ANGEL BE GOOD
Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
— A Commendatory Prayer, Rossiter Worthington Raymond
“I told you I’m not supposed to be dead,” said Daphne as she ruffled the itchy white feathers now adorning her back. It wasn’t enough that they took her life prematurely, they had to torture her with bulky wings, a gown made of gauze so thin she’d catch her death, and too-tight golden slippers.
“I’m afraid the Angelic Council made a slight miscalculation,” said Leonard soothingly.
“So, what is the Angelic Council going to do about it?” Although she was thoroughly angry, she held her punches. Leonard wasn’t anything like her previous conception of an angel.
Leonard was tall, only slightly bent, and gaunt enough to be blown away by the slightest gust of wind. His face was creased, aged, yet his bright blue eyes shone with childlike benevolence and love. Even if he weren’t an angel, she’d never be able to be truly furious with someone like him. Perhaps that was why the Angelic Council had sent him? He’d said it wasn’t his usual heavenly job.
“Yeah. I want to go back. I had plans, plans to fall in love, marry and have kids. And thanks to this miscalculation, I’m not going to have a full complete life? I don’t think so. Unless there’s a fellow for me up here in heaven?”
“Oh my, oh my, oh my.” Leonard was in an absolute dither. Although Daphne had never actually used the word before, she recognized it when someone did it. Leonard dithered. “We can’t have that.”
“I was afraid it’d be out of the question.” She was losing all patience. “Look, Leonard, the Council made a mistake. Tell them to fix it. I’m entitled to be sent back.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Leonard smiled and patted her arm. “Never worry. You’re in heaven. Everyone is happy here. Once your angelic status is finalized, I’m sure you’ll find everything most satisfactory.”
“Leonard, I know you mean well, but I’m not happy and I won’t be happy unless I get my life back. I’m not ready to be an angel. I told you, I want a full and complete life. I want to experience romantic love. Just because I stepped between a lieutenant and the shrapnel he deserved, I can see no reason to punish me for it, all because the Council didn’t expect it. I want my life!”
“Becalm yourself, Daphne. How was the Council to know you’d interfere and risk your life for that lieutenant?”
It was everything Daphne could do not to yank the poor messenger by his heavenly robes. “Because that’s the kind of woman I am and you’d think heaven would know that. What kind of heaven is this if the angels don’t know the mortals they’re supposed to be helping?”
Leonard’s eyes dropped with remorse. “I’ll consult the Council.”
“Please, do that. And, Leonard?” Daphne fluttered her lashes, remembering belatedly that honey draws the most flies. “While you’re at it, I know if you put your wonderful mind to it, you’d be able to procure me some cream for this rash. These da … er, dratted feathers are killing me.”
“I’ll do my humble best.”
“Thank you.” He seemed inclined to stick around. She waved her arms. “Scram!”
In less time than it took her to completely survey the pearly gates, Leonard returned with a beaming smile on his aged face.
“Good news, child.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. She’d almost panicked wondering what the Post’s hardest-hitting ace reporter could find to keep herself busy up here in all these clouds. “They’re sending me back?”
“Oh, yes. You don’t know how fortunate you are. There have only been two previous cases I can recollect … and with each of them,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “there were extenuating circumstances.”
“You don’t say.”
He nodded. “Otherwise, the poor ones who’ve joined us too hastily have happily made do with the bounty offered by our Heavenly Host and remained among his flock of newer angels. Are you sure you don’t wish to reconsider? The choice is yours.”
“I want to go back. But wait a sec.” Her reporter instinct kicked in. “How many other cases have there been and who were they?” Not to mention when, where and why.
“Oh, my. Shouldn’t we be on our way rather than standing here discussing the others?”
“Why did they make an exception for me? What were the extenuating circumstances?”
“Isn’t it enough,” Leonard asked, “that they did make an exception? You will be going back.”
Daphne narrowed her eyes, fully aware he’d avoided her question. But so what. She was getting what she wanted.
“What happens now?”
“Let’s see. I regret having to do this, Daphne, but since you choose to return to earth, I must remove your wings.” Leonard snapped his fingers.
“Gee. I’m really going to miss them.” Right, she added silently. Like a GI would miss K rations.
She heard a tinkling of bells. Her wings transformed into a flock of doves. “Isn’t it time for you to snap those fingers and send me back?”
Leonard tapped his forehead. “Oh, my! I nearly forgot one small favor the Council requested. You won’t mind it, I’m certain, since it involves the lieutenant whom you saved.”
“That lieutenant was a jackass. I didn’t save him on purpose, I reacted. It just happened.”
“Exactly,” Leonard said. “Since you were willing to risk your life for him, the Council beseeches you to help save the immortal soul of his son.”
“What?” She interrupted him. “I hadn’t realized he had a kid. Why do you need my help, anyway? Seems to me, you’re the angel.”
“That’s the gist of our problem. Nathaniel Danvers doesn’t believe—ergo, we cannot reach him. However, since you are human, you’ll be able to do what we cannot: connect with him on a physical plane. After all, he can see and hear you.”
This was not what she wanted to hear. “How old is this child?”
Leonard coughed, then mumbled, “Thirty.”
Could she have heard him correctly? “There’s got to be some mistake. The lieutenant can’t be over thirty-five himself.”
“I’m afraid you won’t be returning to your own time. You’ll be going into the future.”
That did it. She grabbed his robes and pulled him close enough for their noses to rub. “I thought you said I get to go back.”
Leonard bobbed his head up and down. “You do! You do! You get to go back, complete your life and even have children if you wish. The Council’s only aim is to make you happy.”
Daphne dropped him. She wasn’t one to shoot the messenger. After all, it wasn’t Leonard’s fault. Besides, her assignment to cover the emotional angle on the police action in Vietnam had been less than comfortable. It had been frightening. Many of the men serving there, boys really, had been as scared as she. Uncle Sam had some explaining to do. But she really wouldn’t mind not going back to that madness. The future had to be better.
She gritted her teeth. If it was a choice of the future or sticking around with the wings to drive her bananas, the future it was. “Tell me more.”
“Nathaniel’s mother died when he was six. He’s now matured into something of a miser.”
“That’s just groovy. I can’t believe you want me to reform some establishment tightwad.” She shook her head. “This has got to be a nightmare.”
“I regret to say it, but it’s all too real.”
“And what makes you think I can help where angels failed?”
Leonard smiled. “The Council wouldn’t send you if they didn’t think you’d succeed or that he isn’t redeemable. There’s something there and I’m sure you’ll find it.”
“You call this a small favor? My ass—ignment.”
“There are also a few rules you must understand. First, your body is only temporary.”
“Temporary?” Daphne sputtered. “The more I hear the less I like it. Why do I have a feeling you and your Council are leading me down the Yellow Brick Road?”
“It is rather hard to believe,” assured Leonard. “But you’ve been out of your body too long for the Council to be able to do anything more. You’ll have all Christmas evening to perform the favor and by dawn, you’ll start your new life.”
“You promise? I get my life? I won’t come back here?”
His brow wrinkled. “If you don’t enter your new body in time, your current one will evaporate. Since it’s never happened before, I’m unsure what would happen to your soul.”
He waved his hand. “However, I don’t anticipate that eventuality.”
She wouldn’t let anything stop her from taking up her life. “And if I fail? If I can’t help Danvers’ son?”
“You’ll succeed. All he needs is a little help reinterpreting the events in his life. As a reporter, you have a lot of experience measuring facts and reaching an unbiased conclusion.”
“And if I refuse to help?”
Leonard flapped his fluffy white wings, hovering lightly over the clouds. “We can only appeal to your sense of honor. Any young woman who would throw herself in front of another human to protect that person, at the cost of her own life … We know how giving you are, my dear, and only ask for a few hours of your time. Please?”
Nathaniel Danvers snorted, the sound awakening him from a deep sleep. He pulled himself upright at his desk, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. It had been a peculiar dream—a dream of his parents warning him to mend his ways. Pretty screwy, since his father was the one who’d been his example.
Nat stretched, then looked out the window of his penthouse office, down below at the mass of pitiful humanity hurrying home. And for what? Some stuffed turkey and gifts they had no use for. Ridiculous.
Mend his ways? It must have been the rum punch his secretary had brought him from the office Christmas party. Rum always gave him indigestion. Plus, he’d never fallen asleep at his desk before.
Mend his ways? There was nothing he liked more than being CEO of Danvers and Son. Of course, there was no longer a son, his father having long ago kicked the bucket. But Danvers and Son was a household name. One that stood for high earnings, fiscal strength. A company that would let no one and nothing get in its way. Danvers and Son was the leading department store chain in sixteen states and three countries. And it had all begun here.
Mend his ways? Total bull.
Nat pulled out a stack of pink slips and continued his task of informing his employees which of them wouldn’t be coming back after the first of the year layoffs. This was a practice he heartily endorsed. He tried to do it at least annually, and if not that, then every other year. It kept the workers on their toes. It kept the operation running smoothly. There were no slackers at Danvers and Son. And though there weren’t, he couldn’t allow them to become lazy … they’d soon return to their old screw-off ways if he did.
There. He’d completed the first grouping, the ones from accounting. Now for the credit department. Just as he pushed the stack to the side, he heard a crash in his outer office.
He jerked up, then checked the time. Half past ten. His secretary had long since left for the day. He heard someone curse. A female someone. Damn. Had one of the word-processing pool drunk too much at the party and decided to see if she could weasel the boss into a promotion? He’d soon set her straight.
Marching to the door, he was surprised when it flew open. No one, absolutely no one, ever entered his office without first knocking. It was a firm rule every employee knew could not and would not be ignored. That tore it. The typist was outta here.
As he opened his mouth to say just that, in walked the most incredible woman he’d ever seen in his life. If he’d ever dreamed up the perfect woman, her features couldn’t have matched the perfection of face and form of this creature. Her hair was the color of onyx. Her eyes the color of night. And her breasts were—
“Hiya, Nat ol’ boy!”
Okay, so her language wasn’t perfect. That could be fixed. He loosened his collar. What had gotten into him? He was a money-making machine, dammit, and women didn’t enter into the picture. “What are you doing in my office?”
“I came to see you.” She smiled. Damn. She even had incredible dimples.
“I think you’d better leave. Call my secretary on Monday and set up an appointment.” An appointment he’d never keep. It didn’t matter how luscious she was; as soon as he learned her name, he would consider adding it to those on his pink slips.
“Ah, Nat.” She fluttered her lashes and deepened her voice. “I won’t be around come Monday.” She leaned against the door frame, a positive slither of red glittery fabric. Skimpy red glittery fabric. Skimpy enough to make his pulse race. “Let’s talk now.”
Her voice was husky. Bedroom husky. He’d never been affected by a woman like this before and he wasn’t going to start now. Perfection or no perfection, she had to go.
She sauntered close to him and then yanked him by his lapels, right up next to her lips. He could feel her hot breath on his face and it did things to him. Boy, did it do things.
“Listen up, Nat. We can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way. Your choice.”
He gulped. His father had warned him about women like her. Women who would use their sexuality to get the best of a man. Nat wasn’t about to be bested. His father had said, “Use them before they use you.” If she wanted to play with the big boys, then it was her loss.
Grabbing her arms, he yanked her even closer for a bruising kiss. A deep body twisting, arms entangling, breasts heaving kind of kiss. And it felt damn good. Just about perfect, in fact. He pulled back.
It took her a moment to get her bearings, but eventually she opened her eyes. He smiled. At least she was warned. She opened up those luscious lips and shrieked, “Leonard!”
Good Lord! Had she brought witnesses? He released her and jerked his gaze to the doorway. No one entered.
She bellowed, “What now, Leonard?”
Nat could have sworn he heard the tinkling of bells and then his office door slammed shut. The dead bolt turned into the locked position. What the hell?
His gaze shot back to her. “Leonard says that now you’ll have to listen. You can’t leave.”
Heading directly to the door, he reached it and twisted the dead bolt. It wouldn’t turn. He threw his back into it. Nothing. The inferior excuse for a master lock wouldn’t budge.
She smiled at him. A superior knowing little smile and he was tempted to kiss her again just to wipe it off her smug little face.
He took a step in her direction. As if she knew his intention, she held up a hand. “Stop. I have information you need to hear.”
“Inside information?” Maybe this was the reason for the secrecy and the bolted door. Probably done by radio control. His security chief, Curtis, had once shown him stuff like that.
“You could say that.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” She obviously wasn’t the typist he’d first thought her to be. Maybe this was a set-up to lure him into doing something less than ethical. He’d be extremely careful.
He pointed to the marble conference table in the corner of his office. It was a piece he was particularly proud of, shipped to him directly from Italy. It had cost a bundle. He smiled to himself, pleased with what money could buy. “Have a seat.”
She nodded and took a seat. “Thank you, Nat.”
“You have me at a disadvantage.” Taking another chair, he said, “You know my name, what’s yours?”
She twisted around in her seat. “Can I tell him, Leonard?”
Was she wearing a hidden microphone? Was their conversation being taped? Leonard could obviously hear their every word.
“Daphne—what’s your last name?”
“Just Daphne.” She smiled, showing even white teeth.
“Okay, so Leonard’s taping us. Why doesn’t he join us?”
She cocked her head to one side. “You can’t see him. If it makes you feel any better, he’s sitting on the chair behind your desk.”
“What?” Nat turned to look behind him. No one was there. “Stop these adolescent tricks, Daphne and Leonard. I’m not buying. If you don’t want to play fair, tell me your business and get out of here. I have work to do.”
“On Christmas Eve?” Daphne seemed surprised.
“On every eve.” She’d managed to push his buttons. Christmas irritated the living hell out of him. “What’s so darn special about Christmas Eve? Holidays are just an excuse to pay my employees for not coming to work. That’s not something I care to celebrate.”
“Wow, Leonard. He’s a tougher case than you led me to believe.” She raised her brows and looked toward Nat’s desk as if hearing an answer.
The broad was loony tunes. He should toss her out on her can. Oh well, there had to be some price for beauty like hers. Too bad it had to be loose screws.
“Okay. I’ll try that.” She looked back at him.
Nat got up. Walking as nonchalantly as possible toward the bar behind his desk, he made the motions of mixing himself a drink. Surreptitiously, he punched the silent alarm, notifying security he had a problem. Someone would be here within minutes. “Care for a drink?”
“Sure. Bourbon. Straight up.” She scrunched her ski slope nose. “Shut up, Leonard. I want a drink, I’m having one.”
Nat fished out his bottle of Jack Daniels and poured her a double. Maybe it would slow her down when security arrived.
Returning with their drinks, he placed them carefully on the matching chrome coasters that fit in so well with his color scheme of gray, black and a few tiny drips of blood red. Originally he’d thought of decorating the room in green, the color of money, but had ultimately discarded the idea as ostentatious. He took a sip of his rum sour, momentarily regretting the earlier impulse to drink that punch. Now, he couldn’t mix his liquors and have the vodka he generally preferred. And tonight his stomach would screech out a reminder why vodka was his choice.
Feeling a bit calmer, he decided to play along while Curtis made his way up the elevator. “Let’s get down to business.”
“All right.” Daphne picked up her glass and drained it in one gulp. “This whiskey’s far out. Mind if I get the bottle?”
“Help yourself.” Far out? She must have overdosed on Brady Bunch repeats. This was going to be easier than foreclosing on a mortgage.
Watching her as she minced her way to the bar, he had to admire the curve of her legs. The way straps encased her ankles over mile-high heels was rather intriguing as well. It made him think naughty thoughts about straps and ropes and …
Careful, he warned himself. He had a crazy on his hands. He couldn’t go on thinking about her as a desirable woman.
As she returned with the bottle and took her chair again, he breathed in her enticing fragrance. Baby powder and incense. Maybe that explained her attractiveness. The combination of innocence and raw sex appeal.
After she drank another slug, equally as large as the first, she settled back in her chair. He thought he could hear her purr.
It made him ache.
“Leonard says to tell you that the dream you had about your parents was true. They did come to warn you.”
Lucky guess. It had to be a lucky guess. Unless somehow the rum punch had been drugged? Prickles of fear crept up and down his spine. What was taking Curtis so long? He should have been here by now.
Playing for time, he said, “Go on.”
“Well, if you don’t change your ways, then you’ll never make it to heaven and your mom wants you to be happy. So, the Heavenly Council sent me.”
The Heavenly Council was right on one count. She could certainly make him happy. “So, what do you want me to do? Sell you shares in the company for one quarter the value?”
“Of course not. I want you to learn a little human kindness. To believe in something you can’t see, feel, taste or hear. Like Leonard over there.”
“Daphne, pet, you seem to mean well. However,” he held up one finger, “If I can’t see it, taste it, feel it or hear it, I see no reason to believe it exists.”
“Oh, my.” She grimaced. “Darn it, Leonard. Now you have me saying it!” She ran her hand through those breast-length curls of hers, every move she made more provocative than the last, and incredibly she seemed totally unconscious of the effect it had on him. Good. It was the only advantage he had until security got their lousy-good-for-nothing butts down here. Maybe he should buzz again.
When Daphne got up and went over to his desk, apparently arguing with her imaginary playmate, Nat grabbed the conference table phone to dial security directly. The line was dead. Now stabs of fear jabbed his spine. He was in serious trouble. This woman wasn’t only crazy, she must be some sort of electronics expert to boot.
That didn’t make sense. Not in that dress. Obviously this Leonard fellow was in control of surveillance around here. Nat’s gaze shot around his office, looking for a hidden camera. At first glance he didn’t see anything. Then his gaze narrowed. The fern in the corner. Was that something glittery?
Looking for something with which to smash it, hoping to even the odds just a little, he saw the heavy metal paperweight sitting on the window sill near the door. Just the ticket. Daphne was still deep in discussion with her alter ego.
What kind of game were they playing? Did they believe for one moment he’d swallow her story about an invisible man? Perhaps it was some sales gimmick. But he wasn’t in the market.
Grabbing the chance, he dashed over and snatched up the paperweight then sprinted to the fern. Throwing back fronds, he was ready to strike. His arm slashed down, only to stop inches from a chunk of broken glass. Hell. Where was the camera?
“Good heavens, Nat! Don’t hurt the plant!”
“What?” He turned to look at Daphne. What did she think he planned to do? Beat it into submission? “Where’s the hidden camera?”
She rolled her eyes, then headed back to the conference table and grabbed her bourbon. For a second, he thought she would guzzle it directly from the bottle, but she shrugged and poured more into the shot glass. “Don’t say one word, Leonard. Not one word.”
She wiggled the bottle. “Want to join me, Nat ol’ boy?”
“No, thank you.”
“I guess I should have warned you that Leonard here won’t let it have any ill effects.” She grinned a wicked grin. “Oh. I seem to have forgotten my manners. I never introduced you. Leonard, may I present Nat. Nat, please meet Leonard. He’s your guardian angel.”
Nat snorted. Was that what they called it these days? A guardian angel? “Just thrilled to meet you, Len,” Nat replied caustically.
“Nat, don’t be disrespectful. Leonard prefers his full name.”
This time, he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. Leonard.”
She glared at him but evidently decided he wasn’t worth the effort. Maybe she was a school teacher on the side. A glare like that could keep little Tommy out of any kind of mischief.
“So, Leonard and Daphne. What’s your agenda here? You want something from me, right? What say I give it to you and you can be on your way.”
“I wish it were that simple.” She gnawed her lower lip. That same lower lip he’d gnawed himself, just what, half an hour earlier?
He leaned close to her, could feel the heat radiating off her body. “Then let’s make it simple.”
Tensing, she pulled back.
Daphne wasn’t sure what it was about Nat that reminded her so much of his father. Their looks weren’t identical. Nat was taller. His eyes were blue where his father’s had been green. His face was lean and almost craggy. His father’s had been rounder. But the two men exuded a sexual confidence unlike anything she’d ever experienced with a man outside this one family. To say they were charismatic would be an understatement. The Danvers men had it, whatever it was.
And she didn’t trust it or Nat one little bit.
With Nat’s father, she’d been impervious to his charm, although she’d known a score of women who hadn’t been. Why should it be any different with Nat? Instead of worrying over this nonsense, she needed to put this favor behind her and get on with whatever her new life would entail.
Of course it would help if Nat would sit still. He continued to stalk the room with that paperweight in his hand. “Listen, Nat, be a good boy and sit down.”
He growled at her.
Okay, so it looked as though his father had all the smarts in this family. “What do you think this is? Candid Camera? Sit.”
“Ha. Even I know that show’s been off the air for years. You’d like me to believe you’re just a harmless nut case, wouldn’t you?” He paced toward her, clenching the paperweight.
If she hadn’t already died, she’d be worried that he intended bodily harm. But with Leonard around, she was safe in her newly mended body.
“I’m not insane, Nat, but with the way you’re acting, I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn you have a close personal acquaintance with the men in white coats.”
“I don’t know what you and Leonard, if he exists, have in mind but I’ve had enough. Play time is over.” He positively loomed over her.
He didn’t scare her. In fact, he was kinda cute when he was looming. She hadn’t noticed it before, but he was broader chested than his father had been. She liked broad chests on men. In fact, there wasn’t much about him physically that deviated from her ideal man. Fortunately, for the sake of her mission, his personality left a lot to be desired.
“I don’t know how, but we got off to a bad start, Nat.” She offered her hand. “Let’s shake and start over?”
He eyed her hand like it was full of worms. She sighed. What was it going to take with this guy to get him to sit down and listen? Leonard had big plans for him and if he wasn’t forewarned a little, it would be a lot harder on him. Some people just didn’t know when to listen.
“I’ll start over if you’ll cut the crap. Tell me what you and Leonard really want.”
“I give you my word that we’re here to help you.”
“That’s not enough. You’ve done some jiggering with electronics. Even my security team hasn’t responded. Obviously you’ve gone to a lot of time, expense and trouble to set up this meeting. Now give.”
“You can reach him, Daphne,” Leonard spoke up. “The Council believes you can draw out the goodness buried in him. It’s not midnight yet. Give him a little longer.”
What Daphne really wanted was to take off her high heels but that didn’t seem to be an option. “Nat, will you tell me one thing?”
“Maybe,” he snarled.
“Do you believe in love?”
He finally sat. “You mean forever-after-I-am-your-one-true-love kind of love?”
“Not only no, but hell no. I hate to be the one to disillusion you, Daph, but there ain’t no such critter. I’m not certain there’s any kind of love. My theory is that it’s all to do with self-interest. If it gets me what I want, then it’s love. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.”
“What about your parents? Surely your father loved you and you him?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. What does love have to do with it? He’d felt an animal urge to procreate and I was the result. He owed me and I owed him.”
His statement and tone, devoid of any emotion, shocked her. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He shrugged. “We respected each other. That’s more than most people have. And, may I add, I could see, feel, touch and taste that respect. It was there when I woke up in the morning to a warm breakfast and there when I went to bed at night in a clean bed.”
“What about your mother?”
“She died when I was six. I don’t remember her.”
“Don’t you think she loved you?”
“Like most women, I imagine she loved the role of wife and mother. Again, self-interest.”
She felt as though she’d been hit by shrapnel again. He’d never experienced love? That went a long way toward explaining why he was such a bastard, attractive bastard though he was.
Deny it all he wanted to, but she knew his mother loved him. Hadn’t she requested the Heavenly Council’s help? Nat could deny it, but he’d been the recipient of love.
“What about women? Haven’t you ever fallen in love? Met someone who knocked your socks off?”
He smiled a very toothy smile, a smile that reminded her of the wolf when Red Riding Hood arrived at Grandma’s. “Lust, pure and simple.”
“Okay. No love. How about hate? Have you ever hated someone or something?” If she couldn’t appeal to his higher self then perhaps the baser might come into play.
“I never needed to hate. I always got revenge against my enemies. And speaking of revenge, pet, if you don’t stop grilling me about emotions, I may consider getting some revenge of my own.” He leaned close to her. “Either unlock the door and let me go home to grab some shut-eye or tell me just what the hell it is you think you want.”
She held up her hand, for all the world as if that would ward him off. Right. She felt a bit like Daniel standing up to Goliath. Or was that David? She’d never done well at Sunday school. “I’m getting there, just bear with me a little longer.”
He rolled his eyes. Nice eyes. Ringed by long black lashes. Then a thought occurred to her. “Wait a second. I thought of something you love.”
“And that is?”
“Money. Or power. Or both.”
“Self-interest again. I like the things that money buys. I’m more comfortable in a plush office and with a limousine than I’d be working in a warehouse or driving a cab. Same thing for power. They get me what I want.”
“Dam—Drat.” She sighed and turned her head to view the angel who’d brought her into this mess. “Leonard, I don’t think his mind is any more open than when we started. I vote we give up.”
Leonard looked disappointed.
“Good idea,” said Nat. “Give up and leave.”
Leonard now looked as though they’d both let him down. Daphne said, “Great, Nat. Now you’ve hurt him. If you could see Leonard’s face, you’d feel ashamed of yourself.”
Nat snorted. “If you aren’t going to unlock the door and leave like a good little girl, then I’m going to make myself another drink.”
“Leonard, maybe you could let him feel the effects of the alcohol after all? That might open him up?”
Leonard tsked. She hadn’t really thought he’d agree.
Nat didn’t rise. Instead he reached over and fingered one of the spaghetti straps attached to her dress. Leonard hadn’t wanted her to wear such a revealing outfit but she’d insisted. Experience had taught her that if a woman wanted a man’s attention, it helped to really get his attention. Judging by Nat’s expression, she had his. When he inserted his little finger under her strap, tingles went running down her torso. She slapped his hand.
He yanked it back then slowly shook his finger at her. “If you aren’t a good little girl, then you’re a naughty girl. And you know, I’ve never been alone with a woman this late at night unless she was lying naked in my bed. What say we –”
Daphne jumped away from him. “Don’t even think about it. I’m here to save your eternal soul, buddy, and don’t you forget it. Besides, you’ve embarrassed Leonard. He’s an angel, for heaven’s sake. You don’t do things like that in front of angels!”
“I can’t hear him, see him, touch him or taste him. Seems to me you’re all alone with me in this locked room. If I’m going to waste my time then I’ll waste it my way.” He slowly stood, then took a step toward her.
“Leonard,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’d appreciate it if you’d do something.”
The sound of harp strings filled the air.
“There!” Daphne grinned. “You heard him.”
“Yeah, so now in addition to hunting for a hidden camera, I know to hunt for a speaker.” He darted toward her.
She squealed and ran behind his desk. Her gaze found what she was seeking. The letter opener. Grabbing it up, her charm bracelet jangled as she said, “Come any closer and I’ll skewer you.”
“Only a child would be afraid of that thing.” Swaggering now, he kept coming.
She waved it at him as if it were a rapier. “I’ll … I’ll open your innards.”
“Unlock the door, Daphne.”
“Forget it.” Just as she prepared to jab him, she heard the metallic snap of a lock.
Nat pulled back with a superior smirk. Daphne looked at the door. It now stood open.
“It took you long enough, Leonard,” Nat commented. “You wouldn’t want me to take advantage of your little dupe, now would you?” He strode toward the open door.
“So you finally believe Leonard’s an angel?” Daphne asked.
“Of course not. With all the bugs in this room, it would probably take an angel to clean it all out. Coming, Daph?”
She shook her head in total defeat. She should have known she couldn’t do this one simple thing the Council had requested.
Nat glared at her, then turned his back and left.
She hugged herself. “Leonard?”
A bell rang, startling her. He slowly materialized. “Yes, child?”
“Where were you?”
“I had something to attend to. What do you need?”
Daphne bit her lower lip then said, “It looks like my job is done here. I failed. Couldn’t I please go back to my old life?”
“I only wish you could. However, I think I’ve found just the situation for you.”
Something about his expression made her suspicious. “What do you mean?”
“A new life, precisely as the Council promised you. Shall we take a look?”
“I suppose so.” Daphne sighed. “What about my parents, Leonard? My mom and stepdad?”
“Since you’ll soon be entering into another life, you must try to forget your past. However, you needn’t worry. I’m sure they’re being cared for.”
“But you don’t know that, do you?”
“Can we check on them?”
“I’m sorry. You gave up that right when you elected to return to earth. Coming?”
Obviously, she had no choice in the matter of her past. “All right.”
A sensation of dizziness and movement enveloped her. When her senses cleared, they were outdoors. As she glanced around at the unfamiliar snowy scene, she realized Leonard had transported them to another place without the normal time necessary for physical travel. Leonard gestured for her to peer through a window at a young woman.
“What do you think?”
“I think I’m a little old to become a Peeping Tom. Besides, it’s cold out here.” She stamped her feet, regretting her earlier impulse to attract Nat by wearing skimpy clothing. She should at least have asked for a mink coat or something warm.
“That’s not what I meant. What do you think of the young woman?”
She glanced in the window. “What’s she got to do with me?”
“She’s due to have an aneurysm tomorrow. Her body, in fact her life, will be available. While the Council can only restore your current body for a few hours, it can repair a living body and transplant your soul once the current soul has gone on to her reward. A soul whose time has come.”
They watched the young woman for a moment longer. Leonard added, “She’s a nice girl, has a fiancé who’s a nice boy. Attends religious services regularly.”
So she’d just take over her mended body? It felt rather cannibalistic. “What’s she do for a living?”
“She’s a librarian. Head librarian. Not a bad job, one you could easily do with your background as a reporter. The Council has been anxious to find you something suitable and they feel this is close.”
“Close.” Daphne’s body shook. The Council was going to keep its word. She’d have a life. But what kind of life?
“If you find you don’t like something, it’ll be your life. You can change things to suit yourself.”
“And I just step in and take over?”
“It’s the best we can offer, Daphne. There are a few other possibilities but I believe you’d like this life. Remember, you wanted children—they’d be within your reach.”
Daphne watched the young woman for a long minute. She was doing sit-ups while watching TV. Looking around the room, Daphne saw a couple of photos sitting on the mantle. One was a photo of a young man. The woman’s fiancé? And the other showed an older couple. Perhaps her parents? They looked pleasant. Instantly, she was filled with sympathy for them. They’d soon be without their beloved daughter. Would they feel as empty as she did?
Her gaze shot back to the woman. “What’s her name?”
Leonard looked at a pad that magically appeared in his hand. “Mary Falkirk.”
“Nice.” She eyed the woman. “I’d feel funny about just taking over her life, Leonard.”
“Mary has a place already reserved for her in heaven. It’s her destiny and one she’s ready and prepared to fulfill. Although she’s not consciously aware of it, her soul is happy to take wing.”
That made it seem not quite so bad, Daphne thought, beginning to accept the concept. Mary wasn’t beautiful but she wasn’t plain either. Just a nice normal woman who would die soon. Reminding herself that Mary would be fulfilling her own destiny, a fate that seemed pleasant except for the feathers, Daphne watched Mary stretch to touch her toes. She could probably accept Mary’s life. But there was just one thing. A thing she hated to admit, even to herself. Mary was rather—slight. Daphne looked down at her own figure.
“Leonard, I hate to say this but …”
“Is this my only option? I know it’s earthly, and all that, but couldn’t you find someone with a figure similar to my own? I’m not exactly large in the—you know.” She couldn’t say it. Not to an angel. She gestured toward her bosom. “But I’m not totally without—you know, either. Is it too self-centered to ask?”
Leonard smiled knowingly. “I see what you mean. Hadn’t thought about it, actually. I’ll check out the other possibles and see.”
“Oh, and Leonard, I know I’m not a beauty, but I really wouldn’t mind being one this time.” She shrugged. “If it’s all the same to the Council.”
This time Leonard not only smiled, he laughed, a merry sound much like the tinkling of wind chimes. “Anything else?”
“No. I like Mary but, I’d like to learn more. Her parents?”
“They’re in heaven. Mary will soon join them.”
“Oh. Good. I was worried about them.”
Leonard patted her shoulder and with a chiming of bells, Daphne realized she had returned to Nat’s office. Leonard whispered in her ear, “I’m needed elsewhere. I’ll return when you need me.” When she looked up, the angel was gone.
However, Nat was there, sitting behind his desk with his eyes closed. He appeared tired, sad, and her heart went out to him. For all his possessions, he was terribly alone. Suddenly, his lids snapped open. “I thought you wouldn’t come back.”