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Wounded Warriors Series, Book 4: Wayward Angels
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Wounded Warriors Series, Book 4: Wayward Angels


Score: 5.00 (votes: 1)
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Women who have faced pain, loss and heartache. They know the score and never back down. Women who aren't afraid to love with all their passion and all their strength, who risk everything for their own little piece of heaven...

Men who live their lives on the blade's edge. Knights in black armor. The only thing more dangerous than crossing these men is loving them...

What do you get with a former wild man who's committed his path to the Lord and a woman who has absolutely nothing to lose? It's either a match made in heaven... or a sure-fire heartache.  

Gregg Stevens has spent a lifetime making bad decisions, never knowing true love.  Stormie Knight, a new Christian, beguiles him with her eccentricities and with her well-kept secrets.  But extracting them could shatter both of their hearts, along with the newborn faith of a wayward angel not yet ready to spread her wings.

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  • Karen Wiesner
    Jan 7, 2018, 15:24
    5 star review from Ecataromance
    5 star review from Fallen Angel Reviews
    5 star review from The Romance Studio
    5 star review and Reviewer's Top Pick from Readers Favorite
    GOTTA Read rating (highest) from You Gotta Read Reviews
    5 star review from The Reading Room
    4 1/2 star review from Single Titles
    4 1/2 star review from Dark Diva Reviews

    5 Stars! "Karen Wiesner gives us the fourth book in her Wounded Warriors Series. With her unique writing style she introduces us to characters with demons in their past. Gregg and Stormie are forced to face the things that haunt them, bringing the reader along for the ride. The trip takes us on a roller coaster with deep lows and screaming highs. The reader will be laughing one moment and reaching for a tissue the next. The journey is worth it. I cannot wait for the next installment of this series." ~Ecataromance.com
    5 Hearts! "Karen Wiesner delivers a strong tale with compelling characters who are painted so realistically that the reader will feel she knows them already, and calls them friends. Important issues of life and faith are addressed, not brushed aside. The fast-moving plot and character depth captivate the reader to the end. WAYWARD ANGELS is the fourth installment in the exciting Wounded Warriors Series. " ~The Romance Studio
    5 Stars! "I have never read a book with so much human anguish and so much hope. Author Karen Wiesner created a story that is so real, it is scary. I have lived this story through a close relative. I have a very close relative with mental illness. I recognized many of the characteristics of Stormie's illness and her life. I see it every day and I could relate to this story so well. This story empowered me to go the extra mile for this person. I hope this story will inspire you to compassion and understanding of the mentally ill in our society that are often times, disregarded, made fun of, or completely ignored. They are God's creation and deserve our compassion and understanding. Thank you, Ms. Wiesner, for bringing this illness to the attention of the public through this wonderful thought-provoking story; it is a horrendous illness of the mind. She did not pull any punches in this book. Her portrayal of Stormie's mental issues are brutal, honest, and real. She skillfully showed the minute-by-minute and day-by-day struggle involved in this disorder. Ms. Wiesner also depicted the hope we have through God as Gregg and Stormie struggle with their issues and problems journeying to the end God has in store for their life. Ms. Wiesner's characters were skillfully developed throughout the story and the pacing was on target and intriguing. I found myself reading this book straight through; it is an emotional roller-coaster ride. Ms. Wiesner drew me into the storyline and opened my eyes to the life my relative endures every day and the support we need to give people with this illness. These characters could be your neighbors, the teenage across the street, your brother, your uncle. This is a love story between man and woman and between God and human. Ms. Wiesner skillfully shows that His Grace is sufficient to carry us through life and His love for us is never-ending. She shows Christians, as we are, with all our faults, struggles, and failures, yet secure in the knowledge we are loved and forgiven by our heavenly Father. Ms. Wiesner sets the hook deep in the prologue and holds your attention from the prologue to the last word. Her talent is obvious in this skillfully crafted storyline. This is not a love story with a miraculous cure at the end of the story with everyone walking off into the sunset to live carefree and happy ever after. Rather, this is a raw, gritty story of mental illness (a thorn of the flesh, as stated in the Bible), love and faith; in other words, this is a story of life, not fairytales. I highly recommend this book. Thank you, Ms. Wiesner, for revealing the day-to-day struggle with this illness and the hope we have for our loved ones. This book is well-developed, paced and plotted." ~The Reading Room
    GOTTA Read Rating! “This is a truly beautifully emotional and engaging story! It is my favorite so far in this series. Stormie is an absolutely striking character. She is bipolar and struggles with the fact that she can never be “normal.” I have known several people with this disorder, and I think Ms. Wiesner did an excellent job of portraying the intense high and low mood swings that plague a bipolar individual. The self-destructive cycle of feeling good enough to stop taking the medication and then crashing without it is the sad and difficult reality of this behavioral disorder. This book gives interesting insight into the mental battles of the person who is afflicted with the disorder. Gregg is a wonderful character, too. He is captivated by the beautiful and natural Stormie, but he wants to give them both time to overcome their past demons and to grow in their relationship. I liked how he continually took his struggles to the Lord because he recognized that he did not have the strength within himself to overcome the temptations facing him. In an additional sub-story, Gregg deals with helping one of the boys at the Wayward Angels boy’s shelter. There is heartbreak and the relationship between Gregg and Diego is shown as a loving father to a son. Here too Gregg shows unconditional acceptance and love. The plot is woven from the secrets kept, the desire to trust and be trusted, and the struggles in the developing relationships. I enjoyed the whole book, but by the last third I was barely able to set the book aside! Ms. Wiesner is a master storyteller. This is a ‘Gotta’ read for everyone to understand the difficulties of bipolar disorder and also for the sheer enjoyment of a well-crafted story. Be sure to check out the other books in the series, too!” ~You Gotta Read Reviews
    4 Stars! "The first thing I must do is applaud Ms. Wiesner for writing an absolutely wonderful book in a series that reads as a stand alone. When I read a book in the middle of a series, I usually feel like I'm missing some big stuff from prior books. Ms. Wiesner has a gift for giving you information from the past books without you realizing it. It is truly woven into the fabric of the story... After the first few chapters, I was totally hooked. I had figured out who was who and was learning about Stormie and her past. I found WAYWARD ANGELS to be a page-turner for me that I didn't want to put down. While there is talk of being a Christian in the book, I appreciated the way Ms. Wiesner did this. She didn't shove God down my throat. Although God is in the book, I wouldn't deem it as a Christian Romance. I found it to be a romance with Christians in it. I am a Christian, but I am sometimes offended about how that is portrayed in a romance book. I really enjoyed Ms. Wiesner's story of real life that happens to involve some people who believe in God. Gregg is our reformed bad-boy who fights the desire to return to his former life. He has opened up a shelter for wayward boys. Most of these boys have been abused in some format or another. I became very attached to some of these boys and hope their stories are told later. Gregg has built up these services for the boys while giving up his music career. While he's walking a reformed path, I loved him for the rough edge to him. He's still got the bad-boy words and actions and it made him very irresistible. Stormie comes to work at Wayward Angels while fighting demons of her own. One of the largest demons is her battle to live life with bipolar. Ms. Wiesner really captures the feelings of a person battling this disease. She gives us a face and a voice to the word bipolar. I have a much deeper compassion and understanding for those suffering with this disease. Stormie reminds me of a scrappy little alley dog. She's going to hold onto her turf and get what she wants, no matter how big the obstacles may seem. With their checkered pasts, it seems like Gregg and Stormie will never be able to overcome. I was rooting for them through the entire book. I was up and down with them and really enjoyed their story to the final page." ~Once Upon a Romance
    4 Stars! "Gregg and Stormie's tale is full of problems. Not only with their own relationship, but with Diego's personal problems. There are scenes that will make you laugh, cry, and even feel exasperated. So keep a box of tissues nearby and enjoy this episode of the "Wounded Warriors" saga. It'll tug on your heart strings." ~Huntress Reviews
    4 Hearts! "The inspirational aspects to this story play a major role for both Gregg and Stormie and have a strong place within the storyline. The romance is well written and moves along at a fast pace without feeling forced. There is a secondary storyline dealing with Gregg and his work with one boy at Wayward Angels that will leave you in tears...if you like inspirationals, this is a story that is sure to leave you happy. Ms. Wiesner does deal with a disorder within WAYWARD ANGELS with respect and taste. I find that I eagerly want to read the next story as well as the previous stories in this series. I would recommend this story to anyone looking for a read with intriguing characters facing real life situations." ~The Romance Readers Connection
    5 Angels! "WAYWARD ANGELS is not a pretty story. It deals with aids, sexual molestation, self-destructive obsession, drugs and sex. It's a bittersweet story about people looking for more in their lives. People who have gone through hell and are trying to find hope in their belief and faith in Christianity. The characters are flawed and honest. Their lives have not been pretty. There is tragic sadness in the character of Diego, great vulnerability in Stormie and great strength in Gregg. I liked the way the author handled Stormie's bi-polar disorder. I found it realistic and true. WAYWARD ANGELS has the theme that nothing in life is perfect. The characters have a past but they are not condemned to re-live it as they have the choice to overcome it. WAYWARD ANGELS is a love story, a lesson in life and an inspiration." ~Fallen Angel Reviews
    5 Stars! “WAYWARD ANGELS, Book 4 of the Wounded Warriors Series, is a standalone book and is a realistic look at life today for many young people. As Christians, we are compelled to go out into the streets and rescue the sick and the poor. We must learn to plant the seeds of salvation and allow Christ to water them. This book is well written. Karen Wiesner presents a strong message. Ms. Wiesner paints such a vivid and emotional portrait of bipolar disease. Excellent book. Highly recommended!” ~Readers Favorite
    4.5 Stars! “Tense, and inspiring, WAYWARD ANGELS, is available for your thoughts. Karen Wiesner has no problem addressing difficult issues in her Wounded Warrior Series. Stormie is a beautiful woman who wants nothing more than to be “normal.” Stormie knows she must keep her secrets. Everyone who finds out the truth leaves. Gregg is determined to help her no matter what the issue. He knows he loves her and plans to make a life with her—now if only he can convince her to believe he is for real. WAYWARD ANGELS is another beautiful tale from the pen of Karen Wiesner. Dragging us into the painful pasts of her creations, we have no choice but to feel their same emotions and wants. Be sure and pick this one up. Karen Wiesner has created another wonderful story, an excellent addition to her Wounded Warrior Series.” ~SingleTitles.com
    4 1/2 Delightful Divas! “Gregg’s story... at last! Of the four Wounded Warriors books that I’ve read so far, WAYWARD ANGELS is by far the most ‘Christian’ in tone. In fact the Inspirational theme is at least half the story. But, for Gregg and Stormie, it works. That’s one of the things that impresses me the most about Karen Wiesner’s writing: each story has its own direction, its own flavor and each of them are supremely well matched with the characters. We met Gregg in the first book—RELUCTANT HEARTS—and he’s been present in each subsequent story. But that’s another thing that I’m enjoying about the series—that we never lose touch completely with any of the characters. Yes, they’ve all got their own story, but because of the closeness of the group, no story takes place in a vacuum. Wendy and Paul, from RELUCTANT HEARTS continue to be a part of the lives of the rest of the group. Just as Steve and Kristina from WAITING FOR AN ECLIPSE and Gwen and Dylan from MIRROR MIRROR are still around. I like that continuing connection. We are, after all, following a core group of friends: Tommie, Steve, Paul, Mitch, Wendy, Jessie, Brenda and Gwen have known each other for most of their lives while Gregg became a part of their ‘clan’ at a later date. I must admit that the emphasis on being ‘Christian’, particularly those born-again, was at times almost overwhelming. In fact I would find myself arguing with some of the characters. Then I’d realize what I was doing and take a step back. Just goes to show how real these characters are. I will admit that these stories may not be for everyone, but even if you’re curious about the characters, I’d strongly urge you to give them a try. Really, while the characters might have been, at times, somewhat preachy, I never felt that the words were directed at me. This is just who they are. WAYWARD ANGELS is basically a journey, separate and together, of two people struggling to reclaim their lives. Gregg’s been on the road of living for God much longer than Stormie, but she was able to teach him even so. Both Gregg and Stormie had had to overcome dependence on drugs, alcohol and sex but their biggest challenge of course, is the mindset. For Gregg it was his fame and the trappings that surround the famous; with all the money and opportunity that abounds it’s an easy hole to fall into. Stormie, wow... her pain, at times so close to the surface, was subsequently heartbreaking. Above all else, all Stormie wanted was, a normal life. Her addictions ruled her totally in her effort to banish the pain that her illness brought upon her. And I felt for her. Karen Wiesner has, with this fourth book in her Wounded Warriors Series shown that the power of love—romantic, family, friends’ and God’s—can take us through anything. The problems will not, most likely, be removed—miraculous healing is extremely rare and addictions have to be dealt with—but with love and support of those in our lives we can survive and even thrive. But first we have to open our hearts.” ~Kathy for Dark Diva Reviews
    4 Cups! "The tender scenes between these interesting characters were thoroughly enjoyable and progressed nicely. Supporting characters were well developed and added wonderful dimension to this heart-warming story. With smooth pacing and a satisfying conclusion, Ms. Wiesner writes another winner in the Wounded Warrior series." ~Coffee Time Romance
    "Karen Wiesner is one of the best at making the reader care about her characters. WAYWARD ANGELS will make you feel devastated for Stormie while at the same time feeling Gregg's frustration as he tries to figure out what is wrong with Stormie. Karen Wiesner never backs off the tough issues. In WAYWARD ANGELS she tackles Stormie living with being bipolar. At the same time, she accurately captures her feelings of insecurity as a new Christian and the scary issue of AIDS. Gregg and Stormie's story can stand alone but you will not want to miss this exciting series." ~Writers Unlimited Reviewer
    "I just finished reading Karen Wiesner's WAYWARD ANGELS... Long story short, this story has grit and guts. It breaks all the rules. They curse, they kiss with passion (though they never actually do more than that but their thoughts are very spicy) and they are real people with insane problems. The hero is a former music star and a new Christian. He opened a shelter for teen boys on the streets and is a real Prince Charming with a huge heart. I can't believe he actually held off until they were married based on all of the temptation out there. But that's an aside. The heroine is bipolar and a brand new Christian (literally) who decided God was going to heal her since she got saved, so she stopped taking her meds and, boy, did she turn up the heat. I've never seen a better portrayal of someone who is flagrantly bipolar than this one. They (off meds) tend to be highly sexualized when in a manic state so you can imagine some of the antics. However, she was in a sad place because prior to being saved she was raped and the guy had AIDS and shot himself (while on top of her) so she feared being pregnant and having AIDS for most of the book. See, I told you it was in-your-face grit. Since I work with intense people, I've seen this upfront and it isn't pretty but it's real. Even with new Christians who have horrible backgrounds. Anyway, this story kept me up until 2:30 AM and I got very little sleep last night (no I'm not bipolar thank the Lord) until I finished. We talked about symbolism in Louise Gouge's class in Nashville and Karen did a masterful job with the pet cats. Amazing. So if you don't mind an intense read with grit and an occasional cuss word, this might work for you. At any rate, I found it fascinating. The Christian piece of the story was so much more real and deeper than many CBA novels. You hear (in their heads) their doubts and fears and struggles and its so REAL how the enemy works on them. This book has made me think about my walk with the Lord and I like that. So be warned, this ain't for Grandma unless she has major grit in mind. But the message is clear. Faithful obedience is worth it." ~Michelle T. Sutton, "Writing truth into fiction...digging deeper, soaring higher"
    "A romance novel with a difference! Wayward Angels is a safe haven for homeless--of which Gregg Stevens, and his music producer brother Craig, manage. Diego, a runaway homeless teenager with little hope for the future, has AIDS. Fate has dealt Diego an unjust hand; faith and trust would be his one true Savior--if he could just embrace them... Author Karen Wiesner has created a romance novel where morals, ethics, and the scales of right and wrong are weighed up to lead Gregg Stevens and Stormie Knight through life and accept the reaching hand of divine intervention. WAYWARD ANGELS is a story where the power of love rises above the deepest darkest depths of hopelessness. Another intriguing novel from Karen Wiesner!" ~Rolling Seas Reviews
    "WAYWARD ANGELS is engrossing...edgy...it contains a powerful Christian message." ~Romantic Times BOOKclub

Prologue


My mind is my prison, a prison I tried to escape from the first time I realized it. When I couldn't escape, I screamed. Sometimes those around me could hear me. Other times they stared at me as if they didn't know me at all. How could they? I didn't know who I was myself.

I searched endlessly inside my prison for some sign of recognition or familiarity, but so often everything changed. At once, I could do anything and everything. I could be anyone and make all love me with my charm and wit. I said all the right things. I did all the right things. Nothing could ever go wrong, so I could easily believe.

All at once the ideas that had made me so powerful and irresistible came too fast. There were too many of them to form anything except a blinding noise in my head that made me cower in the darkness of my prison. Suddenly nothing remained amusing. And those who loved me began to look at me with fear in their eyes, claiming their apprehension was for me, not of me. But I knew the truth.

I was again trapped forever in my prison with the light coming only faintly, as though from a distant tunnel I'd never reach.

"Undress for me."

His voice... Nothing resembling seduction. A demon. My personal demon who kept me paralyzed under his gun. I couldn't find him. I smelled death--his decay, his sickness. I closed my eyes against the horror. The light appeared and grew stronger, blinding me, and it was almost more terrifying than what waited outside.

The end of the road means the beginning of new life for you...

"I'm dying, and you're my soul mate. We'll be together forever. Do you care if you die, my sweet?"

I hated him. That hatred filled me until I thought I'd shatter into a million pieces as he drew the cold steel across my breast to my heart. Then he released the safety.

"We're meant to be together. In life. And in death."

When he pulled the trigger, I faded into the black.

Someday I'll come to you in night. And my voice won't be a scream that wakes you. It'll be a whisper that will slowly break you...

Life and light slammed me into reality. Back to his body, impossibly heavy over me. Stickiness between us. On me. I waited for a heartbeat, but all I heard was my own. For the first time, I wanted to live. Not die. Not fade away into peace. I knew God had given me a second chance. He was all I'd ever need.

Those thoughts lifted me and carried me toward the blinding light.

But I was in a prison, and when I woke to find my prison door thrown open, I cowered in the corner of my dark cell instead until, like a newborn baby bird, I heard his voice. And I followed it into the light.



One


"Freezing in here again," Gregg Stevens' brother commented, noting the central air unit's ongoing temperature regulation problems, when he entered his office at Wayward Angels. "You've got an appointment at a quarter after twelve?"

Gregg nodded. On his desk was a short stack of files that he closed one by one and set in a pile to the side. One of his own songs came on the radio, and he quickly turned it off. As long as his songs weren't played, the radio never went off until he left for the day. "I'm hoping to hire someone to fix all the things that keep breaking down around here."

Craig had come unusually early for lunch, but Gregg knew to expect that, just like he could always expect his brother to end up finding fault in everything he did, everything he said. And, sooner or later, their conversation would turn to Christie Renata Zondervan, Craig's pet artist, signed to his Contemporary Christian record label, Mission Records. 

Gregg had co-produced and co-written her second album--a bestseller that'd won her countless awards. Like an idiot, Gregg had gotten involved with her romantically earlier in the year. As soon as he realized she was falling for him, he broke it off. Despite the length of time since then and how he and Christie had moved on with their lives, his brother remained fixated on the inappropriateness of the relationship.

"Can the shelter afford that?" Craig said, his frown revealing a multitude of questions he didn't need to voice. 

Located in Milwaukee's Inner City, Wayward Angels shelters provided services for teenagers. Wayward Angels for Girls helped pregnant and drug-addicted teens learn how to live productive lives through the Jumpstart Program. They were given a place to live and training they could use to make a life for themselves when they left. Almost two years ago, Gregg had opened its counterpart, Wayward Angels for Boys, which focused on troubled young males--drug addicts, law breakers, the abused and the lost. It also used the Jumpstart Program to help the boys learn how to live productive lives through adequate training that could lead to a job.

Under Gregg's supervision in the last year, the number of volunteers had tripled and their donations had skyrocketed, so he and his friends no longer paid for most of the programs out of their own pockets. In addition to the regular shelter and services, they now offered a full-time medical clinic with psychiatric staff, and an outreach program to the local schools. Colleges and tech schools provided free education programs to the kids checked into the shelter, and local businesses regularly joined the cause by giving generous trial-period jobs to those who completed the training. Gregg's involvement covered every aspect of the shelter, and, as many had said, he'd found his calling in life, apart from the musical career he'd spent a lifetime pursuing without contentment.

Gregg shrugged. "I'll be paying the person I hire out of my pocket. We're only looking at a few hours a day. Volunteer salary."

At six foot two, with dark hair and eyes, the brothers were often told how much alike they looked--and how unlike their personalities actually were. Gregg wondered sometimes if Craig wore his always-pressed trousers and fancy, white-button shirts to play racquetball. From the top of his well-trimmed head to his polished shoes, his older brother looked elegantly uptight.

Craig pulled out the chair in front of the functional desk, then sat back in a relaxed position. Gregg knew he qualified as anything but. The drill was about to begin.

"So who is this person you're interviewing?" Craig said, his tone smooth and unruffled.

Leaning on one padded arm of his chair, Gregg stretched his long legs out in front of him. This next reaction ought to be fun to watch. "Not sure. She said she saw the ad in the paper this morning and called. She's the first who's responded. Probably the last, too. I doubt too many'll be interested in a job like this. Not enough hours and little more than minimum wage."

Craig sat forward. His eyes all but bugged out when he demanded. "She?"

"Yeah, she." Gregg fought a grin he felt rising inside him. "Wrap your small mind around the fact that some women have more mechanical skills than us, big brother."

Onyx eyes narrowed, Craig refused to respond. "What kind of experience has she had?"

"She said she could fix anything."

A hoot of incredulity escaped Craig. "You don't find that vague?"

Gregg couldn't help wondering what made a person set himself against something before he knew anything about it. "I figured I'd interview her in person instead of the phone. That's usually how it's done. I didn't get a chance to call you to tell you we'd have to skip lunch today." He flipped the radio back on.

One of Christie's older songs was playing, and for an instant, his brother seemed immobilized by the sound of her voice. Then he shook his head as if he'd been in a trance. "Maybe I'll stick around. I have experience hiring mechanics."

After completing college and seminary in Chicago, Craig had come to Milwaukee and started Mission Records. He owned his own business, yeah, but Gregg knew he just wanted to stick his nose in where it wasn't needed or wanted. Craig did a lot of volunteer work for Wayward Angels himself, but he didn't hold an official position. Not that it stopped him from constantly telling Gregg the best way to run the place. Namely, his way.

You're unbelievable. Nothing I do will ever make you give me any credit. You'll never see me as anything but a loser who threw his life away until two years ago. Might as well have some fun with you, if I can't win your approval.

Gregg stood and gathered the files he'd just signed off on. As he opened his office door and dropped them into the bin attached to the door--where Chad, the administrative assistant could pick them up easily as he moved from office to office--he said casually, "So how are album sales?"

He turned back in time to see the look of uncertainty that always came over his brother's face at the mention of his business. Christie's first album, produced by Craig, had made a minor splash. The rest of his artists couldn't be considered well-known. Christie's second record, with Gregg's help, flew to the top of the charts. Along with Gregg's own first Christian album, Someday You'll Need Me, the two releases put Craig's record label on the map and made him a fair amount of money. But Christie hadn't made an album since, and Gregg had withdrawn from music entirely after his first Christian album sent him down paths he'd never wanted to take again. Without Gregg involved, his brother's company declined once more, not that he'd ever acknowledge Gregg's hand in his own success.

"It's a slow time of year for album sales," Craig offered.

Gregg shrugged, flipping through the stack of messages Chad delivered earlier and he hadn't looked at yet. "I wouldn't know. I never had a problem with slow sales."

His first few albums, in the bluesy rock style he loved, had broken just about every record in existence for sales. To date, they still sold in droves, though he'd left behind his music career long ago. He'd walked away at a time when he'd essentially been on top of his game the world over. Craig had tried fruitlessly to get him to make a Christian album for a long time, and, when Gregg finally agreed, his fans seemed to have been waiting anxiously for it. But he'd realized he couldn't serve the Lord and make music. One way or another, the music lifestyle always messed him up.

Clearly unhappy with Gregg's unconcerned jab, Craig stood, walking over to the window overlooking the parking lot. The awkward silence gave Gregg a twinge of guilt. His brother had spent a lifetime compulsively doing the right thing, a practice that no doubt made him an expert at finding fault in everyone around him. Gregg could easily be considered an easy target for fault-finding. He'd made every mistake in the book at least a hundred times, in full view of the world. Gregg put up with the subtle criticism. Craig's inexperience in the ways of the world provided him the opportunity to tease his brother mercilessly--a fair trade, some might say.

"Were you in love with her at any point?" Craig demanded, under this breath.

Christie. Gregg had been waiting for her to become the topic of conversation. "In love with who?" he said.

Craig sent a sigh of exasperation over his shoulder. "Christie. Exactly how many women have you been with in the last few months that you don't know who I mean?"

Gregg dropped the messages on his desk. He'd have to turn this topic around before he seriously lost all interest in talking to Craig today.

"You dated Christie for quite a while," Craig continued. "Why would you do that if you weren't in love with her?"

"We didn't date. We saw a lot of each other because of her album, but we didn't get involved until after its release." Why am I explaining this? Much rather dispatch him and get on with the lady mechanic interview...except she's not here yet. Anything's more interesting than this anyway.

Craig turned on him, fury straining his expression. "You slept with her! Why would you do that if you didn't love her?"

And why does he make it so easy to taunt him? "Have you ever seen a woman aroused, Craig? They get all pliant, like a cat. Sometimes they actually purr. And then they get aggressive--"

"I don't want to hear this!" Craig insisted like a haughty old woman.

"Then what do you want to hear? That seduced her? I know it's what you believe. Sorry to burst your bubble, big brother, but the sexual thing between us was initiated by her, every damn time."

Craig snorted. "She was a virgin."

Gregg shook his head, not bothering to look at his brother. "Here we go again. Like I've told you at least a billion times already, I didn't know she was a virgin."

"How could you not know?"

"I've lost count how many times I've said this part, too," Gregg muttered, sweeping the loose papers on his desk into a side drawer, where he could take care of them later. "You don't always know. She wanted it. Have you see this woman, man? Have you ever really looked at her? She's gorgeous. She's any man's fantasy. She was all over me every time we were alone together in a room."

Craig's face had gone blood red.

Might as well finish this and make it good. "What would you do if she put her hands on you? Would you have the strength to say no to what's freely being offered?"

Craig turned away again to look out the window.

Gregg snorted. "You'd think she was your sister the way you protect her honor. We broke up months ago. Why can't you let it go? We both have."

When he finished clearing off his desk, he noticed that his brother's color hadn't returned to normal. Gregg couldn't decide if Craig's reaction stemmed from embarrassment or if he was just seriously POed.

Gregg couldn't help his chuckle. "Have you ever kissed a woman, Craig? I mean, really kissed? And MaryAnn Post knocking you down and forcing herself on you doesn't count."

Craig shook his head. "There's no point to this conversation. I'll be back later and we can do a late lunch."

So they could go over this bull all over again, Gregg knew, watching his brother stalk out of his office and shut the door hard behind him.

Why couldn't Craig let it go? Christie was his pet protégé. Everybody knew that. He'd put a huge chunk of his financial resources, his company's reputation behind her career.

Gregg's mind played over the tender way Craig treated Christie whenever the two of them were together, the soft way he talked to her, more often than not tripping over his own tongue. The way he could barely get himself to look at her, despite the fact that they'd worked so closely in the five years they'd known each other. They should have been comfortable enough to eat off the same plate. Either making an album together made you grow sick to death of each other, or forged a closer relationship. In Craig and Christie's case, it was a closer relationship that had obviously made Craig overprotective of her.

Unless...

The realization came into Gregg's mind out of thin air but floored him nevertheless. Unless his brother had a thing for her himself.

He dropped heavily into his chair, chuckling at his own stupidity. So obvious now. Why else would Craig spend so much time upset about history? The animosity must spring from Craig's natural intolerance, and his unwillingness to allow Gregg to backslide into his old, heathen ways. Now he knew the problem came about because his brother was too chicken to admit he loved the woman.

Though Craig didn't know it, Gregg had beaten himself up about his inappropriate relationship with Christie for a long time. But their relationship had never gone as far as Craig assumed, and Gregg refused to relieve him of the assumption because it'd been so much fun to tease him.

Truthfully, Gregg had found himself in a bad place at that time, and his resistance to Christie's sweet but surprisingly aggressive seductions had been almost nil the last two times they'd gotten together. After almost a year of celibacy, of avoiding all of his old addictions, of trying to follow Christ cold-turkey in thirty-three years of a godless life, he'd felt both lonely and unsure of himself. He and Christie had gone too far, yes, but it hadn't gone anywhere near as far as it would have in the past. 

The only way to move forward in his walk with the Lord came down to asking for forgiveness, cleansing and strength before letting go. The alternative was turning his back on Jesus. That Gregg couldn't do. He and Christie remained friends, but tension and awkwardness reigned whenever they saw each other. She seemed justifiably embarrassed about the whole thing now and clearly regretted her boldness. He had tried to put it behind him by acting like nothing had happened since.

How long had Craig had feelings for Christie? From the start? Remembering how upset his brother had been each time Gregg mentioned seeing her outside the recording studio, he could only guess Craig had been in love with her for a long time. Ironically, Craig had suggested the two of them work together in the first place. Craig had entertained ideas about Gregg getting into Christian music since the day he'd left his secular music career behind, but Craig had obviously never considered Christie's album might lead to more between them.

Another mistake that'll have more ramifications than just the surface ones, Gregg acknowledged.

He'd explain the truth of what had happened between him and Christie to Craig when he came back, but at the moment he had an interview to prepare for.

* * * *

"You have an appointment soon, don't you?"

Stormie Knight's father's voice floated down to where she lay on a mechanic's dolly under one of his cars, and she rolled herself out just enough to see him. He stood beside the car on the cobblestone parkway, wearing an impeccably clean silver suit, with every gray hair in place and the usual grim expression on his lined face. Obviously, he'd come home for lunch to check up on her again.

He glared at the broken body of her Geo Storm, also on the driveway. "What do you plan to do with that heap of junk?" he said, not for the first time since it'd been towed here.

"Fix it. Restore it."

"When?"

She couldn't think about that now and murmured, "Soon. What time is it?"

"Noon."

Stormie let out a cry of dismay. "I'm late. I'll be late." She rolled out the rest of the way and jumped to her feet. Her stomach growled insistently. She should have recognized her hunger before, but she'd gotten so into rebuilding the engine, nothing had penetrated. Not even the possibility of meeting Gregg Stevens--the Gregg Stevens, her idol for more years than she could remember.

Frantically, she tried to wipe away the excessive grease on her hands with an equally greasy rag, ignoring her father's unvoiced-for-the-moment disapproval. "This car won't be taking you anywhere."

The idea of taking one of his, taking charity from him, didn't appeal to her at all. She didn't have time to argue today. When he held up a set of keys to one of his cars, she shook her head.

Motioning toward her face, he said, "You should really think about cleaning up."

She didn't have time--for the lecture, or for cleaning up. She ran into the house. She didn't have time for any more than to get out of the grease-covered coveralls she wore over a pair of baggy overall shorts and a yellow tank top. Though it was early November, the weather had been unseasonably warm, and she sweated profusely whenever she worked under a car.

In her bedroom, still stuck in the past with her posters of rock stars, an explosion stuffed animals collected over a lifetime, a variety of musical instruments and black curtains, she shucked her shoes and the coveralls quickly. She'd just moved back into her father's house a few weeks ago, but the piles of accumulated clothing looked natural enough to have been there forever.

Struggling to get her shoes back on, she realized she'd forgotten to put on underwear again that morning. And she didn't have time to put any on, since it'd require undressing and re-dressing. She had less than fifteen minutes now, and the Wayward Angels shelter was over on the Northside. Who would notice anyway?

In the mirror, she saw her hair and she lunged closer with a gasp of shock. Her hand went to take out the messy ponytail at the top of her head, and then she remembered she'd put the ponytail in right after her shower without bothering to dry her hair first. If she took the ponytail out now, she'd look like a complete psycho.

Lowering her hand, she saw the grease coating it. What she wouldn't give to wash her hands, but she had to go.

Grabbing the keys to her Harley--the only vehicle she'd ever bought with her own money; the only one that hadn't been destroyed--she ran down the elaborate, winding staircase in the mansion she'd grown up in. She felt a familiar irritation at seeing her father waiting for her at the marbled floor at the bottom. She went right past him, out to the seven-car garage. He followed her out, watching her toss a small tool box and belt into the saddlebags. "Don't you think you should give yourself more time, Stormie?" he said. "First you disappear for how many months without a word where you were..."

Her reach for her wraparound shades stalled. She waited for it. She waited expectantly for "again", but he surprised her when he didn't say it.

"And then I get a phone call from the New York police, saying you were in a car accident and Laredo was dead--"

She wheeled on him, close enough to smell his expensive aftershave. "I told you I didn't ever want to talk about that again, old man."

His expression revealed no repentance, let alone acquiescence. Her father never showed either emotion in his interactions with her. But his lectures came more and more often since her return, and she'd tired of it. After thirty-one years, she'd had more than her fill of his condemnation.

She jumped on her bike and sped away, scolding herself for not planning her morning better. This job felt like an answer to prayer for her, a step toward the light, and she wanted it. Strange and new as the Christian stuff was in her life, she couldn't deny that this job felt like her destiny. Maybe someday she'd be free because of this opportunity. Someday she could fly from her prison forever.


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