The distant sound of choir practice floated from the sanctuary as Chloe burst into Liam’s office. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
Gaze fixed on his computer screen, Liam adjusted the dark-framed glasses that always made him look like a serious Zachary Levi. “Again? And how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me ‘Father’?”
“You work in a church. What else am I supposed to call you?” Chloe collapsed into the chair in front of his desk.
“Well, seeing as neither of us is Catholic, and I work as the communications director . . .”
“Bless me, Communications Director, for I have sinned? That doesn’t sound right.”
Eyes still glued to his computer, Liam dialed a number on his desk phone and placed it on speaker. “Alice? Remember our last staff meeting when we talked about not letting certain lunatics into the building?”
Chloe leaned over the desk. “It’s okay, Alice. He’s the communications director, so you probably had to let him in.”
Liam’s mouth twitched, and Alice’s laughter bubbled through the speaker phone. “You two crack me up. Thanks again for the brownies, sweetie.”
Liam ended the call, sending Chloe a smirk. “So is that the sin you came to confess? Bribery?”
“If only.” Chloe tugged her braid over her shoulder, fiddling with the dark auburn strands. “I’m assuming you’ve heard about Mrs. Panetti’s cat.”
“I heard he got ran over.” Liam’s fingers froze on the keyboard, his gray-eyed gaze hitting her with the force of a bullet. “Please don’t tell me you killed Mrs. Panetti’s cat.”
“I didn’t kill her cat.”
Liam’s shoulders sagged with relief as he reached for his coffee mug.
“But I may have given Mrs. Panetti the strong impression you and I are involved in a romantic entanglement.”
Liam sputtered on his coffee. “You what?”
“Well, you know how she’s always trying to set me up. And her cat had just died. What was I supposed to say?”
“‘I’m sorry’ usually works.”
“You don’t understand. She was devastated. Do you have any idea how much Mrs. Panetti loved that cat?”
“Considering how many times she added Sir Jiggles to the weekly prayer chain, I’d say I have a pretty good idea.” Liam removed his glasses and began massaging the bridge of his nose. “What I’m failing to grasp is how a seventeen-year-old cat’s tragic demise led to us having a romantic entanglement. And for the record, who uses the expression ‘romantic entanglement’?”
“Panicked people. That’s who.”
A knock sounded at the door. Max, the head minister, leaned inside with a bright smile. “Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to make sure Liam saw the email about the time change for this weekend’s picnic. We thought we better bump it back an hour so it didn’t interfere with the funeral for Sir Jiggles. Thanks.” His hefty footsteps faded down the hallway.
Liam aimed a thumb at the empty doorway. “I’m sorry, did Max just say we’re rescheduling the church’s annual picnic to accommodate a funeral for Sir Jiggles?”
“I do believe that’s what he said.”
“Who attends a funeral for a cat?”
Chloe fiddled with her braid again and cleared her throat. “Well, you and me, for starters.”
“Since we began our romantic entanglement.”
“Listen.” Chloe lifted a palm to silence him. “You know every week I drop off brownies for Mrs. Panetti. And you know every week Mrs. Panetti tries to set me up with her grandson. And you know it was going to take more than brownies to cheer up Mrs. Panetti after the death of Sir Jiggles.”
“Then you know I had to do something big. Like, agree to go out with her grandson. Except I could never agree to go out with her grandson. Not when he reminds me of that green guy off those cold medicine commercials.”
“Exactly. But that’s not the type of thing you can tell a woman about her grandson, is it? Especially a woman in mourning. So I said the next best thing, considering how much Mrs. Panetti adores you.”
“Since when does Mrs. Panetti adore me?”
“Since I told her you and I were involved in a romantic entanglement. And you know what? It worked. She was thrilled. And then, of course, she insisted we attend the funeral. How could I say no? Especially when she said how happy Sir Jiggles would have been to know you and I were together.”
Liam’s gaze dropped to his desk. “You lied.”
“I merely embellished the extent of our friendship. Come on, isn’t it worth pretending to be madly in love with me for the span of one little cat’s funeral if it eases an old woman’s sorrow?”
“Not if it’s a lie. I’m sorry, Chloe, but I could never pretend to be madly in love with you.”
“Oh.” Chloe palmed her stomach. Why did it feel like she’d been punched in the gut? She and Liam were just friends. The fact he’d never see her as anything more shouldn’t hurt like this, should it? Chloe rose from her seat. “Sorry. You’re right. I understand why you can’t go to the funeral with me.”
“I never said I couldn’t go to the funeral with you.”
“But you just said—”
Liam slowly rounded the desk. “I said I could never pretend to be madly in love with you.” Standing close, he dipped his mouth next to her ear. “Not when I’ve been truly madly in love with you for years.”
When he leaned back, shyness hovered beneath the surface of his usually confident gray eyes. Oh, what those words must have cost him.
“Say something,” he whispered.
Say something? Chloe smiled. Rising up on her toes, she grabbed his shirt and tugged him against her. When his arms circled her waist and his lips molded against hers, Chloe was certain nothing truer had ever been spoken between them.
God bless Sir Jiggles.