“Oh.” She heard a world of disappointment in that one word. He didn’t say anything for a moment. “Did you tell Simon this?”
“Yes, I was in his office on Monday.” Could that have been just forty-eight hours ago? It seemed far longer; it seemed like a lifetime.
John hesitated again. “Then I don’t understand why Simon was so insistent that I call you.”
Cassie, however, was completely aware of his motivation. “I’m afraid…well, the man I fell in love with is Simon.”
“Oh.” There was a wealth of meaning in his short response. “I guess it would be safe to say he doesn’t return your feelings?”
Cassie believed he did. “Apparently not,” she said softly, hoping the pain she felt wasn’t obvious.
“I guess that explains why he urged me to contact you.”
She disagreed, but didn’t voice her opinion.
“I realize you…like Simon, but seeing that he doesn’t feel the same way, it might help if we met. Simon spoke highly of you on several occasions and I thought the two of us might have a lot in common.”
“What did he say about me?” she asked.
“Well…” He drew out the word. “He said that you’re thoughtful and caring of others.”
Despite herself, Cassie smiled. Simon had chosen to forget her negative attitude toward her neighbors and how she’d done everything she could to get out of hosting the pre-Christmas dinner party.
“He said you’re wonderful with children.”
“He did?” She closed her eyes and remembered the sad little girl who’d come to visit Santa. All that child wanted for Christmas was for her father to come home. Even the hardest heart would’ve been affected by such a request.
“He also said how generous you are to others.”
Cassie wasn’t sure that was true.
“And he told me you’re one of the most beautiful clients he’s ever had the pleasure of working with. He said your beauty is special because it’s internal as well as external.”
“That was kind of him.” Simon would cringe if he heard her say that. He didn’t receive compliments gladly.
“Actually, Simon couldn’t say enough good things about you. He urged me to ask you out and not to take no for an answer. You will meet me, won’t you?”
She probably should but couldn’t dredge up any enthusiasm for even a casual meeting. She needed time to deal with her complicated feelings for Simon. Her love was as strong now as when she’d stepped into his office two days earlier, and yet it was useless to believe he’d change his mind.
“I don’t know,” she said honestly.
“What would it hurt?” John asked. “All I’m suggesting is that the two of us have coffee together.”
He had a point, but she hesitated. “It’s, uh, nice that you’d still like to meet, especially since you know how I feel about Simon.”
“I do. From everything Simon had to say, it sounds as if we’re a perfect match. Or—” and she could hear the smile in his voice “—the most suitable one.”
That might’ve been true a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t anymore. She loved Simon.
“I think perhaps we should drop it for now,” she said.
To her surprise, John laughed. “Simon told me you’d say that, but he also said I should be persistent.”
Cassie straightened and a chill went down her spine. “Did he?”
“Yes. In fact, he said I shouldn’t listen to any arguments. He went so far as to say he’s introduced dozens of couples over the past few years and in all that time he’s never met two people who were a better fit for each other than you and me.”
Cassie had to restrain a laugh. Simon was doing his utmost to push her into the arms of another man, and his determination only served to confirm that she’d been right all along.
But telling John this would be touchy. “Why do you suppose he praised me so much?” she asked him.
“I suppose you’ve noticed that Simon isn’t really one for flattery.”
“When I first met him, I wasn’t sure what to think.”
“Me neither,” he said.
“He seemed way too dictatorial.”
“I hear a lot of people have the same feeling. The friend who told me about Simon and his matchmaking business said I shouldn’t take offense at his gruff manner.”
“Did his attitude change?” she asked. “Did he start to react to you in a different way?”
“Not really. Why?”
“He did with me.”
“Oh. That’s the reason you asked why he had so many wonderful things to say about you, isn’t it?”
“So you think he’s in love with you, too?”
John sighed. “Seems funny, doesn’t it, that a matchmaker would have such a hard time admitting he’s in love.”
Cassie wasn’t exactly laughing. “In any other circumstances, you and I would probably have gotten along famously—and maybe even decided to marry.”
“Maybe,” he concurred. “Who’s to know.”
“Thank you for calling, John. I want nothing but the very best for you.”
“Thanks.” He paused and she could hear Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” in the background. “I guess this means you’re definitely not going out with me.”
“Bye.” She started to hang up when John stopped her.
“Yes?” she said.
“Cassie, I was wondering if you’d take my phone number—in case you have a change of heart.”
“It’s in my phone, John. I have it.”
“You won’t lose it, will you?”
“No, I won’t lose it,” she promised. “Merry Christmas, now.”
Late the following day, Christmas Eve, Cassie was grateful for Mrs. Mullinex’s invitation. She hated the idea of spending the evening alone.
Although she wasn’t Catholic, she thought she might attend midnight mass at the cathedral after that. The beauty of the service and the music would lift her heart and infuse her with holiday spirit.
The small get-together at Mrs. Mullinex’s was congenial, with Harry and Phyllis exchanging fond smiles over their fruitcake and eggnog. Love seemed to be blossoming all around her. First Shawn and Angie, and now her two cantankerous neighbors.
She toasted her newfound friends and after a respectable length of time made her excuses. They all hugged and wished each other a Merry Christmas, and she did the same.
As she left she saw a male figure heading toward the elevator. From behind he resembled Simon. He was about to step through the elevator doors when she called his name.
He turned abruptly, a frown darkening his face.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Why did you turn John Fitzsimmons down?”
“I think you know,” she said calmly.
“You’re a stubborn woman.”
“You mean you’ve only noticed that now?” She unlocked her door and entered the apartment.
After a moment’s hesitation, Simon followed her inside.
Simon says: The perfect Christmas is the one I spend with you. S imon strode into Cassie’s apartment but couldn’t seem to stop moving, from door to window and back again.
Cassie wished she dared to throw her arms around him and halt his frantic pacing.
“Why wouldn’t you agree to at least meet John?” The anger seemed to radiate from him.
“Simon, you know why. I’m in love with you.”
His eyes slammed shut and he clenched his jaw. “I don’t want your love.”
“So you said.” That didn’t change the way she felt, though.
“What harm would it have done to meet John?”
“None, I suppose,” she said with a shrug. “But I felt I would’ve been doing him a disservice.”
It was as though he hadn’t heard her. “In other words, despite your assurances that you’re willing to move on with your life, you refuse to do so,” he challenged.
Cassie sat on her sofa while Simon continued pacing. She tracked his movements with her eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll date other men—when I’m ready.”
He whirled around and glared at her.
Cassie felt it was her turn to pose a few questions. “Why are you fighting this?” she asked, looking up at him. “And…why are you here at all?”
“I had to talk to you about John.” Simon shook his head. “Don’t you realize marrying me would be a disaster?”
“Really?” It didn’t escape her notice that he hadn’t denied anything—and that he’d brought up marriage. Evidently the subject had been on his mind, which was encouraging. “Why’s that?”
Simon abruptly stood still. “I suspect I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’m not…comfortable with emotions on a personal level. I prefer to analyze and guide other people’s emotional lives. I have a hard time admitting this, but I’ve always steered clear of the intensity, the giving up of control….” He sounded so unlike the confident, self-assured man she’d come to know, and his vulnerability made him even more appealing.
“I hate this confusion,” he muttered. “I’m good at helping my clients sort through their feelings, good at writing about them—but not good at experiencing them. It makes me…miserable.”
“I’ve been pretty miserable myself,” Cassie said.
“Then we should both find ways of dealing with these emotions because I’m not changing my mind.”
“So you’ve said.”
“I mean it, Cassie.”
She wasn’t going to argue. “Yes, I know.”
He stared at her, eyebrows raised. “Don’t be so agreeable. I’m not used to it, and I don’t know how to react when you’re amenable to everything I say.”
“See? That’s what I mean.” He pointed accusingly at her. “Listen. I know what kind of man makes a good husband—and I’m not it.”
Cassie had to smile. “That’s something I don’t agree with. You’ve shown me truths about myself. Let me do the same for you.”
Simon shook his head as if that possibility was beyond him.
Cassie wasn’t about to let him assume he was incapable of love when she knew otherwise.
She stood and walked purposefully toward him. He was still pacing, so she caught his hand. Her fingers curled around his and he turned back to stare at her. Not giving him a chance to object, she leaned forward and placed her mouth on his.
Simon slipped one hand around the back of her head and kissed her with a hunger that thrilled her.
“We’ll start with teaching you to accept my love,” she whispered when he broke off the lengthy kiss.