About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Beckett's Run, Massachusetts.
Her grandmother had to be pretty determined to track her down all the way out here. But that was Gram. When she wanted something, she got it. A stubbornness Grace had inheriteda curse, her mother called it, a blessing Gram always said. Either way, right now, Grace had bigger issues to deal with, so the envelope would have to wait.
"I just turned in the Dominican Republic piece a couple hours ago," Grace said into the phone. "Where do you want me to go next?"
The cell connection faded as she paced the room, passing the desk and the letter several times before coming to a stop again. She shifted back to the window, perched against the farthest southern pane. Below the ten floors of the hotel, cars congested the roads of Santo Domingo, impatient horns blaring an angry chorus in the bright morning sun.
Grace's hip nudged the desk and dislodged the envelope again. She leaned on the corner of the desk, toward the strongest cell signal she could find, and fingered the envelope while she listened to her boss's latest rant.
"I don't want you to go anywhere next. I skimmed what you emailed and the Dominican piece was okay, full of the usual hotspots for tourists and that kind of thing, but honestly, that New Zealand one was a mess. You kept veering off on other tangents, like the tents set up by the homeless. What tourist wants to see that? That's the kind of piece someone would write for that tearjerker Social Issues. Not what I hired you for and not what you said you wanted to write."
"It is what I want to write."
"Yeah? Then why do you keep sending me these change-the-world things?"
She bit back a sigh. "Wouldn't it be nice to run something different once in a while?"
"Hell, no. The advertisers don't want different. Neither do the readers. So just give me what I'm paying you for."
"I will." She shifted her weight again. In the last couple of years, all those happy vacation stories had gotten on her nerves. She wanted more. The problem was, she didn't have the chops to write more. She'd sent a few pieces to Social Issues, thinking she'd be a shoo-in because the editor, Steve Esler, had been her mentor in college and a good friend since then. For years he'd encouraged her to come over to the magazine and write something with "depth and meaning." She'd sent him those pieces, then sat in his office and watched him shake his head.
"You 're a better writer than this, Grace. You need to put your heart into your stories. Then the reader will laugh and cry right along with you. These articles they feel like you're afraid to care."
So she'd gone back to travel writing, to the empty kind of writing about the best hotels and zipline tours she'd written before. She told herself she was happy, that she didn't want to be one of those starry-eyed fresh-from-college journalism grads who thought they could change the world with their pen.
Except a part of her had always felt that way. And still did. Even if she wasn't a good enough writer to do that.
"I don't want humanity's woes smeared all over the page," her editor was saying. "I want happy destination recaps and most of all laughing people, who are completely unaware there is a single issue in the world worth worrying about while they sip their margaritas and enjoy a relaxing massage."
Paul Rawlins let out a long sigh. Even all the way from Manhattan, she could hear her editor's discontent.
"You let me down, Grace. Again. I can't count on you anymore."
"One mistake, Paul. The pictures"
"It's not just one. It's many. Your stories are flat lately. Uninspired. You even made Fiji boring, for Pete's sake. Fiji. What happened? You used to be my best freelancer."
But something had. Something had shifted inside her when she'd been in Russia and seen that little girl on the streets, wearing nothing more than a thin summer dress in the middle of winter while she peddled newspapers that no one wanted to buy. Grace had taken a photo and, through a translator, gathered enough information to write a story, thinking maybe someone somewhere would see it and champion the cause of homeless orphans.
But the article hadn't made it past the Social Issues editor's desk because it hadn't done its jobmoved the reader to act. The editor there was right. Grace McKinnon's heart was surrounded by a wall, one Grace had never been able to break. She should stick to what she knew and stop trying to be something she wasn't.
She'd get back to work, and somehow it would all work itself out. If she buried herself in work she'd be fine. Just fine.
"Why don't you take a break, Grace?" Paul said. "Just a couple weeks. Take a vacation, then come back to work."
She bristled. "Take a break? But I'm at the height of my career here."
"No. You're not."
His words, flat and final, drove the last spike into Grace's hopes.
She had lost her groove somewhere along the way. For years she'd jetted from here to there, flitting around the world like a hummingbird in a flower garden. Her career as a travel writer for one of the largest destination magazines in the world had suited her just fine. No real ties to anything or anyone, and a job that depended on one personherself.
Then she had run into an assignment that had changed her life, changed her thinking, and everything since then had paled in comparison. She'd left the travel magazine world for the deeper pieces of Social Issues, and when that hadn't panned out she'd returned to travel writing, but something was wrong, an off beat, a missed step.
She kept trying to find a way back to the writer she had been before, and failing. Maybe if her sister had come when she'd called, Grace could have taken that last piece to the next level. Hope's photographic eye always saw the best in everything. But, no, Hope had refused her. Grace still smarted about that turndown. The one time she'd needed Hope Hope had said no.
In the last few months the magazine assignments had trickled away to almost nothing. And the last few jobs
Well, Paul was right. They hadn't been Grace's best work. They hadn't even been her close-to-best work. Still, the thought of having all that time over the holidays stretching ahead of her with no way to fill it
"Paul, let me do the Switzerland piece that I pitched last week. There's this train there that takes people up to the mountain. Real travel hotspot. I can cover it from the point of view of the localsthe people who live up there and need to take it down to the hospital"
"Give it a rest, Grace. Seriously. It's almost Christmas. Just take some time off, get your wind back and call me after the holidays. We'll be needing pieces on romantic holiday destinations then. And if " He paused. "And I mean if you are really ready to come back, then we'll talk about you going to Switzerland."
In other words, take the vacation. Or else. At least he hadn't outright fired her. The job would be there as soon as the holidays were over. She'd sit on a beach somewhere and sip margaritas and tell Paul she'd recouped like crazy. What choice did she have, really? She needed this job, and if Paul thought she needed a vacation to keep it, well, she'd do that. Or pretend. "Sure. Will do."
"Good." The relief bled through his voice, across the miles and around the world. He said goodbye, and then he was gone.
Leaving Grace alone in her hotel room, without a job or a destination. She hadn't been this adrift in years. Maybe more than a decade.
Outside, the constant busy stream of traffic beeped and chugged its way through Santo Domingo. She crossed to the window, watching people hurrying on their way to their jobs. Landscapers hitching rides on the back of flatbeds, hotel workers riding three to a moped, taxi drivers weaving in and out of the dense traffic jam. The salty tang of ocean air mingled with the constant fumes of congestion, giving the city a curious sweet/sour smell. All around her stood stone buildings as old as time, the foundation of North America's history, the first stepping stone for Christopher Columbus himself. Santo Domingo was a beautiful, tragic city. One she had loved. Her digital camera was full of images for her scrapbook. Not a one of them featured the beautiful beaches of Punta Cana or the bustling open air markets. No, the pictures Grace took featured other sides of the city, of the countries she visited. The kind of pictures her editor didn't want, the kind that would never accompany a story about the best vacation spots in Latin America. The kind that she had once thought would launch a career built on depth, meaning.
Why couldn't she just give up that idea? Be happy she was employed and paid to travel the world? Why did she keep searching for the very things she wasn't meant to have?
She paced around the room some more, then started packing. She loaded the last of her things into her duffle bag, then hefted it off the bed and set it by the door. Then she stood in the center of the room
Where was she going to go from here? The beach? Alone? At Christmas?
If anything screamed loser, that would be it. Sitting in some romantic destination, sipping margaritas by herself, watching all those families and couples on holiday frolic in the surf. Grace liked to be alone, but not in a place where everyone was paired off like the animals on Noah's ark.
What she needed was a destination that could serve two purposesgive her the vacatio...