I sigh. No amount of reassurance is going to convince Hugh that I’m here for the long game. The door to my career at the LA Times is well and truly closed. I am done with that life. Long term, I have no shiny aspirations, and for now, my allegiance is firmly with the Autumn River Daily and my editor.
My gaze drops to my notebook, teeming with pages of information on Clarissa McArthur. For the first time since returning to my roots, a sense of excitement fizzes through my veins. Perhaps this is a chance to prove to myself that I’m more than a job title, and that my mistakes don’t define me.
Three lines. That’s all I’ve written so far. Three lines that aren’t even worth having on the page, yet they lure me into a false sense of achievement. I don’t want to delete them, because then I’d have nothing to show for my two hours of staring at the cursor blinking on the screen. This writer’s block is bad and makes me wonder if my previous success has all been a fluke. Three bestsellers have netted me a healthy nest egg, yet I can’t even start my fourth book. Perhaps Lucy Landon is notall that.Words my virtual assistant uses to describe me.
Piper Maloney, whose bio describes her as atwenty-something, tea-drinking, romance lover, and book nerd,manages all the extra stuff of being a writer. The stuff I don’t have the time, energy or patience to deal with. Things like social media posts. Fan mail. Creating reels. Newsletters. Online reader groups. Who knew there was so much extra stuff to deal with when making a living as a writer? When I first started this gig, I just wanted to write. And of course, for people to buy my books. But then I discovered I needed to have an online presence if I wanted to be more than a small fish in the ocean of romance novels. I needed to interact with people. Post daily, if not three times a day, on social media. Host launch parties. Join book promotions. It was exhausting trying to keep up with it all. Especially when social media is not my strength.
Enter Piper. She replied to my call for help after posting in an online writer’s group. She ticked all the boxes and has been my connection to my readers ever since. We’ve never met in person, and we only communicate via email, which is how I like it. She only knows me as Lucy, not Linc, and I want to keep it that way for as long as I can. But lately, she’s been messaging me for quotes and teasers from my upcoming book so she can post online to build up the hype before the release date. But I’ve got nothing. No blurb. No hook. No swoony quote. Nothing at all to entice readers to buy my new book.
I usually work well under pressure, but this complete lack of ideas and motivation and anything worthwhile to write about is killing me. Maybe I’m trying too hard. Perhaps I’ve got performance anxiety in trying to live up to my readers’ expectations. There’s a lot of pressure to write well after three bestsellers. But if I can’t write something decent soon, Lucy Landon will be nothing more than a blip on the radar of romance authors. A once-upon-a-time that failed miserably. And then what? I don’t really want to go back to working in construction for the rest of my life. Although I keep active, this forty-year-old body is starting to feel aches and pains that never used to be there.
Voices drift up from the living room as I toss back the dregs of my cold coffee. I frown. Gran didn’t tell me she was expecting anyone today. Although, I shouldn’t be surprised she has a visitor. Most days, Gran’s either traipsing about town, or someone drops by. Her social life leaves mine for dead. She might be in her eighties, but there’s no slowing her down yet.
A glance at the time surprises me how long I’ve been sitting here, staring at a blank screen. It’s insane how much time I’ve wasted trying to overcome this blockage. It’s as though trying to think of something to write just makes things worse.
I stand and stretch my arms above my head before making my way down the stairs. There’s no point wasting more time hoping for a miracle.
A light tinkle of laughter drifts out from the living room. I can’t see the owner, only Gran. She glances across as I reach the bottom step, and her smile widens into a beaming grin.“Lincoln. Come over here. I’d like you to meet someone.” She waves me over in her no-nonsense manner.
Running a hand through my hair, I walk past the hall table and step into the living room. The afternoon sunlight streaming through the window glints off a head of auburn hair, and my skin tingles with a memory.
It couldn’t be.
“Linc, this is Penny. Penny, this is my grandson, Lincoln. Linc for short.”
With hands tucked into my pockets, my pulse gallops through my veins as the woman slowly turns around. Our gazes lock, and I don’t miss the flash of surprise across her features. It’s probably the same look that’s on mine. Her lips part, the same lips that danced with mine several nights ago, before they break into a polite smile.Penny. PJ.
“Nice to meet you, Lincoln,” she says, her voice smooth like honey. Black tailored pants hug her shapely legs, and a cream buttoned blouse adds to her elegant appeal. Her hair is gathered in some kind of fancy knot at her nape. Dark eyelashes frame her vivid blue eyes, and her makeup is a step or two down from the night she asked for my help in the form of a kiss.
“You too,” I mumble, running a hand across the back of my neck as I try to figure out why she’s here. Why is this woman sitting in Gran’s living room acting all polite? How does she know Gran? I glance down at her fingers smoothing over the arm of Gran’s upholstered armchair, a tell that perhaps she’s finding this moment as awkward and unexpected as I am.
“Penny is a reporter for the Autumn River Daily,” Gran says, answering my thoughts.
My steps halt. A reporter? What the…
Penny nods. “I’m interviewing Clarissa for an article. She’s one interesting lady.”
It’s my turn to nod. My grandmother is an interesting woman indeed. Bold. Brave. Perhaps borderline reckless. Definitely not a wallflower. She’s certainly not one to sit around idle like many octogenarians. To her, age is just a number.“As long as I’m still breathing, I’ll keep doing things,”she always says.
“And she has great taste in books.”
My gaze follows Penny’s slender hand as she points to the pile of books on the coffee table. My breath hitches. There, right in front of her, aremybooks with Lucy Landon printed in bold, black writing on the covers. Along with the alluring beach scenes, my signature design. The soft hues of blue and green, with whispers of sea grass or a sandy path leading to the water, evoke a yearning to be by the sea. Those covers are timeless. There are no cheesy looking couples like on many romance books out there. No half-naked torsos or smoldering gazes from the cover model. That would be just too weird, anyway.
“Penny loves Lucy Landon, too. Isn’t that great?” Gran looks at me, a glint in her eye.
“Uh. Yeah,” I murmur, suddenly finding the herringbone pattern on the floorboards absolutely fascinating. Since when does Gran keep anything more on the coffee table than a candle, the television remote and a box of tissues? My books live on the bookshelf next to Gran’s collection of Agatha Christie books. What is she trying to do by having them out on display?
I glance up at her with a subtle eyebrow raise, and a silentWhat are you playing at?
“So, where would you like to start?” Gran ignores me and turns her attention back to Penny.
Not wanting to be the awkward interloper, I take that as my cue to leave. I’m tempted to hover in the kitchen, but the conversation in the living room is too quiet for me to eavesdrop on. Besides, seeing Penny again has completely thrown me off kilter, and I don’t want Gran to figure out we’ve already met and share a brief history. Although, she probably suspects something, because nothing gets past Keen-Eyed Clarissa.
While the two women converse, I grab a bottle of water from the fridge and slip out the back door. I walk over to the workshop that sits next to the garage. Planks of lumber lean against the wall ready to be cut to size to replace some of the rotting porch boards. I set my water down and set to work, hoping the physical labor will spark some creativity so I can finally get some words together. Otherwise, all the repairs on Gran’s house will be completed in no time.
There’s something satisfying about working outside and spending energy with the sun warming my skin. Before too long, the tension slips away from my shoulders. The brain fog clears, and I soon find a rhythm cutting the planks to size. Sweat trickles down my spine and I nod my head in time with the music playing through my headphones.