Owner of a Lonely Heart

A Novel

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From the author of How to Save a Life comes a heartfelt story of two people finding the courage to choose love, no matter how hard it may be.

Gemma thought she had her future all mapped out.  She had a wonderful husband, a cute apartment, and plans to start a family. But just months after their wedding, illness took her husband from her. And now she finds herself trying to think up new dreams, when all she really wants are her old ones back.

Across town, Dan’s also rethinking his life. He’s about to meet his twelve-year-old daughter, Casey, for the very first time. She’s tracked him down because she needs a place to stay for the summer while she receives treatment for a brain tumor at the city hospital, and Dan is terrified he won’t be up to the task of taking care of her; after all, he’s structured his entire life so that no one has to rely on him.

But when fate (with the help of Gemma’s scruffy terrier, Bear) brings these three strangers together one scorching July morning, there’s an instant connection among them. And it soon becomes clear that this summer could change everything—if only they’ll let it.

Will Gemma, Dan, and Casey be brave enough to let love in and build a new life together? Or will they let fear keep everything they’ve ever wanted just out of reach?

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Owner of a Lonely Heart

Chapter 1

Gemma


Sunday, July 1

“My Little Gem waited a long time for the perfect person. But then, suddenly, there he was.”

And here he is. Andrew Boxer. The love of my life.

Our guests whoop in response to my father’s words, and a blush spreads up my new husband’s neck, above his stiff collar, and along his square jaw. I reach for his hand.

Dad hasn’t quite finished. “Before we accepted him into the family, this young man faced quite an inquisition. I call it ‘being hauled over the Coles’ and it’s extremely rigorous. After all, her sister has interrogated Somerset’s most hardened criminals, but Andrew charmed her instantly.”

Laura nods to confirm it.

“And after decades as a medical receptionist, my wife can sniff out a fake or malingerer at fifty paces, but the worst thing she uncovered about this man was his passion for jigsaw puzzles.

“I liked him on sight. Which was a relief, because daughters are precious, especially when you delivered them yourself, on the kitchen floor. Look at the bride and groom. Aren’t they wonderful together?”

Yes. We really are.

“It’s time to toast the happy couple. To Andrew and Gemma!”

“Andrew and Gemma!”

The ring of crystal echoes around the function room, and Dad’s dewy smile makes my own eyes smart. I brush away the hint of a tear before the wedding videographer zooms in too close.

Andrew stands up. The anticipation makes me catch my breath.

“Love is the biggest puzzle in the world. You’d all expect me to say that. But it’s true. You can’t see it. You can’t hear it. You definitely can’t buy it. Yet finding it is the key to happiness.”

The glow spreads through me. The speech has taken him weeks to perfect and it is Andrew to a T.

“So what kind of puzzle is it? Maybe it’s a treasure hunt. The fun is in the seeking. Making mistakes—and, as many of you know, I’ve had plenty of practice in that department. Following false trails. Reading the map upside down. Gemma is a specialist at that.”

Everyone laughs. My terrible sense of direction is a family legend.

“Or perhaps love is a crossword, with cryptic clues that make your head hurt. There are millions of words that might fill in the blanks, and there are millions—billions—of people out there who could be The One.

“Finding love could also be a numbers game, like Sudoku. When you meet the right person, everything suddenly adds up.”

He turns and his surf-blue eyes lock onto mine. He’s perfect. I know I’m biased, but I’m also right.

“For me, though, love is actually a giant jigsaw, but with no picture on the box. You make the frame first, learning about yourself. Sometimes it feels like you’ll never be able to see what that image is—what it means.

“And then it happens. That person comes into your life. That missing piece. I knew the moment I saw Gemma that she was The One. Compared to some people, we took a long time to find true love. But the trickier the puzzle, the more incredible it feels when you complete it.”

Love surrounds us, warm and buoyant, like the thermals that lift a hot-air balloon into the sky. I can almost smell the tea-rose arrangement on the table, almost taste the biscuity bubbles of the champagne, almost feel his hand around mine, and the unfamiliarity of my wedding ring.

But not quite.

Andrew’s face fills the frame.

My handsome, living, breathing husband.

I press pause. How many times have I watched this? Two hundred? No. More. And this is where I always freeze the recording. Andrew is the picture of health: his frame still broad, not fat. His face tanned. His lips soft. His dark hair thick and glossy.

Everything about him seems vital. It will be seven months before his body starts offering him clues. Another three months before the most dedicated puzzler I’ve ever met joins the dots and “bothers” the doctor.

I press play again, but with the sound muted. Jed’s best man’s speech goes on a bit, so the video editor has cut it short, panning the room, showing polite smiles as people get restless. My bridesmaids try out Princess Elsa poses before my sister gives them a fierce stare and they freeze. Even in her turquoise taffeta maternity dress, Laura looks as if she might have handcuffs stashed under her skirt.

I didn’t want a video, but I’m grateful for it now. When Andrew proposed, we imagined an intimate ceremony in a wooded glade, barefoot, wild flowers in our hair, with a handful of guests sitting on hay bales. He would have written poetic vows to make everyone sob, and I could have worn something folksy and smocked.

Instead we ended up with the works: silver service, tuxes and tiaras, plus the incredible view from the pier’s ballroom, suspended on iron struts a quarter of a mile out to sea. Andrew’s an only child, and his mother Isabel traveled to Paris for her couture outfit; she would never have forgiven us for not doing it “properly.”

And we obliged, because one day seemed like nothing, when we had many thousands more ahead of us.

Or thought we did . . .

Shit. I can taste the tears, but I won’t let them out.

The shot returns to us again.

My face hasn’t changed much. It is only three years ago, after all. But I can see the difference. Video-Gemma seems girlish and naive. Her face glows with unfiltered expectation as Andrew takes her hand and she treads carefully around the pooling layers of fabric of her train.

I glimpse the silk jigsaw-puzzle waistcoat under Andrew’s morning suit, can remember how cool it felt as I touched it, and how I was counting the hours till I could touch the hot skin underneath.

As we gaze at each other, we’re trying so hard not to giggle, because marriage is a serious commitment.

Again we look like children. We have no clue what lies ahead.

Laura would accuse me of self-indulgence if she knew I was watching this, but I’m not a masochist. This fortifies me for the next twenty-eight days.

A loud snore to my left makes me turn away from the screen.

“Boring you, am I?”

Bear opens his eyes, sighs, and stretches out his legs so his hairy body takes up almost half the sofa. He got up with me at 2 a.m., after I woke needing the loo and realized that today is when the rigmarole starts up again. I couldn’t sleep after that, and he joined me on the sofa. He’s been dreaming ever since, whiskers and paws twitching, in pursuit of imaginary squirrels.

It’s hot already, so I open the doors onto our tiny balcony. I crane my neck toward the suspension bridge. A shimmering golden balloon rises above the trees, the first of many.

“Come on, dude! Let’s go out now, before it gets too hot.”

Bear could happily snooze until midday, so when I grab his lead he opens only one eye, not believing I’m serious about going for a walk this early. I reach for his favorite of the many balls he’s abandoned on the floor. He opens the other eye. The ball only bounces once before he leaps off the sofa with a delighted bark.

“That’s more like it.”

I glance at the TV screen, which shows Andrew whispering in my ear. The sound is still muted, but in my head I can hear the opening bars of our first dance song, “One Day Like This.” A long, uplifting anthem, which brought all our guests onto the dance floor to join us.

And I can hear what he whispers: Thank you for solving the puzzle.

We thought we’d found the solution to everything, because we’d found each other. But with him gone, nothing adds up anymore.

- About the author -

Eva Carter is the author of How to Save a Life. Eva is a pseudonym for internationally bestselling nonfiction and rom-com writer Kate Harrison, who worked as a BBC reporter before becoming an author. She lives in Brighton on the English coast and loves Grey's Anatomy and walking her own scruffy terrier, who regularly volunteers as a therapy dog at the local hospital.

More from Eva Carter

Owner of a Lonely Heart

A Novel

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Owner of a Lonely Heart

— Published by Dell —