Page 20 of Where We Fall

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Linc remains silent, and my heart trips about my chest as I slowly undo the ribbon. I can’t recall the last time I was so nervous, or excited, to receive a gift. A gasp leaves my mouth as I lift the lid and see what’s nestled inside. A limited edition cover of Lucy Landon’s latest release. I pull the book out, flip it open and inhale sharply.

Dear Penny,

Thank you so much for your support over the years. I’m so glad you enjoy my stories.

Love, Lucy Landon.

“Linc!” I lift my gaze to his. “This is… How did you…?” I’m lost for words. This is one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. But how did he get a signed copy?

He shrugs as if it’s nothing.

“Thank you,” I say, running my fingers over the cover. “This is amazing.”

“I was trying to think of something to say sorry for being an absolute jerk. I figured you wouldn’t appreciate my cooking, or more to the point, would probably get terribly ill from it. A box of chocolates or flowers from the corner store seems so cliché.” Another shrug.

“This is perfect. And, I forgive you.” I smile up at him. “I get that you’re trying to protect Lucy’s identity.” I know that’s not why he’s here, and I’ll deal with Maisie’s article later, but I’m dying to find out if my theory is true. A strange look passes across Linc’s face as I leap to my feet. “Wait here.”

I dash inside, grab my assignment and return to the porch, patting the seat for Linc to sit beside me. My heart thunders against my ribs as I hand him the article that I’ll be sending to Hugh.

It’s always good to have a second pair of eyes read over my work. Someone else’s opinion helps find any errors or smooth over any inconsistencies. And Linc’s opinion matters to me. An eternity ticks by and my nails are almost chewed to the quick as I wait for him to finish reading. The breeze rustles the papers in his hands, and my leg jiggles up and down as I wait. The anticipation is killing me.

“You can’t publish this,” Linc finally says, breaking the silence.

“Why not?” My stomach sinks and my gaze shoots to his, searching for any sign that he’s angry or disappointed with what I’ve written. “Is it that bad?” I thought it was one of the best pieces I’ve written, but perhaps I’m wrong, given Linc’s reaction.

He presses his lips together. Glances down at the papers in his hand before lifting his head and staring into the night. “No. It’s great. It’s… just not the truth.”

“But it is. I interviewed your gran.” I’m always thorough in my research and fact-check everything. Every historical record, every quote, every anecdote was straight from Clarissa, or at least corroborated by her. The only part that’s not 100% fact-checked is the allusion to Clarissa being a well-known romance author. I was careful not to put Lucy Landon’s name in the article. But I dropped plenty of hints, and it won’t be too hard to figure it out. Besides, Linc’s gift tonight is hard evidence that I’m right.

Linc stretches his legs out as an audible sigh fills the space between us.

“It makes sense,” I say out loud, as if I’m a detective sifting through all the clues. “The books, for starters.” I look at him pointedly. Where did he get a limited edition, signed copy if it wasn’t from Clarissa? I rattle off a list on my fingers. The familiar stories in her books. The landmarks she had us visit. “She’s a private person, which is a perfect front. And…” I take a deep breath instead of a drumroll for the evidence I know will reveal the truth. “I saw an email pop up on the computer in the living room. I wasn’t snooping. It was just there.” I quickly glance at Linc, ready to defend myself in case he thinks that’s what I’ve been doing all along. Snooping. He’s accused me of it once before.

“It’s part of your job, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“Telling a story. Investigating. Digging up the dirt on people.”

I frown while my head half shakes, half nods, making me look like an unhappy bobble-head doll. While it’s true that reporters use the basic format—the who, where, what, when, why and how of Journalism 101—my role is to bring my subject into the spotlight and endear people to them, not create gossip from unfounded truths. “I’m not an investigative reporter. I don’t ‘dig up dirt’.” I use my fingers as air quotes. “Besides, your gran has very little dirt from what I can tell. She’s a garden full of exciting stories. She’s lived a very full and interesting life, but nothing that’s going to make people gasp with the juiciness of torrid gossip. Unless…” I gesture to the bound copy of my assignment and lift my eyebrows.

“It’s not her,” Linc says sharply.

“Are you sure?” I scan his face for any kind of giveaway that he’s lying. But given my record of reading men, I’m probably not so great in that department. He gives nothing away.

Disappointment crowds my thoughts. I can easily remove the parts about Lucy Landon in my article, but I was so convinced it was her. Perhaps Clarissa has sworn Linc to secrecy and I’ve pushed him too far. I should leave it alone. I thought I was so close to breaking a story that would send a ripple of excitement throughout the reading world.

“Back to the drawing board, then.” With a sigh, I lean back and nudge us into a gentle swing. “You know, I was so convinced it was your gran. It would have been a great story. Can you imagine people’s reactions knowing they have a best-selling romance author living in Autumn River?”

Linc’s leg bounces up and down, bumping against my thigh.

“I kind of understand the need for anonymity,” I continue chattering, eager to fill the void of silence. “But how cool would it be to reveal her identity this late in her life? She’s already achieved so much, and this would be the icing on the cake.”

“It’s not her.” Linc’s voice is quiet. His hands form fists on his thighs.

“You don’t need to cover for her, Linc. I understand that you’re probably sworn to secrecy, and I’ve come blowing in, making a fuss. I’ll retract what I’ve written.” I’m disappointed, but I’ve never written anything without a subject’s consent, and I’m not about to start now. Especially when Linc has extended an olive branch.

“It’s not her,” he says again before emitting a shuddering breath. “Because it’s me.”

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