First, a recap of yesterday’s post…
In one of many formal and informal interviews with Sydney, she pointed out that TouchStone for play deals almost entirely with the story of its heroine, Beth Parker. The reader travels the path that has led her to London; experiences the secret shame she lives with every day – that also haunts her every night; senses the ever-present fear of being found by the man who robbed her of her innocence; and, most important, celebrates her metaphorical “awakening from a deep sleep”- emotionally, sexually, and spiritually – by the powerfully protective, secretive and sometimes terrifying playboy-turned-prince, Ayden Stone. All of these plot elements are foundational to understand Beth’s transformation throughout the series from a shy schoolteacher to a brave, passionate, determined partner; the one woman who could reach Ayden’s ‘heart of stone’; the only person who could or would literally sacrifice everything to claim their shared destiny and prove the power of their love. The focus changes significantly in TouchStone for giving. This is Ayden’s story, and it’s often a very painful one. It deals with yet another common fairy tale theme: origins – where we come from, what makes us become who we are, what drives our behaviour. In TouchStone for giving, after the dramatic cliff-hanger ending of TouchStone for play, Ayden must make a choice. He already knows he cannot treat Beth as he has every other woman in his life. She won’t accept that; she can’t give him the love he needs, and she won’t give herself to him completely without knowing who he really is. So, gradually he starts to “let Beth in,” to prove his love for her and his commitment to their future. He knows that he must do that or risk the unthinkable – losing his one chance at true, unconditional love – which is the only thing that matters to him now.
“Everything I’ve ever done, all my achievements pale into insignificance compared to you. You’re my only true asset. If I don’t have you, then it’s all been a fucking waste of time.”
Re-reading & Re-thinking TouchStone for giving…
To prepare for this article, I had to re-read TouchStone for giving. In doing so, I found so many clues and connections woven through it that I realized that TouchStone for giving is much more than it seems. The foreshadowing elements throughout the second book in The Story of Us trilogy truly make it the bridge novel, building on the foundation of TouchStone for play, adding depth, complexity and heart-stopping suspense — setting the stage for the ultimate battle for their destiny in TouchStone for ever.
It is difficult to explore and explain these clues and connections without spoilers, so to avoid them I’ll simply pose some questions for readers to consider. For those of you who haven’t read the trilogy yet, watch for them as you read; but don’t expect to understand them — because you won’t until you finish TouchStone for ever and can see how every scene in the earlier books is inexorably linked to the finale. So read and simply enjoy the addictive power of the story itself.
For those of you who have read all three books – it’s time to go back and take a closer look, because I guarantee you missed at least 85% of them the first time around. I admit it – I did. I was so absorbed in Ayden’s “back story”; so fascinated by his transformation as a man, and a lover, and a life partner; so caught up in the suspense as Dan Rizler and Elise Richards “moved in for the kill” that I could think of nothing else. Taking a step back, after reading TSFE, it was as if I merely skimmed the surface of the real story. The romance junkie in me took over and my literary mind took a short holiday. It was a thrill ride, an emotional roller-coaster, but that was only part of its power as a linchpin for the finale.
I’ve heard from some readers – devoted fans and new readers alike – that TouchStone for ever was a shocking departure from the previous books, and for that reason they were totally stunned when they read it. Like me, these readers missed the subtle clues and connections between the three books, because Sydney so deliberately, skillfully, and seamlessly wove them into the fabric of the trilogy, they were easy to miss. For that reason, in my opinion, The Story of Us trilogy demands a second, maybe even a third read to truly appreciate the magnitude of the story, its powerful meaning, and its literary quality.
Now, to the heart of the matter, the “Heart of Stone”…
As I mentioned, TouchStone for giving is Ayden’s story. Faced with the real possibility that protecting Beth from the secrets of his past will be their undoing, he struggles with what to reveal and when. However, accustomed to being “in control”, he also underestimates Beth’s ability, as well as her determination, to find answers on her own. This leads to conflict more than once, as Ayden finds himself having to explain some of her shocking discoveries about his playboy past.
Ayden “Revealed”: The Lost Boy, The Playboy, & The Prince
The Lost Boy
Without spoiling the cliff-hanger ending of TouchStone for play, here is a short – and probably incomplete – summary of what Ayden reveals in TouchStone for giving, with references to some of the fairy-tale archetypes, themes and motifs that are exemplified in his character.
First, he carries a sense of deep guilt, remorse, and failure, hidden from the rest of the world, but not from Beth. Beneath the confident mask and commanding presence he exhibits as the powerful Managing Director of Ayden Stone Media International (ASMI), there is a ‘lost boy’: a boy who lost his childhood; who never fit in; who was told that he was utterly unloveable.Ultimately, he uses “armour” – a steely persona – to protect him from further hurt or rejection. He distrusts others, keeps to himself, generally thinks of people as a means to an end, and is a force to be reckoned with in the business world.
But then, when he lashes out at Beth over a little white lie, it all falls apart. Having grown up to believe that his bad behavior as a boy, and now as a man, requires harsh punishment, he has never experienced the gift of forgiveness that comes with unconditional love; and has never considered allowing people, even his best friend Jake, to love or protect him. Beth confronts him, challenges all of his assumptions about himself and the people around him, and this time, something within Ayden awakens. He realises that being honest with Beth is not only what she deserves, it is the only way he will ever deserve her.
“I don’t deserve you…” “You make me a better person, and I swear to God I’ll learn how to take better care of you. I promise I will.” “This place, it feels like home and that’s because you’re here.” “Because, when I looked into your eyes I was swept away. I knew I would do anything to keep you. I had to behave differently with you. I…I wanted you to love me.”
Strengthened by their bond, Ayden summons the courage to introduce Beth to his adoptive parents. He wants her to know who he was, trusting in her compassion and unconditional love, but it isn’t easy for him – it takes bravery to face the memory of his rebellious, angry pre-teen years, and all the times he was “handed back” before he was finally adopted by Sylvia and Patrick. Sylvia, who loves him as if he were her own, gives Beth important insights into who he was as a child, and what drove him to become the man he is today.
“He was such an angry boy. He made it so difficult for people to love him but we’ve never stopped trying. Even now … All through his life, people have underestimated him, at their peril.”
Other revelations at their meeting give clues to a shared past. The marbles that Sylvia showed Beth – those on the cover of TouchStone for giving – symbolize a secret Ayden has yet to reveal, and she has yet to remember.
The Playboy: Enter Alenka, again…
“Now you know you must take care. Things are not always what they seem, Elizabeth.”
Truer words were never spoken. Of all the secondary – but ultimately very important – characters in The Story of Us, Alenka, Ayden’s supermodel ex-lover, is probably the most overlooked and underestimated character in the series. It’s easy to dismiss her as a bitter ex with an ulterior motive, but only half of that statement is true. Here are some “threads” that may have been overlooked; like threads in a sweater, if you pull on them, you will unravel some information vital to understanding her purpose and her extraordinarily important role in the TouchStone series.
Beth, looking a photo of Alenka, taken in Rome:
“Because of her height and stunning beauty, she stands out in the crowd. In fact, she looks out of place surrounded by mere mortals…”
Beth, believing that Alenka is stalking Ayden, decides to confront her. With Charlie’s help Beth is able to get Alenka’s address and bravely goes to defend her future husband. Alenka is not at all surprised by her visit; it is Beth that is in for the shock of her life, in black and white.
“This was the last time Ayden laid his hands on me.” … “It’s a strong, powerful hand with oval-shaped nails that are filed short, perfect for probing and exploring. On the middle finger rests a band of broad platinum that is never removed. I recognise that hand and forget to breathe.” … “That realisation has me gasping for air.”
Remember that ring? The one Beth first notices at the school, when Ayden seductively sips the spring water from the bottle? It’s all the proof she needs that her future husband has explored this woman’s darkest fantasies before. This is also where Alenka says, “Now you know you must take care. Things are not always what they seem, Elizabeth.”
And she’s right; more right than Beth can grasp until one climactic scene in TouchStone for ever brings all the clues together that she missed at the time. So, without spoilers, here are a few statements that support Alenka’s assertion that things are not as they seem:
“You need not concern yourself. Ayden is a secret I intend to keep in my heart and in this room, but there is one other who will not allow you to exist in his secret world.”
As they part company, Beth, believing they are connected in some way as kindred spirits, says, “Thank you Alenka. I have a feeling you and I may be seeing a lot more of each other.” And Alenka responds, “You can count on it, Frances Elizabeth Parker.” (How did Alenka know Beth’s full name? Is that a plot fault? No, it’s a clue.)
And there is one more clue…Beth describes it: “She seems to have the wisdom of the Gods hidden beneath those shimmering eyes.” More than just pretty prose – it foreshadows the unexpected turn of events that plays out in the trilogy’s epic conclusion. There is a fairy tale archetype in play here that can’t be revealed until we explore TouchStone for ever, because I promised no spoilers.
Beth knows that what they have is no ordinary love; it’s fate. She sees the lost boy and the playboy, but Ayden is her Prince Charming – the one she wished for, hoped for while she was “waiting to be found.”
“But what we have goes beyond the physical, doesn’t it? It’s profound. It scares the shit out of me but it’s undeniable. It’s that feeling of relief and thankfulness at having found one another. We’re soul mates, Ayden.”
Ayden replies, “I love you, more than you know.”
This, too, has meaning beyond the obvious, as we learn later in the story, at a fairy tale wedding that had both witnesses and readers crying in the aisles.
Photo courtesy of Henry Cavill World (Facebook)
“Jake produces the ring on a cushion but, before Ayden places it on my finger, he turns over my left hand. ‘Close your eyes, Beth.’ I do as he asks, feeling the air still as the congregation holds their breath. ‘Open.’ I look down and I see a pale pink ribbon. It’s not new and it’s tied into an untidy bow. Surprised by the gift I look up into his eyes, unsure of what to say. ‘Wake up, baby,’ he pleads, coaxing me to make sense of it. As time stands still I use it to look around waiting, hoping to rediscover a memory…”
The fairy-tale wedding scene is beautifully memorable, for the ceremony itself, the music and the revelation at the altar. Not only that but the sudden arrival of shadow-like figures determined to take Ayden away leaves Beth with no alternative but to fight for him. This is the beginning of her transformation from shy-and-unassuming Beth, the ‘girl’, to Beth the ‘woman’, hell-bent on rescuing her prince from dark forces. Once again, this adds an unexpected twist to an already captivating plot.
Saving the best for last…
TouchStone for giving ends with one of the most dramatic scenes in any novel out there. It supercedes the romance genre – even the romantic suspense sub-genre – and becomes a gripping thriller. Going back to the prologue, we read:
“When nothing else matters…you have to do or die.”
Finally, the night before their wedding, one last thought, before they make love, foreshadows future events:
“The Stone veneer seems to be cracking under the strain. I only know of one way to restore his brave and beautiful face; to show him he is loved…more than life itself.”
Not only do these phrases capture the heart-pounding, cliff-hanger ending of this book, it portends the ultimate battle between life and death in TouchStone for ever.
Parting Words: As you read (or re-read) TouchStone for giving:
Open your mind, your heart, your soul; take a leap of faith, and unlock the power of your imagination to truly experience this extraordinary trilogy as it is meant to be.
There’s no quiz at the end of any of these posts, but your thoughts and reactions are more than welcome. I invite you to start a discussion, ask questions, and have some fun debating the ideas I’m throwing out this week!
See you again soon to continue with TouchStone for ever, the unexpected, unparalleled, ultimate finale to the ultimate trilogy.