Starry Night

by Debbie Macomber

Book Details

Publisher: Ballantine Books
First Published: October 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover, e-Book, Audiobook
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ISBN13: 9780345528933
Pages: 336
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About the Book

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.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

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.

“How’s  that?”

“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.”

“What?”

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.

 

Reading Guide

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?