Born in a Small Town / Page 11

Page 11


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Mariah leaned forward. “Did it look like everything’s okay with them?” she asked.

“Hardly,” Christian said with a shake of his head.

“The minute the engine stopped, Chrissie had the door open and was scrambling out. Seemed to me she was in an awful rush.”

“Oh.” This wasn’t encouraging news. “What about Scott? Did he go after Chrissie?”

“No.” Christian frowned. “He took off in the opposite direction. Now that I think about it, he seemed to be in a rush himself.”

“Oh, dear.”

“It’s too bad, isn’t it?”

Her husband’s comment surprised her, since he rarely showed any interest in other people’s romantic problems.

“I think the world of Scott,” Christian went on to say.

“I know you do,” Mariah said.

“He’s a good guy—turned out well. I know he had a few problems as a teenager, but lots of boys do. I certainly don’t hold it against him. Hey—remember when he read Susan’s diary and wrote comments in the margins?”

“I sure do,” Mariah said, grinning. She agreed that Scott had turned out well. In more than one sense. He was a fine-looking man. Mariah had watched him, Susan and Chrissie mature into young adults. From the time Scott and Chrissie were in high school, she’d known they shared a special bond. Like almost everyone in Hard Luck, she’d assumed that one day they’d marry. Only, she’d apparently assumed wrong, and that saddened her.

“Years ago,” Christian said, stretching out his legs, “before we got married, Scott and I had a talk…about women.”

Mariah managed to hold back a smile. She didn’t even want to think what a nine-year-old boy had to say on that subject.

“Scott offered me some advice,” Christian said, grinning broadly, “having to do with romance and the two of us.”

“Don’t you dare tell me after all these years that you married me on the advice of a fifth-grade boy!”

Christian’s eyes avoided hers. “I guess it wasn’t exactly advice.”

“You’d better tell me the worst.”

“Well, Scott bragged about the help he’d given others—like Sawyer and Matt Caldwell and even Mitch Harris—when it came to love and marriage.” Christian shook his head, a half-amused grimace on his face. “He suggested he could help us, too”

“Did he now?”

“He did, but I would’ve come to the right conclusion—eventually.” He paused. “You’d decided to leave Hard Luck, and I was pretty down in the mouth about it.”

In Mariah’s opinion, Christian’s memory was a bit flawed. “You fired me, if I remember correctly.”

“Yeah, but that’s because I was crazy about you. I thought if you were gone, then— But I don’t want to get sidetracked here. All I can remember is how bad I felt when I realized you were actually going to leave. Nothing was working out the way I thought it would.” His eyes held hers for an extra-long moment. “The fact is, I’m as crazy about you now as I was then.”

Mariah resisted the urge to walk around her desk and kiss her husband—but only because she wanted to hear the rest of his story.

“You remember what it was like back then, don’t you?”

“I’m not likely to forget.” She wouldn’t, either. Christian claimed he’d been down in the mouth, but it didn’t compare to how she’d felt. The weeks after she’d left her position at Midnight Sons had been some of the bleakest of her life. To this day, Mariah didn’t know what she would have done without her friends. Matt and Karen had provided housing and encouragement. Abbey, Lanni O’Halloran, Bethany—they’d all rallied around, offering comfort and advice when all she’d wanted, all she’d ever wanted, was for Christian to love her.

“It seems odd to remember a conversation I had with a kid almost twenty years ago,” Christian admitted, smiling wryly, “but in some ways, it’s as if it took place yesterday. That’s how clearly I remember Scott giving me his advice to the lovelorn—and talking about Chrissie.”

“What did he say about her?”

“He told me that one day he was going to marry her, freckles and all.”

Mariah smiled. “That boy had sense even then.”

“Unfortunately he appears to have lost it,” Christian murmured. He glanced at his watch, and looked surprised when he noted the time. Leaping to his feet, he said, “Gotta go. Are you picking up the boys from soccer practice this afternoon or am I?”

“I’ll do it,” she said, and smiled at his look of relief. Both their sons were enthusiastic about indoor soccer.

“I’ll be glad when they can drive themselves,” he said on his way out the door.

“Me, too,” she agreed. Their two boys, born thirteen months apart, were in their mid-teens. The fun years, as Bethany Harris and Tracy Porter were quick to tell her. They were wonderful kids, and Mariah didn’t expect any trouble with them. Both were crazy about sports. The oldest, Tyler, loved to fly and often accompanied Christian on his scheduled flights. He was a sociable, gregarious boy. The younger, Travis, while as athletic as his brother, was more of an introvert.

“See you tonight, then,” Christian called.

Mariah went over to the door and watched her husband leave. She hadn’t quite made it back to her desk when the door opened a second time, and to her astonishment Scott O’Halloran walked in. He looked none too pleased.

“Christian here?”

“He just left,” Mariah told him. “If you hurry, you can catch him.”

“That’s okay, thanks.” Scott began to head out the door. “I’ll see him later.”

“We were just talking about you,” Mariah said, and regretted it the instant the words were out of her mouth.

“Me?” Scott hesitated at the door.

“Christian was remembering some advice you once gave him about romance.”

Scott seemed puzzled. “I gave Christian advice?”

“It isn’t any surprise you don’t remember,” she said, making light of it, “especially since you were only a kid at the time.”

“What did I say?”

She thought for a moment, then decided it wouldn’t do any harm for him to know. “You were quite the matchmaker in those days.”

“Not me,” he said, grinning for the first time. “I left that to Susan and Chrissie.”

“That’s not the way I remember it,” Mariah said.

“Those really were the good old days,” he muttered. “Now that I think about it, maybe you’re right. When I was twelve or so, I toyed with the idea of writing an advice column. I even talked to Lanni about putting it in her newspaper.”

“Pretty enterprising of you.”

“Especially when you consider what a hopeless mess my own love life is.”

“Scott, that’s not true.” Mariah felt sorry for him.

“I’m sure things aren’t hopeless.”

“It is true,” Scott countered.

He seemed utterly defeated, and Mariah suddenly wanted to throw her arms around him, as though he were one of her sons. “Christian seemed to think you got him thinking in the right direction,” she said bracingly.

Scott’s expression was incredulous.

“Whatever you told Christian worked. We have a long-standing marriage to prove it.” She had his interest now. “If you love Chrissie—”

“Mariah, let me stop you here. It’s over. Chrissie isn’t interested.”

“Don’t you believe it.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid you’re wrong. She as much as told me so this weekend. And I think it’s probably for the best.”

THE ENTIRE OFFICE fell quiet when Chrissie entered. Everyone stared at her as she walked in. The secretary, Kate, jumped up from her desk immediately, clutching a handful of files, and followed her down the short hallway.

“We were all worried when we heard you’d been held up by the storm,” Kate told her.

“There was nothing to worry about,” Chrissie muttered, wanting to avoid the subject. She reached for the stack of mail on her desk, shuffling through it.

“I have your appointment calendar for the day.”

“You can leave it with me,” Chrissie instructed. In other circumstances, she would have headed directly home, soaked in a hot tub and slept through the day. Mondays, however, were often hectic. She had appointments all morning, and it was too late to reschedule them now.

No sooner had she sat down behind her desk than there was a polite knock at her door.

“Come in.”

“Hi.” Tracy stuck her head in. “Glad you got here safe and sound.”

“Thanks.”

“Everything go all right?”

Chrissie wasn’t sure how to answer. “Reasonably well, I guess.”

The worst of the storm hadn’t passed until daylight, and by the time she and Scott returned, the entire town of Hard Luck had heard about their predicament. If that wasn’t bad enough, their families, friends and neighbors had all rushed to the airstrip, eager to welcome them back. Unfortunately, at that stage, Chrissie and Scott were barely on speaking terms.

Everyone, her parents included, had stared at them with great anticipation, obviously expecting their engagement to be announced on the spot.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Tracy asked.

“I’m fine, really. Just tired.”

“If you need anything, let me know.”

“I will,” Chrissie promised. “Listen…there’s something I want to talk over with you later.”

Tracy frowned.

“I’d explain it now, but there isn’t time. My first appointment is due in ten minutes and I have to read through his file. Can we talk this afternoon?”

Tracy nodded. “Of course. Whatever you need.”

Her partner’s words touched her. “Thanks,” Chrissie whispered as Tracy quietly closed the door.

Chrissie buried her face in her hands. It didn’t help that she was exhausted, not having slept the entire night. How could she, with Scott only a few feet away? She doubted he’d gotten any more sleep than she had.

Scott had left the cabin well before dawn and gone to the plane. At first she’d panicked, fearing he’d fly off without her, but then reason had reasserted itself, and she’d acknowledged that, for all his faults, he wouldn’t abandon her. Apparently he’d made radio contact and received the latest weather information. In thirty minutes or so, he returned and told her they could leave at first light.

During the trip back she might as well have been sitting next to a robot. He didn’t speak to her. For that matter, she didn’t have anything to say to him, either. The situation was dreadful and destined to grow worse. Until this weekend misadventure, they’d at least been cordial with each other. Now even that was gone.


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