While I was writing Home By Nightfall, contrary to my usual method, I worked from a seat-of-your-pants synopsis. For all my past projects, I carefully mapped out a detailed synopsis to serve as my roadmap so I’d know exactly where the story was going and what would happen. This time, my map had only notations of major attractions along the route. I knew where I was starting and where I would be at the end, but the journey itself was far more adventurous.
I always do my best to get inside the heads of all my characters to see through their eyes and feel their hearts beat. A lot of people faced dilemmas in this story. The biggest challenge I saw through Susannah’s eyes, a woman widowed by a war that killed millions. She has remarried. What would I do if I received a letter two years later telling me it was all a mistake? That my husband is alive and coming home? Am I legally married to my first husband, Riley, or to my new husband, Tanner? Should I even tell him I’ve remarried?
Then I climbed into Tanner’s head. I’ve been in love with Susannah since the first day I came to work as a hired hand here at the Braddock horse farm. I kept those feelings to myself—after all, she was married to my boss. It was so hard for me, I almost quit so I wouldn’t have to see her every day. Then a telegram came saying he was killed in battle. All those mixed up emotions—secret relief, guilt, longing, empathy for Susannah, churned through me. Finally, I started courting her and when I asked her to marry me, she said yes. Now, that first husband is back from the grave, and the earth is shifting under me. Is she my wife or his?
Through Riley’s eyes—the place I’m told is my home is as alien as a distant star. I have no memory of this family, or of the woman I’m told is my wife. She’s beautiful, and this green, lush countryside looks so different from the bomb-scarred land in France where I’ve been living for the past two years. Will I be able to make the adjustment and get to know these strangers? They call me Riley but Véronique, the Frenchwoman who took me in, named me Christophe, and it’s the only name I know. Who am I? Will the nightmares about the war ever leave me in peace or am I doomed to relive it over and over again, like the pain of my poorly healed injuries?
As the author, I struggled with these questions as much as my characters did. But I arrived at answers for all of them. I hope you enjoy those answers as much as my characters do.
Christophe sat on a weathered bench outside with his back resting against the warm wall of the house. His crutch leaned on a ragged trellis that was covered with some kind of flowering vine. The climbing plant provided a bit of shade, and the sun fell on him with a gentle, dappled hand.
A few reddish-brown chickens pecked at the ground in the yard, their low-voiced clucking a comfortable, homey sound.
He had recovered from yesterday’s “fit,” as much as a man in his condition could recover. Falling on his leg hadn’t done it any good though, and made working in the field impossible today. He liked to stay busy—it kept his mind occupied. When it wasn’t occupied, all he could do was think, and now he had something new to ponder.
From time to time, he took the woman’s photograph out of his shirt pocket to look at it, wondering who she might be. Whenever he held the picture, if Véronique was nearby he’d feel her eyes on him.
During the night she had made love to him with a desperate urgency that surprised him. It had been nothing like the comfortable, companionable intimacy between them that he’d grown accustomed to. She had murmured, “Je t’aime,” but she’d said it right after her climax, and though his memory was nearly useless, he knew that people tended to make all sorts of declarations at such moments. She’d never told him she loved him before, so he wasn’t inclined to put much stock in it.
Now he rested here, his foot propped on a box, the photograph in his hand, and he watched Véronique through half-closed eyes as she hung the wash. Stringing the clothesline for her had been one of the first jobs he’d done here when he was well enough to get around. He’d run the line from the side of the house to a post he’d managed to set, and except for his clumsiness, he’d dug the posthole as if it were something he’d done all his life. Some other life.
He took out the woman’s picture again and looked at her. Who was she? How did she know him, this alabaster beauty captured by the photographer’s skill? More importantly, who was she to him?
Honeybees buzzed among the flowers on the vine and the smell of supper cooking floated to him from the open door. Véronique’s hips swayed with the motion of her work as she bent to pick up the clean, wet laundry from her basket and drape it on the line. Her russet hair, braided today, swung from side to side in a soothing rhythm. Peace did not come easily to Christophe, but this was a peaceful moment.
Except for his right hand flexing on his thigh.
He made a conscious effort to relax his hand and then let his eyes close. As soon as he did, he heard the sound of a car trundling down the pale road that led to the house. He looked up and saw a dusty vehicle with a red cross painted on its side, the same one that had been here yesterday. Behind the windshield sat two people, a man and a woman, maybe the same ones Véronique had talked with. He glanced at Véronique, who’d stopped her work to watch the car, and he was gripped again by a sense of foreboding.
The vehicle, a rattling, noisy machine disrupting the countryside quiet, pulled up to the house not more than thirty feet from him, scattering the chickens. The man and woman got out. They both lifted a hand in greeting.
“Bonjour, encore,” the man said to Véronique.
“Oui, bonjour.” The woman repeated the greeting. They were both dressed in well-made work clothes, the quality of which Christophe was not used to seeing around here.
The man approached him. “You are the one called Christophe?” he asked in French. His accent marked him as a foreigner, just as his own probably did. This one sounded like he was from the Midwest.
“You are an American,” he said, this time in English. He was a homely man, but had a kind face that reminded Christophe of a reliable old dog.
Still, he eyed the old dog with suspicion. “Oui, pourquoi?”
“I’m John Bennett and this is Miss Poppy Weidler,” he said, indicating his companion. Miss Weidler smiled at him and came a step or two closer. “We’re with the American Red Cross and since we’re working in this area, we’ve been asked to be on the lookout for an American soldier whose family is trying to find him. He vanished during the last days of the war and no one is sure what happened to him, not even the army. The family is very anxious about him.”
Christophe shaded his eyes with one hand and replied in English too. “There are probably a lot of soldiers missing. Are you searching for all of them?”
Bennett looked a little uncomfortable. “No, but this man’s father has, well, connections in Washington D.C., so it was easier to get word of him to us.”
“Maybe he’s dead.”
“Of course, that’s an unfortunate possibility,” Miss Weidler agreed. “But we heard about you from some of the local farmers and thought we might check as long as we were out this way.”
Véronique had stopped her work and now listened intently to this conversation, although Christophe wasn’t sure if she could understand it. She’d been so stubborn about refusing to learn English; he didn’t know how much she’d picked up from him. But he sensed her anxiety as she stood there, a wet pillowcase clutched in her hands.
Bennett said, “Mamselle Raineau, here, said your name is Christophe. Is that your given name?”
“You might say that. She gave it to me.”
“But what is your name, then?”
“I don’t know. I have no memory of it. I arrived here in that.” He pointed at the remains of the ambulance sitting off the road. “I had a slash in my temple and a bad leg wound. I don’t remember anything.”
“So your family doesn’t know where you are,” Bennett affirmed.
Christophe shifted on the bench. “I don’t know that I have a family.”
Miss Weidler came closer now and gestured at the photograph in his hand. “Who is that? She’s lovely.”
Christophe had forgotten that he’d been holding it when they drove up. He snapped shut the frame, beginning to resent their questions and their intrusion. Why had they come to upset the fragile equilibrium he’d worked so hard to grasp and hold onto here?
“May I look at it?” Miss Weidler asked.
“I’m sorry, I know it seems rude.”
He tightened his grip on the tarnished frame. “Not just seems.”
Miss Weidler persisted. “I don’t mean to be nosy, really I don’t. But sometimes photographers put an imprint on their work, their name, a town,” she replied, extending her hand.
“There is nothing printed on it.”
If he humored her, maybe they’d both go and leave him in peace. With a deep sigh and some reluctance, he handed her the photograph.
She took it and studied the picture. “Hmm, no inscription that I can see.” He expected her to give it back. Instead, with prying fingers she removed the fragile, water stained image from its holder.
Christophe lurched to his feet, his injured leg giving a tremendous throb. “Hey, what the hell are you doing?”
Véronique rushed forward, now wringing the pillowcase as if she wished it were Poppy Weidler’s neck. “Vache stupide!”
Bennett glared at Véronique but Miss Weidler ignored the insult and said to Christophe, “It might help you—and us.” She turned the picture over and from her expression, a person would have thought she’d discovered the key to the Rosetta stone. “Ah, here we go.” Bennett crowded in. She peered at the writing, her thin, pale brows raised. “‘To my beloved—’ ”
Christophe snatched the photograph away from her and read the rest of the fine, elaborate script written in brown ink. Then he turned it over to study the face again. Oh, God…
“Tsk, too bad. It isn’t the name of the man we’re looking for. But is this your name?” Miss Weidler asked, pointing at the dedication.
He looked up at the efficient, self-satisfied Red Cross workers, then shifted his gaze to chalk-pale Véronique. His throat turned as dry as sand and he swallowed hard. “I don’t know.”
Today, Alexis Harrington is one of Montlake Romance’s bestselling authors. Yet it was only six months ago that her first book with them, the electronic and print editions of her self-published novel , Home By Morning, was released. Now, her first Montlake Romance original novel, HOME BY NIGHTFALL, has just been released.
Alexis Harrington’s successful writing career includes nine published novels over twenty years, all traditionally published. Anxious to see her work available electronically, she began requesting publication rights back in order to do so. She had no idea she was changing the entire direction of her career. After republishing all ten of her popular, northwest-set historical novels as e-books, she realized she was not only reaching readers who hadn’t read her work before, but also profiting significantly more from her backlist titles than ever before. Not intimidated by being at the forefront of a sea change in publishing, she decided to self-publish her next original novel. That book, Home By Morning, came out in 2010. Within months she was tapped by Montlake Romance for publication rights to it as well as her then work-in-progress, HOME BY NIGHTFALL.
The response has been gratifying and Alexis has embraced epublishing, specifically the freedom to write in time periods and in the genre she prefers, regardless of trends. “Not having specific earnings expectations, high overhead and other constraints facing large publishers, I can profit from my writing past and present as I work toward my creative goals. Interestingly, I did better in 2011 than I had in ten busy years of print publishing.”
Her new book, HOME BY NIGHTFALL, shares the fictional setting, Powell Springs, Oregon, which she introduced in Home By Morning, and several of the same characters. Each touches upon the Great War, now more commonly known as World War I. The first is set in 1918, just before the end of the war and at the start of the world wide influenza pandemic. HOME BY NIGHTFALL occurs just a few years after that. The war continues to take its toll in ways small and large, as the impact of those who will not return—as well as those who have—changes the world they left behind. Coincidentally the on sale date of HOME BY NIGHTFALL is just four days after the anniversary of the Treaty of Versaille, which ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers on June 29, 1919.
Alexis began writing in 1980 and has entertained readers since her first novel, Homeward Hearts, was published in 1994. Her love of the genre comes naturally. “I like the escapism of historicals, both books and films” she says. “I miss LaVryle Spencer’s novels. She was my inspiration to start writing.” She adds, “Diana Gabaldon probably has one of the best historical voices and I love her work as well.”
Alexis has spun tales of characters and situations that include mail order brides, the Yukon Gold Rush, seafaring, ranching, and protagonists heading west. Most of her historical romance novels are set in her home state, Oregon, though she has ventured to other parts of the northwest and has followed characters as they emigrated to America from places such as Cork County, Ireland. It’s unlikely she’ll suddenly make a drastic change in venues for her stories as she truly enjoys writing about the place she knows best, her home in Oregon near the Columbia River. “I still live within ten miles of my old high school,” she says.
A self-employed novelist for just over twenty years, Alexis has followed her muse and her instincts regarding her own and readers’ interests, to maintain her career as a working novelist. She has had had thirteen books published and notes that “of all the books I’ve written I’ve had just one foreign sale, and that was The Irish Bride, which was translated into Norwegian, where I understand it was a big hit.”
An animal lover, Alexis lives with a cat, a finch, two dogs (Great Pyrenees!), and three chickens—all of which like to gather in her small home office. Only the chickens are not allowed. She keeps crazy hours. “I’m just not a morning person. I like to be up late while the rest of the world is sleeping and quiet. No phones, faxes or other distractions. Just ‘the kids’ and me, candles burning and elevator music coming out of my CD player.” She makes jewelry and, thanks to the tutelage of her grandmother, is a fine needlepoint artist specializing in embroidery, thread crochet and sewing. She enjoys cooking—another gift from her grandmother—reading, entertaining friends, and decorating, and is a lover of all things Victorian. Animal welfare is very important to her and she belongs to the Oregon Humane Society and the ASPCA.
Alexis is currently at work on her next novel, also set in the Pacific Northwest .
HOME BY NIGHTFALL
Montlake Romance/Fiction/eBook and TradePaperback/Original
On sale 7-3-12/$3.99 e-book ● $12.95
ISBN-10: 1612182062 ● 978-1612182063
HOME BY MORNING
Montlake Romance/ Fiction/eBook and Paperback
$2.99 eBook ● $14.95 Paperback
ISBN-10: 1612182054 ● ISBN-13: 978-1612182056