Cassie walked him to the door.

“Are you coming back here tonight?” she asked.

“Nope. I’m taking the red-eye to Phoenix.”

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“Will I see you at Christmas?”

“Sure. Where else would I go?”

“Call me, okay?”

“Will do. Besides, I want to hear all about Simon.”

“John,” she corrected. “Simon’s the matchmaker.”

“Right.” That gleam was back in his eyes and Cassie suspected the slip had been intentional.

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An hour later, Cassie had the Christmas tree in its stand and set by the window that overlooked the city. The big star above Macy’s glowed in the dim light of late afternoon. She dragged her ornaments out from the guest room closet and decided to give Angie a call. Trimming a tree all alone wasn’t any fun.

Her friend answered immediately. “Come on over,” Cassie invited her. “Shawn stopped by to drop off a Christmas tree and then abandoned me to decorate it by myself. I’ve got hot apple cider and popcorn popping in the microwave.”

“Oh, Cassie, I’d love to but I can’t.”

“Are you off shopping again?”

“No, I’m meeting an old friend. Sort of a last-minute thing. You could join us if you want.”

“Anyone I know?”

“Um, not really.”

“Oh, well, I’ve got an appointment with a box of ornaments, a bowl of popcorn and the DVD of The Bishop’s Wife.”

Angie sounded regretful. “I hate the thought of you trimming the tree alone.”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” And that was true. She was in a good mood; in fact, she planned to give Mrs. Mullinex the Sunday paper when she’d finished—and she’d leave the crossword untouched.

“Think of next year,” Angie urged. “You’ll most likely be married by then.”

“John and me.” She filled her head with happy thoughts of a Christmas photo in front of next year’s tree, the two of them smiling blissfully into the camera. The perfect Christmas. The first card she mailed out would be to Jill and Tom.

“You might even be pregnant by then.”

“Whoa, you’re moving a little too fast.”

“Why? You’re getting the best husband money can buy, aren’t you?”

Cassie laughed. She hadn’t thought of it in those terms but Angie was right. She was paying top dollar to meet John-the-engineer; by the same token, he’d been willing to pay top dollar to meet her.

And the one walking away with fistfuls of cash was Simon Dodson.

As far as Cassie was concerned, he would have earned every penny.

Chapter 8

A t the end of their brief telephone conversation, Angie had said she’d call Cassie once she got home Sunday evening. Although it’d been an offhand comment, Cassie was surprised when she didn’t hear from her. Apparently Angie’s last-minute meeting with her friend had turned into more of an event.

Cassie didn’t think much about it until Angie showed up at the lab Monday morning. Her friend’s face radiated…joy. Unmistakable joy.

“Well, well, well,” Cassie said, watching Angie closely. Something was up, and it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that a man was involved. Clearly Angie had met someone special. The “old friend” from yesterday evening?

“Stop looking at me like that,” Angie said, blushing.

“You’re in love, aren’t you?”

Angie’s eyes widened. “You can tell? Really?”

Cassie nodded. “You’ve got the happy look. You know, the one we all get when we first realize we’re falling for someone.” She knew it had to be the “friend” Angie had seen last night.

Angie shyly glanced away. “The most incredible feeling came over me this morning.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “It’s like…a sixth sense, a knowledge, that this man could be the one.”

“That’s the feeling I’m talking about.” Cassie had never experienced it herself, but she’d seen it again and again with her friends.

A wistful happiness shone from Angie’s eyes, but she didn’t say anything else.

After several minutes Cassie couldn’t stand it anymore. “Well?” she asked.

The reflective look disappeared and was instantly replaced by one that was far more guarded. “Well, what?”

“Aren’t you going to give me details?”

Angie hesitated. “Of course…but not yet.”

This confused Cassie. First, there was very little they didn’t tell each other—except for Angie’s meeting with the matchmaker and it was easy to understand why her friend hadn’t mentioned that, since Simon had rejected her as a client. If it’d happened to her, Cassie wouldn’t have announced it, either. But this was an entirely different matter. For some reason, Angie preferred to remain tightlipped about this man in her life. Well, so be it. When necessary, Cassie could be patient. If Angie wanted to keep this mystery man to herself for a while, Cassie would respect that.

“I’ll tell you everything soon,” Angie said. “It’s just that I’d like to hold on to this feeling for a little longer.”

Still, Cassie couldn’t help being curious. “Would it hurt to let me know how you met?”

Angie’s face relaxed into a warm smile. “You’ll love that part. We sort of stumbled upon each other. We dated for a while ages ago and decided it wasn’t going to work. Or rather, he did, not me. So I began the search again.”

“So this is the guy you’ve been in love with all along?”

Angie nodded. “You’ll meet him,” she said a second time. “I promise.”

“Will you be seeing him soon?”

“No. It’s a bit…complicated at the moment.”

“Complicated?” Cassie didn’t like the sound of that. “He’s not married or anything, is he?”

Angie shook her head. “Oh, no! Nothing like that.”

“Good.” Cassie smiled, then glanced down at her feet. “Actually,” she said in a low voice, “I was hoping to chat with you last night. I had a couple of questions.”

“What kind of questions?”

“I wanted to ask you about Simon.”

“What about him?”

“Basically…I was curious. Other than the information on his Web site, what do you know?”

Angie shrugged. “Not much.”

“How did you hear about him?”

“He was a birthday gift—at least, the first consultation was.”

“Who from?”

“My mother. She wants grandchildren and knew how brokenhearted I was when…this other relationship ended. She heard about Simon when he did a radio interview.”

“Simon did a radio interview?”

“I don’t think he does them often. This was around Valentine’s Day a few years back.”

“Oh.”

Angie cocked her head to one side. “Why this interest in Dr. Dodson all of a sudden?”

Cassie didn’t want Angie or anyone to suspect how intrigued she was by the matchmaker. She found her thoughts drifting toward him far more often than was comfortable. She told herself that once her curiosity was satisfied, he’d drift into the background where he belonged.

While she’d gone on to his Web site—the address was noted on his business card—she hadn’t searched further.

That evening, she did. She logged on to the Internet and immediately typed his name into Google. There wasn’t a lot, but enough to answer some of her questions. He’d been a Rhodes scholar, attending Cambridge—after Harvard. He’d taught at a prestigious East Coast college. He’d written political articles for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Just as she’d realized earlier, he had opinions about everything and didn’t mind sharing them…in unvarnished prose.

According to Wikipedia, Simon had never been married. She found that…interesting.

Intent as she was on reading her computer screen, the phone startled her. “Yes,” Cassie said, snatching it up. Her gaze stayed on the screen for fear she’d miss a single detail.

“Ms. Beaumont?” The female voice was vaguely familiar. “This is Dr. Dodson’s office.”

A chill raced down her spine. Simon knew she was online, reading about him! He was about to inform her that she’d forfeited her thirty thousand dollars. “I won’t do it again!” she blurted without thinking.

“Excuse me?”

“Were you phoning because—” Cassie stopped abruptly, aware of how absurd she’d been. How paranoid. “Can I help you?” she asked sweetly.

By now Ms. Snelling sounded utterly confused. “Would it be convenient for you to stop by tomorrow afternoon at four-thirty?” she asked.

“Ah, sure.” That meant leaving work a bit early, which wasn’t really a problem.

“Thank you. Dr. Dodson will see you then.”

Rattled as she was, Cassie had hung up before she thought to ask what the meeting was about. She assumed Simon would be giving her the information regarding her second task. But why not call? Maybe he had her elf costume, although that seemed unlikely.

She felt a sense of expectation. She had to admit that Simon fascinated her, although she didn’t especially like him—any more than he liked her. Perhaps he represented a challenge and she couldn’t resist trying to make him aware of her as a woman. Everyone needed to be liked and appreciated, even Simon. That was probably what had led him into the matchmaking business. Certainly the couples she’d spoken to had expressed their appreciation—if not liking—for him. So maybe he couldn’t achieve romantic satisfaction for himself but he could for others. It all seemed rather lonely.

On Tuesday, she kept checking her watch. Angie, who might otherwise have commented, was preoccupied, as well. Cassie had decided not to question her about this new, or rather resumed, relationship. When Angie was ready to tell her, she would. Cassie could only hope this man turned out to be everything Angie believed he was. Perhaps they could have a double wedding!

Because Simon had kept her waiting at their previous appointments, Cassie didn’t bother to show up until four forty-five. His assistant’s disapproval was obvious. When Cassie stepped up to the desk, the older woman regarded her with distaste. “You’re late.”

“Well, yes…Simon, Dr. Dodson, was late the past two times and—”

“And you felt turnabout was fair play,” he said, standing in the doorway leading to his office. “If you’ll forgive the cliché.” His arms were crossed and he looked more amused than annoyed.

It’d been four days since she’d last seen him and it struck her again how attractive he was.

He arched his brows. “You have nothing to say? Generally I can’t get you to shut up and now you act as if we’ve never met.”

“No…I figured you’d be late and—and I didn’t want to waste time sitting here…” she stammered, embarrassed that he’d caught her staring.

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