Tess Dyer is in pain.
It’s not the kind of pain she can see and smell and wrap with an ace bandage. It’s the kind she tries to numb with sex and work and cleaning-cleaning-cleaning the house. The kind that comes from enduring a lifetime of rejection. First from her mother–whom Tess knows would have aborted her had the law allowed it–then from a string of men whose names she can never remember. And finally, at age thirty-four, from her husband of ten years; the man who once promised to love her forever.
Now her divorce is final. She trudges out of one small Maine town and into an even smaller one. There she meets twenty-five-year-old Brian LaChance. He is struggling to keep Rachel, the sister he raised, from becoming another victim of the drug problem that infests their impoverished town. Brian is immediately drawn to Tess’s quirky, outspoken nature, and to the beauty he sees in the haunting pictures she paints. Her own initial attraction to him is purely physical; just a warm, young body to help her mask the pain. Soon, though, she comes to admire his kindness and strength, and reluctantly allows herself to fall in love with him. But the fear of losing it is always there. Because Tess has heard the promise of forever before and now she knows that there’s no such thing. And when her ex-husband pays an unexpected visit, his cruel, taunting remarks make Brian wonder whether her feelings for him are genuine. Whether they go any deeper than just sex after all.
Meanwhile, Rachel begins a relationship with an abusive drug dealer and dives head-first into the dangerous world of addiction. As his sister’s life spirals out of control, Brian is unable to cope with his guilt and grief, and Tess is unable to comfort him. Because she has finally found a pain that sex will not bury. A pain that uncovers her own barely-suppressed feelings of worthlessness, and forces her to make a choice: continue wandering through life, drifting and numb, or confront her past and start living…for real.