I’m deep in thought when movement at the side of the house catches my eye. I flick off the electric saw and swipe a hand across my forehead as Penny walks toward me. Her long legs slowly eat up the ground between us until she stops a few feet away. I remove my headphones, letting them hang around my neck.
“I didn’t realize you were related to Clarissa.” She folds her arms across her chest and tilts her head back toward the house.
“I didn’t realize you were a reporter, PJ,” I shoot back, narrowing my gaze. It’s not like we exchanged personal information on Saturday night.
“Yeah. About that.” She huffs out a sigh and relaxes her arms, dropping them to her side. “I was way out of line the other night, and I’m sorry.”
I shrug, as if it’s no concern. As if gorgeous women throw themselves at me all the time. “You already apologized.”
“I know. But believe me when I say I don’t make a habit of accosting strange men in bars.”
And talking to a reporter is not something I normally do, either. Keeping Lucy Landon’s identity is sacred to me, and I tend to keep people at arm’s length for that reason. I’m wary about her excuse for being here. Is she really writing a piece about Gran? Or is she searching for Lucy Landon?
“We all do things we regret,” I mumble, wiping sawdust off my arm. Not that I regret having a beautiful woman kiss me. That’s on the list of life’s unexpected and memorable moments. But we also don’t need to talk about it. It happened. Move on. Unless, of course, Penny’s interested in seeing what could happen between us. I’m here in Autumn River for a while, so… No.
I briefly study Penny before I return my focus on measuring the lumber and remind myself that I don’t mess around with reporters. They’re nosy, and I can’t risk being exposed. No matter how attracted I am to her, I can’t risk my career. Hopefully, she’ll take my silence as a clue to leave.
Instead, she clears her throat and moves even closer. The scent of wildflowers drifts toward me and triggers a swirling sensation in my gut, despite my best intentions to not feel anything.
“Look. I know our first introduction was unconventional, but I’m hoping I might ask you some questions about your gran. She mentioned that you’re in town for a while.”
I straighten. My jaw tightens as my defenses kick in. What else did Gran say about me? Is she trying to throw me under the proverbial bus?
“I’d love to hear about her from a relative’s perspective.” Her blue eyes look at me, full of hope. Here in the daylight, they’re no longer stormy, but reminiscent of a calm ocean beneath the summer sun.
I ignore the voice in my head warning me that this woman is a reporter. A probable threat who has the potential to discover who I am and ruin everything I’ve worked hard for. Instead, I’m lured by the temptation of her soft smile, the way her skin glows luminous in the afternoon sunlight, and the alluring scent of her perfume. She seems harmless enough. If I focus on gran, then maybe all will be well.
“Sure,” I agree, before my mouth catches up with my brain.
“Great.” Her cautious smile blossoms into a beaming grin that could easily light the entire town.
As she walks away, I wonder if I just made the biggest mistake of my life by agreeing to be interviewed by a die-hard Lucy Landon fan.
“Did you really kiss someone at Dad’s wedding?”
Wide-eyed, mouth open, I turn to my niece, Mia. She leans toward me, hands spread out in front of her and wriggles her eyebrows, as the beautician swipes a coat of electric blue polish over her nails. Hopefully Aaron won’t kill me for allowing his daughter to choose such a vivid color. It’s not as though she’s getting a tattoo, so no harm, right?
“Who told you that?” How does my fifteen-year-old niece know about my escapade? Aaron will probably accuse me of being a bad influence on his daughter and ban all future contact between us if word gets back to him.
“It’s a small town.” Mia shrugs, as though discussing her aunt’s romantic exploits is no big deal.
Great. I may as well become a hermit, now that everyone knows I threw myself at a stranger. Things like this happen all the time in the city, and people turn a blind eye. But because it’s Autumn River, and not a thriving metropolis, nothing goes unnoticed.
I love my niece. She’s the closest I’ll ever have to a child of my own. At fifteen, she’s a cool kid with a great sense of humor. And boy, can she sing. Something none of us knew about until Jenna came on the scene and took the time to listen. But I’m not too sure I appreciate her aligning with the town gossips.
I sigh. “Normally, I would tell you not to believe everything you hear. But…” I roll my eyes and return my focus to the woman painting my nails. I’ve opted forEarth Angel—a neutral hue somewhere between light brown and cream. I’m not as daring as my niece. Although, given my impulsive behavior to avoid Tripp, perhaps I am a little bolder than I give myself credit for.
“So, you did!” she squeals, jumping up and down in her seat.
The beautician clears her throat, and Mia apologizes, spreading her fingers on the counter.
“Was he hot?”
“Mia…” My cheeks warm as an image of muscular arms lightly sprinkled with sawdust fills my mind. The faint sprinkle of salt and pepper in his chestnut hair. The way the sun glistened off his sweat-slicked skin… Yes. Linc McArthur is indeed very hot. Especially when he’s got that whole construction-worker thing going on.