You’d think Beth had just announced that she’d set her wedding date.

“We met on WoW.”

“That ridiculous game?”

“Yes, Mom. I found out he lives in Seattle.”

“What’s his name?”


“Invite him to Christmas dinner,” Joyce said promptly. “I’ll do the full meal. Forget the potluck. I’ll entice him with my cooking—and I promise to teach you how. You know what they say about the way to a man’s heart.”


“I used to be scornful of those old wives’ tales, too,” her mother continued undaunted, “but so many of them are true. Now, don’t worry, I’ll downplay the fact that you don’t cook. Leave everything to me.” Her mother didn’t even attempt to hide her delight.

“Mother, no!” Good grief, for all she knew, Peter was married. She didn’t dare ask for fear he’d assume she was interested. All right, she was interested, but only because her mother had forced her into it.

“You’ve got one week to ask him.”


“I insist.”

Beth closed her eyes and before she could protest further, Joyce disconnected the line. Sighing, Beth hung up the phone. It was either arrive on Christmas Day with a man or disappoint her mother. She sighed again as she recalled that Joyce had resorted to prayer in order to find her a husband.

Beth loved her sister and she treasured little James and Bella, her nephew and niece, but Angela hadn’t done her any favors by marrying the exemplary Brian and then quickly producing two perfect grandchildren.

Trying to forget her woes, she logged back on to the game and was pleased to see that her partner was still online. She joined Peter and soon afterward he sent her a message.

How’d the conversation with your mother go?

Okay. She wished she hadn’t mentioned that she’d be talking to her family. She was more concerned with what had happened while she was Away From the Keyboard. Did I miss anything exciting when I was AFK?

Yeah. I teamed up with level 41 Dwarf Warrior and defeated the last two Warmongers to complete the Crush-ridge quest.

Beth sat up straighter. Wow. Great going.

You should’ve been here. I started pounding my chest.

You Tarzan? she joked.

Only if you’re Jane, came his reply.

Beth read the line a second time. He almost seemed to be flirting with her. Nah, he was just teasing, which they often did, bantering back and forth and congratulating each other. It would be easy to misread his intentions, and she didn’t want to make more of this than warranted.

When she didn’t respond to his comment, they returned to the game. Only later, when she’d logged off and headed for the shower, did Beth pause to reconsider.

If Peter had been flirting, and that was a huge if, perhaps she should make an effort to learn more about him.

Beth turned on the shower. These were the thoughts of a desperate woman, she told herself grimly. Signs of someone who’d sunk to a new low—finding a date for Christmas Day through an online computer game.


Gabriel gazed at Joyce Fischer’s prayer request, which had appeared in the Book of Prayers a few days earlier. The book rested on his desk, spread open, filling up almost as quickly as he could make assignments. Joyce had prayed countless times that her daughter would finally meet the right man. Gabriel shook his head as he tapped his finger against the page. It would help if Beth was amenable to a new relationship. After her divorce, Joyce Fischer’s daughter had completely closed herself off from men; this Peter, however, might be an interesting prospect.

“Gabriel?” He heard the timid voice of Goodness behind him. Gabriel knew the minute he’d assigned Mercy to Harry Alderwood’s request, Mercy’s usual companions wouldn’t be far behind. It would be just like Shirley and Goodness to want a piece of the action, too. Far be it from them to remain in Heaven while Mercy got an assignment on Earth.

“About Beth?” Goodness pressed.

The Prayer Ambassador regarded him with imploring eyes. Eyes so blue they seemed to glow. Gabriel wasn’t surprised to discover that Goodness had been reading over his shoulder. Apparently she was interested in the Beth Fischer assignment.

“What about her?” Gabriel asked, ignoring the plea in her eyes.

“She could use some help, don’t you think?”

“All humans have fallen short,” Gabriel explained, and while it was true, he took no pleasure in saying so.

“Which is why God assigned us to help.”

He couldn’t disagree with that.

“What’s going on with Beth?” Goodness asked, stepping closer to Gabriel’s desk and eyeing the huge Book of Prayers.

The Archangel stepped aside so Goodness could read Joyce Fischer’s entire request. He pictured Joyce in St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, kneeling by the altar rail and lighting a candle as she bowed her head and prayed for her daughter. Although Joyce had referred to grandchildren, the real desire of her heart was to see Beth happy. Joyce believed that a relationship, a marriage and family, was the way to make that happen for her daughter. Gabriel felt reasonably sure she was right.

“What about Kevin Goodwin?” Goodness asked.

Gabriel was impressed. Clearly Goodness had already done her research on Beth.

“They work together. Kevin is unattached,” Goodness continued.

“True,” Gabriel murmured. He’d considered Kevin himself, but apparently God had other plans for the young attorney—plans that didn’t include a relationship with Beth. Plus, there was the small matter of her company’s policy on workplace romance, which created a further complication. “Personally, I like Peter,” he said.

Goodness gave him an incredulous look. “From that computer game Beth’s hooked on? That Peter?”

Gabriel nodded.

Goodness thought about it and when she spoke again, she betrayed her reservations. “He’s a possibility, I guess.”

Gabriel arched one of his heavy white brows. “You guess?” As endearing as Goodness was, he wouldn’t accept insubordination from her or any of the other Prayer Ambassadors.

“Don’t misunderstand me, I like Peter quite a bit,” Goodness added hurriedly, obviously realizing she’d overstepped some invisible line. She should know by now, Gabriel grumbled to himself, that he took Prayer request protocol seriously.

“It’s just that I’m afraid the only way they’ll ever be able to communicate is as Night Elves,” she said after a moment’s pause.

This produced a smile. “Yes, well, the computer game’s a concern, but a minor one.”

“Beth likes Peter—doesn’t she?” Goodness asked.

Gabriel had to reflect on that question carefully. “She’s comfortable with him. With what she knows of him, anyway,” he finally said.

“That’s a start,” Goodness murmured in an uncertain voice.

“You have a problem with it?” Gabriel asked, genuinely interested in her reply.

“Not a problem…” Goodness hesitated. “I think it’s a sad state of affairs that humans are resorting to relationships through the computer. There’s no real intimacy—but I could be wrong. I’ll admit that’s happened before.”

Gabriel shrugged. “For some, it’s simply an easier way to meet people. In fact, a person’s character can be revealed in these role-playing games.” He nodded sagely, pleased with his up-to-date observation. “The way Beth and Peter are able to work together as partners, for example.”

“I suppose,” Goodness agreed with evident reluctance. “I still think it’s rather sad.”

Gabriel studied her. With her current attitude, he had to wonder if Goodness was the right choice for Beth.

“How’s she doing now?” Goodness asked.

“Shall we take a look?”

“Please.” Goodness sidled closer to the Archangel. “You are going to send me to Earth, aren’t you?”

Those same blue eyes gazed at him expectantly. Goodness wasn’t his first choice and he feared this request was too difficult for her. Another Prayer Ambassador, one with a little more experience in complicated situations, might serve better. One who wouldn’t be as tempted by things of the earth. Unfortunately—like Mercy—Goodness had a somewhat blemished reputation when it came to her prayer assignments. But even knowing that, Gabriel found he couldn’t refuse her. “You can join Mercy.”

“Oh, thank you,” Goodness trilled, clasping her hands together. Her wings fluttered rapidly with excitement, dropping a feather or two. “I won’t disappoint you, Gabriel. You have my word.”

“I’m counting on that.” He meant it, too. This was too important an assignment for her to bungle; it needed a delicate hand. He caught himself before warning Goodness. No, Gabriel decided, he’d let her unravel the revelations about Beth all on her own. This presented a growth opportunity for Goodness—and for Beth Fischer, too.

“What’s she doing now?” Goodness asked, crowding close to Gabriel in her eagerness to see Beth.

“It’s lunchtime,” Gabriel said. “She’s at a small waterfront restaurant with a friend.” With one sweep of his arms, Gabriel parted the veil of clouds that obscured the Earth below. At first, the view was hazy, but a few seconds later, the air cleared. Then, as though they were gazing through glass, Gabriel and Goodness saw Beth. She and her friend were seated at a table in a busy restaurant. A wreath in the nearby window was decorated with sprigs of holly and red Christmas balls.

Beth’s long dark hair was parted in the middle, and she wore a soft pink cashmere sweater with gray wool pants.

“She looks very pretty,” Goodness whispered.

Gabriel could only agree.

“So, what are your plans for Christmas?” Heidi asked as she picked up half of the tuna-salad sandwich they were sharing.

“I’ll spend it with my parents,” Beth said without any real enthusiasm. Already she was worried. Her mother had suggested—no, insisted—that Beth invite Peter to join them on Christmas Day. It was an unlikely scenario. After six months of impersonal conversation, she had no idea how they were going to make the transition from being WoW partners to friends to…well, dating each other. Sort of. A Christmas Day blind date—with her family, yet. She grimaced.

How could she possibly convince someone she’d never even seen to accompany her to one of the most important holiday functions of the year? She might as well ask for a miracle.

“You’ve drifted off again.”

Beth didn’t need to ask what her friend meant. She often grew quiet when something troubled her. “Can I ask you a question?” Beth asked, setting down her sandwich and leaning toward Heidi.

“Sure, anything. You know that.”

Beth considered the other woman one of her best friends. She’d been a member of Heidi’s wedding party and was godmother to her son, Adam.

“When you first met Sam…” she began. Heidi and Sam had just begun seeing each other when Beth met her; they’d now been married four years.