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By Cote, Lyn/Worth, Lenora/Richards, Penny
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Cote, Lyn/Worth, Lenora/Richards, Penny
All right reserved.
"Fancy meeting you here."
The words, spoken in a deep, familiar voice, stopped Hannah West where she stood, directly in front of the A&P's tomato display, smack dab between the lettuce and the bell peppers. Her hand tightened involuntarily around the tomato in her hand.
Griff Harrison. A quicksilver river of emotions washed through her. Disbelief. Pain. Fury. And something else, something she couldn't name. She gripped the tomato tighter to still the sudden trembling in her hands and pressed her lips together to stop the torrent of angry words threatening to spew out. How dare he act as if everything were all right? How dare he even have the nerve to speak to her?
Don't make a scene, Hannah. Just say something polite and leave. Oh, but she wanted to make a scene. She wanted to tell Griff Harrison exactly what she thought of him. Wanted to scream out her fury and frustration and heartache at him. Instead, she carefully laid the bruised tomato back on the pile, lowered her clenched hand to her side and turned to face the man who had destroyed her dreams, robbed her of her youth and broken her heart beyond repair.
Seeing him face-to-face for the first time since her friend Elizabeth had gotten married two months earlier, Hannah couldn't stifle the little gasp of surprise that escaped her. At thirty-four, Griff was even better looking than he had been in their youth, more handsome than she remembered as he'd stood up as best man to Jake Clark. His looks were the rugged, masculine type, with something that shouted Danger to any woman with her wits about her.
The problem was, most girls had been all too willing to throw caution to the wind when it came to Griff Harrison. She'd been tempted once, herself. Lean and broad-shouldered, he had a square jaw, a nose that had been broken a time or two, a shock of thick coffee-brown hair, cut stylishly short and left slightly messy, and eyes so deeply blue you could drown in them. He wore faded jeans and a shirt that matched his eyes beneath a brown leather jacket, a devastating combination.
Hannah took his stock in seconds, registered her reaction and hated herself for finding anything attractive about him. Her voice was as cold as a December day as she said, "I suppose in a town of four thousand people, it was inevitable that we run into each other sooner or later."
"I was beginning to think it would be later," he told her.
"I've been in town almost five weeks and haven't seen you around, except at a distance."
"I've been very busy," she said in a prim voice as she shoved a head of lettuce into a plastic bag.
"So I hear. You do showers and parties and things in the old Carmichael house, don't you?"
Hannah moved to the green beans without looking up. "Yes."
"I haven't seen you at church much."
That made her look at him. "I've been there," she said, defending herself. "But I haven't been sticking around to visit when the service is over. I've — "
" — been busy," he interrupted. "So you said." Their gazes clashed for a few seconds longer. "You're looking extremely well."
For a thirty-year-old spinster. Hannah added the words in her mind while she resisted the urge to swipe back a tendril of her dark hair that refused to be tamed by her hair clasp.
"I didn't have a chance to tell you at the wedding."
How like him to bring up the wedding, something Hannah didn't like to think about. To her mixed joy and dismay, her friend, Elizabeth, had been married in mid-September. As the caterer, Hannah had been too busy refilling the hors d'oeuvre trays to mix much with the wedding party, and she had avoided all contact with Griff until the moment Elizabeth had singled her out to catch the bridal bouquet.
"Hannah? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she snapped. "But I'm catering a birthday dinner tonight, and I don't have time for idle chitchat."
"Especially not with me."
The words were softly spoken, and Hannah thought she heard a hint of resignation in them. "That's right," she told him, punctuating the statement with a short nod. She shoved a couple of handfuls of green beans into another plastic bag and turned to put them in her buggy. She'd taken no more than two steps when she felt hard fingers close around her upper arm. Griff spun her around to face him.
"When are you going to let me tell you what really happened that night?"
"I know what happened," she said, her voice low and vibrating with intensity. "Johnny was in the truck with you. You were drunk, and you lost control and hit a tree. Johnny was killed and you walked away with a cut on your forehead. That about sums it up, doesn't it?"
Griff didn't speak for several seconds. Though she tried, she couldn't read his expression. There was nothing in his eyes but emptiness. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah. That about sums it up."
She turned and started to walk away, but his voice stopped her.
"Do you think I don't still hurt, too, Hannah?"
She turned to face him, steeling her heart to the anguish she heard in his voice and saw in his eyes. Hindsight was always twenty-twenty, and remorse was easy enough to feel after the fact.
"Do you think I don't regret what happened?" he asked.
"Do you think there's a single day that passes that I don't remember how Johnny looked when they loaded him into the ambulance? That I don't wish it had been me instead of him?"
"Then that makes two of us."
Before she turned her back on him again, she saw him close his eyes and scrub a hand down his lean cheek. Keeping her back ramrod straight, she began to push her buggyaway from him. She was near the end of the aisle when he asked, "When are you going to forgive me, Hannah?"
Hannah stopped short. She refused to turn and look at him. "Never." The finality in her voice sounded harsh, even to her own ears.
"That's too bad," he told her. "It's been twelve years, and you're too beautiful a woman to let bitterness eat you up."
"Believe me, I haven't forgotten how long it's been."
"Have you forgotten that we're supposed to forgive one another?"
Furious, Hannah spun around to face him. "Don't you dare preach to me!"
"I'm not preaching. Just reminding you what the Bible says. It also says we're to love our enemies, doesn't it?" Without waiting for her to reply, he turned and left her standing there. Only when he made a right turn at the end of the aisle did she realize she could hardly see him for her angry tears.
"Jake says he's going to die of exhaustion if we don't get the house finished soon," Elizabeth said the following afternoon as the three friends were having a cup of tea at Hannah's. Ever since they'd returned from their honeymoon, Elizabeth and her new husband, Jake Clark, had been working at restoring the old house that had brought them together.
"I know it's a lot of work," Jo said, "but it'll be worth it."
"That's what Jake says. And it really is a labor of love."
Hannah sipped her tea and let the conversation drift on around her.
" — really hard to adjust to sharing a house with someone else — not to mention a bathroom "
" — bought me a new nightie "
" — wants to have a baby as soon as possible "
" — us, too "
Hannah stifled the urge to walk out of the room. She was sick and tired of the intimate hopes, dreams and plans as well as the good-natured ribbing and recipe-swapping. It was irritating and downright disgusting to see them so smug and happy like two cats who'd just licked up a bowl of spilt cream.
Face it, Hannah. You're jealous.
Excerpted from Blessed Bouquets by Cote, Lyn/Worth, Lenora/Richards, Penny Copyright © 2005 by Cote, Lyn/Worth, Lenora/Richards, Penny. Excerpted by permission.
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