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From Chapter 1: The Mountains of North Carolina, 1998
"I am going to kill him," Emily Jane Todd muttered; then, her voice rising, she said louder, "Kill him! Murder him. Tear him limb from limb!" She pounded her fist on the car steering wheel, but even as angry energy filled her, she felt it leave as she remembered her humiliation of tonight. And the embarrassment renewed her anger.
"Did they just give me the award because I'm going to marry Donald?" she said out loud as she swung the car around a sharp curve in the road. When one wheel hit the gravel of the shoulder she took a deep breath and told herself to slow down. But even as she let up on the gas, her foot came back down on the pedal harder and she took the next curve even faster.
When she whizzed too close past a tree in the darkness of the moonless night, she felt tears cloud her eyes. This night had meant a lot to her. Maybe being honored by the National Library Association was nothing to Donald, but it was everything to Emily. So maybe delivering free books to rural areas in the Appalachian Mountains was nothing to a big deal newscaster like Donald, but it's what took up a lot of Emily's time as well as nearly all of her money and she had been thrilled to have someone notice what she was doing.
As the tears started to obscure Emily's vision, she dashed them away sure she was smearing her mascara, but who was to see it now? She was driving back to a romantic little inn that had sherry and date cookies in each room. There were antique chests and flowered bedspreads, and the room had cost her a fortune. But she was going to spend tonight there alone!
"I should have known that everything was going wrong when they gave me a room with two beds," she said aloud, then heard her car hit the gravel shoulder again. "It was the beginning of the worst week and in "
She broke off because as she came around another sharp curve in the road, trees closing in on her on both sides, standing smack in the middle of the road was a man, his hand shielding his eyes from her headlights. Emily swerved. With all her might, she swung the wheel to the right trying not to hit him. She'd rather wrap herself around a tree than hit another human being, but suddenly, the man seemed to be between her and the side of the road. She swung to the left, back toward the center of the road, but she was going too fast for the car to respond.
When she hit the man, she felt a sickness inside her such as she'd never felt before. There was no sound in the world like that of a car hitting human flesh.
Emily felt like it took hours instead of seconds to get the car stopped, and her seat belt unfastened before she leaped out and started running. The headlights provided the only illumination in the blackness and her heart was pounding. She could see nothing.
"Where are you?" she choked out, feeling frantic and very frightened.
"Here," she heard a whisper, then she went tearing down the side of the steep embankment that ran alongside the road. Her long, beige satin dress caught on every fallen branch, and her high-heeled sandals sunk into the soft leaf mold covering the floor of the woods, but she kept going.
He had fallen or been knocked several feet down the hill, so it took Emily a while to find him, and then she almost stepped on him. Dropping to her knees, she had to feel him to see what part of him was where, since the trees blocked the light from the car above. She felt an arm, then his chest and finally reached his head. "Are you all right? Are you all right?" she kept asking as she ran her hands over his face. There was dampness on his face, but she couldn't tell if it was blood or sweat or from the moisture of the forest.
When she heard him groan, all she felt was relief. At least he wasn't dead! Why, oh, why hadn't she purchased the cell phone Donald had wanted her to get? But she'd been selfish and said that if she had a phone in her car, Donald would talk to everyone but her.
"Can you get up?" she asked, smoothing his hair back from his forehead. "If I leave you here to go call for help, I'm afraid I won't find this place again. Please tell me you're all right."
The man turned his head in her hands. "Emily?" he said softly.
At that, Emily sat back on her heels and tried to look at him. Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness somewhat, but she still couldn't see his face clearly. "How do you know my name?" she asked, and every horrible news report she'd ever heard Donald give on TV went through her head. Was this man a serial killer who faked injuries in order to lure women to their doom?
Before she knew what she was doing she had shifted her body to run back up the hill to the car. Had she left the engine running? Or had it stalled when she'd stopped so abruptly? Could she get away from him if he made a grab for her?
"I won't hurt you," the man said as he tried to sit up.
Emily was torn between wanting to help him and wanting to run away as fast as she could. Suddenly, his hand gripped her wrist and the decision was no longer hers to make.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, his voice hoarse. "You were driving very fast. You could have hit a tree and been hurt."
Emily blinked at him in the darkness. First he knew her name, now he knew how fast she was driving. I must get out of here, she thought, and again looked up the hill toward the car. She could see a tiny ray of light through the trees. Would the headlights drain the battery too much for the car to start?
Still holding onto her wrist, the man tried to sit up, but Emily didn't help him. There was something very strange about him that just made her want to get away.
"This body feels awful," he said as he raised himself into a sitting position.
"Yes, being hit by a car is indeed dreadful," she said, her voice rising as her fear increased with each second.
"You're afraid of me," the man said, his tone one of disbelief. It was almost as though he expected her to know him.
"I . . . I'm not really afraid . . ." she began, thinking that she should pacify him.
"Yes you are. I can feel it. It shines from you. Emily, how could you "
"How do you know my name?!" she half shouted.
He was rubbing his head as though it hurt him a great deal. "I've always known your name. You're one of mine."
That does it! she thought, and with a sudden wrench, she pulled away from his grip and started running up the hill toward the car.
But she didn't get very far before he caught her about the waist and pulled her into his arms to hold her close. "Ssssh," he said. "Be calm. You can't be afraid of me, Emily. We have known each other too long."
Oddly enough, his touch began to calm her, but at the same time, his words disturbed her.
"Who are you?" she asked, her mouth against his shoulder. "Michael," he said, as though she should have known that.
"I don't know any Michael." Why wasn't she struggling to get away? she wondered, even as she leaned against him. Who was it who had been hit by the car, anyway?
"You know me," he said softly, his hand entangling in her hair. She'd had it put up for the awards ceremony tonight, but it had come down and was now hanging in a mass about her neck. "I'm your guardian angel and we have been together for a thousand years."
For a moment, Emily stood where she was, safe in the circle of his arms, and didn't move. Then what he'd said began to penetrate her brain and laughter began to bubble up inside her. Laughter was what she needed after this horrible day. What should have been a great honor for her had turned into a great humiliation and had ended with her hitting a man with her car.
A man who now claimed he was her guardian angel.
Copyright © 1998 by Deveraux, Inc.