In Flirting with Pete, bestselling author Barbara Delinsky weaves together two fascinating narratives that merge in a dramatic, highly emotional, and totally unexpected conclusion, as a daughter's struggle to win the approval of the father she never knew becomes a journey of self-discovery.
Casey Ellis has arrived at a lonely place in her life. Her mother remains in a comatose state several years after a terrible accident -- and now her father has died.
Although Casey didn't really know him -- never met him, in fact -- she had held out an oblique hope that someday this man, Dr. Cornelius Unger, a celebrated psychologist, might acknowledge her. In an attempt to please him, she even went into his field and became a counselor, to no avail.
It comes as a shock, therefore, when she learns that he has left her his beautiful townhouse in Boston's exclusive Beacon Hill section. She is of half a mind to sell it and use the money to care for her mother, but then she visits the townhouse and finds it enchanting. In fact, any chance she might have had of resisting the house is lost when she falls in love with the hidden garden out back. Sweetening the deal is the maid, a woman close to her age, who cooks and cleans and wants only to please her; and the gardener, a man who is as enigmatic as he is handsome.
Yet always in Casey's mind is the question of why Cornelius Unger chose to acknowledge her in this way. Sensing that he had an ulterior motive, she searches the house and finds the first part of a manuscript that could be a novel, a journal, or a case study of one of her father's clients. The manuscript tells the harrowing story of a young woman named Jenny who was sexually abused by her father and emotionally abused by her mother. When her mother was murdered, her father was sent to prison. Now, after only six years in jail, he is about to be released, and Jenny knows she has to escape. Her way out appears in the form of a mysterious stranger, a dream of a man named Pete, who shows up on his motorcycle and offers to whisk her away.
Convinced the story is true -- even more, that her father has left this manuscript as a message for her -- Casey sets out to find the rest of the pages. With the discovery of each additional segment, she learns more about Jenny, about herself, and about Cornelius Unger, who she realizes has planned this journey for her, actually begun the first day she set foot in his house. The manuscript proves to be the key to understanding not only her father's past but also that of the man she has come to love.
Flirting with Pete reaches its climax with a startling twist, one that explores the role of imagination in our everyday lives. Through Jenny's story, Casey gains insight into her own life as she vacillates between what she wants to be true and what actually is. With unflinching grace, Barbara Delinsky delves into the human psyche as it colors contemporary family life. Flirting with Pete is sure to touch a personal chord with readers and win her even more dedicated fans.
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December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Flirting with Pete by Barbara Delinsky
The call came at three in the morning. Dan O'Keefe rushed into his uniform and drove out to the Clyde house, not because Darden Clyde demanded it or because it was Dan's job, though both were true, but because he was worried about Jenny.
He should have been used to worrying about Jenny. He had been doing it since signing on as his father's deputy eight years before, when she had been a bruised sixteen-year-old who always kept a distance from her peers and could never quite look you in the eye. He had worried when she was eighteen, when her mother died and her father went to prison, and he had worried in the six years since then, watching her become more and more of a pariah in town. He hadn't done much to help her. So he felt guilt.
That guilt was compounded now. He didn't want Darden out of prison any more than Jenny did, but he hadn't fought against it. So he felt guilty and he worried.
And then there was his shoulder. It always ached when bad things were in store. His father blamed that on his being a lousy football player, but those old injuries were long healed. Tension needled the scars, that was all. The shoulder had burned when Darden Clyde stepped from that bus onto Little Falls dirt at 6:12 the evening before. Now it ached something fierce.
He sped through a drizzle out from the center of town, straight down West Main, past houses so dark he wouldn't have known they were there if he hadn't memorized every inch of the town. A mile out, and the houses grew farther apart. Turning in at the only one with a light, he held the wheel tightly as the Jeep bounced through puddles down the Clydes' rutted drive. He parked near the kitchen door, which was ajar, took a pair of mud-streaked steps in a single stride, and pulled open the screen.
The kitchen was a tired pine -- cabinets, table, and chairs -- with pink Formica counters and linoleum so compulsively scrubbed clean as to be the color of flesh, which at that moment was the most human element in the room. Darden sat on the floor at the end of a trail of mud. He was propped against the wall under the phone, looking like a wet rat, with his hair and clothes sodden and gray. His face was streaked with blood. He was cradling his right arm, favoring his entire right side. He raised only his eyes, as if he didn't have more strength than that. Even then, those eyes held evil.
"She ran me down," he charged in an angry growl, "knocked me right out. I was lying in the rain for hours. It took more hours to crawl in here. My hip's killing me."
Dan couldn't have cared less about Darden's hip. He went to the door that led to the hall and listened. The house was dead still. "Where is she "
"How the hell do I know That's why I called you. She ran me down with my own friggin' car and took off. That's hit-and-run, theft, and driving without a license."
Dan knew that the Buick was gone. His headlights had lit up the empty garage when he had turned in off the street. But he figured Jenny might have ditched the car somewhere and come back. Yes, she told him she was leaving town and, yes, she mentioned a friend, but no one had ever seen the guy. Alone, Jenny Clyde was shy and insecure. Dan couldn't see her suddenly wandering off after all this time. Easier to see her crouched in the dark on the roof, taking her life in her hands on the rain-slick slate.
He headed that way.
"Hey!" Darden hollered after him. "Where do you think you're goin' "
Ignoring him, Dan made a fast check of the house. He braced himself against finding the kind of gruesome scene he had found there six years before, but he saw neither Jenny nor any sign of violence. Other than a wet dress on the bedroom floor and a nest of pillows, quilts, and newspaper clippings in the attic, everything was neat. The roof was deserted, as was, mercifully, the ground far below.