The Cottage in Maple Hill
“Inspiration doesn’t always come to you, child. Sometimes, you have to go out and find it.”
Liza Blackburn had long ago given up on being an artist as life took precedence over dreams. When her beloved grandmother passes away, she leaves Liza a generous, life-changing inheritance. Except it comes with a catch. One that takes her out of her comfort zone and drops her in a remote cottage in rural Ohio.
She has one goal—survive the year and get back home. Derrick Lowe’s life is simple, and he likes it that way. The last thing he wants to deal with is the hot mess granddaughter of his adopted grandmother moving in next door. When she does, he pushes his wants to the side and embraces his sense of duty. It is only a year after all.
But a lot can change in a year as Liza learns that home is relative, and Derrick finds his life might need a little messiness, after all.
Read an excerpt
Liza Blackburn hadn't realized she'd nearly stopped painting. Not until her grandmother strolled around her studio and studied the paintings stacked along the wall. She stopped, crossed her arms, and scowled at Liza. "Where are the new ones?"
Liza looked around the room—the small second bedroom of her apartment that had served as her studio for years—and back at her grandmother. "There are some new ones in here."
"No ma'am. Not one of these is new. I've seen them all."
Liza considered her grandmother's comment for a moment, trying to pinpoint the newest piece of artwork. She landed on a painting of an elderly couple in the park. "There," she pointed, confident. "That one is new."
Her grandmother shook her head. "No, child. I saw that last year. Beautiful. Reminded me of your grandpa and me. Had he lived long enough to get old. But definitely not new."
Panicked, Liza searched the stacks of canvases again, mentally picturing herself painting them. Her eyes wandered to the table that held her paints, the splotches of color long dried, and thought back to the elderly couple in the park. She visualized herself, sitting on the park bench, sketching them in her pad as they smiled at each other. Their heads together as they talked. Her brain pieced together a timeline until the realization settled onto her like a heavy, wet blanket. She'd stopped by that park after her niece Chloe's second birthday party, in need of a few moments of quiet to offset the chaos of screaming kids she'd just survived. Chloe was now nearly five.
Had she gone almost three years without painting? Three years without finishing a piece? She had sketches in her pad. She knew that. It's what she did when she was bored or if something inspiring caught her eye. Always safely tucked in her bag, just in case inspiration struck. But when was the last time she bought a new one? She couldn't remember.
While Liza was lost in her own thoughts, her grandmother continued around the studio. She stopped in front of a painting of a red fox in snow Liza had completed after a late-night binge of nature shows. "This one. I want to buy this one. It will look good in my living room."
"Grandma, you can just have it," Liza started but was cut off by an irritated tsk, tsk.
"I said I'll buy it, child. And I intend to do just that." A warm, brittle hand rested on Liza's shoulder. "Come on. I need some tea."
Liza followed her to the kitchen and sat on the bar stool while her grandmother pulled the tea pot from the cupboard, filled it and put it on the stove. While it was heating, she pulled out two cups and the box of tea bags, opened two bags and put them in the cup. "You know, if you would have visited me at the cottage, there's all kinds of things you could have painted there."
Liza laughed. "I can't help it you decided to winter in Ohio. No offense, Grandma, but who does that?"
Her grandmother turned to her and leaned her back against the counter. "Me, I guess. I like the cold and snow. Reminds me of my childhood. Though I must admit, these old bones are revolting against me."
"And I like warm and sunny."
"Well, the offer always stands."
A little quiver of guilt set in. It wasn't like they didn't spend a lot of time together. Her grandmother was in Florida nearly as much as she was in Ohio. But still. "I'll try to get some time off next winter. I promise," Liza said.
That seemed to please her grandmother, who switched topics. "When's the last time you left this place? Went on a walk in the park? Went out with friends? Painted?"
"It's been a while, I guess. Things have been busy at work. By the time I get home, I just kind of collapse. Weekends, I don't know. I just…" Her grandmother waited while Liza processed her thoughts. "I don't know. I guess I just haven't felt much like painting lately. It's really a hobby now, anyway. It's not like anyone sees them but you."
A short, irritated huff escaped her grandmother. "And whose fault is that?"
Liza braced herself for the lecture, one she'd heard countless times. Over the years, her grandmother had needled her, sent her information on galleries looking for artwork, pushed her to put it out there. And she'd listened politely and nodded in agreement when needed. But she knew something her grandmother didn't—her art wasn't good enough. As loud as her grandmother's voice was, her former art professor's voice was louder. Constantly criticizing. Constantly condescending. Where her grandmother looked at those pieces and gushed over them, she saw the mistakes, the areas she could improve.
She was saved by the high-pitched whistle of the teakettle. Her grandmother turned back to her original task, poured the boiling water over the tea bags, and placed the steaming cup and saucer in front of Liza. While Liza dunked the tea bag in the water and watched it turn from murky to brown, her grandmother sat down next to her and did the same.
"Inspiration doesn't always come to you, child. Sometimes, you have to go out and find it."
"I know, Grandma."
"I mean, you're not getting any younger."
Liza gasped. "Grandma! I'm only thirty-three."
Her grandmother shrugged. "Time moves faster the older you get. Trust me on that." After taking a sip of her tea, she reached over and gently placed her hand on Liza's chin, turning her head until their eyes connected. "You are an amazing artist."
Liza tried to shake her head, but her grandmother's grip on her chin held firm. "You are. And I'm not saying it just because I'm your grandmother. You could spend your life being afraid, my dear. Just existing. Or you can go out there, take a chance and maybe really live. The choice is yours. But I think it's a sad thing for all those pieces to be hidden away in a room. That's all."
With that, she released Liza's chin, and Liza quickly turned away to hide the tears forming.
"Now that we're done with all that nonsense, where are you taking me to dinner?"
Liza laughed and wiped her eyes before turning back to her grandmother. "Charlie's?"
"Charlie's it is."
As they walked out the door, Liza didn't know that she would never get to visit her grandmother in Ohio or have another dinner with her. Just four months later, she was gone.