Mr. Imperfect(4)By: Karina Bliss
On an impulse she took his hands—big and broad with long, tapered fingers—and cradled them, trying to ignore the frisson of awareness that passed between them. “How are you coping?”
Christian removed his hands, reached for his glass. “Like a man,” he said lightly. “Work harder, play harder.”
She remembered the tabloids and couldn’t resist the temptation. “How is Miss September?”
His eyes gleamed. “I’m between months at the moment.”
A laugh, almost painful through disuse, escaped her.
“Toast Muriel with us,” said Don approvingly. “We’re celebrating her life by telling outrageous stories about her.”
Oh, that sounded tempting. But Kezia eased her shoulders back. “I need to pour coffee and serve food.”
“No, Kez.” Christian handed her a glass. “You need a stiff drink and to talk to old—” he paused “—friends. Let someone else dole out the culinary relics.”
“Keep your voice down. Everyone brought food,” Kezia cautioned. They hadn’t parted friends but if Christian had the manners to pretend otherwise then so did she.
“And I was one of those volunteers,” said Bernice May tartly. She poked Christian in the ribs with a bony finger and pointed to the fairy bread on the mahogany bar beside them—thin triangles of white bread topped with multicolored sprinkles embedded in thick yellow butter. In the heat, the corners were as curled as Aladdin’s slippers.
“Bernice May, you’ve been peddling that rubbish ever since I can remember.” Unrepentant, Christian refilled the old lady’s empty glass. “You’re a terrible cook and you know it.”
“Bernice May is famous for her fairy bread,” Kezia insisted, biting into one. Sugar balls grated against her teeth.
“She’s always saving people’s feelings,” explained Bernice May complacently, watching Kezia try to swill down the sprinkles with whiskey. The combination was indescribably foul but it took Kezia’s mind off Christian’s raised eyebrow. “Anyway, I thought you were a ladies’ man these days,” the old lady complained. “Where’s your legendary charm?”
“Saved for ladies,” said Christian.
Kezia choked midsip but Bernice May laughed until she cried and ended up wiping away most of her pencilled eyebrows. “Come home, Christian,” she suggested. “With Muriel gone we need another hellraiser to keep this town interesting. Don’t we, Kezia?”
“Yes,” said Kezia, emboldened by his instinctive recoil. “Come home, Christian. Swap the penthouse for a farmhouse, the Bentley for a tractor and your tourism empire for a pitchfork. I believe there are at least three single women for you to date.” She realized she was enjoying herself in a perverse way, taking on someone who could match her, whose feelings she couldn’t hurt, even if she wanted to. But she was also appalled at her meanness—and at a time like this.
“Do you count yourself, Kez? If so, we’ll have to drop that number back to two. I never date the same woman twice.”
“And I never repeat the same mistake twice.” Somehow the fun had gone out of it. “What makes you think I’m single anyway?”
“You’re doing this alone,” said Christian, and Kezia fell back into the bleak present. She put down her glass. “I should mingle,” she said, and saw quick remorse in Christian’s eyes.
Don interrupted. “First I need you both in my office to go over the finer details of Muriel’s estate.”
“Why?” Bernice May’s voice echoed Kezia’s.
“It’ll be private in my office,” Don added pointedly.
Kezia shot a suspicious look at Christian. He shrugged. “No idea. But let’s get this over with. It’s time I left.”
She needed no further convincing. “Okay.” Besides, pretty soon she’d need to cry. He had to be gone before that.
DON DIDN’T BEAT AROUND the bush. He pulverized it.
Mentally, Kezia collected all the pieces and tried to fit them together. “The hotel is verging on bankruptcy because Nana’s had a bad run on the horses?”