Authors: Sandra Chastain
Mac’s Angels: The Last Dance
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1998 by Sandra Chastain.
Flirting with Disaster
by Ruthie Knox copyright © 2013 by Ruth Homrighaus.
The Story Guy
by Mary Ann Rivers copyright © 2013 by Mary Ann Hudson.
’Til the End of Time
by Iris Johansen copyright © 1986 by Iris Johansen.
All Rights Reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Mac’s Angels: The Last Dance
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1998.
Cover Design: Derek Walls
Cover Photo: © Igor Kireev/Shutterstock
In the fifteen years since he’d created the sanctuary known as Shangri-la, Lincoln McAllister had rarely left the New Mexican mountain. No one was more surprised than he when he decided to attend the wedding of Rhett Butler Montana and Katie Carithers, his latest beneficiaries and good friends.
It had been late November when he’d called Conner Preston’s assistant, Sterling, just to check on the wedding plans. During their conversation he had casually asked Sterling, “Are you going to the wedding?”
“Oh, no,” she’d answered. “I can’t. What about you?”
“I don’t think so. You know I rarely leave New Mexico.”
“And I rarely leave Virginia.”
“But you’re responsible for the wedding,” he’d said. “If you hadn’t called me asking for an angel to
help Katie find a way to pay off the plantation debts, she and Montana might never have met.”
“But it was you who solved the problem, Mac, just as you always do. You should go. Conner thinks that a Christmas wedding in Louisiana will be the event of the season,” she’d said, almost wistfully. “And I’ll expect you to call me and share every detail.”
She was about to hang up. “Tell you what,” he’d blurted out unexpectedly. “If you’ll go, I’ll go. You know, in all the years we’ve talked on the phone and through E-mail, I don’t even know what you look like.”
“Nor I you. That way we can each be whatever the other chooses.”
“Please come, Sterling. And,” he’d added, “save the last dance for me.”
There’d been a long silence. “Perhaps.” Her voice was soft and tight. “We’ll see.”
“Perhaps,” he repeated to himself now, reliving the phone conversation he had with Sterling as if it were yesterday. Such an old-fashioned word. There were so many things he wondered about his friend’s assistant, this Sterling who rarely went out. Well,
he’d know soon. If she actually made it to the wedding.
But that possibility seemed more and more remote, he thought as he drove his rental car up River Road toward the plantation. He could fix everyone else’s problems. But personal relationships weren’t
among his successful projects. He should be back in his office, and back in control of things.
Control was important. His assistant was capable, but thus far, Mac had never left him completely in charge of what was lovingly thought of as Angel Central. He shouldn’t have left. He had his cell phone, though he genuinely hoped it wouldn’t ring.
And then it did.
“Mac,” Raymond, his assistant, said, “you’ve got a problem.”
Mac groaned. Not today. Not when he was about to meet the woman whose voice had helped him get through a lot of sleepless nights. “What is it?”
“It’s Ms. Lindsey,” he said. “She’s in some kind of trouble.”
Mac felt his chest tighten. “Sterling? What’s wrong? Where is she?”
“At the New Orleans airport and she says she needs you.”
The Louisiana airport was a madhouse. A tribe of errant elves sang carols by the front door. Ticket agents were all wearing Santa hats, but their “ho-ho-ho’s” were growing a bit frazzled. The passenger in front of Sterling had already gotten a head start celebrating the holidays by overindulging in what he called “a bit of Christmas cheer.”
“I’m sorry for the confusion, ma’am,” the uniformed attendant pushing Sterling’s wheelchair said. “Folks in New Orleans do like a celebration.”
“So do I,” she said, wondering where that response came from. The last celebration she’d been to was her college graduation party ten years before. It had been a long time since she’d encountered a crowd like this, except on television. “Is it always this wild and crowded?”
Her escort laughed. “This is nothing. You ought to see the traffic during Mardi Gras. We wouldn’t be
moving at all. There are times I wish my limo could sprout wings and fly.”
“I appreciate the personal service, but I don’t need any help with my chair. I get to work and anywhere else I want to go every day by myself.” Although, there were few places she ever wanted to go, besides work.
“I’m sure you do, but I have orders from Mr. Preston. I am to meet you at the plane, get you to the limo and to the hotel safely. In fact, I’m yours for the entire weekend, Ms. Lindsey.”
Sterling sighed. Her boss, Conner Preston, and his wife, Erica, were worse than fussy parents. As far as they were concerned, this trip was a headline event, and nothing was going to go wrong. Sterling Lindsey had not only left the office, she had left the state of Virginia. It took a wedding to do it, but the legendary Sterling was finally going to meet her friend the head angel, Lincoln McAllister—Mac.
“And I don’t need a limo and a driver,” Sterling argued. “It’s not that I can’t walk. I just can’t walk far. If you could get me to the baggage area, I can claim my own chair and go anywhere I want.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’re headed that way.”
Sterling eyed the travelers, some with armfuls of packages, some carrying tired children, but all wearing expressions of anticipation. A joyous but hectic time for a wedding. New chances, new beginnings. It took a lot to get her excited, but even she was beginning to feel the anticipation bubble up inside her.
How long had it been since she’d looked forward to anything except work? That was hard to answer. Getting out of the rehabilitation hospital? Starting a new job? Both had been difficult milestones she struggled to pass, but those events were long over. This was something new she eagerly awaited, and these new feelings felt good.
Sterling was pulled back to reality when the driver suddenly came to a quick stop as a wedge-shaped contingent of police officers followed by dark-suited men plowed through the crowd.
“Sorry,” he said, “looks like VTPs from Washington. They’re due in today.”
Sterling stared at the mass of men in dark intimidating suits. “Must be someone important with all those bodyguards. Who is it?” she whispered.
“Senator March is coming home to honor his constituents with his semiannual visit. The one in the middle is March, the one wearing gray is his personal aide. The rest are Secret Service men and local escorts, the state police.”
“He has more guards than the president. Is he that unpopular?”
“Pretty much. But it looks as if the state of Louisiana’s loss will soon be our country’s gain. March is the leading candidate for the presidential nomination.”
At that moment a little girl standing to the side of Sterling’s chair dropped a rolling toy. She darted forward, bringing the throng of men to a halt. The man in the gray suit, March’s personal aide, reached
down, picked up the toy and the child, then with a reassuring smile returned her to her mother. As his eyes swept the crowd his gaze met Sterling’s, and for one long moment locked there. His smile faded.
She felt the air rush from her lungs. Everything around her—the airport, tourists, the sounds of Christmas cheer—disappeared. She was suddenly in some kind of vacuum, a time warp that sucked her back into the past.
Oh God. Please, no!
She’d seen those eyes before. They belonged to the man who’d sent her to hell, the man who put her in this wheelchair.
He blinked twice and frowned.
The mother took the child. Senator March flashed his best campaigning smile and held out his hand. The mother shook it then watched the entourage of bodyguards regroup and sweep the senator and his aide rapidly down the concourse. Sterling’s attendant moved forward once more, falling in behind.
It was him. It had to be. She’d never forgotten those cold grayish-blue eyes, a color she’d never seen before or since. He hadn’t been wearing a suit the last time she saw him, and he hadn’t been smiling. He’d been wearing a loose ski mask, revealing only his eyes and mouth, and he’d been on the other end of the gun that shot her, a terrifying smirk on his face. With a single bullet, he’d changed her life.
Sterling’s mind raced in all directions. Everything
blurred into a dizzying mass of color. She could hardly breathe and her heart beat heavily from the struggle. She felt as if she were going to faint. What should she do?
The chair moved forward. Ahead, the passageway slanted slightly up and Sterling could see the senator’s party. Her eyes were riveted on the man in the gray suit. As if he knew she was watching, he turned and looked at her.
He remembered her.
After whispering something in the senator’s ear, he moved smoothly out of formation. Once free, he walked rapidly in her direction, fighting against the horde of travelers.
Sterling started to panic. She would call the police. No, the people guarding him were police officers. She’d call someone at the office. That was no good either. Conner was at Montana’s groomsmen’s luncheon and Katie was being entertained by her bridesmaids. Here she was, trapped in a wheelchair, in a crowded airport with the man who’d shot her ten years ago heading directly for her. She had to get away. And she didn’t have much time.
“Wait!” she said to her earnest helper.
“Why? Did you leave something on the plane?”
“No, I need to—to go to the ladies’ room, please.”
“Certainly. But I can’t go with you,” he said.
“You don’t have to. I’m accustomed to looking after myself.”
At the entrance, Sterling took over, wheeling herself into the handicapped stall.
What now? He’ll be waiting for me when I come out. I can’t run
Helplessly, she looked around. It had taken ten years for her to get her life back in order.
. Now, when she’d finally conquered her fear of the outside world and taken a chance, this happened. Her hands trembled and she couldn’t breathe.
No! No! I might have been an innocent bystander when you robbed and murdered an old man who meant you no harm, but this time I’m ready for you. You bastard, you’re not going to get to me!
She forced herself to breathe, in—out. In—out. She had to escape, call someone. She had to stay calm and think fast.
Finally the answer came to her.
I can’t run but I can walk
. Chances are, if he read the newspaper stories he won’t know that. The press had focused only on the tragedy. W
AY NEVER WALK AGAIN
. After months in the hospital, with no progress made in finding the killer, her story had died in the wake of the next crime. Obviously, he’d thought he was safe.