“Hell, that romp with Meredith wasn’t about trust, it was about sex. It was just a simple f**k.”
“Leonora didn’t see it that way, did she, Delling?”
“If there was anyone she couldn’t trust, it was her bitch of a half sister, not me.”
“Unfortunately, Meredith had an advantage over you. One she knew going in and one she exploited all the way.”
“What?” Kyle demanded. “What advantage did she have?”
“She was family.”
Kyle stared, speechless.
“Leonora could ditch a guy who cheated on her,” Thomas explained patiently, “but she couldn’t ditch a sister. You know what they say, you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with family.”
Kyle managed to get his sagging jaw back in place. “What makes you think you know how Leo’s mind works?”
Thomas thought about Leonora setting out to find the answers surrounding the death of a half sister who had caused her nothing but trouble. He thought about how he and Deke had stood side-by-side all these years.
“When it comes to the important stuff,” he said softly, “Leonora and I understand each other just fine.”
Kyle’s features clenched into an outraged mask. For a moment Thomas thought he might take a swing. The possibility raised his spirits.
But to his disappointment, Kyle subsided with a resigned sigh.
“Look,” Kyle said, “believe it or not, I didn’t come in here to get into an argument. I just wanted to tell you to treat Leo with respect, okay? She’s not like Meredith. She’s one of the good people in this world.”
Kyle hesitated. Then he nodded. “Maybe you do, at that. Looking back, I wish I had handled things differently. I think Leonora and I could have had something special together.”
“But you’ll get over her, right?”
“Oh, sure. Life goes on.”
He’d said those very same, very casual words himself, Thomas thought. When he had told Leonora about his divorce. But he knew now that he wouldn’t be saying them if he lost her.
“You know, Delling, I really hope you get that tenure-track position.”
Kyle didn’t bother to conceal his surprise. “Thanks. Mind if I ask why you give a damn?”
“Because I don’t want you coming back into Leonora’s life looking for more career assistance.” Thomas snapped the lid of the tool case shut. “Understood?”
Kyle made a face. “Understood. Good luck with Leonora, by the way. I don’t think you stand a snowball’s chance in hell of marrying her, but good luck anyway.”
“I don’t plan to leave it to luck.”
Kyle started to turn around. He paused. “By the way, that gray monster tied up outside. The one that looks like he works in a junkyard. Is he yours?”
“Wrench? Yeah, he’s with me. Why?”
“Just wondered. Never seen a dog like that. What breed?”
“Beats me. I never asked.”
“Does he bite?”
“He’d rip out your throat as soon as look at you.”
“But only if I tell him to do it,” Thomas added softly.
Kyle turned and walked off down the aisle.
Thomas waited until the bell over the glass door at the front of the store tinkled to announce Delling’s departure before he carried the elegant little tool kit to the counter.
Gus Pitney, founder and proprietor of Pitney’s Hardware & Plumbing Supply, looked up from his newspaper and peered over the rims of his reading glasses.
Gus’s face reminded Thomas of the store, old and filled with lots of interesting stuff.
“Thought for a while you two were going to have a knock-down–drag-out right there in aisle three,” Gus said.
“Nah. Guys like that don’t get into fights.” Thomas put the tool kit on the grimy glass counter. “They publish articles in peer-review journals, instead.”
“Yep.” Thomas reached for his wallet. “I’ll take this.”
Pitney squinted at the tool kit. “What the hell d’ya want with that? It’s a real basic kit. You probably got several of everything that’s in there.”
“It’s a gift.” Thomas removed a credit card from his wallet. “Mind gift wrapping it?”
“Gift wrap? This place look like an outpost of Nord-strom’s to you?” Gus reached under the counter and came up with a brown paper bag. “This is what we call gift wrapping here at Pitney’s.”
“Fine.” Thomas made a mental note to pick up some fancy wrapping paper at the card shop across the street.
Gus went to work ringing up the sale on an ancient cash register. “None of my business, of course, but what was that all about back there in aisle three a few minutes ago?”
“Professor Delling and I were just having a friendly discussion on the subject of how important it is to have the right tool to do the job.”
“Huh.” Gus shoved the kit into the paper sack. “Best tool in the world is worthless unless the man using it knows what he’s doing.”
“I’m with you there,” Thomas agreed.
Cassie came out of her bedroom, dressed in a bathrobe. Her red curls were wrapped in a towel. She held two dresses on hangers, one in each hand.
“Which dress?” she asked.
Leonora leaned back in the chair, stretched out her legs, steepled her fingers and surveyed the two offerings. The dress on the left was a short, sexy, black number. The tags were still pinned to the neckline. The dress on the right was a demure crepe sheath in beige.
“I like the black one,” she said.
Cassie studied it, unconvinced. “I don’t know. Might be a bit too much for a first date.”
“It’s not the first date. Dinner at my house was the first date. And then there were all those yoga lessons.”
“I know, but I don’t want to shock Deke. Call your grandmother.”
“You don’t think we can make this decision on our own?”
“I don’t want to take any chances. Tell your grandmother we need advice from Henrietta.”
“For heaven’s sake, Cassie—”
“Call her. I want to have an expert opinion.”
“Okay, okay.” Leonora picked up the phone. “But I may not be able to get hold of her. This is one of her bridge days. And I think she has swim aerobics, too.”