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
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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.
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