Then and Always

Then and Always

by Dani Atkins
3.6 16


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Then and Always by Dani Atkins

For fans of One Day, What Alice Forgot, and the hit film Sliding Doors, comes an absorbing and surprising debut novel about a young woman who, after an accident, gets a second chance at life . . . just not in one she remembers.
Rachel Wiltshire has everything she’s ever wanted: a close group of friends, a handsome boyfriend, and acceptance to the journalism program at her top-choice college. But one fateful evening, tragedy tears her world apart.
Five years later, Rachel returns home for the first time to celebrate her best friend’s wedding. Still coping with her grief, she can’t stop thinking about the bright future she almost had, if only that one night had gone differently. But when a sudden fall lands her in the hospital, Rachel wakes to find that her life has completely changed. Now the people she loves most are not the way she remembers them. Unable to trust her own recollections, Rachel tries to piece together what really happened, and not even she can predict the astonishing truth.

Praise for Then and Always
“Readers who enjoyed Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot and Sophie Kinsella’s Remember Me? will like [Then and Always].”Booklist

“Clear your schedule for an addicting read. Then and Always is a twisty, romantic, keep-you-guessing story about the kind of love you never forget.”—National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti, author of He’s Gone

“Heartfelt, gorgeous and completely believable . . . Atkins’ latest novel unfolds beautifully and will touch readers deeply.”RT Book Reviews

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804178525
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/20/2014
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,262,585
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.64(d)

About the Author

Dani Atkins lives in rural Hertfordshire, England, with her husband and two children. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt


September 2008

Long after the screaming had stopped, when the only sound to be heard was the soft crying of my friends as they waited for the ambulance to arrive, I realized that I was still clutching the lucky penny tightly within my palm. My fingers refused to unfurl from around the tiny copper talisman, as though by sheer will alone I would somehow be able to wind back time and erase the tragedy around me.

Was it really only half an hour earlier that Jimmy had picked up the glinting coin from the restaurant’s tarmacked car park?

“For luck,” he had said with a grin, tossing the coin up in the air and deftly catching it with one hand.

I smiled back and then saw the flicker of irritation flash through his pale blue eyes as Matt quipped, “Jimmy, mate, you should’ve said if you’re a little short of cash, no need to go groveling about on the ground for money!”

Matt had laughed then, and thrown his arm around my shoulder, pulling me close to his side. I thought the darkening expression on Jimmy’s face was a natural reaction to Matt’s unnecessary comment, which highlighted the differences between their backgrounds. And maybe that was part of it. But it wasn’t all of it. There was more . . . though of course I didn’t understand that for a long time.

The three of us were standing in the fading sunlight of a warm September evening, waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. Jimmy had already been in the car park when Matt and I had driven in. Matt had made quite a show of circling the empty spaces, looking for just the right spot to park his new acquisition. I guess he was still in that strange honeymoon phase boys have when they’re really in love with their cars. I just hoped he’d have the good sense not to gloat about it too much in front of the rest of the group.

The new car was shiny, sporty, and expensive. That’s as much as I know about cars. He’d been given it by his parents when the exam results had come out. That alone should tell you enough about Matt’s family to understand why comments about money sometimes hit a raw nerve with the rest of us. For the most part, Matt was fairly considerate and didn’t rub it in too much. But the odd glib remark occasionally slipped under the wire and lit a spark. I hoped he wasn’t going to say anything that would ruin what was probably going to be one of the last nights we would all be spending together for quite a while.

“You’ve been at work today, Jimmy?” I asked, knowing full well that he had but anxious to steer things back onto neutral ground. Jimmy turned and gave me the smile that I swear hadn’t changed at all since he was four years old.

“Yep, this is my last week helping out my uncle; after that I’m happily handing back the wheelbarrow and the pitchfork. The gardening world and I are about to part company.”

“Still, look at the bright side: you’ve got a great tan this summer—­you’d not have got that stacking shelves in the supermarket.”

And it was true, Jimmy’s normally fair skin was a soft golden brown, and his forearms were definitely more sinewy and defined from months of outdoor work. Of course, Matt and I were both still sporting fairly decent suntans ourselves from our holiday in France at his parents’ villa. That too had been another congratulatory gift—­for both of us.

Actually, my dad had taken issue with us over the trip. Sure, he liked Matt well enough; he was a fairly familiar fixture around our house, and we had been dating for almost two years. But it had still been touch and go whether he’d allow me to go away for a fortnight with Matt’s family. Part of it had been the money thing, because, of course, Matt’s parents had refused to accept any payment for the trip. The other part—­the big part—­had been the dad/daughter/boyfriend thing. I guess that’s universal with dads, but it seemed even more so in our case, with no mum around to smooth things over. Eventually Matt and I had managed to persuade him, explaining how everything was going to be all aboveboard, how it was strictly separate bedrooms and that we’d be with Matt’s parents the whole time. Basically, we lied.

This chain of thought had made me wonder, and not for the first time, how Dad was going to cope when the time came for me to leave for university at the end of the month. I felt a frown forming and determinedly pushed the thought away. I’d spent most of the summer struggling with that, and I was not going to ruin the last evening with my friends by worrying over things I couldn’t change.

Two cars, both considerably older than Matt’s but no less appreciated by their owners, pulled into the restaurant’s car park. The rear door of the small blue car nearest to us flung open and Sarah ran over in a clatter of improbably high heels. She tottered alarmingly over the uneven surface before enveloping me in a huge hug.

“Rachel, my lovely, how are you?”

I hugged her back, feeling momentarily choked up as I realized that soon I’d only be seeing her during the uni holidays and not every day. Apart from Jimmy, she was my oldest friend. And however close Jimmy and I were, and had always been, there were still some topics of conversation that were reserved only for your girlfriends.

“Sorry we’re late,” Sarah apologized.

I gave her a wry smile. Sarah was always late. For a girl so naturally pretty, she required an incredible amount of time to get ready to go out, with multiple hair and outfit changes before she could be persuaded to step away from the mirror. And she never seemed satisfied with the final effect, which was ridiculous, because with her heart-­shaped face, shiny brown curls, and petite frame, she always looked perfectly lovely.

“Have you been waiting long?” she asked, slipping her arm through mine and pulling me away from Matt across the car park to the restaurant’s entrance. This was most likely to ensure that she made it in one piece across the tarmac with those ridiculously high stilettos, although it could have been to avoid watching Trevor and Phil’s knee-­jerk reaction to Cathy as she climbed out of the car beside them.

“Just long enough for Matt to piss Jimmy off,” I replied in a voice low enough for only her to hear. She smiled knowingly.

“Oh, no time at all then!”

By now we had reached the patioed doorway at the rear of the restaurant and stood waiting while the boys (Matt included) tried to pretend that they were not noticing the extremely inviting cleavage displayed by Cathy’s low-­cut top. Wearing as well a pair of skintight jeans and high-­heeled sandals—­which, to Sarah’s chagrin, she appeared to have no difficulty walking in—­Cathy looked as though she were off to a photo shoot. Long blond hair fell around her shoulders and everything about her seemed so perfectly put together that I instantly felt as though I’d got dressed in the dark with clothes that’d been thrown out from a charity shop.

Cathy had been a relatively late addition to our circle of friends. Prior to her arrival into our sixth form, our group had been a tight unit of Sarah and me and the four boys. I suppose the boy-­girl ratio had been a bit unbalanced, but we’d all been mates for so long that it wasn’t an issue. That said, Cathy’s slow inclusion into our group had been welcomed quite vigorously by most of the boys, for obvious reasons. And, looks aside, Cathy was good fun to have around. Her family had moved to Great Bishopsford from a much larger town, and she had seemed much more worldly and clued up than the rest of us. Added to that, she was extremely open and friendly and had a wicked sense of humor, and, when she wasn’t flirting outrageously with every male within a five-­mile radius, I actually really liked her.

Sarah, though, had her reservations, and on more than one occasion, when Cathy had ruffled her feathers or stepped on her toes, I had heard her mutter darkly, “Last in. First out.”

When Jimmy sauntered across the car park to join us, Sarah stepped to one side and began to peruse the menu displayed inside a glassed-­in case by the doorway. The others had walked over to admire Matt’s car, or Cathy’s chest, I thought waspishly, as I watched her bend down low, supposedly to examine the alloy wheels. As if she cared about wheels!

“You look much nicer than her,” Jimmy whispered into my ear, knowing instantly what was on my mind.

“Am I that easy to read?” I asked, smiling back up at him. He gave me the grin I knew so well, the one that crinkled up the corners of his eyes and lit up his whole face.

“Like a book,” he confirmed, “but a good one.”

“Like a battered old paperback, you mean, rather than a glossy magazine.”

He followed my eyes and my analogy as we looked across to where Cathy was standing with Matt, listening raptly while he extolled something or other about the car.

“You don’t have anything to worry about,” Jimmy reassured me, giving my shoulder a friendly squeeze. “Matt would be crazy to look at her when he’s got you.”

“Hmm,” was all I managed in reply, surprised to feel that the warmth of his words had ignited a small blush. I quickly turned away.

Catching my reflection in the restaurant’s window, I didn’t feel my old friend was being entirely honest. If he was, then he seriously should think about getting his eyes tested. I was certainly never going to elicit the kind of reaction from men that Cathy did. Long dark hair, fashionably poker straight, big eyes that hardly functioned at all without their contact lenses, and lips that were a little too wide. A pleasant enough face, but not stunning, and I was honest enough to know I was never going to stop traffic. And that had never worried me before, but since being with Matt, who was, let’s face it, undeniably gorgeous, I seemed more aware than ever of some of my shortcomings.

“And just remember, to me you’ll always be the freckly-­faced girl with the gap in her front teeth, whose ears stuck out.”

“I was ten years old then,” I protested. “Thank God for orthodontia. Do you really have to remember every damn thing about my geeky childhood?”

Reading Group Guide

A Conversation with Michelle Richmond and Dani Atkins

Michelle Richmond is the bestselling author of The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress. A native of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, she makes her home in Northern California. Her newest novel is Golden State.

Michelle Richmond: I can’t believe this is your first novel! The tension and pacing here are remarkable. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Dani Atkins: Even as a child I was always scribbling away at short stories and poems, so I guess the dream was always there. As a young adult I wrote a few short stories and a couple of very lightweight romances. They weren’t published, and with good reason: They weren’t very good. Not that I realized that at the time, of course. There were huge gaps between my literary endeavors, where I wouldn’t write anything more challenging than the weekly shopping list. However, when my children were older I once again felt the urge to write. Then and Always was different from anything I had attempted before. When it was done I felt confident it was the best thing I’d ever written. (Of course, bearing in mind what had come before, some of my earlier shopping lists could also have claimed that title!)

MR: How did you get the inspiration for the novel?

DA: I’ve always enjoyed novels or films that keep you guessing and make you question what you believe to be true. I’m also a fan of thrillers and books with a supernatural twist. But most of all, I adore a good old-fashioned love story. Then and Always is a blend of all the genres I most enjoy reading.

MR: The novel’s ending is sure to cause discussion. Did you know how the novel was going to end when you started writing it?

DA: Yes, I did. From the moment I sat down and wrote Chapter 1 on the first page, I always knew how the final chapter of Then and Always would end. What I didn’t know—what I never seem to know when writing—is the journey the book will take me on before I get there.

MR: Did you have any hopes for what the reader might take away from the novel?

DA: I think if I had to choose just one message, it would be that you should make the most of every opportunity in life. Seize the day. Your whole world can be irrevocably changed in the blink of an eye, and if someone is important to you . . . you should tell them, because you never know when it might be too late. We’re not all lucky enough to get Rachel’s rather unique second chance.

MR: What are your writing habits?

DA: I truly don’t know if I can say I have been doing this long enough to have a normal writing routine or habits just yet. When I began, I had every good intention of making writing my nine-to-five job. I learned very quickly that it doesn’t work like that. In reality, I seem to achieve very little in the mornings and am much more productive in the mid- to late afternoon and evening. I do find that I get most of my ideas for plot and dialogue when I am walking our dog (a two-year-old border collie). He is benefitting enormously from my new routine. My husband, who now seems to have taken on all cooking duties—otherwise neither of us would eat an evening meal—sadly is not.

MR: Who are your favorite authors?

DA: I like many different genres and authors, with my personal favorites ranging from Stephen King (love him) to Sophie Kinsella (want to be her). I also enjoy many young adult titles, and am not ashamed to admit it, and loved the Between the Lines series by Tammara Webber, and the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have recently “discovered” and am really enjoying reading the novels of Paige Toon.

MR: Are you working on something new? Can you share anything with us about your next project?

DA: My second novel is well under way. It is a powerful love story that is told from the point of view of Emma, the main character, and covers many issues, including friendship, family, loyalty, trust, and betrayal.

1. Three accidents seem to shape this novel. To what extent is Rachel’s future affected by events outside her control?

2. Why do you think Rachel feels so responsible for the outcome of the restaurant accident? Do you think she would feel differently if Matt had died in Jimmy’s place?

3. Would you feel differently about Rachel if the book began as she woke up in the hospital? Why do you think the author chose to begin the novel where she did?

4. What did you think really happened when Jimmy showed up in Rachel’s hospital room? Did you question your logic throughout the novel?

5. The characters encounter mirrors and reflections at several points during the story. Do you think the idea of mirror images relates to the way the author organizes the novel?

6. Which of Rachel’s relationships do you think is most important to her in her personal life and in her career? Does that change over the course of the book?

7. How do you interpret the seeming intersection between fate and free will in this novel? Do you believe in fate? Or do you believe we control our own destinies?

8. Rachel has deep feelings for Jimmy even when she is with Matt. Do you think it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time?

9. Despite their imperfections, did you feel any sympathy for Matt or Cathy by the end of the novel?

10. Were you surprised by the ending? Do you think there is more than one way to interpret the events at the end of the book?

11. Did you pick up on any of the specific clues in the novel that foreshadow the ending? What were some clues that you noticed?

12. Did you ever come to a crossroads in your life when you felt the choice you made impacted your life in unimaginable ways? If you could go back, would you choose differently and why?

Customer Reviews

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Then and Always: A Novel 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
majibookshelf More than 1 year ago
I got into Then and Always thinking this will be a cute chick lit.. yea the synopsis hints at some sadness but I am used to chick lits being fluffy but oh boy, this is anything but fluff. There was a lot of crying.. just a heads up. Then and Always was very emotional and confusing in terms of how the book and story was told. I'll get more into the details below but overall it was a good book and the ending is the most memorable and emotional part of the book for me. The story begins with Rachel, along with her boyfriend and a couple of her friends going to eat dinner one last time together before they all start heading off to their first year of college and following their paths. That night, something tragic happens that Rachel can't get back from. It literally had me taking a break because of the crying. I needed to breathe in and out and learn to relax so I can get back to reading. When I do, It is forwarded a couple of years later, Rachel still suffering from the aftermath of that one tragic night, however she goes back to her hometown for the first time since that night but again, this girl is unlucky, she has an accident (i'm being vague, it isn't car related) and ends up in the hospital. But.. wait for it, in the next chapter, it is Rachel living her life as if that tragic night never happened.. and she's also going back to her hometown but something happens that, again, makes her end up in the hospital.. this is when these two parallel timelines merge.. Rachel wakes up and she's the Rachel of the world where the tragic night happens.. but she wakes up in the world where the tragic night didn't happen. Did I lose anyone? I know I lost myself halfway through this paragraph and had to consult my copy! So yes, book starts there, and the story continues.. I kept praying that maybe the world with the tragic night was a nightmare all along, or there are some supernatural elements in this book that allows her to choose her world, but alas, that is not it. It is much more complicated, much more heartbreaking, much more infuriating. I hate not knowing, I also found myself skimming through paragraphs because I felt there are a ton of unnecessary tiny plot lines that I couldn't care less about and the glaring plot line, the one I need the answer to is hidden from view. I liked Rachel, I especially liked her dad as well as her best friend, though I wished we got more of her. I can't say I wasn't frustrated with Rachel, especially in the end.. I was crying and just silently yelling at her for making this decision (yes i'm being secretive).. basically, pick it up if you want a unique chick lit, one that isn't all about fluff. It is short and bittersweet. I will definitely check out more books by Dani Atkins in the future. 
thebookwormNJ More than 1 year ago
One evening while out to dinner with friends, Rachel Wiltshire's life is changed forever. A car crashes into the front windows of the restaurant and Rachel is lucky to be alive, but her close friend Jimmy perishes while saving her life. From this day forward Rachel  lives with scars both seen and unseen, as she suffers much post traumatic stress. She moves out of town, breaks up with her beau  Matt and tries to move on as best as she can. Fast forward to five years when she is called back home for the wedding of one of her close friends. When she arrives back home and is reunited with her old flame Matt and her friends, an accident leaves her in the hospital unconscious.  When she awakens, she finds herself in an entirely alternate life. Jimmy is still alive, she is engaged to Matt and she has the  career she always wanted. The problem is Rachel wonders where her old life went and how this new perfect life can possibly be real. As she tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle, she questions her sanity. As clues are revealed, more questions arise as to what happened to Rachel's life. Is she just suffering amnesia? Is she having a mental breakdown? Despite its slow start, Then and Always drew me in. This plot driven novel had me wondering plenty. I guessed until the end because I really had no clue as to what was real or not. I wondered right alongside Rachel. As I read, I rooted for Jimmy and wanted Rachel's final reality to include her involved with him. He dies for her at the start for  crying out loud, how could she not choose him? Like I mentioned, the novel has a slow start, but once the momentum gets going, I could not put this one down. There were so many sweet scenes and so much tension between Rachel and Jimmy and I eagerly waited for what would happen next. So thank you author Dani Atkins. I was totally surprised with the ending and I shed a tear. ...Maybe it wasn't just in fairy tales that the prince's kiss could bring the sleeping princess back to life... p.183, Then and Always by Dani Atkins disclaimer: I received my free copy of Then and Always by Dani Atkins via AmazonVine. This review is my honest opinion. Although I receive free books via publishers and authors, I am never obligated to write a positive review.
Kathae More than 1 year ago
It was amazing to imagine Rachel Wiltshire waking up in the hospital and the pain of the last five years had been somehow erased. Her severe physical pain, the lost relationships, and her father's failing health were suddenly non-existent. The friend who had died saving her life walked into the room. Rachel must then try to figure out what is real. I enjoyed this book very much and was surprised by the ending. I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.
RonnaL More than 1 year ago
> Rachel Wiltshire has lived a double life--or has she? All her childhood years were ideal. She has a close knit group of friends and a handsome popular boyfriend. Graduating from high school, all her friends gathered for one last meal together before they all went off to university. But when a thief's wild ride caused a stolen car to crash through the restaurant's window, her life became changed in ways that no one could imagine.  >  > The concept of this story is fascinating and definitely made me think about life and how our brains work, but it was also a bit predictable. Memory and the brain take center place in this unusual love story. This is Dani Atkins first novel, and her writing style flows nicely and kept me engaged even though I pretty much knew what would happen. Definitely hope to read more from her in the future. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting read for a debut novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy to read, did not want to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too sad
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a time travel book not even a good romance novel and not authentic British english dialog. Dont waste you time.
me2nc More than 1 year ago
I thoght this book was great! Recommended to those who just like a good love story and a good cry.
The_Book_Goddess More than 1 year ago
This story was reminiscent of the movie Sliding Doors and the movie Thirteen Going on Thirty...yet with its own special twist on the genre. Though, I initially had this book pegged as a romance, it turned out to be so much more. The characters were well written and the story really draws you in from the very first page, though the true heart of this story is the connection between Rachel and Jimmy. In both trajectories of Rachel's "life", Jimmy was the magnet for me. I thought this book was beautifully written, full of emotion and had me in tears once I started to guess at what was going to happen to bring a conclusion to Rachel's story...though whether they were sad or happy tears, is up to you to read the book and find out. I would highly recommend adding this to your reading list this will be unable to put it down, so set aside some time and dive in to this amazing and moving story. I received a copy of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Waste of time to read. Plot obvious and lame.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story. You will cry.
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
If you thought no one could bring something new to the Contemporary Romance table, think again. Then and Always Dani Atkins is a true gem of a find, filled with conflicting emotions, loss, guilt, confusion and redemption as two souls finally come together as one in a joining so filled with love that no one will ever separate them. Rachel has the world on a string, a bright future before her, loving friends, and the love of her life, by her side. Only the failing health of her father smudges her rainbow. One millisecond in time will bring her world crashing down around her, turning it into a frightening and dark place as she fumbles for answers and a path to happiness that will excise the lump of guilt she now carries around. In a second, the heroic and selfless sacrifice of her closest friend, Jimmy saves her life, but ends his. Running from the reminders of Jimmy’s sacrifice, she stays away from her home town for five long years, returning only to be there for her friend’s wedding. But fate has other plans for Rachel as she, once again faces a horrible accident that places her in the hospital, only to awaken to a world that is foreign, nothing feels right, and no one remembers the tragedy from before the way she does. Even more unsettling, her father is healthy, she is engaged to the man she left behind and Jimmy is alive and well. Doubting her sanity and her grasp on reality, Rachel is determined to uncover what is going on, what happened to her memories, why are they skewed or absent? Is this a dream? With only Jimmy by her side, she attempts to unravel the tangled knots of her life, past, present and future. How can everyone else remember the past five years differently than she? I do not think I have ever been moved in the manner that Then and Always has moved me. Dani Atkins has created some amazing magic with her pen, her style of creation and her vivid imagination that takes romance out to the fringe and back. I was completely taken with Rachel, with Jimmy and with the beautifully mysterious way this tale unfolded. Ms. Atkins has created a rollercoaster of emotion as she peels back each layer, only to uncover another, more intense and gut-wrenching one. I was held prisoner from start to finish and never, EVER saw the ending that rocked my world with perfection, ahead of time. They say words have power. I say Dani Atkins holds great power in her words. Heart-warming, heart-breaking, simply amazing, put Then and Always on your to be read list.