Child psychologist Rachel Kelly isn’t quite sure how to handle the situation with her newest client — a six-year-old boy who says he can talk to angels and one is coming to help Rachel. She already has her hands full of trouble this Christmas season, and things quickly take a turn for the worse when a stalker crashes Rachel’s Christmas party and takes her young clients hostage.
Police negotiator, Lt. Jake Dillon, walked away from his fiancée Rachel when she suddenly balked at having kids. His kids. Yet when the hostage crisis erupts, Rachel calls Jake first. Now he has a choice to make — stand back and wait for the cavalry to save Rachel or step in and try to save her himself. Time is running out, and Jake may be their only chance for rescue.
Unless Rachel’s little angel-spying client is telling the truth…
Angel to the Rescue Excerpt: Jay meets Sassy
The second Jay shut the outer office door, Sassy let loose a loud squawk and snagged the boy’s attention. His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree, and he craned his neck to see into Rachel’s office.
Olivia smiled, seeing that she’d guessed right. “We have a surprise for you today, Jay,” she said, as Rachel stepped out of her office. “A very special guest. I hope you like birds.”
“I do,” he said, almost quivering with excitement. “Where is it?”
“Her name’s Sassy, and she’s in here,” Rachel answered. “She’s my pet conure. I’m getting her toenails and wings clipped after work, so I brought her in today. Want to meet her?”
“Sure,” he said and quickly closed the distance to her office.
His eyes sparkled. This was the most emotion she’d seen in Jay since he first walked through her door. Striding past her, he made a beeline for the cage. Sassy blurted one quick squawk and scurried to the end of the perch closest to the boy.
“Love you. Love you,” the bird muttered.
His mouth dropped open. “She talks!”
Huddled together just inside the door, Rachel and Olivia both started laughing.
“Does she ever,” Rachel said, “and pretty soon you’ll wish she would shut up.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “not me.”
“Gimme a kiss,” the bird chirped, plain as day.
Jay’s eyes almost popped right out of his head. “Can I hold her?”
Rachel stepped swiftly to his side and put out a hand. “Wait just a second. We have to make sure she won’t nip you. Birds choose their friends, not the other way around. Birds like some people instantly, and some people they need a lot of time to get used to, and some people they just never get used to.”
“I can guess which one I am,” Olivia muttered.
“We’ll pop the top door rather than the side,” Rachel said, releasing the catch. The double doors covering the crest of the cage folded back, and Sassy leaped out of the opening to scramble for a perch on the top bars.
“Don’t try to pick her up yet,” Rachel cautioned. “Inch a little closer and stay just out of reach. Let’s see what she does first.”
He followed directions, and the small green parrot scooted over close to him, muttering, “Love you,” as she went. All her feathers lay smooth against her body with nary a one plumped up. Clinging to the edge of the cage, Sassy telescoped her neck as far as she could in an attempt to reach Jay, which brought a spontaneous laugh from him. Undaunted, she continued straining to reach him and almost fell off the side of the cage.
“I think she may like you,” Rachel said quietly. “Lift your finger up near her, but be ready to move. If she leans toward you slowly with her beak open, she’s reaching for your finger to pull it in close enough for her to step up. If she lunges for you with her beak open, she’s going to bite.”
Taking a deep breath, Jay eased his right index finger up, higher and higher. His eyes danced with excitement.
The bird muttered one last “love you,” gently clamped onto Jay’s finger to pull it toward her, and stepped aboard. Little melodious notes suddenly filled the air as the bird made it clear she was delighted with her new ride. Moving his finger up near his shoulder, he allowed Sassy to disembark on firmer ground, much to Rachel’s delight.
“Can I hold her for a while?” he asked expectantly.
“Of course you can, but every fifteen minutes or so put her back on her cage for a few minutes. I’d hate to have her leave an accident on your shoulder. They’re gross.”
He laughed outright, his first full-hearted laugh since their sessions began.
She was ecstatic. “Why don’t you have a seat on the couch, and we’ll get started. Do you want a drink or anything?”
“No ma’am,” he said, a wide grin firmly implanted on his face.
As Olivia ducked out, Rachel closed the door and took a seat next to him, a little closer than normal in the off chance she needed to snatch Sassy at a moment’s notice.
“Does she say a lot of things?” he asked.
“About eight or nine phrases are all conures can manage. She has lots of noises though. Every time I reach for a tissue, when she’s on my shoulder, she makes tiny coughing sounds. Started doing that last month when I had a bad cold and coughed a lot.”
Jay shifted on the couch, and Sassy grabbed his shirt with her beak to hang on.
“Remember, she’s not on her best behavior or her most talkative right now. She’s too excited about you holding her.”
“Yes, we’ve gotten very close in the last few months. Sometimes Sassy makes me crazy, but I love her a lot. She’s my baby.”
He stared at Rachel for such a long time that she wondered if he would clam up again. Then out of nowhere, a deep slow smile slid across his face — a smile of pure contentment.
“Maybe you could ask your mom to get you a bird of your own.”
His body tensed, and his smile promptly faded.
Rachel waited patiently for him to respond.
As Jay was about to speak, Sassy chattered “love you” three times in a row and promptly skittered around onto the front pocket of his shirt, using her beak and claws to hold on.
Startled, he said, “What’s she doing?”
“She wants you to hug her.”
His eyes got as big as saucers.
“Put your right hand flat on your chest, fingers together and thumb straight up, and watch what happens.”
He did as instructed, and the little bird adeptly lowered one foot to his index finger while her beak clutched his shirt. With a stable foothold, she lowered the other foot to rest alongside. As soon as she was comfortable, she leaned back to look at Jay.
His grin returned, wider than before, and he tried to focus on the bird so close to his face. “Hi there,” he said softly.
“Use your other hand to pet her. Start at her head and go to her tail.” Rachel said softly. “It’s how I love on her when I hold her. She doesn’t let just anybody do this. You should feel honored.”
He followed her instructions, and the little bird made soft cooing noises as he stroked her. Captivated, he focused all his attention on the conure.
Rachel let out a sigh of relief. Thank you, Sassy.
A minute or so passed with Jay continually stroking the contented bird. Out of nowhere, he said, “My mom would have to ask my dad for permission to buy a bird, and she wouldn’t ask for something like that.”
A little surprised by his comment, Rachel said, “I know you said your father calls the shots at home, but why wouldn’t your mom ask for a bird for you?”
His grin disappeared. “She only asks for certain things. They have to be real special.”
Rachel knew not to mention Christmas presents since Jay had already said his family didn’t do much for the holiday. She chose her next words carefully. “But a bird for you would be very special. I still don’t see why she wouldn’t ask.” She waited so long for his answer, she wondered if it would ever come.
Finally, he turned to stare at Rachel. “She’s afraid of him.”
She felt a sick thud in the pit of her stomach. The boy watched her. Only his hand moved, stroking the contented bird. His eyes never blinked.
She chose her next words carefully. “It would help me to understand better if I know why your mother is afraid.”
He pondered her request, then turned away. He gazed out the window, still mechanically stroking the small green bird. Only Sassy’s periodic chirps broke the silence.
She took a deep breath and went back to her earlier question. “Why would your mother be afraid to ask him for a bird?”
Still no response. The hand stroking the bird picked up its pace.
She waited another few minutes, then prodded again. “Jay, why would your mother not ask for a bird?”
The stroking pace increased until Sassy’s head bobbed like a cork. No response.
One more try. “Jay, I…”
“Because he’d hit her!” he shrieked.
Startled by his outburst, poor Sassy snatched his index finger as it came over the top of her head.
“Ow!” he yelped and jerked his finger away.
Rachel cringed, fearful the boy might lash out at the parrot, but he kept still. The bird remained perched on his finger. Sassy settled down and waited for her stroking to resume. The boy sat still as stone.
Second-guessing the use of her own pet in this experiment, Rachel debated whether to move over and take the bird or leave her be. She waited a few moments to allow Jay to calm down. Tears trickled down both cheeks and onto his shirt.
She was treading delicate ground.
Help me, God — please.
A second later, Sassy muttered, “Love you.”
Jay’s left hand slowly moved back to the top of her head, a bit tentative as he attempted to stroke her. The tears continued to fall. His head stayed down.
Choking back her own tears, Rachel said softly, “I’m so sorry, Jay.”
His hand continued the repetitive stroking, Sassy again comfortable with her handling.
Rachel took a deep breath and calculated her options. She couldn’t afford to let this opportunity pass. If the wall built around his heart went back up, it may never come down again. She tuned into the boy’s movements and waited for the right moment.
“Does he hit you, too?”
The boy went completely still. The hand-stroking ceased. A slight shudder shook the boy’s frame and from beneath his bowed head, came a choked response. “Yes.”
She had to work fast. “Just a spanking or worse?” She kept her voice soft.
“Does he beat you and your mother?”
A short sob racked his frame. “Yes,” he whispered.
“Jay, I can help you. Let me contact the authorities and have them put a stop to this.”
He turned a wild-eyed stare at her. “No!”
Sassy squawked at his shriek, but didn’t bite this time.
“If you tell, I’ll never talk to you again!” he cried.
She felt like a giant hand squeezed her heart. “Jay, please,” she pleaded.
“No! You can’t!” He glowered at her. “It’ll be worse. I have to protect Will.”
She fought hard for composure. Not getting personally involved was the hardest part about being a psychologist. She had to fight the natural impulse in order to help the patient, and this boy desperately needed her.
She steeled herself. “Jay, listen to me. Your father is wrong. He’s wrong to beat your mother, and he’s horribly wrong to beat you. You and your mother did nothing to deserve that. Do you hear me? Nothing! Something is wrong with your father to make him do that, but it’s not you!”
A minute passed. His hand moved toward the cage and set Sassy down.
The conure voiced her displeasure.
“Jay? Did you hear–“
The boy lurched sideways and threw himself into her arms, his body battered by gut-wrenching sobs.