The theatre was one of the nicest in town, and Maryanne’s heart sang with excitement as the usher escorted her to her seat. Nolan hadn’t arrived yet and she looked around expectantly.
The curtain was about to go up when a man she mentally categorized as wealthy and a bit of a charmer settled in the vacant seat next to hers.
“Excuse me,” he said, leaning toward her, smiling warmly. “I’m Griff Bradley. Nolan Adams sent me.”
It didn’t take Maryanne two seconds to figure out what Nolan had done. The low-down rat had matched her up with someone he considered more appropriate. Someone he assumed she had more in common with. Someone wealthy and slick. Someone her father would approve of.
“Where’s Nolan?” Maryanne demanded. She bolted to her feet and grabbed her bag, jerking it so hard the gold chain strap threatened to break.
Griff looked taken aback by her sharp question. “You mean he didn’t discuss this with you?”
“He invited me to this play. I assumed…I believed the two of us would be attending it together. He didn’t say a word about you. I’m sorry, but I can’t agree to this arrangement.” She started to edge her way out of the row just as the curtain rose.
To her dismay, Griff followed her into the aisle. “I’m sure there’s been some misunderstanding.”
“You bet there has,” Maryanne said, loudly enough to attract the angry glares of several patrons sitting in the aisle seats. She rushed toward the exit with Griff in hot pursuit.
“If you’ll give me a moment to explain—”
“It won’t be necessary.”
“You are Maryanne Simpson of the New York Simpsons?”
“Yes,” she said, walking directly outside. Moving to the curb, she raised her hand and shouted, “Taxi!”
Griff raced around to stand in front of her. “There isn’t any need to rush off like this. Nolan was just doing me a good turn.”
“And me a rotten one. Listen, Mr. Bradley, you look like a very nice gentleman, and under any other circumstances I would’ve been more than happy to make your acquaintance, but there’s been a mistake.”
“I’m sorry, I really am.” A cab raced toward her and squealed to a halt.
Griff opened the back door for her, looking more charming and debonair than ever. “I’m not sure my heart will recover. You’re very lovely, you know.”
Maryanne sighed. The man was overdoing it, but he certainly didn’t deserve the treatment she was giving him. She smiled and apologized again, then swiftly turned to the driver and recited her address.
Maryanne fumed during the entire ride back to her apartment. Rarely had she been more furious. If Nolan Adams thought he could play matchmaker with her, he was about to learn that everything he’d ever heard about redheads was true.
“Hey, lady, you all right?” the cabbie asked.
“I’m fine,” she said stiffly.
“That guy you were with back at the theatre didn’t try anything, did he?”
“No, some other man did, only he’s not going to get away with it.” The driver pulled into her street. “That’s the building there,” Maryanne told him. She reached into her bag for her wallet and pulled out some of her precious cash, including a generous tip. Then she ran into the apartment building, heedless of her clothes or her high-heeled shoes.
For the first time since moving in, Maryanne didn’t pause to rest on the third-floor landing. Her anger carried her all the way to Nolan’s apartment door. She could hear him typing inside, and the sound only heightened her temper. Dragging breath through her lungs, she slammed her fist against the door.
“Hold on a minute,” she heard him grumble.
His shocked look as he threw open the door would have been comical in different circumstances. “Maryanne, what are you doing here?”
“That was a rotten underhanded thing to do, you deceiving, conniving, low-down…rat!”
Nolan did an admirable job of composing himself. He buried his hands in his pockets and smiled nonchalantly. “I take it you and Griff Bradley didn’t hit it off?”
Maryanne was so furious she couldn’t find the words to express her outrage. She opened and closed her mouth twice before she collected herself enough to proceed.
“I told you before that I don’t want you interfering in my life, and I meant it.”
“I was doing you a favor,” Nolan countered, clearly unmoved by her angry display. In fact, he yawned loudly, covering his mouth with the back of his hand. “Griff’s a stockbroker friend of mine and one hell of a nice guy. If you’d given him half a chance, you might have found that out yourself. I could see the two of you becoming good friends. Why don’t you give it a try? You might hit it off, after all.”
“The only thing I’d consider hitting is you.” To her horror, tears of rage flooded her eyes. “Don’t ever try that again. Do you understand?” Not waiting for his reply, she turned abruptly, stalked down the hall to her apartment and unlocked the door. She flung it shut with sufficient force to rattle the windows on three floors.
She paced back and forth several times, blew her nose once and decided she hadn’t told him nearly enough. Throwing open her door, she rushed down the hall to Nolan’s apartment again. She banged twice as hard as she had originally.
Nolan opened the door, wearing a martyr’s expression. He cocked one eyebrow expressively. “What is it this time?”
“And furthermore you’re the biggest coward I’ve ever met. If I still worked for the newspaper, I’d write a column so all of Seattle would know exactly what kind of man you are.” Her voice wobbled just a little, but that didn’t diminish the strength of her indignation.
She stomped back to her own apartment and she hadn’t been there two seconds before there was a pounding on her door. It didn’t surprise her to find Nolan Adams on the other side. He might have appeared calm, but his eyes sparked with an angry fire. They narrowed slightly as he glowered at her.
“What did you just say?” he asked.
“You heard me. You’re nothing but a coward. Coward, coward, coward!” With that she slammed her door so hard that a framed family photo hanging on the wall crashed to the floor. Luckily the glass didn’t break.
Her chest heaving, Maryanne picked up the photo, wiped it off and carefully replaced it. But for all her outward composure, her hands were trembling. No sooner had she completed the task than Nolan beat on her door a second time.
“Now what?” she demanded, whipping open the door. “I would have thought you got my message.”
“I got it all right. I just don’t happen to like it.”
“Tough.” She would have slammed the door again, but before she could act, a loud banging came from the direction of the floor. Not knowing what it was, Maryanne instinctively jumped back.
Nolan drew a deep breath, and Maryanne could tell he was making an effort to compose himself. “All right, Mrs. McBride,” Nolan shouted at the floor, “we’ll hold it down.”
“Who’s Mrs. McBride?”
“The lady who lives in the apartment below you.”
“Oh.” Maryanne had been too infuriated to realize she was shouting so loudly half the apartment building could hear. She felt ashamed at her loss of control and guilty for disturbing her neighbors—but she was still furious with Nolan.
The man in question glared at her. “Do you think it’s possible to discuss this situation without involving any more doors?” he asked sharply. “Or would you rather wait until someone phones the police and we’re both arrested for disturbing the peace?”
She glared back at him defiantly. “Very funny,” she said, turning around and walking into her apartment. As she knew he would, Nolan followed her inside.
Maryanne moved into the kitchen. Preparing a pot of coffee gave her a few extra minutes to gather her dignity, which had been as abused as her apartment door. Mixed with the anger was a chilling pain that cut straight through her heart. Nolan’s thinking so little of her that he could casually pass her on to another man was mortifying enough. But knowing he considered it a favor only heaped on the humiliation.
“Annie, please listen—”
“Did it ever occur to you that arranging this date with Griff might offend me?” she cried.
Nolan seemed reluctant to answer. “Yes,” he finally said, “it did. I tried to catch you earlier this afternoon, but you weren’t in. This wasn’t the kind of situation I felt comfortable explaining in a note, so I took the easy way out and left Griff to introduce himself. I didn’t realize you’d take it so personally.”
“How else was I supposed to take it?”
Nolan glanced away uncomfortably. “Let’s just say I was hoping you’d meet him and the two of you would spend the evening getting to know each other. Griff comes from a well-established family and—”
“That’s supposed to impress me?”
“He’s the type of man your father would arrange for you to meet,” Nolan said, his voice sandpaper-gruff.
“How many times do I have to tell you I don’t need a second father?” His mention of her family reminded her of the way she was deceiving them, which brought a powerful sense of remorse.
He muttered tersely under his breath, then shook his head. “Obviously I blew it. Would it help if I apologized?”
An apology, even a sincere one, wouldn’t dissolve the hurt. She looked up, about to tell him exactly that, when her eyes locked with his.
He stood a safe distance from her, his expression so tender that her battered heart rolled defencelessly to her feet. She knew she ought to throw him out of her home and refuse to ever speak to him again. No one would blame her. She tried to rally her anger, but something she couldn’t explain or understand stopped her.
All the emotion must have sharpened her perceptions. Never had she been more aware of Nolan as a man. The space separating them seemed to close, drawing them toward each other. She could smell the clean scent of the soap he used and hear the music of the rain as it danced against her window. She hadn’t even realized, until this moment, that it was raining.
“I am sorry,” he said quietly.
Maryanne nodded and wiped the moisture from her eyes. She wasn’t a woman who cried easily, and the tears were a surprise.
“What you said about my being a coward is true,” Nolan admitted. He sighed heavily. “You frighten me, Annie.”
“You mean my temper?”
“No, I deserved that.” He grinned that lazy insolent grin of his.
“What is it about me you find so unappealing?” She had to know what was driving him away, no matter how much the truth damaged her pride.
“Unappealing?” His abrupt laugh was filled with irony. “I wish I could find something, anything, unappealing about you, but I can’t.” Dropping his gaze, he stepped back and cleared his throat. When he spoke again, his words were brusque, impatient. “I was a lot more comfortable with you before we met.”