Again he briefly closed his eyes.

“Love is one thing,” he muttered. “But you want children. I don’t know about children except in theory. I’m not good with them,” he said. “They cry and make messes in their diapers and drool.”


“That they do.”

“I don’t understand why people willingly submit themselves to the uncertainty and stress of raising children.” He splayed his fingers through his hair.

Even as he spoke she heard the longing in his voice. Despite his claims to the contrary he desired a family, just like most people did. Just like she did. Unable to resist a moment longer, she slid her arms around his waist and hugged him close. He resisted at first and attempted to break free.

Cassie held tight. Smiling up at him, she stood on the tips of her toes, rested her hands on his shoulders and pressed her mouth to his. It was only a matter of seconds before he became fully involved in the kiss.

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When her legs were about to give way, Simon tore his mouth from hers and stepped back, still holding on to her, which was a good thing. Otherwise Cassie would have collapsed in a heap on the floor.

He wagged a warning finger at her. “No more of that.”

“Sorry.” She felt she should probably apologize but giggled instead. “I couldn’t help myself. Oh, Simon, you’re right. I do want children—your children. We’ll have very special babies.”

His expression was wry. “They won’t cry and make messes and—”

“Of course they will,” she said, nudging him.

“Like I already said, I have no skills in this area.”

“But I don’t, either. We’ll learn together, the way other parents do.”

She wasn’t sure if she’d convinced him or not because he continued to stare at her.

Then, as if he’d noticed the Christmas decorations for the first time, he frowned and said, “When you came to me, you talked about a perfect Christmas.”

She nodded.

“I’m not big on Christmas.”

“I think that’s kind of a weak argument,” she told him. “Seeing how every assignment you gave me had to do with the holidays.”

“Only because there’s a surfeit of them at this time of year.”

“True, but there are plenty of others and you chose the Christmas-related tasks.”

“You’ve found some hidden meaning in that?”

“Yes. It’s obvious to me that you enjoy the holidays.”

When he started to protest, she held up a hand.

“Let me amend that. You enjoy watching other people enjoy Christmas. You understand why it’s important to them, the same way you understand—in theory—why love and marriage and children are important. If you don’t like Christmas, it’s because you’re alone. You don’t have anyone to share it with. But, Simon, that’s about to change.”

“Aren’t you making assumptions you have no business making?”

“Is this really so difficult?” she asked.

“Yes,” he groaned.

Cassie gently laid her head against his chest and sighed meaningfully.

His sigh echoed hers. “Oh, I give up. You knew I’d fallen in love with you.” He drew her toward him and rested his chin on her head.

“I hoped so.”

“I do love you, Cassie.”

“And I love you.”

He leaned down and shattered what remained of her composure with a single kiss.

“You seriously want to marry me?” he whispered.

“More than I’ve wanted anything in my entire life.”

“And children. You want children.”

She nodded, knowing he wanted them as much as she did. “Two or three, at least.”

He closed his eyes.

“You’re going to be a wonderful father. And a wonderful husband.”

“Our babies are going to inhabit my heart the same way you have. I see it happening already.” He gazed down at her with such tenderness it nearly brought tears to her eyes.

“Inhabit your heart,” she repeated. “And you’ve moved into mine.”

“I couldn’t forget you for even a second,” he whispered, holding her close and breathing the words against her hair. “I’m not sure what it is about you that’s different from all the other women I’ve met, the other women who fell in love with me…or thought they did. I just know you were right when you told me I loved you.”

His arms tightened around her. “You’re right about Christmas, too.”

“I figured as much.”

“Am I so easy to read?”


“We’re going to have a very good life together,” he murmured. “And every Christmas—”

Her phone rang, interrupting him. Cassie was content to let it ring until Simon released her.

Checking call display, she said, “It’s my brother.”

“You should answer it.”

Nodding, she reached for the receiver. “Hello, Shawn.”

“Merry Christmas.” Shawn’s greeting sounded happier than she could remember hearing in a long, long time.

“Merry Christmas,” she said in return.

“You seem happy…Any particular reason?”

“Simon’s here.”

Shawn hooted with laughter. “He couldn’t hold out, could he?”

“Thankfully, no. Christmas came early for me.”

“Me, too,” Shawn said. “Come and join us, both of you.”

Half an hour later, the four of them sat in front of a crackling fire in Angie’s small rental house in West Seattle. The clock above the mantel chimed midnight.

“It’s Christmas,” Angie sang out as she leaned against Shawn.

Simon’s arm was around Cassie’s shoulder. “Christmas,” she echoed. Then she spoke softly into his ear. “My perfect Christmas, Simon. I have it right here, right now, with you.”

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