He's Her

By: Mimi Barbour

Book Two of The Vicarage Bench Series






Prologue





2007



“If we do this, there’ll be no turning back. Sweetheart, are you sure it’s what you want?” His frail voice wavered.

“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. I want to keep you with me—always. Please, please understand. You must.” The grey-haired woman, faded beauty in her weary face, leaned her slender form towards the pale travesty of a once vibrant man. The washed-out blue pyjamas he wore were typical hospital couture; not so was the luxurious navy velour robe that hung on his withered frame. In contrast, dressed in her stylish turquoise dress, the woman had a youthful heartiness and an innate vitality despite the tired lines around her eyes.

Her companion sighed, slapped his hands on his knees and nodded. “Right! We’ll leave as soon as we can make the arrangements. Each day my strength fails a little more. I don’t want to be a burden longer than necessary, and the doctors did warn us that the end would come quickly.”

“Darling, I’ve asked your brother to come, and he’s willing and ready to leave at a moment’s notice. He’ll be a strong arm to cling to, through everything.”

“Yes, it’s a good idea.” He leaned to tenderly caress the beloved face of the woman he’d adored for forty-seven wonderful years. “You’re still so beautiful, my wild rose.”

“And you’re still a silver-tongued devil.” She kissed him softly, lingeringly.

“Sweetheart, I must tell you. I feel a sense of relief in making this decision.”

“You do? I’m glad.” She gently patted his dear face.

He nodded, gazing into her eyes, his own full to the brim with tears. “It’s because I know now that I won’t be leaving you, after all.”





Chapter One





1967



The tall, slim, well-endowed broad was strolling directly towards him. Damn! He didn’t want to share this bench with anyone else, even a classy chick like her. The last few hectic days had taken their toll. He needed to catch his breath and unwind. Alone!

She smiled and nodded to acknowledge him and continued to head toward the back of his bench, where a luxurious, fragrant bush full of wild roses spread its splendour. Rhett watched her slide tiny garden clippers from her shoulder bag. He supposed she was pilfering roses, and he wished she’d get on with it and leave him to his peaceful sanctuary. He heard a snipping sound, followed immediately by a whimper and a sucking noise as she babied what must be a wound. Feeling peevish, he ignored her.

This pretty spot, just in front of the timeworn vicarage and near a busy country lane, had become Rhett’s safe haven over the last few days as he organized and attended his father’s lonely funeral. The vicar, himself and his old man had been the only guests at the service. His father had wished to be buried in England, in the church cemetery near the vicarage close to where he’d grown up. Rhett decided to honour this last request, though why he felt it necessary was beyond him. The old guy had paid scant attention to his family, including Rhett, his oldest son. While Rhett was a boy, the old man ignored him. As the boy grew to be a man he reciprocated, and so they never had a close relationship.

Being an actor, making love to his leading ladies, and seeing his name in lights was all the fool cared about. Other than the ridiculous name bestowed on him, Rhett Parks inherited little else from the man who’d demanded to be called Father—never Dad.

“I’m sorry. I seem to have pricked myself. I feel slightly faint.” The intrusive woman stumbled toward the seat beside him and slumped onto it, letting her purse drop to the ground. Her rose, the instigator of the disruption, landed at his feet.

Without hesitation, he bent and picked up the stem, feeling a sharp prick in his thumb as he did so. His annoyance doubled. Silly woman was the last thought he had for some time.

“Mr. Parks? Sir? Oh, my goodness! Whatever has happened?” The vicar rushed over and tried to hold up the body of the collapsing man, an impossible task. The dead weight rolled over and landed in a heap on the grass beside the wooden bench. The clergyman turned to the white-faced woman, whose open eyes were fixed and empty. “Miss Temple? Miss Temple? Are you all right?” The vicar reached over and nudged Carrie’s shoulder.