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Girl in the Mirror [NOOK Book]

Overview


Charlotte Godowski was used to the horrified stares she received from strangers. She'd learned to accept her facial deformity, until one cruel incident compelled her to have the surgery that changed her life forever.

Charlotte Godfrey is beautiful beyond compare. In Hollywood, where such beauty is power, her rise is meteoric. Suddenly she has everything she could want: acceptance, a future and a love she believes can see to the true beauty ...

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Girl in the Mirror

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Overview


Charlotte Godowski was used to the horrified stares she received from strangers. She'd learned to accept her facial deformity, until one cruel incident compelled her to have the surgery that changed her life forever.

Charlotte Godfrey is beautiful beyond compare. In Hollywood, where such beauty is power, her rise is meteoric. Suddenly she has everything she could want: acceptance, a future and a love she believes can see to the true beauty within.

Charlotte Godowski and Charlotte Godfrey are two sides of the same woman—a woman who can trust no one with her secret. But when fate forces Charlotte to deal with the truth—about her past, about the man she loves, about herself—she discovers that only love has the power to transform a scarred soul.

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Editorial Reviews

Rendevous
Ms. Monroe has written an absorbing story with excellent characterizations. A strong heroine, who must come to grips with her past before she can have a future. A novel of a woman's self discovery. I recommend this book from an extremely talented new Mira author. I believe she will flourish.
Bookbug
Mary Alice Monroe has written a multifaceted romance with realistic protagonists who need to cope with unique challenges to their relationships. Girl in the Mirror has numerous secondary characters and a story line that twists and turns, delivering several surprises along the way. I highly recommend it to readers who are looking for a romance with an unusual theme.
Romance Reader
The 400 page novel flew by quickly for me and I enjoyed the experience. Fans of high drama will likely feel the say way.
Michelle Johnson
Very few books can capture a reader's heart, Girl In The Mirror is one of them. The imagery is so vivid, that one is immediately transported into a world created by Ms. Monroe.

Plot: A young girl's quest for acceptance, and love, and the price she must pay to achieve it.

Characters: Charlotte Godowski has the reader's pity. From the beginning, one can understand why she made the choices that she did. Charlotte Godfrey is a woman that has it all. The readers are the only one that can see the person beneath the face. Michael Mondragon is a wonderful character. His reactions to situations seem very natural. The secondary characters play a major role in the story. Some have a few secrets of their own.

Writer's Craft: With Girl In The Mirror, her second novel, Mary Alice Monroe flawlessly seals her entrance into the world of romance writing. A natural at creating emotion between the pages, Ms. Monroe will steal the hearts of readers everywhere. Girl In The Mirror is a must read, especially for those that love contemporary romance.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Born with a horribly disfigured face, Charlotte Godowski spends her first 20 years shunned by her peers and controlled by her mother until a settlement from a sexual harassment suit permits her to change her life forever. A jaw transplant and reconstructive surgery transforms Charlotte into a ravishing beauty, which leads her to Hollywood and instant stardom. There, she trades her controlling mother for a controlling agent, but finds romance with a handsome Mexican landscape designer, Michael Mondragon. When Charlotte's body begins to reject the implants, she learns that she will die if they are not removed. But Charlotte prefers death to losing her looks, her career and the man she loves. A contrived ending involving Charlotte and her long-lost father adds an unsavory note to the climax of this rambling novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460307595
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 11/15/2012
  • Sold by: HARLEQUIN
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 74,327
  • File size: 939 KB

Meet the Author

Mary Alice Monroe
Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of Last Light over Carolina and Time Is a River as well as many other acclaimed novels. She received the 2008 Award for Writing from the South Carolina Center for the Book. An active conservationist, she lives in the lowcountry of South Carolina, where she is at work on her next novel.
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Read an Excerpt

She was touching the smooth, chubby leaves of a begonia when she saw him.

He was standing surrounded by a trio of women, each with a potted flower in her hand, each with eyes fixed on his long handsome face. He was being kind, it was obvious by the fixed smile and the way he tilted his head while he listened, as though he couldnÆt bear to miss a word. His black hair was the color of a ravenÆs wing, his shirt as white as the clouds above. Beneath it was the smooth, terra-cotta colored skin she remembered so well.

From somewhere a bird called. She thought it was her sigh.

He glanced up and briefly looked her way, then turned back again to the ladies. She held her breath. Slowly, as though he saw something he wasnÆt quite sure of, he turned his head again in her direction. His brows furrowed, as though he was trying to place her.

Charlotte couldnÆt move; not her feet, nor her hands, not even her mouth or eyes. It was him. The stranger she met in the elevator, on a cold, fateful night in Chicago. It was as though all sheÆd experienced, all her decisions, all the roads sheÆd traveled since that night led her to this moment.

He didnÆt seem to recognize her, yet she felt certain that he sensed some connection too, because he straightened and returned her study with the same open eyed wonder she was sure she wore.

He cocked his head and squinted. Who are you?

She smiled. Yes, itÆs me.

The trio of women around him, realizing that theyÆd lost his attention, silenced and turned curious gazes her way. She saw them as scenery, mere backdrop to the action between her and him. He apologized to the ladies, oblivious that their faces dropped in disappointment, and signaled for an assistant to come over. Then he walked toward her, eyes on her face.

She didnÆt move, couldnÆt move, but gauged his progress toward her with her breaths. His hair was longer now, tied back at the nape of his neck. Thick dark brows formed a serious line over eyes shining with intent. He seemed a formidable mass, all black and white, rolling toward her like thunder. She was powerless to stop it now.

"Do I know you?" he asked, stopping before her.

It was the same voice, the same dark undercurrent she remembered as if it was yesterday. They both knew the question sounded too much like a pick-up line. Charlotte stared at the gravel, wildly wondering whether to answer `yes,Æ and explain all her history. Or to simply say `no,Æ and start anew.

"No," she replied, then smiled tentatively.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

April 1996

If all the world was a stage, it was time once again to play her part.

Charlotte sat in the green room of the television studio while outside, strains of the talk show's theme song intermingled with audience applause. She had promised Vicki Ray this interview and there was no choice now but to endure the hour or suffer months of bad press. She'd had enough bad press lately. Now, her plan was set. Freddy had seen to every detail in his usual compulsive manner. How did he put it? "Interview, marriage, surgery. Bim, Bam, Boom."

The only booming she felt right now was in her temples, a rhythmic, tympanic beat. How hot the room was! Bringing a fevered hand to her forehead, she noticed with alarm that they were trembling. And her lips, so parched. Oh please, she prayed, holding her fingers tight, steadying them, don't let the symptoms come back now. Maybe one more pill, she decided, quickly fumbling through her purse. Just in case.

Three brisk knocks sounded on the door.

"Charlotte?" Freddy Walen walked in without waiting for a response. Although not a big man, his dominating presence filled the room, causing Charlotte to shrink inside. His eyes, as hard as the diamond on his pinkie, assessed her with a proprietary air.

"Good...good," he said, stroking his neatly trimmed mustache, observing every detail. Her swan-like neck was unadorned, her golden hair spilled loosely around her shoulders and her eyes, her large, luminous blue eyes, shone with an icy, mesmerizing luster. A look that Freddy referred to as "the brilliance of a star." He'd taught her that her public expected Charlotte Godfrey to be dressed in understated elegance, and she never disappointed them.

"What's that you're taking?" he demanded.

"A pain killer. I'll need it to get through the interview." She stared at the white pill in her hand, then raised her eyes, worry shining clear. "Freddy, cancel the interview. I'm not well enough. The symptoms are returning, my hands are shaking and taking another pill is not the answer."

"You'll be fine," he said in a gruff manner, patting her shoulder. "Buck up. We can't cancel now. Besides, we need this interview to settle a few rumors. Then the press will be off our backs so we can hustle to South America and get you well. Zip up this show and we'll be out of here. I promise. Now, take that pill."

Charlotte poured herself a tumbler of water. "I don't trust Vicki Ray. She's tough. Crafty. What if she suspects?"

"Forget it. Vicki doesn't have a clue. If she did, I'd know about it."

"Miss Godfrey?" From outside her door came the high, strained voice of an usher. "Are you ready yet? It's really time."

She understood his panic and took pity. Besides, she couldn't stall any longer. "Yes," she called, quickly swallowing the medicine. "Of course. Right away."

"Remember," Freddy said, grabbing hold of her shoulders. "It's just another part. Follow the script, babe, and you'll be great."

Charlotte shook his hands off her shoulders. "Don't be a fool, Freddy. There's no script with Vicki Ray." Opening the door she met a panic-eyed young man who guided her down the hall with the speed of a police escort, past a series of attendants who smiled at her with starry eyes. She'd become immune to that rapt expression during the past few years, knowing better than to be flattered. They knew nothing about her, the woman behind the face. She walked quickly by with only a nod of acknowledgment.

They reached the stage just as Vicki Ray launched into her introduction. She mentioned several of Charlotte's film roles and the meteoric rise of her career. Charlotte listened keenly, compelling herself to become on camera the woman being described: a woman of legendary beauty. An on-screen phenomenon and an off-screen recluse. The new Garbo.

There was a minute's silence, one brief moment to raise a hand to her brow and collect her wits. Charlotte took a deep breath, willed her hands to appear relaxed at her sides, then dug deep to deliver the mysterious, sultry smile that was her trademark.

The Applause sign lit. With a jarring flash the lights bore down on Charlotte as she stepped out on the stage. To her, they were like prison search lights blocking any avenue of escape. She walked with studied grace across the shining floor then settled herself in the isolation of a single, white chair in the center of Vicki Ray's stage.

Under the glare of lights, she felt like a laboratory specimen being scrutinized. She looked out at the sea of faces and saw in the eyes of women the familiar flash of envy, and in the men's, desire. It was always this way, she thought, feeling again a twinge of loneliness.

Then, decisively discarding the last remnants of her identity, Charlotte Godowski transformed herself into the role she'd painstakingly created and played so well: Charlotte Godfrey. It was a useful device, yet she felt a little more of herself die each time she employed it. Still, it was necessary to shield herself from the rest of the world. To create an armor that was impenetrable. She allowed no one to pierce it. Not even Freddy. Especially not Freddy. Only Michael...At the thought of him she felt a chink in the armor.

The interview began easily enough. During the first half of the show, Vicki screened a number of film clips. Charlotte peppered the clips with anecdotes, especially about her handsome co-stars. The audience lapped it up, never for a moment suspecting the struggle within the actress. She appeared relaxed, loosening her knotted fingers, uncrossing her legs, even venturing to laugh at the occasional silly question posed by the audience, usually about her well publicized love life.

"Water," she almost begged when the break came. With miraculous speed, the usher delivered Perrier and lime, which she sipped gratefully. Her lips felt cracked and she sweltered in the glowing heat of her fever.

As the signal flashed that the show was continuing, Charlotte discreetly dabbed at her brow with a Swiss embroidered handkerchief and marshaled her wits. At the last second, she remembered to catch the eye of a cameraman and wink. He returned a crimson grin. Freddy had taught her tricks on how to get flattering camera angles. This charade was easier to manage if she took control.

"Welcome back," began Vicki. "We were talking about your upcoming marriage." Turning to the camera, "Freddy Walen, for those of you who don't know, is not only Miss Godfrey's fiancee, but her agent as well."

"What can I say?" Charlotte replied, offering a slight gesture with her hand. "He's wonderful. Supportive. He's always there for me." She glanced off stage. Freddy was standing with his feet wide apart and his hands clasped before him, the captain of a ship in unsteady waters.

He gave her a smile. Freddy looked formidable in his dark gray double breasted suit that complimented his salt and pepper hair. She knew he was listening intently to every word she uttered because his pale blue eyes glowed with approval of her answer. He didn't seem to mind that she refrained from saying she loved him.

"Walen discovered you, didn't he? Some say he built your career."

Charlotte shifted in her seat. "He believed in my talent and any good agent advises his client. Isn't that his job?"

Vicki smiled. "But in your case, it's been said that Walen had a Svengali-like obsession with your career. And you."

Charlotte had the presence of mind to laugh. "Is that what they say?"

"I suppose it's natural for any man to be obsessed with you," Vicki added magnanimously. The audience chuckled and mumbled in agreement. Charlotte shrugged her slim shoulders with seeming humor.

"So many men..." Vicki added with a devilish glint. The cameraman winked at her.

Charlotte knew where this was coming from and couldn't blame Vicki for the insinuation. Freddy had carefully orchestrated her public image, hiding her natural shyness as a star's reclusiveness. Arranging numerous dates with her co-stars then leaking to the press that she was having affairs. It was nothing new, an age-old publicity ploy, but the press and the public bought it, again and again.

"Now there's only Freddy," she replied without guile and the audience responded with heartfelt applause. She imagined Freddy backstage, his chest expanding. He loved the spotlight, especially when it hinted at his virility.

"Your kind of beauty is the stuff that legends are made of. But some consider it to be a curse. There's Helen of Troy and of course, Marilyn Monroe."

Charlotte paused. Beauty again... Is that all they see when they see me? Doesn't anyone see anything else of value?

"I don't think Marilyn's beauty itself was a curse," she answered with care. "The curse was that no one could look past her beauty to take her seriously."

"You're referring to the old, `She's beautiful so she must be stupid' myth."

"It's hard when only your beauty is prized. I know."

"Couldn't the same be said then of an ugly woman?"

Charlotte felt a dart of anguish and looked at her hands clasped white in her lap. "I'm sure," she began with hesitation, "that it is the secret dream of every ugly woman that someone will discover the beauty within her. Redemption through love, isn't that at the heart of fairy tales?"

"But life isn't a fairy tale."

"Unfortunately," she said, trying to keep the bitterness from her voice. "Both legend and reality bear out that men want women who are physically beautiful, as proof of their power and worth. The dream dies in an ugly woman. It withers, as any fruit withers on the neglected vine."

"But...doesn't beauty wither too, in time? What happens then?"

Charlotte swallowed hard. "Desperation."

"So beauty is a curse?"

"I..." She thought again of Michael and sighed in resignation. "Yes. Perhaps it is. As is ugliness."

"I don't know if I buy this. I mean, aren't women changing now? We talk about a woman's worth. Intelligence and goodness. Don't these attributes constitute a woman's beauty?"

Charlotte wanted to agree, oh God, how much. She thought of those days, in the garden, when she'd believed such a thing was possible. When, like a blossoming flower that reveals the delicate core, she'd been ready to give everything up for a single dewdrop of that ideal. But Michael had crushed that belief with the heel of his conceit. She'd learned that no one would love her for her intelligence or for her goodness. Without the beauty, no man was willing to even give those qualities a chance.

"Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose."

"Are you endorsing this attitude?" Vicki Ray interjected. Her tone was sharp, angry. Nearing fifty, she exuded the confidence of success. Yet Charlotte saw in her eyes the quiet panic of a woman who could not stave off the inevitable decline of her looks, and as a talk show host, possibly her career as well. "Do you believe women today should do everything they can, anything they can, to be as attractive as they can?"

Charlotte's lids fluttered imperceptibly as she dredged up her personal history to answer this question. Everything... Anything... for beauty?

"I do," she replied firmly, each syllable sounding in her ear as a death knell. "Yes, absolutely."

She heard the disapproving rumbling in the audience. Several women were now wildly waving their hands. Vicki, delighted, hurried to deliver the microphone.

"So what did you do to look so great?"

Charlotte exhaled a stream of air, then smiled. She wanted to say she'd sold her soul to the devil, but no, she couldn't do that.

"I didn't do a thing," she lied with feigned nonchalance. Then, hinting at the truth she added. "Don't forget, legions of experts labor hours to make me look this good." The woman chuckled and seemed to forgive Charlotte for her beauty.

"Have you always been this beautiful?" Vicki asked through narrowed eyes. Her microphone swung in her hand from left to right, like a club. "Confession time!"

Charlotte gripped the arms of her chair tightly. ôWellà.ö

"Don't you ever wake up with bags under your eyes or a pimple on the tip of your nose?" The audience laughed.

Charlotte put her hands together and looked at the ceiling. She felt like she'd just dodged a bullet. Should she tell them that she woke up every morning in raw pain? And with the knowledge that this marvelous facade was crumbling under the surface?

"I'm no different than anyone else," she replied, wishing it were true.

"Were you a pretty little girl?"

The question pricked Charlotte, deflating her balloon of confidence. Her head felt woozy and, slipping back in time, she saw the face of the little girl she had been. The sad eyes, the thin, gawky figure, and always, that face. A leaden weight was pulling her down, deeper into the memory till she experienced again the stark loneliness of her childhood. She remembered how she used to stroll through the wealthy neighborhoods, the kind with the big houses and the manicured lawns, waiting for her mother to finish cleaning. It was so far and foreign from the noisy, close set apartment buildings on Chicago's far west side, where she lived. She didn't mind waiting. She liked to peek through the windows at the people sitting inside on the pretty furniture. She'd thought they were so lucky to live where everything was so pretty, so content.

"Miss Godfrey?" VickiÆs voice was strident.

Charlotte blinked heavily. "What? Oh, yes, I was trying to recollect," she said, struggling for composure. Lord, that extra medication was really kicking in. She felt like her brain was mush. "I...I don't remember much of my childhood. At least not how I looked." The lies were pounding in her head now. How much longer did she have to go on?

"What do you remember?" Vicki pressed.

Charlotte sighed heavily. "I can remember trivial things. Let's see," she rubbed her temple, "I was a book worm, especially for Charles Dickens. I always wanted a garden and of course, the games." She swallowed again, her throat dry remembering how often she'd been the target of cruel games.

"The gossip that always surrounds a celebrity is difficult to live with," Vicki continued, changing topics. "But you seem to attract so much gossip. You've been on the cover of almost every magazine and seem to be a favorite of the tabloids."

"I can't imagine why. I live a rather boring life."

"Maybe it's because they're attracted to the unknown. Your quest for privacy is as legendary as your beauty."

"Is it? I just prefer to keep to myself. What do they think they'll find that's so interesting? When I'm not working, I'm pulling weeds in my garden."

"Well for starters," Vicki flashed a smile, "isn't it true that you were released from your last film? Rumors circulated on the set that you were loaded with drugs. Perhaps even had a breakdown of sorts?"

Charlotte took a deep breath knowing without looking that Freddy's smile was gone and he was leaning forward, waiting for her answer. Deliberating on damage control. She decided to face the truth head on.

"I was sick," she admitted. She saw VickiÆs brow rise in anticipation of a coup. "I had a terrible case of the flu which I ignored." VickiÆs smile fell and Charlotte knew she wasn't buying the story. "The role meant a great deal to me. My mother taught me that illness was a weakness to be worked through. Unfortunately, the flu progressed to pneumonia.ö She shrugged slightly. ôI'm told I had a serious case and I have to admit I was frightened."

"You disappeared." VickiÆs eyes were hard.

"Yes." The image of Michael again flashed in her mind. His touch, his eyes, his love--they were for her like the sun, soil and air were to the garden. Her smile cracked. She wanted to disappear again.

She brought a shaky hand to her face, but a warning glare from Freddy caught her before she betrayed herself. With a clever tilt of her palm, she gracefully settled her long fingers along the exquisite curve of her jaw.

Vicki waited with the patience of a pro.

"I didn't really disappear," Charlotte continued. "That sounds so glamorous. All I did was spend some time in the country, alone, to regain my health."

"Like in Camille? You won an Oscar for that role."

Charlotte laughed lightly, determined to regain control of the interview. "Yes, I suppose so. Life imitates artà or vice versa." She kept her smile firmly in place. "My health," she said, emphasizing the word, "was the reason I requested a release from my last film. The pills I was seen taking were prescription. And it is common knowledge that I adhere to a strict regime of vitamins and herbs." She lifted one hand and flicked her fingers lightly. "I swear, one can't take a vitamin anymore without being tagged a drug addict."

Vicki smirked and Charlotte realized the host was removing her gloves. All bets were off. Charlotte felt betrayed, trapped. As her headache pounded in her temples she felt the beginnings of a wave of chills. Her hands formed fists in her lap, digging moon shaped dents into her palms as she fought for composure. She wasn't up to this. She had warned Freddy. Oh God, she prayed fervently, don't let me get sick now, on national TV.

"Can you respond to the rumors of a breakdown?"

Charlotte offered a steely smile. "I thought I just had."

"Oh, surely you can't pretend not to have been upset by your breakup with Brad Sommers?"

This time Charlotte genuinely laughed out loud. Freddy's press releases had done their job. "Vicki, really. Give me a little credit. Brad and I are friends," she lied.

"If not Brad, then," Vicki quickly checked her note cards. "What about Michael Mondragon?" she asked, raising her eyes with a gleam of triumph. "Some say that behind your tall, ivy covered walls you were in fact hiding a torrid love affair with your gardener."

Charlotte sat back in her chair, dumbstruck. How did Vicki know about Michael? How dare she call him a gardener? How? Nausea rose up to choke her, forcing her to swallow hard, appearing to the camera, she knew, overwhelmed by the question. Guilty by silence.

Her gaze flew to Freddy standing just offstage, a mute appeal in her eyes. Please come out, her eyes entreated. You set this up. Or...are you setting me up?

Her pal the cameraman obliged and shifted the camera focus to catch a glimpse of Freddy, arms now clasped tightly across his chest. He bore a hard grin but his eyes were flashing. Freddy remained resolutely silent, only waving the camera away. Vicki made a discreet gesture and immediately, the camera returned to her.

"Michael who?" Charlotte finally blurted. She sat straighter in her chair, angry at Vickie for digging into her personal life, angry at Freddy for leaking the information, angry at herself for not having enough courage to walk off the stage. "Me and my gardener? Really. This is too much."

She couldn't help herself; her hand rose to cover her eyes. The tremors were returning. She felt weaker, dizzy. Poor Michael. If he heard what she'd just said it would hurt him deeply. But what choice did she have? What choice did he leave her?

"These kinds of rumors are why I choose to keep my private life private," she added, raising her eyes. Anger made her strong. She didn't realize her hands clutched the arms of her chair. "When Freddy and I are married we're going to take a long trip, away from public view, so I can regain my health. When I come back I'll be as good as new and ready to face whatever."

Vicki retreated, moving into the audience. A sweet-faced woman, obviously a fan, flagged Vicki. "Is there another film we can look forward to?"

Charlotte mentally blessed the old woman. "Oh yes," she said with a smile that lit up her face. "I'm very excited about my next project. I've always wanted to play Tess of the D'Urburvilles."

"Another demanding role," chided Vicki. "You're known to become the character you play, but you won't let yourself die like poor Tess, I hope?"

While the audience chuckled, Charlotte caught her breath. Did Vicki suspect? Was Dr. Harmon right and Freddy wrong? Who should she believe? It was clear she was getting sick again. Worse than ever. She could hardly get through a day without collapsing.

Despite the dizziness that blurred her vision, Charlotte focused on the answer by force of will. "Goodness, I hope not!" She flashed a megawatt smile straight at the cameras. "I hope you'll all come see it."

Vicki seemed satisfied and the audience showed their approval with their applause. In the wings, Freddy was nodding with paternalistic pleasure. Everyone was smiling. Charlotte leaned back in her chair and quickly glanced at her watch. It was over. She'd made it through the interview without the truth slipping out. For a few tense moments, she thought Vicki had the scoop and would press her hard for a confession, breaking her down like a guilty witness on the stand. What good TV that would have been: the end of a career.

No matter, she thought, pretending not to feel the wrenching of her stomach. In a few minutes more, she could go home to her big four-poster bed, cuddle up under her down comforter, take another dose of her herbal remedy and pray for the illness to pass.

"We only have time for one more question."

One man in the audience rose. There was something familiar in his towering height and the breadth of his shoulders. Something about the neatly clipped black hair brushed back from his forehead that caught her attention. A chill shivered through her. Her breathing grew shallow as she squinted through the haze of lights to focus on the man. He was moving forward now, down the stairs toward the front stage. Towards her. Each step he took was measured by her gasps. Each inch closer brought her further to despair.

Vicki, sensing something amiss, followed the man who boldly approached the stage. She opened her mouth to speak, but either instinct or memory hushed her. She stilled the security guard with a flick of her wrists and expertly allowed the tension to spread throughout the audience. While the camera whirred, one by one the hands dropped and the heads turned toward the handsome, dark haired man who now stopped at the foot of the stage and stared with bruising intensity at the frozen actress. Silence reigned.

"Charlotte Godfrey," he said, piercing the quiet with a voice that carried the clarity of conviction. "You are a fraud."

A collective gasp surged through the room and from somewhere she could hear the angry shouts of Freddy demanding that this moron be removed.

Charlotte stared back into the piercing dark eyes that silenced her. No words came to respond. She had no lines, no script. She was rendered mute with confusion. Struck dumb by her blinding hatred for this man. And more. Oh yes. That other, deeper, more excruciating pain. For she loved no man more than Michael Mondragon.

Vicki was talking now, rapidly closing the show, promising the gaping audience that she would schedule a follow-up. Freddy was being forcibly held back but she could hear his garbled shouts rise up over the din. Mustering dignity, Charlotte stood up, catching hold of the chair to steady herself. Then, turning on her heel, she walked with her chin high away from the blinding lights, away from the shouts of Freddy, and most of all, away from the tangible pull of Michael Mondragon. He called after her, more a demand, but she ignored him. Faster she walked, almost a trot, back to the seclusion of the green room.

"Don't let anyone in," she ordered the guard. He nodded and straightened his shoulders as she filed past him, locking the door behind her.

What did she do now? she asked herself again and again as she paced the floor, her face flushed and perspiring in fevered hands. Throw something? Run? But where could she go?

"Charlotte!" Michael roared outside her door. He pounded, shaking the wood. "Open the door. We need to talk. I won't let you die!" The door shook. "Charlotte!"

Then Freddy's voice. Now both of them were calling her name. She threw herself on the sofa, covering her ears. Outside, they took to shouting at each other, like two territorial dogs defending what was theirs. Oh god, were they fighting? She heard the muffled sounds of fists against muscle, grunts, followed by shouts of alarm from Vicki.

"Go away," Charlotte screamed, at the two men, at everyone. "Please just leave me alone!"

She curled up on the sofa, bringing her knees to her chest, shivering. Each bone in her body ached, every muscle trembled. "Go away," she moaned, over and over, crooning as the chills and fever racked her. She couldn't go on like this. She wouldn't. No more listening to Michael or Freddy.

Wasn't it her face, her life that was at issue here? She had to make this decision alone. She had to think. To remember, to go back to where it all began.

Her eyelids felt like heavy weights and she could no longer fight off closing them. As soon as she relinquished resistance, she felt blanketed by a languid, drifting blackness. Her mind called out to the ghost of the child evoked earlier during the interview. As she slipped deeper into the darkness, from somewhere she heard the high pitched, sing-song voice of a little girl saying over and over, "I told you so..." * * *

September 1976

Charlotte sat on the periphery of the playground. Her yellow dress hung limply around her knees as her feet dangled over the bleachers. Humming a nameless tune, she watched the other kindergarten children cover the ground, laughing, playing the many silly, exciting games that she knew by heart: hopscotch, jump-rope, cats-cradle. But no one invited her to join, so she sat, swinging her legs, and watched.

Suddenly two young girls she knew well darted past her to hide behind the bleachers. Charlotte sat up, tense with anticipation. She marveled at how their pretty cheeks were pink with excitement. Their voices were shrill with feigned alarm.

"Come back here, Charlotte," one of them hissed. "They'll see you and guess our hiding place. Hurry!"

Charlotte jumped up with a rush of joy to join them.

"Me? You want me to play?" No one ever wanted her to play.

"Hurry up!"

They were playing with her! Charlotte scurried around the green, wooden bleacher and huddled with the other girls, her hands tight against her chest in excitement. She imagined her own cheeks were as pretty and pink as theirs. When the group of young boys spotted them, they pointed and charged. The girls took off, squealing in the chase.

Charlotte's heart pounded gleefully as her little feet soared across the hard-packed grass of the playing field. She was running with them and oh, she was fast! She could feel the wind kiss her smile and flap her dress hem against her thighs as she sprinted. Behind her she heard heavy footfall and, feeling cocky, she looked over her shoulder teasingly. She knew she was smarter in school, and now she knew she was faster too. The boy who chased her flushed and frowned furiously.

Charlotte's laughter peeled and she ran harder. As she began to tire, she sensed a subtle shift in attitude. Them against her. Instead of one boy chasing her, now there were three, and they were frustrated and closing ranks. Where were the other girls?

"Hey, you're fast," one boy shouted with resentment.

"Like a horse," called out another.

"Yeah, she does look like a horse."

"Hey--Charley Horse!"

The boys burst out laughing, holding their sides and bumping shoulders as their pace slackened. They used the spontaneous nickname as a rallying call.

"Get Charley Horse!"

Little Charlotte Godowski ran hard then, as far as she could from the sound of the cruel nickname that poked fun at her face. It was hateful to be so mean. Mean, mean, mean.

Charley wasn't her name. Her name was Charlotte. A beautiful name. Did she look like a horse? She couldn't help how she looked...why would they say that? The name hurt and they knew it. They kept hurling it at her like stones as they chased. Charlotte felt a little afraid now but she dug deep and ran faster. When she spotted the bleachers, she made a beeline for them. She would hide like before.

It was a dumb thing to do. She knew it the moment she ran behind them and saw that she was trapped by the chain link fence. Like a pack of dogs they came after her, one from around the left side of the bleachers, two from the right. With cunning, they cornered her.

Charlotte moved away from the fence, instinctively allowing herself space. The boys clustered together, their young chests heaving, panting like dogs after the chase. As they stared, she saw conceit gleaming in their eyes.

The boys gathered closer. She could smell the candy on their breaths. Billy's Keds were smeared; he had stepped in dog manure. The wind gusted, hurling the foul scent toward her. Charlotte shivered, wrinkling her nose, and searched through the slats of the bleachers to where the other school children were playing. Their high pitched voices soared in the sky like bird calls. They seemed so very far away. Suddenly, she felt very alone. She wanted her mother, her teacher. Where were the other girls? She didn't like this game anymore. She didn't want to play.

"Okay," she said, putting out her palms. "You guys win." She laughed but it sounded queer, too high.

The boys looked at each other, nervously shifting their weight. Then one boy, Billy again, spoke. His voice was raspy.

"If we catch you we get to pull down your pants."

Charlotte paled and she sucked in her breath. She hadn't heard this rule. She'd never have played the game if she'd heard this rule!

"Uh uh, dog-do foot," she muttered, shaking her head and backing away with her palms turned outward against them. It was a big mistake, she thought, because she saw Billy's eyes turn mean. "I didn't mean it, Billy. I'm sorry. I quit this game. Okay? Please?"

Billy took the lead now. He was determined to show power.

"Let's see if she's as ugly down there."

Her breath stilled. Surely she didn't hear right. She looked at Billy with uncomprehending eyes. Ugly? How could that be? Her mama told her she was pretty. Just last night, at her bedside, her mama prayed to St. Levan for her to be pretty. No one had ever called her ugly. No! They were just being mean.

And yet... From some as yet unvisited place in her heart, Charlotte heard the whispering that it was true. For the first time in her life, at five years of age, Charlotte came face to face with her ugliness. Her arms slipped to her side and she stared back at them with vulnerable eyes.

Sensing her new weakness, they were on her, pulling her to the dirt. Charlotte was filled with a panic she'd never felt before. She kicked her long, spindly legs blindly, with all her might, satisfied when she heard muffled "umphs" and grunts of pain. She fought hard but there were too many of them. With their sticky hands they held her down. She began to cry and beg them not to.

"No...Please...No!"

Their short, blunt nails scraped her hips as they pulled the pink flowered cotton down around her thighs. Then they looked, really looked, with their mouths hanging open, surprised that they'd really went through with it.

When the school bell pierced the air they all jumped back, startled, frightened by the reality of what they'd imagined. Charlotte instantly curled into a ball, tucking her thin yellow dress tight around her knees. With her face in the dirt, she hiccuped, tasting the salt of tears and the minerals of earth. She hated those boys. In the harshest jargon of a five year old, she shouted out, "You're bad!"

Knowing what they'd done was wrong, the boy scuffed their shoes in the dirt in an embarrassed silence. From her level, Charlotte saw the manure still smeared on Billy's Keds. When she looked up she caught Billy's expression before he turned heel and sped across the field to join the rest of the class as they filed into the school. Charlotte thought Billy had seemed horrified. It didn't occur to her five year old mind that the boy may have been guilt stricken at his own behavior. All Charlotte thought was that maybe she was ugly--even down there.

Mortified, her tears cascaded down her grossly sloping chin to pool in the dirt. She hated boys. They were mean and not to be trusted. And she didn't like the girls either. Why didn't they help her? She would have helped them. They had to know...

Lifting herself from the dirt, she spied a dandelion whose stem had been crushed by the heel of a boy's shoe. Charlotte bent over the broken flower and tried to straighten the yellow head, shoring up its sides with dirt. "Poor little flower."

Charlotte didn't go back to school but stayed behind the bleachers until the teacher came out to fetch her and scold her for not following the bell. Charlotte told the teacher that she was sick and wanted to go home. The teacher looked at her tear stained face and believed her. It wasn't really a lie, but Charlotte told God that she was sorry for the sin anyway.

But she wasn't sorry for hating the boys. She promised herself she was never going to let them hurt her again.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2004

    Curl up with a good book

    This was my first book I have read written by Mary Alice Monroe and I was very impressed. A hard book to put down. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading other books she has written.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2006

    Emotional and Well Researched

    I am very impressed with the level of research Mary Alice put into this work. For me, it bumped a 3-star read to four stars. The depth at which she portrayed Michael's family and their Mexican heritage was enlightening for me as a non-Latina. The way the familia deals with issues from Michael's choice to work half a continent away, to homosexuality, to the place of women in the family (and how said women dealt with it), felt authentic. It was neither sugar-coated nor denigrated. It was as it was. Charlotte's deformity and surgery seemed to be fairly well researched, too. Although I couldn't quite picture her before the surgery, I certainly felt the impact on her life. Then, issues related to the surgery seemed legitimate, even though I am not knowledgeable in the field. Two points kept this from being a 5-star read. The meteoric rise in fame was difficult to believe, especially in combination with her slavish devotion to her agent. While she appeared to be tempered by her experiences growing up, she pretty much handed her career over to a near-has-been agent. This surprised me, given the amount of strength I thought she possessed. The other point was the inexplicable jealousy her agent felt toward Michael Mondragon. Prejudice and status explained the problem just enough for me to buy it, but for not wanting to get her into bed, the agent was extremely possessive. Overall, I highly recommend this novel. -C.W.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2013

    One of the best books ive ever read

    I really love this book. It really touches my heart. So good they should make a movie of it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2013

    Very good book. One of the better ones of Monroe's.

    Interesting descriptions of Hispanic customs. Held my interest all the way

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2012

    Check it out

    I'm sure I'd love it,
    since Mary Alice Monroe writes so well, but haven't been able to pick it up on my Nook! Plan on getting to the store for help soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2003

    Couldn't put it down

    I read this book in just a few days, it was very hard to put down. The theme was a twist on a Beauty and the Beast story...it just so happens that the main caracter is both. Although the ending is a little weak...it is worth reading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2014

    I loved this book.  Great story of love for oneself and the abil

    I loved this book.  Great story of love for oneself and the ability it gives you to love others.  The characters are dynamic.  Can't wait to read more of MAM's work.

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    Posted June 4, 2010

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    Posted July 12, 2013

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    Posted April 30, 2012

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    Posted February 4, 2012

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    Posted December 2, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2010

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    Posted February 8, 2011

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