The Fifth Angel Ridge Novel
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Excerpt No. 4
Frannie ripped her glasses off her face, breaking them and shattering the memory. She tossed the pieces at the angel monument.
“There’s a fine for littering around here.”
Frannie glanced up to find Patrick Houston staring down at her. She sighed. If she’d thought he’d follow her, she would have avoided Town Square. Really must remember she lived in a small town now.
He glanced at the empty space on the park bench and said, “May I?” Wanting to look anywhere but at him, she stared up at the statue of the warrior angel. “It’s not advisable.”
“I’ll take my chances,” he said and sat.
“You were warned.”
“I must say, it’s not everyday a beautiful woman storms out of my office. I admit it was rude of me to be late to our appointment. I should have apologized.”
“But you didn’t, and still aren’t.” And he had so much to apologize for, yet he continued to act like he didn’t know her. Like he didn’t remember. Maybe he didn’t. God, she was so naïve when it came to men. He probably had picked up so many women in bars that he couldn’t keep them all straight. Still, confusion had not been a problem the morning after in the diner. He’d looked guilty as sin and like he had the devil of a hangover.
“Help me out here.”
“Let’s drop the games, shall we? If you think I’m going to be humiliated in the retelling of what happened, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you.”
He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, palms up. “I’m at a complete loss. Have we met before?”
She turned away and laughed. What an ass.
“Ms. Thompson . . . Frannie, I apologize. It’s not my intent to upset or humiliate you in any way. I respected and admired your sister a great deal. I do
understand how difficult it is to lose someone close to you.”
Frannie wondered how long it would take before people stopped bringing up “her loss” in that sympathetic manner that made her want to scream. No one knew how she felt. No one.
She leaned in as she spoke. “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m having a bit of trouble here reconciling your two personas, the upstanding mayor and the drunk. The drunk disgraced himself that night in the bar and took me unwittingly along for the ride.” She spoke softly, “Clearly, I was just one of many.”
He frowned. “Bar?” He tilted his head, his gaze sweeping her face, her hair, his pale eyes bore into hers. “I’m sorry to say that I used to drink heavily. There are periods, gaps of time, I don’t remember.” He looked away, but not before she saw the familiar pain flooding his expressive eyes.
He didn’t speak for several moments. Didn’t look at her. “I’m wracking my brain here. I used to go to a place outside of town to drink. Did I run into you there? I must have,” he said to himself without waiting for her to respond.
Frannie crossed her arms and drummed her fingers against her forearm. She should leave. Just get up and walk away, but for reasons she refused to analyze at the moment, she didn’t.
“Oh, God,” he murmured. “Did I . . . I didn’t—” He raked a hand through his hair, and the memory of her hands doing the same rocked her. It was lightly
streaked with gray now. Maybe it had been there before, but she hadn’t noticed it in the dimly lit bar.
He sighed, looked around, then leaned toward her. The scent of his cologne brought back more memories. It had clung to her skin that night, after.
“Jesus, did I—did we . . .”
She felt her face flush and placed a hand against her neck.
He glanced back at her, then away again. “Oh . . . the night of the blizzard.
You were the woman at Jimmy’s.”
“Yes,” she confirmed. So he remembered after all. Well, at least he’d
admitted it. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“But you did, the next day at the diner, and then there was my sister’s
funeral. So, technically, you’ve seen me twice.”
“Right,” he agreed. “But Jenny’s been gone six years now. You see, I
remember because that’s about the same time I found out my wife was seriously ill. I’m afraid I didn’t handle getting the prognosis well.”
“The relative point is that you were married, something you didn’t bother to share with me, and I couldn’t have known since I’m not from Angel Ridge.” No way was she letting him off the hook for what he’d done. The fact that
he was drunk because his wife was sick did not excuse his behavior. “Look, this is not the place to be discussing this. Anyone could walk by and overhear or see us. What if someone tells your wife?” she whispered. “What if she sees us?”
She gathered her purse and briefcase and would have stood, but his hand on her arm stopped her.
“Frannie, my wife—” He cleared his throat. “She’s gone.”
Frannie couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. Then, she said, automatically, “I’m sorry.”
He turned to face her. “So am I.” Then he surprised her by squeezing her
hand. That look. That tortured look, mingled with a longing for all he’d lost and regret for mistakes that couldn’t be undone, inexplicably made her heart constrict.
Another moment of silent communication passed between them before he stood and walked away.
© 2012 Deborah Grace Staley