Heaven in West Texas

Joshua West had been a lot of things -- a lover, a drifter, a soldier, a cowboy. What he'd never been before was dead, and he wasn't too crazy about it. Especially when he found out he was assigned to do the very last thing on heaven or earth he wanted to do: watch over the woman who jilted him when he was alive.

Harper Monogram · isbn: 0-06-108474-3


This book was a complete and utter fluke.

Years ago, I was at the Romance Writers of America convention in New York City, in the bar (though I can't blame this all on that) with my dear and talented friend Connie Brockway (I do blame this all on her!). At this time, paranormals were the hottest thing going in the romance genre — angels and time travels and ghosts and all that. Connie posed the question (Connie is ever posing questions) "what would you write if you had to write a paranormal romance?" "Doesn't matter," I replied. Promptly, and maybe just a little smugly. "Because I'm never, ever, ever writing one."

Well, suffice it to say it's obvious which one of us the most tenacious. I spewed out an idea, a "helping spirit" halfway between an angel and a ghost, so she would finally leave me alone. But the idea nagged at me, and, once we got home, I wrote a prologue, seven pages very quickly, the fastest writing I'd ever done in my life, shoved it in a drawer, and promptly forgot it.

Fast forward a couple of years. I was ready to submit a proposal I'd sweated over for months, three full chapters and an outline. On a whim I included that prologue I'd written so long before. Not long after, I received a phone call from my editor. "Well, I read your proposal." Long, dead silence — this is not a good thing from your editor, by the way. "But could you please write me the dead guy instead?"

--Susan


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Heaven in West TexasPrologue

"Aw, shit. I'm dead, ain't I?"

"You are indeed."

The voice was smooth and compelling, and it sounded like it was coming from right inside his head. Joshua West couldn't locate the source any more than he was able to decide whether it was male or female.

He was enveloped in some sort of dense fog, so thick he could barely see his hand when he waved it in front of his face. But it wasn't the dreary gray of a regular fog; this was white and shimmery, like being inside a pearl. It glowed with a soft, pure light that seemed to come from all directions at once. He looked around, trying to get his bearings.

"Oh Lord." He quickly cupped his hands over his privates. "I'm naked!"

"You are at that."

"But . . . But . . ." Joshua tried to jump up in protest, but there was nothing for his feet to land on. He had no sense of up or down, and found himself spinning slowly in space, like a dandelion puff blown on a lazy breeze. Whirling around like that, it was too hard to keep his hands safely over his crotch, so he gave up. If they -- whoever they were -- were going to be offended, they should have let him keep his britches.

"There are no clothes here, Joshua."

"No clothes?"

"Joshua." The voice was warmer now; it sounded amused. "We have no bodies."

"Oh." Weird; he wasn't getting dizzy at all. He tucked, delighted to find himself tumbling faster. "Is this . . . heaven?"

"Of course."

"Well, what do you know about that." He grinned. "Always thought I'd go the other way."

"That can still be arranged."

Joshua winced and quit spinning. "Now see here," he began, then stopped, thinking frantically. What could he say now that would help him? He'd never given much thought to the afterlife, but he was pretty darn sure he didn't want to go the other way.

The laughter bubbled from right out of the fog, loud and joyous and musical as a thousand magnificent bells pealing out at once. "Don't worry, Joshua. We save that other place for the truly irredeemable souls. The rest of you get to go back until you get it right." The voice paused, as if mulling it over. "I believe you are on your thirty-fifth or thirty-sixth try."

"Oh." Joshua tried to swallow, only to find he had no sense of his body at all -- he didn't feel the bob of his Adam's apple up and down his throat, and, come to think of it, he couldn't feel himself breathing, either. "Are you . . . Him?"

"Him?"

"You know." He couldn't have said why he lowered his voice to a whisper; it just seemed like the thing to do. "The Big Boss?"

"Oh, you mean the Lord. No, I'm not ‘Him.' I simply assist wherever I can."

"Do you know what happens to me next? I mean, do I go back right away? Who do I get to be this time?" This could be tricky. He didn't much cotton to the idea of going back as a jailbird or traveling preacher or some other poor sap.

"Not quite yet."

"What, then?"

"Joshua," the voice boomed, taking on a distinct tone of command, "we have need of your assistance."

"Uh, sure, sure." What choice did he have? This was not exactly his home territory. Best to keep his head down and go along with everything. "Anythin' you say."

"We are a bit shorthanded at the moment. The war took quite a bit out of us, you know."

"You ain't the only one."

"Yes. And so, we have a bit of an assignment for you."

"An assignment?" They'd selected him for an important assignment? Hey, maybe he hadn't made nearly as much of a mess of his life as he'd thought, if they were asking for his help. "What do you want me to do?"

"There's someone on earth who's in quite a bit of danger. She needs someone to help her out and keep her safe. Your job will simply be to watch over her."

She? He'd thought he was going to burn in hell, and instead he was going to get to watch over a beautiful damsel in distress? At this rate, being dead might not be bad at all. "You mean like a guardian angel?"

"Let's not get carried away." The light around Joshua intensified. "Angels have a few responsibilities that you're not quite ready for. Think of it more like a pinch hitter a substitute . . . helping spirit."

"Yeah, okay." Angel, spirit, whatever. How tough could it be? "Who is she?"

The white fog swirled. Then slowly it separated like a stage curtain, and there she was, silhouetted in the glimmering light.

"God damn it!" He ducked as soon as the words burst out, expecting lightning to strike him instantly for his blasphemy.

"It's all right," the voice said soothingly. "On the rather lengthy list of your sins, that's a fairly minor one."

She was tall and skinny and bony -- though she'd always insisted she was "willowy." Her nose was too long, her mouth was too wide, and her face was too narrow. He knew all that -- always had -- and, despite it all, she was still the sexiest thing he had ever laid eyes on.

Considering the fact that he was pretty sure his heart wasn't beating, he didn't have any idea how his body could be doing what it was doing right now, but it was having the same reaction it always had to Abigail Grier.

"Uh-uh. No way."

"Joshua," the voice chided, "she needs your help."

"She didn't need me when I was alive. She sure as he . . . heck don't need me when I'm dead!"

"She does."

"Abigail don't need anybody's help. She never has, and she's made it pretty darn clear."

"She needs help this time. She really is in danger."

"Can't you just . . . wave your hand and fix everything?"

"It doesn't quite work like that."

"Well, you're just gonna have to get someone else." This probably wasn't the best time for him to get stubborn, but he just could not go back there. The woman had kicked him in the gut once, and he wasn't getting anywhere near her ever again.

"There's no one else suitable, Joshua. You know the area, you know her, and you care about her."

"I do not care about her!"

Heaven in West TexasThe vision of Abigail tilted her head and smiled, a sad, brave little smile, and his chest started to hurt. That was exactly why he couldn't go back: he was a zillion miles away, and dead to boot, and she could still make him hurt. "I ain't going back there!" he shouted.

Abigail disappeared in a blinding instant of silver light. With a violent, rolling boom the pearly fog went black and closed around him.

"Joshua, you have no choice."


END OF CHAPTER ONE
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