After several minutes, Julie pulled her mouth from his. “I…I’ve got bread under the broiler.”

Only then did Roy smell the burning bread. He released her and, because his knees felt weak, walked into the living room and sat down. Shrugging off his coat, he struggled to regain his equilibrium. A minute later, he carried his overcoat to the hall closet and collected the wine, which he placed on the coffee table.

Julie returned just as he sat down again. “Thankfully I picked up two loaves,” she said. Offering him a shy smile, she started to walk past him to the chair opposite his.

Roy grabbed her hand, weaving his fingers through hers. “I want to talk.”

“All right.” Her dark eyes were solemn.

He drew her into his lap and resumed the kissing they’d begun in the hallway. Cradling her, he slipped his hand beneath her sweater and groaned as he encountered her breasts. His kisses turned greedy and urgent and—

A loud ding startled him and he broke off the kiss.

“That’s the oven timer,” Julie explained, and gazed at him, her eyes warm. “Don’t let it interrupt you.” She frowned playfully. “On the other hand, I don’t want to burn my last loaf of bread.” She slid off his lap and hurried to the kitchen. “Hold that kiss—I mean thought,” she called over her shoulder.

Roy grinned when she came back and returned to her position on his lap. “I was serious about wanting to talk,” he said after a quick kiss.

“I can see that,” she teased.

“The problem is, you’re way too tempting.”

She rolled her eyes, but the smile didn’t leave her lips. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I can’t think when we’re this close.”

“Would you like me to move?”

“No…yes.”

She slid off his lap a second time and sat on the sofa across from him.

“How long do you intend to live with your father?” he asked, leaning forward.

The question appeared to surprise her. “I…I was thinking of renting an apartment after the first of the year.”

“Don’t,” he said.

Her eyes narrowed. “Why not? Dad needs to make his own life now and—”

“Move in with me.” He hadn’t broached the subject with much finesse, but he saw no reason to wait.

Julie didn’t answer and her silence unnerved him.

“I take it you’re not looking for a roommate to share expenses,” she finally said in what was presumably an effort at humor.

“We both know what I’m asking.”

“Yes…well.” She took a breath and then slowly exhaled. “We…only met a few weeks ago.”

“We know how we feel—what we want.”

She lowered her gaze rather than confess the truth.

“Julie,” he said, “we’re adults.”

Slowly she raised her eyes to meet his, and he read her indecision. Hoping to persuade her, he stood up and crossed to the sofa, sitting beside her. Clasping Julie’s hands, he brushed his mouth over hers. “We’d be good together,” he whispered.

“I think so, too.”

“Then why the hesitation?”

She shook her head.

“Come on,” he urged. “Tell me.”

“I’d hate to disappoint my father—I don’t know how he’d feel about this.”

Roy wanted to remind her that she was thirty years old and fully capable of making decisions without consulting her father. In any event, based on what he knew of Dean Wilcoff, the man wouldn’t stand in their way.

“I’m afraid he’d do something rash,” Julie said.

“Like what?” Roy couldn’t imagine him doing any such thing. Dean was a sensible man. He wouldn’t intrude on his daughter’s life. He’d accept whatever Julie wanted and keep his mouth shut—as he should.

“He wouldn’t approve.”

“So?”

“So,” she continued, “I suspect he’d quit his job.”

“That decision is his, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” she agreed after a lengthy pause. “But he needs this job and for more than the money. It’s been wonderful for him, Roy. I’m so grateful you gave Dad a chance to feel productive again. It’s been exactly what he needed.”

“Leave your father to me,” he told her. Roy would square the situation with Dean and make sure he had no objections.

Still Julie hesitated.

“You don’t need to decide right this minute. Take a few days, think it over. I’m not going to withdraw the offer.”

A tremulous smile lifted the corners of her mouth. Roy was disappointed by her lack of excitement, although he wouldn’t admit it. He’d hoped Julie would show as much enthusiasm for his idea as he felt himself.

Then it hit him. Naturally she was hesitant. She wanted it all, especially that ring on her finger, before she moved in with him.

“You want me to marry you first, don’t you?”

“That’s the way it’s generally done,” she said. “So…yes, I guess I do.”

He appreciated her honesty and felt he couldn’t be any less honest with her. “Sorry, Julie, it isn’t going to happen. I’m not interested in marriage.”

She took the news easily enough.

“Fine,” she said, her voice just a bit unsteady. “But what are you offering me?”

Roy shrugged. “I’m offering you a place in my life and in my home. I’ll be generous and attentive.” He couldn’t think of anything else she’d want. Although he hadn’t spelled it out, he intended to give her all the things women craved. She could buy whatever she wanted: jewels, clothes, cars. It was up to her.

“I don’t doubt that you’d be good to me.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“For how long?”

His patience was slipping. “You want guarantees?”

“Six weeks? Three months? A year?”

“How am I supposed to know? For however long the two of us last.” That should satisfy her. The way he felt just then, it could be a very long time, but she was right—maybe it wouldn’t. Who could tell?

“You’ve done contracts with other businesses, haven’t you?”

Roy had the feeling she was thinking out loud. “Yes—”

“You were ready to make a commitment to them, weren’t you?”

“Yes—”

“But you aren’t willing to make a commitment to me.”

Ah, he was beginning to understand. “I can break a contract for a price. Is that what you’re talking about?”

“Are you suggesting payment?”

He should have wised up by now, but she’d had him fooled. Still, he didn’t care. He was a man accustomed to paying for what he wanted. At the moment that was Julie, and he wanted her badly.

“Fine,” he said. “We can draw up a financial agreement.”

She pulled her hands free of his. “That wasn’t what I meant. I don’t think you realize how insulting that is, Roy.”

“Insulting? I thought it was what you wanted. Okay,” he said, doing his best to figure her out. “Just tell me what it would take—other than marrying you—to get you to move in with me.” He couldn’t make it any plainer than that. Aimee had moved in without a moment’s hesitation. He couldn’t understand why Julie needed all this discussion.

“I don’t know…I want to think this through.” As if in a daze, she stood and walked slowly back to the kitchen.

Roy followed her. This night wasn’t going the way he’d anticipated. He’d never been much good with relationships, and his experience with Aimee hadn’t helped.

“What about love?” she asked, suddenly turning around.

Roy had come to detest the word. He didn’t know what it was anymore. “Julie, you’re searching for an excuse, and I’m not going to give it to you. You’re looking for ways to talk yourself out of something we both want. This would be an agreement between two mature people who are strongly attracted to each other. Nothing more and nothing less.”

“What about your mother?”

“What about her? She’d be thrilled. She’s been saying for a long time that I work too hard, and she’s right. Knowing her, she’ll kiss you on both cheeks and thank you.”

Julie didn’t seem to believe him.

“If it’s any consolation, you should know I’ve only had one other woman live with me.” Aimee. And whatever happened with Julie, it couldn’t possibly end as badly as that relationship.

Taking two bowls and two wineglasses from the cupboard, Julie set them on the counter. “I want to think this through,” she said again. She gave him a weak smile. “Like you said, this offer is good for more than twenty-four hours.”

“Take all the time you need.” But he wanted her in his home and in his bed. The sooner the better.

Twenty

“I don’t know about anyone else,” Goodness said, still in a huff, pacing inside Roy’s office. “But I’m outraged.” She fluttered her wings so her friends would know she wasn’t kidding.

Papers slid off Roy’s desk and he looked up, clearly puzzled by the sudden draft.

“Roy’s a man,” Mercy chided her, far too willing to overlook his weaknesses. “What do you expect?”

“And I’m an angel,” Goodness said right back. “What do you expect?”

“These are human matters,” Shirley insisted, lurking behind Roy’s chair. “We can’t interfere.”

“Julie knows better. Mark my words—she’ll refuse to do it.”

Mercy sighed and sat on the corner of Roy’s fancy desk, protecting his files from further disruption. “I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you. She’s tempted.”

“Then we’ll untempt her.”

Shirley shook her head. “That’s not our department. They send in the Warrior Angels to deal with temptations.”

True, but Goodness had intense feelings when it came to the humans involved in her prayer requests. Shirley, Goodness and Mercy had worked hard to bring these two together. She no longer felt any uncertainty about their choice; Julie was the woman Anne had prayed for. After all their efforts, the least Roy could do was marry her! Time was running out. They had to think of something quickly if he was going to propose by Christmas Eve. After that, they were off the case. Oh, dear, this could turn into a real disaster and of course Gabriel would blame the three of them.

“We’ve got to make Julie see sense,” Goodness said urgently. If Mercy was right, then Julie might indeed give in to temptation. The prayer request was ambiguous; Anne hadn’t stated that Roy needed to marry this woman, although it was implied.

“He hasn’t heard from her in two days.” Mercy flipped the pages of Roy’s desktop calendar.

“Don’t do that,” Goodness cried, slapping Mercy’s hand. “He might see you.”

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