“I know all about it,” Roy whispered back.

Julie rolled her eyes. “Who are you calling stubborn?”

“Well,” her father said. “Enough squabbling. Now if you two will excuse me, I’ll get ready for church.”

Julie didn’t stop him although there was at least an hour before they needed to leave. She heard him turn on the radio in his room, presumably to give them greater privacy.

All of a sudden Julie and Roy were sitting at the dining room table alone. She wanted to remind him of his claim that he wasn’t interested in love—and then remembered her mother’s saying about keeping her ears open and her mouth shut. Good advice, and once again she planned on taking it.

“You don’t have anything you want to say?” Roy asked, sounding uncharacteristically hesitant.

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

Roy took her hand and clasped it tightly. “This might not make a whole lot of sense, but I feel as though I got specific orders to come here tonight.”

“Orders from whom? Your mother?”

“No…I have no idea who sent me, but I know beyond a doubt that I was supposed to be here.”

Her heart began to beat faster. “Did you want to come?”

“More than anything, Julie, only I didn’t realize it. I was doing what your mother said—running away from the pain.”

“Oh, how I wish you’d known her.”

“I think I already do,” he said. “I know you, Julie, and I know your heart is good and that you have a gift for reaching out to others.”

She looked away, uncomfortable with his compliments.

“I know you aren’t influenced by money and that I can trust you with my heart.”

“Your heart?” she repeated, her voice low and unsteady.

“I once asked you to move in with me.”

Her throat started to close again, and she found it almost impossible to speak. “Is that why you’re here?” she managed.

“No. I can say that was a mistake. I want to make you a permanent part of my life.”

“Are…are you asking me to marry you?”

His fingers tightened around hers. “That would be a good place to start.”

“You mean there’s more?”

He chuckled. “About fifty years more, I’d say. Longer, if we’re lucky. I’d like to begin our new life soon. Is that all right by you?”

“Children?”

He nodded. “A dozen, at least.”

“Roy, be serious!”

“Okay, two or three, whatever we decide when the time comes. My mother’s anxious for grandchildren and I wouldn’t dream of disappointing her.”

This was all happening so fast Julie couldn’t keep up.

A strangled ringing sound startled her, and she looked around.

“It’s my cell,” Roy said, removing it from his pocket. He flipped the tiny phone open and glanced at the number. “My mother. I wonder why she’s calling me so late. It’s after eleven in New York.”

“Answer it,” Julie said. “We have some great news.”

He looked at her expectantly.

Julie smiled. “You can tell her I’ve accepted your marriage proposal.”

Roy’s eyes were warm and loving as he reached for her with one hand, pushing the talk button on his cell phone with the other.

This was the most wonderful Christmas Eve of her life, and Julie gave silent thanks.

Was it a coincidence that “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” began to play on the radio at that very moment?

Twenty-Six

“Roy! Oh, Roy!” Anne was so excited she could hardly speak. “In a million years you won’t believe what’s happened.”

“I have some pretty incredible news, too,” he said.

Despite her preoccupation with her own joy, Anne could hear the happiness in her son’s voice. “Tell me,” she said.

“Julie has agreed to be my wife.”

Tears of joy instantly pricked Anne’s eyes. This was much more wonderful than she’d dared dream. “That’s marvelous!”

“We haven’t set a date, but I know it’ll be soon. I’ve been waiting my entire life for her, Mom. I can’t believe what a fool I was all this time. You must have wanted to throw up your hands.”

“I prayed that God would send a special woman into your life,” she whispered. Her prayer had been heartfelt, but she’d almost given up hope. Coping with her own problems, struggling to keep her head above water financially, Anne had tried hard to help her son. It had seemed hopeless for so long, she’d lost confidence that any woman was capable of touching his heart. And then he’d met Julie….

“Let me put her on the phone,” Roy said.

“Yes, please.” Anne felt so full of happiness she was practically overwhelmed. So much good news, and all at once.

“Anne…” Julie’s tentative voice came over Anne’s cell phone.

“Julie, Merry Christmas!” Anne burst out. “Roy gave me this phone for Christmas, and you’re the first call I’ve made on it. I always thought of them as a nuisance, but tonight it’s worth its weight in gold. I understand my son’s finally come to his senses and asked you to marry him.”

“He did and it didn’t take me long to answer him, either.”

“You’re going to be a beautiful bride and exactly the wife he needs.”

“Thank you—I certainly plan to try. I feel so blessed.”

“Oh, me, too,” Anne said fervently.

“I’ll give the phone back to Roy now.”

Anne could hear soft, loving sounds as the phone was transferred back to her son. “All right, Mother,” Roy said, “I’m glad you’re using your new cell. Now what’s your news?”

“You won’t believe this,” she said again, and because she couldn’t help it, she broke into giggles.

“Then tell me,” Roy said.

“My painting of the angel sold.”

“Congratulations! From the excitement in your voice, it must’ve been for a lot of money. The last I heard, you thought it might go for as much as twenty-five thousand.”

“Try a hundred and fifty.”

“What?”

“A bidding war drove up the price, but that’s not the best part.”

“What’s the best part? What could possibly be better than that?”

“Oh, Roy, just you wait until I tell you who bought the painting.” She paused, relishing the justice of it. “The check was written by Burton Fletcher. Your father.”

Her announcement was followed by shocked silence.

“Why would Dad write you a check for that amount of money?” Roy finally asked.

“First,” Anne explained, “he didn’t know it was me.”

“But—”

“Since I paint under the name of Mary Fleming, your father had no way of knowing that the woman who painted the angel was his ex-wife. Marta knew, of course, and she already had someone else interested, so she was able to use the other party to drive up the price.”

“Go back to the beginning,” Roy said.

“Marta—you remember my college friend who runs an art gallery here in New York?”

“Yes, yes, of course I remember her. You’re staying at her place. Go on with your story.”

“Well, when she shipped the painting to New York and hung it in the gallery, she put up a sign that said it wasn’t for sale. But then Aimee came into the gallery and fell in love with it.”

“Aimee,” Roy repeated. “When she stopped by the office, she’d obviously been on a recent shopping spree. And, of course, there was her bargain with Dad—a phone call from me in exchange for…your painting, as it turns out.”

“She wanted my angel in the worst way.”

“And Dad actually forked out that kind of money to buy it for her.”

“He did,” Anne said, unable to keep the laughter from her voice. “But he had no idea he was giving me a big chunk of what I should’ve gotten in the first place. He cheated me with the divorce settlement and now…”

“You always did say that what goes around comes around,” Roy said, sounding as satisfied as she was. “I think that painting must be very special.”

“Thank you, Roy. I do, too, but I never dreamed it would sell for such an outrageous amount of money.”

“Does Dad know yet?” her son asked.

“I’m not telling him.” Although it was tempting to do so, Anne had resisted. “I suspect that sooner or later he’ll discover it on his own.”

“Yes, I suppose he will. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he figures it out.”

“There’s more good news,” Anne said, unable to contain herself. “Marta said she could sell as many angel paintings as I want to paint. There seems to be a real demand for them now. I think I’ve finally found my niche.”

“That’s great, Mom.”

Her son seemed genuinely pleased for her. “I’m planning to paint one for you and Julie as a wedding gift. It seems to me that we’ve all had angels watching over us.”

“We’d like that very much.”

“Marta and her husband—”

“I thought they’d separated.”

Anne had nearly forgotten. With so much else going on, her friend’s news had slipped her mind. “Jack and Marta are back together. Jack was seeing someone else, but apparently it wasn’t as serious as Marta assumed. They’re going to a counselor and are determined to work on their marriage.”

“I’m glad for them.”

“Life just seems to get better and better,” Anne said, sighing softly, tired now and elated at the same time.

“Yes, it does,” her son agreed. “Better and better.”

“We did it!” Goodness was thrilled. Leaping up and down in the choir loft at the First Christian Church of North Seattle, she didn’t even try to sit still. The church was rapidly filling as families streamed in from the vestibule.

Roy, Julie and Dean walked into the crowded sanctuary and found seats near the front. They were too late to find a pew in the back, where Dean preferred to sit.

“Isn’t the altar lovely?” Shirley said with a sigh, pointing toward the poinsettias arranged around the table that held the Advent wreath. All four candles were lit, their flames flickering, little dances of delight.

“I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen Roy propose to Julie with my own eyes,” Mercy said contentedly. “I have to tell you, scenes like this always get to me.”

“Do they now,” Gabriel said from behind them.

Shirley, Goodness and Mercy whirled around to face the Archangel. Goodness held her breath, convinced that Gabriel was going to chastise them for their earthly manipulations. They’d become far more involved in the things of the world than ever before, but surely Gabriel had made allowances on their behalf, knowing the challenge they’d had with Roy.

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