Then she landed.
It was as though she’d collided with a pile of pillows. Following impact with the tree, she fell on her backside with a solid thump. Too stunned to react, Julie sat there. By any law of nature, she should be badly injured.
Only, she wasn’t. In fact, she seemed to be unscathed. Surely that was impossible!
“Are you all right?”
A pale, shaken Roy Fletcher stood above her. Equally shaken, Julie looked up at him and blinked several times, unable to find her tongue.
“I should be dead,” she whispered, and thrust out her hand, assuming he’d help her up.
“You should be arrested for pulling a stunt like that,” he said angrily, ignoring her hand. “Stay put until I can get an ambulance and the police.” He took out his cell phone and started frantically punching numbers.
He wanted her arrested. Of all the nerve! “Listen here,” she cried, still in a sitting position. “You were the one who ran into me.”
“You’re insane!” He was shouting now. “Not you,” he said into the tiny cell phone and clicked it off. “I didn’t touch you.” He stared down at her, a puzzled look on his face. “I can’t believe you’re not hurt.”
“I’m fine…I think.”
“That was the most idiotic stunt I’ve ever seen. Why did you do it?”
“Me?” He’d run into her. And here he was yelling at her when the entire accident had been his fault. “Do you honestly think I voluntarily flew through the air and collided with a tree?”
He shook his head and rubbed his eyes as though to clear his vision. “I don’t know what the hell happened, but I didn’t hit you.”
“Fine. Whatever. Just help me up.” She extended her arm to him a second time. Unsteady as she felt, she needed the assistance.
“No!” He raised both hands. “Stay put,” he said again. “You could’ve broken something and don’t know it.”
“I’d know it,” she muttered. While she admitted to being shaken, she wasn’t about to let him bully her. Although the trip to her feet lacked grace, she was soon upright.
“Don’t move,” he said. “Wait for the paramedics.”
“I’m perfectly all right,” she insisted, removing her helmet.
“You can’t be sure of that. Now do as I say and stay where you are.”
“Would you kindly be quiet and stop giving me orders?” Disgruntled, she brushed the dirt from her backside. So far, so good. Nothing even ached. She could see no scrapes or bruises.
Fletcher shook his head again, his expression one of hopelessness. “Are you always this unreasonable?”
Examining her ten-speed, Julie wanted to weep. It was ruined. “If you didn’t hit me, how did this happen?” Maybe he planned to claim his car hadn’t touched her bike, but she had evidence that said otherwise.
“If you hit that tree, why aren’t you injured?” he snapped.
Julie didn’t have an answer for him anymore than he did for her. They stood glaring at each other, both unwilling to back down, when the ambulance, siren blaring, rounded the corner.
Before she could protest, two paramedics had her sitting down. While Fletcher explained what had happened, Julie, under protest, was placed on a stretcher. “Would someone please listen to me,” she said as she struggled to sit up. “I’m fine. I don’t even have any bruises. I’m not hurt.”
The taller of the two paramedics picked up her dented helmet. “You hit that tree?” he asked incredulously.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” Fletcher confirmed.
“He saw it because he ran into me,” Julie immediately said. He wasn’t an innocent bystander in this accident. He’d caused it.
“My car didn’t touch her bike.”
By this time, the police had arrived, and a cruiser pulled up behind the ambulance. Fletcher scowled at her as if to say this was all her fault, but he’d contacted the authorities. She hadn’t wanted to. While the police officer talked to Fletcher, Julie answered the paramedics’ questions. When they suggested she be checked out at the hospital, she refused.
“Look,” she said, dismissing their concern, “I’m none the worse for wear.” The last thing she wanted was to show up at the hospital in an ambulance when she wasn’t even hurt.
“You’ll have your own doctor examine you?” the second man asked.
“I will,” she promised.
“I’ll see that she does,” Fletcher added.
The policeman knelt down in front of Fletcher’s sedan. “I don’t see any marks here.”
Fletcher looked at Julie, his eyes full of suspicion. “I don’t know how to explain what happened, but I swear I didn’t hit you.”
“Would you stop telling me how innocent you are?” Then it dawned on her that he was afraid she was going to sue him. As a man with deep pockets, he’d be worried about lawsuits.
“Nope, I don’t see any evidence here at all,” the police officer said, frowning in puzzlement.
Men always stick together, Julie thought irritably. Well, if that was what the police had decided, so be it.
“I’ll leave it for you two to settle,” the officer said.
“Thank you,” Roy told him.
The paramedics climbed back into their vehicle and drove off, and shortly afterward the police car followed.
“Look at my bike!” Julie studied the damage to her ten-speed. The entire back wheel was bent and twisted; the frame had buckled beyond repair.
“I’ll buy you another,” Fletcher said as he loaded her crumpled bike into the trunk of his car.
“So you are admitting responsibility,” she challenged, hands on her hips.
“No,” he said in a flat, businesslike tone.
“You don’t have to worry. I have no intention of suing you.”
He didn’t respond as he opened the passenger door. “Get in,” he said curtly.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To my personal physician.”
“I said I’m not hurt.”
“I know what you said. Now are you going to do as I ask, or do I have to put you inside this car myself?”
Julie could see it was pointless to argue; he was determined to do things his way. “Oh, all right,” she said with a complete lack of graciousness.
He slipped into the driver’s seat and exhaled slowly. “Thank you.”
Julie crossed her arms and tried to stifle a laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” But then she couldn’t help it and burst out laughing.
“It’s you,” she said between peals of laughter. “You said ‘thank you.’ Were you thanking me for sparing you the effort of having to physically lift me?”
“No.” He apparently lacked even the most rudimentary sense of humor. “I was thanking you for not putting up any more of a fuss than you already have.”
He started the engine. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
Until he asked, she’d totally forgotten. “Dad’s lunch. It’s on the bike. He forgot it this morning and I was taking it to him.” She turned around and looked behind her, wondering if his lunch had somehow survived the collision. “I need to get it to him.”
“Your father can go without lunch—getting you to a doctor is more important at the moment.”
She glared at him, and he groaned audibly.
“Oh, all right.” Without her having to say another word, he drove up to the main entrance and parked. “Stay where you are,” Fletcher ordered.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else,” she said with exaggerated sweetness.
He looked as though he doubted her, then quickly leaped out of the car. Removing her sorely bent and abused ten-speed, he leaned it against the building. She couldn’t see what he was doing, but a moment later, the side mirror on the passenger door gave her a brief view of him on his cell phone.
“Did you tell my dad I wasn’t hurt?” she asked when he got back in the car.
“No, I was talking to Dr. Wilbur.”
Great, just great. Her father would find her bike, a crumpled mess, and assume the worst. “Give me that phone.”
He stared at her as if no one ever spoke to him like that. “Please,” she added, realizing how rude she must sound. “I’ve got to tell Dad I’m all right. He won’t know what to think if he finds that.”
“By the way,” he said wryly, “his lunch did not sustain any mishap. The sandwich isn’t smashed at all. I thought you’d want to know.” He reached inside his jacket and handed her the cell, which was the tiniest phone she’d ever seen. It took Julie a few minutes to figure out how it worked.
Her father was away from his desk and once again she had to leave a message with someone else. She explained the situation and said he should collect his lunch from her bike.
“Are you happy now?” Fletcher asked when she’d finished her call and returned his phone.
“Good. Now sit back and relax.”
“Don’t be so bossy,” she muttered.
“Don’t be so stubborn.”
“This really isn’t necessary. I have no intention of suing,” she said, not for the first time.
“Good thing, because you’d lose.”
Julie thought she saw a hint of a smile. She looked again, certain she must be wrong. The high-and-mighty computer whiz was actually amused. Now this was something to write home about.
Anne Fletcher pulled the blanket around her shoulders as she attempted to fall to sleep. Opening one eye, she peered at the clock. Two in the morning. She should’ve been asleep hours ago. For no reason she could discern, she’d been having trouble sleeping. No matter what she did—read, drank warm milk, swallowed nighttime aspirin—she remained fully awake.
With a disgusted sigh, she tossed back the covers and reached for the switch on her lamp. She was wide-awake and any effort to sleep would be a waste of time. Her mind drifted to the memory of the angel who’d appeared to her. She leaned over to get her sketchbook from the bedside table and flipped the pages until she found what she wanted.
Anne was sure she’d imagined the visitation, and yet it had seemed so real. But none of this made sense. Why would an angel appear to her? Not a word had been spoken, not a sound uttered. But an angel had stood directly in front of her. So strong was the impression that even now Anne could feel the love emanating from the heavenly being.
To further confuse her, the image had lasted for several minutes, long enough for Anne to grab her sketchbook. Almost as if she was posing, the angel had stood perfectly still while Anne quickly outlined what was before her, unbelievable though it was.
“She was so beautiful,” Anne whispered as she studied the drawing with fresh eyes.
The urge to paint the image onto canvas suddenly gripped her. After a long day in her studio, she should be exhausted; instead, she was filled with excitement. Anne got out of bed. Dressed in her nightgown and slippers, she decided she’d paint until she felt tired. She’d get started and see how things went.