Mr. Imperfect(2)

By: Karina Bliss


He swung around to face the gabled church and glared at its white clapboards and gray iron roof, mottled with lichen. An old-fashioned church, gravestone companions rising to the left, rose beds to the right in a riotous clash of pinks, reds and yellows. Whoever had planted the damn things had been color blind. Funny he’d never noticed that when he was growing up.

But he remembered the scent. Sweet. Lush with summer heat. He’d always been attracted to women wearing floral scents—now he knew why.

Kezia.

In a prudish black suit at odds with her body. Christian was annoyed at his relief that she still wore her dark hair long. Of course he’d expected her to still be beautiful in that remote, untouchable way that had once driven him mad—but that no longer attracted him. He preferred easy women these days, easy to win, easy to leave. He’d even expected to feel something when he saw her again. A backwash of teenage emotions agitated by shared grief. A reflex, no more. Like crying at funerals.

He hadn’t expected to be irked by her lack of recognition. Christian grimaced at his egotism. Maybe Miss September had been right. He was shallow and self-centered. Beholden to no woman and proud of it.

Then why was he wiping away tears in the backwater he’d left in anger fourteen years ago? Wearily he replaced his sunglasses and turned back toward the car park.

Beholden to one woman, then. Muriel Medina Rose. A surrogate mother to a motherless boy—when he’d let her. Which hadn’t been as often as she would have liked.

He’d loved that old woman.

Loved taking her out gambling on the rare occasions she visited the city. She, outrageously provocative in an ancient fox-fur stole with its glassy eyes and tidy paws draped nonchalantly over one shoulder and carrying an equally impolitic diamanté-studded cigarette holder. He, in his sharpest suit, entertaining his best girl with his wildest stories.

And not even residual bitterness toward her granddaughter—and this hick town—could keep him from paying his last respects.

“Christian Kelly.”

His hand on the car door handle, Christian turned, an easy smile disguising his irritation. “Don—how are you?” He reached for the lawyer’s hand, still as dry as he remembered. In fact, everything about the sandy-haired old man suggested he was slowly crumbling into dust, from the furrowed jowls and droopy eyelids to the rounded shoulders and widow’s hump.

Except he’d looked like this twenty years ago when he’d first represented Christian in the local courthouse. They’d come to know each other well in a resigned “not you again” sort of way until Muriel stepped in and Christian’s life as a juvenile delinquent came to an unceremonious end.

“Sad day, sad day.” The lawyer shook his head. “Good to see you here, though. Muriel would have liked it and it saves me a stamp.”

Christian tried to make the connection but failed.

“The will,” Don explained kindly. “Or rather, the letter. She was most particular about you getting the letter.”

“I thought her heart attack was unexpected?” The notion that Muriel’s final illness might have been deliberately kept from him increased his sense of misuse.

Don glanced back as though to ensure he hadn’t been followed, and Christian remembered the man had a flair for the dramatic. “Doc told her two months ago she could keel over anytime,” he confided, “but she didn’t want a fuss. Told Kezia she was retiring to get her to take over running the hotel. When the end came, my girl was playing bridge—a glass of whiskey in one hand and a grand slam in the other.”

Their eyes met. The two men exchanged the “Muriel smile”—equal parts tribute and frustration. Over at the church, the organ started up with a wheeze and voices rose in song for the final hymn. Christian’s hand tightened on the car keys.

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.”

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