Mara Purl’s Novels & Stories
More About This Book
It was completely dark in the unfinished house. To make matters worse, it was a moonless night, and such stars as normally sparkled in the clear, windswept autumn air were obscured by cloud cover.
Chris shifted her foot. She’d been standing in one place long enough that the sensation of the nail under her sole had numbed. She noticed it only when she moved. Still she waited, hoping her eyes would make a further adjustment to the unrelieved darkness.
Her pulse wouldn’t settle. A hundred feet below, the sea pounded. An October storm was traveling the South Pacific, and even this far north, the Central Coast was feeling the effects. “Gen-erating winds of up to 50 miles per hour…” she could hear her KSB-TV colleague saying. The house seemed to sway with the crashing surf, unsteady on its poles. That was an illusion, she knew. It was her own legs that were unsteady. She cursed him again, and her own insatiable curiosity.
Chilled in the cold structure, she pulled her jacket closer and tried to focus. She stood in what would undoubtedly be the living room—an expanse of white Sheetrock for the moment, which gave way on one side to a wall of glass. The view would be spectacular. On the opposite wall, flagstone had been fashioned into an oversized fireplace. It seemed curiously complete in this incomplete room, except for the rectangular hole gaping in front of it that left room for a hearthstone.
Imported marble, she remembered: one detail that had shown up on both sets of plans. Detail. Remember, she thought to herself, one detail can save your life. Reed had always told her that, and he was the best reporter in the business. She should leave this place, this swaying, unhallowed structure, menacing in its protruding metal shards and ragged concrete edges. But she’d been led here, vectored here by one clue after another. She had to find out.
A snap of fabric yanked her from her thoughts and sent her heartrate racing. As she held her breath, it sounded again. Like an exhalation, plastic wrapped over vacant window openings was sucked and pulled against the tape holding it to the framework. Just the wind, she reassured herself. The house itself was breathing, trying to expel its bad humors.
Chris took a step and her knee buckled. She caught herself by bracing against a cinderblock wall, tearing a piece of skin from her palm. She cursed in the dark, but the jab of pain had served to sharpen her attention.
The reasons she’d come here began to return to her mind in an orderly progression. He’d called her again. He’d been right about the plans. Chances are he was right about this house. Her own research had confirmed part of what he’d said, this illusive informer—a man with no name who called with tantalizing fragments of information. She tried to fit them together like so many shards of broken crystal, clear and sharp-edged.
She was here to gather more shards and she found herself resenting it. Joseph would be waiting with a clandestine dinner for two, all the more romantic for the secrecy. The thought hastened her, and she tried again to focus on the incomplete room. Clicking on her flashlight, she began inspecting the raw beams and Sheetrock.
“A171” was scrawled on one beam. “A172” was on the next. Okay, so these guys can count, she thought. On the next beam was an arrow pointing down. She knelt awkwardly, trying to read the next mark. It seemed to be a depth marker, followed by another arrow pointing down.
She’d have to check the length measurements printed on the poles. That meant climbing down the unfinished stairs into that black hole. Blacker than the unfinished, moonless living room. Cursing again, she began walking towards the fireplace, remem-bering to avoid the gaping hole in front of it.
Somehow through the wind and crashing surf, she heard a noise. Clicking off her flashlight, she hugged her body close to the Sheetrock. I’m alone in a windswept rattletrap of raw beams and rusty metal scraps, and I ought to be home doing my nails, she found herself thinking. Details. They were always her best defense against fear.
Clicking her flashlight back on, she began to search for stairs. There was nothing, however, but a ladder leading down into the hearth-well. “It’s nothing but a black hole,” she said out loud. “Blacker than a black cat’s ass on black velvet.”
“There’s a quick way down there, Ms. Christian.”
“Uh! Oh, for heaven’s sake, you just about scared the . . . . What the hell are you doing here?” Her heart pounded louder than the surf. She clutched her flashlight and tried to keep it from bouncing across the man’s features.
“I work here, Ms. Christian.” The voice was steady, self-assured. The seamed face towered over a hulking physique.
“Oh . . . yes. I remember. Good thing you’re here, because I could really use some help.” A laugh erupted out of her throat like a burst of static from a malfunctioning radio. “You see, I’ve been trying to get a reading on these beams, and it’s so hard to see in the dark.” The man said nothing. She wondered how long the uninterrupted stream of words could surround her like a force field. “Say, you didn’t even bring a flashlight.”
“Very observant,” he said simply.
“Guess you know the house real well if you work here. One of the construction crew, huh?”
“Well, listen, it’s really getting late, and I’ll come back in the morning when I can see better. Thanks a lot for all your help.” She made a move away from the hearth-well, but it only brought her closer to the man. She could smell alcohol on his breath as he spoke. Probably a bourbon drinker, she thought, unable to stop cataloguing details.
“Oh, I haven’t done anything yet.”
“But you’re about to, am I right?”
Humor had always been her strong point. That and clear, simple logic. How many times have I played out this scenario in my head? How many times have I talked my way out of a tight spot?
It was now or never, she knew. He might be bigger, stronger, more massive, but maneuverability was on her side. She clicked off her flashlight and hurled it at him. She’d already chosen exactly where her foot would land when she cleared the hole. In the sudden blackness she knew she’d have a second’s worth of advantage. It was just the second she needed.
She heard the crack first, before she felt the impact. Sounded like a gunshot, she thought. And the next sound she heard was someone’s voice, as though from a great distance. It’s yelling. No, it’s screaming…screaming for help!
As she landed, the wind was forced from her body like exhaust from a jet engine. That voice, she found herself thinking. It sounds familiar…it sounds like mine. But it can’t be. It’s too far away.
It’d been too many seconds since air had found its way into her lungs, and with a sudden clarity, she realized she wasn’t breathing. In the same moment, Chris began to feel dirt pressing on her chest. Desperately, she inhaled, but she found no oxygen. Only the wet, sandy soil of the Central Coast.
Here’s what other readers have said:
“I just finished reading ‘What the Heart Knows’ and really liked it. The story was intriguing, the writing excellent, and the way you captured the ambiance of the Central Coast, superb. I found the ‘Cast of Characters’ in the back of the book very helpful, too. I will definitely read the next book in your series. I think I’m hooked!”
– Janet Penn Franks, Author, Central Coast Historian
“Your book is astounding! I just loved it. I love these characters! I spent my whole vacation reading your book. Now I’m making plans for spending the weekend reading your next one.”
– Madelon Miles, President, Milestones Inc., Los Angeles
“I have just read ‘What the Heart Knows’ with great enjoyment. All your characters are vivid and each one is memorable. Although there are a lot of them, there’s no confusing them. You have excellent control of each one and scatter your hints and clues which I look forward to having explained/ expanded upon. You are well on your way to giving Danielle Steel a run for her money!”
– Miranda Kenrick, Author, Tokyo
“I discovered this first of the Milford-Haven novels in Cambria, my favorite little town, and was enthralled. I had to find out more about this intriguing series!”
– Sherry Hilbur, Cambria
“I can tell you’re a real storyteller, whether you’re doing it through radio drama or novels. As a writer you have a way of making the image immediately very clear. I love your characters and love your book!”
– Katy Sullivan, Actress, Los Angeles
“Your book was excellent! You’re a wonderful writer, with such vivid descriptions and such gripping characters. But you left me hanging! My goodness I’ve got to have the next book immediately!”
– Jan Snyder, Los Angeles
“I got so involved with your story, I’m dying to read book two!”
– Jan Mergy, San Diego
“I enjoyed getting acquainted with your characters. They did become very real, as did the locale. I shall look for the follow up books. With your permission I would give the books to a friend who I know will enjoy them as I have.”
– Maxine Kaput, Carmel
“In ‘What the Heart Knows’, the author writes powerfully about nature — you know she loves her territory and understands it well — both the environment and the humans. Every character is real — and deep. I was fascinated by and understood their motivations and their quandaries — and what they’re learning about life. It also took me away from my own quandaries, which is sometimes important. Because I cared enough about them all to wish I knew how they would all wind up…eventually. Now I’m hooked, I’ll have to read every sequel.”
– Kathleen Arc Herald, Santa Fe
“Girl – you write good!”
– Jeannie Wilson, North Hollywood
“Your books are so good! You write beautifully, and I love the series. I love the Central Coast of California, and this is like taking a trip up there. The Milford-Haven novels are easy reading, and they’re comfortable. I look forward to reading a little more every night before I go to bed.”
– Mimi Feldman, Beverly Hills
“Your books are fun to read, and they’re more than fun. There’s an underlying quality to them because you’re dealing with important issues. So I look forward to reading them on both levels.”
– Pilulaw Khus, Morro Bay
“I did purchase ‘What the Heart Knows’ during your recent internet preview launch from Haven Books and enjoyed it. You have a new fan!”
– Mary Osborne, Colorado Springs
“I think ‘What the Heart Knows’ is damn good. I thought the intimacy was handled so well–convincing, discreet, intriguing. I felt you were really getting into the minds of these people.”
– Raymond Purl, Colorado Springs
“Read your book yesterday, at one sitting. There appears to be no end to your talent. Your verbal imagery is very effective. You draw your reader into the story easily. Good work!”
– Howard Fisher, M.D., Denver
“I found your characters very real and lively. I am very much impressed with your ability to weave so many different characters into a meaningful saga.!”
– Janet Wienpahl, Santa Barbara
“I thoroughly enjoyed ‘What The Heart Knows.’ I loved the way you entwined the lives of the characters. I look forward to continuing the story, and trust that you are busy writing to satisfy us, your readers!”
– Melanie Humphrey, Author, Snowmass Village
“Just finished reading the book. What a pleasure! I had no idea, in the beginning, what I would find and if I would read any other books in the series. Now, after finishing the first, I can hardly wait to order the whole series. I want to find out what happens to each one of these interesting people who actually remind me of some of my friends. This story is so real. One of the reasons I like your writing is that I find myself learning things which I didn’t know before. To me, that’s a real turn on. I’ll just give you one example. In the last chapter, where Samantha writes in her journal, it was chock full of information. I could read that over and over. There was so much to think about. All of the feelings she was experiencing and the thoughts she was having. I can see why it is called a book for women. You touch on so many emotions and issues. You paint colors, textures, scenes that your reader can simply place themselves right into. You make it easy for the reader to participate in these scenes you set for them. Guess I better stop now. It’s 2:00 AM.!”
– Carolyn Arnold, Honolulu
Book Club & Reading Group Guide - Topics for Discussion
- What are the dynamics of a small town? What is nurturing and supportive about a small town? What is intrusive and destructive? Do people have an absolute right to privacy? When should privacy take a back seat to “public good”?
- Why do people keep journals? Why does Samantha keep a journal? What function does journal writing perform in her life? Is Samantha in crisis? At what point have we encountered her in her life? Have you ever kept a journal? What did it do for you?
- Is Chris careful or foolhardy? Does she place her job or her personal life first? Was her trip to the Clarke house impetuous or well calculated? Should a journalist do almost anything to get at the truth?
- Why is Jack so angry? What in his background might have happened to Jack to cause his emotionally abusive behavior toward the people in his life? Would you agree Jack is a “head” person rather than a “heart” person?
- What makes an artist essentially different from other people? As an artist, what are Miranda’s priorities? Do you believe Miranda “makes” things happen with her paintings?
- Why do some women manipulate every personal and business relationship? What are Zelda’s motives? What’s her history? Why is Cynthia so calculating at such a young age?
- What is Zack’s attraction to Cynthia? What is his ambivalence toward her? What attracts him about Miranda?
- How does a person tell whether or not they’ve met the “right” person? Is Miranda responding to a deep and soulful recognition when she meets Zack? Is she wise in pursuing a relationship with him, or is she treading on dangerous ground?
- As a former journalist who wrote for the Associated Press, The Financial Times of London, Rolling Stone, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Mainichi Daily News, Mara Purl was trained to do extensive research and to report accurately. How might her journalistic background have influenced her as a novelist?
- What does YOUR heart know? Does important information come to you through both head and heart? What do you do with “heart” information – ignore it, or pay attention to it? As the title for the first of a series of twelve books, is it possible this is a theme for Milford-Haven itself, and everyone who’s drawn to the town?
Secret of the Postcard
What is the secret of Miranda’s postcard? Discover the answer in What the Heart Knows. Here are some clues…
From Miranda’s waking-thoughts…
Today, however, the paintbrush twitched in her hand. Unable to do any real work, she moved to the built-in desk that ran the length of the windowed wall in her studio and picked up the stack of postcards. They featured her own miniature watercolor— one of the first non-wildlife pieces she’d done in quite a while.
The printer had done a good job, she decided. The color looked true, the proportion appealing. Main Street stretched away to the ocean, pines rose along the edges to touch a blue sky. It hadn’t seemed complete till she printed the town’s name in pale lettering like scripted clouds. And she hadn’t been able to resist placing in the foreground the lovely gallery that handled her work.
She’d created the tiny painting and had it made into postcards for practical purposes—letting people know about her work. She’d already sent them to her short list: a few friends, her always-supportive sister, her ever-skeptical parents, and of course Zelda, who’d help with a business contact list.
But there was something else about the postcards too. She liked the crisp edges and bright image, felt in it the vibrancy of the little place she now called home. Somehow the town had a heartbeat that matched her own, and the postcard took its pulse. If the universe had fulfilled a promise to her, this little card was her thankyou note.
The phone rang again. She stared at it, then decided to answer.
“Darling! It’s me!”
Knowing the voice after the first syllable, Miranda said, “Hi, Zelda.”
“Well, it’s simply the most brilliant thing you’ve ever done. The postcard is sensational. I want you to send me a thousand immediately.”
“A thousand? But I—”
“You have more marketing sense than you’ve ever let on, Miranda. This is going to turn the tide.”
From Miranda’s dream-thoughts…
Wind rose off still-dark water, scudded across waves, lifted over bluffs and rustled through trees, carrying the scent of ocean and pine into Miranda’s bedroom. She inhaled the aromas into her sleep where they blended with her dream.
A canopy of stars sparkled overhead through a perfect circle of tall, sheltering branches. Where am I? A high, protected place, waves lapping below, perfect stillness arcing overhead. A safe place that welcomed and understood.
Yes, this is the place.
Long ago—as long ago as childhood—she had written the words: where mountains meet ocean, where art meets science, where heart meets heart.Later in her teenage diary, she’d drawn three pictures: a mountain at the edge of a sea; the moon reflected in a well; two overlapping hearts. Even then, she’d known someday the drawings would become paintings.
She’d captured the mountain-ocean image first, earth contours rising to a sculpted ridge, then plunging into the sea, tall pines spearing up from the bluff, boulders anchored offshore.
Then there’d been that unplanned drive south. She’d happened upon the very coastal profile she’d envisioned, the place choosing her as much as she’d chosen it. It had drawn her to her new home, to Milford-Haven. Within the year, she’d moved.
The voices of reason had objected. If you want to be an artist, go to New York, not to some out-of-the-way place where no one will ever discover you.But the heart knew.
No one had understood why she had to leave. She’d come anyway.
In a sense she’d painted her new home into existence, imagined it so clearly it had emerged from the infinite beyond and taken tangible form.
But here, now, this high, windswept place—it was new. It was one of the places she had yet to paint. This was an introduction, then, a flight forward in time or space, a preview reserved for this dream from which she didn’t want to wake.
Wind caressed her cheek, riffled her hair. And then, she was in his embrace.