Gayle Fortman has built a good life for herself and her three sons in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Divorced from charismatic broadcast journalist Eric Fortman, Gayle has made a success of Daughter of the Stars, a popular bed-and-breakfast. She has even maintained a cordial relationship with Eric, covering with the boys for his absences and broken promises. Family was never a priority for her ex-husband, even when they were still married. Luckily Travis Allen, her closest neighbor, has been a loving surrogate father to the boys and her own best friend.
Then, on the eve of oldest son Jared's graduation, Eric returns, but not for the celebration. He nearly lost his life in Afghanistan. Worse, he has lost his way and his courage, and needs a place to recover. Gayle realizes this might be the last chance for her sons to establish a real bond with their father, and offers him a summer at the inn and a chance to put things right. Gayle and Eric are all too aware that the love and attraction they once shared are still there. But can the pieces of their broken lives be mended, or are they better laid to rest?
The setup of Richards's 50-somethingth book is wince-inducing: Gayle Fortman's ex-husband, hot-shot TV journalist Eric, has had a nasty run-in with the Taliban; at Gayle's invitation, he returns to the Shenandoah Valley, Va., B&B they bought together to convalesce. Eric, who is in a relationship with L.A.-based fellow journo Ariel Kensington, knows little about the three sons he left behind 12 years ago: 13-year-old Dillon, 16-year-old Noah and 18-year-old Jared. Over 500-plus pages, each boy confronts his father in his own way, while Gayle harbors hopes that Eric will stay. Sidelines include Jared's relationship with hot-to-trot Brandy Wilburn (which may jeopardize his chances at an MIT scholarship), and a neighbor, Travis Allen, waiting in the wings for Gayle. Romance Writers of America award-winner Richards gets the emotions right and writes credible dialogue when the adults speak to children. The result is a fine, light family melodrama. (July)
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June 30, 2008
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Excerpt from Touching Stars by Emilie Richards
Gayle Fortman knew a number of things for certain, but three were at the top of her list. One, that life could spin out of control unless she spent all her waking hours nudging it into place. Two, that even sternly administered nudges couldn't deter fate. And three, that if fate could not be nudged, cajoled or outrun, the only other possibility was to turn and face it squarely.
But she didn't have to smile.
Gayle wasn't smiling now. This morning no one was nearby, so she had no reason to pretend she was anything but worried about what fate had in store for her.
Eric Fortman, the man to whom she'd been married for seven years and divorced from for twelve, was coming home. Eric, the father of three sons who, through the years, had seen him more frequently on their television screen than in person. Eric, her first and only love, who still managed to make the men who volunteered to take his place pale in comparison.
Eric, who had faced fate head-on, nearly died from the experience and was now in need of the family he had abandoned.
A lump formed in her throat at that thought, and she reached for the coffee mug she had set on a table at the terrace's edge, grateful as the steaming liquid dissolved this one lump of many that had resided there for the past weeks.
From an ash tree at the edge of the clearing, a bird trilled a sunrise serenade, untroubled at the lack of a larger audience. Maybe the bird, an old companion, understood one of the other things of which Gayle was certain. If she jumped out of bed in the mornings and hit the ground running, she would fall flat on her face. So every day, alone on the terrace that overlooked the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, she stood with a cup of coffee in her hands and watched as dawn's artistic fingers drizzled copper and platinum on the rippling water.
When midsummer's humidity, fueled by dewdrops and river mist, sucked the breath from her lungs, or when treacherous sheets of ice glazed the fieldstones she and Eric had so carefully laid, she stood here. Dawn was the time when she gathered her thoughts, murmured her prayers, dreamed her dreams. She wasn't rich or self-indulgent, but she gave herself these precious minutes of solitude before she headed into the kitchen of Daughter of the Stars, the bed-and-breakfast inn she owned and operated, to begin her day in earnest.
Except that this morning, with so much to sort out and prepare for, it seemed she wasn't alone after all.
Surprised, Gayle stepped forward and squinted into the pearly light. The inn sat high on a slope, protected from waters that rose and fell according to the whims of the river gods. But when the Shenandoah raged, the low water bridges that skated back and forth over the snaking length of it were quickly submerged. Gardens planted in the alluvial soil washed downstream, and river became a verb. Everyone within miles of the North Fork understood what it meant to be rivered in.
The river was behaving this morning, but the same could not be said about a certain family member. Gayle slammed her coffee mug on the table, then she started down the terrace steps at a brisk trot. The only thing that kept her from yelling her youngest son's name was the knowledge that a shout this close to the house would wake her older ones.
"Dillon," she muttered under her breath. "Dillon... Arthur... Fortman."
The boy in the boat didn't hear her, nor had she intended for him to. He was oblivious to everything. What could he hear inside the shabby rowboat tethered to the willow that grew at the river's edge, except the singing of the current, the slapping of gentle waves against the sides of the boat?
As Gayle watched, Dillon flipped a fishing rod over his shoulder, then brought it forward, flicking his wrist to cast his line farther into the river. Despite her annoyance, she winced as the rod jerked and stuttered, and the line flopped just in front of him. She had seen her son practice this maneuver over and over, yet his movements were as awkward as if he had never held a rod. Dillon had neither the coordination nor confidence to make his cast a thing of beauty. And his thirteen-year-old body, which every day seemed to explode in new and frightening directions, was as daunting an obstacle as any she'd ever seen.
Now that she was almost to the water, the rowboat no longer looked like one of the toys her son had sailed across mud puddles as a toddler. Afraid she would startle him, she raised her voice just enough that he could hear her words.
"Dillon Fortman, what are you doing out here alone?"
He turned, and the boat wobbled alarmingly. In the early morning light his face looked pudgy and unformed, his eyes heavy-lidded.
"What are you doing here?"
She had too many sons to go on the defensive. Sometimes she thought it was a shame Dillon never had the chance to trap her the way his brothers had.
She reached the bank and slapped her hands on her hips for emphasis.