“This dinner is becoming quite the affair,” Shawn said, handing her the place cards. The artwork—small watercolors, all individual, of Christmas trees and bells and stars—was beautiful.
“Thanks!” Cassie kissed his cheek. “Okay, you two, sit down,” she ordered. She indicated the sofa. “Before you say anything, I want you to know that I arranged for you to be here at the same time.”
Shawn and Angie took opposite sides of the sofa while Cassie stood directly in front of them, her arms crossed. “You aren’t fooling me, you know. I suspected the two of you were seeing each other.”
“We wanted to tell you,” Angie blurted out. “Well, I did, but Shawn felt we should wait.”
“We weren’t sure this was going anywhere,” Shawn explained, glancing at Angie.
“We wanted to keep it to ourselves for a while,” Angie said in a small voice, glancing back at Shawn.
“If you’re upset, blame me,” Shawn said, quick to defend Angie.
“Why wouldn’t you want me to know?” Cassie asked, directing the question to both of them. “I’m happy for you!”
“It just kind of happened.”
“We dated for a while a year ago after we met at your birthday party, and it didn’t work out,” Shawn said.
“For him, maybe, but it worked for me. I fell in love with Shawn.” Angie looked down at her hands, which were neatly folded in her lap.
“Oh, my goodness!” Cassie brought one hand to her mouth. “Simon wouldn’t take you on as a client because you were in love with someone else. That someone was my brother, wasn’t it?”
Angie’s ears turned red as she nodded. “Shawn and I went out last year, like he said, and just when everything seemed to be going well…I didn’t hear from him.”
“I was traveling a lot,” he said. “A relationship’s hard when I’m on the road so much. Besides, I was falling for Angie and it scared me. I’d dated plenty of women but I didn’t feel about them the way I did about Angie—and I panicked.”
“I was distraught when we broke up,” Angie whispered. “I wanted to tell you, but Shawn—”
“You never said a word.” Cassie was embarrassed that she’d been so oblivious. “Before or after you called it quits.”
Angie shrugged apologetically.
“I like my privacy,” Shawn said. “You know that.”
Cassie couldn’t help being a little hurt. “For crying out loud, I’m your sister.”
“I’m sorry.” Shawn did appear regretful. “Neither of us meant to offend you or anything.”
“After we broke it off, I tried to move on,” Angie said. “Which is why I agreed when my mother wanted me to meet the matchmaker.”
“I made an effort to get over Angie, too,” Shawn confessed, smiling at her, “but I couldn’t get her out of my mind.”
“Then we met again just before Thanksgiving.”
“Here,” Angie clarified. They both nodded.
“And I realized how much I’d missed Angie,” he went on, “and how foolish I’d been to let our relationship end.”
“And I realized that Simon was right and despite everything, I was still in love with Shawn.”
They slid closer on the couch and Shawn took Angie’s hand. They stared into each other’s eyes.
Cassie wanted to kick them both for being so foolish, for not understanding what they had the first time around. They deserved a second kick for keeping it a secret from her.
“We’ve been so happy,” Angie told her, “and I was afraid that if we said anything, you’d feel left out.”
“Left out? If I feel left out it’s because you guys—two of the most important people in my life—didn’t let me in on something as big as this!”
“We did plan to tell you,” Angie said.
“And when would that have been?”
“After the big dinner party.”
Cassie laughed. “So that’s why it was so easy to convince you to make an appearance.”
Shawn nodded. “Now that you know, we don’t have to show up, do we? Angie and I have better things to do than attend this crazy dinner party of yours.”
“Shawn,” Angie chastised.
The hopeful expression on his face was enough to make Cassie laugh. “No, you two are excused. Angie, you don’t need to help with the shopping.”
“I’ll come if you want,” Angie said.
She would, too, but Cassie could see that she’d rather be alone with Shawn than spend the day in a crowded grocery store.
“I’ll be fine. Do something productive with your time, though—like shopping for an engagement ring.”
Angie blushed again and Shawn cleared his throat. “As it happens, I have a ring picked out.”
“You do?” Angie asked with tears in her voice.
“I’m not letting you get away from me again,” Shawn said. “There’s still plenty to discuss, but I can’t see—”
“Yes, what?” he asked.
“Yes, I’ll marry you and, yes, there’s a lot still to be decided. But there’s no obstacle the two of us can’t overcome.”
They left a few minutes later, so in love they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
Cassie had difficulty wiping the grin off her face. Shawn and Angie were perfect together. She wondered why she hadn’t thought of it before—or noticed what was going on. Angie would probably move away from Seattle once they were married, which was the only disadvantage to an otherwise ideal situation.
All of a sudden it became crucial to talk to Simon. She had his office number and as she suspected he had an answering service.
“Would you please ask Mr. Dodson to return my call? It’s…an emergency.”
She didn’t have to wait long for him to call back. When his name flashed across caller ID, Cassie exhaled a huge sigh of relief.
“Simon?” she said.
Cassie smiled at his gruff, unfriendly tone. She felt better already.
“There’s been a change in our dinner plans.”
“That’s why you phoned?”
“Yes. My brother and Angie won’t be attending.”
“That’s your emergency?’
“This might not be earth-shattering to you but—”
“I knew they were secretly involved, or at least I guessed they were. It’s wonderful for them. They make a fabulous couple. I couldn’t be happier, even if it means I’m going to lose my best friend.”
Her outburst was followed by a short silence. “I don’t quite understand why you called me. And I suggest you think of it as gaining a sister-in-law,” he advised wryly, “not losing a friend.”
“Yes, that’s true, but she’ll leave Seattle and the lab…. Anyway,” she said in a more cheerful voice, “I wanted to let you know you were right about her being in love.”
“Of course I was right. Did you seriously doubt it?”
“Well, perhaps not.” She paused. “I shouldn’t have called. You must consider me a nuisance.”
“We can agree on that,” he murmured.
“I know you regret taking me on as a client and I apologize for being such a pest.”
“I’ve dealt with worse clients.”
Funny how reassuring Cassie found even that faint encouragement.
He exhaled slowly. “You’re upset. Is it because of your friend and your brother? Anything that upsets the status quo—even a good thing like this—takes time to accept.”
Cassie wasn’t sure why she’d felt such an overwhelming urge to hear his voice. His certainty was comforting, she supposed. He always had an answer, a reason, a solution.
“How can I help?” he asked, his tone almost gentle.
“I…I don’t know.”
“I have an idea,” he said, his voice brightening.
“I’ll tell you something else about John.”
“The man I’ve matched you with.”
“Oh. Yes.” The man she’d paid thirty thousand dollars to meet. He’d completely slipped her mind.
“Okay,” he said. “Let me think about it.”
“What were you doing?” She felt guilty at the thought of interrupting him. “Before I called.”
“What was I doing?” he repeated. “Why do you ask?”
“If I’m being too much of a bother, I’ll hang up.” She viewed him as someone who operated with purpose. Someone whose day was filled with constant demands. He had too many responsibilities to be interrupted by such mundane matters as her doubts and insecurities.
“I’m watching a college football game.”
“You watch football?” He couldn’t have shocked her more had he said he was on an aircraft headed for the moon. Practically every day Simon surprised her with how…human he was.
“Why would you find that unusual?”
“I didn’t think football would interest you. It’s so…so normal.”
He laughed. “I am normal, Cassie. I’m like every other man.”
“No, you aren’t,” she insisted. “You aren’t like any other man I’ve ever known, and now I’m seeing this whole other side of you and it’s confusing.”
He muttered something under his breath; it sounded as if he’d said he was confused himself, but Cassie couldn’t be sure of that.
“About John,” he said, changing the subject.
“I don’t want to hear about John right now.”
“Maybe you should. It’ll adjust your focus.”
“No, thanks. I’ll be meeting him soon, won’t I?”
“I can arrange the meeting for Monday afternoon if you like. When I last spoke to him about scheduling a face-to-face, John was ecstatic. He’s very eager to make your acquaintance.”
“He called it an early Christmas gift.”
“Oh, yes, Christmas.”
Silence stretched between them.
“I’ll get to your condo a few minutes early,” Simon said, filling the empty space. “I have your address. From your application—and the check.”
The thirty-thousand-dollar check…
“See you then,” he added.
“Yes, for dinner.” Not until she’d hung up her phone, did she wonder why he wanted to come early.
C assie was up half the night baking pies and getting everything ready for her final task. Her alarm went off at six on Sunday morning. She staggered from her bed, got the turkey out of the refrigerator and nearly dropped it on the kitchen floor. Who knew twenty pounds would be so heavy?
Because she’d methodically planned every detail of the dinner preparations, she was right on schedule. She stuffed the turkey and it was in the oven and roasting nicely an hour later. She started on the salads next. The dining room table was set with a crisp white linen cloth. There were sprigs of holly beside each place card for a festive accent. She’d arranged every detail with the hope of impressing Simon. She’d dressed in a red and black velvet pantsuit and taken care with her makeup. For a final holiday touch she wore a ring with a large red stone.