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Annette Blair, NY Times & USA Today Bestseller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2010

 

Bedeviled Angel

 

A Works Like Magick Novel

 

Book Two

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

“How could you die at a time like this?” Guardian angel fourth class Chance Godricson rushed toward the new arrivals, his many-colored dream robe flowing behind him. “Mountain climbing? Really? With your responsibilities?”

The newly deceased Fitzgeralds stepped back as Chance’s anger vibrated the rainbow dome of pre-Everlasting.

The aurora borealis had nothing on eternity.

Minion angels in pastel robes materialized and propelled Chance away from the distressed couple, a firm hand on each of his wrists.

Chance struggled against his wardens while the Fitzgeralds were led away.

The angel Angus—Chance’s friend and fellow prankster—appeared, shaking his head, his bushy white beard making Chance want to scratch his own clean-shaven face, though he resisted temptation, as all angels should.

Angus gave an empathetic sigh, scratched his fuzzy chin, then firmed his spine and his expression. “You have no purpose in this sector, my friend. Even if you belonged here, the Fitzgeralds were not yours to protect, much less to chide.”

Chance fisted his hands. “But Queisha Saint-Denis is my responsibility, and she’s the surrogate who carried their six-year-old twins. As Mr. Fitzgerald insisted, and put in his will, Queisha becomes the twins’ legal guardian at their death. She doesn’t know it yet, but the couple’s angry family does, and they hate it.”

“Ach, now, Chance—”

“Don’t shush me,” Chance said with a tug against his wardens. “This couple’s death will spell trouble for Queisha in ways even I can’t imagine.”

Angus folded his wings, which meant that he believed he had everything under control. “Queisha has always yearned for the twins she carried, Chance. Maybe they’re exactly what she needs.”

“The girls, yes. The complications they’ll bring with them, no. You don’t understand, Angus. On earth, the Fitzgeralds are at this moment considered missing, not dead, therefore their will has no power. It’s a gray area for all concerned. They died in a remote location where their bodies might not be found for weeks or months. If ever. A vague enough situation to bring the twins’ guardianship up for question. Who will get them for the interim? Who will control their fortune? What happens to someone as sensitive as Queisha when she learns . . . all of it?”

Angus’s unibrow undulated like a fuzzy white caterpillar on the prowl. “I agree that this complicates the issue, but you’ve already been told by Raphael that you spend too much time looking to Queisha’s welfare when others in your care need your attention.”

Chance’s wings bristled of their own accord, so he drew them against his body. “Queisha’s troubles are more urgent than the rest of my charges’ put together. And you know it!”

“Granted, Queisha has issues,” Angus said, “for good reason, fears that have caused complications. Crivvens, her solutions have erected obstacles, but there’s a limit to your role as her guardian. Her free will is her own, not yours, and not to be toyed with. You cannot protect her from life, Chance.” Angus made a motion to dismiss the pastel-robed guards.

The minions disappeared while Chance rubbed his wrists, from habit, not pain—pain did not exist here, but the memory of it did.

When Chance looked up, Angus, too, had vanished, and Chance found himself standing beside a precipice from which earth sat bared to his view, a brink, razor sharp in its implications, earth’s beauty mesmerizing but frightening in its pull.

From here, more than from anywhere else in the unending splendor of Everlasting, the earthen plane loomed: visible, vulnerable, and open.

Dangerously open.

Chance stepped from the allure of temptation.

Temptation? In Everlasting?

Of course not. A test, more like, and from the highest levels of angeldom. The archangels. Gabriel and Raphael.

He ran a hand through his hair. Everything he yearned for appeared so near, yet hovered light-years away. If the scene he watched at this moment—Queisha dancing with a tuxedoed hat rack—had a sound, it would seduce with promise . . . a tune as simple as the offer of an apple.

His heart pulsed at the sight of Queisha, sweeter than any fruit . . . life giving . . . as once had been said of the apple.

Chance stepped closer to the precipice so as to see her more clearly, so close that her vulnerability tugged at him in the same way it had nicked his heart and proved that organ’s existence on the day she lived and he died.

He watched her make life count, her gown flaring, its skirt ending in colored points as she participated in Dancing with the Stars, alone, more or less, in the safety of her home.

Agoraphobia: an abnormal fear of being in public places or situations or places outside a familiar environment. If only she could leave the malady entirely behind her.

Chance found Angus beside him, again, also observing Queisha. “Angus, she’ll consider her fears validated when she discovers that the twins’ parents have died. Her road to recovery will grow longer, rather than shorter.”

Angus nodded. “Aye, and who could blame her for faltering in her recovery after what she’s survived?”

His friend’s resolute stance worried Chance. “Are you here to warn me away from her, again?”

Angus obviously caught the disapproving nuance of his own body language so he relaxed, clasped his hands behind his back, and turned from the precipice. “I hear that Gabriel and Raphael are thinking about washing their hands of you.”

“Glad tidings,” Chance said, going for glib. “So what message did they send?”

Angus toed the outline of a star in the pearlescent angel dust beneath their sparkling, leg-laced high-tops before renewing eye contact. “Gabriel and Raphael, it is said, believe that you reside too much in your heart, not here in Everlasting, but on the earthen plane . . . with Queisha.”

“That’s not much of an accusation,” Chance countered. “Queisha’s more angelic than I am. More than you, too, given your habit of listening at archangel’s keyholes.”

Angus coughed to avoid a direct response. “I will, unfortunately, grant that we’re both more worldly than the girl.”

Chance relaxed, relief washing over him. At least someone understood. “So you see my problem?”

“I see it better than you do, I believe. You’re besotted by a mortal.”

“No . . . No,” Chance repeated. “No, I’m empathetic, like any guardian angel worth his wings.”

Angus smoothed his beard. “Ach, and that’s the problem. To your neglected charges, you are not worth your wings.”

Chance kept the subject of their discourse—his unruly wings—from snapping in offense. “That’s a harsh opinion.”

“It’s not an opinion, but a judgment.”

“A judgment?” Chance straightened as understanding dawned. “Only the triumvirate can pass judgment.”

Remaining silent—unusual for Angus—the Scot’s rusty brows rose.

“The triumvirate? You mean that Raphael and Gabriel called Michael—a bold move—and convened a Tribunal to discuss my behavior? That cannot be good.”

Angus raised a facetious brow. “No bloody kidding!”

“Michael is the enforcer,” Chance said, pulling his attention from Queisha. “How long will he observe me?”

“Michael has already finished observing you.” Angus sighed. “You hear nothing we say. You belong to earth and to her even now. You focus on no one but her.”

“That’s not true.” The heat of denial plagued Chance.

Angus shook his head. “What do you find so special about her?”

“She never feels sorry for herself. I like that.”

“You like a lot about her,” Angus said. “Someday, do me a favor: look back at this moment and remember, please, that I am a better friend than you think.”

Before Chance understood his friend’s intent, the Scot went shoulder to shoulder with him and shoved him off the precipice.

Shock and surprise shot through Chance, until anticipation sparked through him like fireworks on the Fourth as a whoosh of air filled his lungs

As if she were going crazy, Queisha paced the widow’s walk around the tower at least a dozen times until Vivica’s white stretch limo pulled into her driveway. Jaydun, Vivica's assistant at the Works Like Magick Employment Agency, was driving. 

Jaydun went around and opened the front passenger door.  Queisha froze and gripped the railing, her heart beating double time when a gorgeous, wide-shouldered Greek God who needed a shave stepped out.  In pricey charcoal slacks, a turquoise shirt, and a basket weave tie that pulled the colors together, he made her remember what one missed when in solitary confinement, however self imposed. 

Their eyes met and he faltered in his step as her right hand slipped from the railing, hard, and burned her palm with the scrape.  As if seeing her wince, and understanding why, he closed his own right fist, and her pain dissipated. 

Like a wooden soldier, he moved forward, breaking the filament connecting their fixated stares, as if telling himself to put one foot in front of the other.

Queisha took a forced breath with the same determination.  In, out.  In, out.  In some nebulous way, she knew she’d been waiting for him, maybe for years.  But not only him.  She sensed the presence of more specific guests—guests whose hearts beat in time with hers. 

At the knowledge, her panic attack symptoms dissolved and the remedy, the warm soothing honey of anticipation slithered through her veins.

Jaydun leaned into the back seat forever.  Did someone refuse to leave the car?  Who could remain in a back seat so long?  Then it hit her—the whole beehive, not just the honey: Little people.  Strapped in their car seats.  A host of metaphorical bees buzzed louder.  A good buzz.  Celebratory.

Queisha feared her curious heart would pump from her chest before she found out for sure.  Jaydun lifted a little girl from the backseat, then another.  Identical dark haired girls.

Twins.  Nearly six years old, but small for their age.  Petite.  No wonder they still needed car seats.

Holding back the sob rising from a deeply hidden place, Queisha tasted blood on her lip before she realized she bit through the skin.

The girls looked up at her, and she felt the pull.  Their gazes held a thrumming song of invisible yearning that entwined with her own.  She knew it as well as she knew she’d carried them.

In sync, each reached for the other’s hand, but they separated for the Greek God who stepped between them and closed his hands around theirs, one on each side.  Lucky girls.  Lucky hunk.

They’d be six in a few weeks, but someone forgot to tell them that six was a magickal age.  They wore burgundy and tan plaid school uniforms and no expressions, a good impression of the Stepford twins.

Without taking her gaze from the beautiful girls, Queisha bumped Vivica’s shoulder.  “That’s Lace and Skye.” 

Vivica slipped an arm around her waist.  “How can you be sure?”

“Dreaming about them woke me for a reason the other night.”  Queisha went down the stairs feeling awkward, backward, and out of her element.  But joyful, and already mourning the moment they must leave her.

Being alone would never be good, again. 

At the bottom, she touched Vivica’s hand.  “I’m afraid I’m going to be sick.”

“Panic attack sick?”

“Excited sick.”  She should remember not to get attached, but it was already too late.  “I never hoped . . .  Are they staying overnight?”

Vivica took her by the arms, gently enough for Queisha to get a worry knot in the pit of her belly.  “Sweetie, their parents went missing during a mountain climbing expedition on Tuesday.” 

“The night I woke afraid the girls needed me.”

“Probably because the Fitzpatricks named you the girls’ primary guardian if something happened to them.  The man you saw is Chance Godricson—I’ll introduce you after you meet the girls—is their temporary co-guardian, given these particular circumstances.  He’s here to help until their parents are found.  You have final say in their care, but he might advise you or offer options you hadn’t considered.  If a permanent arrangement has to be decided on, that decision will likely be yours.”

“Likely?  Permanent?  You mean if their parents die?  The poor babies.  How do I console them?  How much do they know?  They’re going to hate getting stuck with me when they want their parents.”

“They’ve come from a Swiss boarding school, Queisha.  They might not know their parents very well.”

Queisha straightened.  “I didn’t give them life to see them locked away.  I know how that feels and I can hardly bear the thought of it.”  Happy.  Be happy, she told herself.  Be yourself.  Whimsy is good.  Kids like to giggle. We can all change into play clothes later.

All?  She stopped walking so Vivica ran into her.

Queisha turned on her heel.  “The co-guardian?  He’s not staying here?”

“He has to, Sweetie.”

“How can I be my playful self and get to know the girls with a stranger watching?”

“He won’t always be watching.  Three meals a day requires time and attention.”

“Say what?”  Queisha’s chin went down with her brows and her frown.  “Does not compute.”

“Chance agreed to be your cook while he’s here.  You wanted me to find you a cook.”

“His name is Chance, and he’s their co-guardian and a cook?  What the devil are the chances?”

“Well, I might have given chance a nudge,” Vivica confessed. 

“Chance?  Or chance?”

“Both.  Seriously, the girls have suffered an upheaval; their parents are missing; they’re meeting their guardians for the first time.  We can’t add another stranger to the mix.”

“I suppose not, and they’ll need more nutritious meals than I can cook.  But did you see him?  He looks dangerous.”

“Physically, or dangerous to your heart?”  Vivica chuckled.  “He’s gentle as a lamb.  Protective.  He can do anything that needs doing away from the house, in the event one of the girls has an emergency.”

Queisha lowered herself into a hall chair.  “I’ll make a terrible guardian.”

“Sweetie, their parents chose you.”

“Yes, because they didn’t know about my agoraphobia.  Neither did I back then.  I hadn’t admitted to myself that I needed help yet .” 

“Sweetie, you wouldn’t put them in boarding school.  You know naturally that they need understanding, love, laughter, time and attention.”

“I see already that they need to learn to play.”

“Right, so can you think of a better guardian for them?  The Fitzpatricks knew what they were doing.  Who better to raise them?  You have a special bond, you and the girls.  They lived inside you for nine months.”

“I do love them, but I’ll need to remind myself that their parents could be found tomorrow.  For the girls’ sake, I hope they will be.”  Queisha looked out the window.  “Where are they?  I should think my co-guardian would have rung the doorbell by now.”

“I told my assistant to bring them down by the water to give you time to get used to the idea of having them here.”

“The cove!  That’s dangerous.  Call Jaydun now and tell him to bring them to the carousel off the far side of the house.  It’s open.”  Plus, she thought, there wasn’t enough time in the world for her to get used to the idea of having her babies here, or of letting them leave, again.. 

Vivica made the call.  “Since when do you have a carousel?”

“My aunt rescued it.  It’s a Rhode Island landmark from Rocky Point.  A piece of history.”  Queisha checked her hair in a mirror.  “The girls must spend a lot of time outdoors.  They’re nearly as tan as I am, and I’m half Kenyan.” 

Vivica cleared her throat.  “They’ll probably pale to a pasty white, if you make them spend as much time indoors as you do.”

“Damn it, that proves I need the hunky-damned co-guardian.”  If only he weren’t a man . . . with S E X written all over him.  Or, maybe that notion, she admitted to herself, reflected her reaction to him. 

 

 

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© Annette Lague Blair, Last website updates: 01/25/2014 04:17 PM