Mary looked up into the most beautiful face she’d ever set eyes on.
“Jack, you’re here! I thought you had a meeting with Allen.”
His smile as he drew her close was both warm and filled with desire. “I couldn’t stay away a moment longer.”
He’d been the one to ask for a little more private time together that morning, but despite the dozens of eager and interested onlookers, how could she possibly keep from kissing him?
Mary was just moving to wrap her arms around his neck when a little girl pushed between them.
“Here are your candles for the ceremony.”
Soon, Mary reminded herself as they moved apart to each take a candle from the girl, she and Jack would be alone again and then she could kiss him to her heart’s content with no interruptions.
As their candles were being lit, a young boy walked onto the small stage beside the tree and began to carefully recite a Christmas poem he’d written about Rudolph the reindeer and Santa Claus. In the dark, Jack slid his hand into Mary’s and she leaned into his warmth, loving how strong and steady he always was. Just as the boy finished his poem, the Christmas tree came to colorful, glittering life.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Mary said as she squeezed Jack’s hand tighter.
“The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he agreed. But he wasn’t looking at the tree.
He only had eyes for her.
A children’s chorus began to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and when Jack joined in, his voice ringing out deep and true, Mary’s heart swelled with love.
“I haven’t enjoyed a Christmas celebration that much since I was a child,” Mary said when they had finished distributing the Pocket Planners to the crowd. Mary had explained how the device worked to the mother, the businessman and the student, and they’d all been thrilled to go home and play with their unexpected gifts.
A short while ago she’d met Jack in this same spot in Union Square, and he’d asked her to join him for pie and ice cream. Now she was the one saying, “I happen to know a great diner just around the corner from here. Want to join me for some of the best pie you’ll ever have?”
Strangely, he gave her a slightly nervous look that confused her. She’d never seen Jack anxious before. Was he tired from the string of long days getting ready for the big holiday launch? Or was there something else going on?Before she could ask him if everything was all right, he finally gave her one of his beautiful grins. “Great idea. In fact,” he added as he took her hand and they began walking toward the diner, “I think pie and ice cream at the diner should always be part of our new post-Christmas-tree-lighting tradition.”
Mary had thought she’d left tradition behind when she left Italy. The idea of starting a new tradition with Jack was at once terrifying…and wonderful. Because it meant that he really did intend to keep loving her past this first Christmas, when everything between them was so fresh and exciting.
She forgot all about his slightly strange initial reaction as they chatted easily about their busy days while they walked. They weren’t just lovers, they were friends, too. Best friends who would do absolutely anything to make the other person happy.
Despite being fairly empty, the diner was cozy and warm. This time, they both sat on the same side of the booth and shared a supersize slice of pie. Her night couldn’t get any more perfect than this, sitting with the man she loved while he fed her warm cherries coated in melting vanilla ice cream. They simply enjoyed being with each other.
She knew her life wasn’t perfect, and there were things she would always wish she could have done differently, but for the first time in a very long time, she felt at peace.
Something in Jack’s voice as he said her name pulled her from her relaxed reverie. The note of anxiety she’d sensed earlier was back.
“Jack? What is it?” She’d seen him look intense before, but never this intense.
“I think we should go back to your place now.”
He put a twenty-dollar bill down on the table and pulled her to her feet, quickly bundling her up in her coat and scarf. Moments later, they were out on the sidewalk, and he was all but dragging her along the street in the direction of her house.
Panic skittered down her spine. Just when she’d finally let herself relax, had something gone wrong?
“Jack.” He was much bigger than she, but she was strong enough to tug him to a stop. “Tell me what’s wrong. Please just tell me.”
“I’m doing this all wrong.” He cursed once in a low voice as he ran his free hand through his hair.
She shook her head in confusion. “What are you doing wrong?”
Before she knew it, he’d dropped to one knee in front of her.
Her mouth fell open. All the way open, in fact, as she stared in shock at Jack kneeling before her.
“I was planning to surprise you with rose petals and champagne and every other romantic thing I could think of. But I just can’t wait another second to ask you to be my wife.”
Mary’s head and heart were spinning round and round so fast that she needed to make sure she’d heard him right. “You want me to be your wife?”
“I know I don’t have much to give you, and that you deserve absolutely everything. Riches. Beautiful gifts. I can’t give you any of those things. Not yet, anyway. All I can give you is my heart. And every last piece of my soul.”