A therapist specializing in helping people get sorted out postdivorce has her own problems of the heart in King's latest (after The Same Sweet Girls). Since the death of her husband, "divorce coach" Clare has thrown herself into her work. And now that she has a booming practice on Alabama's gulf coast, her after-hours is packed with even more drama: her best friend Dory's marriage is forever on the rocks; her daughter Haley's husband abandons the family; Maine transplant and marina owner Lex is newly divorced, available and interested; and Zoe, Clare's dead husband's mother, is helping Clare accomplish her dream of creating a retreat center. With more than a little help from her friends—old and new—Clare lets go of her grief and gives love another shot. Though it exhibits that unmistakable Southern charm, King's writing also frustrates: backstories are hinted at but left murky, while nagging questions hang around for hundreds of pages (the circumstances surrounding Clare's husband's death, for instance) and overshadow Clare's present-day narrative. Storytelling kinks aside, King delivers what her fans want—strong bonds, strong women characters and triumph over tragedy. (Mar.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Queen of Broken Heartsby Cassandra King
The national bestselling author of The Same Sweet Girls and The Sunday Wife returns with another compulsively readable novel.
It's not easy being the Queen of Broken Hearts. Just ask Clare, who has willingly assumed the mantle while her career as a divorce coach thrives. Now she's preparing to open a permanent home for the retreats she leads,/em>/em>… See more details below
The national bestselling author of The Same Sweet Girls and The Sunday Wife returns with another compulsively readable novel.
It's not easy being the Queen of Broken Hearts. Just ask Clare, who has willingly assumed the mantle while her career as a divorce coach thrives. Now she's preparing to open a permanent home for the retreats she leads, on a slice of breathtaking property on the Alabama coast owned by her mother-in-law. Make that former mother-in-law, a colorful eccentric who teaches Clare much about love and sacrifice and living freely. When Clare's marriage ends in tragedy, her work becomes the sole focus of her life. While Clare has no problem helping the hundreds of men and women who seek her advice to mend their broken hearts, healing her own is another matter entirely. Falling in love again is the last thing she wants.
So when Lex--a charismatic, charming, burly sea captain--moves to town to run the marina, Clare insists they remain friends and nothing more. But even though she fights it, she begins to fall for him--and then finds she has a rival, his estranged wife Annalee.
A story infused with all the flavors, textures, and intrigues of a small Southern town, with a rich, resonant center, Queen of Broken Hearts is a bold step forward for Cassandra King.
- Hachette Books
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- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
Queen of Broken Hearts
By Cassandra King
HyperionCopyright © 2007 Cassandra King
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAt the exact moment the cash register dings and I open my change purse, the chain of bells on the front door of the coffee shop bangs together with a brassy clatter. I hear the sound of voices raised in greetings, a loud and hearty hello in response, and the bells jangling again as the door closes. Curious to see who's making such an entrance, I glance over my shoulder. When I see that it's Son Rodgers, my face flames and my heart pounds. On top of everything else that's happened today, I go to the coffee shop for lunch, and who do I run into? One thing for sure: I have to get out of here before he sees me. It would be embarrassing for me and him and the dozen or so other folks enjoying their afternoon coffee. Instinctively, I duck my head and pull my arms close as if to make myself invisible.
Barely turning my head, I look over my shoulder again to determine the distance between me and the front door. No way I can get out that way without him seeing me; I'll have to exit through the bookstore. Now I wish I'd driven to town instead of walking, even though it would've been ridiculous to drive so few blocks. But my getaway would have been easier. I could have gone through the adjoining bookstore, gotten nonchalantly into my car, and put the pedal to the metal. Instead, everyone in both stores will see me running out of the coffee shop right after my best friend's husband has walked in. I can only imagine the talk that will follow, since our small town has talked of little else all summer except what's gone on in the Rodgers household. I can hear it now: "Did you know it's gotten so bad that Clare sneaked out of the coffee shop to avoid Son? Poor Dory!"
Making my getaway is turning out to be more difficult than I thought. The lethargic, bespectacled teenager behind the counter is new-his first day, he told me proudly-and he doesn't know the ropes yet. He takes his time wrapping the two slices of carrot cake in parchment paper, placing them in a flat white box, then bringing the edges of the box together. When I see him searching for tape, I say, "It's fine. Don't bother taping it," and hope that my voice doesn't sound as flustered as I feel. But he shrugs me off and says no problem, it's no trouble at all. He rings it up wrong for the second time, muttering, "Oops." After canceling out the sale, he punches in the numbers again, glances at me over the top of his glasses, and mumbles, "Uh, that'll be eight fifty-three."
It hits me that I used all my change by counting out the exact amount for the veggie wrap and iced tea I had for lunch, plus a tip; I left the money on the table, anchoring my ticket. On my way out, I decided on impulse to take a couple pieces of carrot cake with me, and I stopped at the counter to place my order. I have nothing but a twenty to pay with. Another glance over my shoulder, and I toss the twenty-dollar bill at Pokey. In a low voice, I say, "If you could hurry, I'd really appreciate it. I'm running late for an appointment." Of course, I speak too softly, trying to keep Son from hearing my voice, and Pokey tilts his head sideways to say, "Ma'am?"
"Hurry with the change, please," I hiss.
From the corner of my eye, I see that Son is working the room like a politician running for reelection, slapping backs and grinning like the Cheshire cat. His greetings are met with cries of "Hey-look who's back in town!" and "Son! How was your trip? When did you get home?" I watch him lean over to kiss the cheek of a plump, white-haired lady who coos and giggles and puts both hands to her face in something resembling the ecstasy of Saint Teresa. He then joins a couple of businessmen from the bank who get to their feet to shake his hand and pound his back with great vigor, buying me a few seconds. Son throws back his head to laugh at something one of them says, which gives me a chance for a furtive study of him. I haven't seen him all summer, the longest span of time since he and Dory married, and that was twenty-five years ago.
Son is casually dressed in crisp, pressed jeans and a white oxford-cloth shirt, the sleeves carelessly rolled up to reveal brown, well-muscled arms. Usually he's in a shirt and tie, as befitting such a highly regarded and important hotshot. I guess he hasn't yet gone back to work in his real estate business, since he and Dory have been home only a couple of days. Even though he has a hand on the shoulder of one of the businessmen and appears to be listening with great interest, I notice that his eyes occasionally search the room to make sure he's kissed up to everyone there. When his gaze comes my way, I turn my head quickly, almost dropping the bills and change that Pokey is counting into my outstretched hand. When he miscounts and starts over, I'm tempted to tell the poor fellow to keep it, even if it would make me the biggest tipper in town. He'd probably be so surprised that he'd ask me to repeat myself yet again, and I'd end up getting caught by Son after all.
With his scrutiny of the coffee shop, it's unbelievable that Son hasn't recognized me yet, even with my back to him and the counter located at a helpful angle. It occurs to me that he hasn't seen me since I've had my hair cut. From the first day we met, Son has gone on and on about what great hair I have. It's nothing but his usual empty flattery, the only way he knows to relate to women. The truth is, my long, heavy hair has always been unruly and difficult. After struggling with it all my life, I gave up and had it chopped off a few weeks ago. Everybody tells me I look like a different person with my mass of hair gone, which must be true. Even so, I'm not taking any chances, not with the way Son keeps looking everyone over, so I drop the change into my briefcase instead of in my purse. Thankfully, the door of the adjoining bookstore is only a few feet away.
I've taken a step away from the counter when the young man clears his throat and says in a loud voice, "Uh-ma'am?" My cheeks burning, I turn to see him holding out the box with the carrot cake in it. I yank it out of his hand so quickly that his eyes widen in surprise and his Adam's apple jerks up and down. I feel bad for him, but not as bad as he would feel if Son saw me and caused a scene in the crowded shop. It would not be a good way to end his first day at work.
In the Page and Palette bookstore, a glance assures me that the salesclerk is helping a customer in the back, so I step behind a revolving display of paperbacks in order to peer into the coffee shop, making sure I got away without being seen. To my relief, I've escaped: Son is still standing with the two businessmen and running his mouth, with a big grin on his face. The three of them bend their heads together as he relates something, and they all laugh appreciatively, slapping backs again. Satisfied that I've escaped undetected, I sling the strap of my briefcase over my shoulder and tuck the box of carrot cake under my arm, then head toward the front door.
Once I'm outside, I'm surprised to find the sidewalks still crowded with shoppers and sightseers, which is unusual for early fall. Anxious to get away from the coffee shop, I mutter my apologies as I make my way through, wondering if there's a tour bus in town. Although off the beaten path, Fairhope is becoming more and more of a tourist attraction, and it's not unusual to have several tour buses in town during the summer, but not this time of year. In an effort to avoid a cluster of people blocking the sidewalk in front of one of the street's many art galleries, I cut through a group of charming and colorful little shops that make up the area known as the French Quarter. And that's where I run into Rye Ballenger, quite literally. If I hadn't been hugging the bakery box so close, carrot cake would have gone flying.
"Clare!" he exclaims at the same time I gasp, "Rye!" Then both of us say together, "What are you doing here?"
I link an arm into his and continue my walk, pulling Rye along with me down the brick-paved lane. Out of the corner of my mouth, I say to him in a low voice, "I'm trying to get far enough away from the coffee shop so I won't be seen by a certain person who just walked in."
Rye plays along with me, matching my stride. "Who is it?" he whispers dramatically, looking around in mock terror. "An ex-husband of one of your clients?"
"Actually, you're close," I say with a groan. "It's Son."
"Son!" Rye comes to such an abrupt halt that I almost trip over a protruding brick. "Did he say anything to you? Tell me the truth."
"He didn't see me, thank God. I hightailed it out of there as fast as I could. Something tells me I'm not on his list of favorite people right now."
With a frown, Rye studies my face. He disengages my arm in order to take my hand in both of his and squeeze it tight. "Why don't you go back and confront him, sweetheart? I'll go with you, by God. I don't like the idea of him bullying you, and he needs to hear that."
"Your problem is, you're much too gallant," I say with an affectionate smile. "Charging in on your white horse and defending the honor of the poor maiden."
He snorts with indignation, his color high. "I've never been on a horse in my life, and have no intention of ever doing so. But I hate missing the chance to give Son Rodgers a piece of my mind."
"All I want to do is avoid him," I assure him. "I'm not interested in a confrontation at this point. Especially now, with him and Dory back together."
"Still no idea how that miraculous event came about?" Rye asks, watching me curiously.
I shrug. "None whatsoever. But I'll see Dory tomorrow at the group meeting, and she's promised me that we'll talk beforehand. Have you"
Before I realize what's happening, Rye has grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me out of the way of a large gray-haired woman who barges past us, then turns back to scowl at us for blocking the sidewalk. As we watch her walk away, I send up a thank-you to whatever gods were responsible for sending Rye strolling through the French Quarter at the very moment I turned the corner. From the first day I arrived in Fairhope, the sardonic and irreverent Rye Ballenger has been one of my dearest friends, and there's no one I'd rather see now, after the near miss with Son. Certainly no one else understands my history with Son better than Rye does.
He and I move to stand under the jasmine-entwined arbor of a café, then Rye leans toward me to whisper in my ear, "Lord God Almighty, would you look at that! How ghastly." He nods toward the retreating woman, who's clad in a hot-pink T-shirt with flowered capri pants stretched way too tight across her very ample rear end. "I can promise you that she hails from north of the Mason-Dixon line."
"What gives her away?" I ask with a grin, pushing my sunglasses on top of my head. "The camera hanging around her neck or the Gulf Shores T-shirt?"
Brow furrowed, Rye shudders and says, "Come on, Clare. No self-respecting Southern belle would be caught dead wearing white socks with sandals, and you know it. It's a disgrace, that's what it is. If they are going to run us off our lovely streets, the least they could do is dress properly."
"You're such a snob," I say fondly. "But you know what? I think you love it. You work hard at being the biggest snob in Baldwin County, don't you?"
Pretending to be offended, he pulls back and drawls in his melodious, honey-toned voice, "I just happen to have my standards, is all."
When I first met the courtly Ryman Ballenger, a cousin of my former husband's, I thought he had to be putting me on. He has the most pronounced Southern accent I've ever heard, and on the Eastern Shore of Alabama, that's saying a lot. It suits him, though, just another of his many charms. In addition to being the most breathtakingly handsome man I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, Rye is also the most elegant. He's always seemed out of place in this offbeat, artsy little town. He should be strolling the lavish grounds of an English estate instead, trailed by a bevy of manservants and Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
"It's strange that I ran into you just as I was running out of the coffee shop," I say, gazing up at him. Rye is one of those people I enjoy just looking at, in the same way I might stop by an art gallery and admire a painting. "Don't tell me you walked to town." In all the years I've known him, I've never seen him walk anywhere. He'll get into his big old silver Mercedes to drive a block.
He looks at me as though I've lost my mind. "Me walk to town? In this heat? I should hope not." With a nod, he indicates a place across the street. "My car's over there. I almost never found a parking place in this damn mob." He points out a small shop on the corner. "I came down to pick up a print that Lou framed for me. But the mat didn't suit me, so I had her redo it."
"Not up to your standards, huh?" I tease him.
Rye studies me through long dark lashes, and his fine gray eyes go soft. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you. I called your cell phone not five minutes ago."
With a grimace, I admit that I turned it off when I left the office. "You know how hard it is for me to close shop on Friday afternoons. Etta had to stand in the door to keep me from returning for some unfinished paperwork. If I'd kept my cell turned on and one of my clients called, having a crisis, I would've had to go running back to meet them there."
He clucks his tongue in reproach. "Ah, Clare, what am I going to do with you? You promised me that you'd stop giving your private numbers to your clients!"
"I know ..." My voice trails off, and I look up at him helplessly.
He places a hand on my shoulder. "When you didn't answer your cell, I got concerned about you, after what happened this morning."
"You concerned about me? That's a switch, since I'm officially the one who gets to worry about everybody else. It's in my job description."
"You can worry your pretty head off about whomever you want, my dear Clare, but I'm in charge of you."
"How very touching," I say, trying to keep my voice light. "I assume you're referring to a certain letter in this morning's paper?"
"So you've seen it?" With a worried frown, Rye reaches into his pocket and pulls out a clipping. "I have it with me, so if anyone dares to say anything about it, I can tell them what a bunch of hogwash it is."
"I've seen it," I tell him dismally. I arrived at my office early this morning, bringing the local paper to read while waiting for my first client. Like most weeklies, The Fairhoper is the perfect antidote to the grim headlines of the national news. Unless we've had one of our infamous hurricanes, the articles are full of small-town dramas that can be heartwarming but are more often unintentionally comic. Dory and I will call each other to read some of the more priceless ones aloud. Her favorite remains the obituary written about a certain Mr. McMillan, who is said to have died in his sleep so peacefully that it didn't wake him or Mrs. McMillan, either one. The human interest stories are usually pretty good, but last month I was embarrassed to find myself named Fairhope's Citizen of the Month. To my further embarrassment, one of this morning's letters to the editor, which I read in dismay, referred to my award:
This letter is written to protest your choice of August's Citizen of the Month, a self-proclaimed divorce "coach." The honor was based on the national attention that has come this woman's way, praising her innovative methods of divorce recovery. I have to wonder if those retreats of hers, held right here in our own conference center, actually do more to promote divorces than to help people get over them. Surely if folks were encouraged to work on their marriages instead, the disgracefully high divorce rates in our country would go down. I hope next month's choice will better reflect the ideals of our community and country. The letter was signed by Oscar T. Allen, a "concerned" citizen whom I'd not had the pleasure of meeting, fortunately.
Rye stands with his hands on his hips, scowling. "I can't tell you how furious I am. And you've got to be, too, though you won't let on. I know how you operate. In spite of all your degrees, you hide your feelings like the rest of us."
"You know better than that." I can't resist adding with a sly smile, "I'd never hide my feelings from you."
"Ha!" he scoffs. "You could've fooled me."
"You've lived here all your life, and you know everyone in town, so tell me who Oscar T. Allen is."
Excerpted from Queen of Broken Hearts by Cassandra King Copyright © 2007 by Cassandra King . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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