Sneak Preview of Dune Road!
Those of you who are signed up for my mailing list will have received a sneak preview of Chapter One a few days ago, and now I am giving the rest of you a taster of my new hardback, Dune Road!
And since I'm doing this for you, I'm going to ask you to do something for me...
Please, please, pretty please pre-order your copy of Dune Road NOW, from any of the following booksellers:
Not only will you receive the book first, you'll also be helping me on to the bestseller lists, and I can't even tell you how much that would mean to me...
One of the unexpected bonuses of divorce, Kit Hargrove realizes, as she settles onto the porch swing, curling her feet up under her and placing a glass of chilled wine on the wicker table, is having weekends without the children, weekends when she gets to enjoy this extraordinary peace and quiet, remembers who she was before she became defined by motherhood, by the constant noise and motion that come with having a thirteen-year-old and an eight-year-old.
In the beginning, those first few months before they worked out a custody arrangement, when Adam, her ex, stayed in the city Monday to Friday and collected the children every weekend, Kit had been utterly lost.
The house suddenly seemed so quiet, the huge new colonial they had moved into when Adam got his big job in the city, the house they thought they had to have, given the entertaining he now wanted them to be doing, the investors he wanted to invite over to dinner.
She still blames the house for the ending of the marriage. A huge white clapboard house, with black shutters, and a marble-tiled double-height entrance, it was impressive, and empty. Much the way Kit felt about her life while she was living there. The ceilings werehigh and coffered, the walls paneled. Everything about the house shouted expense, and it never felt like home.
There was nothing cosy about the enormous Great Room, the expansive master bathroom suite complete with his 'n' hers bathrooms and a sitting room attached that noone ever sat in.
There was nothing comfortable about the formal living room, with its Persian rugs and hard French furniture, a room that they used perhaps three times a year, although noone lasted longer than twenty minutes in there before moving into the kitchen and crowding round the island in the one room in the house that felt welcoming and warm.
The kitchen was the room that Kit lived in, for the rest of the house felt like a mausoleum, and the day they moved in was the day it all started to go wrong.
Adam started commuting into the city during the week, leaving on the 'death train' at 5.30a.m. to avoid the crowds, getting home at 9p.m.
From Monday to Friday he didn't see the children, didn't see her. She rattled around in that huge house, growing more and more used to being on her own, resenting his presence more and more when he was back for the weekends, feeling like he was invading her space, attempting to mark a territory that, without her knowing or wanting it to, had undoubtedly become hers.
They became like strangers, ships that pass in the night, not able to agree on anything, not having any common ground, other than their children, and they'd make dinner plans on the weekend and beg people to join them, so they wouldn't have to sit in restaurants in silence, looking around the room, wondering how it was they had nothing to talk about anymore.
When they separated, then talked divorce, Kit knew the house had to be sold. And she was glad. There was nothing in the house that felt like hers, no good memories, nothing but loneliness and isolation within its walls.
During the early days she felt, mostly, lost. For so many years Adam had been her best friend, her lover and even towards the end, when they barely saw one another, she still knew he was her partner, she still always had someone to phone when she needed an answer to a question.
After the separation, during those first few days, when Adam and the kids pulled away from the house in his Range Rover, Kit would stand in the driveway watching them go, not knowing who she was supposed to be without her children, what she was supposed to do, how she was supposed to fill two whole days without mouths to feed and small people to entertain.
She lost her partner, her lover and her identity in one fell swoop.
She didn't have the energy to go out, although her social life shrank to almost nothing anyway. A single woman, it seems, doesn't have quite the same appeal in suburban Connecticut. Their couple friends initially invited her out, feeling sorry for her, or wanting to hear what had happened, but the invitations petered out, and she quickly realized that the friends she and Adam shared, their friends, would not necessarily remain her friends, because the chemistry just wasn't the same.
And she couldn't even think about dating (although it was extraordinary how many people offered to set her up on blind dates, within what felt like minutes of her separation), so she went to bed.
Days would pass when she barely emerged from the comfort of her cocoon in the grand master suite on the second floor, aided by Ambien at night and pointless reality shows on the television during the day. She once watched almost eight hours straight of Project Runway, even though she wasn't the least bit interested to begin with but by hour three she was desperate to know who was next going to be auf wiedersehned off the show by the glamazonian Heidi Klum.
And then, when they finally agreed a custody arrangement, she had the kids every other weekend, but by that time Adam had agreed to sell the house and split the proceeds, and the resulting house hunt was like a well-needed injection of energy.
They were lucky. Their house sold quickly, and Kit found a small cape on a pretty street behind Main Street, that was easily big enough for her and the children, and Adam rented a small farmhouse on the other side of town.
It took the best part of a year for Kit to start feeling like herself again after the divorce. And at the end of that time she was not the self she was during her marriage - the wife she had tried so hard to be - but the self she was before her marriage: her true self, the identity she lost in her quest to be the perfect wife.
It is extraordinary, she thinks, picking up the phone and scrolling back through the numbers to see who has called, how much her life has changed. She was a wealthy Wall Street Widow in a large house, with immaculate children dressed in French designer kiddie wear, complete with Land Rover, a wardrobe stuffed with Tory Burch and a social life that involved going to the gym with the other Wall Street Widows, then coming home to shower and change before attending a trunk show in someone's home.
The trunk shows varied. Designer stationery featuring cute colorful cartoons of women who were supposed to look like Kit and her friends, or jewelery made by a local once-high-powered-but-now-looking-to-find-her-creativity mother, charging exorbitant prices for semiprecious gemstones strung together with pretty clasps. Some held children's wear sales and displayed tie-dyed funky yoga pants for three-year-olds, sparkly navel-baring tops for toddlers.
Others filled their homes with children's clothes from the catalogues, trying to induce mothers to order copious amounts of clothes. Whatever the trunk show, what they all had in common was the aim to satisfy satisfy the instant gratification gene the Wall Street widows seemed to have.
As soon as she and Adam separated, Kit knew she needed to work, but she didn't want to go back into teaching. She had loved it while she did it - teaching at a Montessori school until she became pregnant with Tory - but she didn't want to be an employee, as such, of anyone. She wanted to make some money, and retain her freedom. Adam paid child support, and the alimony was just about enough to live, but not enough to live the life she had grown used to in Highfield, heart of Connecticut's Gold Coast.
It wasn't even as if it was a big life, not compared to some of her friends. Certainly, her life had been bigger when she was married, but one of the lovelier changes that had occurred post-divorce was that she suddenly saw no reason to feel insecure around the women who used to cause her nervous breakdowns while waiting in the corridors outside the classrooms in preschool.
She doesn't see the need to dress to impress these women anymore, because who else had she been carefully applying makeup for, popping diamond studs in her ears, carefully coordinating her ballet pumps with her bag?
She had felt those women looking her up and down, judging her, deciding whether or not she was good enough based on the cost of her handbag or the number of carats in her ears, and she had shrunk with inadequacy every time she walked in.
Since the divorce, she has found she doesn't want to wear make-up anymore. Her daily uniform has become jeans and boots in winter, and shorts and flip-flops in summer. Sure, she still dresses up on the rare occasions she has to, but now, if she bumps into one of the scary charity women in Stop and Shop and she is in shorts with her shoved back in a ponytail, she doesn't mind, doesn't fight the urge to hide behind the grapefruit stand.
She has taken up yoga, joining the new yoga center that has opened on the outskirts of town, and is finding not only is she calmer, more centred, but she has found new friends, women like her - grounded, down-to-earth women - not to mention Tracy, the charismatic owner of the yoga center, who has swiftly become one of Kit's favorite newer friends in town.
Kit has been avoiding the charity circuit, choosing instead to focus on the handful of friends she trusts and adores. Getting divorced in a small town, she discovered, was no walk in the park. For a while there, she and Adam were the subject of various gossipy lunches. The rumors shocked and upset her. In the course of one week she heard the following different reasons for their divorce:
1) That Adam had been unfaithful
2) That she had been unfaithful
3) They had run out of money so now she was leaving him
None of it was true. The truth, that they had simply grown apart, was far more prosaic, and didn't seem to make sense to people, hence the need to embellish. The rumors had hurt Kit far more than she let on, and it was only when she met Tracy at the yoga center that she became willing to expand her social circle again, beyond Charlie, her oldest friend in Highfield.
For a long time after the divorce, she had stopped being invited to things. She doubted Adam was being invited either, but that was largely because he was rarely in Highfield these days. She realized that however much people liked her while she was married, even though she was effectively single in those days because Adam was hardly ever around, it was different now that she was actually divorced. People seemed to become frightened of being around her too much, as if, she sometimes thought, some of her bad karma might rub off on them.
Not that she felt as if she had bad karma. Not anymore. She felt as if she had had bad karma during her marriage, when she would go to bed at night and feel that she was drowning in loneliness. Since the dust settled, and once the children were fine again, she has woken up every morning looking forward to the day, trusting that it will be good, knowing that she has finally discovered who she is, and with a sense of peace.
When Kit first saw the house she bought for herself and the kids after the divorce, she fell in love. Instantly. White clapboard with sea-green shutters that had little starfish cut-outs, the window boxes bursting with impatiens that tumbled over the sides, it was the prettiest house she had ever seen.
She recognized that she was falling in love with a lifestyle rather than with a house, but she didn't care. She wanted that lifestyle. She saw herself swinging on the porch swing, hosting dinners around that kitchen table, kneading dough on those marble countertops.
The kids would curl up on the huge, squishy, mushroom-colored sofas as a fire blazed in the grate and she merrily made dinner while sipping a glass of ice-cold Pinot Grigio, and the three of them would all live happily ever after.
It was something of a shock to do the walk-through on the day of closing, to realize that without the smells of cinnamon buns rising gently in the oven, the sounds of soft jazz filling the air, without the mushroom-colored sofas, softlylit table lamps and fresh blue and white curtains, the house was just . . . a house. A nice house, admittedly, but Kit couldn't help but feel a swell of disappointment.
She knew the sellers were taking the furniture, of course, but she didn't think it would make the house feel so . . . different.
By the next morning, she had forgotten that. She had forgotten it because she woke up after their first night in the house, the sun streaming through the curtainless windows, and realized that it was hers. All hers. And more than that, her life was hers.
There was something so different about living in a small, manageable house, living a life that felt real, rather than a pretense. Never again would she have to squeeze into high heels and dresses because that's what her husband liked. Never again would she have to sit through boring dinners with people she didn't understand, people with whom she had nothing in common, because Adam was doing a deal with them, or needed to befriend them, or impress them.
She didn't have to take the kids on vacation to only the smartest and best hotels, hotels that always intimidated her, where she never felt she belonged. For the first time in a long time - fifteen years to be exact - Kit didn't have to please anyone other than herself.
Of course there were the children too - dramatic, strong-willed Tory, and easy, easy-going Buckley, and she always had to consider them, but she didn't have to change her way of living, change her life for them.
And while she knew there would be times when she would feel vulnerable and lonely and scared, she also knew that the more time that passed, the less she would feel those things, and when she did, she would breathe through the feeling and remind herself it always passed.
So she woke up, made coffee and climbed back into bed, sipping slowly and looking out of the window at the tree tops, refusing to be daunted by the boxes all over the house, relishing the feeling of being free.
They spent the day unpacking, Tory miserably until Kit promised her a coll daybed from PB Teen, and then, towards dusk, there was a banging on the door and it was flung open before anyone had a chance to even get up. A small, wiry, very tanned old woman with long white hair in a ponytail came striding into the living room holding a stack of plates with a pie balanced precariously on the top.
'I'm Edie,' she said. 'I live next door in the purple house.' Tory caught Buckley's eye and suppressed a grin - they had been wondering who lived in the bright purple eyesore next door. 'And before you ask, no, I won't paint it. I love the color purple and you'll get used to it.'
'I . . . I hadn't noticed,' Kit lied.
'I've brought you a home-made rhubarb and cherry pie -' Edie put the plates down on the counter - 'and some plates for us to eat it off as I figured you wouldn't have unpacked yet.'
'You need a job,' she said, half an hour later, after the group had swapped small talk and licked their plates clean. She peered at Kit as Kit pretended not to be disconcerted by this tiny, white-haired bundle of energy who had made herself instantly at home.
'I do?' Kit said, wondering how Edie had known; for it was true, it was just that Kit hadn't got around to telling anyone.
'Why yes,' Edie got up, opened the fridge, found a carton of orange juice and helped herself. 'It's not good for all you young girls to give up your jobs once you've had children. You get bored and have far too much time to worry about things you don't have to worry about. Everyone should work, in my opinion. We need to exercise our brains just as much as our bodies.'
'Do you exercise?' Tory asked, somewhat mesmerized by Edie.
'I most certainly do,' Edie said, flexing her muscles. 'I do Pilates twice a week and play tennis every weekend.'
'How old are you?' Tory said.
'Tory!' Kit instantly admonished. 'You can't ask that! It's rude.'
'Not at all,' Edie dismissed Kit. 'I like people who speak their minds. I'm eighty-three years young.'
'Wow!' Tory said. 'You look amazing.'
'You see?' Edie beamed with delight. 'That's because I take care of my body and my mind.'
'So what do you do?' Kit couldn't help but ask.
'I'm a realtor.' Edie's chest puffed up with pride. 'The star of the Burton Holloway group for the last fifty years.'
'Fifty years!' Tory, at thirteen, couldn't fathom doing anything for that long. 'That's a lifetime.'
'Almost!' Edie chuckled. 'I'm going to speak to my friend Robert McClore about you. He's been looking for an assistant for ages, and he keeps trying out these silly young things who haven't a clue how to use their initiative and don't have a bone of common sense in their bodies. He needs someone like you. Know how to type?' She examined Kit with a beady eye.
'I . . . of course.' Kit grinned, thinking, Robert McClore! The famous writer! This was the most exciting thing to have happened to her since she once sat in the same restaurant as Ray Liotta.
Kit had realized that knowing she would have to get a job was very different to actually finding one. In the early days, she didn't have the strength to actively look, being too busy packing up the house, making lists of what was hers and what was Adam's. Too busy sorting out the books into his and hers piles, wondering what on earth to do with the Duxiana bed, and all the extra furniture that Adam didn't want, the furniture that wouldn't fit into a new, smaller house.
Too busy running, so she wouldn't have to stop and deal with the anxiety, the fear. Could she do this by herself? Was she really that strong?
But once she bought this house, she knew she would have to find something, and Edie's suggestion was a blessing in disguise.
Robert McClore is probably the most famous person to live in Highfield. Neighbouring towns have their share of movie stars and rock gods, but Highfield has one of the biggest names in literature today.
He is talked of in the same breath as Clancy, Patterson or Grisham. He is one of the giants in men's commercial fiction, and the airports stack his small, meaty paperbacks high every summer.
He is read by all the men who profess not to enjoy fiction. The men who read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, who, if they read books at all, read biographies, history books, business tomes, and who only ever pick up a blockbuster when they're flying to sandy destinations with their wives and families.
His books have been turned into movies, each one more successful than the last, and the script for The Last Landing is still studied by film students all over the country, lauded as an example, as the example, in fact, of the perfect thriller.
He moved to Highfield thirty-five years previously with his wife, Penelope, a model. They were part of the beautiful crowd, the artists and writers who summered in Highfield, who drove down on Friday nights with the backseats of their sporty little convertibles stuffed with cases of champagne.
They were the golden couple, until Penelope disappeared from their yacht while they were sailing, with friends, in the Greek islands during the summer of 1978. It was the biggest story of the year, and to this day there are people who believe Penelope was murdered, that there was far more to the story than met the eye.
Their friends, it was true, were there. Plum Apostoles, who had made a fortune in shipping, was rumoured to have been having an affair with Penelope. Plum's wife, Ileana, was thought to have been having an affair with Robert. Plum had, it later came out, served time in prison for assault. There was talk of huge rows, drunken parties, but Robert never spoke about it again.
Nor did he remarry. The parties and the high life stopped as soon as Penelope disappeared, and he became something of a recluse.
Hillpoint, the grand old house perched at the top of Dune Road, overlooks the calm waters of Long Island Sound. The house itself is approached by a long, gravel driveway. As the electric gates swing noiselessly open, and you round the corner of the driveway, you catch a glimpse of the large white columns of the house before it comes into view in its entirety.
Gracious, regal, impressive, it is a house that is often whispered about, for few have actually seen it, few have ventured beyond those intimidating electric gates. Some of the mothers that Kit knows, women who have grown up in Highfield, say they went trick or treating there as children, that Robert and Penelope left the gates open every Halloween, when they threw huge parties for all their New York friends, and they let anyone come, lavishing delicious gourmet candy on all the local neighbourhood children.
The house was designed by Cameron Clarke in 1929, but it is a house that hasn't been seen for years. Aside from the people who take care of Robert McClore, few are allowed beyond the gates.
Robert McClore spends his time writing a book a year, consulting on the movies, and occasionally, very occasionally, appearing at an event in town to benefit one of the local charities. His name appears far more often than he does, as a generous donor to everything charitable, to being one of the giant supporters behind the rebuilding of Highfield Library.
Kit sat in her kitchen and looked at her new neighbor.
'Of course I know how to type,' she said, despite not having typed for many, many years. Still, nothing that a spot of practice wouldn't cure.
'Know how to read?' Edie peered at Kit with a twinkle in her eye, while Tory burst out laughing.
'Is Robert McClore really looking for an assistant?' Kit asked.
'Yes, and he'd like you.'
'How do you know? You don't know me.'
'No, but I like you already, and that's always a good sign.'
'How do you know him?'
Edie smiled. 'I was his . . . well, not assistant, exactly . . . more like his Girl Friday. Oh it was hundreds of years ago, when he and his wife, gorgeous thing, first moved to Highfield.I used to cook for them, do a spot of cleaning, and even go on movie sets with him. It was quite the life.'
'It sounds amazing. Did you do it for long?'
A look of sadness came into Edie's eyes. 'A while. Until Penelope died. You know the story?'
Kit nodded. Everyone in town knew the story.
'Robert was a changed man when he came back. He went into hiding for a while, hence that ridiculous reputation he has as a recluse.'
'You mean he's not?'
'Robert!' Edie barked with laughter. 'He loves people! He's just private. There's a big difference. He couldn't stand the attention after Penelope's death, and refused to let anyone help him. Including me. That's when I decided to get my realtor's licence instead.'
'But you're still in touch?'
'Of course! I shall ring him tonight when I get home.'
Kit chose her clothes carefully, but it all went horribly wrong at the last minute. You're going for an interview to be an assistant to a novelist, she told herself, as she glared at her black skirt suit in the mirror, not an accountant.
She whipped off her suit and put on black pants and a blue shirt, then tore the pants off and pulled her chinos on. Too casual. Oh God. What on earth was she supposed to wear? She wanted to be professional, but not too professional. Casual, but not too casual.
In the end she settled on brown pants and a blue cashmere sweater with a pretty scarf, and all the way over to Robert McClore's house she fought the urge to run home and change.
'You will be fine.' Edie was driving, and kept chuckling to herself about how nervous Kit was. 'He's terribly nice, and you'll charm him. You'll see.'
But as soon as they pulled through the gates and Kit saw, for the first time, the grandeur of the house, she almost went to pieces.
Edie bypassed the front door and marched straight in the back - 'He never keeps it locked,' she whispered to Kit, 'but don't tell anyone' - striding through the kitchen and calling out a loud, 'Hellooo?'
'Edie!' It was slightly surreal, this man who was so famous suddenly standing before her. He gave Edie a huge hug, then turned to Kit with a warm smile on his face.
'I'm Robert,' he said. 'You must be Kit.'
She was instantly disarmed by his warmth, although now, eight months later, she knows that it is only because of Edie that he was relaxed; more often, with strangers, he is polite and always gracious, but distant - the price of fame meaning he has to truly trust before he can let anyone get close.
And so, for the past eight months, Kit has been his assistant. Initially, she went in three days a week, just for three hours, to tidy up, answer fan mail, sort out his bills. Robert McClore wasn't around much while she was there. She'd be in the large office downstairs, off the living room, while he was in his writing office, a former sunroom attached to the side of the house.
She would knock tentatively when she needed him, intimidated by his greatness, but slowly they have began to chat, slowly they began to relax with one another, and now he brings her coffee when he makes his, and sits in the 1920's art deco armchair in her office, chatting to her about life.
Three hours a day became five hours a day, four days a week, and Robert told her, just the other day, he didn't know what he did before she came along. Her chest swelled with pride.
Finally, for the first time since the divorce, it feels like everything in life is in place. Her kids are settled, her home is calm, she loves her job. She wakes up every morning and cannot believe how lucky she is.