Goodness released a pent-up sigh. Dealing with Gabriel often required persistence. “I realize you find this difficult to believe, but I’m something of an expert in matters involving the heart. Remember last year?”
“I’m not likely to forget it,” the archangel muttered. “I was nearly sent back to singing with the choir because of you three.”
Goodness ignored his comment, which she was sure was a gross exaggeration.
“Promise me you’ll keep your hands off of Hannah and Joshua,” Gabriel warned, “otherwise I’ll have you restringing harps for the rest of your days.”
The threat was an empty one, and Goodness knew it.
“Did anyone hear me?” Shirley asked excitedly. “I actually located Brynn Cassidy. Don’t you realize what a miracle that was in this crowd?”
“I heard you,” Gabriel told her with a sour look. “Miracle or not, you won’t be working with Brynn Cassidy. The schoolteacher needs far more help than you can offer. You can’t work with Brynn and those kids from the high school. I have another assignment waiting for you,” Gabriel insisted with a hard edge to his voice.
“It’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation.”
Goodness feared that Shirley was about to blow it. She was relieved when the other angel snapped her mouth closed. At times, Shirley could be downright argumentative. If Shirley made the mistake of debating this Brynn Cassidy issue, the archangel just might pull all three of them out of New York City. Goodness didn’t want that to happen just when matters were beginning to look promising.
Without being obvious, she scanned the dispersing crowds, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hannah and Joshua. She found them strolling through Central Park, deep in conversation. The two were oblivious of everything around them. They made a striking couple, she mused, immeasurably pleased with herself. Archangels might be high-and-mighty creatures, but they knew little of dealing with humans and love. When it came to affairs of the heart, Goodness was far more knowledgeable than Gabriel. The problem, and admittedly it was a big one, was convincing him of that.
Joshua wasn’t sure what had happened to him. He’d suggested this walk in the park with Hannah for purely selfish reasons. The Thanksgiving Day parade had been enjoyable, but it hadn’t been nearly as much fun until Hannah had joined him.
He remembered her with a clarity that surprised him. She was the daughter of the deli owner. When he’d claimed her father made the best pastrami in town, he hadn’t been exaggerating. Over the last few years he’d visited the deli a number of times, but generally he had his lunch delivered. Hannah might well have been to his office.
Hannah was a delicate creature, beautiful in ways that struck a man’s soul. She wasn’t like the crisp, business professionals he knew and worked with on a daily basis. She inspired him with her gentle goodness. Although he’d never met the man she was with—Carl, if he remembered his name correctly—already he found he didn’t much like him. If Joshua had become separated from Hannah in a crowd, it would have taken a lot more than a little congestion for him to stop searching for her. Hannah hadn’t said a lot, but it was obvious Carl didn’t enjoy parades.
Joshua had taken Hannah’s hand while strolling through the park. The snow had long since stopped, but the afternoon remained crisp and cold. A perfect winter day.
The moment their hands linked, Joshua experienced a faint stirring of emotion. Faint stirring, nothing, he mused with a bleak smile. It felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach with a pipe iron.
He wondered if this was the woman he’d been searching for all these months. He certainly hadn’t expected her to be the daughter of a deli owner. It didn’t matter, he decided. Who was he to question fate? They’d met, and being with her, laughing, joking, talking, had felt instinctively right. Never had he been more comfortable with anyone.
It embarrassed him, the way he couldn’t stop staring at her. She had such beautiful eyes, but then everything about Hannah was beautiful. She was guileless and genuine, and when she looked up and blinked, Josh swore he could see all the way to her soul.
“We’ve been talking all this time and I never asked where you work,” Hannah commented.
“I’m an attorney.” He would have mentioned the name of the law firm, one of the most prestigious in Manhattan, but he didn’t want to sound as though he were bragging. Knowing Hannah, he doubted that it would impress her. More than likely she wouldn’t recognize the name of the firm.
“A lawyer.” She said this as if the information distressed her.
“You don’t like attorneys?”
“No, it’s not that. I think there are some wonderful attorneys, only . . .”
“Yes,” he prodded.
“My parents were recently involved in a frivolous lawsuit, and my dad’s convinced the real culprits in the case were the lawyers. I’m afraid he’s developed something of a prejudice, but I don’t think that will last long.”
“Good. I’d hate to get off on the wrong foot with your family.”
At the mention of her parents, Hannah looked at her watch. “Oh, dear,” she said anxiously. “I didn’t realize how late it was.” She took several steps backward. “Thank you for a wonderful time. I’m sorry to rush off like this.”
She’d turned and was speed-walking away from him before he’d had time to react. “Hannah,” he called.
She spun around.
“I’d like to see you again.”
Her eyes were wide, and she seemed to hesitate. Joshua decided it was best not to press her.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll stop in at the deli and we can talk about it then.”
She nodded abruptly, and it was plain she was in a hurry to get away.
“If it’ll reassure you, I’ll avoid mentioning I’m an attorney.”
Her beautiful eyes brightened with a soft smile before she hurried out of the park. Josh buried his hands in his pockets and ambled along the walkway toward Cherry Hill Fountain. He kicked lazily at burnt orange-colored leaves.
Josh found himself smiling broadly. His patience had paid off. For nearly thirty years he’d been waiting to meet a woman like Hannah Morganstern. To think all this time she’d been right under his nose. He threw back his head and laughed. The sound of his delight echoed through the park.
Hannah hurried into the apartment on top of the family deli, stripping the blue scarf from her neck.
“Thank heaven you’re home; I was worried, you’re so late,” her mother said, planting her hand over her heart as she stepped out of the kitchen. “Your father and I didn’t know what to think when Carl phoned and asked if you’d returned safely.”
“The parade was wonderful,” Hannah said.
“What happened with Carl?” Her father stood with the morning paper clenched in his hands. He studied her over the top of his spectacles.
“I don’t know,” Hannah told them, walking into the kitchen. The smells of turkey and sage, pumpkin pie and applesauce, that greeted her caused her to pause and inhale deeply. Her stomach growled, reminding her how hungry she was.
“Carl claims you disappeared into the crowd.”
“I wanted to get a closer look at the floats,” Hannah explained as she lifted the lid off a cast-iron kettle. Broth simmered with a mixture of savory herbs floating on the slowly churning surface.
“There’s nothing to worry about now that you’re back safe and sound,” her father muttered, studying his daughter as though he expected something of her. Hannah knew exactly what her family was hoping. They wanted Carl to ask for her hand in marriage.
“Carl said he’d be by later,” Ruth Morganstern said, and shared a secret look with her husband of many years. The exchange confirmed Hannah’s suspicions.
“We both think the world of Carl,” her father told Hannah unnecessarily. “He’s a good man.”
“Dependable,” her mother added.
“A righteous man.” Her mother nodded for emphasis.
Hannah offered them both a shaky smile and headed toward her bedroom. She didn’t want to discuss Carl, not when her head was spinning from her time with another man. “I’m going to change my shoes and then I’ll be back to help you with dinner.”
Her father looped his arms around Ruth’s shoulders. “Take your time,” her mother called out after her. “Dinner won’t be ready for some time yet.”
Inside her bedroom, Hannah slumped on the edge of her mattress. It would be impossible to tell them about meeting Joshua now. He was the man who caused her heart to sing. She couldn’t disappoint them. Not with her family extolling Carl’s virtues.
Hannah had only briefly discussed marriage with Carl. Their parents had been the ones who frequently spoke of the two entering into an agreement. As far as Carl’s family was concerned, the marriage was a foregone conclusion. Her parents seemed to feel the same way.
Hannah lay back and stared up at the bedroom ceiling. Carl was a wonderful man. He was everything her parents had said and much more. Someday she probably would marry Carl.
She closed her eyes and thought about what their lives would be like together. She liked Carl, enjoyed his company. When he kissed her it was something sweet and gentle. But try as she might, Hannah couldn’t imagine Carl ever being passionate. A smile cracked her lips, and she chided herself silently.
In her mind’s eye she thought about the children she might have with Carl. But instead of conjuring up babies, her mind filled with Joshua Shadduck.
She shook her head in an effort to dispel the image. If only he wasn’t an attorney. If only she’d met him last year at this time. If only . . .
Guiltily she bolted off the bed. “Yes, Mama.”
“Carl’s on the phone. He wants to know what took you so long. He’s been worried. You should have phoned him first thing.”
Hurriedly Hannah reached for her shoes. “Tell him I’ll be right there.”
“Hannah will marry Carl,” Gabriel said as if he needed to convince himself.
Goodness was wise enough to say nothing. She’d learned the hard way that it was often more advantageous to hold one’s tongue with the archangel.
“You understand this, don’t you?” Gabriel asked pointedly.
“I’m sure you’re right,” the prayer ambassador answered without emotion. It demanded everything she had to hide her true feelings.
Gabriel studied her with a weary look. “You’re sure you can handle this case?”
“Positive.” She beamed him her brightest, most innocent smile.
“No monkey business.”
Goodness’s eyes rounded with indignation. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Just remember that promise.”
“Can I please meet Jenny Lancaster now?” Mercy asked.
Goodness wanted to kiss her friend for distracting Gabriel. She didn’t know how much longer she would have been able to hide her feelings.