Goodness frowned meaningfully before she explained. “It appears that Beth’s confidence in her ability to choose a life partner has been badly shaken. She doesn’t trust her heart.”

“Why is that?” Shirley asked.

“I don’t know for sure. I’ve been watching and studying Beth, and she’s a wonderful woman. It’s just that…that…” She hesitated. “It’s just that I’m afraid she’s still in love with her ex-husband. How am I supposed to help her get over him and involved with someone else in only one week? It’s impossible.”

Mercy could understand her friend’s dilemma. “Didn’t you tell me her ex has remarried?”


“Then you need to teach her to let go,” Shirley said unequivocally. “This happens all the time. It’s been almost ten years and she has to move on.”

“I agree, but it’s going to be difficult to convince Beth of that. Thanks for the advice, though.” To Mercy’s ear, Goodness sounded a little—just a little—sarcastic.

“I’ll help you,” Shirley said.

“No,” Goodness returned immediately. “I appreciate the offer, but I can handle Beth on my own. She’ll be in Leavenworth this weekend.”

“Really?” Shirley moved her hand to her chin in a thoughtful gesture.

“Her friend Heidi invited her to come here for the Christmas festivities. No town does it better than Leavenworth—or so I’ve heard.”

“What about your assignment?” Mercy asked, directing the question to Shirley.

For the first time, the other angel seemed unsettled. “Yes, well, my assignment is deceptively simple—on the outside.”

“I don’t believe you mentioned whose request you’ve been sent to answer.”

“It’s a boy named Carter,” Shirley mumbled. “He wants a dog for Christmas.”

Mercy swallowed a protest. She was dealing with a dying old man who had pressing concerns for his family. Goodness had to guide a young woman with a broken heart. And all Shirley had to do was find a little boy a dog! Talk about easy! Mercy could manage that with one wing tied behind her back.

“As I explained, my assignment is deceptively simple, but—”

“Yes, deceptively.” Mercy looked at Goodness. “Listen, I’d love to stay and chat awhile, but I’ve got work to do.”

“Me, too,” Goodness said.

“Yes, well, Carter and his sister are in school, so I’ve got a few minutes to spare,” Shirley informed her friends.

“I’m sure you do,” Mercy said and promptly disappeared. Goodness followed, leaving Shirley sitting alone in the grocery foyer.

A minute later, Mercy returned, hovering behind Shirley, who hadn’t moved from her position on the motorized grocery cart. Shirley seemed to assume the other two had left the premises, and Mercy let her think that. She studied the cart for a moment. These little numbers were a breeze to operate. Not that Shirley, so righteous and well-behaved, would know that…. With the lightest touch of her finger, Mercy fired the cart’s engine to life.

Stunned, Shirley glanced around, obviously wondering what had changed and why. Mercy wasn’t about to tell her. The cart took off into the store with Shirley on board.

Shoppers gasped and leaped out of the way. Several people reached for their cell phones to snap pictures of the runaway cart, careering through the store minus a rider.

Mercy covered her mouth to hold back a laugh. Goodness joined her, laughing, too. Shirley wasn’t nearly so calm.

“Mercy!” she screamed. “Help! Do something.”

“I believe she already did.” Goodness chuckled and disappeared once again. Mercy did, too. Since Shirley had time on her hands, she could use it figuring out how to turn off the cart.


Beth wasn’t imagining it. The relationship between her and Peter had shifted since the night of her mother’s call. That’d been two days ago, and whenever they logged on to the game she lowered her guard a fraction more. So did Peter.

The biggest difference was that they chatted far more than strictly necessary. And their messaging didn’t concern the game as much as it did each other.

You’re right on time, I notice, he wrote when she logged on.

Beth kicked off her shoes as she settled into the chair by her desk. She set aside the soda she was drinking in order to respond. You’re ahead of schedule.

I was anxious.

Beth read his words and leaned away from her desk. She wasn’t sure how to decipher that comment. Did Peter mean he was anticipating her arrival? Or was he implying that he was worried she’d be late? It was hard to tell.

Anxious why? she asked, preferring the direct approach.

To talk to you.

Now that they’d reached level forty in World of Warcraft, the option to purchase a mount had been offered to them. It was a big advantage and one they’d been considering. Any particular reason? she asked, wondering if that was what he wanted to discuss.


That didn’t tell her anything. Would you care to explain?

His reply didn’t come for a couple of minutes, as if he needed to think about it first. So this obviously wasn’t about the possibility of adding a mount to their list of resources.

We’ve been partners—how long? he asked instead.

Six months.

It seems longer.

Again Beth didn’t know what to make of that. Really?

I trust you.

She laughed. As well you should. I’ve covered your butt often enough, oh mighty Timixie.

I’ve covered yours, too.

For which I’m most grateful.

That’s only appropriate.

Beth laughed, enjoying the light, teasing quality of their exchange. She typed quickly. Are you going to chatter all night or are we going to play?

Can’t we do both?

Beth felt a rush of warmth. It was a pleasant sensation and one she’d almost forgotten. Talking with the opposite sex was awkward for her, except in situations that didn’t involve potentially romantic expectations—with family, for instance, or male colleagues or friends like Sam. She felt comfortable with Peter, at ease. Although they hadn’t even spoken on the phone, let alone face-to-face, it was the first time she’d had that kind of reaction to a man since John.

Despite what her mother said, Beth had dated after her divorce; she just hadn’t done it successfully. Most social conversations with men felt stilted. She struggled with how much to say or not to say.

Her record was three dates with the same man. Luke Whitcomb. He’d been a nice guy, entertaining and funny. His sense of humor had carried her for the three dates.

She probably would’ve accepted a fourth except that he’d admitted their relationship wasn’t working for him. He’d been sincere when he said they should call it quits before either of them got hurt.

Well, surprise, surprise. Luke’s rejection had cut deep and served, once again, to convince Beth that she was incapable of ever attracting another man. Afterward she’d steered away from dating at all and a couple of weeks later, she’d found the World of Warcraft and since then, almost her entire social life had been as a Night Elf and hunter.

Now there was Peter, a man she’d never actually met. His family had suggested he “get a life,” so it was highly probably that he was single, too. Beth wanted to ask him, only she couldn’t figure out how to do it without being obvious. A straightforward question about his marital status seemed out of line at this stage.

They’d been into the game for about ten minutes when Peter sent her another message. This might be a stupid question but are you…single, married, whatever?

He’d asked her.

Beth’s relief was instantaneous. Single.

Me, too. Age?

Is this an interrogation? she typed back.

Sort of. Do you mind?

Not really. She didn’t, because in the process she was learning more about him.

I’ll tell if you will.

All right.

I’m edging toward thirty, he typed. Which is one reason my family is after me to meet someone.

Me, too. Her heart really started to pound then. Perhaps that candle her mother had lit in church was working. Perhaps, in some quirky way, her prayer had taken effect.

Peter was single; she was single.

He lived in Seattle and she lived in Seattle.

He was close to her age and a professional, just as she was.

This almost sounded too good to be true.

My family says it’s time I met someone, she typed next.

They do? He seemed as astonished as she felt—as if he, too, was finding this a bit too coincidental. Eerie, even.

A moment later, he typed, What’s wrong with you?

Well, he was direct enough, but she’d been pretty honest with him, too. She toyed with the idea of telling him she’d been married and divorced, and then remembered Heidi’s advice. It wasn’t necessary to blurt out everything on the first date—even if this wasn’t exactly a date.

I spend too much time playing computer games. She smiled as her fingers skipped effortlessly over the keyboard.

I’ve got the same problem, came his reply.

Silly though it was, Beth felt sure they were both smiling. Their conversation went on for another hour, and she was shocked to realize the game had become secondary.

That night when Beth crawled into bed and drew the blanket over her shoulders, she fell into an easy, peaceful sleep. She woke with a feeling of expectation, as if something wonderful was about to happen. Keeping her eyes closed, she tried to hang on to that sensation for as long as she could, afraid reality would chase it away.

The phone rang while she dressed for work. Call display told her it was her mother.

“Hi, Mom,” she said, answering the phone while fastening an earring.

“You sound happy.”

“I am—well, kind of.”

Her mother’s hesitation was brief. “Does this have anything to do with the man you met on that computer game you’re always playing?”

Beth found it hard to believe she’d actually mentioned Peter to her mother. She’d done it on impulse—a bad impulse—hoping to shut down a barrage of veiled criticism and heavy-handed encouragement. Normally her mother would be the last person she’d tell. “We haven’t even met, Mom,” she finally confessed. “At least not in the flesh.”

“What’s the holdup?”

“He hasn’t suggested we meet outside the game,” Beth said, which in her opinion was a perfectly logical explanation. In her mother’s generation, the men always did the asking. She figured this was an excuse even her marriage-obsessed mother would accept.

“Then you suggest it.”

So much for that. “Mother!”

“I’m serious,” Joyce said. “Why beat around the bush? You’re a woman who knows what she wants. Now go and get it.”

Beth thought about asking Peter. Why not? One of them had to break the ice. “I’d like to meet him but I don’t want to appear forward.”

“Marybeth, you don’t have much time. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe he’s waiting for you to bring it up. Show a bit of initiative, will you? It’s later than you think.”