Bestselling author and infamous town hermit Radcliffe McQueen knows what he likes, what he doesn’t, and refuses to pretend social niceties. Particularly with a red-hot mess of a woman who’s taken it upon herself to smooth his rough edges.
She thinks she can change him? Bring it. He’s more than willing to teach her the wisdom of doing things his way. Besides, it’ll distract him from the horror of facing a blank page.
Stodgy. Stubborn. Sanctimonious. Sheri Riddle can think of a long list of adjectives to describe her newest project. An artist by trade, a personality renovator by calling, she’s sure she can transform the blockheaded author into a reasonably personable human being.
Yet as they lock horns, each scrapes away layers of the other until something happens that’s quite outside of Sheri’s plans. Something that’ll take more than one taste of passion to satisfy…
Enjoy the following excerpt for While You Were Writing:
The single steamer trunk could be called Sheri’s prized possession. It also weighed a ton. Two feet tall and four feet across, her brother hauled the thing out of his trunk while she slung her backpack on her back. Radcliffe McQueen neither offered to help nor waited, instead sitting in the front seat of his rusty antique truck tapping the steering wheel as if he might drive away from her at any given moment.
An artist by trade, Sheri had started what she considered her side venture years before. Like a calling, helping people gave meaning to her life and inspired her artwork.
She named what she did “personality renovation”. Some people could look at an old battered house and see the potential, the hidden beauty. She found broken people, found their hidden potential, and helped them find peace and happiness. She couldn’t resist her fascination with the hermit author living in the same small town as her older brother, so she’d mixed business and pleasure and hopped a plane to visit Lance and check the author out in person.
Radcliffe McQueen might be the most challenging case she ever assigned herself. Most of the people she met and “renovated” wanted to change, wanted to find happiness.
The snarly old man didn’t look like he wanted anything from anyone. Then again, she’d barely scratched the surface with him. Her brother hefted the trunk into the back of the truck and she pulled him into a bear hug. “Thanks, Lance.”
He returned the embrace, using the closeness to whisper in her ear. “Are you sure you’ll be okay? What if he tries something?”
Pulling away, she shook her head. “I’ll be fine. He is not giving off that vibe at all. If anything, I think if I touched him, he’d be the one freaking out rather than vice versa. It’s fine. Besides, I have a cell phone. You’re not far. I’ll call you if he does even one strange thing.”
“Today, artist. I’ve things to do besides wait on you.” McQueen called the words from his barely cracked window before rolling it back up with a protesting squeak.
“Okay, I lied,” she modified. “I’ll call you if he does one strange thing that scares me.”
Lance snorted and glared at the front of the truck. He looked like a little boy, worried the playground bully might bother his sister, so she punched his shoulder to relieve his concern. “Seriously, I’ll be fine.” Turning from him, she jogged around the truck and got in.
McQueen didn’t look at her. Putting the truck in gear, he headed out of the parking lot.
At a snail’s pace.
She could almost feel herself aging in the time it took for McQueen to chug his slow and lumbering truck to his home on the outskirts of the small town. Another decade passed while he avoided potholes and meandered up his driveway. The entire drive, he neither spoke nor looked in her direction, keeping both hands firmly on the wheel at exactly ten and two. She cleared her throat. “So, you’re a very safe driver.” Complimenting those who needed renovating often built up long disregarded confidence, helping them to rejoin society as a functioning person.
Radcliffe neither answered nor seemed impressed with her ability to find a silver lining. Actually, he could have gone deaf for all the response he gave her.
Finally, after what seemed an endless amount of time in his passenger seat, he parked and shut off the truck. Getting out, he plodded in his hunched way to the house, not once glancing back.
He neither opened the door for her nor offered to help with the steamer trunk. Sighing, she unbuckled her seatbelt and tossed her satchel on her back. It took her nearly a half hour to lug the trunk out of the back of the truck and into the house. Once she made it inside the door, she froze.
“Dear God, he’s a hoarder.”
Dust greeted her, dancing in what sickly light managed to penetrate the filth covering his windows—wait, were those curtains? And filth. It was a combo wall of light-resistant dirt and fabric. Not that she could see much of the windows beyond stacks of flotsam that stood higher than her and only allowed a small path to a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling and trying bravely to penetrate the gloom with its lone illumination.
As if summoned by her words, Radcliffe appeared. He’d shed his hat and overcoat, as well as the scarf and fingerless gloves he’d worn in the store. He now stood in a button down shirt and worn jeans—still hunched into himself, as if he’d prefer to hide from her rather than to speak. Hands stuffed deep in his pockets, he shifted, chewed his lips and finally spoke. “You may sleep in the bedroom off the top of the stairs. I don’t go up there and you may not go in my office. I don’t care if the entire house catches ablaze, stay the hell out of my office. It’s rule number two, understand?”
She nodded, glanced back at her trunk and considered how fun it would be to lug it up stairs. “Is there someplace I could set up to work as well? I mentioned I’m an artist and—”
His hand, held up as if to ward off her words, stopped her. “Don’t babble. Yes, off the kitchen is a space. Gets good light. Should work. Don’t be noisy.”
With that, he vanished with the very final sounding of a door closing and a lock turning punctuating his desire to be done with the conversation.
Glancing at the trunk, she sat on it and looked around. Trying to bite back her horror, she searched for the Pollyanna side of the situation.
She’d come up with something good about this…she was sure there was something.
He could hear her moving around. He’d considered helping her with the trunk, since the antique thing must have weighed nearly as much as his unwanted houseguest, but resisted. It would set the wrong sort of precedent. He wasn’t here to play housemaid to an eccentric artist obviously set on foisting herself off on a stranger.
She’d started up the stairs, from the sound of it, ridiculous luggage in tow. Sliding into his leather chair, he spun for a moment or two, listening for the next step.
It took her very nearly five minutes between steps. He sighed.
To tune out her pained progress, he booted up his computer and connected to the Internet. Pulling up his favorite search engine, he clicked in her name and allowed results to populate.
Thump. Three steps cleared…only two flights to go.
She had a website, not surprising in this day and age. Even the biggest hacks could create a free website and—
The first sight of her work seemed to suck the very breath from his lungs. Opening another gallery, he began to scroll through the images, enchanted.
Her talent glowed off the screen, as vibrant and alive as the colors she chose to use. From twirling women bedecked in bubbles to heartbreakingly sad panoramas, her gift was something even he couldn’t deny. He leaned back, steepling his fingertips.
Why would a woman so obviously gifted in her field go up to a stranger and ask to visit his home? The prices listed below the pictures—many overridden with large red letters proclaiming them SOLD—bespoke an artist who was far from starving. And yet she’d foisted herself off on him.
“Dammit,” he muttered and punched the top of his desk. He didn’t really have time for an enigma, and he certainly didn’t have time for the guilt that riddled him with each of those damnable thumps. Pushing away from his desk, he unlocked the door and strode up the steps two at a time, to take the antique trunk from her.
With nearly as loud of a thump, she dropped to sit on the step, blocking his passage. “Oh, don’t be bothered, Mr. McQueen. I have this. One step at a time, right?” Her flushed face had burst out in sweat, leaving a pale lock to stick on her forehead. More guilt swamped him.
He didn’t appreciate the addition of guilt into his routine. He got by fine without any troublesome emotions, and if he’d chosen to indulge in any emotion, he certainly wouldn’t choose guilt to break the pattern. “You’re already bothering me.” He announced it and gestured at her.
She simply brushed the hair off her forehead and panted. “Well, sorry about that.”
She didn’t sound sorry. “Move. I can’t carry this ridiculous thing past your—” At a loss for words, he waved his hand with a bit more enthusiasm.
“My what?” Her smile broke free, charming him if he would allow it.
“Your person.” He settled on the word and looked away from her, waiting for her to move.
Laughter bubbled out of her, a deep throaty thing that wrapped him in intimacy and invited him to join her in mirth. “For a writer, you’re not so great with the words. Anyone ever tell you that?”
He scowled at her.
“Sorry. You’re pretty sensitive about the writing thing, huh?”
He resisted growling at her and she’d finally moved, so he lifted the trunk and sped up the remaining stairs. Once he made it to the door of the room he’d offered her, he dropped the trunk—which felt as if she’d packed it with bricks—and turned to flee.
She’d come up behind him and his movement brought him in direct contact with her tempting little body.
She smelled of vanilla and musk and woman. This close, her diminutive size begged him to protect her, to touch her. Rather than back away, she considered him by looking directly at him, head tilted back and eyes wide. A single motion of her pink tongue moistened her lips and he found his gaze locked on the curve of them. “You’re not old at all, are you?”
Her whispered words broke through the sensual haze her presence awakened and he backed into the room to escape her. “No.”
She turned sideways, allowing the space for him to pass her. He moved to do so, ignoring the zinging awareness she created simply by being in his space. When he’d nearly passed her, she spoke. “I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to break your rule and touch you.”
The sincerity of her words tempted him to be equally sincere. To admit he liked bumping into her, that he’d like to do more than bump into her. That he’d wanted, for the barest of heartbeats, to sample her lips.
If he’d been a hero in one of his books, surely he would have done just that—painting a seduction in words to encourage further and future intimacies.
He wasn’t a man led by temptation, however, so instead he straightened his back and cast words back over his shoulder. “Don’t let it happen again.”
With that, he headed back to his office to look at more of her art and consider the folly of inviting her into his home.