Authors: Linda Opdyke
Book One of the Wayward Angels Trilogy
by Linda Opdyke
Copyright 2012 Linda Opdyke
Cover art copyright MtnMist Designs
All rights reserved.
This book and its characters, places and events is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people living or dead, locations or events is coincidental.
This book is licensed for your personal use only and may not be resold or given away in any form, written or electronic. Thank you for your support of copyrighted material.
Jack Thomas McKetrick hadn't thought much about death, something he realized when, without warning, it found him. Oh, he'd always expected to experience 'beyond the sunset' or to 'cross that river' or any other of the other glorious descriptions of entering Heaven.
What he hadn't expected was to find an ethereal beauty waiting to greet him when he crossed to the other side. A female ethereal beauty, that is, not the ethereal beauty of Eternal Glory his mind had pictured. And a not very pleasant female, to boot. Wasn't everyone in Heaven inherently pleasant and agreeable? Apparently not. Golden hair tumbled down her back in loose curls and summer-sky blue eyes met Jack's as she spread her shimmering bluish-white dress and sat on a rock beside the merrily bubbling stream. An opaque rainbow of inconceivable color rose toward Heaven on the stream's far side.
He was humbled, dazzled by the angelic glow that surrounded this angel and even as he mourned losing his earthly life, his heart soared at what he saw, the joy and peace that he knew awaited his soul. Soared, that is, right up until the female opened her mouth.
"Drat it," she complained, adjusting wings that sat askew.
Jack remained silent. Maybe he hadn't died after all, maybe this was a bizarre dream warning him of an upcoming encounter with a woman he'd be wise to avoid.
"Well, it's about time," she snapped at him.
Jack inhaled a patient breath, then exhaled it, and though he anticipated the answer he was determined to remain calm. "Have I died?"
The girl stopped in mid-adjust of her wings and turned a disbelieving look to him. "Well, now, let's see," she told him. "You're driving along a winding pacific coast road, jump to turn up the radio because they're
playing your first record - no conceit there, of course - take your eyes from the road just long enough to shoot through the guardrail and down a loooooong, sheer drop... and you want to know if you've died?"
Jack instinctively felt his chest, stomach, ran his hand over his head and through light brown hair.
The girl sighed and sympathy colored her words. "Feels like you're still all in one piece, doesn't it?" She shrugged. "Technically, you still are...I mean your body is...but it's not nearly as pretty as it was."
"Oh," was all he got out.
She smiled. "I've got some more bad news for you."
"I can't wait," he muttered. "I thought
was the ultimate bad news. Guess I'm wrong."
"Don't be a wise guy," she advised. "That doesn't go over big here."
Jack stared at her. "
. Where exactly is
?" He walked over to the rock and took a good look at her. "And just who are you?"
The girl held his gaze and the veil of sadness in her eyes came and went so quickly Jack wasn't sure he'd actually seen it.
"My name is Kelly Jo, and there's no need to introduce yourself."
Jack didn't know whether to laugh or not. Did she mean his name was on her list of 'arrivals'? Could this get any more bizarre? As unobtrusively as possible he slipped his right thumb and forefinger onto the back of his left hand and pinched.
Nope, he wasn't asleep. Realization jarred him to his very core and settled coldly into the very marrow of his bones.
I really am dead.
Irritated, Kelly Jo said, "What is it with you people? You never believe you're dead, you always need proof."
irritation, Jack stared at her. This wasn't at all what he'd pictured, but he didn't want to admit, even to himself, that he felt cheated by his lukewarm welcome into Heaven. "Where's my choir of angels?" he demanded. "Where's the Light that I should walk into? Don't I at least deserve those two things?"
Kelly Jo rose, her gaze holding Jack's. "You're not where you think you are, hon," she said lightly.
Shocked, Jack was rooted to the spot. "Not...not..." he stammered, stunned as he did a quick rewind of his thirty years of life through his mind. Well, there
a few fairly wild college episodes...and again after graduation when he jumped into the music scene...then he shook it off and turned a determined gaze on Kelly Jo. "Uh uh. There's no way I wouldn't get into Heaven."
A smile played at her lips and her eyes fought to not reflect that smile. "Boy, I've heard that before."
"Now, listen here," Jack began in a huff.
"Oh, relax," she chided, then went again to sit on the rock, missed and fell backward.
Instinctively, Jack ran to help her to a sitting position. "Are you okay?" he asked with concern, then stopped abruptly. "Wait a minute. If we're dead, how did you hurt yourself?"
With one hand in his, the other on the rock, she struggled to her feet. "Your impatience will be the death of you," she joked, then said, "Sorry," when she saw Jack found no humor in her idea of funny. "Neither of us is completely dead. We have a job to do, one that will decide if we get to return to earth and resume our lives."
He said nothing. He just wanted to wake up and never again eat or drink whatever had brought on this nightmare.
"Did you hear me?" she asked when he didn't answer.
"I heard you," he responded. "But how can anyone be
not completely dead
"Well," she told him, "this is considered a...I don't know...how about a
? One where someone who died when they weren't supposed to die gets a chance to help an apprentice save someone on earth. You're my assignment."
"Oh, lucky me," Jack offered, then turned thoughtful. "You're saying I wasn't supposed to die in that crash?"
"I'm saying nobody realized you'd be so enthralled by your own voice coming from your car radio that you'd be completely inattentive to your driving. You know the rest."
Jack grimaced, but had to ask anyway. "What's in it for you? And what happens if I don't want to help you? Do I just get sent back and too bad for you?"
Kelly Jo walked to stand in front of Jack, her gaze steady. "You don't get sent back, Jack. You pass go, collect two hundred dollars and go straight into Heaven."
He held her gaze while he considered that. "And you?"
If there was one thing Jack never expected to see, it was tears in an angel's eyes, tears that spilled in a single drop down a flawless face.
"If you refuse, then I wait for the next unexpected death to be assigned to me. With so many of us hoping for that second chance on earth, that could take...well, it could take forever."
Jack stared at her, not pleased with the way she tugged on his heart. His voice softened. "Why can't you go straight into Heaven?"
She lowered her head, then raised it, her eyes clouded with heartbreak Jack knew she'd never willingly share. Her soft voice echoed through his soul. "You're my final chance. Will you help me?"
Jack's fingers reached to gently touch Kelly Jo's face, his eyes soft. "If it's your last chance and I refuse to help what happens to you?"
Her attempt at a small smile faltered, then failed. "Then I spend eternity..." she gestured around the area "...probably here."
Jack chewed his lip and narrowed his eyes. "Let me get this straight. If I help you with...whatever...we both get to resume our lives...with no knowledge of ever being here, I assume. But if I refuse to help you I go right to the head of the class, aka Heaven, and you spend eternity right here."
"That's correct," she said serenely, spreading her skirt to sit on the rock. "So you'll help me?"
He held up a hand. "Not so fast," he told her, then lowered his hand. "This sounds a little too easy. Well, easy for me, anyway."
She shot him a look. "Then if it sounds so easy what's the problem?"
"What kind of an assignment are you talking about? Preventing a suicide? Stopping a murder? Helping a lost soul back..." He paused when he saw her expression.
"Wow," she told him, her eyes barely concealing her laughter. "I think when you were little you watched too many television shows about angels. And pretty sappy shows, at that."
Annoyed, he folded his arms over his chest. "Is there anything else I need to know before I give you my answer of NO THANKS?"
Kelly Jo walked to stand in front of him, her blue gaze locked with his hazel one. "I'd think," she said coolly, "that you'd be thanking me for this chance. It's not offered to everyone, you know."
Jack couldn't believe his ears. "Thanking you? You've done nothing but poke fun at me."
"You had it coming."
Jack whirled at the deep male voice, eerily similar to that of James Earl Jones, that answered Kelly Jo. "No, he didn't."
A tall, white-robed, gray-haired man with a blinding halo and massive wings walked to them, frowning down at Kelly Jo.
Kelly Jo smiled, but Jack clearly heard her muttered, "uh oh".
"I am so sorry, Jack, that you've been intercepted."
Jack stared from the man to Kelly Jo, who was now looking at the ground, then back to the man. "Who are you?"
Kelly Jo answered with, "They call him Big Bob."
Startled, Jack took a step back. "An angel called
The man again frowned at Kelly Jo, and when he looked at Jack, though his voice was calm, the short look he shot to Kelly Jo said
oh, just you wait
"I am not called
," he corrected, unaware that Kelly Jo mouthed
oh, yes he is
to Jack. "My name is Robert and I'm here to accompany you into Heaven."
Jack raised a finger. "Uh, wait a minute...I thought I was
Robert sighed, a soft sound that echoed on the breeze and rippled light waves in the stream. He turned to Kelly Jo. "You'll be dealt with later...severely this time." He turned back to Jack and smiled, a golden glow growing and pulsating around him. "Take my hand and be guided into the Light that awaits you."
Jack was nearly mesmerized by the incredible beauty, the sight of everything his soul had prepared during life to receive. Then from the corner of his eye he saw Kelly Jo turn her back to him, but not before he saw the devastation in her eyes, all hope slowly drain from her expression.
"Wait," Jack said sharply to Robert.
The golden glow dimmed but Robert's expression remained serene, patient. "We need to leave, Jack," he said gently. "It's your time."
"Kelly Jo," Jack said to Robert. "What's going to happen to her? And what did you mean by she
Robert sighed and it took a while for him to speak. "Kelly Jo was given one last chance to go back and undo something on earth. She failed, mainly because she very foolishly attempted to do it alone. She's been forbidden to go alone again because her attempt ended with serious consequences for a human being and she's desperate to reverse it. She can only go with another willing soul."
Confused, Jack said, "Well, that's pretty much what she told me. But I don't understand..."
"Kelly Jo doesn't wait her turn," Robert interrupted. "She's on a waiting list but consistently waylays the new arrivals, pushing herself far ahead of those who have waited hundreds of years. This time she's gone too far."