Born in a Small Town / Page 22

Page 22


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His wife? He could see it. He’d better not let anything like a marrriage proposal slip out of his big mouth. Not yet. Hannah was carrying around something that was bothering her. Maybe it had to do with this house-sitting gig. Maybe it had to do with being stuck in boring old Glory for her holidays. Hannah a farmer’s wife? Could he be so lucky? Not likely. Jack felt cold shudders run through his body.

He clenched his jaw and touched her arm again. “Hannah? We’re home.”

“Home?” She opened her eyes and stared deep into his soul. Then she sat up groggily and blinked.

“Heavens. I must have fallen asleep. Oh, I’m so sorry, Jack, you must think I’m awful…”

“Not awful, babe. Just tired, that’s all. Come on, I’ll take you in.”

He walked around the truck to the passenger side. The big date was over. Then he had another twenty-minute drive out to his cold dark dingy farmhouse.

But not right away. She insisted he come inside for a coffee. That struck him as a pretty old-fashioned offer, but he realized she wasn’t quite herself. He knew she’d had quite a bit of sake to drink. Coffee was probably a good idea.

“Hiya, gorgeous!” The parrot woke up, untucking its head from under its wing.

“Oh, Joan…” Hannah tossed her wrap in the direction of a chair and missed, then walked toward the parrot and pulled a dark cloth down over the cage. “I’m sorry. I forgot to cover you up.” The parrot muttered sleepily—Jack was sure he heard a soft “blimey, fiddlesticks!”—and then was silent.

Hannah seemed really distressed. Fidgety. Had it bothered her that much that she’d forgotten to cover the bird? Or that she’d fallen asleep in his truck? Sure, it wasn’t the usual ending to a date, but then, so far everything about their relationship had been unusual, to say the least. Right from the start, when she’d dropped the contents of her purse in the lobby of the St. Regis.

“How about I make the coffee?” Jack suggested.

“You sit down and I’ll be with you in a jiffy.”

She laughed and began to rub her eyes, then quickly stopped and sat down on the sofa.

“What’s so funny?”

“You,” she said, looking up. “Jiffy. I haven’t heard anyone say that in ages.”

“Must be a Saskatchewan word,” he said.

“Where’s your coffee?”

“The fridge.” She looked disconsolate again; he hoped the coffee would help, but maybe that was expecting too much of caffeine.

“Listen, you feeling okay, Hannah?” he ventured as the coffee machine began gurgling.

“Me? Of…of course. Why do you ask?”

“You drank quite a lot of wine with dinner.”

“I did not! I didn’t even like it that much!” She looked upset. As though he’d accused her of something serious.

“You did, Hannah. I drank one cup and you drank the rest. Hey, it’s okay.” He held up both hands in mock surrender. “Happens from time to time to the best of us.” He ducked back into the kitchen to bring out a couple of mugs of coffee. Did she take cream or sugar? He couldn’t remember.

“This all right?” He set the coffee down in front of her.

“Fine.” She hadn’t even looked at it. She twisted the hem of the embroidered tunic she was wearing, one foot tucked up under her as she sat on the sofa. He wanted to sit down beside her, but he wasn’t sure of her in this mood. It reminded him of the episode in the restaurant. He settled into an upholstered chair to one side of the sofa.

He was about to make some light remark, but thought better of it and raised the steaming coffee to his mouth. Yuck. One percent milk wasn’t his idea of coffee cream.

“Jack,” she began, looking worriedly at him, “I have something to tell you. Something important.”

“Uh-huh?” He gazed at her across the top of his mug. “What’s that, Hannah? You’re married? You’re a drag queen? You deal drugs?”

“This is serious. I’m…I’m not who you think I am.” She seemed on the verge of bursting into tears. She still hadn’t touched her coffee.

“Yeah. You said something like that in the restaurant. What do you mean? You’re not Hannah Parrish?” He smiled.

“I am. I am Hannah Parrish,” she said emphatically, nodding her head. “I’m just not what I seem to be. It’s all a great big lie. I’m not house-sitting. This is really my apartment, this is my parrot and that cat’s my cat and…and all the stuff in here is mine. It’s so hard to explain.”

Jack stared at her. “Come on, Hannah. What are you talking about?”

“It’s true!” She got up, then got down on her knees and peered under the skirt of the sofa. “I can prove it. Watch this. Mr. Spitz?” She looked earnestly up at Jack. Her eyes were overbright, yet distant. She’d definitely had too much rice wine. Maybe she’d been more nervous with him than he’d realized; he should have kept an eye on her. But why was she talking like this? “It’s my cat. He adores me. I rescued him from the pound. Watch. He-e-ere, Mr. Spitz!”

There was a heavy thump in the vicinity of the dining room, and Jack turned around. The cat had leaped onto the dining-room table from the china cabinet. As he watched, the cat jumped onto a chair, then onto the floor.

“Come, kitty!” Hannah called. “Lapsies!” She patted her lap enticingly from her position back on the sofa.

The cat didn’t even glance at her. With its tail held high, it walked directly away from her into the hallway and turned into an open doorway, probably a bedroom, and disappeared.

Jack took another gulp of his coffee and scorched his tongue. No way was he checking out Hannah’s reaction to the cat’s defection.

“He’s never done that before,” she muttered, sounding bewildered. Jack wanted to laugh. He also wanted to go over and pull her into his arms and tell her that he didn’t care who she thought she was or what was going on, that he liked her just the way she was.

“Hey, it doesn’t matter. Drink your coffee.”

“This is my place.” She waved one arm around.

“What about your friend, Jasmine Kelly?”

“There is no Jasmine Kelly. I made it all up!” She twisted her hands again in the tunic hem. “I did! Don’t you believe me?”

“Nope.” Jack drained his coffee and stood. “I think you’re a little mixed-up. You had a bit too much sake tonight and maybe it didn’t agree with you. And you fell asleep in my truck. You’re disoriented—”

“But Jack! Look here, these aren’t my clothes!” To his dismay, she started removing her earrings and plucking at the tunic. “This is my sister’s top. These are her friend’s earrings. This isn’t even my hair!” She grabbed a handful of her hair. “Red! I don’t have red hair, I have ordinary mousy-brown hair.”

Her hair looked red to him. Jack reached for her hand and patted it gently. “Come on, honey. I’ll wait until you’re changed and ready for bed, then I’ll turn out all the lights and make sure your door is locked. You get a good night’s sleep, you’ll feel a hundred percent better in the morning. Promise.”

“I feel fine! There’s nothing wrong with me! You’re patronizing me! Why don’t you believe me?”

“Because this isn’t you talking, Hannah. This is preposterous. You do have red hair,” he explained patiently, raising his hand to finger a lock of her glorious hair. “And why would you make up all that stuff about house-sitting? Why would your sister? Come on—”

“But I’m telling you the truth! This person you think is me isn’t me at all.” Her eyes were wide. He wanted nothing more than to kiss this crazy, wonderful woman. Put her mind on a different track altogether.

She suddenly threw the silver earrings across the room. One bounced off the parrot’s cage and brought a squawk of protest from the snoozing bird. “These aren’t mine!” She looked furious. She started to pull off the tunic and Jack whirled around so that his back was to her.

“Whoa! Settle down here, Hannah. Don’t get undressed. Please. We hardly know each other. Down the hall and into your bedroom. That’s a good girl.” He flinched as he heard her stalk down the hallway, tossing a decidedly unladylike epithet over her shoulder.

A door slammed. Jack waited ten minutes. There was no further sound from her bedroom. Finally he decided he’d better check on her, make sure she was okay. She was asleep in her bed, a handmade old-fashioned quilt tucked up under her chin. He could see the sleeves of a rose-sprigged cotton nightgown, decidedly a Jasmine Kelly touch. Her Hannah Parrish clothes were puddled in the middle of the floor. Jack paused, then quickly bent and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. Jasmine? Hannah? It was time for him to go.

“Sweet dreams, princess,” he whispered, “whoever you are.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

HANNAH AWOKE to the sound of her telephone ringing and the bright light of midmorning streaming through her uncurtained windows. She never went to bed without closing the curtains.

She made her way to the bathroom, the events of the previous evening slowly dropping into place in her horrified mind. She flicked on the bathroom light and screamed. Whatever was on her face fell to the floor, and she hopped back, trying to balance on one foot, any foot, so long as it wasn’t near the thing.

One-half of a set of false eyelashes lay harmlessly at her feet. Hannah sank onto the side of the bathtub, torn between relief and hysterical laughter. What was happening to her? She’d tried to tell Jack about the stupid trick she and Emily had played on him, and he hadn’t believed a word. She’d gone to bed without cleansing her face and still wearing false eyelashes! One had come off in the night and attacked her— Hannah began to giggle. Thank heavens Jack hadn’t spent the night. She could just see herself waking up beside him, all love-dazed and with big black eyelashes stuck to her cheek. He’d leap out of bed and start running and never stop.

Maybe that was what he was doing this morning. Running. She couldn’t blame him.

All the laughter drizzled to a stop inside her. She’d blown it. She’d blown it big time. First she’d gone and drunk too much wine—no, first she’d gone along with Emily’s crazy idea. But how could she blame her sister? All she’d had to do was say no. The truth was, she’d wanted desperately to see Jack again. The truth was she’d hoped against hope that something would happen—something—that would make things all right again. It hadn’t.

Instead, she’d tried to explain the deception to him, and he had flat out not believed her. He thought she was being silly, making it up, for who-knew-what reason. That she’d drunk too much sake. He still thought she was cool, sophisticated, sexy Hannah Parrish. Sophisticated, sure—he should have heard her screaming at the “spider” on the bathroom floor.

Hannah washed her face and removed the false lashes from her other eye, dropping both into the trash. End of that. She stepped into the shower and vigorously shampooed her hair. Then, when she’d rinsed, she shampooed again. How many times was that? She’d lost count, but at least the red was fading noticeably. She felt sick every time she thought about what she’d done. It was so unlike her; she’d never done anything so deliberately false in her life. Even if he’d believed her last night, would he have forgiven her? Honest as the day is long, he’d said. That was what he wanted in a woman.


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