Gabriel Valance is a gunslinger with a large reputation. On Christmas morning, a young man looking to make a name for himself shoots Gabe, and kills him. But, Gabe is saved by angels Gabriel and Michael, who have determined that even though he had not lived a bad life, he hasn't lived a good one. So they give him a task to prove his worthiness to ascend into heaven: he must save a "lost soul". Gabe is given three choices: a homeless boy, and aging widower, or a young woman named Nan. Gabe chooses Nan because if he must save someone, he'd prefer to "enjoy" it. With Nan, he must succeed in freeing her from her past, make her fall in love, and show her the joys of making love. Gabe is given a month of his life back, knowing he will die again on Christmas morning.
Gabe approaches Nan, and armed with information from the angels, blackmails her into marrying him. See, Nan is under the belief that she murdered a man--the old suitor her father ordered her to marry. So, she took her baby sister, Laney, and ran from home, only to establish herself in Random, Colorado as a young widow with a daughter. Gabe uses this information to get Nan to marry him, but also to hire a private investigator to prove to Nan that the man she thought she killed actually survived. This way, Gabe cold help her let go of her past.
Gabe also happens to be incredibly wealthy, thanks to his father who left him everything. With this, Nan has no choice but to try and make a marriage work with Gabe--she knows he's not after her money, so what does she have to lose? Laney, on the other hand, warms up to Gabe quickly, and joins him in softening Nan to his presence in their home. Gabe's assignment seems to be going well, and he will have no problem making Nan love him and be intimate with him, except for one thing; he has already lived this month so has knowledge of what is going to happen. Unfortunately, the angels have forbidden him to interfere with the lives of other people.
Gabe struggles with this guilt, and tries to circumvent the angels rules by having Laney and Nan help others, including a homeless dog, and the homeless boy and widower (the other two "lost souls"). At one instance, Gabe directly saves the life of a little girl, thus breaking his oath to the angels. But, by this point, he doesn't care. He would rather save the lives of other people in the town than secure his own salvation.
Gabe then reveals everything to Nan, who eventually believes him. Knowing they only have a few days left, they enjoy every minute of his life on earth. Christmas morning comes, and Gabe leaves to face his fate. Nan has a heavenly divination, "God helps those who help themselves" and enlists the town to prevent Gabe's death.
Like before, Gabe is shot. However, the angels allow him to live because in giving up his supposed "salvation" to save the lives of others, Gabe DID save a "lost soul"--his own. Gabe is given the rest of his life to live with Nan.
In the Epilogue, Gabe and Nan have a little boy with a second baby on the way. The widower and homeless boy are living with Gabe and Nan as an extended family, and the homeless boy's mother shows up and is happily reunited with her son. Finally, Gabe has found a job as the marshal and is an integral part of the community, even going so far as to fund the building of a library.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked that Anderson took a risk in physically dealing with heaven and the afterlife in a tangible way. I think to some readers the religious overtone is a bit much, but for those who enjoy Anderson and how she pulls in religion, it is a very interesting story.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was Nan and her extended family preparing for Christmas. By this point, Nan knows Gabe is fated to die, but instead of moping, they have a grand time buying presents, trimming the tree, making goodies and singing Christmas Carols. This scene is so successful because it breaks your heart knowing Gabe will die and that his first Christmas will also be his last.
Opinion about the main character:
Gabe is likeable as a main character, but he is almost too perfect. I think he would be more interesting and make harder decisions that are higher risk if he wasn't conveniently loaded with cash. Overall, his transformation was believable, but like I said, hard decisions were made easy by the fact he had tons of money just sitting in the bank.