The Ocean Between Usby Susan Wiggs
After years of following her navy officer husband on assignment around the world with their three children, Grace Bennett realizes that she's left something behind—herself.
Steve Bennett can't understand the unraveling of his wife's heart. He wants to set things right, but when a secret from his past is revealed just as he's sent out to sea, their
After years of following her navy officer husband on assignment around the world with their three children, Grace Bennett realizes that she's left something behind—herself.
Steve Bennett can't understand the unraveling of his wife's heart. He wants to set things right, but when a secret from his past is revealed just as he's sent out to sea, their already-strained relationship is pushed to the edge. Now, with plenty of space to ponder the true distance between them, Grace begins to reinvent herself.
Just as her new self is coming to terms with her family life, the unthinkable happens. A disaster aboard Steve's ship shatters Grace's world and all she can do is gather her children around and wait for news to come, good or bad. A navy wife's worst nightmare collides with the cold truth that life's biggest chances can slip away while you're busy looking for guarantees.
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Read an Excerpt
USS Dominion (CVN-84)
2215 hours (Time Zone YANKEE)
Steve Bennett glanced at the clock on his computer screen. He ought to be in his rack and sleeping soundly. Instead, he sat with his feet propped on the edge of the workstation, hands clasped behind his head while he stared at a scenic Washington State calendar and thought about Grace.
He was ten thousand miles from home, on an aircraft carrier in the middle of an unofficial communications blackout instigated by Grace herself. His wife. The mother of his children. The woman who had not spoken to him willingly since he'd been deployed.
She had maintained radio silence like a wartime spy. He received official communiqués about the children, and sometimes the occasional report that made him regret giving her power of attorney. But never more than that.
The cruise was nearly over, and for the first time in his career Steve felt apprehensive about going home. He had no idea whether or not they could put their marriage back together again.
"Captain Bennett?" An administrative officer stood in the doorway with a clipboard in one hand and a PDA in the other.
"What is it, Lieutenant Killigrew?"
"Ms. Francine Atwater is here to see you, sir."
Bennett hid a frown. He'd nearly forgotten their appointment. In the belly of a carrier there was no day or night, just an unrelenting fluorescent sameness, stale recycled air and the constant thunder of flight ops rattling through the steel bones of the ship.
"Send her in." He unfolded his long frame and stood, assuming the stiff and wary posture schooled into him by twenty-six years in the Navy. Killigrew left for a moment, then returned with the reporter. Steve would have preferred to use the public affairs office on the 01 deck, but apparently Ms. Atwater was adamant about exploring every facet of carrier life. It was, after all, the era of the embedded reporter.
Francine Atwater. Francine. A member of the "new media," eager to take advantage of the military's newly relaxed information policy. According to his briefing notes, she had arrived COD—carrier onboard delivery—and intended to spend the next two weeks in this floating city with its own airport. Both the skipper of the Dominion and Captain Mason Crowther, Commander of the Air Group, had welcomed her personally, but they'd quickly handed her off to others, and now it was Steve's turn.
"Ms. Atwater, I'm Captain Steve Bennett, Deputy Commander of the Air Group." He tried not to stare, but she was the first civilian woman he'd seen in months. In a skirt, no less. He silently paid tribute to the genius who had invented nylon stockings and cherry-colored lipstick.
"Thank you, Captain Bennett." Her glossy lips parted in a smile. She was a charmer, all right, the way she tilted her head to one side and looked up at him through long eyelashes. Still, he detected shadows of fatigue under her carefully made-up eyes.
Newcomers to the carrier usually suffered seasickness and insomnia from all the noise.
"Welcome aboard, ma'am."
"I see you've been briefed about me," she said, indicating his notes from the PAO.
"What a surprise. Everyone on this ship has. I swear, the U.S. Navy knows more about me than my own mother. My blood type, shoe size, visual acuity, sophomore-year biology grade—"
"Standard procedure, ma'am." Even in lipstick and nylon stockings, the media held no appeal to the military. Still, he respected the way she stood her ground, especially while wearing three-inch heels. Civilians were advised on practical shipboard attire, but apparently no one had wanted Francine to change her shoes.
A tremendous whoosh, followed by a loud thump, rocked the ship. She staggered a little, and he put out a hand to steady her.
"Tell me I'll get used to that," she said.
"You'd better. We're launching and recovering planes around the clock, day and night. It's not going to stop." He slid open a desk drawer and took out a sealed plastic package. "Take these. I always keep plenty on hand."
"Earplugs?" She slipped the package into her briefcase. "Thanks."
He motioned her to a chair and she sat down, setting aside her bag. She took out a palm-size digital recorder, then swept the small space with a glance that shifted like a radar, homing in on the few personal items in evidence. "You have a beautiful family."
"Thank you, ma'am. I think so."
"How old are your children?"
"Brian and Emma are twins. They're seniors this year. Katie's in ninth grade. And that's Grace, my wife." A world of pain and hope underlay his words, but he prayed the reporter wouldn't notice. Every day he looked at that picture and tried to figure out what would fix this. He'd never deceived his wife before, so he didn't know how to undo the damage he'd caused. An ordinary husband would go home, take her out to dinner and say, "Look, honey. The truth is…" But Bennett couldn't do that from the middle of the ocean.
And sometimes he wondered if he even wanted to, damn it. He'd done his best to keep her from being hurt, but she didn't seem to appreciate that.
In the photo, taken at Mustang Island when they were stationed in Corpus Christi, the four of them were laughing into the camera, sunburned faces glowing.
"This is a great shot," said Ms. Atwater. "They look like the kind of people nothing bad ever happens to."
Interesting observation. He would have agreed with her, right up until this deployment. Grace and the kids were part of the all-American family, the kind you saw on minivan commercials or at summer baseball games.
"What's it like, being away from them for months on end?"
What the hell did she think it was like? A damned fraternity party?
"It's rough. I'm sure you'll hear that from a lot of the sailors on board. It's hard seeing your baby's first steps on videotape or getting a picture of a winning soccer goal by e-mail." Steve wished he had prepared himself better for her nosiness. He should have barricaded his private self. He was supposed to be good at that. According to Grace, he was the champ.
Atwater studied another photograph, this one in a slightly warped frame nearly twenty years old. "But the homecomings are sweet," she murmured, gazing down at the fading image.
He couldn't recall who had taken that shot, but he remembered the moment with painful clarity. It was the end of his first cruise after they'd married. The gray steel hull of an aircraft carrier reared in the background. Sailors, officers and civilians all crushed together, hugging with the desperate joy only military families understood. At the center, he and Grace held each other in an embrace he could still feel all these years later. He clasped her so close that her feet came off the ground, one of her dainty high heels dangling off a slender foot. He could still remember what she smelled like.
Since that photo was taken there had been dozens of other partings and reunions. He could picture each homecoming in succession—Grace pregnant with the twins, no high heels that time, just sneakers that wouldn't lace up around her swollen feet. Then Grace pushing a double stroller that wouldn't fit through doorways. By then, her perfume was more likely to be a blend of baby wipes and cough drops. In later years, the kids kept her busy as she shuffled them between music lessons, sports practices, Brownies and Boy Scouts. But she always came to meet him. She never left him standing like some loser whose wife had given him the shaft while he was at sea, who would sling his seabag over his shoulder and pretend it didn't matter, whistling under his breath as he headed straight for the nearest bar.
Yesterday had been Grace's fortieth birthday. He'd phoned and gotten the machine. Lately she was so prickly about her age, anyway. She probably wouldn't thank him for the reminder.
Atwater asked about his background, his career path in the Navy, his role on the carrier. She listened well, occasionally making notes on a small yellow pad as well as recording him. At one point he glanced at his watch and was surprised to see how much time had passed. She'd talked to him about his family for nearly an hour. He wondered if he'd told her too much. Did the American people really need to know his life was coming undone like a slipknot?
He cleared his throat. "Says on my agenda that I'm your tour guide for nighttime flight ops." He was surprised that she'd gained authorization to be on the flight deck at night, but apparently her project was important to Higher Authority.
"I've been looking forward to this, sir." She came alive in that special way of people who were in love with flying, the more high-tech and dangerous, the better. And there was no form of flying more dangerous than carrier operations.
He was dog tired, but he put on a smile because, in spite of everything, he shared her enthusiasm.
"I thought about going into the service and learning to fly," she said, her eyes shining. "Couldn't make the commitment, though."
"Lots of people can't." He said it without condemnation or pride. It was a plain fact. The U.S. Navy demanded half of your life. It was as simple as that. He'd been in the Navy since his eighteenth birthday. And of his twenty-six years of service, he'd been at sea for half of them. That kind of commitment had its rewards, but it also carried a price. He was finally figuring that out.
As he went to the door, the Inbox on his computer screen blinked, but he didn't check to see what had come in. If it was personal, he didn't want a reporter reading over his shoulder.
He led her single file down a narrow passageway tiled in blue, narrating their journey and cautioning her to avoid slamming her shins on the "knee knockers," structural members at the bottom of each hatch. Lining theP-way were dozens of red cabinets containing fire-control gear and protective clothing. The least little spark could take out half the ship if it happened to ignite in the wrong place.
Steve spoke over his shoulder, but he wasn't sure how much she was taking in. The constant din of flight ops intruded—roaring engines, the hiss and grind of the power plant and arresting gear, the whistle and screech of aircraft slamming on deck—drowning out normal conversation. In the enlisted men's mess, they created a small stir. Sailors enjoying MIDRATS—rations for personnel on night duty—stopped what they were doing the minute they saw Francine Atwater. Their jaws dropped as though unhinged. Even the female sailors stared, not with the raw yearning of the males but with wistfulness, and perhaps a flicker of disdain. In the service of their country, they had learned to do without makeup, without hair spray, without vanity.
As they climbed an open steel ladder, Atwater took it in stride, but she was probably wishing she'd worn pants and thick-soled boots. They crossed the hangar bay, where aircraft waited with wings folded like origami cranes.
In the passageway under flight-deck control, the roar of aircraft pounding the steel deck was louder still. "We need to gear up," Steve said, handing her a flight suit and boots.
"I've been briefed on safety procedures." She sat down and slipped off her civilian shoes, flashing a slim foot encased in a nylon stocking. "Hours and hours of briefing."
"The Navy loves to brief people," he admitted, hearing echoes of the endless droning of Navy gouge he'd endured over the years, litanies of instruction and advisories. "In this case, I hope you listened," he added. Then, assuming she hadn't, he reiterated the list of hazards on the flight deck. A sailor could be sucked into an engine intake. Exhaust from a jet engine had the power to blast a person across the deck, or even overboard. He'd seen large men bouncing like basketballs all the way to the deck edge. Or an arresting wire might snap as a tail hook grabbed it, whipping with enough force to sever a person's legs. Taxiing planes, scurrying yellow tractors, breaking launch bars—all were hazards waiting to happen.
His hand wandered to his throat in a habitual gesture, seeking his St. Christopher medal. Then he remembered that he'd lost it, the good-luck charm he'd had since his first deployment. He never went to sea without it. Ah, hell. At least he wasn't flying.
He distracted himself by perusing the bulletin board of one of the squadrons. The postings included items for sale or trade, a movie schedule and an invitation to the upcoming Steel Beach picnic, during which a dozen or so garage bands would perform. Personnel on board were desperate to create a normal existence in a highly abnormal situation.
It didn't always work, Steve thought.
After she finished gearing up for flight ops, Francine Atwater looked totally different. Steel-toed boots, a shiny gray-green jumpsuit and a white visitor's jersey hid all of her charms except those big brown eyes.
Feeling a bit like an airline flight attendant, he showed her how to operate her float coat. The vest was equipped with a beacon light, a packet of chemical dye to mark the water if she found herself in the drink, a flare, a whistle. "This is your MOBI," he said. It was a transmitter the size of a cell phone, with a whip antenna connected to a small box.
"Let me guess. Man Overboard…Indicator."
"You did your homework."
"I told you, I was briefed. But you're forgetting something," she said.
"I don't intend to go for a midnight swim."
"Then we're on the same page." He slipped the device into the dye pouch of her float coat and closed the Velcro fastening. "But just in case, the transmitter has its own unique identification. That way, the bridge will know identity and location immediately."
"So this one has my name on it?"
"Just the number of the float coat. You want me to show you how to fasten everything?"
"I've got it," she said.
He showed her a status board outlining the night's exercises. The list indicated who was taking off, who was landing, who the crew members were, the purpose of their particular operation.
"Two of the names are in red," Atwater pointed out. "Is that significant?"
"They're nugget pilots. New guys. This is their first cruise."
"Lieutenant junior grade Joshua Lamont," she read from the chart. "Call sign Lamb."
Steve didn't move a muscle, even though the sound of Lamont's name was a punch in the gut. He wondered if he would ever get used to having Lamont under his command. A C-2 Greyhound transport plane had flown the young pilot aboard as a replacement pilot. Lamont was a member of the Sparhawks, the carrier's squadron of EA-6B Prowlers. The reporter probably thought his call sign was sweet, but Steve knew it came from an incident during training in Nevada—Little Angry Man Boy.
Meet the Author
When Susan Wiggs’s recent novel, Fireside, landed at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, the author responded by jumping fully clothed into her swimming pool. In February. In the Pacific Northwest. After thawing herself out, the author put on her lipstick and vacuumed the living room. Why? Because on the tiny island where she lives, news travels fast. She knew her girlfriends would show up momentarily - which they did - with the customary champagne and bags of Cheetos. She toasted her loyal readers, whose unflagging interest in her books propelled her sales upward. She toasted her friends and family as well, since they have always been the source of her inspiration.
From the very start, her writings have illuminated the everyday dramas of ordinary people. At the age of eight, she self-published her first novel, entitled A Book About Some Bad Kids.
Today, she is an international best-selling author, with millions of copies of her books in print in numerous countries. Her Lakeshore Chronicles novels celebrate the power of love, the timeless bonds of family and the nuances of human nature that make headlines every day.
She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest and is perpetually working on her next novel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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As a Navy brat growing up, seeing my dad go on several deployments to a Navy Wife watching my husband leave as well, this book brought everything together for me. Not only did it show the thoughts and feelings of the military man that was deployed and what he had to endure, but it also showed the children and wife he left behind and what they went through without him. I truly bonded with this family and highly recommend this book! You will cry, laugh, etc along with the characters as Susan Wiggs really opens up each one of them for you to see into their hearts.
For twenty years Grace Bennett has been the perfect navy wife to her husband, Steve, traveling the globe with each re-station and raising their three children. There is conflict between Grace and Stephen that serves as a reminder of how much family members sacrifice also, so that their loved ones can serve in the military. Steve knows that his navy career puts a strain on his family. Grace is almost 40, has gained weight, and is still WAITING to get started with her life. She wants to settle down, start a career of her own.SOMETHING! Steve is bewildered by Grace's sudden change of heart towards him, when he believes that his career proves how much he cares for his family and his country. Their children are dealing with issues. Their son is rebelling against his father's pressure to attend the Navy Academy; their older daughter is dealing with her sexuality and gets caught in a dangerous situation; the younger daughter is shy, a curse in a family that is forced to move every few years and must make new friends. A past secret rears its ugly head amongst the naval suspense thriller background and the emotional struggle drama that is thought-provoking and keeps the reader spellbound! Another one that kept me absolutely spellbound was EXPLOSION IN PARIS!
I wasn¿t sure how I was going to feel about this book, An Ocean Between Us, as I knew it was not a historical romance (which is my preferred genre of love stories to read) and that it contained the story line with many characters (I was worried I might get lost along the way with too much going on) and that it was a book heavily on the military life of a Naval family (I knew little about this way of life so, unsure if I would find it interesting or too different and a bit boring). But¿.true to form, SW writes another great one. Let¿s face it, real emotion, real conflicts, real life surpasses time and space so, when an author brings you into the heart of the story line you can¿t help but be interested and fascinated all at one time. I was impressed that SW had so many characters in live action in this book yet, no one got lost along the way. That included the main characters of Grace (mother/wife), Steve (husband/father/military man), kids Emma, Katie, Brian(their teen-aged children), Josh (Steve¿s unknown first child/military man), Lauren (Josh¿s love interest) and others such as Patricia/Officer Riviera, ex-wife Cissy, and others. As the book went on, I noticed each new chapter dealt with a different person and their view point/perspective and life event was profiled and then a new character would arrive and a switch would occur again. Eventually, you got to know everyone and back and forth it went and of course, the inevitable happens, the story life comes full circle and show why everyone is tied together. The difficulty Naval and other military families go through in service to their nation was a powerful and moving story to tell. Life apart is more common than life together. Sacrifice to a thankful nation is critical element to these families but, so is the impact of living apart for a life time when it comes to husbands, wives, kids and relatives. This book showed what can happen to even the best families when distance and time take their toll. Who do you become? What do you do? What do you hope, wish and desire? Who follows who? Who stays behind? How does life go on while loves ones are away? And all the difficulty to patching up a family due to the affects of distance and duty. I found all the twists and turns in this book enjoyable. The most important of course being, the soul searching Grace did as a middle aged woman with grown kids, a duty bound Naval man moving up the ranks of his profession and trying to figure out who you are in mid life with no career, no house, no set place to call home and a lost identity. Her journey of self ¿discovery was powerful and important ¿ I¿m sure many, many women can relate. Grace¿s story re-affirmed that you teach people how to treat you so¿treat yourself goooooood! Of course this book ended up being pretty thick and long. There was some elements that could certainly have used more time and expansion but, book can only get so big. This book over-all is a great read. Pick it up soon, read it and add it to your Susan Wiggs library. You won¿t be sorry you did. If you enjoy honest and real love stories and seeing the human spirit prevail, then this is the one for you.
For two decades Grace Bennett has been the perfect navy wife to her beloved Steve while traveling the globe when her husband gets restationed and raising their three delightful children. So why is the devoted family matriarch feeling worthless and dissatisfied? Perhaps it is simply that her youngest is in ninth grade and like her older siblings needs mom less, but Grace thinks it goes deeper as she believes it is her identity that she lost....................................... Steve is bewildered by Grace¿s sudden change of heart towards him, as he believes that his career proves how much he cares for his family. Now deployed, he knows his marriage is in jeopardy especially since Grace has established a communication black out. He refuses to accept that he lost her without going down fighting as he loves his wife and children, but panics that Grace will not be there when he redeploys. When Stephen¿s ship is in troubled waters, Grace may not have a choice whether to remain a sailor¿s spouse with the overseas danger to her husband and the rest of the sailors on board.................................... THE OCEAN BETWEEN US excitingly plays out on two levels. There is the conflict between Grace and Stephen that serves as a reminder of how much family members sacrifice so that their loved ones can serve in a military that constantly ships out to hot spots (whom else but the military and their family have really sacrificed anything for the Global War on Terrorism?). The second theme is an action subplot that shows how dangerous the world is. Both the relationship drama and the naval suspense thriller combine to make a terrific thought provoking tale......................... Harriet Klausner
I picked up this book at the library even though I'm not a big reader of romance novels. Well, I stayed on the beach until 6 p.m. so I could finish it in one day! Just loved this author and can't wait to read them all.
A 20 year marriage develops cracks. And situations force husband and wife to re-think their commitment.
The best book I have read in a while -- Susan Wiggs is a great author and this is one of her bests! Thoroughly enjoyed the story and became very connected with the characters-- I found myself laughing out loud in 1 part and choking back tears in another--- A very believable and well written story--Highly recommended!
Very enjoyable and in true Wiggs' fashion. Loved all the characters and their interaction with one another.
I give t his a 5-star rating. I've read this book twice and it's one I can't put down. Having been a military wife for over 18 years, and now retired with the same man many more years, I can totally relate to Grace and sense that she wants more out of life. She is the epitome of what a commanding officer's wife shoud be, be there for the women or men who are left behind when the ship (or unit or spouse) goes to seas or other shores. The problem is, who should she go to when she's blue, unhappy, scared? At the same time she can and should look for ways she can enhance her life beyond being the CO's wife. Sometimes it's hard, especially when you have children who also need nurturing when the spouse is gone. Grace did find her self and made some changes in her life that affected all in her family. She had the respect of her children and her friends, but she had to convince her husband of the changes she made in her life that affected him as well. A well written book by Susan Wiggs, as always. This book is fast reading and interesting; I hated to put it down.
Susan Wiggs has written another good read. The characters were believable and true to life. I look forward to my next one by this author.
SW tells her most powerful story about how loves grows, changes, and needs to be nurtured in this fabulous book. It reminds us that we also change through our life and experiences, just like our relationships. I feel this is her most touching novel.
Wonderful story, great characters, really like this author.
ASHCLOUD Locked out
I want to train.
Wiggs characters are believable and it's easy to get invested in their lives.
Susan Wiggs at her best. This is a great book. Hard to put down.