A brand new standalone novel is out this week from L.H. Cosway, featuring a shy bookworm and a male escort, and I have a sneak peek for you. This story features characters first seen in Showmance, but it can be read on its own, too.
Feeling spontaneous, I lifted the knocker. A moment passed. No one answered. I glanced at the window and saw the curtains twitch. Ellen peeked her head out for a second then ducked out of view.
I knocked again, and again there was no answer.
“Ellen, I came with your ticket for the show tonight. Bernice said you left it behind at the bookshop,” I called out.
“I know you’re in there, darling. I saw you peek out just now.”
Still nothing. She must’ve been embarrassed. After another moment or two, I decided to slot it through the letterbox like originally planned, but then I heard the lock flick over. The door opened, and Ellen stood before me. She hid most of her body behind the door, and her face was slightly blotchy. Had she been crying? My heart clenched at the thought.
I knew what anxiety felt like, since I’d experienced enough of it as a kid. Mum was always up and down, always with a new boyfriend, some of them nice, others not so nice. When you lived in an unpredictable world with no security, anxiety was your ally. It warned you of coming danger. But like I said, with the help of medication, I’d since learned to manage it. If the look of Ellen was anything to go by, she was deep in the midst.
“Hi,” she said, reaching a hand out for her ticket.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I handed it over, my question edged with sympathy.
“I’m fine. Thanks for bringing this.” She sniffed, then made to close the door.
“You don’t look fine. Is there someone I can call for you? Elodie? Maybe one of your brothers?”
She must’ve heard the genuine concern in my voice because she lost some of her guardedness. “No, thank you. I’ll be o-okay.”
The quaver in her voice broke my heart, and I felt the strongest urge to comfort her. I placed my hand on the door to keep her from closing it in my face.
“My mum used to get the same thing. When I was a kid, she was pretty nervous in crowds. She self-medicated though, and that just made things worse,” I blurted, frowning at myself. I hadn’t meant to share that.
Ellen opened the door a little more. “Your mum?”
“I don’t get to see her very often anymore,” I said sadly.
She stared at me, and I tensed. Her big brown eyes seemed to have this way of looking right into your soul. I hadn’t felt that with Elodie. With Elodie, I’d gotten the sense that she was looking past me for a better option. But Ellen truly looked at you, gave you her full attention. She appeared to come to some conclusion when she said, “I’m sorry for being rude to you the other day. I wasn’t myself.”
“No apology needed. I understand.”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t.”
“Then explain it to me,” I urged.
I had no idea why I felt such a strong draw to her. Maybe because I’d spent so many hours studying her sister, who looked so much like her, I felt a connection, like I already knew her somehow.
Ellen was quiet for a long moment, her head tilted up to study me. “I’m probably going to regret this, but would you like to come inside for a cup of tea?”
I gave her a soft smile, something unfurling in my chest at the offer. She was clearly going out of her way to be kind to me, when all she probably wanted to do was close herself inside her house and wish the world away.
“I’d love to.”
She opened the door so I could step in by her, and I was instantly met with a beautiful hand-painted mural of climbing roses. It started at the door and meandered up the antique staircase.
“Do you live here on your own?” I asked.
She seemed hesitant to answer. “Yes, I, uh, inherited the place from my Grandma.”
“It’s a beautiful building.”
She nodded. “I’m very lucky.”
Ellen led me into an even more impressive kitchen. It had a large modern window that looked out into a fairy forest of a back garden. There were hanging lights and twisty vines climbing the walls, overgrown plants, and wildflowers all over. The forest theme seemed to extend into the kitchen as there were plants everywhere. Another mural encapsulated the back wall, this one of a cherry blossom tree. I wondered who the artist was. The painting fanned out around a large, intricate brass cage, inside of which were two exotic looking birds.
Seriously, who lived in a house like this? The Grandma story aside, Ellen was hiding something.
I walked up to the birdcage to admire her stunning creatures. “Hello there.”
“Their names are Skittles and Rainbow,” Ellen said quietly. “They’re lovebirds.”
I tilted my head to her. “Is it true that they mate for life?”
“Most of them do, yes.”
“Why lovebirds?” I turned to give her my full attention now. It was strange that I’d thought Elodie was the interesting one because I was starting to suspect her sister had hidden depths.
She glanced at the floor, lifted a shoulder, then said, “They make such strong bonds. They’re happy to sit side by side, day in and day out. There’s something lovely yet heartbreaking about it.”
I took a step closer to her. “Heartbreaking?”
When she spoke, her voice was still so quiet, like she wasn’t used to having long conversations. “If one of them dies, they mourn just like humans mourn loved ones.”
“That is heartbreaking,” I said in agreement. The tip of her nose was red from crying, and again, I had a strong urge to comfort her, give her a hug. I knew how it felt to be overwhelmed by the world. I resisted though. Ellen was a little like a bird herself. I felt if I got too close she’d fly away.
“And the monogamy?”
“I guess if humans could be as simple as lovebirds, there’d be a lot less broken hearts in the world.”