Mr. Imperfect(6)

By: Karina Bliss


He stared at her and she saw with relief they were in perfect accord on this one.

“It must be nice to die with some illusions intact,” he commented.

She frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

He shook his head as though to clear it. “Nothing. Look, let me find a way to give you the money, Kez, then I can leave with a clear conscience.”

She resisted the urge to ask when a clear conscience had become necessary to him; the scars had been picked at enough. “Okay, but it’s a bridging loan. Once the hotel is back on its feet, I’ll arrange a repayment schedule that will include backdated interest pegged at today’s rate.”

He looked amused. “Whatever.”

“I’m serious, Christian.”

“Look—” he raked a hand through his hair “—don’t tie yourself into unnecessary debt, take the money as a gift. You must know I won’t miss it.”

She did know, but it made no difference. Favors were something she did for other people. Accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Christian, the man who’d deserted her, was unthinkable. Simple as that.

Less simple was when she’d be able to pay it back. But that was tomorrow’s problem. At least she’d have her home, her heritage, intact.

“I want a business arrangement but…thanks for the offer.” She wished he’d move. The scent of him—crisp linen overlaying healthy male heat, a hint of cedarwood—was making her dizzy.

Don came back with a silver tray bearing their drinks. Reluctantly, Kezia took a sip for medicinal purposes, trying to remember when she’d last eaten. She had no taste for whiskey, but the association with her grandmother was comforting. She took another, inhaling the smoky sharpness like smelling salts.

Christian declined his drink. “I’m driving,” he said. “Don, you should know I intend to find a way to lend Kezia the money.”

“Muriel thought you would,” said Don calmly, and reached for another envelope on his desk. “Here.”

Irritated, Christian pulled out a scrap of paper. “What is this, Give Us A Clue?” He glanced down at it and the color drained from his face. “Damn.”

Foreboding hit Kezia like a rolling winter fog. “What?”

Still he gazed down at the note, his expression remote yet curiously softened. “Damn,” he said again, and shoved it into his pocket.

She knew what he was going to say, could see it in his eyes, could feel the prickle of tears in her own. It seemed she would cry in front of Christian Kelly, after all.

“Hi, honey,” he said grimly. “I’m home.”

Kezia began to laugh. She laughed until she cried.





CHAPTER TWO




ONE SHUDDERING SOB led to another and then another until her body convulsed under the force of them and she curled up on the couch like a lost child, her arms wrapped around her knees. Christian reached for her, but with shaking hands she pushed him away, did the same to Don.

“Let me get someone—a friend,” Christian offered.

Terror strafed through her grief. “No! I don’t want to be seen like this.” A fresh paroxysm racked her body. “Please, both of you go away,” she sobbed, then laid her head on her knees and gave herself over to the anguish.

Dimly she heard a murmur of voices, the door open and close again, the scrape of a chair. And Christian was sitting next to her. “I…don’t…want…anyone…here!” she said between sobs, but took the handkerchief he offered.

“I know,” he said soothingly. “I’m temporary.”

“Don’t touch me.”

“I won’t,” he promised. “I’ll just sit here.”

And he did, watching the shadows lengthen in the room, listening to her sobs until they abated and, emotionally exhausted, she slept. And all the while he suffered, resisting grief, resisting Kezia. He sat stiff and unyielding in his chair. He would not be moved by her beyond common pity.

When he stirred at last, his muscles ached like a prizefighter’s. But he’d won. He stretched as he turned on a lamp against the encroaching dusk, found a throw and covered Kezia.

His opponent looked worse, her face blotchy, her closed lids swollen. In the circle of light her disheveled hair gleamed with velvet browns and sparks of amber. Just as her eyes did, he remembered, and because she looked so vulnerable, so un-Kezia, he smoothed her knotted brow.

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