Page 23 of The Shy Bride

Her friendship was all too important. He wasn’t about to jeopardize it for something as fleeting as sexual attraction. No matter how overwhelming.

He found the bagel she’d requested and started it toasting. He called Cole’s cell phone while he waited for it.

“Geary Security,” the other man answered on the first ring.

“She agreed to the substantive changes to the structure of the house, but doesn’t want the foliage touched.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“It doesn’t?” It sure as hell had stunned Neo. If it had been him, he would have had the opposite reaction.

“I researched her house’s history after dropping off the proposals. Her parents bought that house before she was born,” Cole said. “From the size of most of the bushes, I’d say someone planted them soon after her parents moved into the house. If I had to guess, I would suggest it was her mother.”

“So, it is a sentimental thing?” Not something Neo had much experience with, for with all the luxury now at his disposal, sentimentality was still something he could ill afford.

“That’s what I’m guessing, but they really do provide too much cover for burglars or stalkers.”

An image of Cassandra’s expression before she’d swept out of the kitchen played in Neo’s mind’s eye. “She’s not going to let that sway her.”

“You persuaded her to go for the doors and windows. You can convince her about the foliage. I’ll reschedule the gardener when you do.”

Neo wished he was as confident, but for the first time in years, he considered the possibility he’d met someone as stubborn as he was. In fact, the last time he remembered doing so, he’d befriended the man and ended up eventually making him his business partner.

There was only one word to describe Cassandra when she came downstairs, dressed for the day in a navy blue pantsuit.

Cranky.

She sat down to eat her bagel with a grudging thank-you tossed in his direction, the hapless bagel getting a glare before she took a resounding bite.

“You look nice,” he complimented. “I like the bright pink accents.” Most women he knew preened under directed praise.

And he did like the pink scarf and shoes she’d added to the more basic white blouse and dark pantsuit. Her oversized pink-and-white earrings were a nice, if unexpected touch, too.

Cassandra didn’t so much as smile, though he received yet another perfunctory, “Thanks.”

“I am surprised you wear so many bright colors.”

He got her full attention with that comment. She glared at him. “Why?”

“I would think you wouldn’t want to draw attention to yourself.” “Debilitatingly shy” did not equal “vibrant dress style” in his mind, but then he was no psychologist.

“What, you think I should dress only in shades of gray and wear my hair in a bun, or something?”

“No.” But he wouldn’t have been surprised if she had, knowing what he knew about her hermitlike ways.

“I’m not fond of talking to strangers.”

That was one way of putting it. Agoraphobic was another, but he didn’t say a word.

“That doesn’t mean I want to dress like a piece of cheap office furniture,” she huffed and then grimaced. “It’s important to me not be a caricature. I don’t like to perform, but I can leave the house. I’m uncomfortable meeting strangers, but I don’t need to dress like a hermit with no fashion sense. My life has enough limitations, I take pleasure where I find it and I happen to like bright colors.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“I can’t imagine why you’d need to.”

Come to that, he couldn’t, either. She wasn’t one of his pillow-mates that he bought gifts for in lieu of giving anything of himself. Hell, who was he kidding? He planned to give more of himself to Cassandra today than he had to anyone in a long time. He intended to give her his time.

Still. “Now, you’re just being argumentative for the sake of it.”

“You think so?” she asked in a tone so subtly snarky he couldn’t help but be impressed.

And amused, though he was far too intelligent to let that show. He should be irritated. He’d cancelled all but his most pressing meetings and cleared his schedule in a way he hadn’t done in years. He would still work some, but he planned to entertain Cassandra. After all, it was his fault she was being evicted from her house for the day.

When he told her so, her frown grew slightly less dark, but it was still in the black range on the color spectrum. “I suppose you expect me to be grateful.”

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