“Are you sure this will work, Jesse?” For some idiotic reason, Amelia Foster tightened her grip on the red oak tree branch the two of them perched on. Even if either fell, they couldn’t die again.
Well, make that a third time for the infamous outlaw seated beside her.
They were disembodied spirits, after all, stuck in this ethereal plane for far too long, hovering outside the gates of Heaven where both hoped someday to rejoin the greatest loves of their lives. Amelia was convinced the only way she would ever “slip the surly bonds of earth” and move on would be after her grandson and the girl Amelia loved like a granddaughter found happiness, preferably in one another’s arms.
“This has to work.” She tried to convince herself if no one else.
“Trust me,” her accomplice in spirit assured her.
“Jesse Woodson James, I’m not so gullible as to fall for those words from the likes of you.”
“Miss Amelia, darlin’, I’m true as steel. Have I ever let you down?”
“Where shall I begin? How about the sixty-third running of the Kentucky Derby in 1937 when you stood up me and my no-good first husband?”
“Confound it, woman! How was I supposed to show up at an event like the Derby where dozens of people would have recognized me? As far as ever’body knew, by then I’d moldered in the grave nigh on half a century. Hell, if I’d stuck my face out in public, I’d have spent my remaining years in prison or been hanged outright as a bank robber. Maybe even a murderer.”
Amelia asked the question she hadn’t been comfortable enough to ask him in life. “Did you ever murder anyone, Jesse?”
“No court convicted me of nothing.”
“That’s not what I asked. Quit your evading the truth after all this time.”
Jesse shrugged, dismissing her challenge. Instead, he focused his attention on the side yard of the brick Federal-style house from their vantage point in one of the trees Amelia and her second husband had planted just before World War II.
What did she expect? He’d been caught up in his own legend for more than a century.
Whether Jesse had murdered anyone was a moot point. Both of them had a personal stake in seeing this mission come to fruition if they ever wanted to set foot inside the Pearly Gates.
While Jesse wasn’t likely to divulge any secrets to her at this stage in their relationship, her dearest friend, Caroline, had shared secrets about ol’ Jesse that would send historians into a tailspin. No doubt those revelations were what kept Jesse earthbound, too. Guilt, perhaps?
Regardless, he’d agreed to help after she’d shown him the consequences of his actions. She might not like his methods—and had read him the riot act after what he’d done to her poor Gregory on his bicycle a few months ago—but perhaps the ends would justify the means. That so-called accident seemed to have been the wake-up call the boy needed. Besides, Gregory hadn’t died.
Finally, after hovering between Heaven and Earth nigh on fifteen years, Amelia was the closest yet to achieving her dying wish. A little late, but she felt in her bones—well, she would if she still had any—that her grandson and Tillie Hamilton were destined to be together at last. If such success could only be accomplished by going into cahoots with the crafty, somewhat unscrupulous devil, er, spirit, beside her, then so be it.
Amelia wouldn’t be able to complete her life’s journey as long as Tillie remained lonely and enshrined in that big old house. Of course, Amelia had expected Gregory to return much sooner than this.
Oh dear. Their efforts had to do the trick. Those two young’uns were frittering away their most precious years and needed to be shown how to grab the brass ring while they still had breath in their bodies. Why, by Tillie’s age, she’d already ditched her cheat of a first husband, entered her second marriage, begun her travels to the four corners of the map, and enjoyed a life as full as any woman of her day could have hoped.
What in tarnation were these two waiting for?
She sighed. “Gregory Buchanan doesn’t see anything but what’s right before him. And Tillie hides herself away in that inn as if it’s Shangri La. Do you think they’ll ever figure it out?”
“Most humans don’t, do they?”
Sadly, no. A moment of uncertainty overtook her once more. “What if we try—”
Jesse patted her folded hands. “Miss Amelia, by the time you’ve finished figurin’, I’m already finished doin’.”
“Like the time you had Gregory knocked off his bicycle and nearly got him killed?” Admittedly, this might still be a sore spot for her.
“Stop your frettin’ now, woman. Haven’t we set into motion what’s going to bring them together again?”
“Rest is up to them.”
She nibbled the inside of her lip as she watched over her young charge. “That’s what I’m afraid of.” She’d watched her hopes and dreams slip through her fingers with these two far too many times. When Gregory married Nancy, she’d given up. She wouldn’t change a thing, though. That union had given Amelia her darling great-grandson Derek, whom she simply adored.
But her grandson’s marriage hadn’t worked out for reasons she worried Gregory might repeat in a relationship with sweet, innocent Tillie.
Oh, I hope he wakes up and smells the roses before it’s too late.
Tillie continued to rake leaves fallen from the oak trees near the playground below them. Amelia blew a kiss to the young lady who had won over a lonely old woman’s heart at the tender age of eight and remained her utmost concern the rest of her earthly life and well into the hereafter.
Tillie cupped a gloved hand over her cheek and looked around with a quirk in her brow. She’d caught some hint of Amelia’s kiss. The old woman smiled. Tillie had become more in tune with the spirit world over the past year. Unlike that grandson Amelia had practically given up on—well, not quite yet. She’d give Gregory one more chance to join the living. Amelia’s daughter and her cold-hearted Yankee husband had sure done a number on him, but Gregory was beginning to show signs of life, especially around his son.
All he needed was a little nudge in the right direction.
“Here he comes, Amelia!” Jesse’s excitement was contagious.
Her gaze shot up the road where she saw Gregory’s vehicle approaching. Amelia glanced at Tillie again, her heart about to burst. Only time would tell whether their matchmaking efforts would bear fruit. Now it was up to the young’uns.