Welcome, Silver Dagger Tours and Linda Griffin!
In 1963, Neil Vincent, a middle-aged World War II veteran and "Christian atheist," is working at Westfield Court as a chauffeur. He spends most of his spare time reading.
Mary Claire DeWinter is a young, blind, Catholic college student and reluctant heiress. To secure her inheritance, she has to marry within a year, and her aunt is pressuring her to marry a rich man who teased and bullied her when she was a child.
Neil and Mary Claire shouldn't even be friends, but the gulf between them is bridged by a shared love of books. Can they cross the bridge to more?
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I was born and raised in San Diego, California and earned a BA in English from San Diego State University and an MLS from UCLA. I began my career as a reference and collection development librarian in the Art and Music Section of the San Diego Public Library and then transferred to the Literature and Languages Section, where I had the pleasure of managing the Central Library’s Fiction collection and initiating fiction order lists for the entire library system. Although I also enjoy reading biography, memoir, and history, fiction remains my first love. In addition to the three R’s—reading, writing, and research—I enjoy Scrabble, movies, and travel.
My earliest ambition was to be a “book maker” and I wrote my first story, “Judy and the Fairies,” with a plot stolen from a comic book, at the age of six. I broke into print in college with a story in the San Diego State University literary journal, The Phoenix, but most of my magazine publications came after I left the library to spend more time on my writing.
My stories have been published in numerous journals, including Eclectica, Thema Literary Journal, The Binnacle, The Nassau Review, Orbis, and The Avalon Literary Review, and in the anthologies Short Story America, Vol. 2, The Captive and the Dead, and Australia Burns. Four stories, including one as yet unpublished, received honorable mention in the Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction contests. A sweet romance, Bridges (2022), and four romantic suspense novels, Love, Death, and the Art of Cooking (2021), Guilty Knowledge (2020), The Rebound Effect (2019) and Seventeen Days (2018) are available for order from the Wild Rose Press.
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On the drive to Brierly Station, he didn’t speculate about who Miss DeWinter might be. It wasn’t his job to know who she was, only to meet her train and take her safely back to Westfield Court. She wouldn’t be the last of the friends and relatives who would gather as the old man’s life came to its long-awaited and peaceful end.
Brierly was bustling today, as restless as the St. James household. He was in plenty of time for the train and sat in the car reading. The car was a Bentley Mark VI, as well-maintained and highly polished as it was the day it was purchased. The book he was reading was Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native.
When the train rumbled in, he got out of the car. He stood patiently on the platform as the passengers disembarked, holding up a small slate on which he had chalked DEWINTER in large capitals. There weren’t many passengers, but they were briefly delayed while the conductor helped a blind woman navigate the steps. Neil’s gaze fell expectantly on a woman in her thirties, with an awful hat, but she was immediately met by a portly man and a teenage boy. No other likely prospects appeared, and he waited for someone to respond to the sign. No one did.
Finally, only two passengers were left on the platform—a small, homely man and the blind woman. Blind girl, really. She couldn’t be more than twenty. She had a jointed white cane, and her large sunglasses didn’t cover the edges of the scars on her face. She would not have been beautiful even without the scars—too thin, for starters, of average height but with small bones. On the other hand, her face might once have been pretty, and her hair was clean and shining, raven black, and well brushed. She was too pale, and the scars around her eyes were red and ugly. She looked a little lost.
Feeling foolish, he lowered the slate. “Miss DeWinter?” he asked as he approached her.
“Yes,” she said, turning toward his voice with a smile.
“I’m Vincent,” he said. “The St. James chauffeur.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Vincent,” she said. “Thank you for meeting me.” Her voice was soft, her enunciation perfect.
The porter fetched her luggage—a single gray vinyl suitcase with a flower decal—from the depot and turned it over to Neil with a cheerful nod. Jane would be disappointed, especially if the girl’s other clothes were as plain as what she wore, a simple dark dress with long sleeves and an unfashionable, below-the-knees hemline.
Would you take my arm?” he asked, positioning himself so she could place her hand in the crook of his elbow, which she did with easy confidence.
“Do you have a Christian name?” she asked.
“Yes, miss. It’s Neil.”
“That’s a good name,” she said. “Mine is Mary Claire. How is my grandfather, do you know?”
Neil, who hadn’t known the old man had any grandchildren, said, “Hanging on, miss.”
He opened the car door and helped her into the back seat.
“You don’t have to call me ‘miss’ all the time,” she said. “Please call me Mary Claire. Or my friends at school call me Sunny.”
“Yes, miss,” he said automatically and closed the door.
This is a beautiful story. The author writes with quiet eloquence. The story flows seamlessly from beginning to end, gentle and compelling.
The characters would hardly seem the stuff great love stories are made of, but that is precisely the reason this is such an exquisite romance. Mary Claire, a young heiress, is inexperienced, blind, and pitiable in appearance. Even her scars can't be hidden. They're on her face. Neil is twenty years her senior, experienced, traumatized by his experiences in WWII, and a chauffeur. He's an avowed atheist. She's a devout Catholic.
And there is so much more to them both.
It's one of the guiding principles of my life. There is always more to a person beneath the surface.
It's a short book, a novella, and yet a great deal happens. Neil and Mary Claire are both good people as well as interesting ones. Their conversations are never heavy, frivolous, or long. But they are profound. It doesn't take a lot of words to make a point. It just takes the right words, spoken in the right way.
The same applies to their relationship and how it changes. Without a lot of protestations or physical contact, the attachment between Mary Claire and Neil grows strong and undeniable. You can feel the intense emotion and love between them.
I love this book and its main characters. You will, too.
Thank you, Linda Griffin, for this beautiful and poignant romance.
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It's no secret that I prefer fat HEAs. Where better than in a beautiful romance?
From me to you with a smile.
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