What would you do with a second chance at life?
Sarah Talbot thought she'd never see another birthday. But against all odds, she beat the illness that could have killed her, reopened her bedding shop, Cloud Nine, and vowed to make the most of a fresh start that few are given. With Thanksgiving approaching, Sarah charters a small plane to take her to Elk Island, a remote spot off the rugged Maine coast where she spent some of her happiest days and where she hopes to reunite with the two most important people in her life. She arrives on the island with pilot Will Burke, a kindred spirit with whom Sarah forges a bond that will give them the courage to confront the past and have faith in the future...no matter how uncertain.
Once Sarah thought happy endings occurred only in books; now she believes they can happen for anyone. And as she and Will grow closer, and something unexpectedly real blossoms between them, she has him believing it, too. But is believing it enough? Is even love enough? Can real life be lived on cloud nine? In this stunning novel, New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice tells a story you will cherish, peopled with indelible characters whose challenges are your own.
Readers sympathetic to Rice's (Blue Moon) highly sentimental take on the eternal power of love and family will enjoy this skillfully wrought tale of courage on the part of a single mother recovering from a brain tumor. Sarah Talbot, who has built a down-bedding mail-order business ("Cloud Nine") based on the products of her father's farm in Maine, finds new joy in life's simple pleasures, such as celebrating the 37th birthday she thought she'd never see. Her delight proves infectious to others in her small upstate New York community. They include Susan Burke, also known as Secret or Snow, a troubled teenager from a broken home who is still grieving over the accidental death of her brother; and Susan's father, pilot Will Burke, who is trying to cope with his failed marriage and his inability to save his son. In quiet, unassuming prose, Rice fashions a tightly paced story that is hard to put down, delicately constructing the blossoming relationship between Sarah and Will. At the same time, she effectively depicts the impact a loving person can have on an adolescent simply longing for a real connection with a caring adult. The Talbot family's island home, where Sarah's recalcitrant father and her estranged teenage son live together in a complex relationship, is idealized as a healing environment for the Burkes. The plot veers into melodrama at the end, when love and death meet in a heartbreaking scene, but Rice's message remains a powerful one: the strength of precious family ties can ultimately set things right. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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August 25, 2008
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Excerpt from Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice
Another autumn had come to Fort Cromwell, New York, and Sarah Talbot was there to see it. She sat on the front porch of her small white house, drinking apple cinnamon tea, wondering what to do next. The college kids next door were washing their car. Spray from the hose misted her face. Wrapped in a red plaid blanket, she tilted her face to the sun, and imagined the drops were saltwater and she was home on Elk Island.
A blue sedan drove slowly down the street. It looked municipal, as if it might belong to an undercover police officer or street inspector. FORT CROMWELL VNA was stenciled on the side, and when it parked in Sarah's driveway, a small, trim woman in a white coat climbed out.
Sarah smiled to see her.
"What are you doing here?" Sarah asked.
"That's a fine greeting," the visiting nurse said.
"I thought you were done with me," Sarah said. Holding her blanket with one hand, she used the other to unconsciously ruffle her closely shorn white hair.
"Done with you? My daughter would kill me. Besides, do you think that's how I treat my friends?"
"I'm your patient, Meg," Sarah said, smiling.
"Were, Sarah. Were. We're here to take you for a ride."
"A ride? Where--" Sarah began. Glancing at the car, she noticed Mimi in the backseat.
"Happy birthday, Sarah," Meg said, bending down to hug her.
Sarah reached up. She put her arms around the visiting nurse and smelled her citrus-scented shampoo. Meg's pockets jangled with keys, pens, and a stethoscope. A colorful plastic teddy bear was pinned to her lapel, just above her name tag. Sarah could feel by the new padding between her bones and Meg's skin that she was putting on weight. The hug felt good, and she bit her lip.
"How did you know?" Sarah asked when they pulled apart. Today was her thirty-seventh birthday. She was having a quiet day: no party, no cards or calls from home. In the car's back window Mimi was waving with one hand, trying to paste up a bright pink sign with the other. In silver glitter she had written MANY HAPPY RETURNS OF THE DAY!
"I read your chart," Meg said, grinning. "Come on."
Will Burke stood in the hangar, his head under the hood of the Piper Aztec. Fall was his biggest season. He needed all three of the planes he owned serviced and ready to fly. The lake region was a tourist destination, with all the cider mills and foliage trails. He operated fifteen-minute aerial tours, especially popular during the Fort Cromwell Fair. The end of October brought parents' weekends at two area colleges, with scheduled flights back and forth to New York, shuttling parents to see the big games and visit their kids.
At the sound of tires crunching over the gravel outside, he wiped his socket wrench on a blue rag and placed it on his tall red toolbox. He checked his watch: four o'clock. A friend of his daughter's had booked a quick birthday tour, up and down, a fifteen-minute scenic loop of the lake and mountain. An easy thirty dollars, and he'd be back to the tune-up in no time.
Tucking his work shirt into his jeans, Will walked outside to greet his customers. He didn't really feel like taking a break, but the afternoon was sunny, and the fresh air felt good, so he found himself smiling at the car anyway. He waved as they pulled up.
Meg and Mimi Ferguson got out. Meg was the town visiting nurse, and she yelled hello with cheerful efficiency, making Will smile a little wider. He hung back, wondering which one had the birthday. His daughter sometimes baby-sat for Mimi, and judging from what he remembered, Mimi must be about ten.
But then someone new got out of the car, a woman Will had never seen. She was small and thin, the size of an underfed teenager. Her skin was pale and translucent, like high cloud cover on a fall day, and her head was covered with blond peach fuzz. It was the way she looked at the sky that caught Will's attention: with total rapture, as if she hadn't ever seen it so blue before, or as if she couldn't believe she was about to go up in it.
"Ready to fly?" he asked.
"Which plane, Mr. Burke?" Mimi asked, excited.
"That one," he said, pointing at the two-seater Piper Cub.
"We can't all fit?" Mimi asked, disappointed.
"Now, Mimi--" Meg began.
"Sorry, Mimi," Will said. "The big plane's getting an oil change. If I'd known . . ."
"You know what, Mimi?" the woman said eagerly. "Why don't you go up for me?"
"It's your birthday flight," Mimi said. "It was my idea, and we want you to go."
"Happy birthday," Will said to the woman.
"Thank you." Again, that expression of amazement, as if she had never been so happy. She stared at him directly, and he had that shock he felt when coming upon a person he knew from somewhere, hardly at all, but who has undergone a drastic change of appearance. A weight gain or loss, a different hairstyle, a drop in health. He had seen this woman around town looking quite different. Then, for some strange reason, he pointed at the sky.