I was making a lot of progress on this project before the mandatory "hide at home" mandate. With everyone here, it's just too loud to concentrate on writing much. However, I thought I'd share the first chapter with you (I left off the short prologue from when Kris was 13 or 14 years old.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Discovering Her Heart
“You can’t keep the publisher waiting, Kris.” Sylvia Stone was firm but always kind. The woman may have been in her sixties, but she was as sharp and professional as any of the younger, hungrier agents. However, age and experience allowed her to gently drag her authors to the finish line. “Tell me what you need.”
“I don’t know.” Kristen rested her head in her hands. “I can’t concentrate. All I do is wander around the apartment. I want to write. The ideas are there, but I can’t put them on the page.”
Sylvia sat and patted her back. “When was the last time you got away? Did something for yourself?”
“All I do is sit at home and write.” Kristen jumped up and paced the length of her designer living room. “Why would I need to get away?”
The room was decorated in black and white with pops of red. Very trendy, very stylish, and containing very little of her personality. However, she’d made it big as an author, bringing in enough money to afford the swanky Manhattan apartment, so she hired a professional to decorate it. Too bad she rarely left it, and she never had company over to enjoy it with her. Is that why she’d felt so restless lately? So dissatisfied?
“Kris, look at me.” Sylvia commanded and Kristen obeyed. “You’re my best seller. I can put the publisher off a couple more months, but you’ve got to get it together. How about a trip? I can send you somewhere completely different. Maybe that will get those creative juices flowing again.”
Somewhere different? At this point she was willing to try anything to get over the crippling writer’s block she’d been suffering for months.
“Okay.” Kristen nodded. “What do you have in mind?”
Sylvia stared at her a moment before a slow smile turned up her lips. “I’m thinking mountain retreat. You don’t seem like the beach type.”
“I, I don’t know.” Kristen scowled. She should know if she preferred mountains or beach. “The beach could be relaxing.”
“Heavens, have you ever been to the beach?”
“What about the mountains?”
“Do the hills of Tennessee count?”
“Good grief.” Sylvia busily swiped at her phone. “This time of year the beaches will be crowded, so let’s do the mountains first. We’ll do the beach during the off season.”
“What’s wrong with me Sylvia?” Kristen collapsed on the couch again.
“Nothing, dear. You’re just burned out and rightly so. You’ve cranked out six best sellers in four years, overseen the production of the first one into a major blockbuster movie, and everyone wants you at their Comic Con. That’s quite a lot at your age.”
“I’m only twenty-seven.”
“Exactly. You should be hanging out with friends at clubs, living it up. Dating. Not wasting away all alone.”
“I have friends. They’re just busy, and live all over the country. It’s hard to hang out when you don’t live in the same town.” Kristen babbled, scared to admit she hadn’t talked to the people she considered friends in years. She wasn’t even sure where they were, what they were doing. As for dating, she simply didn’t have the time. Or the desire.
“Well, part of your assignment, other than relaxing, is to get in touch with those friends. And flirt with somebody at the resort. I’m booking you at my favorite place for a month. Enjoy the spa, go hiking, horseback riding, I don’t care, but do something, anything but write.” Sylvia stared at her phone as she typed and swiped.
“What about Digital Stream?”
“After your vacation, the words will flow. I’m not worried.” Sylvia grabbed Kristen by the shoulders and gently turned her toward the bedroom. “Now, go pack.”
“Yes. I’ve book a flight and you check into Scarlet Oaks Resort tonight.” She waved the phone in the air.
“It’s in Tennessee. You’re going home, Kris.”
“Brett, you’ve got a call on line two,” Jodi, the receptionist, yelled down the hall from the front desk.
“Thanks.” Brett turned down his music and picked up the phone. “Brett Stone, how can I help you?”
“Hey, did I miss a call from you?” His aunt’s warm voice surprised him. She usually called his cell phone.
“No, but this is an emergency, and I knew I’d get you this way.” Sylvia paused and Brett heard her muffled voice speaking to someone on her end.
“What kind of emergency?” he asked.
Her voice returned loud and clear. “Tell me you have a room I can use for the next month.”
“A month? What’s wrong? Are you running away from someone?” Brett had always liked his aunt Sylvia. He worried about her living in New York City all by herself. “Do you have a stalker?”
Sylvia laughed, “No, and the room isn’t for me. My favorite best seller is burned out and needs to get away. You are my first choice because wide open spaces is just what the doctor orders.”
“Oh.” He was disappointed Sylvia wasn’t coming. “Which author is it?”
“Kris Parker, but you’d know the pen name better.” She paused for dramatic effect, “Chris Armstrong.”
“No way.” Brett loved the sci-fi adventure writer. “I’m finally going to see what C. A. looks like? I don’t suppose you’ll let me use this for advertising?”
“Brett, Kris needs privacy. I don’t know why, but she doesn’t want anyone knowing who she is.”
“She? I thought Chris was a guy.”
“Yes, and that’s the way we want to keep things. For some reason men sell better in sci-fi so don’t mess this up for her.” She talked offline again. “Look, I’ve got to go. Do you have a room?”
“We may have to move her at some point, but I can work it out. When is she coming?”
“I’m taking her to the airport now. I’ll email the details and you can send me the bill.” Sylvia made kissy noises. “Love you, Brett. Thanks, and take care of her for me.”
Brett heard the click and stared at the phone. Chris Armstrong was a girl. He left his desk and pulled SMS Kravauus off the shelf. Armstrong’s first book had taken him by surprise. It was a throwback to the classic sci-fi greats like Bradbury, Asimov, Bova, and Niven. Deep, science driven epics that boggled the mind while feeling completely possible.
He wanted to read it again now he knew the author was a woman. Would it be different?
“No. It’s still great literature,” he mumbled.
“What’s that?” Jodi stuck her head in his door.
“Nothing. We need to set a room aside for the next month starting tonight. Do we have any we could use for the entire month?”
“I’ll check bookings. If the other guests didn’t request a specific room or suite I might be able to shift some reservations around.”
“Thanks.” Brett flipped the book over and stared at the author photo hoping to see something, anything, that would give him a clue about the author. The picture was of an astronaut standing with a Saturn V rocket in the background. The helmet visor glowed gold, reflecting a command module off to the side. There was no sign of whether or not the person inside was the author or a real astronaut.
Jodi cleared her throat.
“Sorry, I thought you’d left.” Brett put the book back on the shelf.
“Are you going to tell me who’s coming for a month?”
“One of Aunt Sylvia’s friends.”
“Oh. So you want a suite then?” she asked.
“Probably. Yes.” Brett tugged at the tie he’d put on that morning. “And make sure you give Sylvia the family discount when you send the bill.”
“Got it. Gift basket or anything?”
“No. I don’t know enough about her to choose a theme basket.” He finally loosened the tie and pulled it off.
“You can’t go wrong with the spa package.”
“Okay, do that then.” He waved her away. What he really wanted was to sit down and do a google search for Chris Parker.
Jodi left and that’s exactly what he did. Unfortunately, there were thousands of Chris Parkers online. And what if Chris was short for Christina or something else? What if…
His email pinged.
Brett, here’s Kris’ itinerary. If you could pick her up that would be great, but if not, make sure someone gets her. I’m attaching a photo so you’ll recognize her. ~Sylvia
What if Chris were Kris?
He skipped the airline email and clicked on the attachment. The photo opened to reveal a pretty woman with shoulder-length brown hair and big brown eyes. Her clothes looked like something any average woman might wear. She didn’t look anything like a famous author. He hoped her attitude matched her looks. Otherwise, entertaining her might be difficult.
What did she expect from this stay? The email didn’t contain the normal list of demands. Famous guests always had a list. Only bottled water, pink roses delivered fresh every day, a special candy, something. One guest had wanted lemonade flavored pull-n-peel Twizzlers stocked in every room. Those had been hard to come by since they were a holiday exclusive.
Brett looked for his phone to text Sylvia. He also glanced at the arrival time in the email. There were four hours to plan the next month and locate any strange item requests. He opted to call instead of text.
Sylvia picked up on the first ring. “That didn’t take long.”
“Figured this would be easier.” He pulled a pen out of his desk. “What quirky things does Kris require?”
“Don’t get all snippy. Kris will be the easiest celeb you’ve hosted for me. She’s never requested anything.”
“Nothing. At all?” Brett didn’t believe it. There was always something.
“I think one time she asked to have a pizza delivered, but that was only because she left her phone in the cab and couldn’t order it herself.”
“We’ll see.” Brett was skeptical but decided to let it go for now. He’d find out soon enough what the woman thought she was entitled to. “What kind of things should I plan for her?”
“Yeah. Kris hides at home far too much. Get her out on the lake. Take her on a horseback ride and try to convince her she needs to go into town and meet people.” Sylvia grew more excited as she talked. “Introduce her to some nice guys. I don’t think she’s been on a date in ages.”
“No way. I can do that other stuff, but I’m not playing matchmaker.” Brett scribbled on some paper. Lake, horses, blackberry picking, jam making, spa, nice dinner in the restaurant on site, movie in town. He was so busy trying to think of what to do that he forgot his aunt was on the line until she started laughing. “What?”
“I can hear you planning, you got so quiet. You don’t have to set her up, but make sure she doesn’t hide in her room. And absolutely no writing all month!”
“She’s a grown woman. I can’t tell her what to do.”
“Then keep her too busy to write. I’m counting on you, Brett.”