Seashell Season

Seashell Season

by Holly Chamberlin


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A picturesque Maine beach town is the setting for Holly Chamberlin's touching and thought-provoking novel, as a mother struggles to reconnect with her long lost daughter . . .

Every year on March 26th, Verity Peterson visits Ogunquit Beach, where she puts a handwritten message into a bottle and launches it into the waves. It's a ritual of remembrance for the daughter she hasn't seen in sixteen years—not since her baby's father, Alan, took two-month-old Gemma and disappeared. Verity keeps searching and hoping, sustained by the thought that someday she might get to be a mother to her own child. And finally, one phone call may change everything . . .

Verity learns that Alan is now in jail on abduction charges—and Marni Armstrong, born Gemma
Peterson-Burns, is coming to live with Verity in Yorktide, Maine. But this isn't the joyful reunion Verity imagined. Gemma has been raised to believe Verity was an unfit mother who left Alan no choice but to take her out of harm's way. Over the course of one summer, Verity tries to reach a tough, wary young woman who's more stranger than daughter. And Gemma must reexamine everything she thought about her parents—and decide whether to trust in a relationship that, though delicate as a seashell on the surface, could prove to be just as beautiful and resilient.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496701527
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 06/28/2016
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 316,227
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Holly Chamberlin was born and raised in New York City. After earning a Master's degree in English Literature from New York University and working as an editor in the publishing industry for ten years, she moved to Boston, married and became a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband now live in downtown Portland, Maine, in a restored mid-nineteenth-century brick townhouse with Betty, the most athletic, beautiful and intelligent cat in the world. Readers can visit her website at

Read an Excerpt

Seashell Season

By Holly Chamberlin


Copyright © 2016 Elise Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0153-4


Tuesday the twentieth of May started out as a day much like any other. I woke at around six thirty and spent a few minutes stretching under the sheets, a usual preliminary to putting my feet on the floor. And then, sitting up and swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I sent a message to my daughter, wherever she was, telling her I loved her and always would. Wishing her a happy day. Wishing her a good life.

I would send these messages to my daughter throughout the day. My daughter is never far from my mind. She lives with me, inside me, around me, always.


Then it was down to the kitchen to make coffee and eat breakfast. After breakfast, a shower and a mental note to add hair conditioner to the shopping list. Not coconut scented. David hates to smell like a coconut, and since he was nice enough to change the brand of hand soap he used for me, the least I could do was buy strawberry-scented conditioner. David doesn't mind smelling like artificial strawberries.

The day ahead included a quick stop at the good old-fashioned family-run pharmacy downtown here in Yorktide; another stop at the library to pick up a book they're holding for me, a study of the life of Joan of Arc I've been dying to read; and then on to my studio at the college, where I'd put the final touches on the syllabus for an art class I'm scheduled to teach this summer. Now that the spring semester is officially over there's no excuse not to be ready for the next round of students.

I was almost to the front door when the landline rang. I hesitated. Not many people call on that number, and most often it's someone with something to sell. But then I thought, Marion — it might be my once-almost-mother-in-law, and I hurried back into the kitchen, where there's an extension next to the microwave.

"Hello?" I said. Only then did I notice that the caller's number was not Marion's.

"Is this Verity Peterson?" It was a woman's voice, melodic, with a noticeable Spanish accent.

"Yes," I said. "Who is this?"

"My name is Soledad Valdes. I'm with the Protection of Minors Agency here in Arizona."

Fund-raising? No, I thought, government agencies — if she was calling from a government agency — don't raise money through cold-calling. And then ...

"You found her?" I demanded. My skin suddenly felt all prickly, and for half a second I thought I was passing out. "Is this what this call is about?"

"I had hoped to break the good news to you gently," the woman said, a bit of a smile in her voice. "I know it must be a great shock."

A shock? Oh yes, it was a shock. It still is a shock.

"How?" I asked, leaning back against the counter for support. "How did you find her? Her father, is he with her?"

Clearly and succinctly, Soledad Valdes told me the circumstances of Alan and Gemma's discovery. A man named Jim Armstrong had been caught stealing a car and was arrested. When his fingerprints were run through the national database, they were found to match those of one Alan Burns, long suspected in connection with the abduction of his infant daughter. Criminal record of assault. History of restraining orders.

"It wasn't difficult after that," Soledad explained, "to put the pieces together."

"How is she?" I asked, both eager and afraid to hear the answer to my question. "Is she all right? Is she hurt?"

"She's not hurt. But she is confused and more than a little angry. She was told you were dead, for one, so learning that you're alive and well has been quite a shock."

"So, Alan, her father —"

"He's admitted he took her, yes. He's not denying anything. And it seems he told Marni — that's the name he gave her — it seems he told her from the start that he'd, well, that he'd rescued her from an abusive home."

I don't know why the words hurt so badly — I'd suspected as much from Alan — but they did. To have some of my worst suspicions confirmed.

"But physically?" I asked again, dreading the answer, feeling my hand tighten on the receiver. "Is she healthy?"

"She seems to be fine," Soledad said. "Even though she's furious with her father, she swears he treated her well. I've been in this business a long time, and I've learned to recognize a lie when I hear it. And kids lie for some very good reasons. But I'd say she's telling the truth. She's not an abused child."

Well, that was something for which to be grateful. Except that she'd been lied to from almost the first day of her life. Wasn't that abuse?

"Where is she?" I asked. "Where is my daughter?"

"She's under our care. She's with a very solid foster family until we can arrange for you to be reunited."

"I want my daughter," I said. "As soon as possible I want her here with me."

Soledad attempted to soothe my growing agitation with the promise that the bureaucratic wheels were in motion, but I wasn't satisfied. I'd waited for seventeen years, sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently. Now I felt that if I didn't have Gemma back home with me immediately, I would burst. I said as much.

"I assure you, Ms. Peterson," she went on, with a truly admirable degree of patience, "that we're working to get your daughter back home as soon as possible."

She promised to get in touch with me again when there was more to say, and ended the call with these words: "I'm so very happy for you, Ms. Peterson. So very happy."

So very happy.

Not long after Alan and Gemma went missing, I allowed myself to be coaxed into joining a support group for parents of missing or dead children. I was the only parent whose child had been kidnapped, and by her own father at that. The seventeen-year-old son of one man had run away, leaving a scathing note of blame for his unhappiness. This father swore endlessly that he had been guilty of nothing more heinous than mild punishments when his son had disobeyed a direct order. The twelve-year-old daughter of another man had died of brain cancer. Two sets of parents had lost children to car accidents; the daughter of one of the families had been driving illegally. The fifteen-year-old daughter of one woman had gone off with her twenty-year-old boyfriend. One young couple, about my age, in fact, was mourning their stillborn baby. We were a motley crew, united only in tears, anger, guilt, and bewilderment.

But it wasn't long before I realized I couldn't tolerate witnessing the pain of others. All it did was to reinforce my own pain. And that's what it felt like, a layering on of sorrow, a fastening on of grief, an exclusive club of misery, rather than a real way forward. I'm sure support groups help a lot of people. They wouldn't be in existence if they didn't. But it didn't work for me.

No one in the group encouraged me to stay. I believe no one there really cared about anyone else's pain but his or hers. Can you blame them?

What would anyone in that group say if they knew that after all these years I've been given back my lost child? Would anyone be happy for me, really, truly happy, as I believed Soledad Valdes was happy?

I abandoned my plans for the day, though I realized I had no idea what I was supposed to do while I waited for Soledad's next call.

Except to cry. The tears simply leaked from my eyes, and I let them come in a flood of great, great relief.


We have our history, Marion Burns and I.

Marion is Alan's mother.

Marion is Gemma's grandmother.

After Alan disappeared with my daughter, and during the first nightmarish round of questioning by the police, it came out that Alan had what you might euphemistically call "a history." No fewer than three women in a town about two hours north of Yorktide had taken out restraining orders on Alan Burns, stalking being the reason for such measures, and about nine months before he met me, Alan was arrested for badly beating a man he suspected of being interested in his latest ex-girlfriend. The attack was unprovoked. Alan pled guilty, paid a hefty fine (funded by his mother), and the sentence was suspended.

The fact of Alan's disturbing behavior was bad enough, but what was worse — or so it seemed to me — was the fact that Marion, a woman who had almost become a surrogate mother figure to me, especially since my own mother had died when I was in my teens, had known all about her son's problems and yet had never told me. Needless to say, I was hurt and angry, and for several years I wanted nothing to do with Marion and her excuses for keeping me in ignorance.

Thinking back on those first years after Alan made off with Gemma makes me unhappy for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was my inability, or refusal, to allow Marion to mourn along with me. She, too, had lost loved ones, and she wanted to help me understand why she hadn't told me about her son's past. It hadn't been to hurt me. She had honestly thought I was a good influence on Alan, and that with me in his life, he would be able to turn things around. I knew she badly wanted my forgiveness. I knew because she told me so the few times I agreed to meet with her, but granting her forgiveness was impossible for me. I felt so very badly betrayed.

But things changed. I changed. It's not easy to live with anger. It wears you down. And the truth was that eventually I became aware that I missed Marion. I missed the times we used to spend together before Alan destroyed our family, the afternoons we would visit the mall or go to the movies or even just sit in her kitchen and drink tea with cream and sugar. And the bottom line was that Marion was a mother without her child. I was a mother without my child. Together, I thought, we might be stronger. Together we might better survive the grief.

This proved to be true.

I knew when Marion would be home. She's retired from her clerical job at the office of a local family physician and lives a very ordered life, with Bingo on Wednesdays at one thirty, church at ten o'clock Sundays, a trip to the grocery store just after breakfast on Mondays, and otherwise, mostly at home, tending her garden and reading historical romance novels. I was a little nervous about telling her the news — both the good and the bad of it. It would be a shock, and Marion isn't the strongest person. Briefly I considered driving over to her place to break the news in person, but at that moment, about an hour after the call from Arizona, I still felt too shaken to trust myself behind the wheel of a car.

Marion was home, as predicted. After she had told me all about the new bird food she was trying out and how the squirrels seemed not to like it and how happy she was that the finches and the sparrows and the chickadees were no longer bothered by the pesky rodents, she asked what was going on with me.

"Marion," I said. "I have something very important to tell you."

There followed a long moment of silence, and when I opened my mouth to continue, she spoke first.

"Is he dead?" she asked, her voice barely audible.

"No. He's in police custody."

"And the baby? Gemma?"

"Fine." My voice broke, and I fought down a fresh flood of tears. Tears of relief and of joy. "She's healthy. At least, that's what the woman from the child protection agency I spoke with told me. She's with a foster family at the moment."

"Thank God. But she'll come home, won't she? She has to come home!"

"Yes. She'll be coming home. But, Marion? It's going to be very, very difficult for her."

I knew Marion understood me. I didn't want her to meet Gemma right away, not until I had spent time alone with my daughter, not before I could assess the damage that had been done to her. As if I'm the expert!

"Yes," she said.

"We'll have to be very, very careful not to overwhelm her."

"You know best, Verity," Marion said, and now in her voice I heard once again the note of apology and submission that appeared every so often since our reconciliation.

You know best, Verity. Do I? I guess I'll have to know best, now that I'm finally getting the chance to be the mother I was meant to be.

"Is he well?" she asked then. "Was he hurt when they arrested him?"

I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but what I said was, "He's fine." Alan is, after all, Marion's son. I know she still loves him, in spite of everything. I know that for seventeen years she, like me, has been mired in worry about the fate of our children. I know that for seventeen years we've both been hoping beyond hope for Alan to decide he'd punished me long enough and that it was time to bring my daughter, Marion's granddaughter, back home.

"You'll let me know what happens?" Marion asked. "When Gemma is coming home? What's going to happen to Alan?"

"Of course," I promised. "Of course."

"It's a dream come true," she said then. "Isn't it?"

For some of us, I thought. But not for Alan.

And maybe not for Gemma, either.


I mentioned earlier that I'm preparing to teach a class this summer, so, a bit more about who I am.

I'm an artist, a sculptor primarily, and for the past seven years or so I've also been teaching art classes at Yorktide Community College. Things in my career are going well, but getting to this point was tough.

At the time of the kidnapping I had a clerical job at the same company where Alan was employed, Rowland Electronics. When he wasn't on suspension. But when he ran off with our daughter, it was impossible for me to stay on there. I felt as if I were on display and that there was no escaping Alan's brooding presence around every corner, hovering above every cubicle. So I quit the job I'd only taken at Alan's insistence and took a job as a waitress at one of the popular seasonal restaurants that cater mainly to tourists. Fewer people to point at me, to recognize me as the woman whose ex-fiancé had stolen her baby. When that job ended for the winter months, I worked as a dog walker (I'm allergic to dogs, but being in the open air, it was tolerable); a stock girl at Hannaford, the local giant grocery store (easier to avoid conversations with locals; I would have earned more as a cashier, but that would have put me on display); and as an off-season housekeeper at one of the large resort hotels in Ogunquit. It was a hand-to-mouth existence at best, and there were months when I was hard-pressed to pay my rent or put gas in my car.

None of this entirely isolated me from public scrutiny, of course, but it allowed me to keep a relatively low profile for close to ten years. No friends, no social life. Self-willed isolation. Self-determined alienation. At one point, not long after the kidnapping, a friend from college days, someone I'd known at the time I'd first met Alan, contacted me. She'd moved away after graduation but of course knew all about what had happened to me. She wanted, she said, to reconnect. She wanted to know if she could help. But all I could remember were the arguments we used to have about Alan and his control over me.

"You say controlling," I'd argue. "I say caring."

"He's so unbelievably insecure," Marisa said once. "I don't know how you can stand it, all that whining he does, always following you around like a puppy. If I were you, I'd tell him to grow a pair."

"You don't know him," I'd replied defensively. "He's not insecure. He loves me. He doesn't have to follow me around, as you put it. He just wants to be with me. You don't know how wonderful it is to have someone always there for you, no questions asked."

Did I believe my own words? Yes, for a long time I did.

Marisa laughed. "Jared is there for me, thank you very much. But he has his own life too, and he lets me have mine."

That hit too close to home. "You're just jealous of what Alan and I have together," I snapped.

I'll never forget the look on Marisa's face then. She pitied me. She was worried about me. Also, she thought I was being a fool. "Jealous?" she said. "Are you kidding? I think it's pathetic the way he smothers you, and you let him do it. No offense, but where are his friends? And that jerk Rob doesn't count. He gives me the creeps. And why does Alan keep changing jobs?"

I broke things off with Marisa after that confrontation. And when she got in touch after the kidnapping, well, I was too embarrassed to allow a new relationship with her. I hadn't listened to Marisa back when it might have made a difference. Instead I'd allowed myself to get pregnant by that controlling, smothering man. And look what had happened.

Anyway, almost ten years after Gemma had disappeared from her crib in broad daylight, things began to change. I realized — and it was quite a shock — that I'd grown bored being all alone with my grief, that I'd allowed my world to narrow down to a ridiculously tiny place in which there was increasingly less room for air. Of course, I felt guilty about the boredom. Wasn't I supposed to keep the flame alive, devote every moment to the memory of my daughter and to the hope that one day she would come back to me?


Excerpted from Seashell Season by Holly Chamberlin. Copyright © 2016 Elise Smith. 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.

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Seashell Season 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a wonderful book about mother and daughter! I really enjoyed reading this book. The story seemed so real.
Anonymous 5 months ago
This book examines the depth of a mother's never ending love for her child.
sbart84 More than 1 year ago
An emotional read on the re connection of a mother and daughter. Gemma was abducted from Verity seventeen years ago. Gemma has now returned and the journey of becoming mother/daughter has begun. The love of a child is proved in this story, Verity never gave up and will continue to thrive for a relationship with her daughter. Gemma is not very accepting of her mother in the beginning, but as the story unfolds you can see the acceptance of her mom. I really enjoyed this story, as a mother I could just feel what Verity was going through. I really liked the dual point of view, you really got the feelings from both sides. A must read!
Bette313 More than 1 year ago
A poignant story of a woman trying to reconnect with the daughter who was stolen from her 17 years prior. The journey Verity and Gemma travel is long, difficult, and trying but the love of a child is something that is not easily broken and Verity will do whatever is necessary to get through to Gemma. Gemma is rough, rude, and completely confused. Finding out that everything you've been told about your mother your whole life is a lie isn't easy to deal with and she doesn't plan on making anything easy for Verity. In the end though Gemma knows she has a decision to make. Trust in this fragile new relationship with Verity or live life alone. This book is wonderfully done. My heart broke for both of these characters. This is a book I recommend to everyone!