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New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice returns to Hubbard’s Point, Connecticut, and to characters from her beloved Beach Girls, to tell the haunting story of a close-knit community grappling with a heartbreaking mystery, and of a woman rebuilding her world and reclaiming a love she believed lost a lifetime ago.
A face on a poster, a name in the news, an inexplicable tragedy. A promising young man goes out one warm summer evening and is found dead—murdered—less than twenty-four hours later. No motive. No clues. No answers. Most people reflect briefly on the disturbing headlines, perhaps say a silent prayer of safely removed sympathy, and go on with their lives. But what if the young man was your son? Or your true love?
Nearly a year after the death of eighteen-year-old Charlie, singer-songwriter Sheridan Rosslare still hasn’t played a note of the music that was once her life’s passion. Tucked away in the beach house where she raised her only child, she lives with her memories of him and a grief too big to share even with her beloved sisters or her dear friend Stevie Moore. Nor can Stevie comfort Charlie’s heartbroken girlfriend, Nell Kilvert, whom she regards as a daughter. Nell won’t rest until she finds out what really happened to the boy she loved. Out of the past she summons a man she believes cares enough, and is tough enough, to uncover the truth—Sheridan’s long-ago soul mate, Gavin Dawson.
Now Gavin’s boat, the Squire Toby, sits anchored in the harbor within sight of the window of the woman he once loved, still loves, and will always love. Sheridan, too, had once fervently believed in the miraculous power of love and healing, forgiveness, connection, and reconnection. But that faith died along with her son....
Unfolding among the Hubbard’s Point people and places that fans have come to treasure, and replete with feeling and mystery, Last Kiss weighs the power of the past to heal as well as wound, in a captivating tale of love, loss, and redemption that no reader will ever forget.
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Luanne Rice is the author, most recently, of Last Kiss and Light of the Moon, among many other New York Times bestsellers. She lives in New York City and on the Connecticut shore.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
NELL KILVERT LAY BACK ON THE GRASS, HEARING THE breeze rustle the leaves overhead. Her bikini was salt-and sun-faded, a pretty shade of rose; around her waist she wore a beach towel, still damp from her last swim. Around her ankle she wore a strip of cloth, so ragged it looked ready to fall off. Charlie had tied it there three hundred and fifty-something days ago, just before leaving Hubbard's Point for college, at the end of last summer.
Her long hair was dark brown. She had cat eyes: green, almond-shaped, unblinking. Right now there were tears pouring down out of them, into her ears, as she stared up at the gorgeous blue sky.
"It's so beautiful," she whispered.
"I know. So why are you crying?"
"Because he can't feel it . . . he'll never feel summer again."
"Why do you come here?"
"So I can be near him."
The boy—his name was Tyler—stared at her. She knew he was there, kneeling beside her, but she blocked him out. She focused completely on Charlie. Closing her eyes, she could imagine him right here with her.
The cemetery was quiet. Located behind Foley's Store, right in the middle of Hubbard's Point—between the train bridge that separated the beach from the rest of the world, and the Sound—it was filled with tall trees. And it was filled with graves. One of them was Charlie's.
Nell lay on the ground by Charlie's headstone. She came here often, at least once a day, before or after work at Foley's, carefully timing her visits to avoid seeing his mother. Not that she didn't like Charlie's mother—Nell visited Sheridan often. They would sit quietly in the dark house, sometimes talking, sometimes not. Nell would look at the silent guitars and remember how when Charlie was young, his mother had filled their house with music. Nell craved those times with Charlie's mother, her companion in grief. But here at the grave, Nell knew Sheridan needed her own time with her son.
"Don't you ever get spooked here?" Tyler asked, so close she could feel his breath on her forehead.
"Why would I?" Nell asked.
"Well, because it's a graveyard."
"Once someone you love dies, you're not scared of graveyards," she said.
"Huh," he said, sounding unconvinced. An old tree creaked in the breeze, making him jump. She knew he'd like to book out of there, head down to the sun and fun on the beach, but he wouldn't leave her.
Nell had an effect on boys. It mystified her. It had started with Charlie, of course. She'd loved him as long as she'd known him. They'd spent the last few summers together, right here at Hubbard's Point. He was the wildest boy at the beach, like a mustang running free. No one had been able to tame him, no one but Nell. That's why he'd called her the Boy Whisperer. . . .
It still fit. Even though the beach boys all knew she was still in love with Charlie, they wanted to be with her. They wanted to tell her their secrets. She thought maybe it was the whisper of tragedy that surrounded her. Her mother had died when she was young. Her father had lost it big-time, until Nell had brought him together with Stevie Moore, the artist most people considered a witch. Now Stevie was virtually Nell's stepmother, and the beach boys probably thought her witchiness had rubbed off on Nell. They dreamed of sex spells. And after Charlie's murder, the boys had come flocking even more.
But Charlie had had the magic, too. He was the great-grandson of Aphrodite, the doyenne of Hubbard's Point beach magic. Her magic book had been the source of many of Charlie's mother's best songs, but not the inspiration for the film Charlie had wanted to make. As much as he disavowed it, Charlie had inherited his family magic; Nell used to tease him, that he had it in his kiss. The other beach boys wanted to make Nell forget Charlie's kisses. . . .
Nell lay beside his headstone, staring down her right leg at the strip of beach towel he'd tied around her ankle last summer. It was all she had left of him. She wondered how he'd feel to know about the other boys. He'd never been the jealous type in life. He hadn't needed to be, and he still didn't now. He was her only one.
She closed her eyes, and even with Tyler beside her, she let herself dream of Charlie. He'd been so comfortable in his own skin, in his own life. He'd wear jeans and a T-shirt, even when they were supposed to get dressed up for candlelit beach dinners at their parents' houses. Well, his mother's. His father was a no-show.
That's what Charlie had called him. Just one of those dads who bailed on their kids, no real explanation other than the fact they didn't feel like showing up to raise their children—the opposite of Nell's dad. Charlie was casual, tough, a little hardened by growing up without a dad. He'd had to figure things out by himself.
But oh . . . he'd figured them out so well.
He was competent. Nell found it sexy as hell, too—the way he could do anything he set his mind to. He could fix her car, catch huge stripers, identify raptors, film equally well using digital or Super 8. He had an artist's eye but a rugged soul. His mom had gently steered him into therapy, to deal with his father's absence, and Nell knew he'd gotten into the habit of figuring himself out. He was rigorous with himself.
He'd been so practical, while his mother and her family had been so driven by magic. His mother was in touch with the spiritual, but Charlie had insisted on staying real, right in the world as it is. It was how he'd survived the disappointment of missing a father he never really knew. His mother had made up for it the best she could, trying to heal Charlie's deep scars. And they were deep, Nell knew—but he'd learned to take care of himself.
He'd think about things. That might sound so normal, so regular, but what eighteen-year-old boys do that? He'd really consider his choices, and if he did something he was sorry for, he'd always make it right. He was introspective while at the same time being tough. He was very physical, ran cross-country in school. He'd been captain his senior year, and he was known for taking the team on adventures.
He'd run the team into Cockaponset State Forest, straight into the sixteen thousand acres of woods, made them find their way out. Another time he'd led them across the Connecticut River, over the catwalk beneath the Baldwin Bridge, one hundred feet up above the water.
He'd loved the woods, he'd loved rivers, he'd loved running. And he'd loved Nell.
They'd kiss. He'd make her tell him what felt good to her. She liked having her hair brushed, and he'd done that for her. Her big, muscular boyfriend had sat next to her, on the mattress in the attic, brushing her hair. She could almost feel it now, the way he'd kiss her neck while he was doing it. The memory made her tremble, because it felt so real and she knew it wasn't, and she knew she'd never feel it again.
"Oh," she whispered.
Tyler leaned over, touched her lightly. He stroked the inside of her left arm, but that's not what gave her goose bumps.
"What are you thinking?" he asked.
"I can't talk about it," she said.
"Charlie, right?" he asked, sounding disappointed.
"Of course. . . . And about where I have to be," she said, sitting up.
Grabbing Tyler's wrist, she checked the time on his watch. Nearly four. That gave her an hour to get to her appointment—five o'clock, an hour from right now. She'd timed it for her day off from waitressing at Foley's. She'd seen the big boat come in last night. Partying at Little Beach with the other kids, she'd watched it round the Point and drop anchor off the breakwater.
She stood up, brushing dry grass from her sweaty skin. Tyler put his arm around her, but she gave him a look and he dropped it. He stepped back, giving her a moment. She stared at Charlie's headstone, at the name and dates. It seemed impossible in ways too huge to grasp, that last summer he had been her boyfriend and so alive and so strong, and that this summer he was buried in the ground, and all that remained were words carved in stone. The breeze made her shiver.
The shiver went deep, into her bones. She backed away, then headed toward the gravel path with Tyler, toward the beach and the boat and what she hoped would turn out to be the answer.
SHERIDAN WORE HER OLD straw hat and yellow gloves, kneeling in the garden and digging in the earth. The soil was stony, but things grew anyway. It amazed her, the way the most beautiful flowers could take hold of so little, bloom all summer long. She grew roses and morning glories, clematis and delphinium. Day lilies, orange and yellow, bloomed along the privet hedge.
Her favorite patch was the least showy: the herb garden. A raised stone circle, no bigger than a beach umbrella, was filled with rosemary, sage, wild thyme, mint, lemon verbena, lavender, and burnet. Her grandmother had used these herbs to make magic. Blind and unable to read, she had gotten Sheridan and her sisters to read the spells from her magic book. So many of the spells had involved plants right here in the round garden.
Some of the herbs came back year after year: reseeded themselves, survived the harsh winter and salt wind. Others Sheridan would replant—she'd take trips to the farm stand, buy flats of herbs, and bring them home.
Long ago, Charlie had helped her in the garden. Those times were engraved in her memory—even now, she could feel him right here with her—four years old, digging in the soil with his little spade. She could see him so clearly, laughing and pretending he was a pirate burying his treasure.
No, sweetheart, she'd say, watching him empty his pocket, pour pennies into the hole he'd just dug. Don't bury your ice cream money. Plant the herbs instead.
But, Mom, he'd say, pirates alwa...
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Book Description World Pubns, 2008. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX1223004473