Trusting an Angel ONLY
$ 2.99

an Archangels novel by Missy Jane

As the owner of a string of successful nightclubs all over the world, Zerach can have any woman–except for his assistant Isadora O’Donnell. First off, Isadora isn’t a one-night-stand kind of girl, and second, her dominating godparents don’t approve of him. There’s also the fact that he is an archangel with a mission to protect humans from demons, something Isadora can never find out about.

Isadora secretly longs for Zerach’s attention but her scarred body and his playboy ways keep her from acting on her feelings. With her only family on the brink of bankruptcy, shes determined to help them, even if it means trying to forget Zerach and marrying the womanizing Jake, a man she’ll never love.

Zerach tries to keep Isadora at arm’s length, but when a demon starts stalking her, Zerach will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves. But protecting her could cost him his wings.

 
 

Archangels series novels by author Missy Jane:
 
Book one: Trusting an Angel
Book two: Desiring a Demon
Book three: Saving Her Angel Coming August 2016

 
 

Information:

Title: Trusting an Angel
Series: Archangels, #1
Author: Missy Jane
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 200 pages
Release Date: April 2014
ISBN: 978-1-62266-484-9
Imprint: Covet
 
 
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
 

 
 
 

An Excerpt from:

Trusting an Angel
by Missy Jane

Copyright © 2014 by Missy Jane. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Chapter One

The Archangel Zerachial tapped his foot, steel toe striking brick with a solid click despite the sheen of rainwater beneath it. He hated waiting almost as much as he hated handling demons, but both were required of him tonight. For a fleeting moment he considered turning around, walking away. Who would know? The humans certainly wouldn’t notice. With so much death and destruction around them on a daily basis, they barely noticed the small dent he and those of his kind put in the demon population. No, the humans wouldn’t even sense it if he chose to turn his back.

His brothers would definitely notice, and they would all take him to task for it. All except Gabriel. He shook his head at that thought. This was not a night to think of his estranged brother. If his emotions became any more turbulent, his other five brothers would sense it and interfere with his evening. He didn’t want to face their pestering either. Besides, even if he was sick of dealing with the demons, the physical exertion would ease some of the tension he’d been feeling all day. Ever since Isadora stormed into his office first thing that morning. Yet another thought to bury for the moment. Sweet little innocent Isadora. It would be best if he didn’t think of her any more than necessary.

Movement seen out of the corner of his eye drew him back to the task at hand. He had a demon to dispatch and a human victim to heal. Whether he liked it or not, this duty had been handed down by the Source of All Creation at the beginning of time. He’d never once strayed from this responsibility, and there was no sense in doing so now. He waited for the right time to strike. Too soon and his quarry might escape to cause harm another day. Too late and there would be another human victim to add to the growing inner-city crime statistic. So he tempered his impatience as best he could.

The demon wore rags to match his victim, an old beggar often seen around these parts. Regardless of all the Houston city council did to revitalize downtown, there were still pockets of homeless population. This demon had become a pro at blending in with the vagrant community to gain a smidgen of trust, which it turned against its victims as it sucked their life out of them while they slept. Luckily, this time Zerach had felt the evil close to his downtown office and decided to take a closer look. This demon did nothing to hide itself from the archangel in its midst.

The demon dragged its victim toward one of many large Dumpsters behind the convention center. Now that the sun had set, no one paid it any mind. There were no events in the building tonight, and the security guard remained somewhere deep inside. No one on the nearby freeway would even glance their way.

Zerach stepped off the roof of the building, floating three stories to the parking lot below. He landed lightly on his feet with barely a sound. The demon didn’t even notice.

The victim had finally realized the demon’s intent and started to struggle as whatever he’d imbibed slowly left his system, although the drugs or alcohol still obviously weakened him. The man’s aura was muddied, alternating between harsh reds and nearly-black blues and browns. The demon’s strength proved too much for the man. It was like watching a grizzly bear play with a kitten.

Zerach pulled the shadows more tightly around them, using his angelic talents to hide them from human view. The lights on the building dimmed within a few feet of their position as the shadows lengthened.

“Aaaaangelllll,” the demon hissed.

Ugly and smelling like a corpse covered in rotting fish, it resembled every other low-level demon he’d ever seen. Zerach shook his head and clenched his fists as he glared. “Time to go back to the hell you call home.”

The demon hissed and stuck out a blood-red, forked tongue. Zerach rolled his eyes. “That the best you got? Drop the human.”

At first he didn’t think it would listen. Just as he prepared to lunge, the demon lifted the vagrant and threw him hard enough to hit Zerach full in the chest. He didn’t even stumble as he caught the man and gently laid him on the ground, never taking his gaze from the demon. “You’ll pay for that.”

The demon’s high-pitched screech shattered windows on a car parked nearby. Its alarm only added to the sounds of the night. Zerach ran at the demon and grabbed it by the throat. “What are you doing here? Who called you out of hell?”

The creature screeched again as it struggled against the angel’s hold, but his strength was unmatched by any hell-tainted creature, especially a low-level demon. Spawn—nothing more than a foot soldier and minion—it might not know the human words to answer his questions. Despite his revulsion, Zerach set his free hand on its head and tried to read its chaotic thoughts. Images of fire and blood filled his mind but gave no clear picture except for a single name, Armaros. He dropped the demon onto the ground with a sound of disgust and gut-deep dread. Armoros was a higher-level demon and seriously bad news, but just thinking its name meant little. Since it could give no clue as to why or how it had breached the mortal plane, he pulled a dagger from his jacket and wasted no more time. The demon tried to run off but Zerach proved to be faster. He grabbed its slimy, leather-hard head and yanked it back to expose an almost humanoid neck. One slice of his dagger and whatever force gave the demon life drained out within heartbeats.

Zerach stepped back as the drained body immediately turned to ash. A wave of his hand caused a breeze to scatter the ashes. No blood dripped from his blade. No mark remained on the concrete, as if the demon had never been. Only the groaning of the human victim gave any indication of what had happened.

Zerach checked on him, happy to see he hadn’t lost too much blood. A warm meal and a solid roof over his head for the night would erase any memory he might have of the demon.

Just over an hour later, Zerach stepped into the ballroom that had been his original destination for the evening, where he would anonymously pledge a ridiculous amount of money for a very good cause. He wouldn’t have bothered showing up if his pretty little secretary hadn’t goaded him into it. Isadora knew how to push his buttons unlike any other human he’d ever met.

At least there was an open bar. He rarely went without a drink in his hand at these events even though it did no good. His angelic state kept him from getting drunk no matter how hard he tried. Anything to break up the monotony of a centuries-long existence.

A glance around the ballroom and he found his secretary in the midst of dancing with another man. A low-burning anger tried to rise, but he fought it down. She wasn’t for him, no matter the temptation. Dora was beautiful, smart, and wholly innocent on a level most humans shed long before adulthood. Her inner purity and goodness called to creatures like him, along with demons, as a reminder of what they’d left behind when entering the human realm. She was unique, an enigma he hadn’t quite figured out yet. The mystery of her was one of the main reasons he’d kept her close the past two years, despite the overwhelming temptation she presented to him…and any male.

The sound of his name caught his attention, and he turned away from the dance floor to find Bill Goodman watching him. Isadora’s godfather remained one of the few men in their social circle who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, but unfortunately his opinion of Zerach wasn’t very high. In the past, Zerach found his reputation as a womanizer and somewhat shady business owner amusing and it was an endless source of ribbing from his brothers. However, it could now threaten his standing among humans like Goodman, and he didn’t like that one bit. It was an obstacle he hadn’t considered when setting up his human persona as a nightclub owner.

“Maxwell.”

Zerach arched a brow in greeting as Bill walked up, knowing the man wouldn’t shake his hand if he offered. Bill considered businessmen like Zerach beneath him because of the type of businesses he ran. Apparently the service industry didn’t stand up to the prestige of loftier businesses like manufacturing and the oil industry. Sometimes Zerach wanted to deck him. “Bill.”

The human quickly wiped the annoyance from his face at Zerach’s casual use of his first name, but Zerach still caught it and had to fight the urge to laugh.

“Mr. Maxwell, I wanted to personally thank you for your contribution, anonymous as it is. I am surprised to see you here. Last I heard you were in France.”

Zerach took a sip of his scotch and chuckled before looking at Bill again. It was hard to keep the grin on his face when dealing with this particular human, but for Isadora he would try. She was close to her godparents. Alienating them would only make things awkward in the office, and that was no way to have a healthy working relationship.

“And presumably with a supermodel on each arm, eh? Don’t believe everything you read in the gossip columns, Bill. They tend to over exaggerate my popularity with the ladies.”

This time Bill arched a brow, presumably in disbelief. He looked around and Zerach noted his gaze settle on his wife, Alice.

“I don’t read gossip columns, but I hear things and wonder about the ulterior motives behind your donations.”

Zerach took a longer sip before responding, letting the alcohol burn away his annoyance. “Regardless of what you’ve heard, my contributions have nothing to do with me or my reputation and everything to do with the children in need of our assistance.”

Satisfaction filled him at the look of surprise on Bill’s face. Feeling he’d been properly chastised, Zerach turned to another topic of interest. “Speaking of which, how is the new children’s hospital wing coming along? I’ve heard the best reconstructive surgeon in the country will be in residence.”

Again Bill looked surprised, but this time it angered Zerach. As an angel, he was first and foremost a protector of children. None of the humans knew that of course, but it irked him that his reputation had become so tainted. Bill cleared his throat. “Yes, actually he will be. The outer construction is nearly done and soon we can begin to work on the interior. I toured it myself just yesterday. The architect is a friend of mine.”

“Will tonight’s contributions go to finishing that project?”

“No. Tonight is to help fund a program for when they get out of the hospital. There’s a large gap in assistance for the older children who survive. Once they’re released, they sometimes go home to nothing. All of their family’s money was spent on treatment and care, but then they survive and have to struggle for every scrap of food, every piece of clothing.”

Zerach’s chest ached at the picture Bill’s words formed in his mind. He knew of a few families in that exact situation. He did what he could for them, but remaining anonymous had become a lot harder than it used to be. He had just opened his mouth to respond when Alice walked up. “Bill, you’re needed at the podium, dear. It’s almost time for the announcement.”

Zerach shut his mouth and finished his drink as she studiously ignored him. Bill gave him a tight smile, looking a bit embarrassed by his wife’s obvious rebuke.

“Yes of course, darling. Mr. Maxwell, until next time.”

Zerach gave a slight nod and watched the couple walk away. Befriending them took a lot more time and patience than he wanted to spare. He could simply forget trying to be on friendly terms with them, but that would hurt Dora. Or he could ignore them completely and alienate the woman he spent more time with than any other.

Annoyance burned through him that after almost two years of casual acquaintance, the Goodmans still thought so little of him. Luckily their opinions hadn’t affected Dora.

Isadora laughed politely at Jake’s awkward attempt at a joke. He was still tall, tanned, and very handsome, like she’d remembered him, the result of easy living and old money. Though how much remained was anyone’s guess. He never let a strand of his short blond hair out of place, and his baby-blue eyes had lifted more skirts than Isadora could count. A lean athletic frame spoke of hours on the tennis court and golf course, but his smooth palms were proof he’d never worked a hard day in his life. She found him both arrogant and rude, but in honor of the friendship they’d once shared she was determined to mind her manners. She tried to get a bead on the man he’d become as he swept her into a waltz.

It wasn’t easy reconciling old memories with the privileged man before her. They had once been inseparable. He had actually been her first girlhood crush and given her that first kiss. Now she almost felt as if he spoke a foreign language.

He grinned down at her and had begun another joke at the expense of a gaudily dressed older woman, when Isadora cleared her throat. “So, Jake, tell me how your father’s company is doing lately.”

Jake’s confident smile slipped for a heartbeat before he regained his composure and flashed his straight white teeth. John’s meddling was a sore spot for Jake, who had turned the company around and made it his own in just three years since the elder’s retirement. “Izzy, you know it’s my company now,” he replied with a laugh.

She had all but forgotten the detested nickname from their youth. He obviously hadn’t. “And you know, Jake, that my name is Isadora.”

He laughed again just as the song ended. “Would you like a drink, Izzy? I can get you a glass of champagne.”

She detested champagne, but Jake’s standing in the long line at the bar would allow her an escape. “Thank you. That would be wonderful.”

He flashed another heart-stopping grin, which had no effect on her at all, and sauntered away.

She breathed a sigh of relief and quickly turned in the opposite direction. The only way out from that side of the room was a set of glass doors leading to the hotel’s extensive gardens. With Jake already in line speaking to another woman, Isadora hiked up her full skirt in both hands and hastened through the glass doors.

The gardens were dimly lit with lampposts every ten feet, and the full moon shone brightly in the cloudless sky. She hurried along the unfamiliar path without a single glance back. Exactly what she was running from she wasn’t sure, she only knew the oppression she’d felt all evening had finally melted away. Her thoughts began to wander to possible excuses she could give her godparents for leaving early, when suddenly she found herself in a garden maze.

“I don’t remember this…” she whispered, hoping to dispel the eerie misgivings creeping up her spine. “Wonderful, now I’m lost,” she muttered as she made her way through the eight foot hedges. Two turns later she found herself at a dead end and stomped her foot. “Ugh! This is ridiculous.”

“Dora, are you all right?”

She spun to face the newcomer, and her breath caught in her throat.

“Zerach.”

The name slipped through her lips quietly, the sensation as hot and sensuous as the man standing a few feet away in the shadows. Though she couldn’t see him clearly, she would never mistake his deep, sexy voice as belonging to anyone else. It stirred foreign longings within her that left her breathless. An ache formed low in her belly and her nipples tightened. Innocent as she remained about sex, she still knew the feelings Zerach Maxwell conjured were unique to his presence alone. Too bad he was her boss.

“Hello there.”

Zerach’s gaze trailed down the elegant curve of her neck, across her exposed collarbone, to her creamy white shoulders bared for all to admire. Swathed in a full-length, peach-colored formal gown, she nearly glowed. He had never seen her dressed in something so revealing. Usually her godmother kept her in much more modest attire at their fundraising events. Even in the office he’d never even seen her in jeans.

She had worked for him for almost two years, and he still knew so little about her. He remembered hiring her as a quiet, part-time college student. Smart as a whip, she’d shocked him with her aura of pure goodness, and he’d known immediately she would be trustworthy.

Unfortunately, she’d been crowding his thoughts lately, and his new involvement with Bill’s fundraising activities caused Dora to be in his company more often. She always looked at him with an innocent hunger, a longing he fought to ignore. But it was getting worse. Her pulse sped up every time he neared, and the sweet scent of her arousal grew too strong to easily disregard. She remained the worst kind of temptation: an innocent who looked at him with stars in her eyes. Everything he’d never allowed himself to taste. He silently cursed himself for arriving tonight without a date.

“I’m surprised to find you out here all alone,” he said.

“I needed some fresh air. It was getting…stuffy in there.”

He nodded, though he really didn’t know what she was talking about. “I spoke to your godfather. His charity work is commendable.”

“Thank you so much for coming tonight. I told you it would be time well spent.”

He arched a brow, and she laughed. The sound caressed him like silk and he had to look away. “I believe the words ‘or else’ were used. I really don’t like burnt coffee.”

She gasped in mock outrage. “I have never burned the coffee.”

“Hmm.” He stepped closer and brushed loose strands of hair behind her ear.

She smiled up at him, and his breath caught at her beauty.

“I really am glad you came tonight. It’s a shame you make all your donations anonymously. Everyone should know how generous you are.”

With his hand still on her hair it would be so easy to pull her into a kiss. He fought the urge and struggled to focus on their conversation. “I don’t need the recognition, Dora. I don’t give a damn what others think of me.”

“But, Mr. Maxwell—”

He tapped her lips lightly with the tip of one finger. “Hey, I told you to call me Zerach.”

A pretty blush filled her face, and she graced him with her smile again.

“Yes, I remember. Zerach. It couldn’t hurt your reputation for others to know of your generosity.”

He just shrugged and ran the backs of his fingers down one side of her face. “You look so beautiful tonight.” She shivered and stumbled back a step. She might have fallen if he hadn’t grabbed her elbow. “Are you all right?”

Isadora nearly laughed at the question. Was she all right? How could she be when the only man she wanted, the one man her godparents would never approve of, the one who stalked her dreams and fantasies, stood so close and actually touched her? Somehow she found her voice. “I’m fine…Thank you.”

“It’s got to be those shoes. Do you always wear heels? I’ve never noticed before.”

His deep rumble made her shiver, and she rubbed her hands up and down her bare arms.

“Are you cold?” He shed his tuxedo jacket and draped it around her shoulders in one smooth motion. The strength of his fingers as he lightly gripped her nearly made her swoon. What would it be like to have all that masculine power touching other parts of her anatomy? She had to push the thought away to find her tongue.

“Th-Thank you.”

She hadn’t been cold in truth, and she definitely wasn’t now, with Zerach standing close enough for the heat of his hard body to seep into hers. She inhaled his masculine scent from the large jacket and hoped he wouldn’t ask for it back anytime soon.

“You’re welcome. Do you want to go back in now?”

“Not really.”

He opened his mouth then promptly closed it, a foreign uncertainty covering his face. She took the opportunity to study him more closely. His jet black hair needed a cut and light stubble graced his broad chin. She could see golden specks in his hazel eyes as he looked down at her from his six-foot-plus height. Though a bit pale, his complexion held a golden hue unlike any she’d ever seen.

“Alice and Bill will worry if they can’t find you,” he finally said. “If you prefer, I can walk you to your car—”

“No, thank you. I just needed some fresh air. I’m not ready to call it a night.”

He gave Isadora a look she couldn’t decipher before raising his head to gaze in the direction of the ballroom. She stood motionless, almost afraid to breathe in anticipation of his next words. Would he invite her to leave with him as she so dearly wished? More importantly, would she accept the invitation knowing the repercussions could be devastating? If the whispers of Alice’s friends were to be believed, Zerach was a man who knew his way around a woman’s body. He had a well-known reputation as an attentive and tireless lover.

But what would one night of pleasure with this man cost her? He’d never kept a lover for more than a night, although he made his intentions crystal clear before making the slightest move toward intimacy.

She inwardly cringed. In all reality, she wasn’t ready to be anyone’s lover just yet. There was still one very big issue that would keep her fully dressed in front of anyone.

He looked down at her, standing so close, and opened his mouth to speak.

“Isadora? Isadora!”

Both of them turned to face the feminine voice headed their way. Isadora grimaced, recognizing Alice’s voice as it edged toward panic.

“Over here, Alice. I’m here in the maze.”

Isadora took a step toward the opening, Zerach’s jacket slipping from her shoulders. She reached up to grab it but her fingers grasped only air as Alice came into view.

“There you are, Isadora. I looked everywhere for you. Jake has a full glass of champagne with your name on it. What are you doing out here?”

Isadora turned to give Zerach a reassuring smile, only to frown at the empty space behind her.

“Zerach?” she whispered.

“What was that? Did you say, Zerach? No, no, Jake Deagan is looking for you not Zerach Maxwell. Good gracious, girl. Don’t even joke about getting that man’s attention. It’s bad enough you have to see him during the day.” Alice fanned herself, her face flushing as she walked the final steps to Isadora’s side. “Are you all right? Why on earth are you out here all alone?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Alice. I just got a bit heated after dancing and needed some fresh air.”

“Ah, yes. That handsome Jake could fluster any woman.”

Isadora stared as an uncharacteristic giggle escaped her godmother’s mouth.

“Well, he’s waiting for you just inside with a glass of champagne. Shall we?” Alice asked.

Isadora allowed Alice to link arms with her and turn her in the direction of the ballroom. Seeing Jake again was the last thing she wanted, but Isadora usually did anything her godparents asked. They were good, kind people who’d taken her in when her parents had died unexpectedly.

“I can’t believe Jake arrived without a woman already on his arm,” she said.

Alice sighed and gave a small nod. “With as much attention as he is showing you tonight, I’d guess it was planned. He’s always been very fond of you, you know.”

It was Isadora’s turn to sigh. “I know but I really can’t see him as anything more than a friend.”

“Oh? Why not?”

Isadora stopped walking to stare at Alice. “Are you kidding? He wouldn’t be faithful to me past the honeymoon.”

True surprise lit Alice’s face as she waved that comment away with one bejeweled hand. “Nonsense. He is a young man getting the wildness out while he can. However, his father raised him to be loyal. Once the vows are spoken I trust he can be expected to stick to them.”

They started walking again and soon reached the open ballroom doors. Isadora peered inside to see Jake talking with her godfather, the two of them sharing a laugh. “Perhaps, but that’s not exactly something I’m willing to take for granted. Besides he doesn’t cause a spark in me. My heart doesn’t flutter. My palms don’t get sweaty. When I see him it’s just…meh.”

Alice squeezed her arm. “So long as he treats you well and provides a good home then you’ll be in good hands. Besides, at least we know he comes from a good family. And the two of you were so close when you were younger. I’m sure that bond can be reformed if you just give it time.”

Isadora wanted to argue, but Alice pulled her through the doorway and Jake’s attention immediately turned her way. He approached with a glass of champagne. “There you are. I was beginning to think you’d run off.”

Alice laughed. “Of course not. She isn’t through dancing with you, Jake.”

He grinned at Alice as she walked away, then turned the full force of his charm back onto Isadora. “Seriously. Everything all right?”

Though tempted to say no and hand him back the drink, she took a fortifying sip and glanced around the room. “Yeah. Have you seen Zerach Maxwell?”

Jake’s entire demeanor changed as he stepped in front of her, blocking her view of the room. “What does it matter if he’s here? Don’t you see him enough at the office?”

The animosity in his voice surprised her. “I’m just curious. He wasn’t going to come even though he made a large contribution. I kind of told him he better show up.”

“Why do you care if he comes to these things or not? Want to see what his date’s barely wearing?”

The reminder of Zerach’s numerous female companions caused a pain in her chest. Of course she was being an idiot. What did it matter if she saw Zerach again tonight? Just because he’d been alone in the garden didn’t mean he had come alone to the event.

“No. Of course not.”

“Come on, Izzy. Let’s go dance again.”

He took the glass from her hand and set it on the nearest table, then dragged her back onto the dance floor. She went grudgingly, with Alice and Bill watching. Both had smiles to rival any she’d seen from them before. Though she allowed Jake to swing her around the ballroom, her thoughts were on a different tall, handsome man in a tailored tuxedo.

“Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?” Jake asked.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. That color looks great on you. So sweet and…innocent. Just the type of woman I should have on my arm at these things. I have a confession to make.”

She lifted a brow at the hint of guilt on his face.

“My PR firm thinks I should get married as soon as possible. They think I need to straighten out my bad boy image.” He chuckled. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s really anyone’s business who I’m with on a nightly basis, but if it’s good for business…”

Not a single response came to mind though Isadora tried to think of something neutral to say. Fortunately the music stopped, and she excused herself to the ladies’ room. Jake walked her almost to the door in a show of possessiveness he had no right to. He was acting so odd after their long separation.

Finding Alice waiting by the sink as she emerged from the stall was also unexpected.

“I’m happy to see you and Jake having such a good time,” she said.

Isadora glanced at her godmother in the mirror. “I think he’s having more fun than I am.” As she washed and dried her hands, Alice wrung hers in an uncharacteristic show of nervousness, and Isadora noticed light smudges beneath her eyes. Alice always seemed so well put together. “What’s wrong?”

“My dear, I’m afraid we’ve done something that isn’t easily fixed. Bill and I need your help. I just hope you don’t think it’s too much to ask.”

“No. Of course not.”

They’d never asked for anything. Now it was time to show them her appreciation.

They left the bathroom together and Jake stood waiting nearby with Bill. Luckily, Alice announced she was ready to leave, and Isadora inwardly rejoiced that she’d make her escape with them.

Jake didn’t try to hide his disappointment. “I really don’t mind taking you home, Izzy.”

She pasted on a smile she didn’t feel. “That’s all right. The night’s young and I’m sure there are other ladies here waiting to dance with you.”

“None that matter.”

She laughed nervously and had turned to follow her godparents when Jake grasped her elbow. “Hey. What about a goodnight kiss?”

She frowned. “I don’t—”

He pulled her closer and held her arms securely so she couldn’t pull away without causing a scene. “Come on, Izzy. Just one kiss.”

Anger flared in her gut, and she had the urge to knee him in the crotch. How dare he grab her? But they were at an important fundraiser and acting out might reflect badly on her godparents. Giving in was easier, but she only gave him a peck on the cheek for his efforts.

“Goodnight, Jake.”

He frowned and huffed out a breath, obviously unhappy with her kiss, but released her anyway. “Goodnight. I’ll call you later.”

Isadora left the ballroom as quickly as she could without appearing to run away. Bill and Alice were waiting at the front of the hotel.

They took her home, and she invited them into her apartment for coffee. Alice preferred tea, so Isadora busied herself preparing a pot of both drinks as her godparents sat at her kitchen table.

“Isadora, you know we’d do anything for you, don’t you?” Alice asked. She needlessly straightened the salt and pepper shakers in the center of the table.

Isadora glanced over her shoulder. “Yes, of course. And I’ll do anything I can for you.”

They both nodded.

“Never thought I’d ask this one,” Bill said as he fidgeted with the tablecloth.

“It’s all right, dear. You’ll see. This is all going to work out just fine.” Alice patted his hands where he had them crossed on the table.

Isadora grabbed three mugs before setting sugar, creamer, and a selection of tea bags on the table. Coffee began dripping into the pot, and she inhaled the fragrant aroma before turning to face her godparents. She leaned back against the counter and crossed her arms. “Okay, what is it? You both have me fearing the worst.”

Alice smiled brightly, but it looked forced. Bill didn’t even try.

“Honey, what do you think of Jake? He’s changed a lot over the past couple of years, hmm?” Alice asked.

Isadora barely suppressed a frown as she carefully considered her words. “Well, yeah. Um, he’s been very popular in the gossip rags.”

Bill grunted. “We know, but he’s promised all that nonsense is behind him now. He says he’s ready to grow up and be a respectable man. A respectable husband.”

“Good for him.”

“Isadora, Jake has asked us for your hand in marriage,” Alice finally said.

“And we think it would be a great idea,” Bill added.

She gaped at them. Why in the hell would he ask them and not her? Especially when they hadn’t seen each other in years?

“What? You’ve got to be kidding. I barely know him now except what I read in the paper, and none of that is flattering. I told you earlier, Alice, I see him as nothing more than a friend.”

Her godparents looked at each other in the way of people married long enough to communicate without words, as the teapot whistled. Isadora turned back to the coffee pot. She poured a mug for her and one for Bill. Then she poured steaming water in a cup for Alice. She took them to the table and sat down.

“This is crazy,” she said. “You two have never pushed me to even date anyone in particular before. Why this sudden urge for me to marry Jake…or anyone at all?”

Bill doctored his coffee before facing her. “You know I’m not in the best of health. I’d like to see you settled with a good man who can take care of you before I’m done on this earth.”

Panic seized Isadora. “Don’t say that. If you follow your doctor’s orders you’ll be fine for many more years.”

He grunted and Alice patted his hand again. “She’s right, dear.” She turned to Isadora. “We can only hope any changes Bill makes now will make a difference. But his health aside, we’d still like to see you find a good, caring husband.”

Isadora sipped her coffee as she considered her response. Their two families had known each other for generations, and Jake remained in their exclusive circle. Though there were other young, unmarried men in that circle, Jake was the only one Isadora had ever spent time with.

“It’s been so long since Jake and I spent time together, I don’t even know him anymore. Surely there’s another woman he’s spent time with lately. At least, more lately than the years we’ve been apart.”

“When he came to speak to me about marrying you, he seemed dead set on having your hand,” Bill said.

“Isn’t that romantic? Even with your time apart, he wants you as his wife,” Alice added.

Isadora fought the urge to roll her eyes. Why couldn’t they see the absurdity of this whole conversation? She watched Alice prepare her tea and Bill drink his coffee. These two people meant more to her than anyone else in her life, and she hated to disappoint them. “I don’t love him.”

Alice smiled weakly, and Bill looked surprised.

“Well…that will come in time,” Bill said.

Isadora shook her head. “I just really don’t think I can seriously consider his proposal.”

They looked at each other again before Bill sat up straighter and gave her what she’d always considered his serious talk face.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you like this Isadora, but we really need you to consider his proposal. I have business dealings with Jake that are really important to my company, but he keeps asking about you. With him so distracted, I can’t get a straight answer out of him on whether or not he’ll help me. If he doesn’t…we’re sunk.”

Dread clogged her throat as she tried to ignore what she clearly read between the lines. Surely her assumption wasn’t true. “He isn’t making me a stipulation on helping you…is he?”

When they looked at each other again she wanted to scream and throw her coffee across the room. Instead, she called on every reserve of patience she had and waited for the bomb to drop.

“Yes,” Bill finally said. “He kind of is.”