"Are you asking me to sneak you a cookie, Charles?”
"You bet I am,” he said, and winked at her.
Catherine pursed her lips together to keep from laughing. "I can’t get over the change in you in the last couple of weeks.”
"I got the very heaven scared out of me,” he explained as he inched his hand toward the silver platter.
Catherine swiped at his arm. "Kindly keep out of the cookies. Now what do you mean, you had the very heaven scared out of you?”
"It’s true. I’d say I got the hell scared out of me, only it was an angel who sat down next to me as plain as I’m standing here talking to you. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I’m telling you right now, Catherine Goodwin, I saw an angel.”
"A real angel?” Catherine had heard of angelic visitations, but she’d never experienced the phenomenon herself. "When?”
"It was one of those days when I was thinking about the war and all the good men we lost in battle. Some days I can’t get the looks of those fighting men out of my mind.”
It was difficult for Catherine to hear such words, but she nodded to encourage him to continue.
"Joy came and sat down next to me and took my hand, and there was something so gentle and sweet in the way she talked to me. It was the day your grandson…Jed, Fred…what is it now?”
"Right, Ted. He was with her, and he was watching her talk to me, and it seemed to me that he was sweet on her. Can’t say that I blame him. If I was fifty years younger, I’d be wanting her myself.”
"You said something about an angel?”
"Right.” He reached for the chocolate-chip cookie then and grabbed hold of it before Catherine could stop him.
"Sh-h,” he said under his breath as he quickly placed the cookie inside his pocket. "No one saw.” He straightened and looked around as if he suspected his actions had garnered attention. "Now back to the angel part. Joy left with your grandson, and I started to slip back into myself the way I do, when an angel sat down right where Joy had been.”
"An angel? How’d you know it was an angel?”
"She. The angel was a she. Prettiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen. As blue as turquoise. Blond hair and wings, too, just the way I’ve always seen in pictures. I knew immediately she was an angel.”
"Did she speak to you?”
"Ah, now that’s the funny part. I think she did, but then I’m not right sure.”
"What did she say?”
"First off she told me that life here in Wilshire Grove was a whole lot better than burying myself in the past, particularly if it had been so miserable. Then she said—”
"Now, Charles, I’m sure you thought—”
"Hush now,” he muttered, cutting her off. "I don’t know what you’re thinking. I wouldn’t have told you this much if the angel didn’t mention you by name.”
"Me?” Catherine flattened her hand over her breast.
"I swear it’s true. The angel told me she didn’t have a lot of time to be talking to me because she was on assignment.”
"Yes, she claimed she was here because of you!” Having said that, Charles turned and walked away.
Catherine stood still for several moments while Charles’s words sank in. The angel was there, on assignment, and because of her. Well, Catherine didn’t want to be accused of disbelief, but if the angel had been there on her account, she hoped the poor dear knew what a terrible mess Ted had gotten himself involved in.
Catherine hadn’t seen or heard from her grandson in several days and suspected that he was trying to avoid Joy.
"One of the authors has arrived,” Lucille announced, her eyes alive with delight. "Shall I seat her in the dining room?”
"That would be perfect.”
"It looks like your grandson is coming as well,” Lucille told her.
"Ted?” Catherine turned around to discover him walking in through the double-wide glass doors.
He smiled warmly when he saw Catherine and hurried to her side. Gripping her gently by the shoulder, he kissed her cheek with a loud smack. "Say, what’s going on around here?”
"We’re having our literary tea.” She didn’t want to ask him what he was doing there in the middle of the day, but by the same token she was curious.
"Where’s Joy?” he wanted to know, looking past Catherine. Without waiting for permission, he reached for a chocolate-chip cookie.
"Ted!” she chastised.
"Wasn’t that for me?”
"It most certainly was not.”
"Sorry.” But he sounded anything but. Catherine had rarely seen him in a more cheerful frame of mind.
"Do you know where I can find Joy?” he asked a second time.
"Because I need to talk to her. I’ll explain everything to you later, I promise.”
Catherine was of two minds. She didn’t want Ted abusing Joy’s heart, but she wasn’t willing to lie to him, either. "Joy arrived a few moments ago. She’s probably still in her office. But Ted, please, be good to her.”
"I plan on doing that for a very long while. Thanks, Grandma,” he said, and kissed her again. When her back was turned, he reached around her and grabbed a second cookie.
Joy yawned as she locked her purse in the bottom desk drawer. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this tired. After the literary tea, she could relax. She straightened, and her gaze collided with that of Ted Griffin. He stood in her doorway, taking up nearly the entire space. He crossed his arms and his ankles and was smiling at her with a wide, cocky grin.
"Ted?” She resisted the effort to rub her eyes. First she was hearing voices, now she feared she might be seeing visions as well.
"Yup, it’s me.” He moved into the room and sat on the chair across from her. She had a new calendar ready for the upcoming year on the corner of her desk, and he reached for that. After flipping several pages, he looked up at her. "What are you doing April twenty-seventh?”
"April twenty-seventh?” she echoed. "I don’t know. Why? Stop. Before you say another word, you’d better tell me what you’re doing here.” Standing required some effort. He had the most curious weakening effect upon her.
"First answer my question.”
The man frustrated her no end. She felt like tossing her hands in the air. "April. Nothing. I’m doing nothing.”
"Great. How would you like to get married that day?”
"Sure, do you have anyone in mind? Or are you going to pull some poor, unsuspecting stranger off the street and ask if he’d be interested in marrying me?”
"I wasn’t planning on anything that drastic. The fact is I was counting on you marrying me.”
Joy had no trouble finding the chair. She toppled straight onto it. "You?”
"The way I figure it, April should give you plenty of time to get together everything you need for a fancy wedding. Talk to your mother, and if you need more time, let me know.”
Joy couldn’t have managed an entire sentence had her life depended on it. "Blythe?”
"Ah, yes, Blythe. I suppose we’d best clear up that subject once and for all. She came to me, explained that she was pregnant.”
Joy sucked in her breath.
"Not to worry, I’m not the father.”
"I know. She was desperate enough to lie about it and then had a change of heart. For all her faults, Blythe isn’t a bad person. She’s made a few mistakes, but then we’ve all done that.”
Joy nodded repeatedly.
"She knew I was in love with you.”
"You love me?” The question was barely above a whisper.
"I generally don’t propose to women I don’t love, with the one exception of Blythe. Now may I go on?”
"To her credit, Blythe realized she couldn’t continue with the lie. It took a tremendous amount of courage for her to break matters off when she did.”
"How’s she doing?” Joy asked.
Ted’s gaze grew sober. "She’s decided to have the baby. I went with her to a couple of local adoption agencies yesterday. She isn’t sure what she wants to do yet. I was pleased that neither agency pressured her. She’s agreed to counseling, which will help. I told her we’d help her any way we could.”
"We’d help her?”
"Do you mind?”
"No.” Joy smiled, more than willing to be generous to the other woman in spite of the problems she’d caused.
"So,” Ted said, and heaved a sigh, "what’s the verdict? Are you willing to put up with my irritating habits, love me for the next fifty to seventy years, and bear my children?”
Joy had the most incredible urge to cry. Nodding enthusiastically, she reached for a tissue. "I love you so damn much,” she choked out between sobs, and then noisily blew her nose.
Ted’s grin was slow and sensual. "Yes, I know.”
She waved her hand at him, and he laughed.
Joy didn’t know who got up first, but soon they were in each other’s arms. Their kiss was deep and heady. By the time they broke apart, Joy was convinced April wouldn’t be soon enough to suit either of them.
"You’re wearing the bangle,” he said, his chin resting on the crown of her head.
"I wondered if you’d notice. And of course I’m wearing it. Not only is it the most beautiful piece of jewelry I own, but it was the only thing I had of you.”
"You had my heart.”
"I…but I didn’t know that.”
"Do you know it now?”
"Oh, yes.” She had the distinct impression that it would take the rest of their lives for her to fully appreciate this man she loved.
Bells rang in the distance, but with such enthusiasm they sounded through the building like a fire alarm. Several of the office staff stood in the doorways and looked into the foyer.
"What in the name of heaven is that?” Ted asked, frowning.
Joy laughed and linked her arms around his waist. "That must be Charles. Someone just made a donation to the library fund.”
"Are you sure you’ll be all right here by yourself?” Karen asked Maureen. She stood in front of the living-room window with the draperies pushed aside, waiting for her father.
"I’ll be perfectly fine.”
"What are you having for dinner?” Karen asked, as if this were of major importance.
"I don’t know yet, but don’t you worry, whatever I eat will be fabulous.”
"Cordon bleu,” Karen suggested.
Maureen laughed. "Just where did you hear about that?”
"From Paula. That’s what she and her dad have every Christmas Eve. You take chicken breast and pound it out real thin and then you add a slice of ham, but it has to be a really thin slice, and then you add the cheese and you roll it all up and bread it.”