A ringing phone at two in the morning never brought good news. Olivia Sommers fumbled on the nightstand for her cell and squinted at the display. Hmmm... Blank screen. No incoming call. She frowned. The ringing continued. She didn’t have a land line…
Something glowed in the corner of the room. She sat up, heart racing, mouth as dry as chalk. An ethereal blonde woman stood—no, hovered—in her bedroom, surrounded by a glow of yellowish-white light, wearing a long pale blue robe, ringing a large silver bell.
Olivia shook her head. A dream, it was just a crazy, insanely real dream.
“You thought it was your phone?” The creature let loose a tinkling laugh. “That’s silly. Your ring tone is “Blue Christmas.”"
Yeah, that’s what was crazy about this.
Olivia scrubbed her hands over her face and shook her head. She closed her eyes tightly. When she opened them, the woman was still there.
“I’m not a dream, sweetie. The sooner you accept that I’m real, the sooner we can begin.”
Olivia managed to speak around the desert in her mouth. “B-begin what?”
“I’m here to show you what life would be—”
Olivia held up a hand. “Wait. This is one of those It’s a Wonderful Life moments? I didn’t try to kill myself, so you don’t need to show me what life would be like if I’d never been born.”
The angel rolled her eyes. “Jump to conclusions much? I never said I was going to show you what life would be like had you never been born. I was going to say, I’m going to show you what your life will be because of the bonehead decisions you’ve made.”
“Bonehead?” Okay, now she was awake. And annoyed. “What bonehead decisions?”
“Uh…the job. Moving to Rome. Holden.”
Holden… Her biggest regret. She’d loved him since she was a child. But his timing sucked.
“I wouldn’t exactly say my decision turned out badly. I mean, I’m in Rome. There are worse places to be at Christmas.”
The angel barked out an un-angel-like snort. “You’re in Rome at Christmas alone.”
A pang gripped Olivia’s chest. She did miss her family. And Holden. She sucked in a breath to stem the threat of tears. “I love my job.”
The angel waved a dismissive hand. “Whatever. Come on, get up. I have something to show you.”
Because Olivia wasn’t about to disobey an angel, she climbed out of bed, shivering in her silk nightgown.
“I’m Clarissa, by the way, so you can stop thinking of me as the angel.”
“How did you…?” Never mind. Of course she could read her thoughts.
“Yes, I can.” Her blue eyes twinkled, and her pink lips curled in a smile.
Clarissa floated through the door, and Olivia followed her into the living room, to the large window overlooking the lights of Rome, the buildings reflected in the canal water.
Clarissa indicated the window. “Now, watch closely.”
All Olivia saw was her reflection, auburn hair in disarray around her shoulders, face contorted in shock.
But as she continued to stare, an image wavered on the surface of the glass. Her office in Chicago. Right after Mr. Helman offered her the promotion. At the time, she’d just ended a five-year relationship with Brendan. She had nothing holding her back.
After she eagerly accepted the promotion, her boss shook her hand. “I need you in Rome by the end of next week.”
A week? She was flying home to Ohio to see her family and planned to stay a few extra days. ”Of course.” She’d manage somehow.
“Before you leave this evening, I’ll need you to prepare a manual for your replacement.”
She resisted the urge to check her watch. Her flight left at eight. She and Holden were going back together. His family lived in the same town as hers. They’d grown up together and both had ended up in Chicago. He would just have to go on without her. She’d get a flight out in the morning.
After Helman left, she picked up her phone to call Holden, but before she could dial, her office door opened. Holden stepped inside. Her breath caught in her throat like it did each time she saw him. His chestnut hair curled around the top of his shirt collar. His hazel eyes were framed by lashes that were too thick and dark for a man, but his masculinity allowed him to get by with it. He wasn’t classically handsome, but his crooked smile and the scar along his brow from a high school football collision gave his face character. He had a confidence and compassion that no doubt endeared him to his patients. But, what she loved most about him was that, even though they’d moved to Chicago, he was still loyal to their Cincinnati Reds and hadn’t defected to the Cubs.
“Are you packed? We need to head to the airport soon.”
She drew in a breath. “Yeah, about that…”
“What? Don’t tell me you’re not ready yet.” He pulled back the sleeve of his charcoal gray suit jacket and checked his watch. “I can run you by your place, but you’ll have to pack quickly. We can still make it.”
“No, it’s not that. I have to get some work done before I go home.”
A frown erased his pleasant expression. “Work?” He shook his head. “Olivia, you’re killing yourself for this company. You work way too much, and they don’t appreciate you.”
“Well, that’s not entirely true.” She could barely contain her excitement, and a broad smile emerged. “I was just offered a promotion. Mr. Helman asked me to train employees and oversee operations on the computer system I implemented here. He’s sending me to run the branch in…wait for it…Rome!”
His brows rose. For a moment, a look of disappointment came into his eyes, then it disappeared, and he smiled back. “That’s…great. Congratulations. So, you’re moving to Rome?”
She nodded. “In a week. That’s why I have to catch up on some work tonight. I’m sorry about our trip. You go on without me, and I’ll catch a flight in the morning.”
“The forecast is calling for heavy snow. You might not get a flight out in the morning.”
“I’m sure I will. It’s never as bad as they say.” Fingers crossed. She had to see her family for Christmas, especially since she was moving to Rome. Her mouth watered at the thought of her mother’s pumpkin bread and smoked turkey.
“Well, again, congratulations.” He came around her desk and took her hands. “I’m happy for you.” He placed a kiss on her cheek, his lips lingering a moment longer than unusual.
Flutters moved through her stomach. She drew in a shaky breath and stepped back. “Have a safe trip. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
~ * ~
Damn…Holden had been right. All flights were grounded. Olivia slumped on her sofa and heaved a sigh, trying to hold back tears. She would be alone on Christmas…no boisterous family gathering, no home-cooked meal, no late evening dessert and coffee with Holden and his family…
She plunked her chin in her hands and stared at the tree through her tears. Each year since she’d been born, her mother had hand-made her a ceramic ornament dated that year. This year’s was a Santa, holding gifts that spelled out 2015.
Wistfulness overcame her. She hadn’t seen her family since July. And now, how long would it be? An ache started in her heart and spread through her stomach.
Ugh…she had to stop feeling sorry for herself. She’d call her family tomorrow, and tonight, she’d watch the Maureen O’Hara, 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street—an activity she and Holden usually did together—and she’d suck it up and be a big girl. Maybe she’d have a chance to fly to Ohio before she left for Rome. If she could quickly make her travel arrangements, sublease her apartment, hire international movers, and catch up on work at the office…
Right. Like that was going to happen.
The doorbell rang, and she peered through the peephole. Oh my God, it couldn't be... Her pulse jumped, and her spirits soared as she tugged the door open.
~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~~ * ~
Please tune in tomorrow for Part Two.
Please tune in tomorrow for Part Two.