The Fifth Angel Ridge Novel
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Excerpt No. 5
Abby brought their food, refilled their drinks and left.
“Thanks, hon,” Patrick said to his daughter’s retreating back. Returning his attention to Frannie, he said, “That’s a lot of change, in a short amount of time, for such a small town.” He tucked into the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Having skipped lunch, he was starved.
“It’s an opportunity to create positive change for the community.”
Patrick wiped his mouth with his napkin. “You’re a master at spinning anything in your favor.”
“I choose to see obstacles as opportunities.”
Patrick lifted his chin, observing her as he chewed. She was chasing salad around her plate with a fork, but hadn’t yet taken a bite. The devil inside made him ask, “Does that apply to all areas of your life or just business?”
She set her fork aside, took a deep breath and sipped her water before responding. “I can’t see how that’s relevant to our discussion, Mayor.”
“Patrick. We’re very informal in Angel Ridge. Along those lines, can I give you some advice?”
“Of course,” she said, but caution laced her words.
“I appreciate that you’re educated and have thoroughly thought out your plan, but when you present this at the Town Hall Meeting, you might want to use plainer language. Otherwise, people might read you as too slick.”
“When you talk about this, you sound kind of like a lawyer or a salesman. By that I mean, you have an answer for everything, and you put a positive spin on anything that could be construed as negative.”
“I don’t understand the problem.”
“I’m just saying that people here have a basic mistrust of those kinds of people.”
“Lawyers and sales people,” she said.
She raised an eyebrow. “People also have a basic mistrust of politicians.” Patrick smiled. “True enough.” He was enjoying their verbal exchange a little too much, which made him want to push a little harder, just to probe around to see if there was a chink in her armor. “How’s your salad?”
She looked at the plate in front of her like she’d just noticed it was there. “Oh, I haven’t tried it yet.”
“Go ahead. I won’t ask any more questions for now, if that’ll make you feel more comfortable.”
“I’m not uncomfortable,” Frannie insisted.
Patrick leaned in, looking to his left and right before quietly confiding, “I
wish I could say the same. I can’t remember being this uncomfortable in quite some time.”
Frannie pressed her back against the seat. “Please don’t do that.”
She looked around this time. “Do anything that would make it appear that
we’re having an intimate conversation.”
Now she was uncomfortable, and again, it was his fault, but he couldn’t seem to stop baiting her. “People are going to think what they will.”
Placing her napkin on the table, she scooted out of the booth. “Then this was a mistake,” she said before turning to walk out of the diner.
“Damn it,” he mumbled as he scrambled to catch up to her in front of the
She spun to face him. “Don’t follow me,” she said, then immediately turned again and increased her pace.
Ignoring her request, he got close enough to grasp her arm, halting her
progress. “What was that?” he asked.
“I don’t want even the hint of impropriety in our relationship.”
“Then don’t make a scene by storming out of the only eating establishment in town while we’re having a business dinner.”
She moved her arm out of his loose grasp and started walking again. “You
made it impossible for me to stay.”
“You certainly lay a lot of blame at my feet.”
She stopped and looked back at him, her face flushed and a hand on her hip. Fire flashed from her dark blue eyes. Lord, she was stunning.
“You created this situation. If you hadn’t kissed me that night,” she moved
her hand back and forth between them, “having a business relationship now wouldn’t be a problem.”
“And yet you’ve returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He took her arm and guided her to the side of the building to get them off the sidewalk and away from curious stares. “I’m not proud of my behavior, and I’m not excusing it. All I can do is apologize for it, which I’ve done. But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? You were at a bar that night, in the middle of a blizzard, and a willing participant in that kiss when you don’t seem like the type. It begs the question, why?”
She folded her arms defensively. “I don’t owe you any explanations. Furthermore, I won’t appease your conscience by giving you my forgiveness and wiping the slate clean for something that was unforgivable.”
Night was falling softly around them. The constable would soon be lighting the old-fashioned, oil burning streetlamps that lined Main Street’s brick sidewalks. People were tucked in their houses, living normal lives. How he envied them.
“It was just a kiss,” he said softly. Or was it? For her to have such a strong reaction after so many years had passed, it must have rocked her world. That made him want to kiss her again now, even more.
“You were married.”
“I guess you didn’t notice my wedding band.”
That gave her a moment’s hesitation before she responded. “I didn’t.” Patrick sighed. Blame it on the alcohol. “Have you never done anything that you regretted, Frannie?” he asked. “Something for which you didn’t deserve forgiveness, but wished for it anyway? Not to ease the guilt you feel, because trust me, the guilt is a demon that won’t leave me alone. The forgiveness is so you know that the person giving it has gotten past what you did.”
Frannie focused on the intensity in his eyes, giving what he’d said some thought. She almost wished she could say she had done something that needed forgiving. The sad truth was that because she’d been gravely ill and survived, she’d taken care to stay safe and do what was expected of her. Any time she’d ventured to do anything out of character or something that involved taking risks, she’d regretted it, including the one time she’d kissed a stranger in a bar. That was something she regretted—that and the fact she’d wasted the years since her illness playing it safe. In both instances, the only person she had to blame was herself. She didn’t want to be afraid to live her life, but fear had been her constant companion for many, many years.
When she didn’t respond, he said, “It must be nice to have lived a life with no regrets.”
She crossed her arms. “I didn’t say that I don’t have regrets. I regret having been in that bar and kissing you.”
“And we’ve come full circle with the blame lying at my feet.”
“Okay. If it makes you happy, I’ll accept my part of the responsibility. I was in a bar getting drunk, and that impaired my judgment to the point that I kissed a total stranger, who was drunker than I was.” She laughed. “People get drunk and hook up in bars all the time. Leave it to me to find a married man the one time I do it.”
“You were drinking that night because you’d lost your sister.”
“Yes. I wanted something to ease the pain and help me stop thinking about losing her,” she admitted. “And you were drinking because your wife was terminally ill. I suppose the excuses make it all okay if we can understand the ‘why’
“You’re wrong on two counts. First, nothing makes what I did okay. And second, I was drinking that night because I’m an alcoholic. Even if my wife hadn’t been ill, I would have been drunk anyway.”
© 2012 Deborah Grace Staley