“You’re a hero, Belle. Or I guess, in your case, a heroine.”
“I prefer the term, ‘super goddess,’ if you don’t mind.” She snuggled against Sean on the plush couch and watched firelight dance shadows over the hard lines of his face, in such contrast with his starlit eyes. This time, he’d brought her to a winter wonderland. She’d barely hung up the phone before he whisked her to this quiet, rustic ski chalet. Outside, snow swirled while she and he stayed warm and cozy together. The two of them. Together. Alone. Romantic—in a weird kind of way.
“Super goddess, huh? What does that require? A cape and a halo?”
“A cape, a halo, and a super god by her side. You interested in becoming my sidekick?”
“We make a great team,” she said with an enticing lilt. “Don’t you think this is kind of like...fate? Like, I don’t know…I’m the Pepper to your Iron Man-slash-Tony Stark persona. Maybe I’m supposed to keep helping you with these cases of yours. I could be your official liaison with the living.”
He kissed the top of her head. “That’s a great idea, but I’m not so sure the Elders will see it that way. In fact, I bet I’m going to be in a heap of trouble after this interlude is over. Maybe even before. So if I leave here suddenly, without warning, don’t be afraid, okay? It just means I’ve been called up to face the penalty for my actions.”
“Why should you be penalized?” Peeved on his behalf, she sat up straight and screwed up her face. “We saved that poor girl’s life. Isn’t that what’s important?”
“Somehow, I don’t think the Elders are going to be too thrilled that I involved you, an attempted suicide offender, to save another attempted suicide offender.”
“You know,” she retorted, narrowing her eyes at him, “under normal circumstances, I’d kick your ass over that whole ‘attempted suicide offender’ moniker you’ve tagged me with, but I’m more concerned that you think you’re going to get in trouble for saving a teenaged girl’s life. Which, by the way, is ridiculous. All you hafta do is tell them the truth. I was around, and I could do what you couldn’t. It’s not like I was your first choice, right? I mean, you tried other options before you contacted me. But it’s because of my phone call that Nicole Zuniga is alive and will get the treatment she needs.” She thumped her chest. “Because of me. For the first time in my life, I really feel like I made a difference to somebody. And no invisible ‘Board’ is going to take that away from me.”
The wood popped, and a spark flew. Startled, she flinched.
“Easy, tiger,” he crooned and, with a low laugh, gathered her closer against his chest. “I got you.”
Yeah, he did. More than he realized. She shook off the crazy thought that she might be falling for her guardian angel. Stick to the topic, babycakes. You’re much safer there.
“One thing bothers me,” she said. “How come your boss didn’t just call Nicole herself? I mean, why’d she have to drag you in to help that poor girl—and then you had to call me? Not that I’m angry about it or anything. I’m glad I could help, but...why’d she need us?”
“Because communication between her and any of her cases is much more limited than what I have with you.”
“You were telling me about that on Rodeo Drive. Remember? When I was trying on shoes?”
His forehead pleated. “Yeah, but there’s more to the story than what I told you then. It’s strange. Everyone else in my department is limited to communicating with their offenders through dreams—only dreams. Meaning, the offenders have to be asleep. As far as I know, you’re the first person to ever sense one of us is around when you’re awake—and to address that fact. And I’m the first officer to physically leave my realm to come to yours. To be touched by someone and feel that touch. Apparently, the bond you and I share is unique.”
Unique. What exactly did that mean? What made them so special? Could it be love? Oh, Jeez, she was seriously jumping the gun here. But then again, her experience with true love was nil. Carlo had never really loved her—she saw that now. For her part, she’d only been infatuated—and not even with him. With the idea of him. She’d been in love with love, not her husband. Big difference.
She glanced upward at Sean. What kind of experience did he have with love? Probably a helluva lot more than she did.
“Sean? Have you ever been in love?”
He didn’t answer at first, and Isabelle mentally prepared herself to hear he’d left a wife and six kids behind on Earth, and he couldn’t wait until they were all reunited.
“I don’t think so,” he said at last, and she had to stifle her sigh of relief. “Not in my last lifetime anyway. I was engaged in another life, but I don’t remember any of the details.”
“I don’t really understand love,” she admitted. “I thought I did. I mean, I look at Justin and Tony, and the love between them is so obvious—so palpable—it hurts. You know? I don’t think anyone’s ever loved me like that.”
“Like…I don’t know. It’s not so much that Justin would lay down his life for Tony and vice-versa. I mean, I know they each would. But the loss of one partner would totally devastate the other. Me? I’ve always been…replaceable. God knows, no one who proclaimed they loved me has ever held me in higher regard than everyone else. When push came to shove, my mother chose my stepfather, Carlo ran off with a younger version, all my so-called ‘devoted’ fans have long forgotten me.” He started to say something, but she put her fingers to his lips to halt the argument. “I’m not feeling sorry for myself; I’m just stating fact. It would be nice to know someone loved me unconditionally, no matter what dumb thing I did, what careless remark I made, whether or not I had money or clout. Not like the way Justin and Tony love me—in a friendship way. But how they love each other—in a romantic way. I want someone who values me for who I am, not what I can give him. Someone who guards my heart and places his in my hands for safekeeping.”
The wood popped again, as if even the fire scoffed at her childish dreams. “Forget it.” She shook her head. “I’m not making sense. Forget I said anything.”
He didn’t reply right away, but his fingers twirled in her hair. Funny. He seemed to know exactly what to do to make her comfortable, to make her feel loved.
“First of all,” he said while his fingers tunneled through her hair to massage her scalp, “there is nothing about you that’s replaceable. Would I be working so hard to convince you to stay alive if you weren’t special? Trust me when I say, you have a lot to offer the world and the right man who’s lucky enough to discover you. Just because no one—including you—has figured that out yet doesn’t make you unworthy of love. If I were alive, I’d haunt you more than I do now. I’d spend every second of my life marveling at your courage, your wit, your enormous heart. Stay alive, sweetheart, and find the love that was meant to be yours.” He kissed the place where his fingers had traveled. “And secondly, for the record, I l—”
Poof! Isabelle woke in her room. The chalet, the fire, and the man of her dreams were all gone.
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