by Debbie Macomber
First Published: October 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover, e-Book, Audiobook, Large Print
About the Book
Paperback on Sale October 14, 2014
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
’Tis the season for romance, second chances, and Christmas cheer with this new novel from Debbie Macomber.
Carrie Slayton, a big-city society-page columnist, longs to write more serious news stories. So her editor hands her a challenge: She can cover any topic she wants, but only if she first scores the paper an interview with Finn Dalton, the notoriously reclusive author.
Living in the remote Alaskan wilderness, Finn has written a megabestselling memoir about surviving in the wild. But he stubbornly declines to speak to anyone in the press, and no one even knows exactly where he lives.
Digging deep into Finn’s past, Carrie develops a theory on his whereabouts. It is the holidays, but her career is at stake, so she forsakes her family celebrations and flies out to snowy Alaska. When she finally finds Finn, she discovers a man both more charismatic and more stubborn than she even expected. And soon she is torn between pursuing the story of a lifetime and following her heart.
Filled with all the comforts and joys of Christmastime, Starry Night is a delightful novel of finding happiness in the most surprising places.
Carrie Slayton’s feet were killing her. She’d spent the last ninety minutes standing in two-inch heels at a charity art auction in a swanky studio in downtown Chicago. She couldn’t understand how shoes that matched her black dress so beautifully could be this painful. Vanity, thy name is fashion.
“My name is spelled with two l’s,” the middle-aged woman, dripping in diamonds, reminded her. “That’s Michelle, with two l’s.”
“Got it.” Carrie underlined the correct spelling. Michelle, spelled with two l’s, had just spent thirty thousand dollars for the most ridiculous piece of art Carrie had ever seen. True, it was for a good cause, but now she seemed to feel her name needed to be mentioned in the news article Carrie would write for the next edition of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“It would be wonderful to have my husband’s and my picture to go along with your article,” Michelle added. “Per- haps you should take it in front of the painting.”
Carrie looked over her shoulder at Harry, the photogra- pher who’d accompanied her from the newspaper.
“Of course, Lloyd and I would want approval of any photograph you choose to publish.”
“Of course,” Carrie said, doing her best to keep a smile in place. If she didn’t get out of these shoes soon, her feet would be permanently deformed. She wiggled her toes, hop- ing for relief. Instead they ached even worse.
Harry, bless his heart, dutifully stepped forward, camera in hand, and flashed two or three photos of the couple posing in front of what might have been a red flower or a painting of a squished tomato or possibly the aftermath of a murder scene. Carrie had yet to decide which. The title of the work didn’t offer a clue. Red. Yes, the painting was in that color, but exactly what it depicted remained a mystery. “Isn’t it stunning?” Michelle asked when she noticed Carrie staring at the canvas.
Carrie tilted her head one way and then another, looking for some clue as to its possible significance. Then, noticing that Michelle, spelled with two l’s, was waiting for her re- sponse, she said, “Oh yes, it’s amazing.”
Harry didn’t bother to hide his smile, knowing that all Carrie really wanted was to get out of those ridiculous shoes.
And to think she’d gotten her journalism degree for this!
Carrie knew she was fortunate to have a job with such a prestigious newspaper. A professor had pulled a favor and gotten her the interview. Carrie had been stunned when she’d been hired. Surprised and overjoyed.
Two years later, she was less so. Her assignment was the society page. When she was hired, she’d been told that eventually she’d be able to write meatier pieces, do interviews and human-interest stories. To this point, it hadn’t hap- pened. Carrie felt trapped, frustrated, and underappreciated. She felt her talent was being wasted.
To make matters worse, her entire family lived in the Pacific Northwest. Carrie had left everything she knew and loved behind, including Steve, her college sweetheart. He’d married less than six months after she took the position in Chicago. It hadn’t taken him long, she noted. The worst part was that Carrie was far too busy reporting on social events to have time for much of a social life herself. She dated occasionally, but she hadn’t found anyone who made her heart race. Dave Schneider, the man she’d been seeing most recently, was more of a friend than a love interest. She supposed after Steve she was a bit hesitant to get involved again. Maybe once she left the Sun-Times and moved home to write for a newspaper in the Seattle area, like she planned, things would be different.
Back inside her condo, Carrie gingerly removed her shoes and sighed with relief.
This was it. She was done. First thing in the morning she would hand in her two-week notice, sublet her condo, and take her chances in the job market in Seattle. If the managing editor, Nash Jorgen, refused to give her the opportunity to prove she had what it took, then why stay? She refused to be pigeonholed.
That decided, Carrie limped into her bedroom and fell into bed, tired, frustrated, and determined to make a change.
“You can’t be serious,” argued Sophie Peterson, her closest friend at the newspaper, when Carrie told her of her deci- sion.
“I’m totally serious,” she said as she hobbled to her desk. “What’s wrong with your foot?” Sophie asked, tagging behind her.
“Stupidity. This gorgeous pair of shoes was only avail- able in a half-size smaller than what I normally wear. They were so perfect, and they were buy one pair, get the second half off. I couldn’t resist, but now I’m paying for it.”
“Carrie, don’t do it.”
“Don’t worry, I have no intention of wearing those heels again. I tossed them in a bag for charity.”
“Not that,” Sophie argued. “Don’t hand in your notice! You’re needed here.”
“Not as a reporter,” Carrie assured her, dumping her purse in her bottom drawer and shucking off her thick winter coat. “Sorry, my mind is made up. You and I both know Nash will never give me a decent assignment.”
“You’re your own worst enemy.” Sophie leaned against the wall that separated their two cubicles and crossed her arms and ankles.
“Well, for one thing, you’re the perfect fit for the society page. You’re drop-dead gorgeous, tall and thin. It doesn’t hurt that you look fabulous in a slinky black dress and a pair of spike heels. Even if I could get my hair to grow that thick, long, and curly without perming the living daylights out of it, Nash would never consider someone like me. It isn’t any wonder he wants you on the job. Give the guy a little credit, will you? He knows what he’s doing.”
“If looks are the only criteria—”
“There’s more,” Sophie said, cutting her off. “You’re great with people. All you need to do is bat those baby blues at them and strangers open up to you. It’s a gift, I tell you, a real gift.”
“Okay, I’m friendly, but this isn’t the kind of writing I want to do. I’ve got my heart set on being a reporter, a real reporter, writing about real news and interesting people.” In the beginning, Carrie had been flattered by the way people went out of their way to introduce themselves at the events she covered. It didn’t take long for her to recognize that they were looking for her to mention their names in print. What shocked her was the extent people were willing to go in order to be noticed. She was quickly becoming jaded, and this bothered her even more than Nash’s lack of faith in her abilities.
The holidays were the worst, and while it was only early November, the frenzy had already started. The list of parties Nash assigned her to attend was already mammoth. Halloween decorations were still arranged around her desk, and already there was a Christmas tree in the display window of the department store across the street.
Determined to stick with her plan, Carrie went directly into Nash Jorgen’s office.
A veteran newsman, Nash glanced up from his computer screen and glared in her direction. He seemed to sense this wasn’t a social visit. His shoulders rose with a weary sigh. “What now?” he growled.
“I’m handing in my two-week notice.” If she’d been looking for a response, she would have been disappointed.
He blinked a couple of times, ran his hand down the side of his day-old beard, and asked, “Any particular reason?”
“I hoped to prove I can be a darn good reporter, but I’ll never get the chance writing copy for society weddings. You said when you hired me that you’d give me a shot at reporting real news.”
“I don’t remember what I said. What’s wrong with what you’re writing now? You’re good.”
“It isn’t what I want to write.”
“So? You make the best of it, pay your dues, and in time you’ll get the break you’re looking for.”
Carrie was tired of waiting. She straightened her shoulders, her resolve tightening. “I know I’m fortunate to work for the Sun-Times. It was a real coup to get this position, but this isn’t the career I wanted. You give me no choice.” She set her letter of resignation on his desk.
This got Nash’s attention. He swiveled his chair around to look at her once more. His frown darkened, and he ran his hand through his thinning hair. “You really are serious, aren’t you?”
A chill went down her spine. Nash was actually listening. “Yes, I’m serious.”
“Fine, then.” He reached across his desk and picked up a hardcover book and handed it to her. “Find Finn Dalton, get an interview, and write me a story I can print.”
She grabbed hold of the book, not recognizing the author’s name. “And if I do?”
“Well, first, there’s a snowball’s chance of you even locat- ing him. Every reporter in the universe is dying to interview him. But if by chance you get lucky and he’s willing to talk and we print the piece, then I’ll take you off the society page.”
Carrie wavered. He seemed to be offering her a chance, as impossible as it might seem. Now it was up to her to prove herself. She dared not show him how excited she was. “I’ll find him.”
He snickered as though he found her confidence amusing, and then sobered. He regarded her with the same dark frown he had earlier before a slow, easy smile slid over his harsh features. “I just bet you will. Now, listen up—if you get an interview with Finn Dalton, you can have any assignment you want.”
Taking small steps, Carrie backed out of the office. She pointed at Nash. “I’m holding you to your word.”
The managing editor was already back to reading his computer screen and didn’t appear to have heard her. It didn’t matter; she’d heard him, and he’d come across loud and clear.
Once she was out of his office, she examined the book to see the author photo, but couldn’t find one, not even on the inside back flap.
Walking back to her cubicle, she paused at Sophie’s instead. “You ever heard of Finn Dalton?”
Sophie’s eyebrows lifted on her round face. “You mean you haven’t?”
“No.” The book title wasn’t much help. Alone. That told her next to nothing. The jacket revealed a snow-covered landscape with a scattering of stubby trees.
Sophie shook her head. “Have you been living under a rock?”
“No. Who is this guy?”
“He’s a survivalist who lives alone someplace in the Alaskan wilderness.”
“Oh.” That was a bit daunting, but Carrie considered herself up to the challenge. She’d been born and raised in Washington state. She’d hoped to join her family for Thanksgiving, but if she needed to use her vacation time to find Finn Dalton, then she was willing to.
“His book has been on the bestseller lists for nearly seven months, mostly at the number-one position.”
Carrie was impressed. “What does he write about?” “He’s the kind of guy you can set loose in the wild with a pack of chewing gum, a pocketknife, and a handkerchief, and by the time you find him he’s built a shelter and a canoe. From what I’ve read, his stories about Alaskan life and survival in the tundra would kink your hair. Well, not that yours needs curling.”
This was Sophie’s idea of a joke. Carrie’s wild dark brown curls were the bane of her existence. She tamed them as best she could, but she often found herself the brunt of jokes over her out-of-control hair.
“Nash says he doesn’t give interviews.”
“Not just doesn’t give interviews—this guy is like a ghost. No one has ever met or even talked to him.”
“Surely his publisher or his editor—”
“No,” Sophie said, cutting her off. “Everything has been done by computer.”
“Well, then . . .”
“All anyone knows is that he lives near an Alaskan lake somewhere in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle.”
“How is it you know so much about this guy?”
“I don’t, and that’s just it. No one does. The press has gone wild looking for him. Plenty of reporters have tried to track him down, without success. No one knows how to find him, and Finn Dalton doesn’t want to be found. He should have called his book Leave Me Alone. Someone could pass him on the street and never know it was him, and from everything I’ve read, that’s exactly how he likes it.”
Intrigued, Carrie flipped through the pages of the book. “Nash said I could have any assignment I wanted if I got an interview from Finn Dalton.”
“Of course he did. Nash has been around long enough to know he’s got you in a no-win situation.”
Carrie glanced up. “I don’t care. I’m going to try.”
“I hate to be a killjoy here, but Carrie, no way will you find this guy. Better reporters than either of us have tried and failed. Every newspaper, magazine, and media outlet is looking to dig up information about him, without success. Finn Dalton doesn’t want to be found.”
That might be the case, but Carrie refused to give up without even trying. This was far too important to drop just because it was a long shot. “I’m desperate, Sophie.” And really, that said it all. If she was going to have a real career in journalism, she had to find Finn Dalton. Her entire future with the Chicago Sun-Times hung in the balance.
“I admire your determination,” Sophie murmured, “but I’m afraid you’re going to hit one dead end after another.” “That might be the case.” Carrie was willing to give her friend that finding Finn Dalton wouldn’t be easy. “But I refuse to quit without trying.” She knew Sophie didn’t mean to be negative. “I want this chance, and if it means tracking Finn Dalton into some godforsaken tundra, then I will put on my big-girl shoes and go for it.” But not the heels she’d worn last night, that was for sure.
The first thing Carrie did in her search for Finn Dalton was read the book. Not once, but three times. She underlined everything that gave her a single hint as to his identity.
For two days she skipped lunch, spending her time on her computer, seeking any bit of information she could find that would help her locate Finn Dalton. She went from one search engine to another.
“How’s it going?” Sophie asked as they passed each other on their way out the door a couple of days later.
“Good.” Through her fact-finding mission, Carrie was getting a picture of the man who had written this amazing book. After a third read she almost felt as if she knew him. He hadn’t always been a recluse. He’d been raised in Alaska and had learned to live off the land from his father, whom he apparently idolize. One thing was certain, he seemed to have no use for women. In the entire book, not once did he mention his mother or any female influence. It was more of what he didn’t say that caught Carrie’s attention.
“Any luck?” Sophie asked, breaking into her thoughts. “Not yet.” She hesitated. “Have you read the book?” Sophie nodded. “Sure. Nearly everyone has.”
“Did you notice he has nothing to say about the opposite sex? I have the feeling he must distrust all women.”
Sophie shrugged as if she hadn’t paid much notice, but then she hadn’t been reading between the lines the way Carrie had.
“How old do you think he is?” Sophie asked.
“I can’t really say.” Finn was an excellent writer and storyteller. But the stories he relayed could have happened at nearly any point in the last several decades. Current events were skipped over completely.
Sophie crossed her arms and looked thoughtful. “My guess is that he’s fifty or so, to have survived on his own all these years.”
Speculation wouldn’t do Carrie any good. “Tell you what. When I find out, you’ll be the first to know. Deal?”
Sophie smiled and nodded. “Deal.”
That night, as Carrie readied for her latest charity event, her cell rang. It was her mother in Seattle. They spoke at least two or three times a week. Carrie was tight with her family and missed them dreadfully.
“Hi, Mom,” she answered, pressing her cell to her ear while she attempted to place a pearl earring into her earlobe.
“Hi, sweetheart. Are you busy?”
“I’ve got a couple of minutes.” She switched ears and stabbed the second pearl into place before tucking her feet into a comfortable pair of high heels. She was scheduled to meet Harry in thirty minutes.
“Dad and I are so excited to see you at Thanksgiving.” “Yes, about that.” Carrie grabbed her purse and tucked it under her arm while holding on to her phone. “Mom, I hate to tell you this, but there’s a possibility I might not make it home for Thanksgiving.”
The disappointment in her mother’s voice was painful to hear. “Have you ever heard of Finn Dalton?”
“Oh sure. Your father loved his book so much he bought two additional copies. I read it, too. Now, that’s a man.” “I want to interview him.”
“Really. From what I understand, he doesn’t give interviews.”
“Yeah, that’s what I heard, too.” “Does he ever come to Chicago?”
“Doubtful,” Carrie murmured. If only it would be that easy and he would come to her. Well, that wasn’t likely. Then again, something Sophie said had stayed in her mind. She could walk past him on the sidewalk and never know it was him. “I’ll need to track Finn Dalton down, but I keep running into dead ends the same as everyone else.” She mentioned her online search, the calls to Alaska, and the number of phones slammed in her ear. No one had been willing to talk to her. “I have to look at this from a different angle. Have you got any ideas?”
“From what your father said, Finn Dalton isn’t a man who would enjoy being written up on the society page.”
“That’s just it, Mom. This would be an investigative piece. My editor told me I could have my pick of assignments if I was able to get this interview. It’s important, enough so for me to take the vacation days I planned to use for Thanksgiving to find him.”
“Oh Carrie, I hate the thought of you doing that.”
“I know, I hate it, too, but it’s necessary.” Her mother was well aware of Carrie’s feelings toward her current work situation.
“Do you really think you can find Finn Dalton?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know if I can or not, but if I don’t, it won’t be from lack of trying.”
“I’ve always admired your tenacious spirit. Can I tell your father you’re going to write a piece on the man who wrote Alone?”
“Ah . . . not yet. I have to locate Dalton first.”
“What have you discovered so far?” Her mother was nothing if not practical. Carrie could visualize her mother pushing up her shirtsleeves, ready to tackle this project with Carrie.
“Do you know where he was born?”
“No. I assumed it must have been Alaska, but there’s no record of his birth there. I’ve started going through the birth records of other states, starting with the northwest, but haven’t found his name yet.” At this rate, it would be the turn of the next century before she found the right Dalton.
“What about his schooling? Graduation records?”
“I tried that, but he’s not listed anywhere. Maybe he was home-schooled.”
“You’re probably right,” her mother said, sounding proud that Carrie had reasoned it out. “One of his stories mentions his father mailing away for books, remember? Those were textbooks, I bet.”
Carrie had made the same assumption.
“Finn is a rather unusual name, isn’t it?” her mother continued softly, as though she was thinking out loud.
“And of course it could be a pseudonym, but his publisher claims the name is as real as the man.” Nothing seemed the norm when it came to Finn Dalton.
“You know, work on the Alaskan pipeline was very big about the time your father and I got married. That was a huge project, and it brought a lot of men to Alaska; many of them stayed. His father might have been one of them.”
“Yes.” But that was a stab in the dark. She’d already spent hours going over every type of record she could think to research from Alaska, to no avail. Carrie glanced at the time, even though this talk was helping her generate ideas of where to continue looking for the mysterious Mr. Dalton.
“From what I remember, a lot of men left their wives and families for the attraction of big money.”
“I could start looking at the employment records for the pipeline from that time period and see what I might find,” Carrie said.
“That’s a terrific idea. And listen, when you find Finn Dalton, make sure your dad gets a chance to chat with him, would you?”
“I can’t promise that.” First she’d need to convince Finn Dalton to talk to her! “Just do your best.”
“I’ll do what I can.” “Bye, sweetie.”
“Bye, Mom.” Carrie ended the call and dumped her cell in her small bag. After a quick glance in the hallway mirror, she headed out the door to what she hoped would be one of the very last social events she would ever need to cover.
1. Can celebrities really expect to maintain their privacy? Why or why not? In what ways is Finn hypocritical about the value of privacy?
2. When Carrie tells Finn what she learned from his mother, Finn tells Carrie that she’s only heard one side of the story. What are some times in your life that you made conclusions based on one side of a story? What happened when you got both perspectives?
3. Finn says he wrote his book to help combat the obesity epidemic and get people more interested in the outdoors. How might his mission play out in the real world? How can we get people—especially children—to change their sedentary ways?
4. Thanksgiving reminds Finn of the days when his parents were happy together. These happy memories frustrate him and threaten to undermine his rationalization for not keeping touch with his mother. Why is it that happy memories don’t always make us feel so happy?
5. Sawyer agrees to help Carrie because it’s time Finn “broadened his horizons.” What does he mean by that?
6. In what ways might their surroundings have contributed to Finn and Carrie falling for one another so quickly?
7. Several characters in the book maintain holiday traditions. Finn displays his mother’s Nativity scene. Carrie’s family hosts a Christmas buffet. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Where did they originate? How have they evolved over the years?
8. Carrie receives two unusual gifts that, to a casual observer, might not seem like something to elicit much gratefulness. What are some gifts that you’ve received that might have seemed odd to others but meant the world to you?
9. Finn tells Carrie, while they’re sitting across the table from one another, that he’s fighting the urge to text her. That is, after all, the way they’re used to communicating. How have texting and email changed dating and the way relationships unfold? Are the changes positive or negative? Why?
10. Finn’s parents split up because his father couldn’t compromise. How might his parents have been able to stay together? What is the role of compromise in marriage? What are some of the compromises Finn and Carrie have made and will have to make?
11. Finn resents that a woman from his past played games with his heart. Yet he devises a game-like test for Carrie to see if he can trust her. How would you react if you were in Carrie’s shoes? Would you publish the article? Why or why not?