Sabrina Brooks lay in bed with her eyes closed for a few minutes after she woke up, savoring the delicious limbo of being half asleep. She always woke up before the alarm went off at seven, and reached a hand out of the covers to turn it off before it rang. She rolled back slightly before getting up and she could feel the heavy form behind her, and hear gentle snoring as she opened her eyes, and saw the brilliantly sunny May morning. There was a mop of white hair in the bed next to her, and as she turned over fully, she could see the round black eyes open and look at her, and the wet black nose of her man-sized Old English Sheepdog, Winnie. It made her smile every morning when she saw him sleeping next to her, and tucked in beside her the tiny white, long-haired Chihuahua, Piglet, who opened her eyes, yawned and stretched. They were her constant companions in the converted barn in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts where she had lived for nine years.
Buying the barn and transforming it into her home had been her greatest reward and satisfaction nine years earlier, at thirty-nine. It was the result of the astonishing success of her second book. She had written her first book at thirty-seven, after a nomadic life and checkered career. She had resisted writing before that, because it seemed so mundane to follow in her father’s footsteps.
Her father, Alastair Brooks, was English, and had written serious, respected biographies of famous British and American writers. She thought they were incredibly tedious and dreary, although painstakingly accurate. Alastair Brooks had a master’s in history and a doctorate in literature. He’d been educated at Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, and the Sorbonne, where he had taught for a few years before coming to the States to accept a position as an English literature professor at Boston University. He had taught there for eighteen years, and died young, at fifty-one. Alastair had spent the last three years of his life in seclusion in a cabin in Vermont, where he moved after Sabrina had left for college at UCLA. He had dedicated himself entirely to his biographies then, with nothing else to distract him.
At her father’s suggestion, Sabrina only visited him once a year at Christmas, which he seemed to experience as more of an intrusion than a pleasure, but tolerated for the two weeks she stayed. Once she left for college, her father informed her that she was an adult and shouldn’t need much parental contact. She spent school vacations in LA and took a job in the summer for extra money. And as lonely as she was at times at school, she was never as lonely as she was at home with her father. She always suspected that he had contact with no other humans between her visits, except for bare necessities like the grocery store or the bookstore. He had no need for companionship and avoided it assiduously. Human contact always seemed painful for him, even with his daughter. She had never been able to bridge the gap between them, except when they spoke about one of his books, when he came alive momentarily, and then shut down again when the conversation ended. He seemed to exist only in relation to the historical literary figures he wrote about. The real people in his life were agony for him. He had been sent away to boarding school at Eton as early as they were willing to take him, as his older brother Rupert had been as well. Alastair had grown up without affection, and seldom saw his parents. Shortly after he’d arrived at Eton, when he was twelve, he had been brought home briefly for his mother’s funeral and sent back to school immediately. His brother, five years older, graduated shortly after their mother’s death and Alastair was alone at Eton after that. Having grown up without affection, he had no ability to receive it or express it later on in his life.
His childhood, his family, and his reason for leaving England were taboo subjects. Sabrina knew nothing about his family or early life, and he refused to discuss it with her. All she knew was that he had left England at twenty-six and completed his doctorate in Edinburgh, before moving to France and the Sorbonne. He had lived in Paris for three years, and met her mother there. She could only guess that his reason for leaving England was due to some sort of disagreement over his inheritance as a second son. His older brother had inherited everything, and Sabrina knew that once Alistair left England, he never returned, and had never seen or spoken to his brother again. She knew only that her father’s brother was named Rupert, and that he had inherited whatever money and property there was. Her father never went into detail about it, and never spoke of his own childhood.
She knew only a little more about his marriage to her mother, although that was a taboo subject too. He had met Simone Vernier in Paris when he was twenty-nine and she was twenty-one. She had been a model, and Sabrina remembered vaguely that she had been beautiful. They married a few months after they met, around the time he was offered the teaching position at Boston University. After they married, they left for the States. Sabrina had been born in Boston a year later when Alastair was thirty, and Simone was twenty-two.
The marriage had lasted for seven years, and when Sabrina was six, Simone left. Alastair had offered Sabrina no explanation as to why her mother went away, and made it clear that he wouldn’t discuss it with her. She was never sure if it was her fault her mother went, since they never heard from her. When she was thirteen, Alistair explained to Sabrina that her mother had gone off with another man, and he had no idea where she was after that, or even if she was still alive, but he assumed she was, since she was very young.
If he had other women in his life, Sabrina wasn’t aware of it. When he wasn’t teaching, he was writing, and communication between them was limited. He maintained the taboo on subjects about his past until his dying day. He never explained why he had left England, or what had happened with the brother he hadn’t seen since and had never communicated with again, and he steadfastly refused to talk about Sabrina’s mother. Communication with other humans was painful for him. As she matured, Sabrina thought of him as emotionally paralyzed, and didn’t expect anything more from him. To the succession of psychiatrists she’d had since college, and once she was successful, she referred to her childhood as The Ice Age. There was no way to scale the walls around her father, or chip through the ice he was frozen into, like some prehistoric man from ancient times they had found frozen in a cave. The distance her father imposed on her, and his icy personality, made Sabrina silent and shy as a child, always feeling unwelcome and out of place. It had taken her years to feel comfortable in her own skin after feeling so unwanted as a child.
Alastair had wanted Sabrina to attend college in the Boston area, at one of the excellent universities around them, but she had been hungry for warmer weather and people. She had only applied to schools in California and been accepted at all of them. Alistair had had a rigorous study plan for her when she was growing up. He brought stacks of books home for her every week, and she dutifully read them all. Although he was unable to express affection toward her, he had fed, housed, and educated her adequately. He had cooked for her every night, and she ate in the kitchen alone. They lived in an apartment in Cambridge, and he had assigned her additional study projects. She had excellent grades, gave her father no trouble, and kept to herself, and as soon as she was accepted at UCLA, she left as quickly as she could, and their contact was reduced to her Christmas holiday. He had moved to Vermont by then, and in her junior year, when she came home for Christmas, he told her simply and directly that he had pancreatic cancer, and he was dying. He was surprised when she took the semester off and stayed with him. She was shocked by his illness, and she realized later that she was hoping to build some kind of emotional bridge to him before it was too late, but he continued to maintain his distance until the end. He spent his two final months frantically trying to finish his last book, which he did, and died two weeks later, without ever drawing closer to Sabrina. She waited for some final words of affection from him, but there were none. In his last days, he never spoke and slept most of the time, eventually heavily dosed on morphine for the pain. There were no words for her when he died, as she sat quietly by his bed. She was twenty-one years old and alone. It was the loneliest feeling in the world. He had remained an inaccessible stranger all her life.
He had left her a little money, enough to provide a cushion to live on, and to complete her education. He was dutiful about his responsibilities but never warm. She sold the cabin in Vermont, gave away his old, threadbare furniture and most of his books. She went through several boxes of papers in the garage, and found only a few photographs of him as a boy, with an older boy she assumed was his brother, but there was nothing written on the photographs. Whatever secrets he’d had he took with him to the grave. She found a box of her mother’s modeling photographs, and she was as beautiful as Sabrina remembered her. Simone had raven-dark hair, was tall and slim with delicate features and big green eyes. Sabrina was blond and blue-eyed like her father, with a small frame and delicate features, and looked younger than she was. Coupled with her shyness, she appeared almost childlike, even as an adult.
Copyright © 2023 by Danielle Steel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.