The Perfect Christmas

Page 20

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Simon met her look unflinchingly and yielded no emotion. “Please don’t continue. This is embarrassing for you and for me.”

“I have one other comment,” she said, striving to remain unemotional. “Actually, it’s more of a question than a comment.”

“Then out with it, and let this matter be laid to rest.”

She thanked him with a brief nod. “I can accept that a distraught female weeping on your shoulder might have caused you to offer comfort in a way you normally wouldn’t.”

“Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.”

“I can even accept the fact that your resistance was low when I dropped by your home that evening.”

Once more he nodded.

“But how do you account for the way you kissed me on Sunday?”

“Sunday?” he repeated. The color seemed to drain from his face.

“Can you tell me what prompted that kiss?” she asked.

He didn’t answer for a long moment. “I have no excuse,” he finally said.

“I’m not looking for excuses, Simon, I’m looking for honesty. It hasn’t been easy to lay out my heart for you. If I’ve misread the situation, then I apologize. In that case, I’ll walk out your door right now and you’ll never hear from me again.”

“That would…be a shame.”

“Yes, it would,” she agreed, hope seeping in for the first time since she’d entered his office.

“You’ve paid me a lot of money and I’d feel bad if you allowed this opportunity to slip by. John is awaiting an introduction, and I hate to disappoint him.”

Cassie closed her eyes, struggling to hold on to her poise. After a moment, she opened them and met his look head-on. “I’m not meeting John or any other man you deem the right mate for me. Or my ‘suitable’ mate or whatever word you want to use. I’ve already found him and it’s you.”

Simon didn’t acknowledge that comment in any way.

“Have I misread your feelings, Simon?” she asked softly.

He refused to answer.

Reluctantly she stood; she’d gone past her allotted ten minutes. “I won’t embarrass you further—or myself for that matter. But before I go, I have one simple request.”

“Fine,” he said tersely.

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t love me. Do that and I’ll leave and never trouble you again.”

“I’m not playing word games with you, Cassie.”

“This isn’t a game. It’s my life, my future—our future.”

He squinted up at the ceiling. “Why do women have such a flair for the dramatic? I suppose you’re going to spend the rest of your life pining away for me.”

“No, I won’t,” she told him. “I love you and it’s up to you to accept or reject that love. It’ll hurt me, but I know I’ll get over you in time. In every likelihood I’ll marry someone else one day and perhaps even have children. Rest assured that if you reject me, I won’t leap off a bridge.”

“That’s a relief.”

She moved away from the chair, her heart pounding so hard she was astonished it didn’t echo through the room. She gave him ample opportunity to stop her.

He didn’t.

With her hand on the door, she turned back to look at Simon one last time. He sat at his desk, reading. She wasn’t fooled. He might not admit it, but he loved her.

“Merry Christmas, Simon.”

He glanced up and his eyes flared as though he was surprised to see her still in the room. “Oh. Merry Christmas.”

“Goodbye.”

She didn’t wait for a response. Head held high, she marched out the door. Once on the other side, she closed her eyes, almost collapsing to the floor as a wave of deep loss hit her.

Ms. Snelling’s chair scraped as she stood. “Oh, dear. Are you all right, Ms. Beaumont? You look like you’re about to faint.”

“I—I’m okay,” she stammered. “Thank you….” she added politely.

It was exactly as Cassie had feared. Simon Dodson, professional matchmaker, was an expert at finding love for everyone except himself.

Chapter 16

“H old the elevator!” Cassie shouted, rushing across the condo foyer on Wednesday afternoon. When she saw that the lone occupant was Mr. Oliver, she automatically slowed her steps. No need to rush; he’d take sadistic delight in letting the doors shut in her face. To her amazement, he thrust out his arm and stopped them from closing.

Cassie hardly knew what to think. “Thank you,” she managed as she hurried into the elevator, loaded down with her mail, the newspaper, her purse and a couple of last-minute Christmas purchases.

The newspaper.


She hadn’t even realized Mrs. Mullinex hadn’t “borrowed” it since their dinner together. That was progress.

“My pleasure,” Mr. Oliver said as the elevator doors glided shut. “Can’t thank you enough for the great dinner.”

It seemed wrong to confess that if it hadn’t been for Simon she would never have thought to invite Mr. Oliver.

Try as she might, she couldn’t get Simon out of her mind. She’d given it her best shot, told him how she felt and done what she could to convince him that he shared her feelings. But she hadn’t expected the strength of his conviction in denying his love for her. Nor could she understand why he fought it so hard.

What bothered her most was his inability to admit to her face that he didn’t love her. If he had, she might have believed him. However, for reasons she’d likely never know, he refused to accept her love.

“Nice young man…”

“I’m sorry,” Cassie said. “I didn’t catch what you said?”

“That Simon of yours. He’s a fine young man. You’ve chosen well.”

“I…thank you,” she whispered. No need to explain that he wasn’t “hers,” or that she wouldn’t be seeing him again. Cassie had been sincere when she’d told him she wouldn’t pine away for the rest of her life. He’d made his decision and she’d made hers.

The elevator stopped, and Mr. Oliver held the door for her to exit first. When they stepped into the hallway, Mrs. Mullinex opened her condo door and, seeing the two of them, waved cheerfully. Cassie noticed that the other woman’s eyes immediately went to Harry Oliver.

“Oh, what perfect timing,” Phyllis said. Her hair was brushed into soft waves and she looked lovely.

“Good afternoon, Harry,” she purred.

“Hello, Phyllis.”

Cassie hid a satisfied grin. Apparently there’d been a breakthrough in that relationship. Wonderful!

“I was hoping to see you,” she said, smiling shyly at Harry. “I thought I’d invite my dearest friends over for eggnog on Christmas Eve. I do hope you can join me.” As if she realized she’d directed the invitation solely to Mr. Oliver, she turned to Cassie. “I’d like it if you could come, too.”

“Why…thank you, I’d be honored.” Cassie’s brother and Angie had invited her to spend Christmas Day with Angie’s family. They’d been generous to include her, and Cassie had gratefully accepted.

“I wonder…” Phyllis began. “If you’d like to invite your young man, please do. That Simon is quite the charmer.”

She nodded. “I’ll mention it if I talk to him between now and Christmas Eve.” That was highly improbable, but again she didn’t feel it was necessary to go into details.

“Why wouldn’t you be talking to him?” Mrs. Mullinex pressed. “Tis the season and he’s your sweetheart.”

Cassie glanced away. “Actually, he isn’t.”

“You don’t mean that!”

“They might’ve had a spat,” Harry suggested.

“In that case, dear, I urge you to settle it before Christmas.” She looked at Harry and blushed. “Don’t let too much time elapse before you set things right.”

Harry stepped closer to Phyllis. “I couldn’t agree with you more.”

Rather than tell them there was nothing to settle, Cassie just thanked them for their advice.

They made an arrangement to meet, and Cassie let herself into her condo. The festive cheer of the season greeted her, and for a moment all she could do was stand and stare at her Christmas tree and the other decorations, at the Christmas cards lined up on her mantel and the pile of wrapped gifts. She struggled to ignore her heavy heart.

As she tossed the mail on the kitchen counter, Simon’s bold handwriting, slanted across a business-size envelope, instantly caught her attention. She grabbed it with both hands. Two or three minutes must have passed before she mustered the courage to tear it open.

With her pulse hammering in her ears, she pulled out a refund check for the total amount of his fee. The check was wrapped in a single sheet of white paper. When she unfolded the sheet, she found it blank.

He’d made the check out to her and in the memo line, he’d written one word: refund. She had always assumed he’d keep the money. Perhaps this was the only way he had of relieving his conscience. The only way of saying he had regrets, too. Not knowing just what she’d do with it, Cassie propped the check against the base of a blooming poinsettia—the very one he’d given her. She’d need to think about her response.

She could refuse to cash it out of pure stubbornness. That seemed foolish. When she’d paid Simon, she’d explained that the funds had come from a special savings account, which she’d set up to pay for her wedding. Perhaps he was saying he wanted her to have that wedding.

No, she mused, shaking her head. She couldn’t second-guess him, couldn’t drive herself insane trying to analyze his motives.

The phone rang and, still absorbed in her thoughts, Cassie picked it up. “Hello,” she murmured.

“Hello.” The male voice was unfamiliar. “My name is John Fitzsimmons and I was given your number by a…mutual friend.”

“What can I do for you, John?” she asked, suspicion springing to life.

“Well…I was hoping we could meet for coffee.” He sounded nervous.

“What friend?”

“Ah…”

“Is it Simon?” she asked. It hadn’t taken her long to catch on. The matchmaker in him was incapable of letting this go. He’d found the man he believed to be her ideal match. Obviously, Simon was hoping to assuage his guilt by making sure she had the opportunity to meet John—an opportunity she’d already declined.

“Simon suggested it might be better if I implied it was someone else, but I’m not much good at prevarication.”

“I’m not, either.”

John chuckled. “He said you backed out at the last minute.”

“I did,” she confirmed.

“I know it’s none of my business, but would you mind telling me why?”

Cassie bit her lip and debated how wise it would be to reveal the truth, then decided she owed him that. “I apologize because I realize I let you down, but…unfortunately I fell in love with someone else.”

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