Do you stop to recognize the miracles in your life?
So many of us have been brainwashed to believe that the term, “miraculous,” can only be applied to giant earth-shaking events, like winning the lottery or discovering a cure for cancer.
But I’m talking about everyday miracles: the hopes and dreams that quietly reappear when you least expect them. These miracles remind you that you’re connected to something much bigger than yourself.
These miracles remind you that you and your work have a purpose.
Such a miracle happened in my writer’s life. It came in the aftermath of my greatest professional tragedy – a tragedy that nearly crushed my writing dream. I never thought I’d recover from the emotional pain when my computer got stolen from the repair shop, and I lost a 400-page work-in-progress. But two amazing events occurred because of that “tragedy.” Less than a week later, my ebook editor asked me to write a novella, one that was eventually published in the #1 bestselling anthology, Pistols & Petticoats.
The second miracle came in the form of a discovery. While rooting around in some dusty old file drawers, I found the hardcopy of an original prologue. It had been written for the second book in my Velvet Lies series, His Wicked Dream. I introduced the entire Jones family, including 6-year-old Gabriel and his coon hound, in Book 1 (Scoundrel for Hire.) My original vision for the series was to turn Gabriel into an Angel-in-Training. He and his “Ghost Dog,” Goober, were supposed to help the eldest Jones sibling (Michael) find true love in Book 2.
Unfortunately, my editor at Avon Books believed that a Romance with ghosts and angels would not interest readers. During the year that I was writing His Wicked Dream, the term “Paranormal Romance” had not yet been coined. The subgenre did not exist. Only a few visionary Romance authors – rising stars, like Dara Joy – got books published with fantasy themes.
I was heart-broken when my Avon editor directed me to revision my entire Velvet Lies series, stripping out all paranormal elements. (For this reason, I went to a small, Indie publisher to release Book 3, Seduced By An Angel.)
However, I was contractually obligated to write Book 2 for Avon. That meant I had to invent a new subplot – fast. I eventually replaced the gaping hole in my series with a secret animal orphanage, operated by “Townie children,” who were rescuing live critters from a taxidermist. (Thus was born Vanderbilt “Vandy” Varmint, the wildly popular, rascally raccoon who co-stars in my Lady Law and The Gunslinger series.)
His Wicked Dream went on to win awards and become a Doubleday Book of the Month. But I never forgot about 12-year-old Gabriel and his ghost dog. Despite two computer meltdowns (and the loss of many, MANY documents,) the original prologue from His Wicked Dream has survived – miraculously.
I’m posting this excerpt today, because I believe that the story of Gabriel and Goober deserves to be told. And apparently, so do the Angels.
His Wicked Dream
Book 2, Velvet Lies Series
© By Adrienne deWolfe
"Drat it all, I must've died."
Twelve year‑old Gabriel Jones gazed down at the alabaster cloud on which he'd somehow been stranded. He didn't know what was worse: being plucked off the earth on All Hallow's Eve before he could rattle any chains or spook a single person, or proving his Aunt Claudia right after all her many years of fussing: never, under any circumstances, wear underwear with holes.
Tugging discreetly on the moth‑nibbled backside of his longjohns ‑‑ which had mysteriously changed from a fiery red to an ethereal pink ‑‑ Gabriel bemoaned his fate. Rather than getting snuffed out in a blaze of gunfire, like Confederate General Jeb Stuart, he'd had to die in his sleep. What self‑respecting ghost did that? And how was he supposed to make a lady's hair stand on end or start a man quaking in his boots if he had to go a‑haunting in pink underwear? He'd be laughed out of Spookdom for sure ‑‑ once he figured out how to get there, of course.
Craning his neck in all directions, he tried to see past the winking, opalescent glow that seemed to be everywhere, and yet came from nowhere, making him think of fireflies caught in a snow storm. Although it hardly seemed possible, God must have made a mistake. The Lord had brought him here, after all, and that meant Gabriel was as lost as a ghost could be. For one thing, this place was only lukewarm – in fact, it was suspiciously comfortable. For another thing, it had clouds. Although he couldn't see any gates with pearls on them, and he didn't hear any folks playing harps, Gabriel had heard his pa rant and rave about this place so often to his "congregation of sinners" that he knew he'd landed smack dab in the middle of paradise.
Sheesh. Paradise sure is dull.
Gabriel blew out his breath ‑‑ or rather, he tried. Breathing was a lot different in heaven. So was standing. He glared down at the gauzy, drifting wisps that had buried his legs up to his knees. No wonder angels have wings. Clouds are too mushy to stand on.
Thinking he'd had enough of this sparkly, intangible nothingness (as a ghost, he had responsibilities below,) Gabriel dropped his fists to his hips and shouted up at the stars. "Hey, God! I'm not supposed to be here!"
He waited, but no haloed, feathery people appeared to kick him off his cloud.
Just my luck, he grumbled to himself. Everybody must've gone to hell, just like Pa always warned.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, Gabriel hollered louder into the firmament this time. "Hullo? Mr. God? Are You home?"
At his use of the word, "mister," tinkling, chimelike laughter rippled through the ether, making him feel warm, tingly, and kind of nervous all at the same time. Gabriel grimaced, rubbing his ear. Thunderation. The only thing worse than being stranded on some lousy piece of fluff up in the middle of the sky was to find out that God, the Creator of the Universe, might actually be a girl. To a twelve‑year‑old boy, this was the equivalent of hell.
"Look, God," he tried in more reasonable tones, "I'm kind of in a hurry. There are people waiting to be haunted, you know. Could you send somebody to help me get back to Kentucky?"
All the stars started blinking again. Above the bell‑like harmonies of a fresh wave of giggles, he heard a whispering rush, kind of like the sound the wind makes when it dances through the pines.
A pinpoint of light appeared, hovering over his cloud. Growing, brightening, it elongated itself until its radiance touched down near his feet. Gabriel held his breath. A female form began to materialize in the kaleidoscopic display, and for a moment -- one shivery, hopeful moment -- he thought God had answered an earlier prayer: that he be reunited with his sainted mama, who'd died six long years ago of the same lung plague that had robbed him of his life.
To his disappointment, Gabriel learned that God had sent him some glowing golden angel instead.
"Hello, Gabriel," the angel said in musical tones, her smile out‑warming the sunshine of her Being.
"Hello," he said, pouting.
He gazed up at the celestial female, standing a good foot taller than he. When her loving radiance washed gently over him, he suffered a pang of homesickness. Something about her was vaguely familiar, even though it was hard to see her face and hair clearly through all that shifting, sparkling stuff that seemed to be the greater part of her being.
Still, he didn't want to stay in heaven, chatting with angels, if God hadn't let his mama through the Pearly Gates. Mama had been the kindest, most wonderful person in his whole world, and as far as he was concerned, she deserved to be an angel.
Of course, his pa, who had a tongue like a green willow switch, had claimed Ma made a mistake, a terrible mistake, and her soul could never fully repent. Gabriel had never completely understood why ‑‑ folks only whispered about such things, and rarely in front of children – but the gist of the message had been clear: Sinners like his mama never made it to heaven.
This knowledge had bothered Gabriel deeply. He'd never questioned his father's wisdom, since Jedidiah Jones, the shepherd of God's own flock, was the town authority on such matters. Instead, Gabriel had decided, on the day his mother had died, that he'd rather be a ghost than spend Eternity in some elite place like heaven.
Reminding himself of that vow now, he raised his chin and squarely faced the angel.
"I'm lost," he told her.
Her eyes softened, growing even more loving, if that was possible. "Lost?"
"Yeah. And I need you to help me get back to Blue Thunder. That's where I live. Or rather, that's where I used to live." He frowned. "Say, where are your wings?"
He rose on tiptoe, trying to peer behind her, then suddenly remembered his bottom, shining like a moon through the hole in his dropflap. He hastily retreated two steps.
"Never mind,” he said hastily. “Stay over there. I think I need to talk to a ... a boy angel."
More laughter rippled through the cosmos. The angel looked amused, but sympathetic too. "You needn't be concerned, Gabriel. I've known you longer than you've known yourself. And I've always watched over you."
"You have?" He narrowed his eyes. Did she mean that all his life, he'd had some girl angel hovering around, watching him get dressed and undressed and ... and do other private stuff as well? Criminy!
Unfortunately, since he was dead and all, Gabriel figured there was no helping such matters now, although he did decide, right then and there, that he was going to have a nice long chat with God about snooping female angels.
He fixed her with his most dignifed, twelve‑year‑old stare. "Okay, if you've always been watching over me, then you'll know I don't belong here. You need to take me back to Blue Thunder."
"Heaven's not so bad. You might come to like it."
Gabriel snorted, glancing around the cosmos once more. No cherry tree? No fishing hole? No hunting hounds? Why on earth would any angel think he'd like heaven?
"Thanks, ma'am, but I'm a sinner."
"Because of what happened between you and Michael?"
Gabriel winced. He hadn't thought anyone but God knew about that little brawl, and his resulting vow to hate his bossy, grown‑up brother forever.
"Yeah, that too," he admitted sullenly. "I reckon I'm running late. I should be burning in hell right now."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"Well, I don't want to, of course." Gabriel's bottom lip jutted. "But Pa said I was bad when I punched Michael, and screamed dirty names at him, and kicked him in the shin. 'Course, Michael deserved it for going and shooting my hound," he added, the tremor in his voice belying his belligerence. "Poor Goober was too old and sick to bark in self‑defense. I reckon he was half dead anyway. Michael said it was kinder to send him back to God, but I didn't think so. I don't think Michael had any right to take my hound away from me." Gabriel gave a watery sniff.
"You're still angry with Michael," the angel said softly.
"You're right about that."
"Why do you think Michael shot Goober?" she prompted in that same soothing voice.
"'Cause he doesn't love me one bit. He always used to order me around, saying `wear your coat' and `don't forget your scarf.' And when I got really sick with consumption, he wouldn't even let me get out of bed." Gabriel scowled. "Yeah, he was mean to me, all right. I'm gonna go back to Blue Thunder and haunt Michael. That'll fix him."
The angel hid another smile. "Do you know where Michael is right now?"
"No." Gabriel sulked. "And I don't care."
"Are you sure you wouldn't like to find out?"
"Well..." He pursed his lips and reconsidered. He supposed he couldn't haunt Michael if he didn't know where Michael was. "All right. But he's not allowed to know I got lost and came here. I'll never be able to spook anybody if word gets out that God let me into heaven."
The angel's eyes twinkled as she nodded in consent.
She raised her hand. In the next instant, Gabriel expected thunder to roll and lightning to crash; he thought the clouds would part, kind of like the Red Sea had done when Moses stood on its shores.
Instead, the angel passed her palm over his eyes. The simplicity of this magic might have disappointed him if he hadn't been so powerfully struck by its outcome. Suddenly, he could see -- really see -- as if a veil had lifted. To his amazement, he was standing in the cemetery of Blue Thunder.
For a moment, his mind was so boggled, he could only blink. He stared at the fiery reds of the maple trees, the golden oranges of the elms, the smoky sapphire of the Pine Mountains as they ringed the sleepy valley.
Next he gazed up at the gleaming white spire of his father's church, as it pierced the morning sky. Behind this house of the Lord sprawled the weathered picket fence and the hundred odd tombstones of the small Appalachian community where he’d grown up. The town of Blue Thunder knew few outsiders and even fewer urban conveniences, even in this modern year of 1876.
But the sight that captured Gabriel’s full attention was the lone mourner by a newly turned grave. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the man kneeling in the dirt was his strapping, twenty‑two‑year‑old brother. Michael's black head was bowed, and his powerful shoulders were quaking. With only the wind and the brittle brown leaves to bear witness, Michael buried his face in his hands and wept.
Gabriel squirmed. If he'd still owned a heart, it would have twisted.
"Why's he crying?" he whispered to the angel.
"Can you not guess?"
Gabriel tore his gaze away. It was too much to bear, this pain his brother was feeling. "Michael never cries."
"He cried when your mother died. And Goober, too."
Gabriel started. Michael had grieved? Over Goober? That was pretty hard to believe. "Well, he never let anyone see," Gabriel insisted stubbornly.
"Michael holds his pain deep inside and uses anger to drive people away. I see a time when..."
Her voice trailed off, and Gabriel shifted uncomfortably. He suspected he really didn't want to hear the rest. Still, some irresistible force moved inside his chest, a force so powerful that his tongue lost all common sense.
"What do you see?" he blurted out.
"I see a time when Michael's inner pain leads to outer sickness," she murmured sadly. "A sickness no doctor can cure. And the one thing that would save him from suffering is the one thing he refuses to let himself have."
Gabriel frowned. "Why would Michael refuse something that made him feel better?"
"Because Michael hasn't learned to accept the healing power of love."
Gabriel made a face and kicked up a piece of cloud. Now the angel had gone and done it. She'd made him feel bad for Michael. And Gabriel didn't want to feel bad for Michael. If he started liking his brother again, he'd have to forgive him, and if he forgave Michael, how was he supposed to haunt him?
Gabriel blew out his breath. Michael was a bossy, old pain‑in‑the‑trousers. Even so, Gabriel had to admit he didn't want Michael to suffer. He, himself, had suffered back on earth because he hadn't been able to breathe or shout or play the way the healthy kids had. Even Michael didn't deserve that.
"Maybe when I'm haunting Michael, I can whisper something in his ear about all that love stuff you said," he conceded grudgingly.
"You would do that? For Michael?"
Gabriel scowled. She wasn't going to get all sappy on him, was she?
"Yeah, I reckon."
"Gabriel, if you were to act as Michael's spirit guardian, and help him learn to love, God would be most pleased."
He eyed her warily. "You mean I wouldn't be punished for calling him names?"
"God doesn't punish. God forgives."
Gabriel snorted. He knew better than that. In fact, all of Blue Thunder knew better, thanks to his pa.
"Look, ma'am, I don't mean any disrespect or anything, but I read my Bible lessons. I mean, I read most of them," he added, hastily correcting the old lie. "God can be very wrathful."
At this declaration, all of heaven began winking and trilling, as if he'd just made a great joke.
"Gabriel," the angel said gently, "I assure you, you will not be punished. An angel's home is in heaven. You'll be staying here with me."
"What?" For a moment, he was so stunned he could only gape. "You mean I have to sit around on a cloud and play a harp until Judgment Day?" And yet she'd said he wouldn't be punished!
"Angels only play harps when they're not helping God. And believe me, God has a lot for us to do. When we're not busy making stars, or seeding wildflowers, or painting sunsets, God often sends us into the past or the future so a wrong can be righted. Sometimes we even fly to other worlds, like the people from the future ‑‑ called astronauts ‑‑ who visit the moon."
"The moon?" Gabriel's eyes bugged out. "Jeepers!"
"But mostly, " the angel continued, "God asks us to stay close to the earth so we can help people. Animals, too."
Gabriel brightened. If animals were involved, maybe this angel business wouldn't be so bad. The way he understood it, ghosts were stuck on earth, in the same place, for all eternity. That meant they didn't get to go time‑hopping. Angels, apparently, could visit Camelot, Egypt, or ancient Rome. And they didn't have to wait for the future to come to them. They could go meet gladiators one day and pay a call on some astronaut-folks the next!
"Okay." Gabriel grinned, his mind made up. "Send me back. I'll talk some sense into Michael, get that over with, and then I'll fly to the moon."
Something suspiciously like mirth glimmered in the angel's eyes. "Michael is well‑known here in heaven for his stubborn nature."
"I'll bet," Gabriel commiserated. "He can be a real stinker, that’s for sure. But I'm an angel, right? And angels can do anything."
"Not exactly. You're an angel in training."
Gabriel pressed his lips together. He should have known there'd be a catch.
"Also, angels must work within strict guidelines. We are forbidden to interfere with human free will. That means if Michael ignores your advice, you are not permitted to overrule his choice or stop him from experiencing the effect it will have on his life, no matter how painful that might be. All you can do is remind him there's a better way, a loving way, and keep encouraging him to take it."
Gabriel sniffed. "Well, my brother's not stupid, you know."
"No. Michael is very wise ‑‑ when he chooses to listen."
The angel tilted her head, and Gabriel had the distinct impression she was listening to something, even though he couldn't hear anything unusual above all that clinky, plinky chiming noises.
"Gabriel, to reward you for your willingness to help your brother, God has a surprise for you."
"She does?" Gabriel looked around eagerly, wondering where God could be. "What kind of surprise?"
A joyous bark answered his question.
Gabriel caught his breath. A ball of light materialized above a neighboring cloud. Four points of brightness touched down, anchoring the sphere like legs, and then a long, lean body began to take form, culminating in an exuberant hind end.
At last, Gabriel could recognize his long‑lost best friend. Standing splay‑legged in all his otherworldly glory, Goober looked as spry as a pup. His blind eye, jutting bones, crooked legs ‑‑ all the infirmities he'd ever suffered – were completely gone, healed by the grace of God. Even the graying fur Gabriel remembered so well had become white and lustrous again -- although God had turned Goober's black spots into silvery spangles.
Gabriel blinked back tears. "I never thought I'd ever see you again, Goob. Leastways, not in heaven."
The hound loosed another happy bark and launched himself into Gabriel's arms. Nearly bowled off his cloud, Gabriel shrieked with laughter, unused to the shivery sensation of a ghost dog's tongue, licking his cheek.
The angel chuckled. "Goober has been most impatient for your reunion, Gabriel. It is customary for an Angel‑in‑Training to have a helpmate, someone who has been in heaven long enough to know the Do's and Don'ts, especially on earth. Besides, Goober has a mission of his own down below, and his time to complete it is fast running out."
"It is?" Gabriel gazed in some concern at his friend.
"Goober has been chosen by God for a very high honor," the angel said solemnly. "It will become Goober's job to help lost pets find their human companions again."
"Bully for you, Goober!"
The hound beamed.
"However," the angel continued, "Goober isn't quite ready to fill such big shoes ‑‑ er, paws ‑‑ yet. That is why he must return with you to the earth plane. He has a lesson to learn."
Gabriel's brows furrowed. He wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. It smacked of schooling, like the three R’s. "What kind of lesson?" he demanded suspiciously.
"He must learn to love all of God's creatures."
Goober growled ominously.
Gabriel was appalled. "You mean cats?"
"Most especially cats."
Gabriel exchanged a sympathetic look with his dog.
"If Goober cannot learn to love all of God's creatures," the angel continued, directing her warning at the hound, "he will then have to return to earth to experience the nine lives of cathood."
"Sheesh." Gabriel couldn't think of a fate worse than that. Even playing a harp until the end of time paled by comparison. "Don't you worry, Goob.” He draped an arm around his friend's shoulders. "You're not going to become some smelly, old cat. I'll help you."
A pair of dimples betrayed the angel's humor. "That is most gracious of you, Gabriel."
He nodded, but his mind was already streaking ahead, conceiving of all the possibilities of angelhood. "Just think, Goob. You and me can go visit King Arthur, or climb a pyramid, or ride the Trojan horse! It'll be just like old times, only better, 'cause we won't be pretending outta books any more. We'll be doing the real thing!"
Goober pranced, ready to bound off the cloud and get started. Unfortunately, a more sobering notion detained Gabriel. He turned back to the angel.
"Uh...ma'am? Do I have to meet kings, gladiators, astronauts, and such in my … uh ..." He fidgeted. If Angels-in-Training could blush, he was pretty sure he was doing it. "In my underwear?" he whispered in a raspy rush.
Unlike the rest of the eavesdropping cosmos, the angel had the good grace not to giggle.
"An angel can change its appearance at will, Gabriel. Thus, you'll be ready to handle any circumstance. That's just one of many advantages angels have over ghosts."
He sighed with relief. "I’m sure glad I'm not a ghost then, ma'am."
"As am I, child."
Gabriel stilled. Something about the way she'd said "child" brought back a vague memory, something from his earliest years, when his mama would tuck him in and hum a dreamy lullaby. A fresh wave of homesickness washed over him, and he swallowed a fresh wave of tears.
"I don't want to cause any trouble or anything, ma'am, but ... um ... I was wondering if you could take me to see my mama. She died about six years ago, and I sure do miss her."
"My dearest child," she murmured. "It would cause me no trouble at all."
She held out her hand, and he swallowed. For a moment, he hesitated, uncertain what to expect when he touched the pulsing rays of light that served as her fingers.
But Goober nudged him closer, so Gabriel gathered his courage. He stepped boldly into the radiance that emanated from her being. In that split second, when their hands met, his soul was joined with hers. The love that he'd lost flowed through him, and he became bigger, greater, and more joyful than he could have been in the narrow confines of a physical body. Suddenly, everything he'd ever wondered, doubted, questioned, or feared, was made crystalline clear.
"Mama?" he whispered in awe.
Her smile was the most beautiful thing in all of heaven.
"Yes, Gabriel, my own sweet son. Welcome home."