All Who Are Lost
by Lindsey Forrest
Series: Ashmore's Folly Trilogy: Book One
Cover Design: Robin Ludwig of Robin Ludwig Design, Inc
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction (Romance)
Expected Release Date: October 21, 2014
Too many betrayals.
One last chance.
Too many betrayals.
One last chance.
On a cold winter day, a woman calls a number halfway across the world.
A man answers.
After fourteen years, Laura St. Bride hears the voice she has never forgotten, the voice she will remember with her last breath…
What do you do
when the love of your life
is the last person you should love?
when the love of your life
is the last person you should love?
A great family estate in Virginia.
Three sisters growing up in the shadow of their father’s obsessive drive to recapture his lost muse, the woman he threw into the cold Irish sea.
The scion of an old family, falling in love with the wrong sister, blind to the ice at her core.
A woman haunted by a moment of blood and violence, when she reached out and took a man who didn’t belong to her.
A man living a life of regret and sacrifice, given a second chance to claim the woman he should have loved all along.
As a new author, what challenges did you face on your path to publishing? How did you overcome them?
Biggest challenge? Two words: SHEER TERROR.
It’s a terrifying thing to publish a book. You are putting yourself on the line. With characters that you’ve created and cherished and nurtured, you are also putting your children out there. And the fears are plentiful. Will people love them? Hate them? Love me? Think that I have no business thinking I can write? Proclaim that I have wasted years of my life writing the worst book in the history of forever?
Will this be the biggest mistake of my life?
Truth is, I don’t know yet. I can only describe some of the challenges I have faced since I decided last November to publish the book I had been working on for years.
First, I had to accept that my story, 85% complete and already over half a million words, was not commercially viable with a traditional publisher. No new author will get such a long book published these days. I knew that at least one long fanfic had been broken up and published – the Fifty Shades books. I knew of another long favorite where the first third was about to be published as the first book of three, so I decided to try that approach.
So how to slice up my story? I’ll spare you the gory details about spreadsheets and word counts and number balancing. (What can I say? I work around accountants.) I decided where I wanted my characters to be at the end of Book 1 to set up the events of Book 2, and I divided the story into three books and then three acts within each book.
I am lucky enough, as I am an editor myself, to have access to world-class editing services. To shorten Book 1 (if 195K words can be called “short”), I and a couple of my fellow editors went through the book, line by line, and took out anything we felt was unnecessary for the story. I also compiled the e-book and sent it to some beta readers. One of those turned out to be a hard critic – exactly what I needed! Over a six-hour lunch, she and I discussed many facets of it, and I made notes of her ideas. Most of them I ended up integrating into the book.
She also told me to stop picking at it.
Writing/editing, for me, was a comfort zone. I had to learn the business of self-publishing. Through my job, I have access to a lot of high-end tools that many writers don’t have because they are so expensive. I and my fellow editors are skilled at print design; one of the editors worked for a book printer and advised me on fonts and feathering. I sent my interior design around for review and discussion and reaped the benefit of the expertise of people who, like me, do this for a living.
I needed a great cover, and I could not do it myself. I am graphically challenged! First, I turned to a relative who is a professional artist, but we soon discovered that knowing how to create art is not the same as knowing how to create a book cover that grabs readers and makes them want to buy. From a Google search and email inquiry, I found my designer, Robin Ludwig. From the initial concept she sent me, I knew that she had the rare ability to read my mind and figure out what I really wanted and what really worked.
I tried to do everything else myself, but I finally threw in the towel to concentrate on what I know best – writing and editing and formatting. I knew I could handle the web sites as well, but that was my limit. My husband took over the “business” end – working on the blog tour and organizing all the steps to bring this to market. My daughter asked to manage the social media. I tried to compile the e-book myself, but when I couldn’t get rid of the “rivers of white,” I shipped the file to an expert, who turned it around in a day.
I had to clamp down on my tendency to pick, pick, pick – changing this phrase or inserting another paragraph. “Let It Go” from Frozen became my theme song! I was terrified to let go, to let my baby stand on its own. So I fussed with the mechanics, proofreading and copy-editing through FIVE rounds of print proofs. I kept finding one more thing to change. Ridiculous!
Before I could talk myself into reformatting the entire book, my family told me, “Enough. Let it go.”
And so I have.
Now I am the proud, nervous mama, hoping that my kid gets accepted by the other kids and brings home a good report card. I was a Velcro mom – I’m going to try not to be a Velcro author.
Now for Book 2! I’ve learned a lot and hope that this second adventure will not be as nerve-wracking as the first. Most of the mechanics are now in place, and I’ve got a great team.
So will this prove to be my biggest mistake? I don’t know. In the end, it all comes down to faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in your art and craft. Faith that, if you love your characters, other people might love them too. Faith to let go.
Chapter 18 – Falling Off the Edge
He came back. As she toweled off, she heard his car. As she rummaged in the closet for something to wear, the front door opened. As she covered up the last ravages of the night, she heard him moving around the kitchen downstairs.
She selected a pretty floral sundress from her wardrobe, all white roses and violets on a shimmery green background, and laid it carefully on the bed. Downstairs, she heard him talking. Max, that traitor, must have run downstairs to hang out for a while with another male. She wondered how long she could linger in the room, but nothing, after all, could keep him from coming upstairs to find her there hiding from him.
And she was hiding. I don’t know how to face him. I don’t know how to act the morning after. I don’t know what he wants or expects.…
I don’t even know what I want.
Oh, but she did know. She wanted to turn back time and tide, to make the great sea of their adult lives still uncharted before them. Passion and blood, rage and adultery and the most terrible of betrayals, all still ahead, and this time the iceberg seen in time to prevent the tragedy….
She wanted to wipe the slate clean, and her hands with it.
You will not find absolution in this room.
She stiffened then, and marched back to her dressing table. Her eyes looked better now, not so stretched-out. She said aloud, “All right now,” straightened her shoulders, and walked downstairs to meet her lover.
He’d gone out to get breakfast. A box of bagels lay open on the island counter, and he’d left a cup of fast-food orange juice for her beside a container of cream cheese. But the room, and the house, had an empty stillness. Not even the ghosts of last evening lingered.
Through the picture window, she saw an unexpected movement of a blue sleeve out near the pool.
For a second, she felt disconnected from all her knowledge of him, as if time had indeed run backwards on her. He appeared as a stranger. He had a book open on the table, and the sun glinted softly off his dark hair as he lost himself in his reading. One hand absently crumbled a bagel. He seemed alone, self-contained, as if he had nothing to do with a common past, a shared afternoon of blood and lust, a past night of anguish and discovery.
This was probably how he appeared to the rest of the world.
Then he turned a page, and that gesture summoned up a small memory, tucked away all these years.
It might have been long ago, a Saturday morning when she joined him for fishing or flying models, and they ate a light breakfast first to satisfy Peggy. So many times she had come across him like this, reading, lost in his own world, relaxed and peaceful. So many times he had looked up with an offhand smile and a “Good morning, Laurie.” Casual and careless always, dispensing the minimal attention due a bit player in his life.
But it wasn’t all those years ago, and he wasn’t her secret crush anymore, and he wasn’t a boy with all his life and loves before him. And she was no longer a girl content to settle for a careless smile and the honor of cleaning his catches or watching him crash a model into the lake.
The world had changed.
Hands shaking, she fixed a bagel and brewed a cup of tea. He lifted his head when she opened the back door, and his eyes met hers as she came down the terrace stairs and across the flagstones to the table.
He rose immediately, silently, his book forgotten. In the morning light, she saw further evidence that he was no longer a boy. She saw the remnants of their broken sleep around his eyes, she saw his eyes flare with an awareness she didn’t dare consider, and…
And the world shifted again. He stood there before her, no longer Diana’s boy knight or Francie’s young demon lover. In the darkness, this man had met her equal to equal on the vast plain of desire.
His voice, low, husky, “Good morning, Laurie.” And he took the bagel and tea from her, placed them on the table, and turned back to enclose her in his arms.
I have wanted you across these years, I have waited to step into your arms. Now you’re here, and you’re mine, and what do I feel? What do I say?
His hand rested warmly against the small of her back, stroking her. That lovely, reassuring gesture melted her body into his. She lifted her face to kiss him, and with that he too relaxed. Perhaps he had wondered too about this first meeting, perhaps for him also the world had shifted on its axis. She tasted coffee on his mouth; she felt the warmth of his body along hers, and a sudden glorious certainty glowed luminous in her blood.
“Good morning to you too,” she murmured against his shirt.
He smiled down at her. “I thought I was going to have to drag you out of bed. Did you get enough sleep?”
“No,” she admitted, and then it was all right. He guided her to the table with his hand still warm against her back, and she knew in relief that he didn’t know, the nightmare ending hadn’t happened after all. “But I got more than you did. Richard – you look so tired.”
He caught her gaze and held it as he sat down opposite her, an aware, knowing look that told her he well remembered the feeling of her body against his. “I’ll pay for it later,” he said, “but it was worth it, by God, it was worth it indeed.”
She felt the blush creeping up into her face at the frank look in his eyes, and she wanted to drop her gaze. But no, that was the reaction of a girl, and she had been a woman now in this man’s arms. She had told this man that she loved him, she had confessed her heart to him, she had welcomed him into her body. And in the light of day, face to face with him, she was not sorry.
She sipped her tea steadily. “Maybe you should grab a nap later today.”
“Or an early night,” he returned, equally steadily. Oh, what a wonderful idea… an early night together, and forget her failure of the night before. She’d make it up to him tonight. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that. We need to talk, Laurie.”
We need to talk… No, no, no….
Dear God, was he going to tell her it had all been a horrible mistake, he’d changed his mind, had second thoughts... Let her down easy, because she was still the friend of his youth? But he was still looking at her gently, openly. It was worth it, indeed. He had meant that. He had kissed her this morning in welcome, and not as a friend.
She was not going to panic.
She made herself keep looking at him. “I’m here, Richard.”
Now it was his turn for silence. She watched as he bought himself time and space by pushing his book away, tasting his coffee, brushing aside bagel crumbs. What was he composing in his mind as he settled forward, shifting ever so slightly to get the sun out of his eyes?
“There was —” he began, and paused. “When I came back here last night, I didn’t intend,” he gestured, “what happened. That wasn’t my intention at all. I shouldn’t have left you, Laurie. No matter what had happened between us, I shouldn’t have left you alone, not after what you went through yesterday. I realized that once I got home. I just left you here, part of the debris of – this whole damnable mess, and I couldn’t let you face that by yourself.”
He stopped and waited for her. She had to say something. And the honesty in him demanded the same of her. “I thought,” she moistened her lips, “I thought – when you left – I thought it was the end.”
“And it nearly was,” he said. “I realized that, if I didn’t come back, we were finished. We’d never be able to survive the way we left things.”
She saw the truth of that. She’d laid too heavy a burden on him, she saw now, with that desperate confession. She had made it impossible for them ever to meet again, except…
Her heart was beating fast now. She took all her courage in hand. “Richard —”
He looked at her, and waited.
She gestured blindly, and to her horror she felt the burning of tears in her eyes. “But you came back. And you – you said that there was no going back. That sex changes things.” Oh, God, she was not going to cry! She was going to face this squarely. After everything else she’d endured, she would face this. She said desperately, “Has everything changed?”
Silence. She blinked away the sting in her eyes and stared hard at him, across the table, across the whole of their lives, and waited for the answer she could not read in his eyes.
He said quietly, “That’s up to you.”
She drew a painful breath.
Richard’s hands closed around hers, and she surrendered to the warm, firm touch of his fingers on hers. “I was wrong last night,” he said, “wrong for more years than I want to think. You were right, I never saw you. But I do know I’m doing the right thing, Laura, when I tell you that you can decide that last night changed nothing. If you want to write off last night as an experiment —”
“We can, you know.” He overrode her words, ignoring the way her fingernails were digging into his hands. “We can decide that last night we laid some old ghosts, satisfied some old curiosity. We grew up together, and it’s only natural that, after all these years apart, our friendship has turned into attraction. But we can take care of that. We can sit here rationally and decide that last night changed nothing, and we put it aside and go on from there. And, I promise you, we can make that work.”
Her heart sank.
“Or,” he continued, “we can decide that there’s no going back, last night changed everything. We can go forward, see what we have to give to each other. Laura,” and his voice made her look at him, “it is up to you.”
She wanted to look away, but couldn’t. She whispered, “What do you want to do?”
“What I want,” Richard said, “is to do what you want.”
“I don’t —” and now she had to look away. She couldn’t stand to keep looking at his unflinching gaze. “I don’t want last night to have been – some kind of casual sex – it wasn’t, was it?”
“No,” said Richard above her bowed head. “I’ve never had casual sex in my life. I’ve never made love with a woman I didn’t care about, and last night was no exception. Laura. Look up at me, Laura. It wasn’t casual.”
She regained her voice. She had to say it; she couldn’t let it languish unspoken between them. “Last night – last night I told you I loved you.”
The gift so long unclaimed… and did he claim it now? Or ever?
He took a deep breath, and his eyes turned grave and distant. “I know,” he said, “and of all the gifts you’ve given me, that one I deserve the least. I’ve abused your feelings for me for longer than I want to remember. But, after all that, you still love me. And – and of course you want it returned, don’t you? I wish I could say it, Laurie. But I can’t. I just don’t have it in me anymore.”
The morning stood still. She didn’t breathe.
“I was in love once,” he said, “you know that. I’ve been in love with one woman in my life, and what a disaster that’s been. I don’t trust being in love. I don’t trust feeling that the world is well lost for love, because I nearly lost the world for it, and it wasn’t worth it. Still —”
He lifted a hand and touched her hair. She lifted her free hand and held it to his, and she felt the lifeblood in his wrist against her face.
“It felt very right waking up beside you this morning.” And now the distance had dropped away from his eyes. “The world has seemed very right for the last couple of weeks, ever since you came home. Dear God, Laurie, I never realized how much I missed you, what a hole you left in my life. Maybe I’ll never be in love with you, maybe I’ll never be able to give you all that you want and deserve, but I do love you, you’re part of me and part of my life, the best part too. When I think back to the best moments of my life, you were always a part of those, you’re as interwoven into my life as the air and the sun here in Virginia, and that’s worth a lot to me, and we can build from there – if you want to.”
So it was up to her, as he had said. She thought, a wisp of a thought to tuck away and take out later to ponder, that he had laid his heart in her hands, no matter that he thought he hadn’t a heart to lay.
She didn’t trust her voice. She nodded vigorously, and held on hard to his hands.
“Then,” and she heard him controlling his voice, “we certainly owe ourselves a chance.”
Joy sparkled in her blood.
She wasn’t aware of her movement, that she stood up or that he pulled her towards him, but somehow she ended up in a rush in his arms, on his lap, her arms around his neck, her cheek against his hair, his head resting warmly against her breast. And for all that he could never love her – he held her tightly against him, as if he could never let her go.
About Lindsey Forrest:
Lindsey Forrest, a lead writer/editor for an international information company, writes about income tax but prefers to dream of heroes and heroines and grand romance. With the publication of her trilogy, she checks off the top entry on her bucket list. She lives in north Texas with her family and cat and has a five-year plan for becoming a full-time novelist and editor of indie fiction. When she isn’t working or writing, she amuses herself with reading, needlepointing, tramping around historical sites and houses, and outbidding everyone who gets in her way on E-bay.
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