A laptop sits open on a nearby desk surrounded by a few scribbled notes on scraps of paper. There’s a Lucy Landon book with bright colored sticky notes poking out of its pages. What are they for? The inquisitive reporter in me wrestles with my conscience. I’d love to take a peek, but I’ve built a professional relationship with Clarissa and I can’t betray her trust by snooping around.
Just as I turn to look at some photographs on the wall, a ding sounds from the laptop. It’s a natural reaction that causes my eyes to flick to the screen where a pop-up box appears. In bold letters are the wordsLucy Landon.
My pulse speeds up and I slowly move away so I’m not tempted to click on the box and discover something that’s not meant for my eyes. Excitement fizzes in my veins as the pieces fall into place. I knew it. All this time, my gut feeling wasn’t wrong.
Clarissa McArthur is Lucy Landon.
All the clues point to her. The similarities in her stories to her real-life experiences. The familiar landmarks that she arranged for Linc to show me. The books left out for me to see. Her social media presence—which is totally cool for someone her age.
Is Clarissa’s absence today on purpose? Did she want me to discover her nom de plume while she’s out of the house? Is she trying to send me a message without coming right out and confirming the truth? Does Hugh know? Is this why he sent me here? Perhaps writing Clarissa’s life story is a coverup for a great revelation. One last big recognition of achievement to add to her repertoire of successful feats.
It makes sense. Maybe the plan is for me to discover who she is without her disclosing it in her interview. That way, she neither confirms nor denies, leaving an air of mystery surrounding who she moonlights as.
I pick up one of Lucy Landon’s books and start reading. I’ve read it before, but things make more sense. I knew some things we discussed in the interviews were vaguely familiar, but seeing them here in black print just confirms it.I know who Lucy Landon is!My inner child jumps up and down like I’ve just seen Cinderella in the Disneyland parade. But I’m curious—why the pen name? Why the secrecy? After all Clarissa has achieved in her life, does it really matter if people know her real name?
The deep rumble of Linc’s voice startles the butterflies awake in my stomach. I whirl around, but the smile falls from my lips at the sight of him standing in the doorway. Hands on hips. A frown carved between his eyes. He glances at the book in my hands before his gaze slams into me, full of fury. His demeanor has me back-pedaling, wondering what’s happened, and why he looks so angry.
“Hi,” I say brightly, trying to defuse the obvious tension in the room. “Clarissa told me to wait inside. She had to go into town for something. I called out after I knocked, but no one answered.”
Linc says nothing. His chest heaves up and down as his gaze shifts around the room before landing on the desk. He strides over and slams the laptop shut before running a hand over his mouth.
I frown. What’s going on? The last time I saw Linc, we left on good terms. Very good terms. Now it looks like he’s trying to gain some self-control so he doesn’t explode.
“I thought I’d read until Clarissa returns. I can’t help myself.” And I can’t help blabbering. It’s what I do in any situation to avoid awkward silence. I hold up Lucy’s latest best-seller. “I love her work. She has a way with words that…” I stop fan-girling when I realize Linc’s not sharing the same enthusiasm. The thunderous look on his face is making me nervous. He hasn’t moved, and I’m worried he’s had a stroke.
“Why are you here?” His voice is low. Icy.
A shiver of unease slides through me. Linc has never made me fear for my safety. In fact, it’s been the opposite. I’ve always felt comfortable around him. He makes me feel safe. Protected. But now, I wonder if I’ve misjudged his character. Perhaps my ability to spot a good man is flawed. After all, he is forty years old living with his grandmother, albeit temporarily. But still, shouldn’t that ring alarm bells?
I clear my throat. “Clarissa told me to let myself in.”
He runs a hand over his mouth again, half turns toward the window and mutters something under his breath. “And you thought it would be okay to snoop around?”
“I’m not… I wasn’t.” My head jerks back with his accusation. “Your gran asked me to wait inside. I was only looking at her collection of Lucy Landon books. It seems we have the same taste in authors.”
A low noise rumbles in his throat. Did he just growl at me? No way. I’m not dealing with that. If he’s about to start yelling and throwing shade, I’m out of here. Men with anger issues are a big fat no for me.
“Nice story,” Linc scoffs, folding his arms. “Don’t try and fool me. You’re a big shot reporter who lost her way. You destroyed one family to make a name for yourself. And now you’re here, wheedling your way into our lives, not caring who you use or hurt or expose along the way.”
Each barb of Linc’s burrows into my skin. My mouth gapes open and closed like I’m a goldfish gasping for air. My stomach begins a watery churn as his words sink in.
Hugh said he’d try to stop her article, but somehow, it must be out there on the world wide web. Linc must’ve seen it, and now he knows about my relationship with Tripp. Not that Maisie’s article is one hundred percent accurate, but it contains enough information to damage my reputation and career.
Tears strain at my eyes as every moment I’ve shared with this beautiful man—every laugh, every conversation, every kiss—disappears in an instant as his stony facade tells me I’m no longer welcome here.
I slide the book onto the coffee table with one last pleading glance Linc’s way, hoping he’ll give me a chance to explain myself. But he’s a brick wall, and I suspect no amount of explaining will break through his false assumptions about me.
With a heavy heart, I grab my messenger bag and let myself out the front door. The thunderous click of the lock behind me is symbolic of another chapter of my life coming to an end.
“You’re not stupid.” Emily hands me a cup of chamomile and honey tea and sinks onto the opposite end of the couch, pulling her legs underneath her. It’s Friday night and where else would I be, but at my best friend’s house pouring out my heart?
It’s been three days since Linc made it clear I was no longer wanted at his grandmother’s house. Three days of forcing myself to push through work with a smile on my face, as if I wasn’t upset by the accusations of a client’s relative. Three days of moping around at home, lamenting over my past mistakes and how they’ve come back to haunt me.