“What if I’d met another man?”
“Who?” her mother demanded as if this were impossible.
“Someone I liked very much and would like to know better.”
Her mother frowned and shook her head. “You won’t. But if you do, then talk to Carl. Tell him your thoughts.”
“I will,” Hannah promised, but she had the feeling that it would be even more difficult to discuss this matter with Carl than with her mother.
“Now come along, we have lots to buy.”
Hannah shuffled along beside her mother. Never had she dreamed that she would dread a shopping expedition the way she did this one.
It was in Saks Fifth Avenue that her mother stopped. “Shall we look at wedding dresses?” Ruth asked, her eyes warm and gentle.
“Don’t you think that would be premature?” Already Hannah’s arms were burdened with packages. “I’m tired, Mama, can we go home?”
Ruth released a low sigh. “Yes, perhaps that would be for the best.”
Outside once more, Hannah felt invigorated as the cold hit against her cheeks. She matched her steps with those of her mother, who walked along, humming softly to herself. It took Hannah a moment to realize where the melody was coming from.
“You’re singing,” Hannah commented.
Ruth laughed and nodded. “So I am. I do when I’m especially happy.” As they stopped for traffic, Ruth placed her hands against Hannah’s pink cheeks. “You’re going to be the most beautiful bride in all of New York. Mark my words, Hannah Morganstern. I get excited every time I think about planning your wedding.”
Once they were back at the deli, Hannah escaped to her room. As soon as she could, she made an excuse to go out. Almost always she told her parents where she was going, but not this time.
When she arrived at Joshua’s office the receptionist recognized her.
“Is Mr. Shadduck available?” she asked.
The woman looked down at the schedule. “He left no more than a minute ago.”
“Oh.” She wasn’t able to hide her frustration.
“You might be able to catch him.”
“Thank you.” Hannah rushed out of the office and hurried into the first available elevator. Her heart felt as though it would explode as she made her way to the front of the office building. On the sidewalk, she looked both ways and sighed with relief when she spied Joshua walking away from her, carrying a briefcase.
“Joshua,” she called.
He turned at the sound of her voice, and his face lit up with pleasure. “Hannah.” He started toward her.
“I’m so sorry,” she said in a breathless rush. She planted her hand over her heart in an effort to regain her breath.
Joshua wrapped his arm around her shoulders and steered her out of the heavy foot traffic. “Don’t worry about it,” he said gently.
“But . . .” She’d been unforgivably rude.
“Let’s sit down a minute and talk this out,” he suggested.
Hannah knew his idea was much better than her handing him back his gift in the middle of a New York sidewalk. At the same time, she feared that spending time with Joshua, even a short amount, would make it all the more difficult to do what she knew she must.
They strolled until Joshua pointed across the street to a five-star hotel famous for its afternoon teas.
Hannah wanted to protest that a cafe would serve just as well, but she wasn’t given the opportunity. Before she could suggest some place else, Joshua had taken her by the arm. Together they raced across the street.
The hotel lobby was filled with polished crystal. Enormous chandeliers gleamed from above, their glittering lights transforming the entire area.
Huge floral wreaths decorated in gold lamé bows hung from marble columns. The registration desk was checkered with poinsettias. Light music swirled about them like a cool autumn mist. Before Hannah had a chance to comment, she was led into a private dining room.
Before Joshua could give the man instructions, the waiter handed them a gold-tasseled menu. Joshua ordered the tea, and the other man quietly slipped away.
Joshua smiled at her. “You said there was something you wanted to tell me?”
This meeting with Joshua was so much more difficult than Hannah thought it would be. But there was no help for it. She had to tell him she was engaged to Carl. To delay any longer would be a grave disservice to them both. As they sat in the elegant hotel restaurant waiting for the tea to be served, Hannah struggled to find the words.
“Joshua,” she said, dragging a deep breath through her lungs, her heart heavy.
“You received the gloves?”
“Yes, thank you, but I can’t accept—”
Hannah was cut off midsentence by a well-dressed middle-aged woman who stopped at their table. Her gaze drifted from Joshua to Hannah, and her eyes were marked with warm approval.
“Gloria.” Joshua stood and enthusiastically hugged the white-haired woman. He turned to Hannah. “Hannah Morganstern, meet Judge Fowler.”
Impressed to meet a judge, Hannah smiled and said, “I’m honored.”
“I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you all week,” Gloria said. Her gaze connected briefly with Hannah’s once again. “But I can see that now isn’t a good time. I promise I’ll call you soon.”
“I’ll look forward to hearing from you,” Joshua returned. Before he could reseat himself, the judge whispered something in his ear, then turned away.
Joshua grinned broadly, then explained to Hannah. “She approves.”
“Of you. She told me it was high time I . . . well, never mind.”
“Joshua.” A stout figure of a man approached their table next. “By George, it’s good to see you,” he said, sounding genuinely pleased.
“Hello, Tom.” Although Hannah didn’t know Joshua well, she could hear the frustration in his voice.
The other man studied Hannah with barely disguised admiration. His blue eyes twinkled. Before Joshua could introduce him properly, he stretched his hand across the table. “Tom Colfax,” he said.
“Hannah Morganstern,” she replied, and they exchanged brief handshakes.
Tom’s admiration was straightforward. “I know this sounds like a worn-out line, but have we met?”
“I don’t think so,” Hannah replied.
Tom rubbed the side of his jaw, then shook his head as if to say he was certain he’d seen her someplace before.
The two men exchanged information, then Tom drifted away. He continued to wear a puzzled look and glanced over his shoulder once.
Joshua exhaled sharply. “This isn’t going to work,” he muttered.
That was what Hannah had been struggling to tell him since they’d met, but she hadn’t been able to put it into words.
Joshua set the linen napkin on the table. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Hannah’s first instinct was to argue, but she wasn’t given the chance as she followed Joshua through the elegantly decorated lobby to the street outside. “Where are we going?” she asked, a little breathless.
He turned as though he hadn’t given the matter a second thought. “I don’t know. My apartment is a short walk from here.”
“I can’t,” she said, her heart in her throat. “I have to be back shortly.”
Joshua’s gaze narrowed as if to suggest he didn’t believe her. “Already?”
“Yes.” She should have told him earlier and been done with it, but each time she shared his company it became more difficult. Now she found herself frantic to say what she must.
“Joshua, please listen to me.” She hardly sounded like herself. Her voice was tight with emotion as she brushed the hair from her cheek. She opened her purse and handed him the soft deerskin gloves. “I can’t keep these. They’re a lovely, thoughtful gift, but I can’t accept them.”
He took the gloves, but his eyes revealed his disappointment. “Why not?”
People wove their way around them, and her throat tightened with regret. “I’m so sorry, Joshua, so very sorry, but I’m . . . There’s someone else.” That sounded much better than announcing she was engaged.
Joshua’s face revealed nothing. “The man you were with at the parade?”
“The one who abandoned you?” His feelings for Carl were more than clear.
“Carl didn’t abandon me, we simply lost each other.” Carl hadn’t deserted her, not on purpose, and she found it important that Joshua know that. Carl might have his faults, but nearly everyone was flawed in one way or another. He’d gotten separated from her on Thanksgiving Day, and with so many people crowding the sidewalks, watching the parade, it had been impossible for him to find her again.
For a long time Joshua said nothing. Then, “Are you going to marry him?”
A definitive answer was her only recourse. Joshua deserved the truth. To hedge now might give him reason to believe there was a chance for them.
“That wasn’t my question. I asked if you were going to marry him.”
“Yes . . . of course.” But she sounded unsure even to her own ears.
He hesitated, but only for a moment. “I see.”
Now was the time to turn away. To end any kind of relationship before it began. One thing was certain: she shouldn’t have paused. But she did. “I like you, Joshua.” More than she should. More than she wanted to. “I misled you, and I regret that.”
“Carl isn’t right for you.” His words were stark and cool, his gaze intense.
“You don’t know that,” she argued. “You’ve never even met Carl.”
“I know you.”
She lowered her eyes because meeting his gaze had become impossible. Her throat felt as if it were about to close up on her. “I have to go.”
“Not yet,” he said, stopping her. He backed her into the shadows until her shoulders butted against the side of the brick structure. Instinctively she clenched the lapels of his overcoat. Even when she realized he intended to kiss her, she couldn’t find the words to object. Being inherently honest, Hannah realized this was exactly what she’d wanted for a long time.
Slowly, as though he expected her to protest, Joshua lowered his mouth to hers. She assumed his kiss would be hard and demanding, a penance required for having misled him. A penalty to be paid.
But she was wrong.
He pressed his lips gently over hers in the lightest, the tenderest, of contacts. So sweet. So smooth. The pressure increased, so gradual at first that she didn’t notice. His lips worked over hers, sliding, then deepening, encouraging her to open to him.
With him as her tutor, Hannah eased open her mouth and moaned. This was nothing like the quick pecks and almost apologetic exchanges she’d experienced with Carl. Nothing like anything she’d experienced with anyone. Her nails dug into his coat, and she responded with a lifetime of pent-up longings.
It seemed to require a great deal of effort for Joshua to break off the kiss. Even then he seemed to ease himself away from her with a series of short but equally potent kisses.