Dark Mountain

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Hana Caldwell is eager to start life on her own. Paralyzed from the waist down from the accident that killed her family, she wants to prove to everyone she has what it takes, despite her disability, to nurture, teach and care for an autistic girl. Working with Addie, Hana finds a place where she feels at home. What she didn’t count on was her brooding, secretive employer, David Kent. She finds herself drawn to his stark intelligence and unassuming kindness. But David harbors a dark secret that finally destroys their future and their happiness. Heartsick and betrayed, Hana forges out on her own, trying to rebuild her life without him. But life rarely allows us to choose our paths unscathed and Hana is eventually torn between the deep, passionate love she had with David or the comfort and safety of gentle, honest love Dr. Matt St. John. She must choose the best path to mend her broken heart and find a place to truly belong.

Dark Mountain is a modern re-telling of Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte’s novel still has themes that resonate today, such as societal acceptance of difference, a courageous and strong young woman with terrible beginnings goes after love and acceptance despite her challenges, and following your heart to find where you belong.

The novel is a contemporary, clean romance with an #ownvoices slant. The manuscript is roughly 81K words. It is a stand alone novel.

I am currently seeking representation. Please contact me at whitneywritesbook@gmail.com to request a query letter and a partial or complete copy of my manuscript.

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David and Hana

Sample Chapter –

It’s funny how things seem to work out a certain way for a reason. My life felt like a child rolling down a hill, spinning until they reached the bottom. Up to this point, things happened to me – the car accident, the loss of my family, the use of my legs, and the foster family I was assigned to. Now that I was at the bottom, it was up to me to get my bearings and figure out where to go next. That excited me. It my choice. It was a course correction I made for myself. This was my chance to use the bad things in my life as preparation towards a bigger destiny. I was twenty-one years old, a college graduate, and I hungered to start life on my own terms.

I made my way along the freeway to a job interview for an opportunity that was not only relevant to my degree but also a paycheck large enough to guarantee my independence. The degree I had earned in college hung on the wall in my room next to the special award for achievement in the special education field. They hung in judgment of my lack of degree-appropriate employment. My stomach flipped around. It was a dream job, really. Be a private tutor and nanny to an autistic girl for a wealthy family. More than the other jobs I interviewed for, I wanted this one. One-on-one was optimal for children with special needs. The focus would be on the child and I could put all I learned in college to good use.

I looked over to where my wheelchair was stored on the passenger side. The email I received from a Ms. Elliot lay on the seat. I don’t know why I printed it out; I had the thing nearly memorized.

“Ms. Hana Caldwell,

I found your application on LinkedIn. I would like to meet with you about a position I can offer. It involves teaching a special needs child. She is on the autism spectrum, which fits within the qualifications listed on your CV and recommendations. I would consider this a governess position. It would require you to live on the property and be responsible for the day-to-day care and teaching duties of the child. The situation is exceptional, so the salary is higher than the average. My employer proposes a salary of $55,000 a year paid on a bi-monthly basis. It includes a generous benefits package, paid time off, room and board, and access to the house vehicle. Please contact me to arrange a time to meet in person.

Best wishes, Cheryl Elliot”

It was a generous salary. Much more than I had expected to make right out of college. Certainly more than I had been offered so far. Marion, in her usual rational way, cooled my jets a little when I told her about it.

“$55,000 a year,” I said. “It’s a freaking dream job! Who pays that kind of salary?”

“Who?” she said.

“This lady is offering me a job starting at $55,000 a year. It’s that governess position I was telling you about. This is it! She’s offering $55,000 a year!”
Marion frowned. “May I see that?” I handed her my phone. She read the email herself, looking back at me shocked. “Wow,” she said. “It’s almost too good to be true.”

“I know,” I said, taking my phone back. “I’m emailing her and we’ll see what she says.”

“I’m not comfortable with this,” she said. “People don’t go around handing out $50,000 a year jobs to twenty-one-year-old wet-behind-the-ears teachers.”

“Yeah, but if this is legit then this will be a good thing for me,” I said. “The money I earn would go straight into a savings account. I could do things I’ve always wanted – travel or buy a place to live. If the employer’s terrible, I’ll have enough money to tide me over until I can find a new job. No harm, no foul. But at least I have a starting chance I earned on my own.”
Marion acceded my argument with her eyebrows. “The whole thing still makes me nervous,” she said. “I’d feel better if you’d let Dan or I go with you.”

“Don’t you think that’s sort of babyish? To bring my mom or dad to an interview for a job?”

“That still doesn’t mean I can’t worry that it’s a scam or setup or something.”

“I think it would be fairly easy to know if it is a scam based on what she tells me about the job. If it’s not legit, I’ll call you and let you know I’m on my way back. If it makes you feel better, I’ll have her meet me in a public place, like a restaurant or library.”

“No, it does not. But it’s better than going to a strange place that puts you at a disadvantage,” Marion said.“You’ve always got a home here, Hana, so don’t feel pressured to accept something just because you can.” She squeezed my hand. “Dan and I loved you from the moment we saw that adorable bruised face in the hospital all those years ago. I understand you want to stretch your wings.”

I smiled. Marion could never resist bringing up how I came to live with them any chance she could. Of the foster kids Marion and her husband Dan cared for through the years, I suspected that I might be their favorite. And it was one of the reasons I didn’t mind her being so protective of me.

Marion was my rock right from the beginning. I woke up in the hospital the day after my accident to a room with the harsh scent of bleach and alcohol in my nose. I couldn’t move like I should. I couldn’t find my mom and dad, as much as I called for them. The nurses were kind and understanding but that didn’t help the fear and confusion felt by an eleven-year-old who had just lost everything.

Then a kind-faced woman came into my room. She held my hand, making everything just a little less scary. If there was confusion all around me, Marion was the one person who I could count on to tell me what was going on so I understood. She explained I had been in a car accident. She helped me understand my mom, dad and sister were never coming back. She helped me understand that when our car crashed that I lost the ability to use my legs. She made all the things an eleven-year-old should never have to understand a little easier to come to terms with.

For all intents and purposes, Marion was my mom, but she never let me call her that. She wanted to honor the woman that gave birth to me. It was especially poignant considering she and Dan couldn’t have children of their own. It was one of reasons they fostered. They had given me so much. I wanted to prove that their love and belief in me was well-founded. Getting a job so I could support myself was the first step.

The cafe was only minutes away. I check the mirror to make sure my make-up and hair looked decent. If this job panned out, then supporting myself was a reality rather than a hope. I still had to get this job first. Finding a job that paid enough to live on my own and utilize my skills proved more difficult than I anticipated. So far, I had been on at least a dozen interviews. Some were eager to hire me, but at a salary that wouldn’t even cover rent. Or they had politely declined. It was hard not to think that it was the wheelchair sitting next to me, rather than my resume. How can someone who had graduated cum laude in Elementary Education, including an award for special education teaching excellence, fail gain any traction with employers willing to pay a decent salary? I gripped the steering wheel just a bit tighter, trying to get the anger and acute feeling of discrimination under control. Walking in an interview with a chip on my shoulder certainly wouldn’t play out very well.

Think happy thoughts, I said to myself. You’re going to kill it. You’re going to blow this Cheryl Elliot away. The salary and the room and board alone are enough to make this job ideal. One autistic kid would be easy enough to handle by myself.

One autistic kid could be lots of trouble depending where on the spectrum they fell and any co-morbid challenges they had. But I knew I could do it. Growing up in a foster home, kids with all kinds of unique challenges were placed all the time. Special time, care and patience was the panacea most needed after the horrific or devastating situations they came from. Marion exemplified patient understanding. I hoped I could be half as amazing as she was. All the years I’d been with the Lee’s, I learned from both Dan and Marion what it meant to meet challenges as they came with humor and ingenuity. Their example and my experiences with my foster siblings was what prompted me to choose special education. The kids least likely to get the patience and understanding they needed to succeed were the ones I wanted to encourage and cultivate.