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Book 2 in the Treading Water Series
**Spoiler Alert** If you haven’t read “Treading Water,” don’t read this description of “Marking Time.”
“I don’t know when I have been so engrossed in a novel.”—a recommended read from Joyfully Reviewed. Click here to read the full review.
Marking Time continues the story begun in Treading Water as Clare Harrington begins a new life. She’s considered a miracle, but everything that’s happened since she recovered from a three-year coma has been something less than miraculous. Now left to grapple with the aftermath of a selfless decision, she is home from the hospital and trying to figure out what the next chapter in her miraculous recovery has in store for her. Meanwhile, her eighteen-year-old daughter Kate, a talented singer and songwriter, sets out to pursue her musical dreams in Nashville. Her parents have agreed to allow Kate to spend a year there, but they couldn’t have anticipated Kate falling in love with a much older man. Her newly divorced parents are forced back together to confront their wayward daughter. Spanning from Newport, Rhode Island, to Nashville, Tennessee, to Stowe, Vermont, “Marking Time” is the story of new beginnings and new loves.
As with any Marie Force book, you are immediately immersed in this storyline and connect with the characters. Once you start, you are hard pressed to put this down and you’re smiling or holding your breath through all their ups and down. Another excellent read! – A Reviewer Top Pick at Night Owl Reviews. Read the full review.
Marie Force has worked her magic once again with Marking Time. – Joyfully Reviewed, A Recommended Read. Read the full review.
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Clare checked her watch again. One thirty. It must be done by now. My husband—or I should say ex-husband—is remarried.
“Ex-husband,” she said with a shudder. Unimaginable. Divorced… Such an ugly word.
She wheeled her chair across her room in the rehabilitation center and gazed out at the steamy August day. Somewhere along the Ten Mile Ocean Drive in historic Newport, Jack had exchanged vows with Andi. He has a new family now. Clare had known this day was coming and had set the whole thing in motion by letting him go, but that didn’t make it any easier to imagine her Jack married to someone else. “Not my Jack anymore,” she said to herself.
The door opened. “Mrs. Harrington?”
Clare didn’t correct the nurse. She wasn’t “Mrs.” any longer. “Yes?”
“They’re ready for you in PT.”
Taking another long look at the City by the Sea, Clare wondered what Jack was doing right at that moment. Was he kissing his bride? Making a toast? Dancing with one of their daughters? She shook her head, angry to have allowed herself even a brief trip down that road. What did it matter now?
“Let’s go.” She wheeled herself to the door to let the nurse push her through the long hallways to physical therapy.
After dinner, Clare worked her way into lightweight pajamas. She was proud of her ability to do things for herself, even small things like changing her clothes. Each little victory added up. Rolling the wheelchair across the room she’d called home for the last four months, she eased herself from her chair to the sofa on her own—another recent accomplishment. Her recovery was coming along slowly but surely.
That she had recovered at all was a miracle, or so they all said. No one had expected her to ever emerge from the coma she’d been in for three years after being hit by a car. But four months ago, she’d defied the odds and awakened after a fever doctors had feared would finally end her life. Yep, a real miracle. Everything that happened since then had been somewhat less than miraculous: her twenty-year marriage had disintegrated, and her days were now marked by the struggle to regain her health.
Clare knew she was lucky, but she’d grown tired of hearing that word. Doctors had told her she would most likely be confronted with physical challenges for the rest of her life, including chronic urinary tract infections, a propensity toward pneumonia, fatigue, muscle spasms, and other fallout from three years of inactivity. Oh yeah, what a miracle.
A tearjerker movie on TV caught her attention, and it was a relief to be absorbed into someone else’s drama for a change. When someone knocked at her door, Clare muted the television. “Come in,” she called and was surprised to see Jack’s sister, Frannie Booth.
“May I come in?”
“Of course,” Clare said to her former sister-in-law. “Come sit.”
Frannie crossed the room to sit next to Clare on the sofa. She wore her auburn hair in an elegant twist left over from her brother’s wedding.
“I didn’t expect to see you, especially tonight,” Clare said, admiring the yellow floral silk dress Frannie had worn to the wedding. “You look fabulous.”
“Thanks. I was thinking of you and thought I’d stop by to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m fine, but you didn’t have to come.”
“I wanted to.”
“How was it?” Clare tried to sound casual as she twirled a lock of her unruly blonde hair around a finger.
“It was lovely but a little more exciting than we’d planned. Andi’s water broke during the reception. They had twin boys right there at the hotel. The doctor said they appear to be identical.”
“Oh.” Clare struggled to hide the surge of emotion. Jack had sons.
“It all happened so fast.” Frannie shook her head and smiled. “Apparently, she’d been in labor all night and didn’t realize it because she’d had back pain.”
Clare worked at keeping her expression neutral as she absorbed the news that the babies had arrived a month early. “They’re all fine?”
“The girls must’ve been excited,” Clare said, referring to her daughters.
“What’re their names?”
“They named them for Jack and the grandfathers, John Joseph Harrington the fourth, and Robert Franklin Harrington. Johnny and Robby.”
Despite her best efforts, Clare’s eyes flooded with tears. “Johnny and Robby,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry to upset you.”
Clare wiped her eyes. “It’s okay.”
“I’ve wanted to come for weeks to say…what you did…letting him go…” Frannie had a look of awe on her face. “It was so selfless.”
“It was the only thing I could do. It was selfish more than anything.”
“No, it wasn’t. It was amazing. I don’t know that I could’ve done it.”
A stab of pain hit Clare just below her broken heart. “I don’t want to talk about that anymore. It’s over and done with. But I’m glad you’re here for another reason.”
“I’ve had lots of time to think,” Clare said with a small grin. “I don’t know if I ever adequately thanked you for what you did while I was sick. I mean for you to give up a year and a half of your life to take care of my kids—”
“Taking care of your girls was a pleasure. You don’t have to thank me. You’d have done the same for me. So you’re really doing okay?”
Clare raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Did Jack send you to check on me?”
“Not this time. I think he’s so stunned by the babies arriving in the middle of his wedding, he doesn’t even know his own name right now.”
They shared a laugh.
“I’m sure,” Clare said. “I’m doing fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“I also came because I have something for you.” Frannie reached into her bag for a leather-bound book. She held it against her chest for a moment as she collected her thoughts. “Shortly after I moved in with Jack and the girls, I started keeping a journal. It was odd because I’d never had one before, but I suddenly had a need to write things down. Anyway, I debated for a long time about whether I should share it with you. And then I realized that most of the time I was keeping it, I was doing it for you. I was writing it for you.”
“Did you think I’d recover? No one seemed to think I would.”
“No, I didn’t think so. But for some reason I started writing things down, and when I read it over recently, I understood I’d done it for you, like I was talking to you. I didn’t consciously set out to do that. Oh, I’m not explaining it well.”
“No, you are. Can I see it?”
She handed the book to Clare. “I know you’ll be so happy to get back some of the time you lost with the girls by reading about their lives, but there’re other things in there that’ll cause you pain. I wish I could spare you that. I didn’t give it to you before now because of that.”
“You wrote about them, too, didn’t you? About Jack and Andi?” Clare asked as she brushed a hand over the leather cover.
“Yes, and I don’t know if you should read those parts.”
“Maybe I’ll skip them. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“I think maybe I do. I’m a mom now, too, remember? If you want to talk about it—any of it—you only have to ask.”
“Thank you.” Feeling as if she’d been given a priceless gift, Clare reached out to squeeze Frannie’s hand. “Thank you so much.”
“I hope you’ll still be thanking me after you’ve read it,” Frannie said with a grin. “Have you made any plans?”
Clare shrugged. “Not really. They’re saying I have maybe another month of rehab, and then I can go home. I’m not sure what’s next for me.” She twisted her face into an ironic smile. “I find myself at loose ends for the first time in more than twenty years.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. I know the girls are looking forward to having you at home. Do you need anything?”
“Your brother made sure I’d never want for anything. I got my bank statement the other day, and my eyes almost popped out of my head.”
“He doesn’t want you to worry about supporting yourself.”
“With that kind of money, I’ll never have to worry again, that’s for sure. He didn’t have to do that.”
“Yes, he did.”
Clare smiled. “I’m glad you came, Frannie. Will you come again and bring your babies? I’d love to see them.”
“Come on, Clare, give me one more step. Just one more.”
Sweat rolled down her face as she struggled against the crutches. “You’re a sadist, Jeffrey.”
“You love me. You know you do.”
Clare put her last bit of energy into that final step and then rested against his outstretched arms.
“Right,” she panted. “Just keep reminding me.”
Behind them, someone applauded.
Clare turned to find her doctor watching. “Great, an audience,” she grumbled and swiped at the sweat on her face.
Dr. Paul Langston came across the room. “That was outstanding. I counted at least fifty steps.”
“I counted fifty-five,” Jeffrey said.
“I don’t remember sending you an invite, Dr. Paul. What’re you doing here?” Clare thanked Jeffrey when he eased her into her wheelchair.
“I came to check on my star patient. Do I need an invitation?”
She took a long drink from her water bottle. “Not if you’re going to charm me.”
Dr. Langston tapped a toe against the chair. “I’m thinking we’re just about ready to kiss this baby good-bye and talk about sending you home.”
Her stomach clenched with anxiety. “Already? I thought you said another month?”
“You’ve gotten used to us, huh? Can’t live without me?”
“Yeah, something like that,” she said with a grin. He was a dreamboat with close-cropped blond hair and mischievous blue eyes. Too bad he was also ten years younger than her. “You’re easy enough on the eyes, I guess.”
He hooted. “Such flattery! It’s going straight to my head. I’ll take Miss Congeniality back to her room,” he told Jeffrey.
“See you tomorrow, Clare,” Jeffrey said.
“You’ve been doing so well,” Dr. Langston said as they rolled along the corridor. “The nurses tell me you’re showering and dressing on your own and relying on them less every day.” He stopped next to a bench in the hallway and sat to bring himself to her eye level. “I thought you were busting to get out of here. What gives?”
“Is it what’s waiting for you at home?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you mean what’s not waiting for me?”
“Have you talked to Dr. Baker about it?” he asked, referring to Clare’s psychiatrist.
“Here and there, but we’ve been more focused on the attack and all that. I haven’t wanted to talk about the untimely demise of my marriage. I’m just a bundle of unresolved issues,” she said with the good-natured grin that had made her a favorite among the medical team that had cared for her over the last four months.
“I think we should set a date.” Dr. Langston folded his arms over his white coat. “Two weeks from today?”
“Are you sure? That’s awfully soon.”
“Your daughters are waiting for you. Don’t you want to get home to them?”
“They’re happy living with their father right now.”
“They’ll be thrilled to have you home again. They’ve waited a long time.”
“I’m sure they’re more than used to being without me. How do I get back three years with them?” She bit back the urge to weep.
“You can’t. All you can do is go forward from here. I’m going to be honest with you, Clare. None of us imagined you’d get this far. You’ve defied the odds. Don’t let yourself down by giving up now.”
She smiled. “You’re tossing me out, huh?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You’ve all been so great. I’ll miss you.”
He got up from the bench. “Nah, you’ll be too busy enjoying your fabulous new life to give us a thought.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” She twisted her hands in her lap. The idea of going home filled her with apprehension.
He squatted down so she could see him. “Talk to Dr. Baker. Tell him how you feel about going home. Let him help you.”
“I will. Thanks, Paul.”
An item in the Newport Daily News caught Clare’s eye the next day:
Prominent City Architect Welcomes Double Delivery
NEWPORT—(August 27) It’s not every day that twins interrupt their parents’ wedding, but that’s what happened Tuesday.
Jack Harrington, co-owner of the Newport architectural firm Harrington Booth Associates, and his wife Andi welcomed twin sons, John Joseph Harrington IV and Robert Franklin Harrington. The twins arrived in the midst of their parents’ wedding at the Infinity Newport Hotel where their mother is the general manager. The hotel, which opened in December, was designed and built by Harrington Booth Associates.
“We thought we were just having a wedding, but I guess the babies didn’t want to miss it,” said Jamie Booth, Mr. Harrington’s business partner and brother-in-law. Mr. Booth is married to Mr. Harrington’s sister, Frannie. The Booths are also the parents of twins, one-year-old Owen and Olivia. “Andi and the babies are doing great,” Mr. Booth reported.
The new twins are the grandsons of John and Madeline Harrington of Greenwich, Conn., Betty Franklin of Chicago, Ill., and the late Robert Franklin. They join sisters Jill, Kate, and Maggie, and a brother, Eric.
Clare read it a second time. It was still so hard to believe that Jack was now married to someone else and had twin babies with her—twin sons, no less. And it was splashed all over the news. Anyone who didn’t already know she and Jack had recently gotten divorced did now.
Knowing how much her daughters loved babies, she could imagine their delight with their new brothers. No doubt she would hear all about it when they came to visit. Thinking back to the girls being born brought a smile to Clare’s face. Jill had just turned nineteen and was beginning her sophomore year at Brown University in Providence. Kate would be eighteen in November, and they had agreed to let her go to Nashville for a year after her birthday to pursue a career in country music. And Clare’s “baby,” Maggie, would be thirteen in December.
Clare reached over to the table next to the sofa to pick up the book Frannie had left. She had spent a few days working up the courage to look at it, and now the curiosity was overwhelming. Opening the book, she flipped to the first page, taking comfort in the familiarity of Frannie’s precise penmanship. The first item was dated June 20.
It’s late and the girls are finally in bed. They were wound up today—the last day of school. We now have an 11th grader, a 10th grader, and a 4th grader. I’m thrilled to see them excited and happy for a change. It’s been a while.
Jack sits by Clare’s bedside hour after hour, day after day. He talks to her until he’s hoarse and weak with fatigue. I look at him and wonder how he’ll ever live without her. But he’s not ready to think about that. I don’t know if he’ll ever be.
Clare brushed a tear from her cheek and read several entries about the girls’ activities that summer. Jill had babysat for a neighborhood family, and Kate had gone to sleepaway camp for the first time. They went to the beach a lot, and Jamie took them out on the sailboat he owned with Jack.
Jill is sweet sixteen today, and it’s her first birthday without her mom. She was weepy during the day but enjoyed the party we had for her after dinner. The nurses who care for Clare have become part of the family, and Jill invited them to have cake with us.
Enough, Clare thought as she closed the book and wiped her tears. That’s enough for today.
Jack brought Maggie in for a visit, and she burst into the room, chatting a mile a minute while her father hung back.
Clare hugged Maggie and waved him in as her heart hammered. How long will it take for that to stop? Tall with thick dark hair and gray eyes, he looked exhausted but happy. In fact he looked terrific, but then he always did. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” he said. “How are you?”
Before Clare could answer, Maggie picked up the stream of chatter again in an obvious attempt to offset the awkwardness between her parents. She had gotten tall over the summer, and her sleek dark hair—so much like her father’s—hung down her back. “You’re not going to believe who showed her face at the beach today.” Maggie rolled her blue eyes as her parents looked on in amusement.
“Who?” Clare asked.
“Hailey Harper. Ugh, we’re all so over her. After what she pulled in school last year…” Maggie shook her head with disgust.
“Maggie, be nice,” Jack said.
“Whatever. She’s the one with the problem. Hey, can I get ice cream?” Her eyes lit up, and Hailey was forgotten.
“Sure.” Jack took a ten-dollar bill from his wallet. “Get Mom some, too.”
“Rocky road?” Maggie asked Clare.
“But of course,” Clare said with a smile. “Thanks.”
“Whew,” Jack said as Maggie flew from the room, headed for the hospital cafeteria. He came in to sit with Clare. “She’s a whirling dervish these days.”
“She always was.” Clare noticed his new platinum wedding ring and wondered what he’d done with the gold one she’d given him. “Some kind of excitement for you this week. Everyone’s doing well?”
“Yes, but I haven’t slept in four days,” he said with the wry grin that was all Jack. It had never failed to stop her heart. “The one-two punch is something else. It’s nonstop.”
“I can only imagine.” Clare forced herself to be cheerful. “And Andi? She’s well?”
“She’s tired and sore, but she’s doing fine, considering she’s had no sleep and seems to be feeding one baby or the other around the clock.”
“Hell of a honeymoon, huh?” Clare joked.
He smiled and shrugged.
“Please pass along my congratulations to her, too.”
“I will. So how are you doing?”
“Apparently, well enough to go home.”
His eyes lit up with delight. “Really? When?”
“They’re saying early September.”
“Wow. That’s great, Clare.”
“I suppose so.”
“You don’t sound happy about it.”
“I am.” She brushed some imaginary lint off her jeans as she stole a glimpse of him. God, he’s gorgeous. He always had been, from the day they met on Block Island twenty-two summers ago.
“We need to get the house ready,” he said. “I’ll send some guys over to adapt the downstairs bathroom and set you up with a bedroom on the first floor until you can manage the stairs.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can take care of it. You’ve got enough going on.”
“Let me handle it. It’s no trouble at all.”
Knowing he had easy access to what she needed done to the house, she nodded. “Okay. Thanks.”
“Remember what I told you—whatever you need. You only have to ask.”
“This is so weird,” she said softly, giving voice to the tension between them. They’d been divorced for only two weeks, and he was already remarried with new twin babies. It boggled the mind.
“It probably will be for a while, but it’s bound to get easier. For both of us.”
“I hope so. We have to stay focused on the girls, especially Maggie.”
“Always.” He reached over to squeeze her hand.
Maggie came in juggling two dripping cones. “Hurry, Mom, it’s running.” She thrust the cone at Clare and handed Jack his change.
He stood up. “I need to get back. When we left, the babies were sleeping, but that never lasts long. Kate will be by to get you in a little while, Maggie.” Hesitantly, he bent to kiss Clare’s cheek. “I’ll be in touch about the house.”
“It’s no problem. See you later, Mags.”
After he had gone, Clare turned to Maggie as they licked their cones. “So tell me about the babies. It’s so exciting, huh?”
Her face lit up. “Oh, God, Mom, they’re unbelievable. They have shiny black hair and these tiny scrunched-up faces…” She trailed off and went back to her cone.
“It’s okay to be excited about your new brothers, honey.”
Maggie’s cheeks colored. “I don’t mean to be insensitive.”
Clare was amazed by her youngest daughter’s sudden maturity. She’d left behind a little girl three years ago and had returned to find a young woman. At times like this, the metamorphosis was startling. “You’re not being insensitive. You have two new baby brothers. Of course you’re thrilled.”
Maggie brightened. “They’re awesome.” She bit into her cone. “Actually, I have three little brothers now.”
“I know.” Clare had heard all about Maggie’s close bond with Eric, Andi’s son from her first marriage. Maggie had learned sign language to communicate with the hearing-impaired boy and was now almost fluent.
“Dad’s adopting Eric.”
“That’s a nice thing for him to do.”
“He doesn’t know his own father, so Dad’s like his dad already.”
“He’s just making it official,” Clare said with a smile. Oh, how this hurt. Jack’s life was all set, and hers was in shambles. She reminded herself that it had been her decision to let him go. Now she just had to find a way to live with it. “So the doctors are sending me home in about two weeks.”
Maggie’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
Clare nodded. “I’m hoping you’ll want to spend some time with me.” I sound so pathetic. How will I ever compete with three new brothers?
“I’ll come to your house to catch up on my sleep,” Maggie teased.
Clare laughed and finished her cone. “Oh, I see. You’ll be using me?”
“Definitely.” Maggie giggled. “So Dad bought a house on Ocean Drive.”
Kate and Maggie had been staying with Jack and Andi at the hotel since the babies were born. He had moved out of what was now Clare’s house just before their divorce became final. “Did he?”
“Yeah, some gray place, gray house or something,” Maggie said with a shrug.
“Oh, Gray Hall.” Clare had been a Realtor before her accident and was well aware of the estate. “That’s a great old house, right on the water.”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “Of course it is. You know how weird he is about that.”
“Yes, I do,” Clare said, smiling at Jack’s need to live on the water.
“Anyway, I guess we’re moving in at the end of next week. Living at the hotel is getting kind of old, and they want to get settled with the babies and all.”
“I can imagine they do. When I get home, we’ll work something out so you can spend time with both of us, okay?”
“Sure. I’m glad you’re getting to come home.”
“Me, too. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
The door opened, and Kate came in. Clare was always amazed at how much her middle daughter resembled her, with the same unruly blonde hair and bright blue eyes. It was like seeing herself at eighteen except Kate had Jack’s height, which gave her a coltish stride as she crossed the room to plant a kiss on her mother’s forehead.
“What’ve you been eating, brat?” Kate asked her sister. “It’s all over your face.”
“Don’t call her that, Kate,” Clare admonished, sending an empathetic smile to Maggie.
“That’s okay, Mom. I’d fall over and die of shock if she called me Maggie.”
Kate’s eyes twinkled. “Really? Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Damn, it didn’t work.”
“Ha-ha,” Maggie said, using a wet paper towel to wipe the ice cream off her face.
“I see some things never change,” Clare said, delighted by her girls.
“Mom’s coming home the week after next,” Maggie told her sister.
“That’s great! I’m glad you’ll be home for a while before I leave.”
Clare nodded. “Me, too.” She didn’t like to think about Kate’s impending departure for Nashville. Jack had made that decision before her recovery, and he had convinced Clare to give it a try for a year. He had promised her he would see to all the details, including making sure Kate had a safe place to live. Clare was glad she had a couple of months yet before she had to deal with that.
“Sorry, Mom, but we’ve got to go,” Kate said with a kiss to her mother’s cheek. “I’m working tomorrow, so I need to hit the sack.” She had been playing the guitar and singing at the Infinity Newport Hotel’s outdoor bars all summer.
“That’s okay. I’m glad to see you, even just for a minute.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Maggie promised, kissing her mother good night.
“I’ll look forward to it.” Clare waved as the door closed behind them. Watching them go, she was hit by a sense of panic, wondering if they felt closer now to their stepmother than they did to her, wondering if she’d ever get back the close bond she’d shared with each of her daughters.
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