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Friendship Heirlooms Series, Book 2: Michael's Angel by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romantic Suspense)

Friendship Heirlooms Series, Book 2: Michael's Angel by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romantic Suspense)
 
(2 reviews)  

Book Two Friendship Heirloom: Courage
As the unwanted son of a mother who killed herself to escape a life she couldn't bear another second and then being passed around from one foster family to the next, each less sympathetic than the one before, Michael Fremont has had it drilled into him from birth that he's not worth anything...certainly not worth saving. Then he met the angel next door. LeeAnn Wagner was as small and fragile as a china doll, the unfortunate offspring of a couple more volatile than gasoline and a lit match.

Together, Michael and LeeAnn escaped the horrors of their childhoods and gave their lives to the Lord. But Michael had realized that his love and needs for LeeAnn were only growing beyond his control. Feeling like a coward, he did the only thing he could to save her from his possibly unwanted desires: he joined the military. There he'd made close friends in Christ and unburied the very discipline and willpower he'd struggled to grasp while he was with LeeAnn every minute of every day.

Never once during their years apart does Michael forget his angel...or forgive himself for leaving her just when she seemed to need him most. The last thing he expects upon honorable discharge is to find that the frail creature he'd reluctantly left behind for what's felt like a lifetime has discovered her own considerable strengths, abilities, and deep, inner happiness. Can she forgive him? Can she ever get over the scars of her past to see him as the man of her heart? One worthy of an angel?

LeeAnn has loved Michael since the moment his gentle eyes met hers. When he left, she thought she'd never survive. But she'd realized soon afterward that she needed the separation as well--to become the fearless, godly woman he requires, now more than ever; to become what he's been to her right from the start: a healer and guide, a light in the darkness, a friend who would never abandon or destroy. And maybe now that she and Michael are whole, not hiding from the world, barely able to imagine surviving together or apart, they can become lovers...

But LeeAnn isn't sure how to fully overcome a past that refuses to remain in her darkest nightmares. Even as she and Michael's most fervent, uncertain dreams are coming true, the harbinger of her childhood is waiting in the shadows, murderously intent on taking away everything she's ever wanted.

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Friendship Heirlooms Series, Book 2: Michael's Angel by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romantic Suspense)
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2 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Karen Wiesner
Jun 3, 2016
5 Stars and Top Pick! "This book will keep you up long into the night reading! This is a roller coaster ride from start to finish as Ms. Wiesner infused this book with mystery, suspense, and evil at its best. The plot is excellent. Wiesner gives you hints in the storyline but does not reveal the truth until necessary to the story, keeping you intrigued until the end of this book. Wiesner kept the tension, suspense, and mystery at high peak with gradual revelations, which are surprising and amazing. The pacing of the book was excellent as it never lags and will keep you glued to the book, anxious to see what will happen next. I did not want to put this book down! As I finished the book, I was sorry to say goodbye to LeeAnn and Michael and did so reluctantly. Wiesner's story-telling skills are evident in this book as she weaves the many threads in the storyline together to form a suspenseful and faith-based story. Her writing style is clear and easy to read. Faith plays a large part in this book, but is not pushy nor forced upon the reader; rather it is part of the characters' personal beliefs and way of life. LeeAnn and Michael's characters were masterfully developed by Wiesner. It was amazing to watch LeeAnn and Michael's growth in this book as they develop from insecure clinging teenagers to mature adults. LeeAnn and Michael's portrayals are very real and human with all our human faults, failures, insecurities, and misconceptions. The interaction between LeeAnn and Michael was well done. The secondary characters add depth to this story as well as guidance for LeeAnn and Michael. The villain of this book, Samson Oligee, was a great character, revealing true evil and patience resided within him as Ms.
Wiesner skillfully wove the story around him. He gave me chills. Wiesner has crafted another winner. This is a well-written, paced, and developed book with an intriguing storyline. It is a clean read but does contain violence and mental illness." ~The Romance Reviews
http://www.theromancereviews.com/viewbooks.php?bookid=11406
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Karen Wiesner
Jul 31, 2015
4 1/2 Stars! “Karen Wiesner again has reached into the troubled lives of her characters and brought hope, love and God into their lives. A fantastic read. I anticipate reading more of this series in the very near future!” ~BTSemag http://www.btsemag.com

“Wiesner’s second Friendship Heirlooms book is interesting, with several surprises.” ~RT Book Reviews http://www.rtbookreviews.com/
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Sample Chapter

Friendship Heirlooms Series:

Return to the quaint little town of Peaceful, Wisconsin, from Karen Wiesner's award-winning Family Heirlooms Series, where you first met and fell in love with these colorful, lovable friends. Now you can read the stories of those secondary characters in an all-new spin-off series. Nuggets of faith can be passed down as heirlooms from friend to friend, heart to heart, soul-mate to soul-mate.

Book Two Friendship Heirloom: Courage


Prologue

"Did you finish it?" she demanded when he walked into the kitchen.

Mike Fremont pulled himself from his single-minded focus. He hadn't expected his foster sister Eliza to be in here. It wasn't often that anyone in this house changed his or her routines. He'd had every intention of going out the front door, but his foster mother had been coming through that door more than fifteen minutes earlier than usual. What was going on?

"Your homework is in the laundry basket inside your bedroom," he muttered, not looking at his foster sister or slowing toward his destination of the patio door.

Two weeks. Two more weeks, and Eliza's blackmailing days are over. Only two more weeks and I can leave here with LeeAnn and never look back.

For five years, he'd been doing Eliza's homework, listening to her vicious manipulations and threats. He felt no gratitude whatsoever toward the Stern family--any more than he had all the other foster parents he'd endured after his mother committed suicide in front of him when he was in his single digits. That the Sterns would do anything for money was no secret, even for just a few extra dollars a month. Mrs. Stern washed dishes at a restaurant. Her husband worked the night shift at a factory close to their home in North Chicago. Mike thanked God daily that the couple worked different schedules, leaving little opportunity that all of them would run into each other or be forced into family events, like eating meals together. The couple could barely tolerate each other on their days off. Everyone except Eliza wondered why they remained together.

Each weekday of his life, Mike ate a hastily-thrown-together sandwich in his room after he got home from his part-time job, then he did his chores and completed his--and Eliza's--homework. He wouldn't consider himself smart. Only because he got better grades than his foster sister did she blackmail him into doing hers. Shop was the only class he truly enjoyed.

Just as he expected, before he could reach the patio door, Eliza got up and positioned herself in front of it, her arms crossed smugly over her chest. The smile on her ugly face was one of pure pleasure. Mike knew there was nothing she enjoyed more than torturing him. Now that her mother was home, she would revel in it, as a criminal would with a partner in crime.

"Did you take the garbage out, Mike?" Mrs. Stern muttered in irritation when she entered the room.

He was trapped between the two females with no way out. The family had enough mismatched furniture to fill an antique junk museum. Junk was all it qualified as, too. In all the years he'd lived in this house, the back door had been blocked by an extra-wide chair.

"Yes," he said quietly, between his teeth. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his threadbare jeans, refusing to look at his foster mother any more than he had her nightmare daughter. He'd taken the garbage out after sweeping the floor, hand-washing the mess of dishes piled in the sink since breakfast, and transferring the load of laundry he'd put in the washer that morning to the dryer. After straightening up the house, he'd raced through the homework. None of it was any challenge--certainly not the moron classes Eliza took because she wasn't proficient at any subject. She'd been held back more than one grade before the family took Mike in. No one seemed to wonder why she was suddenly on the honor roll. They might next year when she flunked every class because he wouldn't be around to relieve the stresses of each Stern family member. He'd be long gone, out of reach for them to find fault with, torture and order around. Eventually, they'd run out of steam today and then he could escape next door to see LeeAnn. She was the only person in the world, the only thing, period, that mattered to him.

In the meantime, Mike stood utterly still, waiting for what he knew was coming. Mrs. Stern set her purse on the kitchen counter. Her frizzled hair and face were greasy, and she looked like she'd swallowed Willy Wonka's giant blueberry. She'd smeared that brown lipstick over her fat lips again, as if she believed she was making some improvement with it. More so than ever, she looked like the witch Mike had had nightmares she was. When he peeked up at her once, he saw that her roving gaze was the norm--without design--but he never doubted for a second what she was up to. Once again, Eliza had deliberately provided her mother with the incentive to lay into him. Mrs. Stern lifted a plate out of the sink. Eliza must have made herself a snack and put it there instead of leaving it on the table. Her mother would check the sink first. Mike turned to glare at his foster sister. As bloated and sweaty as her mother, Eliza barely kept herself from laughing out loud at his predicament.

Mike's teeth ground together. He hated everything about her. The way she looked, smelled, acted. I hate the way she breathes. Hate her and her mother and her coward father.

"I work all day in a restaurant!" Mrs. Stern exploded words as familiar to him as her question, "Did the reimbursement check come?" at the end of every month. "Do you think I wanna come home and see more dishes piling up?" Menacingly, she shook the plate in front of his face.

He didn't flinch. He didn't even look at her. She turned and threw the dish back in the sink with a clatter. "Why don't you try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change, Mike? We took you in and gave you a comfortable home, food, clothing..."

Sure you did. Out of the goodness of your hearts, too. And you've made me feel so welcome. Right. Not. Not even once. After five years, he'd learned how to tune them all out. He walked to the sink and washed the plate, barely hearing a word either of the females said. Neither of them mattered. LeeAnn...

When he finished drying and replacing the dish in the cupboard, he turned and waited until the witch would let him go. He knew he wouldn't have to hold out much longer. Finally, Mrs. Stern gave him a dismissive glance. Unfortunately, she took that moment to notice what he'd hoped no one would. He'd put an ice compress on his swollen cheek when he got home, but the damage had been done by that point.

"Did you get in another fight?" she barked out furiously. "What's wrong with you? Lord, you'll be in jail before you're even legal. Thank God you'll be outta here in two weeks, and we won't have to bail you out anymore."

Mike only just kept himself from bursting into laughter. When had they ever bailed him out? It'd been the other way around so often, the sheer number of times had blurred in his mind and become indiscernible.

Looking exactly like a pig, Mrs. Stern grunted her exaggerated exasperation. "What exactly is it you do to provoke these fights anyway? Don't you know you'll never win?"

Of course she would assume he'd done something--beyond simply existing--to bring on his own beatings. Until he'd met LeeAnn Wagner, his goal in life had been to fade into the woodwork and never be seen by anyone. Even then, bullies had seemed to see him as a target. That he was all height, little weight, and certainly no muscle at the age of eighteen didn't help his situation at all. But something mattered to him now, and he wouldn't let the bullies get away with their cruel taunts of LeeAnn.

"It's that hideous dwarf next door, Mom," Eliza said in a superior, know-it-all tone. "She's his girlfriend, and he feels he has to protect her."

Eliza pulled faces and used a soppy voice to utter her second sentence. Mike's hand itched to slap the smug satisfaction from her pig-like face. Hate came over him so intense, so hot, he recognized the stench of it inside his nostrils like something old and rotting. He'd hated his biological mother almost as desperately as he'd loved her. She would never, ever get over being abandoned by the father of the child she'd never wanted, never cared a damn for. That had always been his fault. His fault that she'd gotten pregnant by a man she loved blindly but couldn't convince to marry or even stay with her. Mike's fault that she'd busted her ass, alone and overburdened, having to support him. His fault that she couldn't love him, that nothing and no one could fix her. His fault when she'd decided to end two miserable lives at once... If a neighbor in the apartment building hadn't heard the first gunshot that blew his mother's head off, if the apartment door hadn't been unlocked, eight-year-old Mike would have picked up the same gun and followed her in blissfully quick death.

A year ago, for the first time in his life, Mike had found a reason to live, a reason to be glad he was alive. Last year, a painfully shy angel had moved in next door to the Sterns. They'd been two halves of a whole, and both of them had recognized the other from the start. LeeAnn lived with her reclusive mother. Before LeeAnn, Mike had never loved anyone and certainly never loved purely so that everything he did in his life was for her. He'd fallen in love with his angel the minute he laid eyes on her. Because of her, he believed in miracles, in destiny, in the possibility of happiness.

Unbelievably, LeeAnn had seemed to recognize him, too, and she'd opened up to him the way she'd said she never opened up to another person her whole life. She'd become his sole reason for living, his purpose for going on and trying to build a better life for both of them. Somehow she'd healed every last hurt in his life just by being. One look into her soft, fearful, heather gray eyes, and he'd been lost, he'd been found, he'd been whole and filled with unquenchable determination. He would rescue LeeAnn as she'd rescued him.

The job he had at the repair/junk shop a few hours a night on school days and all day on the weekends had become crucial to their future. He'd refused to let his foster parents take a penny of it, the way they had before LeeAnn came. He'd asked his boss to pay him in cash, and Joe had accommodated him because he was a good guy. All the money went directly into the bus station locker he rented with his and LeeAnn's backpacks of clothes, their birth certificates and social security cards, all waiting for when they'd leave this place forever. When Joe first hired him, he'd given him a beater of a car and told him the vehicle was his if he could fix it with odds and ends around the junkyard. Mike had. The old junker wasn't great, but it ran and all he had to pay for was gas. He and LeeAnn could leave at a moments' notice if they had to. They wouldn't have much, but it was enough to get them away and settled until he could secure a job to support them. In a mere two weeks, his hard work would pay off. He and LeeAnn had already picked out their destination--a tiny town northwest of Milwaukee, aptly named Peaceful. They could be safe there.

Mike couldn't risk jeopardizing their future. He lectured himself a million times a day, but he couldn't tolerate when anyone was cruel to LeeAnn. He'd become so protective of her that he wanted to kill the kids who teased her for being so small, barely seventy pounds. Her ragged clothing didn't fit right, just like his never had. Their clothes were either too big or too small.

Beyond how 'unfashionable' she was, LeeAnn was shy to the point of debilitation, too afraid of the world to make friends anywhere. She'd told Mike her mother kept them moving around all her life, never settling down anywhere for longer than a month. It was how they'd lived for as long as she could remember. But just after they got here, her mother had fallen in love with some guy at the factory where she worked. She no longer seemed fanatical about keeping herself and her daughter hidden from her insane, murderously jealous husband. When she'd given birth, her husband, Samson Oligee, became utterly convinced LeeAnn wasn't his daughter. LeeAnn didn't want to say the words, but Mike suspected the truth: Lindsey had cheated on her husband, and her fear of his conclusion and his threat to kill them both for her infidelity had been justified. LeeAnn and her mother had been on the run for so long, maybe she'd left behind her terror that Samson was right behind them. She'd relaxed, mostly because she was in love, and therefore let herself believe her husband had long ago given up on finding them.

Lindsey had already left her mark on LeeAnn--the teenage girl lived in mortal fear. The mission her mother had set for her life to keep her daughter safe had become LeeAnn's goal instead. LeeAnn was incapable of relaxing, more so than ever lately. In the last month, she'd become jumpy and skittish, looking over her shoulder constantly. Mike knew she wasn't sleeping at all, and that didn't help her state of mind. She'd told him she believed Samson was here in North Chicago, watching them, lurking in the shadows--a ghost in the darkness with his unnaturally pale white hair and red albino eyes.

A part of Mike feared that the psychosis LeeAnn told him her father (if indeed he was her biological father) had been diagnosed with as an adult had been passed on to her. Ultimately, it wouldn't matter to Mike if she did have that disease or any other. He would protect her and take care of her no matter what.

Eliza's kissing noises cut through his ability to refuse to let anything the Sterns said or did touch him. When he lunged at her, she darted out of the way and gave him the escape he'd wanted from the start. Both females yelled at his back in shock, threatening, but he didn't turn or acknowledge either of them as he rushed through the patio door. He'd barely crossed the lawn when he heard a sound that shocked him so much, he stopped dead for a few seconds to listen. Then he realized exactly what he'd heard. A gunshot--like the one he'd heard when his mother killed herself in front of him, leaving a huge mess on the cheap, already stained vinyl floor.

He ran as fast as he could to the backyard of LeeAnn's home. She wasn't there waiting for him on the swing, the way she usually was. Her bedroom window was opened just enough, though, for him to push it up the rest of the way and slip inside the house. Crouched in the shadows of her room, he could hear screams from another part of the house. He acknowledged the voice as her mother's. Lindsey was crying and begging, "No, Samson, don't. Don't hurt us..."

Mike's heart was beating as fast as a MacLaren F1. Where was LeeAnn? She was his only concern right now. Stooped, he crept away from the window soundlessly, making his way toward the voices. Only because he was all but crawling did he see LeeAnn huddled inside her closet. He knew she often hid in there because she didn't feel safe out in the open.

The screaming was still coming from the living room. Mike skulked to the open doorway of LeeAnn's room and peered around the corner in that direction. He glimpsed something lying on the hardwood floor, just away from the area rug. That gunshot... Blood. Broken glass from a lamp. And the gray stuff... The figure inside the pool of dark red blood and gray matter spilling from his head was male, and Mike knew the victim had to be Jeremy, the man LeeAnn's mother had foolishly fallen in love with, grown lax about protecting her daughter because of... How could she? Lindsey was kneeling beside Jeremy, rocking back and forth as she sobbed brokenly and pleaded with the other man standing over them.

Mike saw him in profile and understood that the ghost LeeAnn had become terrified of was this man in flesh and blood. Everything about him was ghastly white, almost as if he'd covered himself from head to toe in white chalk. He wore sunglasses that completely covered his eyes with protective shields along the sides.

He spoke barely above a whisper: "You cheated me, Lindsey. You promised to love me until death parted us. You destroyed my faith in you, in the love I thought we shared. You tried to pass off another man's child as my own, and then you tried to run. You didn't know I never stopped hunting you and your bastard offspring, did you? I've been here for more than a month, watching you and this child you tried to tell me belonged to me. Now you'll pay for your sin, and I'll make sure no trace of it is left on this earth..."

Mike jolted in comprehension. Had this evil entity been lurking in the shadows of LeeAnn's bedroom at night, keeping her from sleep, forcing her to live her life in terror?

Sagging in horror at his failure to believe her, protect her, Mike swung the bedroom door closed an inch, only breathing again when it didn't creak and no one in the living room turned in recognition of something moving. Another inch. That should be enough.

Mike backed toward LeeAnn's closet, then turned toward her and put a finger to his lips. She was trembling violently, her eyes as huge as saucers. When he reached his hand toward her, she couldn't seem to resist. She slipped into his arms and went limp against him. Mike easily dragged her almost weightless form out of the closet and lifted her as he stood, hunched over, and went to the window. He set her outside on the ground. Somehow she stood on her own two feet, but she lost that ability as soon as he was beside her, his arm closing around her waist protectively to propel her to his car parked on the approach outside the Sterns' house.

"Miss Candy," she whispered, a mere breathe of air in his ear.

He shook his head. He'd foolishly given her the kitten a few weeks ago without realizing she was severely allergic to cats. She'd come to love the feline anyway. "We can't go back," he told her gently.

Scooping her up, he ran with her in his arms to his rattletrap car. His keys were still in his pocket. Even at night, he slept in his clothes, never letting the keys leave his person because he didn't trust the Sterns, nor could he take the chance that his getaway with LeeAnn would be hindered for any reason.

Just after he tucked LeeAnn into the passenger's seat and told her to get down on the floor, another gunshot sounded. That was all it took for Mike to bolt like he was teleporting. He ran around the car, jumped in and shoved the key into the ignition, starting it up the first time. He backed out of the driveway with the squeal of tires, saying in a surprisingly calm and decisive voice to LeeAnn on the floor, "We'll just stop to get our stuff from the locker. Then we'll go, angel. We have to go now. We can't wait two weeks."

She was huddled in the alcove of the passenger's seat, her waist-length hair coiled around her neck like Rapunzel. He wasn't sure she could hear him, but he asked anyway, "Did he see you at all, Lee? Today? Did he know you were there?"

"He knows. I told you, I've felt him watching me all night in the darkness. I...saw his skin, hair...eyes... So white..."

A shiver ran through Mike's spine. Her mother hadn't been paranoid all these years. She shouldn't have relaxed. Somehow she'd stayed one step ahead of her homicidal husband until they got here. What would I have done if Lindsey had been diligent this time? She would have run with LeeAnn...and I never would have seen her again. Lindsey had let her guard down, and Mike knew it didn't matter now whether Samson had seen LeeAnn today or not. Either way, the demon-ghost will come after her wherever she goes because he believes he has to purge every trace of his wife's sin against him, destroy it completely. But I won't let him. No one will ever hurt my angel. If it means I have to die to protect her...

Mike rammed the car out of reverse, into drive, and something caught his eye in the rearview mirror. He saw the ghost, cowering in the full sunshine in the center of the suburban street, covering his head with his arm when he couldn't take the light any longer. Mike understood what his presence meant. Samson knew LeeAnn was alive and well and finding out who'd run with her wouldn't be difficult for a man who'd pursued his betraying wife all around the country. That means I can never, ever relax my guard...

"Sir? Are you all right? Is anything the matter? Can I do anything for you?"

Mike Fremont woke with a start and realized his flannel shirt was drenched in sweat yet he was shivering. Someone was leaning over him, shaking his shoulder. He belatedly recognized her as one of the stewardesses on the flight. She'd obviously caught him in the midst of the recurring nightmare he'd endured for the past thirteen years. He flushed, knowing he'd been moaning, too. He sensed the passengers around him looking at him as if he might suddenly do something crazy.

He shook his head. "Sorry. I'm fine." Under his breath, he muttered once more, "Sorry."

Looking uncertain whether to believe him, the stewardess moved along, and Mike stood, reaching up to the compartment overhead to get his small carry-on. He took it to the lavatory and changed his shirt in the cramped confines. A long time passed before his heart stopped pounding in response to his fight-or-flight reaction thirteen years ago.

We escaped. We're safe. And Samson Oligee is dead. Mike had kept tabs on him as much as he could. He'd known the day the ghost-demon had been institutionalized for insanity after he'd been convicted of committing the murders of his wife and her lover Jeremy. The Sterns had, unbelievably, beat Mike to calling the police when they heard the gunshots, and the cops had arrived just in time to arrest Samson. A year after he'd been sentenced to the institute, the expansive building had burned to the ground. Samson had been inside at the time. While Mike felt bad about all the employees and patients who'd died in that fire, he'd breathed easier for the first time in what felt like forever at the news. That was the moment he'd done what would have seemed unthinkable before that: He'd contacted the FBI and told Special Agent Frank Tomlin everything he knew about Samson Oligee, who he and LeeAnn were, that they'd been hiding for the past year, and why. He'd asked the agent to make sure Samson was dead--because if he wasn't, he would come after LeeAnn again. But Tomlin assured him no patients had escaped when the institution burned, that Samson had been identified as one of the numerous victims. The man who'd stalked LeeAnn and her mother was dead. The nightmare was over.

Mike had relaxed, but never fully, especially after he joined the Marines and lived in fear that Agent Tomlin had made a mistake reassuring them of something that wasn't true. Mike's four years were almost up, though, and LeeAnn was still safe, waiting for him to be discharged.

The only hurdle left is the one I joined the Marines to avoid. Had LeeAnn healed after a lifetime of terror, healed and become whole enough to want what he'd agonized for with her since the very day they met? After the trauma she'd been through, was she even capable of having a relationship with him beyond friendship? Was she capable of the intimacy he longed for with her? If LeeAnn loved him and wanted to get married, too, the nightmare would truly be over. Maybe this time for good.

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