As soon as she could, she made her way to Joshua’s office building. Crammed inside an elevator, she headed for the twenty-sixth floor. The elevator doors slid open and she stepped into an office complex lavishly decorated in mauves and grays. The names of the law firm partners were elegantly sprawled in large gold letters across one fabric-covered wall.
Hannah had been inside this complex a number of times and knew it to be one of the most prestigious law firms in Manhattan. She’d had no idea Joshua was a part of this firm.
Law clerks bustled about, and the phone jingled. Clients lingered in the waiting room.
“May I help you?” the receptionist asked. If she recognized Hannah as the girl from the deli, she didn’t say anything.
“I’m Hannah Morganstern,” she said.
The woman’s face relaxed into a smile. “Ah yes, Mr. Shadduck said you’d be here soon. I’ll have someone take you right back.” She motioned toward one of the law clerks.
Hannah was escorted down a wide hallway. The law clerk gestured toward Joshua’s door, which was open. Joshua stood on the far side of the office. He must have sensed her arrival because he turned around and his face brightened with a warm, welcoming smile.
She knew it was impolite to stare, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the framed list of achievements that lined his walls. This was no ordinary man. He was rich and powerful.
She pulled her gaze away from the wall, surprised he had read her so easily. “I’ve never been inside your office before.” She’d delivered his lunch any number of times but had never been past the foyer and the receptionist. She recognized Joshua from the times he’d come into the deli himself.
“Sit down. I’ll ring Mary for something hot. Which do you prefer? Coffee or tea?”
“I . . . I really can’t stay.” To think that she’d allowed this important attorney to deliver lunches on her behalf. Hannah was mortified to the very marrow of her bones.
“You can’t stay? Why not? I thought we had this all settled.” He walked toward her and reached for her hand. Hannah didn’t know if it was from the cold or the shock of seeing Joshua in this environment, but her fingers were icy cold.
“You’re freezing.” He rubbed her right hand between his own two hands. “You should be wearing gloves.”
She felt completely out of her element. Pride prevented her from making up some excuse and rushing away. “I . . . I didn’t know,” she whispered.
Josh led her to a comfortable brown leather sofa and sat her down. “Didn’t know what?”
Hannah held her tongue rather than blurt out the truth. When they’d met at the parade he was a familiar face, someone she recognized. In this office, he was the epitome of the kind of man her father distrusted.
“I’ve been thinking about you all weekend,” he said. “How was your Thanksgiving?”
Now was the perfect opportunity to tell him how close she was to becoming engaged to Carl. She could bring Carl’s name up naturally and explain the situation. She could tell him how Carl had joined her family for dinner. How Carl and her father had talked. How Carl had kissed her good night. How they’d met on the Sabbath, after services in the synagogue.
“It was very nice,” she said instead, wanting to kick herself. “How about you?”
“I ate with my mother and grandmother.”
That started it. Within a matter of minutes he had her laughing over something his grandmother said, and they were immersed in conversation.
Twenty minutes slipped by, and it seemed like only five. “I have to get back,” she said, unable to disguise her regret. “Thank you for the tea . . . for everything.” She wouldn’t indulge herself again. Not with Joshua.
Whatever made her so bold, Hannah would never know. She stood, prepared to walk away, and before she left, she pressed the palm of her hand to Joshua’s clean-shaven face.
“Good-bye, Joshua,” she said, and not giving him time to answer, she hurried from his office.
Her mother eyed her wearily when Hannah arrived back at the deli. “What took you?” she asked.
“I got sidetracked,” Hannah admitted.
“Next time don’t visit so long,” her father warned her. “We needed you here.”
“I’m sorry I’m late. Do you need me to make another run?”
“Don’t worry, Louise was able to do it.” Her mother rattled off a list of tasks. Hannah was grateful to work in the kitchen the rest of the afternoon.
“Hannah,” her father called two hours later. “A package’s been delivered for you.”
“For me?” Drying her hands on a linen towel, Hannah stepped out to the front of the deli. A freckle-faced delivery boy held out a small, flat box. “Hannah Morganstern?”
“Sign here.” He thrust a clipboard at her.
Hannah penned her name and then, with her parents watching, unwrapped the flat, oblong box.
Inside were a pair of expensive leather gloves and a note from Joshua.
“I’ve never heard you sing better,” Michelle said as she and Jenny returned to their shared apartment. “Oh, Jenny, this is the break we’ve been waiting for. We’re going to sing and dance on Broadway. I can feel it in my bones. We’re really going to make it.”
They often built each other up after an audition. Casting directors weren’t known for lavishing potential stars with positive feedback, so they gave it to each other.
“Your voice . . .” Michelle hesitated as though she had trouble finding the words. “It’s different now. There’s a depth and maturity that wasn’t there six months ago.” Michelle set the mail on the kitchen table. “Don’t misunderstand me, you’ve always been good, but this afternoon you were nothing short of brilliant.”
Jenny rolled her eyes.
“I’m not blowing smoke out my ears, either.” Michelle sounded slightly offended. “I mean it, Jenny. I really think you’re going to get a part, maybe even one of the leads.”
Jenny knew otherwise. She sang her heart out the way she did for every audition. Nothing was going to change. She refused to build up her hopes again.
“This looks interesting,” Michelle said, holding up an envelope and tossing it to her. “It’s addressed to you. It might even be a Christmas card. Already? Good grief, it’s not even December yet.”
Jenny examined the envelope, her gaze scanning the return address. She recognized it immediately, and her breath jammed in her throat.
“Jenny? What is it?”
“It’s from Trey,” she whispered.
She stood and walked around the table while motioning with her hands, unable to formulate the words. “Trey LaRue . . . my neighbor, or rather my parents’ neighbor.”
“You’ve never mentioned him before,” Michelle said.
“I haven’t?” That seemed impossible. He was an integral part of what she considered home and family.
“Well, open it and find out what he has to say,” Michelle encouraged.
That seemed the most logical thing to do. Jenny’s hand trembled as she peeled back the flap and withdrew a card. A colorful turkey decorated the front, its plumage fanned out across the top. She opened the card and found Trey had written only one short sentence: “I’m eager to see you this Christmas.” His name was signed below in smooth, even strokes of the fountain pen.
Jenny’s heart sank to the pit of her stomach. She handed the card to Michelle.
“You’re going home for the holidays?”
Jenny shook her head. “You know I can’t. Not with money so tight.” Not after she’d let everyone believe she had a starring role in an Off Broadway production.
“I like his signature,” Michelle said, studying the card. “You can tell a lot about a man by the way he signs his name.” Her look was thoughtful. “But,” she continued, grinning at Jenny, “I’d rather have you tell me all about him yourself.”
“What can I say?” Jenny murmured, surprised to discover she didn’t want to discuss Trey with her best friend.
She’d never missed home more than she did right at that moment. She longed to gaze into a night sky where the stars weren’t obliterated by city lights. She wanted to close her eyes and smell the scent of fresh hay. Home was cattle and mud and frustration. Home was love. Home was Trey.
“He’s hasn’t written you before, has he?” Michelle pressed.
Jenny shrugged. “I don’t know. He owns the spread next to ours,” she volunteered, hoping her friend would help her reason it out. A smile touched the edges of her mouth. “He’s a cowboy from head to foot. Full of grit and mettle. Stubborn and determined, with skin as tan as leather and a constitution of iron.”
“Did you date him?”
“No . . . he’s older than me by several years.” Eight years had made a world of difference when she was in high school, but it didn’t seem all that important now. “He’s probably one of the most decent, hardworking men I’ve ever known.”
“It’s obvious he wants you to come home.”
Jenny set aside the card and exhaled a long, slow breath. “Well, I can’t, so there’s no use sitting around here stewing about it.”
“It seems a shame, after him writing and all.”
“I can’t go home,” Jenny said forcefully. “You can’t, either, because the both of us are going to have plum roles in the new Lehman musical, and we’ll be in the thick of rehearsals.”
“You’re right,” Michelle said as if this were something she hadn’t considered.
“We’ll be stars.”
“Stars,” Michelle repeated. “Our names will light up the marquee.”
“Bright lights, and bright futures.” But even as she said the words, they rang false in her ears.
“Goodness.” Gabriel was furious. Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy had ignored him at every turn, and he wasn’t putting up with it this year. His schedule was busy enough without those three meddling in matters that were none of their concern.
“You called?” The three shot up to heaven, looking as innocent as newborn lambs. Their feathery wings were tucked firmly in place, and their expressions were filled with guileless innocence.
“Shirley,” he roared. “Did I or did I not tell you to stay away from Brynn Cassidy?” He didn’t give her a chance to reply. “Might I ask what you were doing in her classroom this afternoon? This is your assignment,” he said, handing her a slip of paper. “Now I expect you to help Craig Houle. If I see you anywhere close to Manhattan High School again, it will be cause for disciplinary action.”
The three gasped.
Gabriel refused to allow these prayer ambassadors to manipulate him any further.
“Goodness, what did I tell you about Hannah? You don’t think I know that you had a hand in Joshua Shadduck running into her this afternoon? Well, I’m on to your games. You will keep your fingers out of her life, is that understood?”