Author: Leslea Tash
Release Date: April 7, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance, New Adult Romance
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon US
Purchase: Amazon UK
Purchase: Amazon CA
Purchase: Amazon AU
Dear Birdy, Princess Birdzilla von MuffinStuff, Keeper of Dreams, Lover of our Fine Feathered Friends, queen of my life and light of my world, I hope this letter finds you well. If you are reading this then I am gone, and sweetheart, I am so sorry.
Chi-town professional Wren Riley is 25 and a rising star in the business world. She can eat a man alive and laugh about it to her girlfriends in seconds flat--and she does, on the regular. Behind the power suits and the flashing, flirty eyes, however, Wren has a secret, vulnerable side. Following a devastating loss and the discovery of a bird journal she and her father made together years before, Wren sets out to seek peace, closure, and something she just can't name. Is that something tied to the little paper cranes she keeps finding along the way?
Laurence Byrd grew up a lanky Hoosier kid with the good/bad fortune of having the same name as the state's perennial basketball legend. With a better affinity for dogs than sports or school, he ends up in the Army instead of the Chicago art school of his dreams. Still, his service to our country is something he can be proud of--until an argument with the girl who means the world to him results in a series of events that blows his life apart. With no one left to understand him, black sheep Laurie pours out his heart into letters and drawings he never intends to send--then he folds them into paper cranes that he leaves behind like messages in little winged bottles. He never dreams someone might be finding them.
God damn it, Sylvia, for a few moments I tricked myself into feeling really alive. I cut it off before anyone got hurt, but just for a moment or two, I really thought I might feel something again--something like trust. Something like love. Not the kind of love we had, but something new. Something like hope.
Spoiler alert: Wren and Laurie are going to meet. And when they do, their lives are never going to be the same.
He walked me to my car, and before I hit the fob to unlock the doors, I asked, “How do I know you’re not some creeper who’s going to hurt me?”
He shrugged. “Take a photo of me, I guess. Text it to a friend.”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea.” I held up my phone. “Say ‘pizza’!”
The flash was off, but the lights in the parking lot were just bright enough to catch his image. I turned the phone around so he could see it. “Not bad,” he said. “Nice lighting. Where were you when I needed senior pictures taken?”
I hit send on the text to Janice. “Better add my name,” he said as I typed. “Laurence Byrd.”
I climbed into the car, and he slid into the passenger seat, folding his long legs awkwardly before he found the seat adjustment. The seat hummed for a long moment until he’d slid it as far back as it would go.
“Lawrence Bird? Do you go by Lawrence, or by…wait. Your name is Larry Bird? The famous basketball player? Is that your dad or something?”
He smiled. “You know, everybody says that. No relation.” He rolled the window down and pointed. “You’ll want to take a right out of the parking lot, then the driveway is about four miles from here. It’s gravel and it’s hidden by trees, so I’ll tell you when the look.”
I was a little nervous driving him to his house.
“Gripping that steering wheel pretty hard. Am I that scary?”
I laughed, forcing myself to relax. “Maybe I should have duct-taped you to the seat just in case.”
“Maybe save that for the second date,” he said. “Hey, you didn’t tell me your name.”
I could still feel my heart hammering in my chest, but in the close quarters of the car, his clean denim scent was all the more powerful, and his laid-back attitude was contagious.
“This is it,” he said, pointing to the right again.
I couldn’t see a house from the road, but I turned next to a mailbox that said BYRD in small reflective letters, and drove slowly down a gravel drive.
“I knew a few Byrds in school,” I said. “Are you related to any of them, Larry?”
“Laurie. Like the character in—“
“Little Women,” I finished. We’d run out of gravel drive in front of what appeared to be an old-fashioned log cabin. The warm light of a table lamp spilled out one of the front windows onto a covered porch that spanned the length of the house, wrapping around both sides. “So your mom was really into that book, huh?”
“My sisters were named after a character and the author, so…yeah, I guess you could say that.” He smiled in the dim light and opened his door to climb out. “Gimme a sec and I’ll turn on some lights.”
I waited, watching him unlock the front door. A porch light flickered on, then it seemed like every light in the house came on a moment later. A small stained-glass circle lit up in the front door. I wondered what other artful details the cabin might hold.
I climbed out of the car and did a slow 180, taking in the property best I could. Everywhere were tall trees, budded out and almost in full foliage, but above the house I could see the brilliant light of stars filtering in, and a stunning gibbous moon.
“Make yourself at home, Carolina,” he called from the doorway.
“Sorry, was that too corny?”
“Just a little.” I’d been called Carolina Wren by just about every birder I’d ever met. It couldn’t be helped. Those little russet beauties were everywhere in the Midwest, and even if they hadn’t been my namesake, they’d still be one of my favorite birds.
My phone buzzed. Janice.
-Cute guy. What’s his story?-
“Don’t tell her about my corny jokes,” he said, sitting down on the front porch swing while I texted.
Finding out. Talk tomorrow.
-K, be safe-
He’d left the front door open, and gestured to the house as I climbed the steps to the front porch. “Bathroom’s on the left past the kitchen. I hope it’s not too messy. Wasn’t expecting company.” He held up a second beer and then placed it on the front porch rail before taking a seat on the swing. “This’ll be waiting for you when you come out.”
The bathroom actually wasn’t messy at all. I tried not to snoop as I walked through the house, but I was immediately struck by two things: the tidiness of the place, and the number of paintings on the walls. There were even a couple of easels set up in the great room, next to a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows that I suspected yielded an amazing view in the daylight hours.
In the lights of the bathroom, I was finally able to inspect the damage of my earlier crying fit. Fortunately I always carried a little clutch of makeup essentials in my purse, and I put them to good use now. I ran the water in the sink so he couldn’t hear me pee, and washed my hands with what looked like a locally-crafted artisan soap. If I didn’t know better, I’d think a woman lived here.
But did I know better?
Leaving the bathroom, I moved slowly toward the front porch. I didn’t see any wedding photos or family pictures on the wall, other than an old collage of snapshots in the hallway with faces too small and blurry for me to recognize in a moment’s passing. No, definitely no signs of a wife or live-in girlfriend.
“Laurie, mind if I look at your paintings?”
I drifted toward the easels, and he came back inside. He watched me silently as I examined an oil-in-progress of a Red-shouldered Hawk, but spoke up as I moved to the other easel, which bore a covered canvas. “Not that one,” he said. “Sorry…it’s not ready yet.”
I turned to apologize and noticed him turn a framed photo face down on his fireplace mantel.
Wonder who that was. Ex-girlfriend, maybe?
“That’s a gorgeous fireplace,” I said. “Huge! Looks like Harry Potter and the whole Weasley family could come sliding out of it any minute.”
He smiled. “All the stones were brought up by hand from a creek on the property. My grandfather built it, himself.”
“So you’re not the first artisan in the Byrd family.”
He had a sip of his beer. “Not much of an artisan, myself, really. I paint and I teach art classes, but mostly I’m a mechanic. Pays the bills.”
“That’s cool.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I just smiled.
He handed me the beer. “Come on out on the porch. It’s a nice night.”
It was just a little chilly, but I drank the cold beer and bore it because I felt more relaxed with Laurie than I had the entire trip to Birdseye. Between crying in the credit union vault and the altercation with Cindy, I was exhausted.
“So tell me more about Wren,” he said. He glanced over at me, his handsome face lit by the golden glow from the house.
“Well, I’m living in Chicago, but I’m from here. And I’m a little cold.”
“Cold? You seem nice enough to me.”
“No, I mean…it’s a little chilly out here.”
“Oh!” He stood, and dashed into the house. In a moment he was back with a huge woolen blanket. He took the beer from me and sat it on the porch rail, covering me. “Better?”
“Perfect, actually,” I said as he took his seat again. I didn’t want to be rude, and I figured if I was cold, he must be, too. I held the edge of the blanket nearest him up a bit. “You want to share?”
He smiled. “That’s not too intimate for a first date?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Is this a date?”
He shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind if it was, I guess.”
I smiled. He pulled the blanket over his lap, but didn’t slide any closer to me on the swing.
We swung for a bit, and I asked him questions about the house and about his art. The conversation turned to art history, and I was pleased that he knew so much about it. “I just started going to the Art Institute sometimes,” I said. “It’s such a big place, I never know where to start. What’s your favorite period?”
“I couldn’t say, but lately I’ve had a real taste for Titian,” he said without missing a beat.
“Got a thing for redheads, do ya?”
He grinned, looking down for a moment like he hadn’t expected me to make the connection between the artist famous for painting women with hair the color of my own. He reached for his beer and had a quick sip. “Maybe.”
“Laurie, I think you’re flirting with me.”
I felt his hand reach out for mine beneath the blanket.
“Maybe I am, Wren.”
His hand was warm, rough and calloused, but I liked that. So different from the soft, manicured fingers of the guy I was dating in Chicago.
Chicago. My home. The city where my life awaited.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled my hand away from his reluctantly to check it. My assistant, Darcy, didn’t usually text me on the weekends, so I was surprised to see her icon on my screen.
-Total 911 on Monday. Call me tomorrow.-
Gently, he took the phone from my hands.
“What are you doing?”
He scrolled through the phone’s menus and I fought the urge to grab it back. “Ah, there it is,” he said. He showed me the screen. “Contacts. I’m putting my number in here. Okay if I call my phone with it so I’ll have yours?”
I smiled. “Sure. Why not?”
“Maybe I’ll get up to Chicago sometime. We can go walk around the Institute together.”
As he handed me back my phone, he brushed so close I thought he was going to kiss me. I wanted him to. My hand closed partially over his as I took the phone back, and I think I surprised us both when I gave him a kiss on the cheek. His expression glowed as he pulled away to see my face.
“You always kiss on the first date?” he asked.
“Not usually until after the duct-tape,” I said.
While he laughed, I realized I did want to stay and kiss him. His arms were strong and his laughter so sweet, I wanted to stay on this swing in this moment forever. I felt like a schoolgirl, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
The blanket and the rocking must have lulled me half asleep, because the mating hoot of a barred owl woke me some time after. “Who cooks for you?” it sang.
Next to me, Laurie was sketching.
“Are you drawing me with spit running down my cheek?”
He smiled. “You’re beautiful. Couldn’t resist.”
“You’re too sweet, Laurie.” I stood and stretched. “Sorry I fell asleep on your porch. I guess I’d better go. Thanks for rescuing me tonight.” I meant it more than he could know.
“Sure you know how to get back to the main road?” He offered me his arm as we made our way down the steps to my car.
My car. “Shoot. Do you need a ride back to your car?”
“Left it here,” he said. “Billy was my ride tonight, so, really, you rescued me.”
“Ah. You owe me, Mister.” I yawned as I said it.
He opened the car door and I climbed inside.
“Text me when you get home, let me know you made it, okay? Or you could stay here…”
“I’ll text you,” I said.
“Sure. I’ve heard that one before.” He was joking. Had to be. I doubted any woman who caught Laurie’s eye would be able to toss him aside.
I winked, putting the car into gear.
“Well, I mean it,” I said before rolling the window up and steering the car away.
I left the cabin feeling better than I had when I arrived.
When I got back to Dad’s house I realized it was the first time since Dad’s cancer that I regretted moving so far away.