Author: Leslie Morris Noyes
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Liz Silver has given up on love—a fact she doesn’t share with the brides and grooms she photographs. She is happy to cheer Cupid on, but from the safe distance her camera provides.
Living in an idyllic Vermont town with her snarky college-bound daughter and far-too-clever standard poodle, Liz thinks she’s aced her love problem by taking the occasional man to bed, though never into her heart.
Yet something isn’t right, because her joy in photography is burning out. Creativity is the core of her being; without it Liz doesn’t know who she is. She needs to figure herself out—fast.
Seeking inspiration and a break from winter, Liz travels to the Georgia coast. Her plan doesn’t include Kit Couper, her irresistible Southern landlord with charm to spare. Like Liz, Kit has suffered devastating heartbreak and keeps love at arm’s length—until the night their friendship becomes more.
Everything Liz has ever dreamed of, including a career reboot, seems within her grasp. Yet odds are she’s heading for another train wreck with a guy at the controls. But with her heart and soul at stake, she’s willing to risk the ride and hope that this time love doesn’t go off the rails.
I exit I-95 and make my way to Route 17, the old highway that skirts the shore. Fields of wheaten winter marsh grass bracket the swiftly moving water of the Altamaha River, tinted pop-art pink and turquoise by the low-slanting early-evening sunlight. By Kit’s calculation, his home is less than ten minutes away.
A few miles later, the watery landscape gives way to pine and oak woodlands. A whitewashed paddock fence appears, indicated by Kit’s directions to be the boundary of a local historical site and my cue to slow. Checking Obie in the rearview mirror, I see he is sitting up. The change in the car’s speed tells him we will be stopping shortly. Obs is more heartily sick of traveling than I am.
“Here at last,” I announce as I turn left, also as instructed, at the second road after the park’s fence. New Field Road, once I bump onto it, is less road than unpaved sand track running into the woods. When I spy brick pillars guarding an open wooden gate tucked into the oaks, I turn again. A small plaque reads, “Willing, 1761.”
We crunch onto a crushed-shell drive. Past the gate, the trees thin and the view opens to manicured pastures enclosed by white fencing of the same type we just passed. The driveway curves around massive live oaks cloaked in Spanish moss. The trees form a living archway overhead, the moss swaying in spooky slow motion as we pass underneath.
A house comes into view. As Kit asserted, it isn’t Tara but a well-maintained, moderate-sized clapboard farmhouse with clean lines and two single-story side extensions. I presume the raised foundation is a precaution against storm tides. A deep screened-in porch runs the length of the marsh-facing, just visible as the drive curves to the left.
Trade the broad overhanging oaks for maples, lower the foundation by half, and the building would integrate seamlessly into a Vermont hillside. A small red barn sits at our right. I turn into a parking area between barn and house.
Obie leans over the front seat, tail wagging. I clip him to his lead. A light comes on in the house’s extension closest to the parking area. My feet hit crushed shell. The air is warm enough for my sweater to be all the insulation I need against the evening chill.
Pushing past me, Obs jumps to the ground. He shakes himself, prances a circle, woofs with delight, and circles again with his nose high, sniffing the air. It is hard to know who is more pleased to have arrived, me or my dog.
“Handsome animal,” my landlord remarks with a smile as he bounds down his back steps.
Christopher Aiken Couper is not what I expected. I had envisioned one of those men who looks like a boy forever—Johnny Carson gone slightly to seed. But Kit is neither beefy nor blond. His hair is wavy salt and pepper, his facial features angular. There are laugh lines at the corners of his brown eyes, and nothing about his body is past its prime. The man is tall and slim with wide shoulders and the privileged athletic carriage I associate with the Kennedys and their ilk.
To complete the stereotype I had worked up in my head, I’d dressed him in a pastel sport shirt and those odd patchwork slacks golfers sometimes wear. Where I get these ideas is anyone’s guess.
Kit is dressed in a T-shirt that shows off his broad shoulders and trim torso, paired with jeans thinning at the knees. I guess him to be about my age or a few years older. He is also far more attractive than I anticipated. I offer up a broad smile. Sometimes I’m delighted to be wrong.
My shoulder receives a hello pat. I wonder if it would have been a handshake if I didn’t have the dog lead in one hand and a poop bag in the other.
“I hope my directions were useful?” Kit asks.
“Glad to hear.” He holds out a key attached to a leather tie. “I turned up the heat over there. It’s been colder than usual these past few days. Brought some wood in as well, should you want to fire up the wood stove.”
“Thanks. That’s really thoughtful.” I transfer the poop bag to the hand holding the leash to take the key.
Kit smiles again. The lines at the corners of his eyes crinkle attractively. He tilts his head toward the other side of the drive. “Sam’s place has a quirk or two you might want to know about, but maybe you’d like to settle in first? The quirks aren’t life threatening and can wait until tomorrow, if you’d rather.”
In the quickly descending darkness, it takes me a few seconds to locate the renovated barn I will be calling home for the next few months, hidden inside the shade of two enormous oaks. Unlike Kit’s house, this one is tabby, a natural cement made from ash, crushed shells, and sand. But like its clapboard neighbor across the way, the porch is deep, wrapping all the way around to the back.
“I’m beat even though it’s barely 5:30,” I admit. “The tour sounds good for tomorrow. My plan is to empty the car, have a snack, and go to bed.”
“You’ve got it. Can I help you unload?”
“I won’t refuse,” I say gratefully. “First, though, Obie needs to do some sniffing around. Should I knock when we’re finished?”
“Do you think he would be okay with me?”
“Sure.” I hold the lead out to him.
He takes the lead but refuses the bag. “I’ll take my chances,” he says, his mouth quirking at the side, his eyes crinkling attractively into well-established laugh lines.
Yikes. He’s show-stopping when he smiles. I return his smile, telling myself I’m in photographer mode, not pheromone mode, trying to justify my notice.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
I wrote Willing because I wanted to read stories that explore how motivations and passions shift as we age, and about the challenges of a career in the arts. Popular fiction for and about women who are over forty is an underserved market. As we age we are tempered by life, which makes us more complicated than ingenues, the usual protagonists of women’s fiction and romance. Entertaining novels about “older” heroines who aren’t mired in tragedy of some form, and have happy endings, are hard to find. So I wrote the novel I wanted to read.
This is a genre-cross novel with a literary voice, a transformation theme (women’s fiction) and a heroine who does a lot of learning about herself through the men she takes to bed (hot romance) Willing is sexy fiction for thinking women, ages forty and up.
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Midway through life, Leslie Morris Noyes left the hustle and bustle of New York City to return to the bucolic beauty and slower pace of her home state of Vermont. Her writing is inspired by her adventures (and misadventures) in love. She currently shares her home with a small inherited dog, who may be a Poodle and Cairn Terrier mix, or something else entirely. When she isn’t designing magazines, Leslie is texting with her daughters, sending overlong emails to friends, or plotting her next novel while also fighting a never-ending battle with the clutter on her desk.
Social Media Links:
Facebook: @LMNoyes https://www.facebook.com/LMNoyes