Burning Bridges (MF)
[BookStrand Contemporary Romance]
Sara Richards' world is rocked when three love letters from 1970 are delivered decades late. The letters were written by Paul Steinert, a young sailor who took her innocence with whispered words of love and promises of forever before leaving for Vietnam. Sara is left behind, broken hearted and pregnant, yearning for letters she never received. Now, years later, she discovers the betrayal wasn't Paul's when her mother confesses to a sin that changed their lives forever.
How can Sara reveal to Paul's parents they have a granddaughter they've missed the chance to know? Even worse, how will she find the words to tell her daughter that she's lived her life in the shadow of a lie?
Picking her way through the minefields of distrust and betrayal, Sara finds that putting her life together without burning any bridges will be the hardest thing she's ever done.
"Consider the role strangers play in your life. An unknown postman, for instance, who hides a bag of mail for decades. When I heard about this real-life event, I wondered how lives might change when those letters were delivered. Specifically, how they might affect two lovers. Add a war, a child, and a parent's betrayal. I give you Burning Bridges." ~ Anne ~
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
Recommended Read, 5 Pixies: "Anne Krist delivers a strong and poignant love story with Burning Bridges. Young lovers separated by family and war makes for a deeply touching tale. The history and scenes into the lover's past helps create a vivid and relatable relationship. Burning Bridges unfolds nicely and allows readers to be entranced in the story. I enjoyed the author's ability to let things happen naturally without anything feeling forced. Every character has their own battles and they all fumble through life realistically. Each character brings a little to the table and keeps the cast feeling vibrant and full. Word choice rounded out the book. The writer has a flow to her writing that kept me interested until the end. Displaying unwavering talent when dealing with delicate situations, Anne Krist's Burning Bridges stayed with me long after I finished." -- Twila King, Dark Angel Reviews
5 STARS: "Rarely does a story come along which touches one in countless ways from every affecting scene, yet this writer does so with her first release. The name of Anne Krist will become recognized as an author who conveys genuine and heightened feelings between her memorable characters. The exceptional storytelling ability of Anne Krist shines throughout this compelling story from start to finish. Beautifully written and particularly heartwarming, this is romance at its finest. With a marvelous cast of characters and an original plot, Burning Bridges will grab readers and pull them into the imaginative and noteworthy storyline. A connection is formed almost immediately as each dynamic character is introduced, and all aspects of their lives become more important as each new detail is revealed. There are joyous times intermingled with the more poignant moments, and every single situation is shown with heartfelt realism. Although the book is packed with circumstances where emotions are at the forefront, there is never a time when a set of events did not add immensely to the story. With the myriad of sentiments between the convincingly portrayed characters, I found these spirited individuals quickly working their way into my own heart as their happiness or anguish also affected me. With having grown up during the time of the Vietnam War, this story was especially moving to me as I remember this being a stressful time in U.S. history. Whether this gifted author is writing a tender romance as Anne Krist or a more sensuously steamy tale as Dee S. Knight, the story will be totally rewarding. I look forward to many more books from "both" of these authors. With surprising twists and believable interplay between characters, Burning Bridges is an unforgettable love story filled with passionate desires and potent emotions." -- Amelia Richard, Ecataromance
5 HEARTS: "Anne Krist has certainly made a name for herself with this phenomenal first novel. While her counterpart is well known for her amazing erotic stories, Ms. Krist will quickly become a favorite author for the reader who prefers a lighter storyline. Although I used the term lighter, I did not mean to infer this would be a less significant work. To the contrary, I foresee this book quickly becoming a number one blockbuster. This author has created fabulous main characters as well as the supporting cast members. This poignant story has a unique plot which is unequaled. When Sara found out how her parents had fabricated a lie to keep her from Paul, she faced, seemingly insurmountable difficulties dealing with her mother. The myriad of emotions and baggage faced by these two-and later Paul also-showed depth and dimensions rarely explored in characters. As I continued to read, I shed some tears, laughed some, and definitely did not want the story to end. It is a magnificent study in the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love. I cannot possibly recommend this book highly enough. It's extraordinary." -- Brenda Talley, The Romance Studio
5 STARS: "Burning Bridges is a yummy romance. Anne Krist has a talent for conveying great emotion. Keep a box of tissues close at hand when you read Burning Bridges. I was wiping tears throughout the book. The plot quickly captured my interest, and I felt I was part of the drama. The tension between Paul and Sara (both are stubborn and hardheaded) left me tingling. The love they shared was obvious. I did not want this story to end. Fans of romance should place Burning Bridges at the top of this summer's reading list." -- Anne Boling, Review Your Book
5 CUPS: "Ms. Krist has a heart-warming, emotional story on her hands. I fell in love with Sara and Paul's story from the beginning. There is so much heartbreak in the story I had to find out if things could be resolved in the end. Love does transcend time no matter how long it may be dormant. There are a lot of obstacles for these characters to overcome and my heart took the ride with them. Just the simple fact that there is more than just Sara and Paul affected in this story made me keep turning pages. This is one I highly recommend!" -- Krista, Coffee Time Romance
"Burning Bridges is a story that I feel many people would enjoy. I laughed and cried throughout this entertaining novel. The message in this novel is universal and could be any parent trying to ensure that their children receive the best in life. It was very easy to relate to the characters in this wonderfully written story. I was very taken with the characters; I felt the sorrow and anger of each one. This story flowed relatively well and it could be the life of anyone walking past you on the street. The dialogue was realistic and the storyline was well developed, consistent, and resolved at the end." -- Breia Brickey, Paranormal Romance
5 HEARTS: "I absolutely adored this story by Ms. Krist. She grabbed me from the very first page and had me riding a roller coaster of emotions throughout the entire story. This story was packed with real emotion and circumstances that made you walk away wondering if the tables were turned and this happened to you, how would you respond to finding out your parents lied to you after all these years had passed? There was a powerful "WOW" factor involved with this story. I loved the unique and extremely creative storyline Ms. Krist came up with. I feel that any reader who picks this story up will enjoy it just as much as I did. I can't wait to read more stories from this author." -- Diana Coyle, Night Owl Romance
The brown mailing envelope lounged against the back door, appearing deceptively like a friend passing the time. Sara Richards snatched it up with one hand while fitting the key in the lock with the other. A quick glance showed the addressee to be Mary Ellen Noland, her mother. Tape held the flap end closed and her mother’s scrawl crossed the other end. “Call me when you’ve read this.”
Strange. She hung up her keys and dropped her purse on the table, examining the return address. Department of the Navy. Her father had been dead over ten years. What would the Navy be sending her mother now?
She loosened the tape and pulled out a letter then spilled a second envelope onto the table. The smaller pouch was addressed to her, Sara, from the U.S. Postal Service and had been forwarded to the Navy. Frowning, she skimmed the letter: Recently recovered bags of mail…hidden in a storage shed in Virginia Beach since 1970…enclosed FPO letters sent to Sara Noland…forwarded from Oceana NAS to the Department of Navy…sent in care of Mrs. Mary Ellen Noland for Sara Noland…
Boneless, she dropped into a chair and stared at the USPS envelope. 1970. So long ago and yet like yesterday. Only one person would have written her from overseas, and he hadn’t sent any letters. In fact, he’d disappeared, forgetting she lived and leaving her to face the disastrous following months alone.
Then he’d died.
No, these letters couldn’t be from Paul Steinert.
But who else?
Sara’s Siamese, Pi R Squared, rubbed his head against her ankle and pled for food, but she ignored him. With surprisingly steady hands, she opened the postal service pouch. Someone—her mother?—had slit the end of this also, and then taped it closed. Three smaller envelopes fell out. She’d seen his handwriting only once but recognized it immediately. Her hand flew to her mouth. Blood roared in her ears, blocking Squared’s plaintive meow.
An image filled her mind. Not how he looked the first time she’d seen him, but after they’d been meeting for several weeks. The wind off the ocean ruffled his short blond hair and love filled his eyes, eyes bluer than an autumn sky. That was Paul as she dreamed him after he left and later, when she damned him for forgetting her. When she heard he’d been killed in action and all during those interminable months when she longed for one last chance to hold him, she pictured him there, on the beach at Sandbridge.
For the first time in years, the pain of his death crashed over her. Her grief now was nothing compared to the agony when she’d first heard, when she’d wanted to die, too. Worn down over the years, his memory was a dull ache, familiar, like a friend she counted on to be there.
She picked up one of the small envelopes. On a back corner, he’d noted it as number twenty-nine. Checking the other two, she saw a twenty-eight and thirty. He’d written thirty letters? How could that be? She hadn’t received even one. Thirty letters couldn’t have been lost due to a foul up in the mail.
Mechanically, she dumped a packet of dry food in Squared’s dish and then called her mother.
“I thought it would be you. Have you read the letters?”
“No. What happened, do you know?” Scattered on the table, the three packets drew her gaze and she stared as though trying to read their meaning through the sealed paper.
“Only what the Department of Navy letter said. Some bags of mail were lost. I suppose if I weren’t still receiving part of Dad’s retirement, they wouldn’t have found me.”
Sara closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. “I mean, do you know what happened to the rest of the letters?”
“What?” There was no mistaking the naked fear in her mother’s voice.
“The envelopes are numbered. I have twenty-eight through thirty. What do you think happened to the others?” Tension radiated through her shoulders and neck. Her mother was about to say something she didn’t want to hear, she knew it.
“Sara, you have to understand, Dad and I only wanted what was best for you. You were a child, a high school senior with a wonderful future in front of you. You’d been accepted at William and Mary. The last thing you needed was to get mixed up with a sailor who would love you and leave you. Which, I might add, is exactly what he did.”
Sara could barely suck air into her lungs. Her fingers whitened with the hold she had on the phone cord. “What did you do, Mother?”
“More than anything, we didn’t want you hurt.” Moments passed. “Your father made the decision, but I was in favor of it, I want you to know that. He’s not here, so if you’re going to get mad, I suppose it will have to be at me.” She ended with a sigh. “After—that man—left Virginia Beach, we determined it would be best for you to make a clean break. We never had any doubt that he was wrong for you. So we intercepted the letters.”
The blood drained from Sara’s face and she pulled over a chair. If she didn’t sit she’d fall. “You did what? How could you do that?” Her voice broke.
“You put your letters in the mailbox and I took them out after you left for school. And his…”
All too well, Sara remembered days of rushing into the house to sort through the stack of mail on the hall table, never finding a letter from Paul. Each day with no news added a stone to her wall of doubt that he loved her and depleted her store of faith that he’d stand by her.
Sara moaned. “Do you know what you did with your meddling?”
“Sara, you were seventeen, a child. Do you know what that means? He could have gone to jail. Your father was in favor of going to his commanding officer—even to the police. It was fortunate for your friend that his ship left.”
Sara envisioned her mother sitting alone in her living room. About this time each afternoon, a gin and tonic sat on the table beside her. She’d wear a skirt and blouse and her hair and make-up would be flawless. Sara also didn’t doubt that her mother’s posture was rigid and her thumb rubbed the tips of her index and middle fingers. Those were indications her mother’s emotions—anger, frustration, fear, whatever—were threatening to override her normal control. Today she deserved every terrible, panicky feeling she was experiencing.
Mary Ellen sighed. “Try to see it from our point of view. You were a good girl with a good future. He destroyed all of that in a matter of weeks. You were our responsibility and we protected you the best way we knew how.”
“Yes, protected you. We loved you more than anything on earth.” She quieted, as though considering the next bit. “He died in service to his country. That was at least an honorable thing.”
A sob broke from Sara.
Her mother softened her tone. “I have no doubt he might have been a good man, but not for you, and not at that time. I don’t regret ending the relationship, whatever else happened.”
“I can’t believe you did this. I don’t even know what to say to you.” A headache inched its way forward to throb behind her eyes. She used her free hand to block the light coming through the kitchen windows. “The horrid things I thought about him, the certainty I had that he’d forgotten me…all wrong. I mailed the first letters from school. I wish I’d kept on doing that and asked him to write me at Cindy’s house. Who knows what might have happened?”
“Sara, it’s been so long. I thought you’d be able to understand after all this time, but maybe I was wrong. Put the whole episode with that man behind you, darling. Just throw those letters out. What difference could they possibly make now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Darling? We shouldn’t talk about this over the phone. I can be there in a few minutes and then—”
Sara’s eyes shot open. “No! I may never forgive you for this, Mother. In fact, I’m hanging up before I say something I probably shouldn’t.”
“Sara, let me—”
Sara slammed the receiver back in the cradle. Vaulting from the chair, she paced around the kitchen table. Squared stopped eating and turned to watch, his Siamese-blue eyes following her path. In agitation, she picked up the letter from the Navy, glanced unseeing at the words then tossed it back. Stomping to the sink, she poured some water then drank it all without taking a breath. Finally, she turned and stared at Paul’s envelopes.
“It’s true,” she told Squared. “There’s nothing these letters can do for me now. Paul is dead, no matter what these say.”
/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /
“Hi. My name is Sara and my daughter is the spitting image of your son, Paul, because, well, he’s her father.” She imagined following up her announcement by handing the Steinerts a pin featuring a big smiley face and the caption “Have a nice day!”
What she would say to Paul’s family had occupied Sara’s mind during the flight from Charleston to Omaha. Hours later, she still had no idea how to introduce herself to a family that likely hadn’t heard of her, much less acclimate them to the idea of their granddaughter. What had seemed like an excellent idea sitting at home in Beaufort—in fact, the only ethical idea, considering her new knowledge—seemed more stupid the closer she came to the Steinert farm.
Since the beginning of the trip, a devil on her shoulder coaxed, “Turn around. Paula has grown up without these people. What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” He’d been drowned out by an angel on the other shoulder who chided that the Steinerts would welcome Paula into their lives and that Sara’s news was better late than never.
Until now. Driving down a dirt road with clouds of dust trailing behind her, the devil sang a loud chorus in her ear and the angel was nowhere to be found. Sara kept going only because of the certainty that the angel—though silent—was correct.
She tried to see through the thick dust billowing behind the rental car. She’d never been to Iowa before, but even this early in the fall she’d expected snow to cause visibility problems, not powdery earth.
The heavy clouds in front of her looked like they were ready to drop something, and when she’d rolled down the window for a moment the air had a clean, sharp bite, she associated with snow. Another reason for nerves. She dreaded the thought of driving back to Omaha in a storm. Although, if the Steinerts proved receptive to her news, maybe they’d invite her to stay with them if the weather turned bad.
Or they’d throw her out, regardless. They won’t throw me out. Not Paul’s parents. Not when I bring news of their granddaughter.
The man at the gas station in Denison had told her that the Steinert farm was about six miles down this road, and already she felt like she’d driven twenty.
A glance to the right showed her the white shingle hanging between two posts proclaiming Steinert. Only by slamming on the brakes was she able to make the turn down the long drive that led to a large barn and white two-story house.
She pulled up near a garage connected to the house by a covered walkway, and turned off the engine. The house and garage were plain but neatly painted. Golden mums competed for attention with red dahlias and scarlet marigolds at the front of the house and along the side of the garage. Beyond the garage lay the remains of a large vegetable garden, and beyond that the road turned toward the barn. Everything she saw was clean and well-kept. Ship-shape.
Fields stretched out behind the barn, the rich black earth turned and ready to be planted when spring arrived. Two or three men worked to unload a pickup truck backed up to the open barn door. They came into the open briefly and then disappeared back into the darkness of the building with bags balanced on their shoulders. One of those men could be Paul’s father or brother. Her palms turned sweaty although the car was rapidly cooling.
Sara looked down at her clothing. Trying to walk the fine line between appearing feminine yet in command, she’d chosen to wear a rayon business suit. The jacket, dark brown with gold trim, was tailored and cinched at the waist, but the skirt flowed, full and soft, to her calves.
With a deep breath, she decided she’d pass muster. Ship-shape, muster. Funny, she hadn’t thought of those military terms in years. She was nervous.
After checking her hair and makeup in the rearview mirror, she clutched her purse, gathered her courage and exited the car.