Synopsis: For the last year, Emma Owens has been quietly detached from everything and everyone. Desperate to escape the demons that chased her out of her hometown, she’s learned that life here in Milwaukee is just less complicated and less tragic when it’s a one-woman show.
In the span of one week, everything about her carefully orchestrated solitude comes crashing down. Then again, she can’t really ignore the scratching coming from her patio door or the hungry, pleading grey eyes reflecting in the moonlight. Those four little white paws and that tiger-striped fur thaws some of the ice keeping her heart on lockdown and she’s attached before she knows what hits her.
Emma doesn’t have any better luck ignoring another pair of eyes, and her new neighbor, Finn Matthews, with his shy persistence and a painful past of his own, slowly chips away at the rest of the ice trapping Emma in her insecurities and her loneliness.
Taking a chance on her new roommate and her next-door neighbor opens a door she’d previously slammed shut: the door to a new lease on life and the right to forgive, to fight back, and to heal.
And the craziest part about it?
It all started with a stray cat.
She was lost…and he found her.
**Finding Emma is a full-length, standalone contemporary romance. Due to language and some sexual situations, this book is not intended for readers under 18**
I grinned at my computer because “Moondance” was playing now—not exactly ideal mood music for reading a 900-plus page nonfiction novel about Abraham Lincoln, but that didn’t make me enjoy the music any less.
And there it was again.
A guitar strummed lightly along to the music, which was impressive considering this song was heavier on the piano and jazzy saxophone, but the player had the hard staccato picks down pat like he’d played this song a million times before. Granted, I still didn’t know which of my neighbors was currently treating me to this little performance, but somewhere, deep down, I hoped it was Finn.
Even if that scared me. Even if part of me wanted to scramble back into my apartment. I still kinda hoped it was Finn.
Now, “Go Your Own Way” was playing and my neighbor easily switched gears, changing up the tempo and matching Lindsey Buckingham’s strums tab for tab. After about a minute of Fleetwood Mac, I decided to throw him a curveball and clicked “Any Way You Want It” in my music library and suddenly had images of Rodney Dangerfield dancing with that goofy grin on his face flashing across my mind. Still, impressively enough, my neighbor rolled with the punches and while he couldn’t exactly replicate the electric guitar parts on his acoustic, he still nailed those famous duh-duh combos in the stanzas.
After another minute or so, I clicked on “Closer To The Heart”, a selection my dad would’ve wholeheartedly approved of, to see just how deep my neighbor’s knowledge of classic rock really was. Again, he riffed right through the opening chords, plucking away at the strings and a slow smile crept across my face as I leaned a little closer to the wall to hear him better.
Once we’d both had enough of Rush for the time being, I moved through my library, clicking on “Hey Jude” next to see if he could pick out the guitar chords through the piano. Sure enough, he strummed easily along with Paul McCartney, finding the rhythm through the melody with practiced ease.
Hmm, I guess I needed to up my game.
I hit my next selection, but when all I heard was Elvis Presley crooning to his mama, my heart sank a little. Maybe he’d decided he’d had enough and went back inside his own apartment. About 30 seconds into the song, the strumming started back up again, this time a little less sure, a little unsteady, but despite the fact that he’d clearly never played this song before, he picked up the chords halfway through the song.
My lips curled up again and I glanced at Oliver out of the corner of my eye, who looked more annoyed by the disruption to his sleep than anything.
“Oh, come on,” I whispered to him. “Don’t look so pissed. You know you secretly love this.”
My eyes went back to my library. What to play next…I clicked my selection and my neighbor easily picked up the strains of “Hold On Loosely” no problem. Okay, that one was just too easy for him. The next one needed to throw more of a challenge at him because other than the Elvis song, he’d pretty much nailed everything I tossed his way.
Ah. There it was.
As the famous 50s chord progression of “Stand By Me” sounded out through my laptop, I waited eagerly to see if he could do it and sure enough, after a good 15 seconds into the song, I heard him strumming along, the soft, familiar rhythm flowing from his guitar. It was nice just sitting here on my patio with Oliver, watching the sun fade out into twilight beyond the tree line, and listening to my neighbor’s guitar ministrations.
But when I clicked on “Under the Boardwalk”, I finally got the answer I wasn’t so sure I’d been looking for. At least 20 bars played all the way through with silence on the other side of the patio before I finally heard a low, familiar chuckle.
“Sorry,” he told me through the barrier between us. “Don’t know that one.”
So. The neighbor treating me to this little show was Finn. Deep down, I’d figured that, even though I didn’t know how I could’ve possibly known…it was just a feeling. Or a hope. Or a fear. I wasn’t sure which one of those options made me the most uncomfortable.
“Hey,” Finn called out to me. “You got any Kings of Leon?”
My lips pulled apart in a grimace. Did I…? Maybe, but that wasn’t really the kind of music I tended to gravitate towards.
“Um, gimme a second.”
“Sure,” he chuckled. “Take your time. I got all the time in the world tonight.”
Smiling a little to myself and sawing on my bottom lip in thought, I scrolled through my library until I came across the two songs I had. When the opening strains of “Sex On Fire” started playing, with its electric guitar riffs rocking back and forth, Finn’s grumble was unmistakable.
“Of course. That’s the one you’ve got.”
“Oookay,” I drawled hesitantly and glanced sideways at the wall.
“No, no,” he laughed and I swallowed hard at that deep, throaty sound. “Not your fault. Lemme guess, you have one other Kings song, right?”
“And it’s called ‘Use Somebody’?”
“That’s the one.”
“Shocking,” he informed me dryly. “You see what most people don’t realize is that they’ve got more than just those two songs and that those particular two songs don’t even crack the surface of what that band can do.”
Now, I was the one chuckling. “I take it you’re a fan.”
“Oh yeah. Everything in life is better if the Kings are playing in the background.”
I bit down on my bottom lip to keep from laughing out loud. “Okay. So, what song would you play now?”
There was some shuffling from behind the wall and I heard Finn’s deep voice again, “Hold on. I got it all on my phone. Just gimme a second.”
Then the strains of one of the prettiest country songs I’d ever heard echoed from around our shared patio wall…easy guitar and lazy violin and then, “Come on out and dance…”
At this point, Finn was already strumming along with the acoustic in the song and his familiarity with the chords was pretty clear. He’d definitely played this one more than a few times before.
“This is pretty,” I told him. “I didn’t know that band played country music too. I thought they were just a rock band.”
Finn’s strumming stopped for a second so he could answer me. “Ah, you know, this is the only song they have like this, but it takes them back to their Southern country-boy roots. That’s why I like it.”
“I like it too. What’s it called?”
“‘Back Down South’. It’s the kinda song that needs to be played when you’re just sitting outside having a beer around a fire, except we don’t have a fire and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of us drinking a beer, but you get the idea.”
Despite my better judgment, my fingers flew over to the store on iTunes and after a quick search, downloaded the song into my library.
“What else you got?”
“Hmm, let me think,” I tapped my index finger across my lips. So, we were obviously taking this little jam session in a more modern direction. Let’s see…what did I have that wasn’t too old, but would still throw a challenge at him?
I clicked “Snow (Hey Oh)” and as those complicated, rolling chords hummed from my speakers, I heard Finn trying and failing to keep up with the complex melody. For every tab he nailed, he completely flubbed the next one until he gave one last, frustrated drum on the strings with a loud huff.
“Now I’m just embarrassing myself,” Finn muttered. “But I’m man enough to admit that song’s just too damn hard. How ‘bout something else?”
“Sure,” I laughed, clicking over to another Red Hot Chili Peppers song. “How about ‘Californication’?”
“Yep. Do it.”
This time, the slower, simpler chords were a little easier for him to pick up and he strummed along for a few bars until he called out to me, “Hey, how ‘bout this one?”
He jumped into something faster, obviously well-practiced, but it was a little more aggressive, a little angrier even, like he was somehow channeling the frustration of the song…whatever it was.
“I don’t know that one.”
“Gimme a second,” Finn called back and within moments, those same acoustic chords played back for me almost exactly how he’d just played it. “You don’t know Jack Johnson?”
“Ah, gotta get on that one. He’s great. Real chill, too. This one is ‘Sitting, Wishing, Waiting’.”
It was almost like he knew I was silently taking his suggestions and immediately downloading them into my library. I already had a search for Jack Johnson going before he even told me the name of the song.
“How ‘bout this one?”
He launched into another song, starting slow and quiet before upping the tempo, strumming back and forth in a way that had me bobbing my head right along with the rhythm.
“I take it you don’t know ‘The Pretender’?”
“No, I don’t recognize it, but I like it.”
“Okay, you go now.”
I scrolled through my library, looking for something that would throw him off completely and came across the perfect option. All I heard was silence on the other side of the wall as Finn listened, trying to place the song, and when the singer started in with, “Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight”, Finn let out a quick burst of deep laughter and I could practically see him throw his head back against his chair with his shoulders shaking as he sang along.
“Aw, man,” he chuckled. “I feel like I need to go watch Anchorman now.”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “Me too.”
“What about this one?”
His strumming turned into something a little folksier now with a more staccato twang, but I still couldn’t place it.
“I don’t know that one either.”
“‘Skinny Love’ by Bon Iver,” Finn told me as he continued plucking away. “Fun fact: the lead singer of this band, Justin Vernon, is from Eau Claire. This whole album was recorded in a cabin about four hours up north from here in Medford, I think.”
“Well, look at you with all your musical knowledge,” I laughed.
“Hey, I try. And—that album’s actually called For Emma, Forever Ago. I’m pretty sure the entire thing is all about one break-up, but still, that’s crazy, right?”
It wasn’t as if I didn’t expect him to remember my name. I just hadn’t expected him to…I don’t know. This whole thing was starting to make me itchy, my palms were already sweaty, and my heart did a few jumping jacks in my chest to drive the point home. He was being friendly and neighborly by sitting out here like this with me, playing along to whatever I threw his way and tossing a few songs of his own into our little game. That old familiar twitch worked its way down my spine until both my legs jumped with anxiety.
About K. Ryan
K. Ryan is a former English teacher, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2009. In between ‘real life’ duties, she’s been writing the Carry Your Heart series quietly on the side for the last two years. When not writing, she’s either binge-watching something on Netflix, running, reading, or cheering on the Packers. She lives in the Green Bay area with her crazy-supportive boyfriend and the best decision of her adult life, a not-so-stray cat named Oliver.