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Authors: Lisa Wingate

The Sandcastle Sister

BOOK: The Sandcastle Sister
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Visit Tyndale online at
www.tyndale.com
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Visit Lisa Wingate’s website at
www.lisawingate.com
.

TYNDALE
and Tyndale’s quill logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

The Sandcastle Sister

Copyright © 2015 by Wingate Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of girl copyright © Dmitri Maruta/Dreamstime.com. All rights reserved.

Cover photograph of boats taken by Lisa Wingate.

Designed by Dean H. Renninger

Edited by Sarah Mason

Published in association with Folio Literary Management, LLC, 630 9th Avenue, Suite 1101, New York, NY 10036.

The Sandcastle Sister
is a work of fiction. Where real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales appear, they are used fictitiously. All other elements of the novel are drawn from the author’s imagination.

ISBN 978-1-4964-0764-1 (Apple); ISBN 978-1-4964-0763-4 (ePub); ISBN 978-1-4143-8830-4 (Kindle)

Build: 2015-05-12 09:36:35

For Sandy and Sharon,

sisters by the sea

Contents

     
Chapter 1

     
Chapter 2

     
Chapter 3

     
Chapter 4

     
Chapter 5

     
Chapter 6

     
Chapter 7

     
Chapter 8

     
Chapter 9

          
About the Author

          
Preview of
The Sea Keeper’s Daughter

          
Preview of
The Prayer Box

          
Preview of
The Sea Glass Sisters

          
Preview of
The Story Keeper

          
Preview of
Tidewater Sisters

CHAPTER 1

“Paris,” he says, and his blue eyes slant my way, accompanied by a contemplative smile as a few almost-black curls whisk his forehead. His tongue touches his teeth, as if he’s sampling the idea and likes the taste of it. “Springtime in Paris, Jen. It has a ring to it, you have to admit.”

“Evan . . .” I give him
the look
. It’s meant to be a gentle reminder to focus on business. We’re at the Bath Literature Festival in the south of England, for heaven’s sake. Home of Jane Austen. Setting of
Northanger Abbey
and
Persuasion
. The crowds here are huge. The books are many. Evan’s readers have come in droves. It’s literary paradise. Is there a better place to be fully present in the moment rather than thinking ahead?

Yet there he sits, on the other side of the table in a sidewalk coffee shop, his mind on Paris. Of course I know why, but I’m trying not to bring it up. I don’t want to argue. Not here. Not in this gorgeous place.

He sulks in his seat, and for a moment he looks like a little boy who’s been told he can’t have what he wants at Toys“R”Us
 
—the sort of boy who’s
used
to getting what he wants and doesn’t take no for an answer. If I didn’t fully understand that about him before Vida House Publishing sent me along on this three-month book tour
 
—which has somehow stretched into an off-and-on six months
 
—I know it now.

When Evan Hall wants something, he pursues until he gets it.

And he wants me.

The feeling is mutual. I’d have to be crazy for it not to be. He’s the devastating trifecta of talented, gorgeous, and smooth. Not to mention rich, famous, and nice to be with.

For all those reasons, he scares me to death.

I suppose I convinced myself that the chemistry brewing between us as I edited
The Story Keeper
, the novel for which he’s now on this multinational book tour with only short breaks back home, was a passing distraction. I saw it as a misty, nebulous thing, thickened by too many after-hours talks about the manuscript. I thought it would dissipate once the book hit the shelves and Evan left on the tour, vast distances separating us. The completely unprofessional attraction would then stretch thinner and thinner until it finally broke. Evan would be busy with crowds of adoring readers. I’d be in my small, safe corner office at Vida House, looking for my next bestseller and telling myself we were all better off this way.

Then my boss sent me on the tour
 
—flat informed me that, if I valued my editorial position, I’d go. Evan wanted me along for the ride; he felt I deserved it, after all the hard work to bring the book to print. I wasn’t given the option of saying no, so I packed my suitcase and told myself that the stresses of travel and book events would kill this romantic undercurrent deader than a fly at a state fair bake-off.

Put two people together in a pressure cooker long enough, and they’ll get tired of one another.

Yet here we sit.

He’s waiting for an answer, and I know the question without his having to repeat it. He’s suggesting that, as soon as he’s done speaking at the lit fest’s “Afternoon Tea with Evan Hall,” we blow off the evening cocktail soirees and hop on the Eurostar. In just over two hours, the high-speed train could deposit us in the City of Love.

The perfect place for a wedding.

Something romantic and wildly impulsive.

“Come on. Don’t overthink it,” he urges, and his eyes twinkle, curls falling over them again before he leans closer across the table. “Say yes this time.”

My heart hammers. I can’t catch my breath. “I’m scheduled for the Jane Austen walking tour tomorrow,” I blurt.

He cocks a brow, trying to make light of the excuse, as in,
Seriously? Did that just slip out by accident?
But there’s something deeper in that look. He’s disappointed. And hurt. He desperately wanted me to jump on board the train this time and leave all the baggage behind.

The baggage is exactly the problem. No matter how hard I try, I can’t let go. I can’t make the commitment he’s asking for. I’ve backed myself into a corner, and I don’t know how to get out.


That’s
your excuse? The Jane Austen tour? That’s all you’ve got?” He says exactly what I thought he’d say. He’s joking, but he’s not. A twitch of frustration tightens the muscles between his neck and jawbone. “Come on, Jen.” He takes my hand, folds it between both of his on the table, so that our fingers intertwine, flesh to flesh. “What’s
really
going on here?”

His gaze pierces me through, searching for an explanation. He popped the question in Florence a month ago, at the top of the campanile, as we stood taking in the ancient city in all its glory. There’s magic in a sunset view of Florence. I was mesmerized by it. By him. I turned from the cityscape, and there he was, down on one knee with an antique sapphire ring he’d bought while I wasn’t looking.
Marry me, Jen,
he said.

Yes,
I answered in that dreamlike moment and then panicked before we made it down the 414 stairs to the ground. By then, Evan was already talking about the tour schedule and when and where we could slip off and make it official.

I started tossing out the road spikes to slow things down and haven’t stopped since. In my family, marriage represents the death of every far-flung girlhood dream a woman has for herself. It’s the end of planning for college or thinking about your fantasy job or deciding what you’d like to become. In the Church of the Brethren Saints, a woman’s role is to mind her family,
keep pleasant
at all times, have children as fast as possible, and submit to everything her husband may demand of her, no matter what kind of man he is. Growing up, I’d never even
seen
a marriage that didn’t include threats, intimidation, and abuse.

How can I possibly know how to create one?

Evan deserves so much more.

Letting my head fall forward, I exhale a long breath, shuddering without meaning to as long, wavy strands of dark hair fall over my shoulders and draw lines between us. Close up, they seem solid, like prison bars.

Just explain. Tell him. It’s not like he doesn’t know some things about the Church of the Brethren Saints.
Evan Hall has lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains all his life. Of course he’s aware that the Brethren Saints are cultish, odd, exclusionary, that they practice a perverse, twisted form of religion. Evan has seen my sisters in their old-fashioned, handmade dresses and carefully plaited hair and black stockings. He knows how worried I am that, while I’m away on this book tour, the Brethren Saints and my family will reclaim my youngest sister, Lily Clarette. I’m terrified that they’ll steal her from her first semester in college and spirit her back to the holler and the church.

The picture taunts me even now
 
—Lily Clarette, with her bright golden eyes and long dark curls. She looks like me as a teenager, and she’s teetering on the same precipice I was at her age, after a scholarship to Clemson offered me an escape from our life in Appalachia. From where Lily Clarette stands right now, it’s either fall back into the pit of all that is familiar or walk the hard road to the outside world.

If I marry Evan, it’ll stir up a hornet’s nest. The family will be that much more determined to lure Lily Clarette home, to march her down the church aisle, re-baptize her, and marry her to a man of the Saints before she can follow my example and permanently break the faith. I can’t protect her from half a world away. If Evan and I wait, take a while, hopefully I can ease things along when the time comes.

“There’s so much to think about, Evan. So many decisions to make.” I chicken out, settle for the easier issues and use them to eclipse the harder ones.

“For instance?” I can feel him analyzing me. His doubt is palpable. He’s adept at speed-reading people. It makes him a fabulous writer . . . and a frustrating fiancé.

“Okay, for instance: You’ve got Hannah to raise.” Following the DUI prison sentence of his black-sheep brother, Evan has assumed responsibility for his niece, which has made this book tour that much more trying. Long-distance parenting isn’t ideal, even with the dedicated support of extended family. “It’s her first year in middle school. She’s excited about softball and about going out for cheerleading this spring. You can’t move her away from Looking Glass Gap, not when she’s finally starting to open up and make new plans. But my job is in New York. I
love
Vida House. I love the publishing business. I love being in the middle of it. I’m a New York City girl.” These things are all true, but they’re so far from the heart of the problem, an arrow through the middle of them would barely be a flesh wound.

He scoffs softly, his fingers toying with mine. “Jen, you can work remotely. And you can go to New York anytime you need to. Or want to. There are these things called airports. . . .”

“Very funny.” I look up at him, bite my lip against a smile. He has a way of making me laugh, then skillfully catching me off guard. I love and hate this about him. He’s just so bloomin’ . . . good. “Yes, there are airports.”

“Exactly.”

Touché.
He knows he’s just rendered that argument dead on the field of battle. Several team members at Vida House cyber-commute. Editors and literary agents all over New York are doing it now.

“Jen, it’s not like I can’t afford
 
—”

“And there’s that, too. Evan, I bring almost nothing to this marriage right now. Financially, I mean. It’s all
yours
. The house in Looking Glass Gap is yours. If I move there, even the vehicle I’ll be driving will be yours. I don’t own a car. After putting the money aside to help Lily Clarette with college, I can’t buy one, either. I can’t even pay for a wedding. And it’s not like my family’s able to do it . . . or would if they could.”

He gives me a look that’s older and wiser. Every once in a while our ten-year age difference bothers me. He’s been through so much, had so many experiences, traveled the world, been a superstar since he wrote his first novel in college and hit it big with the Time Shifters series. We’re at completely different places in life.

“Jen . . .” The single word envelops me, and I’m struck with one undeniable fact. I love Evan Hall down to the marrow of my bones. “Do you really think I care about any of that?”

“No.”

“Is it that you want to take the time to plan a real wedding
 
—big church, guest list, flowers, the whole nine yards? If that’s what you want, Jen, we can do it that way. I understand how important all the pomp and circumstance is on the female end of this thing.”

“Evan Hall, you know me better than that. I am
so
not a girly girl.”

“Good. Then let’s go to Paris and get married in jeans. We’ll say our vows barefoot. In the park. That’s how my mom and dad got married. We’ll follow the hippie tradition.”

“I probably have relatives who got married barefoot too . . . but not because they were hippies.”

The two of us laugh together and fall back in our chairs, breaking the tension. A tug on my hand pulls me close again, and he kisses me, and when the world finally stops spinning, I whisper against his lips the one thing I know is true. “I love you, Evan.”

“I
am
going to marry you, Jen Gibbs. It might as well be tomorrow. In Paris.”

My cell phone rings on the table, and I bolt upright as if it’s a tornado siren on a windy day.

Evan rolls a look my way, recognizing the diversionary tactic.

Can he see that
yes
is on the tip of my tongue? Can he sense it in the lingering taste of the kiss?

“What in the world?” My mind clears, the mist vanishing like fog on a windshield as I push the button and answer. “Lily Clarette? What time is it there?” The real question is, why is she calling?

Even Evan registers a note of concern.

“How is every-thang?” My baby sister’s Carolina mountain drawl seems so out of place on the streets of Bath. It’s a reminder of home. I realize how much I’ve missed Lily Clarette these last few months during the European tour.

“It’s good. Really good.” I hurry through a few details about the book tour and the sights we’ve seen, but I’m barely conscious of what I’m saying. My mind is conjuring reasons for this call.
Please don’t let her tell me she’s dropping out of college and moving back to Lane’s Hill.
Last I heard, she was having a tough semester and was too shy to haunt her professors’ doors for help.

“I miss ye-ew.” She stretches the last word, sweetens it in a way that’s suspicious. During the year she lived with me in New York, I came to know the baby sister I’d barely seen since I left Lane’s Hill at eighteen. I’ve spent enough time with her to know when she’s trying to broach a subject I won’t like.

“I miss you too. How are things looking at Western Carolina U today?”

Evan kisses my hand, folds it in his lap, looks toward the café railing and notices a knot of fans standing there, comparing him to the photo on the back cover of one of his Time Shifters books. He gives my fingers a last squeeze, stands up, and walks to the barrier to oblige an unofficial book signing.

His smile is arresting. He chats and teases. Women swoon.

The heat of jealousy rises beneath the collar of the swaggy wrap sweater I’ve donned with my jeans and boots on this unseasonably lovely March day in Bath.

I want to walk over there and stand beside Evan, rest a hand in the crook of his elbow, and stake out my territory. The urge catches me by surprise, but it’s potent.

You’re the fool who hasn’t married him yet,
a voice whispers in my head.
What if he decides he’s tired of asking?

Would he? Could it happen? If I can’t get over these irrational fears and trust that he really loves me and that it’s possible to leave past family patterns
in
the past, will Evan just . . . move on eventually?

Lily Clarette is chattering about her history class, telling me that the teacher is her favorite prof and she’s been working like crazy on what will be her end-of-semester research paper. “He said we could write anything about North Carolina history, so I ask’ him if I could do my paper on Mama’s people, the Melungeons, and the carved necklaces like the one Mama left for us girls.” Evan’s new novel has created something of a firestorm involving the possible origins of the “blue-eyed Indians” of Appalachia. It’s a mystery with ties to our family, but we don’t know in exactly what way, and my mother isn’t around to tell the tale. Lily Clarette is naturally curious about it. “Some readers who liked Evan’s book have sent information to Vida House about the Melungeons in their own fam’ly roots. A couple of them have story keeper necklaces in their fam’lies, just like we do. I thought if I could track down those folks, it might help us find out more about Mama’s people, since we don’t know anythin’ about that side of the fam’ly. . . .” My sister is talking a million miles an hour now, spilling information about her discoveries as she’s tunneled into the murky sludge of our past.

BOOK: The Sandcastle Sister
10.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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