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Tangled in Ivy

Tangled in Ivy

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"The story is endlessly intriguing, with enough plot turns that readers who predict one or two may still be surprised . . . The ending befits this realistic portrayal of love, family, and all the complications those two often engender . . . An absorbing fusion of a searing family drama with an unusual love story.” --Kirkus Reviews


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Lillian's twin sister has harbored resentment since their mother's death twenty-seven years ago. Lillian remembers nothing about that day. Why, if their mother’s death was an accident, does Lillian harbor guilt?

When Lillian unearths a thumb drive marked for “her eyes only” in her late father’s study, Lillian plunges into Graham's intimate recollections of his turbulent relationship with her mother. These revelations unearth long-buried memories, propelling Lillian on a quest for self-discovery.

Upon discovering their family fortune has vanished, the rift between the Alexander sisters intensifies. As Lillian battles to save their ancestral home on Charleston's esteemed East Battery, shadows of the past emerge, unveiling secrets that culminate in a stunning, unforgettable finale.

Read an Excerpt

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A sliver of afternoon sunlight streams through a crack in the heavy brocade drapes, falling across my father’s ashen face. He’s sixty-three going on ninety. His hair, once thick and brown, has gone completely gray. His glasses, the same wire-rimmed frames he’s worn as long as I can remember, are on his bedside table. He will never again need them to see.

Through cracked lips, his tongue coated in white, he mutters, “Hemingway knows.”

I lay my head on his chest. I can hear his heartbeat, slow and labored, and his lungs rattle, a sign the end is near. “What’re you trying to say, Daddy? What does Hemingway know? Tell me. I’m right here. I’m listening.”

He’s been going on about Hemingway for hours. The hospice nurse has warned me not to read too much into what he says, that he’s in a morphine-induced delirium, but I can’t ignore the feeling he’s trying to tell me something. Dad’s a veteran professor of American literature. Hemingway is his favorite author. We even had a cat once named Hemingway. But I don’t think Dad’s talking about the cat.

When he speaks again, his voice is surprisingly loud and clear. “Hemingway knows. The truth about my life.”

I raise my head to look at him. He’s staring at me with glassy eyes. “Hemingway,” he says one final time and blinks his lids shut. Seconds later, a peaceful expression settles on his face.

My gaze shifts to the hospice nurse who is asleep, sitting up in the chair beside his bed. “Rose! Wake up.”

She startles awake, her hazel eyes wide. “What is it? Did something happen?”

“My father was alert when he spoke to me just now. But he’s so still. I think maybe . . . Is he . . .”

Rose reaches for his wrist, feeling for a pulse, and gives her head a solemn shake.

I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve known for months that this moment would come. I thought I was ready. “Are you sure?” I ask, hoping she’s mistaken.

“Yes, I’m sure. I’m so sorry, Lillian.” Rose lifts her clipboard from the bedside table and begins jotting notes.

Tears sting my eyes, and a pain grips my heart. I feel the urge to flee the room, yet I’m glued to my chair. I kiss my fingertips and press them against his lips. He’s still warm to the touch, but not for long. He’s gone. There’s nothing I can do for him now.

Willing my legs to support me, I stand, turn my back on my beloved father, and pass through the double glass-paned doors to the piazza. I breathe in the heavy salt air. Now that my father is gone, the humidity and view of Charleston Harbor are two of the few remaining constants in my life.

I’ve devoted the last three months to taking care of my father. How do I move on from here? Dad left a file with detailed instructions for his funeral. I’m to call the minister, funeral director, and head of the English department at the College of Charleston. But then what? Do I return to my job at the art gallery? Move back into my studio apartment above said gallery?

A dark blue sedan turns off East Battery and passes through our iron gates. Trudy’s eyes focus on the narrow brick driveway. I wave at her, but she doesn’t see me when she passes below. As she circles the courtyard, I notice the three-tiered stone fountain has gone dry. One more thing in a long list that needs fixing around here.

Trudy parks at the back door near the kitchen and gets out of the car with a single bag of groceries. She left an hour ago to pick up a missing ingredient for my dinner. She insists I have a hot meal every night, even though I rarely eat more than a couple of bites. Watching one’s father’s internal organs being eaten alive from pancreatic cancer has a way of zapping one’s appetite.

I can’t remember the names of all the maids and cooks and gardeners my family has employed over the years. But Trudy and her husband, Isaac, our part-time fixit man, are more than household staff. They’re family. It pains me to watch Trudy shuffling toward the back door. She’s slowed down these past months. Dad’s illness has taken its toll. And I dread breaking the news to her.

I reenter the house through the dining room and pause in front of my mother’s portrait hanging above the sideboard. Dressed in a white polo shirt and khaki shorts, she’s leaning against a live oak tree with the marsh in the background at our cottage on nearby Wadmalaw Island. Her wavy golden hair frames her sun-kissed face, highlighting eyes that are as blue as the deepest part of the ocean. She’s in her early twenties, but she has an innocent, almost childlike, quality about her. Even though she died when I was six, my father has done a commendable job of keeping her memory alive. She was adventurous and athletic and loved the outdoors. I have a few blips of memories as well. Of her lighting birthday candles and presenting me with a baby kitten. Of the lingering scent of her flowery perfume after she tucks me into bed at night. Although I barely remember her, even after all this time, I get an aching feeling in my gut whenever I think of her.

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