Grieving the loss of her husband and child, she just wants to be left alone…
On the brink of severe depression, Kathryn Tribble abandons her New York editing career and seeks sanctuary in rural Georgia where she grew up. But one of her major clients, celebrity author Joe Butler, pursues her, insisting she edit his first fiction novel. Kathryn reluctantly agrees, but is devastated when the manuscript seems to be mined from her very own misfortune. Instead of finding the peace she longs for, Kathryn is once again pushed to the brink.
Hiding a sham marriage and caring for his seriously ill daughter, he wants much more from her than editing skills…
Descending from Hollywood royalty, Joe’s first book was a biography of his family, but Kathryn recognized his rare talent and challenged him to write fiction. Doing so, he transforms the raw courage he sees, in her efforts to reclaim her life, into what promises to be a blockbuster heroine. His hard work backfires when Kathryn refuses to have anything more to do with the book—or with him. Heartsick at the pain he’s unintentionally caused her, Joe abandons the project. However, his megastar cousin, Colton Bennett, is determined to make it into a movie. Even worse, Colton becomes infatuated with Kathryn, convinced that, in his world of make believe, he can anchor himself to reality by making her his wife.
Mired in grief and pain, these three troubled people face a hard choice—to walk away and risk, losing everything that matters, or to act on the heart.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Act on the Heart by Genie Smith Bernstein, Kathryn Tribble is a burned-out New York editor. Grieving the loss of her husband to the war in the Middle East and her baby to a miscarriage, she leaves her job and heads for rural Georgia to find some peace and healing. But her major client, celebrity author Joe Butler, follows her to Georgia, demanding that she edit his new novel. Since Kathryn was the one who recognized his talent and encouraged him to write fiction, she feel obligated. However, when she reads the manuscript, she is horrified. It seems to be a thinly disguised, unauthorized biography of her. Despite his obvious talent and the blockbuster potential of the novel, she refuses to have anything more to do with the book or with Joe, and begins seeing Joe’s cousin, Colton—a serious mistake for everyone concerned.
Bernstein really has a way with words. Her voice is unique and refreshing, very down to earth. Her characters are well-developed and feel very real. This is a story that will tug on your heartstrings.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Act on the Heart by Genie Smith Bernstein is a heartwarming story of a young woman who’s devastated by the recent loss of her husband to war and her unborn child through a miscarriage, and who is trying to start over by leaving her big city life with its heartbreaking memories and returning to her roots. Our heroine, Kathryn, leaves her high-profile job as a New York editor and heads for rural Georgia and a deceased relative’s small cottage, where she hopes the peace and quiet will allow her broken heart to heal. Enter our hero, Joe Butler and his movie-star cousin Colton Bennett. Joe was one of Kathryn’s clients in New York and he is determined to have Kathryn edit his new novel. Colton is just determined to have Kathryn. Period. But all she wants is to be left alone, and she is totally caught off guard when she somehow ends up in a love triangle with these two dynamic men. Somehow, her healing time in her little rural sanctuary is causing her more problems than if she had stayed in New York. Add in Colton’s psychotic fan who now sees Kathryn as her number one threat, and just about anything can happen.
The characters are both charming and realistic. You can’t help rooting for Kathryn as she tries to put her life back together after her tragic losses. Act on the Heart is about starting over and trusting once again, even though your head tells your heart it’s not worth the risk.
Deep in a Georgia Forest, 1944:
Her note had said “tree at three.” Charlie arrived early. He took out his penknife and dug away more of the bark, deepening the heart he had carved on the forest giant when he was merely a lad. A lad in love.
His coonhound heard her first and bayed in welcome. Putting away his knife, the young man felt his chest swell with anticipation. He turned, eagerly waiting for his love to step into the clearing formed by, and ruled by, their rare double-trunk oak. Cold winter sunlight glinted off the brass on the uniform she wore, tiny bolts of lightning too bright and painful for him to look upon.
Aghast, he ran to enfold her in his arms. “Why?”
“You know why,” she said, pulling away, straightening her new cap.
“Be–because of me?”
“Because of us.”
“This isn’t right.”
“It’s the only right thing to do.” She looked up into the branches of the majestic white oak, its meadow their meeting place throughout their years of innocence, and beyond. “One of us must go, and you can’t. Not with your–” She placed a hand on his chest, over his heart with the faulty valve, damage from when she’d almost lost him to rheumatic fever.
He heard the catch in her voice, but he recognized the set of her jaw, the resolve deeply embedded in her quiet brown eyes. “WAC’s is the army. Where will you go–be sent?”
“I’m not sure. England, maybe France. I asked for France. I’ve always wanted to go there.”
The weight of her words crushed him to tears. “Yes, but with me. We were going together.” He grabbed her to his chest, holding on desperately as his world dissolved. “I love you, Tildy,” he choked. “I’ll die without you.”
She took his hand and held him at arm’s length. “We have too much love, Charlie. It will ruin our family if I stay.”
Kathryn Tribble arrived at work, fighting for air and holding back tears. She bolted off the elevator on the seventieth floor and added claustrophobia to her list of ailments. With a false smile plastered on her face, she negotiated the maze of cubicles between the lobby and her office, intent on not catching the eye of anyone on the editorial staff. She’d almost drowned yesterday in the stream of happy family Memorial Day tales from Monday’s holiday. One more and she would scream.
She had promised herself she wouldn’t call home, but as soon as she safely closed her door, she dropped her briefcase on the desk, pressed speed dial, and switched on the speaker. Slumped in her chair, she closed her eyes and imagined the hollow ringing in her empty apartment–one, two, three, four–until Sam’s recorded baritone issued forth and embraced her.
“Hello, friend.” He considered everyone his friend. “Kitty and I can’t come to the phone right now.” Kitty. Sam’s nickname for her. “Leave a number, and we’ll get back to you.”
Well, he didn’t, did he? A roadside bomb in Afghanistan saw to that. Kathryn cut off the call before the jarring sound of the beep.
Nobody here named Kitty, she thought, rising to stand without purpose in the middle of her high-powered, high-rise domain. She had achieved her goal of becoming a copyeditor in a New York publishing house by the time she was thirty. Well, her thirtieth birthday, along with what should have been her baby’s birthdate had rolled past in May. Now she was facing June with nothing motivating her except a desire to burst out the door, sprint for the dreaded elevator, and never look back.
Phyllis, exuberant maven of Omni Publishing and Kathryn’s editorial assistant, barged in from the outer office. She wore a look of thunder behind her Swarovski-studded bifocals. “Oy! Colton Bennett is not showing up for this meeting either.” She snatched a file off the desk. “It’ll be his manager again, the cousin, Joe Butler.”
Kathryn snapped her work smile into place. “Well, after all, Cousin Joe is the author. No reason to expect demi-god Colton. He’ll have his own biography someday, but this one is focused on their grandparents, Hollywood royals who helped shape the movie industry. The media’s macabre interest in their tragedy never wanes.”
“True,” Phyllis said. “Colton and Joe will go to their graves known as The Bennett Orphans.”
Opening her briefcase, Kathryn pulled out galley copies of two other manuscripts she had worked on at home. “You’ve met more celebrities at Omni than you can shake a stick at, Phyl. What’s so special about Colton Bennett?”
Phyllis pressed a hand to her chest in pretense of a swoon. “He is the spitting image of his grandfather. Not only was I a card-carrying member of the William Bennett Fan Club, but Colton’s autograph would elevate my stock considerably with my granddaughters.”
“Well, what time are we expecting his wretched cousin?”
“Three o’clock. But I wouldn’t go so far as to call Joe Butler wretched. Not with those shoulders on him.”
“We’d be beautiful, too, if we lived their lives.” Kathryn repositioned the placket of her skirt, a reflex acquired since her zippers had started to travel around her shrinking waist. She sat down again and took up Joe Butler’s manuscript, fanning out the first chapter on the desk in front of her. “I’m glad you scheduled him for afternoon. I want to make one more pass through this.”
Phyllis turned to leave, but stopped at the door and glanced back. “If you’re working though lunch again, there’s a pastrami in the fridge.”
As she continued to pore over the written words, Kathryn could feel Phyllis studying her. The woman disapproved of what she called Kathryn’s “bookworm mode.”
An observation Kathryn was hard-pressed to dispute, with reading glasses perched on her nose and her brown hair dragged into a thoughtless ponytail.
Phyllis walked back across the room. “Plan on keeping up this pace forever, do you?”
Kathryn leaned back in her chair and tossed her pencil on the desk. “Zach says it’s not a good time for me to take leave.”
Phyllis snorted and her face hardened into a hawkish frown. “Our mighty leader thinks it’s a better time for you to have a nervous breakdown, does he? That helps Omni’s bottom line how?” She tapped a fuchsia nail on the desktop. “Listen, if I hadn’t taken time off when I lost my Tony on 9/11–Bellevue, here I come. And you, the double whammy. Don’t fool yourself. Miscarriage takes a toll.”
“Maybe after this project.”
“Or the next?” Phyllis’s eyes lit on the galleys Kathryn had taken home. “Ruin your health. See what good that does.” She marched out, almost slamming the door.
Kathryn took half her ponytail in each hand and gave a quick sideways tug to tighten the band before she picked up her pencil and resumed puzzling over Joe Butler’s manuscript. He had a knack for making the truth read like a juicy novel, but she objected to backstory beginnings. How was she going to convince him to move part of his first chapter to a later point in the book? Also problematic was Colton Bennett being known in his family as Benny. But there was no getting around that. She read the first page for the umpteenth time:
Harriette ‘Pet’ Bennett opened her drapes and stepped onto the sun-drenched balcony. She drank in her favorite view. One might suppose that to be the dazzling Pacific beyond the palms in her rock garden, but one would suppose wrong. Looking down at the pool, she gazed upon her grandsons, her “beautiful boys.” Up popped Benny, tawny and tan, laughing, with his upraised fist clutching an object retrieved from the depths. Joey broke the surface, dark and sleek as a seal, lunging on top of his cousin, wrestling over the morning’s designated treasure. Under they went again, a scramble of elbows and knees, nine-year-old mermen, barely aware of the sharks lurking in the shadows of their lives.
Kathryn could feel the sunshine and the grandmother’s angst. What surprised her was not that the author had captured it, but that he sensed it in the first place. Pet Bennett and her husband William, Phyllis’s old heartthrob, had sacrificed their twin daughters to those sharks trolling the waters of celebrity. On their twentieth birthday the Bennett beauties left the world the same way they came into it–together. Joe Butler’s manuscript did not gloss over their tragic lives. Colton’s mom was a saucy ingénue who’d never assigned her son’s paternity to anyone and was thought not to have known it herself. Joe’s mother, the hard-drinking sister, had eloped with a Texas oil tycoon. On a drunken jaunt to Las Vegas when the boys were mere babies, she’d driven her husband, twin, and herself into a fiery grave.
Succumbing to the Hollywood mystique, Kathryn read the end of the scene:
Pet called down from her balcony, “Last one up here is a rotten egg.”
Two wet heads swiveled to look up at her. Benny and Joey whooped and splashed their way to the side of the pool. Clambering out, the little hooligans raced into the house, dripping wet, yelling through the rotunda and up the stairs. Joey cut through Pet’s dressing room and Benny bounced across her bed, to land simultaneously in her open arms.
Kathryn hesitated a moment and then marked a swift edit. She combined the pages of the manuscript into a stack and aligned them with the lip of her desk. Rising to slip her thin arms into her suit jacket, she turned to look out over the city below. The glass wall appeared to waver. The office closed in, forcing her to breathe all the way down to the bottom of her lungs. She touched her forehead to the cool pane, an anchor to cold reality.
Vertigo was her new companion, this feeling of standing on a precipice, struggling to remain upright, while terrified she would lose her balance, fall, and keep falling. In her previous experience, grief was a state of mind, a sort of acceptance of loss over time, as with her father’s heart failure and her mother’s cancer. The six months since November, when Sam died, proved it to be physical. She existed in a void, assailed by myriad ailments. By an effort of will, she returned to her desk. Stomach roiling at the thought of Phyllis’s pastrami, Kathryn bent her knees and sank into the chair.
Promptly at three, Phyllis shepherded Hollywood hotshot Joe Butler into Kathryn’s office. They shook hands, and he declined her offer of a soda or coffee. As Phyllis was leaving, Kathryn pulled her aside. “You’re right, Phyl. Go ahead and transfer my active files to Zach.”
Phyllis’s head jerked around, sending the chain that dangled from her eyeglasses into a wild swing. Her mouth was shaped in a perfect O as Kathryn closed the door.
Joe took an armchair facing her across the desk. With his rugged good looks and air of understated polish, he could easily have been mistaken for an actor. Tall and lean with an athletic tan, he was only four years older than Kathryn, but his universe was light-years away. She would have found him intimidating anywhere except on her own turf. He had the aristocratic features of the Bennetts but, instead of their trademark lavender eyes, his were dark with hints of purple. In contrast to Colton’s famous blond locks, Joe’s hair was almost black and cut neatly at a point where it curled naturally.
No coat, no jewelry, no briefcase, not even a ballpoint pen. Kathryn liked the man’s unfettered style. Charcoal slacks, tailored and tapered, complemented his summer-weight pullover. No doubt Phyllis had noticed how well the green cashmere emphasized his shoulders. This celebrated Bennett orphan could have coasted through life without producing his cousin’s movies, much less stepping out on his own as an author. Kathryn considered that more impressive than his pedigree.
“Expecting Colton?” he asked, apparently alert to Phyllis’s disappointment.
His clipped manner of speaking had bothered Kathryn when they first met, but she had to admit his economy of words kept his writing clean. “I wasn’t,” she said, “but if you want a friend for life, you might send Phyl his autograph for her granddaughters.”
Joe chuckled. “Done.” He propped a foot on the opposite knee and seemed at ease.
They had met only twice before, so Kathryn was pleased that their monthly phone calls had forged a balanced author/editor relationship. When they last sat down in person, ten months ago, she had looked much better. Since then her fanny and cleavage had basically disappeared. Now she didn’t fill out her suits any better than a coat hanger. Wearing makeup was too much effort. Hopefully the freckles dotted across the bridge of her nose allowed her to get away with the fresh-scrubbed look. She shifted to the edge of her seat, propped her elbows on the desk, and interlaced her fingers. “Are you glad you wrote this book?”
“Pulling no punches today.” He settled back into his chair. “Have to say I am. De-bunks a few media-perpetuated myths.”
“You’re the only person who could have written it, that’s for sure. There are fascinating details in here no one else could know. Except Colton, of course.”
“Same memories.” He grimaced. “Good and bad.”
“You’ve taken your family out of the tabloids and made them real. Not an easy feat.”
“Saying it’ll sell?”
“Absolutely. You have a built-in market. Rather than accept your grandfather’s death, his fans shifted their adoration to you and Colton. And now Colton has his own legion of fans who will buy it. Plus–and I wish I could convince you of this–you have an engaging writing style.”
He shrugged slightly. “Don’t think of myself in terms of style.”
“You should. Seriously. Have you considered my suggestion about writing fiction?”
He averted his eyes. “Playing around with it. An espionage theme.”
She smiled. “I’m pleased to hear that. Getting started is the hardest part.”
“Far cry from tinkering with Colton’s movie scripts. Don’t know if it’s any good.”
“Every author, no matter how successful, has that same doubt. Go for it. Bring out a mystery on the heels of this biography, capitalize on its momentum.”
He rubbed the side of his nose, considering.
“Omni pays me to recognize talent, Joe. It’s not to anyone’s benefit for me, as they say, to blow smoke up your skirt. Your writing is first-rate.” Catching his eye, she raised an eyebrow. “Publish under a pen name.”
He dropped his foot back to the floor and sat forward, his head cocked to one side. “Not many people get my need to control the media.”
She held up his Bennett manuscript. “I’ve read the book, remember? Speaking of which, in the first chapter, you’re still a bit heavy on back story.”
He shifted in the chair and withdrew a flash drive from his pants pocket. “After you pointed that out, I revised.”
“Oh,” she said, surprised to find him so accommodating. “Hang on to that for now. You can give it to my boss, Zach Tolliver. He’ll be taking you to publication. I’m handing you over to him a bit early, but he’d direct the marketing anyway.”
A heavy-browed frown bespoke Joe’s annoyance. “You’ve improved my manuscript ten-fold,” he said. “I’m not interested in being tossed upstairs.”
“It has nothing to do with your book,” she assured him. She had not forgotten that he specifically asked for her, based on Brokaw’s recommendation. “I would have told you sooner, but I only decided after lunch. I’m taking personal leave.”
His frown deepened. “Personal?”
The disgruntled way he spoke the word and the look that accompanied it made her uncomfortable. Perhaps he had correctly assessed her ponytail as a signal of hair badly in need of styling and noticed her naked nails begging for a manicure, but surely he did not think her so shallow she would drop everything to swan off to a spa.
“When are you coming back?” he asked.
His gruff tone caused her to lift her chin. “I don’t know for sure that I will. Be back, that is.”
“Jeez.” Seeming to take in her overall appearance, he leaned forward, his features softening. “Don’t mean to pry, but I hope you aren’t sick.”
She twisted the wedding band on her thumb, the only finger it now fit, and took a deep breath. “I lost my husband last November. I’ve never really taken time to decide where I go from here. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.”
He raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Work is my avoidance technique, too. But it doesn’t solve anything.”
She stopped fiddling with the ring. “I owe you an explanation.”
“You don’t owe me.”
She was conscious of him silently watching as she let her eyes roam across the room to a quilt hung as tapestry art on the wall. She had designed it for Sam, pieced together symbols of her husband’s life and stitched the outline of his laughing face over squares as vibrant and happy as he. Bringing it to the office had been a mistake. It only made her ache for all the good that was gone from her life. She felt light-headed and knew the color must have left her face.
Bringing her gaze back to Joe, she said, “You may have heard about him. Sam Tribble, one of the photo-journalists killed in Afghanistan. I’m supposed to…” She pushed away the thought of the little chest filled with Sam’s ashes on her closet shelf at home. “…I don’t know, move on?”
“I do remember. On the news. Sorry I didn’t make the connection. I’m familiar with that lost feeling, when death comes without warning. My grandmother’s stroke affected me the same way.”
His empathy and softened tone brought Kathryn close to tears, but she blinked them away. She moistened her lips and managed the semblance of a smile.
“How soon you leaving?” he asked.
“Five minutes after you walk out the door.”
“You decided all this today? After lunch?”
“Operative word–decided.” Kathryn stood, her posture straight.
Slowly, as though reluctant to leave, Joe followed her across the room. “Where to, may I ask?”
“The best place to start a rewrite, back to the beginning.”
“From the absence of G’s on the ends of your words sometimes, I’m guessing South. Let me be the first to wish you luck.” He gave her hand a friendly clasp and reached for the door. “Five minutes begins now,” he said with a farewell wink.
© 2015 by Genie Smith Bernstein