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       Sea Change, p.1

           Karen White
Sea Change



  The Beach Trees

  “[White] describes the land and location of the story in marvelous detail….[This is what] makes White one of the best new writers on the scene today.”

  —The Huffington Post

  “The Beach Trees has beach in the title and has an ocean setting, but it’s more than just a ‘beach read.’ It’s a worthy novel to read any time of year—anytime you wonder if it’s possible to start anew, regardless of the past.”

  —The Herald-Sun (NC)

  “Tightly plotted…a tangled history as steamy and full of mysteries as the Big Easy itself.”

  —The Atlanta Journal Constitution

  “Sense of place is high on the list of things that White does exceedingly well…. But place is more than mere setting in this novel; it is also a character, as tenacious and resilient as the people who call this region home….I give this book my highest recommendation.”

  —The Romance Dish

  “White has once again written a novel that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming, and is filled with all the gentle nuances of the graceful but steadfast South…. Readers will find White’s prose an uplifting experience as she is a truly gifted storyteller.”

  —Las Vegas Review-Journal

  “White’s ability to write a book that keeps you hankering for more is her strong suit. The Beach Trees is a great book about the power of family and connection that you won’t soon forget.”

  —South Charlotte Weekly

  Written by today’s freshest new talents and selected by New American Library, NAL Accent novels touch on subjects close to a woman’s heart, from friendship to family to finding our place in the world. The Conversation Guides included in each book are intended to enrich the individual reading experience, as well as encourage us to explore these topics together—because books, and life, are meant for sharing.

  Visit us online at

  “White…weaves together themes of Southern culture, the powerful bond of family, and the courage to rebuild in the face of destruction to create an incredibly moving story her dedicated fans are sure to embrace.”

  —Moultrie News (SC)

  “White’s ability to showcase her characters’ flaws and strengths is one of the best in the genre.”

  —Romantic Times (4 stars)

  “Expertly written, White’s emotionally tender story of intrigue, love, and modern-day natural disasters sets her apart as the ultimate voice of women’s fiction.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  The Girl on Legare Street

  “Karen White delivers the thrills of perilous romance and the chills of ghostly suspense, all presented with Southern wit and charm.”

  —New York Times bestselling author Kerrelyn Sparks

  “If you have ever been fascinated by things that go bump in the night, then this is a bonus book for you…will have her faithful fans gasping.”

  —The Huffington Post

  “In The Girl on Legare Street, Karen embraces Charleston’s mystical lore, its history, its architecture, its ambiance, and its ghosts.”

  —Lowcountry Weekly (SC)

  “Elements of history, romance, and humor. I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next.”


  “Beautifully written with interesting, intelligent characters and a touch of the paranormal. The story is dark, [and] ofttimes scary.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  The House on Tradd Street

  “Engaging…a fun and satisfying read, this series kickoff should hook a wide audience.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “The House on Tradd Street has it all, mystery, romance, and the paranormal including ghosts with quirky personalities.”


  “White delivers funny characters, a solid plot, and an interesting twist in this novel about the South and its antebellum history.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Has all the elements that have made Karen White’s books fan favorites: a Southern setting, a deeply emotional tale, and engaging characters.”

  —A Romance Review

  “If you enjoy ghost stories with some mystery thrown into the mix, you are going to love this one…a wonderful, mysterious, and ghostly tale.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  “An extremely talented and colorful writer with tons of imagination.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  The Memory of Water

  “Beautifully written and as lyrical as the tides. The Memory of Water speaks directly to the heart and will linger in yours long after you’ve read the final page. I loved this book!”

  — Susan Crandall, author of Pitch Black

  “Karen White delivers a powerfully emotional blend of family secrets, Lowcountry lore, and love in The Memory of Water—who could ask for more?”

  —Barbara Bretton, author of Spells & Stitches

  Learning to Breathe

  “White creates a heartfelt story full of vibrant characters and emotion that leaves the reader satisfied yet hungry for more from this talented author.”


  “You savor every single word…a perfect 10.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  Pieces of the Heart

  “Heartwarming and intense…a tale that resonates with the meaning of unconditional love.”

  —Romantic Times (4 stars)

  “A terrific, insightful character study.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  The Color of Light

  “A story as rich as a coastal summer…a great love story.”

  —New York Times bestselling author Deborah Smith

  “As lush as the Lowcountry…unexpected and magical.”

  —Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Coming Up for Air

  New American Library Titles

  by Karen White

  The Beach Trees

  Falling Home

  On Folly Beach

  The Lost Hours

  The Memory of Water

  Pieces of the Heart

  Learning to Breathe

  The Color of Light

  The Tradd Street Series

  The Strangers on Montagu Street

  The Girl on Legare Street

  The House on Tradd Street

  Sea Change



  Published by New American Library, a division of

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

  New York, New York 10014, USA

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,

  Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,

  Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,

  Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)

  Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,

  New Delhi - 110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632,

  New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)

  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,

  Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:

  80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Published by New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  First New American Library Printing, June 2012

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4
3 2 1

  Copyright © Harley House Books, LLC, 2012

  Conversation Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2012

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.



  White, Karen.

  Sea change/Karen White.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-58666-2

  1. Family secrets—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3623.H5776S43 2012

  813’.6—dc23 2012004570

  Set in Bembo Book MT, Regular

  Designed by Alissa Amell

  Printed in the United States of America


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.



  To my precious Meghan.

  I’m so proud to be your mother.


  Despite all the hours spent alone in my chair with my laptop, writing is never a completely solitary experience. Every book I’ve written has depended so much on the generosity of others willing to share their knowledge with me, and Sea Change is no exception.

  My undying gratitude to Diane Wise, RN, MSN, CNM, a good friend and excellent source of information on all things related to pregnancy and childbirth. This is the third book in which her expertise has proved invaluable to me—please never retire!

  Thank you to the lovely residents of St. Simons Island for your always warm welcome, especially Mary Jane Reed of the excellent independent bookstore GJ Ford Bookshop, Tommye Baxter Cashin, and Susan Kinnamon-Brock, who graciously agreed to read the manuscript before publication.

  As always, thank you to the usual suspects—Wendy Wax, Susan Crandall, Tim, Meghan, and Connor. Thank you for your patience and love, and for always knowing when I need a swift kick of reality.

  Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.


  Sea Change

  Table of Contents


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five


  About the Author





  Storms bring the detritus of other people’s lives into our own, a reminder that we are not alone, and of how truly insignificant we are. The indiscriminating waves had brutalized the shore, tossing pieces of splintered timber, an intact china teacup, and a gentleman’s watch—still with its cover and chain—onto my beloved beach, each coming to rest as if placed gently in the sand as a shopkeeper would display his wares. As I rubbed my thumb over the smooth lip of the china cup, I thought of how someone’s loss had become my gain, of how the tide would roll in and out again as if nothing had changed, and how sometimes the separation between endings and beginnings is so small that they seem to run together like the ocean’s waves.

  A pile of timber, remains of either a house or a ship, huddled like a frightened child, cradling a glint of metal in its wooden arms. I hesitated only a moment before sticking my hand into the opening created by two boards, my fingers touching something hard, small, and cold. I held up my find to the murky sun to see a wide gold wedding band, its edges smoothed with wear, an inscription inside mostly worn away. I squinted my eyes to see better, twisting the band between the pads of my fingers, managing to discern only a single word. Forever.

  I held the ring tightly in my palm, wondering to whom the ring had belonged, and what journey had brought it to me. It was an omen, I thought, my own wedding to be in three days, if Geoffrey could spare the time from salvaging what the storm had spared of his cotton crop. I wasn’t his first choice, but he was mine now, and I felt linked to the unknown owner of the ring with the single word. Forever.

  I stared up at the sun and its valiant attempts to break apart the clouds. I knew it would win; the brightest days always followed the worst storms. This one had been a bad one, bad enough to have overtaken Broughton Island, killing every soul including baby Margaret, whom I had helped bring into this world only one week ago. I wondered why she had been allowed into the world for such a brief time, whether the birthing pains her mother had suffered justified such a brief existence. Or whether any lessons had been learned in a brief span of seven days. I did not understand it. As a midwife, I accepted it, but I would never understand it.

  Two black skimmers arced down from the milky sky, so close to the waves it seemed they might be swept under as they searched for their supper. The birds were back. They always came back after a storm, but for the first silent days one would always wonder. Like the tides they returned to the place from whence they came, a constant to those of us who remained.

  I watched the pair for a little longer as they skimmed and swooped, their barking yips loud on the empty beach. Then I retreated over the ravaged and debris-strewn sand, and on to the house I shared with my father and younger sister. I held the ring tightly in my hand as I walked, the hard gold formed into a circle, the shape’s infinite line recalling beginnings and endings, and how sometimes it was impossible to distinguish between the two.




  APRIL 2011

  I stood outside my parents’ house feeling the heat from the black asphalt through my leather flats. My mother’s impatiens bloomed in the clay planters that flanked the front door of the ranch-style house I’d called home for most of my thirty-four years. Even the heat wouldn’t dare defy my mother by making her flowers wilt; Gloria Whalen ruled her garden as she’d ruled her five children, and disobeying her was as much of a rarity as a January snow in Georgia.

  A bead of sweat trickled between my shoulder blades as the heat beat down on me and my new husband as if it were the middle of July instead of just spring. I tried to explain to Matthew that summers were like that in west Georgia, so sudden that spring was like a cool evening sandwiched between winter and high summer. Matthew was from the coast, so I figured he already knew a thing or two about heat and humidity.

  Matthew held my hand as I faced my father and four brothers, my siblings
ranging in age from fifty-five down to forty-five, assembled as either a farewell party or as a show of force to the stranger I’d chosen to marry. Even now, standing in a suburban setting, they could still be identified as the funeral directors they were. Whalen and Sons had been in my father’s family for three generations, and the serious, solicitous expressions on all five faces were more genetic now than learned.

  Their assorted wives and my various nieces and nephews remained inside by unspoken assent, perhaps gathered in sympathy around my mother’s bedroom door, a door she’d refused to open since I’d arrived that morning. I’d called the day before, the day of my wedding, to give her time to adjust. Even Phil Autry, my fiancé of four years, seemed to have taken the news better than she had.

  I let go of Matthew’s hand and hugged my father. He held on tightly for a moment, then released me to hold me at arm’s distance. I was used to this. Despite my being the youngest and the only girl, and being reassured that I’d been what my parents had hoped and prayed for, they’d always seemed too wary of their good fortune to hold me tightly. It was as if by their holding me close, the vagaries of fortune that had given me to them would notice and take me away.

  “Can I try to talk with Mama?” I didn’t really want to. I hated to leave with things unspoken between us, but I didn’t want her to think that I was desperate for her approval. I’d outgrown that need along with Clearasil and braces.

  My father shook his head. “Give her time, Ava. She’ll come around. It’s just been a shock. To all of us.” He paused and settled a stern look on me. “You know how Gloria doesn’t like surprises. She’ll come around.”

  I hoped my expression conveyed my doubt about the sincerity of his words. My mother had been vaguely upset when I told her I was married. Although she didn’t admit it, I knew she’d always planned a large wedding in her garden with all the frills for her only daughter. It wasn’t until I told her I was moving to St. Simons that she’d had her meltdown. She had four daughters-in-law who lived within spitting distance, all more than eager and willing to cater to my mother and treat her like the matriarch she was accustomed to being. I’d grown up looking out my bedroom window, able to see three of my brothers’ houses, all the same except for different-colored doors, with neat grass and identical black sedans in the driveways. It had always made me wonder which house on this street would be mine one day. The thought gave me nightmares—even more nightmares than I’d had after my oldest brother, Stephen, had taken me to the embalming room. It wasn’t the cold reality of death that had scared me; only the thought of not living the life I had.

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