"Ohhhh, the weather
outside is frightful!"
"Oh, shut up!" Norah
muttered at the radio, gripping the wheel harder. She squinted at the white
road ahead of her between weak, squeaky swishes of wipers weighed down by
eyebrows of wet snow. If she heard one more too-cheerful verse about corn
for popping and the snow not stopping, she’d scream. She didn’t dare look
away from the road long enough to turn the damned radio off.
"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"
"Shit! Oh my God--"
The car swerved in a
direction all its own--diagonal, mostly. Good thing no one else was on the
road to run into. But then, since she’d probably already missed her
turn-off, the sight of another car might be a sign she hadn’t totally left
civilization. It was way too late now to turn back for home. And those
little kids at the homeless shelter were counting on her to bring--
Her cell phone tinkled the
first notes of "Angels We Have Heard on High."
"Forget it!" she snapped.
She exhaled loudly when the car finally stopped sliding, but where the hell
was she? The Wyoming countryside was a deep blue void, accented with heavy
white flakes that taunted her in the beam of her one remaining headlight.
She tugged her beaded halo back from her forehead.
Again the phone trilled.
Angels We have Heard--
Norah grabbed it. The
number on her screen made her scowl, but she might as well deal with him
now, while she wasn’t sliding.
"What?" she rasped.
"I told you I’d be there by--"
"Are you out there in this
storm?" his reptilian voice slithered into her ear. "Stupid move, Miss
Dalton. If you don’t make it back by--"
"I’ll be there, dammit!
Don’t you dare touch my stuff!"
"Ah, but beggars can’t be
choosers, can they?" he replied in an oily tone. "I have gifts to buy. Bills
to pay. You can’t expect me to float you--"
Click. She tossed
the phone back into the passenger seat, knowing it was her own throat she’d
slit...knowing there was no way come hell or hallelujah she’d make it back
to her apartment tonight, much less to the homeless shelter for the
Christmas pageant and party. The red digits on the dashboard mocked her:
8:13. Already late for her entry with Santa--if indeed the Man in Red had
made it there through this storm.
Norah’s throat tightened
around a sob and for the gazillionth time she straightened her homemade
halo. If she sat here much longer she’d be stuck out on this godforsaken
road for sure.
Cautiously she eased her
foot against the gas pedal...creeping... creeping...caught sight of an
intersection--maybe her turn-off?--and hope flared anew. Taking the short
cut through the countryside had been a major mistake, but up ahead she saw
the lighted window of a cabin. Maybe she could ask for directions or--
The cell phone jangled
again. Angels we have heard--
Norah clenched her jaw as
she inched the car around the snow-clogged corner. Leon Scurtz could screw
himself. Was no doubt fondling his crotch anyway, at the prospect of--
"No--no! Oh shit!"
Norah cranked the wheel frantically--did you turn into a skid or away from
it?--as the old Grand Prix’s back end just kept making the circle after
she’d turned at the intersection. Powerless to steer it--too damn scared to
watch the tilt-a-whirl of the snowy nightscape--she gave it more gas.
And for just a moment the
car righted itself. She shot forward down the road toward that lone, lighted
Angels we have heard--
"Get out of my life!" she
And when the car started to
spin in another lazy, surrealistic circle she held her breath and held on
Whump. Her breath
left her in a gust when the car stopped. It didn’t sound good.
"Let it snow! Let it
snow! Let it--"
She jabbed the radio button
and then sobbed with all the pent-up frustration of this past half an hour.
"Oh, fine! Now I’m off in the frickin’ ditch and I don’t know where--"
Again the phone chimed to
life. Angels we have heard--
"Yeah, well hear this!"
she cried into it. "I’ve just gone off the road, so you’re gonna have to
keep your pants on, got it? I told you I’d be there, and I will
"Ah, but will you be able
to unlock your door by then, Miss Dalton?" came Leon’s edgy question.
"You know our arrangement, little lady. And you’ve passed the eleventh hour--"
Norah yanked her keys from
the ignition. Ignoring the ding-ding-ding warning about her lights
being on, she shoved her door open, upward. Propelled by her wrath, she got
out of the car, which was sitting off the edge of the snowy road at a crazy
tilt. Her single headlight sent a sickly ray across the road, illuminating
the flake-filled sky.
She swiped angrily at her
tears. How had her entire life gone to hell so fast? Ever since Alex had
disappeared with the entire inventory of their shop, she’d endured one damn
thing after another: lost her income, couldn’t pay her rent, and now she was
stuck out in the boonies in this storm. Well by God, it was coming to a
Had come to a halt.
And now she was lost on this snowy road to nowhere, getting evicted from the
rat hole she’d called home.
Leon cleared his throat, a
sound that always promised more crap to come. "Since it’s so close to
Christmas, I suppose the Christian thing to do would be to come and fetch your
sweet little ass in my four-wheel drive--"
"Even if I knew where I
was, I wouldn’t tell you!" she shrieked. And, so the damn thing
wouldn’t ring again, she threw the phone into the open car. It hit the
dashboard with a satisfying whack. Then she slammed the driver’s side
door to stop that damn ding-ding-ding.
The muffled hush of a
winter’s night. The whisper of snow drifting across the road.
Norah shivered, scared out
of her mind. Pissed at herself for thinking she could beat this storm to the
homeless shelter...where she might be taking up residence anyway, right?
Swallowing hard, up past
her ankles in wet, heavy slush that had soaked through her shoes, she
focused on that single square of light across the road.
What if they didn’t let her
And if they did, what if
they, too, took advantage of her disadvantaged state? Out here in this vast
pasture land, there was no telling what might happen to her...when she might
be seen or heard from again, if some drunked-up ranch hand with a mean
streak met her at that door.
The wind hissed around her,
cutting through her flimsy costume like knives of ice. Sighing heavily, she
straightened her halo again. Then she trotted toward that isolated house,
praying for something good to come of this gawdawful night.
Danny Black grimaced with
another swig of his whiskey. What the hell was that light shining in his
eyes? Was the TV on the blink, or was he so fuckin’ drunk he was going
He focused on the porn
flick again, watching two chicks in black leather outfits circle each other,
sniffing like bitches in heat. The one with the spiked hair and the tattoo
on her ass was making him hard, and as he tipped the bottle to his lips
again he imagined ramming himself beneath those lush half-moons she was
wagging at him. With Gentleman Jack egging him on, why, he’d show that
cunt--both of ‘em!--what they’d been missing!
He blinked into that faint
beam of light, frowning. Nobody on the tube had taken a tumble, and there
wasn’t a fool on the face of the earth stupid enough to be out driving
tonight. But curiosity got the best of him. Mostly to rescue his cock from
the inseam cutting into it, Danny stood up and stared out the window. Cold
as it was, he should shut the drapes, but these days he didn’t really give a
damn about energy efficiency or--
For a second he swore he
saw an angel, out on the road. She was flying toward him--had a halo and
wings, no less! Then the light blinked out.
Or had he died and gotten a
glimpse of heaven before falling the other way?
Leaning his forehead on the
cold glass, Black stared out into the storm. If that was an angel, maybe it
was Mariel was coming back to haunt him. Like those three spooks in the
Danny’s heart skittered and
he clenched his eyes against her image. Took another long chug of Jack. He’d
spent the six months since her death pretending he could run this ranch
without her--had told Chico and the other hands to vamoose this week, so he
could wallow in his grief, here in Chico’s place, without them watching.
Without turning everyone’s Christmas into a pity party.
So if Mariel was out there
trying to scare some sense into him tonight--telling him to get a life, or
to let her kids take the place--
But, no. His wife wasn’t
blonde. Or skinny. And she wouldn’t be caught, well--dead--wearing a
silly-ass halo that sparkled with sequins and beads and tipped to one side
over a lopsided smile--
Nightie. Lace nightie
with a string bikini under it.
Frantically he wiped the
fog of his breath from the glass. Damned if she didn’t wave back at him. She
was shivering, pounding on his door. "Please, mister! Sorry to bother you,
Danny shook himself. He
wasn’t hallucinating--some blonde tricked out as an angel was out there
freezing her nubs off! Stumbling over the duffel he’d dropped when he got
here, Danny hauled open the door. She squinted when the light hit her,
skinny and shivering and yes, that was the flimsiest nightgown he’d ever
"Where the hell’s your
coat, little gurrrrl?" he slurred. When she winced, he was sorry he’d
snapped at her, but Jesus! Anybody out in a nightie on a night like this was
too stupid to live!
"Ih--it’s in the car
because--it didn’t fit over my wings and--" she wheezed, "and when my
car--well, I slid off the road over there--"
She was pointing, but all
he noticed was the way those boobs made that bikini sparkle when she moved.
Then he saw those feathery wings quivering in the wind, and the cold sobered
him up some.
"Here, come on in--"
She yelped and drew back
when he grabbed her wrist.
Danny sucked air, willing
himself to see just one of her, so he could get his head on straight.
He was hot and horny, and here was this blonde angel at his door and he’d
already scared her--and then scared himself at how far he’d fallen.
Moving on fumes, he stepped
aside and gestured for her to enter. Where were his manners? Mariel would
expect him to act like a gentleman and let this poor Christmas angel inside
to warm herself by his fire while he hauled her car from the ditch.
But Mariel’s not here,
Danny suddenly felt like
the big, bad-ass wolf greeting Goldilocks. As the blonde stepped gingerly
past him, her white nightie clinging wetly to the length of her body, his
grin became a leer. He was all but licking his chops.
course he’d haul
her car out of the ditch, before she could even ask. And then she’d owe him
a really big favor, wouldn’t she? And he had something really big to give
her, as well.
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