Firefighter Scott Lunsford is haunted by his past. Tormented by loss and reeling from guilt, he hasn't been the same since a car accident claimed his girlfriend's life. He should have saved her. With his life and his faith in ruins, he takes a leave of absence and throws himself into the renovation of his turn-of-the-century house. His days are filled with renewing and rebuilding, but the nights bring voices and apparitions and Scott fears he's losing his mind.
Self-proclaimed klutz Suzy Daniels knows angels frequent her Hearts Haven home, but the entity she encounters floating around Scott Lunsford is no angel. Suzy trips on her own feet and slides down the side of the trail, screaming all the way. But Suzy realizes Scott is being tormented. She tells the handsome firefighter she's seen the apparition and assures him he's not losing his mind--he's just as sane as she is. Suzy doesn't believe in ghosts but she does believe in angels, God's spiritual warriors, and she's convinced they can help Scott in this battle for his soul.
One thousand one. One thousand two. One thousand three.
Suzy Bennett stopped counting her steps for a moment and glanced up at the Angelina Forest on each side of the trail. Signs of fall exploded from the dark green of the forest in bursts of yellow, burnt orange, and gold. The crisp air, scented with the musk of falling leaves, was perfect for a brisk walk. Suzy needed a fast pace to work off the tension of the day.
The quarterly financials were due and landing on her desk for approval with depressing speed. No time for a break today, she’d barely had time to breathe. Accounts and numbers still danced through her head…along with the changing count of her steps.
One thousand ten. One thousand eleven.
This trail, skirting the forest near Suzy’s Heart’s Haven bungalow, was a lifesaver. She walked this path almost every day, to enjoy Angel Falls’ wonderful, temperate weather, to watch the forest change, and to burn off steam…even on days like today when she’d left work late. The sunny blue sky was already sliding into lavender and shadows hung at the edges of the trees. What would she do when winter came and she couldn’t get out and clear some of the numbers from her head? These walks kept her going. Well, the walks and the hope that she might see her Rochester.
He was Suzy’s deep, dark secret.
If her sisters ever found out that she walked miles every day just for a glimpse of a handsome, dark stranger, she’d never hear the end of it. They’d laugh themselves silly over the notion that Little Miss Suzy had romantic ideas about anyone.
All three of her sisters had inherited their mother’s dark-haired beauty while Suzy ended up with their dad’s mousy brown hair, fussy ways, and head for numbers. Growing up, they’d had a storybook about a little brown mouse that constantly cleaned her house and fretted. Little Miss Suzy.
In spite of her best efforts, Suzy could not rid herself of the nickname her sisters still used to irritate her. Never mind that she had starry-eyed yearnings and read every classic romance ever written over and over again. No one believed she had wild romance in her heart…not Little Miss Suzy. The fussy, brown mouse image actually began to fit when she was promoted to head accountant at her firm, and her life settled into a never-ending pattern of work, home, and more work.
Then one day she saw him, walking across the clearing. Rounding a bend where this portion of the trail was elevated over a ravine, Suzy could see all around her. In the distance, he had left the edge of the forest to cross the small open meadow, moving toward the trees on the other side. His jean-clad legs cut the distance with such purpose as his brown, wavy hair blew away from his face. He swayed slightly as he walked, confident, sure. With his short-sleeved, white T-shirt tucked in and clinging to his muscular shape, his arms swung naturally. He worked out. Definitely.
From a distance, Suzy noted balanced, appealing features. So many attractive qualities, but the thing that most captured her attention was his purposeful stride. He was so determined, so certain, as he cut across the open meadow, like a hero from a romance. She could easily envision a long dark coat, flapping at his legs as he moved toward his lady love.
From there, Suzy’s long-suppressed imagination had taken flight.
He became Heathcliff, hurrying across the moor. She was Cathy, who gingerly picked her way down the incline of the trail…it seemed her clumsiness wouldn’t leave her even in her daydreams…and then ran across to leap into his arms. But frankly, she couldn’t quite see herself making the leap either without some sort of mishap.
Better yet, he was Rochester to her mousy Jane Eyre.
Rochester. She wondered where he came from, how he made his living. How did he get that taut waist and those muscular arms? In a gym or training for a joust? Did he move with such purpose because he was meeting someone, a woman forbidden to him because of a family feud? Did he walk every day to escape the oppressive responsibilities of a multi-national corporation? Could he leap tall buildings in a single bound?
After seeing him that first time, Suzy kept her routine the same, and every day she caught a glimpse of her Rochester coming or going, crossing the clearing, fueling new stories in her head. Stories that drove the numbers away.
One thousand fifty-one. One thousand fifty-two. One thousand fifty-three.
Suzy sighed. Well, the stories drove most of the numbers away. She couldn’t stop counting her steps, even when she tried.
The breeze lifted her running jacket with a cold touch, piercing all the way through her light T-shirt. Autumn had well and truly arrived at Angel Falls. They’d had a late summer but now, daylight grew short, and fall was just around the corner. Suzy could feel it in the air and see it in the dark of the forest. Shadows that had clung to corners now ate up great spaces, like dark ooze creeping over the land.
Suzy shivered and zipped up her short jacket. Her imagination was getting the best of her. She should head back…but no, not before she reached the clearing. Would her Rochester be there? She’d missed seeing him the last two days and wondered if it would be the same today. Picking up her speed, Suzy turned the corner.
One thousand sixty-three…
The next number died on her lips. Suzy came to a grinding halt. In the center of the clearing, her Rochester stood stock-still, hands fisted at his sides, his gaze uplifted.
Suzy took two steps forward, closer to the edge of the trail. She squinted into the twilight, not believing what she saw. A dark cloud floated over him. As she watched, it shifted, crystallizing into the shape of a woman with flowing hair, stretched out…right above Suzy’s Rochester.
She gasped, stepped back, and tripped over her own feet. Then she tumbled down the side of the trail and screamed all the way to the bottom.