Dean merely grinned and picked up the television remote.
Composing the letter took all evening. Julie read it over repeatedly before she was satisfied. In the first paragraph, she thanked Roy for the good times they’d shared, for opening his home and his life to her for even this short while.
That had been the easy part of the letter. More difficult was discussing his utter rejection of her. Then she related her father’s observation, telling Roy he could only trust her as much as he allowed himself to trust. In the last third of the letter, she apologized for her own angry response to his lack of faith.
It was midnight when she finished. Although she’d had trouble sleeping since their breakup, she experienced no such difficulty that night. Once again, she marveled at her father’s wisdom. It really didn’t matter whether Roy ever read her letter. In the process of articulating her reactions she’d found the peace she sought.
The next morning, the last day of school before winter break, Julie took the letter with her, planning to drop it off at the post office. School ended at noon, but after she’d had a festive lunch with the other teachers and straightened up her classroom, it was nearly three. If she posted the letter as she’d originally intended, he might not receive it until after Christmas. She had no idea what his Christmas plans were; maybe he’d already left for a Caribbean cruise or a country inn in Vermont, she thought whimsically. At one time, she’d hoped to invite him and his mother to join her and her father. She hadn’t even had a chance to broach the subject.
Nor had she spoken to his mother since Saturday. Anne hadn’t called her, and Julie didn’t feel comfortable putting his mother in the middle of this awkward situation.
Although it meant facing Jason, the guard at the entrance, she decided to deliver the letter personally.
Julie felt his gaze on her the moment she pulled into the parking lot. His eyes didn’t leave her until she’d parked in an empty slot and then climbed out of her car. Julie half expected the security guard to block the entrance. But Jason sat at his desk, one hand on the phone, obviously ready to call for reinforcements.
He got warily to his feet when she walked in, but remained solidly behind his desk, as if it afforded him protection.
“Stay away from me,” Jason warned.
Startled, Julie glanced over her shoulder. No one else was there. She couldn’t imagine why the burly guard would be afraid of her.
“I don’t know what you did to me, lady, but I don’t want a repeat of it, understand?”
“Jason,” she said in her most conciliatory voice, “what in heaven’s name are you talking about?”
“You know.” He gestured theatrically. “Just stay right where you are. You’re not allowed in this building.”
Actually she’d expected that. “Not to worry, I don’t have any intention of storming into Mr. Fletcher’s office. I have a letter for him.” She advanced slowly toward Jason’s desk, not wanting to intimidate him any more than she already had, although how she’d done that was a mystery.
He backed away until he bumped into the wall behind him.
“All I ask is that you give Mr. Fletcher this letter,” she said, careful to enunciate every word. “You don’t need to deliver it yourself,” she assured him, in case it was the prospect of an encounter with Roy that had unsettled him. “I’m sure Ms. Johnson will be more than happy to see that Mr. Fletcher receives it.”
Jason’s eyes moved past her and a chagrined expression appeared on his face.
Julie looked over her shoulder again to find Roy standing there. He’d clearly just stepped out of the elevator. Her first instinct, absurdly enough, was to turn tail and run. A second later, she seemed completely incapable of moving. Or breathing. Or anything else.
“What’s Ms. Wilcoff doing in the building?” Roy asked the security guard as if Julie wasn’t standing directly in front of him.
“She has a letter for you.”
“Yes. I wrote you a letter.” She hated the way her voice trembled, but she hadn’t been prepared to see Roy. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this!
Jason handed Roy the envelope, which he reluctantly accepted.
Julie’s heart pounded in her ears. She had to escape as quickly as possible. “I’ll leave now,” she said.
“That would be best,” Jason boomed. With his employer close at hand, he’d apparently regained his nerve. He escorted Julie to the front door, going so far as to push it open for her.
Julie felt Roy’s eyes burning holes in her back as she exited the building. She walked at twice her normal speed, intent on getting away.
Then she heard footsteps behind her.
“What’s in the letter?” Roy demanded, following her into the parking lot.
Julie fumbled for her car keys. “I suggest you read it.” She stood by the driver’s door, while Roy waited at the rear bumper.
“I’ll bet you declared your love and described how anguished you are by our parting.”
Julie wasn’t taking the bait. Everything she wanted to say was in the letter; she had no intention of repeating it and then arguing over the points she’d made.
“I’m not interested in the account of your undying love.”
Her hand shook so badly she had trouble pressing the button to automatically unlock her car door.
“You’re no different from Aimee.” He seemed to want to provoke her into losing her temper. “What’s the matter? Don’t you have anything to say?”
A painful breath worked its way through her lungs. “Most everything is in the letter, Roy, but I realize now that there are a few things I left out.”
“Good. You can say them to my face.”
She studied him then, really looked at him, and saw how unhappy he was. This was the most joyous season of the year, and Roy was miserable.
“I didn’t say I loved you,” she said, her voice gaining strength and control. “As you’ll discover if you read my letter.”
He arched his brow in that all-too-familiar sarcastic way.
“But the truth is, I do.”
“Spare me, please.”
“It’s foolish, I suppose, but I always did like a challenge, and you, Roy Fletcher, are definitely that.” She even managed a brief smile.
Again the sardonic arched brow.
“The thing is,” she continued, determined not to let his cynicism destroy her, “I do love you and it’s up to you to accept that love or reject it.”
He said nothing.
“We haven’t known each other long, but in that time, I’ve learned a great deal about the kind of man you are. You have a tremendous capacity to give of yourself, a tremendous capacity to love.” She thought of the fact that he’d hired her father and that, unknown to his mother, he’d bought her paintings. She recalled the afternoon he’d come to her soccer game—and so much more. His unpretentious enjoyment of her simple meals. The loyalty his staff felt toward him…
He held up his hand. “Not interested.”
“I know, and that saddens me, because I’m going to get in my car and drive away. I didn’t come here to argue with you—I didn’t even expect to see you.”
“It seems to me you planned it perfectly so you would.”
Did he honestly believe she’d somehow manipulated their simultaneous presence in the company foyer? “I didn’t. But whether I did or not is of little concern.”
He shrugged. Julie knew he must have some feelings for her, otherwise he wouldn’t be standing here now, wouldn’t be listening to her. If this was her only chance to get through to him, then she might as well give it her best shot.
“You have the ability to decide what you want out of life, Roy. You can go on living behind your hard exterior, blocking out anyone who has the potential to teach you about love, or you can—”
“I already said I wasn’t interested in love. I made that clear from the beginning,” he snapped. “What is it with you? Every other word out of your mouth is something about love. Yeah, right! Well, I can’t help wondering how much love you’d really feel if I wasn’t who I am.”
“Who are you, Roy?”
“You know what I mean.” He gestured toward the building that stood as evidence of his prosperity.
“Are you the rich and successful entrepreneur?”
“You know what I mean,” he said again.
“Unfortunately, I don’t,” she told him, opening her car door. “I thought I knew who you were, but I guess I was wrong.”
“I thought I knew who you were,” he retorted, his eyes blazing, “but you proved me wrong. All you care about is the size of my checking account and what you can get out of me.”
She refused to listen to any more. With a heavy heart, she climbed inside the car.
She closed the door to drown out his words, then inserted the key into the ignition. When she glanced in her rearview mirror, Roy was gone.
Julie exited the parking lot, and as soon as she was out of sight, she pulled to the curb and wept tears of pain and grief.
Leaning her forehead against the steering wheel, she knew she’d never see Roy Fletcher again.
“This is absolutely terrible,” Goodness lamented. All afternoon, they’d watched Julie put on a good front for her father’s sake. She could just picture the scene in Heaven when they returned only seven hours from now. It was Christmas Eve, their deadline. Soon they’d be required to stand with the angelic host singing praises to the newborn King. Except this year, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy would arrive from Earth without having fulfilled their mission. Goodness wouldn’t be able to look a single friend in the face. Well, she wasn’t accepting defeat that easily.
“It can’t get much worse,” Mercy agreed.
“We’ve got to do something.” Shirley was back to her pacing in front of the Wilcoffs’ Christmas tree. The living room was empty, with Julie in her room and Dean overseeing a last-minute security check of the Fletcher building.
“This is your fault,” Goodness said, glaring at Mercy. “If you hadn’t been so busy tossing salmon in Pike Place Market and holding security guards by the knees, we might’ve made some headway.”
“Give it up,” Mercy growled. “Besides, we both know you had a hand on Jason, too. I couldn’t have held him back all by myself. That guy has muscles.”
“Stop.” Shirley planted herself between the other two and shook her head. “We don’t have time to play the blame game.”
“You’re telling me,” Goodness moaned. “It’s already five o’clock.”
“That means we have seven paltry hours,” Shirley said, glancing at the old-fashioned clock on the fireplace mantel.
“Woe is we.” Goodness couldn’t believe that a prayer request could go so wrong. They’d worked harder on this one than on any previous request. In years past, they’d each received separate assignments, but she’d assumed that with their combined efforts this one would’ve been simplicity itself. Not so. And if there was anything Goodness hated, it was having to admit she’d failed. “We’ve just got to do something.” They had a few hours left. Just a few.