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No Words: Chapter 8


Sitting next to Will Price was the furthest thing from an honor to me.

But Kellyjean didn’t know that.

And obviously whoever had done the seating chart for the welcome dinner didn’t know it, either.

“Uh,” I said, throwing a quick glance toward the pool. Long and rectangular, it took up most of the far side of the yard, sending wavy turquoise reflections splashing across the white terra-cotta flagstones as well as the lush canopy of green palm fronds above. A six-foot wall ran along the entire back of it, covered in bougainvillea and bright swirls of iridescent green tile. A steady stream of water flowed from the top of this wall to tumble into the pool below.

It was behind this wall that Kellyjean had indicated that the dinner tables were arranged.

“Would you guys excuse me for a minute?” I asked. “I’m just going to go look for the restroom.”

Bernadette stared daggers at me. She knew exactly where I was going and that it wasn’t the restroom.

“Oh, sure,” Kellyjean said. “It’s over there.” She pointed in the general direction of Will’s house. “Wait till you see it. Will has the most amazing soap. It’s from Provence, France, and it’s made from all organic ingredients—pure lavender, which as you probably know soothes sadness and also helps ward off mosquitos.”

“Great,” I said, and ditched the three of them. I had a mission to complete.

This mission was going to be more difficult to accomplish than I’d thought, however, because I had my name badge dangling from my neck.

So for every two feet of progress I made toward the dining area—where I intended to swap my place card for someone else’s—I lost another foot being greeted by an enthusiastic reader—just not necessarily of my books.

“Jo Wright!” The older woman I’d seen chatting with Garrett seized my elbow. She was holding a fluffy miniature poodle and was dressed in Floridian high style: an extremely sparkly caftan, flowy white trousers, and jeweled sandals. “I’ve heard such lovely things about you. It’s so wonderful that you were able to come!”

“Thank you,” I said, politely shaking the hand she offered. Her badge said that her name was Dorothy Tifton and that she was a Gold Patron, which probably meant that she was high up there in donor status. Was she responsible for my ten-thousand-dollar stipend? “It was so nice of you to invite me.”

“Oh, that was all Will,” the woman said with a modest wave of her hand. “To be honest, I’d never heard of you until he mentioned you and said we simply had to invite you. I only read mysteries—and romance, of course. Is there mystery and romance in your books?”

Will? Will was the one who’d invited me?

Was I being punked? Maybe they were starting a new version of that show, only for authors. But who would watch that?

“Um,” I said. “Yes, my books have mystery and romance. But they’re for children.” Which made it all the more strange that Will was the person who’d invited me. He’d made it clear that children’s books were so beneath his notice that he didn’t even consider them literature. “And they’re about talking cats.”

“Oh, well, then I certainly won’t read them.” Mrs. Tifton laughed cheerfully. “As you can see, I’m a dog person! Say hello to Daisy.”

“Hello, Daisy,” I said vaguely to the dog in her arms.

“Oh, look!” Mrs. Tifton bounced the dog up and down. The dog panted and wagged her tail. “She likes you!”

“Great. I like you, too, Daisy.” Had I stepped off the plane into an alternate reality? Now I was talking to a dog.

“Well, have a wonderful night,” Mrs. Tifton said. “Daisy and I look forward to seeing you at your events tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” I said, and when Mrs. Tifton waved her dog’s paw at me as I moved past her, I waved back.

Sure. That was completely normal. A completely normal conversation on Little Bridge Island, which was a completely normal place.

No. No, this place was nuts. I needed a drink, and right away.

Except that there was still a mad crush at the bar, and Garrett was there, too, pulling more guild coins than ever out of people’s ears.

No. Abort, abort—return to original mission. At least I was able to see that what Sharmaine had assured me was the truth: there were no underage cheerleaders—sorry, dance team members—serving or being served alcohol.

So I steeled myself and rounded the side of the pool to where Kellyjean had said dinner was going to be served.

It was a different world. After the noise and heat of the party—the chatter and music—it was like stepping from a hot, crowded nightclub into a beachside hideaway straight out of Bali.

Small, gentle waves lapped softly at a sandy white beach. Warmly lit party globes hung on strands from thick, tall palm trees, beneath which sat a half-dozen large round tables, each covered in a long white tablecloth and surrounded by ten or twelve chairs. Wineglasses and silverware marked each place setting, and glinted faintly in the half-moon that could just be seen sliding up behind the tops of the palm fronds.

I had to admit that the effect was beautiful. In the center of each table sat an old-fashioned glass hurricane lantern lit by a single dancing flame, and beside the lantern, a pile of leather-bound books. Guests determined which table they were assigned to by checking a sign at the entrance to the dining area, where a seating chart was hanging from a small palm tree. Each table was named after the author whose books adorned it—mostly dead authors with some affiliation to Florida, such as Tennessee Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Thanks to Kellyjean I already knew I’d been assigned to the Ernest Hemingway table. It didn’t take me long to find it—nor did it take long for me to discover that Kellyjean had been telling the truth. Someone had seated me right next to Will Price. Great.

I’d already checked the seating chart and seen that Bernadette was at the Elizabeth Bishop table. I plucked up someone’s place card from beside Bernadette’s (Drew Hartwell. No idea who she was. Possible relation to the sheriff? Was everyone on this island related to one another?) and was moving back toward the Ernest Hemingway table with the intention of swapping it with my own when a voice caused me to freeze.

“Hello?”

I swung around to see one of the dance team members, a tray of salads balanced carefully in her hands.

“Um,” I said. “Hi.”

That’s when I realized, to my horror, that this wasn’t just any dance team member, but Chloe, the little blonde from the airport who’d hurled herself at Will Price.

Chloe? Chloe was in high school? Will Price was dating a high school student?

So I’d been right all along about him. Wait until I told Bernadette . . . and then everyone in the entire world. My revenge would be complete!

“What are you doing?” she asked, her British accent quite pronounced. She didn’t ask it in a particularly hostile way. She sounded more curious than anything.

“Um,” I said, feeling the place cards in my hand begin to dampen with sweat. No. No, no, no, no. “I’m—”

Fortunately, at that moment, another Snappette appeared from nowhere, also carrying a tray of salads. This was the brunette I recognized from earlier, the one Bernadette had said she’d heard call the sheriff “Daddy.” She, too, froze in her tracks, her eyes widening when she saw me.

“Oh . . . my . . . God.”

Chloe threw her a quizzical look. “What?”

“Chloe,” the brunette breathed. “That’s her.”

Chloe’s blond head whipped back around to look at me. “No. Way.”

“No, really. It is.” The brunette shifted her tray of salads onto her hip. “You’re Jo Wright, author of the Kitty Katz series, aren’t you?”

Never in my life had I been more glad to be who I was. Because I was pretty sure that this time, it was going to get me out of an awkward jam.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am. And you are?”

“I’m Katie Hartwell,” she said. She couldn’t reach out to shake my hand thanks to the salad tray, but she looked as if she wanted to. “And this is my friend Chloe Price, and we. Are. Your. Biggest. Fans. Seriously. Except maybe for our friend Sharmaine—”

“It’s true.” Chloe looked as if she were torn between screaming and crying. She could barely hold on to her tray. “Kitty Katz is my favorite series of all time. I’ve read every single one of her adventures a hundred times at least.”

I couldn’t help noticing that neither of them had employed the words used to. I also couldn’t help noticing something else.

“Chloe Price?” I asked. “Are you related to Will Price?”

“Oh, yes.” Chloe brightened. “He’s my brother. He’s a writer, too. Do you know him?”

So the blonde I’d been so sure was Will Price’s girlfriend really was his little sister?

There was absolutely nothing about Will having siblings in any of his bios. Not that I’d read them all. Okay, I’d read them all, searching for some hint as to what had happened to him in his past to make him such a bitter and entitled person. I’d found nothing. He’d had every privilege in the world: grown up in some sheepy area of England that looked incredibly idyllic to me (having only been to England a few times on tour, and mainly only to large cities, I had no idea, but it looked idyllic in photos); went to great universities (in England, of course); got his first book published (after a seven-figure auction), which then went on to become an international bestseller.

Why he was constantly writing super-angsty books, often set in America instead of his own country, I had no idea. But come on. The guy was basically hashtag blessed.

“I know Will a little,” I lied. “I didn’t know he had a sister, though.”

“Oh, no one knows about Chloe. Will’s very protective,” Katie assured me. “He’s super rich, and he’s afraid she might get kidnapped. Although no one around here would do something like that.”

“Katie.” Chloe looked embarrassed.

“Well, it’s true.” Katie was evidently one of those people who thought that if something was true, it was all right to blurt it out. “My dad’s the sheriff, and he wouldn’t let it. But have you checked out Will’s net worth?”

“Um, no,” I said, though of course I had, many times. His net worth was the same as my own, except that I’d written nearly four times as many books as he had (though admittedly mine were a lot shorter, since they were for kids) and I’d tucked all my money safely away in defined benefit plans I couldn’t touch until I was older than my dad was now. I hadn’t gone around throwing my royalties away willy-nilly on stupid things such as mansions on private islands and boats.

“Well, right, then,” Katie went on. “So you know he’s loaded. He’s practically paying for this entire book festival. Well, him and Mrs. Tifton.”

“Katie!” Chloe looked horrified.

“Well, it’s true.”

“Yeah, but it’s rude to talk about things like that.”

“But—”

“It’s okay.” I interrupted, not only because I didn’t want to see the girls get into an argument, but because I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. Will Price was paying for this book festival?

Obviously I knew he’d loaned the use of his house and apparently his boat for tomorrow’s author outing, and also given a hefty donation to the girls’ dance team.

But donated actual money to promote books—children’s books, which he’d quite publicly claimed weren’t even “real” literature?

Why? What was Will up to?

“Sorry.” Katie was looking at me apologetically. “Chloe’s right. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No.” Chloe looked furious with her friend. “You shouldn’t have, Katie. My brother is very private. Not just about me, but about . . . well, everything.”

Oh, this was interesting. What did Will have to be so private about? I’d never read a word about him having a wife or kids—every article referred to him as too “busy and dedicated to his career” to share his life “with a partner,” as he called it.

But I could understand that. I’d tried living “with a partner,” too, and it hadn’t gone too well. My “partner” had always been nagging me to go out and do things with him (on my dime) when all I’d wanted to do was stay home and write about funny kitten-sitting adventures.

And Justin had then had the audacity to accuse me of being the weird one in our relationship!

I shook my head. “No, don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s fine. It’s very . . . nice of your brother, Chloe, to have included me.” The words stuck in my throat. But she seemed like a genuinely sweet girl, so I had to say something kind about her brother, as much as it pained me.

“Are you serious?” Chloe shot me an incredulous look. “Of course he included you. You’re my favorite author! You don’t even know—your books helped me through one of the worst times in my entire life.”

Wow.

Suddenly I knew I couldn’t do what I’d been thinking a moment earlier, which was to put Drew’s place card back where I’d found it, then sneak off the island and into an Uber back to the hotel.

And not just because I was sure that by now all the ink had washed off the hand-calligraphed card and onto my sweaty palm, but because when someone says something like that, you have to stick around.

Plus, it was too late. People from the meet-and-greet—which was apparently over—were starting to file in to grab their seats for dinner.

And leading the pack—standing a head taller than everyone else, and looking cool and relaxed despite the heat—was none other than the man of the hour himself, Will Price.


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