I’m delighted to welcome 8 authors to the blog over 4-11 July in order to celebrate the release of Her Books Presents: Book Club Picks. Each author is sharing a guest post and excerpt from their book. So stop back every day for a chance to meet Steena Holmes, Rachel Thompson, Christine Nolfi, Elena Aitken, Bette Lee Crosby, Patricia Sands, Karla Darcy, and Kathleen Valentine.
Her Books Presents: Christine Nolfi – Letter to My 20 Year Old Self
Several years ago, I became friends with the gifted and unfailingly generous Terri Guiliano Longas we both entered Indie Publishing. Today Terri invited me to have a conversation with my twenty-year-old self. Here is the guidance I’d offer the young woman happily vaulting into adulthood in 1979.
Burn Bright; Don’t Burn Out
You certainly have the world by the tail. Over a weekend in June, you earned $25,000 buying freebie coupons from airline passengers and reselling them to Proctor & Gamble in a gambit that landed your mug on the front page of The Houston Post. No one in your family was surprised by your instant fame or the revelation that your partner in crime, another college student, turned out to be a multi-millionaire from California who planned to marry you within the year.
I probably shouldn’t tell you the marriage won’t work—you’ll have ethical reservations about hiring a surrogate to bear your kids and will stick to your guns about adopting. But your doomed relationship with Jim will touch many lives. His short marriage to a barren wife will lead him, many years later, to build a foundation to aid children in developing nations. And on the edge of middle age you’ll visit one of those nations, returning to the U.S. with a sibling group you’ll call your own.
For now, don’t worry about the heartache sure to follow. Few twenty-year-olds from the Midwest land in the rarified world of Palm Springs. I’m proud of how well you’re handing it, sweets. When you find yourself in a desert mansion with twenty well-heeled Jewish kids listening to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Herman Wouk tell a story about how a small group of young people can change the world, you’ll have the sense to understand you’re witnessing greatness. You’ll stand there in your middle class shoes, this Catholic kid from the Cleveland burgs, wondering if you’ll ever learn to tell a story with as much heart and passion. That drive to better your storytelling gifts will serve you well in the decades ahead.
You’ll also instantly relate to Kirk Douglas when he shares his own middle class roots then encourages you to finish your first novel. You’ll stand in awe of his gorgeous wife Anne, and listen spellbound as she retells of working for the French Resistance during WWII. I’m glad you see past the glitz and the fame surrounding one of Hollywood’s most celebrated couples and glimpse instead what makes them truly great—their stunning creativity and desire to share their gifts with the world.
As you vault into this fairytale world, my advice is simple. Burn bright, but don’t burn out. And for Pete’s sake, stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to write The Great American Novel by the age of 25. You don’t have to drive yourself so hard. Enjoy the ride, sweetheart. An older, wiser you is waiting to greet you further down the road with open arms.
Now Ourania D’Andre will learn the Great Oak’s secrets as construction begins at the Fagan mansion. She can’t afford to turn down a job that promises to stir up the long-buried guilt—and the passion—she shares with powerful Troy Fagan.
She’s already juggling the most important job of her career with her new responsibilities as a foster mother for young Walt and Emma Korchek. And there’s a hard, older man on the construction crew with eyes void of emotion—cold and killing. The secrets of his brutal past will pose a grave threat to the children in her care. Will she find the courage to face him?
He’d always liked Dink’s. They didn’t serve liquor in Baccarat tumblers. No one discussed the financial health of his portfolio. The food was lousy but the bar featured a live band, which was good. It was easy to lose yourself in the throng of blue-collar types bemoaning dead-end jobs and DOA relationships.
Troy wasn’t sure how his parents or his sister would react if they learned he frequented Dink’s. He didn’t know why he was drawn to a dive rigged up to look like a ship marooned in the cornfields outside Lincoln. Dink’s represented the antithesis of a life of privilege, the cultivated world where he towered over his family like an awkward relation. Different. He was an aberration in the Fagan gene pool.
Jeffrey, the corpulent bartender, grinned. “Speak of the devil.” In the background, the band burst into an oldie, the Stone’s Brown Sugar. “Troy, I was just talking about your trick with the darts.”
“He was,” a man said. The guy smiled, revealing yellow teeth. “Is it true you can hit a bulls-eye without looking?”
Troy slid onto a barstool. “Jeffrey, get me a drink.” After a double shot of Jack Daniel’s appeared, he regarded the man. “Yeah, it’s true.”
“Not tonight.” He threw back the drink. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the sensation of heat gliding down his throat. He felt edgy, and it wasn’t all because of Ourania showing up late. He’d been edgy his entire life. “Some other time, pal.”
Jeffrey eased his forearms onto the bar. “C’mon, Troy—one time. I’ll buy your next drink.”
“The next two drinks.”
Further down the bar, a biker with stringy blond hair pulled out his wallet. He was nearly as big as Jeffrey, with a beer belly and SUCK ME written on his black shirt. Troy was afraid to analyze why he found the statement amusing. Probably because it was dark and offensive, like the part of his soul he kept hidden from his family—kept hidden from himself most of the time.
The biker held up a ten-note. “Prove you can hit the bull’s-eye and it’s yours.”
Troy leaned back on his barstool, his dusty jeans and air of discontent putting him on par with the biker. Maybe that was why he liked Dink’s. No one looking at him would guess he’d been a millionaire since birth, the money tucked away in accounts his parents tended like a garden of possibility. He’d never touched a cent of his inheritance and they’d never asked why. If they had, he wouldn’t have been able to offer a suitable explanation.
He nearly laughed as the biker wagged the bill through the air. It was probably the last of his paycheck. No doubt the rest had been squandered on beer and women.
Troy stood. “Anybody else think I can’t do it?” He waited as tradesmen and bikers seated all the way down the counter pulled out wallets and slapped down bills. He regarded Jeffrey. “Okay. What do I hit this time?”
The bartender flushed crimson. “Revenge is mine.” Reaching under the bar, he produced a folder stuffed with tax documents. “How ’bout sales tax?” He yanked a letter from the mess. “Columbus says I’m late with my payments. Kill it, Troy. Kill it dead.”
The biker pushed through the throng. Taking the document, he jabbed at the State of Ohio seal. “Think you can hit that?”
The seal was larger than a half dollar, an easy shot. Pleased, Troy nodded at the bulletin board on the back wall. “Tack it up and get everyone out of the way. I don’t need a lawsuit if I miss the mark and nail someone who’s standing too close. I’ve already had a bitch of a day.”
The biker cleared a path from the bar to the bulletin board, twenty paces off. On the beer soaked dais, the band stopped playing. They did whenever Jeffrey talked Troy into doing his monkey act. They ought to pay me for entertainment. Troy chuckled to himself, reconsidered. No, I ought to pay Jeffrey for getting me out of this crappy mood.
He took the dart.
Oblivious to the silence descending upon the bar, he counted off the steps to the bulletin board. With care he studied the tax notice. The state seal was dead even with his chin, which pleased him. Low shots were more difficult.
He returned to the bar. With his back to the dartboard—which drew a delighted murmur from the crowd—he poised the dart between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. He settled his attention on Jeffrey, who smiled with anticipation, but he visualized the seal. He had a near photographic memory and the honing instincts of a wolf tracking a kill. Two other strange traits bequeathed to him alone from the Fagan gene pool.
“Now,” Jeffrey said.
Troy sent the dart sailing over his right shoulder. The thud of impact, and the tavern roared with approval.
Sitting, he tapped the side of his glass. Jeffrey poured another drink. The biker, slack-jawed, gathered winnings from disenchanted patrons all the way down the bar.
Taking the cash, Troy swiveled around to examine his handiwork. Sure enough, he’d hit the center of the seal.
Immediately his sense of self-congratulation died.
A man strode to the board and yanked the dart free. He was taller than average with hair as deep a chestnut as Troy’s but with strands of grey mixed in. When he turned around, Troy blinked. The guy was working at the mansion. With the masons or the carpenters? It was impossible to recall every man hired by his subs.
With a start, he recalled seeing the man yesterday. The bastard had been talking to Ourania near the forest. She’d appeared angry. From the second story of the addition, it was too far away to hear their voices. Troy was about to go out and protect Ourania if the guy made a pass. She’d stalked off before intervention was needed.
Clearly, she hadn’t liked the guy.
It was easy to understand why. There was something vaguely combative about him, something off-center. He approached the bar, and instinct pulled Troy to his feet. They stood gauging each other like two combatants called into a battle neither understood. Troy connected with the man’s vacant eyes and sensed something missing, a spark of compassion. He knew instantly that the man didn’t land a punch quickly or often. But when he did, he aimed to kill.
Evidently he wasn’t looking for a brawl. Turning the dart between his fingers, he unleashed a voice bleached of emotion. “You’re pretty good,” he said. “But you aren’t great.”
On impulse, Troy curled his hand into a fist.
Catching the movement, the man smiled. The laughter didn’t reach his eyes. “Cool down, boy. I’m not here to fight.” He nodded at the cash heaped on the bar. “I want your winnings.”
“What?” Troy couldn’t recall the last time he’d felt so unnerved. Then his features hardened. “I’m not giving you my winnings, pal.”
“I’m not asking for a hand-out. I’ll get them fair and square.” The stranger drew his gaze to Jeffrey. Sweat glossed the bartender’s brow. “What else you got in that folder?”
Speechless, Jeffrey slid the folder across. “Ah. Here we go.” The man chose a tax form with a state seal no bigger than a dime. He regarded Troy. “I’ll hit this without looking. When I do, you’ll hand over the cash.”
Troy would’ve laughed if his gut hadn’t warned against it. It was impossible to hit something the size of a dime from twenty paces unless you were staring straight at it. Even then the odds weren’t good.
“Go for it,” he said.
He suffered a growing unease as the stranger went through the same paces he’d executed a moment ago. The man instructed the biker to put the tax form on the bulletin board. He walked up to the board slowly, measuring his steps. When he returned, he faced Jeffrey with the dart poised in his left hand exactly as Troy had done.
Jesus. Troy stiffened, his blood running cold.
But the man didn’t wait for Jeffrey’s signal. He threw the dart over his right shoulder with the precision of a robot.
And hit the center of the seal, dead on.