The Cross-Country Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts Series #3)

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9780783895598: The Cross-Country Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts Series #3)
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Follows the Cross Country Quilters, a group of five friends, on their quest to complete the "challenge quilt" that is symbolic of each woman's personal goals.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Chiaverini is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, five collections of quilt projects, and several historical fiction novels. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and sons in Madison, Wisconsin. To learn more, visit JenniferChiaverini.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Julia loathed retirement parties. Watching the guest of honor make the obligatory final curtain call evoked a predictable yet uncomfortable melancholy, but worse yet was the sense of the other guests' eyes upon her. She imagined their whispers: Isn't it about time we threw one of these parties for her, the dowager queen of the television drama? Doesn't she realize her time has passed?

As she raised her champagne flute to join the others in a toast to Maury, the man who had been her agent throughout her career, Julia forced herself to smile. Despite the critics' lukewarm appreciation of her talent, she knew she was a fine actress. No one would detect her dismay at realizing that she was one of the oldest people present, that she could no longer count on being the most beautiful woman in the room, that maybe it was best that she retire with some dignity instead of lingering on long past her prime.

No doubt the stars and would-be stars assembled there expected her own announcement soon, especially since Family Tree had just ended its lengthy run. She had hoped for at least another two years, but as the three endearing cherubs who played her grandchildren grew into sulky adolescents with various addictions and attitude problems, the program's once-spectacular ratings had begun a gradual but unmistakably downward slide. The final blow had come the previous winter, when the actor who played her son-in-law developed a particularly nasty infection in one of his pectoral implants. When his hospitalization forced them to shut down production for a month and show reruns during sweeps week, the studio heads decided not to renew any of their contracts. Most of the cast moved on to other projects, but for the first time in over two decades, Julia found herself facing a summer hiatus that threatened to extend indefinitely.

If she were planning to leave the business, this would seem to be the time to do it. Money wouldn't be a problem; she had invested her earnings so wisely that she wouldn't need to earn a paycheck to maintain her lifestyle -- even with the ungodly amount of alimony she had to pay her third husband. But to retire now, before she had starred in a hit movie, something meaningful and important and true -- that would be unbearable.

A handsome young waiter smiled as he offered her another glass of champagne. Drowning her sorrows didn't seem like such a bad idea, given that her series was over and Maury was abandoning her, so she placed her empty glass on the waiter's tray and took another. As she raised it to her lips, Maury caught her eye and inclined his head in the direction of his study. She took a hasty sip and nodded to indicate she would join him there. If he intended to scold her for drinking too much, she'd scold him right back. What was he thinking, retiring when she needed him so desperately?

"You look lovely," he greeted her, kissing her on the cheek as she entered the study. He closed the heavy door behind them, shutting out the noise of the party.

"Thank you, Maury. You look rather lovely yourself."

He grinned and tugged at the sleeves of his elegant tuxedo. "Evelyn insisted," he said. "I didn't want such an ostentatious send-off. I would have preferred eighteen holes and a quiet lunch at the club with a few friends."

"And disappoint everyone who wanted to bid you a proper good-bye?" Julia tried keep her voice light, but she couldn't prevent some bitterness from slipping in. "It's not like you to put your golf game ahead of your friends."

"Now, Julia, don't be like that." He placed a hand at the small of her back and guided her to a soft tapestry-covered sofa in front of the fireplace. "You're going to be well looked after. Your new agent will be able to do more for you than I have these past few years."

The apology in his voice touched her. "I've had no complaints," Julia said, resting her hand on his arm. "There's no one in this world I trust more than you."

"Thank you, Julia." Maury cleared his throat and drew out his handkerchief. "That means a lot to me." Abruptly he strode over to his desk, and when his back was turned, Julia watched him fondly as he composed himself. Maury was a good man, one of Hollywood's last true gentlemen. He had been her first husband's oldest and dearest friend. He and his wife, Evelyn, had seen her through Charles's death, and the two foolish marriages and bitter divorces that followed. He had insisted that the producers of Family Tree audition her for the role of Grandma Wilson despite their complaints that she wasn't the right type. He had unraveled hundreds of management snarls and eased countless disappointments throughout the years. Maury was a true friend in a city that knew little of friendship and everything about opportunism and greed.

He tucked his handkerchief away and picked up a thin stack of papers bound by three gold brads. "What's this?" she asked as he placed the papers in her hands.

"A little farewell present. You didn't think I'd leave you without one last great project, did you?"

That was precisely what she had thought, but she wouldn't tell him that. She glanced at the top sheet of the script for the writer's name. "Who's Ellen Henderson? What else has she done?"

"You won't have heard of her. This is her first major motion picture."

"Oh, Maury." Julia frowned and tossed the script onto the coffee table.

He took up the papers and sat down beside her. "Don't 'Oh, Maury' me before you read it. This is the project we've been searching for. It has heart, it has warmth, and it has a fantastic part for you." He placed the script in her lap and closed her hands around it. "Trust me."

"Who's directing?"

"Ellen is."

The alcohol helped flame her temper. "This is your big plan for getting me my breakthrough role? I've won four Emmys and a Golden Globe, and you give me a script written by a nobody. How dare you, after all I've sacrificed?" The last words came out almost as a sob, which she tried to disguise with another sip of champagne.

Gently Maury took the glass. "Don't hold her inexperience against her. Two years ago her student film won an honorable mention at Sundance. Plus, William Bernier is producing."

Julia raised her eyebrows at him, her anger forgotten. "I thought he had a three-picture deal with -- "

"He does. This will be one of those projects. We'll have all the perks and publicity a major studio can provide."

"That's not bad," Julia admitted, picking up the script. Even if the production fell through, Bernier would remember that she had been willing to take a chance on a neophyte director for his sake. Not every actress of her caliber would take such a risk, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a man like Bernier in her debt.

"I'll leave you alone to read it." Maury patted her knee and rose. "If you don't love it, I promise I'll go out there in front of all those people and tell them I'm canceling my retirement until I can find you the project of your dreams."

"Don't tempt me," Julia teased as he left the room, though she knew such an announcement would embarrass her more than it would him.

Alone in the restful silence of the study, she settled back on the sofa and decided to skim through the first few scenes. If nothing else, Maury's script would provide an escape from an evening of phony smiles and niceties and too much rich food. She read the cover page aloud to test the sound of the title. "A Patchwork Life," she said, and winced. She wanted Masterpiece Theatre, and Maury had given her something so hokey it could have been plucked minutes before from a Midwestern cornfield. If Bernier was half the savvy producer his reputation claimed, he would change that title before releasing a single dollar. Shaking her head and expecting the worst, she turned to the first page and began to read.

Within a few minutes she forgot the party, the humiliating dearth of offers, the patronizing responses of the few movie producers who owed Maury too much to avoid returning his phone calls. A woman named Sadie Henderson and her life in pioneer-era Kansas drew her in until they became more real than the tapestry sofa beneath her, more vivid than the music of the orchestra and the celebration just beyond the study door. She could almost taste the dust in her mouth as the script transported her to the small prairie homestead Sadie struggled to build with her husband, Augustus. Her heart broke when Augustus died, leaving Sadie with two young sons. Alone, Sadie persisted despite grasshopper plagues and drought when other neighbors gave up and returned to homes back east. She shared Sadie's grief when she sold off cherished family quilts to raise money to improve the farm. Sadie then took in sewing from her more successful neighbors, running the farm by day and stitching her neighbors' quilts late into the night. Her quilting kept the family alive until at last, years later, the farm flourished.

Long after she finished the last page, Julia held the script to her chest, lost in the details of Sadie's hardship and triumph. In Sadie's place, Julia would have crumbled in a week. She longed to meet Sadie, understand the source of her strength, and somehow harness that power for herself.

The door opened, startling her out of her reverie. "Well?" Maury asked, sitting beside her.

"It was quite good," she said cautiously, testing him. "But who would pay to see a movie like this, old ladies and nuns? It's a little -- well, I don't know. A little too squeaky-clean." She thumbed through the script, shaking her head. "Maybe you should see if Sally Fields is available."

"How can you say that?" Maury protested. "You said you wanted something meaningful, something worthy of your talent. This story has all the pathos and character development you wanted -- or at least I thought you wanted."

"Relax, Maury. I didn't say I wouldn't consider it; I'm just not sure what this will do for me."

"It'll get you an Oscar nomination, that's what it'll do," he said, but his voice had lost some of its distress.

"It does have some great monologues," she admitted, but suddenly a horrible thought struck her. "Which part did you have in mind for me?"

"Sadie Henderson, of course. Not when she's in her twenties, but after that. Bernier will get his best makeup people. I'll insist on it."

She was too relieved to notice Maury's implicit admission that, without makeup miracles, she was far too old to play anyone younger than a matriarch. For a moment she had feared that Maury intended her to play the cruel elderly neighbor who tried to buy up the Henderson farm.

"So are you interested or not? Just say the word, and I'll send this along to Anne Bancroft, Judi Dench -- "

"I'm interested," she interrupted. She refused to entertain even for a moment the thought of Dame Judi collecting a golden statuette for a role Julia had declined.

"Then I have someone I'd like you to meet." Maury crossed the room, opened the study door, and ushered a young woman inside. She was slender and dressed in what was likely her best suit, but her unfashionable haircut and lack of makeup marked her as a breed apart from all the other young women at the party. "This is Ellen Henderson."

"Miss Merchaud, it is such an honor to meet you." The young woman approached and shook her hand. "I've admired your work since I was a little girl."

Julia twisted a wince into a smile. "That long, hmm?" The young woman's grip was strong and confident, and suddenly Julia realized something. "Your name is Henderson. Are you a descendant of Sadie Henderson?"

"She was my great-grandmother. My script is based on her diaries."

"I'm so delighted to hear that," Julia exclaimed, forgetting her reserve. She so wanted to believe that Sadie had been a real woman who had lived and breathed and walked the same world she walked.

"Your writing makes Sadie live again," Maury said.

Ellen blushed at the compliment. "It's the actor who brings the script to life. Miss Merchaud, there's no one in the world I'd rather have portray my great-grandmother than you."

Years in the business had taught Julia to suspect flattery. "And why is that?"

"You have this core of strength, this resilience. I've seen it in every part you've played, ever since Mrs. Dormouse in The Meadows of Middlebury."

"You saw Meadows?" That couldn't be. Mrs. Dormouse was her first major role, but Meadows was a children's film that had quickly slipped into obscurity despite strong critical acclaim. Besides, Ellen hadn't even been born when it came out. For that matter, her parents had probably been too young to see it.

"My public library ran it during its summer film festival when I was in the fourth grade." Ellen gave her a shy smile. "I loved the book, but when I saw how actors brought all those characters to life, I was transfixed -- and transformed. Especially when I saw how you made Mrs. Dormouse more real than she had been even in my imagination. That was the moment I knew I wanted to make movies when I grew up."

Ellen's genuine admiration hit home. "I'll take the part," Julia said, without thinking of contracts or box office or who might share top billing.

Ellen's face lit up. "Oh, Miss Merchaud, thank you." She seized Julia's hand and shook it again. "You won't regret this. I promise."

Julia laughed and eased her hand free. "I'm sure it will be a delightful experience." She raised her eyebrows at Maury, who recognized his cue.

"Miss Merchaud and I have some details to discuss," he said, showing Ellen to the door. "Why don't you go on out and enjoy the rest of the party?"

Ellen looked uncomfortable. "If you don't mind -- if you won't be needing me, I think I'd rather go home. It's getting late."

As Maury promised her they'd be in touch, Julia wondered how long the awkward little wren had been forced to mingle among that crowd of peacocks as she waited for Julia to read her script.

When they were alone, Maury said, "You've just won her loyalty for life. Bernier took on the project on the condition that she would obtain a major star for the lead role."

"Really?" Julia felt a rush of pleasure at being considered a major star by a man like Bernier, but the sensation was quickly followed by anger that she had not taken the compliment in stride. Dame Judi no doubt heard such praise twenty times a day. "I wonder why she didn't mention it."

"She wanted to be sure you took the part because you truly loved her story, not because you felt sorry for her."

"If she keeps that up, this town will eat her alive." Still, the young woman's sincerity was oddly refreshing. Julia wished she had not been in such a hurry to dismiss her.

"She'll learn."

"The sooner the better, for her sake," Julia said. "So, when do we get started? Will we be shooting on location?"

"We'll have to for some of the exterior shots," Maury said apologetically.

"That's fine." Then she added, almost to herself, "Some time away would be good for me."

"I'm glad you think so, because I was planning to send you on a little trip."

"A week at Aurora Borealis?" Wouldn't that be just like Maury, to pamper her at her favorite retreat in Ojai.

"Not exactly. This will be more of a working vacation." He was smiling, but he still looked tentative. "You need to learn some new skills for this part."

"I already know how to ride a horse."

"But you don't know how to quilt, unless you've been keeping secrets from me."

"You know I don't keep secrets from you." Then she paused. "Do I r...

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781439148914: The Cross-Country Quilters: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (The Elm Creek Quilts)

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ISBN 10:  1439148910 ISBN 13:  9781439148914
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2009
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9780743202572: The Cross-Country Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts Series #3)

Simon ..., 2001
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9780452283084: The Cross-Country Quilters: An Elm Creek Quilts Novel (Elm Creek Quilts Novels)

Plume, 2002
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9781439167335: The Cross-country Quilters - An Elm Creek Quilts Novel

Plume ...
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9780743214896: The Cross-Country Quilters (Elm Creek Quilts Series #3)

Plume ..., 2001
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