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No Words: Chapter 3


Wrong.

Little Bridge Island was so small that it didn’t have a proper airport, with Jetways that stretched from the arrivals terminal to meet incoming planes so that passengers could disembark.

Instead, we were supposed to climb down a steep flight of metal stairs that airport personnel had shoved up against the door, then walk out onto an active runway.

This would have been charming and even fun, like something from Kitty Katz #12, Kitty Goes Hawaiian, when Kitty and her friends went to Meowuai, if I’d checked a bag.

But after years and years of work-related travel, I’d learned never to check a bag, because it so often got lost right before a super-important Kitty-related event. I’d once been forced to speak before a thousand Barnes & Noble booksellers in jeans and a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man T-shirt because that’s what I’d been wearing on the plane and my bag was nowhere to be found.

So I always packed everything I needed into a carry-on, and as a consequence, my carry-on weighed a ton. How was I going to lug it down a rickety, narrow flight of metal steps while wearing stacked heels (because of course I had on my most fashionable pair of winter boots, as it had been snowing when I’d left New York)?

Then, as I stood at the top of the stairs, squinting in the sudden blast of heat and bright sunlight, cursing my impulse to bring a thousand promotional bookmarks for the next installment in the Kitty Katz series (which I hadn’t even written yet, so the bookmarks simply said Don’t Fur-get: KK#27, Coming Soon!), a miracle happened.

“Here, let me help you with that.”

Dark Knight tugged my suitcase from my hand.

“Oh, no!” I was shocked. “You don’t—”

But before I could stop him, Dark Knight was moving quickly down the steps with my suitcase dangling from one hand as lightly as if it contained only catnip.

“Thank you so much.” I hurried down the stairs to join him on the tarmac, where painted yellow lines directed us toward the tiny arrivals terminal. “You really didn’t have to do that.”

“Well, it’s not every day I get to meet a celebrity.”

“I’m not a celebrity.” Blushing, I took the suitcase from him, yanking on the handle to extend it so I could move it from the path of the passengers disembarking behind us. “I’m just—”

“I know.” He jerked what appeared to be a fishing pole and also the case for a ukulele from a luggage cart onto which airport personnel had begun unloading bags that had been gate-checked. “You’re just Jo Wright, author of the Kitty Katz series, and you’re here for the Little Bridge Book Festival.”

“Yes.” I knew he’d been eavesdropping. Well, it had worked out well for me. I nodded at the pole in his hand. “And you’re here for a little fishing?”

“Among other things. I’m Garrett, by the way.”

“Hi, Garrett.”

Garrett and I fell into step with the other passengers along the pathway leading to the arrivals terminal, me wheeling my suitcase behind me. Everywhere I looked, I saw palm trees, and even—yes, there it was, past the private jets parked at the far end of the tarmac—the ocean, smooth and blue and stretching as far as I could see.

I didn’t feel like walking into it anymore, though, Virginia Woolf style. Things were starting to look up. Not because of Garrett—although he was pretty easy on the eyes, despite the goatee and the flip-flops.

No. It was because after the cold, stale air of the plane—not to mention the icy winds of Manhattan—the heat and humidity of Little Bridge was a welcome change. I could feel my hair beginning to rise up at the roots in delighted surprise. This was it: the tropical breeze Rosie had mentioned, the one that had inspired that author of hers to write two whole chapters in a day.

And even though the sun was glaring and I was starting to sweat already beneath my leather jacket, that tropical breeze caressing my face, and the scent of seaweed and brine coming from the ocean felt almost . . .

Well, as if I were coming home.

Which was ridiculous, of course. I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker, used to the darkened bowels of the subway and the frigid wind whistling between the skyscrapers. The tropics and I were not friends.

As if he were reading my mind, Garrett asked, “First time?”

I had to raise my voice to be heard over the sound of all the airplane propellers that were spinning around us.

“In Little Bridge? Yes. But I’ve been to Florida before. I’ve been coming down here a lot recently, looking at senior living communities.”

Garrett raised his eyebrows. “Little soon for that, don’t you think?”

I laughed. “For my dad. He hasn’t been handling winters back home too well lately. I’ve got to find him a new place before—”

My voice died in my throat. Not because I was envisioning my father’s imminent passing, but because we’d arrived at the doorway to the arrivals terminal, just inside of which stood a small, dark-haired woman holding up a whiteboard with my name on it.

Except mine wasn’t the only name on it.

I’d been expecting to see the name Bernadette Zhang, a fellow author and friend of mine who’d texted long ago that she’d also been invited to the festival. We’d promised to spend every free moment we had in Little Bridge together, drinking, taking in the sun, and having highly un-literary discussions about other authors we both disliked.

But instead I saw an entirely different name below mine.

WILL PRICE

No. It couldn’t be.

“Hey,” Garrett said, because I was standing frozen in front of him, blocking the entrance to the terminal. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” I shook myself. “Sure. Sorry. I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“Yeah, I know.” I was suddenly way, way too hot in my leather jacket. “I’m probably going to have to kill someone, is all.”

Garrett glanced in the direction I was staring, but of course didn’t see what I was seeing. “Anyone in particular?”

I shook my head. “Not in the immediate vicinity.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” He laughed.

I wasn’t feeling so amused, though. Rosie had promised—promised—me that Will Price wasn’t going to be at the festival. Sworn on her soul that she’d checked and double-checked with the festival staff.

I’d even scoured the website myself before writing to commit to the event. But there’d been nothing: no sign of Will Price anywhere on the Little Bridge Island Book Festival page. Zilch.

So what had happened?

Behind me, I heard Garrett murmur, “Um, well, I checked a bag, so, uh, I better go see if I can find it. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah,” I murmured back. “Sure. See you later.”

I knew I was being rude—the guy had carried my suitcase for me, after all, and been sweet about Lauren and her friends and my ponytail swatting him—but I had bigger problems to worry about. What was I going to do about having to share a car with Will Price? Was I actually going to have to talk to him? What was I going to say?

Honestly, this was really just too much to ask. It was one thing to have to be at a festival with him. But ride in a car with him? No.

Should I just turn around? Maybe I could find the departures terminal and buy a ticket back to New York.

But then I’d lose my ten grand, and I really needed that money. Who knew when Dad was going to fall down again and I was going to get saddled with another gigantic hospital bill?

Oh, whiskers, as Kitty would say. I was just going to have to suck it up.

Once again deeply regretting many of my life decisions, especially the one to come to Little Bridge, I wheeled my suitcase toward the woman with the whiteboard. I had to dart and weave between dozens of tourists, all wearing winter coats like me, and all crowded into the tiny arrivals terminal, either trying to rent a car from the single car rental agency or grab their bags from the single loudly cranking baggage carousel.

“Hi.” I’d reached the woman holding up the whiteboard. I pointed to my name. “That’s me.”

“Oh, Ms. Wright!” The woman’s face broke into a rapturous smile. “Welcome to Little Bridge! I’m Molly Hartwell, the children’s librarian. Thank you so much for coming.”

The woman’s greeting was so charming that I almost forgot my hatred of Will Price (almost, but not quite).

“Hi. Please call me Jo. Thanks for having me. It’s really great to be here. I hope you weren’t waiting for me long.”

“Oh, no,” Molly replied. “Not at all.”

But I couldn’t help noticing that she was shifting her weight from foot to foot, and also that she was clearly pregnant. To my untrained eye (except for many hours of watching Call the Midwife), she looked ready to pop.

“I’ll be taking you to your hotel.” Molly’s tone was as bright as her dark eyes. “Do you have any other bags to pick up from baggage claim?”

“No. Everything I need, I have right here.” I nodded proudly down at my carry-on. If they gave prizes to authors for packing instead of literary content, I would definitely have won them all.

“Oh.” Molly looked slightly disappointed, and continued to shift her weight from one foot to another. “I hope you don’t mind, but there are two other authors arriving any minute that I thought we could pick up at the same time. It would keep me from having to make three trips back and forth to the hotel. And you know, we are trying to be eco-conscious here on Little Bridge. The authors should be coming through those doors any second—”

Because of my expert packing, I’d been in this situation before. Enough times that I reached out, took the whiteboard from Molly’s hands, and said, in response to her surprised expression, “No problem. I’ll wait for them. I know you’ve been here awhile and could probably use a bathroom break.”

Molly’s cheeks went red. “Oh, no, Ms. Wright! I’m fine! I don’t want you to—”

“It’s Jo. And I’m fine with this. Will and I go way back. I’ll take good care of him while you’re gone.”

That’s what I said out loud. Inside in my head, I was saying, Will and I go way back, and if he shows up while you’re gone, I’m going to murder him, and when you return from the bathroom, all that will be left of him is a puddle of his own blood, but no one will be able to prove I’m his killer, because I will have so skillfully disposed of his body and gotten rid of all the evidence.

But of course I wouldn’t actually do that, because I’m a Wright: I’d inherited from my very British father’s side of the family an almost pathological fear of confrontation. It was because of this fear of confrontation that my father had saved no money for his retirement, and had instead given everything he had to his best friends and fellow bandmates every time they needed to be bailed out of a jam (which was frequently). His generosity was completely admirable, except that now he needed me—or, more accurately, Kitty Katz, to support him (although, again to his credit, he’d never asked me to do so. He’d have sooner withered away from starvation than ask anyone for help).

Always at odds with this, however, was what I’d inherited from my mother’s very Italian side of the family: a hot-blooded thirst for revenge.

Molly’s face crumpled with grateful relief. “Oh, thank you. If you really don’t mind—I’ve been dying to go. The baby seems to be sitting right on my bladder. I’ll only be a minute—”

“Take your time.” I hoisted up the whiteboard so that anyone coming through the doors from the tarmac would be sure to see it.

At least, that’s what I did until Molly turned her back and waddled off in the direction of the ladies’ room. Then I lowered the sign and wondered what would happen if I spat on Will’s name and wiped it away with my sleeve.

But no. I couldn’t do that. I’d only get Molly in trouble, and she seemed like a nice person. She was the one who’d written me the kind letter, offering me the ten grand and gushing over her love of Kitty Katz. I would never do something like that to a fan.

Although it would certainly serve Will Price right if someone, anyone out there showed him that he wasn’t as universally beloved as he thought he was, and that books about teenaged cats were just as important (to some people) as books about whatever his books were about, which I still didn’t actually know, because I’d never read one—at least not all the way through. Of course I’d glanced through one or two that I’d happened to spot in airport bookstores during layovers. I’d read enough to see that his prose was accessible. He wasn’t talentless.

But those endings! My God.

Will insisted in interviews—not that I’d read any of them. Well, all right, I might have skimmed one or two—that his books were tragic love stories. But not romance novels. Oh, no. Definitely not that! Because he was a man, and most male authors of adult books would slit their own throats before admitting they’d written a romance or women’s fiction or even a family drama. Everything they wrote, many of them insisted, was literary fiction (unless of course it was sci-fi, horror, or mystery).

So nauseating.

I’d tried to watch When the Heart Dies once when I’d been channel-surfing and it had turned up on HBO, but it had been so depressing—the hero died at the end (all of Will’s heroes in all of Will’s books died at the end)—that I’d had to switch to a Great British Bake Off marathon to cheer myself up.

Why did Will Price need a ride from the airport anyway? He lived on Little Bridge. Where was he even coming from? Were Lauren and her friends right? Had he really left the set of his latest movie to come to this book festival? Was he so controlling that he couldn’t allow a book festival in his own town to take place without him being there?

And if so, why couldn’t he take an Uber or a taxi or a limo or whatever entirely too highly paid authors like himself rode around in? Why did he need one of the book festival volunteers to drive him in the author bus or van (which, in my experience, was undoubtedly what would be transporting us)? Why couldn’t he—

BOOM.

The automatic doors to the tarmac parted and there he was, like some kind of god, the sun casting a golden halo all around him. Will Price, in the flesh.

BAM! My heart ricocheted off the back of my ribs.

Really? The mere sight of him caused my heart to skip a beat? Why? WHY? I didn’t even like him. He was just a man, a stupid man who wrote even stupider books.

The only reason my heart did the dumb BAM thing was because this was the first time I was seeing him (in person, as opposed to the million photos of him that I could not seem to escape, that appeared all over social media and the copies of People my dentist kept scattered around her office and in-flight magazines and even, unfortunately, Library Journal, since less discerning librarians were bonkers for him, too) since The Incident.

Unfortunately, he looked just as good now as he had then.

It was easy to spot him in the crowd, not only because of the golden light that seemed to encircle him, but because of the way the crowd appeared to part for him, too, as if everyone sensed they were in the presence of greatness. This might have been because Will stood about a head taller than most of the other passengers, and that wasn’t even counting his mass of thick, curly, dark hair, which was looking more unruly than usual. Wherever he’d been, he had apparently not had easy access to a barber, much less a razor, since he was sprouting four or five days’ growth of dark facial hair.

He was peering down at his cell-phone screen as he walked, a large backpack slung over one of his ridiculously broad shoulders. He did not, I had to admit, look like either a multimillionaire or a backstabbing bestselling author, in his gray T-shirt, jeans, and Timberlands.

What he looked like was a god, and every woman—and even some of the men, probably—in that terminal knew it.

That was the thing about Will Price, though: those good looks of his were deceptive. They’d managed to fool many, many people into thinking he was a sweet guy—a guy like the heroes he wrote about in his books, who lived only to adore and worship women . . . until he killed them off in some tragic freak accident, leaving the heroine brokenhearted but “stronger for having known what real love was.”

Barf.

And now Will’s good looks were fooling Lauren and her friends. I could see the girls clustered around the single baggage carousel with all the other passengers, waiting for their luggage to arrive.

But the second Will walked by, Lauren’s head popped up from her phone’s screen as if she had some kind of hot-male-celebrity-author radar. I saw her eyes widen, then her thin shoulder blades raise as she sucked in her breath.

“Will!”

The next thing I knew, all three girls were swarming him, Cassidy—the one who wanted her chest signed—shrieking the loudest of all.

“Will, Will,” she cried. “Oh, Will, I’m your biggest fan! Can I get a selfie with you?”

“Uh.” Will looked up from his phone screen. Now he stood—those dark eyes shaded by lashes that were wasted on a man—looking confused and startled, as the teens jumped around him. “Um—”

“We’re here for the book festival,” Lauren declared. “We’re going to go to every single one of your events!”

Will seemed about as thrilled as if she’d just informed him that she was an oral surgeon about to give him a dental bone graft.

“Oh,” he said. “That’s . . . brilliant.”

And of course he said brilliant instead of great. Because, as if Will weren’t hot enough looks-wise, he was also from some small, picturesque village in England somewhere, and had an accent I’d heard more than a few women (and men) swoon over as “the sexiest author voice ever.”

“Such a shame,” someone in publishing had once lamented to me, “that Will Price doesn’t narrate his own audiobooks! We’ve asked and asked him, but he won’t do it. He says he hates the sound of his own voice. Can you imagine? He’s so modest!”

No one had ever asked me to narrate my own audiobooks. I had offered many times, feeling pretty confident that I could do a good job, seeing as how kids seemed to love it at school visits when I read Kitty Katz out loud. I even did different little voices for all the characters: a high-pitched one for Kitty and a low-pitched one for her boyfriend, Rex Canine, as well as the popular “Kitty Katz claw” hand salute that symbolized pawsitivity. I was good!

I had, however, been gently but firmly told by my publisher that it was better to “leave such things to professionals.”

Unless you were Will Price, apparently, with a deep, manly voice and a British accent that pronounced butter like “buttah,” as in “buttah wouldn’t melt in his mouth.”

Barf again.

“Can we get a selfie?” The girls crowded in around Will, their cell phones raised like battle-axes. “This is so cool!”

Will was wincing those dark, expressive eyes of his as if he were in pain. He was evidently not usually met in airport terminals by throngs of adoring teenaged fans . . . or at least, not his hometown airport terminal.

And poor Will! There was no publicist nearby to stop the assault. Certainly this hadn’t occurred to the girls’ mothers—who I assumed were the attractive, well-dressed women standing nearby, their own phones raised in amusement to film their daughters leaping around their favorite author. They weren’t doing a thing.

I supposed that if Molly the librarian had been there, she’d have stepped in to intervene. But she was still occupied in the restroom.

Honestly, though, how was what was happening to Will so terrible? No one was telling him that they used to love his books. No one was saying that he used to be their favorite author. He should have been happy that he even had fans, given how deeply unsatisfying his books were.

But of course he didn’t realize this, because he was Will Price.

“I really think we ought to save the selfies for the festival, don’t you, girls?” he said in the condescending tone of voice people usually reserved for toddlers or golden retrievers.

“Noooo.” The girls kept snapping away with their phones. “Just one more?”

He looked so uncomfortable and dismayed that I couldn’t help laughing out loud. This was almost as good as if I’d wiped his name off the whiteboard.

Unfortunately, laughing was a mistake. Because somehow he’d heard me—don’t ask me how, considering the din in the terminal, with the clanking of the baggage carousel and the excited buzz of the rest of the passengers snagging the keys to their rental cars—and looked my way.

That’s how I was able to witness the exact moment that Will Price recognized me—despite my hair color, which I’d changed so dramatically since the last time we’d met.

And that’s how I saw those dark eyes go wide as his gaze went from my face to the whiteboard and then back again.

That’s when his skin, beneath the days’ old beard, went pale, and the heavy backpack he’d been carrying slid off his shoulder like he’d lost all muscle control. It landed with a solid thunk on the terminal floor.

Wow.

Well, I’d expected him to feel something upon seeing me again. A little embarrassment, maybe (if he actually had any feelings, which, after what he’d done to me, I’d always doubted).

But this? He looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“Er,” I heard him say, his gaze still riveted to my face. “Listen, girls. I don’t have time to chat right now. I have to—”

Go? Do you have to go now, Will? Oh, why is that? Because the woman whose work you maligned to the New York Times is standing in front of you holding a sign with your name on it and you’re too much of a coward to go up to her and say you’re sorry? Is that why? How purr-fectly claw-ful for you.

But to my surprise, he didn’t head for the exit. Instead, he took a step toward me—

“Will? Oh, Will, there you are!”

I raised my eyebrows as a lithe blonde tore through the crowd, then launched herself at Will. Dressed in a barely there white bikini over which she’d thrown a pair of cutoffs and a gauzy red beach cover-up, she hit Will like a rocket.

“Will!” she gushed as she wrapped her sun-bronzed arms around his neck and her endlessly long legs around his waist. “I’m so sorry I’m late!” Surprisingly, she had a British accent, too. “I’ve got the car parked right outside. Are you ready? You didn’t check any bags, did you?”

“Uh, no. No, Chloe, I didn’t.” He attempted to peel the girl off him, looking, oddly enough, kind of irritated to see her. Which was weird, since most men I know don’t mind when beautiful blond girls wearing very little show up at airports to throw their arms around them.

“Great!” Chloe, her sandaled feet back on the ground, reached for the gigantic backpack he’d let fall to the terminal floor. It so figured that Will Price would let a tiny slip of a girl like that carry his bag. What was she, anyway, his assistant? Girlfriend? I guess Cassidy was wrong, and while hetero, Will wasn’t single after all.

Although I noted with cynical interest that they did not kiss hello, even though he’d been away long enough to grow a partial beard. He’d probably been warned by his media consultants not to kiss any of his romantic partners in front of fans. It would spoil their dreams that he was available.

“Come on,” Chloe said, tugging on his arm. “I’m double-parked. We’ve got to go.”

“Oh.” He threw me one last look. “Er, thanks.” To the girls, who were already raking Chloe curiously with their gazes, wondering who she was and why she was taking their darling Will away from them, he said, “Sorry, that’s got to be it for now. My ride’s here. I’ll see you at the festival, though, right?”

The girls cried, “Awwwww,” in disappointment, but quickly recovered and began waving enthusiastically at their literary idol. “Bye, Will!” “See you tomorrow!” “I’m going to buy tons of copies of The Moment for you to sign for all my friends!”

Then a very uncomfortable-looking Will was swept from the terminal by the sweet, lovely Chloe.

What was that about? Why was he feeling uncomfortable? He hadn’t felt uncomfortable bad-mouthing my writing. Why should he feel uncomfortable now, seeing me in an airport holding a whiteboard with his name on it?

“Was that him?”

I turned and saw a familiar figure at my side.

“Oh, hi, Garrett.” In addition to his fishing pole and ukulele, Garrett was carrying a giant duffel bag. Unlike me, he didn’t seem to suffer from lost-checked-bag syndrome. “Was that who?”

“Will Price. I didn’t think he’d be riding on the author bus with us.”

I turned to stare at him. “What do you mean us?”

He pointed to the name beneath Will’s on the whiteboard I was holding—the name I hadn’t noticed because I’d been too wrapped up in my loathing of Will Price. “That’s me.”


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