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Authors: Vanessa Gray Bartal

Tags: #cozy mystery

Class Reunion of Murder (24 page)

BOOK: Class Reunion of Murder
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His arm was still around her, his thumb making gentle circles on her shoulder. “I’ll loan you the money.”

She blinked at him. Had she heard him wrong? “You don’t know me.”

“I think I do.”

“My own family won’t give me the money. Doesn’t that tell you I’m a bad risk investment?”

“I don’t think anyone is a bad risk investment. I have faith that you’re going to turn out all right. And if you don’t, then all I will have lost is a little bit of money.”

“It’s a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

“That’s not so much,” he said.

“You really are rich.”

“Don’t hold it against me,” he said.

She rested her head on his shoulder. She felt different with him—whole, content, peaceful. The clawing need for more was gone, at least temporarily. She didn’t have to be the prettiest, the richest, the most fashionable, the funniest, the most desirable. She was just Riley. The longer she sat there, the more she realized she had no idea who that was. Who was she? What did she want? What did she
really
want outside of the latest Coach purse or Prada dress?

“Tosh,”

“Mm.”

“What do you want? I mean, not right now, but what do you want in the long run, in the grand scheme of things?”

“I want to know that my life made a difference. I want to have meaningful relationships. I guess it sounds corny, but I want to be a husband and a dad.”

“You’re on track to achieve all those things.”

“Am I? I haven’t dated anyone seriously since college. The only woman I’ve cared about in years doesn’t want me. I live in a small town that knows my business before I do. I’m almost thirty with no prospects, and if you want the honest truth, I’m lonely.”

Riley knew too well what it meant to be lonely. She had always been lonely. “You know what’s more lonely than being alone? Being in a group of people who don’t know you at all. Everyone thinks I’m some party girl. In reality, I’m this small town person who misses my family. My favorite memory is decorating the tree at Grandma’s house, but I’m supposed to say that my favorite memory was being crowned homecoming queen or cheering for a Big Ten game or something equally as important.”

He rested his head on hers. “We’re a couple of sad losers.”

“You are neither sad nor a loser. You have a career that fulfills you. You’re adored by the entire populace here. So what if my sister didn’t choose you? She’s always been a little weird.” She paused. “If it were me, I would have chosen you.”

“Liar.”

“I’m serious. Jason is…I don’t know. He’s too pretty.”

“Gee, I feel loads better about myself. Thank you.”

“That came out wrong. He’s just…there’s something off about him, like he has a dark side or too much baggage. I can’t put my finger on it and it doesn’t make sense because he was Mr. Popular, but I wouldn’t go for him. Too much work. You have it all together. You’re emotionally available. You’re stable. You’re the total package.”

“Not that this isn’t doing wonders for my ego, but for someone to be the total package, I think he has to be nice looking.”

“Maybe I think you’re the most attractive man I’ve met since my college crush. So there.”

“Well, maybe I almost fell all over myself the first time I saw you poking your head out of your grandmother’s house. Take that.”

“You are such a liar. You were so into Lacy you couldn’t see straight.”

“Not true. A man always notices beautiful women. I happen to have a special appreciation for them. In fact, I consider myself a connoisseur.”

“Now you sound creepy.”

“The point is that I find you attractive,” he said.

 

“As I find you attractive,” she said.

“So we concur.”

“Indisputably.”

“Now you can go on your merry way knowing that somewhere in the world some pastor has a secret thing for you. You’ll sleep well at night while I’m stuck here alone imagining you with some billionaire mogul. Life isn’t fair.” He pounded his fist on the couch.

“No, what’s far more likely to happen is that you’ll meet some sweet and kind woman who’ll sweep you off her feet with her killer apple pie and impressive storehouse of
Song of Solomon
knowledge. You’ll be married and on your way to being a dad in no time while I become a Tennessee Williams character, desperately trying to regain my lost youth and appeal.”

“There’s only one solution as far as I can see,” he said.

 

“What’s that?” she asked. Her heart was about to thud out of her chest. She felt as giddy and inexperienced as she accused Lacy of being.

He kissed her. He had meant it to be a gentle kiss, she could tell. But that wasn’t what happened. Like the night before, she had an out-of-body reaction to him. She could see herself beginning to lose control, but she couldn’t stop it. And, like before, Tosh was the one who came to his senses. He literally jumped to the floor, landing hard on his hip and shoulder, and then he rolled to the door as if he were on fire and trying to douse the flame. Once he was safely on the opposite side of the room, he stood and held up both hands as if to ward her off, as if she might pursue and attack him. Judging by her wild reaction to him, it was probably a smart precaution.

 

“I can’t do this,” he said.

“Because you’re in love with Lacy?”

“What? No. Because I took a vow of abstinence.”

“Oh. When you say ‘vow,’ are you being hyperbolic?”

He shook his head. “It’s the sort of ‘May God Strike Me Dead’ type of vow. Plus, there’s my congregation to consider. I’m a community spokesperson for abstinence until marriage, which would be a little funny, if you knew my past, but nonetheless, it’s what I’m committed to now. I can’t go back on that, even when I really, really, really, really want to. Really.”

“Obviously we’re going to have to get married,” she joked.

He laughed, but it was a nervous, stress-filled chuckle accompanied by a dab of sleeve to forehead. “I’m sorry. This is the first time the issue has presented itself.”

“There were never any moments like these with Lacy?”

“No. I mean, I kissed her a few times and she gave a halfhearted response, but it was never like this. This was…” he motioned toward her, and she mentally filled in the blank.

Explosive. Thrilling. Exhilarating. Terrifying. Intense. Exciting.
“Tosh, what if I was only sort of joking about the marriage thing?”

He was still mopping sweat from his forehead. “What?”

“Stick with me here because I’m not a spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type person, but I think I could marry you today and be happy for the rest of my life.” She clapped her hands over her mouth, wishing the words back in. What was she doing? Had she lost her mind? She didn’t do impulsive things like this. She did not throw herself at men she barely knew.

Tosh left the safety of the door and eased a few steps closer. “Riley…”

He was going to say no. He was going to let her down easy, to tell her he wasn’t interested, to say Lacy was his one true love. It was too soon. She was insane. “Forget it,” she blurted.

“I wish I could,” he said. “For some reason I can’t explain, it suddenly seems like the best idea I ever heard.” He inched closer, sat down, and hung his head in his hands. “What is wrong with me? I swore I would stop doing crazy stuff.”

“Maybe it’s not that crazy,” she said.

“We’ve known each other a few days and kissed twice. It’s crazy.”

“Maybe when it’s right, you just know it. That’s what everyone says is supposed to happen.”

“Everyone is wrong a lot. Do you know what the divorce rate is? Do you know what this would do to my congregation? I might lose my job. Lacy would freak.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “So this is about Lacy. I knew it.”

“Lacy is my friend, and she’s your sister. This should be about her and everyone else we know. They’re going to think we’re out of our minds.”

“’They’re going to’ makes it sound like we’re actually going to do it.”

“That’s because we are,” Tosh said. He covered his face with his hands and rocked back and forth a few times. “Oh, this is bad, this is bad, this is bad.”

“Wait, what?” Riley said.

“I told you that I used to be a different person. I did crazy, off the wall things, especially for women. And every time I would get this feeling, like if I didn’t do the crazy thing, I would die. I got that feeling as soon as you said the thing about getting married. It’s like I know it’s probably the stupidest thing we could ever do, but I think we should. Right now. Tonight.”

“What?” Riley repeated.

He looked up with a scowl. “Are you reneging?”

“Reneging on what? I don’t even know what just happened here.”

“I asked you to marry me.”

“No, you didn’t,” she said.

“I didn’t? I thought I did. I’m sorry.” He dropped to his knees in front of her and took her hands in his. “Riley Steele whose middle name I don’t even know, will you do me the honor of committing the craziest act of insanity with me? Because I have a hunch you might be what’s been missing from my life for the last twenty eight years or so.”

“Um, see, I don’t do spur of the moment. That’s what makes this even weirder because, yes, I am definitely going to have to marry you.”

“Wow, okay. Let’s go.”

“Now? Just like that?”

“This plan probably won’t get better the more we think about it. My family jet just so happens to be at the airport because I was going to go home tomorrow, which might be sort of serendipitous, if you believe in that sort of thing. Which I do.”

“I don’t.”

“I’ll work on that.”

“I don’t have money, clothes, toiletries.”

“We keep supplies on the plane. Anything else we don’t have, we’ll buy there. Is there anyone you want to call?”

“The less people who know about this, the better,” Riley said.

“See, we’re not even married and we’re thinking alike.” He sounded cheerful, but he paused at the edge of his apartment. “Goodbye, former life,” he whispered. Would his congregation really fire him? Riley couldn’t think about that right now. She couldn’t think about anything or she might back out, and she was surprised by how much she didn’t want to back out.

He turned to go, but she held him back. “Tosh.”

“Mm.”

“We’re going to be happy. Somehow, I know it.”

“I have a good feeling myself,” he agreed. “By the way, thanks for doing this.” He kissed her, picked her up, and sprinted to the car. And somewhere between the car and the house, Riley Steele lost her heart.

 

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Epilogue

BOOK: Class Reunion of Murder
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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