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Wounded Warriors Series, Book 6: White Rainbow by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)

Wounded Warriors Series, Book 6: White Rainbow by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)
 
(1 reviews)  

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...

Jessie Nelson has been telling herself she doesn't deserve or believe in second chances, especially when it comes to love...until her white rainbow appears in a corporate pirate who conquers her, heart and soul.

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Wounded Warriors Series, Book 6: White Rainbow by Karen Wiesner (Inspirational Romance)
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1 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Karen Wiesner
Jun 9, 2015
Awards & Honors:
5 hearts from The Romance Studio
The Romance Studio Sweetheart Award nominee
5 delightful divas, Recommended Read, and June 2010 Top Pick of the Month from Dark Diva Reviews
5 stars from Readers Favorite
5 cups from Coffee Time Romance
Highest rating from You Gotta Read Reviews
4 1/2 stars from Single Titles

5 Hearts! “Ms. Karen Wiesner quickly became a favorite author of mine. I will admit, however, that this is the best of her books I’ve read. Each time I believe it is the best, but I am amazed at the intricacy written into this story. It would not be unusual for me to lose interest with so much conflict. That didn’t happen. The poignancy of this book was incredible. The storyline’s main characters were so diligently written it was as if they were living in front of me. This couple faced tremendous adversity and each found their way to God, salvation and each other. The supporting characters were loving reinforcement that, fortunately, was willing to stand by both Jessie and Flint. The white rainbow was symbolic of second chances. The way that was incorporated into her book was beautifully presented. I absolutely couldn’t wait to reach the end and then I didn’t want it to end. There was also such a major bombshell near the end that I wasn’t expecting. I highly recommend this book as another major hit for Ms. Wiesner. I cannot say enough how convinced I am that each reader will be thrilled. This offering will make her a “must read” for others as she is for me. My hat’s off to you, Ms. Wiesner. You truly are an inspired author. Thanks for giving of yourself!” ~The Romance Studio http://www.theromancestudio.com/reviews/reviews/whiterainbowwiesner.htm

You GOTTA Read (highest rating!) “I enjoyed the first five books in this series and this one is my favorite: full of hope and emotion! I was prepared to struggle to like Jessie based upon her very selfish and self-absorbed behaviors from the prior books. How does Ms. Wiesner turn Jessie into a character that could be liked and embraced? By showing that God finds us worthy even in the depths of our sin. Where there is love, there is hope to become a new creature. The hero has his own bitterness and revenge issues. The emotion that Ms. Wiesner evokes is truly engaging. She has created characters that you root for and you care about. You want to know what happens to each character and of course you are glad when they overcome obstacles to reach a happy ending. This last book of the series is inspirational, but is not preachy. It very smoothly includes in the plot and character interaction a message of hope and second chances. This is a lovely and uplifting story that will cheer your heart. Although this can be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend that you read RELUCTANT HEARTS, the first book in the Wounded Warriors Series so you meet all of the characters. Jessie also plays a big part in the second book, WAITING FOR AN ECLIPSE. Now that I have read all of this series I am ready to read more books by Ms. Wiesner. Her writing style is full and rich; it enhances the well-developed, emotional characters and the deeply engaging plots.” ~MarthaE for You Gotta Read Reviews http://yougottareadreviews.blogspot.com/

5 Cups! “WHITE RAINBOW is a magnificent look at hardships, betrayals, loves lost, loves found, and the one love that finds a way to crack open the softness of the heart. Karen Wiesner has done it once again with her excellent storytelling, wonderful romance and in-depth characters. She makes the reader ache for each and every one of the players. Ms. Wiesner knows how to pen a story that really snatches the reader. I could feel the agony, the conflict among each of the characters, and the rejoicing afterwards. This compelling story gives an uplifting feeling where one can find a way back to happiness and wash away all hurt.” ~Cherokee for Coffee Time Romance & More http://www.coffeetimeromance.com

5 Delightful Divas! “I was quite surprised to find that Jessie had a story of her own! After all her hijinks, her manipulations and her out-and-out disdain for anyone at all, I was hard put to think that she could be redeemed. Just goes to show how much I know. Truly though, without the group, Jessie would not have survived; how she did was miraculous, but the continuing support from everyone is what made the difference. Yes, Jessie’s now a Christian, but with her it’s not the preaching type of conversion--that goes right down to the core of her being. Seeing Jessie as she’s come to terms with her past and the responsibility she accepts for her actions is a stunning testimonial to the power of love--any type of love you want to name. Although the self-love that has been lacking for so much of her life is now something that Jessie is conscious of and nurturing. Flint Jackson is her counterpart; their relationship goes back 3 decades to when they were children of 11 years old. As odd as it may
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Sample Chapter

Part I: REVELATIONS
Prologue

January 2, 2009

Snowy sleet fell, making the afternoon more than a little overcast. From the cozy interior of his black sports car, Flint Jackson watched the graveside procession huddled under umbrellas. He'd parked far enough away that, until the mourners scattered, no one would spot him. Later, his sister Jodi would demand to know why he hadn't attended their father's funeral. But she'd understand. More so than anyone else had ever tried--especially the old man--Jodi would understand that he felt no sadness at all. No grief. Just fury.

Flint's anger had been growing throughout his father's brief illness. In the months since the old man's heart attack, his health had deteriorated steadily. Finally got what he deserved. A ruthless, crippling strike--out of a clear blue sky. Some might say an appropriate end to mirror a lifetime of deliberately dealing out evil to everyone else around him.

The fury inside Flint had been metastasizing for almost three decades. Since his father decided to start his own business and uproot his family from everything they'd ever known. I never forgave him for that.

Oh, but Flint had retaliated. Just when his father thought he was set, secure, untouchable, thought he'd be passing on the family business to his son, Flint stole it right from under his nose. His father never recovered from that blow either.

Flint let out a low chuckle. Didn't feel so good, being on the receiving end of the screw for the first time in his worthless life.

The wipers scraped across the windshield. Fat drops of wet snow flooded the glass again a moment later, only to be flicked away once more. Through the downpour, Flint thought he saw one of the mourners turn and peer from under the umbrella. Jodi.

Flint knew exactly what she'd say to him when she finally caught up with him. "I know Dad was..." What polite terms could she use?

"You should have come anyway, Flint. How could you stay away? He's dead now. He can't hurt you anymore." Only Jodi would have the guts to ask the question Flint could spit out a thousand excuses for: Why did you stay away when it was finally over?

Because he didn't owe the old man anything. As far as he was concerned, his father had only begun paying for his sins with his years of grief over the loss of his beloved business, his merciless illness, and now his death. I stayed away because of what he did to our family. But his sister would never see anything Flint's way.

While attending college, Jodi had gone in a direction Flint couldn't imagine ever following her in. She got religion there, spent all her time spouting off about Christ, redemption and forgiveness. Now she was married to a fellow Jesus freak, and the two had conceived a passel of angels. And she thinks I need the same. Hah! She thinks I need the whole Christian package.

Flint clenched his teeth, mirroring his hands gripping the steering wheel. I don't need anything.

Grimacing in disgust, he shifted into drive and silently drove out of the cemetery. Only at the exit did he press on the gas hard to send back a mix of mud and wet snow in a final, bitter farewell to his father--the man he believed set off the initial domino that succeeded in destroying his life. Since that first piece toppled, his life had been worthless.

Flint found himself steering toward his office at Parlay. The business name had been his father's idea of a joke. He'd considered himself a ruthless pirate in the corporate raiding business. If his old man was Captain William Kidd, Flint was Blackbeard, the most notorious of the black-hearted pirates. The old man didn't even come close. I'm the one they call the black knight--with fear in their eyes.

He caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror as he roared down Chicago's slushy streets. If he'd ever been attractive, he couldn't see it now. In the gloomy late afternoon, his face was shadowed and contorted with hate...and something else that, disturbingly, resembled self-revulsion.

What do I have to be sorry for? his mind whispered as he rode up to his Parlay office suite in the skyscraper. With so few options early in his life, he'd only done what was necessary to survive. So why was his sister happy while he was miserable? Why did his misery seem to be growing?

Nothing gave him pleasure anymore. Not the sex, drugs and booze he used to block out the emptiness he felt when he wasn't destroying lives with barely legal hostile takeovers. Not even the once satisfactory bloodshed in his unflinching business transactions. He'd grown to despise his wife of two decades, Elizabeth, passionately. All she ever talked about lately was having kids, wanting more of the expensive, invasive treatments she'd endured twice already in his usual absence. She never bothered to ask him what he wanted.

Flint leaned the back of his head against the steel walls of the elevator as it soared upwards. He couldn't remember the last time he'd gone home, or even contacted his wife.

Why did I marry her? Where once he'd seen Elizabeth as intoxicatingly gorgeous, more than capable of handling his ravenous sexual appetite, he now saw her as weak. Clingy. She'd driven him away with her own endless needs. Never once had he experienced the slightest guilt about cheating on her throughout their marriage. Women were nothing more to him than black holes he could disappear into for a short time. He'd long since forgotten why he'd believed he wanted a permanent relationship with any of them.

His assistant was on the phone in his outer office and stopped his conversation abruptly, a look of mild alarm in his steely gaze. Gard put his hand over the receiver and said, "How was the burial?"

"Cold and wet."

Gard raised an eyebrow. "Yet you're dry."

Flint said nothing and turned away from the concerned expression in the man's lined face. Gard qualified as more of a father to Flint than his old man ever had been to him. But he didn't need caretaking right now.

He went into his office, closed the door and sat behind his desk. When he shut his eyes, the image of his wife came to him. For all her flaws, Elizabeth was heartbreakingly beautiful. Voluptuous figure and auburn hair with the face of an angel. But she was just another substitute for the only woman...girl...he'd ever cared about. "Jessie Nelson," he murmured, never expecting the sharp stab of pain that struck his chest. Her name came to him too easily for the thirty-some years she'd been absent from his life.

The bolt of lightning brought about a revelation. He'd married Elizabeth because of her superficial resemblance to the girl his father forced him to leave behind when he was eleven years old. In fact, all the women he'd been involved with, however briefly, had those same basic traits: Voluptuous figure and auburn hair with the face of an angel.

The depths of his soul stung, and he retaliated the way he always did. With violent thoughts and actions.

Like hell he needed to stay married to Elizabeth. He'd get rid of her. With his money, he could do it razor-quick and lose little in the transaction. A sneer twisted his mouth. Never again would he have to put up with her pathetic discontent. Whatever he needed, he could find elsewhere, no strings attached.

Flint leaned forward and grabbed the phone from its cradle. He'd tell his assistant to start the divorce proceedings immediately. Today. He paid his lawyer plenty to get service anytime he requested it, even late on a Friday afternoon.

When he pressed a button on the phone, he recalled the alarmed look on Gard's face upon seeing him. Why had the man been so surprised, presumably because of his unexpected presence? Flint had told him he wouldn't be coming to the office today. The ex-Marine knew him better than he knew himself sometimes. He couldn't have been surprised that Flint returned early from the funeral.

A vaguely familiar voice shouted through the phone line Flint put to his ear, "--is Flint's daughter. Damn you. We had an agreement, Gard. If you want to keep this from him, then I need more deposited in the account per month. It isn't easy to make ends meet with a pre-teen."

Gard's voice sounded hushed. "You're putting me an in awkward position. If you keep demanding more each month, eventually Flint will start to notice. And then you'll have broken your end of the agreement. Is that what you really want, Victoria?"

"It's not my problem."

Flint searched his mind for the name. Victoria. Had Victoria been the name of that professional whore he'd had recommended to him in Seattle? She'd charged him three thousand dollars for an hour of... An hour I still remember, even with all the powder I snorted that night.

No. The whore's name had been something made-up like Venice. Paris. Victoria... Victoria who? Victoria--the woman he'd had an affair with during a takeover in Arizona nine years ago? He'd stopped seeing her as soon as he'd broken up the company and sold off its very lucrative assets. A phone call to say sayonara hadn't seemed necessary to him, since she had to know as well as he did that their convenient affair would end as soon as his business concluded.

Flint's mind raced, remembering the first words he'd overheard of Gard's phone conversation. Daughter? "If you want to keep this from him, then I need more deposited in the account per month. It isn't easy to make ends meet with a pre-teen." Victoria had gotten pregnant, and she'd been bribing Gard for almost ten years--including the pregnancy--to keep the kid's existence from him.

"How much more do you need?" Gard said softly, obviously conceding.

Furious, Flint dropped the receiver and stalked to his office door. He yanked it open, drawing Gard's surprised attention. His glare level, Flint approached his assistant's desk and leaned close to him. "It ends now. Victoria and her kid won't get another penny from me."

Gard put his hand over the receiver, shaking his head. "Flint, listen to me. What I've done, I've done for your benefit. She'll take it to the courts. Paying her is the only way to pacify her."

"Only if that kid is mine. And she isn't."

Rising to his full height of six-three, Gard spoke in a pacifying way. "Victoria will insist on a paternity test, and the court will grant her that right. What if this girl is your daughter, Flint? Then you'll have no choice but to pay."

No. Never. I'm the black knight. Nobody threatens me and gets away with it. Flint yanked the phone out his assistant's hand. "Bring it on, Victoria."

There was a soft gasp in the background, then she hissed, "You won't get away with this, Flint. She is your daughter. I never would have had her in the first place if Gard hadn't agreed to pay for all of it. And keep paying. She's your responsibility."

"Pay for all of it and then some, right?" he spat. "You've gotten all you'll ever get out of me, b*h."

He slammed down the phone, resisting the urge to destroy everything in his path. The sting of his humiliation was almost more than he could bear. Ten years he'd been made a fool of behind his back. His own money had funded the deception.

He looked at the man who'd agreed to the betrayal. "Why, Gard? Why would you do that?"

As usual, Gard didn't look in the least bit repentant. "It was the only way to protect you. You may not have any problems with your conscience now, but someday you will have regrets. Perhaps less than you might have if Victoria had aborted the child, the way she wanted to."

"And you think you can lessen my regrets by agreeing to her blackmail?" Feeling like he couldn't deal with the fires blazing to life inside him, Flint shook his head again. "I don't owe her. I don't owe anyone. I'm divorcing Elizabeth. Take care of it. Today. Make sure she gets nothing more than a pittance."

"A pittance?"

"I'm tired of all this dead weight in my life. I'm chained to it. And they all want more, always more. Well, I've got nothing left to give anybody else."

They didn't care about him. He knew that for certain. No one did. No one but Jodi--and why did she bother? Even Gard had betrayed him under the familiar guise of looking out for his best interests. Conscience? Regrets? Gard knew him better than anyone else but Jodi, so how could he suggest that Flint could subscribe to such ludicrous, outdated concepts?

With his assistant's pleas for understanding following him, he stalked out of the office. Instinctively, he drove to the apartment he kept in the city. The penthouse suite bore all the marks of extreme wealth that should have made him feel like a king. Instead, they enraged him further. He had everything. He had nothing. After thirty-nine years of pulling himself link by link up the chain his old man had stranded him on, he found himself with a life that meant nothing at all. To anyone.

His cell phone rang, a hollow sound that echoed around the empty black-marbled foyer of the front hall. His movements tightly controlled, he pulled the device out, expecting to see Gard's number. Jodi's filled the LCD screen. Flint shook his head. Not now. He dropped the phone on the front entry table and strode into the living room.

He hated the fiery churning of emotion in his gut. He didn't want to feel. Everything he did was to block out the need to face those emotions inside him. He'd tried to slaughter them...twenty-eight years ago, when I was eleven... But no matter what he did, they always returned to torment him.

I don't have to face them. I can forget. He knew exactly what to do.

The cocaine and whiskey allowed the strain inside him to relax. In a blissful state of disassociated numbness, he wondered without concern how his life had turned out this way. Whether he should have gone in the same direction as his sister. Flint laughed out loud. Became a Jesus freak, found a purpose in life that wasn't pure evil, searched for peace instead of destruction on all levels. Including my own destruction. Forever bliss. Forever unfeeling.

Sitting forward, he pulled open the drawer of the steel and glass coffee table. He set down his drink and lifted the loaded gun he kept there. So easy to end it now. Never feel anything again. Father and son laid to rest on the same day. The perfect irony. I love it.

Stroking the cold muzzle of the gun against his forehead, he lay back on the sofa. The image of Jessie Nelson filled his mind. He was eleven years old, living in Milwaukee. Jessie was his best friend, the girl he loved. Violently loved. Lived for her. Died without her.

They'd been wrapped around each other in his twin bed...

His mouth had felt bruised from the hour or more they'd been kissing, but he hadn't cared anymore than she did. As always with Jess she'd gone from hot to cold. "I'm going to California for the summer," she announced as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.

Flint went through the first stages of grief in seconds. Shaking his head wildly, he bounced to sitting up on the mattress.

"No way. You're not going. You can't. There's no way I'll let you go."

She laughed at him. He looked behind him to see her smiling. Smiling! "It's only a few months," she said without concern.

"How can you? Why would you do this to me? Did I do something wrong? I don't want you to go, Jessie. Right now a few months feels like a lifetime."

"It's not."

"It is. Go for a week. Or, better yet, I'll talk to my parents. I can go with you."

She laughed again. "They'll never let you go! You'll find other things to do, Flint. We'll call each other."

He shook his head, turning back to her armed with a ruthless expression. "It's not enough." He grabbed her hard, hard enough to leave marks, but she only giggled and kissed him.

Kissing Jessie, man, kissing her was everything. The few hours they spent not making out, he thought about her. After a lifetime together not realizing how they could feel for each other, they'd discovered the most important thing in the world. Being together like this. Jessie filled his every waking moment, all his dreams. Kissing her...

No, he couldn't go months without her. He'd rather die. A phone call could never equal the closeness they shared every single day. He cradled her against him tenderly, but his tone was anything but gentle when he spoke. "Don't go. I love you. Marry me, Jessie. Never leave me. Never forget me."

She smiled softly, her fingers tracing the sharp lines of his face. "Flint, you're going nuts. We're eleven years old! It feels...intense... But I've never been anywhere else but Milwaukee. All Mom and Dad care about is the company, and Tommie watches me like I'm his prisoner. I need to get away from here. I wanna go somewhere different for a while. Three months isn't forever."

Flint groaned. Three months. Ninety days. Two thousand and...whatever...hours apart. "You'll find someone else," he accused.

She'd squished closer to him. "I won't even look. I love you, only you, Flint. I'll be spending the summer with my aunt and uncle, not patrolling the beaches for hot guys. But..." She'd pressed her forehead against his until they shared the same intoxicating air. "...ask me to marry you again in about ten, twenty years, okay...?"

Jessie had acted like the separation would be no big deal. Neither of them could have known his father would announce, within hours of her departure, that they were relocating to Chicago. The old man was starting his own business there, with a few key investors.

Within months of the devastating move, Flint's mother had filed for divorce. Not long after the law granted her demand, she'd remarried and had children with her new husband. Flint and Jodi flitted between their parents, never belonging with one or the other. After they left Milwaukee, they'd never belonged anywhere.

Flint had never forgiven his father for destroying everything he'd wanted in life. Not even in death could he offer pardon. And he'd never truly forgotten that Jessie Nelson had made a choice. She'd wanted to leave him, wanted to get out of the daily grind, experience freedom. Without him. She'd told him she was coming back, insisted she loved him, sincerely loved him, but instead she'd left him just when he needed her most.

Flint rested the gun against his cheek, closing his eyes.

I got my revenge against the old man. Took away the only thing he ever loved.

I'll divorce Elizabeth. Let her fend for herself for once in her life.

Victoria won't win--she'll be the one who pays for her years of manipulation.

And Jessie...

He opened his eyes, his mind strangely clear. After all these years, her family's company, Nelson Cosmetics, was still going strong. From time to time, he'd looked in on it--his only connection with her. Jessie hadn't been involved in the business most of her life. Inexplicably, her parents had given her controlling stock a few years ago. And she'd gone to work there, becoming a willing player in her parents' legacy.

The corner of his mouth twitched. He could take the company away from her. Simplicity itself. In the next year or two, he could disable the business, break it up and sell the assets for a huge profit, tearing down what Jessie and her family had worked a lifetime to build.

She would pay for abandoning him. They would all pay for their betrayals. Their destruction would make his life worth living.

Flint turned the gun toward the framed photograph Jodi had given him years ago. Their family had gone on vacation in Florida when he was ten. His sister had hung the picture taken there on his wall, claiming the good memories still existed--when he cared to remember them--even if their family didn't anymore.

He aimed and fired. The glass shattered. The frame slid off the wall and crashed to the floor. Rare pleasure erupted inside him and spilled out in manic laughter.

* * * *

July 12, 2010

Jessie Nelson fought her way to groggy consciousness. Her entire body hurt, she realized as she blinked in the half-light. Dead or alive? Do I care either way? An antiseptic stench burned her nostrils and told her what she didn't want to know. She was in a hospital bed.

"What happened?" she said, her mouth as dry as cotton, when she turned her head, winced, and saw her old friend Gregg Stevens sitting in the chair beside the bed.

As she always did when she looked at him, she marveled that a man as drop-dead gorgeous as he was could actually be a Christian. Ridiculous, of course, that looks had anything to do with the state of anyone's soul, but she couldn't help thinking it anyway when she looked at him.

He'd been her brother's best friend, but then Tommie had died far too young and Gregg's self-destructive grief had taken him through more addictions than one man could face. Miraculously, during that time, the dreams he'd worked for all his life had also come true. Yet his fame only added to his problems. Long years ago, he'd walked away from his thriving career. He'd given up his vices and committed himself to the Christian life he'd spent years running from. He now ran a shelter called Wayward Angels for troubled teenage boys who struggled with the same problems he'd broken away from. Gregg had found his calling, and he'd made it his mission in life to see to it that she did the same.

"What happened?" he repeated back at her without any of the fury she deserved. "You tell me."

I screwed up. Again. It seems to be my destiny.

Jessie closed her eyes against the tidal wave of emotion rising inside her. She'd fought with her daughter. That she remembered. Val had left. Jessie had gone to bed.

As soon as the dark, contorted faces emerged, her eyes snapped open. Okay, I remember that, too. The nightmare came back.

Like endless times before, she couldn't function after the dream. She had to bury it. The only way she knew how to block out the images in her head...

Panting, Jessie reached up and touched her throbbing head. She met with bandages. What happened this time? What did I do? She had no memory of how she'd gotten from her condominium to a hospital, but she could easily guess. She understood without the specifics why her entire body, inside and out, felt violated and brutally battered. She'd done it to herself, too. This time, every time, it'd been her choice.

She shook her head, disgusted that her crisis had pulled him away from his family. "You should be at home with Stormie and Melody." Gregg, the ultimate playboy, had shocked all his closest friends when he'd finally settled down a few years ago with Stormie Knight, another "impossible" Christian. He and his bipolar wife had a five-year-old daughter. No small feat. Their lives were a daily struggle, but Gregg consistently found time to stick his nose in everyone else's business along with his own. And what would I do without him?

"They've been here off and on since we got the call," Gregg told her. "I sent them home with your parents around midnight."

Jessie closed her eyes, drawing another tattered breath. She'd become the pity case she hated to be, but it was her own fault. Unbelievably, after all the hell she'd put her friends and family through, they continued to love her and be there for her, even when she didn't want them to. Countless times she'd wondered what exactly she had to do to alienate them permanently. Surely she'd filled her lifetime forgiveness quota long, long ago.

Ten years before... Has it really been that much time? Gregg had started talking to her about Christ, and she'd been punched straight between the eyes with her own need of salvation, the redemption only the God of the universe could provide. But for a long time after she accepted His gift, she'd treated her savior like a crutch she only took up when she was already on the ground and had no other way to stand. In all the time since, she'd experienced little or no growth. When the nightmare started, there was nothing she wouldn't do but try to block it out. So she fell back into her old, self-destructive habits that should have killed her any one of the hundred times she'd collapsed on them.

"Do I dare ask what day it is?" she said, her throat tight enough to hurt.

"July twelfth."

It's been two days since that fight with Val.

"You're wondering what happened," Gregg said. He rose to his feet. She could see how exhausted he was by the dark circles under his eyes. Jessie realized he'd been there since "they got the call". Idiot! Why do you keep coming back, Gregg? I'm not worth it. I never was.

"I can tell you what we were told. You were found in a back alley by a homeless guy. Believed to be dead. He went inside a business a few blocks away and told them to call 911. When the paramedics arrived at the scene, they were able to revive you."

Gregg took the few steps to her bedside. She closed her eyes again, unable to face the look in his dark eyes. He's disappointed, too. Why wouldn't he be? I'm supposed to be a Christian now. A new creature in Christ. Jessie clenched her teeth, seeking out the defenses she'd erected long ago. Excuses, maybe. But he doesn't know about the nightmare. No one does. I can't handle the dream. So I block it out. In any way I can. I don't remember two days of my life, and this isn't the first time. But was running from the images in her head worth it? How many times could she backtrack before she accepted she'd never change and there was no reason to keep living?

"Jessie, look at me."

Tears burned behind her eyes. That was what she'd hated most about giving her life to God. The fact that, after all these years, she could feel everything she'd worked so hard to become numb to. The numbness was better than having to experience pain, regret, horror, terror, self-disgust... "I can't look at you, Gregg. I can't look at myself anymore."

She felt him lean across the bed toward her, but kept her eyes closed, her head turned away. In a husky voice, he said, "You died, Jess. You were dead. That homeless guy felt for a pulse and there wasn't one. The paramedics said you shouldn't be here today. But, against all odds, you're back. You've got another chance."

Frantically, she shook her head. "Don't deserve this one any more than the previous million. I'm a forty-one-year-old child who'll never grow up. Give up on me, Gregg. I did a long time ago."

"Tommie wouldn't have wanted this for you, Jess, any more than the Lord does."

Gregg's fingers eased her chin in his direction, and her eyes opened instinctively. Sobs slammed to the surface at the memory he evoked. Tommie's final words to her surfaced in tandem with the agony of her failure. "Don't punish yourself anymore, Jess. The only thing you can change is the here and now. Your own decisions. And I know you won't give yourself permission, so I'll give it to you. Permission to get on with your life. Don't grieve anymore, Jess. Don't feel guilty. Forgive yourself. Stop punishing yourself with the things you do. Let people love you. Don't push them away so you won't have to feel, because you're afraid they'll reject you. You deserve love, Jess. From now on, take it when it's offered."

No one could possibly understand what she ran from. "I don't know how to lead a productive life, Gregg. I don't know how to live by myself. I have no purpose--what is that? I can't even define it. I try to be normal and I end up even more insane. I don't know how to take advice. All I know is how to walk the same blind path that puts me right here, back at the beginning of a life unformed, unlived, unfinished and worthless. I live in a void somewhere between life and death. You of all people should understand that."

"And I do. I've been there. But you said it yourself, Jess. I think that's exactly what it is. Your life is unformed and unlived. You don't know who you are. The person you've been..." He shrugged in a helpless way. "...is a pale reflection of someone else. A paper doll. Maybe it's time for you to figure out who you were meant to be."

Jessie swallowed, confused and afraid, yet intrigued by what he said. "What do you mean?"

"Deep inside, you're not the person who's done all these crazy things for as long as we can both remember. Do you remember who you were before all this insanity started?"

A glimpse of memory came and went, damnably fleeting when she needed the answers it might provide. That recollection was so long ago. She'd been little more than a child. Before the nightmare, who was I?

Tears slipped from her eyes, and she shook her head. No, the glimpse was gone. She couldn't remember being anyone but the screw-up she was and always would be.

Gregg reached over and used his thumbs to wipe away her tears. "Look, I know where you've been, baby. I understand the rut you're in. It's the same one I never knew how to get out of. You know what I figured out when I decided I couldn't stay there, that I couldn't run away from God anymore?"

"That He made a mistake, coming after us?"

He refocused her gaze on him. "No. I realized that every decision I'd ever made was wrong. Everything I did was the wrong choice. So I stripped my life of everything I'd made of myself. I gave up my music career and all the vices associated with it because it always led to the darkness. I refused to see the people I thought were friends but really were nothing more than drug and party acquaintances. I did everything opposite of the way I had been doing it. Every time I came to a path I'd been down before, I turned my back on it and went the unfamiliar way. I filled my every waking moment with what most people considered productive jobs. I helped other people. And, for the first time, I let them help me. I didn't push them away. I couldn't have come this far without my true friends, those who really love me and want to see me happy."

His words sounded crazy. Maybe just crazy enough to work. But what does it mean for me? How do I do the opposite? "You're saying I should get involved in church stuff? Spend twenty-four hours in church, like a nun?"

Despite the dead seriousness in her own tone, Gregg laughed out loud. "No. I don't mean that at all--though I'm not discouraging you to get involved there in a wider capacity. You can attend regular church services and maybe even get in with a small Bible study, where you'll meet people who care about you and share your new values. You could also volunteer at Wayward Angels. That'll fill quite a few hours. Think about spending time with your real friends, your family, your kids. Exercise regularly. Take a class. Go to work eight hours a day. Fill your life with positive things to do. Make it so full you don't have any time left over for getting into trouble. It's been wisely said that we suffer because we don't suffer enough. Boredom really does account for most of the stupid things we do."

He grinned, and Jessie felt that strange mix of fear and curiosity again. Is there hope for me? How could there possibly be any left?

"I'm telling you, Jess, you fill your life with productive stuff and you'll go to bed so exhausted at night, you won't dream. You won't wish for anything more than what you have--anything more that's actually less. I honestly don't think I slept more than a couple hours after I gave my life to Christ. And it was like that for years. But filling my life to capacity was the only way I could think of to break out of the rut of self-destructive habits. I no longer lived for myself. I lived outside myself, I guess you could say."

She knew Gregg had gone through many of the same things she had. He'd shared the same addictions. She also knew he hadn't had an easy time of getting out of the hole he'd almost buried himself in. "How many times can I do this?" she cried when she actually started considering his words.

He grinned. "As many times as it takes, babe. Get back on course. There's something else I want to suggest. I started a new group, kind of unofficial right now, but I think it's working for those involved. It's for recovering addicts who've become Christians. Most of the people doing this have had the same vices you're struggling with: drugs, sex, alcohol. Basically, you pair up with someone and try to stay accountable to each other."

Jessie almost laughed out loud at the word. Accountable. I really hate that word. I've spent my life failing everyone, especially myself. I can't be accountable to anyone. I've proven that over and over.

But she also knew she couldn't go on the way she had been. She needed help. She needed to do the things Gregg suggested to break free. I have to get my head out of my vices so I can remember who I was before the nightmare became my whole life. Maybe I can find the person I was meant to be again. Maybe I'll like being her enough to keep myself on the straight and narrow permanently.

Gregg reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a necklace. He looked down at it. "My old man gave me this after I started my life with the Lord and was reconciled with my family. I never knew it, but he said he'd gone through a lot of the same rebellions I had when he was younger. A Christ-rehabilitated uncle gave him this, and Dad passed it on to me. It's been passed down for a long time now, from one struggling Christian to another. I know I'm supposed to pass it on to you." The small rainbow pendant on the long chain resembled frosted stained glass. "This is a white rainbow and it symbolizes second chances. Wear it to remind yourself that you can get back up and start again. No matter how many times you fall, you'll always be given another chance."

Jessie shifted her gaze from the necklace, humbled by the weighty legacy it'd carried to one of her oldest friends--one who'd never given up on her.

I died. Against all the odds, I was brought back to life.

Maybe this was her white rainbow.


 

Part II: NEW BEGINNINGS
Chapter One

July 21, 2011

"Did you set up the vials?" Jessie said to her assistant as he was preparing to leave for the day.

"They're on the counter. You wanted five, right?"

"Yup. Thanks." Offering more gratitude than that still wasn't instinctive for her, but, when she turned back from her computer to see him hanging his lab coat, she said, "Enjoy your evening."

"Thanks. You, too, Miss Nelson."

She saved the design she was making, then got up with butterflies in her chest. She'd been waiting for this moment all day. Following a year of re-working and re-designing, and then allowing her newest perfume creation to age and amalgamate, she was at last ready to put it through the necessary final test.

After pulling on protective coverings, she entered the password and stepped into the lab. Five small perfume vials were lined up on the counter. She removed the original dark bottle of perfume from the fridge. Taking a deep breath for courage, she removed the cap. Since she'd added the middle notes to the base oil, she'd become convinced this fragrance would be the one she'd been striving to create. Her prior attempts had been fine, nothing exciting. She'd furthered the mixture with top notes and a bridge substance to bring all the scents together. Recently, she'd added a fixative to lower the rate of evaporation.

She brought the bottle to her nose. Cinnamon, bergamot, orchid... Jessie inhaled again. Hmm. The mix was perfect. During the next weekend, she planned to test how well the scent continued after the first application. She took a sterile pipette from the packet, then she transferred a small amount of the fragrance into each of the five test vials.

After she capped each small vial and returned the original bottle to the fridge, she left the lab. Back inside the office, the tap of heels reached her ears. She turned to see her mother, Clarice, coming into the lab. Jessie assessed the sharp, satin tuxedo business suit she wore approvingly. She liked to tell herself she'd taken after her mother with natural sophistication, petite yet voluptuous curves, youthful, thick auburn hair, and a face that betrayed no lines or wrinkles. Even in her late fifties, Clarice could easily pass for a thirty-year-old.

Her parents had taken a back seat in the running of the Milwaukee-based company, instating her as director of the board. Foolish, of course. She'd valiantly tried to wedge herself into the role of head of the company and failed miserably. She wasn't suited to anything business, and she'd told her mother and father over and over she wanted nothing to do with that angle.

From an early age, her first love had been fashion. Blending this with that, coming up with something unique and intriguing. It wasn't until she came down to the lab a year ago that she found her true calling. Learning how to design cosmetics had required intense on-the-job training, and she'd thrown herself into it, many days for longer hours than she'd ever required of herself before. She let the board run the company while she holed up, trying out new shades and scents. She'd discovered where she belonged in the family company.

"You're down here again instead of in your office," her mother said, a hint of worry in her tone. "I believe there's a board meeting in progress."

Jessie shrugged. "They can handle things without me." She lifted one of the vials and twisted the cap off again. "What do you think of this?"

Her mother leaned in and sniffed, let the fragrance settle, and sniffed again. "Mhm. Lovely, dear. An exotic flower bouquet with just a hint of spice. Is this the new one you've been talking about?"

"I think I've perfected it now. I need to wear it for a weekend to see how it reacts with my body chemistry. Here, take one. You can let me know Monday how it works on you."

"Of course I will, darling. I'd be honored."

Jessie placed the tightly capped bottle into an envelope with an evaluation form. Clarice took the package when she offered it to her. "Have dinner with us tonight, Jessie. Paul and Wendy are coming with Gunner."

Jessie and Wendy had grown up as neighbors and had shared a volatile, back and forth relationship most of their lives, one that recently blossomed into real friendship. Unable to have children together, Wendy and her husband Paul Randall had recently adopted a six-year-old boy.

Jessie debated whether she should go and put herself through the awkward hours of discomfort. For nearly eight years, Wendy had been furious with her, even after Jessie relented and divorced her brother Steve. Only in the last year had Wendy begun to forgive her for the hell she'd put Steve and their three kids through. Jessie supposed a big part of what made the difference in bringing about renewed friendship was that Wendy and Paul had moved back to Milwaukee. Seeing each other more often allowed her to make amends the way she couldn't have otherwise. Not with Wendy living in California, a state Jessie would never return to as long as she lived.

Tonight wouldn't be an easy evening. But either she went to her parents' or endured a night with little to do at home. "Sure, but I have a meeting with my accountability coach at five-thirty, Mom. I'll swing by my condo to pick up Grace, and we'll come over together."

Clarice beamed approval. She gave Jessie a hug. "See you in a few hours," they said at the same time.

Gregg had been correct a year ago when he encouraged her to start all over again. She'd filled her life, her every waking moment, with productive endeavors that sent her to bed exhausted each night. Being with friends and family, holding down a full-time job--not just going in whenever she felt like it, as she'd done for so many years--church, personal Bible study and volunteer work at Wayward Angels, a few cooking classes... Her life was swamped. She'd had no time to go off the wagon. Because she never slept more than four hours a night anymore, the nightmare hadn't returned even once. Busy schedule or no busy schedule, she knew the absence of the dream was why she'd done so well.

Jessie prepared a special box used for mailing the perfume vials, added evaluation forms, then taped the package and scrawled her younger son's name on the front. Her daughter Valerie was spending the summer with her brother Tom and his fiancée, Misty, in California, where they went to college. Because her daughter loved fashion and make-up as much as she did, Jessie always made Val one of her testers. Misty had become one as well.

Jessie stopped in at the company mailing facility, asking them to ship the package with the proper certification. She used her cell phone to call Grace on the way to the parking garage. "Think you're up to a dinner engagement tonight? My parents invited us. Paul and Wendy will be there."

"I've missed their little boy. He's a ball of energy. I love him, even if I do always feel exhausted afterward."

Jessie laughed despite a stab of regret. She'd missed the childhoods of all three of her children. She'd been too busy partying, trying to kill herself, to pay much attention to any of them. Two of them rarely allowed her to forget it either. She refused to let herself wallow in pity or extreme remorse about that fact anymore though. Her kids deserved to harbor any vengeful emotion they cared to against her. The fact that all of them had, at the very least, allowed her to be a small part of their lives was more than she could ask for. Maybe someday they could forgive her and offer something resembling affection instead.

She started her car. When she picked herself up and got back on the high road a year ago, she hadn't expected that cramming her time with so many endeavors would also give her a kind of equilibrium. Hating herself for her crimes and sins against everyone she'd ever known had kept her stuck in the rut. While she'd never have the audacity to claim she felt remotely reconciled with the past, certainly not confident of herself, she'd found that simply accepting she had a lot to make up for had changed her entire lookout. She could better endure the grudges so many bore against her. Determining to do good and make up for the past had become the perfect coping mechanism.

Whenever she forgot that, the white rainbow necklace Gregg had given her reminded her she'd always be given a second chance by those who loved her. The support of a few more than made up for the scorn of the many.

* * * *

Jessie's accountability coach was someone she'd grown up with. Sheri had become a Christian through Gregg's intervention, too. Like Jessie, her daily goals no longer amounted to how much booze and drugs she could consume, whether she'd remembered to eat anything, where her friends were, and how she'd get laid.

Being alone wasn't easy for Sheri, Jessie had decided when they first started meeting in the back booth of a noisy diner to talk weekly accountability. For the past couple weeks, especially, the other woman had been gnawing on about her loneliness. "Alma set me up with her nephew last weekend. I'm not sure I ever want to go on a blind date set up by someone from church again. I swear the guy's never done anything bad in his life. Funny that we're both Christians, yet we've got nothing in common."

Jessie sipped her diet soda, trying to look sympathetic. These sessions had been one of the hardest aspects of the last year for her. All her life, she'd considered this kind of everything-in-my-life-is-wrong conversation griping. She didn't like the idea of giving someone a window into her soul, not when the very act opened up the possibility of realizations, hard expectations and responsibilities--three things she tenaciously avoided. She reminded herself that she needed to be accountable to someone who'd gone through the same things she had and was standing strong.

Sheri does all the talking. Do I make sure of that with my deliberate silence and encouraging responses? I know she'll jump in if I don't say anything. Near the end of every one of these meetings, Sheri always asked if she wanted to discuss anything. With a studied look, she'd always end up claiming she couldn't think of a thing.

"See you next week," Jessie said this time, after a half hour of listening to Sheri's discontentment with the single life.

Jessie knew for a fact that it was better for her not to admit that she longed for the same things the other woman did--for a man who was a Christian but who'd done enough bad in his life to understand her.

Who am I kidding? I've never had a normal relationship with a man, not even my husband. Ex-husband. Besides, I'm not ready to take a risk like that right now. I'm still vulnerable and liable to fall right back into the alley gutter I was pulled out of.

She got back in her car and headed for her condo on the shore of Lake Michigan. She parked in the separate garage facility, then walked the familiar path, lined with blue, mophead hydrangeas, up to her home.

Grace was running the vacuum over the living room carpet, but stopped as soon as Jessie entered and called out.

When Wendy and Paul had returned to Milwaukee, they'd brought Grace, the sixty-four-year-old housekeeper from Wendy's family home, with them. Wendy had suggested that Grace move in with Jessie--to help her with that accountability stuff she'd been determined to take seriously for the first time in her life. In an odd twist, Grace's rheumatoid arthritis had become a painful liability, and Jessie now took care of her. She enjoyed the caretaking, enjoyed being needed and forced into responsibility.

"I guess your arthritis is better today," Jessie said without scolding. Grace knew better than to overdo it, but she'd spent her life as a full-time housekeeper. One particle of dust, a crumb on the counter, lint on the carpet were all causes for panic. Knowing she could bring on a bout of excruciating pain didn't always remove her cleaning instinct.

"Just a quick run-over," Grace assured her. "I'm ready to go whenever you are."

"I want to take a quick shower." Jessie handed her an envelope. "Try this perfume out for the weekend, okay?"

Grace murmured her excitement at the prospect. "I'd love to. Thank you."

After setting her purse on the immense kitchen island, Jessie took out her own package. She walked through the wide open spaces of the kitchen, dining room and living room. Decorating her house had been an extension of her fashion sense. Instead of little knick-knacks or paintings, she'd purchased furniture pieces that qualified as art, ones that fit her exacting qualifications for comfort.

She climbed the curved staircase to the second floor master suite. "Lights," she said, striding through her bedroom to the adjoined private bath. The overheads came on automatically.

In moments, she was in a steaming shower, a cap over her hair to avoid the huge process of drying and styling--something she could only afford to do a few times a week. Often in the last year, she'd considered cutting the waist-length, thick mane, believing her hair gave the inappropriately sexy appearance that'd helped her get into trouble in the past. Not quite ready for that drastic step, she'd instead focused on ridding her wardrobe of the shockingly sexy outfits she used to wear. That one had been a fairly easy compromise, considering there was plenty of appealing fashion that flattered her in a tasteful way. If she could keep her hair--and shoe and purse collections--she'd get by.

After redoing her make-up and putting on her new perfume, she strolled into a walk-in closet the size of a standard bedroom, built in birch stained a neutral shade of cream. Clothes could be hung on every wall. She'd chosen to group them by occasion. Below the hanging clothes were see-through shoe drawers. Tables and shelves held purses, jewelry, underclothing, and every imaginable accessory.

She dressed in a pair of relaxed fit denims she'd reworked with stitching up both legs in the form of long-vined pink roses. A soft pink, open collared shell top went over the jeans. From the drawers that housed hundreds of pairs of shoes, she chose a new pair of pink satin, three and a half inch heels with ribbon and lace accents. For a long minute, she admired the pumps on her tanned feet in the mirror. Her daughter would adore them. She'd bought an extra pair to present to Val when she got home.

While she was filling an Anuschka flap handbag with a few essentials, the land-line phone rang.

"It's Valerie," Grace called up a moment later.

By some miracle, Steve had allowed his baby to go to California for the summer, and Jessie had been hearing blow-by-blow details of event from the start from Val. Given his rare moment of permission, Val had fled right after school let out to visit her brother Tom. Steve was more than a little protective of their youngest child. Who could blame him? Valerie had been utterly fragile and helpless from birth. She'd let her father rule her life up to this point, and Steve was adamant about making sure his baby girl was safe from all possible harm. Jessie knew Steve's second wife of nearly nine years, Kristina, had something to do with getting him to agree to the trip. No doubt he'd been a nervous wreck once he gave his reluctant approval.

Jessie walked out to the hall toward the staircase. "I'll be right down."

Downstairs, she took the phone from Grace and put it on the speakerphone so she could get herself a glass of water. "Hey, Val. How's summer vacation?" she said without revealing any of the tension that'd settled in her gut at the news that her daughter was calling.

At seventeen, Valerie would be a senior in high school this September. A year ago, when Jessie, in her awkward manner, had gone about trying to make amends with her children, her daughter had told her in no uncertain terms that she hadn't forgiven her and couldn't imagine ever doing so. Oddly enough, she saw Val more than she did her two sons, both of whom had at least made a stab at accepting her into their lives. But Val always came or called with an agenda--something she wanted.

"Did he tell you?" Val demanded in her usual, for-Mom-only rage-filled tone.

"Who tell me what?" Jessie said. She motioned toward Grace on a stool with the bottle of water. The older woman shook her head. Jessie took down only one glass.

"Daddy!" Valerie screeched. "He wants me to come home early. You have to talk to him."

Jessie almost choked on a sip of water. Had her daughter forgotten who she was talking to? "What do you think I can do, hon? I don't have a lot of influence with your father, as I'm sure you're well aware." Try zero, zilch, none whatsoever.

Considering what a lousy mother Jessie had been all her life--something Val could witness to firsthand and would never let her forget--Steve had never consulted her about anything concerning their children. From the start, he'd been the one to take care of them, always doing what was best for them. He was the kind of father they'd needed, with such an absent, uncaring mother. Maybe he'd recovered from the hell she'd put him, their kids, and his new wife through--enough to be polite to her anyway--but she doubted any of them would ever truly get over the past.

"Just talk to him," her daughter whined. "Tell him you think it's a good idea for me to stay in California through the rest of the time he agreed to before."

"Val...if I tell him that, he'll automatically believe it's a bad idea. You'd do better to have Kristina on your side."

Val snorted. "She is, but she's not doing enough to convince him. She says he hasn't slept properly since I left."

No surprise there. Leaning across the marble island at the center of the kitchen, Jessie closed her eyes. California... Something dark and loathsome reached into her subconscious. She pulled herself upright and shoved the memory back. She opened her eyes, concentrating on breathing deeply. She told herself that having Val come to her for help was progress. She's never needed me. She's not offering me love here, but I owe her. I'll never stop owing her. I'm the reason she's so helpless and fragile. "Is there a specific reason you want to stay there, Val? Is there a guy?"

Val's tone immediately became cold. "That's none of your business. The point is, I want to stay. I'm having a good time."

Ahh. So that's it. Jessie understood Steve's tendency to suffocate his daughter in his crushing desire to protect her. Luckily, Kristina had been good for all of them. She'd helped Steve relax enough to allow Val independence in ways he would never have considered in the past.

"I won't get into any trouble," Val insisted sulkily.

"I don't think trouble is what your dad's worried about. He's protective of you. He's used to watching your every move, waiting to leap in if anyone tries to hurt you. He can't do that from afar."

"Who's going to hurt me? I'm just lying on the beach and sight-seeing. I'm fine. I want to stay! I won't leave no matter what he says. Even if he comes here and tries to drag me home. If you talked to him, maybe he'd stop being so crazy."

Jessie sighed, giving in without further fight. Talking to Steve wouldn't help at all, but how could she ever refuse her children anything? "Okay. I'll talk to him. Tomorrow."

"Good. Call me on my cell as soon as you do."

"Hold up." Jess jumped in, realizing Val had gotten what she wanted and wouldn't linger. "I finished my perfume. I want you and Misty to try it. I'm overnighting a package for both of you with the usual evaluation form. You can both fax it back after you've worn the fragrance for a few days."

For a moment, she thought her daughter had hung up too soon to hear her, but then she said, "Whatever" and disconnected without further ado. She'd gotten what she wanted. Nothing else mattered to her. She's exactly like I was at her age. Selfish, rebellious, and too beautiful for her own good.

Jessie leaned over and punched the disconnect button on her end.

Grace folded her hands one over the other on the island. "She never even says thank you when you agree to help her."

Jessie shrugged. "She doesn't need to." She's just collecting on the debt I owe her. Maybe someday I'll be good for it.

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