A Summer Affair

A Novel


By Elin Hilderbrand

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The perfect wife and mother finds the perfect temptation in this "perfect summer cocktail of sex, sun, and scandal" (Kirkus Reviews).

Claire has a problem with setting limits. All her life she has taken on every responsibility, assumed every burden, granted every request. Claire wants it all—and in the eyes of her friends, she has it: a devoted husband, four beautiful children, even a successful career as an artist. So when she agrees to chair the committee for Nantucket's social event of the year, she knows she can handle it. Claire can handle anything.

But when planning the gala propels her into the orbit of billionaire Lock Dixon, unexpected sparks begin to fly. Lock insists on working closely with Claire—often over a bottle of wine—and before long she can't ignore the subtle touches and lingering looks. To her surprise, she can't ignore how they make her feel, either. Claire finds the gala, her life, and herself spinning out of control.

A Summer Affair captures the love, loss, and limbo of an illicit romance and unchecked passion as it takes us on a brave and breathless journey into the heart of one modern woman.

"Think you know where this is going? Think again. Hilderbrand is way too smart to give away the whole story in her title." —Elisabeth Egan, New York Times


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Table of Contents

Reading Group Guide

A Preview of Here's to Us

A Preview of The Castaways


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He Asks Her

Early Fall 2007

Claire Danner Crispin had never been so nervous about a lunch date in all her life.

"What do you think he wants?" she asked Siobhan.

"He wants to shag you," Siobhan said. Then she laughed as if the idea was preposterous and hysterical, which, indeed, it was.

Lock Dixon had called Claire at home and invited her to lunch at the yacht club.

"There's something I'd like to talk with you about," he'd said. "Are you free Tuesday?"

Claire was taken completely by surprise. When she'd seen his name on the caller ID, she'd nearly let it go to voice mail. "Yes. Yes, I am. Tuesday."

It was something to do with the charity, she decided. Since selling his company in Boston and moving to Nantucket year-round, Lock Dixon had graciously agreed to serve as the executive director of Nantucket's Children, the island's biggest nonprofit organization. "Graciously," because Lock Dixon was so wealthy he never had to work again. Claire had joined the board of directors of Nantucket's Children right before she became pregnant with Zack, but because of her fall in the hot shop and Zack's premature birth and all the complications thereof, she had been little more than a name on the letterhead. Still, it was the charity, now, that connected them.

But there was an invisible thread, too: the unspoken accusation about Daphne's accident. Did Lock want to revisit the night of the accident now, years later? Claire fretted. She buttoned her cardigan wrong; she nearly locked her keys in the car in the yacht club parking lot.

And yet, once Claire and Lock were seated, overlooking the trim yacht club lawn and the blue harbor beyond, it was he who seemed nervous, worked up, agitated. He wiggled in his wrought iron chair; he fussed over what Claire might order from the menu. ("Get anything you want," Lock said. "Get the lobster salad. Anything.") After their orders were placed and small talk was exhausted, there was a dramatic pause in the conversation, a making way, a throat clearing. Claire nearly laughed; she felt like she was being proposed to.

Would she consider chairing the Nantucket's Children Summer Gala the following August?

Claire filled with relief. It felt like laughing gas; it felt like she might levitate. It felt like the invisible thread had been snipped, cut: she was free from the awful weight that attended her connection with Lock Dixon. Was it okay, then, to imagine that the accusation she had seen in his eyes years earlier had been nothing more than a figment of her imagination?

She was so caught up in wondering that she didn't respond. In truth, it would be fair to say she hadn't even heard the question. It was like the time she fainted during track practice, when she was seventeen, and she became convinced that she was pregnant. She was dead certain; she had Matthew ready to sell his guitar so they could pay for an abortion, but she cried herself to sleep, worried that she was going to burn in hell, and she decided to keep the baby. Her mother would raise it while Claire went to college…

When Claire went to the doctor, he said, You're not pregnant. The problem is that you have anemia.

Anemia! She had shouted the word with glee.

"Chairing?" she said now.

"It's a lot of work, but probably not as much as you think. You'll have a cochair. I know you're busy, but…"

Yes, three children and a baby and a glassblowing business put on hold for the foreseeable future so she could focus on her family. She was not the right person to ask. Not this year. Maybe down the road, when she had her head above water. Then it dawned on Claire why he was asking her: The summer gala was a concert. Lock was coming to her because they wanted Matthew to perform. Max West, her high school sweetheart, now one of the biggest rock stars in the world.

Claire took in some of the rarefied yacht club air. There were a million thoughts zipping through her mind: Jason would kill her. Siobhan would laugh and call her a pushover (No Boundaries!). Margarita, no salt. It will never come out. Would Matthew do it if she asked? She hadn't spoken to him in years. He might, he just might. Anemia! Nantucket's Children was a good cause. The best cause.

Trumping all those thoughts was this: Lock Dixon was the one person Claire could not say no to. What had happened the night of Daphne's accident hung in the air between them, unfinished business. It hung between them in a way that made Claire feel she owed Lock something.

"Yes," Claire said. "I'd love to. Really, I'd be honored."

Even though she had four children to raise? Even though she hadn't blown out so much as a single goblet since Zack was born?

"Really?" Lock said. He sounded surprised.

"Absolutely," she said.

"Well, okay, then," Lock said. He raised his sweating glass of iced tea, as did Claire, and they touched glasses, sealing the deal. "Thank you."

Jason was going to kill her.

They had been married for twelve years, together for fourteen. They had met here, on Nantucket, during the hottest summer on record. Jason had been born and raised on the island, he knew it inside out, and he took pride in sharing it with Claire. Each day was like a present: They went clamming naked at sunset on the south shore. They went skinny-dipping in the private swimming pools along Hulbert Avenue (Jason knew which pools had security systems and which didn't). Theirs was, in every aspect, a summer romance. Claire had just graduated from RISD with a degree in glassblowing. She was torn between taking a job offer from Corning and teaming up with a traveling crafts fair and seeing the country. Jason had graduated from Northeastern with a degree in political science, which he declared useless. Four wasted years, he said of college, except for the beer and the proximity to Fenway, and the introduction to de Tocqueville (but she was pretty sure he was only saying that to impress her). He wanted to live on Nantucket and build houses.

They were in love that summer, but what Claire remembered was how temporary it felt, how fragile, fleeting, ethereal. In truth, they barely knew each other. Claire told Jason about her years with Matthew—Max West, the Max West of "This Could Be a Song"—but Jason didn't believe her. Didn't believe her! He didn't believe she could blow glass, either. She showed him her goblets and footed candy dishes; he shook his head in wonder, but not in acknowledgment.

They sailed on Jason's Hobie Cat, they fished for scup and stripers, they dove off the boat into the dark water, they had bonfires at Great Point and slept under the stars, they had sex with the wild abandon of two twenty-year-olds who had nothing to lose. They hung out with Jason's brother, Carter, who was a chef at the Galley, and Carter's girlfriend, Siobhan, who hailed from County Cork. Siobhan wore square glasses and had dark freckles across her pale nose, like pepper over mashed potatoes. Claire fell in love with Carter and Siobhan as well as Jason, and one night she was drunk and bold enough to say, "What if I don't go to Corning after Labor Day? What if I stay on Nantucket and marry Jason? And Siobhan, you marry Carter, and we raise kids together and live happily ever after?"

They had laughed at her, and Siobhan told her to piss off—but she, Claire Danner, had been right, and they were now, all of them, Crispins. Ten strong, including the kids. It was storybook—except that it was tough, frustrating, boring reality. Claire and Jason had gone from being two kids with no tan lines and sand in the cracks of their bums to being Mom and Dad, the heads of a minicorporation, the Crispin family of 22 Featherbed Lane. Jason had worked for Eli Drummond for years, and on the weekends he slaved on their own house as well as the hot shop for Claire out back. Then Jason hired four Lithuanian guys and went out on his own. Claire cultivated five clients with erudite and expensive taste in art objects made of glass. She gave birth, in quick succession, to J.D., Ottilie, and Shea. Claire worked erratic hours—after the kids went to bed, before they woke up. Then, when Shea hit preschool, Claire worked more. Everything was okay, fine, good at times, but there were bumps. Jason started smoking at work—smoking!—and trying to hide it with beer or breath mints. Jason became resentful when Claire turned him down for sex. She tried to explain to him what it felt like to be pawed by three kids all day. She was their slave, their employee; she worked for them. Was it any wonder that when the end of the day came, she wanted to be left alone? Jason had never been intellectually curious (after that first summer, he never mentioned de Tocqueville's name again), and over time he became incorrigibly sucked into the television. Claire found the TV maddening—the channel surfing, the sports. Jason drove a pickup that was as huge and black as a hearse, a gas- guzzler he affectionately called Darth Vader. Darth Vader? Claire said, incredulous that she had married a man who treated his truck like a fraternity brother or a pet. The kids like it, Jason said. The truck, the love affair with the tube, the sneaked cigarettes, and the early morning breakfasts at the Downyflake so that Jason could touch base with his subs and hear about new business—all of it served to push Claire to the brink.

But there were also many wonderful things about Jason. He worked hard and provided for his family. He prided himself on being simple and straightforward, honest and true; he was the right angle of a T square, the bubble in the level, always locating the center. What you see is what you get. He adored the kids. He had a foot soldier in their son J.D. J.D. helped Jason with projects around the house: rolling paint onto walls, turning the screwdriver while sucking intently on his bottom lip. I'm Dad's wingman. They built a go-cart using an old lawn mower engine; they went scalloping together and pulled cherrystone clams out of the wet, marshy sand with a tool Jason had fashioned from a piece of PVC pipe. You'll never go hungry with the Crispin men around! Jason was exemplary with the girls, too—father of the year. He delivered Ottilie and Shea to dance lessons, he bought them bouquets on the day of their dance recital, and he whistled louder than anyone else in the audience. He tirelessly explained that Ottilie was an old-fashioned French name. We wanted something unique, he said, beaming with pride.

When Claire got pregnant with Zack, things were going smoothly. She was working on a huge commission for her best client, Chick Klaussen: a sculpture for the entry of his offices on West Fifty-fourth Street in Manhattan. She planned to be finished with the commission right before the baby was due. Jason was happy because he was, deep in his soul, a procreator. He would have had ten kids if Claire was willing, a stable of kids, a posse, a football team, a tribe: the Crispin clan.

When Claire was thirty-two weeks along, she was in the hot shop working on the Klaussen commission. She had a week or two of work left at the most. At the most! she promised Jason, even though her doctor wanted her to stop. Too hot in there, he said. Not safe for you or the baby. Claire was working very hot, it was finish work, shine and polish, she was not drinking enough water, and she fainted. She hit the floor, cut her arm, broke two ribs, and went immediately into preterm labor. On the MedFlight jet, they told her she would most likely lose the baby. But Zack had lived; they took him by emergency C-section, and he spent five weeks on a respirator in the NICU. He lived, Claire healed.

Jason was shaken to his core. He had been standing there as they sliced Claire open—Claire, whose body had sucked in two bags of IV fluid in less than thirty minutes, so advanced was her dehydration—and he had fully expected them to pull out a stillborn. But then, the cry. It was a revelation for Jason; it was his born-again moment, the moment when an adult man who thought he knew everything learned something about the human condition. He sat next to Claire's bed as Zack spent the first of thirty-five days in the NICU, and he made Claire promise she would stop working.

For a little while, he said. Have a studio finish the Klaussen commission.

This was as close as he came to blaming her. But no matter—Claire blamed herself, as she had blamed herself for Daphne's accident. Her blood type was the rare AB positive: the universal acceptor. And that was all too fitting. Give her the blame, the shame, all of it: she had no boundaries, she would take it on. She agreed to stop working; she gave the Klaussen commission to a glass studio in Brooklyn to finish.

Zack captured Jason's heart—and Claire's heart, too—because they came so close to losing him. Even now, seven months later, Claire woke up in the middle of the night, worrying about the lasting effects of her fall. She watched Zack, willing him to respond to her in an age-appropriate way, wishing that his eyes would show that glimmer, that promise that her other kids had shown: intelligence, motivation, determination. Since Zack's birth, she had lived with the whisper, There's something wrong with him. She constantly badgered Jason: Do you think something happened when he was born? Do you think there's something Dr. Patel isn't telling me, or something she didn't see? To which Jason always responded, "For Chrissakes, Claire, he's fine!" But that sounded to Claire like denial. It sounded like Jason was blinded by love.

How was she going to tell Jason about the gala? Claire waited through dinner—fried chicken, Jason's favorite. She waited through bath and stories for the girls and a shower and homework for J.D. She waited until Zack had his bottle, until Jason was relaxed on the sofa, remote control in hand. The TV was on, but Jason had not committed to anything yet. Now was the time to tell him! This was their life now, but Claire could remember Jason naked and grinning with a clam rake in his hand, his sun-bleached hair shining like gold.

"I had lunch with Lock Dixon today," she said. "At the yacht club."

He heard her, but he wasn't listening. "Did you?"

"Doesn't that surprise you?"

Jason changed the channel. Claire resented the TV, all fifty-two bright, chirping inches of it. "A little, I guess."

"He asked me to cochair the summer gala."

"What's that?"

"You know, the Nantucket's Children thing. The event. The concert. The thing we went to last month."

At this past year's gala, while Jason lingered at the back bar with his fishing buddies, Claire had applauded as the two cochairs floated up onto the stage to accept bouquets of flowers. As if they had been named prom queen. As if they had won an Academy Award. Claire had been caught up in the glamour of it all. The mere fact that she had sat down for a civilized lunch at the yacht club made Claire believe that if she agreed to cochair the summer gala for Nantucket's Children, her life would be more like that and less like it was now. Claire never ate lunches like the one she had had today. Lunch for her was a sleeve of saltines that she kept in the console of her Honda Pilot and stuffed blindly into her mouth as she picked the kids up from school. If she was at home, lunch was a bowl of cereal that she poured at eleven thirty (it was breakfast and lunch), which grew soggy before Claire finished it because the baby cried, or the phone rang, or the crumbs under her feet pushed her past her already-high threshold for filth and yuck and she capitulated and pulled out the vacuum. If Claire agreed to cochair the gala, her life might take on a distinguished quality, the golden glow that accompanied a life devoted to good works. How could she explain this to Jason?

"He asked you to chair it?"

"Cochair it. I'd have help."

"I hope you said no."

She stroked Zack's soft head. "I said yes."

"Jesus, Claire."

Was it so wrong? She and Jason had spent the past seven months living in reverence of their own good fortune. Wasn't it time now to think of others? To raise money for kids whose parents were working themselves sick with three jobs?

"It's a good cause," she said.

Jason huffed, turned the volume up. And that, she supposed, was the best she could hope for.

"You're a complete idiot, Clairsy. A bloody fool."

This was Siobhan, the next morning on the phone, after Claire had told her, Lock Dixon asked me to chair the summer gala for Nantucket's Children, and I capitulated like a soldier without a gun.

"I'm not a fool."

"You're too much yourself."

"Right," Claire said, losing enthusiasm. "Jason is not amused. Have I made a whopping mistake?"

"Yes," Siobhan said.

Claire had spent the past twenty hours convincing herself that it was an honor to be asked. "It will be fun."

"It will be work and stress and heartache like you've never known."

"It's for a good cause," Claire said, trying again.

"That sounds rather canned," Siobhan said. "Tell me something true."

I did it because Lock asked me, Claire thought. But that would send Siobhan through the roof. "I couldn't say no."

"Bingo. You have no boundaries. Your cells don't have membranes."

Correct. This had been a problem since childhood: Claire's parents had battled constantly; their problems came in thirty flavors. Claire was the only child, she held herself accountable for their misery, and her parents did nothing to dissuade her from this. (Things had been different then with child raising.)

She was an easy mark, too easy. She could not say no to Lock Dixon, or anyone else, for that matter.

"I want you to serve on my committee," Claire said. Siobhan and Carter owned a catering company called Island Fare. They did big events like the Pops concert on Jetties Beach, as well as hundreds of smaller cocktail and dinner parties, lunches, brunches, picnics, and weddings, though they had never catered the summer gala. Claire was asking Siobhan to be on the committee because Siobhan was her best friend, her darling, but right away Claire sensed tension.

"Are you asking me to cater the gala?" Siobhan asked. "Or do you expect me to slave with you on it while some other mick gets the job?"

"Oh," Claire said. Of course, if it were up to her, Siobhan and Carter would cater the event, but Claire didn't know if being cochair gave her the power to hire anybody, and even if she did have the power, she wasn't prepared to wield it yet. What if she hired Carter and Siobhan and someone called it nepotism (which, of course, someone would)? Worse still, what if Claire hired Carter and Siobhan and her fellow board members expected a deep discount that Carter and Siobhan either didn't want or couldn't afford to provide? God, how awkward! She'd been in charge for five minutes and already she was facing an impossible situation.

"Listen," Claire said, "you don't have to—"

"No, no, no, I will."

"But I can't promise anything about the catering."

"That's okay."

Claire wasn't sure, exactly, where that left things. Was Siobhan on the committee? Would she come to the meeting at eight o'clock on Wednesday, September 19? She would not, Claire decided. She would forget about the meeting, and Claire didn't call to remind her.

So when Claire Danner Crispin reached the top of the narrow staircase of the Elijah Baker House (a grand house, built in 1846 for Elijah Baker, who had made a fortune fashioning ladies' corsets out of whalebone) and stepped into the office of Nantucket's Children, she found only… Lock Dixon. Lock was sitting behind his desk in a blue pinstripe shirt and a yellow tie, his head bent forward, so that Claire could see the bald spot on top. He was writing on a legal pad, and he didn't seem to have heard Claire on the stairs (impossible: she was wearing clogs). Rather, he had heard her and simply had yet to acknowledge her. Claire felt self-conscious. She should have called Siobhan and dragged her along, no matter how uncomfortable or unethical it was.

"Lock?" Claire said. "Hi."

Lock raised his head. He was wearing half spectacles, which he whipped off immediately, as if they were some kind of secret. He smiled at Claire. It was a real smile, it broke his face open, and Claire felt the air in the room crackle, practically, with the power of that smile. It sent an electric current through her heart; it could have brought her back from the dead, that smile.

Claire took the smile as her reward for saying, Yes, I'd love to. Really, I'd be honored. When you were a cochair of the summer gala, people were glad to see you walk in the door. Or grateful. Or relieved.

Lock stood up. "Hi, Claire, hi, hi. Here, let me get you a—"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," she said. "Are we meeting here, or in the…"

The Nantucket's Children office consisted of two rooms divided by a hallway, and at the end of the hallway was a powder room and a small kitchen. One room was the actual office, where Lock worked and where Gavin Andrews, the office manager-bookkeeper, had his desk, and across the hall was the boardroom, which held a large, round table and eight Windsor chairs. Every detail of the Nantucket's Children office transported one back to the whaling heyday that put Nantucket on the map: the floor was fashioned from 150-year-old pine boards, and the doorways were topped with leaded transom windows. With the old- fashioned charm, however, came old-fashioned conveniences or the lack thereof. The board meetings were stifling in the summer and freezing in the winter, and every time Claire used the powder room, the toilet backed up.

Tonight, however, the office was unusually inviting. Because it was September now, it was dark outside. Through the window at Lock Dixon's back, Claire could see all the way up Main Street: Nantucket Town was twinkling like a child's toy village. Lock worked with the light of one desk lamp and the blue glow of his computer. Half a sandwich—turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce—sat on white butcher paper on his desk blotter, which meant it was eight o'clock and he had yet to make it home. Claire's mind flickered to Daphne. If Lock spent every night at the office, did Daphne make dinner for herself? Did she read magazines, take baths, watch TV? Daphne was never quite right in public after her accident, but what about in private? Was she better or worse? Their daughter, Heather, was at boarding school. Andover. It had been a much-debated topic among Claire's circle of friends: How did Heather Dixon get into the best prep school in the country with solid B grades and an attitude problem? It was field hockey, everyone concluded, and they were probably correct. Heather Dixon was quite an athlete, but Claire believed that Heather Dixon got herself into prep school out of the sheer will to escape her mother. It had killed Lock to see Heather go, and it was odd, too, that he should head a charity called Nantucket's Children when his own child didn't really qualify as such. Heather Dixon rarely came back to the island; this past summer, Claire heard, she had attended a camp in Maine.

"Let's just meet in here," Lock said. His voice startled Claire. She had been so busy thinking about him, she forgot he was in the room. "It's cozier."

Cozier? Claire thought. She was blushing as Lock pulled a chair up to his desk for her. "Cozier" made it sound like the two of them were about to snuggle under a blanket together. But Lock was right: the office was cozy, with the low light and the faint smell of woodsmoke floating in through the cracked window, and the classical music coming from the Bose radio.

Now that she was a cochair, maybe she would have more calm and quiet hours like this. This office—its architectural detail and distinguished period furnishings combining to convey a scholarly air, a well-heeled doing-of-noble-works—stood in direct opposition to the scene Claire had left at home. At home, there had been dinner to make: tacos, her only home run, and late corn from the farm and a green salad with ranch dressing, which she had painstakingly made from scratch (fresh herbs picked from the garden, onion finely minced). Jason, as ever, wandered in the door with five minutes to spare, smelling of Newport Menthols, and the kids jumped into his arms and tackled him. How could Claire deny them his attentions? This was his time of day. She could not interrupt routine just because she had a meeting. Hence Claire was left to shuttle everything from the kitchen to the dining room table, trying not to look like she was hurrying. Jason ended his roughhousing session by picking Zack up and putting him in his high chair, which was helpful because when Claire tried to do this, Zack pitched a fit. Dinner went well, which meant there were only sixty or seventy reminders to eat up, and Claire stood immediately after grace and buttered corn for the girls, got up twice to refill milk, and then, when she sat down again, spooned pureed carrots into Zack's mouth, which was an exercise in one step forward, two steps back. Zack had not yet gotten the hang of eating solids. He pushed most of the food back out of his mouth with his tongue; it dribbled down his bib or landed on the tray of his high chair, where he liked to put his hands in it. Claire, in an attempt to create an environment of art appreciation for her children, made references to Jackson Pollock. Jack the Dripper, Zack the Dripper. But the kids were, for the most part, grossed out. J.D. (at nine, Claire's eldest) called Zack "the mental patient." Claire hated when J.D. used that term, not because Zack was old enough to understand it, but because it echoed Claire's private fears. There's something wrong with him.

Sitting in the office, Claire realized she was starving. With all that had happened during dinnertime, she hadn't had a second to eat her own food.

Lock noticed Claire staring at the uneaten half of his sandwich. "Are you hungry?" he said. "Do you want… I don't know if it's rude to offer someone your leftovers, but I haven't touched this half, I swear. Would you like it?"

"No, no," Claire said quickly. "I ate at home."

"Oh," Lock said. "Right. Of course. Well, how about some wine, then?"

"Wine?" Claire said. At home, Jason would be dealing with bedtime. This normally went like clockwork: Bath for the younger three while J.D. finished his homework, then a shower for J.D. Then stories for the girls and Zack, which worked if Jason remembered to give Zack a bottle. The bottle had to go into the microwave for thirty seconds. Would Jason know this? She should have reminded him; she should have written it down. Claire eyed the phone on Lock's desk. She should call home and check on things. Of course Pan, the Thai au pair who had come to live with them after Zack was born, was in the house, too, but Pan rarely came out of her room at night. Still, if Jason got into a jam, he would go to Pan and she would prep Zack's bottle and rock him to sleep.

"I'd love a glass of wine," Claire said.


  • "Think you know where this is going? Think again. Hilderbrand is way too smart to give away the whole story in her title."—Elizabeth Egan, New York Times
  • "Claire has it all — and then she gets more! Will new love destroy her great life? A Summer Affair is voyeuristic fun."—People
  • "A gem of a summer read with a glamorous location, elite lifestyle, and Hilderbrand's appealing take on the constant stress that fills the lives of women everywhere."Booklist
  • "A perfect summer cocktail of sex, sun, and scandal.... Pure voyeuristic fun." Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Jul 2, 2008
Page Count
512 pages

Elin Hilderbrand

About the Author

Elin Hilderbrand is the proud mother of three, a dedicated Peloton rider, an aspiring book influencer, and an enthusiastic at-home cook (follow her on Instagram @elinhilderbrand to watch her Cringe Cooking Show). She is also a grateful seven-year breast cancer survivor. GOLDEN GIRL is her 27th novel.

Learn more about this author