In the aftermath of WWII all Jakob Wilheimer wants is to get over his pain, get on with life, and if at all possible, forgive those who've wronged his family -- including himself.
But it's hard to do when there are constant reminders, one of them being his former schoolmate, now teacher, Meri Parker -- Miss Port Delamar Pearl, Mayor's daughter, Belle of the town -- Meri Parker.
After enduring the stigma and isolation associated with the internment camp, the awkwardness of going back to school should've been a cake walk. But Jakob didn't expect to find himself inexplicably drawn to Meri. Or to discover that the pain and loneliness of her life surpassed his own. She needed to be rescued from the wretched people seeking to control her life. And more than anything, he needed to be the one to save her.
Meri looked at her plate with a sudden loss of appetite. Why did her parents intrude on every aspect of her life? She couldn't even enjoy a meal with a friend like Jakob.
She watched him tickle his niece. The infant's giggle burst from her tiny body, eliciting laughter from Jakob as though it were a reflex -- a natural response to Beth's purity of joy. Her mother would never appreciate Jakob's simplicity. As a matter-of-fact, she'd despise him for it. Images of Meri's mother smugly looking down her nose came to mind, clear and vivid. And her father? She tried to visualize but Jakob didn't seem to fare much better. It was more likely that her father wouldn't even acknowledge his existence.
As though they had the right to judge.
From deep within, a shady memory emerged. Meri could hear her mother screaming and cursing as glass shattered against the wall. She learned more about her family from her mother's temper tantrums than anything else.
A defiant smirk pulled at the corners of her lips. "Did I ever tell you what my dad did before he was mayor?"
"Wasn't he a lawyer?" Jakob said.
"He still is, just not currently practicing."
Meri scooted to the edge of the sofa. "You've been to Galveston, right?" she asked.
"Of course. It might surprise you but we Wilheimers love the beach. And contrary to Hitler's version of our gene pool not all of us sunburn -- just Ruthie."
"Have you ever heard of the Balinese Room?" Meri asked.
"Supposed to be a swank joint, right?"
"If you're a gambler."
"Your dad's a gambler?"
"No," she said. "But he used to spend a lot of time there." Meri bit her bottom lip and lowered her head to look at Jakob. "Being entertained by clients...?"
"You just said he doesn't gamble."
"There are other forms of entertainment," she said with a raised brow.
"Oh, Meri, stop..." Jakob held up his hand. "This wasn't what I meant about family stories. I don't need to hear this." He furrowed his brow. "How would you know anyway?"
"Bits and pieces over the years. Sometimes my parents' arguments aren't so discreet, at least not in our home. Anyhow, my dad's indiscretions weren't what I was referring to. Some of his clients made their living through organized crime. They occasionally needed his services to stay out of trouble. He didn't defend murderers or anything like that. My dad's not that kind of lawyer -- though I'm sure they needed one of those as well. My dad helped them with business legalities, or I should say, he helped them get around business legalities. The Balinese room was their establishment." She folded her arms and leaned back. "It's ironic, isn't it? Your family was treated like you had something to hide, and mine really does."
As soon as Meri finished the sentence regret set in, hard and heavy. Something about the look on Jakob's face made him seem weighted. Burdened.
She shouldn't have done that. Jakob had asked about her family because he was curious about her. And she'd used the opportunity to get even with her father -- forcing something ugly upon Jakob. It wasn't fair to either of them.
Why had she done that?
Posted by Michelle Sutton on 5th Feb 2013
I became really invested in the characters and couldn't wait for a sequel, so I continued with the series and was not disappointed. This is a fantastic historical with an atypical plot that gives you a longing for more of the author's writing.