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Authors: Jane Green

Falling

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BERKLEY

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Jane Green

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY is a registered trademark and the B colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.

eBook ISBN: 9780399583292

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Green, Jane, 1968– author.

Title: Falling / Jane Green.

Description: First edition. | New York : Berkley Books, 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016010121 | ISBN 9780399583285 (hardcover)

Subjects: LCSH: Single women—Fiction. | Self-realization in women—Fiction. | Man-woman relationships—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Family Life. | FICTION / Contemporary Women. | GSAFD: Love stories.

Classification: LCC PR6057.R3443 F35 2016 | DDC 823/.914—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016010121

International edition ISBN: 9780451488480

First Edition: July 2016

Cover photograph by Robert Jones / Arcangel Images

Cover design by Eileen Carey

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

As always, there are a tremendous number of people to thank:

First, my new team at Berkley. I was a Penguin author for almost twenty years, and couldn't be more thrilled at being back home with a Penguin imprint. A huge thank-you to Ivan Held, Claire Zion, Christine Ball, Jeanne-Marie Hudson, Craig Burke, and everyone else on my team. And particularly to Jackie Cantor, who gave me a long rope, then pitched in with excellent advice.

Thanks always to my wickedly smart agent-in-crime, Christy Fletcher. To Leslie Gelbman, Louise Moore, and Dan Mallory for their sage advice and excellent taste.

For their help and guidance: Stacy Bass, Valerie Fischel, Wendy Walker, Glenn Ferrari, Randy Zuckerman.

To dear friends and my early readers: Patti Callahan Henry, Elin Hildebrand, Dani Shapiro, Lisa Lampanelli, Sharon Gitelle, Nicole Straight, Jerri Graham, Russ Hardin.

To brilliant Gus Walker for the perfect title.

And always, always, to my ever patient, beloved family, Ian, Max, Harry, Tabitha, Nate, and
Jasper.

ONE

I
t's lovely,” she lies, in her most gracious of voices, looking around at the tired wood paneling lining the walls of the living room, floor to ceiling. As she looks down, her gaze lands on well-worn salmon-pink shag carpeting and she quickly conceals her horror.

Emma wonders if this house might not be beyond even her capabilities to transform. Perhaps the landlord would let her paint it? Surely he would let her paint it—who wouldn't want to lighten up this room, so dark it feels more like a cave? She would paint it for free,
and
pull up that carpet. Maybe she would be lucky and find a hardwood floor underneath; even if it was merely concrete, surely it wouldn't cost too much to stick down some inexpensive sisal.

This room could be transformed, she determines. Lipstick on a pig is her specialty.

Her landlord, or potential landlord, smiles. “Hey, I know it's not
everyone's taste today,” he says. “Why do people want everything to be gray and modern?”

Emma is surprised by his comment, surprised frankly by his interest in making small talk. “I hate that look,” Emma offers. It happens that she does agree, quite passionately, in fact. “None of those decorated houses feel like real homes.”

“Exactly!” he says in delight. “This is a home.”

Struck by his words, by the obvious sincerity with which they are spoken, she turns to look at her potential landlord for the first time. She can't help but feel struck by the sight of him. He is not too tall, only a few inches taller than her, with skin tanned by the sun and an easy smile that seems to put her at ease. It isn't so much that she finds him attractive, but that there is something familiar about him, a recognition, a sense of having somehow met him before.

Perhaps because she has remained silent, he goes on to add, “At least, it was a home. My grandparents lived here for forty years.”

Yes,
thinks Emma,
it looks like it. It smells like it, too.
The air is fusty. Of course old people had lived here. That explains the wood paneling and the floral wallpaper in the family room; it also explains the salmon-pink carpet and avocado-green bathroom suite with matching tile.

“How would you feel about me putting . . .” Emma pauses, wondering how to say this diplomatically. She doesn't want to jump in and tell him she'd like to tear everything out and start again. He probably doesn't want to change anything; his voice had softened when he mentioned his grandparents. She has an odd reluctance to offend him, and senses she'll need to take this slowly if she wants this house. “. . . a woman's touch on the house?”

“A woman's touch!” The landlord smiles and nods approvingly.
“That's exactly what I've been saying this house needs for years. A woman's touch.”

She follows him into the kitchen at the back of the house and her heart sinks slightly. It hasn't been touched since the fifties, rough wood cabinets bumpy with layers of white paint, although pretty black iron hardware. Formica countertops with large cracks, and linoleum floors. A stove that is so ancient as to be fashionable again, and, surprisingly, a large modern stainless-steel fridge.

Emma looks at the fridge and raises an eyebrow as she looks over at the landlord.

Damn, she thinks. What was his name again? Donald? Derek? Something like that.

“The old fridge gave up last year,” he explains. “The tenants picked out this one. And I paid for it,” he adds quickly, as if to reassure her that he is a good landlord, on top of everything, ready to jump in and deal with problems.

“Great,” says Emma, wandering over to the back door and peering out through the glass onto a fenced-in garden, or what could be a garden if the weeds were cleared. “Can I go outside?” she asks, already out the door.

He follows her out, apologizing for the weeds. They both stand there as Emma looks around, her imagination already firing. There are two filthy peeling rattan chairs stacked off to the side, surrounded by boxes and baskets: in other words, trash.

The landlord turns to look and immediately apologizes. “I haven't been out here,” he explains. “Obviously all of that will be gone. I can replace those chairs with new ones.”

Emma is again struck by him. His eagerness to please doesn't seem solely mercenary. He wants her to know that he cares about the house
and yard. “Do I get to choose what kinds of chairs the new ones are? Like the fridge?” Emma says.

“As long as they're not too expensive.”

“I am the expert at renovating on a shoestring.” She smiles.

“You're my kind of woman.” He laughs, as Emma flushes slightly and turns away. A flirtatious landlord is the last thing she wants right now. “Sorry.” He apologizes immediately, realizing his mistake. “I was kidding. But I'm happy for you to choose things as long as they're within the budget.”

Emma looks up at the sky, noting the sun, looking at the shadows to try to figure out which way the garden faces. “Southwest,” she guesses, and he turns to her with a smile.

“You're a sun worshipper?”

“With this pale English skin?” She laughs and shakes her head. “I turn into one giant freckle in the sun. But I am a gardener. At least, a frustrated one. For years and years, I lived in flats in London dreaming of having a garden of my own. Then for the last five years I've been on the top of a high-rise in Battery Park.” Good lord. Why is she suddenly giving him her life story?

“Ah, so you're a city girl.”

“Not by choice.”

“You're ready to be out here?”

“Ready to be steps from the beach, in a gorgeous town where the pace of life is relaxed and the pressure is off? No. Definitely not.”

He laughs. “I've lived here my whole life, and wouldn't move anywhere else. How did you find Westport?”

“I have a friend who lives here, who I used to work with. She moved out three years ago after she had a baby, and she loves it. I've been out to visit her quite a few times, and something about this place feels right. I never thought I'd be able to move out here permanently, but . . .
I needed to make some big changes in my life. Moving somewhere like this, with a quieter pace of life, seemed like a good first step.”

“I saw on your application you're a banker. That's quite a commute.”

“Actually,” Emma says, “I took a package. I'm now officially unemployed, albeit with a very nice severance. I hope that won't be a problem?”

“As long as you pay your rent, nothing's a problem. What are you going to do here in town?”

Emma is struck again by the sincerity of his interest. He is not just making small talk, she is sure of it. He's looking at her, making her feel like he cares about what she'll say next. She shakes her head. “Thankfully, I have enough to have a little bit of breathing space. I don't really know. I've always had a dream about doing something with the home. Interior design, gardening, that sort of thing. I've been doing an online course to get the official qualification. Now all I need are clients.”

“And a house to do up.”

“And a garden to transform. Preferably one that faces southwest.” She grins as she looks around the garden.

He grins, too. “Then you've found it. It seems that you and this house were meant to be. Although, you couldn't do anything major to it without consulting with me.”

“Of course.” Emma laughs politely. She couldn't move in
unless
she did something major with the house. As it is, it's completely awful, but stepping back to take it in, even with all its flaws, she thinks she could turn this into a charming beach cottage.

The landlord seems like a nice guy. He may be resistant to her changes at first, but she surmises that she could ask forgiveness rather than permission for most things. If he walked into this room and
found the wood painted a lovely chalky white, the floors covered with sisal, the single lightbulb replaced with a pretty glass pendant light, surely he would be thrilled. Who
wouldn't
be thrilled at someone transforming their house for nothing? He would undoubtedly get more money for it next time he decides to rent it out.

The truth is that Emma Montague isn't looking for somewhere permanent just yet. She's just looking for a place to call home for the next year or so. A year to try to recover from the last five years of working in finance in New York. A year to try to figure out what kind of life she wants to live. For five years she has lived a life that wasn't hers. Five years of utter exhaustion; five years of keeping her head down and working like the devil, putting away enough money to be able to afford to do what she is doing now, leaving the rat race and pursuing her dream. Her goal is to figure out what her dream is. Right now she only knows that the beginning step is to find a world and a life that feels likes her own; a life in which she finally feels she belongs.

It starts with a house. She is itching to buy, but it is more sensible to rent, making sure this is where she wants to live. Still, the rentals down by the beach, here in Westport, Connecticut, are mostly prohibitive for a single girl with a budget, even an ex-banker. The last thing she wants to do is blow all her savings on rent.

This house, this dated, fusty house, is entirely within her budget, precisely because it
is
so dated and fusty. It is the perfect size—two bedrooms with a living room, kitchen, and family room that would make a perfect office.

And best of all there is a garden, or rather more than enough space for one. She can finally plant vegetables. She can put a gravel path down the middle, can grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce, plant roses and clematis over the fence at the back. She imagines a long, rustic table, a small group of friends sitting around, bottles of rosé
and candles interspersed with galvanized steel pots of lavender running down the center. Laughter. Happy faces. Everyone lit by the glow of summer and love.

Emma shakes her head to bring herself back to earth. She knows only one person—her friend Sophie Munster—here in Westport. She has no other local friends she can invite to sit around the table, and since she's something of an introvert, it may take a little while to find them. But she will find them.

Although a bit of a loner, she is loyal, and fun, when she finds people with whom she is comfortable. She is thinking of taking up yoga, and maybe knitting. There are evening classes at the local yarn store, Sophie says. They should both go. Sophie grew up here, although she went away to boarding school. She has friends from grade school, though, and seems to know almost everyone in town. Surely it's only a matter of time before Emma's fantasy of summer evenings comes true.

•   •   •

For as long as she can remember, Emma Montague has had a fascination with America. Growing up in her upper-crust family in Somerset, England, sent off to boarding school, then moving to London after university to enter the world of banking, she had the persistent belief that this was not supposed to be her life.

As a little girl, she had never quite felt she fitted in. She was loved and treasured, but her boisterous, overbearing mother and loving but somewhat beleaguered and introverted father didn't quite know how to connect with their quiet, studious child. The place she felt happiest, the place she found her solace and joy, was in the pages of books.

She read all the time. It was so much easier than dealing with the chaos of her playmates during recess. She was close to one or two of
her classmates, but she only liked seeing them one at a time. Otherwise, she was happier with her books. She was the child with the flashlight under the duvet late into every night. She would breeze through a book in a day and a half, then read it six more times.

She fell in love with America through the pages of these books. Her dull, patrician life in Somerset felt very staid compared to the lives of Jo and her sisters in
Little Women
, and Katy in the What Katy Did series. She devoured the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and dreamed of having a farm out in the middle of nowhere, growing all her own vegetables, raising her own animals.

Life then got in the way, sweeping her up into the cutthroat world of London finance, not because she had a passion for finance, but because it was what all the girls were doing at that time. First London, then New York. Finally, now that she has extricated herself, it looks like she has a shot at the kind of life she might actually want to live.

Westport, Connecticut, may not be Walton's Mountain, but there are enough trees for her to pretend, and the beauty of the beach on the doorstep is something she now realizes she has always wanted.

When she was living in Manhattan she would go running along the river every day before work. The sunlight glinting off the water brought a calm and peace to every morning. She hadn't known how much she wanted to be by the water until Sophie drove her to Compo Beach for a walk one weekend. That was the moment she knew this was where she wanted to be.

There had been a tremendous expectation for the life Emma was supposed to have led, at least from her parents. And she had tried to fit into the life they had designed for her. Namely, to work at a pretend job for a few years to enable her to meet the right kind of husband, before quickly getting pregnant, giving up work, and going on to raise three or four beautiful children in a lovely stone manse in Somerset.
Preferably near her parents. Have a couple of dogs, Gordon setters or pointers, possibly golden retrievers; have lots of local women friends who come for coffee. Get involved in the village fair and perhaps, given her love of books, institute a reading mentoring program in the less well-off town twenty minutes away.

Emma knew the path well, as it was the path so many of her childhood friends had taken. At thirty-seven, she is the only one still unmarried, apart from Imogen Cutliffe, who is one of the leading lights of British screen and stage and about to star as the lead in a film starring Bradley Cooper. Emma is the only one who continued to work and rise up the corporate ladder, putting all her focus on making money. It wasn't that she cared about money for the sake of money, but that it was the only path out: making enough money to retire from banking in her thirties, and the freedom to pursue her dream. If she could figure out what her dream was.

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