Kate Austin gives new beginnings a wondrous spin…in a novel that resonates deep within every woman who longs for some midsummer magic in her life.

Francesca Bond has been surviving her life much more than she has ever really been living it. Late one summer night, things take a terrifying spin and she finds herself running in a blind panic through darkness and fog—straight into the welcoming lights of a new world.

Is she dreaming? The colors, ...

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Kate Austin gives new beginnings a wondrous spin…in a novel that resonates deep within every woman who longs for some midsummer magic in her life.

Francesca Bond has been surviving her life much more than she has ever really been living it. Late one summer night, things take a terrifying spin and she finds herself running in a blind panic through darkness and fog—straight into the welcoming lights of a new world.

Is she dreaming? The colors, the smells, the kindness of new friends Joshua and Marta…she doesn't know how far she's run, but she is definitely far from the reality of her own bleak existence. Can she go home? Does she really want to? The answers, Francesca discovers, are wrapped in the secrets of a destiny as powerful as her sweetest wishes.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781459236158
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 3/15/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,272,995
  • File size: 2 MB

Read an Excerpt

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and eglantine.

— Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Midsummer eve, 10:00 p.m.

Francesca couldn't help herself. She stood at the window of the Internet café, the Mouse and Icon, and spoke to the fogged-up glass.

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Her mind moved in clichés when she was tired, which was more often than not. This job, number two, meant five nights a week at this café and three nights out of those five came on the heels of a long shift at a coffee shop down the street.

Clichés were a very bad sign, especially this early in her week.

The mostly muted din of the twenty computers, four printers, three pinball machines and their accompanying humans, had turned into an all-out roar this midsummer evening. She checked the room again. Every keyboard clicked, every printer whirred.

And the pinball machines? They rattled and boinged and pinged. And voices occasionally screamed, "Yes" as an accompaniment to all the other noises.

She strolled as casually as she could manage through the rows of faded office chairs. The chairs weren't occupied by the usual crowd of university students and kids from the many ESL schools in the neighborhood. At least half of the chairs held women, which was unusual in itself, but these women were her age, which was so odd as to shift it over from unusual to downright peculiar.

Francesca spent most of her nights surrounded by young men so engrossed in their computer screens that they barely acknowledged her existence as she passed behind them.

Francesca smiled.

She liked this job.

Liked it despite the fact that most of her customers didn't remember to shower most days. Neo, the owner of the Mouse and Icon, had bought the most expensive systems on the market and he upgraded them every three months. The Mouse had equipment even hackers envied.

Francesca spent a fair amount of time trying not to think about where Neo found the money because he certainly didn't make it at the Mouse and Icon.

But because of it, even serious users whose apartments were full of computer equipment dropped in once or twice a week. Serious users, like all addicts, didn't have much time for personal hygiene.

The regulars stopped at the front desk to pay their tab and sometimes to decompress on their way home, their eyes glazed from staring at the screen. They told her about their projects, their childhoods, their dreams — they talked as a way to come down from the Internet buzz and get ready for a few hours sleep before they got up for school in the morning.

Sometimes, when it was very late and the streets were quiet, when only one or two tired boys sat at the computers in the back, when the Mouse's buzz had turned still, Holy Joe, one of the most regular of the regulars, would stop by the desk on his way home to talk about the house.

"It's there," he'd say, "I know it is. Father Henry used to talk about it."

"But where?" Francesca would always ask, wanting to believe but scared to. "I don't know. But Father Henry isn't the only one who's been there. You know that big cop who works at the station down the street? The one who runs the children's fund?"

"Yes," she'd say. "He's always smiling." Something she noticed because it was so unusual in this neighborhood. The father and the cop. Their smiles, so sweet and serene, made Francesca want to believe.

After those conversations she'd spend the rest of the night weaving together the few snippets she'd heard, daydreaming herself into the safety of the house. Another world.

Francesca knew not just anyone could get there. She knew that, even though it was near, it wasn't really here. Basically, she thought, she knew… nothing about the house.

Eventually, she'd throw up her hands in disgust and resolve to live in this world, this place. It was hard enough to cope without dreaming about some stupid otherworldly mirage.

She pulled herself back into the Mouse and Icon, home of supercharged and faintly smelly young men.

But tonight? Tonight the pungent aroma of male sweat and unwashed hair had been tempered by the sweeter scents of fruit shampoos and floral perfumes.

Francesca scanned the room. The regulars huddled together in the back, more comfortable in the shadows, while the women occupied the stations closest to the windows and the desk.

Francesca might have been one of them if she'd had money, with their careful haircuts and discreet makeup. Women of a certain age, fighting off middle-aged bulges, making the best of their singleness. Taking classes, exercising, eating out and vacationing with friends, working at jobs that paid enough….

Her mental record skipped at that thought. She worked at two jobs and even together they didn't pay enough for luxuries like vacations and fancy restaurants. Sometimes they barely paid enough for food and rent.

She watched the room's reflection in the window and wondered about the women. She knew why they were here, for the same reason she hadn't hesitated about taking this extra shift. There was something about Midsummer eve that inspired longing.

Shakespeare had it right — that whirlwind night of transformation and longing and foolishness. Francesca could see some of that happening right here at the Mouse.

She wondered what kinds of chat rooms they were surfing so diligently. Francesca had spent her share of nights surfing the Net, checking into chat rooms and reading blogs, but she'd given it up. It had just made her feel more isolated.

She turned her back to the room and stared out at the rain. Francesca mostly tried to ignore the solitary state of her life, but having all these women here was bringing it all back to her.

It wasn't that she spent all that much time alone; she worked too many hours for that. She had the people she worked with, her regulars at the coffee shop, and she had — occasionally — Susannah and C.J.

But alone was the word she used to describe herself in those darkest hours of the night when she couldn't sleep. When she lay in bed, tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable because her body was reacting to the chanting of her restless mind:




And she didn't seem to be able to do anything about that. She loved the time she spent with Susannah and C.J., either separately or together, but they were busy, both of them, and so was she.

Anyone who worked two full-time jobs didn't have much time for socializing. Add exhaustion to that, and Francesca didn't get out much.

Francesca was used to solitude. She'd basically been alone since her mother had moved to Italy just after Francesca's sixteenth birthday. Her father had died years earlier.

The first five years after moving out on her own had been tough, more than tough, but Francesca had motored through them, always earning sufficient money to pay the rent and buy enough groceries to survive. She grinned at the thought of the tons of mac and cheese she'd eaten in those years.

It was a wonder that her skin hadn't turned pale orange. And she still kept a few boxes in her cupboard, not so much because she needed to save money, but because it was comfort food for her. If she had a supremely bad day, she made mac and cheese. If she was too tired to cook, she made mac and cheese.

She didn't eat it as much as she had even a couple of years ago, but that had more to do with her tastes than her need for it. Even so, she always replaced the box immediately after she'd consumed its contents.

Because food was a safety thing for Francesca. She'd spent too many years living on the edge, so her cupboards and her fridge were full. Always. She had cans of soup and tomato sauce and tuna. She even had cans of salmon — although she bought them on sale — piled high in the back. She had bags of pasta and extra cereal.

She bought food on sale, even food she didn't normally eat. She took advantage of two-for-one sales and had even, one year when she'd been slightly more flush than usual, bought a small secondhand freezer she kept stocked with meat and frozen vegetables.

Francesca loved coming home from a double shift, opening her cupboards and seeing all the cans in their neat stacks. She'd open the freezer and smile at the perfectly labeled meats and fish and vegetables. She'd open her refrigerator and admire the jars of jam and pickles, the bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, the cans of pop and juice.

For those few moments, she felt safe.

And that was what she wanted more than anything.

Because safety hadn't been a big part of her life so far. Francesca slept with a light on and a baseball bat on the pillow beside her. She had three locks on her door and bars on her windows.

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