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Authors: Debbie Macomber

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BOOK: Touched By Angels
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No.

That had been before he’d kissed her. When he’d asked a second time, she hadn’t answered.

Someone slipped a tape inside the cassette player, and a fresh batch of Christmas music filled the room. Several started to sing, and soon Trey heard three distinct parts, blending in perfect harmony.

Within a few moments everyone had stopped chatting to sing along. Jenny drifted over to Trey’s side. He’d never tire of hearing her sing. This, he decided, was what angels must sound like. Her voice conjured up that image for him.

The old Christmas carols were his personal favorites, and when the first introductory notes of “Silent Night” played, Trey sang along himself. It surprised him how well his deep voice blended with Jenny’s.

Pleasure lit up her eyes when she turned to smile at him.

He returned the gesture and draped his arm around her shoulder. A couple of the men in the group glanced his way and frowned. Trey didn’t blame them for being jealous. He had battled down the affliction every time Jenny so much as glanced at another man. In the beginning it had damn near eaten him alive, but time and effort had helped him master his feelings.

Soon the music faded, taken over with small talk. The crowd was beginning to get to him, so he decided to step outside for some fresh air. To his surprise, Jenny grabbed her coat and followed him.

“Come with me,” she said, and led him to the fire escape. She sat down and patted the space next to her. “I used to sit out here in the hottest nights of summer,” she said. Her breath produced clouded puffs in the cold night air. “Out here with the sky bright with stars was as close as I could get to feeling like I was in Montana again,” she admitted.

It was hard for Trey to hold his tongue. He’d already asked her twice to come back to Custer with him. He wouldn’t do it again.

“I wondered if you ever thought about home,” he said.

“Every day.”

“Did you think about me, Jenny?” He braced himself, fearing he wouldn’t like her answer. He had never said a solitary word about his feelings for her.

When she looked up at him, Trey noticed that her eyes were bright with unshed tears. “I thought about you a lot, Trey. I don’t know why, but in the last six months it seemed you were on my mind nearly every day.”

“You never wrote me,” he reminded her.

Her smile was weak at best. “You didn’t write me, either.”

That he couldn’t argue with.

“Did you . . . did you think about me, Trey?”

“Every damn minute of every damn day you’ve been away,” he admitted huskily. He kissed her then, simply because he needed her so badly. He’d loved her for so long, he didn’t know what it was not to love her.

Her ready response left him lightheaded. The kiss went on and on until they were both desperate to breathe.

“Oh, Trey,” she whispered, and buried her face against his neck.

It was heaven to hold her and the purest form of torture he had ever experienced. Heaven and hell.

The door abruptly opened behind them, and a couple stumbled out, giggling.

“Sorry!” the male voice charged. “We haven’t interrupted anything, have we?”

“Modesto’s been shot.” Shirley landed on the fire escape with such an urgency that she nearly unseated Mercy.

“My goodness,” Mercy said, gasping.

“Did someone call for me?” Goodness asked, joining her two friends.

“Modesto’s in the hospital,” Shirley blurted out in a dither. “It was a gang shooting . . . someone he didn’t even know. We’ve got to get there.”

“What about Brynn?” Mercy asked, following her friend.

“She’s already at New York General with Roberto and his brother. Emilio’s in a bad way.”

“Oh my.”

Together the three of them left Jenny and headed across town. They soon descended into the hospital waiting room where the situation was tense.

Emilio sat in the corner of the room, bent forward, his elbows braced against his knees. Shirley couldn’t remember ever seeing the teenager look more stricken. Roberto sat next to his brother, and Brynn couldn’t seem to hold still. She paced from one side of the room to the other.

Modesto’s mother was weeping softly. His older sister had her arm around their mother, but she looked as though she were about to break into tears herself.

“They’ve been waiting two hours,” Shirley informed her friends.

“What’s taking so long?”

“Modesto’s in surgery.”

“How did something like this happen?” Mercy asked. In all the time they’d been working together, they’d never been a part of this kind of tragedy.

“I don’t know what to do for them.” Shirley turned to face her two friends. Always before she’d been the one with the most experience and the one the other two had looked up to for help. She looked desperately to Goodness for help.

“This is just terrible,” Mercy murmured, wringing her hands. “Just terrible. Poor Modesto.”

“Poor Brynn.” Shirley stood near the young teacher and watched her pace. “She’s nearly beside herself with worry.”

“Stand with her,” Goodness urged. “Give her your strength.”

“Mine?” Shirley was beside herself. Never had she felt more inadequate. “Gabriel was right. I don’t have nearly enough experience to help Brynn the way I should. She needs me and I’ve failed her.”

Brynn collapsed into a chair, and Shirley sat next to her and folded her wing protectively over the young woman.

“Stay with her,” Goodness suggested. “I’m going to find out what I can about Modesto’s condition.”

“I’ll go with you,” Mercy said, joining Goodness. “Don’t you worry about a thing,” she said, looking back at Shirley. “I’m sure everything’s under control.”

The last thing Shirley wanted was to be left alone. She ached the same way Brynn did, worried the same way Brynn did. She shared her charge’s feelings of inadequacy. If ever Gabriel was right, it was now.

“Shirley.”

Just thinking about him seemed to have conjured up the archangel.

“Gabriel,” she said, leaping to attention.

“How are things going?” His presence seemed to fill up the hospital waiting room.

Shirley thought briefly of bluffing her way out of this, then figured Gabriel would be able to see through her in less time than it took for a heart to beat.

“It’s about Modesto,” she explained, distraught and near tears herself.

“I know all about the boy.”

“Can you tell me what’s going to happen to him?”

Gabriel inclined his head slightly. “He’ll recover in time.”

Shirley sighed with heartfelt relief. “Thank God.”

“I’ll mention it the next time we talk,” Gabriel assured her.

Sheepishly Shirley looked to the mighty archangel. “You were right,” she admitted sadly.

“That’s always nice to know, but exactly what am I right about this time?”

“Me helping Brynn. She’s falling in love with Roberto.”

“So I understand.”

Shirley waited for Gabriel to voice his disapproval, but he didn’t.

“Mr. Whalen placed a formal reprimand in her file.”

“I heard about that as well.”

“Suzie’s pregnant.”

“Yes.”

“Everything’s one giant mess, and it’s all my fault.” She hung her head, not wanting to view the disappointment in Gabriel’s eyes.

“Your fault?” Gabriel echoed, then chuckled softly. “You’ve got it all wrong.” Gently he placed his wings around Shirley’s burdened shoulders. “I couldn’t be more proud had I trained you myself.” He paused and sighed deeply. “Come to think of it, I have.”

Thirteen

Hannah returned home from an errand her mother had sent her on, and hurried up the stairs to her family’s living quarters. She hadn’t taken more than a few steps into their apartment when aunts, uncles, cousins, and her beloved grandmother shouted, “Surprise!”

Hannah blinked back her shock. She stared at the sea of faces and noticed Carl’s parents were present as well. Ruth rushed forward and hugged Hannah enthusiastically.

“It’s an engagement party,” her mother announced when Hannah stared at her, unable to disguise her anxiety.

Hannah looked at Carl, who was thrust into the middle of the room with her. She hadn’t seen him since he’d confessed that he’d been fired.

Admitting to his family that he’d lost his job would have mortified Carl. Hannah might never have learned the truth had she not arrived unexpectedly on his doorstep the afternoon she’d met Joshua.

When she recognized how troubled Carl was over the loss of his job, she knew she couldn’t deliver even more depressing news. So she’d been forced to bide her time.

“Apparently this party is in our honor,” Carl explained.

Somehow Hannah managed to return a smile, but she didn’t know how she would possibly make it through this party.

To be fair, Carl didn’t look any more pleased than she did with the unexpectedness of their engagement party. He had told her earlier that since he was no longer employed, they would need to postpone the wedding. The next step was to announce this to their families. Carl had wanted time to tell his parents first, and Hannah had agreed. Now they were being forced to pretend all was well when they were keenly aware that it wasn’t.

Once the pressure was off to set a wedding date, Hannah would be free to tell Carl about having met Joshua. He would understand. She was sure of that.

Hannah glanced around the room. It was filled to capacity with family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and longtime friends who’d come to wish her and Carl happiness.

Because it was expected of her, Hannah took Carl around and introduced him to her relatives.

Her grandmother gazed at her fondly from a position of honor, the recliner. Hannah had always felt close to Sylvia Morganstern. Surely she would know something was wrong. Surely her grandmother would recognize that she wasn’t in love with Carl. Hannah realized she wouldn’t be able to hide her feelings from the one who’d known and loved her all her life.

“Come and say hello to your aunt Edith,” Ruth said, placing her arm around Hannah’s waist and leading her across the room.

Carl traipsed behind obediently. Hannah didn’t know how anyone could look at the two of them and believe they were in love. Nor did she know how she could continue to pretend to be an eager bride when she intended to break their engagement at the earliest possible moment.

Briefly she closed her eyes and hoped Joshua would never learn of this engagement party. Thus far he’d been wonderfully patient with her, but she didn’t know how long that would last, especially when he learned she hadn’t broken off the engagement with Carl the way she’d promised.

“Hannah, my dear,” her grandmother said, and patted the empty seat beside her. “First introduce me to your young man and then sit down. I’m going to be greedy and hog you all to myself for a few moments.”

“Carl, this is my grandma Morganstern.”

“I’m so pleased to meet you,” Carl said formally and with deep respect.

Her grandmother asked him a number of gentle questions, which he answered, although it was clear to Hannah that he was eager to escape. Before he left, he was kind enough to bring Hannah and Sylvia each a cup of punch. Then as quickly as he could, he wandered away.

Her grandmother reached for Hannah’s hand and squeezed her slim fingers affectionately. “Now tell me all about you and Carl. How long have you been dating? How’d you meet?”

It demanded all the fortitude Hannah possessed to keep from blurting out the truth. If anyone would understand about her loving Joshua, it would be her grandmother.

“He looks like a good man.”

Hannah smiled and agreed. “He’ll be a good husband.” But not to her. She glanced in Carl’s direction and found she could barely look at him and not experience a crushing sense of guilt.

“Hannah?”

Her gaze continued to follow the man she’d promised to marry. It astonished her that she could ever have agreed to be Carl’s wife, especially when it was so painfully obvious they were mismatched.

“Carl is a wonderful man. He’s loyal and dedicated.” Hannah lowered her gaze, hoping her grandmother wouldn’t guess the love she nurtured in her heart was for another man.

Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Together Hannah’s parents brought one food tray after another out from the kitchen. The buffet-style meal was set on the dining room table. Because her parents were in the food business, this had been a labor of love, and the spread was something to behold.

“I’ve taken enough of your time,” Sylvia insisted, patting Hannah’s hand. “It looks like your mother’s ready for you and Carl.”

It didn’t escape Hannah’s notice that her grandmother didn’t comment on what a nice couple Hannah and Carl made. She was deeply relieved Sylvia hadn’t pressed her with more questions. It was difficult enough to deceive her mother and father, but nearly impossible to maintain the pretense in front of her grandmother.

Hannah joined Carl, and it seemed everyone was staring at them, waiting for something to happen.

Carl reached for her hand and whispered, “I spoke to my father.”

A sense of relief nearly swallowed her whole, and she turned to face him. “You did?”

Carl’s gaze shifted about the room. “He’s going to talk to the school board as soon as possible and see what can be done. I’m confident he’ll be able to straighten everything out.”

“That’s wonderful, Carl.”

His fingers tightened over hers. “I can’t tell you how worried I’ve been over this.”

Hannah had been concerned as well, but not for the reasons Carl assumed.

“Everything’s going to work out, Hannah, I promise you that.”

“Of course it will.” And as soon as Carl’s misunderstanding with the headmaster was cleared up, she’d be free to break the engagement.

Hannah’s father asked Carl’s father, Rabbi Rabinsky, to say a short prayer before they ate. The rabbi stepped forward and placed one hand on his son’s shoulder and the other on Hannah’s. He closed his eyes, and the room went still.

The prayer was short and potent, asking God to shower His love upon the two of them and to fill their lives with good things.

When he raised his head, there was a murmur of agreement. Her family loved her, Hannah realized, and they wished her and Carl much happiness.

BOOK: Touched By Angels
10.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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