Safe Harbor

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Dana Underhill's artistic gift has led her all over the world in search of new oceanscapes. Her breathtaking underwater canvases evoke all the beauty and romance of the seas she and her beloved sister, Lily, have sailed since childhood. But when a shattering event takes Lily from her forever, Dana must leave her nomadic artist's life for the salt marshes and tidal creeks of their childhood home at Hubbard's Point, Connecticut, to become a mother to Lily's two young daughters, ...
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Safe Harbor

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Overview

Dana Underhill's artistic gift has led her all over the world in search of new oceanscapes. Her breathtaking underwater canvases evoke all the beauty and romance of the seas she and her beloved sister, Lily, have sailed since childhood. But when a shattering event takes Lily from her forever, Dana must leave her nomadic artist's life for the salt marshes and tidal creeks of their childhood home at Hubbard's Point, Connecticut, to become a mother to Lily's two young daughters, Quinn and Allie.

Twelve-year-old Quinn may be Dana's toughest challenge because she clings fiercely to private mementos of her parents. Already an expert sailor, Quinn is convinced their deaths at sea were no accident. Dana is also troubled by the puzzleof what could have gone so terribly wrong on that clear, moonlit night.

Support comes to Dana with the unexpected reappearance of an old friend, marine biologist Sam Trevor who has been in love with Dana for years. Dana cannot contemplate opening her heart again, but she and Sam discover that Hubbard's Point is the center of endless mysteries, and that many of the answers lie in the blue-purple depths that surge through Dana's paintings. Haunting and powerful, Safe Harbor is an unforgettable story of family bonds, love lost and found, and of a painter's unfolding vision of herself, as an artist — and as as woman.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The sacred bond of sisterhood is explored in painstaking detail in Rice's newest offering (after Summer Light), a warm and weepy drama set in the picaresque seaside town of Black Hall, Conn. The novel sets sail slowly when a grief-stricken Dana Underhill returns home to care for her two nieces, Quinn and Allie, following the death of her sister, Lily, and Lily's husband, Mike, in a sailing accident. Dana, a professional painter, had intended to whisk her nieces back to France with her, but her plans are put on hold when she realizes that change may not be what's best for Quinn and Allie. Indeed, Quinn, a cigarette-smoking 12-year-old with a chip on her shoulder, is dead set against leaving, particularly since she's determined to uncover the circumstances surrounding her parents' deaths. The mystery of Mike and Lily's drowning and the state of their marriage before the accident weighs down the second half of the book, but the pace picks up when Dana's childhood acquaintance, oceanographer and Yale professor Sam Trevor, arrives to provide Dana with a shoulder to lean on and to help Quinn find the answers she seeks. While Quinn and Sam make plans to recover her parents' sailboat, Dana struggles to overcome her sister's death and to paint again. The affection between Dana and Sam is heartwarming and convincing, but the novel's finale involving the rescue of Quinn and Allie during a fierce storm with the aid of a little divine intervention is anticlimactic. Less a romance than a somber meditation on the importance of family ties, this saccharine read is buoyed by Rice's evocative prose and her ability to craft intelligent, three-dimensional characters. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Dana was close enough to sister Lily to take on Lily's children when she dies. But there's no "safe harbor" here: both she and Quinn, her 12-year-old niece, have questions about Lily's death. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another misty-eyed tale of family ties that bind, with the addition of a trendy love affair between an older woman and a younger man as a sister confronts a mystery and takes charge of her two nieces.
From the Publisher
"The sacred bond of sisterhood is explored ... buoyed by Rice's evocative prose and her ability to craft intelligent, three-dimensional characters."—Publishers Weekly

“A beautiful blend of love and humor, with a little bit of magic thrown in.”—Denver Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587241833
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 3/1/2002
  • Series: Wheeler Large Print Book Ser.
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Luanne Rice
Luanne Rice is the author of twenty-eight novels, most recently The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners, The Geometry of Sisters, Last Kiss, Light of the Moon, What Matters Most, The Edge of Winter, Sandcastles, and Beach Girls, among many New York Times bestsellers. She lives in New York City and Old Lyme, Connecticut.
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    1. Date of Birth:
      September 25, 1955
    2. Place of Birth:
      New Britain, CT

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

Twenty-one years later

They were sisters and their mother and aunt were sisters. Quinn and Allie Grayson sat on the wall by the road, waiting for Aunt Dana to arrive from the airport. She lived in France. She was an artist. She was different from every single person they knew. Every time a car drove down their dead-end street, they craned their necks and Quinn felt a funny flip in her stomach. She wondered whether Allie felt it too, but she didn’t want to ask.

“It’s not her,” Allie said when the Tilsons, the new neighbors, drove past in their green station wagon for the third time in an hour.

“Three times. Back, forth, and back again. What do you think they’re doing?”

“Buying every plant the garden center has. Their yard is a showplace.”

Quinn gave her a fishy look. “Showplace” was just the kind of thing Allie would say. She had picked it up from hanging around their grandmother, who was inside the house, way too much.

A different neighbor, Mrs. McCray, rolled down the window of her blue car and smiled. Mrs. McCray had owned her house forever, had known their mother and aunt since they were younger than Quinn and Allie were now. She was old with white-blue hair, and her rocks had the best tidal pools with the most crabs and starfish.

“Is Dana here yet?” she asked, smiling.

“Not yet. Any minute now,” Allie said, but Quinn just stared straight ahead.

“It’s marvelous, very, very exciting. To think of her coming all the way from Europe for an art opening! Some artists work all their lives without becomingknown. We are all so proud of her. She and your mother got their start painting on my rocks, you know. I still have the pictures they gave me.”

“Aunt Dana’s the best there is,” Allie said.

“Yes, she is. But she’d better not forget where she got her start. Tell her I’ll see her at the Black Hall Gallery tomorrow night. We all will!”

“Lucky us,” Quinn said under her breath as Mrs. McCray drove away.

Allie didn’t reply. She resettled herself on the stone wall. Looking more carefully, Quinn saw that Allie was posing. She had arranged herself to best advantage, legs tucked beneath her bottom, the spring sunlight striking her bright yellow hair.

“You want her to paint you, don’t you?” Quinn asked.

“I don’t care,” Allie said.

“No, you do. I can tell.”

Allie wheeled around. “You might have changed your clothes,” she said, eyeing Quinn’s torn jeans and faded sweatshirt. At the sight of her sister’s hair, which Quinn had twisted into sixty-three skinny braids, all looking like a bunch of boinged-out springs,she shuddered. “You want to drive her straight away.”

“I couldn’t care less what she does,” Quinn said. “Whether she stays or goes, who cares?”

“Oh, my God,” Allie said, peering down the road. Shade from the tall oaks and pines dappled the tar, making the approaching car look dark and mysterious. It was an airport sedan, dark blue with dents, the kind Aunt Dana always took when she visited. Up the hill, a door slammed shut. Without turning around, Quinn knew their grandmother had stepped outside to see. The car door opened, and a small woman got out. She was about the same size as Quinn and Allie’s mother, with silvery brown hair and bright blue eyes, wearing jeans and a windbreaker, looking more as if she’d stepped off a sailboat than out of a city car.

“She looks like Mommy,” Allie said breathlessly, as if she’d forgotten, as if they hadn’t just seen her a year earlier.

Quinn couldn’t speak. Allie was right. Aunt Dana had always looked like their mother. She was the same size, and she had the same curious, friendly, about-to-laugh expression in her eyes. In spite of that, Quinn scowled and couldn’t quite imagine what made her say the words that came out of her mouth: “She does not.”

“You two have grown so much in a year, I barely recognize you,” Aunt Dana said.

“How long are you staying?”Allie asked, running straight into the street and their aunt’s arms.

“Just about a week,” Aunt Dana said, smiling across Allie’s head at Quinn. “Aquinnah Jane. Is it really you?”

Quinn’s feet started to move. They jumped off the wall and took three steps toward her aunt. But suddenly they turned and ran,fast, faster, down Cresthill Road, toward the rocks in front of Mrs. McCray’s house, to the hidden tidal pool where no one, especially Aunt Dana, would ever find her.

Sam Trevor stood before his lecture class at Yale, loading the tape into the cassette player. All eyes were upon him. Fifty-five students, future oceanographers all of them, were about to hear the tape of whale sounds his brother and Caroline had recorded in Greece.

“I believe you will hear irrefutable proof that cetaceans talk to one another in a language just waiting to be translated,” he said. “The work of Malachy Condon makes a fine beginning, but we shall go further. If I can just get this in . . .”

A girl in the back of the room giggled. Sam’s glasses slipped, but he caught them with one hand and slid the tape in with the other. Pushing the play button, he gazed across the sea of faces.

“We only have two more classes before finals. I thought you were lecturing today,” a dark-haired girl said.

“I was,” Sam said. “But I decided to let the whales speak for themselves. My exam will cover what you hear today and, more important, how you interpret it.” Then, leaving the tape playing and students groaning, he walked out the classroom door and down the hallway of Crawford Hall toward the faculty parking lot.

Sam was a responsible guy. He never shirked his teaching duties, and he hoped he wasn’t doing that now. But he had a feeling in his chest, pressing harder by the minute, impelling him out to his van.

Scanning the shoreline arts page in search of a movie last weekend, he had seen her name: Dana Underhill.

“An opening reception of this artist’s work will be held on Thursday, June 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Black Hall Gallery. Ms. Underhill, who resides in Honfleur, France, will attend.”

Sam had never planned to see her again. He had gone to college, then graduate school, and there had been girlfriends along the way. Then he took the Yale job and started to think of her again. It was subtle, nothing much more than a map reference that he had always associated with her. She and her sister, Lily, came from Hubbard’s Point in Black Hall, just thirty miles east of New Haven.

She had taught him to sail. He could head up the Sound, come around the Point, show her that he remembered everything she had taught him.

But she no longer lived in Connecticut. Her career had taken her away. He knew, because a year and a half ago, right after starting at Yale, he had run into Lily at the Long Wharf Theater. She was there with her husband, and Sam was there with his date, Claudia Barton. The memory came hard and fast, hitting Sam like a hurricane: Dana’s sister, Lily. His other lifesaver.

“And Dana?” Sam had asked after Lily had filled him in on her own life.

“She’s so far away, Sam,” Lily had said. “I wouldn’t be able to stand it if I didn’t know she’s following her dream.”

“Her dream?” Sam had asked. His hands shaking, he had jammed them into the pockets of his jacket so his date wouldn’t see.

“To paint every sea there is,” Lily had said. “She’s lived on so many coastlines, always finding little cottages with a view of the water. Remember the last time I saw you, what was it, eight, nine years ago?”

“Ten,” Sam had said quietly.

“That’s right, the year we had Quinn. Anyway, remember I told you Dana was renting that house on Martha’s Vineyard?”

Sam had nodded, not quite able to reply, afraid Lily could read his mind.

“Gay Head,” Lily’s husband said to her as if Sam weren’t even there.

Lily had squeezed her husband, but she had smiled at Sam. “That was the beginning, Dana’s search for the perfect seascape. Someday I know she’ll have enough, she’ll get famous, and she’ll come back home.”

Sam recognized the sadness in Lily’s eyes. He knew how she felt; he had a brother like Dana, Joe was a treasure-hunting oceanographer, and he constantly traveled the world. Sam missed him like crazy, and he could see Lily felt the same way about Dana.

“She will,” Sam had said to make Lily feel better. “Of course she’ll come home. I might have been young, but I remember how close you were. She wouldn’t want to leave you for too long.”

“I hope you’re right,” Lily had laughed. “She has two nieces who miss her almost as much as I do. We visit every summer, but mainly they know her through her postcards.”

“I know that story,” Sam had said. He had one in his back pocket, a postcard sent by Joe and his wife, Caroline, from Greece.

“Are you an old friend of Lily and Dana’s?” her husband had asked.

“Oh, Mark,” Lily had said, taking his hand. “I’m so sorry. It’s just, seeing Sam really brought me back. If there’s one person I know would commiserate with me about missing Dana, it’s Sam. They meant a lot to each other that summer,sailing lessons in Newport, right, Sam?”

Aware of Claudia’s growing interest, Sam nodded. Now Lily was going through her handbag, pulling out an envelope, handing Sam a picture.

It was of Dana. Claudia leaned over to see, and Sam reached past her for the photo.

She was so beautiful, even more so than he had remembered. Her eyes were the color of sky. Her body was slight, dressed in paint-stained chinos and a linen shirt. He could see the paint around her fingernails, no rings on her hands.

“Is she married? Does she have kids?”

“No and no. She and I taught Sam sailing,” Lily said to Claudia with a hint of apology in her voice.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” Sam said.

“Team Underhill,” Mark said, smiling as he hugged his wife.

“Man overboard,” Lily explained, leaning into Mark’s embrace. “It could happen to anyone.”

“Teaching kids to sail, saving their lives, all in a day’s work,” Mark said.

“He is a very good sailor,” Claudia concurred. They had raced at Block Island during the summer. When Sam looked up now to smile at her, she had backed away from the picture. Claudia was resident in psychiatry at Yale, New Haven; Sam had been drawn to her perception and insight. He could see that she was using those gifts, seeing straight past the picture and Lily, wanting to know more about Dana.

“Where is she now?” Sam asked, staring at the picture.

“That was taken in France,” Lily said. She went on, talking quickly now as the houselights blinked and people began to file back into the theater.

“France?”

“Yep,”Lily had said over her shoulder, letting herself be pulled back inside by her husband. “That’s where she lives now, in Honfleur, on the coast of Normandy. She says it reminds her of Black Hall . . . I tell her that means she should come back home.”

And now she had, Sam thought, driving his Volkswagen van onto I-95. Dana was in Black Hall for an art opening. The article had said she still lived in Honfleur, which meant she was just home for a visit, maybe only for the art show. He wondered what she would think to learn that he had become an oceanographer after all. Sam hadn’t seen her in almost twelve years but he was going to see her tonight. He was just looking up an old friend.

Or at least that was what he told himself.

A day after her return home, the Black Hall Gallery was packed with neighbors, strangers, art lovers, friends of Dana’s and Lily’s. Dana couldn’t believe this day had come. She had learned to paint in Black Hall, but this was her first exhibition here. She felt both excited and nervous as everyone walked past her paintings. From habit, she wished Jonathan were with her.

Her canvases were huge, great washes of blue and green, always of the sea, often with a hint of sunset or moonrise along the horizon. Some showed the evening star or a crescent moon. Each painting had a secret hidden in the waves, and Dana stood still, knowing no one would notice. Lily was the only one who ever did.

Her niece, Allie, wouldn’t let go of her hand. Her other niece, Quinn, was nowhere to be seen.

“Mommy really did it,”Allie said.

“She did, she absolutely did,”Dana said. “She wanted me to have a show in Black Hall, and she wouldn’t quit till the gallery owner said ‰Û÷uncle.’ “

“It wasn’t that hard,”Allie giggled.

“This is a very prestigious gallery,”Dana’s mother, Martha, whispered. “They only exhibit artists who are really top-notch. See the Renwicks over there?”

Dana glanced across the wide, airy space. Clustered around the gallery owner were Augusta Renwick and two of her daughters, Clea and Skye. Although Dana knew them only by sight, she felt honored to have them there. Augusta was the widow of Hugh Renwick, one of Black Hall’s best-known artists of recent times.

“I can’t believe they’re here for little old me,” Dana said.

“Well, they are, sweetheart,” her mother said. “Along with everyone else in town.”

Having had one-person shows of her work in New York, Deauville, and Montreal, why did she feel ten times more nervous here at home? This show was a thrill, and Dana owed it all to her sister. Two years ago, Lily had started badgering her for slides and submitting them to the Black Hall and other local galleries. The owner had admired her use of color and light, and he had liked the idea of a local artist, now living abroad, coming home. With scheduling the only real issue, this June had been the first possible date for both parties.

“What do you see in there?” Dana asked Allie, staring at a moonlit sea.

“Dark water,” Allie said. “With silver on top.”

“Nothing else?” Dana asked, wanting her to see what her mother always saw.

Allie shrugged and shook her head. “Why do you always paint the sea?”

“Because I love it so much.”

“The water looks different in every painting. Black, dark gray in that one, turquoise blue in that one . . . but when we were little, you used to say it was all one sea, the same salt water, right?”

“The same water in different places,” Dana said, squeezing her hand. “Every coastline has its own character.” It had almost stopped mattering where she lived as long as she could see the sea from at least one window in her house.

Now, looking for Quinn, she spotted her standing by the hors d’oeuvres table. Forced to wear a flower print dress, Quinn had accented the ensemble with hiking boots on her feet and a heavy chain around her neck. Her strangely braided hair made her resemble a wiry shrub or a drawing by Dr. Seuss.

“How do you spell ‘psycho’?” Allie asked.

“P-s-y-c-h-o,” Dana said. “Why?”

“Because that’s what Quinn looks like with her hair like that.”

“Will you ask her to please come stand with me? I flew all the way from France to see you guys, and she hasn’t said two words,” Dana said.

“You came for the art show,” Allie corrected.

“That’s not the main reason, and you know,” Dana began. Suddenly, Allie pulled her hand away and walked over to her sister. Dana watched as Quinn seemed to listen, then strode out through the open door with Allie following. By the time Dana got outside, her mother following behind her, the two sisters had disappeared.

Dana breathed steadily. She was jet-lagged. Just yesterday she had been standing on the hill, gazing toward the English Channel at the exact spot where Eug̬ne Boudin had painted with Claude Monet, inventing Impressionism in the process. She had packed her clothes, walked through the studio she had shared with Jonathan. Now Dana was in Black Hall, surrounded by friends and neighbors examining her own work. She hoped no one noticed she couldn’t quite look at it herself.

“Are you going to tell me your plans?” her mother asked now that they were alone.

“You know them, Mom. I plan to stay for the week, then go back to France.”

“Dana,” her mother said, placing her hand on Dana’s arm. “I told you on the phone, and I’ll say it again. I don’t want you to go. You belong here. Just look around,can’t you feel the support? You can’t tell me you get that in Honfleur, as beautiful as it might be. And you know you’re going to need it.”

“Mom, don’t,” Dana said. “Where did the girls go?”

“Running wild, as usual. Allie’s fine, but Quinn is a terrible influence. Last Sunday I caught her smoking a cigarette. Twelve years old, and there she was, puffing away!”

“I’ll talk to her.”

“Oh, a lot of good that will do. What makes you think she’ll listen? She hasn’t listened to one word anyone’s said in months.”

“She will,” Dana said. “We’re special.”

Her mother snorted. “So special you can’t even stay.”

“Mom . . .”Dana began.

Her mother’s face looked so old. It was tired and lined, and there was an unfamiliar hardness behind her formerly soft blue eyes. When Dana reached for her hand, it felt cool and dry, and she didn’t squeeze back. They were mother and daughter, but it was as if their connection had been broken.

When Martha Underhill slid her hand away to walk back into the gallery and rejoin the party, Dana closed her eyes. She thought of her cottage on the English Channel, of its whitewashed stone walls. What did it mean to her, after all? It was just real estate with a beautiful view to paint out the window. She and Jonathan had tried,fumbling all the way,to love each other there. Her assistant Monique had kept it spotlessly clean. Remembering that, she shivered.

She thought of sailboats rocking in the harbor at Deauville; to supplement the income from her not-frequent-enough sales, she sometimes gave sailing lessons there. Then she thought of Lily.

She wanted her sister.

Of all the people in all the world, Dana wanted her sister to walk through the door. They’d bag this party in a second. She wanted to grab her sister’s hand, run down to the water, and find a boat. Lily’s girls could come with them, and together they could all sail away. Her heart was absolutely ready to be poured out. She craved a gripe session with the girls: a chance to bash Jon and trash Monique. A gentle breeze, a broad reach, and her sister were exactly what Dana needed.

Instead, she just walked down the gallery steps, past the boxwood hedge. As she breathed in the clear summer air, her attention was drawn to a blue van. The driver climbed out, and Dana slowed down, then stopped in her tracks. He was tall and strong-looking, rearranging the bouquet of flowers he had brought. She was mesmerized by the sight of such a big man fiddling with daisies. Her heart kicked over, but when he lifted his eyes and looked straight at her, it flipped back. He was quite young, certainly no older than thirty. Suddenly Augusta Renwick exclaimed with delight, and the young man turned to her, and it didn’t matter anymore.

Dana headed down the blue stone walk, away from the crowd, in search of her nieces.

“She said you haven’t said two words to her,”Allie pleaded.

“I have two words for her,” Quinn said. “Fuck you. “

“That is so rude and crummy.”

“Pick one,”Quinn said. “Rude or crummy. You’re so dramatic.”

“I’m not the one with Brillo head.”

“No, you’re the one with empty head, you stupid baby.”

Allie’s eyes welled with tears. Two big ones plopped off the lids, down her pink cheeks. Quinn tried not to look, but it was hard. They had walked out the gallery’s front door and sneaked in the back, and now they were sitting under the food table, hidden from sight by a long tablecloth. Face-to-face, she couldn’t exactly pretend she didn’t see her sister crying.

“Stop that,” she said.

“Stop what?” Allie asked, sniffling hard. She knew Quinn hated it when she cried, so she was trying to make herself stop.

Just to change the subject, Quinn brought the cigarette butt out from behind her ear. She had found it on the gallery steps, not even half smoked. Filching matches from the owner’s desk had been a snap. Now she struck one, lit the butt, and took a drag.

“Don’t do that,” Allie begged.

“Why not?” Quinn asked, blowing out a puff. Smoke filled the small space, leaking out under the cloth’s hem.

“You could die. Smoking kills,don’t you listen in school?”

“Everyone dies,” Quinn said. “So who cares?”

“I do,” Allie said, and now she really couldn’t control herself. The tears got bigger and started falling faster. To Quinn they looked clear and solid, tiny jellyfish rolling down her sister’s face.

“Allie,” Quinn said, holding the cigarette in her cupped hand the way she had seen it done in movies. “You know why she’s here, don’t you?”

“The art show.”

“Bull. That’s not why.”

“She says it’s all the same sea, the same salt water . . .”Allie cried.

“But the houses are different, the people are different. We’d have to learn French, Al. Besides all that, I hate her.”

“How can you hate her? She’s Mommy’s sister,” Allie wept.

“That’s why,” Quinn whispered, staring at the lit part of the cigarette as if it were the beacon of a lighthouse. “That’s the exact reason why.”

Suddenly feeling unbearably claustrophobic, Quinn pinched the cigarette out and stuck it behind her ear. Then she threw back the tablecloth and scrambled through a forest of legs, Allie right behind her. People laughed and gasped, but Quinn didn’t care. She just wanted to get away.

Black Hall was exactly as Dana Underhill had remembered it: peaceful, elegant, suffused with clear yellow light that seemed to bounce off salt marshes and tidal creeks, to paint the shipbuilders’ mansions and church steeples, to trickle down the Connecticut River into Long Island Sound. Just as Honfleur was the birthplace of French Impressionism, Black Hall was where the movement had first started in America, and as an artist, Dana could understand why.

“Hey,” the voice called.

When she turned around, she saw the young man coming after her, still holding his flowers. She saw that she’d been right, that he was just about twenty-eight or twenty-nine.

“Where are you going?” he asked when he’d caught up.

“I’m looking for someone,” she said.

He laughed. “They must be back there, at your opening. Everyone came to see you.”

She didn’t stop walking. The June air was fresh and cool. It blew through the trees, made Dana pull her shawl a little tighter. She wore a white silk sheath and black cashmere wrap. Her earrings and necklace were silver lilies, to remind her of her sister. She wore them whenever she felt a little nervous or thought she might be afraid. Lately she had worn them to soothe her broken heart.

“Is it kids?”

“Excuse me?”

“Are you looking for two girls,your nieces, Lily’s kids?”

“How do you know?” she asked, stopping short as her heart began to pound.

“I saw them go by. They look just like you and Lily,” he said.

“You know Lily?”

“Knew her,” the young man corrected Dana, and again she felt the kick in her heart. “You don’t know who I am, do you? I thought you recognized me back there, when I first got here, but you don’t, do you?”

She flushed, not wanting him to know she’d been thinking he was cute. “Tell me . . .”Dana began, her mouth dry, “how you know Lily.”

“You both taught me how to sail, ”he said, handing her the flowers. “A long time ago. Back in Newport.”

She blinked, staring from the bouquet into his eyes. They were smiling, anticipatory.

Dana spun back. The summer before her senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design, she and Lily had worked at the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. Dana had hoped to follow in the footsteps of Hugh Renwick and paint on the Newport wharves; even back then, to support her art, she had taught sailing to kids. Was this one of them, all grown up?

“Don’t you remember me? ”he asked, his voice deep yet soft.

Dana peered more intently into the young man’s eyes and felt something move inside her chest. She saw herself and Lily treading water, holding an unconscious boy between them in their arms. The harbor was summer-warm; she could almost feel her sister’s feet brushing her legs underwater.

“Sam . . .”The name came out of nowhere, out of the past.

“You remember me,”he said, grinning widely.

“We never forgot you. Lily told me she’d seen you somewhere, at the theater, wasn’t it?”

“A little over a year ago,” he said, nodding. “Those are her girls?”

“Yes.” Then, trying to smile, “How did you know?”

“Well, they have the Underhill eyes. And she told me you don’t have any children of your own.”

“No, just nieces. That’s enough, ”Dana said. But her eyes failed to smile. “What brings you here? Are you an artist?”

“Far from it.” He laughed. “I’m a scientist. An oceanographer to be exact. Remember the crabs?”

“I do,”she said, beginning to smile as she pictured him on the dock. “I do.”

Grinning, Sam gazed down at her. He was quite tall; Dana had to tilt her head back to look into his face. He was full of good humor, every part of him seemed to be smiling. The sun was setting behind the Congregational Church’s white spire, and the scratched lenses in his glasses reflected the declining golden light.

“I’m a marine biologist,” he said. “My brother gives me grief, he’s an oceanographer too, but the geologist-geophysicist variety. Joe says studying whales is for nerds, that sediment’s where it’s at.”

“I remember you talking about your brother,” Dana said. She could see him now, that little boy playing on the docks, catching crabs and throwing them back, missing the older brother who had gone to sea. Her heart caught, missing her sister, and her eyes filled with tears.

“He married a girl from Black Hall,” Sam said, his gaze growing serious as he noticed the change in her expression.

“Oh,”she said, carefully wiping her eyes.

“I teach in New Haven now. Yale,” he said with a shrug, as if he’d just gotten caught bragging. “Joe and Caroline got married two years ago and they travel a lot, but whenever they come back to Firefly Beach, I’ll get to see them. It’s great.”Laughing, he focused on her eyes. “What am I telling you for? You know, right?”

“I know?” she asked, figuring he was referring to his brother: “Caroline” had to be Caroline Renwick, daughter of the art legend, Hugh Renwick of Firefly Beach.

“How great it is to come home and see your sister.”

“Oh, yes.”

“You guys were really close. It was like a package deal, show up and get taught by not one but two Underhill sisters. Is she here tonight?”

Dana didn’t reply. Thoughts of Hugh Renwick evaporated. Now she was remembering the package deal: Dana and Lily in the crash boat, coaching the fleet, feeling the summer breeze on their skin, picking out harbor scenes they wanted to paint.

“You came home to see her and her kids? ”Sam persisted.

“I came home to see her kids.”

His face was made for looking quizzical. Tilting his head, he pushed his glasses up. His eyes crinkled slightly. Dana smelled the wildflowers he had brought her and thought of beach grass filled with rosa rugosa, cornflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, and daylilies. She could see Sam didn’t know what to say next, so she said it for him.

“Her daughters. They’re my charges, ”Dana said, and the word sounded so formal, it made her laugh. My sweethearts, my darling nieces, my sister’s beautiful girls, would have sounded more natural. “My charges,” she said again.

“But I don’t get it . . .”he began.

“She left instructions in her will,” Dana said. “That if anything ever happened to her and Mark, I should take care of them.”

“In her will,” Sam said slowly.

“I should come home from wherever I was, it said, to look after them. Well, I was in France. Trying to paint and living my life. I did come home for the funerals, of course. But then, my mother seemed to have everything under control, taking care of the girls . . .”

“What happened, Dana?”

“They drowned. Lily and Mark,” Dana said. Her chest caved in when she said the words: It always did. But she breathed deeply and gazed at the beautiful sky, and somehow she kept herself from crying. That part was getting easier. What she felt inside was one thing, but what she showed to the world was becoming simpler to control.

“Oh, Lily,” Sam said.

Looking down from the sky to Sam Trevor, Dana was surprised to see tears in his eyes. It was as if the feelings in her own heart had somehow shown up on this near-stranger’s face.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

“Thank you,” Dana said, gazing back at the sky, at the sharp white steeple piercing the golden-blue twilight. Down the street, people had come out of the gallery to see where she had gone. She heard their voices far off, a million miles away. She felt as if she were in a trance. “She died ten months ago.”

“And you’ve come home to raise her daughters?”

Dana shook her head. “No, to take them back to France with me.”

“Oh,” Sam said.

The crowd had spotted her. Dana heard her name being called. The voices were louder, calling her back. A cake was about to be cut. A toast had to be made. This was her homecoming, however temporary. She was a Black Hall artist, and her sister had made sure the world was going to know it.

The evening star had come out. It glowed in the west, a tiny hole in the sky’s amber fabric. Dana looked for Lily everywhere: in a field of flowers, in a cup of tea, in the sky. Blinking, Dana stared at that bright star and made a wish. Closing her eyes, she thought of her sister. She could see Lily’s eyes, her yellow hair, her bright smile. Reaching out, she could almost touch her. . . .

Sam didn’t move. He didn’t speak, and he didn’t try to steady her, even though she felt herself sway. She was under her sister’s spell, standing in the center of town, trying to touch the evening star. Lily seemed so close. She was right there, right there. With her eyes closed, Dana could feel Lily as if she had never left.

But when she opened her eyes, she was alone with Sam. The gallery owner and her mother were calling her name. Still holding the bouquet of wildflowers, Dana turned around, and together she and the young boy of long ago walked slowly past the white church toward the art gallery and its waiting crowd.


Copyright 2002 by Luanne Rice
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Interviews & Essays

Q: What does the phrase "Safe Harbor" mean to you? How did it become the title of this novel?

A:
Safe Harbor is a state of mind…it's the place—in reality or metaphor—to which one goes in times of trouble or worry. It can be a friendship, marriage, church, garden, beach, poem, prayer, or song. For Dana, like me, it's her childhood home—a salty old house on a granite hill overlooking the sea. No matter what happens, no matter how dangerous the currents or how high the winds, I know that this is my protected anchorage. The truth is, it's a very ruby-slippers kind of place. Click your heels three times… Even when I'm far away, all I have to do is close my eyes and go within myself to find the peace of a Safe Harbor. It's in all of us, all the time.

Q: Readers meet Quinn first in this book. You bring her back in True Blue. What is it about this young person that compelled you to continue her story?

A:
Quinn is wild, tender, tough, and vulnerable. She is my inner beach girl. I needed to bring her back in True Blue because I missed her so much.


From the Paperback edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2008

    Enchanting

    I loved this book. The best I have read in a long time. Quinn is such an enchanting character, and you can not help but fall in love with the child. I was amazed at how much the book taught me about the Ocean, and painting. This is a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2004

    A Must Read!

    This book was absolutely charming! I couldn't put it down!

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

    Posted January 25, 2004

    Hook, Line, and Sinker

    This novel is the first I've read of Rice's and I soon fell in love with the characters and the place they call home. Filled with passion, intrigue, and suspense this novel was a great find and I recommend it to all who feel that special connection with the sea and have the eyes of an artist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2003

    Disappointing

    I read Luanne Rice's Dream Country and I loved it. I was very surprised when I could hardly force myself to keep reading this one because it moves so slowly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2003

    First...and LAST

    As an avid reader, I was quite disappointed with this novel. The plot summary on the back of the book intrigued me, and I was looking forward to reading this book. However, I was surprised at how slow a book could move - the plot didn't start to pick up until the middle of the novel! All the parts about the mermaids and the ocean were very mysitcal. Rice wrote too much about nature and not enough about plot and character formation. Finally, the 'keys' are too cliche; the author could have thought of fresher, more interesting ways to solve the 'mystery,' which in my opinion was not even a mystery. Luanne Rice, if you read this, don't be angry...just use this as a guide for your future novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2003

    My first

    This was the very first book I read of hers and I loved it. I have been reading as many of her books as I can find. If you haven't read it make time this summer!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2003

    Fabulous

    This is the first book I read by Luanne Rice and have already read two more. Her character descriptions are so genuine and the stories are beautifully romantic. I could see my own life in this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2003

    best book i read in a long time

    Im not usually a reader but when i found this book i was hooked. Its the best book I have read in a long time.And I read it in 3 days. i recomend you read this book. it brings tragity, and love all in one book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2002

    Wonderful

    This is an amazing book for all you romantics out there. I loved it, and read most of it in one day. It's a real page-turner, but don't forget a box of tissues near the end!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2002

    safe bet for readers who relish a relationship drama

    When they were younger, Dana and Lily taught sailing in Newport. Dana also painted oceanscapes as she dreamed of becoming an artist. The siblings even saved the life of student Sam Trevor, who vowed to keep his two females saviors safe from harm. <P>Over two decades later, Dana is sailing the seven seas painting wherever she goes. Lily married Mark and they have two preteen children. However, the world turns upside down when Lily and Mark drown and Dana comes home to raise her two nieces struggling with their sudden loss. Dana, also grappling with her sibling¿s death, wonders how to raise two grieving preadolescents when Sam, an oceanography professor at Yale, enters her life again. Sam remembers his youthful pledge to the sisters and provides mental and logistical support to Dana especially with trying to understand the mystery of how two-experienced ¿Mer¿ people drown. As they begin to fall in love, Dana must overcome her fear of commitment and her problems with being several years older than her former student is if they are to form a permanent relationship. <P>SAFE HARBOR is a safe bet for readers who relish a relationship drama with a bit of mystery and the convalescing power of love. The story line breezes forward through the actions of the three dimensional key cast members especially the lead characters and the two children. Fans of ocean air, sandy beaches, and a top rate romance will enjoy Luanne Rice¿ latest offering. <P>Harriet Klausner

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    Posted May 22, 2010

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