Too good to be true, p.15
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       Too Good to Be True, p.15
 

           Kristan Higgins
Page 15

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  He cocked his head and stared at me. “How cutting, Ms. Emerson, to think that you don’t like me, and also how ironic, given that if anyone has reason not to like someone else, I’d say the votes go to me. ”

  “You get no votes, pal! I didn’t ask you to—”

  “But since I have better manners than you, I’ll reserve judgment and say only that I don’t like your propensity for violence. However, I already took your father’s money, and if you want these windows before hell freezes over, I have to put in an order from a specialty place in Kansas. And to be honest, I need the work. Okay? So let’s drop the feminine outrage, ignore the fact that I’ve seen you in your unmentionables—” his eyes traveled up and down my frame “—and get to work. I have to measure the windows. Want me to start upstairs or down?”

  At this moment, Natalie’s BMW pulled into the driveway, causing Angus new seizures of outrage. I clutched him to me, his little form trembling, as he tried to heave himself out of my arms, his barks bouncing off the inside of my skull.

  “Can’t you control the wee beastie?” Callahan O’ Shea asked.

  “Quiet,” I muttered. “Not you, Angus, honey. Hi, Natalie!”

  “Hi,” she said, gliding up the front steps. She paused, giving my neighbor a questioning look. “Hello. I’m Natalie Emerson, Grace’s sister. ”

  My neighbor took her hand, an appreciative grin tugging his mouth up on one side, making me dislike him all the more. “Callahan O’ Shea,” he murmured. “I’m Grace’s carpenter. ”

  “He’s not,” I insisted. “What brings you here, Nat?”

  “I thought we could have a cup of coffee,” she said, smiling brightly. “I’ve been dying to hear about this guy you’re seeing. We haven’t had a chance to talk since Mom’s show. ”

  “A boyfriend?” Callahan said. “I take it he likes things rough. ”

  Natalie’s silken eyebrows popped up an inch and she grinned, her eyes studying his shiner. “Come on, Grace, how about some coffee? Callahan, is it? Would you like a cup?”

  “I’d love one,” he answered, smiling at my beautiful and suddenly irritating sister.

  Five minutes later, I was staring sullenly at the coffeepot as my sister and Callahan O’ Shea became best friends forever.

  “So Grace actually hit you? With a field hockey stick? Oh, Grace!” She burst into laughter, that husky, seductive laugh that men loved.

  “It was self-defense,” I said, grabbing a few cups from the cupboard.

  “She was drunk,” Cal explained. “Well, the first time, she was drunk. The second time, with the rake, she was just flighty. ”

  “I was not flighty,” I objected, setting the coffeepot on the table and yanking open the fridge for the cream, which I set on the table with considerable force. “I have never been described as flighty. ”

  “I don’t know, Natalie,” Callahan said, tilting his head. “Don’t those pajamas say flighty to you?” His eyes traveled up and down my SpongeBobs once more.

  “That’s it, Irish. You’re fired. Again. Still. Whatever. ”

  “Oh, come on, Grace,” Natalie said, laughing melodically. “He’s got a point. I hope Wyatt won’t see you in those. ”

  “Wyatt loves SpongeBob,” I retorted.

  Nat poured Callahan a cup of coffee, missing the daggers shooting from my eyes. “Cal, have you met Grace’s new guy?” she asked.

  “You know, I haven’t,” he answered, cocking his eyebrow at me. I tried to ignore him. Not easy. He looked so damn…wonderful…sitting there in my cheery kitchen, Angus chewing his bootlace, drinking coffee from my limited edition Fiestaware cornflower-blue mug. The sun shone on his tousled hair, revealing very appealing streaks of gold in that rich chestnut-brown. He just about glowed with masculinity, all broad shoulders and big muscles, about to fix stuff in my house…damn it. Who wouldn’t be turned on?

  “So what’s he like?” Natalie asked. For a second I thought she was talking about Callahan O’ Shea.

  “Huh? Oh, Wyatt? Well, he’s very…nice. ”

  “Nice is good. And how was your date the other night?” she continued, stirring sugar into her coffee to make herself even sweeter. Dang it. Nat had called the other night, and I could hear Andrew in the background, so I’d cut the conversation short by saying I had to meet Wyatt in Hartford. Oh, the tangled web…Callahan’s soulful blue eyes were looking at me. Mockingly.

  “The date was good. Pleasant. Nice. We ate. Drank. Kissed. Stuff like that. ”

  So eloquent, Grace! Again with Callahan’s eyebrow.

  “Grace, come on!” my once-beloved sister said. “What’s he like? I mean, he’s a pediatric surgeon, so obviously he’s wonderful, but give me some specifics. ”

  “Lovely! His personality is lovely,” I said, my voice a little loud. “He’s very—” another glance at Cal “—respectful.

  Friendly. He’s incredibly kind. Gives money to the homeless…and um, rescues…cats. ” My inner voice, disgusted at my poor lying abilities, sighed loudly.

  “Sounds perfect,” Natalie said approvingly. “Good sense of humor?”

  “Oh, yes,” I answered. “Very funny. But in a nice, non-mocking way. Not snarky, sarcastic or rude. In a gentle, loving way. ”

  “So this is a case of opposites attract?” Callahan asked.

  “I thought I just fired you,” I said.

  His eyes crinkled in a grin, and my knees went traitorously soft.

  “I think he sounds amazing,” Natalie said with a beautiful smile.

  “Thanks,” I said, smiling back. For a second, I was tempted to ask her about Andrew, but with the burly ex-con in the room, I decided against it.

  “Are you going to the battle today, Grace?” my sister asked, taking a sip of her coffee. Honestly, everything she did looked as if it was being filmed…graceful and balanced and lovely.

  “Battle?” Callahan asked.

  “Don’t tell him,” I commanded. “And, yes, I am. ”

  “Well, sorry to say I have to head down to New Haven,” Natalie said regretfully, putting her cup aside. “It was nice to meet you, Callahan. ”

  “The pleasure was mine,” he said, standing up. Well, well, well. The ex-con had nice manners…when Natalie was around, at any rate.

  I walked her to the door, gave her a hug. “Everything good with Andrew?” I asked, careful to keep my tone light.

  It was like watching a beautiful sunrise, the way her face lit up. “Oh, Grace…yes. ”

  “Excellent,” I said, pushing back a lock of her cool, silky hair. “I’m glad for you, honey. ”

  “Thanks,” she murmured. “And I’m so glad for you, Grace! Wyatt sounds perfect!” She hugged me tight. “See you soon?”

  “You bet. ” I hugged her back, my heart squeezing with love, and watched her glide out to her sleek little car and back out of my driveway. She waved, then disappeared down the street. My smile faded. Margaret knew instantly that Wyatt Dunn was fictional, and Callahan O’ Shea, a virtual stranger, seemed to guess it, too. But not Natalie. Of course, she had a lot riding on me being with a great guy, didn’t she? Me being attached meant …well. I knew what it meant.

  With a sigh, I returned to the kitchen.

  “So. ” Cal tipped back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. “Your boyfriend’s a cat rescuer. ”

  I smiled. “Yes, he is. There’s a problem with feral cats in his area. Very sad. He wrangles them. Herds them up into crates, gets them to foster homes. Would you like one?”

  “A feral cat?”

  “Mmm-hmm. They say your pet should match your personality. ”

  He laughed, a wicked, ashy sound, and suddenly, my knees were even weaker than the time I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert. “No, thank you, Grace. ”

  “So tell me, Mr. O’ Shea,” I said briskly. “How much did you embezzle, and from whom?”

/>   His mouth got a little tight at the question. “One-point-six million dollars. From my esteemed employer. ”

  “One point…God’s nightgown!”

  My checkbook, I suddenly noticed, was lying right over there, on the counter near the fridge. I should probably put that away, shouldn’t I? Not that I had a million dollars there or anything. Callahan followed my nervous gaze and raised his unbruised eyebrow once more.

  “So tempting,” he said. “But I’ve turned over a new leaf. Although those are gonna be hard to resist. ” He nodded at a shelf containing my collection of antique iron dogs. Then he stood up, filling my kitchen. “Can I go upstairs and measure the windows, Grace?”

  I opened my mouth to protest, then shut it. It wasn’t worth it. How long would windows take? A couple of days?

  “Um, sure. Hang on one sec, let me make sure it…um…”

  “Why don’t you just come with me? That way, if I’m tempted to rifle through your jewelry box, you can stop me yourself. ”

  “I wanted to make sure the bed was made, that’s all,” I lied. “Right this way. ”

  For the next three minutes, I fought feelings of lust and irritation as Callahan O’ Shea measured my bedroom windows. Then he went into the guest room and did the same thing, his movements neat and efficient, zipping the measuring tape along the frames, jotting things down in his notebook. I leaned in the doorway, watching his back (ass, let’s be honest) as he opened a window and looked outside.

  “I might need to replace some trim when I put these in,” he said, “but I won’t know till I take them out. These are pretty old. ”

  I dragged my eyes to his face. “Right. Sure. Sounds good. ”

  He came over to me, and my breath caught. God. Callahan O’ Shea was standing within an inch of me. The heat shimmered off his body, and my own body seemed to soften and sway in response. I could feel my heart squeezing and opening, squeezing and opening. His hand, still holding the tape measure, brushed the back of mine, and suddenly I had to breathe through my mouth.

  “Grace?”

  “Yes?” I whispered back. I could see the pulse in his neck. Wondered what it would be like to kiss that neck, to slide my fingers through his tousled hair, to— “Can you move?” he asked.

  My mouth closed with a snap. “Sure! Sure! Just…thinking. ”

  His eyes crinkled in an all-too-knowing smile.

  We went back downstairs, and a disappointingly short time later, Callahan O’ Shea was done. “I’ll put in the order and let you know when they come in,” he said.

  “Great,” I said.

  “Bye. Good luck at the battle. ”

  “Thanks,” I said, blushing for no apparent reason.

  “Make sure you double lock the doors. I’ll be home all day. ”

  “Very funny. Now get out,” I said. “I have Yankees to kill. ”

  CHAPTER TEN

  THE CANNON ROARED IN MY EARS, the smell of smoke sharp and invigorating. I watched as six Union soldiers fell.

  Behind the first line, the Bluebellies reloaded.

  “This is so queer,” Margaret muttered, handing me the powder so I could reload my cannon.

  “Oh, shut up,” I said fondly. “We’re honoring history. And quit complaining. You’ll be dead soon enough. A pox upon you, Mr. Lincoln!” I called, adding a silent apology to gentle Abe, the greatest president our nation ever saw.

  Surely he would forgive me, seeing as I had a miniature of the Lincoln Memorial in my bedroom and could (and often did) recite the Gettysburg Address by heart.
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