“I’m so stuck it’s not even funny.” Tristan stared at his computer screen and groaned. He hadn’t written a word in more than a week. Writer’s block wasn’t his enemy and the occasional day without writing wasn’t the end of the world. But he hadn’t been able to work out an idea or even sketch a thin plot for anything.
He glanced over at the doorway. He hadn’t seen his butler in a while and didn’t like talking to himself. “Dennis?” He drummed his fingers on the desk top. “Are you there?”
The dry spells in his writing were getting closer together. He hadn’t produced a bestselling novel in the last two years. His last three books were well reviewed and had sold a good number of copies, but none were the fourth breakout book he needed. If he didn’t come up with a novel that sold well, he’d lose his contract with his publisher.
Part of him wanted to be angry. How dare they dump him? He’d sold over a million copies of his first three books and made the expected lists with all four. His publisher should have been grateful to have him on the roster.
Then there was the other part of him that never could quite come to terms with his ability to write. Throughout his life, all he’d wanted to do was make stories seem real. He could spin a yarn with the best storytellers, but he tended to downplay his talents. All the people who’d told him writing a book was easy would come to mind and he’d give in to his fears that he’d never produce another great work.
God, he needed a drink, a vacation and a good fuck. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any booze in the apartment, hadn’t gone away in a year and wasn’t in a relationship.
He’d have to settle for his hand and porn later. Damn it.
Then there was his muse…the uncooperative asshole. The muse wasn’t talking to him, which meant the characters weren’t either. Once he went down the rabbit hole of thinking about his inspiration, or lack thereof… That was when he got himself into trouble. If he didn’t write the next big thing, he’d have to dip into his trust fund to finance his career. He snorted. Most people wouldn’t think twice. If they were in his shoes, they’d use the money his parents had set aside for him and have a life. Not him. He’d prefer not to touch the surplus he’d saved up until it was necessary. But if he didn’t bring in cash soon, he’d have no choice.
Dennis strolled into the room and nodded. “Yes, sir.” He placed a stack of letters onto the desk, then clasped his hands together. “Did you need me?” If nothing else, his butler had great timing. Another minute longer and Tristan would’ve given in to another bout of depression.
“Thank you.” Tristan flipped through his correspondence. Dennis had been the father-figure Tristan hadn’t had often as a teenager. He knew Tristan better than anyone and tended to keep him on course. “Denny, I don’t know what to do about this writer’s block.” He scanned the return addresses on the letters. One from his publisher, one from a former boyfriend and three bills. He sighed. Bills sucked. He noticed the blank space on one of the envelopes. His address had been typed. “What’s this?” He turned the letter around. “I don’t remember signing up for mailing lists or anything that wouldn’t put a return address on it.”
“I saw that. Perhaps it’s one of the letters from a neighbor for one of the local fundraising groups.” Dennis cleared the empty takeout boxes from the coffee table. “I’ll be right back.”
Tristan waited for his butler to leave the room, then opened the odd letter. His chest tightened as he read the words. He should’ve guessed the plain envelope would contain a letter from his stalker-slash-fan.
Write about my town—Lewiston. I’m waiting.
He sank back in his seat and tossed the letter onto the desk. All of his stories were based in small towns. He’d picked the states at random and made up the names of his towns, but each was based on little burgs and crossroads he’d passed through during his various travels. He stated in the acknowledgments of each novel that the towns were fictitious representations of many places…never anywhere in particular.
He should turn the damn letter over to the police. But what would they do? He hadn’t been threatened. He’d been asked rather bluntly, yes. Threats? No. And he had no idea who the letter-writer was. How could he inform the cops if he had no leads?
Tristan closed his laptop, then scrubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. He couldn’t seem to put a foot right of late. Everything seemed to be disastrous—he’d lost his last boyfriend to another man, he couldn’t write for shit, if he didn’t write he’d be dropped, he had a bitching fan…what else could go wrong?
“Sir?” Dennis returned to the room. “This letter just arrived certified. I believe it’s from a lawyer. A Jamie Meyer. According to the accompanying letter, it concerns your Uncle Al.” He offered up the thick envelope.
“Uncle Al? Jamie Meyer?” He hadn’t heard from his mother’s brother in ages. “Hang on, I don’t know what this is about.” He opened the envelope, then withdrew the stack of pages. He barely read the words beyond the first two sentences. His uncle, his last link to his mother’s side of the family, had died and Tristan needed to collect his inheritance. Died. Uncle Al? The man might have been in his early eighties, but he was strong and healthy…wasn’t he? He turned back to his laptop and searched online for the lawyer. After the directive from the reader to write about a specific town, would that person be devious enough to cook up a false letter to get him to come to…? Nah. Sullavan wasn’t called Lewiston—that he knew. His thoughts were running away with him. Still, he wanted to make sure the lawyer was real.
The website for Jamie Meyer came up in the search. He clicked on the page. The photo stopped him short. Jamie Meyer was a darn good-looking man. Perfect hair, perfect teeth…a perfect suit based on what he could see from the shoulders-up pose. Tristan wondered what his voice was like. Christ. He needed to get laid so he’d stop wasting time with pictures on the screen and considering the guys as possible dates.
He glanced up at Dennis. Shit. He needed direction. “My uncle has passed. I’ve got an inheritance coming and I need to sort it out with the lawyer.”
“Yes.” He opened a new tab on his internet browser. He had to get his act together and plan his last-minute trip. Well, fuck. “I’ll need changes of clothes for at least a week. I doubt this will be a quick process.” Maybe he’d get a story out of the situation and a better understanding of the uncle he hadn’t seen in forever. The last thing he needed was to get mixed up with the lawyer handling his uncle’s estate.
“Do you want me to secure flights and accommodation?” Dennis asked. “I can look in to renting a private jet. I know how you hate crowds.”
“You’re right, I hate going out into crowds.” But he had to do this himself. He couldn’t rely on servants forever. “Just give me an hour and I’ll have you help me pack.”
“I see.” Dennis didn’t sound convinced.
Tristan logged in to his email, then paused. “If my agent calls, I’m writing. I’m going to email her in a moment, but she can be persistent. If Jordan calls, just take a message. We’re not together, but he doesn’t seem to know that.” His ex had been the one to call off the relationship, yet he’d show up when he wanted something—a place to crash, money, sex… Tristan didn’t have the time for him any longer. “If any more of those strange letters come without a return address, just put them aside. I don’t want to be bothered.”
“Why? Is that reader still writing to you?” Dennis folded his arms. For a man of sixty, he didn’t look his age. He kept his salt-and-pepper hair trimmed and stayed in shape. If the age gap hadn’t been so wide, Tristan might have made a play for him.
“Yeah. I’m not scared, but I don’t trust him or her.”
“There wasn’t a signature on this letter?”
“No,” Tristan said. “Nothing. Not even an initial. The writer simply wants me to create a town based on Lewiston. I have no idea where that place is.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’ll be careful, sir, and I think you should, too. I’ve got some laundry to finish. When you need me, let me know.” Dennis turned on his heel and strode out of the room, leaving Tristan with his thoughts.
Tristan cracked his knuckles, then placed his hands on the keyboard. He hadn’t been to his uncle’s home in years. Was Sullavan, Ohio, still on the map? He brought up the street map, then located the town. Not any bigger than he’d remembered, but still in existence. If he wasn’t mistaken, the small town was about an hour’s drive from Cleveland. Not great, but it’d give him time to plot a new story. Besides, Sullavan would be good fodder for his trademark small-town setting. His spirits brightened. He had no idea what he’d inherited, but if he could use the situation to plot his next book, he’d be golden.
Half an hour later, Tristan had the plane tickets purchased and a rental car secured for when he arrived in Cleveland. He’d emailed his editor and explained the situation—he had an outline started and would be getting her up to speed within the next week, but after he spoke to the lawyer about his uncle’s will. He shut down his laptop and placed the three memory sticks in his messenger bag. He’d finish gathering his writing things together once he’d packed.
Tristan headed down the hallway to his bedroom. Dennis had left his open suitcase on the bed. Instead of thinking too hard about what he had to do, Tristan set about putting his bathroom essentials into his bag.
Dennis strode into the bedroom with a basket of clean clothes. “What should I do if your Aunt Salina calls? Should I tell her where you’ll be?”
Tristan zipped his bag. “No. I’m not on her social calendar unless she wants something. She’s obsessed with her step-daughter’s wedding and I, the son of her only brother, don’t matter. Babsy is much more important than I ever will be.” Not that he cared. He hadn’t been particularly close to his father’s side of the family and they only liked him when they wanted to flaunt his status in the book world or to bolster their place on the social registry.
“Don’t refer to your cousin Jean as Babsy.” Dennis tucked the bag into the suitcase. “It’s her mother’s right to want to spoil her.”
“Whatever.” He didn’t fault his aunt for the spoiling part, just the lack of interest.
“You could have a wedding,” Dennis said. “It’s not illegal.”
“Ah, but no one wants to marry me.” He pulled a stack of T-shirts out of the dresser. He laughed, despite not finding the situation amusing. He’d like to be with a man who craved him, not one who wanted his money. “I can’t seem to keep a relationship going. That doesn’t sound like the right start for a marriage.” He paused. “I should probably find a man before I get too deep into planning the wedding, too.”
Dennis took the shirts from him. “Alec wasn’t too bad. He seemed sweet.”
“Anyone’s sweet when they see dollar signs.”
“What about Cody? You liked him. I believe you were going to have him move in with you.” Dennis packed the T-shirts, then opened the closet. “What about pants? Are you wearing jeans or do you need something dressier?”
“Denim.” He counted out seven pairs of jeans, then offered them up to Dennis. “Cody was a good man, but I couldn’t compete with him. Every time I turned around, he’d be checking himself out in the mirror. I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not awful. When I stood beside him, I felt so…ugly.” He turned his back on Dennis. Truth be told, whenever he looked at his reflection, he saw the chunky kid he had been in junior high. Growing twenty years older hadn’t changed his body image problems. He’d worked out, lost the weight and ate much better than during his school years, but his inner chubby kid lingered. He closed his eyes. Now wasn’t the right time to let himself think about his inadequacies.
“And Justin was bad, how?”
“He wasn’t.” Justin hadn’t been the issue. “We clicked in bed, but there wasn’t anything otherwise.” Tristan had gotten himself so wrapped up in his own self-esteem problems, he hadn’t given Justin enough of a chance. But that was in the past. He needed to move forward.
“Uh-huh.” Dennis nodded once. “This trip is about the will and research, isn’t it? You’ll get a book out of the situation if it kills you, won’t you?”
“That’s the plan.” He tossed underwear and socks into the suitcase. “My career is off track. This will be the push to get it righted.” He hoped. “Where are my notebooks?”
“In your office,” Dennis said. “I’ll get them and your fountain pen set.”
“Thanks.” Tristan walked into his closet and appraised his collection of shoes. Christ. He had money. He didn’t have to work. Using the trust fund cash wasn’t horrible. Lots of others lived perfectly happy lives paid for by the money from someone else’s hard work. Why couldn’t he do the same? His parents had given him the cash without question. He grabbed his running shoes and a pair of casual ones, then closed the door.
He’d built his career as a writer. Constant funding and huge paychecks weren’t guaranteed. He’d lived on less and done just fine. He could do so again—especially if the story panned out and he found his muse. Who knew a will could hold so many possibilities for creativity?