READ THE BLURB
Single mom Grace Mason doesn’t believe in miracles, magic, or love at first sight. She likes the quiet life, complete with her eight-year-old son, their tiny house, and her teaching job. For Grace, happiness means that nothing much ever changes in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
Then, one thousand miles away, tragedy strikes. A massive heart attack leaves Grace’s estranged father comatose in an Upstate New York hospital. While a team of doctors fight to keep Henry Mason alive, Grace and Evan rush to his bedside to say their final goodbyes.
Henry’s passing brings little closure for Grace, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to her new surroundings. What begins as a short trip results in an entire summer spent with Henry’s second wife, Kathleen, and her next-door neighbor, Ryan Gordon, the town doctor. When a series of unlikely events lead to Evan’s disappearance, Grace must face her worst fears to find her son and bring him back home.
Stardust Summer explores the complexities of forgiveness, what it means to be a family, and the fabulous possibility of falling in love—again.
READ AN EXCERPT
In the rush to escape the scorching rays of the swollen Mississippi sun, the plain brown package could have been missed all together.
As she fumbled with her keys, Grace wished for the faintest hint of a breeze. It was ninety-five in the shade, she noted, as a bead of sweat tickled the back of her neck. Nearby, her son kicked a loose stone on the concrete, his face flushed the color of his canvas backpack.
Grace jiggled the lock one more time, and the door finally swung open, releasing a welcome blast of chilled air. Evan slipped by, and she heard the bump of his bag as he dropped it on the wooden floor; the thud-thud as he kicked off his tennis shoes.
It was then she noticed the small package, tucked in the corner of their white wooden porch swing. Adrenaline pumped through her veins as Grace knelt down and reached for the delivery.
"Mom? Did you hear me?" Evan called out.
Startled, Grace looked up. "No. I'm sorry, honey. What is it?"
Her son stuck his head out the door, brow furrowed. "Can I go over to Adam's?"
Attempting a wide smile, Grace nodded. "Sure, sweetie. But, before you go, I think Papa sent you a surprise." She tossed the box to her son.
With a whoop of joy, Evan caught the package in both hands and ran back inside. Grace followed close behind, holding her breath. After peeling off rows of tape, Evan pulled out a small card with several bills tucked inside. Below that, beneath layers of tissue paper, his grandfather had also included a pair of swimming goggles.
Evan unfolded the note and scanned the lines. “Papa wants us to come to the lake," he said, grinning and examining his new treasure. "Can we, Mom, this time, please? School's almost over.”
Grace stiffened. She would call her father with regrets tomorrow between classes. Grace earned a tiny salary—barely enough for the two of them to live on—but working as a teacher's aide allowed her to stay close to her son.
"We'll see," she said, trying for a casual response.
Undeterred, Evan hummed to himself and stuffed the cash into his pocket. After setting the goggles on the table, he headed for the door. "There's something else in the box for you. Later, Mom."
The door closed tight with a bang.
Grace stared after her eight-year-old son and blinked. Later, Mom? When had Evan become such a little man? So grown up?
So much like her own father.
Evan possessed Henry Mason's easy smile, his throaty laugh, and smart sense of humor. Her son had the same head of thick, dark hair, identical bright, inquisitive eyes, and an even jawline that matched her father's.
For two people separated by fifty years in age, a dozen states, and one time zone, the similarities were remarkable.
They barely knew each other, though her father called every week and mailed gifts once a month without fail. Henry had moved from Mississippi shortly after Hurricane Katrina; he'd taken a new job on a Wednesday in August and moved the following Friday, assuming the role of Vice President of Keuka College easily. To Henry Mason, the change was no more complicated than shrugging on a new sport coat and tie.
Grace squeezed her eyes shut. He'd invited them to visit a dozen times. It didn't matter. Henry Mason could send round-trip, first-class plane tickets, a million dollars, and Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer. She still wasn't coming. And Evan wasn't either.
Which was why Grace rid the house of reminders, anything extra her father mailed. In fact, she'd do it right now. With a shaking hand, she reached for the cardboard package and tissue paper.
As Grace tilted the box to one side, an embossed invitation, a letter, and photograph spilled out. She stared, willpower evaporating, and unfolded the loose, white page. At the mention of Kathleen's name, her spine stiffened.
Grace, I officially retired yesterday—for good this time—can you believe it? I'll be staying busy with my boat and the house, and, of course, driving Kathleen crazy.
Hope you'll make it to the Mason Library dedication...it's your name on the building, too.
I found this photo the other day. Doesn’t this beautiful girl look happy? Give Evan a hug.
Gingerly, Grace picked up the picture. It was faded, the edges yellowed. In the image, she was about as old as Evan, with dark pigtails, hair curling up at the ends, and a huge smile that showed gaps in her teeth.
Thick rows of Mississippi sugarcane, jointed and dense, filled the background. Grace caught her breath. She could almost smell the sweet, earthy fragrance, and she imagined the green fronds waving in the breeze, like an army of soldiers marching home.
Grace pressed the photograph to her chest, hoping Evan wouldn't burst through the door. He didn't need to see his mother sobbing over a silly memory.
What was her father doing? Trying to convince her that they were still a family? That she should come to New York for a big reunion?
Grace wiped her cheeks. Henry Mason charmed everyone, even total strangers. He was always the life of the party—and would be at the Mason Library Dedication—with his jokes and fantastical stories. By the end of the night, he'd sing a line or two from 'Stardust.'
Just like when she was little. He'd convince her that everything would be fine.
This time, not a chance.
Henry Mason made his choice. She'd made hers.
Mississippi was home. Nothing would change that.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Lauren Clark writes contemporary novels sprinkled with sunshine, suspense, and secrets. A former TV news anchor, Lauren adores flavored coffee, local book stores, and anywhere she can stick her toes in the sand. Her big loves are her family, paying it forward, and true-blue friends.
Lauren is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association, the Mobile Writers Guild, and a regular contributor to Parents & Kids Magazine's Mississippi Gulf Coast Edition. Check out her website at www.laurenclarkbooks.com.
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