While some women would jump through hoops to have their own bookshop, Gertrude “Trudy” Brown wants nothing to do with the rundown store her late Aunt Gertrude left her. Having suffered from dyslexia all her life, books aren’t exactly her friends. And her memories of Truhart, Michigan, aren’t exactly happy. But now Trudy’s back in the tiny town, with little more than her pet collie and a rusty but trusty ’74 Beetle, determined to sell off her inheritance as quickly as possible . . .
But Trudy isn’t the only newcomer in town. Christopher “Kit” Darlington, a professor of American Studies at Cambridge, is searching for an elusive manuscript—and he secretly thinks Trudy’s ramshackle bookshop might hold the key to its discovery. As these two opposites spend the autumn days together, cleaning out Trudy’s bookshop, they soon find that uncovering both literature and love can be equally mysterious . . .
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Bookshop on Autumn Lane
By Cynthia Tennent
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Tennent
All rights reserved.
I, Gertrude Louisa Brown, being of sound mind, and with no children or spouse to claim my inheritance, do hereby bequeath the bulk of my investments, bank accounts, and cash to the Harrison County Furry Friends Rescue Shelter in memory of my beloved cat, Piewacket. My remaining asset, Books from the Hart, located at 16 Main Street, Truhart, Michigan, and all its contents including my books, I bequeath to my niece and namesake, Gertrude C. Brown, in hopes that she will finally understand the difference between an ant and an Aunt, and being dammed and damned!
The lawyer said that her premature death, at the age of seventy-three, occurred in the lonely interior cabin of a cruise ship bound for Nassau. Aunt Gertrude's heart gave out in the middle of the night. The maid who found her the next morning reported that she clutched Moby-Dick to her chest, her place in the last chapter still saved between her thumb and forefinger.
If she hadn't died from a heart attack, I'm sure Aunt Gertrude would have died of boredom from reading the world's dullest bit of required high school reading ever.
The cruise had been the first and the last vacation she ever took.
The book, along with a lawyer's letter and Aunt Gertrude's last will and testament, sat in my P.O. box in Oakland for almost a year before I discovered them. I thought about throwing them both in the trash right there at the post office. But I was tired of sleeping on friends' couches and eating canned beans. And there was Angkor Wat to think about.
* * *
A tap-tap tapping woke me from the restless sleep that had plagued me since Bozeman. I pulled my dharma quilt up and rolled over in the limited space. Aunt Gertrude's copy of Moby-Dick fell from its perch on the emergency break. I had been using it to bridge the gap between the bucket seats. The break latch and the gearshift cut into my hip. It was the only thing I hated about manual transmissions.
Brightness seeped through my lacy pink sleep mask. I lifted the corner a fraction of an inch, then lowered it. Was it morning already? I usually didn't start my day until at least midmorning. Even then, I needed a major dose of caffeine to help clear the fog.
Tap-tap. A furry whip hit me square across the face. Its tempo increased and I felt like a car at a soft cloth auto wash. I pushed the fur away, but it came back with greater speed.
"Stop — oof." A hairy paw impaled my lap, taking the breath from me. It was followed by a high-pitched bark. Not the raspy, panicked bark issued the night before when a cat had jumped at us. This bark meant excitement.
I lifted my mask and shoved Moby-Dick under the seat. I stretched my long legs over the steering wheel. "How many times do I have to tell you? Your space is in the backseat, and mine is here. No crossing the line."
The old collie dog wasn't paying any attention to me. My eyes followed the source of his enthusiasm to the figures standing outside.
"Helloooo," a female voice called in a cheery, wake-up-it's-morning kind of way. I hated the way morning people sounded like a commercial for breakfast sausage.
The dog jumped back in my lap. He followed the fingers tapping on the windshield with his nose.
Something flashed in the sunlight beside me. "Are you okay in there?" I rolled the old-fashioned manual window crank down. "Peachy."
"Maybe we should call J. D. or the sheriff. If he's a vagrant or homeless they would want to know." A man pressed his hands and face up against the window and peered inside my bedroom, the car.
I folded my legs beneath me and sat up.
"Oh look, he's awake."
And not a man. I readjusted my head scarf that kept my long red hair from tangling. Like I did every morning, I flipped down the visor, letting my fingers settle on the travel brochure with the pictures of temples rising out of the rain forest.
Someday soon, Mom.
Truhart was a blip on the radar. A stopover.
My traveling companion nudged me with his wet nose and let out a mild whine. "All right, buddy. Let's go."
I opened the door. Three figures stepped back while all five foot eight inches of my curveless body unfolded. Or attempted to. My legs were stiff. No matter how I lay across the front seats of the old '73 Beetle, there was never enough room to truly stretch out. After a bad night in Utah, I toyed with trading in Lulu for an SUV. A reclining front seat or cargo area would be the ultimate luxury. But I could never part with Lulu. In a world overtaken with indistinguishable sedans in silver and black, the bold yellow Beetle was one of a kind.
I scrunched my toes inside my wool socks and felt the rough surface of the concrete beneath me. Lifting my arms, I slowly stretched back and forth, feeling older than I should at twenty-eight.
"You're a girl." The man wore head-to-toe navy clothes and reminded me of the Maytag man.
"Some call me one." I leaned forward and blinked at the name tag embroidered on his left chest. "Jody."
"Joe," he corrected me.
The dog whined behind me and I turned back to help him out of the car.
"One of these days you're going to have to do this on your own, dog." I grabbed his middle, helping him navigate the distance between the seats and the ground. "What's going to happen when I'm not here anymore, huh? You need to discover your canine roots and get some balls, dude. Otherwise you're going to be at the bottom of the food chain."
A familiar chorus of ooos and aws erupted over the good-looking boy and I grabbed my boots from the backseat, glad to have a moment to collect myself before facing the small crowd that was gathered around me.
"Oh, it's Lassie."
"What a pretty dog."
Like he always did when someone gave him a little attention, the dog lifted his neck a little higher and raised and lowered his ears several times. He was such a poser!
I leaned against the car and stuffed my large feet into the army boots.
An oversized woman with pink-rimmed glasses ruffled her hand through the dog's fur. "What a good girl you are!"
We both had gender issues this morning, but he got all the glory for being beautiful. If they knew what a wimp he was they would have laughed. He could barely get in and out of the car without my help. Last night he had been afraid of his own tail.
A curvy middle-aged blond woman stood next to the voluminous woman. She was the only one who didn't coo over the dog. She put her hands on her hips and surveyed me from the messy red hair wrapped in a scarf to the long, flowing calico dress I had slept in. Ruffles stuck out of the hem at wrinkled angles and covered my shapeless legs. The boots I had just stepped into were unlaced.
"You took a wrong turn somewhere, honey. Woodstock is several states over," said the blonde.
"And several decades late," another man added. Look who's talking. He could have walked straight out of the fifties with his brown suit and pomade.
"Don't be mean, Regina. Let's find out where she came from first," said Joe.
A crowd grew around us. A man wearing a flannel shirt and shorts and a woman holding the hand of a young boy drew closer. Where had they all come from? I looked down the street. The door to the diner was propped open. Several people stood in the open doorway. I guess I was more popular than the morning news.
The dog broke loose from the hands that reached out for his silky coat. He wandered over to the curb and the fire hydrant I hadn't noticed last night. It was right next to my car. He squatted and eliminated like a girl. Poor guy. He didn't even know how to lift his leg like a real man-dog.
I read my Mickey Mouse watch. Fifteen minutes late. Not bad for me. I was tall enough to see over the crowd to the building down the street. A figure stood in the doorway. I should be relieved she was there. But I wasn't. The flutter in my stomach made me want to squat by the hydrant too.
I should have pulled into the alley and parked last night. But I had spent a lot of time in cities over the past few years. An alley, even in a small town like this, was no place for a girl who slept in her car. I purposely parked up Main Street so that the last thing I saw as I fell asleep wouldn't be the building where the woman stood waiting. As far as I was concerned the more distance I put between me and that place, the better. But that was irrational, considering it was my destination.
I pointed at the fire hydrant and then a no-parking sign. I could not afford a parking ticket. "Do they take that kind of thing seriously here?"
"We take fire safety seriously. No exceptions," said the man in the navy work uniform.
"I'll move it." The space behind me looked legal. I jumped into the passenger seat and, without turning the car on, shifted into neutral.
Hopping out, I made my way to the front bumper. "Excuse me." I nodded to the open space behind my car. The small crowd looked confused. I ignored them and put my hands on the hood and pushed Lulu backwards.
"What the —" The blond lady jumped out of the way.
"She has a problem with reversing," I explained.
Once she was in a legal space, I reapplied the emergency brake.
"Did you sleep in your car last night?" the little boy asked boldly. His face held a mixture of respect and awe.
"Andrew, shhh. That's not nice."
I placed my foot on the wheel so I could tie my boot laces and winked at him.
"There's a motor lodge at the corner of M-33 and Pine Road," the suited man said with a frown.
"And a charming inn on Winding Road," added the ample-sized lady. I envied her pink glasses. I had passed up a similar pair at a flea market last month.
"I'll remember that."
I could tell them that I never stayed in hotels. Ever. But most people didn't understand that. My car was fine. Couches weren't so bad. A bed: that was heaven. But the last time I had the chance to sleep in a bed, an ass had been in it. When I left him, I'd taken his dog and a bout of insomnia with me. Since then, the dog and the insomnia had become my constant companions.
Back from his adventures on the curb, the collie wagged his tail and licked my hand.
"Hungry, dude?" I reached into the backseat and grabbed a Chinese takeout box and an old plastic bowl from a small cooler I kept on the floor. Turning the box upside down, I dumped the block of rice in the bowl and set it down on the cement. "There you go."
My furry friend loved rice. If I was with someone who ate meat, I usually asked them for leftovers so he could have a little protein to go with his starch. But I hadn't been around any meat eaters in the past couple of days, so I was going to have to break down soon and buy him better fare.
When I looked up, I was assailed by various expressions of horror. "You're feeding him that?"
"He likes it."
The large lady with the glasses opened her purse and pulled out two small strips of paper. "Here, take these. A friend of mine sells homemade doggie treats. That first one will get you a twenty-percent discount. The other one you can use anywhere, but the Family Fare has double coupon days on Sundays, so if you're still in town then, come on by."
Coupons for dog food. Well, this was embarrassing, but I was never one to refuse charity. "Thanks."
While the dog gobbled up the last of the rice, I freed a jean jacket I'd used as a pillow from the car. The words Hell's Kitchen were inscribed on the back. I put it on and pulled out a toothbrush that I kept in a small baggie in the pocket. No one looked like they were interested in getting on with their own business and I was pressed for time. So I went about my morning routine with an audience. I reached into the cooler for my water bottle and a tube of toothpaste, which for some reason always ended up in my cooler instead of the bag. I squeezed a sliver of toothpaste on the toothbrush, closed the cap, and set the tube back in the cooler.
"Excuse me." I walked over to a grassy area on the side of the street and proceeded to brush my teeth, rinsing my mouth and spitting it out on the grass when I finished. I knew I was being stared at, but it wasn't new for me. Especially here. I was Aunt Gertrude's freaky fuzzy-haired redheaded great-niece. I had been in trouble from the moment I came to town fourteen years ago. I was going to have to get used to being gawked at all over again.
When I finished, I returned to the car and the dog and basically did everything in reverse. I closed the door to my bug. The crowd watched me avidly. I lifted my shoulders and ran my tongue across my minty-fresh teeth. "Recommended by nine out of ten dentists."
The curvy blond woman clutched her hand to her large chest as if she'd been shot. "Oh my gawd! I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Truhart is becoming home to hippies and homeless people. What will our summer residents think when we have bag ladies lying around on the streets?"
"What will his lordship think?" the wide woman added. His lordship? How curious. Maybe there was some sort of strange cult thing happening in Truhart. I wasn't exactly opposed to cults. I had been on the fringe of several. More as a spectator than anything.
"We've got to get that community center going sooner rather than later, George," the blonde said.
George, the brown-suited man, cleared his throat, preparing to make a speech. "Young lady, as the mayor of this town, it is my duty to inform you that we don't take lightly to drifters. Now, while there isn't technically a vagrancy clause in our city bylaws, we do take drugs and other deviant behavior seriously. I could call the sheriff, but you might find it goes easier if you move along to the next town."
"Yeah. Try Harrisburg!" someone in the back said.
I held up my Pikachu key chain. "Oh, I'm not homeless. I just couldn't make it past the front door last night."
"What front door are you talking about?"
I pointed down the street where my appointment stood. "Books from He — I mean Books from the Hart."
A collective silence descended on the crowd. The large woman with the coupons stepped forward. "Wait a minute, I remember you. Are you Gertrude Brown's long-lost great-niece?"
"Long, yes." I stood tall. "But not lost." I had known where I was for the past several years. Most of the time, at least. There were a few times in Montana where I had taken a detour into parts unknown and ended up sleeping under the stars. Those had been some of the most beautiful wrong turns I had ever taken.
The busty woman cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered something to George. I heard the words dimwitted and slow.
I should have expected that reaction. But it had been years since I had heard those words. It made the tips of my fingers tingle when people used them in regards to me, or anyone else for that matter. I clutched Pikachu with both hands and told myself not to kick the woman. I grabbed my vintage military rucksack from the backseat. The shaggy collie leaned against my knee and I would have reassured him that he would be okay here, but he wasn't mine so it would be overstepping my role. I patted his back instead. "Come on, dog."
Together we walked down the street toward Hell.
* * *
Even after all these years, it was amazing how little had changed. Truhart had never been crowded, but I didn't recall it being so vacant. The years since my mother died and my father dumped my brother, Leo, and me on my Aunt Gertrude didn't look like they had been good to the town.
We arrived late last night. Rush-hour traffic on I-75 in Detroit had been a mess, and by the time we got through it, Mickey was pointing both hands to the twelve. Almost exactly midnight. The night shadows had taken over the empty center of town and the streetlights weren't working — or maybe there were no streetlights. I had stared out Lulu's front windshield with the strange feeling that the dog and I weren't alone. Something unearthly floated in front of the windshield. The hair on my arm shot straight up. Perhaps Aunt Gertrude's ghost was coming to haunt me in new ways she hadn't thought up when she was alive. On closer inspection, I realized it was a torn plastic bag floating across the hood of the car.
It was ridiculous for a woman of my age and experience to sit in a parked car at midnight like a coward. I had climbed Pico de Orizaba, the tallest mountain in Mexico, at twenty-three, bungee-jumped from the bridge to nowhere in southern California at twenty, streaked naked through the streets of San Francisco at nineteen, and run away from my guardian at sixteen. This one little thing, I could do.
Excerpted from The Bookshop on Autumn Lane by Cynthia Tennent. Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Tennent. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.