"I’ll be by later this afternoon,” Paul promised.

He replaced the telephone receiver and buried his face in his hands. He was tired. The last time he’d taken time away had been…He paused, needing to think about it. Longer than it should have been, he decided. Steve had a good idea. Getting away for a couple of days held a lot of appeal.

Maybe when Joe arrived the two of them could take some time and go hiking. It would do Paul a world of good to escape the pressures of the church. That was all he really needed. Time away. Away from the stress and strain of the church. Away from the demands of the many who looked to him for answers when he had none to give.

Not anymore.

"Paul’s special man,” Gabriel said, joining Goodness.

"He’s warm and generous and loving,” Goodness agreed.

"But…”

"But he’s under a lot of pressure at the moment,” the prayer ambassador surmised. "It seems to me his secretary is a bit more bossy than she needs to be.”

"Perhaps,” Gabriel agreed. His hands were linked behind his back, and he paced in front of Goodness like a drill sergeant with a raw recruit.

She had the feeling these questions were a test of some kind. Whether she received this assignment to earth or not depended on her answers.

"His friend doesn’t seem to be much of a friend, either.”

Gabriel’s gaze narrowed on her. "How do you mean?”

"Well, it seems to me that a real friend would be willing to listen to Paul instead of making sweeping assumptions about his well-being.”

Gabriel nodded several times. "Someone must realize all isn’t right, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people praying for Paul Morris.”

"Well.” Goodness rubbed her palms back and forth several times. Her career as a prayer ambassador might rest on her response. "The trouble with Reverend Morris is much worse than most anyone suspects.”

"Is that right?”

Goodness nodded, her movements emphatic. "People think he misses his wife.”

"And he doesn’t?” Gabriel’s bushy eyebrows reached all the way to his hairline.

"Of course he does, but his troubles are much more complex than that. I’m afraid Reverend Paul Morris is one of the most desperate cases I’ve seen.”

"Desperate?” Gabriel repeated.

"Yes.” Goodness was less confident than earlier.

"What ails this man isn’t going to be fixed by a voice through a television screen.”

Goodness felt her pale cheeks fill with color. Yet she knew what the archangel said was true. "Why, that would be utterly…”

"Ridiculous,” Gabriel supplied.

"It could work, but then I’d never attempt anything like that again,” she said just to be on the safe side.

"What exactly is the problem with Reverend Morris?” Gabriel asked her outright.

Goodness blinked, surprised by his abruptness. "I thought you knew.”

"You tell me.”

"Paul Morris is infected with the most demanding of human maladies,” Goodness murmured, saddened to speak the words aloud. "The dear man’s deeply discouraged. He doesn’t believe God heard his prayers, and now he wonders if He ever did.”

Gabriel patted her shoulder gently. "You’ve judged his condition accurately.”

Goodness brightened. "Does this mean I can work on this prayer request?”

Gabriel hesitated. "You said yourself that this was the most demanding of human troubles.”

"Yes, but…”

"Unfortunately you lack the experience.”

"But I can help him, I know I can,” Goodness insisted.

"How do you propose to do that?”

"I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’ll think of something. I always do.”

Gabriel frowned.

"Without tricks,” she promised, folding her hands as if she were praying. She looked up at him with large, pleading blue eyes.

"I’ve heard that line before.”

"This time I mean it.”

"What about all those other times?” Gabriel pressed.

Goodness always meant to keep her promises. "This is different,” she vowed.

"Answer me this,” Gabriel said, ushering them both back to where Mercy sat waiting. When they appeared, Mercy, the third prayer ambassador, leaped to her feet as if she’d been sitting on a mattress spring.

"Yes?” Goodness said, following on Gabriel’s heels.

"How did you know about Paul Morris?”

"Ah…” Goodness and Mercy exchanged knowing looks.

"She said his name jumped right off the page,” Mercy supplied when Goodness’s answer wasn’t immediately forthcoming.

Gabriel ceased pacing. "Overruled again,” he mumbled under his breath.

"What did he say?” Mercy whispered out of the side of her mouth.

"Something about being overdone.”

"Overruled,” Gabriel barked. His hands were clasped behind his back once more, and he didn’t seem any too pleased.

"Is something wrong?” Again it was Mercy, curious to learn what she could.

"No,” Gabriel snapped.

"I think there must be,” Goodness whispered.

"Where’s Shirley?”

"Earth, I think,” Goodness suggested. Gabriel ignored them as best he could. He still hadn’t stopped frowning.

"Los Angeles?”

Goodness nodded, and the two gleefully shot their arms into the air and gave each other a high five. The sound echoed like a Chinese gong in the stillness.

Gabriel whirled around to confront the two. "Where did you two learn about high fives?”

The archangel had a stare a rattlesnake would envy.

"Ah…”

"You see, Mercy’s a Lakers fan.”

"You are, too.”

"I prefer the Seattle SuperSonics,” Goodness insisted, "but will cheer for the Lakers in a pinch.”

"Just exactly who are the Lakers?” Gabriel demanded.

"The Lakers,” Goodness explained, shocked at the archangel’s ignorance. "The Los Angeles professional basketball team. Does the name Magic mean anything to you, Gabe?”

Gabriel closed his eyes, and Goodness had the feeling he wasn’t exactly praying.

"You’ve got assignments for us, don’t you?” she asked triumphantly. She could think of no other reason for the archangel’s look of complete frustration.

"It seems you’ll to be working with Paul Morris after all,” Gabriel informed Goodness, looking downright unhappy with the situation.

Goodness doubled up her fist and shot it into the air, leaping several inches from the floor. "Yes!”

"What about me?” Mercy wanted to know, trailing after Gabriel, who continued his marine drill-sergeant pace.

"In a minute.” He turned and faced Goodness once more. "I’ll tolerate none of the craziness you pulled last Christmas, understand?”

"Perfectly.” Goodness snapped to attention.

"Can you tell me about my prayer assignment now?” Mercy pressed. "I don’t mean to be a problem, but I do think I’ve been waiting long enough.”

"Furthermore…” Gabriel paused when he felt Mercy tugging at his sleeve. "You wanted something?” he asked with a decided lack of patience.

"We need to talk.”

"Talk?”

Mercy nodded. "I really do hate to be a nuisance, especially when you’re in this frame of mind, but really, Gabriel, if you’re going to send Shirley and Goodness to Los Angeles, it only seems fair—”

"You’ll be assigned there as well.”

Goodness was relieved. As far as she was concerned, there wasn’t anything the three of them couldn’t do once they put their minds to it. The three of them together. God willing, of course.

"Do you know who Catherine Goodwin is?” Gabriel asked Mercy.

The other angel blinked, then shook her head. "No, should I know her?”

For the first time in what seemed like a good long while, Gabriel smiled. "Come and meet a wonderful woman. You’re going to like her very much.”

3

Catherine Goodwin adjusted the clasp of her antique brooch as she pinned it to the neckline of her silk blouse. She squared her shoulders and studied her image in the mirror on the back of her bedroom door. Her hair was pinned in a soft bun, more white now than gray, she noted.

Her fingers lightly touched the cameo she wore at her neck. She felt the love it represented as strongly now as she had fifty years earlier when Earl Standish had presented it to her. The light wool skirt and ivory-colored blouse were her best—she saved them for special occasions. Like this afternoon.

"I look like an old woman,” Catherine mumbled, then allowed her shoulders to relax before she smiled at her reflection. "But then, I am an old woman,” she admitted softly.

Catherine moved into her tiny kitchen and checked to be sure the china cups and tray were ready for her guests. Her very special guests.

Not wanting her grandson, Ted, and his lady friend to wait needlessly for her to be called downstairs, Catherine took the elevator to the large reception room of the Wilshire Grove Retirement Center.

"Catherine.” Joy Palmer, the resident service director for Wilshire Grove, joined her. Her eyes were warm and approving. "How lovely you look.”

Catherine blushed at the praise. Joy was a personal favorite of hers among the staff members. The majority of the employees of Wilshire Grove were extraordinarily good people, but Joy held a special place in Catherine’s heart.

Being around the service director every day was what kept Catherine thinking young. Although she was no more than twenty-five, Joy worked well with the retirees. She was patient and caring and, as far as Catherine was concerned, a rare jewel of a woman.

"Ted’s stopping by this afternoon,” Catherine explained.

"Well, no wonder you’re all spiffed up,” Joy said, and hugged Catherine’s shoulders. "Your grandson’s handsome enough to cause several hearts to flutter.”

"He’s certainly been good to me.” One of the major advantages to having Ted’s office in the downtown area of Los Angeles was that he was able to visit often. Generally he stopped in at the retirement center once or twice a week. Catherine looked forward to those times.

This visit, however, was different, because he was bringing along a young woman he wanted Catherine to meet. Ted had casually dropped Blythe’s name into their conversations several times in the last few weeks. Catherine realized he must be getting serious about her and was seeking his grandmother’s approval. Since Ted’s parents lived in Portland, Oregon, Catherine was the only family he had in California.

"He’s bringing a lady friend this time,” Catherine explained, "and I do so want to make a good impression.”

"You look divine,” Joy assured her.

The resident service director had such a streak of sweetness that Catherine wondered if she dare believe her.

***

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