“Whatever comes your way, find the happiness in it.” Hope Carpenter received that advice from her mother decades ago. Now, with their four children grown, Hope and her husband, Rick, are suddenly facing an uncertain future, after a forced retirement strains both their savings and their marriage. Seeking inspiration and a financial boost, Hope gets a job teaching crafts to inmates at a local women’s prison.
At first, Hope feels foolish and irrelevant, struggling to relate to women whose choices seem so different from her own. But with time, and the encouragement of the prison chaplain, she begins to discover common ground with the inmates, in their worries about their children and families, their fear of having failed those who need them. Just like her, they want to make something of themselves, but believe it might be impossible.
Embarking on an ambitious quilting project, Hope and her students begin to bond. Together, piece by piece, they learn to defy expectations—their own and others’—and to see that it’s never too late to stitch together a life that, even in its imperfections, is both surprising and beautiful.
Praise for Marie Bostwick and Her Novels
“Reading Marie Bostwick is like wrapping yourself up in a warm, hand-crafted quilt.”
—Debbie Macomber, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“It takes great skill to write a heartwarming story about grief, and Bostwick proves she is up to the
task. . . . A great addition to any women’s-fiction collection.”
“Beautiful, thought-provoking, tragic and redeeming, The Second Sister is a feel-good goldmine.”
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On most days, Hope Carpenter was early to rouse but slow to rise.
It was a habit she had developed while a young and happily harried mother of four, including one set of twins, with a to-do list that would have required a twin of her own to complete. Setting her alarm to go off before the rest of the family stirred, Hope woke before dawn and lingered in the cocoon of covers for fifteen minutes, relishing the luxury of stillness and unstructured time.
Even now, with her children grown and gone, she still cherished those few precious, predawn moments of peace and quiet. When her cell phone began to hum on a Friday in November that seemed like any other, Hope stirred and stretched in the dark before shutting off the alarm. Careful not to waken Rick, she plumped her pillow, smiling to herself when she caught the scent of lavender.
Hope was acutely sensitive to smells. If somebody walked into her home wearing perfume, she could name not only the brand but also the various flowers, herbs, or oils in the blend. It was kind of her party trick — that and being able to touch her nose with her tongue, which her kids always found far more impressive.
But beyond the novelty of this admittedly weird talent, scents were very evocative for Hope, as they are for so many people, summoning up vivid memories and emotions.
Whenever she smelled boxwood, she was instantly brought back to her grandmother's tidy garden where she played hide-and-seek with her little sister, Hazel. Breathing in boxwood, Hope could see herself, counting to ten, then opening her eyes and pretending she couldn't see Hazel crouching behind the hedges.
When Hope smelled motor oil, she was suddenly sitting on the concrete floor of the garage, handing tools to her dad as he worked on his 1969 Boss 429 Mustang, the car he spent most of his adult life restoring.
Orange peel took her back to her mother's kitchen. She could see herself standing on a stool next to the stove, peering into the bubbling pot as her mom stirred batches of the thick, fragrant marmalade she always gave as Christmas gifts.
Thirty-four years before, Hope had made her own wedding bouquet — white roses, dusty miller, and fragrant French lavender. Moments before the church doors opened and the entrance music began to play, she was hit by a sudden jolt of nerves. Was she ready to be a wife? Taking a deep breath, she smelled lavender and felt suddenly brave and sure. Ever since, Hope believed that lavender imparted courage. That was why she sprinkled a little lavender oil on her pillow each night; it helped her sleep peacefully and embrace the day to come.
Most scents summoned up happy memories for Hope, remembrances of good times and good feelings. But not always.
The hospice where her mother died had an herb garden near the entrance with a huge and redolent rosemary bush. An avid and skilled cook, Hope enjoyed the scent of most fresh herbs. But since her mother's death, just five months after Hope's twenty-first birthday, Hope associated the smell of rosemary with ominous news.
Though Hope was wide awake and Rick was beginning to stir on that early Friday morning, the sun still wasn't up when the phone rang.
Reed, born seventeen minutes after his twin brother, Rory, was calling from Philadelphia. He'd just been offered a full professorship in the English department and was so excited to share the news that he forgot about the three-hour time zone difference between Oregon and Pennsylvania.
Five minutes after Reed hung up, McKenzie phoned. She and Zach had just landed in Seattle, returning from their Hawaiian honeymoon. As usual, McKenzie had dialed Rick's cell phone, but Hope, who was getting dressed for work by then, eavesdropped on the conversation.
When Rick said, "Yes, kitten, she's right here. Hang on," Hope was surprised. Usually, Rick had to prompt their only daughter to talk with her. That day McKenzie was eager to talk to her, sounding truly happy, almost giddy.
McKenzie chattered away about how she and Zach had hiked through a rain forest and had a romantic candlelit dinner on the beach. It was a lovely talk, gossipy, cozy, and close, the sort of easy conversation Hope always wanted to have with her daughter but rarely did.
It wasn't because McKenzie disliked her; Hope understood that. She just liked Rick more, always had. But that day was different. McKenzie, who never sought her mother's advice about anything, asked Hope to e-mail her famous goulash recipe.
"Not the noodles," McKenzie clarified. "Just the sauce. I'll put it over macaroni."
"Sure. That'll work," Hope said, even though she thought that serving the sauce over thick, chewy, homemade noodles was what made the dish so good. But she held her tongue, not wanting to say anything to spoil this all-too-rare moment of mother-daughter bonding. It was so good to hear McKenzie sounding so happy. Zach seemed to have turned out to be the right man for her after all.
After McKenzie's two broken engagements, Hope could be forgiven for having dragged her feet when it came to making wedding arrangements. She'd begun to doubt that any man could ever measure up to Rick in McKenzie's eyes.
When Hope finally realized her daughter was serious, she kicked into high gear. She oversaw the menus, found a good price on the lobster that McKenzie insisted upon, hand-calligraphed place cards, tracked and organized hotel reservations, and stayed up past midnight every night for a month, stitching and stuffing 120 heart-shaped, monogrammed sachets, filled with homegrown lavender, as favors for each of the wedding guests.
McKenzie thought that part was ridiculous. She said that nobody would care if there were favors or not. Maybe they wouldn't. But Hope thought those little details mattered. Besides, she was having fun.
Hope arranged all the flowers too, including McKenzie's fall- themed bouquet of mums and carefully preserved leaves. She had wanted to sew the wedding dress as well, but McKenzie was dead set on wearing Vera Wang.
Hope's mother had been an excellent seamstress. She'd often talked about making wedding dresses for Hope and Hazel when they grew up. But by the time Hope was engaged, it was too late. Her mother was losing ground against the illnesses she'd battled for so long and no longer had the strength to sew.
Instead, Hope made the gown, getting her mother's advice at various stages of construction. When it was finished, Hope brought the dress to her mother's room and sat down on the bed while she and her mom stitched the hem of the huge, flouncy skirt (it was the eighties; every bride wanted to look like Princess Diana), working from opposite ends and meeting in the middle. As they sewed, Hope's mother imparted every piece of marital advice in her arsenal, barely pausing between subjects, as if she had rehearsed it all in her mind beforehand.
It was a long talk.
At the end of it, she took Hope's hands in her bony grasp and said, "Make up your mind to be happy, Hope. Whatever comes your way, find the happiness in it. That's the real trick of life."
Thirty-four years later, Hope still tried to follow that advice.
The conversation with McKenzie went so long that Hope was nearly late to work, sprinting from the faculty parking lot and through the door of the high school just three minutes before the first bell.
After a nearly three-decade hiatus to raise her children, this was only Hope's second year back in teaching. Things had changed a lot in that time. For one thing, Home Ec was now called FACS, Family and Consumer Science, and the curriculum was completely transformed.
It wasn't enough to teach kids how to sew an apron or make a meatloaf anymore. Lesson plans were far more complicated and had to be structured around skills that connected across the curriculum.
For example, the apron project Hope used to teach sewing might be designed on a computer to reinforce what students were learning in the tech program. Meatloaf making might be accompanied by a research project on nutritional value and ingredient sources to support what they were learning in health or environmental science classes.
These were changes for the better, in Hope's opinion, and made the coursework more relevant to modern life. But it didn't make Hope's life easy. During her first year back in the classroom, she often felt overwhelmed. Staying one step ahead of her students required her to burn a lot of midnight oil.
But now, three months into her second year, Hope felt like she had a handle on things. The glowing review she had received from her principal that day confirmed it.
She tried calling Rick to share the good news, but he didn't answer his office phone. However, since it was Friday, she got to tell Hazel all about it when the sisters met at Café Provence for happy hour.
"It's funny, isn't it?" Hope said, taking the last piece of cheese.
"What is?" Hazel said, burrowing through her purse in search of her wallet.
"How things work out. I only went back to teaching because Liam surprised us all and got into film school at UCLA. If we hadn't needed the extra money for his tuition, I might have quit after the first month. But now, I love it. I really do."
"Why do you sound so surprised? You're a natural-born teacher. I mean, you raised four amazing kids. Well, five, if you count me." Hazel grinned. "What's motherhood besides a two-decade-long teaching gig?"
"Oh, it's way longer than that," Hope said, reaching for her own wallet. "Doesn't matter how old your kids get, you never stop being a mom."
When the waitress approached with the check, Hope nipped it quickly from the folder, earning an exasperated look from her sister.
"Come on," Hazel said. "At least let's split it."
Hope gave the waitress a stern look. "Trust me. You don't want my sister's money. She's a well-known counterfeiter."
The waitress laughed and thanked Hope for the warning, then thanked her again when Hope said she could keep the change. Hope and Hazel got up from the table.
"You should have let me get that," Hazel said. "It was my turn."
"Uh-uh. You got it last week. Besides, I've been sitting here and chattering about me, me, me for the last hour. How are things with you? How's business?"
Hope held the door open, then followed Hazel outside onto the sidewalk. It was chilly, gray, and wet — typical for early November in Oregon. The blue-and-white-striped awning over the door dripped a steady curtain of droplets onto the sidewalk.
"You know that listing we had on the lake?" Hazel asked, looking down at her phone as she scanned through her text messages. "The huge one with the flagstone terraces and the boathouse? Well, we're set to close next week and —"
Hazel stopped short, frowning.
"Oh no. Jinxed it. Hang on, Sis. I need to call the office." Hazel punched a number into the phone, switching to her all-business voice when her assistant answered. "Linda? ... Uh-huh. Don't worry about it. I was about to head back to the office anyway. Just tell me what happened."
Hope stood there for a moment, not sure if she should stay or go. When Hazel said, "We are not going to lose a two-million-dollar transaction because Stan failed to read the contract. Put him on," Hope realized she was going to be a while.
If Hope had to sum up her sister in three words, they would be "loyal," "honest" (sometimes to a fault), and "single-minded." And not just about business. Hazel did one thing at a time and wholeheartedly.
Only twenty-eight years after closing her first real estate deal on a charming but cavernous Victorian with a roof that leaked and plumbing that functioned only intermittently — a fixer-upper that Rick and Hope were still fixing up — Hazel was the owner of Hazelnut Realty, with fifty employees and three offices, soon to be four.
Hope loved that name — Hazelnut Realty. At first glance, it seemed like a nod to the region — 99 percent of the U.S. hazelnut crop is grown in Oregon — but Hope knew it was her sister's idea of a joke. Hazel took her business seriously, but not herself, which was one of the many things Hope loved about her sister.
Hope glanced at her watch, then squeezed Hazel's shoulder in farewell. Hazel made an apologetic face, mouthed a goodbye, and went back to her call.
Hope stopped by the market to pick up ingredients for goulash, thinking it would be nice to surprise Rick. Between work and the wedding, they'd been eating a lot of pizza and takeout Thai lately. Not that Rick had complained. He'd been working so late every night that he hardly noticed what he ate. It had been that way for months, ever since his engineering firm had been bought by another, larger firm.
But when Hope got home, she was surprised to see Rick's car was already in the garage. It had been months since he'd left the office early. Rick kept telling her that his crushing work schedule was just temporary, that things would settle down once people quit feeling like they had to outdo one another in proving themselves to the new management.
Maybe his prediction had finally come true? If so, it really had been a good day, for both of them. Hope took the groceries out of the trunk and carried them to the house, humming a happy tune.
But that was before Hope opened the door, sniffed the air, and felt her stomach clench like a fist.
Rick Carpenter stood six-four and weighed 220 pounds. He had deep blue eyes, short gray hair that matched his full gray beard, and shoulders so muscular that it was hard to find shirts to fit him. He had played for the Old Boars, the senior division of the Portland Rugby Club, into his early fifties. Even now, at age fifty-eight, he looked like he could kick the butts of guys half his age.
Rugby is a little like football but much rougher. Players eschew helmets and pads and consider injuries a badge of honor. Rick inherited his love of the game from his dad, an Irish dockworker turned welder who emigrated at the age of twenty with a chip on his shoulder and ninety dollars in his pocket and died from complications of an industrial accident when Rick was just fourteen.
His deceased father loomed large in his life. Rick was the stubborn son of a stubborn man, a man whose boyhood had been cut short and who had pulled himself up by the bootstraps, as his dad had done before him.
But the influence of Rick's mother, Ruth, was also strongly in evidence. Ruth showed him he could be smart as well as tough. She instilled in him a reverence for education and a belief that hard work would not go unrewarded. And when Rick's hair-trigger temper started getting him into fights at school, Ruth taught him to bake.
It was just what he needed.
Whereas other men might handle anxiety by pounding a speed bag at the gym or heading to the nearest bar in search of a drink and a fistfight, Rick vented his pent-up emotions by pounding his frustrations into a mound of warm bread dough.
In addition to life lessons, Ruth passed all her baking secrets and recipes on to her only son. Rosemary olive loaf, however, was Rick's own creation, something he baked only sporadically.
When Rick got home that day, around noon, he'd gone directly into the kitchen, practically tearing off his jacket and tie before putting an apron on over his dress shirt. He went directly to work, furiously chopping olives and rosemary before mixing it into the sticky dough, kneading it a good fifteen minutes.
By then, he'd calmed down enough to be able to think. After washing his hands and pouring a neat scotch, he sat down and did exactly that for the two hours it took the bread to rise. By the time he'd punched down the dough, kneaded it a second time, he had formulated a plan and felt much better.
The only thing he had to do now was deal with Hope. She'd be upset at first, like he'd been, but Hope was nothing if not sensible. And optimistic. Once she got past the emotional part, she'd realize that nothing had changed.
He just had to break the news gently.
"Hey," Rick said, giving her a peck on the cheek before lifting the hot loaves from the baking pans to a cooling rack. "Got home early and thought I'd surprise you. Don't they smell great?"
He bent down and took a deep, appreciative sniff of the hot bread before lifting his head. In spite of his explanation, Hope still looked surprised.
No, he thought, not surprised — concerned. Her expression matched the one she wore whenever they watched one of those spy movies that he loved and she tolerated, as though she wanted to put her hands to her face and peek through her fingers. She was carrying a grocery bag in one arm and clutching the neck of a wine bottle in her hand.
"Looks like a good vintage," he said, nodding toward the bottle. "Doesn't even have a screw top."
"What's wrong?" Hope asked, ignoring his grin.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hope on the Inside"
Copyright © 2019 Marie Bostwick.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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