Cassie could see he was tempted. Smiling up at him, she hoped that was enough incentive to get him to change his mind.
“I should get home,” he finally said.
“I just should. And don’t forget I’ll be seeing you tomorrow,” he reminded her.
“In my office. Late afternoon.”
She couldn’t recall an appointment, but if they had one, she’d certainly keep it.
“John will be there.”
Oh, my goodness. Cassie had forgotten she was supposed to meet John. “Cancel it,” she said hurriedly.
“I’m not ready to meet John.”
“You’ve completed your three tasks to my satisfaction. I don’t understand why you’re hesitating. You’ve worked hard and waited for quite a while, and so has John. I hate to disappoint him.”
Cassie’s head was spinning with doubt and fear. “I need to talk to you first.”
“Talk to me now,” he said, none too patiently.
“I can’t—I’m tired, and besides, I…I need to think.”
He continued to frown, and she could see he wasn’t happy with her. He left soon after.
Cassie sat on the sofa for at least an hour, trying to make sense of her relationship with Simon. Her feelings for him and her original expectations of John were scrambled in her mind. Eventually, when her whole life felt like a hopeless tangle, she called Angie.
Thankfully her friend was home.
“I need help,” Cassie whispered.
“Cassie?” Angie said. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve done something foolish.”
She said the words out loud for the very first time. “I’ve fallen in love with Simon.”
Simon says: There’s a perfect match for you; it just isn’t me. B y the time Cassie reached Simon’s office, she’d worked everything out. She’d rehearsed her speech all day. Her one hope was that Simon would own up to the fact that he shared her feelings.
His assistant greeted her warmly. “Hello, Ms. Beaumont. It’s good to see you again.”
“You, too, Ms. Snelling. Oh, nice tree.”
That was the extent of the Christmas decorating in Simon’s office—a small Norfolk pine on the credenza, draped with tiny white lights. Simple, classy, elegant.
Given her previous experiences visiting his office, Cassie automatically took a seat and picked up a magazine.
“Dr. Dodson will see you now.”
“Yes, he told me I was to bring you into his office as soon as you arrived.”
Cassie set the magazine aside and stood. It was now or never. The only thing left to do was forge ahead and pray they could discuss this with openness and honesty.
Ms. Snelling held the door for her. “Ms. Beaumont,” she said, announcing Cassie.
As he had at their first meeting, Simon sat behind his desk, studying a periodical. He glanced up, acknowledging her with a nod, then resumed reading.
Cassie took a seat, crossed her legs, uncrossed them, then folded her hands as she waited. She knew Simon now and was familiar with his ways.
When he did finally look up, Cassie could see that he was on edge. She wondered if he’d managed to sleep after he’d left her apartment and suspected he’d tossed and turned, the same as she had.
“You said you wanted to speak to me.” His voice was expressionless.
He checked his watch. “You have ten minutes.”
That dictatorial approach didn’t fool her. He wasn’t going to intimidate her, nor was he going to scare her into being silent.
“Ten minutes,” she said softly. “I doubt it’ll take that long.”
He leaned back and Cassie leaned forward. “If you’ll recall, it was my friend Angie who suggested I make an appointment with you.”
He indicated with a slight nod that he remembered.
“You turned her down, right?”
“Yes.” He sounded bored. “You know very well I did.”
“For an excellent reason,” she said, “as you and I are both aware.”
He checked his watch again, as if to point out that the minutes were ticking away.
“Even though you rejected her, Angie thought highly enough of your skills as a matchmaker to recommend you to me.”
“I know my business, Cassie.”
“You won’t get any argument from me.” She grinned and looked down at her hands, surprised by how calm and controlled she sounded. While her heart continued to beat at an accelerated rate, she remained outwardly collected. “At first I thought the idea of those three tasks was ridiculous, but I complied. In fact, I was willing to do just about anything to prove my value as a wife.”
Once more he glanced at his watch.
“I understand now why you chose the tasks you did. Each one served a specific purpose. You knew all the facts I could list on a sheet of paper, and as a psychologist you could discern a great deal from that, but you didn’t know the real me.” She’d given much thought to his motives. “You didn’t know my heart.”
“You wanted to find out how I interact with strangers as a volunteer. You wanted to see how well I deal with children and then you were interested in my homemaking skills.”
“Practical aspects of any good marriage. But these tasks also told me that you have compassion and flexibility and a sense of humor.”
She bowed her head to hide her pleasure at his words.
“John is looking for a woman who’s willing to have children with him. A woman who enjoys socializing and wants to be part of a community. You are all those things.”
He’d introduced the subject of John, so she’d better get that out of the way right now. “Oh, yes. John, the match you chose on my behalf. I do hope you cancelled the appointment.”
“Per your request I did. However, I feel you should know John was extremely disappointed, as I expected he would be.”
“I would’ve been, too, if I’d been waiting to meet my perfect match. Or as you’d probably say, my most suitable match,” she said with a grin.
“And you aren’t?” Simon challenged.
“No, unfortunately I’ve already made his acquaintance.”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “Before you say anything else, I want you to think this through very carefully.”
“I have,” she said.
“I beg to differ.” Simon spoke in the same unfriendly tones she’d heard at the beginning of their relationship.
“I brought up Angie’s name for a specific reason. You knew after reading her answers to your questionnaire, and during your initial meeting, that she was in love with someone else.” She paused. “As I told you on Saturday, that someone happens to be my brother. As I also told you, I was impressed by your insight in recognizing her feelings for Shawn so easily.”
“As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m good at my job.”
“You knew it would be wrong to introduce her to another man when she loved my brother.”
“It would be just as wrong to introduce me to John when I’m in love with…you.”
Simon briefly closed his eyes, then stood. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Don’t do this, Cassie. I’m off-limits.”
“I can’t keep still. I wish I could, but I can’t.”
He reclaimed his seat. Looking exasperated, he informed her, “This happens far more often than you realize. I’ve lost count of the number of women who believe they’ve fallen in love with me.”
“I’m sure that’s true.” Simon was an attractive man. He had a strong sensual appeal and would turn heads wherever he went. She didn’t assume for an instant that she was the only woman ever to fall for him.
“The thing you seem to forget is that you’ve paid thirty thousand dollars to meet the man I’ve chosen as your match.”
Cassie hadn’t forgotten.
“I held up my part of the bargain,” he said.
“Yes, you did.”
“I’ve deposited the check and it’s cleared your bank.”
“If you voluntarily decide not to meet your match, you should know there’ll be no refund.”
“I didn’t think there would be.”
“If you walk away now, without meeting John, you’ll forfeit your money.” He said it again, as if he felt it necessary to remind her of what was at risk.
“I’m aware of that.”
“It would be foolish for you to do this.”
“I’ve been called a fool for lesser things,” she said calmly.
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t have expected you to be an unreasonable woman.”
“Really?” She smiled, just a little.
He looked pointedly at his watch. “Your time’s about up. Is there anything else you’d care to say…in closing?”
This last part was said with emphasis, as though he was eager to usher her out the door.
“I’m almost finished,” she told him.
“I’m not telling you how I feel so you can laugh at me, Simon.”
His gaze held hers. “I would never do that,” he said, then added, “any more than I did with the other women.”
She tried to disguise a smile. “Nor do I wish to be humiliated.”
He agreed with a nod.
“I have reason to believe you share my feelings.”
“Do you kiss other female clients?” she asked, interrupting him.
He was silent.
“I didn’t think so. How many have you taken to your home?”
“None,” he admitted from between clenched teeth.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. To her relief, he was being honest.
“I’ve never had a woman…a client break down in tears and turn to me for comfort. Yes, I stepped over the line. I regretted it immediately and, if you recall, I apologized.”
“I realized it was a mistake to allow any client access to my personal life after you showed up at my home later with the soup. I should never have invited you inside.”
“Why did you?”
He refused to meet her eyes. “I’d been ill for several days and my resistance was weak.”
“Resistance to me?”
“No,” he countered sharply, “resistance to impropriety.”
“Ah.” So that was the excuse he’d chosen.
“Afterward, I was afraid you might have read more into that evening than was warranted, and I see now that you have. I’m sorry I didn’t address the subject earlier. I wish I had. As I feared, you’ve got the wrong impression.”
“It would be best if we could forget that evening entirely, put it out of our minds.”
“I’m sorry, she said. “I can’t forget that night. I can’t make myself regret it, either. It was after our evening together that I knew, Simon. I’d fallen in love with you.”