Mr. ImperfectBy: Karina Bliss
“You’re off the hook. I refuse your help.”
Just what Christian wanted to hear; still, he was inexplicably annoyed. “I don’t want to be involved any more than you want me to be, but it would be respectful to at least consider her last wishes.”
Kezia thrust out the letter, waiting until he took it. “I can manage on my own.”
It had always been her mantra—more than that, the truth. Now the words rang hollow, but she could not allow Christian back in her life. And she wouldn’t cry in front of him, though she wanted to. Worse than the prospect of losing her heritage was realizing her grandmother hadn’t trusted her enough to confide her troubles. She lifted her hand to her heart and pressed against the almost physical surge of pain.
“Don, more whiskey.” Christian guided her to the couch with gentle hands while the older man hurried from the room in search of the bottle. “Relax.” His breath was warm on the nape of her neck. “I have no intention of coming back.”
In Mr. Imperfect, an old lady’s will is the catalyst for bringing two people together. My father died suddenly when I was halfway through writing this book, and a couple of months after I’d taken a year off work to follow my writing dream. The money he left me allowed me to extend that year to two and resulted in the sale of this, my first book.
I feel very much as though his spirit imbues it, not with grief, but with the power of love—even beyond the grave. I hope that emotion shines through when you’re reading it.
To my wonderful mother, Kathy Bliss, for instilling self-belief in a born skeptic. And to the memory of my father, Derek Bliss, who believed having five daughters made him immortal. It did, Dad.
CHRISTIAN KELLY CRIED at funerals. For a man who never wept it had been an appalling discovery. He figured the combination of somber hymns, gentle sobbing and church rituals struck some sentimental Irish chord and caused him to blubber like a baby.
He solved the problem by never attending funerals, which solidified his reputation as a hardened sinner. So it was a testament to his affection for Muriel Medina Rose that he came back to the New Zealand hometown he loathed, wearing the darkest pair of shades he could find, and stole into the last pew midway through a stirring rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Kezia Rose appreciated the irony. Knew her grandmother would have, too. Still, it started a fit of giggles she fought to control—hysteria wasn’t far away. It didn’t help that she stood in full view of the congregation, shaky hands clasped, waiting to do her reading.
She dug one spiky heel into the top of her other foot until tears came to her eyes. Then looked at the coffin and had to force them back. Not yet. Not until she’d done her grandmother proud.
Why hadn’t she expected him?
When she felt herself under control, Kezia looked again, coolly now, to where Christian sat, a big-city cat among country pigeons. Maturity had chiseled his features back to strong bone, his thick black hair finally tamed by an expensive cut. Beneath a pair of reflective sunglasses he held his full mouth tight, almost disdainful. In thrall to a newer, stronger grief, she looked—and was not burned. A small sigh of relief escaped her.
The music faltered to a stop in that ragtag way of amateurs and the minister gave her the signal. Three steps to the podium, deep breath. She found her place in the Bible’s tissue-thin pages.
Her voice cracked on the first line; she stopped. Began again, one word at a time, found a rhythm, shut out emotion. The mantle of responsibility soothed her, reminded her who she was. A pillar of the community—teacher, chair of numerous country guilds, churchgoer. New owner of a hundred-year old ramshackle hotel in Waterview.
The bone-dry Hauraki Plains town had sprung up around the Waterview pub, both named by Kezia’s Irish forbears in a fit of whimsy and not—as Christian had once joked—to provoke a powerful thirst in the locals.
Not thinking about him right now.
The words on the page ran out; the last full stop looked like a bullet hole signaling the end of one of the happiest times of her life. Dazed, she looked up to see Christian, in classic Armani, disappear through the arched church doors. And she was glad. Glad he’d made the effort to come, gladder he’d left without making contact. She had enough to cope with today without saying goodbye to someone else she had loved.