Christmas in the City - Jill Barnett

Chapter One

IT WAS THE PERFECT DAY FOR A MIRACLE.

The shimmering sky above Heaven was as gold as Gabriel's trumpet, and the distant sound of canticles filled the celestial air. Clouds, puffy and white as spring goosedown, created the holiest of firmaments —a place where no angel feared to tread.

Standing just outside the Pearly Gates was a novice angel named Lillian. She glanced left, then right, and, just for good measure, she cast a quick peek above her.

The coast was clear.

With a look of pure determination, she shoved up the sleeves on her flowing white robe, flexed her fingers, and did exactly what she had been forbidden to do: she tried to create a miracle.

The blast was loud enough to crack Heaven.

A backdraft of near hurricane force sent clouds skittering and bumping every which way. Lilli landed flat on her back. For a stunned moment, she lay atop a bouncing cloud with her arms and legs out like a snow angel.

Slowly, the dark smoke from the blast settled around her. She blew a hank of silver-blond hair out of her face and blinked a few times, then found herself

staring up into the Heavenly sky. She wiggled her toes first, then moved her arms and legs.

No ... Nothing broken.

She sat up quickly and her halo slipped down over her eyes. She shoved it back into place, then quickly tugged down her robe so her bare legs were once again covered.

Like falling snowflakes, three pearlescent wing feathers floated in front of her.

She looked over her shoulder and frowned down at her crumpled wings, then rolled her shoulders, shimmied slightly, and fluttered her wings to get the kinks out of her feathers. From behind her she heard a muffled squeal and whipped around. "Florida?" she hissed. "Is that you?"

There was another muffled grunt.

"Where are you?" She looked around, then turned this way and that.

Nearby, two bare feet suddenly popped out from within a dark cloud.

"Oh. There you are."

The feet kicked in the air a few times, before they disappeared in the motion of a somersault. Florie's dark head popped into view, and with Lilli's help she crawled out of the dark cloud, kneeling there for a second, her wings tilted downward while she coughed and wheezed.

Lilli patted Florie's back gently until she stopped coughing and flung her head up, frowning, then she tared at Lilli from dazed eyes. "What happened?"

"Nothing...really."

Florida turned back around and froze, staring horrified toward the west. "Oh, no! Something did happen." She pointed. "Oh, Lilli, look what you've done now!"

Lilli turned around and almost died—again.

"You've broken the Pearly Gates!"

Lilli covered her eyes with both hands and groaned, then slowly opened her fingers and peeked through, hoping she would not see what she thought she had already seen.

Her stomach dropped to somewhere near her bare toes.

Slowly she stood and walked toward her latest disaster, with Florie "tching" and trailing along behind her. She stopped, unable to think, to speak. She could only stare.

The entrance to the most hallowed place in the universe was in complete shambles. The gates to Heaven hung at cockeyed angles from their twenty-four karat gold hinges. The hinges had been shattered in half, their golden pins bent like boomerangs. Those precious gates, which were originally in the shape of an angel's wings, were meant to meet in the center, where a diamond-encrusted lock held them in perfect symmetry.

"Where's the lock?" Florie whispered, eyes wide.

Lilli stared down at her feet, where diamond dust winked back at her like bits of sand amidst cracked pieces of precious pearl. Chewing on her lower lip, she pointed. "I think it's there." She had a sick feeling. "Somewhere."

Florie knelt down and scraped together the dust with her hands.

Lilli gave the small pillar of white dust an uneasy glance. "Is that all that's left?"

Florie nodded.

Lilli winced, then said what she was thinking. "It looks like Lot's wife."

"Saint Peter's going to be mad enough to spit lightning. And can you imagine"—Florie leaned closer and whispered—"His reaction? You'll get the worst punishment yet. It might even be worse than the time Saint Peter made you polish all those silver linings."

"Well, He can't punish me if He doesn't know who did it." She spun around, gripping her long gown in her fists. "Come on! Follow me!" And she took off at a full run.

"Wait!"

"Hurry, Florie!" Lilli called out over her shoulder. "Or He'll think you did it!"

All the color drained from Florida's face. Quick as a wink, she fluttered after Lilli.

Wings shimmying, they leapt from one cloudbank

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