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No Words: Chapter 18


I’d have to think about that later . . . and the fact that nothing I’d believed to be true—well, hardly anything, anyway—was actually true.

Right now, all I could think to say was, “I . . . I’m so sorry about your parents, Will. That’s truly awful. But . . .” My gaze alighted once more on Chloe, looking golden and lovely on the deck below. “But your sister turned out all right in the end, didn’t she?” Yes, that was it! Concentrate on the pawsitive, like Kitty.

“Mercifully, yes.” He avoided my gaze, performing another maneuver on the console, and the engines became even quieter. The boat was slowing to a stop. “Thanks to some kind neighbors. They were angels through the whole thing. Took care of her after our father died until I could finish school and the book I was working on—When the Heart Dies, as it turns out. I knew I was going to have to earn money somehow, and I remembered all the books my mother had loved when I was a kid. I was sure I could write something similar and get it published.”

Of course. Why not? He was Will Price.

Then again, to be a published author, you had to have more than a little confidence in yourself. Otherwise you’d never have the courage to share your writing with the world, much less continue trying to do so after the inevitable rejections and bad reviews.

“I never expected it to do so well,” he went on. “But fortunately for me, it did, so I was able to support us. I was—well, I was a little more prideful than I should have been. I thought I could raise Chloe by myself and balance a burgeoning writing career at the same time.”

“Gosh,” I said drily. “You, prideful? I can’t imagine that.”

He grinned. “I know. What I didn’t expect was . . . well, how little time I was going to be able to spend at home, because of all the publicity.” He grimaced at me with sarcastic humor. “The books sell the best here. You Americans really do love your tragic love stories, don’t you?”

I was glad he wasn’t a mind reader and didn’t know how many emails Bernadette and I had exchanged over the years with When the Fart Cries in the subject line.

“Well, every American except you,” he added, and I realized I hadn’t done a very good job of hiding my thoughts, so I returned his cynical smile. “It wasn’t fair on Chloe,” he continued. “I was barely ever around. I hired nannies to take care of her instead of doing it myself.”

I gazed down at the teenaged girl relaxing on the sun lounger below with her friend. Bernadette had performed her duty perfectly, somehow luring Garrett away from the girls, and now she, Garrett, Jerome, and Kellyjean were gathered on one side of the deck, gazing out at the water.

“She really does seem okay to me,” I said.

“Thank you. But that’s only because you’re meeting her now. A few years ago, she’d tell you herself, she was a mess.”

“She did tell me herself. She said it was my books that saved her life.”

He looked uncomfortably shamefaced. But he didn’t shut down. “She was telling you the truth. I thought that, because I could afford it, that I should put her in the best school that money could buy, because that’s what people with money did. So I enrolled her in the most expensive girls’ school in town, thinking she’d get the best education—the kind I’d always wished I’d had, where they teach all the classics.”

I smiled, thinking of Chloe, in her little Snappette uniform, tackling Ulysses. “And how did that go?”

“Exactly as I can tell you’re thinking it did.” He shook his head glumly. “She never said a word to me about it, of course, because she’s not the sort who would. But the other girls there all came from families with money, and they were brutally unkind to Chloe because she didn’t. Meanwhile, I was paying tens of thousands of pounds a year for Chloe to go to a school that was only making her miserable, and then I found out she couldn’t even read.”

That stopped me cold. “Wait . . . couldn’t read? What do you mean, she couldn’t read?”

“She was in her teens, but could barely read or write. The teachers were passing her because I was paying her tuition in full and on time, and she was obviously gifted in other ways—dance, for instance—but she wasn’t learning a thing.”

“How is that even possible?

He shrugged. “I came home unexpectedly from some book event to find her weeping over her tea about the teasing and how hard the coursework was, and that’s when I discovered it: she couldn’t even read the back of a bottle of brown sauce. So I got her tested and—”

Something clicked in my brain. Suddenly so much made sense. “Dyslexia.”

“Exactly. None of her teachers or nannies had noticed. I hadn’t noticed.”

Good grief. No wonder he’d been so worried about what Chloe had told me. No wonder he was personally hosting so many events at this festival! Like his character Johnny, he must have been drowning in guilt.

“But Chloe not being able to read wasn’t your fault,” I said. “You were busy trying to support her. How could you—”

“I should have known.” There was a heated look in his eyes. He was angry, but this time at himself. “She’s my sister. Anyway, I told her she never had to go back to that wretched school again—that we could go anywhere in the world that she wanted. And that’s why we’re here.”

“Here?” I gestured toward the island of Little Bridge, which I could see only very dimly in the distance. “Here, as in Little Bridge Island here?”

“Yes. She’d heard about the dance team. Apparently it’s quite good. They dance on television in a holiday parade in New York City every year. It’s quite an honor, I’m told.”

He must have meant the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I reflected on how exciting that would be for a certain kind of teenaged girl—not the kind I’d been, of course—and felt a little envious of Chloe and her friends. The only thing I’d wanted to do in high school was get out as quickly as possible.

“And of course the weather is significantly better than it is back in England,” Will went on. “Did you know the temperature here has never once fallen below freezing? And there are statistically more hours of sunshine in Little Bridge than there are anywhere else in America.”

I couldn’t tell whether or not he was pulling my leg. Will had never struck me as much of a practical joker, but I was finding it hard to believe he was being serious, even though he wasn’t smiling. “You moved here because of the weather? And because your teenaged sister wanted to be on the school’s dance team?”

“Yes. Why not?” He glanced at me quizzically. “What other qualifications do you need to live somewhere? You live in New York City, a place I’ve been to quite a few times, and I must say, the weather’s never been exactly optimal. We certainly couldn’t do this.” He waved his arm to indicate the boat, and before I could open my mouth to point out that Manhattan is an island with easy access not only to boats but also the ocean, he went on, “Little Bridge has got a slower pace of life, and the people have all been very kind. Plus it’s got quite a good school system. Besides the dance team, they put Chloe into a special program and had her reading in no time. That’s when—”

I knew exactly what he was going to say next. “She discovered my books.”

He looked surprised. “Yes! How did you know?”

“I, uh, have been told my books are very accessible.”

This was an understatement. Kitty Katz had helped many children—and some adults, too—not only learn to read, but learn English as a second language. And it wasn’t only because the animated series based on the books followed the original stories so closely and was shown in twenty-nine countries. There was something about that little kitty and her furry friends that made reading fun.

“Well, they certainly did the trick for Chloe,” Will said. He was smiling again. “The difference was like night and day. Your books were the first ones she ever read all the way through. She was immensely proud of herself for finishing them. She has a special shelf of honor for your books in her bedroom.”

“That’s wonderful to hear,” I said.

And it was. Suddenly, everything made sense. Readers always held a special place in their heart for the first book they ever read (or at least, the first book they ever read and enjoyed, the one that got them hooked on reading). That’s why Lauren, at nineteen, had hauled a suitcase of my books all the way from Canada for me to sign.

But there was still something gnawing at me.

“But if you knew Chloe loved my books so much during Novel Con,” I said, “why were you so nasty about them?”

The smile was replaced by a look of surprise. “I wasn’t nasty about them.”

“Excuse me, but yes, you were.”

Now he was not only not smiling, he was frowning. “It’s true that I said something about your genre that wasn’t as educated as I ought to—”

“Category.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Children’s books aren’t a genre, they’re a category of books. Mystery or romance is a genre.” Garrett must be wrong about Will hoping to break into children’s books. He knew absolutely nothing about them. “Fiction and nonfiction are categories of books. Young adult and middle grade are age categories of children’s books—”

All right, Jo, I get it. I said something stupid about your books. I shouldn’t have, and I’ve been sorry for it ever since. Don’t you ever say things that you don’t mean? Or wished you’d said, but couldn’t find the right words—or any words at all?”

I blinked at him. “I’m very, very rarely at a loss for words.” Except when it came to my current manuscript.

He raked a hand through his overgrown curls. “Well, consider yourself lucky. I find myself saying the wrong thing—or worse, nothing at all—quite a lot. And it wasn’t until after Novel Con that Chloe discovered your books. It was just before the conference that I found out how badly she was struggling in school.”

Wait. “What? You found out your sister couldn’t read and you went to—?”

“You think I wanted to leave her just then and come all the way to the U.S. to give the breakfast speech at some book conference I’d barely heard of?” Will looked frustrated enough to steer his own boat into an iceberg on purpose just to end the conversation, if there’d been one nearby. “My publisher said if I canceled it would be some sort of publicity disaster.”

He was right about that. Speaking at the Novel Con breakfast was a privilege that writers with decades more experience than Will and I hardly dared to dream of. The only forgivable excuse for canceling was death—of a loved one, or of oneself.

“I guess,” I said slowly, “it would have been unprofessional to renege, especially with the plagiarism scandal going on. Everyone kept telling me I had to go, too, or it would look like I was letting what Nicole had done affect me.”

He glanced away from the windscreen and toward me. “So you understand.”

I wanted to say that I did. I knew I should let it go. My therapist back in New York had been telling me for months to let it go: Leave the past in the rearview mirror. You can’t move forward if you’re always looking behind you.

But I couldn’t. Even after knowing what he’d been through, I couldn’t. My mother’s Sicilian blood wouldn’t let me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But that still doesn’t explain why you were so mean about my books, especially after—well, after I thought we got along so well in the green room.”

I was appalled to find that tears had sprung to my eyes.

Which was ridiculous, because I obviously didn’t care what he thought.

Fortunately I was wearing my sunglasses, so I was sure he couldn’t see the sudden waterworks.

Except maybe he could. Because suddenly he tore those large, tanned hands away from the console, slid from his captain’s chair, and reached out to seize me by both arms. His dark gaze swept my face, searching for . . . what?

“Jo, I—” His voice was broken, ragged even. He seemed to want to tell me something else, but couldn’t—really and truly couldn’t—find the right words.

Was there such a thing as verbal dyslexia? Because if so, Will had it, or at least some kind of oral impairment that seemed to make it impossible sometimes for him to grasp the words he was searching for.

“What?” I asked. I had to work to make my voice sound coolly incurious, because the truth was, my emotional state and his proximity—the raw heat coming off his body, the feel of those hard hands on my arms—had my heart jackhammering in my chest. This close, I could see that he needed a shave more than ever.

And I wanted to feel the scrape of that dark, prickly facial hair all over my neck, those hard hands on every inch of my body.

What was wrong with me? I couldn’t stand this man.

Or at least that’s what I was thinking right up until the moment I pulled him close and started kissing him.


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