Page 5 of Tripping on a Halo

“I don’t want to talk about my mom.” She was one of his favorite subjects. Like so many, he was fascinated by a woman who sat on a small fortune while eating discount cereal and duct-taping the soles of ten-year-old shoes. To him, she was a case study. To me, she was an open sore, his questions only making the pain worse.

“Okay.” He set down the pen. “Are you still following Declan Moss?”

Ugh. His second favorite topic. I slumped against the heavy velvet chair, propping my foot up on the ottoman. “Sometimes.” A slight under-exaggeration.

He leaned forward and peered down at something on his desk. “Huh. That’s interesting to hear. Your latest credit card statement raises some questions, Autumn.”

“Oh?” I adopted my best bored expression, while frantically trying to remember last month’s purchases. Another stipulation of my trust is that I have to turn in my receipts each month, proving I’m not being irresponsible with my current allotment, before I get the motherlode. Which is ridiculous, but I’m not about to argue with how I receive my unexpected inheritance.

“I counted, and there are fifteen transactions at Jasmine Cafe.” He glanced at me. “Isn’t that directly across from Mr. Moss’s building?”

“Is it?” I frowned. “Huh. They have a hot tea there I love. It’s…” I mimicked the sort of shudder Ansley made when she described sex with Roger. “Ah-mazing.” I made a mental note to start using cash.

“Right…” he drawled. His pen circled something on the page. “And I also see a deposit for Premier Fitness Club.” He pushed his glasses up higher on his nose. “I don’t suppose Declan Moss is a member there?”

I sputtered out a scoff and raised my hands in my best impression of bewilderment. “How would I know?”

“Ms. Jones.” He set down the page. “Let me make myself clear, since you seem intent on these ridiculous attempts to hide your extra-curricular activities concerning Mr. Moss. I don’t think it’s entirely harmful, your fascination with him. In fact, I think it might even be healthy for you.”

“You do?” This was a surprise. In fact, I’d have laid down odds that he wore a sparkly red banana hammock and swung around a pole as a part-time gig before I’d put down money on him supporting anything regarding me and Declan Moss.

“You were not able to save your mother’s life, and you feel justifiable guilt over not being there to protect her. If you are transferring this perceived ‘defeat’”—he made little quote marks around the word—”to Mr. Moss by protecting him and keeping him from harm, then it gives you a way to overcome your fears. This is a situation you are in control of, one you can manage.” He gave me a solemn look, and if I didn’t want to smack him for pouring gasoline on my stack of guilt kindling, I’d hug him for encouraging my Declan obsession. “I think you should explore how you feel when you are watching Mr. Moss. And if it gives you a sense of peace, continue it.”

He leaned forward and his voice dropped. “But be aware that he is a human being. We are fragile, unpredictable creatures. It’s entirely possible that something might happen to him—something you can’t prevent and may not be present for. And if it did, I fear that any healing you are experiencing will be destroyed or will damage your psyche even more. If you plan on taking this burden on, you need to be aware of the risks involved. For his well-being, but also … for your own.”

“So, I need to keep him safe,” I clarified.

“If that’s how you’d like to interpret it. Yes.” He nodded soberly, as if this was a huge revelation and well worth the three hundred dollars this session was costing my trust.

Keep Declan Moss safe. Well… duh.

5

Beneath the table, Margaret O’Keefe’s foot brushed against Declan’s shin and she blushed. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted in his seat. “Common issue with long legs. I’m probably crowding you.”

“No!” She shook her head. “It’s fine.”

Silence fell, and he was out of practice with this. He should have taken Nate up on his offer to double date. The man was a chatterbox. Now, without his conversation starters and jokes, the silence grew, suffocating him.

“So…” she picked up her drink, spinning the ice around in it with her straw. “Your profile said you were an architect?”

He nodded. “I worked at one of the big firms for a few years, then started a practice with my roommate from college. We focus mostly on commercial projects.”

God, this was dreary. He tried to remember what her job was. Something in engineering, but an odd specialty. “Where’d you go to school?”

She smiled. “Here at Florida State. I got my degree there and stayed. This isn’t exactly Silicon Valley, but I stay busy enough to pay the mortgage.”


Tags: Alessandra Torre Books Romance Books
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