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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

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“I guess that counts me out,” I said.

“How many books have you written?” LuAnne asked.

I felt embarrassed. “One.”

Both women looked surprised.

“Just one?” Heather asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I guess I've had a lot of distractions.”

“The truth is,” LuAnne said, “writing the book is the easy part. Getting someone to read it is the real trick. There's so
much competition and it gets worse every year. The problem is, everyone thinks they have a book in them.”

“Which is precisely where it should stay,” Heather said. “
In
them.”

“I mean, you walk into a bookstore and you think, each one of these books probably sells a few hundred copies, right?” LuAnne said. “Do you know what the average book sells in a bookstore?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“One point eight copies. Not even two.”

“How do you sell eighty percent of a book?” Samantha asked.

“It's in the aggregate,” LuAnne said.

“It's a doggy-dog world out there,” Heather said.

“You mean dog-eat-dog world,” LuAnne said.

“That's what I said,” Heather said.

LuAnne turned to me. “Have you sent your book out to anyone yet?”

“I've sent it to a few publishers, but they just sent back rejection slips.”

“You're lucky you even got an acknowledgment,” LuAnne said. “Sending directly to publishers is a waste of time. They get more books than they can read just from the agents. They don't have time to look at the nonagented books. It's the weeding process.”

“Have you tried sending out to agents?” Heather asked.

“No. I signed up for the speed-dating thing. I hope I can find one here.”

“Good luck,” she said. “It's brutal out there.”

It's brutal in here
, I thought.

“There are two kinds of agents who come to these things,” Heather said. “The first is the kind who comes for a junket and doesn't really believe they'll find anything. They're the dream killers. They just love shredding your heart into a million tiny pieces.

“Then there are the passive-aggressive agents who realize that no one wants to hear anything bad about their writing, so they just say nice things to everyone, then never call them back. I've had both and I don't know which is worse.”

“It depends if you like the bandage pulled off quickly or slowly,” LuAnne said.

“There's a third kind, right?” I said.

“A third?” Heather said.

“An agent who is actually looking for a book to sell.”

They were both quiet for a moment, then LuAnne said, “It could happen.”

Heather nodded. “Could happen.”

I felt like a naive child being told that there is no Santa Claus.

The conversation with the two women pretty much crushed any remaining vestige of hope I still had in getting published. I knew there was a lot of competition out there—anyone who's ever walked through a bookstore knows that—but it was soul crushing to realize that for
every one of those published authors on the shelf, there were at least a thousand more like me who wanted their job.
How could I have been so naive? How could I have wasted my father's money?

I downed the rest of my wine, excused myself, and walked out to the lobby. Samantha followed me.

“I don't like those women,” she said.

“I didn't like what they had to say,” I said.

“What do they know, anyway? It's not like they're famous authors.”

I looked at her. “You're right.”

She glanced around the mostly vacant lobby. “The night's still young. Want to talk?”

“Sure,” I said. The lobby's sofas were unoccupied, so we sat down in front of the fire. That's when I noticed the massive diamond on Samantha's finger. “Are you married?”

“No,” she said, looking a little embarrassed. “Chronically engaged.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that I've been engaged for six years.”

I nodded, thinking I understood. “You found a man with a commitment problem?”

“It's not him. We'd be on our fifth anniversary if he had his way.”

“What's holding you back?”

“The BBD.”

“The what?”

“You know, the bigger better deal. I'm waiting for something better to come along. I mean, at some level, we all
eventually settle, right? But wouldn't it be awful to belong to someone else when the right one comes along?”

“That's a song by England Dan and John Ford Coley.”

“Exactly my point,” she said. “It's so common that someone, like this Dan Ford Coleslaw guy, wrote a song about it. It happens all the time. The minute you take a job, you get offered your dream job. The second you commit to a line at the supermarket, the other line speeds up. It's nature's cruel sense of irony. So, I'm waiting.”

“That's kind of awful,” I said.

“I know, right?”

“I meant for him.”

“I'm nice to him,” she said. “Believe me, it's not like he's complaining. And on the looks side, I'm like a nine, or, on a bad hair day, an eight point five, and he's barely a six point five, so he knows he's dating up.” She nodded. “I'm good to him.”

“You are gorgeous,” I said.

“Thank you.” She sat back. “How about you? Are you married?”

“I was.”

“Divorced?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been divorced?”

“We've been separated for almost eight months, but the divorce just went through a couple of months ago.”

“Why did it take so long?”

“He was dragging his feet.”

“He didn't want the divorce?”

“No, he wanted the divorce. He just didn't want the settlement.”

“What a jerk. What happened?”

I sighed. “He was a professor and he fooled around with a few of his students. It was like a big news thing. Nothing like being publicly humiliated and having your broken heart dragged through the media.”

“He really is a jerk,” Samantha said. “But there is a bright side.”

I looked at her incredulously. “How could there possibly be a bright side to that?”

“Fodder,” she said. “Think of all the great stuff you could write about it. You could use your loser ex as fodder for all the villains in your books.”

“Why would anyone want to read about that? I lived through it and it was miserable.”

“That's
exactly
what people
want
to read. Trashy romance is like an emotional garage sale; people get to rummage through other people's junk. Reading how horrible someone else's life is makes them feel better about their own. Why do you think people gossip? That's all romance writers are, the neighborhood gossip in print.”

“That's a horrible way to look at writing.”

“Horrible or not, you can't fight human nature,” she said. “I've written three books. The first one was based on my sister and her ex-husband. I always thought my sister had the perfect marriage. They seemed so happy together. He sent her flowers and Godiva chocolates every week, dream vacations, nice house, the whole grand illusion. He was a
successful salesman for some medical appliance company, so he made a lot of money and traveled a lot. Turns out he had a second wife and family in Tulsa.”

“You're kidding.”

“God-honest truth.”

“That's awful.”

“My story gets even better. So when the news comes out, the state Attorney General's office brings loser-husband up on bigamy charges. The prosecuting attorney, this really hot guy, is working with my sister on the case. Get this, they fall in love. Now they have this great marriage and he's like so much better looking than Felon.”

“Felon?”

“That's what my sister calls her ex.”

“Did they have children?”

“With my sister? No. Felon just kept telling her that he wasn't ready. The truth was, he just couldn't afford two families. I mean, he bought braces for Tulsa wife's kids.”

“At least they'll have straight teeth when they go to their counseling sessions,” I said.

Samantha laughed. “So what's your book about?”

“It takes place during the holidays.”

“Smart. Holiday romances are hot. And that's when people are buying books. Go on.”

“It's about this woman who has had a string of bad relationships. She works at a downtown travel agency. It's the day after Halloween and she's dreading going through another Christmas alone, when this guy in the mall food court approaches her. She's seen him before, like in the
elevator and around the building. He tells her that he hates the holidays because he's alone and has all these parties to go to. He proposes that they pretend to be a couple until Christmas.”

“And they fall in love,” Samantha said.

“Of course.”

“I like the premise,” she said. “Is the guy, like, secretly a serial killer or married?”

“No.”

“I'm just saying, it would add a lot of drama, if you, like, had this backstory going and you're wondering if she's going to get killed or run into the guy's wife at a Christmas party.”

For a moment I was speechless. “No. He's not going to kill her. It's a love story.”

“That's good too,” Samantha said, standing. “Would you like some more wine?”

I was glad for the reprieve. “Yes. Red, please.”

“I'll be right back,” she said, walking back into the reception. She returned a moment later carrying two glasses of red wine and handed me one of them. “The party goes on,” she said, sitting down. “John Grisham is still at it, going after lucky contestant number three. Someone should tell him he needs a mint.”

I grinned. “What's your fiancé's name?”

She grimaced slightly. “Walt. Walt
Berger
. Who wants the last name of
Berger
?”

“Samantha Berger. It's a little unusual, but it's not . . . bad.”

“Oh yeah, well, what if I wanted to hyphenate my
last name? Or just think of our wedding announcements. McDonald-Berger. That's reason enough not to get married.”

I couldn't help but laugh. “I'm sorry. That is unfortunate.”

“Yeah, someone will put our announcement on the Internet and mock us.”

“So what does Walt do?”

“He's a businessman. He owns a chain of hamburger joints.”

For a moment I thought she was joking, but she didn't laugh. “Really?”

“Really,” she said. “Berger's Burgers.”

“It's a catchy name . . .”

“He says that after we're married he'll name a burger after me.” She rolled her eyes. “Now that's an honor.”

“McDonald Burger? I think there might be some legal problems with that.”

“The Sam Burger,” she said. “With special Sam sauce. Whatever that is.” She sighed. “I don't know. He's not much to look at. He looks like that Willard Scott guy who used to do the weather on the
Today
show, which is ironic, since Willard Scott was McDonald's first Ronald McDonald clown. But he's a good guy. And I can't say he's not patient.”

“Not after six years.”

“I keep telling him that Jacob in the Bible had to wait seven years for Rachel.”

“Technically, I think it was fourteen years, because he got tricked into marrying the oldest daughter first,” I said.

“That's good news,” she said. “Not for Jacob, but, I mean, maybe I'll use that.”

“You would really make him wait fourteen years?”

“No. After seven years I think the universe is telling me that it's time to settle.”

I hoped that she'd never say anything that crass to her fiancé, but I wouldn't be surprised if she already had. She didn't seem to have much of a filter. The massive grandfather clock near the check-in counter chimed.

I glanced at my watch, then said, “I think I'll go to bed.”

“All right,” Samantha said. “See you at breakfast?”

“I'll be there. Good night.”

I walked down the hallway back to my room. Even though I was still on mountain time, it seemed late to me and I felt tired. I undressed, laid my clothes over the back of a chair, then turned out the light and got into bed. As I lay thinking about what the two women had told us, I wanted to cry. I didn't want to be here. I had wasted my father's money on an unrealistic dream. Money better spent on saving his life.
Why did he make me come?

CHAPTER
Twelve

I call it Rossi's Law: the likelihood of having something stuck in your teeth is directly proportionate to the attractiveness of the person you're meeting.

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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