He’d turned away from the ice-skating rink when out of the blue he saw her. In that moment, it was as though the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders and his heart sang.
Hannah saw him, too, but her beautiful blue eyes were devoid of emotion. She hurried toward him, and he held out his hands to greet her.
By the time she’d gripped his fingers with her own, she was breathless and barely able to talk. Her eyes were bright with questions. With doubts and confusion. Without speaking, she told him everything he needed to know. She hadn’t wanted to come. Had decided to stay away . . . and found she couldn’t.
“You were right,” she said with a sadness that was nearly his undoing. “I had to come. A hundred times I told myself the best thing for both of us was if I stayed away. What have you done to me, Joshua? What have you done?”
It was difficult not to pull her into his arms and comfort her. It was what he wanted. His heart was full, spilling over. The fact that his love brought her unhappiness wasn’t lost on him. In time he’d make up for the unpleasantness he’d caused her. If only she would be patient, he’d prove to her she’d made the right decision.
“I think we should talk this out,” she suggested. She seemed to harbor the hope that they could sit across from each other and reason away their mutual attraction. It wasn’t as simple as that, but she’d need to reach that realization herself.
“All right.” He sought nothing more than to be with her. It wouldn’t have mattered what they did. In many ways, he felt he was already fully acquainted with Hannah. He knew he loved her. He knew he wanted her to be his wife and the mother of his children.
How or when he’d come to realize all this, he couldn’t answer. He was a man who dealt with facts, who argued cases. A man who generally was uncomfortable defining feelings. But when it came to Hannah Morganstern, Joshua found he was an expert on identifying his emotions.
“Come on,” he said, tucking her hand in the crook of his arm. “I’ll buy us a cup of hot chocolate.”
A fragile, tentative smile touched her mouth. Her beautiful, kissable mouth.
“I’m beginning to think we’re both a little nuts,” she said.
“I couldn’t agree with you more, but it’s a good kind of crazy. Being with you makes me happy, Hannah. You’re beautiful and generous and loving.”
She lowered her head, uneasy with compliments.
Joshua found a table, and after she was seated, he walked over to the refreshment booth and bought two steaming cups of hot chocolate.
When he returned, she glanced up at him shyly. “The most amazing thing happened this evening.”
“Oh?” He sipped from the edge of the paper cup, the steam wafting upward.
“When I told you I couldn’t meet you, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to. Carl had asked me to attend the candle-lighting ceremony with him. It’s the first day of Hanukkah,” she told him unnecessarily.
“I knew there wasn’t any way I could possibly break our date. Then at the last minute Carl phoned. He came down with the flu.”
That explained why Hannah was late. She’d been at the synagogue with her family and then rushed from there to Rockefeller Center.
“When I left in such a hurry, I’m sure my parents thought I was going to see Carl . . . instead I’m meeting another man.” Sadness coated her words. It was clear she hated deceiving those she loved.
“I’m sure that given time, your family will learn to like me as much as they do Carl,” he assured her gently. He regretted bringing the other man into the conversation. It seemed they spent half their precious time together discussing the rabbi’s son.
Hannah’s gaze drifted to the ice skaters and then back to him. “I hardly know you myself.”
“Ask me anything you like,” he invited her.
“You’ve never married?”
“No. I’ve been waiting for you, Hannah Morganstern.” By the way the color drained from her face, Joshua realized he’d said the wrong thing. He didn’t mean to rush Hannah. Because he was confident didn’t mean he had to get cocky.
“I’m engaged to Carl,” she whispered. “Doesn’t that matter to you?”
“It matters a great deal.” He wasn’t going to lie. When she’d told him, he’d been both frustrated and angry. Later he’d realized just how fortunate it was that they’d met before the wedding. “I figure I found you just in time.”
He didn’t ask her if she felt the same way. Didn’t bombard her with questions. That wasn’t necessary. He already knew. She felt everything he did, only for her, it wasn’t so simple. Tied up with her feelings for him was a lifetime of adhering to her parents’ wishes.
“I’ll go to your family,” Joshua offered, “and explain.”
“Explain what?” she asked miserably. “There’s nothing to tell them, Joshua. I haven’t changed my mind about anything.”
Hannah had no intention of staying with Joshua. Her only purpose in meeting him was to explain once and for all that a relationship between them was impossible. It was too late for them. She was engaged to Carl now, and they’d soon be planning their wedding.
That had been the reason she’d decided to meet Joshua: so he’d know. Yet the moment she’d found him, her heart had been filled with a yearning, a wonder, that she couldn’t reason away.
She couldn’t look at him, she feared, and not reveal what was in her heart, so she focused her attention on the ice skaters. As a child she’d loved it when her mother had taken her to this very rink. Although she’d struggled to remain upright, Hannah had enjoyed the simple pleasure of gliding freely over the ice. When she’d tired, she’d sat and watched others, admiring the skillful athletes as they’d leapt and spun their way across the rink. In her child’s mind, she’d dreamed about someday being as graceful and talented.
“Come,” Joshua said, and reached for her hand. He’d been silent since she’d announced that she fully intended to marry Carl. Hannah hoped he would accept her decision graciously and let matters drop between them. It was as difficult for him as it was for her, but she couldn’t tell him that. She willed him to leave because she hadn’t the strength to do it herself.
“Where are we going?”
His eyes revealed nothing, then he smiled in that gentle way of his. “Ice skating.”
“But, Joshua, it’s been years. I’m not sure I even remember how.”
“It’s been years for me, too.”
“I can’t,” she insisted. “Really. I should get back before Mama asks questions. I can’t lie.”
Joshua stiffened. Surely he understood that she’d intended never to see him again. Surely he realized that she’d come this evening only because Carl had canceled at the last moment. Even now that surprised her.
“I’m not asking you to lie,” Joshua explained, his hand clasping hers firmly. “All I want is for you to skate with me.”
Hannah gazed longingly toward the ice. She was tempted. Oh, heaven, she was tempted. It wasn’t so much to ask, she decided, not when she wanted this so badly herself.
“All right,” she agreed. “But for only a short time.”
Joshua left her briefly, after checking her shoe size, and returned a few moments later with two pairs of ice skates. After lacing up his own, he knelt in front of her to be sure her skates were tied properly.
“You may well regret this,” she said, linking her arm through his. Her legs wobbled when they stepped onto the ice, but Joshua’s grip about her waist was firm.
Her first few steps were tentative and awkward. If not for Joshua, she was sure she would have fallen. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this,” she said, concentrating on staying on her feet.
“You’re doing just fine.”
He was being kind, and she said so. Their first whirl around the rink was marked with her clumsy attempts to remain upright. Even with Joshua holding on to her, Hannah’s arms flailed out in front of her a number of times in an effort to maintain her balance.
Before long she found a certain rhythm and glided over the smooth surface. Gaining confidence, she relaxed her grip on Joshua’s arm, and he gradually released her. Skating backward in front of her, he smiled and praised her skill.
“Do you think anyone from the Ice Capades is watching?” she joked.
Thinking herself clever, Hannah decided to speed past Joshua. Unfortunately, in her effort to impress him, she lost her footing. Her feet slipped out from under her so quickly that she didn’t have time to react. Arms flailing, she landed butt first on the hard, cold ice.
Joshua nearly fell on top of her, trying to keep her from losing her balance. By some minor miracle he managed to remain on his feet. Smiling broadly, he skated wide circles around her.
“You think this is funny, do you?” she asked, her dignity sadly bruised.
Hannah’s rear end was getting wet and cold from the ice. She stretched out her arm, silently seeking his assistance. Joshua ignored her hand. Bracing his fists against his hips, his skates perpendicular to each other, he circled her.
“Joshua,” she pleaded.
Chuckling, he helped her to her feet.
They skated for more than an hour, and then afterward, because she was unbelievably hungry, they ate huge hot dogs. Mustard dripped onto Hannah’s forearm, and Joshua dabbed it away with a paper napkin, teasing her about being so messy.
Time seemed to drift away from them. Never could Hannah remember enjoying anyone’s company more. It had been like this from the first moment they’d met.
“I have to go,” she said sadly when she noticed the time. It seemed she was always saying that to him.
He hailed a taxi and sat next to her on the seat. When they arrived outside her parents’ deli, Joshua paid the driver and climbed out of the cab with her.
On the abandoned sidewalk, Hannah stood with her head bowed, her heart thudding hard and heavy with dread against her chest.
“I can’t see you again.” The best way was to say it flat out and leave no room for speculation. It was difficult, but necessary.
“Hannah . . .”
“I’m engaged to another man,” she said as firmly as she could manage, afraid her voice would catch with emotion. “I can’t string you along. It isn’t fair to you. Please, Joshua, try to understand.”
“Can’t do this to me?” he repeated, and it seemed to her that he found encouragement in her words.
She didn’t want to argue with him. She glanced longingly toward the door, wanting this last farewell to be over as quickly as possible. Not wanting to dwell on the unpleasantness of hurting him.
He caught her by the shoulders and brought her into his arms. She didn’t resist him. Hadn’t the strength. His kiss was more potent than Irish whiskey. More heady than fine wine.