Mr. Imperfect(3)

By: Karina Bliss

Don noticed. “Nice Bentley. A Continental GT, if I’m not mistaken.” He ran a finger across the silver-gray bonnet, his rheumy eyes twinkling. “A bit understated for you isn’t it?”

“It’s my funeral car,” said Christian.

“You have another?”

“One or two.” He looked at Don’s shocked expression and grinned. “Actually, four altogether.”

Don opened the door, inhaled the smell of expensive leather with relish. “Well, you can give me a lift to the wake in this one. Damned if I’m going to watch them bury her.”

Christian’s grin faded. “I wasn’t planning on staying.”

“An hour won’t kill you,” growled the old man. “Muriel put a fine whiskey aside for this. The least you can do is toast her memory. Then we’ll step into my office and do the handover.”

Don Muldoon, being a pragmatist, owned the building adjoining the hotel. “Be where your customers are,” was his maxim. He’d even gone so far as to add an interconnecting door, fuelling gossip about the true nature of his relationship with Muriel, which both had reveled in.

He’ll miss her badly. Christian wished he hadn’t thought of that, wished he’d just handed the old codger some money for postage and left the dairy-farming flatland behind him—with a squeal of tires for old times’sake. But he still owed Don for keeping his secret. Sighing, he crossed to open the passenger door. “Thirty minutes.”

Then wondered if his sympathy had been misplaced when Don winked at him. “I’m sure even you and Kezia can exchange pleasantries for that long.”

KEZIA NEARLY DROPPED the cupcakes when she pushed through the saloon doors into the cool dimness of the lounge bar and saw Christian leaning against the fireplace mantel, flanked by her grandmother’s elderly cronies.

The afternoon rays beamed through the stained-glass window and fell in prisms on the group. Bernice May was yellow, Don Muldoon, green, and Christian—very appropriately, she thought—glowed red. But nothing could leach the color from those extraordinary eyes—pupils like black atolls in a sea of Pacific blue. Eyes measuring her reaction as she measured his, each looking for a cue from the other.

Kezia rearranged the pink-iced sponges that had tumbled off their pyramid while she decided how she felt. So many times over the years, and in so many moods—hope, despair, righteous anger—she had imagined this meeting. Even when she no longer loved him she’d fantasized about what psychologists called closure and Kezia called having the last word. How ironic that in this maelstrom of grief for her grandmother she felt…nothing.

Across the room he smiled at her and her heart remembered why she’d loved him, while her mind thanked God she’d got over him. One woman could never hold a man with a smile like that. There were shadows under those intensely blue eyes, she noticed, and shadows in them. Through her numbness she saw an understanding of her grief, and she frowned because she didn’t want to connect with anyone ever again. Least of all Christian.

Civil, she decided, putting the plate on a sideboard already groaning under the weight of cakes and club sandwiches. She would be civil. As she headed toward the group, holding out a hand in greeting, Kezia returned Christian’s smile. “How nice of you to make the trip.” She heard how facile that sounded even before his eyes narrowed. “Nice” had never applied to Christian. He made no move to take her hand. “I mean, Nana would have appreciated it.” Even now, trying to retrieve the situation, she’d put the stress on the wrong word. The unspoken implication—but I don’t!—hung in the air. Kezia stared up at him helplessly. “Will you please just shake my hand?”

“I don’t think we need to be that formal.” Christian put down his glass and drew her into an embrace that was half awkward, wholly familiar and so full of reluctant sympathy that Kezia was torn between burying her face in his broad shoulder and never coming out and giving him a sharp slap for his insensitivity.

She jerked away to see his eyes leveling the same accusation at her and realized with a shock that she was being selfish. Others suffered, perhaps as much.

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