Just a few years ago, if someone told me I’d write a story involving a love triangle, I would’ve said they were crazy. Yet, once the idea behind CASTLES WE BUILD took a hold of me, it was like a bulldog sinking its teeth sunk into a chew-toy. It refused to let go.
Just to be clear, the story isn’t a modern sex ménage. But it isn’t exactly a traditional romance either. The premise sprouted from an idea that came to me out of nowhere during one of my rare philosophical moments. I wondered what a woman would do if she married one man, believed he died – let’s just say, during a war (which I decided to use in the story) – and then remarried another man only to discover that her first husband wasn’t dead after all. Who would be her “real” husband, legally? How about emotionally? Or morally? Ooh, tricky. Out of curiosity, I asked a few people what they thought. Guess what? Yep, you got it. Everyone had a different opinion. Some people thought she should go back to the man she was married to first. Others were sure that she should stick with her current husband. As I toyed with this story idea, I took it a step further, imagining that she had been passionately in love with her first husband, and had never really stopped loving him, even after she thought he was gone forever. I also imagined that husband #1’s return wouldn’t go over well with husband #2.
Eventually, I sat down and started typing random scenes in the story. It soon became clear that CASTLES WE BUILD should be set in the roaring twenties, amid a whole flurry of other exciting events. The heroine, Julia, would find herself in a real quandary as she came face to face with the return of her first husband, Landon. Her existing husband, Ford, would shake things up even more. Several events and scenes took me by surprise, since many of them weren’t planned.
More than three-fourth of my way into the story, it dawned on me that I still had no idea how it would end. Naturally, I started to panic. What was I supposed to do now? There was nothing to do but to keep doing. As Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” After a while, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t figure it out. My characters took matters into their own hands. And when Julia made her decision during the last few chapters, I was absolutely thrilled with the outcome.
By the time you finish the story, you may or may not agree with every the decision the characters make, but I hope you love Julia, Landon, and Ford as much as I do!
She has a chance to relive her past. But at what cost?
When Julia married the man of her dreams, Landon Sloane, neither of them could have predicted the destructive impact of The Great War. Finding herself a widow and single mother in a period ripe with women’s suffrage and the prohibition, Julia married wealthy industrialist Ford Hampton.
Now, ten years later, with a son attending an academy for the gifted, a daughter with special needs, and a flapper stepdaughter who tests her daily, Julia is hardly prepared for Landon’s return from his long foreign captivity to announce he has never stopped loving her.
Faced with unrequited love for Landon, her life truly begins to unravel with the intrusion of her mother, who abandoned her as a child, a devastating factory fire, and an alarming encounter with a tawdry bootlegger. Finally, when her son is kidnapped in a diabolical scheme of revenge, Julia knows she has to make a final decision that will forever change everyone and everything in her life.
There he is. A man whose memory I desperately tried to lay to rest at his memorial site in Westbrook Cemetery.
For a few seconds, I wobble, my peripheral vision closing in. I’m about to pass out….
Suddenly, he grins. And the grin does the same thing to me now that it did nine years ago, saving me from losing consciousness. Saving me, period.
He holds out his arms, and I rush into them, moaning as his mouth claims mine in a kiss that’s like a drowning man clutching a lifesaver. Pulling me inside and reaching behind me to slam the door shut, his hands grip at my clothes and my hair, tangling in them as if hoping to extract the essence of everything I am.
Now he’s kissing my cheeks. My forehead. My chin. The places behind my ears. The hollow of my neck. The skin above my lace collar. My breasts through the voile fabric. My legs as he pushes up the hem of my frock.
And I’m falling backward on a bed that seems to have appeared like magic. Calling his name. Over and over. He answers me with a voice tinted by a slight brogue, as familiar as the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Yes. Yes, he’s really Landon Sloane. Alive. Very alive. And my name is also on his lips, coming out in hoarse whispers, pressed against my skin, branding me with what’s always been there, never disappearing completely, but only lying dormant — my love for him.
Rising above me, his body comes down over mine in the ancient way that has coupled countless lovers. In the same way that summoned us in the past with pleasure and intoxication. I grip him, pulling him closer, needing him to complete what’s lacking. To satiate me with his heat and energy….
A little girl’s cry floats through the room.
Gracie! Just that suddenly, I push Landon back, forcing his flushed face away from mine. No, I’m not thinking clearly. That wasn’t a girl’s voice. Just a bird outside the open window. One that has a trill similar to a child’s outburst.
For several seconds Landon and I stare at each other, saying nothing. He looks the same. Yet, different in several ways. Slimmer…a little too slim. A leathery tan that makes his eyes brighter, as potent as midnight’s navy sky in a flash of lightning.
I’m lying here half naked. With a husband I thought would never return from the war he left to fight nine years ago. And the question hits me like a rock to the stomach. “Why, Landon? Why didn’t you come home? Where have you been?”
He visibly swallows, his face glistening with perspiration and what might very well be tears. “My ship sank off the coast of South Africa. Most of the men didn’t…. Anyway, me and my lieutenant were rescued by natives. They had bartering friends who traded with them. Local radicals who supported the enemy forces. I think a few of them even had direct ties with Germany.”
His voice has deepened, grown huskier with age. I try to concentrate on his words, needing desperately to understand. To make sense of this unexpected phenomenon: the miracle of his rise from the dead.
“So me and the lieutenant were arrested and held in an encampment. Seventeen straw huts surrounded by a high fence. Guards with guns and long pikes. Shared it with criminals and other detainees. We didn’t even know when the war was over. Guess they liked having free laborers too much to set us free. Or maybe they just liked trapping us like mice in a maze.” His voice is hard now. Gritty. Full of hatred and anger. In a tone I don’t recognize.
“They finally released us last month. Because of some new political uprising, I think. I don’t know exactly who or what…. I only care that I’m free. Back where I can see you. Hold you. And…oh, God, if I can just get all this filth out of my head.” He sits up beside me, gripping the sides of his head.
The hair at his temples is peppered with silver.
It used to be completely dark, the color of coffee with no creamer.
I reach for him, pulling him to me. Prison. For almost a decade. What a nightmare that must’ve been. The hurt is palpable, transferring between us. “It’s over, darling,” I whisper near his ear. “And I’m so glad you’re back, safe and sound. Alive.”
He folds his arms around me so that we’re huddled in a ball. And we stay that way. Unmoving. Quiet. For a very long time.
His heavy breathing steadies to a hoarse snore; the sound of a man who hasn’t had good, clean rest for a long time. He shifts, spreading out his arms in unconscious freedom. And I release him, sitting up gently in order not to wake him.
The bedroom is mostly bare. A utilitarian iron bed. A dresser. A shabby club chair. But nothing else. I stare at the open window where the cage hangs, dangling slightly in the breeze. There are no finches in it. Or any other birds. The door is hanging open, facing the outside.
He won’t cage anything again.
I push my tousled hair from my face, combing both hands through the chin-length strands.
None of this is the way it should be.
It’s all messed up somehow.
Ford’s face enters my mind. Just the way he looked last night, smiling at me from the dinner table.
I’m married to someone else.
And I have a family.
Back in elementary and high school, Alyson was always in trouble for jotting stories in her notebooks when she should’ve been studying for math tests. Detentions and trips to the principal's office aside, she was determined to become an author someday, no matter the price.
Fast forward a few years — okay, actually several years — she began writing historical romance and women's fiction, leading to the debut of A BEAUTIFUL CAGE, published by the Wild Rose Press in 2011.
Now she gets in trouble for writing stories when she should be cooking dinner for her family.