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Hope Dunne has carved out a name for herself as a top photographer, known the joys of marriage and motherhood and the heartbreak of loss. In her chic SoHo loft, Hope is content with her life, finding serenity and beauty through the lens of her camera. She isn’t looking for a man or excitement. But these things find her when she accepts a last-minute assignment to fly to London at Christmas and photograph one of the world’s most celebrated writers – an Irish-American author known for novels of thrilling literary darkness. To Hope’s surprise, Finn O’Neill exudes warmth and a boyish charm. Enormously successful, he is a perfect counterpoint to Hope’s quiet, steady grace – and he’s taken instantly by her. He courts her as no one ever has before, whisking her away to his palatial, isolated Irish estate. Hope finds it all, and him, irresistible. But soon cracks begin to appear in his stories: gaps in his history, lies and bouts of jealousy unnerve her. Suddenly Hope is both in love and suspicious, caring and deeply in doubt, and ultimately frightened of the man she loves. Alone, thousands of miles from home, her mind is reeling. Is it possible that this adoring, attentive man – like the characters in his novels – is hiding something even worse? The spell cast by a brilliant sociopath has her trapped in his web, too confused and dazzled to escape, as he continues to tighten his grip on her.
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Danielle Steel has been hailed as one of the world’s most popular authors, with over 590 million copies of her novels sold. Her many international bestsellers include Happy Birthday, 44 Charles Street, Legacy, Family Ties, Big Girl, Southern Lights, and other highly acclaimed novels. She is also the author of the story of her son Nick Traina’s life and death.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Hope Dunne made her way through the silently falling snow on Prince Street in SoHo in New York. It was seven o'clock, the shops had just closed, and the usual bustle of commerce was shutting down for the night. She had lived there for two years and she liked it. It was the trendy part of New York, and she found it friendlier than living uptown. SoHo was full of young people, there was always something to see, someone to talk to, a bustle of activity whenever she left her loft, which was her refuge. There were bright lights in all the shops.
It was her least favorite time of year, December, the week before Christmas. As she had for the past several years, she ignored it, and waited for it to pass. For the past two Christmases, she had worked at a homeless shelter. The year before that she had been in India, where the holiday didn't matter. It had been a hard jolt coming back to the States after her time there. Everything seemed so commercial and superficial in comparison.
The time she had spent in India had changed her life, and probably saved it. She had left on the spur of the moment, and been gone for over six months. Reentry into American life had been incredibly hard. Everything she owned was in storage and she had moved from Boston to New York. It didn't really matter to her where she lived, she was a photographer and took her work with her. The photographs she had taken in India and Tibet were currently being shown in a prestigious gallery uptown. Some of her other work was in museums. People compared her work to that of Diane Arbus. She had a fascination with the destitute and devastated. The agony in the eyes of some of her subjects ripped out your soul, just as it had affected hers when she photographed them. Hope's work was greatly respected, but to look at her, nothing about her demeanor suggested that she was famous or important.
Hope had spent her entire life as an observer, a chronicler of the human condition. And in order to do that, she had always said, one had to be able to disappear, to become invisible, so as not to interfere with the mood of the subject. The studies she had done in India and Tibet for the magical time she was there had confirmed it. In many ways, Hope Dunne was an almost invisible person, in other ways, she was enormous, with an inner light and strength that seemed to fill a room.
She smiled at a woman passing by, as she walked through the snow on Prince Street. She was tempted to go for a long walk in the snow, and promised herself she might do that later that evening. She lived on no particular schedule, answered to no one. One of the blessings of her solitary life was that she was entirely at liberty to do whatever she wished. She was the consummate independent woman, she was enormously disciplined about her work, and in dealing with her subjects. Sometimes she got on the subway, and rode uptown to Harlem, wandering through the streets in T-shirt and jeans, taking photographs of children. She had spent time in South America, photographing children and old people there too. She went wherever the spirit moved her, and did very little commercial work now. She still did the occasional fashion shoot for Vogue if the layout was unusual. But most of the magazine work she did was portraits of important people who she thought were worthwhile and interesting. She had published a remarkable book of portraits, another of children, and was going to publish a book of her photographs from India soon.
She was fortunate to be able to do whatever she wanted. She could pick and choose among the many requests she got. Although she loved doing them, she only did formal portraits now once or twice a year. More often now, she concentrated on the photographs she took in the course of her travels or on the street.
Hope was a tiny woman with porcelain white skin, and jet-black hair. Her mother had teased her when she was a child and said she looked like Snow White, which in a way, she did. And there was a fairy-tale feeling about her too. She was almost elfin in size, and unusually lithe; she was able to fit herself into the smallest, most invisible spaces and go unnoticed. The only startling thing about her was her deep violet eyes. They were a deep, deep blue, with the slightly purple color of very fine sapphires from Burma or Ceylon, and were filled with compassion that had seen the sorrows of the world. Those who had seen eyes like hers before understood instantly that she was a woman who had suffered, but wore it well, with dignity and grace. Rather than dragging her down into depression, her pain had lifted her into a peaceful place. She was not a Buddhist, but shared philosophies with them, in that she didn't fight what happened to her, but instead drifted with it, allowing life to carry her from one experience to the next. It was that depth and wisdom that shone through her work. An acceptance of life as it really was, rather than trying to force it to be what one wanted, and it never could be. She was willing to let go of what she loved, which was the hardest task of all. And the more she lived and learned and studied, the humbler she was. A monk she had met in Tibet called her a holy woman, which in fact she was, although she had no particular affinity for any formal church. If she believed in anything, she believed in life, and embraced it with a gentle touch. She was a strong reed bending in the wind, beautiful and resilient.
It was snowing harder by the time she got to the front door of her building. She was carrying a camera case over her shoulder, and her keys and wallet were in it. She carried nothing else, and she wore no makeup, except very occasionally bright red lipstick when she went out, which made her look more than ever like Snow White. And she wore her almost blue-black hair pulled straight back, either in a ponytail, a braid, or a chignon, and when she loosened it, it hung to her waist. Her graceful movements made her look like a young girl, and she had almost no lines on her face. Her biography as a photographer said that she was forty-four years old, but it was difficult to assess her age and it would have been easy to believe she was far younger. Like the photographs she took, and her subjects, she was timeless. Looking at her, one wanted to stop and watch her for a long time. She rarely wore color, and dressed almost always in black, so as not to distract her subjects, or in white in hot climates.
Once she unlocked the front door to her building, she bounded up to the third floor with a quick step. She was cold, and happy to walk into her apartment, which was considerably warmer than it had been outdoors, although the ceilings were high and sometimes the wind crept through the tall windows.
She turned on the lights, and took pleasure, as she always did, in the spartan decor. The cement floor was painted black, the white couches and inviting chairs were a soft ivory wool, and nothing about the decor was intrusive. It was so simple it was almost Zen. And the walls were covered with enormous framed black and white photographs that were her favorites among her work. The longest wall was covered with a spectacular series of a young ballerina in motion. The girl in the photographs was exceptionally beautiful, a graceful young blond dancer in her teens. It was a remarkable series, and part of Hope's personal collection. On the other walls were many photographs of children, several of monks in India at the ashram where she had lived, and two enormous ones of heads of state.
Her loft was like a gallery of her work, and on one long white lacquer table, set on sponge-covered trays, all of her cameras were lined up in almost surgical order. She hired freelance assistants when she did assignments, but most of the time she preferred to do all her own work. She found assistants helpful, but too distracting. Her favorite camera was an old Leica she had had for years. She used a Hasselblad and Mamiya in the studio as well, but she still loved her oldest camera best. She had started taking photographs when she was nine. She had attended a specially designed photography program at Brown at seventeen, and graduated at twenty-one with honors, after doing a spectacular senior project in the Middle East. She had worked for a year as a commercial photographer after she graduated, and then retired for a dozen years, with only the occasional very rare assignment, when she married shortly after graduating from Brown. She had been back at work for the last ten years, and it was in the past decade that she had made her mark in the world and become increasingly well known. She had been famous by the time she was thirty-eight, when MOMA in New York showed an exhibit of her work. It had been one of the high points of her life.
Hope lit candles around the room and left the lights in the loft dim. Coming home to this room always soothed her. She slept on a little platform, up a ladder, on a spare narrow bed, and loved looking down at the room and the feeling of flying as she fell asleep. The loft was completely different from anywhere she had ever lived, and she loved that about it too. Because she had always feared it so much, this time she had embraced change. There was something powerful about accepting what frightened her most. Her private nemeses were loss and change, and rather than running from them, she had learned to face them with dignity and strength.
There was a small black granite kitchen at the back of the loft. She knew she had to eat, so eventually she wound up there, and heated up a can of soup. Most of the time, she was too lazy to make much of a meal. She lived on soups and salads and eggs. On the rare occasions when she wanted a real meal, she went to some simple restaurant alone and ate quickly, to get it over with. She had never been much of a cook, and made no pretense of it. It had always seemed like a waste of time to her, there were so many other things ...
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