Too good to be true, p.28
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       Too Good to Be True, p.28
 

          
Page 28

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Good night, Mémé,” I said dutifully.

  “Don’t trust that man,” she whispered. “I don’t like the way he looks at you. ”

  I glanced down the hall, tempted to ask just how he looked at me. “Okay, Mémé. ”

  “What a sweet old lady,” Callahan said as I rejoined him.

  “She’s pretty horrible,” I admitted.

  “Do you visit her a lot?” he asked.

  “Oh, yes, I’m afraid. ”

  “Why?”

  “Duty,” I answered.

  “You do a lot for your family, don’t you?” he asked. “Do they do anything for you?”

  My head jerked back. “Yes. They’re great. We’re all really close. ” For some reason, his comment stung. “You don’t know my family. You shouldn’t have said that. ”

  “Mmm,” he said, cocking his eyebrow. “Saint Grace the Martyr. ”

  “I’m not a martyr!” I exclaimed.

  “Your sister moved in with you and bosses you around, your grandmother treats you like dirt, but you don’t stick up for yourself, you lie to your mother about liking her sculptures…yes, that sounds pretty martyrish to me. ”

  “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” I snapped. “To the best of my knowledge, you have two relatives, one of whom isn’t speaking to you and one who can’t. So what do you know about family?”

  “Well, looky here. She has teeth after all. ” He sounded perversely pleased.

  “You know, you are certainly not obliged to take me up on my offer of a ride, Callahan O’ Shea. Feel free to ride your bike and get hit by a car for all I care. ”

  “And with you on the road, there’s a good chance of that happening, isn’t there?”

  “I repeat. Shut up or go home alone. ”

  “All right, all right. Settle down,” he said. I walked faster, irritated, my dancing shoes tapping loudly on the tile floor.

  We walked back to the front desk to fetch my wee beastie from Shirley. “Was he a good boy?” I asked her.

  “Oh, he was an angel!” she cooed. “Weren’t you?”

  “What sedative did you use?” Callahan asked.

  “You’re the only one he doesn’t like,” I lied as Angus bared his crooked little teeth at Callahan O’ Shea and growled his kitten-purr growl. “He’s an excellent judge of character. ”

  It was raining outside, a sweet-smelling rain that would have my peonies (and hair) three inches taller by morning. I waited, still miffed, as Cal unchained his bike from a lamppost and wheeled it to my car. I popped open the trunk and waited, but Cal just stood there, getting rained on, looking at me.

  “Well?” I asked. “Put it in. ”

  “You don’t have to give me a ride if you don’t want to, Grace. I made you mad. I can ride my bike home. ”

  “I’m not mad. Don’t be dumb. Put your bike in the car. Angus and I are getting wet. ”

  “Yes, ma’am. ”

  I watched as he picked it up and maneuvered it in. It wouldn’t fit all the way, so I made a mental note to drive slowly so as not to damage two forms of Callahan’s transportation in one night, then got in the car with my dog. A quick look in the rearview mirror assured me that, yes, my hair was in fact possessed by evil spirits. I sighed.

  “You’re cute when you’re mad,” Callahan said as he got in.

  “I’m not mad,” I answered.

  “It’s all right with me if you are,” he answered, buckling his seat belt.

  “I’m not!” I practically shouted.

  “Have it your way,” he said. His arm brushed mine, and a hot jolt of electricity shot through my entire body. I stared straight ahead, waiting for it to fade.

  Cal glanced at me. “Does that dog always sit on your lap when you’re driving?”

  “How’s he going to learn if he doesn’t practice?” Callahan smiled, and I felt my anger (yes, yes, so I was still a little bit mad) fade away. The lust remained. I backed (carefully) out of my parking space. Callahan O’ Shea smelled good. Warm, somehow. Warm and rainy, the ever-present smell of wood mingling in an incredible combination. I wondered if he’d mind if I buried my face in his neck for a while. Probably shouldn’t do that while I was driving.

  “So how’s your grandfather doing these days?” I asked.

  “He’s the same,” Cal answered, looking out his window.

  “Does he recognize you, do you think?” I asked, belatedly realizing that that was none of my business.

  Callahan didn’t answer for a second. “I don’t think so. ”

  A hundred questions burned to be asked. Does he know you were in prison? What did you do before prison?

  Why doesn’t your brother speak to you? Why’d you do it, Cal?

  “So, Cal,” I began, taking a left on Elm Street, Angus helping me steer, “how’s your house coming along?”

  “It’s pretty nice,” he said. “You should come over and take a look. ”

  I glanced at him. “Sure. ” I hesitated, then decided to go for it. “Callahan, I was wondering. What did you do in your pre-prison life?”

  He looked at me. “I was an accountant,” he said.

  “Really?” I’d have guessed something outdoor-related—cowboy, for example. Not a desk job. “Don’t want to do that again, then? Kind of boring, is it?”

  “I lost my license when I broke the law, Grace. ”

  Oh, crap, right. “So why did you break the law?” I asked.

  Cal merely looked at me. “Why do you want to know so badly?”

  “Because!” I answered. “It’s not every day you live next door to a convicted felon. ”

  “Maybe I don’t want to be thought of as a convicted felon, Grace. Maybe I want to be thought of as the person I am now. Make up for lost time and leave the past behind and all that crap. ”

  “Ah, how sweet. Well, I am a history teacher, Mr. O’ Shea. The past matters very much to me. ”

  “I’m sure it does. ” His voice was cool.

  “The best indicator of the future is past behavior,” I intoned.

  “Who said that? Abe Lincoln?”

  “Dr. Phil, actually. ” I smiled. He didn’t smile back.

  “So what are you saying, Grace? You expect me to embezzle from you?”

  “No! Just…well, you obviously felt the need to break the law, so what does that say? It says something, but since you won’t open your mouth and speak, I don’t know what it is. ”

  “What does your past say about you?” he asked.

  My past was Andrew. What did it say? That I wasn’t a good judge of character? That when compared with Natalie, I didn’t measure up? That I wasn’t quite good enough? That Andrew was a jerk?

  “There’s the lake,” I commented. “If you’re planning on dumping my body there, you’d better get to it. ”

  His mouth pulled up in one corner, but he didn’t answer.

  We pulled onto our street. “About your truck,” I said. “I’m really sorry. I’ll call my insurance agent tomorrow. ”

  “I take it you have him on speed dial,” Callahan said.

  “Very funny. ”

  He laughed, an ashy, low laugh that hit me right in the pit of my stomach. “Thanks for the ride, Grace,” he said.

  “If you ever want to confess your sins, I’m available. ”

  “Now you’ve gone from a martyr to a priest. Good night, Grace. ”

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  “IT’S…UH, BEAUTIFUL,” I said, blinking down at the ring. Oh, heck, it was. The diamond was about a carat, maybe a little more, a nice chunky thing, pear-shaped, pretty setting. I loved it. I owned it, in fact. Well, no, that’s not quite true. I owned its twin, which sat in my jewelry box at home, waiting for me to pawn it. For heaven’s sake. Couldn’t Andrew be a little more original? I mean, come on! He’d picked sisters to become his fiancées…at
least he could’ve picked out different rings, for crying out loud.

  “Thanks,” Nat said, blissfully unaware that we now had matching engagement rings from the same man. We were sitting in the backyard of our parents’ house, just Nat and me. The rest of the gang was inside—Andrew, Mémé, Margaret, Mom and Dad.

  “You’re sure this is okay with you?” Natalie asked, slipping her hand into mine.

  “The only thing that’s not okay is you constantly asking if I’m okay,” I said a bit sharply. “Really, Natalie. Please stop. ” Then, guilty at my irritation, I squeezed her hand. “I’m glad you’re happy. ”

  “You’ve been just amazing, Grace. Getting Andrew and me together…that was above and beyond the call. ”

  You’re telling me. I gave a snort, then glanced at my little sister. The sun was shining on her hair, her dark gold eyelashes brushing her cheeks as she gazed at her ring.

  “So have you set a date?” I asked.

  “Well, I wanted to ask your opinion on that,” she said, looking at me. “Andrew and I kind of felt it should be soon.

  Get it out of the way, you know? Then we could just be married. Nothing huge. Just the family and a few friends and some dinner afterward. What do you think?”

  “Sounds pretty,” I said.

  “Grace,” she began hesitantly, “I was wondering if you’d be my maid of honor. I know the circumstances are pretty weird, but I had to ask you. And if you don’t want to, of course I understand. But ever since I was little, I always imagined it would be you. Margaret as a bridesmaid, of course, but you as my number one, you know?”

  It was impossible to say no. “Sure,” I murmured. “I’d be honored. ” My heart was beating in slow, rolling thumps, making me feel a little ill.

  “Thank you,” Nat whispered, hugging me. For a minute, it was like we were little again, her face warm and smooth against my neck, me petting her silky blond hair, breathing in the sweet smell of her shampoo.

  “I can’t believe you’re getting married,” I whispered, a couple tears slipping out of my eyes. “I still want to give you piggyback rides and braid your hair. ”

  “I love you, Grace,” she murmured.

  “I love you, too, Nattie Bumppo,” I said around the rock in my throat. My little sister, whom I had helped bathe and diaper, whom I’d read to and cuddled, was leaving me in one of the most profound ways a sister could. For twenty-five years, I had been Natalie’s favorite person, and she’d been mine, and now that was changing. When I was with Andrew, let’s face it, he hadn’t deposed Natalie from the throne in my heart. Sure, I loved him…but Natalie was part of me. Part of my soul and heart, the way only sisters could be.

  Dozens of memories flashed through my head. Me at age ten, when I’d had my tonsillectomy, waking up from a restless, narcotic-induced sleep to find that Natalie had drawn eighteen pictures of horses for me, laying them on my bedroom floor, propping them on my chair and desk so everywhere I looked, I’d see horses. The time I beat up Kevin Nichols when he put gum in her hair. Me leaving for William & Mary, and Natalie’s face contorting with the effort of smiling so I wouldn’t see that she was, in fact, sobbing.

  I loved her, and had always loved her, so much that it hurt. I could not—would not—let Andrew come between us.

  She squeezed me hard, then sat up. “I can’t believe I still haven’t met Wyatt,” she said.

  “I know,” I seconded. “He’s dying to meet you, too. ” Wyatt was, alas, at a medical convention in San Francisco.
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