She’d driven off with her friends and taken his heart with her.
Afterward, Trey had gone home and gotten soundly drunk.
The first year after she’d left had been the worst. He’d made a dozen or more excuses to visit the Lancasters and ask about her. He’d been tempted to write her but had promised himself he wouldn’t. She was out of his life now and would soon be a big shot on Broadway.
Only it hadn’t happened quite like that. By the second Christmas she was away, he’d been semisuccessful in pushing the memory of her to the back of his mind. He still asked about her occasionally and was surprised to learn that her name wasn’t lighting up any marquees. It was then that he’d begun to hope Jenny would throw in the towel and move home to lick her wounds.
It was the small quiver in her voice when he’d phoned that had first alerted Trey to the fact that something was wrong. He hadn’t been able to put his finger on it. After all this time, he didn’t expect Jenny to be the same person she’d been when she’d left Custer. He wasn’t sure now what he had expected. Instead of sounding happy, she’d seemed sad, and he’d sensed in her a deep pain she couldn’t hide.
He’d mulled that over for a number of days, and then it seemed everyone he knew on God’s green earth started talking about New York. Before he could question the wisdom of his actions, he’d booked the flight to New York and subsequently learned the truth. He wasn’t relieved or glad at her lack of success. His first reaction had been anger that those fancy, worldly men had been blind to her talents.
Trey wanted to take Jenny back to Montana. He wanted to love her, comfort her, and take care of her. More than that, he wanted to wipe away the frustration and disappointment.
He hadn’t meant to ask her to come home so abruptly, but the words had refused to remain unsaid. The first time he’d asked, her response had been quick and sharp.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.