Excerpt from Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Only the Beautiful

by Susan Meissner

Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner X
Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner
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    Apr 2023, 400 pages


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Jordan Lynch
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Sonoma County, California

February 1939

The chardonnay vines outside my open window are silent, but I still see in my mind the bursts of teal and lavender their summer rustlings always called to my mind. That sound had been my favorite, those colors the prettiest. The leafless stocks with their arms outstretched on cordon after cordon look like lines of dancers waiting for the music to start—­for spring to set their performance in motion. Looking at them, I feel a deep sadness. It might be a long time before I see again these vines that had for so long been under my father's care, or hear their leaves whisper, spilling the colors in my mind that belong to them alone.

Perhaps I will never see this vineyard again.

The Calverts won't welcome a future visit from me. Celine Calvert has already made it clear that after today she is done with me. Done.

For a moment the words if only flutter in my head, but I lean forward and pull the window shut. What is to be gained by wishing I could turn back the clock? If I had that power, I would have done it before now. I wouldn't even be living with the Calverts if I had the ability to spin time backward. I'd still be living in the vinedresser's cottage down the hill with my parents and little brother.

The doorbell rings from beyond the bedroom. Shards of heather gray prick at the edges of my mind. I hear Celine cross the entry to open the front door and invite the visitor inside.

Mrs. Grissom is here to take me away.

It's almost a year to the day since I first met Mrs. Grissom on the afternoon my whole world changed, just like it is changing now. On that day my father's truck got stuck on the railroad tracks outside Santa Rosa. In one blinding instant, he and my little brother, Tommy, were snatched away from this life. The next, I was sitting in a ghostly white hospital room for the handful of minutes before my mother slipped away to join them.

"Rosie . . ." Momma's voice was threaded with the faintest colors of heaven as I sat in a cold metal chair next to her bed. She lay in a sea of bandages seeping crimson.

"I'm here." I laid my hand across her bruised fingers.

"I am so . . . sorry . . ." Her voice sounded different from what I'd always known. Low and weak.

Tears, hot and salty, slid down my cheeks and into my mouth.

"Promise me . . . Be happy . . . for me . . . and be . . . careful." She nodded as if to remind me of a past agreement between us. "Be careful, Rosanne. Promise . . ."

"Momma, don't."

"Promise . . ."

A sob clawed its way out of my mouth as I spit out the words: "I promise."

"Love . . . you . . ."

I don't know if she heard me say I loved her, too.

The moments after she left me seemed at the time made of the thinnest of tissue paper. I remember being allowed to sit with Momma after she'd passed. I remember being told my father and brother had been taken to the morgue straight from the crash and that I'd have to say good-­bye to them in my heart.

And then I was meeting Mrs. Grissom, a woman from the county who'd arrived at the hospital sometime during that stretch of shapeless minutes. She'd asked Celine—­who had brought me to the hospital—­if she knew of any next of kin who could take me in. There weren't any. She'd asked if Celine would please consider speaking to Mr. Calvert about the two of them taking on the role of legal guardians for me since I'd lived the entirety of my sixteen years on their property anyway. The county had a terrible shortage of foster families willing to take older children, and the nearest orphanages were full. It wouldn't have to be for forever. Just for the time being. And they had already raised their son, Wilson, so they had experience.

Excerpted from Only the Beautiful by Susan Meissner. Copyright © 2023 by Susan Meissner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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