Page 15 of The Shy Bride

He rang the bell, but tried the handle as she had suspected he would. She heard the latch give and then footsteps. The door shut. More footsteps, Neo’s distinctive purposeful tread and a quieter walk, though no less confident.

A few seconds later, Neo led a shorter, blond-haired man into her music room.

“Cassandra.” The tycoon gave her a chiding look. “You left the door unlocked. You said you wouldn’t.”

“I only unlocked it a few minutes ago. I knew you would be on time.”

Frowning, he shook his head. “What if traffic had prevented our timely arrival?”

“It wouldn’t dare.”

He didn’t ask why she hadn’t simply waited to let them in when they arrived and she was grateful. She had needed this one small coping mechanism this morning.

Having the security consultant over was such a simple thing, one that would not bother normal people, but Cass wasn’t normal. She’d figured that out long before she understood what her idiosyncrasies would mean in her life.

Taking a firm grip on her irrational sense of dread, she turned to face the blond man. “I’m Cassandra Baker. Welcome to my home.”

The security consultant put his hand out, “Cole Geary. It’s an honor to meet you, Miss Baker. I’m a huge fan. I’ve got all your CDs.”

She shook the man’s hand and gave him her smile for public consumption. “Mr. Geary, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m glad you like my music. It’s the joy of my life.”

“You can tell, the way you play, I mean.”

Neo cleared his throat, giving them both his look that was probably supposed to mean, “Wasting time here, people.”

Cole’s expression went from open admiration to professional in a single blink. “Mr. Stamos has expressed some concern over your security here. Would it be all right if we took a look at the premises before I make any preliminary suggestions?”

The proper response would have been, “Of course not.” Only she didn’t want Cole Geary in her home. No matter how big a fan, or how nice he seemed.

“I don’t want bars on my windows,” she blurted out rather than answer his request. She lived with enough limitations caused by her own nearly debilitating shyness.

“As I said—”

“It will be all right,” Neo said, interrupting his consultant. He laid his hand against the small of Cass’s back. “Let’s show Cole the rest of the house.”

She looked up at him, begging him to understand the emotions roiling inside her, feelings that had both plagued and shamed her since childhood. The one and only therapist she had seen at her father’s insistence had done little to help Cass overcome her anxiety. Though the man had helped her learn some necessary coping mechanisms.

He had once explained that her experiences growing up in the house of an invalid, combined with the pressure to perform at a young age, had severely exacerbated what had probably been a simple case of being a more timid personality type. That was his theory anyway.

All she knew was that she currently suffered a mild form of agoraphobia fed by sociophobia, though how mild she often wondered. Especially when she felt so completely out of her depth doing something as simple as meeting a security consultant and showing him her home.

“I should have had Bob meet you,” she said so quietly she wasn’t sure he would hear her.

“Trust me, Cassandra.” Neo focused one-hundred percent of his attention on her, totally ignoring the other man for the moment. “You and I will do this together.”

“I’m being ridiculous.” She hated putting herself down like that, no matter how true she knew the words to be.

She just got tired of admitting such unpalatable truths about her reactions, particularly when she felt powerless to change them. It was one of the reasons she hesitated making friends. New relationships required fresh acknowledgement of the limitations she and the people in her life had learned to live with.

Neo shook his head decisively. “It is the world you live in. If you will but trust me, you will see there is nothing to worry you.”

“My father used to say the same thing.” Right before forcing her onto a stage where she had to lose herself in the music or lose her sanity, or so it felt to her.

She could remember the sea of faces that would confront her at each sold-out concert for the child prodigy pianist. And that memory still had the power to send a cold sweat down her spine. For as far back as she could remember, her music had always been a deeply personal thing for Cass. She used it to hide from the reality of her mother’s illness and her father’s often angry helplessness in the face of it.

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