“Then he has to believe it isn’t a date.” Goodness’s head was spinning. Surely there was some social event he was obliged to attend. December was the month for that sort of function.

“Think,” Mercy demanded.

Suddenly the air brightened and with a sound like thunder the Archangel Gabriel joined them. He held a massive volume in his hands. The Book of Lives. “How’s it going, ladies?” he inquired.

The three of them rushed to give him brief updates. “Great,” Goodness said cheerfully.

“Yes—very good,” Mercy seconded.

“We think Julie Wilcoff is the answer to Anne’s prayer,” Shirley told him. “They’re together now.”

Gabriel seemed impressed. “And you three arranged that?”

Goodness swallowed hard. If she admitted their role in the bike accident, it could mean trouble. Much better if Gabriel didn’t know about their little scheme. “Not entirely,” she said—which was the truth. Still, it sounded becomingly modest.

“How’s Anne?” Gabriel surprised her by asking.

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy froze. If he found out that Shirley had appeared to Anne, they could forget ever coming to Earth again. “Fine,” Goodness said, and to her horror her voice squeaked. “She’s painting Roy’s office windows on Wednesday.”

“An angel scene, if I remember correctly,” Gabriel said, studying them carefully.

“What a nice idea.” Mercy looked frantically to her friends for help.

“I can’t imagine where she came up with that idea.” Gabriel’s eyes seemed to bore straight through them.

The three of them huddled close together. “It’s that time of year, isn’t it?” Goodness asked. “I mean, humans seem to associate Christmas with angels.”

Mercy spread her wings and stepped forward. “Glory to God in the Highest,” she said.

“Glory to God,” Shirley echoed.

“Exactly,” Goodness said. “We were there to announce the good news to the shepherds that night. Well, not us, exactly, but angels like us.”

“I know all about that night, Goodness.”

“Of course you do,” she said.

“Now, back to the matter of Anne’s prayer request.”

“Yes, Your Archangelness,” Mercy said.

Her friend didn’t play the role of innocent well, Goodness thought. She resisted the urge to elbow Mercy, since she couldn’t do it without being obvious.

“What are your plans?” Gabriel asked, scrutinizing them.

“Funny you should ask,” Goodness said. “We were just discussing that. I don’t think Roy’s going to come right out and ask Julie for a date. He wouldn’t be comfortable with such a direct approach.”

“He enjoys watching the parade of boats,” Gabriel said, flipping through the pages of the book. He looked up again. “Were you aware of that?”

It was all Goodness could do not to sidle over and take a peek.

Gabriel’s attention returned to the page. “The last couple of Decembers, he’s stood on his balcony alone and watched the decorated watercraft float by.”

“And he’s wished there was someone with him to share the experience,” Shirley said. Goodness figured she was just guessing, but she’d probably guessed right.

Gabriel confirmed it. “That wish has been fleeting, but it is one he’s entertained.”

“Julie’s so athletic, I’ll bet she’s a great sailor. She loves the water,” Mercy ventured.

“So does Roy,” Gabriel said. “Or he did at one time. Unfortunately, he hasn’t sailed in years.”

“Aimee used to sail with him, didn’t she?” Goodness asked, although she was fairly sure she knew the answer.

“Roy sold his sailboat after they split up. He hasn’t been out on Puget Sound since.”

“How sad for him.” Shirley sighed as she said it.

“Perhaps we could—”

“Carry on,” Gabriel said. He seemed to be in a hurry now. “You’re doing a fine job so far.”

“We are?” Goodness couldn’t keep herself from saying. “I mean, yes, I know. We’re working very hard on this request.”

“Good.” Then as quickly as he’d come, the Archangel vanished.

Goodness relaxed. Gabriel had yet to recall them from an assignment, but there was always a chance he would, especially with Shirley disobeying the angels’ number one rule: no revelations to humans.

Perhaps they were safe, for now anyway. She certainly hoped so.

Roy slept better on Monday night than he had in months. He always fell asleep easily enough but then he’d wake up two or three hours later. Often he roamed around his condo for much of the night, unable to get back to sleep. During the past few years, he’d tried any number of remedies, all of them useless.

As the alarm sounded, he rolled over and stared at the clock, astonished that he’d slept the entire night uninterrupted. That never happened, at least not anymore.

Roy felt rested and refreshed as he got into the shower. He stopped short when he realized he was humming a Christmas carol. Christmas music? Him? Something was going on, and he wasn’t sure what. Thrusting his face under the spray, he let the water hit him full force. It occurred to him that his good night’s sleep was because of the evening spent with Julie. He liked her. Julie Wilcoff was different from any woman he’d ever known. His money didn’t impress her, that was for sure. And she didn’t seem to care about his position in the business world. If any other woman had behaved this way, he would’ve assumed she was pretending, but Julie was genuine. Even a cynic like him could recognize that much.

Roy had often been the target of women looking for a free ride. He saw himself as reasonably wealthy and reasonably attractive; he knew he could date just about anyone he wanted. However, the idea of dating any woman after Aimee had become repugnant to him. Until Julie. He wasn’t convinced he liked this, wasn’t convinced he was making the right move or that he was interested in making any move at all.

When Roy arrived at the office, it seemed his whole staff was watching him. He felt their eyes on him as he strode through the lobby and toward the elevator. People turned and stared, and he heard a few hushed and badly disguised whispers. He resisted the urge to stop and ask, “What?”

Once inside his office, he followed his normal routine. Ms. Johnson phoned to remind him of a meeting. The Griffin Plastics file was still on his desk and he picked it up reluctantly. He decided he needed more information before making a final decision.

“Could you ask Dean Wilcoff to be available after my meeting?” Roy asked. “I’d like to talk to him.”

“I’ll see to it right away.”

“Thank you.”

She hesitated as if she’d never heard him express his appreciation before. “Will that be all, Mr. Fletcher?”

“Yes.” He hung up the phone and leaned back in his soft leather chair, folding his hands. Something was in the air, something he couldn’t explain. He didn’t know what was different, but there was definitely a change, and it wasn’t just him.

The meeting, concerning the launch of a new line of security software for home computers, ran smoothly. Roy hurried back to his office when it ended, and Dean Wilcoff came a few minutes later. “You asked to see me?” the man said as Ms. Johnson showed him in. He certainly didn’t waste any time, Roy observed. He got right to the point.

“I did. Sit down.” Roy gestured to the chair across from his desk. He wanted to talk to Wilcoff, but the matter wasn’t business-related. Julie had been on his mind from the moment he’d left her last night, and he realized he knew very little about her. They’d talked, but she wasn’t one to dwell on herself, unlike a lot of women he’d known. Most wanted to impress him. Julie had surprised him in that way, too.

Dean sat close to the edge of the chair, apparently ill at ease.

“Did Julie mention we had dinner together last night?” Dean had called Julie to say he’d be home late, and Roy had left before Dean’s return.

“She did,” Roy’s head of security answered stiffly.

“How old is Julie?” Roy had never thought to inquire, not that it was important.

Dean stiffened. “You should ask my daughter that, sir.”

Ever respectful, Roy noted, and unwilling to mingle his personal life with his professional one. He tried another tactic. “While we were having pizza, Julie told me she’s a twin.”

Dean nodded but volunteered no additional information.

“I gave her a ride home from the office last night,” Roy said, testing the waters, wading in a little deeper this time.

“So she said.”

“I tried to get her to accept my settlement offer.”

Dean didn’t respond.

“She refused.”

“My daughter’s over twenty-one and makes her own decisions,” Dean informed him.

“As she should,” Roy murmured.

Dean met his eyes. “I’ve asked her to apologize for her behavior yesterday.”

This should be interesting. “And she agreed?” Frankly, Roy would be surprised if she did. He’d tried to talk sense into her over pizza and she’d been as stubborn as ever. Judging by her dogged refusal, Roy didn’t expect her to change her mind about his offer anytime soon.

“Julie said she’d give the matter of an apology some thought.”

Roy smiled. So she hadn’t ruled it out altogether. He admired her for that.

“Is there anything else?” Wilcoff asked, transparently eager to leave.

“Yes. Did I tell you my mother will be here at some point on Wednesday?”

“You did.” Dean stood. “You said she’d be painting the lobby windows.”

Roy stood, too. “I’ll check in with you later about Julie.”

“What about her?”

Roy saw that he’d spoken out of turn. “About…whether she decides to apologize or not.”

“That’s up to my daughter.”

“Yes, of course. No reflection on your job performance, Dean, which to this point has been excellent.”

“Thank you.”

Roy nodded, dismissing the other man.

Dean moved to the door, then turned and met Roy’s gaze. “Are you romantically interested in my daughter?”

Roy’s throat went dry. Romantically interested in Julie? Instinct told him to deny it immediately, but he wasn’t sure. “Would it bother you if I was?”

“Again, that’s my daughter’s business. And yours.”

“Yes, it is,” Roy said. Theirs and nobody else’s.

Shirley and Goodness, hovering above the office, nudged each other. Mercy gave them a thumbs-up and a big grin.

Kudos to Dean, they all decided, for having the nerve to ask.

Romantically interested? Yes!

Eleven

Anne was enjoying herself. Paintbrush in hand, she stood in the large lobby of her son’s office building and spread the bright colors across the smooth glass, creating a festive greeting for all to see. She’d drawn the outlines with a felt-tip pen and was now filling in the figures, using acrylic paints.

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