For years, Pryce Daniels has mourned his wife's passing. He's lived alone in the Montana wilderness, yearning to feel the warmth of a woman once more. This Christmas, God has heard his cry.
In a streak of light, an angel has come to Earth, intent on healing his heart. But her memories of Heaven are fading, and soon, she doesn't remember who she is.
A consuming passion overtakes them, but Pryce's doubt threatens their delicate bond. Before he can accept his gift, he must let the memory of his wife go. But his hesitation might cost his angel her life.
Rocky Mountains, Montana Territory, December 1881
Pryce Daniels stood on his porch and gazed up at the clear, twilight sky already dotted with winking stars. He took a deep breath, reveling at the scent of fresh snow and pine. The stream down the hill had frozen over after thick clouds had covered the valley with snow. The mountains, blanketed in white, fairly shone in the dim glow, a stark contrast to the lavender sky. They loomed tall and proud, as if etched from the very rock by God’s own hand.
Pryce had finished building his cabin that summer on the land he’d bought as a wedding gift for Laura. He’d been avoiding the task for years. This cabin had been meant to house their family, but instead, it held painful memories of the life they were supposed to have led. Together.
But Fate had a different idea.
Shortly after their wedding, he’d taken Laura deep into the mountains to show her their land and the bare bones of the cabin he’d begun to build. He never should have brought her. She’d wandered off while he’d been napping, unbeknownst to him, presumably to see the land for herself. She’d never returned.
When he went looking for her, he found her at the base of a looming cliff, apparently having fallen to her death. Tears burned at the memory, and he pushed it from his thoughts. It had been five years, but it still cut deep. He’d been the one to carry her back to the unfinished cabin. He’d been the one to dig her grave.
Ever since, he’d become a hardened man, withdrawing from society until finally, he’d decided to live solely on the land he’d bought. He’d shed blood, sweat and tears for this place. This was his home, and he was damn proud of it.
He just wished Laura was with him. By now, they’d have children who would be playing with each other in the fresh snow. Christmas was two weeks away. No doubt, she would have made him cut down one of the majestic trees surrounding the cabin to decorate for the occasion. Gifts would have been made and wrapped in fancy ribbons, and they’d have a feast worthy of a king.
Instead, he was alone in this cold, desolate, awe-inspiring wilderness, wondering what the hell he’d do with the rest of his life.
He wished he’d died with Laura.
In many ways, he had.
“Why did you take her?” he asked the sky. “I loved that woman, and you stole her from me. I can’t live like this!”
Silence answered him.
What did he expect? God didn’t answer prayers.
A bright, fiery arc lit up the sky, seemingly out of nowhere, flying low over the cabin in a spectacular display. Never in his life had Pryce seen a shooting star so low to the ground. The roar of fire echoed off the mountainside, lighting everything in its orange-red luminescence before it disappeared amongst the trees not too far away. The ground shook as a deafening explosion rocked the forest.
Pryce launched off the porch and into the snow, crunching the fine powder beneath his boots. He ran toward the light, convinced the entire countryside was going up in flames. The smell of smoke burned in his nose as he ran, making him stumble a few times.
It didn’t take him long to reach the point of impact, but what he saw shocked the shit out of him.
A wide crater spread out among a ring of fallen trees. The ground was black and scorched, yet smooth, almost like glass, with no trace of snow covering it.
In the center of the crater...was a woman.
She was struggling to stand, but that wasn’t what amazed him most of all. She was glowing.
Where the hell had she come from?
Pryce slid over the rim, losing his footing a few times.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” he called out.
She’d finally managed to stand and looked at him over her shoulder. He stopped in his tracks.
He’d never seen a woman more lovely than the one before him. Long, golden hair fell in waves down her back, while bright blue eyes seemed to look into his very soul. Her skin was as smooth and pale as alabaster. She smiled at him, revealing straight, white teeth, and nothing else existed but her. The trees, the snow, the blackened ground... It all disappeared. Only she mattered, setting his entire body on fire.
She drew him like a moth to a flame. Who the hell was she?
“Pryce Daniels,” she said, still smiling.
Hearing her say his name washed over him like a balm. Her voice was like birdsong, filling the surrounding trees with its glorious resonance. It seemed natural she’d know it.
“God has heard your cry.”
That got his attention. “What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“I am the gift to heal your heart.”
The woman turned to face him fully. Her gown was made from shimmering white silk, conforming to her body. She held out her arms as if to embrace him. Damn, but he wanted to take those steps that would bring him within her reach.
“I am yours, Pryce Daniels.”
He glanced at the sky once again. “Where on Earth did you come from?”
“I am not from Earth. I am from Heaven.”
He scoffed. “Lady, I don’t know who the hell you think you are...”
“I am your gift,” she repeated, still holding her hands out for him.
He couldn’t help but stare at her. The woman was exquisite. But what she implied was almost laughable.
“You’re an angel, is that it?”
Her smile widened, and she nodded.
“God has seen fit to give me an angel?”
She nodded again.
“Lady, you’ve got some nerve!”
Her smile faltered. “Whatever do you mean?”
“God doesn’t just hand out angels to the unassuming. I think you need to rest the night, and I’ll take you down the mountain in the morning.”
“You are wrong, Pryce Daniels. Every year, God gives a gift to one person at Christmas. This year, He has chosen you. And I am your gift.”
“Just call me Pryce, lady. And if God wanted to give me a gift, He would have given me my wife back.”
The woman shook her head sadly. “Your wife is in Glory. To bring her back to this sinful world would only torture her with memories of Heaven. I do not believe you’d wish that for her.”
“Don’t presume to know what I want! What about you? If you’re some kind of...angel,” he said, looking her up and down, “then how can you stand to be here?”
“Because God has given me to you.” As she spoke, her glow dimmed. “This is my purpose.”
The night grew darker around them. He hadn’t noticed how much of the light she’d been sustaining, but now that her glow ebbed, the darkness pressed in like a shroud.
The woman looked up at the stars. “I’m forgetting.”
Pryce took a deep breath. “Forgetting what?”
“Everything.” She looked at him with surprise. “I can’t remember...Heaven. It’s fading. Everything’s fading.”
Her light finally went out. The moment it did, she crumpled to the ground.
He’d been unprepared for her to fall, and he sprang forward, collecting her in his arms. The contact pulsed through him like a lightning strike. It felt right to hold her, to be close. She smelled of roses. Her hair was silken soft, her gown like velvet beneath his fingertips. Heat radiated from her. He didn’t feel the cold at all.
The woman barely opened her eyes.
“What happened?” he asked, not knowing what to do for her. “Are you all right?”
“It’s gone,” she whispered. The sorrow in her voice was unmistakable. “It’s all gone.”
Her sadness seemed to seep into him.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured, not knowing what else to do. She brought her hand up to stroke his stubbled cheek, and he had to resist the urge to hold it there.
His heart hitched. The look in her eyes was a combination of confusion and wonder.
“You’re all I know.”
He hadn’t been expecting that. “Do you remember your name?”
She thought for a moment then shook her head. “I...”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll get you warmed up and give you a good meal. We’ll figure out what to do with you in the morning.”
His legs were shaky, but he managed to stand with her in his arms. For the first time, he noticed her feet were bare. He couldn’t very well allow her to walk through the snow with no shoes on.
But how had she traveled in the forest without shoes? Strike that. How had she climbed the mountain on her own to get to his land? He wasn’t buying her story. She wasn’t some angel from Heaven. She hadn’t literally fallen from the sky.
As soon as he’d climbed out of the crater, her hands circled his neck. It reminded him of carrying Laura in his arms before he was about to make love to her. A weight settled in his heart as he trudged through the snow.
“You’re sad.” The woman touched his chest. “Don’t be sad.”
He looked down at her, overcome with the desire to kiss her. It made him stop mere yards from his cabin. “What are you doing to me?”
Pryce growled, his anger pricked. “You can’t heal me, lady. No one can.”
She didn’t say another word, but her hand remained on his chest as he climbed the stairs to his porch. It was all he could do to ignore it.
He’d left the fire burning, with a thick stew simmering above it. The smell made his stomach twist. The woman in his arms didn’t seem to notice. He set her down once he’d crossed the threshold, and then turned to close the door.
The fire gave the cabin a warming glow. A small table sat in one corner, with two chairs pushed under it. His unmade bed was in the opposite corner, covered with a quilt his own mother had made him once he’d married. Living alone hadn’t given him any desire to clean up after himself. But having this woman look at the clothing strewn across the round rug on the floor flustered him.
“Sorry about that mess,” he said, grabbing shirts, pants, and socks. He threw them into a pile. “I don’t usually have company.”
“I know,” she said, still looking around her. He gazed at her sharply but didn’t push to know how she knew.
She rubbed her stomach. “I...feel hollow.”
He grinned at her choice of words. “That means yes,” he said.
Thankfully, his bowls were clean. He grabbed them off a nearby shelf and ladled the food into them. She watched as he took them to the table. Pryce felt compelled to hold her chair out for her. She merely stared at him, her hands folded demurely in front of her.
Her gaze drifted up to his. The utter and complete trust in them turned his stomach inside out. “Is that my name?”
She seemed genuinely unsure.
“I don’t know,” he confessed with a shrug. “But since neither of us knows what to call you, it’s as good as any.”
She furrowed her brow, obviously thinking on his words before giving him one nod. “Angel. That is my name.”
With silent feet, she wandered to where he stood and sat in his proffered chair.
Pryce lingered, his nostrils filled with her rosy scent. He wanted to touch her. Didn’t matter where. Didn’t matter how. He couldn’t stop his fingers from grazing her shoulder. He shivered. What was the matter with him? How could he so easily forget Laura? A pretty face didn’t usually sway him, and he sighed in frustration.
With an ungentlemanly flop, he sat in the other chair and grabbed his spoon. Angel stared at him with a curious expression on her face. He dipped his spoon and held it to his lips. She intently watched him as he took a bite.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asked.
She picked up the spoon and held it as if she’d never held one before. With unskilled hands, she dipped hers as he had and put it in her mouth. She shrieked and spit it out.
“What is it?” he exclaimed, standing so fast his chair fell over. Angel was coughing, and her face turning bright red.
He rounded the table and smacked her back a few times.
“Hot!” she managed to say.
He couldn’t hold back his grin.
“You gotta blow on it.”
“My mouth hurts.” Her eyes were glassy with tears. Pryce’s heart cracked. Poor thing had burned herself.
“Like this.” He picked up her spoon and dipped it, then blew on it to cool it down. “See?”
He tried to give her the spoon, but she turned away.
“Here.” Kneeling at her side, he cupped his hand underneath it, so as not to drop any on her gown. He held it to her lips. She looked at him with uncertainty.
“It’s all right,” he told her.
She opened her mouth. The moment her lips closed around the spoon, his cock stirred. The way she shut her eyes to savor the taste of the stew had him imagining things he had no right to imagine. He took another spoonful from her bowl and blew on it again. Angel watched as he brought it up to her once more.
This time, she held his eye contact as she took her bite. She licked the stew from her lips.
“Good?” he asked, mesmerized by her.
Damn. His libido spiraled out of control. If he stood now, she’d be eye-level with his raging hard-on. Guilt rode him. How could he possibly desire her? He’d barely been in her presence for an hour. What did that say for the memory of his wife?
“You are not betraying her,” Angel said, her eyes softening.
Had she somehow read his thoughts?
“Your vow was until death, Pryce. You are no longer her husband.”
Hearing her speak so casually of Laura raised his hackles. “You don’t know a thing about my wife. Keep your thoughts to yourself.”
Her words had been like a cold bucket of water. His lust was gone, replaced by a burning emptiness. No longer hungry, he stood and wandered to the fire, stoking the embers and throwing on another log.
“I did not mean to offend you,” she said from behind him. He ignored her.
As the silence stretched on, he glanced over his shoulder. She wasn’t at the table. Alarmed, he turned, only to find her sitting on the bed, watching him. Seeing her there sucked the breath from his lungs. She was gorgeous, a prize any man would give his eyeteeth for. Certainly, his cock had taken notice.
She did indeed resemble the angels from paintings, with flowing hair and shimmering clothes. All she lacked was wings and a halo. But the way the firelight lit her fine features, he had to wonder if she didn’t already have a halo.
“Do you wish me to leave?” Her smooth voice penetrated his thoughts. He watched as she stood and walked to him, once again making no sound. She knelt with him in front of the fire, gazing into his eyes with expectation. “I do not wish to cause you pain.”
She reached out her hand and pushed a stray lock of hair from his forehead. He jerked back so fast, she jumped at his action and couldn’t hide her look of sadness. Angel stood, but Pryce grabbed onto her wrist, stopping her retreat.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But when you touch me, all I see is you. It’s...a bit shocking.”
She smiled down at him, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Then I will refrain from touching you again.”
The finality of her words was almost like a nail in a coffin. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but at the same time, it was. Confusion spiraled through him, and he let go of her wrist. She stood there, her head bowed.
“I shall leave you, Pryce. It would seem God has sent you the wrong gift.”
Before he could stop her, she’d stepped around him.
“Angel, wait….” He turned, only to find an empty cabin. “What the hell?” The only thing left of her was her flowery scent.
He jumped up and glanced around, then raced to the door and tore it open. “Angel?” he called. “Angel!”
“I’m here,” she said from behind him, her soft voice breaking through his sudden terror. He slammed the door and leaned against it for a moment before he faced her. Good Lord. Maybe she really was what she claimed. No one could merely vanish.
Once he’d turned, he saw her, filling the one room of his cabin with her ethereal presence. How had he lived these past years without her? He could hardly remember. They seemed foggy somehow, as if he’d only been merely existing before.
Now, he was alive.
“Where’d you go?” he demanded.
“I hid myself,” she said simply.
“You do not want me here.”
“You don’t know what I want.”
She smiled. “I know you want peace. I know you want love. I can give you both.”
“How?” he asked. “By being my angelic gift of sex?”
Despite his harsh words, she seemed unperturbed. “Sex is a part of love, so yes, to be perfectly honest.”
Her answer knocked the fight right out of him. “Do you know how long it’s been?” he asked, advancing on her.
“Over five years,” she said, not retreating.
“And if I demanded it of you?”
He stopped in front of her. She looked into his eyes. Her innocence shamed him, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“I would not fight you.”
“Because you’re my gift,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his words.
“Yes. But also because I love you.”
She might as well have punched him in the gut. “What did you just say?”
“I love you, Pryce.”
“You don’t know a damn thing about me. How can you possibly say that?”
“I know you better than you think. I’ve always watched over you.”
“Always? What, all of an evening?”
“Your entire life. I’m your guardian angel.”
He stopped breathing, and his eyes widened. His skin prickled as every hair stood on end.
“You’re all I’ve ever known.” She stepped closer, but good to her word, she didn’t touch him. “I tire, Pryce. May I sleep with you?”
His mouth dropped open. All sorts of sinful images plagued him, and he couldn’t help but imagine what her breasts looked like tightened with desire, what her legs felt like wrapped around him, or if she trembled when she came. His breath puffed in short gasps, and his clothing was suddenly too tight. He didn’t know how to answer her.
His prolonged silence was his answer. Angel glanced around the cabin.
“Do you have an extra quilt and pillow, then? I will rest in front of the fire.”
Thinking of her on the floor snapped him out of his stupor.
“No, you take the bed. I’ll sleep on the floor.”
She nodded and watched as he pulled a second quilt and pillow from under the bed. He laid them out and tried his hardest to ignore her when she tucked her bare feet into his sheets. Angel closed her eyes, her mouth moving silently.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Praying,” she answered, tucking the quilt to her chin.
He hadn’t counted on her quiet breaths to set his heart on fire, but he couldn’t deny it. He wanted her. More than water, more than food. More than life itself.
He’d been up on the mountain too long. The cool air had somehow driven him mad. The only other explanation was too far-fetched to be real.
But he found himself wanting to believe almost as much as he wanted to join her on the bed. The night was cold, long and lonely.