Among The Branded by Linda Smolkin
What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life?
While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.
Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, AMONG THE BRANDED explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs. This moving debut novel by Linda Smolkin is a great addition for readers who enjoy books by Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah, and Liane Moriarty.
It all started with the Moo Shoo Chicken, wreaking havoc on one of the moms in the upstairs bathroom.
I felt for Jane, but had no desire to wear the shaggy costume meant for her.
Svetlana stood next to me while the kids ran around, some playing tag, others spilling punch on the kitchen floor.
“Hey, guys,” she said, “put down the juice boxes, or somebody’s going to get hurt.”
She grabbed a sponge and bent down to clean up the mess.
“Rockin’ party,” I joked.
“More like raucous.
Put a bunch of four-year-olds together, and I’m having a love fest with the linoleum.”
Sveta, as I’d called her for years, stood up and gave me a mischievous look, as if she was about to share some juicy gossip about a neighbor on her cul-de-sac.
Instead, she asked me to take Jane’s place and dress up as Ripsie the Retriever.
She asked twice then begged.
It brought me back to when we first met, and she insisted I tag along for a Thursday-night Happy Hour.
“Why can’t you wear it?”
“Because I’m reading the book.
And you’re taller—it’ll fit better.” I washed my hands and reached for some pretzels.
“Uh-huh, great excuse.”
There wasn’t enough birthday cake to make me agree.
I’m claustrophobic, I could say.
I’m allergic to dogs, crossed my mind, even though I had my own version at home, a German Shepherd named Ginger.
But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t disappoint Sveta’s grandson, Evan, on his fourth birthday.
So on a Sunday afternoon, I became Ripsie.
I went to a spare bedroom overflowing with Evan’s toys—a half-built spaceship near the door, coloring books and markers on the desk, an unfinished puzzle on the floor.
I stepped over a train set, slipped my legs into the costume, and pulled it up and over.
I looked pretty cute as a retriever, I admitted to myself in the mirror, even if I was bright yellow and already sweaty.
I took one last look then stepped over the train set again and waited in the hallway for Sveta’s cue.
First, she read Ripsie Goes to the Bakery then Ripsie Makes a New Friend.
After finishing Here Comes Ripsie, Sveta said, “Well, kids, does anyone see Ripsie? Where could she be?”
From around the corner, I came out on all twos, waddling along as I waved both hands and wiggled my tail.
A kid stood up and stopped in front of me.
He stayed there for a moment then shouted, “That’s not Ripsie! That’s some guy in a costume.”
It was Evan. He shouted some more. “Take off your head and show us your face!”
I was horrified and couldn’t move.
Sveta walked over to whisper something to him.
He sat down while a few kids came up to hug me and sit on my lap. “I love you, Ripsie,” said a sweet girl.
“You’re so soft and fluffy,” said another.
After a few more sweaty minutes and several waves goodbye, I walked back to the bedroom and changed out of the costume.
I opened the door, startled to see Evan waiting there.
“Ha! I knew it!” he roared with laughter.
“Knew what?” I brushed the top of his hair then pushed softly on his nose.
Evan reminded me of Jack when he was that age—so clever, so opinionated.
“You were Ripsie!”
“No, I wasn’t!”
I bent down to get a better look at his brown eyes then tickled him so he’d laugh a little harder.
“Yes, you were!” he shouted and took off with a mad dash when Sveta yelled, “Pizza’s here. Come and get it.”
Copyright © 2017 by Linda Smolkin.
All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-0-9986171-1-4 (paperback)
This excerpt may not be reproduced or scanned without written permission from the author. For more information about Among the Branded, please visit lindasmolkin.com.
Linda Smolkin always wanted to be a writer—ever since she saw her first TV commercial and wondered how to pen those clever ads. She got her degree in journalism and became a copywriter. Linda landed a job at an ad agency, where she worked for several years before joining the nonprofit world. She’s currently working on her second novel, which will be released in Spring 2018. When not in front of the computer, she’s behind the drums (slightly) annoying her husband, son, and their 70-pound dog. For more information, visit her website at lindasmolkin.com and follow her on Twitter @lindasmolkin and Facebook @AuthorLindaSmolkin.
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