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She’s good. Really good.

Now I’m regretting having signed the contract. I’m not sure I can live up to that. And to think she’s already written six of these novels, all from the villain’s point of view. How can one brain hold that much creativity?

Maybe the other five suck. I can hope. That way, there won’t be much expectation for the final three books in the series.

Who am I kidding? Every time one of Verity’s novels releases, it hits number one on the Times.

I just made myself twice as nervous than when I left Manhattan.

I spend the rest of the drive ready to go back to New York with my tail between my legs, but I stick it out because thinking I’m not good enough is part of the writing process. It’s part of mine, anyway. For me, there are three steps to completing each of my books.

1) Start the book and hate everything I write.

2) Keep writing the book despite hating everything I write.

3) Finish the book and pretend I’m happy with it.

There’s never a point in my writing process where I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish, or when I believe I’ve written something everyone needs to read. Most of the time, I cry in my shower and stare at my computer screen like a zombie, wondering how so many other authors can promote their books with so much confidence. “This is the greatest thing since the last book I wrote! You should read it!”

I’m the awkward writer who posts a picture of my book and says, “It’s an okay book. There are words in it. Read it if you want.”

I’m afraid this particular writing experience will be even worse than I imagined. Hardly anyone reads my books, so I don’t have to suffer through too many negative reviews. But once my work is out there with Verity’s name on it, it’s going to be read by hundreds of thousands of readers with built-in expectations for this series. And if I fail, Corey will know I failed. The publishers will know I’ve failed. Jeremy will know I’ve failed. And…depending on her mental state…Verity may know I’ve failed.

Jeremy didn’t clarify the extent of Verity’s injuries when we were in the meeting, so I have no idea if she’s injured beyond the point of communication. There was very little online about her car wreck other than a couple of vague articles. The publisher released a statement shortly after the wreck stating Verity received non-life-threatening injuries. Two weeks ago, they released another statement that said she was recovering peacefully at home. But her editor, Amanda, said they wanted to keep the extent of her injuries out of the media. So, it’s a possibility they downplayed it all.

Or, maybe, after all the loss she’s experienced over the past two years, she simply doesn’t want to write again.

I guess it’s understandable they’d need to ensure the completion of the series. The publishers don’t want to see their biggest source of income crash and burn. And while I’m honored I was asked to complete it, I don’t necessarily want to be thrown into that kind of spotlight. When I started writing, it wasn’t my goal to become famous. I dreamt of a life where enough people would buy my books and I could pay my bills and never be propelled into a life of riches and fame. Very few authors reach that level of success, so it was never a concern that it would happen to me.

I realize attaching my name to this series would boost sales of my past books and ensure more opportunity in the future, but Verity is extremely successful. As is this series I’m taking over. By attaching my real name to her series, I would be subjecting myself to the kind of attention I’ve spent most of my life fearing.

I’m not looking for my fifteen minutes of fame. I’m looking for a paycheck.

It’s going to be a long wait for that advance. I spent most of the rest of my money renting this car and putting my things in storage. I paid a deposit for an apartment, but it won’t be ready until next week, or maybe even the week after, which means what little I have left will need to go to a hotel once I leave the Crawford home.

This is my life. Sort of homeless, living out of a suitcase just one and a half weeks after the last of my immediate family members passes away. Can it get worse?

I could be married to Amos right now, so life could always be worse.

“Jesus, Lowen.” I roll my eyes at my inability to realize how many writers would kill for this kind of opportunity, and here I am thinking my life has hit rock bottom.

Ungrateful, party of one.

I have to stop looking at my life through my mother’s glasses. Once I get the advance on these novels, everything will start looking up. I’ll no longer be between apartments.

I took the exit for the Crawford home a few miles back. The GPS is leading me down a long, windy road flanked by flowering dogwood trees and houses that keep getting bigger and more spread apart.

When I finally reach the turn-in, I put the rental in park to stop and admire the entrance. Two tall brick columns loom on both sides of the driveway—a driveway that never seems to end. I crane my neck, trying to see the length of it, but the dark asphalt snakes between the trees. Somewhere up there is the house, and somewhere inside of that house lies Verity Crawford. I wonder if she knows I’m coming. My palms start to sweat, so I lift them off the steering wheel and hold them in front of the air vents to dry them.

The security gate is propped open, so I put the car in drive and slowly amble past the sturdy wrought iron. I tell myself not to freak out, even as I notice that the repetitive pattern on top of the iron gate resembles spider webs. I shiver as I follow a curve, the trees getting denser and taller until the house comes into view. I spot the roof first as I climb the hill: slate gray like an angry storm cloud. Seconds later, the rest of it appears, and my breath snags in my throat. Dark stone works its way across the front of the house, broken only by the blood red door, the only relief of color in this sea of gray. Ivy covers the left side of the house, but instead of charming, it’s threatening—like a slow-moving cancer.

I think of the apartment I left behind: the dingy walls and too-small kitchen with the olive green refrigerator circa 1970. My entire apartment would probably fit into the entrance hall of this monster. My mother used to say that houses have a soul, and if that is true, the soul of Verity Crawford’s house is as dark as they come.

The online satellite images did not do this property justice. I stalked the home before showing up. According to a realtor website, they purchased the home five years ago for two and a half million. It’s worth over three million now.

It’s overwhelming and huge and secluded, but it doesn’t have the typical formal vibe of homes of this caliber. There isn’t an air of superiority clinging to the walls.

I edge the car along the driveway, wondering where I’m supposed to park. The lawn is lush and manicured, at least three acres deep. The lake behind the house stretches from one edge of the property to the other. The Green Mountains paint a picturesque backdrop so beautiful, it’s hard to believe the awful tragedy its owners have experienced.

I sigh in relief as I spot a concrete parking area next to the garage. I put my car in park and then kill the engine.

My car doesn’t fit in with this house at all. I’m kicking myself for selecting the cheapest car I could possibly rent. Thirty bucks a day. I wonder if Verity has ever sat in a Kia Soul. In the article I read about her wreck, she was driving a Range Rover.

I reach to the passenger seat to grab my phone so I can text Corey to let him know I made it. When I put my hand on the driver’s side door handle, I stiffen, stretching my spine against the back seat. I turn and look out my window.


What the fuck?

I slap my chest to make sure I still have a heartbeat as I stare back at the face staring into my car window. Then, when I see that the figure at my door is only a child, I cover my mouth, hoping he’s heard his fair share of curse words. He doesn’t laugh. He just stares, which seems even creepier than if he’d have scared me on purpose.

He’s a miniature version of Jeremy. The same mouth, the same green eyes. I read in one of the articles that Verity and Jeremy had three children. This must be their little boy.

I open the door, and he takes a step back as I get out of the car.

“Hey.” The child doesn’t respond. “Do you live here?”