Falling For Leigh
Can she be his cure for writer's block?
For New York novelist Logan Walters, falling for the girl next door was more than a cliché. It was a calamity! If Leigh Norris hadn't been so attractive, and hadn't been hammering relentlessly while he was trying to write, Logan would never have ascended her rickety ladder in a misguided mix of gallantry and frustration. And he wouldn't have a broken wrist—or a guilty new assistant who can't type. Clearly, his escape to the Brookhollow B and B was not going to be the quiet, idyllic retreat he needed to finish his overdue manuscript. But it was fast becoming much more interesting than expected….
“WHAT IS THAT NOISE?” Logan Walters asked through clenched teeth. He paced the hardwood floor in his room at the Brookhollow Inn, the room phone cradled to his ear. His laptop sat open on the antique writing desk, and papers were strewn about the bed. Discarded, rolled balls of yellow legalpad paper lay near the trash can in the corner of the room. So much for the peace and quiet he’d been expecting from the small town in the middle of New Jersey. He’d been making just as much progress in his sublet studio apartment in Manhattan as he was here in Brookhollow.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Mr. Walters,” the Brookhollow Inn’s new owner, Rachel Harper, said. “My children aren’t running through the hallways of the guest quarters again, are they?”
“No, not today.” That had been yesterday’s distraction. He couldn’t believe the bed-and-breakfast was home to so many kids. Funny, they’d forgotten to mention it on their newly designed website. He suspected complaints about noise were common now. He ran a hand through his hair, which reached the back of his shirt collar. Past due for a cut. Man, he missed the nice, quiet, little old lady that used to own the place. Had he known of the switch in ownership the year before, he certainly wouldn’t have come.
“I don’t hear anything here at the desk. What kind of noise is it?” she asked.
“It’s a hammering sound.” How could she not hear the deafening vibrations echoing off the walls?
“Our renovations have been complete for quite some time.” He picked up on the note of pride in her voice.
Yes, their renovations—he’d noticed them, too. New paint, new windows, new tiled roof...improvements for sure, but he’d been relieved to see they hadn’t messed with the antique furniture in the guest rooms.
“Maybe it’s coming from outside,” she said. “Would you like me to go take a look?” Logan was about to reply when the hammering ceased. He waited. “Mr. Walters?”
“Hang on.” He waited a second longer. Nothing. He brought the receiver back to his ear. “No, that’s okay. It stopped.” Hopefully this time for good.
“Okay, then. Is there anything else I can do for you? I noticed you didn’t come down for breakfast yet. Would you like something brought up?”
Logan glanced at the clock on the mantel of the old wood-burning fireplace: 8:26. He’d been awake since five, surviving on the in-room coffeemaker. His stomach growled. The offer was tempting, especially as the smell of fresh-baked pumpkin-spiced muffins filled the house. Scanning the messy room, he hesitated. In less than twenty-four hours, he’d made quite an impact on the small space. Clothes spilled out of his carry-on suitcase in front of the window. Yellow Post-it notes decorated the freshly painted dark blue walls above the desk, and his notebooks littered the floor, along with the homemade quilt thrown in a heap next to his damp towels. And the room still held the faintly nauseating smell of the Chinese takeout he’d ordered the night before. “Um...no, thanks. I’ll come down.” After he restored the room to a livable state.
“Great, thank you. I have several guests checking in any minute, so I really shouldn’t leave the desk until my partner, Victoria, arrives.”
As Logan replaced the receiver, the sound of children squealing, running through the hallways made him wince. Spoke too soon about not hearing her children. Coming here was a bad idea. He was never going to get any work done with the never-ending noise, in and outside the B & B. Being away from the distractions in the city was supposed to cure his writer’s block. Alone in a place where he could focus on the story in progress and not the stack of personal issues that competed for his every thought.
He’d first discovered this small town when he lived in New Jersey, at the start of his writing career. Brookhollow had been a great weekend escape during his first novel. He’d hoped the inspiration he’d once found here might be waiting for him. He’d foolishly believed that things wouldn’t have changed in the place in almost a decade.
Sitting at the desk, he stared at the open document on the screen. The idea of this sixth book—the final one in his mystery series—made him cringe. Halfway through, he realized his original idea of how to end the series that had defined his career and put him in the spotlight years before just wasn’t good enough. His fans expected more and he didn’t want to disappoint them. He didn’t have an alternative plan, either.
He scanned the last few paragraphs he’d written. The scene had stalled and he couldn’t figure out why. He wondered if the point of view was the problem. Or maybe it was the setting? Something was definitely off. Maybe it was him. He needed to move on...come back to it later that evening. He worked better in the evening, anyway.... He flipped that page of his legal pad over and wrote “next scene” on the top of the next page, underlined it twice, then tapped his pen against the daunting blankness. If only he knew what the next scene was.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the Dillon and McKay Law Office paperwork and reached for it. Leaning back in the chair, he scanned the letter from his ex-girlfriend’s lawyer for the millionth time. His vision blurred as it always did when he skimmed the third line. She was filing for full custody of Amelia Alexandra Kelland. Full custody...and he’d get what? Visitation? No rights to make decisions about his little girl’s future? He tossed the papers onto the desk. If only they’d been married, he’d have had more rights. The thought of his ex-girlfriend made his blood boil and he forced himself to take a deep breath. She was moving to L.A. and wanted to take their daughter with her. He refused to let that happen.
The loud hammering resumed, and he dropped his pen as he stood.
That’s it. Grabbing his fleece jacket from the back of the antique rocking chair, he dashed out of the room, leaving the creaking old door to creep closed behind him. It would lock automatically, a lesson he’d learned the hard way the evening before. It had been two hours before the B & B owners returned from dinner at a friend’s.
Taking the stairs two at a time toward the entryway, he collided with a petite blonde whose arms were full of shopping bags. The Brookhollow Inn’s co-owner, Victoria Mason. She’d checked him in the day before.
“Good morning, Mr. Walters,” she said, readjusting her load. “Something wrong?”
“Sorry, excuse me,” he mumbled. Stopping in the entryway, he listened for the sound. Next door, to the right.
“Is everything okay?” Victoria called after him as he pushed the front door open.
“It will be once I get my hands on that hammer,” Logan said as he stepped outside. Several feet away he saw the source. “What are you doing?” he asked, shielding his eyes from the glare of the early October sun.
The woman next door, standing on a ladder in front of the house, wasn’t the workman he’d been expecting, dressed as she was in a pair of tight black leggings and an oversize tan sweater. She wasn’t wearing any shoes. “Hey!” he yelled when she didn’t respond. She turned abruptly at that, almost losing her footing on the ladder. “Whoa,” she said, steadying herself. “Huh?”
“I said, what are you doing? Other than making a ton of noise.” Logan studied the rickety ladder. Rusty and unstable, missing a rung in the center, the thing was a hazard.
“Hanging a sign,” she answered, without looking at him.
“At this hour?”
“You’re staying next door, right?” She paused, holding the sign against the house with one arm and gripping the roof for stability as she turned slightly to face him. Her long dark hair blew across her eyes, and she tucked it behind an ear.
“Yeah,” he grumbled.
“Well, I have an agreement with the owners that I won’t make any noise until after eight. It’s almost nine and I’m almost done.” She waved a hand, dismissing him.
“It’s upside down.”
“Seriously?” The woman sighed as she leaned back on the ladder to study her handy work. The ladder pulled away from the awning and she quickly leaned forward again. “Shoot.” Turning the hammer around, she removed the last nail she’d driven in.
Logan scanned the sign, reading the upside-down words. “You’re operating a day care next door to a bed-and-breakfast?” he asked through narrowed eyes. Just his luck. Not exactly ideal town planning in his opinion.
“Yeah. What’s wrong with that?”
“I just think the bed-and-breakfast might lose business....” He paused, his hands on his hips. “Although I guess what’s the difference when there’s already ten kids living in the house?” This was no longer the place he remembered and definitely not the place for him to write. He’d get nothing done with children around, reminding him of how much he missed Amelia. Working from his home office, he’d been her primary caregiver—getting her ready for school in the morning, seeing her off to the bus and being there for after-school snacks while she did her homework before dinner. He loved every minute of being a father. He needed to check out of here right away. Returning to his apartment, seeing Amelia’s toys and her empty bedroom wouldn’t be much better, but he couldn’t stay.
“At the B-and-B? There are five children.” The woman stretched to remove the nails on the other end of the sign. One foot left the ladder completely and Logan had to look away.
“There shouldn’t be any. It’s a business,” he muttered, jamming his hands into his pockets and hunching deeper into his sweater. He shuffled his feet in the crunchy yellow and orange leaves on the sidewalk in front of her small bungalow.
“It’s also a home.” She flipped the sign around and lost her footing again on the ladder. She clutched the roof, struggling to regain her balance and reposition her stocking feet.
Stocking feet on an already unstable ladder? “Okay, that’s it. Get down.” Logan opened the gate of the white picket fence and moved toward her, motioning for her to descend the ladder.
“Get...down!” he growled. “Give me the sign.”
He rattled the ladder.
“Fine, stop.” She climbed down, stretching to reach the next rung below the missing one, then hesitated before handing over the sign. “You’re not going to break it, are you?”
Logan grabbed the sign. The faster he could get this hung, the faster he could get back to work. Or at least back to staring at a blank page. Frowning, he climbed the wobbly ladder. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“No one asked you.” The woman folded her arms across her chest.
So much for gratitude, Logan thought as he paused halfway up the ladder. “Hey, is there supposed to be smoke inside your house?” Bending to peer through the window in the front of the house, he could see thick, dark clouds spiraling out of the oven toward the ceiling and, a second later, the smoke detector screeched.
“Smoke? No...” Her eyes widened. “My cookies.” She lunged toward the door, threw it open and raced inside, oblivious that she’d just hit the ladder.
Oh no. Logan’s arms flailed as the ladder fell away from the house, taking him with it, and crashed down on top of him on the cold ground. His arm hit the side of a rock-walled flower bed, and he cringed as pain seared his right wrist. His cheeks flamed hot, as he pushed the ladder off and sat up, rubbing the throbbing wrist. Damn it.
The woman came back outside, a frown wrinkling her forehead. “Well, the cookies are ruined,” she said, tossing her hands up in the air and then shooting him a quizzical look as she took in the picture before her. “Did you fall?” She rushed to pick up the sign.
“No. You knocked me off.”
Her mouth dropped open.
Logan grimaced as he tried to move his right hand. This was just great. The quickly swelling wrist ached with the slightest movement.
She knelt on the ground next to him. “Let me see your hand,” she said, reaching for it.
At her touch he yanked his arm away. “Ow!”
“Ow? I hardly touched you.”
“Well, don’t.” Logan levered himself up with his good hand and stood. He wanted to get as far away from her as possible.
When she scrambled to her feet, her eyes came level to his chest. “Fine.” She took a step back and shoved several stray strands of hair away from her face to study his injury. “But you should get it looked at. It could be broken.”
Broken? He groaned. A deep purple bruise had already begun to spread across his hand. “I’m sure it’s fine.”
“I really don’t think so. There’s a medical clinic in town.... I have the children arriving soon, but if you want to wait until they all get here, I could drive you in the day-care van?”
That was a guilt offer if he’d ever heard one. Without even considering it, he shook his head. The medical clinic wasn’t that far—he’d walk.
The woman pointed to the left. “Six blocks that way, take a right onto Main Street—”
“I know where it is.”
“Oh...okay. You sure you don’t want a ride? It’s no trouble.”
She was not a good liar. “I’m sure.”
She bent to get her sign. “Okay.” Then picking up the ladder, she set it against the house.
“What are you doing?” Logan held his sore wrist with one hand.
“Hanging my sign,” she said, stepping onto the first rung.
“Are you crazy? That ladder is a million years old.”
A dark red minivan pulled up in front of the house, and she stepped down and waved, smiling warmly. The effect transformed her face as her dark eyes lit up and her features softened. Logan’s eyes followed hers to see two children climb out of the back of the van. “Okay,” he muttered, “well, thanks for the injury.” Holding up his purple, swollen hand, he went through the gate past the children and then the bedand-breakfast, heading in the direction of the clinic.