The perfect match, p.44
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       The Perfect Match, p.44

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 44

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Did you?” he asked, winking.

  “Yes. Very—oh. It was you, wasn’t it?”

  “I believe it was anonymous,” he said, his grin widening.

  “Thank you. ” For some reason, Honor’s heart felt thorny. Guilt money. Brogan was throwing money at her cause because he—

  “Babe, there you are! Oh, hi, Honor. Don’t you look nice. ”

  “Dana. You, too. ” Dana wore a short, white lace dress that looked as bridal as could be. Her ring—the one Honor had so loved before she’d realized that antique was really more her style—flashed, and matching rocks winked from her ears.

  “So where’s this fiancé of yours?” Dana asked. “Did he come?”

  “Oh, sure. He’s here. Schmoozing, I think. ” Hopefully not drinking to excess or brooding in the back somewhere.

  “How’s his eye?” Brogan asked.

  “It’s good,” Honor answered, her face prickling.

  “Right! I heard you sent him to the E. R. Wow, Honor. ” Dana arched a silky eyebrow. “Impressive. ”

  “She doesn’t know her own strength, do you, darling? Here’s your wine, by the way. ” Tom, thank God. He put a heavy arm around her shoulders, firmly back in the role of smitten fiancé.

  Hey. She’d take it.

  “So when is your wedding?” Dana asked.

  “June 2, darling? Are we set on that date?” Tom asked.

  “I think so,” she said.

  “Is that your ring?” Dana asked, seizing her hand. “Oh, wow! It’s really cute. Brogan, isn’t that sweet?”

  “It’s beautiful,” he said. His eyes were. . . kind. Then he glanced at Dana, and his expression changed, and Honor recognized it immediately, having seen it on her own face for fifteen years, every time she was about to see Brogan.

  Love. Slightly helpless, a touch confused, a dash of vulnerable and a whole lotta happy. Brogan hadn’t planned on falling for Dana, Honor could see it. It really had just happened. . . at least, for him.

  “So we booked the Pierre,” Dana was saying, “because Brogan knows the Steinbrenners, of course, and they do a lot of business there, so it should be pretty fab. But I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about meeting so many sports gods, right? I mean, like, Robbie Cano? At my wedding?”

  “And who’s that?” Tom asked. Honor felt like kissing him.

  “He’s the third baseman for the Yankees,” Dana said.

  “Second baseman,” Honor and Brogan corrected at the same time.

  Tom was looking at her. Flashed that adorable smile, though his eyes stayed somber.

  “Heard you’re quite a hero,” came a voice.

  “Colleen!” Tom said with genuine warmth. “My favorite bartender. ”

  “My favorite Brit,” Colleen returned. “Hey, guys. Everyone having fun?”

  “Absolutely,” Honor said.

  “Who’s your lucky date, Colleen?” Tom asked.

  “My brother. ”

  Tom laughed. “Ah. How uncomfortable for all of us. ”

  Her laugh was big and hearty. “We’re just friends, as the saying goes. So, Tom, there are no secrets in small towns, as you probably know by now. I heard you saved Honor from drowning. I won’t lie. That’s hot, Tommy boy. ”

  “What?” Brogan barked. Dana’s eyes narrowed.

  “I wasn’t drowning,” she said. Tom raised an eyebrow. “But yes, he was very brave and heroic. ”

  “Le sigh,” Colleen murmured.

  “Stop flirting,” Connor said, joining their little knot. “He’s taken. ”

  “I know!” Colleen said. “I told you they’d be great together. ”

  “Did you?” Connor said.

  “Yes. I totally called that one. Don’t you remember?”

  “No. ” Connor gave Tom a long-suffering look. “I tend to ignore most of what she says. ”

  “To your own detriment,” Colleen said. “I know everything. ”

  “What’s eight times seven?” her brother asked.

  “Everything except math. ” She grinned at Honor.

  “What about us?” Dana said. “Did you call Brogan and me?”

  An awkward silence fell like an undercooked cake. “No, Dana,” Colleen said frostily. “Can’t say that I did. ”

  “I know. It took us totally by surprise, too. ” She smiled—too hard, Honor thought, and for a second, she felt a flash of pity. Dana was an outsider; here with Brogan, but without a. . . a gang, as it were. Drawing attention to herself, well, that was Dana’s way of making sure she wasn’t forgotten.

  She was insecure. Funny. Honor had never noticed that before.

  “I hope you guys will be really happy,” she said, and Colleen sighed.

  “Thank you,” Brogan said gently.

  “Yeah, thanks!” Dana chirped. “Babe, let’s dance, what do you say?” With that, she pulled Brogan onto the dance floor and slid her arms around him.

  “I hate her,” Colleen said. “I need a drink. Conn, come with me. I’m going to find you a date who’s not your twin sister. See you later, guys. ”

  Which left her standing alone with Tom. “Hi,” she said.

  “Hallo. ” He glanced around. “Shall we sit?” he asked, and her feet practically cried with gratitude.

  He cared about her. She knew that. He may have even liked her.

  But he didn’t love her. All that shone from Brogan’s eyes when he looked at Dana did not shine from Tom’s. He was a tangled ball of emotions, Tom Barlow was, and whatever affection or attraction he felt for her was snarled in with disappointment and past heartbreak and possibly even some fear, then walled behind a six-foot cement barricade. The gentler, sweeter emotions were buried deep, flashing through only in times of duress, or loneliness.

  Because Tom was a lonely man, and this acknowledgment made her feel a bit like crying.

  “So,” she began, but then Charlie was there, bounding up to Tom’s side, his black hair flopping in his eyes.

  “Tom, Abby said she might be interested in the boxing tournament,” he said, and then those gray eyes did light up, and Honor’s heart ached with the hope that flashed there, the helpless, hapless love he so obviously carried for this boy who was never his stepson.

  Dang it.

  She was in love.

  “Listen,” Abby said. “I might be interested, but probably not. I’m enough of a pariah with boys, okay?” She flopped down in the chair next to Honor.

  “Yeah, right,” Charlie said, blushing furiously.

  “Charlie, you have no idea, because you’re so nice,” Abby said easily. “But seriously. My uncle is the police chief. My idiot brother shows my fat naked baby pictures to anyone who comes through the door. Dad glares at every boy in town, and no one can forget the fact that my mother came to a school concert dressed as a Hobbit. ”

  “Then being a kick-ass boxer can only help,” Tom said, glancing at Charlie. “Right, mate?”

  “Yeah! Totally!” Charlie said. He sat down next to Tom, and Tom’s eyes met Honor’s.

  This was why he was with her, Honor Holland, perpetual wallflower and old baseball glove. Because of Charlie.

  Here she was again, in love with a man who didn’t love her back.

  “Another dedication, folks,” said the DJ. “To Dana from the man who can’t wait to be your husband, ‘You’re Having My Baby’ by Paul Anka. ”

  “Oh, my God,” Abby said. “Honor, aren’t you friends with that guy? Make him stop. ”

  “Yes, darling, please do,” Tom said.

  It was tacky, sure. Or maybe it wasn’t, Honor thought, watching Dana and Brogan dance, looking very much like a bride and groom. Maybe it was sweet. Dana’s face was red, and she was smiling. . . nervously, maybe aware of how icky it was, having a guy announce your pregnancy via an incredibly sappy song.

  Brogan, thou
gh, looked as if they were the only two people there.

  Suddenly, the idea that Honor would be pregnant one of these days, that she and Tom would be a happy or even just contented couple seemed as far-fetched as winning the Nobel Prize in physics. That being a mother, a wife, having a family of her own, was just not going to happen. Her throat tightened.

  When she glanced back at Tom and the kids, Tom wasn’t there. Abby was showing Charlie something on her phone.

  Dad and Mrs. J. , however, were approaching, as well as Goggy and Pops. “How are you?” Dad asked, sitting down next to her. “Having a good time? You look so pretty, Petunia!”

  “This party is wonderful,” Mrs. Johnson said sternly. “You have done a magnificent job, Honor dear. ”

  “I didn’t care for the shrimp,” Goggy said. “I prefer herring. ”

  “Yet you ate seven of them,” Pops observed, getting an elbow in the ribs from his bride.

  “Where’s Tom? I haven’t seen you dancing together,” Dad said, feigning a casual air. “Everything okay with you two?”

  “Oh, you know how it is,” Honor said. “I have to be in charge and all that. ” A lame excuse. Surreptitiously, she looked around for Tom, hoping he wasn’t at the bar.

  At that moment, the Paul Anka song ended (thank you, Jesus), and there was some anemic applause. “Another dedication, folks, this time for our chairperson tonight, Honor Holland—”

  Uh-oh.

  “—from her fiancé. Kind of a strange song choice, but he insisted it was her favorite. ‘Paint It Black’ by the Rolling Stones. ” The opening chords twanged, and Honor closed her mouth.

  “I love this song!” Abby exclaimed. “Cool, Honor! I didn’t know you liked the Stones!”

  As Mick Jagger started bewailing the grim state of his soul, all eyes swiveled to Honor. “Uh. . . ” she said.

  “Why does he want to paint the door black?” Goggy asked, frowning. “Red is a much nicer color. ”

  “Hallo, darling,” Tom said. “Shall we dance?”

  He was already singing along, already dancing there in front of her, and wow, he was bad. Looked a bit like Faith when she had an epileptic seizure, albeit a bit more energetic. “Come on, darling!”

  He grabbed her hands and yanked her out of the chair, towing her onto the dance floor. Oh, dear God. She caught a glimpse of Faith laughing, and Colleen, too, and Levi shaking his head, grinning. Tom was jolting around her with complete abandon, singing with his countrymen at the top of his lungs, grinning so that his eyes crinkled, off-key and. . . and. . . completely adorable.

  Then Abby grabbed Charlie’s hand and pulled him out on the floor, and he began jumping up and down, Abby much more graceful. Tom grabbed Honor’s hand and spun her around, and as Mick despaired that he’d ever be happy again, Tom wrapped his arms around her and kissed her soundly on the cheek.

  Levi and Faith were on the dance floor now, and Pru and Carl, Connor and Colleen, and Tom stepped on Honor’s foot and she didn’t care one bit.

  The night had just turned fun.

  Tom was sweaty and ridiculous and utterly irresistible. His crooked smile made him go from knee-weakeningly hot to dorktastically goofy, and honestly, if he would smile at her like that every day, she’d never ask for another thing.

  Except his love. And his baby.

  Screw their arrangement. She wanted his heart.

  * * *

  TOM WAS ALMOST sorry when the ball ended.

  “This was fun,” Charlie said as they pulled up in front of the Kelloggs’ house. “See you, guys. ”

  Tom almost choked in surprise. Two entire sentences, unprompted. Polite sentences at that.

  “Great having you along, mate. ”

  “Thanks for coming, Charlie,” Honor added. “And thanks for dancing with Abby. ”
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