“What about Carl? Are you willing to apologize to him, too? What about Hannah? My daughter gave you her heart, and it meant nothing to the mighty, powerful attorney. You people seem to think you have the right to disrupt lives. It’s time someone made you accountable for your actions.”

“You want me to apologize to Carl?” Joshua asked, willing to do whatever he could to appease Hannah’s family and make matters easier for her. Personally he thought the less Carl knew about him, the better.

David considered his offer, then shrugged. “No. Carl and our family aren’t exactly on speaking terms.”

Joshua leaned forward slightly, wondering if he’d heard him correctly. “Why aren’t you?”

David sat back down and eyed Joshua suspiciously. “You mean to say you honestly don’t know?”

“I wouldn’t ask if I did.”

“Hannah loves you.”

The confirmation of her feelings should have brought him joy; instead he was filled with a deep, painful sense of loss. “I love her, too.”

“Not in my book,” David fumed. “You leave her to face Carl alone, and when she breaks the engagement, you dump her.”

It was Joshua’s turn to bolt upright. “Hannah broke off the engagement?”

David frowned and nodded. “You mean to say you didn’t know?”

Joshua came out from behind his desk. “No.”

“She defied both her mother and me when we insisted she not see you again. Then less than a half hour after she leaves, she returns, tells us how sorry she is for having upset us, and goes to her bedroom. She hasn’t been herself since. She won’t talk about you or Carl, but it’s plain as the nose on my face that she’s miserable.”

“She never told me. I knew how difficult all this was for her. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, least of all her family and especially not Carl. Every time she promised to break the engagement something more would happen to prevent it. I felt the only thing I could do was step aside.”

It was clear David wasn’t interested in hearing explanations. “Do you or don’t you love my daughter?”

“I love her,” Joshua said with conviction.

“Then what are your intentions?”

He didn’t hesitate. “I want to marry her.”

David glanced around the office once more, this time with a less critical eye. “Talk to Hannah first, and then you and I might strike some kind of agreement. We could do with a lawyer in the family.” He started toward the door, then stopped abruptly and turned around. “Are you coming or not, young man?”

Joshua laughed and reached for his coat. “Coming.”

David nodded once, profoundly. “Good, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”

Hannah was working the counter when Joshua walked inside the deli, her father at his side.

“Hannah,” David shouted, “you’ve got company. Take him upstairs and serve him a piece of your mother’s cheesecake.”

Hannah ignored her father and directed her question to Joshua. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to talk to you. I suggest we go upstairs as your father advised.” They’d already attracted more than enough attention.

“Go,” Ruth Morganstern insisted to Hannah. “This way, young man,” she said, and directed Joshua around the counter, pointing the way to their private quarters.

Joshua followed Hannah up the stairs. She paused halfway up and turned to face him. From her position on the stairway they were at eye level. It required more discipline than he’d needed in quite some time not to kiss her right then and there.

“What did my father say to you?” she demanded. Her eyes were full of fire. “I don’t need your pity, Joshua Shadduck.”

“My pity?” This came at him out of the blue. “If anyone is asking questions, it should be me. The last thing I heard was your father inviting me to your wedding to another man.”

Hannah’s shoulders went stiff. “The last time I saw you, you were kissing another woman.”

He frowned. “Who?”

“How should I know?” she flared.

The door at the bottom of the stairs opened. “Upstairs, Hannah. The entire deli is listening in on your conversation.”

If ever Hannah needed an incentive, this appeared to be it. She raced up the remainder of the stairs.

Joshua was left with no choice but to follow her, which he did gladly. He found her standing in front of a window, looking out, her back to him, her arms folded around her middle.

“Her name’s Carol,” he said gently, wanting to clear the air as soon as he could so they could move on to the more important matters. “I’ve known her for a number of years.”

“You should marry her,” she suggested, turning to face him.

“I can’t. She’s a wonderful woman, but she isn’t you. You’re the one who owns my heart. You have from nearly the first moment we met. I had to let you go, Hannah, surely you understand that. My love was hurting you. The family pressures on you to marry Carl were overwhelming. Stepping aside was the only decent thing to do.”

“It didn’t take you long to recover, did it?”

She was jealous of Carol, and Joshua thrilled at the realization. “I see it’s done a bit of good for you to know how I’ve felt these last few weeks. It wasn’t easy on me when you were spending time with Carl. It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

“I always loved you, and you knew it. You never had a single reason to be jealous.”

Joshua longed to hold and kiss her too much to argue the point. “Are you going to marry me or not, Hannah Morganstern?”

Her eyes searched his as if she questioned the sincerity of his proposal.

“I love you,” he added tenderly, and held open his arms to her.

It didn’t take her long to find her way into his embrace. When she slipped her arms around his middle, Joshua sighed with a sense of peace, of homecoming. He’d been waiting all his life for this woman, and now that she was his, he didn’t intend to lose her.

Tunneling his fingers through her hair, Joshua positioned his mouth to kiss her.

“I’ve been so unhappy,” she admitted on the tail end of a soft moan.

“Me, too.” He kissed her again.

“But you weren’t lonely,” she accused. “I was miserable and lonely.”

“I love you, Hannah,” he said, laying his heart at her feet. “You’re going to marry me, aren’t you?”

“Oh yes.”

“Good.” He held her against him protectively. “It’s the oddest thing,” he mumbled, nuzzling his face close to hers.

“What is?” she said, thrilling him with small kisses along the underside of his jaw.

“Your father claims I gave him my business card. I never did. I haven’t a clue where he got it.”

“Me either,” Hannah said. “Does it matter?”

Joshua chuckled. “Not in the least.”

The last thing Brynn anticipated when she was ready to leave New York was car problems. Ever since Roberto had worked on her carburetor, her Escort had been running like a dream. Now, however, the engine wouldn’t so much as crank.

The first thing she did was contact her family and tell them. Her parents were concerned about her, and they weren’t happy to have her traveling home alone, but she couldn’t very well desert her vehicle.

Sitting inside her apartment, she thumbed through the telephone directory, looking for a garage listing, knowing full well her chances of finding someone willing to work on her car on Christmas Eve were damn near impossible.

Her doorbell chimed, and disheartened, Brynn slipped off the stool. When she checked her peephole the first person she saw was Emilio, but there were a number of others she recognized with him.

After flipping open the latch, she found herself facing a throng of her students and their parents.

“What’s going on here?” she asked. There must have been close to fifty people jam-packed into her hallway.

“We don’t want you to leave, Miss Cassidy,” Emilio said, serving as spokesperson for the group. “After Mike’s funeral a number of us went and talked to Mr. Whalen. We asked that the school refuse to accept your letter of resignation.”

“I don’t know how much we were able to influence him,” Yolanda said, laughing nervously. “I think our parents had a far greater impact.”

Suzie Chang’s delicate mother pressed forward and in halting English said, “You say it honor to have Suzie in class. We say it greater honor to have you for teacher.”

A cry of agreement followed the Chinese woman’s words.

“We love you, Miss Cassidy.”

Brynn couldn’t speak for the lump in her throat. Never in all her dreams had she expected anything like this.

“Mr. Whalen says you can have your job back, if you want it,” Denzil’s mother told her. “For the first time in his life, my son’s doing well in school. He’s talking about something other than video games.”

“What do you say, Miss Cassidy?”

Frankly, Brynn was left speechless.

“Say something,” Emilio urged.

“I don’t know . . . I just don’t know.”

“Give the girl some room to breathe.” Parents and teens parted so Father Grady could make his way to the front.

“Father Grady!”

“You didn’t know I was here? My dear, I was the one who drove the bus.”

“You brought the church bus?” Brynn placed both hands over her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

“Roberto’s driving it around the block, looking for a place to park now.”

“Roberto.” Brynn whispered his name.

“I’m telling you right now, Teach,” Emilio advised from the corner of his mouth, “you have to be patient with my brother, but once he learns something, you’ll never have to teach him again.”

She caught sight of Roberto just then, hurrying down the corridor, breathing hard. He slowed his pace when he saw her.

“Will you stay, Miss Cassidy?”

Brynn reached out and touched Yolanda’s face. Then, because it seemed to be so important to everyone else, she nodded.

A loud cheer went up, and Brynn’s next-door neighbor opened the door and stuck out her head. “Ralph, I told you there was a party going on in the hallway. Come and look.”

“Hello, Mrs. Camden,” Brynn called, and waved.

“Is everyone invited?” her neighbor asked.

“Of course,” Father Grady answered. “Come with us. We got what we came for.” One by one they filed down the hallway. Lorraine Camden and her husband joined the line, chattering as they went.

“Where are we going?” Brynn heard the older woman ask.

“To the bus,” someone answered.

“Ralph, they have a bus.”

“Yes, Lorraine, I heard.”

Soon only Brynn and Roberto were left. She led him inside her apartment and closed the door. With her back pressed against it, she studied him.

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