They are back! Cara, Michael, Moon, Kang, Madame Chang—the full cast of characters from Book 1—All My Love, from The Land Of Morning Calm—along with some new and intriguing personalities. For Cara Moon, life had come full circle. Once an accomplished and prominent interpreter in Seoul, South Korea, fate-altering events compelled her to return to her hometown in rural Northern California. Now, while reprising her role as a member of the lively Antonacci family and assuming sole responsibility for her newborn son, she is coping with the still-fresh and hurtful divorce from her Korean diplomat husband—Moon Hyo—and the vagaries of a capricious relationship with her best friend, Michael Lee. Yet, Cara realizes that she cannot remain in the back country she found so confining as a young woman—more so now since she had lived among other people and cultures of the globe. It was time to move on—hopefully in a place that would challenge her talents and intellect. A place where her son could happily acquire the necessary skills to develop and survive in an ever-changing world. Who will win her heart and assume his rightful place at her side? What, except her family’s love and support, is delaying her departure? Why did Michael claim to love her, yet continue to hold himself back? How does she not recognize, after all her accomplishments—that as the mistress of her own fate—she is capable of succeeding alone? Where on earth will she choose to begin again?
Cara Moon sat outdoors on the gracefully sweeping redwood deck that adjoined the back of her home, feeling the soothing warmth of the afternoon sun on her back.
The dormant volcano of Mount Shasta, haloed with a lenticular cloud and shrouded in mysticism and legend, provided a spectacular panoramic backdrop. The larger of its two peaks was still resplendent after 249 inches of winter snowfall that mantled the mythical lovers defining its topmost ridges—a Native American warrior and his sleeping princess.
Cara smiled contentedly, enjoying the life-sustaining current of her family ebb and flow around her. It was as if all the planets in the galaxy were in perfect alignment—with everyone healthy and happy, and peace and prosperity reigned throughout the realm.
Her son, Regalo, happily bounced on her friend Michael’s lap, pulling on the ears of his battered and much beloved stuffed gray bunny.
Jezebel, Cara’s Golden Retriever, was laying at Michael’s feet, never too far away from Regalo.
Vincenzo Antonacci, Cara’s father, was standing before the gas grill wearing a chef apron and oven mitt, waving grilling tongs in the air like a maestro while sharing with his grandsons, Franco and Gio, his years of wisdom on barbequing the perfect steak.
Her mother and sister, Angelina and Annabella, were bringing plates and silverware from the kitchen to set the patio table for Sunday dinner. Aldo, with a beer in his hand, affectionately patted his wife’s ample fanny—or, as Anabella breezily referred to it, her “largest asset”—as she walked by him.
Cara drew a blissful breath of sweet azalea-scented air into her lungs. She closed her eyes and captured this precious snippet of her life behind her eyelids, like a photograph. She savored the moment, committing it to her memory—when the existence she now took for granted would retreat to the past, taking with it the people she loved.
“Cara, are you all right?” she heard Michael ask with a light touch on her forearm.
Her eyes popped open. She grinned at him. “Perfect. It’s all just perfect.”
Mairet’s uncle, Aunt, and cousin Ashling stood with her on the Amtrak South Station platform, waiting for the arrival of the train that would take her back to Quantico before the New Year. It was just before 8:00 a.m., snowing steadily, miserably slushy, and bone chilling.
Mairet fondly smiled at her family. “You don’t have to wait with me. It’s freezing out here. Go home and enjoy a warm fire.”
“Nonsense,” her uncle shouted vehemently, vapor puffing from his mouth. He briskly rubbed his gloved hands together. “It shouldn’t be much longer now.”
Ashling sidled up to Mairet and produced a paperback novel she extracted from the deep pocket of her coat. “Here,” she whispered, surreptitiously thrusting the book into Mairet’s hand. “A little something to read on the train. Time will fly.”
Mairet examined the paperback. Her literature teacher in parochial school, Sister Mary Elizabeth, would say the book had the well-worn appearance of a woman of easy virtue—passed around and enjoyed by many.
A skillfully designed torso of a naked and splendidly muscled young man filled the cover, a barbed wire tattoo adorning his well-developed upper arm.
Mairet shot a startled glance at her wickedly grinning cousin who just recently graduated from tween to teen. “Do your parents know you read this stuff?”
Ashling cocked a hip and placed her hand upon it, feigning insult at her cousin’s presumption. “It’s a mystery!”
Puzzled, Mairet again inspected the cover. “A mystery?”
“It will be to you,” Ashling wisecracked under her breath.
The McCarrons observed their daughter conspiratorially whispering with her gullible cousin. They exchanged suspicious glances, curiously pondering what mischief she was hatching.
Ashling felt her parent’s eyes upon them and ground out between clenched teeth, “On the down low.” She shoved the book clutched in Mairet’s gloved hand into the depths of her carryon tote.
“Here we are now!” Mairet’s uncle cried jovially, heralding the arrival of the train.
The approaching Amtrak locomotive announced its mighty presence by shaking the platform beneath their feet as the engine powered down and the train rumbled into the station.
It was the aftermath of World War II and the end of Japanese occupation when the Soviet Union-supported Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—North Korea—pushed south into the American-backed Republic of Korea, engulfing almost the entire peninsula and cornering ROK forces in a small area surrounding Pusan.
To stop the advance of communism in South Korea, the United Nations sent military forces from fifteen member nations to the peninsula, with the United States dedicating the greatest number of troops.
Eleven months after the invasion, a squalling infant girl, just days old, was left on the doorstep of a Catholic convent in the less populated and mountainous northeastern region of South Korea.
Her mother, barely in her teens, could not bear the disgrace of her rape by an invading soldier, or her resultant pregnancy.
Bringing shame upon her family and shunned by her village, she gave birth to the baby in an ignorant, agonizing, and protracted labor in a cave where she used to play as a child with her brothers and sisters.
She limped seven miles to the convent—her traditional white skirt, chima, stained with the umbilical cord blood that had dried on her legs—and bid a tearful goodbye to her newborn daughter.
In a nearby mountain stream, the young woman waded into the icy-cold depths of a calm, deep-water pool. She became hypothermic in a matter of minutes. Her frail and weakened body peacefully drifted downward—like a withered leaf caste off from the branch of a tree—to rest on the sandy bottom. There, her spirit broke free, gratefully released from the heartache of her short and ill-fated life.
It was the summer of 1986. Typhoon Wayne—that would go on record as one of the longest lasting tropical cyclones in the northwestern Pacific Ocean—was creating chaos in southern China, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Vietnam, battering everything in its wake with torrential rains and gusts of wind up to nearly ninety-eight miles per hour.
Kang Dae Ho had been land locked for over a week. The fleet of fishing boats on which he had labored for almost three years bobbed crazily side by side, choking the harbor of Pusan—the largest port city of South Korea on the southeastern most tip of the Korean peninsula.
When Kang had graduated from secondary school in Seoul and turned the legal age of eighteen, he served his mandatory twenty-one months’ active duty in the Army of the Republic of Korea.
He found his way to Pusan by a stroke of fate. A fellow soldier who had befriended him, the son of a captain who berthed his fishing boats in Pusan, approached Kang with a job offer when they received their military discharges in the same week. With no plans of his own, and no objections to the work, Kang accepted.
While Typhoon Wayne disrupted trade and travel in the Pacific, Kang spent his time at a local harbor café he had found when he first arrived in Pusan. Its proprietor, and therefore the cuisine, was Russian. Kang did not care for the menu, although portions were generous and prices cheap. He was not there for the food.
There was a woman—big boned, ruddy-cheeked, coffee and cream-colored eyes, a thick hank of braided blonde hair that hung down the nape of her neck—who served the café’s customers. Her male admirers camped out day after day, boasting to one another and laughing as they ogled her enormous breasts and apple-shaped bottom.
Kang kept himself apart from these men, sat alone. He shunned their offers to speculate on the mystery surrounding this care-worn woman who defied an assignment of age.
She was from the Ukraine—they conceived.
She was a well-educated and vocal dissident against the brutality and social injustices of the communist regime—they whispered among themselves.
She had escaped from a Soviet forced labor camp in Siberia and, in gratitude, married the man who rescued her, who had risked his own life to free her—they romanticized.
She was unmarried, sister to a drunk and seafaring older brother, who was a brute and beat her, who extorted the pitiful wages she earned as a server—they sympathized.
Kang cared nothing about these rumors. In his innocent and impressionable youth, he was content to sit and look at her as she moved around the café—sensual yet remote, eyes direct and piercing—as if she was aware that she had captured his imagination, but was impervious to either admiration or insult.
Her name was Irina.