The perfect match, p.36
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       The Perfect Match, p.36

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 36

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “You’re totally welcome! Back in a flash!” She practically skipped out.

  Honor forced herself to look at her fiancé. “Not bad,” she said. Dr. Chu’s stitches were small and neat, for all that she talked like a love-struck tween.

  “Good. Such a pretty face, I’d hate for it to be ruined. ”

  “I’m really sorry. As I believe I’ve said fifteen or twenty times. ”

  “Don’t worry about it. Sorry I put you in that situation. ” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the floor.

  Out in the hall, they could hear the noise of the hospital, the clatter of gurneys and the hiss of the automatic doors. A baby was crying.

  “Why were you so scared?” Tom asked unexpectedly.

  She shrugged, her heart rate surging once more. “I don’t know. ” She started to speak, then stopped. “I was mugged once. He, um, shoved me in a doorway. Just like your little scenario. ”

  His eyebrows jolted upward. “Are you bloody joking?” he said. “That would’ve been really good to know. ”

  “You didn’t ask. And I didn’t think to mention it. ”

  “Why the hell not? I wouldn’t have pretended to be assaulting you if I’d known that, Honor! Why didn’t you say something?”

  “I don’t know! Don’t yell at me. It was a long time ago, in Philly when I was in grad school. He grabbed me, asked for my purse, I gave it to him, he left. He had a gun, so I just did what he said. It wasn’t a big deal. ”

  “You were held up at gunpoint, but it wasn’t a big deal?”

  “You can stop yelling anytime, you know. I thought you Brits were all about keep calm and carry on. And don’t tell anyone I was mugged,” she added in a softer voice. “No one else knows. ”

  He was staring at her, mouth slightly open. “Yes, God forbid you should let anyone know you’re human. ”

  “And what does that mean?” she snapped. “Are you an expert on me all of a sudden?”

  There was a knock on the exam room door, and in came Levi, dressed in his police uniform. He jerked to a stop at the sight of them. “Oh. Hey, you two. ”

  “Hi, Levi,” Honor said, glad for a friendly face. “What are you doing here?”

  He drew in a breath. “Uh, I have to ask Tom some questions. ”

  “What for?” Tom asked.

  “The doctor suspects domestic abuse,” Levi answered. “And I did just hear yelling. ”

  First a catfight, now this. “Do your thing,” she said wearily.

  “Mate, it was nothing,” Tom said. “She was helping out at the self-defense class and caught me off guard. ”

  “So really, this is kind of your fault,” Honor said. “Since the class was your brainchild. ”

  “I’d have to agree,” Tom said. “It’s certainly not Honor’s. ”

  Levi did not look amused. “Let me talk to Tom for a second. I have to follow procedure, even if you’re Faith’s sister. Especially because you’re Faith’s sister. ”

  “You bet. ” She slipped out and stood in the hallway. So now her brother-in-law/supercop was investigating her. She sighed, then force-smiled at an old man with an oxygen mask over his face. He didn’t smile back. Poor guy. Honor looked away.

  Hospitals had always creeped her out, ever since Mom had died. That had been the worst day, of course. The worst day in her life. She’d been the one to answer the phone; Dad was in the fields, and she was waiting for Mom and Faith to return from Corning. They’d been late, and Honor was jealous, imagining them out to lunch somewhere, or bopping into the cute little shops on Market Street.

  “Is your father there, sweetheart?” Chief Griggs had asked, and Honor knew in that second that something horrible had happened. “I need to talk to him. ”

  “Why?” Honor asked.

  “I just do, honey. ”

  A white, icy fear flashed over her. Her knees buckled, then straightened. “Are they dead?” she whispered.

  “Sit tight, okay? Is your dad home?”

  “Yes. ”

  “I’m on my way,” the chief had said, and the terrible kindness in his voice had confirmed it. Death stood in the kitchen with her as she put the phone down on the counter next to her chemistry textbook. It followed her to the back door, out into the yard, and yet she was calm as she called to her father.

  Faith and Mom, gone. Dead. So this is what people meant when they said they felt numb.

  Dad was going to need her. As Chief Griggs pulled into the driveway, she wrapped her arms around her father’s waist. Heard the words—Faith was okay, but Constance didn’t make it.

  Honor felt her dad sag, heard the horrible small sound that he made as the chief said the words. Held his brittle, dry hand all the way to the hospital where one ambulance had taken Faith, and one had taken Mom.

  That ambulance would’ve gone more slowly, Honor thought, standing outside Faith’s room as Daddy went in. No lights, no sirens. Somewhere below her, her mother’s body was being slipped into a dark, cold cupboard.

  Mommy.

  The horrible magnitude of the loss threatened to swallow her whole and suck her down. The only one who really got her, who had made her feel so special, was gone. It was over. Life would never be the same, never as good, as whole, as happy.

  The black grief had to be held off, though. Honor was her mother’s daughter: calm, logical, pragmatic. No one else in the family was like them. She would keep her shit together, she would duct-tape her heart so it wouldn’t shatter and she’d do what had to be done.

  But those happy, perfect days of wholeness. . . they were done.

  Only with Brogan—and only once in a great while, admittedly—did she ever get a little glimpse of that again. Not that she’d been miserable. Just that life hadn’t been firing on all cylinders. She’d been waiting since she was sixteen years old to have that piece of her returned, and every once in a while, when she and Brogan were out to dinner together or when he forgot what time zone he was in and called her in the middle of the night had she ever glimpsed a sliver of what she’d been missing.

  Which did make her wonder what she was doing with Tom. He was still mostly a stranger. . . a stranger who flirted with anything that sported br**sts and a pulse. Who was occasionally so wonderful that she’d start to hope for that missing piece, only to have him withdraw seconds later.

  The door opened, and the man in question appeared, Levi close behind him. “I’ve decided not to press charges,” Tom said. “So long as you’re on your best behavior from now on. ”

  “Very funny,” she said.

  “You guys need anything?” Levi asked.

  “We’re all set,” she said. “Thanks, Levi. Sorry you had to come out here. ”

  “All in a day’s work,” he said. “See you soon. ” He started to walk away, then turned and looked at them, a frown creasing his forehead. “Are you guys sure you’re okay?”

  “We’re fine, mate,” Tom said, sliding an arm around her shoulders. “Right, darling?”

  “Yes! Yeah, absolutely. It’s just been a long day. ”

  Levi looked at them another minute, and Honor’s stomach cramped. She tipped her head against Tom’s shoulder and smiled. “Thanks again. Tell Faith I’ll call her later. ”

  He nodded, then lifted a hand and walked away.

  Tom took a breath, then released. “All right, then,” he murmured, and with that, he went back in the exam room to wait for his release.

 

 

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  PEOPLE HAD WARNED Tom that the weather in this area would be unpredictable, but this was bleeding ridiculous. Four days ago, he’d gone for a run at the college, and it had been sixty-five degrees. Buds on the trees, all that.

  Today, it was snowing. And despite four years in this country, Tom still hated driving in the snow. He’d fishtailed on his way into the Village
and nearly rear-ended Honor’s little Prius, which was parked on the street, rather than in the driveway, for some reason that only women would fathom.

  He got out of the car and headed inside, a clot of snow falling down his collar as he opened the door. “Get off me, Ratty,” he said when the dog attacked.

  “She’s not a rat,” Honor said. She was pouring herself a glass of wine, still in her incredibly uptight navy blue suit and ugly shoes. Why on earth Honor Holland wasn’t slutting it up and showing off her wares was a mystery. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her. “How’s your eye?”

  “Fine. ” They hadn’t talked too much since two days ago, aside from apologizing to each other repeatedly (and ineffectively, he thought), he for putting her in an uncomfortable situation, she for drawing blood.

  Held up at gunpoint. Never told anyone. Christ. Every time he thought of it, the red haze descended. He wanted to kill the bloke who’d done it, picking a woman with a complete lack of street smarts. Which, of course, was exactly what muggers looked for. Didn’t change the red, though. And it didn’t make Tom any more able to say the words that were stuck in his chest. Don’t ever get hurt again. Don’t ever take chances. Don’t get sick. Don’t leave. Don’t die.

  He sighed.

  “What do you feel like for dinner?” she asked.

  “I don’t care. Want me to cook?”

  “I don’t mind. ”

  “Neither do I,” he said. “Go on, sit down, relax. You look tense. ”

  She bristled. “I’m not. ” She picked up Spike and kissed the dog’s head.

  “Good. ” Conversation was clearly not their strong suit.

  They were better at sex. At least, so far as he could recall. It had been a bloody long time. Fucking weeks. Or, more appropriately, not-fucking weeks.

  The doorbell rang, causing Ratty to burst into a flurry of brain-hemorrhaging barks. Yark! Yark! Yarkyarkyarkyark! “I’ll get it,” Honor said, taking the dog with her.

  Tom opened the refrigerator and surveyed his options. Living with Honor meant the larder was much better stocked than when he lived here himself, though he always tried to have some snacks on hand for Charlie. Now, though, they were swimming in food. Chicken, beef, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, spinach, cottage cheese, Parmesan, yogurt, hummus. And lots of good wine, as well.

  “Tom? Um, Pooky?”

  He turned at the wretched nickname. Honor’s face was blotchy, and her eyes were a little too wide. She stood in front of another woman. “This is Bethany Woods. She works for Custom and Immigration Services. ”

  Bloody hell.

  “Hallo there,” Tom said, smiling. Bethany was somewhere in her forties, a stout, sturdy woman with tight black curls and severe glasses with rhinestoned corners. “Tom Barlow, lovely to meet you. ”

  “Hi,” she said. “This is an unscheduled visit courtesy of the U. S. government. Hope you don’t mind. ”

  “Not at all,” Tom said. “To what do we owe this honor?”

  Bethany gave a tight smile. “We’ve had a tip that you and Ms. Holland might be about to commit marital fraud. ”

  Tom glanced at Honor, who looked like she was about to vomit. “Fraud? How so?” he asked. “Have a seat, Bethany, sorry. Would you like a glass of wine or a cup of tea?”

  “No, thank you,” she said, giving him a quick scan. The Janice, as he thought of it.

  “Please sit, at any rate. Darling?” He held a chair for Honor, who hesitated, then sat stiffly.

  “Dr. Barlow,” Bethany said, “we’ve contacted the college where you work and discovered they have no plans to renew your green card. ”

  “Right,” Tom said. Honor was biting her lip. Another second, and there’d be blood. He took her hand under the table and gave it a warning squeeze. Ratty snarled, earning a significant look from Ms. Woods.
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