Summer is here! Time for sun, sand, and romance. Grab your sunblock and join your favourite Austen characters on their seaside adventures. My second Woods Hole novel, Morning Light, starts at the seaside, but not with a traditional beach scene. Please enjoy the excerpt below!
Last week I posted an excerpt from my first Woods Hole novel, The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice. This week it’s time for Morning Light, the second book in the interlocking series. I initially planned Morning Light as an updated Persuasion. The book ended up straying a bit from the Persuasion outline so I don’t advertise it as Persuasion, but that’s where it began. This book is special to me because several years after I wrote it, though an astonishing series of coincidences, my family ended up buying a house in essentially the same place my heroine Annie lived. I’m still living there today, and we walk our dog, Sippewissett, on Annie’s beach every day in the winter.
Morning Light Chapter 1
Annie picked her way through the pebbles and broken shells until she reached the rippled sand of the clam bed. She should have worn her water shoes. She had once gashed her heel on a razor clam shell, but she loved the feeling of wet sand beneath her bare feet. It was one of the few risks she was still willing to take.
It was beastly hot weather for clamming, but it was the end of the season, and she didn’t want to miss her last chance. She dragged the clamming rake through the heavy sand until she felt the satisfying clunk of the tines hitting a shell. The clam was good-sized and tightly closed, just as it should be. Definitely a keeper. She tossed it into her wire basket and looked out at the ocean beyond the inlet, ready to reclaim the shellfish bed with the turning of the tide.
Cobalt, cerulean, ultramarine. The ocean’s shifting colors were Paul’s favorite hues, but he had never painted the sea. He was inspired by cities, crowds and models, everything that was busy and frenetic. Paul would have hated clamming. If he were on the Cape, he would want to be in Wellfleet or Provincetown among the other artists and fancy galleries, not mucking in wet sand for something he could buy at the grocery store.
Annie pulled off one of her thick gloves to wipe her forehead, willing away the memories of Paul. All she wanted was a quiet morning and a bucket of clams. She dug the rake back in the sand with unnecessary force.
A short-lived breeze cut through the heavy heat, tugging at her wide-brimmed sunhat. She reached up a little too late to hold it in place. It skipped off across the water, coming to rest near a tall man in swim trunks. A tourist, given the relative pallor of his skin.
“I’ll get it. It’s too deep for you over here.” He trapped the hat with one hand and brought it to her, rivulets of water running down his body.
“Thanks.” She expected him to leave once he handed it to her, but he remained in front of her. She paused and looked up into clear blue eyes, a startling contrast to his dark hair. Eyes she had never expected to see again, at least outside her fantasies.
She almost spoke his name, then stopped herself. The last she had heard, Jeremy was in Singapore, and that had been years ago. What would he be doing on the tidal flats of West Falmouth? No, it was just someone who looked like him, someone with eyes as penetrating as his.
“Any time,” he said.
It was him. Although they had met only a few times, she had never forgotten his voice. That was what she remembered best about him, looking into his eyes and listening to him talk for hours.
He began to turn away, then hesitated. “Do I know you?”
She wanted to say yes, but it was safer to let him go. No one here on Cape Cod knew about her past, and that was the way she wanted it. She had lived without Jeremy for ten years; she didn’t need him now.
“No, I don’t think so.” She leaned down to hang the wet hat over the edge of the clam bucket. There was a time she would have given almost anything for another chance to talk to him.
“Sorry. For a second you looked like someone I once knew.” He paused as if he wanted to say something more, then he turned toward the horizon, splashing through the shallow water to the edge of the inlet where the bottom dropped off. He began to swim parallel to the beach with a strong freestyle stroke.
Why should it bother her that he didn’t recognize her? In her New York days she would never have worn anything as disreputable as her old clamming clothes, and her hair was longer now and pulled back. Besides, they were nothing but acquaintances, though she had once dreamed of more. He was Paul’s friend, not hers. The old litany. How many times had she told herself that?
Forcing herself to look away, she started to dig again. Clamming no longer held any appeal, but she refused to quit halfway. Mechanically she began filling her bucket, trying to ignore the ache inside her.
Shouts of laughter came from the other side of the clam bed. Two young children splashed in the water while their mother playfully tried to engage them in clamming. They would all be completely soaked soon, but it looked as if they didn’t mind.
Annie would never have that experience, not unless she borrowed some children from a friend for the day. She would never have anyone but herself to cook her clams for, either. She had made that decision long ago.
She thought of Jeremy, and tears pricked at her eyes. She wanted to hear his voice again, to see his face clearly for just one minute. But it wasn’t going to happen. When he returned, she would be long gone.
The sun glinted on her wedding band as she reached to pick up her basket of clams. It was time to go.
Annie wrapped the delicate sculpted glass dolphin in tissue paper and placed it in a gift box with ‘Cape Light Gallery’ emblazoned across the top. “Would you like a bag?”
“No, I’ll take it as is.” The customer tapped her fingers impatiently.
“Thanks, and come again.” Annie handed her the package with a smile.
Annie carefully rearranged the remaining glass pieces in the case to cover the empty space left on the mirrored shelf, keeping an eye on the two remaining customers. A steady stream of business today had kept her from wondering where Jeremy was and what he might be doing. Seeing him had revived her old, inexplicable longings. He would be shocked if he knew how often she had thought about him over the years. Probably he barely remembered her.
Once he had been attracted to her. No doubt he had felt the same about many other women. Most likely he was married now. Perhaps those had even been his children playing in the clam bed with their mother. Annie firmly closed the case and locked it.
Another customer asked for a pair of silver earrings. Annie was writing up the receipt when she heard the bells on the front door jangle, announcing another shopper. She looked over with a professional smile. Every sale counted if she was going to make the gallery a success.
It was too much of a coincidence. Her breath caught at the sight of Jeremy, wearing a casual t-shirt and shorts, the standard Woods Hole summer uniform. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
He gave her only a quick impersonal glance before inspecting the artwork along the wall. So he still didn’t recognize her, even out of her clamming gear. She wasn’t going to let it hurt. She finished the sale, relieved when her customer left.
Jeremy was coming her way, pausing occasionally by a picture for a closer look. In a minute he would be directly in front of her.
Perhaps it would be better for her to take the initiative and get it over with. No, that was just an excuse. The temptation to steal a few minutes with him was too great.
She waited until he was next to her, about to reach her lighthouse painting. “Jeremy? Is that you?”
He turned his well-remembered gaze on her. “Are you talking to me?”
“Jeremy Matthiesen, isn’t it?” She watched for any sign of recognition in his expression.
His eyes widened. “Annie? Annie … Wright?”
“That’s right.” She flushed with pleasure. “How are you? It’s been a long time.”
“What are you doing here? I thought you were still in New York.”
“That was years ago. I live here now. Are you vacationing?”
“Yes, just for the week. I can’t believe you’re here. How’s Paul?” he asked.
Her smile disappeared as if it had never existed. “You haven’t heard?”
“Paul died two years ago.” She hated telling people, and she braced herself for the next question, which was even worse.
His face registered shock, then concern. “I’m sorry.” He came to stand across the counter from her. “I had no idea. I’ve been out of touch for years. I’m so very sorry.”
“Thank you.” It had been hard to learn to accept people’s sympathy gracefully. “It was a long time ago.”
“All the same, how awful for you….” his voice trailed off. He looked down, as if he were interested in the sculpted silver jewelry in the case, but she could tell he was shaken.
So he hadn’t known. She always assumed he must have heard. They had friends in common, and Paul’s death was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
“Would you like to come back here and sit for a minute?” She gestured at the extra stool beside her.
“Thanks, I’d like that.” He came around the counter and lowered himself onto the stool. He closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m sorry, this is really a shock. Paul always had twice as much life as the rest of us. I just can’t believe it.”
“Sometimes he could shine very brightly.” Her voice was a little too even.
He reached over and took her hand as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “I’m sorry. I’m being incredibly thoughtless, as if this isn’t far worse for you than me.”
She looked down at his hand wrapped around hers. Not many people touched her these days. “It’s all right. I’ve had time to get used to it, and I’m well past the worst. It’s taken you by surprise. And you’ve apologized to me at least three times. That’s enough.”
A fraction of the smile she remembered appeared on his lips. “It’s tempting to say ‘I’m sorry,’ but I’ll try to restrain myself.”
His teasing struck a chord, and she felt something of the connection they had once shared. “I appreciate it.”
“That was you on the beach yesterday, wasn’t it? The woman who lost her hat?”
She nodded. “I didn’t realize who you were until you were already gone.” She couldn’t tell him the truth.
“I’m glad I ran into you again. What have you been up to all this time?”
“I came back to Cape Cod after Paul died. This is where I grew up, till I was twelve. I opened the gallery last year, and it’s been doing well for a new venture.”
“This is yours? I’m impressed.” Jeremy looked around the well-lit space full of artworks and handicrafts.
“Thank you.” She was inordinately proud of the gallery and the relationships she had developed with the Cape artists whose works she displayed. It was something she had always dreamed of. “What about you? Are you still working for the bank? I heard they posted you to Singapore.”
“I left them last year. They kept sending me overseas – Hong Kong, Munich, Rome – and I was ready to come home. I’m working for a non-profit in DC now. I’ve had enough of the corporate world.”
“Sounds exciting. I’ve never had the opportunity to travel much.”
“Maybe some day you will. I still have the picture you gave me hanging in my apartment. It’s been all around the world.”
“I’m glad you like it.” She didn’t want to think about the night she gave it to him.
“Do you still paint?”
“When the spirit moves me, which isn’t often any more. I mostly work in watercolors now. That one with the lighthouse is mine.”
“I’m impressed again. It’s beautiful.”
If only real life could be as beautiful. “There’s one of Paul’s paintings in the front. Not his best work – those are all in New York.”
“Can I see it?”
“If you like.” She was surprised he didn’t release her hand as they walked together, and wondered what it meant to him. Probably just comfort. She was more aware of his touch than she liked to admit.
She stopped in front of a life study highlighted in reds and blues. “He did this one about five years ago. He painted a whole series of them in just a few weeks.”
Jeremy studied it closely, his expression somber. “It must be hard to sell his work.”
“Not really. He would want them sold, and I have more.” She didn’t need reminders of those times.
“I remember how amazed I was at his talent and his energy when we met, and he was only nineteen then. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite like Paul.”
“No, he was definitely unique.” Their eyes met, and somehow she couldn’t look away from his clear blue eyes that seemed to see straight inside her. Could that odd feeling trickling through her be pleasure?
Another customer came in. Annie left Jeremy’s side to answer her questions about a sculpted collage of seashells and driftwood. She could sense Jeremy in the background, moving slowly around the gallery, but it was almost ten minutes before she completed the sale and could turn back to him.
His face was serious, but she could see the warmth behind it. “I suppose I shouldn’t bother you while you’re working, but it would be nice to catch up with you. I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner tonight.” He paused. “If you have a partner, he’d be welcome too, of course.”
“I’m footloose and fancy free, and I’d love to have dinner with you.” She hoped he couldn’t see her embarrassment.
His smile grew. “Good.”
Can you see the hints of Persuasion here? Any guesses what happened to Paul? 🙂
Vintage image for banner courtesy of The Graphics Fairy