It’s not every day that you’re invited to the wedding of one of the world’s biggest singing stars. Invited is a loose term. Gate-crashing is more like it. Then again, it’s not every day you find yourself living in your grandmother’s house in small town Autumn River, dealing with the worst case of writer’s block known to man.
My non-invite to Jenna Ashton’s marriage to local rancher, Aaron Reilly, is purely for a mission. A research project of sorts. Heck, I don’t even know the couple. I’m not even going to the ceremony, because even though it’s low key and out of the press, it’s still a celebrity wedding with iron-clad security detail.
Fancy white tents and a catering van in a distant field are the only indication that something’s happening at the Autumn River Wine Estates. The restaurant and bar carry on with their usual service to the public as if there’s no one famous around. I only know about the celebrity in our midst because my gran seems to have her finger on the pulse of this town. Clarissa McArthur, who should also be known as the patron saint of Autumn River, is a pillar of this town. Everyone knows her. And she knows everyone. Including the celebrity who’s decided to move away from the bright lights of LA to settle in Autumn River.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Gran thought snooping around the wedding would inspire my creativity. Apparently weddings bring out all the feels. If I’m surrounded by romance, then surely I can write about it. Right? My severe loss for words proves otherwise.
Seated at the bar with a bowl of fries and a tumbler of whiskey, my gaze drifts around the rustic-inspired room. There are a few other people around, enjoying a meal or an evening drink. A Padres and Dodgers game plays on the television. Which strikes me as odd, given this is a winery and there’s a celebrity wedding somewhere on the property. But perhaps that’s all part of the plan. Keep things the same so no one suspects a thing.
There’s a couple in the corner with their heads together looking all cozy, as though they’re discussing the deeper meaning of life. Skin illuminated by the flickering battery-operated tea light candle on the table. Another couple sit in the leather armchairs in front of the gas fireplace. The man looks slightly older than the woman who’s dressed like she’s ready for a night on the town, not an evening in a small town winery. I wonder what their story is. Are they here for the wedding? Or perhaps a little tryst of their own?
People watching is usually my thing. It’s where inspiration strikes as my mind conjures up all kinds of scenarios about what goes on in people’s lives. But tonight, there’s nothing. It’s been like that for months. No ideas. No imagined events. No inspiration. Nada. Every time I sit down to write, the cursor blinks on my laptop screen, taunting me.
Mary Kay Andrews said there’s no such thing as writer’s block. “As long as your fingers can move over the keyboard, eventually it’ll segue into something.”
Ha! I don’t think she was talking about bucket lists, places to travel, or channeling my inner Bart Simpson with endless lines ofI wish I could think of something to writewhen she said that. Good for her, though.
Gran suggested a change of scenery might help with my lack of inspiration. Some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the confines of my studio apartment near downtown LA. A chance to escape the cloud of melancholy that’s been hanging over my head since my last relationship fizzled out a year ago. Plus, it’s an opportunity to do some repairs around her ranch house. She thinks it’s a win-win situation. I’ll be helping fix up her home. And she’ll be helping me by providing inspiration for my romance novels. We’ll see how that works out. Somehow, I think she got the better part of the deal, because there’s no romance or any novel writing happening in my world right now.
The low hum of conversation and clinking of glasses fills the air as my gaze sweeps around the room once more. There’s nothing that jumps out at me about this scene. Nothing to spark an idea for my next best-seller. It could be any bar, anywhere, on a Saturday night, just on a smaller scale and with way fewer patrons. I pull out my notebook and pen just in case inspiration strikes. And then something catches the corner of my eye.
Through the windows, I glimpse a woman pacing on the deck outside. Her features are cast in shadow as she glances over her shoulder into the darkness as though looking for someone. She walks a few steps. Pauses. Looks around. And continues pacing. I arch my neck to see what’s going on, but I can’t see much beyond the reflection of the bar in the window.
The woman’s strange antics have piqued my curiosity and are far more interesting than the ball game and the conversations I’ve been trying to eavesdrop on. I straighten and eye her moves, wondering what she’s doing.
The door swings open, and she strides over to the bar. The scent of freshly bloomed wildflowers fills my senses as she steps into the space beside me. Dark auburn hair cascades over her shoulders. She’s wearing a black pantsuit with heels. Her makeup suggests an air of confidence without conceit. Gnawing on her bottom lip, she glances over her shoulder toward the door.
Something’s off. Is she running away from something or someone? Has someone stood her up? Is she escaping the wedding?
“Are you okay?” I ask.
Her head slowly turns my way. Wide, stormy blue eyes slam into mine. She blinks a few times, as though only just realizing I’m there. “Can you help me?’
I frown. She looks to be in her late thirties. Maybe forty. This woman appears well presented—what kind of help could she possibly need? Admittedly, I’d have to be dead if my pride didn’t just inflate a little. A gorgeous woman asking a stranger for help, as though I’m some kind of superhero. Romance author by day. Superhero by night. Now that has some kind of fantasy/adventure vibe going on. Perhaps I need to switch genres. What would my superhero name be? What would my superpower be?
“Are you in trouble?” I shift on the stool, forgetting about my momentary hero status, and peer over her shoulder. There’s no one following her. No villain hiding in the shadows. Only staff and other guests mingle around. The damsel in distress slips onto the stool next to mine and turns to face the door, her back to the bar.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure.” Her eyes flit, scanning the windows and entryway.
Okay. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that something’s not right.
“Can I get you a drink?” She looks like she could use a little something to calm her nerves. I wave to the bartender and ask for a Mimosa.
“I shouldn’t.” Her words aren’t convincing as she glances at my glass. She bites her bottom lip and mumbles to herself. Her shoulders slump as a resigned sigh escapes. “One drink won’t hurt, I guess.” She nods her thanks as the bartender slides her drink across the counter.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” No woman should ever have a reason to look so helpless.
“I’m fine.” Her gaze darts to mine as she lifts the glass to her lips. “Or I will be if…” She tips her head back and guzzles the drink.
“Whoo!” she exclaims with a cute shake of her head. “I don’t drink, so that was… I needed it, anyway.” Another shake of her head.
I still don’t know who she is or what’s going on. “I’m Linc,” I offer. It’s the least I can do.
“PJ.” Her eyes dart to mine before she shifts her gaze to the door once more.