From USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean comes the next instalment in her popular Color of Heaven Series, where people are affected by real life magic—and miracles that have the power to change everything they once believed about life and love.
Recently divorced television reporter Katelyn Roberts has stopped believing in relationships that last forever, until a near-death experience during a cycling accident changes everything. When she miraculously survives unscathed, a deeply-buried memory leads her to the quaint, seaside town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
There, on the rugged, windswept coast of the Atlantic, she finds herself caught up in the secrets of a historic inn that somehow calls to her from the past. Is it possible that the key to her true destiny lies beneath all that she knows, as she explores the grand mansion and its property? Or that the great love she’s always dreamed about is hidden in the alcoves of its past?
"I was so pulled into this story I thought at times I WAS the character. Julianne MacLean certainly grabbed me with this book. I absolutely loved it! ...It all felt so real. It's like Alice falling through the rabbit hole, I got to live out someone else's life if only through my own imagination." - Micky at Goodreads
"Wow! This is one of those "l couldn't put it down" books. The penny dropped right at the end of this amazing story as to why it is titled "The Color of Forever". Believe me when I say that this is a page turner like you have never read before." - Zena at Goodreads
"It makes the reader think about what could have been, and loves past, and makes you wonder if you are leading the life you're meant to be leading. Thought-provoking, emotionally-intense and riveting, Ms. MacLean delivers another 5-star romance in The Color of Forever" - Nancy at Goodreads
"There are just not enough words for me to explain how much I loved this book! " - Debi at Goodreads
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THE COLOR OF FOREVER
By Julianne MacLean
Advance unedited excerpt
Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me
As I gaze upon the sea!
All the old romantic legends,
All my dreams, come back to me.
—Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow, “The Secret of the Sea”
I’ve often heard that a close brush with death can cause your life to flash before your eyes in an instant. There was a time I didn’t believe it, because how could all the experiences of a person’s life possibly replay in his or her mind in such a short interval? Wouldn’t your brain be occupied by the task of finding a way to save yourself?
Some say that such a response is brought on by a rush of adrenaline, which causes the brain to function at hyper speed. Have you ever been in a situation of shock and panic, where the disaster appears to occur in slow motion before your eyes, yet you can do nothing about it? Your body simply cannot keep up with the velocity of your perceptions.
In other situations, people have been known to take action with incredible strength and speed—lifting a car, for instance, to save a crushed child. How can that possibly occur? Is adrenaline truly that powerful?
Others theorize that the purpose is to help the person in danger access all his memories in order to find a way to save himself or someone else. This seems logical to me, but who knows the true origins of such miracles?
All I can tell you is that I believe it is true. Life does flash before your eyes at the moment of impending death. I know it because I am one of those people who—while skirting death by a narrow margin—experienced a rush of adrenaline so potent that I glimpsed my entire lifetime, like slides flashing rapidly before my eyes. So who am I to doubt such a phenomenon?
What I fail to understand, however, is why I saw a life that was completely different from my own.
Oddly, the life I viewed in those fleeting seconds before the accident was not someone else’s. The memories were all mine. I was the so-called protagonist of the show, confused as to why I felt such a deep, emotional connection to the people in my mind’s eye, who were complete strangers to me. I felt a love and a longing for them with as much emotion and clarity as any other momentous experience, yet none of it matched the existence I knew.
In reality, on the day I peddled up the mountain with my cycling club, I was a thirty-two year old, childless divorcee. I wish I could say I was emotionally secure, happy to be a single independent woman, and optimistic about starting a new chapter in my life, but on that particular day—like most every day—I woke up feeling desperately alone with a knot in my belly the size of a football—mostly because my ex-husband had just remarried after getting a fantastic promotion. All I wanted to do was get in my car, drive to his office, ride the elevator up fourteen floors and rant to his boss about what a louse he was.
Did they not understand that he was unreliable, dishonorable and self-absorbed? How could they promote him to a partner in their firm when he was a philandering cheater who couldn’t be faithful to his first wife?
It boggled my mind that Mark always won. No matter who he stepped on, or who paid the price in tears, he always got what he wanted, then slept like a baby each night after enjoying the fruits of his labors—the luxury home, the trips to Barbados, the Mercedes and the beautiful wife who lay beside him in bed, probably wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie.
At one time, I was that privileged, beautiful wife—and oh, how he adored me in those early years. I was an up-and-coming celebrity television journalist in Seattle with a good chance of eventually becoming anchor on the evening news. While still in my twenties, I covered major political events and attended charity dinners with the mayor, while Mark was an ambitious criminal lawyer who loved showing me off at every opportunity, because I shone a bright light on us as a stylish Seattle couple.
I hesitate to use the word perfect—because nothing is ever perfect, right?—but that’s how it felt, and that’s certainly how others perceived us. At least until everything came crashing down like a spinning jet out of the sky.
* * *
I remember precisely the day the turbulence began, and it’s rather unnerving that I can pinpoint the exact moment.
Mark and I had gone out for dinner with a few friends, and after they said goodnight and got into a cab, I stepped to the curb to flag down the next one, but Mark grabbed my arm and pulled me back.
“What are you doing?” he asked, glancing down the street. “It’s barely midnight. Let’s stay out.”
My heart sank because it had been a busy week at work and I was ready for bed. Looking back on it, I’m sure I could have convinced him to head home by slipping my arms around his waist, smiling coquettishly, and promising some fun and games in the bedroom, but as I mentioned, it had been a long week and I was spent. I wasn’t in the mood for “sexy talk,” so I said the absolute wrong thing with a tired sigh.
“Come on, Mark. We’re not in college anymore. I’m done for the night. Besides, it’s time to grow up. Let’s leave the after-hours partying to the twenty-somethings.”
His head drew back and his eyebrows lifted. It was as if I had suggested we retire, downsize, and move to Florida.
“You just want to go home? It’s Friday night.”
“I know…” I felt suddenly intimidated, inadequate. Dull. So I struggled to backpedal and explain myself. “I’m sorry, but you know how stressful my week was. That story about the alcoholic bus driver really took a toll on me. I’m not up for more socializing. I just want to curl up on the sofa and watch TV.”
He inhaled deeply with frustration and held his breath for a few seconds, then looked away, down the street again. “We watch TV every night, Katelyn. It’s Friday. Don’t you want to be a social butterfly?”
Maybe I was a tad irritable because it was late, but I loathed the fact that he wanted me to fake it and play a role, when I’d just explained how tired I was. More importantly, I wished he felt the same way—that the idea of curling up on the sofa with me held at least some appeal.
I realized in that moment that it was the worst kind of torture for him, to stay at home, just the two of us. Sure, there was a day when I loved going out every weekend, but I was starting to grow out of that lifestyle. I preferred an early evening that didn’t result in a pounding headache the next morning.
“Who are you hoping to see?” I asked. “The guys from work? Because I’m quite sure the partners are all at home with their wives and children. Isn’t that what you aspire to?”
He frowned. “What are you trying to say, Katelyn?”
I knew, by the challenging tone of his voice, that he knew exactly what I was trying to say. I’d been dropping hints for two years.
“Don’t you think it’s time we slowed down a little? I just turned thirty. You know I want to have kids, and if we’re ever going to be parents, we can’t be out partying till four in the morning every weekend.”
He glanced around at the people walking past us on the sidewalk and lowered his voice. “I’ve told you, I’m not ready for that.”
“So you’ve said. Many times.”
I spoke loudly, heatedly, without concern for who might take notice, which was dangerous because we were recognizable in Seattle. Anyone could whip out a cell phone and start recording our argument. It could show up on YouTube within the hour.
Mark grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into the recessed doorway of a flower shop.
“I’ve been patient,” I continued, roughly shaking his hand off my arm, “waiting for you to be ready, but I’m not getting any younger and neither are you. If we don’t start trying soon, I’m going to be popping out my first kid when I’m forty.”
His eyes widened with horror. “Forty!”
I laughed at him, bitterly. “What…you think we’ll never be forty? We will be eventually, Mark, and it’s not that far off. And guess what. We’re going to be fifty someday, too. I’d like for our kids to at least be in middle school by then. Wouldn’t you?”
He stared at me in disbelief for a moment, then raised his hand to stop me from saying anything more. “I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
“When will you want to talk about it?” I replied. “Because you always put it off. You change the subject. And for the record, I hate it when you put your hand in my face like that.”
He turned away and strode to the curb. “Go home if you want, Katelyn. I’m staying out.”
I scoffed resentfully and followed him. He raised his arm to flag down a cab.
“Do you want this one?” he asked as it approached.
“Yes,” I firmly replied. “I’m going home. Where are you going?”
He shrugged a shoulder and reached into his pocket for his phone. “I don’t know yet. I need to see where people are.” He searched through his texts.
I exhaled with defeat as the cab stopped in front of us. Suddenly, I wished the night weren’t ending like this. We’d had such a great time at dinner, and Mark had been his most charming self. He sat next to me with his arm across the back of my chair, listening attentively as I talked about the bus driver story. And he was so impossibly handsome in that grey sweater I’d bought for him at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. It matched his gray-blue eyes and made me remember why I’d fallen in love with him. Was I crazy, leaving him like this, downtown on a Friday at midnight?
The cab driver waited until I opened the back door, but I hesitated before getting in. “Mark,” I said more gently. “Why don’t you come home with me? We can talk about this some more. Figure things out.”
His eyes lifted briefly. “I told you, I don’t want to talk about it tonight. Go home. Get in your pajamas. I’ll see you later.”
He returned his attention to his phone and began texting.
“Fine. Bye,” I tersely said as I slid into the back seat and shut the cab door.
I watched him still texting on the sidewalk as we drove off, but he never looked up. I wonder now if he was texting Mariah, the sexy young intern at his firm who had just started a few weeks earlier. I hadn’t suspected anything at the time, but if I had known about her—known what she looked like and how all the men at the firm were drooling over her like schoolboys—would I have mustered the energy to stay out a few extra hours and suffer the headache the following morning?
* * *
Much later that night, Mark slipped quietly into bed, working hard not to wake me. I lay with my back to him and pretended to be asleep, though I was fully aware that it was past 3:00am and he smelled like cigarette smoke. I wondered where he had been, but didn’t want to start another fight, so I decided to wait until the morning to ask about his night.
When I woke, he was gone. At least he’d left me a note on the kitchen table to let me know he’d risen early to hit the gym. It wasn’t unusual for him to work out on Saturday mornings—even with a hangover—so I simply let it go. I didn’t bring up our argument again.
Three weeks later, I would come to regret that decision.
“I don’t understand,” I said as I followed Mark to the door where his suitcase was packed and waiting. “Maybe we hit a few rough patches lately, but I thought everything was fine. How can you just pack up and leave like this? Don’t you even want to try to work things out?”
“Trust me, it’s better this way,” he replied as he reached hurriedly for his coat in the front hall closet. “There’s no point dragging this out over months or even years.”
“But…” I watched him slip his arms into the sleeves and check his pockets for his gloves. “You haven’t even given me a chance to process this. I’m in shock, Mark. I come home from work and find you sitting on the sofa with your bags packed. Surely you’re not serious. You’re not going to leave right now.”
The chill in his tone made my stomach turn over with a sickening ball of dread. “How long have you been feeling this way?”
“Awhile,” he replied, without hesitation, which came as a total shock to me.
“Wait…” I reached out to touch his harm, wanting to hold onto him. He was my husband and I loved him. We were supposed to build a life together. I thought he was going to be the father of my children. “I know you weren’t keen on the idea of having a baby,” I said, “but we can talk about that. Maybe I’ve been pushing too hard lately. Maybe I’m rushing things. But still, I don’t understand how you can just suddenly decide, at the drop of a hat, to throw our entire marriage out the window.”
“It’s not at the drop of a hat,” he replied irritably as he wrapped his Ralph Lauren scarf around his neck and bent to pick up his travel sized suitcase. “I told you, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.”
“But you never said anything.” My heart began to thump heavily in my chest and perspiration lined my brow. Was this really happening? “I thought we were happy.”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, which caused a sudden rush of anger in my blood. I grit my teeth, grabbed him roughly by the arm and forced him to look at me directly. “How long have you felt this way?”
He paused. “You and I both know it’s gotten stale lately. A year maybe,” he conceded at last.
I blinked a few times and spoke with rancor. “A year? And you think we’re stale? What the hell does that mean?”
“It means we’re not in love like we used to be. The spark’s gone. Come on, Katelyn, there’s no passion and you know it.”
I let out a breath of shock. “No, I don’t. I’m your wife and I was ready to have a baby with you. Now I find out that you’re just not that into me?”
This news was like a knife in my gut, because I’d always worked so hard to make Mark happy—to do all the things he enjoyed, like tennis and water skiing. I showed interest in his work and I was always supportive of everything he wanted. I was never a nag and I never “let myself go,” as far as appearances were concerned. I hadn’t gained a single pound since the day we married, nor did I succumb to the temptation of sweatpants, no makeup, and a ponytail on the weekends. All of that, I did for him.
“There’s really no point in discussing this,” he said, raising his hand in my face and turning away, moving toward the door. “It’s over, Katelyn. There’s nothing you can do to change it. It’s better to make a clean, swift break, because I don’t want to be married anymore.”
He opened the door and walked out, leaving me speechless and gasping in the front hall, unable to do anything but rush to the open doorway and stare after him as he drove away.
What I didn’t know at the time was that he had left our home and driven straight to Mariah’s apartment, where he’d already begun the paperwork for a legal separation. I received the documents a month later.
“I can’t believe it,” I said to my best friend Bailey the moment she walked through my front door. “How could I not have known? Was I that oblivious to what was going on around me? Am I really that stupid? Or self-involved?”
I had called Bailey earlier to tell her what I’d just learned: that Mark had been carrying on an affair with Mariah, the young intern at his office, for an entire year while we were married.
Bailey and I had been best friends since kindergarten, and there was no one in the world I trusted more than her. It came as no surprise that she immediately hopped in the car and drove over.
“I’m a cliché,” I continued as I closed the door behind her. “He’d call a few times a week to say he had to work late, and I always believed him. I never questioned or suspected a thing. But every time he went to the gym, he was working out with her. No wonder he spent so many hours there.”
“You’re not stupid or self-involved,” Bailey replied as she removed her jacket and tossed it onto the upholstered bench next to the stairs, then walked with me to the kitchen where I’d already opened a bottle of wine. “He’s just a really good liar.”
I poured Bailey a glass and handed it to her. We regarded each other meaningfully for a moment before raising our glasses and clinking them together.
“To your freedom from a total jerk,” Bailey said as she took the first sip.
I let out a heavy sigh and covered my eyes with a hand. Normally, I wasn’t the crying type, but I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. My whole world was collapsing around me, but worst of all, the man I trusted had betrayed me in the worst possible way, and he didn’t love me anymore. He felt no desire for me, nor did he care about my feelings. It didn’t matter to him that I was emotionally devastated and crying myself to sleep every night in our king-sized empty bed. I meant nothing to him.
I let out a small hiccup as I tried to suppress my tears. Bailey set down her glass and wrapped her arms around me.
“It’s going to take some time,” she gently said, “but you’ll soon realize that you’re better off without him. He wasn’t the one for you.”
“But he was so perfect,” I replied, recalling the early years of our relationship, when we were head over heels in love. “At least I thought he was. He was everything a woman could ever want. He was unbelievably handsome and devoted—at first—not to mention that he made buckets of money. He was charming and funny and drove a great car.”
“He did look pretty good on paper,” Baily replied, stepping back and picking up her wine again.
“When we first started dating,” I said, “I remember ticking off all those little boxes on the Great Husband Material list and thinking I’d hit the jackpot, but now everything feels so superficial. What does all of that matter if you don’t really know somebody? If you’re not truly connected—in here—like you should be?”
I held my fist over my heart.
“He wasn’t the one for you,” she said, a second time.
“But is there really such a thing as the one?” I argued. “God, the world’s such a big place. How do you ever find that one person, and how do you know they’re it? I thought Mark was it for me, but most of the time, I had no idea what was going on inside his head, and he didn’t know what was going on inside of mine. I thought that was normal, because no one’s a mind reader, right? You live together, you get to know each other pretty well, but you’re still two separate people.”
We moved into the living room and sat down on the sofa, facing each other from opposite ends.
“But the whole time,” I continued, “it was like we were playing house, pretending to be each other’s one-and-only, but we weren’t really connected at all. We couldn’t have been, or I would have known he wasn’t happy.” I sat forward and set my wineglass on the coffee table.
“Is that what all marriages are like?” I asked Bailey, thoughtfully. “Is it just a big act for everyone? After the initial passion wears off, do most people just pretend to be happy and in love as the years go by? Do they stay together for appearances, or because they signed a piece of paper that said ‘until death do us part,’ and feel as if they have no other choice?”
Bailey considered that for a moment. “I wish I had the answers, but I don’t because I’m still single. All I have to go on is my parents, and they seem pretty happy—genuinely happy. I can tell by the way they look at each other sometimes. They share intimate, knowing looks and they still make each other laugh after all these years. I’m pretty sure it’s the real thing.”
“You’re lucky,” I replied. “My parents got on each other’s nerves constantly and divorced when I was fourteen, so I don’t really have much of an example to go by.”
Bailey sipped her wine. “For what it’s worth, I do think it’s possible to find your soul mate and be happy together, forever.”
I let out a sigh. “Maybe, in rare cases. And to tell you the truth, I would have been perfectly happy growing old with Mark if he’d been willing to stick it out and start a family. I’m sure he would have been a wonderful father. He would have taken our kids to the playground and taught our son how to throw a baseball. And he had such a great sense of humor. The family dinner table would have been lots of fun.”
Bailey’s eyebrows pulled together with a look of sympathy. “But he cheated on you, Katelyn, and he lied to you, so I think you need to stop idealizing him as your dream husband. He probably wouldn’t even have made it home for dinner most nights. He would have called to say he was going to be late.”
I lowered my gaze and nodded. “You’re right. I’m just dreaming. He saw something shinier and younger and he broke our marriage vows. I hate him for that—honestly, I do—but feeling that way is killing me because I did love him. Maybe I’m crazy, but in a way, I still do. I loved our life together. If only he could have loved me as much as I loved him, and wanted the same things.”
I paused a moment and felt my throat close up again.
“But was it Mark that you loved?” Bailey asked. “Or was it the idea of married life?”
I buried my face in my hands and groaned with frustration. “I don’t know, but either way, my heart is broken. He’s ruined me for anyone else, because how will I ever trust someone not to do this to me again?”
“I’m so sorry,” Bailey said with compassion. “I wish there was something I could say to make it better. To take the pain away.”
“I wish there was, too,” I replied, “but there’s nothing anyone can say.” I fought to collect myself. “I’m just going to have to get through this somehow and hope that in time, I’ll get over him and find a way to move on.”
We sat in silence for a long moment.
“Why can’t people just resist the desire to cheat?” I asked heatedly, lifting my gaze. “I understand feeling attracted to someone different—that can happen—but why not just wait for it to pass? Exercise some self-discipline, for pity’s sake. Go home and make love to your wife.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” Bailey said with a nod. “You’re absolutely right.”
“And honestly, what marriage, after seven years, is still as passionate as it was in the first two? No relationship can sustain that kind of madness for an entire lifetime. But if you’re committed to a life together, and you enjoy each other’s company, shouldn’t that be enough?”
She sipped her wine again. “Absolutely.”
My shoulders slumped with resignation. “I just wish Mark had been more willing to have a baby sooner. It might have given him something else to focus on besides himself.” I lowered my eyes and shook my head. “Poor Mariah,” I said, regarding Bailey in the warm lamplight. “I hope she knows what she’s getting into.”
Bailey gave me a knowing look and raised an eyebrow. “I highly doubt it.”
The thing I remember most about the crash—besides the strange, unfamiliar life that flashed before my eyes—was the sound of the cyclist’s wheel a few lengths in front of me, clipping the wheel beside him. My awareness of it sent my blood racing through my veins with white-hot terror because we were traveling at tremendous speeds downhill, coasting around a bend with nothing but a guard rail to keep us from flying over the edge, into the ravine below.
Both rider’s bikes began to wobble, and my heart exploded like a fireball in my chest.
Time stood still as the rider in front of me became tangled up in a jungle of spokes and wheels and went flying over his handlebars.
In a panic, I squeezed my brakes and tried to swerve around the pile-up, but everything was happening so fast, it was impossible to avoid it. Another rider went down in front of me and suddenly I was catapulting through the air, over a sea of carnage and mangled bicycles and spinning wheels.
In that instant, everything went silent and still as I flew toward the guard rail and steep cliff beyond. My husband’s face appeared in my mind, but strangely, it wasn’t Mark’s face I saw. It was another man I didn’t recognize, and yet I knew him intimately. He was a man I trusted with all my heart—a good man, a faithful man, the father of my child who loved our son as deeply as I did. Our boy’s name was Logan, and he was the most beautiful baby imaginable. After a long, hard labor, I held him in my arms and wept tears of joy and love, while my husband kissed the top of my head and told me how much he loved me.
Moments flashed by like shooting stars—incredible moments that filled me with exhilaration, euphoria and hope. Our son took his first steps at eleven months; my husband put together the swing set in the backyard; I said goodbye to Logan on the first day of pre-school, went home and cried over the loss of his sweet presence in the house during school hours.
We spent summers in Maine, where Logan played on the beach and caught hermit crabs with his cousins.
My husband—his name was Chris—gave me diamond earrings for our fifth anniversary.
I was hesitant to have another child. A part of me was still searching, longingly…for something. I felt lonely but I didn’t know why.
There was another man named Joe.
Chris was angry with me. He shouted and made threats on the phone.
Logan seemed more tired than usual. Was he coming down with something?
Constant hospital visits…needles…bloodwork…medications….
Suddenly I saw myself here in this very place, flying over the guard rail into the ravine below and waking in intensive care the next day, confused and in pain. My back was broken. I was paralyzed from the waist down, not knowing how I would care for my sick child.
No….it can’t happen like this. I have to be there for him.
Somehow, with unfathomable strength and agility, I flung my body downward and collided with the guard rail, which sent pain shooting into my skull but prevented me from tumbling down the steep rock face into the wooded ravine below.
When I opened my eyes, I was staring up at a rescue worker.
“Can you hear me?” he asked, shining a penlight in my eye. “Do you know your name? Do you know what day it is?”
While others writhed in agony on the road beside me, I managed to speak a few words. “Am I dead?”
He grinned with relief and sat back on his heels. “No, ma’am, you’re just a little banged up. You fell off your bike and hit the guard rail. Your star must have been shining this morning, because you just missed going over the edge.” He leaned forward again. “Now can you tell me your name? And what day it is?”
“It’s Friday,” I said. “And my name is Katelyn Roberts.”
“Good. Where do you live?”
I gave him my current address in Seattle—the house Mark had left to me in the divorce—then wondered suddenly if that was indeed my house, because all the images I’d seen as I was flying through the air had me living in a different house entirely. With a son named Logan and a husband named Chris. I could still see their faces vividly in my imagination.
“I must have blacked out,” I said, trying to sit up and get my bearings, but the paramedic urged me to remain on my back.
“You sure did,” he said. “You were unconscious for about fifteen minutes.”
“I was dreaming, then.” I glanced around at all the mangled bicycles and riders lying in the road with cuts and bruises, then pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead. “Am I okay?”
“You’re better than you were five minutes ago,” he replied, “but you’ll need to get checked out at the hospital. Another ambulance is on its way and we’ll have a stretcher here in a minute or two. Just stay put, okay?”
I blinked dazedly up at the sky and feared I might have broken my back, not because I was in pain, but because I remembered my wheelchair from the flashback—the black leather seat, the texture of the rubber wheels in my hands as I insisted upon rolling myself down the long hospital corridor in the recovery unit, rather than have someone else push me.
Had it been a premonition?
“I need to call my mother,” I said shakily, “and my friend Bailey.” I felt desperate to speak to them and make sure I was the person I thought I was—a single, divorced television reporter who was emotionally ravaged from her husband’s affair.
Because the life that had flashed before my eyes as I faced death had been something else entirely.
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