In this beautifully crafted and uplifting novel, the author of the acclaimed Spinning Forward welcomes readers back to the lush Florida island of Cedar Key, where the vibrant shades of hibiscus and azaleas are the perfect backdrop to a colorful, quirky community...
In the four years since Monica Brooks moved to Cedar Key, she's found a home, a husband, and now a business to love. Taking over her mother's bustling knitting shop is a welcome challenge, but Monica's exciting plans are waylaid by unexpected news. Her husband's ex-wife has been deemed an unfit mother, and custody of their eight-year-old daughter, Clarissa, is to be transferred to Adam.
Going straight from honeymoon to motherhood--especially when she's unsure she wants children--leaves the normally even-keeled Monica doubting herself at every turn. Yet in a place like Cedar Key, nobody goes it alone. With help from friends and relatives, Monica, Clarissa, and Adam begin to forge a close-knit family of their own--one that will need to be strong enough to withstand all the surprises set to unravel...
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Kensington Publishing Corporation
October 26, 2010
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Excerpt from Casting About by Terri DuLong
When I passed the phone to Adam, I had no idea that the caller's information would force me to question my insecurity on motherhood. Adam and I had only been married for six months. Rather than focusing on starting a family, my time and energy had been directed toward purchasing my mother's yarn shop, Spinning Forward. I was still a new bride, for goodness sake, so being a mom was the last thing on my mind. "It's for you," I said, passing the telephone across the breakfast table while I continued to nibble on toast and update my to-do list.
"Yes, this is Adam Brooks," I heard my husband say. While silence filled our kitchen it occurred to me that perhaps I should apply for a small business loan. Sure, my mother had basically passed the yarn shop over to me before she left for Paris with Noah, but I knew that I wanted to be the official proprietor of the business I'd come to love. My mother was thrilled that my desire for ownership would keep what she worked at so hard in the family. And the week before she was to leave, we met with an attorney to sign the documents that would transfer Spinning Forward from Sydney Webster to Monica Brooks. My mother would only accept a mini mal amount of money to make the transaction legal. Revenue from sales would pay the monthly lease and overhead, and continue the small salary of Aunt Dora. I hoped that even without some of the special services my mother offered, I'd keep Spinning Forward the success it had been for over three years. A bank loan would help to make that happen.
My attention reverted to the one-sided phone call.
"She what?" Adam said in a tone he used when he was upset.
I glanced up as my husband pushed his chair away from the table and began pacing around our kitchen. Apparently this wasn't a telemarketer call, as I had thought.
"Well, where is she now?" he questioned.
Anger was being replaced by concern. His brow furrowed as he raked his hand through sandy-colored hair, and I considered him the sexiest and most attractive man I'd known.
"Yes, yes, I understand that. But you have to understand that I have a job and will have to make arrangements. The soonest I could be up there would be Monday."
Up there? Where? All of a sudden it dawned on me what this phone call was about. Adam's daughter, Clarissa, was now eight years old and lived with his ex, Carrie Sue, in some godforsaken town in Georgia.
Adam reached for paper and a pen from the counter drawer. "Yes, go ahead," he said and began jotting down information. "Okay. I need some time to make arrangements. I'll call you back tomorrow."
Placing the phone on the table, he blew out a deep breath before sitting down across from me. "We need to talk."
Jumping up to grab the coffeepot, I refilled our cups. When a crisis happens, I'm one of those people who functions better while keeping busy.
Rejoining him at the table, it was my turn to exhale loudly. "Okay. What's up?"
"Carrie Sue was in an automobile accident the other night. She's in the hospital. No major injuries, but Carrie Sue and the driver were both drunk."
"My God, was Clarissa with her?"
"No, it's worse. Carrie Sue left her alone at the condo to go out drinking with her girlfriends. When the accident happened, she had to tell the authorities her eight-year-old daughter was alone at home. Social services got involved. That's who that was on the telephone." Adam began fiddling with the spoon on the table and shook his head. "Clarissa is in a temporary foster home. The woman on the phone said it's highly unlikely that Carrie Sue will retain custody of her. There's an emergency hearing next week and I have to be there."
Thoughts were swirling in my head. I'd only met Carrie Sue once. The summer that Adam and I began dating, we drove up to Georgia together to bring Clarissa Jo to Cedar Key for their annual month-long visit. Meeting Carrie Sue once had been quite enough. She came from a wealthy family that disowned her the moment she'd married Adam. Blond, beautiful, and bitchy, Carrie Sue had always enjoyed tipping her wrist a little too often with whatever alcoholic liquid appealed to her at the moment. Her drinking problem had contributed to the breakup of their marriage. I knew that Adam had attempted to get custody of his daughter and had been devastated when the judge ruled in favor of the mother, leaving Adam with only every-other-weekend visitation. This was compounded by the fact that two years ago, with an economy in tatters, the school in Georgia had been forced to let him go. Faced with hefty support payments, in addition to being responsible for his daughter's medical insurance, Adam had felt fortunate to be offered a teaching position in his home town of Cedar Key, Florida.
"And so . . . all of this means what?" I asked, too stupid or too stubborn to understand what was coming next.
"It means I have to go to Georgia and be there for the hearing. I've been paying support for Clarissa Jo these past four years, and I'm her legal guardian."
"Oh," was all I could manage to say.
Adam reached across the table for my hand and gave it a squeeze. "I know. This certainly came out of the blue. Having Clarissa with us full-time will be very different, but I think we'll manage."
We had discussed children when we began dating, and while we didn't say we'd never have any--we didn't agree that we would, either. Not wanting to sound like the witch from Hansel and Gretel, I let out a deep breath, squeezing Adam's hand in return. "Of course we will," I said, sounding much braver than I felt. "Of course we'll manage and everything will be fine."
My husband nodded and then shook his head. "Christ, Monica, what a loser Carrie Sue is. I'm just grateful nothing happened to Clarissa Jo alone in that apartment."
Scary news events flashed through my mind concerning children either left alone or abducted. Although I'd always felt horrible when I heard about these things, I certainly had never considered them from a parent's point of view.
"Jesus," he said, glancing at his watch. "I've got to get moving. Class starts in fifteen minutes."
Jumping up from the table, he came around to pull me up next to him.
"It'll be okay. I promise. We both need a little bit of time to digest this and we'll discuss it tonight. How about dinner at the Island Room?" he whispered into my hair.
God, his arms felt good around my body. "No, I'd prefer dinner here. Quiet and private. I'll make your favorite pasta dish."
"It's a deal. I love you, Monica. And things will work out."
"They will," I agreed, uncertain where any of us were headed.
After Adam left I put the breakfast dishes into the sudsy water to let them soak and prepared to start a load of wash--the whole time, thoughts of the phone call going through my head.
Pouring myself another mug of coffee I took it outside to the deck and curled up on the chaise lounge. Bushes of vivid red azaleas and yellow hibiscus rimmed the outer perimeter of the garden, creating a floral sanctuary.
I loved springtime on Cedar Key, when the air filled with all sorts of tropical fragrances. When I first came to the island to visit my mother and grandmother, it hadn't been my intention to stay forever. I was a Yankee girl--not Southern born and Southern bred. By the time a year had passed, I knew that a place of birth doesn't necessarily produce a feeling of home--because the small island off the west coast of Florida was what accomplished that for me.
At the time, I was between high-pressure jobs with top companies in Boston. On a whim, I applied for and was accepted to teach English at the University of Florida in Gainesville, which I did for a year. Adam hadn't been the only one affected by the economy--due to budget cuts, I also lost my teaching position. By that time, my mother's yarn shop on Cedar Key had become successful and I accepted her offer to handle the business Internet orders, which allowed me to slow down and literally smell the roses. Living in a small Southern town makes that easy to do.
Sitting at the computer at Spinning Forward, I glanced up one afternoon to find a tall, slim, sixtyish-looking woman waiting for me to answer a knitting question. By the time I became a teen, I'd lost interest in knitting, but seeing all the new fibers available since then had restored my love and addiction for this craft. With help from my mother and Aunt Dora, I'd learned the current knitting techniques.
But it wasn't the woman that grabbed my attention--it was the handsome, sexy, younger man standing beside her. The poor guy looked out of place and bored surrounded by cubbyholes filled with alpaca, cashmere, and myriad other rainbow-colored yarn.
She introduced him as her son. "This here is my boy, Adam Brooks," she told me with pride in her voice. "He teaches history to the middle school children right here on this island."
Tall and good-looking with sandy-colored hair, his blue eyes caught mine as he shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I think that killer smile of his sealed my fate.
"Monica Webster," I'd said, holding out my hand to him.
Adam had returned a few days later--without Mama--and invited me to dinner. As irritating as she can be, I've always been happy that Opal Brooks walked into the yarn shop that day with her son in tow.
The telephone ringing in the kitchen brought me out of my daydreaming.
"Hey, Monica," I heard my best friend, Grace, say. "Are you still coming by the coffee shop to drop off those needles for me?"
My eyes flew to the clock on the wall. Damn, I'd forgotten all about my promise from the day before.
"Yeah, I'll be there, but I'm not even dressed yet. So it probably won't be till after lunch. I'm in the middle of doing laundry and not due into the yarn shop till three."
"Okay. Not a problem. What's up? You sound kind of pooky today."
I blew out a deep breath. "I guess pooky would cover it. You're not going to believe this . . ."
"Honey, try me. Living on this island, I'd believe just about anything."
Despite my sour mood, I laughed. Grace had a way of doing that. Lightening up a difficult situation.
"Well, it seems like my little household of two might be increasing to three."
"What! You're pregnant?"
I let out a laugh. Maybe my statement needed clarification. "No, no. I'm not. Adam's daughter, Clarissa Jo, is coming to live with us."
"You mean, like permanently?"
"I thought that high-bred ex-wife of his had custody."
I proceeded to explain the car accident and social services.
"Hmm, sounds like you might be giving up the honeymoon for motherhood," Grace said.
Ignoring her comment, I explained, "Adam had to leave right after he got the call. We're going to discuss it more tonight, but he'll be heading up there next week for a hearing."
"Lord, it's always something, isn't it?"
Isn't that just the truth? "I need to get moving here. I'll be by the coffee shop before I head into work. Have a nice strong latte ready for me."
I walked into Spinning Forward to find Aunt Dora unpacking a recent delivery of yarn.
Brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, she looked up and smiled. "Hello, Monica. Thought I'd get this unpacked for you before I leave."
Eudora Foster was my great-aunt and the sister of Sybile Bowden, my grandmother who had passed away three years before.
"Thanks," I said, heading to the coffeepot.
"Any word from your mother?" she questioned.
"She called yesterday morning. After only one month living in Paris, I'd say she's already a confirmed Francophile. She loves the apartment that she and Noah are renting in Montparnasse. Said she feels like a true Parisian--going out daily to shop at the market, the cheese shop, the butcher. I'm not sure we'll ever get her back into a supermarket when they return home next year."
Aunt Dora laughed and shook her head. "Oh, I had no doubt she'd fall in love with the fact she had a chance to actually live there, rather than just visit. What a great opportunity for Noah too. To be asked to teach painting at the Sorbonne, but he's a wonderful artist. So I bet he enjoys returning to a place where he'd lived for so many years."
I took a sip of the hot coffee and nodded. "Yeah, my mother said that his fluent French and knowledge of Paris is really adding to the joy of living there."
"Well, I'm glad to hear they're enjoying it so much. Anything else new?"
"Nah, not much going on," I told her. "Had to stop by the coffee shop to give Grace those needles she needed. Anything I need to know here before you leave for the day?"
Dora filled me in on a couple of telephone sales that would need to be put together and shipped. In addition to knitting and selling yarn, my mother had also specialized in the spinning of dog and cat fur for besotted pet parents across the country. Since I have no knowledge of spinning and no desire to learn, when I decided I wanted to own the shop, I made the decision to no longer offer that service. This was part of the reason I felt scared--I prayed I'd be able to keep the business successful.
Both Dora and I looked up as the wind chimes on the door tinkled.
I turned around to see Saren Ghetti, my grandfather, walk in with a bouquet of wildflowers in his hand.
"Saren, your garden must be bare the way you always bring me fresh flowers."
He threw his head back and laughed. "But you like them, just like your mama did before she left for Paris. Besides, I enjoy doing it. How're ya doin', Miss Monica?"
I felt his arms go around me in a tight squeeze. Although my mother and I had only met her birth father for the first time a few years earlier, we had all developed a deep love for each other. And although we had continued on with first names, rather than Dad or Grandpa, it certainly didn't diminish the tight bond that had grown between us.
"I'm doing just fine, and how about you?"
"Mighty good," he said in that Southern drawl I'd come to love. "Did any of ya hear about Robbie and Sally-Ann?"
They were one of the young couples in town, and I could tell by the twinkle in his eyes that he had some sort of gossip to share. When my mother had first moved to the island, she was astounded at the speed that news got around. Somebody had told her they called it the coconut pipeline.
"No, what happened?" I asked.
"Well, it seems that Miss Sally-Ann just up and left Robbie. Gone, she is." He snapped his fingers together for emphasis. "Just like that."
"My God," Aunt Dora said. "They've only been married a couple years and seemed to get along so well. Who has little Robbie Junior?"
"She left 'em with the babysitter and never came to pick 'em up. So Callie had to call Robbie, and there he was out there on his boat taking in clams. Seems Miss Sally-Ann had enough of marriage and motherhood--she's gone back home to Alabama to her mama's house. And Miss Bess, Robbie's mama, well, she's had to step in and help him out."
Aunt Dora shook her head. "What a shame. And little Robbie is barely two years old. I wonder if she'll come back? Maybe she just needed a little break."
It suddenly occurred to me that when Clarissa Jo descended on my household, it wouldn't be long before Adam and I were fodder for the coconut pipeline.