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A Reason for Hope
by Kristin von Kreisler

Published: 2021-12-28T00:0
Paperback : 336 pages
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For animal lovers and fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain, this heart wrenching yet uplifting novel from the bestselling author of An Unexpected Grace tells of one woman’s journey to healing and love after trauma—through the devotion of an unforgettable yellow Lab named Hope.

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Introduction

For animal lovers and fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain, this heart wrenching yet uplifting novel from the bestselling author of An Unexpected Grace tells of one woman’s journey to healing and love after trauma—through the devotion of an unforgettable yellow Lab named Hope.

On San Julian Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle, Tessa Jordan works as a bookmobile librarian, recommending books and poems to her patrons. In her spare time, she cares for a colony of feral cats. But Tessa’s simple, satisfying life is shockingly upended after she meets Nick Payne, a respected community leader, and he invites her to dinner.

Far from a pleasant first date, Tessa’s evening with Nick leaves her feeling confused and upset. After deep soul-searching, she decides to step forward and accuse him of assault. Her distress grows when local prosecutor Will Armstrong declines to pursue her case, citing lack of evidence. Her main solace is Hope, a courthouse dog, trained to comfort victims through the difficult judicial process. As she lays her head in Tessa’s lap, her gentle brown eyes seem to say, Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.

Will, who is Hope’s primary handler, longs to get justice for Tessa, yet knows how rocky the path will be. It’s Hope who, true to her name, shines a bright ray through the darkness. With Hope by their side, Will and Tessa find surprising strength in each other as they learn just how resilient a heart—whether human or canine—can be.

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Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

April 2014

“Here’s your breakfast! Come and get it, sweet kitties!” Tessa called.

She didn’t have to wait long. In the April sunshine dappling the forest floor, wary eyes peeked from behind trees and under bushes, and noses twitched at the delicious smells emanating from her wicker picnic basket. The feral cats now knew that they were about to dive into shredded sautéed chicken and chopped hardboiled eggs sprinkled over their favorite homemade kitty kibble. Their chorus of meows demanded, Hurry! Feed us!

Tessa quickly counted the cats, as she always did at feeding time. Six of her seven had shown up—Dickens, Alcott, Wharton, Melville, Fitzgerald, and Austen—but Bronte, a silvery, ladylike part-Siamese, was missing. A contemplative sort of cat, she enjoyed climbing madrone trees and gazing at the Olympic Mountains or meditating on the sun rising over firs. She had never strayed much till Tessa had recently trapped her and Dr. Vargas had spayed her. Now exceedingly mistrustful, Bronte began to wander.

Without breakfast, she’d be hungry. Tessa mentally begged her, Please, come home tonight for dinner. No one will hurt you. I promise. Feral or not, the cats were her family—and a family among themselves. She often found them grooming one another, going off on expeditions together, and lying side-by-side in the sun.

She set her wicker basket on a cedar stump and pulled out a stack of aluminum pie tins. At each of her feeding stations, she exchanged a food-encrusted pan for a clean one, and she spooned out breakfast. Knowing the kitties would not come near if she stayed too close, she moved a respectful two car lengths away. In seconds, the cats dashed to the food, and the forest filled with smacking sounds.

“You be safe,” Tessa told the cats as she did at every feeding time because they were vulnerable in a perilous world. Coyotes, eagles, dogs, moving vehicles, and cruel people could injure or kill them. They could eat a poisoned rat or sneak into a garage and lick antifreeze off the floor—and die. No wonder the cats were cautious. They had to be, to survive.

From a gallon milk jug, Tessa poured fresh water into the cats’ community ceramic bowl, which was large enough for a goldfish school. “See you tonight,” she called. Usually, she stayed to watch the kitties eat, but today she hurried across the field to her cottage to finish an important task. As she walked, she thought, If only Bronte will be safe.

At Tessa’s cottage door, she paused, as she always did, to touch the tiny brass hand she’d bought at a garage sale and nailed to the wall. The hand was shaped like a policeman’s, held out palm forward to say Stop! It was meant to keep evil from sneaking into the cottage or barging into Tessa’s life. She liked to think that it would make intruders, thieves, or assaulters take their business elsewhere.

Inside, she passed her faithful Bentwood rocking chair, in which she read all winter by her wood-burning stove. She went straight to her desk, a thrift-store antique with an iron key for the side drawer’s lock and legs that curved out like a slew-footed tiger’s. As she booted up her computer, she smiled to herself. She pulled her chair up to her desk and settled her fingers on the keyboard.

Name: Teresa Jordan. Call me Tessa.

Where she lived: San Julian Island. Population eight thousand, about fifty years behind the rest of the world, across Puget Sound from Seattle.

Occupation: Librarian. In my bookmobile, whom I named Howard, I travel to out-of-the-way communities all over Nisqually County. And amateur literary psychologist. I recommend books and poems to help my patrons with their problems.

Hobbies: Tending feral kitties. I know what people say about crazy cat ladies, but I am nothing if not honest about it. Reading just about anything. Walking beaches. Baking pies. Every Sunday I also bake bread and make soup with my garden’s veggies.

A phrase that described her physical appearance: How am I supposed to judge that myself? she wondered. People tell me that I am pretty, and that my face lights up when I laugh. Her dark hair had a touch of auburn in the sunshine, but it frizzed in the rain. And though she was average height and slim, she could lose an inch around her hips. But never mind about pluses and minuses. She typed, “reasonably attractive.”

Her age: “Well, go ahead and admit it,” she mumbled to herself. She answered, thirty-six—not that she was anywhere near over the hill. But her mother had started reminding her that she was running out of time to find a husband. What, ten years ago? Not exactly a confidence boost. When she broke up with her fiancé two years ago, she’d been more worried about her mother’s reaction than her own sense of loss.

Tessa glanced around her cottage at the dried hydrangeas in her copper vase, the crowded bookshelves, and the knitted afghan draped over her sofa’s arm. As cozy as she’d tried to make her home, sometimes it felt lonely when she returned from work and no one was around. When Tessa’s father had drowned in a sailing accident off the Maine coast just weeks after she’d moved in here, she learned not just that life could change in a flash, but also that a crisis was harder to face by herself. Those lessons she was still trying to digest.

But, then, she reminded herself that she had her “people,” as she called her patrons, as well as her friends, the best of whom was Emma. Last week she’d urged Tessa to sign up for Northwest Singles. “You can’t sit home and wait for some delicious man to come along and ring your doorbell. You’ve got to gird your loins and put yourself out there.” Maybe so.

Tessa would let fate decide how lonely she’d be. She pressed “submit,” and her profile flew through the ether to NWSingles.com. To amuse herself, she scrolled through the site’s photos of men she might contact. One looked like a hamster was among his forebears. Another had leprechaun ears. Another had a bit of a werewolf about him—his tensely closed lips could have been hiding fangs.

Oh, my. What am I getting myself into?

***

In Tessa’s one-room-plus-bath cottage, her “bedroom’s” desk and Murphy bed were along one wall, and her “living room’s” wood-burning stove, sofa, and chairs were in a corner opposite her “kitchen.” She stored dishes behind glass doors in a cabinet above the sink, and pots, pans, and cleaning supplies behind a chintz curtain under it. Next to her stove, a butcher-block table served for meals and a countertop.

With her NWSingles profile on its way to God knows where (possibly a werewolf!), she would make her weekly soup. She began chopping onions, and, as usual, her eyes stung and tears slid down her cheeks. To avoid those tears, she’d frozen the onion before slicing into it, turned its sliced side down on the cutting board, worn goggles, even kept a piece of bread in her mouth, as recommended in a cookbook. Nothing had worked.

Wiping her cheeks with the back of hand, she put down her knife and crossed the room for a tissue. A ping sounded on her computer. Blinking against her watery eyes, she sat back down at her desk and found in her NWSingles message box an email from Nicholas Payne. San Julian’s Nicholas Payne? In yards all over the island, campaign signs urged people to vote for him for City Council in a special election this summer. His message to Tessa: “Meet up for a glass of wine? Planet of the Grapes downtown tomorrow @ 4?”

Tessa expected a leprechaun or hamster, but Nick Payne? His bio said he was the forty-two-year-old Rainier College professor she’d read about in the San Julian Review, and he enjoyed sharing a good bottle of wine with friends. She studied his online picture: an honest face, a neck as sturdy as a marble column, intense gray eyes behind his horn-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a black turtleneck, and his dark, layered hair was mussed just enough to keep him from looking stiff.

Scarcely believing her beginner’s luck, Tessa replied that she’d meet him tomorrow, and she gave him her cell number in case of a last-minute change of plans. “We’ll probably recognize each other from our NWSingles photos, but just in case, I’ll be wearing black jeans, a blue sweater, and a scarf with butterflies printed on it.”

Two minutes later, another ping. “I’ll be easy to recognize by the red carnation in my teeth. (A joke!)”

Tessa fired back, “LOL!” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the U.S. nearly one in five women and one in seventy-one men have been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that an American is sexually assaulted every seventy-three seconds. Do these statistics surprise you? Or are they what you would expect? Why do you think that sexual assault is such a problem in the U.S. today?

2. Why do some of the women in A Reason for Hope never report that they were sexually assaulted? What other reasons might there be for not going to the police? Was Tessa’s choice courageous or foolhardy? What would you have done? Could you sympathize with her delay in reporting the assault?

3. A moral dilemma at the heart of this story is based on the conflict between the assault victim and perpetrator’s legal rights. Tessa believes that the laws are unfair to the victim. Do you agree? Should proving consent be so important? How could this conflict of rights be resolved?

4. Some people might say that Tessa was “asking for it” by going to Nick’s house when she hardly knew him—at night. How do you feel about that? Could she be blamed in any way for what happened to her?

5. Do you agree or disagree with Tessa that the judicial system is inherently sadistic? Why? In court, does everyone come out worse even if they’re on the winning side? Or is justice meted out fairly? Was Nick Payne’s sentence fair?

6. How did Tessa grow and change as a result of the assault? Did any good come from it? Or is it going to hurt her for life? What about the other women in her group? How do you think their futures will be?

7. Louann says that anger often masks deeper emotions that are too frightening to feel. What might be some of those emotions? Why do women have problems expressing anger or letting it fuel constructive action, such as standing up for themselves and speaking their truth? Could Tessa have done that in court?'

8. How would you define hope? How does it play a part in the story? What are some of the reasons the characters might feel it? Do you believe that women can have hope about justice for sexual assaults today?

9. If we assume that we can’t escape physical and psychological pain at some time in our lives, do we need to make peace with it? Does fighting it make it harder to bear? Does it help to surrender as Tessa did? Is that possible?

10. Do you think that hardship makes you stronger—and that if you’ve gained strength from it, nobody can take the strength away? How does this apply to Tessa? Have you ever taken pride in strength you’ve gained at a cost to yourself?

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