Today I’m excited to have Alyson Reuben as a guest on my blog. Alyson is my friend, critique partner, and a fantastic writer to boot. Her first book, a terrific World War II romance called A Beautiful Cage, was published last year by The Wild Rose Press. Her follow-up, a historical women’s fiction novel called Castles We Build, is coming out this week. (Romance readers, never fear. Although it’s women’s fiction, this story has a strong love story at its core.) It’s available now in paperback and will be available for the Kindle shortly as well:
Hi, Linda. It was so nice of you to invite me to your blog. As you know, Castle We Build is being released this week, and I’m both nervous and excited.
* How does it feel to have a story written about you and your life?
Honestly, I never dreamed anyone would write a story about me. After all, I’m pretty bland. I’m a mother, a wife, a sister, and an average woman who has spent the last few years trying to adjust to being wealthy after a childhood spent in poverty.
* Until this story begins, what was the most remarkable thing you’d ever done?
Hmm. All the important people in my life tell me I’m remarkable, although I can’t imagine why. It isn’t a word I’d use in reference to myself. My greatest achievements are helping to raise my younger sister and giving birth to my two children. Oh, and I can turn five cartwheels without stopping. Does that count?
* Do you think you represent the “roaring twenties” the way most people think of that time period?
If you mean do I dance the Charleston while twirling beads around my neck, the answer is no. That label more aptly fits my stepdaughter, Nan, who is very much the typical flapper. While I adore wearing fashionable clothes and keeping my hair styled in a modern A-line cut, I’m not flashy. I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of woman. Well, until this story, that is!
* At what point did you realize your life was about to change so drastically?
Oh, that’s easy. It was when I received a letter from my first husband, Landon Sloane, who was thought dead, saying he’d been released from an overseas prison camp and wanted to see me.
* That came out of the blue, didn’t it?
Very much so! Still newly wed, I was madly in love with Landon when he went off to fight in the Great War. In the ten years following his “death”, I grieved, remarried, and began a new family, never imagining that he would show up alive.
* In the meantime, you married to Milford Hampton. Tell us about him.
A powerful business tycoon, Ford is the son of a sharecropper, raised poor like me. His strict orders are intimidating, and he can give someone the chills just by staring at them. Most of the time he is busy and detached. Yet, there is a very gentle side of him. Especially, where the children are concerned.
* Tell us about your kids.
Landon and I have a wonderfully gifted son, Brent. He was a toddler when his father went off to fight in the Great War. Through the school year, he goes to a private academy for the gifted. My precious four-year old daughter, Grace, is seven years younger than Brent. As a baby she was diagnosed with a disease that will prevent her from walking and developing correctly. We’ve hired a special nanny nurse for her around-the-clock needs. And I also have a stepdaughter, Nanette – a beautiful girl who hosts parties at all hours of the night, wears her dresses several inches too short and her stockings far too low. That girl can really make my skin itch sometimes. In fact, she… well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.
* So Nan plays a major role in this story?
Definitely. Spoiled, willful, yet undeniably fun, she was a challenge from the very first day we me, before I married her father. Yet, until this story began, I had no idea in what ways my maternal role would be tested.
* Speaking of maternal role, earlier you mentioned raising your sister, didn’t you?
Yes, I helped Dad take care of Maggie after Mom left us when we were kids. Five years apart, we grew up close. Maggie barely remembers our mother, which is why when Mom shows back up again (almost at the same time as Landon), she’s ready to welcome her with open arms, in spite of my warning. She tells me I’m bossy. But, hey, what are older sisters for?
* What do you think is the hardest part of this story?
You mean other than losing one of Ford’s factories in a fire, contending with Landon’s bootlegging boss, dealing with Nan’s wild shenanigans, nearly drowning on a sinking ship, and being scared out of my mind when Brent is kidnapped? It would have to be trying to figure out what my heart is telling me.
* What three words would you use to sum up this story?
Only three? That’s not easy. How about passionate, intricate, and gut-wrenching?
Again, thank you, Linda, for inviting me to be here today.
No problem! It’s been a delight. Here’s an excerpt from Castles We Build:
Suddenly, the front door swings open.
And there he is. A man whose memory I desperately tried to lay to rest at his memorial site in Westbrook Cemetery.
For a few seconds, I wobble, my peripheral vision closing in. I’m about to pass out….
Suddenly, he grins. And the grin does the same thing to me now that it did nine years ago, saving me from losing consciousness. Saving me, period.
He holds out his arms, and I rush into them, moaning as his mouth claims mine in a kiss that’s like a drowning man clutching a lifesaver. Pulling me inside and reaching behind me to slam the door shut, his hands grip at my clothes and my hair, tangling in them as if hoping to extract the essence of everything I am.
Now he’s kissing my cheeks. My forehead. My chin. The places behind my ears. The hollow of my neck. The skin above my lace collar. My breasts through the voile fabric. My legs as he pushes up the hem of my frock.
And I’m falling backward on a bed that seems to have appeared like magic. Calling his name. Over and over. He answers me with a voice tinted by a slight brogue, as familiar as the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Yes. Yes, he’s really Landon Sloane. Alive. Very alive. And my name is also on his lips, coming out in hoarse whispers, pressed against my skin, branding me with what’s always been there, never disappearing completely, but only lying dormant — my love for him.
Rising above me, his body comes down over mine in the ancient way that has coupled countless lovers. In the same way that summoned us in the past with pleasure and intoxication. I grip him, pulling him closer, needing him to complete what’s lacking. To satiate me with his heat and energy….
A little girl’s cry floats through the room.
Gracie! Just that suddenly, I push Landon back, forcing his flushed face away from mine. No, I’m not thinking clearly. That wasn’t a girl’s voice. Just a bird outside the open window. One that has a trill similar to a child’s outburst.
For several seconds Landon and I stare at each other, saying nothing. He looks the same. Yet, different in several ways. Slimmer…a little too slim. A leathery tan that makes his eyes brighter, as potent as midnight’s navy sky in a flash of lightning.
I’m lying here half naked. With a husband I thought would never return from the war he left to fight nine years ago. And the question hits me like a rock to the stomach. “Why, Landon? Why didn’t you come home? Where have you been?”
He visibly swallows, his face glistening with perspiration and what might very well be tears. “My ship sank off the coast of South Africa. Most of the men didn’t…. Anyway, me and my lieutenant were rescued by natives. They had bartering friends who traded with them. Local radicals who supported the enemy forces. I think a few of them even had direct ties with Germany.”
His voice has deepened, grown huskier with age. I try to concentrate on his words, needing desperately to understand. To make sense of this unexpected phenomenon: the miracle of his rise from the dead.
“So me and the lieutenant were arrested and held in an encampment. Seventeen straw huts surrounded by a high fence. Guards with guns and long pikes. Shared it with criminals and other detainees. We didn’t even know when the war was over. Guess they liked having free laborers too much to set us free. Or maybe they just liked trapping us like mice in a maze.” His voice is hard now. Gritty. Full of hatred and anger. In a tone I don’t recognize.
“They finally released us last month. Because of some new political uprising, I think. I don’t know exactly who or what…. I only care that I’m free. Back where I can see you. Hold you. And…oh, God, if I can just get all this filth out of my head.” He sits up beside me, gripping the sides of his head.
The hair at his temples is peppered with silver.
It used to be completely dark, the color of coffee with no creamer.
I reach for him, pulling him to me. Prison. For almost a decade. What a nightmare that must’ve been. The hurt is palpable, transferring between us. “It’s over, darling,” I whisper near his ear. “And I’m so glad you’re back, safe and sound. Alive.”
He folds his arms around me so that we’re huddled in a ball. And we stay that way. Unmoving. Quiet. For a very long time.
His heavy breathing steadies to a hoarse snore; the sound of a man who hasn’t had good, clean rest for a long time. He shifts, spreading out his arms in unconscious freedom. And I release him, sitting up gently in order not to wake him.
The bedroom is mostly bare. A utilitarian iron bed. A dresser. A shabby club chair. But nothing else. I stare at the open window where the cage hangs, dangling slightly in the breeze. There are no finches in it. Or any other birds. The door is hanging open, facing the outside.
He won’t cage anything again.
I push my tousled hair from my face, combing both hands through the chin-length strands.
None of this is the way it should be.
It’s all messed up somehow.
Ford’s face enters my mind. Just the way he looked last night, smiling at me from the dinner table.
I’m married to someone else.
And I have a family.