He warmed her with another of his bone-melting smiles. “You see, I realized something the very first time we met.”
“It’s simple, really,” he said with the calm reasoning of an attorney. “I realized you and I were meant to be together.”
“But what about Carl?” she pleaded. “I was already engaged to him when we met.” While that wasn’t technically true, for all intents and purposes she might as well have been betrothed to the rabbi’s son. In the eyes of both families, all that needed to be decided was if they should or shouldn’t hire a wedding coordinator.
“I suppose I sound overly confident of myself,” Joshua said, and reached inside his coat pocket for his leather gloves. “I wasn’t sure about any of this until recently, though. The night at Rockefeller Center, to be exact. I gave you my business card, remember?”
“I didn’t phone you.”
“True,” he was gracious enough to agree, “and I’ll admit I haven’t been sleeping well because I fully expected you to contact me long before now.” He reached for her hand and raised it to his lips, brushing her knuckles with his mouth. “You and I share something very special, Hannah. I don’t know what I would have done had you decided to go ahead with the wedding with Carl.”
Hannah dipped her head. “I haven’t said anything to him yet.” It was far easier to tell Joshua of her decision first. She realized she was behaving like a coward, but she sincerely felt that Carl would experience a deep sense of relief once she asked him to release her from the engagement. She was certain he shared her feelings. They were both eager to please their parents and had allowed themselves unwittingly to be drawn into a self-made trap.
Joshua loved her. The knowledge shook her because she didn’t understand how anyone as powerful and intelligent as Joshua could care for someone like her. “I’ve treated you terribly. I’ve ignored you, pretended I didn’t know you, and shunned you.”
“When something is of high value, then it’s worth a few inconveniences,” Joshua said, and gently bounced his mouth over hers. “In many ways I’m grateful to you.”
“I’d almost given up thinking about God until I met you. My life was full and busy, but I felt an aching loneliness. I prayed, but I felt as if my prayers floated away to nothingness. Until the morning of the Thanksgiving Day parade, I was convinced God didn’t listen to prayers any longer.”
“But He does,” Hannah insisted.
“I know. He sent you into my life.” Joshua ran his finger down the side of her face. “You’ll be talking to Carl soon?”
She nodded. It wasn’t a task she relished, but it was one she couldn’t delay. To wait for the right moment would only make it more difficult. “I thought I’d discuss it with him first, and then the two of us could explain it to our parents together.”
Joshua’s gaze narrowed briefly, and she knew he wasn’t keen on this part of her plan.
“Carl and I need to present a united front,” she explained. “Otherwise I’m afraid they’ll manipulate us individually to change our minds.”
Joshua considered her words, then asked, “Could they change your mind, Hannah?”
His question fell into a weighted silence. Hannah considered her answer for several thought-provoking moments. “Carl’s a good man, and he’ll make some woman an excellent husband, but that woman won’t be me,” she admitted, then added, “Nothing’s going to change the way I feel about you, Joshua. Nothing.”
“You’ll tell him soon, then?”
She nodded. “The sooner the better.” She didn’t relish this task, but she couldn’t put it off, either.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Joshua volunteered.
“No.” That would only make matters worse, Hannah realized. Her news would be difficult enough for Carl without adding the complication of her feelings for another man.
Joshua looked at his watch. “I have to get back to the office.”
It was easy to forget that Joshua was an important man. If she ever doubted his feelings for her, all she’d need to do was remember the time he took out of his busy schedule to be with her.
“One thing before you go?” she asked, reaching out and gripping hold of his forearm.
She felt foolish asking this of him. “Would you mind very much if we kissed again?”
The warm light that invaded his eyes was all the answer she needed. Joshua wrapped her in his embrace and drugged her with a number of long, slow kisses.
“Is that enough?” he asked.
She couldn’t manage anything more than a slight groan.
Joshua closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “Unfortunately I feel the same way myself. I promise you the day will come when we won’t stop with the kissing, Hannah. Frankly the sooner that day arrives, the better.”
Joshua left her to return to his office. The warm glow of his kisses carried Hannah all the way to Carl’s apartment building. He should be home, seeing that school had been out for several hours. Hannah had been to his place only twice. Carl was an orderly man who kept his quarters meticulously clean. Hannah had never known anyone more gifted in the area of organization than Carl Rabinsky.
Not once on the long walk did Hannah doubt that she was doing the right thing. Only when she arrived at his building did she hesitate. Gathering her courage about her, she squared her shoulders and pressed the doorbell.
Carl’s low voice came over the intercom. “Who is it?”
“Hannah,” she said, standing on her tiptoes and speaking directly into the intercom to make sure he could hear her.
“Hannah? My goodness, what are you doing here?”
“I came to talk to you. Could I come up?”
A couple of seconds later a buzzer rang and the lock on the front door released, allowing Hannah inside the building. More nervous now than ever, she took the elevator up to Carl’s apartment. By the time she arrived outside his door, she was convinced her heart was ready to pound straight through her chest.
“This is a surprise,” Carl said, leading her into the living room. The area was nothing like she remembered. Books and papers littered the table. Unopened mail was scattered across the coffee table. This wasn’t like Carl. Not once in all the time she’d known him had he displayed any signs of sloppiness.
“Is something wrong?” Hannah asked, watching him.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to try to hide it any longer,” he said, sinking into the chair and covering his face with both hands. “I should have told you sooner.”
Hannah didn’t know what to think. “Told me what?” she asked gently. She’d never seen Carl like this.
He raised his head slowly, his look tortured. “But then I haven’t found the courage to tell anyone.”
Hannah waited, knowing Carl would get around to explaining himself eventually. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and refused to look at her.
“I lost my position with the school,” he blurted out, then squeezed his eyes closed. “I couldn’t take it any longer, and I got into an argument with Hiram. Since he’s the headmaster and I’m nothing more than a teacher, he fired me.” Carl raised his head and squared his shoulders. “If you want to call off the wedding, I’ll understand. I don’t deserve a good woman like you.”
Brynn didn’t tell anyone about the formal reprimand that Mr. Whalen had placed inside her employment file. There didn’t seem to be any need. Everything he’d said was true. She had stepped over the line, but try as she would, Brynn couldn’t make herself regret the impromptu discussion with her students. If she’d managed to reach just one member of her class, then it had been worth the trouble.
Her thoughts were heavy as she made her way home that afternoon. Dinner was simmering on top of the stove when her telephone rang. She reached for it automatically.
“Hello,” she said.
Brynn closed her eyes. The sound of his voice, with his soft, lilting accent, was like sinking neck deep into a warm bath in the dead of winter.
“I heard you’re teaching sex education now, too.” He sounded more amused than angry with her, which was a welcome change.
“I really stuck my foot in it this time,” she told him.
“Although he probably wouldn’t come out and say as much, I think Emilio was grateful to have someone talk frankly about the subject. Girls can be pushy these days. As pushy as the boys.”
“I’m sure that’s true.” After some of the things she’d seen in the last few weeks, there was little that would shock Brynn anymore.
“Although if you cared to get pushy with me, we might strike some agreement.”
Brynn laughed. “Keep dreaming, Roberto.”
The mechanic’s chuckle slowly faded. “You do that to me,” he said, his voice low and serious. “You make me want to dream, but then I wonder . . . Never mind. I didn’t call you to talk about dreams.”
“I want to take you to dinner.” His voice grew so serious that she wondered if there were some hidden significance behind his request.
“When?” she asked, not that it would have mattered to her. He could have suggested next June and she would have agreed readily.
“Is Friday all right?”
“Yes,” she said automatically.
“I’ll pick you up at six-thirty.” How formal he sounded, as though he were unsure of himself.
“That’ll be fine,” she assured him. “I’ll look forward to it.”
“Me, too.” The smile was back in his voice, as if to say now that the awkward part was over, he could go back to being himself. “Thank you, Brynn.”
“Whatever for?” She was thinking his appreciation had something to do with what Emilio had told him about the class discussion.
“For agreeing to be my date.”
Not until Brynn was talking to Father Grady did she realize the significance in Roberto’s having asked her to dinner.
She met the parish priest after school, responding to a message he’d sent asking to speak with her. She guessed correctly that Father Grady had heard about her talk with her students.
“Are you going to lecture me about the error of my ways?” she asked him directly. They were walking toward the rectory. Father Grady’s hands were folded behind his back, and he avoided meeting her eyes.
“No,” he said slowly, “although I fully suspect you know the church’s teachings in the area of birth control.”
“I know, I just don’t happen to agree.”
Father Grady released a long, slow breath. “I’m not going to say anything about this again, but I’m disappointed in you, Brynn. I don’t know what happened for you to decide it was your duty to discuss this particular subject with your class, but my guess is this entire matter was spontaneous on your part.