Blog Tour · Books (general)

“The Winters” by Lisa Gabriele (blog tour-extract)

Hi again,

Today I have an exciting extract from this novel inspired by Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”.


For the rest of my shift, I thought of nothing but Max Winter’s visit. While hosing off his boat and prepping it for the morning, I thought of how he’d held my gaze and the warm smile he’d given me, a small enough gesture people trade a hundred times in a day, yet this one’s effect lingered. He’d paid attention to me. He’d said he liked my name. He’d wondered why he’d never seen me before, as though I were someone to be remembered. He’d said, directly to me, that he would come for the boat in the morning and bowed when he’d said my name, using the proper emphasis.

It was a short walk from the marina to staff housing, but there was a stretch of West Bay that had no sidewalk, and I often took the beach route to avoid walking next to traffic along the unlit highway. The sand made for a more challeng¬ing hike but it was better than being in a car’s blind spot. Besides, on certain nights the walk cleared my head, and that night I needed it.

When I reached the townhouse the sound of another wild party wafting from our living room stopped me cold. The townhouse was one of three Laureen owned, stacked side by side like tombstones at the end of a bleak cul-de-sac on the other side of the highway. I stood listening to the insistent bass pulsing from the house while slowly deflating. I had noth¬ing left, no reserves to cut through what would be a forest of drunken people crowding the stark rooms, draping over each other on the greasy couch, every tabletop a wasteland of empty bottles and overflowing ashtrays. I looked back across the highway towards the blinking lights of the marina, feeling like misery itself had tapped me on the shoulder and offered me its arm. What else was there to do but trudge back to the pier and the cot in Laureen’s office?

I didn’t bother with the beach route back. I was so tired I almost wanted a truck to swerve to miss a chicken and hit me. And to make a bad night worse, I spotted a lone male figure approaching, staring into his phone, the screen lending his face a glowing malevolence. When you’re a woman walk¬ing alone along a highway at night, it’s a toss-up over what’s scarier: a drunk driver who can’t see you or a man in your path who can.

My instincts always assumed the worst. But when the man suddenly stepped out in front of an oncoming car, another instinct kicked in and I screamed, “Look out!” A screech of brakes, and the man’s phone spun in the air as he plunged backwards into a bush. I scrambled towards him, retrieving the phone. When he finished brushing dust off his pants and stood upright, I found myself looking at the face of the man who had occupied my thoughts all day and with such intensity that for a moment I worried I might have mani¬fested him.

“Thank you—it’s you!” Max Winter said, accepting his phone. “Good God, my phone must have blinded me.”

“Are you all right?”

“I am, yes. I think you might have saved my life.”

Cars sped by us, illuminating his face every few seconds, his expression hard to read. I thought of Laureen’s concern about his taking the boat out alone. Was he depressed?
“Are you sure you’re all right?” I stepped closer, boldly placing a hand on his forearm. “Let me help you.”

“I promise you I’m fine. I’m more embarrassed than bruised,” he said. He glanced at his phone before pocketing it.
“What are you doing out on the highway anyway? You should be using that,” I said, pointing to the walkway raised over the road, off-limits to staff at night.

“I got a text from my daughter. It’s the middle of the night where she is so I couldn’t ignore it. We got to texting back and forth, and yeah, the rest is history. Where are you heading so late?”

I hesitated. I didn’t want him to know I lived the way I did. Lots of people had roommates and I was only twenty-six. But suddenly my life felt dingy and squalid and I wanted to give him the impression that I was older, more sophisticated.

“I forgot something at work. I was just going back to get it.”

“Well, lucky me you did. Let me walk you. The least I can do in return is to make sure you’re safe.” I began to protest when he added, “Please don’t worry, you won’t be spotted.

He knew, then, that staff wasn’t allowed to socialize with club clients, not even for a benign stroll like this. If Laureen saw us I’d be fired on the spot.

Placing a hand on the small of my back, he led me across the road, then down the path along the south side next to the hydrangeas, my earlier route. He knew exactly how to get to the beach from there, and he seemed aware we’d be able to walk in near-total darkness all the way to the edge of the marina. We stood at what he intuited was my drop-off point, the foot of the long dock dividing Laureen’s property from the country club’s, which, by day, had the ambience of a smallhospital where wealthy people might go to convalesce. But at night, from this vantage point, the club seemed a warmer and more intimate place, relaxed and cozy.

Max checked his watch, then looked around like a spy. “Okay, run. I’ll wait right here.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I insisted. “I can get home by myself.”

“Regrettably, my dear, because I was raised by a chauvin¬ist pig and her sexist husband, I do have to walk you home.”

His joke made me laugh, but I still had to make a choice: either introduce him to the shabby chaos of staff housing or tell him I was planning to sleep on a cot at work because of it.

“The thing is, there’s a party going on at my place and I really need to sleep. So I’m staying out here tonight.”

He looked out at the clapboard office at the end of the pier.

“I mean, does it lock? Is there even a blanket?”

“Yes, and a pretty good pillow,” I said. “So it’s not a big deal. And what a view!” My arm swept across the dark beach.

“It’s better than the one I have.”

“So no need to feel sorry for me, Mr. Winter. Besides, I have an early morning, what with this last-minute demand¬ing client who wants his boat to be ready to go first thing.”

“Wow. What an asshole.”

“He’s a senator or something,” I said, rolling my eyes. “But only a state senator.”

He laughed a little too loud.

“Mr. Winter, keep it down,” I whispered, craning around for witnesses.

“Please, call me Max,” he said. “Nothing else.”

“Max.”
He tilted his head, his focus on a point between my eyes, just above my brow. It felt intimate, this look, like a prelude to something, not quite a kiss, but something that overwhelmed me even unexpressed.

“Well, good night, then,” I said.

“Yes, of course, good night. But I’m going to wait right here to make sure you reach the office safely. I’ll leave when you flick the light on and off. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“And I will see you again in roughly nine hours.” He checked his watch. “Actually eight. Even better.”

I nodded by way of saying good night again and turned to leave.

Making my way down to the end of the pier, I was aware of his eyes on me. I willed myself not to turn around to check whether he maintained his vigil, worried he’d mistake it for coyness, an invitation. It was only when I unlocked the office, flicked the light switch on and off, then collapsed on the cot that I fully exhaled, kicking my legs a couple times like a schoolgirl with a crush.

Of course I didn’t sleep. There was, in fact, no blanket, and the pillow was the orthopedic cushion from the office chair, but I didn’t care. I welcomed the adrenaline rush that accompanied these brand-new feelings. Maybe Laureen was right. Maybe I was, indeed, a dark surprise.


“The Winters” was published yesterday by Penguin and more details are here.

Until next time

Jo

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