Heart Like Mine: A Novel

Paperback | April 23, 2015

byAmy Hatvany

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From rising star Amy Hatvany, an engrossing new novel about a woman whose life is turned upside down when the man she's engaged to suddenly becomes a full-time father to the children from his previous marriage.

Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divorced restaurateur who is father to Max and Ava, Grace decides that, for the right man, she could learn to be an excellent part-time stepmom. After all, the kids live with their mother, Kelli. How hard could it be?

At thirteen, Ava Hansen is mature beyond her years. Since her parents’ divorce, she has been taking care of her emotionally unstable mother and her little brother—she pays the bills, does the laundry, and never complains because she loves her mama more than anyone. And while her father’s new girlfriend is nice enough, Ava still holds out hope that her parents will get back together and that they’ll be a family again. But only days after Victor and Grace get engaged, Kelli dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances—and soon, Grace and Ava discover that there was much more to Kelli’s life than either ever knew.

Narrated by Grace and Ava in the present with flashbacks into Kelli’s troubled past, Heart Like Mine is a poignant, hopeful portrait of womanhood, love, and the challenges and joys of family life.

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From the Publisher

From rising star Amy Hatvany, an engrossing new novel about a woman whose life is turned upside down when the man she's engaged to suddenly becomes a full-time father to the children from his previous marriage.Thirty-six-year-old Grace McAllister never longed for children. But when she meets Victor Hansen, a handsome, charismatic divor...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.25 × 5.31 × 1.1 inPublished:April 23, 2015Publisher:Washington Square PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1451640560

ISBN - 13:9781451640564

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Heart Like Mine Grace Later, I would look back and wonder what I was doing the exact moment Kelli died. When I left the house for work that morning, nothing was different. There was no sense of impending doom, no ominous soundtrack playing in the back of my mind warning me that my world was about to change. There was only Victor asleep in our bed, and me, as usual, trying my best not to wake him as I kissed him good-bye. It was a Friday in late October, and I drove my usual route downtown, taking in the dark silhouette of the Seattle skyline etched against a coral sky. “Good morning,” I said to my assistant, Tanya, after I’d parked and entered the building. She was a stunning woman with skin the color of the deepest, richest cocoa who favored brightly hued dresses to show off her abundant curves. “A pre–Weight Watchers Jennifer Hudson,” I told my best friend, Melody, describing Tanya to her after I initially interviewed her for the job. “Morning,” she said, so focused on whatever she was doing that she barely looked up from her computer screen. Her long red nails clackety-clacked on her keyboard. Six months ago, Tanya had been living with her two toddlers in one of our safe houses. At the time, she desperately needed to work and I desperately needed an assistant, so we seemed like a perfect match. I’d taken over as CEO of Second Chances the previous fall, honored to take the lead in an organization that began in the early nineties as a simple twenty-four-hour support line for battered women and had slowly grown into a multifaceted program including crisis response, counseling, temporary housing, and job placement assistance. We’d even opened a thrift shop earlier that year, where our clients had first pick of donated clothes for job interviews and later, when they were ready to go out on their own, entire wardrobes. My job was to make sure that the more practical, administrative aspects of the program, like funding and staffing, ran smoothly, but the real reason I’d accepted the job was for the privilege of helping women like Tanya rebuild their shattered lives. I set down the latte I’d bought for her at the café downstairs so it would be within her reach, then turned and walked into my office, closing the door behind me. I assumed this would be like any other day. I positioned myself at my desk, booted up my computer, and reviewed my calendar. Other than a couple of phone calls, there was only a staff meeting at two o’clock, so I got busy studying the client files Tanya had pulled for me. It was time to decide if these women were ready to make the transition from our safe houses into a place of their own. Leaving the first home where they’d felt protected was often the hardest step for victims of domestic violence; I made sure we held their hand every step of the way. I barely looked up from my papers until a few hours later, when my cell phone vibrated in my purse. I reached for it with a skipping, happy feeling in my belly at the sight of Victor’s name on the screen. “Hi, honey,” I said, glancing down at the ring on my finger. He’d only proposed five days ago and I was still unused to the weight of it, still a little stunned that he’d asked me to marry him at all. “Can you go pick up the kids from school for me?” Victor asked. His voice was strained and carried an urgency I didn’t recognize. “What, I’m your fiancée now, so I don’t even get a hello?” I said, hoping I could tease him out of his seemingly ugly mood. Victor was usually the most easygoing person I knew; I wondered if something had gone wrong at work, if his head chef had called in sick or one of his busers dropped a box of wineglasses. “Is this what it’s going to be like being married to you?” “Grace,” he said. “Seriously. I need you to pick them up and take them back to the house. Please.” “What’s wrong?” I asked, sitting up straight in my chair. Every muscle in my body suddenly tensed, realizing this wasn’t just a case of Victor’s having a bad day. “It’s Kelli. Her friend Diane found her a couple of hours ago. She wasn’t breathing and . . .” I heard him swallow once, hard. “She’s dead, Grace. Kelli’s dead.” My mouth went dry. Kelli. His ex-wife. Oh, holy shit. All the air pressed out of my lungs; it took a moment for me to be able to speak. “Oh my god, Victor. What happened?” “I don’t know the details yet. The medics took her to the ER and I guess I’m still listed as her emergency contact on her insurance plan, so they called me. Can you pick up the kids?” “Of course.” I stood up, scrambling for my purse. Panic jittered in my chest, picturing their response to this news. Ava, especially, at thirteen, needing her mother so much, and Max, who was only seven and still had to talk with Kelli before he could fall asleep the nights he stayed at our house. Max and Ava, who didn’t yet know that we were engaged. Victor had told Kelli the news earlier in the week, meeting her for a cup of coffee at the restaurant while the kids were still in school. “How’d it go?” I asked when he came home. He pressed his lips together and gave his head a brief shake. “Not great,” he said, and I hadn’t pressed him further. “What do you want me to tell them?” I asked him now, already worried that whatever I said would be wrong. “Nothing, yet. I’ll be home as soon as I can, but I have to go to identify her—” His voice broke, and he cleared it. “Her body.” “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” I’d never heard him so upset and felt desperate to do something to comfort him. “No, just get the kids. Please. I’ll figure out what to say to them before I get there.” We hung up, and I hurried outside my office. Tanya turned her gaze from her computer to me. “What’s wrong?” “It’s Kelli . . . Victor’s ex.” I exhaled a heavy breath. “She’s dead.” Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my god!” she said with her eyes open wide. She dropped her hand back to her lap. “What happened?” “We don’t know yet. Victor is on his way to the hospital right now.” “Oh my god,” she said again, shaking her head. “I’ll wipe your calendar for next week. The staff meeting can wait.” She paused. “Do you want me to call Stephanie?” I nodded, thinking that the best person to cover for me was definitely my predecessor, who’d retired when I accepted the job but still gave her time to us as a volunteer. “That’d be great. I’m not sure how long I’ll be out. Thank you.” “Of course. I’ll call if there’s anything urgent. And let me know if you need anything else.” I left the building with my muscles shaking, climbed into my car, and gripped the steering wheel, trying to steady myself before pulling out of the lot. Thoughts spun in my head; I tried to imagine what life would be like for Max and Ava after they found out their mother was dead. And for me as the woman who, by default, would wind up standing in her place. *  *  * The night I met Victor, the idea that I might become the mother to his children was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, being a mother was pretty much the furthest thing from my mind any night of the week, something I tried to explain to my date as we sat in the bar of Victor’s popular Seattle restaurant, the Loft. At that moment, I didn’t know I was about to meet Victor. I didn’t know that he owned the restaurant or that he was divorced with two kids. All I knew was I needed to find a way to bail on this date before it got any worse. Chad was the college frat boy who’d never grown up, something I hadn’t realized when we’d messaged back and forth on Match.com and then briefly chatted on the phone. On paper, he was jocular, sort of funny, and had that confident, teetering-on-the-edge-of-cocky demeanor I typically found appealing in a man, so I figured there wouldn’t be much harm in meeting him for a simple drink. Clearly, I had figured wrong. “So,” he said after we’d been seated, ordered our drinks, and gone over the usual niceties of how happy we were to finally meet in person. “You don’t want kids?” He leaned back in his chair with an odd smirk on his ruddy face. I was immediately turned off by the blunt challenge in his tone; every internal red flag I had started waving. My online profile did, in fact, indicate that I was focused on pursuing my career more than motherhood, but it was strange that he would lead with this particular topic. I took a tiny sip of the lemon-drop martini our server had just delivered, letting the crunchy bits of sanding sugar that lined the rim of my glass dissolve on my tongue before answering. “It’s not so much that I don’t want them,” I said. “More like I’m not sure I’d be very good as a parent.” I hoped my neutral response would dissuade him from pursuing the subject further. “Don’t you like kids?” he asked, tilting his blond head at me. “Yes, I like them,” I said, repressing a sigh. It was frustrating how many people seemed to assume that I was heartless or unfeeling because I wasn’t rushing to become a mother. Men who chose a career over fatherhood weren’t automatically considered assholes. They were classified as devil-may-care George Clooney types. And who didn’t love George? “I have a brother who was born when I was thirteen,” I explained to Chad. “And I spent ten years helping to raise him before I finally moved out of my parents’ house, so I sort of learned firsthand that motherhood really isn’t for me.” My decision wasn’t quite as simplistic as I’d made it sound, but I was already scanning the room for my quickest escape, so I didn’t see the sense in delving deeper than that with Chad. The Loft’s bar wasn’t huge, maybe a total of fifteen tables. The only exit was past the hostess, right in his line of sight. If I excused myself to the restroom, then tried to sneak out the front door, he’d see. I took a big swallow of my drink, hoping the alcohol would smooth the edges of my growing irritation. “Well,” Chad said as he placed his meaty palms flat on our small, wooden table, “I actually believe it’s a woman’s biological responsibility to reproduce. I mean, honestly, if you think about it anthropologically, your body is really just a support system for your uterus.” My wrist flicked and the contents of my drink splashed in his face before my mind registered it had given the command. Chad sputtered and wiped at his eyes with the backs of his hands as I set the now-empty glass on the table and quickly began gathering my things. “What the hell is wrong with you?” he said, spitting out the words. I stood, pulse pounding, holding my black leather clutch up off the table so it wouldn’t get vodka on it. “Nothing,” I said, attempting to take a slow, measured breath. “You, however, might benefit from therapy.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man with closely cropped, dark brown hair striding toward us from behind the bar. He wore a black dress shirt and slacks, both cut to complement his lanky build. Chad stood too, and took a menacing step toward me just as the man in black grabbed him by the arm. “Looks like you spilled your drink,” he said. I immediately liked him for his attempt at diplomacy, despite my certainty that he had witnessed what actually happened. He appeared to be around my age, midthirties, maybe a little bit older. The threads of silver woven through the hair around his temples gave him a distinguished edge and his olive-toned skin held the slightly weathered look of a little too much time spent in the sun. “That bitch threw it in my face!” Chad yelled. Every person who hadn’t been looking in our direction suddenly was. The buzz of conversation ceased, and the only sounds were the low, bass-driven background music piped in through the speakers and Chad’s hoarse, angry breathing. The man’s grip tightened on Chad’s arm. “Sir, I have to ask you to refrain from calling this lovely woman names. I’m sure it was an accident.” He looked at me with kind, smoky gray eyes. “Right, miss?” I shook my head. “Nope. I threw it at him. He was being an ass. Are you the manager?” The man shook his head a little, too, and smiled, revealing white, straight teeth and a cavernous dimple in his left cheek. “The owner, actually. Victor Hansen.” He released his grip on Chad and held out his hand. I clasped it quickly but firmly, my greet-the-executive, don’t-mess-with-me handshake. “Grace McAllister. Good to meet you. I love this place.” “Jesus!” Chad interjected. His face flamed red and bits of saliva shot out from his mouth. “If you two are done with your little schmooze-fest, I’d like to know who’s going to pay for my shirt!” Victor glanced over at Chad’s late-1990s holdover mustard-yellow rayon button-down, reached into his pocket, and offered him a twenty. “This should cover it. Now, why don’t you show some dignity and walk away?” Chad looked at the bill in Victor’s hand but didn’t take it, then made a disgusted noise before grabbing his coat off the back of his chair and pushing his way through the bar to the front door, knocking into a few chairs and tables as he went. Outside, he threw a middle finger up in the air behind him as he walked by the window where Victor and I stood. “Wow,” Victor said, tucking his money back in his pocket, “I wonder if his mom knows he escaped her basement?” I laughed. “Thank you,” I said, reaching into my purse for my credit card. I held it out to him. “I’m happy to pay for our drinks.” The other customers stopped looking at us and returned to their own conversations; the comforting background noise of glasses and silverware tinkling filled the air. “Oh no,” Victor said, waving my card away. “Those are on me.” He smiled again. “Did you order dinner?” “No, thank god. Just a drinks date.” I shook my head. “Evidently, I need to work on my screening process.” Maybe I should start asking for men’s relationship résumés and require at least three glowing references before agreeing to meet. Victor chuckled. “Tough out there, isn’t it?” My eyes stole a glance down at his left hand. No ring. Hmm. He caught me midglance and lifted his hand up, wiggling his bare fourth finger. “Some detective I’d make, huh?” I laughed again, then reached up to smooth my russet waves. Luckily, he laughed, too. “So, I’m thinking the least I can do is feed you so the night’s not a total loss. Will you join me for dinner?” My cheeks flushed, and I dropped my gaze to the floor before looking back up at him and smiling. “I’d like that,” I said, “but will you excuse me a moment? I need to visit the ladies’ room.” “Of course.” He pointed me in the right direction, and I walked away slowly, conscious of his eyes on me, making sure not to sway my hips in too obvious a manner, but enough so that he’d notice the movement. In the restroom, I stood in front of the full-length mirror and swiped on a touch of tinted lip gloss. I took a step back and examined my reflection. Reddish, shoulder-length hair, mussed in that casual, I-meant-it-to-look-a-little-messy way that had taken me over an hour to achieve. Pale skin, a spattering of freckles on my cheeks that no amount of powder could hide; green eyes, set evenly apart. A swash of mascara was the only makeup I wore besides the lip gloss. My lips were full enough, and the gloss definitely helped. Being that this was the first date night I’d had in several months, I’d taken the time to go shopping and pick out a flattering pair of dark, boot-cut jeans and a slightly clingy green sweater, both of which made the most of my somewhat average figure. My legs looked leaner, and with the help of a good bra, my chest looked perkier than usual. Overall, not too shabby. I pinched my cheeks for a little color and returned to the bar, where I found Victor exactly where I’d left him. “All set?” he asked, and I nodded, following him through swinging black doors into the kitchen. As we entered, I hesitated. “Um, do you want me to put my order in myself?” Victor laughed again, took my hand, and led me over to a high-backed, cushioned red booth off to the side of where the servers were gathered. “No, I want you to have the best seat in the house—the chef’s table.” He gestured for me to sit down. “I’ll be right back. What were you drinking? Lemon Drop?” I smiled. “How did you know?” “Smelled it on your date.” He winked, then strode over past the stainless steel counter behind which several cooks were either sautéing, whisking, or artfully arranging wonderful-smelling food on square white plates. The energy in the room was kinetic but slowed down as Victor spoke to one of the male chefs, a hugely muscled and handsome man with startling black tribal tattoos on his thick neck and forearms. He looked over at me as Victor talked, then he smiled and gave me a clipped salute in greeting. I gave a short wave back, briefly wondering how many other female patrons Victor had given this treatment. Victor headed out of the kitchen—to get our drinks, presumably—so I quickly texted Melody, my best friend. “Weird night. On date number two (I think), same restaurant.” She texted back immediately: “WTH? I can’t even get one date!” I smiled to myself, picturing her curled up in her favorite plaid flannel pajamas, eating popcorn, and watching reruns of Sex and the City. “Will explain tomorrow,” I typed, pressing send just as Victor returned with two martinis. Dirty for him, lemon for me. “So,” he said, “I hope you don’t mind I ordered food for us both. I know the menu pretty well.” “How do you know what I like?” I asked, taking what I hoped was a dainty sip from my drink. “Well, I know you don’t like stupid men, so I’m already ahead of the game.” He smiled. “I’m having an assortment of dishes brought out, actually, so you can sample a little of everything.” “Impressive. Must be nice to be the owner.” He grinned. “It is. So, what do you do?” I launched into a short description of my career, how after I got my degree in business management, I’d stumbled into a position as a lowly HR assistant and worked my way up through various companies to an eventual directorship for a local medical center. It was there I learned about Second Chances. I told him how I’d been a volunteer with the organization long before I was one of its employees. “What made you want to give your time there, in particular?” Victor asked, tilting his head a bit toward his shoulder. “Well,” I said, “that’s kind of a long story.” “The good ones usually are.” “All right then, you asked for it,” I said with a smile. “So, I was in seventh grade when I saw a news segment about this amazing female doctor who traveled the world helping people who’d been affected by all sorts of atrocities—disease, war, famine. Horrible stuff. And I remember being in awe watching her cradle this extremely ill-looking woman, who just clung to her like she hadn’t been held so tenderly in her entire life.” Tears swelled my throat even then, as I recalled the power of that moment. “I guess that image sort of stuck with me. I sort of promised myself to someday be like that doctor . . . helping those who couldn’t help themselves.” Victor nodded and seemed interested, so I continued, careful not to hop up on my soapbox about the political issues surrounding domestic violence, as I sometimes had the tendency to do when I started talking about my job. “When I heard about the work Second Chances did, it seemed like such a perfect way to fulfill that desire. I mean, HR was great for me professionally, but this was an opportunity to help people on a much more personal level, you know?” He nodded again, and I went on, wrapping the details up as quickly as I could. “I enrolled in crisis counselor training to get qualified to take calls on the help line and started using my business contacts to increase fund-raising donations, and discovered I had a real passion for the work. When the woman who started the organization told me she was retiring, I applied for the position and got it. Most of my management experience is in operations and organizational development, so it’s kind of a perfect fit.” “I think it’s great that you’re so passionate about what you do,” Victor said, lifting his glass and tilting his head, indicating that I should do the same. “Congrats.” I complied, and we clinked our glasses together lightly. “Thank you.” He took a sip of his drink, then set it back on the table before giving me another smile. “So, I have to ask. What did that guy say to get you so mad?” I gave him a quick recap of Chad’s statements about the role of women in relation to procreating and Victor’s jaw dropped. “Are you kidding me?” I shrugged. “I guess he didn’t believe me when I told him I’ve chosen not to have kids.” “Me too,” Victor said. “At least, not any more than I already have.” I cocked a single eyebrow and apparently looked as confused as I felt, so he pulled out his wallet to show me a picture of two dark-haired, blue-eyed children—a girl and a boy. “Max is six and Ava is twelve,” he said. “They live with their mom, but I see them every other weekend.” His voice was tinged with a tiny bit of sadness, and I automatically wondered what kind of relationship he had with his ex-wife. In the past, if I were mentally reviewing a man’s relationship résumé and it included the word “father” among his experience, I would have moved it to the “no” pile. But it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to find a single man who hadn’t already been married or didn’t have children, so I attempted to keep an open mind. Just because I wasn’t set on having babies didn’t mean I wasn’t looking to fall in love. “How long have you been divorced?” I asked, keeping the inquiry light. How recently he came back on the dating market played a big part in my decision about whether or not he was relationship material. I wasn’t anxious to be any man’s rebound girl. “A little over two years,” Victor said. “We get along fairly well, which is great for the kids.” “Ah,” I said, leaning back against the seat cushion. “They’re adorable.” I realized he was the first person in as long as I could remember who hadn’t immediately asked why I wasn’t anxious to have children as soon as they found this out about me. Another point in his favor. “They’re also enough,” he said. “I’m thirty-nine, and I don’t plan to have any more.” He looked at me, his expression hesitant. “So, does my daddy status mean this is our last date?” “Date?” I fiddled with the hem of my sweater and issued what I hoped was an appealing smile. “This isn’t just the owner of the restaurant making up for a customer’s crappy night?” “I don’t think so.” He gaze became more determined as he reached over and skimmed the top of my hand with his fingertips. “I’d like to see you again.” His touch sent a shiver through me, and staring into his kind eyes, I felt a twinge somewhere in the vicinity of my belly. Do I do this? I hadn’t dated a man with children before, but something about Victor felt different. Special enough to think he might just be worth taking a chance.

Editorial Reviews

“Readers of Amy Hatvany know that in her books, they will encounter stories that are a cut above most popular fiction…There are no easy answers here, but the engaging characters find their own way forward.”