My unofficial stepson,” Tom said. “Um, I was engaged to his mum a few years ago, but she died. Her son and I are still close, though. ” Another lie.

  “That’s beautiful,” Bethany said. “What a nice guy you are. Is he so nice, Spike? Huh? Hmm?” She picked up the little dog and kissed her.

  “Thank you,” he said, ignoring Honor’s shallow panting. She really needed to calm down. So did Bethany, for that matter, he thought as Spike licked the woman’s mouth. Disgusting.

  Bethany walked into Tom’s room and opened the closet. Again, well done, Honor. Her clothes made it seem like it was her room, too. “So when’s the wedding?”

  “Soon,” Honor said.

  “We thought about eloping,” Tom said, “but her family want to be there, and she’s got to get the poofy dress and all that. And I want her to be happy, of course. ” He looked at her. “You’ll make a beautiful bride, darling. ”

  “I love weddings,” Bethany said.

  “You’re welcome to come to ours,” he said. Honor gave a squeak, then covered it with a cough, and Bethany smiled and meandered into the bathroom. Opened the cupboard and nodded.

  “You’re laying it on a little thick,” Honor breathed.

  “She’s eating it up,” he whispered back. “Would it kill you to smile? We’re supposed to be in love. ”

  “I’m not good at faking. ”

  “Yeah, that’s obvious. Follow my lead. Darling. ”

  “Honor,” Bethany said briskly, back in business mode, “would you mind staying up here and answering these questions?” She opened her enormous purse and pulled out a sheaf of papers.

  “No problem,” Honor said. She started to go into Charlie’s room, then did an about-face and went into his room instead.

  Bethany’s eyebrow raised.

  Bollocks.

  Back down the stairs they went, returning to the kitchen. “If you don’t mind, we’ll wait for Honor to come back down with her answers,” Bethany said, scooping up Ratty.

  “Not at all. Are you sure you don’t want some water? Or that wine?” He smiled again. “I imagine we’re your last stop of the day. ”

  “When you put it that way, sure. Why not? White if you have it. ”

  “We certainly do. Honor’s family are winemakers. We’ve got all sorts of lovely choices. Gewürztraminer? Pinot gris? Chardonnay?”

  “Chardonnay is great. ”

  “Wonderful. ” He poured her a generous glass and handed it to her. “Do you mind if I start dinner?” he asked.

  “Go right ahead,” she answered.

  Tom pulled off his sweater, revealing the Henley-style T-shirt he wore underneath. Ms. Woods flushed, staring at his Union Jack tattoo. “Can’t forget where I’m from, can I?” he asked with a wink.

  “And you have another one?” she asked, taking a sip of her wine and pointing to his other arm.

  “I do, yes. Bit a youthful mistake. ” He pulled up his left sleeve and showed her the Celtic circle, which had absolutely no meaning to him but had seemed incredibly cool when he was seventeen. Was he whoring it up a bit for the sake of Ms. Woods?

  Yes.

  “What happened to your eye?” she murmured.

  “Funny story,” he said, and told her about the class and Honor’s ring. “It’s better now. The doctor did a nice job stitching it up, don’t you think?” He leaned down so she could inspect it, then smiled.

  “You poor thing,” she said, her voice husky. Spike growled.

  “How long have you worked for Immigration, Bethany?” he asked.

  “Fourteen years,” she answered. “You’re right, this wine is wonderful. ”

  “Great. ” He got out some chicken, grabbed a handful of parsley and a few cloves of garlic and started chop
ping. “You must have quite a lot of stories,” he added.

  Cooking, he’d noted over the years, was a strangely intimate activity. Some of his best conversations with Charlie had been in the kitchen as he’d cooked, back in the day. With Melissa, too, who’d always appreciated not having to put dinner together after a workday.

  It worked with Bethany, too. “We see all sorts of things,” she said, taking another sip of wine. “These visits, we call them bed-checks. Make sure the couple is really living together and not just faking it. You know, is her stuff in the bathroom, or is it just his? Do they actually know each other, or are they complete strangers? You’d be surprised how many people think they can pull off this kind of thing. ”

  “Really. ”

  “There was this one time,” she began, and with that, she started on a story about a green-card ring in which couples would try to make it appear they’d been together for months by Photoshopping pictures, pasting their heads onto other people’s bodies. “So in one picture, she weighs maybe a hundred pounds. In the next, supposedly on the same skiing trip, she’s double the size. Can you believe that? Can you, Spike?”

  Tom smiled. “Funny,” he said.

  “It is funny,” Bethany said. “Stupid, but funny. At least you two haven’t lied about how long you’ve been together. ” She drained her wine. “How did you meet, anyway?”

  “We met at O’Rourke’s,” he said, nudging the chicken. “The little bar in town here. I saw her, and I thought, ‘That’s her, Tommy, mate. That’s your wife. ’ Felt like I’d been hit in the head with a sledgehammer. ” He grinned. “That sounds like a cheesy pickup line. ”

  “No. Not at all. It sounds romantic, doesn’t it, Spikey baby?”

  Honor came back into the kitchen, looking sweaty and rumpled. “All done,” she said, handing over the papers.

  “Right, right,” Bethany said. “Boy, that smells good. I’m starving. ”

  “Would you like to stay?” Tom asked. Honor shot him a murderous look.

  “I’d love to!” Bethany answered instantly. Behind her, Honor threw up her hands.

  “Lovely. Darling, set the table, won’t you?”

  She did, rattling the plates and nearly dropping the couscous. He gave her a warning look, but she seemed incapable of relaxing.

  “You’re a great cook,” Bethany said, falling upon dinner like she’d just got back from forty days in the desert. “This is fantastic. Can I give Spike a bite?”

  At least Bethany was happy. Honor, on the other hand, pushed her food around and remained silent until he gave her a sharp look. She took a few bites. Was not doing a great job convincing Bethany they were madly in love.

  “Okay!” Bethany announced, pushing back her plate. “What I like to do here is ask you the same questions Honor has already answered and see how well your answers match. ”

  “Fire away,” he said. Kicked Honor under the table, as she looked as if her dog had just been bulldozed in the street. Speaking of, where was Ratty? Peeing in another of his shoes?

  “What’s Honor’s favorite color?”

  Shit. He had no bloody idea. Most of her clothes were. . . “Blue,” he said.

  “Specifically?”

  “Dark blue. ”

  “Navy. I’ll give it to you. ” Bethany smiled at him with a little wink. “When is her birthday?”

  “Oh, shit, this is where most husbands screw up, isn’t it?” He gave Honor a grin. She didn’t return it, her eyes open too wide. “January 4. ” Thank you, Honor, for your anal-retentive dossier.

  “Good job!” Bethany leaned across for a high five, her eyes dropping again to his Union Jack. “Where does she fall in birth order in her family?”
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