Barbara Davis Love, Alice

ISBN 13: 9780451474810

Love, Alice

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9780451474810: Love, Alice

From the author of Summer at Hideaway Key comes a sweeping new Southern women’s fiction novel about forgiving the past one letter at a time...
 
The truth lies between the lines...
 
A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come.
 
Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story.
 
As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found  begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future...

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About the Author:

After spending more than a decade as an executive in the jewelry business, Barbara Davis decided to leave the corporate world to finally pursue her lifelong passion for writing. Love, Alice is her fourth novel, following Summer at Hideaway Key, The Wishing Tide, and The Secrets She Carried. She currently lives in Rochester, New Hampshire, with her husband Tom, and their beloved ginger cat, Simon, and is working on her next book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2016 Barbara Davis

Prologue

Blackhurst Asylum for Unwed Mothers
Cornwall, England
January 6, 1962

The place smells of sickness and damp—of tears and misery and shame.

Alice places a hand on her belly as the familiar flutter comes again, soft beatings like an angel’s wings against her insides. Her baby. Her angel. The wave of sickness comes next, as it always does after the flutterings, a clammy surge of heat and nausea that threatens to buckle her knees. She swallows it down, scrubs the sudden moistness from her palms, and turns one last time to glance over her shoulder, praying Mam has changed her mind about leaving her in this terrible place, with its cold walls and colder faces.

She hasn’t.

“This way, girl,” comes a disembodied voice from the nameless black-clad nun in front of her. “There’s more here than just you to tend, so be quick.”

Tears threaten again, scorching lids already raw with days of crying, of begging, of pleading. Alice blinks them away, then drags a hand over her eyes for good measure. She has found no mercy at home, and she’ll find none here, so what good are her tears? She won’t cry again. Not for Mam, or for Sennen Cove, either, with its sweeping coast and Cornish blue sea, or even for Johnny, who is long past tears now, lost somewhere at the bottom of the sea he loved so well. And tears aren’t good for the baby. Besides, her heart is too torn to think of Johnny just now, too hollowed out by the terrible words her mother has flung at her. Words meant to judge and shame. Words Alice can never forget—never forgive.

The nameless sister is moving away now. Alice has no choice but to scurry after her. The nun’s feet are invisible beneath the folds of her black habit, strangely silent on the uneven stone floor. Finally, they halt before a heavy gray door with a small pane of glass near the top.

The door is pushed open and the nun stands aside, waiting, chilly and stiff jawed, for Alice to enter. Alice steps forward, eyeing the long room, with its tall drafty windows and bare iron cots. And then there’s a hand on her back and a rough shove that nearly sends her toppling.

“This is where they’ve put you, and we’ll have no trouble. There’s uniforms in the trunk there at the foot of the cot. Change out of your clothes and leave them on the bed to be collected. You’ll get them back after.”

After.

Alice bristles at the word, left to dangle in the air with all its ominous meanings. After she has done her penance for her swollen belly. After she has been delivered of her mistake, as the Sisters of Mercy call the babies born at Blackhurst. After her child has been taken from her and handed over to strangers.

There is a ceaseless drumming at the windows, a dull gray rain blowing in off the sea, lashing at the loose panes. Alice registers the cold then, slicing through her as she moves deeper into the room, the kind that finds its way through every patched place and seam, clinging to skin and curling damply into bone, taking root in a place—or in a soul. Instinctively, her arms curl around the small bulge of her belly, quiet now, as if the child, too, is holding its breath.

There are a handful of girls in the room, sad-eyed creatures of every age and color with bellies of every shape and size, all dressed in identical brown pinnies and white cotton blouses. They are as plain as little field sparrows, stripped of the vanity that has led them to their downfall, and to Blackhurst. None look up at her as she enters.

“You’ll be given new uniforms as need arises,” comes the gruff voice again, jolting Alice from her staring. The nun’s gaze slides with pointed disdain to Alice’s belly. “You’ve a while yet, by the look of things. You’re up at dawn for prayers, then breakfast, then work. Tomorrow you’ll learn where they’ve put you—the laundry, maybe, or the kitchens, depending on what they need. And you’ll do as you’re told. No exceptions and no nonsense, or you’ll be sternly dealt with. You’re not here to make friends, but to repent of your sins and earn your keep while doing so. Do you understand me, girl?”

Alice doesn’t answer. She wants to say that she’s committed no sin, except to love a boy who loved her in return, a boy who wanted to marry her when he had saved up a few pounds. But she can’t form the words. Instead, her eyes are fastened to the ponderous ring of keys at the nun’s waist. So many keys. So many doors. Surely one of them—

The nun’s eyes narrow, a merciless gray stare that seems to cut straight to Alice’s backbone. “Don’t go getting any ideas, you hear? We’re careful with the doors at night, though there’s been more than one girl who’s ended up smashed to pieces after slipping out and losing her way in the dark. It’s a straight drop off those cliffs, with nothing but rock and sea below, so you’d best take care.”

Alice makes no reply as the nun turns away, slipping back out into the corridor with her silent feet and jangling keys. For a while there is only the sound of the rain and the sudden awareness that she is alone in this terrible place. The sparrows don’t count. They’re alone, too. All the girls at Blackhurst are alone. Finally, she lets herself think of Johnny as she cradles the little mound of her belly with both hands. A boy—she’s almost certain—with brown curls and eyes the color of the sea. And they were going to take him. How would she ever bear it?

Without any awareness of her legs carrying her, she is at one of the windows, her breath fogging the rain-spattered glass. She had taken little notice of the landscape as Mam’s old Hemsby coughed its way up the wooded drive, then passed through Blackhurst’s heavy iron gates, but she takes notice now and sees its rocky and spare where the woods peter out, desolate. And in the distance, the cliffs the nun had talked about—or at least the place where they fell away—and she can’t help wondering if maybe a few of the girls who’d smashed themselves to bits had known exactly where they were going when they slipped out at night.


ONE

Magnolia Grove Cemetery
Charleston, South Carolina
September 27, 2005

Saturday’s roses were already beginning to fade.

She’d known better when she bought them—too delicate for the Carolina sun, even in late September—but she’d wanted something special. They would have been celebrating their one-year anniversary today if William hadn’t chosen to end his life just two weeks before they were set to walk down the aisle.

His father’s bourbon and his mother’s sleeping pills—that’s how he’d done it. Nice and neat. No note of explanation, no clue of any kind as to why he’d chosen death over the life they’d planned together. Just . . . gone. And now, fifty-two withered bouquets later, Dovie Larkin still had no idea what had happened. Or why.

She stared at William’s headstone, nestled among the other Prescott dead, carefully tended by Magnolia Grove’s crew of expert groundskeepers. He would have detested the cold granite slab his parents had selected, declaring it altogether lacking in originality—an affront to his artistic tastes. But then, he hadn’t bothered to leave instructions about his final arrangements. He hadn’t left anything—except her.

With concerted effort, Dovie shifted her attention to her surroundings, canopy oaks and shade-dappled lawns stretching as far as the eye could see, burbling fountains, granite benches, and the curved mulch path that bordered it all. But for the neat rows of headstones, one could almost mistake Magnolia Grove for a park.

Almost.

Fishing a chicken salad sandwich and a small bag of grapes from her tote, she proceeded to spread her little picnic out on the bench beside her, pretending not to notice the scandalized double take of a woman strolling past with a fistful of cellophane-wrapped daisies.

She should be used to it by now, the scowls and pinched expressions of strangers silently scolding her for being disrespectful. She’d heard the whispers, too—words like morbid and obsession—from family and coworkers who couldn’t understand why she had taken to eating her lunch every day on a cemetery bench, or why her only friend of late seemed to be Josiah Ramsey, Magnolia Grove’s eighty-year-old groundskeeper.

She didn’t blame them for not understanding. How could they? Only someone who’d gotten the call she had could know what it was like to lie awake, night after night, replaying a thousand conversations in your head, looking for the thing, the one thing, you’d somehow missed—the thing that might have kept your world from crashing down around your ears.

Grief was a messy thing. It was inconvenient and intrusive, not quite contagious but the next thing to it. It made people uncomfortable, and thoughtless in ways they never intended. They didn’t know what to say, and so they invariably said the wrong thing. She didn’t blame them. Only someone who’d suffered such a loss could understand that there are simply no words, no platitudes or pep talks, to heal the broken place left when someone you love is suddenly and explicably gone.

Which was probably why she spent her life dodging awkward but well-meaning questions. Was she really okay? Should she maybe think about talking to someone? A grief counselor, a priest? It had been a year, after all. She shuddered to think about what they’d say if they knew her wedding dress—the one she’d never worn—was still hanging in her closet.

Perhaps that was why she preferred her own company. She had simply reached the point where she could no longer bear the pitying looks and clumsy platitudes. Not that she saw much of the pearl-and-twin-set crowd of late. They were all married now, starting families and doing good works, holding bake sales, or rummage sales, or dinner parties to impress their husbands’ bosses. Even now the thought made Dovie squirm. And from somewhere deep down in places she didn’t care to examine came the guilty whisper that she had somehow dodged a bullet.

At the edge of the path, a flicker of movement caught her eye. She turned, happy to see Josiah heading in her direction. His limp was more pronounced today. His hip must be acting up. He talked about retiring, but Dovie knew better. He’d been working at Magnolia Grove since he was old enough to hold a job, back before a black man could safely walk down King Street after dark. It was all he knew. And all he cared about since losing his wife.

“Afternoon, Little Miss,” he said, tipping the brim of his straw Panama.

Little Miss. It was hardly a proper nickname for a thirty-six-year-old woman, and certainly not for one who stood five-ten in her bare feet. But the truth was she had grown rather fond of it. Patting the bench beside her, she invited him to sit. They’d been eating lunch together for months now, and he still wouldn’t sit until invited.

“Chicken salad today,” she told him before he could ask. “No salt, like the doctor said. And grapes for dessert. Healthy.”

Josiah pulled a face but took the proffered half sandwich.

“Making chess pie this weekend,” he grumbled around the first bite. “Essie’s recipe.”

Dovie cocked a disapproving eye. “And what would your doctor say about that?”

Josiah looked sullen as he scrubbed his knuckles along his jaw. “Don’t much care, really. Way I see it, an eighty-year-old man’s earned the right to eat what he pleases.”

Dovie hid her smile as she tucked into her sandwich. He had a point. “So, do I get to taste this pie, or did you tell me that just to tease me?”

“I’ll bring you a piece Monday. And no lectures, hear? You just eat it.”

She grunted but made no promises as she passed Josiah the bag of grapes. It was part of their patter, their routine. She nagged. He grumbled.

“You all right?” he asked gruffly.

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Thought you might be having a little trouble, what with the date and all.”

Dovie looked away, pretending to watch a pair of mockingbirds squabble over the crust of bread she had tossed their way. Of course he remembered. Eighty or not, there wasn’t much Josiah Ramsey forgot when it came to his charges—the Prescotts, Tates, Lowrys, and Gosnells—all etched into his memory as sure as their dates were etched into their headstones.

“I’m all right,” she said, finally. “Not fine, but all right. It’s sweet of you to ask, though.” She reached for a handful of grapes, popping one into her mouth. “Can I ask you a question?”

He nodded.

“Why is it, in all the time you’ve known me, from the first time you saw me sitting here with my lunch, you’ve never once given me one of those looks?”

“Which look is that?”

He was being kind now, feigning ignorance, but they both knew what she was talking about. “You know the look I mean. The one that says there must be something wrong with a woman who hangs out in a cemetery every day, waiting for some bolt from the blue to come along and explain why her fiancé committed suicide.”

Josiah dragged a faded red bandanna from his back pocket and took his time mopping his brow. When he finally spoke, his voice had taken on the husky tenor he used when he was about to impart one of his patented bits of wisdom.

“Little Miss, I’ve seen a whole lot of grieving in my time. Yes, sir, a whole lot of grieving. And in all that time it never occurred to me to make it my business how folks choose to go about it. Folks hurt, and they gonna hurt for as long as they need to. And that’s just the way that it goes.”

Dovie blinked against the hot sting of tears, always too near these days, and gave Josiah’s free hand a squeeze. He wasn’t comfortable with touching, she knew, but it was that or start to cry, and she still had half a day of work ahead of her. She never had been any good at patching up drippy eye makeup.

“Thank you for that.”

Josiah extricated his hand, giving hers a quick pat before returning to the safety of his grapes. “You’ll be ready one day, you’ll see. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to eat your sandwiches and put up with your fussing.”

Dovie tried to look severe. “What makes you think I’m ever going to stop fussing at you?”

Groaning, he rolled his eyes heavenward. “Lord, give me strength. It’s like having my Essie back. Nothin’ sacred, not even my chess pie. Don’t you have somewhere to be, some kind of important new job to get back to, instead of sitting here pestering a broke-down old man?”

It was true. She did have somewhere to be. She glanced at her watch, then shot to her feet. Damn it. Not again. If she caught all the lights she might make it back before anyone noticed.

Get it together, Dovie.

Dovie’s hopes for a stealthy reentry were dashed when she hit the front walk of the Charleston Museum of Cultural Arts and saw Jack Livingston lounging against one of pillars, puffing on a Marlboro Light. He flicked the cigarette into the azaleas, glanced at his watch.

“I’m sorry, Jack. I lost track of time. I . . .” She let the rest dangle. He’d heard it before. Twice this week, as a matter of fact.

He said nothing, but his lips thinned as he reached for the door and waited for her to walk through ahead of h...

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From the author of Summer at Hideaway Key comes a sweeping new Southern women s fiction novel about forgiving the past one letter at a time. The truth lies between the lines. A year ago, Dovie Larkin s life was shattered when her fiance committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come. Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter--a mother s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter--and immediately needs to know the rest of the story. As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery s lost and found begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman s past--questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss--she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780451474810

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Descripción Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. From the author of Summer at Hideaway Key comes a sweeping new Southern women s fiction novel about forgiving the past one letter at a time. The truth lies between the lines. A year ago, Dovie Larkin s life was shattered when her fiance committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come. Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter--a mother s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter--and immediately needs to know the rest of the story. As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery s lost and found begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman s past--questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss--she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future. Nº de ref. de la librería BZV9780451474810

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