The perfect match, p.42
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       The Perfect Match, p.42
 

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
Page 42

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “I understand, but—”

  “So when I saw her fall through the ice, I just went after her. Without thinking, because I couldn’t bear the thought of her dying in there alone. ”

  Spike chose that moment to sneeze, waking herself up, and Honor gave the dog a kiss. Spike licked her nose in return.

  “Next time, you have to think,” Tom said softly. “Please, Honor. You’re someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s aunt. And you’ll be someone’s mother someday. You can’t just risk your life for a dog, no matter how much you love her. ”

  He looked at her steadily, until she finally nodded. She couldn’t imagine hearing that Faith had died trying to save Blue, or Jack saving that hideous, one-eared cat of his. Tom was right, no matter how wrong it felt.

  She noticed he hadn’t said someone’s wife.

  He stood up and bent over her. “Come on. Bedtime for you both. ”

  “I can walk, you know. ”

  “But isn’t this more fun?” He gave her the smile she’d seen so much. . . the one that didn’t quite make it to his eyes. Not that he was faking it; just that his happiness—and heart—seemed locked tightly away.

  “Sure. Do your manly thing. ”

  For the third time that day, he lifted her into his arms and carried her up the stairs, ignoring Spike as she wriggled and snarled, trying to bite his arm.

  For a second, Honor thought Tom might put her in his own bed, and she wanted that so much her chest ached and her throat tightened, but no, he carried her into her own room. Set her down on the bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. “You need anything?” he asked.

  You, she thought. “No,” she whispered.

  “Sleep well, then. ”

  “You, too. ”

  With that, he clicked off her light and went to the door. “Honor?”

  Her heart rate sped up. “Yes?”

  He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I’m very glad you and Ratty are all right. ”

  Not what she was hoping for. The disappointment made her sink a little deeper into the mattress. “Thank you. For everything, Tom. ”

  “See you in the morning. ”

  And then he closed her door and went across the hall, leaving her alone in the dark with her dog.

 

 

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  TOM SPENT THE next morning at the airfield, first extracting a promise from his fiancée that she wouldn’t overdo it getting ready for the fund-raising ball.

  He hadn’t slept the night before. Each time he started to drift off, the image of Honor going underwater would jerk him awake. Four times during the night, he’d checked on her, but she was dead to the world—poor choice of words, that. Ratty had growled at him, though. Ungrateful little rodent. Ridiculously adorable, though, he’d give it that, curled up on Honor’s pillow as if watching over her. “You almost got her killed, Ratty,” he whispered. “Do that again, and I’ll put an end to you. ”

  But sleep-deprived or not, he had work to do. His professor’s salary was adequate, but only that. At university, he’d interned with a small airplane manufacturer. The company had a branch in New York, and a few times a year, Tom was hired to modify a plane for an owner. Those fees about tripled his annual income, and while he did love teaching (when his students were motivated, that was), it was nice to do some actual hands-on work.

  Jacob Kearns had been as happy as a puppy when Tom had called him. This job was for an owner who wanted a bit more power for some stunt flying on his Piper Cub. They needed to reconfigure the airfoil, as the bigger engine weighed more and threw off the lift. The rudders would need adjusting, as well.

  Jacob was outgoing and cheerful and utterly enthusiastic about the work, doing calculations, listening astutely as Tom described how the airfoil created a vacuum that helped lift the plane. Funny to think the kid was a recovering drug addict.

  For a panicky second, Tom wondered if that was what Charlie’s problem was—drugs. That would account for his sullenness and withdrawal, wouldn’t it? But first of all, Charlie had acted like that since his mother died. And secondly, Janice Kellogg had had him tested for that last year at his annual physical, and Charlie had been furious at the assumption that because he wore black eyeliner and listened to screeching noise that called itself music, he was an addict.

  “So we can do all this work ourselves?” Jacob asked.

  “Yes. It has to pass inspection before we fly it, but that shouldn’t be a problem. ”

  “Are you a pilot?”

  “I have a license, yeah. You should try getting one. ”

  “Maybe I will. Couldn’t hurt with the cool factor. ”

  Tom smiled. “Indeed. ”

  They spent the next few hours working. Jacob ran out for sandwiches and brought Tom back the change and a receipt and asked questions about Tom’s education and work experience, finding it quite hilarious that Tom had been an amateur boxing champion in Manchester.

  “Dude, can you imagine if I told all those hot chicks in class?” the kid asked. “They’d go crazy. ”

  “Don’t you dare,” Tom said. “They’re terrifying enough as it is. ”

  Around four, he packed up his tools. “All right, mate, let’s finish up for the day,” he said. “I’ve got an event tonight. ”

  “What is it?” Jacob asked.

  “It’s a fund-raiser. Save the farmland. ” Except Tom rather hated the farmland after yesterday. Or maybe just the evil little pond.

  “Sounds horrible,” Jacob said. “Got some plans of my own. Hoping to bang that babe who sits next to me in your class. ”

  “You probably shouldn’t tell me that, even if you are both legal adults,” Tom said. “Be a gentleman, use protection and all. ”

  “Thanks, Mom. ” Jacob grinned. “And thanks for letting me help out, Dr. B. ” The kid shook his hand, then trotted out to his car.

  Yes. It would be incredible if he could get one-tenth of the friendliness from Charlie that Jacob showed so effortlessly. Only at the self-defense class did Charlie seem to tolerate him, and only, perhaps, because Abby was around.

  He should be used to it by now. Those ten months of having Charlie feel like his son were a long time ago.

  On his way home, he stopped at a florist and, feeling a bit idiotic, asked for a corsage. “A corsage? How old is your date?” the florist asked, frowning.

  “Thirty-five,” he said.

  “How about a wristlet instead?”

  “What’s that?”

  “Goes around your wrist. Most women don’t want to pin something on their dresses. ”

  “All right. Whatever you say. ”

  “What color is her dress?”

  “I don’t know. Black or white, I’m guessing. ”

  “Are you British?” she asked, eyeing him.

  “I am, yes,” he said. “And engaged. ”

  “Had to give it a shot,” she answered with a smile. “Okay. Give me ten minutes. ”

  While he was waiting, Tom’s phone rang, a rare occurrence. Perhaps Honor needed him to stop and get something.

  It was Janice Kellogg. “Tom,” she sighed, “Walter and I need a break. Charlie has been up my ass lately. ” Lovely, especially coming from his grandmother. “Is there any chance you can come and get him? If I have to spend another second with him, I’m going to need a drink. ” There was a rattle of ice cubes. Why wait?

  “Sure, Janice. I can get him. ”

  “Oh, wait. You have plans, I bet. The Hollands are having their fancy party. ” Her voice oozed the sticky tones of martyrdom. “Don’t worry. We’ll be fine. ”

  “No, Janice, I’d love to come around and pick him up. He can come with us. ”

  Another rattle. “Well, Tom, I won’t lie. That would be great. It’s just endless, you know what I mean? Same old shitty attitude. ”


  There was a hint of Melissa in that voice, those words. “I’d love to have him. ”

  “Great. Bring him back around eleven tonight, okay? He has to go to church tomorrow. You know how important church is to us. ”

  Yes. The better to revel in martyrdom. Janice and Walter Kellogg, doing their Christian duty and raising their no-good grandson. “Eleven, it is. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. ”

  When Tom arrived, Charlie got into the car wordlessly, ignoring Tom in his customary manner. “Glad to see you, mate,” Tom said into the void. “We’ve got an event tonight. Hope you don’t mind. ”

  Nothing.

  “It’s a ball. We can both suffer. ”

  And still nothing.

  “Charlie, is everything all right?” he asked.

  “Yes,” Charlie grunted.

  Tom looked at him closely. “Are you being bullied?”

  “No. ”

  “If you are, you can come to me, you know. ”

  “No, I can’t. ”

  “Yes,” Tom said, his voice maybe a little too forceful. “Yes, you can. And you know things now. You can protect yourself. ”

  “It’s not like that!” Charlie said. “It’s different. ”

  “How? Tell me, mate. ”

  Charlie just rolled his eyes.

  They pulled up to the house, Charlie getting out before the car had come to a complete stop. “Careful,” Tom said to his back, then rubbed his forehead, hard. If anything happened to that boy, it would kill him. And why he wouldn’t tell Tom. . . ah, damn it all to hell.

  He picked up the plastic box from the florist and followed the boy in.

  Honor was there, wrapped in a bathrobe. “Hi,” she said.

  “Hi. How are you feeling?” The scrape on her right hand was still visible.

  “I’m fine. ” Her tone was careful. “So Charlie’s here. ”

  “Yeah, Janice called me and asked if he could spend some time with us. I thought he could come to the ball, if that’s all right. ”

  She nodded. “Sure. ”

  “If you’d rather not, we can stay here. ”

  “I’d love for you both to come. That’s great, in fact. ” Her gaze dropped to the box in his hands.

  “Right,” he said. “For you. ”

  Her expression softened as she looked at it.

  She was lovely. She had no idea, did she? Granted, he hadn’t exactly been struck with lightning the first time he’d seen her (well, the second; the first time, she’d been quite impressive with that right hook). But hers were the type of looks that grew on a person. She had lovely skin and dimples when she smiled, which wasn’t often enough, and her brown eyes were dark and kind.

  That was a good face.

  “Thank you,” she said, looking up.

  “It was nothing,” he answered. “I hope it matches your dress. ”

  “It’s perfect. ”

  “Good. What time do we need to be ready?”

  “A little before seven. ”

  “I’d better shower, then. You’re sure it’s all right if Charlie comes with us?”

  “Sure,” she said. “My niece will be there, so he’ll have someone to hang out with. ”

  “I’ll tell him. Should make the evening less painful. ” And that came out wrong, as well. He started to explain, realized he had no idea what to say and went upstairs instead.

  * * *

  HONOR TRIED ON her dress for the fifth time.

  It just wasn’t happening. Yes, it was the obligatory black; white made her skin look like a piece of Wonder Bread left out in the rain. So black it was. But this dress was somewhat. . . nunnish.

  She grabbed the phone and hit Faith’s number. “Do you possibly have anything I can wear tonight? Something black?”
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