Her father’s office was on the third floor. He looked up and smiled when she came into the room. “How was your day?”
“Great,” she said, dropping into a chair. “How about yours?”
“Fine, fine. I won’t be long.” He returned to the computer screen, which he studied intently. “Just checking some employee records,” he said. “I’m getting the hang of this computer stuff now.”
“Take your time, I’m in no hurry.”
“Wilcoff.” The same unfriendly voice that had almost ruined her morning sounded from the doorway.
Julie turned her head to find the same unfriendly man—presumably Roy Fletcher. His eyes narrowed when he saw her.
“You again?” he said.
Her father rose and cast a glance from his employer to Julie. “This is my daughter, Julie. You’ve met?”
“I had the pleasure this morning.” Fletcher held out his hand.
They exchanged brief handshakes. “Pleasure isn’t exactly the word I’d use,” Julie primly informed him.
“You teach English?”
“No,” she said in a clipped voice. “Etiquette.”
The merest hint of a smile touched his mouth. “I see.”
“Julie teaches physical education, Mr. Fletcher,” her father corrected, apparently surprised she’d claim otherwise.
Fletcher focused his attention on Dean. “I wanted to let you know my mother’s stopping by in the next couple of weeks to paint a Christmas scene on the lobby windows.” He frowned. “She seems to think some Christmas cheer will put me in the holiday mood,” he said with heavy sarcasm.
Julie doubted he was interested in goodwill, now or at any other time of the year.
“I’ll make sure no one bothers Mrs. Fletcher,” her father assured him.
“I’d appreciate it.” He turned to go, then changed his mind. “How was your first day?”
Her father hesitated. “Challenging.”
“Good, glad to hear it.” With that, Fletcher was gone as fast as he’d appeared.
“Good, glad to hear it,” Julie repeated, and rolled her eyes. “Is that the most unpleasant man you’ve ever met in your life or what?”
“He’s my employer, Julie, and he has more important matters on his mind than either you or me.”
“How can you defend him?” she cried. “You said he was cold, but I had no idea he was this cold.”
“He has a lot of responsibilities,” her father said. “I’ve only been with the company one day, but I can see that people respect him, which says a great deal. There has to be a reason the staff feels like that about him.”
If her father wanted to defend the tyrant, fine. She wasn’t going to argue with him.
“I wonder what made him like this,” she murmured while her father cleared off his desk. She didn’t expect an answer and he didn’t give her one. Perhaps eventually she’d learn more about Roy Fletcher. Then again, perhaps she wouldn’t. Because Julie didn’t care if she ever saw him again.
“It’s her,” Mercy shouted joyously, clapping her hands with delight. “She’s the woman we’ve been sent to find for Anne’s son.”
“Who?” Shirley asked, looking around the empty office.
“Julie, of course,” Mercy said irritably. “Dean Wilcoff’s daughter.” Mercy seemed disappointed that they didn’t see things as plainly as she did.
“Julie? This Julie?” Goodness repeated, incredulous. “Get out of here!” Julie Wilcoff wasn’t at all the kind of woman she had in mind. Besides, anyone could see those two had started off on the wrong foot. Julie openly disliked the man. Roy’s feelings were harder to read, but she wouldn’t be surprised if he’d had trouble remembering Julie’s name two minutes after they’d met.
“Open your eyes,” Mercy said, sitting on the file cabinet in Wilcoff’s darkened office. “They’re perfect for each other.”
Shirley remained skeptical. “Sorry, I just can’t picture it.”
“Me, neither,” Goodness concurred. She tried to imagine them as a couple. They didn’t fit together, somehow. They both had strong personalities that would constantly collide. Goodness thought a gentle, loving woman would be better suited to the likes of Roy Fletcher. Someone soft and quiet. Someone less opinionated, more compromising. They hadn’t found this paragon yet, but give them time and they would. Of course, they didn’t have a lot of time. Their assignment on Earth was limited to a short three weeks.
“Am I the only one here with a brain?” Mercy groaned. “Julie’s the right woman because she isn’t going to let him intimidate her. She’s got the strength of will to stand up to him, and he’ll respect her for that.”
“True,” Shirley reluctantly agreed. “I don’t mean to be unkind here, but have you noticed that…well, Julie’s a very sweet girl, but…”
“She’s a woman with all the right qualifications.”
“Yes, of course, but, well, she’s rather…large.”
“I believe the term Shirley is looking for,” Goodness said, stepping forward, “is big-boned.”
“She’s tall and she’s…solid,” Mercy said forcefully. “Don’t forget, she played sports all those years. She’s not some skinny little size-two model type.”
“I know you mean well,” Goodness said, not wanting any more distractions, “but Anne’s son is handsome and wealthy, and frankly, he can have any woman he wants.”
“He’s well aware of that,” Mercy declared, “and he doesn’t care.”
“Aimee was blond and beautiful,” Shirley said.
“How do you know that?”
“I…peeked at the file on Gabriel’s desk when no one was around.”
“You did what?” Goodness burst out.
“It doesn’t matter what Aimee looks like,” Mercy insisted. “Okay, so she was blond and cute. Didn’t work out, though, did it?”
“Obviously not,” Goodness said grudgingly.
“Do you think he’s still in love with her?” Shirley asked.
“I doubt it.” Although Goodness couldn’t know for sure, she suspected that Roy had put Aimee completely out of his mind—her and every other woman in the universe.
This was what made their mission so difficult. It was up to the three of them to find Roy a woman who would warm his cold, empty heart and teach him about love. No wonder Gabriel had warned them. This was perhaps their most difficult assignment to date.
“I like Julie,” Mercy whispered.
“She’s apple pandowdy and Fletcher wants cheesecake,” Goodness said, proud of her analogy.
“He’s had cheesecake.” Shirley shot upward to join Mercy, crowding next to her on the filing cabinet. “I’m beginning to think Mercy’s right. Roy’s lost his taste for the exotic. He needs a woman with substance, a woman who’s truly his equal.”
Goodness thought perhaps her fellow Prayer Ambassadors had a point, but convincing Roy wouldn’t be easy. “Just how are we going to persuade him to give Julie a second look?”
“And what about Julie?” Shirley demanded. “She didn’t exactly fall for him at first sight.”
“I think you’re right,” Goodness said. “Roy might need a bit of angelic assistance, but Julie’s going to be even harder to convince.”
“Oh, dear, I hadn’t thought of that,” Mercy muttered. “She’s taken a rather keen dislike to him, hasn’t she.”
“That can be fixed, too.”
Goodness and Mercy turned to look at their friend. “What do you mean?”
Shirley chortled happily. “Why don’t I show you, instead?”
“I hate the idea of you having to work on a Saturday,” Julie said as her father prepared to walk out the door. He’d explained that it was because of the Thanksgiving holiday that had just passed.
“I don’t mind. There’s a lot to do.” She watched him go and realized it’d been a very long time since she’d seen her father content. After only a few days, she was aware of what this new job had done for him. Once again, Julie was grateful that he’d been given this chance to prove himself. Despite her personal feelings about Fletcher, whom she considered both rude and egotistical, she appreciated the faith he’d placed in her father. Her sister agreed. They exchanged daily e-mails; Emily had told Julie she was encouraged by the changes she already saw in their father and suggested Julie make an effort to get along with the “big boss” if she saw him again—which she probably wouldn’t.
Julie leaned against the door and sighed once her father had left for work. A sigh of relief, of satisfaction. Looking heavenward, she whispered, “We’re going to be all right, Mom. We’re moving ahead with our lives.” Deep in her heart, she knew her mother heard her and approved.
The surprising thing Julie had learned in the past year was that life does go on. Despite her loss, despite her pain, she’d come to understand that. Clichéd though it sounded, it was true. Gradually, as she resumed her routines and her habits, it became easier. This didn’t mean she missed her mother any less or had stopped thinking about her—that would’ve been impossible—but life continued.
After showering and doing a few housecleaning tasks, Julie tackled the kitchen. It was when she opened the refrigerator that she noticed her father’s lunch. He’d forgotten it. Knowing he’d go without rather than pick up something at a restaurant, she called his work number. When he wasn’t available, she asked the man who answered to please let her father know she’d deliver his lunch later that morning.
As she left the house, Julie decided this was the perfect opportunity to get in some exercise. Soon she’d start training for the STP, the annual two-hundred-mile bicycle ride between Seattle and Portland, Oregon. The two-day event was held every July and she’d participated faithfully until her mother’s illness. Julie had skipped the past two years, but was eager to get back into a regular training program.
Dressed in her biking gear, she wheeled her ten-speed out of the garage and tucked her father’s lunch in one of the paniers over the rear wheels. Then she headed for Fletcher Industries. It felt good to work hard, to pump her legs and exercise her lungs. At top speed she turned off the busy road and into the long driveway that led to the office complex. In the small mirror attached to her helmet, she saw a black sedan turning in behind her. The driveway was narrow and there wasn’t room for her to move over or allow the vehicle to pass. Leaning forward as far as she could, her arms braced against the handlebars, Julie reached maximum speed, forcing her legs to pedal even faster.
Obviously the sedan’s driver hadn’t seen her. Julie gasped as the black vehicle hit her rear tire. The collision sent her hurtling through the air, arms flailing. Her heart stopped when she realized there was no way to avoid missing a fir tree. A scream froze in her throat. If her head slammed against the tree at this speed, helmet or not, she’d be a goner. The last thought she had before impact was a fervent hope that her father not be the one to identify her body.