Warming people’s hearts with true accounts of kindness is what columnist Anna Kelly does best. But no one knows the private misery she endures in her abusive marriage. Still, leaving is difficult—until a deeply personal bequest from a beloved elderly neighbor compels Anna to travel to Germany. There she begins an unexpected adventure of paying it forward that will take her far from her complicated life in Brooklyn.
Arriving in the historic and picturesque city of Mainz, on the breathtaking Rhine River, Anna settles in at a cozy guesthouse filled with colorful residents. But fulfilling her task will require the help of a translator and knowledgeable guide.
Josef Schmitt will gladly shuttle the American visitor around if it distracts him from his dark thoughts. Ever since a serious accident sidelined him at the local excursions company, he’s been unable to forget the pain he caused or forgive himself. Now, accompanying Anna on her mission takes them both to surprising places—and they just may find the courage to truly set themselves free . . .
Praise for Sharon Struth
“Struth has a gift for layering stories within stories while keeping them all connected.”
“Struth is an author to watch!”
—Laura Drake, author of RITA-award winner The Sweet Spot
“Sharon Struth writes a good story about love and loss. She knows her characters and has a path she wants them to take.”
—Eye on Romance
“The plot is refreshing and will definitely keep the reader turning page after page.”
About the Author
When she’s not working, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail, travel the world, and enjoy spending time with their precious pets and two grown daughters. She writes from the friendliest place she’s ever lived, Bethel, Connecticut. For more information, including where to find her published essays, please visit www.sharonstruth.com or visit her blog, Musings from the Middle Ages & More at www.sharonstruth.wordpress.com
Read an Excerpt
If Anna had known surviving would come down to this moment, she might never have married Patrick. She stood on the sidewalk outside their Brooklyn brownstone, doing her best to act natural despite the rapid thump of her heart.
He opened the taxi's back door, poked his head in. "LaGuardia Airport."
The driver popped the trunk and hopped out his door just as Patrick lifted his golf clubs. "Hold on, sir. Let me get those for you." He sprinted to Patrick's side and took the clubs while Patrick nodded his approval.
Maybe the driver hoped for a big tip after catching a glimpse of Patrick's thick Rolex watch or his well-tailored sports jacket. Her husband had impeccable style. Or maybe the driver caught a whiff of Patrick's unwavering confidence and wanted to stay on his good side. A simple lift of his thick, dark brows always commanded authority.
Patrick turned and approached Anna. His handsome face glowed with a smile masking the real demon inside, his scrutiny intense as he searched her the way a zoologist watches a caged animal for signs of distress.
She slipped her hands into the pockets of her lightweight tunic top, comfortable for this September day. But now goosebumps prickled up her arms as she contemplated what he might be thinking. The least suspicious response was to return his smile, so she did.
When he got close, he drew her to him, securing her arms around his waist. His voice softened. "I'll miss you, Anna-belle."
The nicknames, the dazzling and disarming sweetness. His charms had lured her when they'd first met and throughout their courtship. But she now knew he was a human Venus flytrap. She swallowed back a vile mix of hatred and fear. "I'll miss you, too."
He tilted his head, watched her with his unnerving stare. "What are your plans while I'm gone?"
She could practically see the gears in his mind churning. The wrong response would flip his sunny mood upside down. But she'd gotten better at this game and played it up with a flirtatious smile. "You mean besides missing you?"
His tight expression unwound, and he laughed. "Yes. Besides that."
"I plan to finish my column for work, maybe go see an exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society. And of course, treat myself to Thai food the nights you're gone."
He nodded, the silent approval making her tense body relax. "Good. When you go out, bring your cell phone. In case I need to reach you."
"I always do."
Satisfaction glinted in his dark eyes. She despised herself for pandering to his control, though doing so had become her means of survival.
Patrick's gaze dropped to her neck. He lifted the delicate heart charm hanging from a thin silver chain.
She wanted to shudder but held it in.
"While I'm down in Florida, I'll look for some earrings to match the necklace," he said softly.
She swallowed the urge to tell him she hated the necklace. "You're always too good to me."
He circled her in his arms, squeezing her in a tight hug. Pain pulsed in her upper arm, but she didn't dare complain. Not after he'd slammed her against the bathroom wall two nights ago because he hadn't seen her wear the necklace in a while. She'd kept her mouth shut and worn it every minute since. He leaned back and carefully brushed his lips to hers, the severe contrast to his harsh actions of that night mind- numbing.
He released her and stood back. "Wish me luck golfing. Tom and I have a serious bet going on this year's tournament."
"You'll do great. But good luck anyway."
He got into the cab and winked. "Love you, babe."
"Love you, too." Saying the words carried the bitter tang of a bite from a lemon, making her almost cringe. But she'd never be forced to say them again. "Have fun."
She waited by the steps. The driver fussed with something in the front seat, turned to Patrick to speak, and they both laughed.
Hurry. Leave! Her heart skipped a beat. Breath stalled. For three weeks she'd waited for this chance to leave town before the divorce papers were served.
The cab finally pulled away and she inhaled a deep breath. Patrick waved from the window. She smiled, waved back, and watched until the cab turned at the end of their tree-lined street and merged with the main road's busy Saturday morning traffic. She exhaled a sigh of relief and sprinted up the steps. She had a lot to do.
As she reached for the knob, the front door to the adjoining brownstone opened.
A woman dressed in a navy blazer, holding a lockbox in her hands, came out and glanced over to Anna. "Oh! Hello. I hoped I'd run into one of the neighbors." She stuck out her hand. "Maria Rossi, Coldwell Banker. I've been put in charge of selling this place for the estate."
Anna shook her hand. "Anna Kelly. I've only got a quick second — "
"I know you! You're the gal who writes a column in the Times. The one about people doing nice things for others."
"That's me. Kindness Connects."
"I love your stories. People are so cynical these days, but every time I read one of those, I think about how there are still good people out there. You know, my mother always says, love and kindness are never wasted."
"Your mother sounds like a wise woman."
Maria placed a well-manicured hand on Anna's forearm. "Oh, there was one story I adored about ..."
Anna slipped on a polite face, listened, but worried about the time. The flight to Germany would leave with or without her.
Soon as she saw a spot to break in, she said, "Thank you again. I'm sorry, but I've got an appointment and don't have much time. You had some questions?"
The realtor asked about the neighborhood and if she had or knew anybody with kids in the schools. Anna hurriedly filled her in. If she and Patrick had children, she'd have been able to answer the questions more fully. They hadn't, thank God. The idea he might hurt them, like he did her, made Anna sick.
After a few minutes, Anna said, "I've really got to run. Sorry."
Maria waved. "Don't worry one bit. I've got to finish some things, then I need to get out of here, too. I appreciate the help."
Once inside, Anna flew up the stairs and went straight to the spare bedroom. She flung open the closet door and grabbed her suitcase. Back in her room, she layered the luggage with previously organized stacks of clothing she'd planned to bring to Germany. Enough clothes to carry her through the cooler month ahead. Four weeks away. Hopefully, enough time for Patrick's anger to dissolve, because she damn well knew he'd be furious.
She zipped the bag, tossed on the combination lock, and hurried downstairs.
In two days, Patrick would return to LaGuardia airport and take a cab directly to his office at Goldman Sachs. The lawyer said he'd have the divorce papers served there around lunchtime. By then, she'd already be on another continent. Far away from the physical abuse he'd want to inflict on her once the papers were in his hands. Of that, she felt certain. He'd smacked her around for lesser infractions, starting just days after they'd returned from their honeymoon.
Even though she would be leaving the country to stay safe, he deserved a note. A note would be easier than a conversation.
At the kitchen island, she found a pad and steadied a pen on the paper.
If you're reading this, it means you're back from Florida and have realized I'm not here.
Anna ripped the page off the small legal pad, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it on the marble island. She wrote for a living and could do better.
For the past two years, I've begged you to get help. I understand your father hurt you, but I can no longer accept your past as an excuse for hurting me. ME! The person who always loved you, tried to help you, accepted your many, many apologies. You say you love me, but your actions speak otherwise. I no longer love you. You bully me, make me afraid, and refuse to let me to see my friends and family —
She ripped the paper off the pad and tore it in half. Too much. She'd spoken these words to him many times after he'd calm down, her speeches always soliciting remorse-filled apologies she'd blindly believed for the first year of their marriage. The second year, she'd grown skeptical, but continued to cover the bruises and lie to anybody who happened to see one. Now, she despised him.
The clock on the wall showed it was time to leave. She pressed the pen to the paper and the words flowed easily this time.
By now you've been served the divorce papers and know I'm leaving you. Please seek help and do not look for me. If you are calm when I return, we can talk. Otherwise, you will deal with my attorney.
She propped the note next to a bowl of fruit, where they always left messages they wanted the other to see, then undid the necklace clasp and lowered his gift there. A reminder of what had happened two nights earlier. But only one thing would cause him as much pain as he'd inflicted on her.
She held out her hand, taking one last look at the antique silver band that served as a symbol of the love she and Patrick once shared. Leaving the ring would send a stronger message than words or a divorce summons.
She tightened her fingers around the band, pulled. A loud pounding on the door made her stop. Patrick?
Fear rushed her veins like a raging wild fire. She hurried to the foyer and looked through the peephole to find the realtor, Maria, peering back at her. She tossed her luggage and backpack in the closet, took a few deep breaths, and opened the door. Maria stood on the other side holding a worn black briefcase.
"Me again. Sorry, I know you're busy."
"No problem." Despite her racing pulse, she forced a smile.
Maria stuck out a business card. "I'm on my way out, but can I give you this in case you need to reach me? Like if you hear of someone who might be interested in the place, or notice any problems around here?"
"Certainly. I'll call if any of those things come up."
"Fabulous. You have a great day." She smiled and headed down the steps.
Anna closed the door and leaned against it. Thank God Patrick hadn't returned for some reason.
After a quick stop in the downstairs bathroom, Anna took her luggage from the closet, hiked the backpack on her shoulders, and walked out the door.
Taking long strides toward the subway station, she stared straight ahead, made eye contact with no one, and held her chin high.
I've done it. I've left him.
Horns honked. Kids hollered. Background noise as the journey she started two months ago came to an end. She'd almost channel surfed right past the afternoon talk show. Domestic violence, the host had said. She'd skipped to the next channel, only the phrase stuck. Wouldn't leave her head. So she backtracked and watched. Her mouth had gone dry as each woman described a life where leaving her abuser had been out of the question, due to either a desire to fix the man or plain old fear. That moment cast a spotlight on her reality.
She reached the subway station and ten minutes later boarded the car that would take her to the AirTrain in Jamaica, Queens that went to JFK. An untraceable route. Once through security, she would make a long overdue call to her sister to share everything she should have said over the past two years. The more time that passed in Anna's horrible situation, the more she'd worried about condemnation from others. Even with her sister, her closest friend.
How could she stay with a man who'd hit her, they would ask. Before her marriage, Anna would've wondered the same.
As the train rumbled down the track, she reached up and grabbed the pole near her seat. There on her hand remained the wedding band she'd been set to leave behind, forgotten with the realtor's interruption. Disappointment rattled her, but only for a second.
This changed nothing. She'd remove the ring once she got to Germany, store it somewhere safe, and cash it in when she returned to help pay for the divorce attorney.
A bad feeling settled over her. Could this be an omen the marriage wouldn't end effortlessly?
Patrick scared the hell out of her. But maybe, with her gone, he'd think about the way he mistreated her, get help for his problems, and understand the love between them had been beaten right out of her.
What if he didn't? Up until now, he'd resisted all help.
Even if he didn't get help, one thing was different now. She'd changed. She could admit she was a victim. Had filed for divorce. Even taken steps to leave him, starting with a month away to do a final deed for Isaak, the man to whom she owed this escape.
She'd return to New York as the woman she once was; someone who could stand up to a bully like Patrick.
Only she hadn't stood up to him, and she wished she understood why.CHAPTER 2
"And the reason for your visit?" The round-faced Frankfurt Airport customs agent glanced up from his purview of Anna's passport.
She smiled, but his expression remained starched-stiff as he waited. "Work."
A partially true statement. Her idea to turn Isaak's request into several installments of her syndicated column had been a hit with her agent and several big city newspaper editors. Plus it justified taking the month off while they ran old columns. This story contained the kind of empathy typically found in her pieces. While her marriage deteriorated, work had served as pain medicine. Little doses of optimism in the face of her own suffering.
The customs officer flipped through the passport once more, then pushed it toward her. "Welcome to Germany."
She slipped the passport into her backpack, grabbed the handle of her luggage, and followed signs written in English and German to the arrival area. As she rounded a corner, several businessmen rushed by. The gentle musky scent of Armani enveloped her senses. A chill swept along her spine and shocked her nape. Patrick's scent. It clung to everything he wore. When they'd dated, a whiff made her warm with thoughts of his tender touch. Now the smell traveled to her brain like a chemosensory warning of danger. The scent even lingered in their bedroom. A constant reminder while he was at work that he'd soon return. She glanced back, relieved that she didn't see him anywhere.
She released a shaky sigh and continued out of the terminal. In the lineup of cars, vans, and buses at the curb, she searched for the white Mercedes she'd been told belonged to Isaak's friend, who owned the guesthouse where she'd be staying.
She didn't see a car matching the description. At a bench near the pick-up zone, she sat and waited.
Isaak may have never seen the inside of this airport, having left Frankfurt under such horrible circumstances. An ache for him squeezed her chest so tight she couldn't breathe. The day they met she'd been on her patio, elbow-deep in dirt, potting fresh spring pansies, and he'd come up behind her. "Hello, young lady." He had a thick German accent. "Do you know what kind of socks a gardener wears?"
She'd glanced back over her shoulder to find an elderly man with a charming smile waiting for an answer. "Oh, everyone knows that one." She'd stood and faced him. "Garden hose."
He'd laughed. "I'm Isaak. I live right next door."
They'd seen each other almost daily, the exception being the days Patrick didn't go to work because he'd complain she wasn't spending time with him.
But she worked from home, by herself most of the day due to Patrick's long hours. And Isaak was too old leave to his house easily. So they'd bonded on a common ground ... loneliness.
She had more than their friendship to thank him for. Because of Isaak, she could make her getaway today. He'd always have a special place in her heart. For being her friend. For sending her a lifeline, even after losing his battle with cancer. A lifeline he'd offered after he died, by way of a note from his lawyer.
That was the day she'd learned Isaak knew the dirty secret in her marriage.
All the hidden bruises and lies hadn't fooled him. His note said he wanted her life to change. All he asked in return was for her to help him with one thing. The reason she'd come to Germany.
She removed the envelope from her backpack, and took out the letter Isaak's attorney had handed her moments after telling her she'd inherited $50,000.
Private - To be opened only by Anna Kelly.
The letter, written in Isaak's scratchy script two days before he passed, caused her chest to swell with sadness at the subtle reminder of his life. She swallowed down her grief and read the note that had pushed her to proceed with the divorce.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Saving Anna"
Copyright © 2018 Sharon Struth.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved SAVING ANNA, a powerful story of the strength of the human spirit told in a gentle tone. I've read two other books by Sharon Struth, BELLA LUNA and WILLOW'S WAY, and all three books have wonderful, likable, and relatable female lead characters, all stronger than they give themselves credit for initially but who, through their openness to new experiences and a willingness to take a risk by listening to both their heart and their head, have the bravery to put themselves out there to find themselves, and love, after having been hurt. The book has many levels and threads, all tied together in one way or another by the theme of survival, whether it be about surviving political atrocities or domestic violence or our own psychological defenses stemming from personal trauma that limit our growth and development. SAVING ANNA is a fascinating learning experience about current German culture seen through the eyes of an American. It is also a thoughtful history lesson on the horrors of Nazism in WWII Germany and its insidious growth (with similarities to our present day political climate hard to ignore) as told by characters who survived it, and further personalized by the protagonist's mission to deliver a letter for a departed friend who was orphaned during the Holocaust, which leads her to an exploration of her own roots. The story also provides a teaching moment about how and when to balance altruism with self-interest and survival. My favorite insightful line comes towards the end of the book: "You tried to help the man you loved. That was why you stayed." And a few lines later: "Everything you ever did for love, do now for yourself." As in her other books, but in SAVING ANNA even more so, the author handles some heavy topics with a deftness that is fresh and hopeful. I highly recommend SAVING ANNA. It is at once entertaining, enriching, and thought-provoking, with characters you won't want to say goodbye to.
I love this series by Sharon Struth. She takes people who are damaged from their pasts, pluts them in a new environment, and they learn how to forgive themselves and fall in love again, both with themselves and with someone else. And these two characters are definitely damaged. Josef still suffers from physical pain as a result of a deadly car accident in which he was the sole survivor. He also suffers from a tremendous amount of survivor's guilt, as his passenger, whom he didn't know very well, was killed. He cannot remember any details from the accident and is still searching for an answer to they question of why it happened. Anna has escaped an abusive marriage, though Patrick could conceivably come after her at any given moment. She has escaped to Germany, thanks to an intuitive neighbor who saw through her covering up and realized what kind of situation she was in. He asked her to please go to Germany and find the man who saved him from the Nazis back during the early days of WWII. He also knew it would be a great excuse for her to leave Patrick, and he left her the means to be able to do it. It was his dying wish for her to do so, and she feels obligated to do this for him. Plus she needs the escape and the history is fascinating. Josef has been hired to drive Anna wherever she needs to go, and to serve as an interpreter for her should she need one. This forces him to face his demons from the accident. Plus Anna reminds him of Lily, the woman he inadvertently killed. As in the other books in this series, the two MCs end up helping each other heal, without realizing that was going to happen when they met. I admit that this one took me a little bit longer to get into, but I still enjoyed reading it. I especially liked learning some more of the history. I have along been fascinated by WWII stories, and this one layers in the past with the present to provide an interesting tale. Plus I like these stories of finding redemption and healing in Europe. I look forward to seeing where the next book takes us! I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.
I've read all of Ms. Struth's books, and haven't really commented on the romance of them in the last few. This time, I feel like I need to, because romance is romance and we all know that Happily Ever After is coming, but Struth has a way of taking two broken people, putting them together, and helping one another heal. There is no rescuing, only a mutual respect born in a bond that forms organically just at the point in the characters lives wherein such healing and love can happen. She doesn't rely on the "big misunderstanding" to create tension between the lovers, but drives outside forces into the mix to strengthen the love forming. It's quieter, and more beautiful, in my opinion. Relying on love, respect, and understanding to create a love story--who'da thunk it? In books one and two of The Sweet Life, Tuscany and Bath were characters in their own right. In Saving Anna, Germany and Bruges were more like co-conspirators in the stories of Anna and Josef, and Anna and Isaak. Struth effortlessly gets in the culture, the customs, the cities themselves without ever sounding like a travelogue. I feel like I could go to any of the places in the book now, and have it feel like I've been there before. Like a place I lived, rather than one I visited. While I've enjoyed all of her books, I feel this one has even more depth, and a maturity that comes with writing with both heart and brain engaged.
I really liked the main characters, Anna and Josef! They were realistic, genuine, and relatable. I really enjoyed watching these two characters develop a relationship. They both were severely emotionally damaged and were drowning in their grief and heartache. But the more time they spent together you could see a glimmer of light get through as they started to heal. They were good for each other. And isn’t that what we all want in a partner? Someone that makes us whole? Makes us a better person? It is clear Mrs. Struth does not know how to write a boring, cookie-cutter character. She writes her characters with depth, that have emotional baggage, are dealing with real-life struggles, and are working on over-coming personal obstacles. She writes real-life characters that face real-world problems. Which is one of the reasons I love her books, because I know when I read it, I will be able to easily connect with the characters and possibly even grow with the characters in the story. As someone who has personal experience with Domestic Violence, I appreciate books, like this one, that provide an honest insight into that world and even shine light on how walking away isn’t as easy as some people think. I appreciate that Anna’s and Patrick’s abusive relationship was not downplayed or sugar-coated. Also, that this book showed how Domestic Violence doesn’t just affect the couple – it also affects the family, friends, neighbors, and other loved ones. I enjoyed the history lessons that were weaved throughout the book and learning more about WWII and the impact of the Nazi’s in Germany. There were some very sad stories that were hard to hear. It’s still unbelievable what happened there! I loved the detailed scenes and beautiful descriptions of the landscape that made me feel like I was right there in the car with Anna and Josef overlooking the Rhine River! I have never been to Germany, but I think after reading this book it will definitely be on my travel bucket list! Furthermore, I also enjoyed reading the passages with the German customs and traditions. It is clear, Mrs. Struth is familiar with German Culture and was able to add them into fun and interesting scenes while showing a strong knowledge of the area. This book hits on so many topics such as friendship, love, romance, hope, faith, kindness, growth, healing, forgiveness, new beginnings, second chances, fresh starts, overcoming obstacles, support, determination, domestic violence, respect, compassion, integrity, and so much more. This book is book three in the A Sweet Life Novel Book Series. However, it can be read as a standalone. I had not read the first two books before reading this book, however, as much as I’ve enjoyed reading this book I definitely wish I had. I would absolutely recommend this book, this book series, and this author as I was truly impressed with the quality of writing, intriguing storylines, and excellent character development! I will definitely be checking out the other books in this series and other works by this author! **Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book and have voluntarily provided an honest, and unbiased review in accordance with FTC regulations.**