|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Terri-Lynne DeFino
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Terri-Lynne DeFino
All rights reserved.
Twelve Drummers Drumming
Snowflakes do not fall; they dance. Will-o'-the-wisps in Les Sylphides. White on black. The poet wind scatters them and they twirl amid the tombstones — stately guardians dressed in gray — and fall, at last, to sleep.
Disturbing that slumber is a sacrilege, I know, she cannot not bring herself to commit.
No matter the cold.
No matter the dark.
No matter she is trespassing after cemetery hours. She will stand perfectly still until she is another guardian among the stones.
* * *
Rough hands chafed warmth back into Johanna's hands, her arms.
"Are you crazy?"
The masculine voice mumbled words she did not care to decipher. He was right. She was crazy. Crazy as a loon. Mad as a hatter, as a Cheshire Cat. Crazy as ...
She closed her eyes, unwilling to finish the unkind, if accurate, thought. Trembling, drifting, all she wanted was to sleep.
"Oh, no you don't. Get up. Walk." He jammed a shoulder under her armpit and hefted her upright.
Johanna's feet moved of their own accord, half-dragged, but they moved. "Where am I?"
"Bitterly Cemetery," the man answered, "doing your best impression of a snowman ... woman."
Oh. Right. Farts. She pushed feebly out of his arms. Her knees buckled, and she was grateful he hadn't let go. "I can walk on my own."
"I'm sure you can. Normally. Come on. I've got the heat blasting in the truck. Get warm, and I'll take you home."
Johanna let him help her. Bitterly, Connecticut was way too nice a town to allow miscreants. Everyone knew everyone and had most of their lives. This was no one to fear, even if he did frequent cemeteries after hours rescuing would-be popsicles from certain frostbite.
Her head began to clear. Memory edged around her trembling, the cold, her grief. The man scooted her into the truck, closed the door and came around the driver's side. "There's coffee in the thermos next to you."
His cell blipped and he turned a shoulder to answer it. Charlotte someone. She apparently wanted pizza.
Johanna tuned out, instead warming her hands in the hot air blasting from the heating vent. She thawed. Her trembling eased. Two days trying to get there in time, and she'd failed. Again. Was there no end to the ways she would fail her grandmother? Her sisters? She fought the tears rising up like rebels and failed at that too.
He handed her a crumpled tissue.
She snatched it from his hand, relieved it was only crumpled. "Thanks."
"I wasn't trying to freeze to death or anything. I was just paying my respects. I missed the funeral."
"I'm sure the whole town knows." Johanna yanked off her hat, tried to smooth down static curls. "Well, the snow isn't my fault. The whole Northeast is covered. My car wouldn't make it and I couldn't rent an SUV and I'm damn sure not going to attempt these roads in anything else, so I had to take a train and then no one answered their cell phones. I had to walk from —"
She startled silent. Squinted. He pulled off his snowcap and a flop of auburn hair tumbled out. His beard lit a brighter copper than his hair. Eyelashes and brows arched over hazel eyes. A face she knew, despite the years. Johanna's heart stuttered. "Charlie McCallan? For real?"
"Took you long enough."
"You ... you don't look ..." She pulled at his beard. "You've grown up."
"It happens to boys when they turn into men." He laughed. "They get hairy."
He wore thick workman's overalls and a down jacket, but he was obviously and most certainly no longer the bony kid she'd once shoved into the lake.
She flexed thawing fingers. "It has been way too long, Charlie."
"I thought maybe you'd show up for the twentieth reunion."
"Twentieth?" Johanna slumped. "Really?"
"Last Thanksgiving. You should have come. Fifty-eight of the ... what was our class? Ninety-something?" He shrugged. "Whatever it was, we had a good turn out."
"I don't remember getting the invite."
An eyebrow lifted, but Charlie only shifted into gear.
Tires crunched in the snow. The packing sound reminded Johanna of riding with Poppy in his ancient plow, making safe the streets of Bitterly through the long, snowy winters. Outside the warm cab, in this new winter, flurries drifted.
Charlie-freaking-McCallan. Of all people.
She had known him as unavoidably as she did everyone else in Bitterly — the ghost-white kid whose parents were caretakers of the town cemetery. They'd grown up together, largely circled in and out of friendship, until the summer they were seventeen.
The heat in the truck was becoming oppressive. Johanna unzipped her coat. "Working the graveyard shift? Pun very much intended."
"I don't really work the cemetery anymore. Mom and Dad retired, turned it over to the town. I fill in once in a while, doing maintenance."
"No one knows this place better than you." Johanna blew her nose. "And Gina? How's she?"
"In Florida with the yoga instructor she left me for."
Again her heart stuttered. Johanna loosened her scarf. Gina had been nice enough, pretty enough, and got pregnant senior year and ruined everything.
"And your ... daughter, wasn't it? You had a few more, too."
"Charlotte," he answered. "She's good. I've got five kids. Two daughters and three sons."
"That's a lot of kids."
He chuckled, his eyes straying from the road to look her way. "It is. They also require a lot of pizza. Mind if I stop on our way past?"
"Oh, sure. No problem. Thanks, by the way, for ..."
They drove in silence, the ineffectual wipers slapping a rhythm to go with the crunching tires. He pulled into town following the same trek Johanna had made from the train station. She hadn't earlier noticed the faux-gaslights wrapped in pine and holly, the trees lining the Green, the candles in every window. Neither had she absorbed the olive oil boutique or the wine bar on either side of the pizza place that had once been the only restaurant in town. She'd been too furious that none of her sisters picked up her call. Her numerous calls.
Johanna sighed. The window fogged. Charlie was nice enough not to ask what was wrong. He could guess, and he'd probably be right. He pulled up in front of D'Angelo's Pizzeria, and left the truck running.
"I'll be right back."
She waved him away. The waft of cold air he let in made her shiver, but it felt good. Bracing. Clarifying. She opened the window and let the falling snow hit her face. Remembering. Johanna hated to remember. It was her number one reason for staying far away from Bitterly. The door opened and reason number two slipped into the truck, stretching nearly across her to set the pizzas down on the back seat. His jacket fell open. He was definitely not the skinny kid she'd pushed into the lake. He smelled good. Pizza and something musky.
"Sorry. They're hot."
She closed the window. "Does your father-in-law still make the pizza?"
"No. Gina's parents sold the place and moved to Florida about six years ago. But the pizza's still good."
"You want to —"
"No, no. Thanks. I have to get home. My sisters will be waiting."
"Okay." He put the truck in drive, pulled carefully back onto the road. "It was good to see Nina. I see Emma and Julietta around town, but I don't think I've seen Nina, well, probably since I've seen you. Your grandfather's funeral, right?"
Eight years. Had it really been so long?
"I suppose so," she said. Eight years since she'd seen Gram and Emma in the flesh. She had nephews she'd never met. Cyberworld made staying in touch so easy. Video-chatting, instant messaging, texting. Nina lived in Manhattan. They met now and again for dinner or a show. Julietta had come down to Cape May a few times to help out with the bakery. But Gram ...?
Tears again. She hated them, fell victim to them more often than she could count and they never did her any good. Ever.
"Hey, it's all right."
"No. It's not. But thanks."
Charlie fell silent.
Johanna blew her nose on the now-shredded and soggy tissue he'd given her for all the good it did. Covertly wiping her fingers on the inside of her coat pocket, she hoped his kindness held out and he'd pretend not to notice. "Town sure has changed a lot." She cleared the frog in her throat. "I never thought it would happen."
"It's all because of the expansion up at the ski slope. Slopes, now. Five different trails. Remember how rinky-dink it was? Bonfire in an old garbage can? Bales of hay as stops at the bottom of the hill?"
"And the tow rope that shredded our gloves." Johanna laughed. "I vaguely remember one of my sisters telling me about the changes."
Charlie paused at the red blinking light at the edge of town. "Now it's the Berkshire Lodge with ski lifts and instructors and a lodge where you can buy a seven-dollar hot cocoa. Tourists love it. After the expansion, the whole town started to surge. Remember the lake?"
How could I ever forget? "Yes."
"It's a country club now, one most residents in Bitterly can't afford to join. Pisses me off I can't bring my kids to swim there."
He drove out of town and into the farmland where the house Johanna and her sisters grew up in straddled the county line. Snow-humped fields and white woods preserved the country feel of her childhood, even while quaint road signs boasting names like Country Farm Lane and Flirtation Street indicated new developments set back from the road. There had been nothing out here when she and Nina first arrived at the house on County Line Road. She'd been just shy of four, and now remembered little of the children's home in Massachusetts, or adjusting to the doting grandparents she came quickly to love. But Johanna remembered New Hampshire. Mommy. Daddy. When there were so few memories to hold on to, it wasn't hard to hold them tight.
"Don't go into the driveway," she said as he was about to do so. "It doesn't look like it's been shoveled."
"My truck can make it."
"No." She grasped his arm, gave it a friendly squeeze. The windows in the house were dark, all but the one around back. The square of light on the snow peeked around the corner, a crooked finger beckoning. She imagined her sisters gathered at the table in the kitchen. Drinking tea. Or wine. Trying not to speak unkindly of their errant sister who missed Gram's funeral.
"Thank you, Charlie." Johanna looked for the door handle. "I don't know what I'd have done if you didn't show up."
Charlie reached across her, flicked the perfectly integrated handle she wouldn't have found in a thousand years of trying. The door swung open, letting the cold swirl in.
"Lucky for me I did."
He smiled. "You'd have come and gone before I ever knew you were in town. I'm glad I got to see you, Jo."
"Same ... same here." Johanna stepped out into knee-deep snow. "I'll be in town a few days. Maybe I'll see you around."
"Kind of hard to avoid it, in Bitterly. Get inside before you freeze again."
Johanna scooped up a handful of snow and tossed it at him before slamming the door. He laughed and waved and pulled away. The light was still on in the interior of his truck, alighting on his hair like sunshine on a copper kettle. She watched until the curve in the road took his taillights from sight.
"It really is good to see you, Charlie," she said to the falling snow. Whether she was pushing him into the lake or he was chasing her with a dobsonfly, they'd been friends first. Johanna turned aside those thoughts, and to the house instead.
The word sent disparate shivers into her core. White with black shutters and a red door. The farmhouse porch, empty now but for the ring of firewood between the front windows, usually boasted a number of rocking chairs and porch swings. She and her sisters never complained about summer assigned reading. Afternoons spent on the porch, Gram's lemonade popsicles melting down their fingers, was one of their joys of summer.
Wrapping her scarf more closely around her neck, Johanna trudged down the driveway and around to the back of the house. She hugged the wall, peeking through the window from the shadows, her heart hammering. There they were, just as she imagined them, sitting around the table as they had so many times during those years they all lived happily there.
Nina, a Wagner dream of Valkyries — blond and bold and brutal, her hands wrapped around a teacup as if she would crush it, or hold it together.
Emmaline, who, like Johanna, had inherited dark curls and cocoa-brown eyes from their mother and, unlike Johanna, was spared her frenzy.
Johanna's brimming eyes overflowed.
Awkward even when sitting still, as blond as Nina without any of her beauty, Julietta was a sprite straight out of a fairy story, all arms and legs and ears. Thick glasses accentuated the enormity of her pale eyes. Perpetually childlike, ridiculously brilliant, Julietta was the one. And they all loved her best.
Johanna wiped her eyes with her scarf, her nose with the back of her hand. She gave up trying to pretend she hadn't been crying, hadn't been frantic and furious and ready to succumb to the madness always looming like tomorrow's shadows. Stumbling to the back door that would be open because the lock had broken when she was fourteen and never been fixed, Johanna Coco went home.
* * *
The truck slid to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Charlie rested his head to the steering wheel. He breathed deeply, inhaling the aromas of pizza and Johanna. Memory sparked. Summer after junior year. Her body pressed to his. The music, and the crowd, and the sand beneath their feet. She had turned and smiled that earth-shattering smile when he slipped his arms around her waist, pulled her against him so she wouldn't get crushed by the head-bangers moshing outside of the mosh pit. Charlie remembered her leaning into him, her hands holding him in place, the sweetness of her perfume ignited by sweat, and the seemingly inconsequential moment of contact that changed his world.
Headlights approached. He lifted his head. A plow-truck going up the hill stopped. Charlie rolled down his window as the other driver did the same.
"You stuck, Charlie?" Dan Greene, best pal since childhood, leaned an elbow out his window. "Need a tow?"
"Nah, just taking a few minutes peace. The kids are home waiting for their dinner."
"What are you doing way out here?"
Charlie thumbed over his shoulder. "I just dropped Johanna Coco off. I found her in the cemetery."
"At this hour?"
"You know those Coco girls."
"I sure do. Too bad she didn't make it to the funeral."
"She tried. This damn snow —"
"Don't you be cursing my livelihood. This damn snow is taking my sister's kids to the beach this summer. Kind of ironic, huh?"
Their laughter faded into the night. Charlie felt suddenly drained. Tight as he and Dan had always been, he didn't have the words to express his sudden chaos of thoughts. Tapping the side of his truck, he waved and let up on the break.
"Right. See you, Dan."
"See you, Charlie."
The scrape of Dan's plow on the road vanished as Charlie's window went up, trapping the scent of pizza lingering. Johanna's, like the woman herself, did not. Wild as the Coco girls had always been, Johanna was the wildest. She left after high school and seldom returned. For Charlie, that had been a good thing. He glommed every bit of news, every shred of gossip over the years. Her travels. Her pie-in-the-sky business ventures. Lover after temporary lover she brought home to Bitterly, never the same guy two visits running. Seeing her was always hard, harder when he and Gina stopped getting along. Last time, when she returned to Bitterly for her grandfather's funeral, the twins were newborns, Charlotte, Will, and Caleb were still in elementary school and he was still married, happily-enough. That was eight years ago, and now none of those things were true. Johanna was home, for however long, and Charlie was not going to let her escape Bitterly without hearing the words he tried to tell her that summer night on the beach and hadn't stopped thinking since.
* * *
Johanna woke, blinking away the bright sunlight streaming through lace curtains. Not the cluttered bedroom above the bakery, the one that always smelled of baking and the sea, it was yellow. White bookshelves. A desk under the window, and a Nirvana poster on the closet door. Her nose was cold but her body, warm under downy blankets. A heavy, scraping sounded somewhere outside. She pushed up onto her elbows.
Excerpted from Seeking Carolina by Terri-Lynne DeFino. Copyright © 2015 Terri-Lynne DeFino. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There's a lot going on in this story and all of it's good. A great mixture of a second chance romance and women's lit with the reunification of four sisters to deal with the passing of their beloved grandmother. Emotions run high as Johanna Coco gets reacquainted with teenage love Charlie McCallen. He's one of the main reasons she stayed away so long, but now he's here, divorced, and very interested. And if that isn't enough to frazzle her nerves, she and her sisters are discovering clues about the parents who abandoned them years ago. They learn their father was killed in an accident but what about their mother??? This is a great read and one I highly recommend.
Seeking Carolina is book one in the Bitterly Suite series by Terri-Lynne DeFino. This is a very sweet book with so much going on. It’s about the relationship between four sisters, all traumatized by events of their pasts. It’s about a second chance at lost love. And it’s about unearthing secrets long buried and finally being able to move on. Johanna Coco hasn’t been home to Bitterly, Connecticut for eight long years. But her beloved grandmother that raised she and her sisters, has died. There are so many reasons Johanna hasn’t been able to go home. There are so many ghosts still haunting her there. And there is her first and only real love, Charlie McCallan. It’s been twenty long years since that summer when she fell in love. They were just kids. Her own fears and one big mistake on Charlie’s part and they were over. Now, all these years later, one look at him and she knows that all those feelings are still there. Charlie never stopped loving Johanna. He can’t believe she is finally home. He is divorced now and he is determined not to let this opportunity go to let her know how he really feels. He is going to woo her, and do everything possible to make up for past hurts. But this book isn’t just about Charlie and Johanna’s lost love. Johanna has three sisters, Emma, Julietta and Nina. All four of them daughters of two parents suffering from mental illness. All taken from their parents in the wake of tragedy and raised by their grandparents. All four suffering from long buried memories and fear they could someday be like their parents. But these four women share a love that was so wonderful. Even with miles between them, they are close and supportive of each other. As the days pass, mysteries are unearthed regarding the fate of their mother, Carolina. Their grandmother kept many secrets and the sisters are determined to find the truth. So this book is about a second chance for love, but it’s also about the love of family, and finally finding a way to let go of the past and moving forward. It was beautifully told and I enjoyed it very much.
This was a fun, engaging read that I couldn't put down. The story is well-told with characters I wanted to follow and cheer on. Though ostensibly a romance novel, there is so much more to this story, including mystery and suspense. The story also deals with sensitive mental health issues -- showing both the grace and damage that can befall when a family member (or members) suffers from mental illness. Seeking Carolina is not a dark story, but it will make you think while also touching your heart and sometimes making you laugh out loud. Well done, Terri. I anxiously await more from you!
I’ve been a fan of Terri-Lynne DeFino since Finder. Her writing is so mesmerizing, so beautiful, so charmed. With Seeking Carolina she has earned my continued loyalty. Not only is it a great story, but it’s incredibly well written. Ms. DeFino takes the characters in the book, the family drama, the romance and shapes them with words so lovely and powerful that each one seems perfectly placed in the sentence, for that moment, to impart that feeling. Can’t say enough. My fingers are already itching for the next book!
Seeking Carolina by Terri-Lynne DeFino is a powerfully emotional read. As others have said, the line between women's lit and romance is blurred, but what makes this an exceptional book is honest, raw characters, believable character growth, not only for Johanna and Charlie, but for minor characters as well, and a satisfying conclusion that promises happy ever after. I will absolutely follow this author, this series and beyond.
This is a really great story. Characters are well-developed and emotional as 4 sisters return home after a death in the family to discover that things aren't what you think at first glance.
I liked Seeking Carolina by Terri-Lynne DeFino. However, the romance described by the book blurb is only a tiny subplot to the story's mystery and hardly worth any elaboration. I would classify this book as women's fiction, not contemporary romance. This book is about Cape May bakery owner Johanna Coco, and her three sisters, Nina, Emma and Julietta. When their grandmother passes away, the Coco sisterhood comes together at their childhood home. Although Johanna has kept in touch with her sisters via text, Skype, etc., she has not returned to Bitterly, Connecticut for eight years. Johanna prefers living away because being in Bitterly only stirs up the past, which she and her sisters avoid like the plague. Due to the fact that both their parents suffered from mental illness, the girls were raised and adopted by their maternal grandparents. Their father died in a tragic car accident years ago, but their mother's existence has remained a mystery for quite some time. How these women band together as they rediscover themselves, figure out the past and forge a new future is what this book is truly all about. During this time, Johanna reconnects with Charlie McCallan, her first and only love. This is a poignant story and Ms. DeFino tackles some tough subject matter with tact and love. The Coco sisterhood is an amazing foursome, and the author evolves their relationship with each other and their respective men with fresh candor and honesty. I formed a connection with each sister, however, I liked Julietta the most because she was uniquely fragile and outspoken. If you are looking for an interesting and slightly haunting tale, check this book out. Complimentary copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.
What a wonderful book! I really did not want it to end!!! Four sisters raised by their grandmother gather together when she dies. The mystery surrounding their mother and what happened to her is something they all would like to solve. Each sister’s life is explored and as the story unfolded I felt for and with each one of the sisters. This was a thought provoking and very interesting read. It stretched me in a good way – had me smiling and crying and hoping it would all work out for everyone in the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. It is the first book I have read by Ms. Defino but it will not be my last. Thank you to NetGalley, Kensington Publishing Corp and Lyrical Press for the ARC to read read and review.
This is more chic lit mystery than romance, but it was interesting and well written. Joanna returns home after the death of her grandmother and is reunited with her teenage boyfriend Charlie. Each of them has a lot of baggage and their reunion is complicated by family. As Joanna grows closer to Charlie, will she learn the truth about the death of her parents. This book wasn't my cup of tea, but if your a fan of women's literature with sides of mystery and romance you will probably like this book. I was given a free copy for an honest review by netgalley.com