Page 8 of Tripping on a Halo

I closed my eyes. Inhaled deeply. Tried to feel any sense of impending doom.

Nothing. For once, my head was clear, headache and pain-free.

I let out a puff of air, then picked up his credit card statement and reviewed the charges. I was halfway down the list, taking special note of his Taco Bell addiction, when my phone rang.

I scooted across the floor on my butt and grabbed it off the table just in time. “Yo.”

“Please don’t answer the phone like that.”

“Yo, Sexy Bitches Anonymous. How can I help you?”

My sister sighed. “He’s home.”

I perked up, half-rising enough to see the clock. 8:42. “That seems early.” Beside me, stretched out between a row of Declan’s beer cans and a pyramid of empty toilet paper rolls, Mr. Oinks bellowed out a sigh of agreement.

“Yes, I thought so, too.”

I grinned at the interested tone in my sister’s voice. “Admit it, you like doing my dirty work.”

She snorted, and I heard water start to run in the background. “I’m not doing your dirty work. I’m washing dishes and happened to see him drive by. I’m just trying to save you a trip all the way out here.”

“Ahh….” I pulled a shoebox apart at the seams, flattening it down so it would take up less space in the bag. “That was kind of you.”

“I don’t know what you’re going to do if we ever move. Or if he moves. Or if I find something better to do than stare out my kitchen window at the guy across the street.”

“At least he’s nice to look at.” I picked up a television manual, still in the plastic wrap, surprised that he threw it away. What if his remote needed reprogramming? Or he couldn’t figure out the different presets? I set it to the side.

“Yeah,” Ansley said grudgingly. “If you like the whole six-pack and strapping-build sort of look.”

“Which you don’t.”

“God, no. Have you seen Roger’s stomach? It’s perfect for a pillow. I couldn’t lay my head on a washboard and be comfortable. No one would want that.”

“Right.” I spotted a loose thread on my fuzzy sock and pulled on it. It grew longer and I paused, patting it back into place with a hope that it would magically retract. It didn’t. I frowned.

“Who comes home from a date at eight-thirty?” The sound of water stopped as I imagined Ansley reaching for the dish towel next to the sink and drying her hands. “She must have been a dud.”

“I should have gone,” I said sadly, looking at the wasted evening, stretched out in neatly organized stacks of light cardboard, bottles and Q-Tips. “Maybe something exciting happened.”

“Oh yeah,” Ansley said sarcastically. “You could have sat next to them. Joined in the conversation. That would have gone well.”

“I could have been discreet.”

“You know what you really should have done?” Her voice rose in a manner that foreshadowed exactly what she was about to say.

“Gone on my own date?” I guessed.

“Yes. That’s exactly what you should have done. Roger has a client who’d be perfect for you. He even believes in aliens!”

“I’m not an alien, Ansley, I’m a guardian angel.”

“Oh, my GAWD, you’re my little sister. You’re not a guardian angel. Trust me, I’d know.”

“Don’t you think it’s coincidental that you live right across the street from him?” Okay, so maybe not right across the street, but three doors down and catty-corner was pretty dang close.

“It’s not coincidental considering that that’s how you found him.”

“He’s not a lost kitten. I didn’t find him, I…” I frowned, trying to find the right words to describe the cosmic event that happened the first time I saw Declan Moss.

It had been so hot. The sharp, burning pain in my head … I’d thought it was the summer humidity. My vision blurred, and I’d blamed it on the tears. I’d ignored it until the moment that I couldn’t, until the moment that pain had shrieked through my head like the scream of a fire engine.

And in that moment, Declan Moss had almost died.

7

The date hadn’t been that bad. Declan mused over the night as he pulled into the garage and turned off the engine. Margaret had been sweet. She’d had a dry sense of humor that had been entertaining. And once they’d discovered a mutual love of country music, conversation had flowed in a more natural rhythm. He pressed the garage opener and listened to the hum of the door closing. And Margaret was an attractive woman, with all of the things he would look for in a mate. Kinda sexy too, in her own way.

Declan opened the truck door. So, why had he taken her straight home? And when she had hovered by the front door and invited him in, why hadn’t he accepted? Had it been Nicola?

He got out of the car, trying to erase the memory of Nic’s eyes, that vulnerable look she had given him. Four or five months ago, he wouldn’t have been able to resist that look. He would have folded her into his arms and squeezed her tight, kissed the top of her head, and told her he was sorry.

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