One Mountain Away

One Mountain Away

4.7 17
by Emilie Richards

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Charlotte Hale plans to change her life one careful step at a time

With nothing but brains, ambition and sheer nerve, Charlotte Hale built a career as a tough, savvy real-estate developer. Her reputation is rock solid…but her life is empty.

One terrifying day, Charlotte realizes that her friends are as grasping and insincere as she is. Far

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Charlotte Hale plans to change her life one careful step at a time

With nothing but brains, ambition and sheer nerve, Charlotte Hale built a career as a tough, savvy real-estate developer. Her reputation is rock solid…but her life is empty.

One terrifying day, Charlotte realizes that her friends are as grasping and insincere as she is. Far worse, she's alienated her family so completely that she's never held or spoken to her only granddaughter.

Charlotte vows to make amends, not simply with her considerable wealth, but by offering a hand instead of a handout. Putting in hours and energy instead of putting in an appearance. Opening her home and heart instead of her wallet.

With each wrenching, exhilarating, joyful decision, she finds her path to friendship, love and forgiveness—even as she learns what it truly means to build a legacy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Despite aslow beginning, Richards (Sunset Bridge) manages to bring readers a well-crafted tale of atonement before death. Utterly alone after years of mistakes ("Knowing what was best for everybody was something I was good at"), Charlotte Hale is diagnosed with leukemia. Facing her mortality, she sets out to redress those mistakes and mend the rift with her daughter, Taylor, a rift that has prevented Charlotte from meeting her granddaughter. Charlotte, who has long craved "power, control, status," begins humbly trying to make amends with small acts of kindness, hoping to achieve her main goal while she still has time. Charlotte is an admirable character, using her newfound powers of self-observation to bring meaning back into her life. Richards creates a heart-wrenching atmosphere that slowly builds to the final pages, and continues to echo after the book is finished. Agent: Steve Axelrod, the Steve Axelrod Agency. (Aug)
From the Publisher
"I loved this book!"

-#1 New York Times bestselling author Sherryl Woods

"This is truly a marvelous piece of work."

-New York Times bestselling author Catherine Anderson

"Haunts me as few other books have."

-New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas

"Richards creates a heart-wrenching atmosphere that slowly builds to the final pages, and continues to echo after the book is finished."
-Publishers Weekly on One Mountain Away

"Richards creates a heart-wrenching atmosphere that slowly builds to the final pages, and continues to echo after the book is finished."
-Publishers Weekly on One Mountain Away

"Richards creates a heart-wrenching atmosphere that slowly builds to the final pages, and continues to echo after the book is finished."
-Publishers Weekly on One Mountain Away

"This is emotional, suspenseful drama filled with hope and love."
-Library Journal on No River Too Wide

"Portraying the uncomfortable subject of domestic abuse with unflinching thoroughness and tender understanding, Richards' third installment in the Goddesses Anonymous series offers important insights into a far too prevalent social problem."
-Booklist on No River Too Wide

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Product Details

Publication date:
Goddesses Anonymous Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.44(w) x 8.08(h) x 1.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

First Day Journal: April 28

Today Maddie is wearing blue, the color of a summer sky. The choice is a good one. Any shade of blue probably suits her, but, of course, in the years before adolescence, most children look wonderful in every shade of the rainbow. At Maddie's age skin is flawless and radiant, and hair is glossy. I think her eyes are probably blue. This is an educated guess, based on the light brown of her hair, the rose tint of her cheeks and her preferences for every shade from royal to periwinkle. I bet somebody's told her how pretty she looks when she wears it. I remember how susceptible girls of ten are to compliments. Her mother certainly was.

This park is always filled with children. I come here to watch them play, while at the same time I worry they make learning personal facts too easy. I feel absurdly protective, so I make it my job to watch out for strangers who show too much interest or approach them to start conversations.

This is absurd, of course, because to the children, I'm a stranger, too. A stranger enjoying a glimpse back in time to a childhood she never experienced. A stranger scribbling in a journal she resisted for weeks until the lure became too great.

I'm calling this my First Day Journal because of a quote from the 1970s. When I first arrived in Asheville the words radiated in psychedelic colors from posters in every store downtown.

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

Ironically, during the time the saying was wildly popular, I was too busy to think about it. For me a day was just something to get through to make way for another. But now, every time I sit down to record my past and my thoughts, I'll need the reminder that every day brings a new start, whether we need one or not.

A shriek draws my attention. The boy laboring up the spokes of the metal dome with Maddie is named Porter. Apparently his mop of black hair makes it hard to see, because he continually shakes his head in frustration, or maybe just in hopes the strands will fly out of his eyes for the time it takes to lumber to the top. I know his name because the other children shout it loudly and often. Porter's something of a bully. Overweight, a little shabbier than the others, a little clumsy.

It's that last that makes the boy pick on Maddie, I think. Porter's figured out an eternal truth. If he makes fun of someone else, no one will look quite so hard at him. While this makes me angry, I understand. The world's filled with bullies, but at birth, not a one of them glanced at the next cradle and plotted how to steal the pacifier out of a baby-neighbor's mouth. It's only later they learn that knocking down other people may help them stand taller.

So while Porter's behavior upsets me, I feel sorry for him, as well. He's still just a boy. I want to take him in hand and teach him the manners he'll need to get by in the world, but Porter's neither my son nor grandson. I'm just a stranger on a park bench, watching children make mistakes and enemies, decisions and friends.

One of Maddie's friends is on her way to the dome right now to make sure Porter doesn't push her. This child, olive-skinned and lean, is named Edna, which surprised me the first time I heard another child call her name. Of course, names are a circle. They come into favor, then go. Today's young mothers probably never had an Aunt Edna who smelled like wintergreen and mothballs, and chucked them under the chin at family reunions. They find the name filled with music, the way my generation never did.

The child Edna is filled with music. She's a girl who dances her way through life. I think if she and I ever spoke she would sing her words. Edna certainly sings her way into the hearts of the other children. She's powerful here in a way none of the others are. Edna can rescue any situation. She's tactful when she needs to be, forceful when that's required and a mistress of the best way to avert trouble before it begins, which is what she's doing today. If no one beats her to the honor, Edna may well be our irst woman president.

Edna waltzes her way up the metal bars with a quick, natural grace, and she's swaying at the top before Porter can work any mischief. From here it's obvious she's talking to him. Talking, not lecturing, because after a moment, I hear him laugh. Not derisively, but like the child he is. I bet Edna told him a joke, because now Maddie's laughing, too. Maddie's a courageous child, and she shows no fear. If Porter knocked her to the ground, she would pick herself up and start the climb again. I think Maddie refuses to let anything get in her way. Better yet, she doesn't seem to hold grudges or rail against obstacles. She simply inds a way to go around them.

I rarely cry. When I was younger than Maddie, I realized how futile tears were. But today my eyes fill as I watch the three children divide the world among themselves. Here's the future, right in front of me. Edna will lead, efficiently, carefully, fairly. Porter will try to disrupt everything around him, but if Edna can influence him, he may find a better place. And Maddie? Maddie will struggle with whatever life throws at her, but she will always prevail.

For the moment, though, the three are simply children, laughing at Edna's well-timed joke while I wipe my eyes on a park bench thirty yards away. When I look up, I see Maddie's grandfather, Ethan, start across the baseball diamond beyond us to fetch his granddaughter.

I turn away quickly to make sure he doesn't see me. I wonder, though, if he did, would Ethan feel a glimmer of sympathy? Would he understand why I'm sitting here, watching a child I've never spoken to? Would he join me on this narrow park bench and tell me about the granddaughter we share, the granddaughter we haven't discussed since that terrible night ten years ago when we stood at the window of a neonatal intensive care unit and broke each other's hearts?

As I gather my purse and sweater, and slip my heels back into my shoes, I contemplate what to do next. I'm struck by how many possibilities confront us each moment, possibilities we rarely notice. We move on to the next decision by habit, then the next, and we never look around to see all the paths leading to other places, other lives. Right now I could meet Maddie's grandfather halfway across the diamond and ask him to talk to me, even to introduce me to the young girl who is so much a part of both of us.

As always there are too many choices to contemplate fully, but as I stand and turn in the other direction, I know I'm making the only one I can.

Chapter Two .

Charlotte Hale tried to obey the law. She paid strict attention to street signs and rarely risked a yellow light. She drove in the passing lane on the interstate only if she absolutely had to. She was a decent enough driver, except for one flaw. She had never learned to park.

Knowing her limits, most of the time she improvised. She was guilty of lingering in no-parking zones, and leaving her car in a traffic lane with the blinkers on. If she was lucky enough to find a large enough space to park along the curb, she fed the meter well past the time limit, and even in less-challenging slots she often overshot the lines meant to separate her car from others. Consequently, despite being a perfectionist in every other way, she had learned to live with scrapes on her side panels and tickets on her windshield. Through the years she had paid enough citations to fund a personal meter maid.

Today, when she stepped out of her car and into the lot behind Asheville's Church of the Covenant, she saw she was taking up almost two feet of the space beside her. Since there were still plenty of other spaces available, she decided not to try again. She had no sense of entitlement. It was just better to stay where she was than risk a worse landing.

The late-afternoon breeze was as soft as azalea petals, and the only sounds were cars passing on the street and birds high in towering trees. She turned toward the church. Her heels clattered against the stone path, which looked as if it had been newly washed by their diligent sexton, Felipe. Apparently Felipe had also taken to heart the grounds committee's suggestion that the boxwood lining the path needed more severe pruning. This afternoon the hedge looked as if it had recently squirmed under the hands of a boot-camp barber.

Luck was with her. Felipe or someone had unlocked the front door and wedged it open, perhaps to let a touch of sunshine inside. She was heartened that she didn't have to go next door to the parish house to beg the key or wait for the secretary to unlock the door for her.

If the air outside was warm and mountain-meadow fresh, inside it was neither. As always, the sanctuary felt faintly damp and old smells lingered. Women's perfume, the moldering pages of hymnals, candle wax and Sunday's lilies from the chancel.

The sanctuary was voluminous, with massive ribbed vaults overhead and wide aisles flanking the nave. Sometimes the room felt like a cavern, sometimes a crypt. Usually, though, even Charlotte, whose head was normally filled with other things, felt a sense of peace, as if fragments of prayers that had been whispered for more than a century still fluttered overhead.

Today she just felt dwarfed by the empty sanctuary, smaller than a speck of dust. And while humility before God was important—and in her case, overdue—this afternoon she needed warmth and comfort, and hoped God wouldn't begrudge her either.

She found herself moving toward the side chapel, where light streamed through brilliantly colored windows, and she could hear the birds beyond them.

In a pew at the front she bowed her head. She hadn't stepped foot in a church in weeks, nor in those weeks had she mumbled even a prepackaged prayer. Since childhood, church attendance had always been a given, the need for it drummed into her by a grandmother for whom prayer had been the only barricade against defeat. Now, as she tried to formulate one and failed, she realized how odd it was that at a crossroads in her own life, when most people turned to God, all outward manifestations of her faith had simply vanished.

Charlotte closed her eyes, hoping to connect with something larger than herself, but instead she felt herself falling into a void as dark and limitless as a night sky without stars. Her eyelids flew open, and she could hear her own heart beating. Perspiration filmed her cheeks and dampened her hair, and even though her hands were folded in her lap, they trembled.

The stillness of the chapel seemed to close in around her, as if to ask why she was there. She couldn't find words, and her mind fluttered from image to image with no place to land. But there was something else the church could offer.

Someone else.

There were no confession booths at the Church of the Covenant, and Charlotte's minister was younger than she was, stylish and outspoken. They had butted heads on so many occasions that now Charlotte wondered if, deep in her heart, Reverend Analiese Wagner would find pleasure in her turmoil.

Yet where else could she go? Who else could she talk to?

For a woman who had always had answers for everybody, she was surprised to learn how few of them really meant anything.

As she pulled into the church lot, the Reverend Analiese Wagner was thinking about food, which was not unusual. She always thought about food when she was worried, or when she had five things to do at once. Maybe that was why she was picturing double cheeseburgers in her mind, along with double scoops of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey. This afternoon she was doubly stressed.

"If I make it through the memorial service, double cheese on my next pizza," she promised herself out loud, although she hadn't eaten pizza for years because it was as impossible to stop eating as salted peanuts. Even now, at thirty-eight, after years of adulthood as a willowy size ten, the fat little girl inside her was still clawing to get out. For the rest of her life she would be forced to watch every bite and exercise without mercy.

Someone had parked in the slot against the side fence reserved for clergy. To be fair, the driver hadn't exactly parked in the slot. She—and Analiese knew it was a she—had parked beside it, but not well, so the silver Audi was actually taking up two places, one of them Analiese's. She recognized the car.

"Charlotte Hale." Mentally she thumped her palm against the steering wheel of her ten-year-old Corolla, the very same Corolla that Charlotte Hale had asked about several months ago, just before she handed Analiese the business card of a car dealer who could arrange a low-interest loan and a trade-in.

Analiese couldn't recall seeing Charlotte at services or meetings in the past month or so, but that was likely to mean that today Charlotte had a list as long as her arm of problems she wanted to comment on.

Analiese found another spot at the end of the row, but once she turned off the Toyota's engine, she sat quietly and closed her eyes.

"Please, Lord," she prayed softly, "help me mind my tongue, my manners and while we're at it, today please give me an extra spoonful of compassion, no matter how bitter it tastes." She hesitated. "A slice of no-cal pizza would be good, too, but I know better than to push."

Out of habit she put two fingers against the hollow of her throat to loosen her clerical collar—until she realized she wasn't wearing one. In half an hour she would be changing into her robe for the service she was here to conduct, so she was wearing a simple round-necked navy dress. Right now anyone who didn't know her would assume she was one of the mourners come to honor Minnie Marlborough.

There was nothing particularly ministerial about Analiese. Her nearly black hair was shoulder-length, and she rarely pinned it up so she would look older or plainer. Her regular features added up to something beyond striking. While no one insisted a minister be attractive, her first career had been in television news, where physical beauty had served her well.

She opened her eyes and continued to breathe deeply, staring at the building just beyond her parking place.

The first time she had been driven to this spot by a member of the ministerial search committee, she had sat just this way, gazing at her future. With its arrowhead arches and multispired north tower—not to mention imposing blocks of North Carolina granite and stained glass from the famous Lamb Studios of Greenwich Village—she'd been certain that Asheville's Church of the Covenant would withstand Armageddon and hang around for the Second Coming.

In any architectural textbook, the city's most influential Protestant church was just a yawn on the way to more impressive renderings of Gothic Revival glory. The church paled in significance beside the ornate Roman Catholic Basilica of St. Lawrence downtown, or the Cathedral of All Souls in nearby Biltmore Village, the seat of the region's Episcopal bishop. But Analiese had never quite gotten over that first punch-in-the-gut impression of the church to which she had later been called. Now, as then, she felt unworthy to be its spiritual leader.

One last deep breath propelled her out of the car. Before she locked it she reached into the backseat for the colorful needlepoint tote bag her oldest sister had made as an ordination gift. With the bag slung over her shoulder, she hurried toward the church, avoiding the parish house and, she hoped, the silver Audi's owner, as well. At the door, she saw Felipe had arrived first. For a moment she was glad she didn't have to wrestle with the cast-iron lock, which on a good day took the better part of a minute. Then, as she was about to slip inside, she wondered if Felipe had unlocked the door, or if someone else had borrowed the key and was waiting for her inside.

Someone she wasn't anxious to see.

Her brief burst of good humor disappeared.

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