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Spotlight: From Across the Room by Gina L. Mulligan

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Self-indulgent young writer Thomas Gadwell has traveled from Boston to the new Hotel Del Coronado in California to at last finish his novel when he meets the clever and headstrong Miss Mary Harting. At once Thomas tosses aside his literary pursuits for a charmed summer of romance that ends with the happy couple making future plans. However, Mary Harting is the only unmarried daughter of notorious railroad tycoon Charles Harting, and he has no intention of letting a useless wordsmith derail his own critical plans for Mary. The couple must continue a clandestine courtship, but Thomas’ ingenuity has unexpected repercussions and he unwittingly uncovers a sinister plot of deception, greed, and blackmail. Guided by mentor Henry James, to win Mary, Thomas must step from the pages of the world he creates to explore his own insecurities, battle against worldly corruption, and expose family demons.

Told through a series of clever, heartfelt, and engaging letters, From Across the Room is a voyeuristic escapade that delights at every twist. Reflecting back to a time when letters were saved in the imagination of the reader, the lost art of letter writing brings to life the opulent Gilded Age and unfolds the universal passions of love, ambition, and the resilient bonds of family.

Excerpt

June 7, 1888

DEAR MOTHER —

I received your telegram. No, I was not shanghaied through a trap door at The Beantown Tavern. My escape from summer in Boston was perhaps impulsive, but you can assure Aunt Ruth the hotel is not overcrowded with men in jockey hats brandishing Spencer rifles and fishing lures. She may cancel her trip.

Having received the recommendation for this California jaunt from Henry (you know him as Mr. James), I imagined a maudlin inn promoting fireside confessions and pithy dining selections like Hawthorne Hasty Pudding. Surprises began the moment I arrived.

Ten miles of lurching turns had soured my exhilaration, not to mention my stomach, when at last the train gave its final sigh. We arrived at dusk, and through my window I saw golden strands of light shimmering on the Pacific. Though the smell of the crisp air was stirring and I was eager to part from the jarring iron horse, my fellow riders were quite preoccupied.

Gentlemen threatened a frenzied list of litigation if monogrammed trunks were damaged. The ladies, fretful about sand in their boots, tightened their mantles against the breeze and sent husbands to fetch fleeing bonnets. There was also consternation over costumes for a masquerade ball and how the damp climate flattens ruffles. In truth, I was discouraged by their nonchalant reaction to the splendid welcome.

Colorful streamers waved like banderoles at the Boston Harbor Festival and a brass band played “Liberty Bell Quickstep” from somewhere in the depths of the hotel. Stewards in emerald waistcoats and black bowties weaved through the crowd with trays of champagne, and a man in a white tailcoat announced dinner was served in the dining room at eight o’clock. Toasting my arrival to the West with champagne felt as awkward as the first time my father handed me the reins. I expected a glass of watered ale in a dirty tin cup. In fact, my thoughts were on such a barley pop when a porter in a red Kepi cap tapped my shoulder and took my satchel.

“Welcome, my good sir, to San Diego’s new Hotel Del Coronado. On behalf of the staff I’d like to extend our deepest appreciation for your patronage. A complimentary bottle of Chateau Margaux is in your suite, and we’d like to offer you a hansom cab tour of the city. Your attendant can arrange your visit whenever you’re interested and available.

“I mention available, sir, because here at The Del there are many ways to occupy yourself. Each morning you’ll receive a list of the day’s activities and the appropriate attire for the evening’s entertainment. In addition to your personal attendant, there’s a concierge to arrange equipment rental for archery, croquet, golf, and boating. Our kitchen is equipped to handle any dietary restrictions, and the smoking lounge is well stocked. Our only goal is to provide you with a memorable summer, sir. We’re proud to serve you in any way possible.”

His lavish greeting paled in comparison to the lady behind him.

Before me was a generous Queen Anne painted stark white. Long shadows caressed her red dome roof, and I saw the fetching silhouette of grand turrets, carved spindles, and a large walking deck leading to the sea. Rows of spacious windows faced the ocean like soldiers ready to march, and an ethereal mist swirled across the veranda.

“Lovely,” I muttered.

“Why, thank you, young man. It’s new. Bought it especially for the trip.”

Mother, I turned to see a round woman adjusting a hat with black feathers and gold ladybugs swinging from brass wire. It reminded me of a child’s mobile. As she walked away I heard her call out, “You see, Stella, I told you bugs were fashionable this year.”

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About the Author

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Gina L. Mulligan is a veteran freelance journalist for numerous national magazines and the author of the award-winning novel, REMEMBER THE LADIES and FROM ACROSS THE ROOM. After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement for women with breast cancer. She was honored for her charitable work on the nationally syndicated television talk show The Steve Harvey Show, People.com, and TODAY.com.

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