Page 24 of The Shy Bride

“Is that likely to be on the menu anytime soon?”

“No.”

She was so refreshingly honest. Once she’d got past seeing him as a stranger, he didn’t intimidate her like he did almost everyone else. Again, he had an unexpected urge to smile, but he smothered it. “I’d settle for you being happy.”

“Why on earth do you care if I’m happy, or not?”

“I don’t know, but I do. Chalk it up to friendship.”

She sighed and looked more frustrated than annoyed. “The thing is, I have obligations, too, Neo. The music for my next album isn’t going to write itself. Only I can’t work on it while strangers are tearing apart my house.”

“So, we both take an unexpected break. What is one day?” He ignored the fact that him saying such a thing would be considered anathema by any and all who knew him.

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it, looking at him contemplatively. “When was the last time you took a break?”

That was easy. “My first piano lesson.”

“Before that?” she asked with a degree of consideration that made him nervous. Though he didn’t know why.

“I don’t take breaks.”

Now she would use that truth as an excuse and say she didn’t need time off, either.

She surprised him by asking very seriously, “Ever?”

“Ever.”

“You do need a break.”

So Zephyr and Gregor insisted. “If the number of compositions you have created in the past years is any indication, so do you.”

That seemed to startle her. “Music is my life.”

“According to both my doctor and business partner, that attitude is not a healthy one.”

“I exercise.”

He remembered seeing her home gym when showing Cole Geary around her house. “So do I.”

“I eat right.”

“So do I.”

“Then why are they so concerned for you?”

Neo shrugged. “Got me, but if it’s bad for me to be so obsessed by Stamos and Nikos Enterprises, then it stands to reason your single-minded pursuit of music needs tempering.”

“I don’t want to spend the day being dissected by strangers.”

“Not going to happen.”

“Why?”

“They’ll be too busy watching me in wonder.”

She laughed at that as he’d meant her to do. “It makes me cranky to think of my house getting torn up.”

“It won’t be torn up. Cole gave me his word that you’ll barely be able to tell they were even here.”

“How is that possible? I saw the list. They can never get it all done in one day.”

“In fact, they can.”

“Money talks?”

“In even more languages than I do.”

A smile played at the edges of her lips. “I’m fluent in Mandarin, Italian and German.”

“You are accomplished.” He himself spoke Greek and English, of course, but Japanese and Spanish as well. “I understand the Italian and German, considering your passion for piano composition, but why Mandarin?”

“I like the way it’s written.”

“You are fluent in the Kanji?”

“Yes, though I’m still studying. I have a pen pal from the Hunan province and he tutors me. He’s a scholar and something of a recluse.”

“What do you write to him about?”

“Music, what else? He plays and composes on the guzheng. It’s kind of like a Chinese zither. Unlike the older and more traditional guqin, which only has seven strings and no bridges, it has sixteen to twenty-five strings with movable bridges. He can create complicated and very beautiful compositions on it.”

She was babbling. She was still nervous about leaving with him and letting the security company do their job. But she was going to do it. He was proud of her.

“How do you share your music?”

“We both have Web cams.” She laughed, but it didn’t sound like she found that funny. “It’s kind of pathetic, but I see more of him and my other online friends via the Internet than I do anyone else.”

It was unfortunate, not pathetic. One day, he would help her make that distinction. “Have you ever wanted to visit him in person?”

“Yes.”

“Naturally, you have not gone.”

“I would. Though not easily, I can travel anonymously, but I have no one to travel with.”

“So, it is not simply leaving your house that bothers you?”

She lifted her shoulders in a half shrug before turning back to her breakfast without answering.

He wasn’t done with the subject however. “You don’t like being recognized as Cassandra Baker, the renowned pianist and New Age composer.”

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