“What others think doesn’t bother you?”
He gave a bored sigh. “Not particularly. Why should it? Now listen, Ms….” He glanced down at the application in an apparent effort to locate her name.
“Beaumont,” she supplied.
“Ms. Beaumont,” he said impatiently. “This is my office and I ask the questions here. Kindly refrain from interrupting me.”
She leaned back in the chair. “By all means, ask away.” She waved in his direction as though granting him permission to continue.
He narrowed his eyes. “In as few words as possible, explain to me why you aren’t married.”
That was easy enough to answer. She thought of what Angie had said a few days earlier. “I’ve been told my standards are too high.”
He raised his eyes from the page, his expression startled.
“I guess you could say I’m choosy,” she amended. “I’m looking for a perfect match. Someone who’s just right—for me. The perfect man, the perfect marriage…and,” she added, almost in a whisper, “the perfect Christmas.”
He didn’t respond. “You’re how old?” he asked, instead. He ran his finger down the application.
“Thirty-four. How old are you?”
He exhaled. “As I requested earlier, kindly refrain from asking questions. My age is not your concern.”
“Answer me one question, and then I promise not to ask anything else.”
He glared at her.
“Just one,” she cajoled. “You can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is to sit here and have you scrutinize me. It’s only fair that I should know something about you.”
Sighing, he set the application aside, but before he could speak, she blurted out, “Are you married?”
His eyebrows arched. “That’s your one question?”
“Yes, and it’s important.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, first, if you haven’t been able to find yourself a wife, what qualifies you to find me a husband?”
“All I will say is that a doctor doesn’t need to have a disease in order to cure it. I’m good at what I do. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be willing to offer a refund if I’m unsuccessful in locating a husband for you.”
“Are you always so stiff and formal—as if your underwear’s been starched?”
He stood abruptly. “I believe that will be all for this afternoon.”
“You’re sending me away?” She blinked, disappointed. Cassie was just starting to enjoy this. His typical clients were probably more respectful, if not downright obsequious.
“This interview is over.”
“Did I pass?” She’d rather know now than be left hanging. She guessed not. She wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t take her on. And yet, disagreeable though he was, Simon Dodson intrigued her.
He hesitated. “I’ll be in touch later this week.”
This was a line Cassie had heard before. “In other words, don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
Cassie recognized her marching orders. She bent down for her purse and reluctantly stood.
As she drove back to her condo, she tried to make sense of her short interview. On her way up, she collected her mail and noticed once again that the Tuesday paper was missing. Mrs. Mullinex, no doubt.
She ran for the elevator and saw Mr. Oliver, who lived on the same floor, standing inside. Looking her right in the eye, he let the doors close instead of holding them for her. This wasn’t the first time, either. He was an unsociable man; the most she’d been able to coax out of him was a muffled greeting, as if he begrudged every word he was forced to speak.
When she got to her condo, she saw that she had company.
“Shawn!” Her brother had made himself at home and was wolfing down a sandwich while standing over her kitchen sink.
“Hey, it’s about time you got home. Where were you?”
Rather than explain, Cassie walked over and hugged her big brother. “I had an appointment. How long are you here?” she asked.
“Two days, maybe three.”
Shawn often had only a few days’ rest before he flew to some other town where another commission awaited him. She knew he was headed to Phoenix, Arizona, next. He had his own home in Portland, but every now and then he dropped in on her. In an effort to encourage his visits, she’d given him a key to her condo.
“I take it you’re hungry.”
“Let me fix you something decent.” Cassie checked the contents of her refrigerator, then reached for a frying pan. She loved to cook and had a small repertoire of favorite dishes. This was one. “How does taco salad sound?”
“Like ambrosia from the gods.” He sat on the stool and watched her move about the compact kitchen. “You’re going to make some man a wonderful wife.”
She whirled around to face him. “Funny you should say that.”
Shawn went still. “You’ve met someone?”
“I would’ve told you!” They weren’t in the habit of keeping secrets from each other. “My appointment this afternoon was with a professional matchmaker.”
Her brother’s head went back as if the announcement had shocked him. “Get out of here! A matchmaker?”
“I had my first appointment with the great and mighty Dr. Simon Dodson.”
“How’d it go?”
Cassie set the onion on the chopping board and paused. “I’m not sure. Simon’s pretty rude, but apparently he knows his stuff.”
“Simon, is it?”
In her mind it was. “Yeah. He’s not a medical doctor, even though he has a bunch of letters behind his name.”
Her brother looked unconvinced. “You checked his references?”
“I did. I spoke with two couples who met through him. I was warned in advance that he isn’t the most likeable fellow on the face of the earth, but they say he has this gift.”
“How’d you hear about him?”
“Angie?” Her brother appeared as astonished by this as Cassie had been. “I wouldn’t think she’d need a matchmaker. Did she go to him?”
“A little while ago. She didn’t really say. What I don’t get is why Simon rejected her.”
“That’s crazy! Angie’s great.”
“And I’m not?” she asked, her hand on her hip.
Shawn chuckled. “I’m staying as far away from that question as I can. What did the matchmaker say? If he rejected Angie, then what about you?”
That was the thirty-thousand-dollar question. “I don’t know if Simon will accept me as a client or not. He said he’d phone, but…” The rest of her sentence was drowned out by loud rap music coming from the condo to the right of hers.
“Good grief, what’s that?” Shawn covered his ears.
“My new neighbor,” Cassie shouted back. She walked over to the kitchen wall and banged hard three times. Within half a minute, the music had been turned down to a more respectable volume.
“Jalapeño?” she asked next, hardly missing a beat.
“Might as well. My life could do with a bit of spicing up.”
“So tell me more about this matchmaker. Do you like him?”
Cassie began tearing lettuce industriously. “The truth is, I don’t. He’s arrogant, snooty and definitely not my type. I’m not his, either. Not that it matters…But he doesn’t like to be questioned or challenged. I could tell I irritated him.”
“You heard he’s successful, though, right?”
“Yeah.” Until that moment, Cassie hadn’t realized how much she hoped Simon would agree to work with her. “I don’t know if he’s ready for someone like me.”
“What do you mean?”
She waved a lettuce leaf in his direction. “Like I said, I questioned his actions and his decisions. He didn’t like it.”
“I wonder why he rejected Angie,” Shawn mused. “I mean, she’s not annoying or—”
“Hey, stop right there.”
Shawn laughed and leaned his elbows on the counter where he sat. “Who’s that picture of on the fridge?” he asked.
Although she didn’t need to turn and look, Cassie did. She tensed slightly as she stared at the photograph of Jill and Tom and their perfect Christmas. “That, brother dearest, is my inspiration.”
A few minutes later, Cassie reached for her phone on impulse and dialed Angie’s number.
“Hello? Oh, Cassie, I was hoping you’d call. How’d the appointment go?”
“Do you like taco salad?” Cassie asked rather than answering.
“Is there any food group I don’t like?” Her friend had a smile in her voice.
“Silly question. Come join us.”
“Yes, Shawn stopped by. I’m making a taco salad and if you have fresh tomatoes bring one. If not, we’ll do without.”
“Shawn’s there? Your brother?”
“That’s what I just said. Are you coming or not?”
“I’m on my way, and I’ve got a tomato,” Angie said, “but when I get there, I want details about the meeting with Dr. Dodson.”
Shawn grabbed an orange from her fruit bowl and tossed it in the air, juggling it with an apple and doing a poor job. The orange hit the floor and rolled into the living room. “I’m glad you invited Angie. How’s she doing?”
“You know Angie. She’s always in a good mood.”
Her brother retrieved the orange. “Well…it’ll be nice to see her again.”
Cassie nodded absently as she began to sauté the ground beef.
By the time Angie arrived, Cassie had the hamburger with taco sauce simmering together. The salad fixings were in a large bowl, awaiting Angie’s tomato. Shawn was grating the cheese.
Angie brightened the moment she walked into the room. “Shawn, it’s great to see you.”
“You, too.” He set the cheese down long enough to give her a brief hug. Cassie always forgot how tiny her friend was until Angie stood next to her brother, who was well over six feet.
While Cassie got out the bag of tortilla chips and assembled the rest of the salad, Angie set the table and Shawn filled their water glasses. “Sorry I don’t have any sangria,” Cassie said as she carried the large wooden bowl to the table. Smaller bowls of meat, cheese and chips followed.
“This looks wonderful,” Angie told her.
“Allow me.” Shawn pulled out Angie’s chair. Then he hurried around to the other side of the table to do the same for Cassie.
“Since when have you acquired gentlemanly manners?” Cassie asked.
Jokingly Shawn checked his watch. “About five minutes ago.”
“I’m dying to hear how everything went this afternoon,” Angie said, her fork poised over the salad. “How was the meeting with…Dr. Dodson?” She glanced toward Shawn as if she wasn’t sure she should say any more.