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The Valentine Gift: Valentine's Daughters\Our Day\The Hand That Gives The Rose Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 2008
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A USA Today Bestselling author of 80 novels, in twenty languages, Tara Taylor Quinn has sold more than seven million copies. Known for her intense emotional fiction, Ms. Quinn is a five time finalist for the RWA Rita Award and has appeared often on local and national TV including CBS Sunday Morning.
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
February 13, 2008
"MS. SLATER, THIS IS THE New Hope Fertility Clinic
calling to confirm your appointment for in vitro fertilization tomorrow afternoon at two ."
Shivering as she brushed snow off the sleeve of her cashmere coat, Monica Slater, newly separated from her husband, half listened as the young receptionist read a list of procedures over the answering machine before clicking off.
There were two other messages. They could wait.
Monica turned her attention from calls she didn't want to the mail she'd brought in from the box at the end of her drive, sure she didn't want it, either. Not even the bulky, eight-and-a-half-inch manila envelope.
The truth of the matter was, nothing sounded good at the moment. Not a hot-fudge sundae, a sinfully delicious steak or French fries. Not a chat with her best friend from collegeor a vacation to Italy or the Caribbean. Not even a hot bath. Or a new car.
She was in a funk. Plain and simple.
The electric bill was paid. She'd done it online that morning. One envelope tossed. She didn't want a subscription to a new just-for-women magazineeven at the introductory price. Who cared if her favorite dress shop was having a fifty percent off sale to valued customers that weekend?
Or that she'd just closed the deal of her life that morning?
What did any of it matter? She was thirty years old. An investment broker at the top of her fieldat least in Chicago's financial districtshe owned a beautiful townhome in an elite gated community. Had more social invitations than she knew what to do with. Drove the car of her dreamsa Ford Expedition, Eddie Bauer luxury modeland was in perfect health.
And what did it all mean when the only voice that greeted her every night was a recording telling her how many messages she had?
At least the manila envelope distracted her for long enough to give her a five-second break from the relentless self-pity she'd been indulging in for most of the afternoon.
It was 4:00 p.m. on February 13th. Less than twelve hours until the first Valentine's Day she'd spent by herself since she'd met Shane ten years before.
A tear dripped onto the back of the envelope, turning the slightly gold color a deeper brown.
Flipping it over, Monica glanced at the return address.
Margaret Grace Warren. Her sixty-year-old paternal aunt. The woman who'd alternately blessed Monica's lifeand driven her crazy. Monica had been sixteen when Aunt Margaret moved in with them, taking over the household duties, and leaning on Monica's dadher older brothermore and more for emotional and financial support. But, until five years ago, she'd been the only mother figure Monica had ever known. She was still living in their family house in Tennesseefive years after Monica's unmarried father, Chris Warren, had passed away.
Almost thirty years after the death of Carol BaileyMonica's mother.
Monica had talked to Aunt Margaret the previous week.
CURIOSITY DISPELLING self-pity for a second, Monica slid open the envelope. A small, light-brown leather book, wrapped and tied with a thin leather strap, fell outsmelling of age and something else.
Running her fingers over the softness of its cover, Monica slowly untied the book's strap, careful when it started to fray. Obviously this was something of her father's. But what?
And why hadn't Aunt Margaret called before sending it?
The pages in the small bound book cracked as they pulled away from their binding. The ink was faded.
And the writing definitely wasn't her father's. It was smaller, rounder. A woman's handwriting. Or a child's.
With a gentle flip through the pages, Monica noticed the dates first. One at the top of each page. Starting with the year before she was born.
Then she saw the words my baby and sank to the floor.
January 25, 1977
I talked to Chris again last night.Mom and Dad were out playing bingo at the Senior Center. I know I shouldn't keep calling him. Or, at least, my head knows I shouldn't. But my heart just doesn't agree and I can't fight that.Truth be told, I don't want to fight my love for Chris. It feels so right that nothing else matters.
Everyone thinks I'm too young. But I turned eighteen two months ago. I'm a legal adult.And for a few months, until his birthday, I'm only nine years younger than Chris instead of ten.
Oh,Dearest Diary,am I being stupid? Listening to my heart when it's telling me that this is the love of my life? THE ONE?
Chris says we have to wait until I'm a little older, until I graduate from high school, go to college, but when I ask, he can't deny that he cares for me. He won't say he does. But he can't say he doesn't. He just gets this look in his eyesthose brown eyes that hide so muchand then he smiles at me and tells me to grow up fast.
We didn't talk all that long last night. His mother was awake and in pain and besides he keeps telling me that we have to be careful, that it's not right to have this friendship without Mom and Dad knowing. I keep telling him that all my life I've watched out for them as much as they have me, but I don't think he really believes me.How could he? His mom is younger than they are.
He'll be coming into the drugstore tomorrow to pick up the next batch of injections for his mom. I don't know how he does it, Dearest Diary. Staying in that tiny little apartment by the hospital.Watching her fade away like that.
It'll be better for him when his sister finishes school in Europe and comes home to help him. She'll be here in March and I know Chris is hoping his mother lasts that long.
I hope so, too.
But I also worry about what's going to happen when Margaret's here in Chicago.Will Chris really go back to the family home in Tennessee like he said? Take back the teaching job he's on sabbatical from?
I'll just die if he does. Or I'll follow him.There's no other choice.
I can't live without him.
February 13, 2008, 4:22 p.m.
WITH HER GAZE still on the page, on her mother's scrawled handwriting, absorbing far more than what was written there, Monica made her way into the living room, climbing into Shane's soft suede recliner, as she tried to connect the words she'd just read with the people she knew and loved.
Odd to see her beloved grandparents described as old back in 1977. Made them seem much older than their eighty-eight and ninety-two years, respectively. Aunt Margaret at school in Europe? Her aunt hadn't left their small Tennessee town in the past twenty years.
Given Monica's perception of her father as she remembered himan aging schoolteacher who never got too excited about anythingshe found it nearly impossible to fathom this account of a young man who'd inspired such passion. About as impossible as putting the leather notebook down.
January 26, 1977
It's me again.I feel like a completely different person than I did last night. Today was the bestand the worst. I wore my new denim miniskirtthe one I had to fight with Mom to be allowed to buyand my striped blue-and-brown-and-white sweater with my brown boots. It wasn't really cold out today, thank goodness. I saw Chris's eyes darken when he first saw me. Like he wanted me. Like this hunger I feel for him is inside him, too.
The feeling was so powerful, Diary. So real.He wasn't looking at me like I was too young.But rather, like I was the only woman in the world for him. My whole body flooded with love and I forgot where we were.Even forgot for a second that we're staying "just friends" for now.
Then he looked away and I wanted to die.To run to him. To make him acknowledge this craziness between us. I know he felt it, too. He's taking this damned chivalry thing too far. I'm so scared that he's going to blow the chance of a lifetime for us. The one great love.
And all because of a few birthdays?
Doesn't he get that I'm not like everyone else?That I'm not a kid? Growing up the only child of people old enough to be your grandparents is great in some ways.You get all the attention and love and support you could ever want. But you learn to love books more than rock music, to watch the news instead of Sesame Street.And to be prepared to hear doctor's reports at the dinner table, holding your breath, hoping their bodies aren't deteriorating yet.That your folks will make it and live another thirty or forty years.
You grow up fast.And you learn very quickly to discern what matters most.
Love, Dearest Diary. That's what matters most. And finding someone to share it with for a lifetime and beyond.A love like Mom and Dad's.
Mom was only eleven when they met. And eighteen when they married. My age now.
I've never told Chris that, though. I'd die rather than have him think I'm hinting.
Anyway, he said he didn't like the outfit. He told me I'm too pretty to be dressing like that.That I'd attract the wrong kind of attention.He kept looking at my legs, but it didn't feel as good as the time I'd had on my hip-huggers and platform shoes and I'd caught him looking at me.Twice. He'd smiled then.
Today he just frowned.And watched other guys watching me.
I threw the skirt away as soon as I got home.