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Every Breath
Author:Nicholas Sparks

Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks




For Victoria Vodar





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


For me, the creation of any novel is a bit like I imagine childbirth to be: a process of anticipation, terror, grinding exhaustion, and eventually, exhilaration…an experience that I’m glad I don’t have to endure by myself. By my side every step of the way, from gestation to squalling birth, is my longtime literary agent, Theresa Park, who is not only incredibly talented and intelligent, but has been my closest friend over the last quarter century. The team at Park Literary & Media is hands down the most impressive, knowledgeable, and visionary in the business: Abigail Koons and Blair Wilson are the architects of my international career; Andrea Mai finds innovative ways for me to partner with retailers like Target, Walmart, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble; Emily Sweet manages my myriad social media, licensing, and brand partnership endeavors; Alexandra Greene provides essential legal and strategic support; and Pete Knapp and Emily Clagett ensure that my work remains relevant to a constantly evolving readership.

At the publisher that has debuted every one of my books since The Notebook, there have been many changes over the decades, but during the past several years I’ve been grateful to have my work championed by Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch. Grand Central Publishing Publisher Ben Sevier and Editor-in-Chief Karen Kosztolnyik have been recent but very welcome additions to the team, bringing with them fresh ideas and new energy. I’ll miss GCP’s VP of Retail Sales, Dave Epstein, who—together with his boss Chris Murphy and PLM’s Andrea Mai—helped shape the retail strategy for my last few books. Dave, I wish you many peaceful days of fishing during your retirement. Flag and Anne Twomey, you bring magic and class to each of my book jackets, year after year. To Brian McLendon and my extremely patient publicist, Caitlyn Mulrooney-Lyski, thank you for shepherding the marketing and publicity campaigns for my books with such care; and to Amanda Pritzker, your attentiveness and effective collaboration with the team at Park Literary are much appreciated.

My longtime publicist at PMK-BNC, Catherine Olim, is my fearless protector and straight-shooting advisor, and I treasure her counsel. The social media whizzes Laquishe “Q” Wright and Mollie Smith help me stay in touch daily with my fans and have encouraged me to find my own voice in this ever-shifting world of virtual communication; I’m grateful for your loyalty and guidance over the years.

In my film and TV endeavors, I’ve had the same remarkable team of representatives for 20+ years: Howie Sanders (now at Anonymous Content), Keya Khayatian at UTA, and my dedicated entertainment attorney Scott Schwimer. (Scottie, I hope you enjoy your namesake in this book!) Any author would be lucky to have his or her Hollywood projects shepherded by this Dream Team.

And finally, to my home team: Jeannie Armentrout; my assistant, Tia Scott; Michael Smith; my brother, Micah Sparks; Christie Bonacci; Eric Collins; Todd Lanman; Jonathan and Stephanie Arnold; Austin and Holly Butler; Micah Simon; Gray Zurbruegg; David Stroud; Dwight Carlblom; David Wang; my accountants, Pam Pope and Oscara Stevick; Andy Sommers; Hannah Mensch; David Geffen; Jeff Van Wie; Jim Tyler; David Shara; Pat and Billy Mills; Mike and Kristie McAden; longtime friends, including Chris Matteo, Paul DuVair, Bob Jacob, Rick Muench, Pete DeCler, and Joe Westermeyer; my extended family, including Monty, Gail, Dianne, Chuck, Dan, Sandy, Jack, Mike, Parnell, and all my cousins, nephews, and nieces; and finally my children, Miles, Ryan, Landon, Lexie, and Savannah…I say a prayer of thanks for your presence in my life, every day, and with every breath.





KINDRED SPIRIT




There are stories that rise from mysterious, unknown places, and others that are discovered, a gift from someone else. This story is one of the latter. On a cool and blustery day in the late spring of 2016, I drove to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, one of many small islands between Wilmington and the South Carolina border. I parked my truck near the pier and hiked down the beach, heading for Bird Island, an uninhabited coastal preserve. Locals had told me there was something I should see; perhaps, they’d even suggested, the site would end up in one of my novels. They told me to keep my eye out for an American flag; when I spotted it in the distance, I’d know I was getting close.

Not long after the flag came into view, I kept my eyes peeled. I was to look for a mailbox called Kindred Spirit. The mailbox—planted on a pole of aging driftwood near a saw grass–speckled dune—has been around since 1983 and belongs to no one and everyone. Anyone can leave a letter or postcard; any passerby can read whatever has been placed inside. Thousands of people do so every year. Over time, Kindred Spirit has been a repository of hopes and dreams in written form…and always, there are love stories to be found.

The beach was deserted. As I approached the isolated mailbox on its lonely stretch of shoreline, I could just make out a wooden bench beside it. It was the perfect resting place, an outpost of reflection.

Reaching inside the mailbox, I found two postcards, several previously opened letters, a recipe for Brunswick stew, a journal that appeared to have been written in German, and a thick manila envelope. There were pens, a pad of unused paper, and envelopes—presumably for anyone who was inspired to add their own story to the contents. Taking a seat on the bench, I perused the postcards and the recipe before turning to the letters. Almost immediately, I noticed that no one used last names. Some of the letters had first names, others had only initials, and still others were completely anonymous, which only added to the sense of mystery.

But anonymity seemed to allow for candid reflection. I read about a woman who, in the aftermath of a struggle with cancer, had met the man of her dreams at a Christian bookstore, but worried that she wasn’t good enough for him. I read about a child who hoped to one day become an astronaut. There was a letter from a young man who planned to propose to his sweetheart in a hot air balloon, and still another from a man who wanted to ask his neighbor on a date but feared rejection. There was a letter from someone recently released from prison who wanted nothing more than to start his life over. The final missive was from a man whose dog, Teddy, had recently been put to sleep. The man was still grieving, and after finishing the letter, I studied the photograph that had been tucked inside the envelope, showing a black Labrador retriever with friendly eyes and a graying muzzle. The man had signed his initials A.K., and I found myself hoping he would find a way to fill the void that Teddy’s absence had left behind.

By then, the breeze was steady and the clouds had begun to darken. A storm was rolling in. I returned the recipe, postcards, and letters to the mailbox and debated opening the manila envelope. The thickness indicated a substantial number of pages, and the last thing I wanted was to get caught in the rain as I trekked back to my truck. Flipping over the envelope as I debated, I saw that someone had printed on the back The Most Amazing Story Ever!

A plea for recognition? A challenge? Written by the author, or by someone who’d examined the contents? I wasn’t sure, but how could I resist?

I opened the clasp. Inside the envelope were a dozen or so pages, photocopies of three letters, and some photocopied drawings of a man and woman who clearly looked to be in love with each other. I set those aside and reached for the story. The first line made me pause:

The destiny that matters most in anyone’s life is the one concerning love.