In one century she loved him madly, and in another she wants nothing to do with him
In 1844 Ireland, Liam O’Connor, a rogue and a thief, fell madly in love with a squire’s daughter and unwittingly altered the future. Shy and naive Cora McLeod thought Liam was the answer to her prayers. But the angels disagreed and they’ve been waiting for the right moment in time to step in.
Now Liam finds himself reunited with his beloved Cora in Providence Falls, North Carolina. The angels have given Liam a task. He must make sure Cora falls in love with another man—the one she was supposed to marry before Liam interfered. But this Cora is very different from the innocent girl who fell for Liam in the past. She’s a cop and has a confidence and independence he wasn’t expecting. She doesn’t remember Liam or their past lives, nor is she impressed with his attempts to guide her in any way.
Liam wants Cora for himself, but with his soul hanging in the balance, he must choose between a stolen moment in time or an eternity of damnation.
For an angel as old as Agon, there was nothing new under the sun, or above. After thousands of years studying the human condition, he’d pretty much seen it all. Time didn’t lie. It proved over and over again that human beings were flawed. They led messy lives. They didn’t always learn from their mistakes. And yet, as he swooped into the Department of Destiny and prepared for another day of judging souls, he remained ever the optimist. Because time also had a way of proving that even in the face of all odds, love would prevail.
He landed silently in the misty chamber and slapped his associate on the back. “What’s up, Samael?”
The shorter angel jerked, fumbling for the clipboard in his hands. He gave Agon a scathing look of disapproval. “How many times must I tell you not to sneak up on me like that?”
“Oh, yes. Sorry,” Agon said breezily. “Who’s up next?”
Samael checked the clipboard with a heavy sigh. Pale curls framed his round face. Next to Agon’s imposing figure and dark hair, Samael looked almost boyish. But he’d been in charge of the Department of Destiny for over three hundred years, and he ran it with a stoic sense of justice that made him seem much older. “A grave disappointment, to be sure. The soul of Liam O’Connor stands judgment today.”
“Ah.” Agon shook his head sadly. “Poor Irish ruffian. Such a tragic love story, Liam and the fair Cora.”
“Those two should never have fallen in love,” Samael said with a scowl. “It shattered all of our plans. For over a century! So many destinies were ruined because of it.” He tucked his wings neatly behind his back, then glanced at Agon. “Are you ready to call him in?”
“Yes.” Agon turned toward the wall of mist and pasted an encouraging smile on his face.
“I told you not to do that,” Samael said. “This is serious business. We must reflect the gravity of the situation through our appearance and mannerisms.”
“But humans like smiles,” Agon said. “I thought perhaps it would make him feel more comfortable.”
“His soul hangs in the balance between heaven and hell, and we’re about to judge it,” Samael said flatly. “Who could possibly be comfortable with that?”
“Right.” Agon arranged his features to appear as bleak and unyielding as the surrounding chamber.
“Much better,” Samael said with a nod. Then he raised his hand and called into the void. “I summon the soul of Liam O’Connor.”
Like a cannonball hurled through a cloud, a man shot out of the mist, tumbling head over heels to land before the angels in a tangle of curses and grunts. Unlike other souls who were called to the Department of Destiny, Liam did not rise on unsteady feet, shaking with fear, terrified to stand judgment for his past life’s choices. Instead, he jumped up, slapping at wisps of fog still clinging to his hair and clothing, dark eyes casually scanning the room.
Samael regarded him coolly. “Do you know why you’ve been summoned to the Chamber of Judgment?”
Liam raised a dark brow. “Judgment day, I’d imagine?” For someone who stood on the brink of eternal damnation, he was far too nonchalant. But the angels knew this was part of his act. Liam O’Connor was no stranger to deception.
“We have reviewed your past life and found you wanting,” Samael said. He flicked his hand, and moving images suddenly appeared in the misty wall. Liam picking pockets. Breaking into houses. Liam running through the forest carrying a bag of stolen jewels. A stagecoach in the background with victims shouting after him. A musket ball shattering the branch of a tree near his head. Liam laughing in the face of danger.
“You were a thief,” Samael said. “And you stole from innocent people. Often.”
“Well…” Liam crossed his arms and leaned against the wall of mist. “Crops were failing. I only stole to help put food on the table. Simple as that.”
“Do not attempt to lie to us,” Samael said coldly. “We can see into your soul, Liam O’Connor, and we know the truth. You enjoyed stealing. You reveled in your life as a thief.”
“Fine.” Liam pushed off the wall and began to pace, dragging the tips of his fingers through the roiling fog. “I did enjoy thieving, and I was good at it, too. I was never any good at farming. But I kept my brother’s family from starving, didn’t I? That has to count for something.”
Samael gazed at him sternly. “You didn’t only steal objects.” He flicked his hand and another image appeared, a sweet, innocent young woman with glossy blond curls and rosy cheeks. She had a round, pretty face with a nose just a little too prominent, and a smile just a little too trusting. She was holding out a rose.
“Cora,” Liam breathed. He stepped closer, but the image of the young woman vanished. “Bring her back!” He grasped at the fog with both hands. “Let me see her again.”
“She wasn’t meant for you, ruffian,” Samael said. “You stole her from her fiancé.”
“But I loved her,” Liam shot back. “And she—”
“You interfered with her destiny,” Samael interrupted. “She was supposed to marry that man, and together they were going to raise a child who would someday help the world.”
Liam scowled. “Her fiancé didn’t deserve her. She wanted me. It was me she loved in the end.”
“Ah, yes,” Samael said icily. “The end.”
Liam glanced away.
“Things ended very badly for her, as you well know,” Samael continued. “For both of you. And now, because of you, Cora’s soul has never found peace. In every new life we’ve given her, she’s afraid to fall in love. She never lives long enough to fulfill her destiny.” He flicked his hand again.
This time, terrible images appeared. Cora as a young nurse, caring for soldiers during an outbreak of scarlet fever…dying in a hospital bed. Cora as a nanny, rushing to save a young child from the path of a runaway horse…dying in the street. Cora working in a factory during WWII…dying in an explosion.
The angels knew Liam wouldn’t understand some of the things he was seeing, but the message was very clear. Cora’s life always ended in tragedy.
“Enough!” Liam flung his hands up, scrubbing his face. “Just tell me my fate. Is it to be hell, then?”
The angels exchanged glances.
“It is true you’ve done much wrong in your life,” Samael said. “But you’ve also done some good. For this reason, we’re going to give you a chance at redemption.”
Liam’s head shot up. He glanced back and forth between the two angels.
“Cora is on earth again in this twenty-first century,” Samael said. “You must make sure she fulfills her true destiny in this life.”
“There is a man named Finley Walsh. He is her true soul mate—the man she must marry. The man she was destined to marry until you ruined everything. This time, you will see that Cora falls in love with the right man.”
Liam scowled and kicked the floor, displacing wisps of fog. He grumbled under his breath, then glanced up. “Will she remember me?”
“Of course not,” Samael said. “Certainly not as you remember her. The role you play this time will be…much different.”
Liam narrowed his eyes but remained silent.
“You have three months to complete the task,” Samael continued in clipped tones. “We will bestow upon you some knowledge of the current century, but it won’t be an easy transition. If anyone questions your struggles with modern technology, just explain you’re from a very rural town.”
Liam raised his chin. “What if I tell them the truth?”
Samael let out a huff of amusement. “That you’re a transplanted soul from 1844 Ireland? Good luck with that.” He slid the clipboard into a pocket of mist. “Three months, Liam O’Connor. Get Cora to fall in love with Finley. It is imperative that this happens. If you fail—and that includes sleeping with her—you will be sent straight to…”
All the light in the chamber vanished, plunging them into icy darkness.
“Hell.” Samael’s voice echoed off the chamber walls like a war drum.
“And if I succeed?” Liam whispered.
The light snapped back on.
“Heaven,” Samael said matter-of-factly. “Now, off you go.” He started to lift his hand.
“Wait!” Liam cried. “If Cora’s been on earth living all these different lives, where have I been the whole time?”
“Suspended up here,” Samael said. “Waiting for us to decide if you deserved a chance at redemption. I do hope you are worthy of it. Goodbye, ruffian.” He waved his hand a final time, and a hole opened in the mist beneath Liam’s feet.
They could hear him yelling for a long time as he fell, even after the hole closed.
Agon chuckled. “That was a rather dramatic exit, don’t you think?”
Samael shrugged. “I thought the moment could use a bit of theatrics.”
“And the flickering lights with the echoing voice?” Agon elbowed him in the ribs. “Nice job.”
Samael pressed his lips together and tried to look stern, but Agon could tell he was pleased.
They turned to the wall of mist as the image of Liam appeared. His body floated to earth, landing softly on a bed of leaves on the forest floor. He glanced around in a daze, his lips slowly curving into a smile.
“He always loved the forest,” Agon said wistfully.
“I thought he could use a moment here to reflect on his past, before we send him to work,” Samael said.
Liam’s eyes drooped. His dark lashes fluttered once. Twice. And then he slipped into a deep, dream-filled sleep.
“You didn’t tell him the truth.” Agon turned to Samael. “About the child.”
“He’s not ready to hear that—and neither is she.”
Agon glanced back to the image of Liam’s slumbering form. “Do you think he’ll succeed?”
Samael frowned. “What’s that human saying about a snowball’s chance?”
Agon shook his head. “It eludes me.”
“No matter.” Samael expanded his wings and stretched. “Time will tell.”
“Yes,” Agon mused. “Time always does.”
Excerpted from Chance of a Lifetime by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets, Copyright © Deveraux Inc. Published by MIRA Books.
Jude Deveraux is the author of forty-three New York Times bestsellers, including For All Time, Moonlight in the Morning, and A Knight in Shining Armor. She was honored with a Romantic Times Pioneer Award in 2013 for her distinguished career. To date, there are more than sixty million copies of her books in print worldwide. Find out more on her website.
Tara Sheets is an award-winning author of contemporary romance and women's fiction. Her debut novel, Don't Call Me Cupcake, won the 2016 Golden Heart® award sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Tara began her career as an author in the Pacific Northwest, inspired by the rain and the misty mountains and the rivers of Starbucks coffee. She now lives in the warm, wonderful South where she can stand outside with no coat on, and she finds that pretty inspiring too. When not writing, Tara enjoys life with her book-loving family and a book-eating dog named Merlin. You can find out more about her on her website.