“I guess it’s a good thing you cancelled your lesson for today, or you might have walked right into it all.”
He shook his head. “I apologize for what happened. My press manager has released details of the lessons, but I’m afraid at this point there has already been so much conjecture, interest may take some time to wane.”
“It’s all right. I overreacted.”
“Most people would be overwhelmed by a pack of paparazzi on their front step.”
“And my back deck.”
“What do you mean?”
“Someone climbed the deck and tried to get me to open the French doors to my bedroom.”
Fury suffused Neo’s features. “That is unacceptable.”
“I agree. It was really frightening.” But the worst part was that she no longer knew what was normal fear, and what was the result of her abnormal phobia of crowds and public performance.
“That is understandable.”
“I don’t suppose you want a lesson as long as you are here.”
He smiled. “Perhaps, after you have eaten.”
Her stomach growled, right then, reminding her that she had not put anything in it since last night. “I’ll just have some toast.”
But that was unacceptable. He insisted on having one of his bodyguards deliver take-out. When the meal arrived, she surprised herself by being able to eat.
“Your manager wanted to stay and talk to you, but I insisted he leave,” Neo said as they were finishing up.
“Thank you. He probably wanted me to do an interview.”
“I got that impression.” And Neo did not appear impressed by it.
“He told me the publicity would help CD sales.”
“I called him, before calling your office.” She took a sip of the wine that had arrived with the meal. “I’m not sure why I called your office, now that I think about it. I wasn’t exactly thinking rationally.”
“I am glad you did. Clearly I am the reason for the problem. I should effect the solution.”
“I think, Neo Stamos, that you are a good man.”
He looked absolutely stunned by her words, but quickly masked his shock. “I take that as a compliment.”
“I meant it as one.”
They didn’t end up having a lesson that evening, but Neo stayed until nine, when the wine and the release of adrenaline caught up with Cass and she began yawning every other minute.
“You need your rest.”
“I do.” She laughed softly. “I’m exhausted, though I shouldn’t be.”
“Of course you should. Sleep.”
She thought he was going to kiss her when she let him out the front door, but he only squeezed her shoulder and told her again to get some rest.
She shook her head at her own foolishness. Why would a man like Neo Stamos want to kiss her? Cass wasn’t in his league in any shape or form. And then there were her “issues.”
She wasn’t housebound. She could buy food on her own without getting overly stressed as long as she went to the local grocer she’d been going to since she was a child. Although she did most of her other shopping online, she could go to familiar department stores, if she really needed to. She had overcome most of her anxiety related to recording at the studio, so long as the technicians and music producer did not change. And her manager didn’t bring anyone in to watch her record.
Bob had stopped doing that after the last time she’d simply refused to play and gone home.
But today proved that she wasn’t approaching normal, either. Her agoraphobia was mostly limited to performing, but the prospect of having strangers in her home, her sanctuary, always engendered deep anxiety in her. The barrage of media outside her home had brought back debilitating memories.
She had no idea how long she would have remained in her en suite bathroom if Neo had not shown up. Certainly, knowing Bob was there earlier had only increased her stress levels, knowing as she did how he would want to capitalize on the situation.
She really didn’t understand why Neo’s presence had made such a difference, but she was unutterably grateful it had.
THE following morning, Cass was working on a piece she planned to cut onto her next CD when the doorbell rang. She ignored it. There had been no media vans outside her home this morning and Neo had released a statement that should set most wagging tongues at rest. But that didn’t mean an enterprising reporter would not come back looking for a quote from “the recluse pianist.”
Even after learning the truth, there would be some who insisted on believing the billionaire and Cass had some sort of relationship. After all, that made better news copy than the fact he was taking piano lessons.