When Lightning Strikes Twice
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“If not for you I wouldn’t be here, Mallory.”
“Just doing my job.” She shifted uncomfortably. Joe was too close.
“I wasn’t talking about you making me live.”
“If not for you, I wouldn’t have a reason to live.” Joe moved closer. “I know I’ve made mistakes. More than a man’s entitled to make in a lifetime. I won’t ask you to overlook the past. But is there any way you could bring yourself to think about the future instead?”
Mallory gulped to loosen the knot in her larynx. His gentle touch had ignited a riot of emotions inside her. Longing, desire, joy and sadness, exploding in turn like a string of firecrackers. Her resistance evaporated, and she leaned toward him, pulled by a need stronger than any she’d ever known.
Mallory sighed in resignation as Joe’s lips found hers. She was only human. How could she be expected to fight a force as powerful as fate?
If you’re like me, you can’t get enough heartwarming love stories and real-life fairy tales that end happily ever after. You’ll find what you need and so much more with Silhouette Romance each month.
This month you’re in for an extra treat. Bestselling author Susan Meier kicks off MARRYING THE BOSS’S DAUGHTER—the brand-new six-book series written exclusively for Silhouette Romance. In this launch title, Love, Your Secret Admirer (#1684), our favorite matchmaking heiress helps a naive secretary snare her boss’s attention with an eye-catching makeover.
A sexy rancher discovers love and the son he never knew, when he matches wits with a beautiful teacher, in What a Woman Should Know (#1685) by Cara Colter. And a not-so plain Jane captures a royal heart, in To Kiss a Sheik (#1686) by Teresa Southwick, the second of three titles in her sultry DESERT BRIDES miniseries.
Debrah Morris brings you a love story of two lifetimes, in When Lightning Strikes Twice (#1687), the newest paranormal love story in the SOULMATES series. And sparks sizzle between an innocent curator—with a big secret—and the town’s new lawman, in Ransom (#1688) by Diane Pershing. Will a seamstress’s new beau still love her when he learns she is an undercover heiress? Find out in The Bridal Chronicles (#1689) by Lissa Manley.
Be my guest and feed your need for tender and lighthearted romance with all six of this month’s great new love stories from Silhouette Romance.
Mavis C. Allen
Associate Senior Editor, Silhouette Romance
When Lightning Strikes Twice
For my critique partner, Diana Ball,
who made a suggestion that led to an idea that created a character that resulted in a book. Thank you for the inspiration and for sharing your flashlight when the journey gets dark.
Books by Debrah Morris
A Girl, a Guy and a Lullaby #1549
That Maddening Man #1597
Tutoring Tucker #1670
When Lightning Strikes Twice #1687
Before embarking on a solo writing career, Debrah Morris coauthored over twenty romance novels as one half of the Pepper Adams/Joanna Jordan writing team.She has changed careers several times in her life, but much prefers writing to working.
Readers may contact her via her Web site: www.debrahmorris.com.
Given that I’m a straggler up here on a fluffy cloud, I’d really like to return to earth and somehow occupy a body so that I can be reunited with my love, Dr. Mallory Peterson. I mean, I’m not really doing anything up here. As a Texas Ranger, I see my work isn’t needed in heaven.
So, whaddya say?
A Man in Love
“Send me to heaven, or send me to hell. Just get me out of here!”
“Keep your voice down.” As time-out monitor, Celestian had to maintain his composure at all times, but even a saint’s serenity wasn’t safe around Will Pendleton’s troublesome spirit. Without ever making it past Reception, he had managed to get himself deemed Unfit for Return and to get Celestian busted down to a position devoid of prestige.
“I had no idea being dead could be so danged boring.” The restless soul paced the confines of the holding area.
“You’re here to learn acceptance, and you’re stuck until you do.”
“All right, then. I accept. I’m ready to move on. I’ll do whatever it takes. Now get me out of this nowhere place. Molly has been reborn, and I miss her.” Despair tempered his belligerence. “I gotta know. Will I ever return to her?”
“In time.” Celestian felt sorry for Pendleton, even if he was a pain in the astral. No one liked to see soul mates separated.
“I ain’t got a lot of time, bub. If I was to go back now, I’d have to start out as a baby. What kind of fool plan is that?”
“One that works just fine for us, thank you.”
“But Molly’s already grown. I don’t want her pinning my drawers.
“Time is irrelevant.”
“Maybe here in limbo land. But dang it, I’ve been cooling my heels in this milky joint for a hundred years. A hundred years today!”
“Happy anniversary. Please take your seat.” Had it only been a century? Seemed longer. Time didn’t fly when you weren’t having fun.
“No! I ain’t taking my seat. I’ve been sitting for a century. I need wrongs to right and laws to serve. I should be on earth catching crooks and protecting the innocent, not here jawing with a yahoo like you.”
Celestian rolled his eyes. Just because Pendleton’s destiny was to stand up for truth, justice and honor, didn’t mean he had to be so self-righteous about it.
Due to his untimely end as a Texas Ranger, the warrior spirit had yet to complete his cosmic cycle. He had evolved through many lifetimes, serving variously as village constable, musketeer, palace guard, crusading knight and tribal warrior, but as Will Pendleton, he had arrived too soon, leaving unfinished business on earth.
The Ranger leaned across the desk, invading space that was not his. “I feel useless. Give me something to do.” His conversational style hadn’t improved much. He’d arrived making demands and was still doing so ten decades later. “I ain’t used to living in a sitting position.”
Celestian smiled. “Technically, you’re no longer living at all.”
An angry, insubstantial fist slammed onto the desk without disturbing the tranquility of the white, soundless room. “I’m dead because you made a mistake, you pea-brained fool.”
“You are not dead,” Celestian corrected. “You are currently not living.”
He snorted. “Pardon the hell outta me if I can’t appreciate the difference.”
“You are not living because you slipped your mortal coil. You know that.”
“I know all right. I know my mortal coil got a decent burial back in Slapdown in 1903. I know the whole town mourned my passing, and some of my compadres even sobbed at my graveside. I know the woman I was meant to spend my life with died a sad and lonely old spinster because you yanked me back before my time. That’s what I know.”
“Spirits live forever. Mortal coils decline and die. Maybe you weren’t listening the first ten thousand times I explained the transmutation process.” Celestian concealed his irritation. The Boss frowned on displays of human emotions. Conversations between routing reps and detainees were often recorded and assessed for quality assurance.
Backsliding was duly noted during evolvement reviews. Since being demoted to time-out monitor, Celestian had been cited more than once for acting too human. It wasn’t his fault. Pendleton could provoke a senior-level saint.
The situation had begun innocently enough. Less than a day after Celestian began working in the Department of Natural Forces, Pendleton had alighted in Reception yelling about how he’d been hot on the earthbound trail of a cold-blooded killer. Just when he had the miscreant in his sights, a lightning bolt had arrowed out of a cloudless sky and ended his life.
That assessment was a bit off. It was actually the desperado who had gotten the drop on the lawman. An Emergency Order to Intercede had been fired down to the department, and Celestian had dispatched a spear of lightning on the Ranger’s behalf. New to the job, he’d miscalculated both the trajectory and heaven to earth time differential.
Misfiring lightning bolts was bad enough, but Celestian’s real mistake had been admitting his error. News that the shocking end had been intended for the bad man only fired Pendleton’s anger. Seems he’d been snatched from the arms of his true love three days before their wedding.
In the end, failure to accept his unscheduled death had earned him a U.F.R. designation and a trip to the cooler. Bungling his very first assignment had earned Celestian a demotion.
“I want to go back.” Pendleton paced like a caged beast. “There must be a way for me and Molly to be together.” He slammed his fist into his palm, and the silence only increased his frustration. “Didn’t you mention once that there’s an alternate way to return?”
“If the opportunity arose, I suppose you could go back as a walk-in.” Celestian heaved a sigh he hoped wasn’t too human. “But transmutation is beyond my abilities. I’m not certified in the latest technology.”
The Ranger wheeled around. “A walk-in? What’s that?”
“Sometimes when a mortal coil expires, and the resident spirit alights, another can assume the body and live out its natural life. If the M.C. is revived in time. It’s a simple transference procedure but only used in emergencies.”
“I want to do it. Send me back. Now!”
Celestian scoffed. “It’s not that simple. First, we need an appropriate M.C. You don’t want to return to your beloved as a cockroach do you?”
“No. But there is a way we can be together? So we can live as we were meant to do before you made a hash of everything?”
He sounded so sad, so hopeful that Celestian couldn’t tell him the odds against such a transfer. Pendleton’s soul mate was currently living her last earthly life during which she would fulfill her destiny. At demise, her spirit would retire. She and the Ranger, lovers in many lifetimes, would spend eternity apart. An injustice that might have broken Celestian’s heart, if he still had one to break.
“There may be a way. But it’s a long shot. Transference only works if an appropriate coil becomes available at the right moment in the precise geographical location. The resident spirit must alight before the coil is revived. The chances of that happening are—”
“What? A million to one?” There he went again, being hopeful.
“At least. The paperwork’s a killer. It has to be completed in triplicate and approved—”
“I’m willing to do anything, be anybody, for the chance to go back.”
Celestian reluctantly keyed in the routing request. Fat chance, but miracles had been known to happen. A miracle was exactly what the lovesick Ranger needed.
No point telling him the real odds. That he had about as much chance of returning to his true love in her lifetime as he had of being struck by lightning.
A whopper of a west Texas thunderstorm was headed her way.
The hair on the back of Dr. Mallory Peterson’s neck prickled the instant she stepped out the back door of the Western Plains Medical Clinic. The severe weather front, predicted to move in at midnight, had arrived ahead of schedule. Heavy black clouds boiled across the sky, and the sharp scent of rain tingled in her nostrils. She squinted in the unnatural gloom of an unseasonably hot and humid early May evening. No doubt about it. Trouble was brewing.
A stiff wind yanked the heavy door from her hands and slammed it shut with a bang. Blue-white lightning flickered on the horizon, followed by the rumble of distant thunder. She shivered, unsure whether the chill was due to dropping temperatures or a premonition of disaster.
After ten on-her-feet hours caring for a steady stream of patients, she was ready for a quiet Friday night alone with a good book and a bag of microwave popcorn. A big bag. With extra butter. She’d earned a treat. Not just for today, but also for every grueling shift she’d worked since accepting the position last autumn.
Clutching her medical bag, Mallory locked the deadbolt. If she got a move on, she could make it up the hill before the rain hit. Free living quarters close to the clinic was one of the perks of being the only physician in Slapdown. A native Texan who’d cut her teeth on cyclones, she had no qualms about riding out a little bad weather in a double-wide.
Yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling that all hell was about to break loose.
She glanced over the fence dividing the parking lot from the property next door. She’d slaved all spring to keep her lawn and flower beds alive in the unseasonable heat. By what freak of horticultural nature did her neighbor’s straggling patch of monster grass and gargantuan weeds grow so abundantly?
Neighbor? Squatter was more like it. The insolent, ill-mannered oaf did not pay his too-kind landlord a dollar’s worth of rent. How many times had she told Brindon Tucker that helping a lazy down-and-out bum like Joe Mitchum exceeded the limits of human generosity? Unfortunately, her longtime friend was a big-hearted guy who looked for the best in people.
What he saw in Mitchum was beyond her. Texas was filled with good ole boys, but Joe wasn’t one of them. After being thrown out of his manufactured home by a woman smart enough to finally divorce him, the shiftless ne’er-do-well had moved into a ratty, forty-year-old travel trailer he’d rescued from the salvage yard. Mere moments before it was scheduled to be flattened into a cube the size of a 29-inch television from the looks of it.
Aside from a few female tavern dwellers whose judgment was obviously impaired by frequent applications of hair bleach, his only regular companions were a pack of mangy dogs. None of which had ever had a bath, received a rabies vaccination or seen the inside of a vet’s office.
Which only proved the adage, “No man ever sinks so low that a dog or a woman won’t take up with him.”
Pumped up by righteous indignation, Mallory ignored the approaching storm and her unsettling undercurrent of misgiving. She glared at the rusting car bodies and heaps of scrap metal. How had Mitchum managed to accumulate such an impressive collection of junk in the few short months he’d lived there? The place was a scandal and a danger to community health. It was a veritable wonderland of tetanus just waiting for an unsuspecting victim to stumble and puncture something. She shuddered at the thought of the chiggers, toxic ticks and poisonous snakes lurking in the overgrown brush.
She’d lodged numerous official complaints about the eyesore on the clinic’s behalf. The citizens of Slapdown subscribed to a “live and let live” policy, but that hadn’t stopped her from trying to convince the town council to issue a citation. Warnings hadn’t worked. Maybe if they made it official and ordered Mitchum to clean up the place, haul off his junk and mow the offending vegetation, things would change.
Oh, wait. Something had changed. Another gutted auto hulk had been added to the landscape. According to the mayor’s wife from whose shoulder Mallory had removed a questionable mole this afternoon, the lazy redneck had laughed in response to the last warning.
“Sure thang,” he’d said. “Soon’s I get around to it, I’ll have the place lookin’ fresh and dewy as The First Lady’s rose garden.”
The heavy clouds squeezed out a few fat raindrops, which practically bounced off the hard, dry ground. Mallory bolted for home, jogging over the well-tended clinic grounds where flowers bloomed in color-coded symmetry and grass was not permitted to grow longer than three inches. She glanced up to track the storm, and a disturbing sight stopped her in her tracks.
Joe Mitchum was perched atop a utility pole on the clinic side of the fence. Dressed in scruffy jeans and a T-shirt, he looked grungy even from a distance. His precarious position was loosely secured by a makeshift lineman’s harness. She had never mistaken him for a genius, but lightning was flashing, and the man was clinging to the highest object in an otherwise open area. Tampering with electrical wires.
Somewhere a village was missing its idiot.
The wind kicked up as she dashed across the parking lot. She stopped at the bottom of the pole and looked up. Rain stung her face like liquid needles. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing up there?”
“Borrowing a little juice. Power’s out.” Mitchum grinned down at her. He had an annoyingly wide smile that revealed naturally straight, white teeth. Had to be natural. No way did orthodontia fit into his unemployed slacker budget. Heck, the four-syllable word wouldn’t fit into his caveman vocabulary.
As far as she knew, there had been no power outages in the area. Mitchum’s electricity had probably been cut off due to failure to pay. “Are you crazy? Or just plain stupid?”
“I’m a wrestling fan,” he called over the wind. “Wanna come over and watch the WWF with me tonight? You can bring a six-pack.”
What a waste of decent looks and bulging muscles. While he could be creepily charming at times, she’d rather break both her thumbs than set foot in his tumbledown, flea-infested trailer shack. “In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a storm rolling in.”
“Better get inside then. You’re so sweet, Doc, the rain might melt you.”
A few ginger-colored curls had escaped the ponytail elastic securing her unruly mop. She pushed an errant strand of wet hair out of her eyes. “I realize Mr. Hardy flunked you out of physics class, but are you at all familiar with the basics of electrical conduction?”
“Yep. Electricity makes the world go around. Or does love do that?”
“You’re hugging a lightning rod there, Einstein.” Mitchum had been two grades ahead of Mallory throughout junior high and high school. She’d finished at the top of her class, earned a full college scholarship, gone on to graduate summa cum laude from Baylor Medical School.
Joe had dropped out a month before his own high school commencement for reasons known only to his unambitious self. In the twelve years since, he’d accomplished nothing noteworthy, nor done anything even remotely useful. Unless you counted his career as the poster child for brainless wonders.
Then there was his precocious three-year-old daughter, Chloe. Mallory recalled the adorable preschooler from a recent clinic visit. Mitchum’s ex-wife Brandy had recently moved to a neighboring town to live with her parents but continued to bring her child to the clinic. She was doing an admirable job of raising Chloe, but the little girl deserved more than the paltry child support Joe managed to scrape together each month, and occasional court-mandated visits.
While he’d never been caught committing a crime, Mitchum had no visible means of support. He called himself a mechanic and sported the dirty fingernails to prove it, but Mallory had never met anyone whose car he had actually repaired. Judging from the automotive debris littering his yard, he was more adept at taking them apart than he was at putting them back together.
“You’d better shinny down that pole,” she called up to him. Unless you have a burning desire to be a fried hick on a stick.
“Don’t get your panties in a knot, Doc.” He pulled the steel spike strapped to his boot out of the pole and lowered it a notch. Repeating the move with the other foot, he started down. “I’m done.”
So was she. Her hair was soaked, and she was cold. If the bozo wanted to risk electrocution in order to watch half-naked overweight men throw chairs at each other, who was she to question his choice of entertainment? Joe Mitchum wasn’t worth catching pneumonia, and she had a date with some hot buttery popcorn.
She turned and stalked away. Tomorrow she’d have a little chat with Nate Egan, the county sheriff. Texas hadn’t passed any laws against being a dumb jerk, but bootlegging power was definitely illegal.
She was halfway across the parking lot when a bright spear of lightning knifed to earth, followed by a deafening boom of thunder. The distinctively pungent odor of ozone assaulted her nostrils, and her scalp tingled as the super-charged air lifted her hair. Heart racing, she wheeled around and gasped. Popping, crackling flames erupted from the reduction transformer atop the utility pole. A shower of sparks, like a miniature fireworks display, cascaded to the ground and rained upon the still, silent body of Joe Mitchum.
With no thought for her own safety, Mallory surged into doctor mode and rushed to the fallen man’s side. Kneeling beside him, she immediately assessed his condition. Eyes closed, skin pale beneath a dark three-day growth of beard, he lay motionless as drops of rain splashed onto his face. She checked his airway and palpated his carotid for a pulse, silently willing him not to die.
His shirt and jeans were tattered, but he didn’t appear to be burned. The bolt of lightning had probably not struck him directly. More likely, the current had zinged down the pole, conducting a charge through the steel spikes attached to his boots. Still, he wasn’t breathing, and the electrical shock had stopped his heart.
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